Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter. It Smells Just Like Yesterday.

tom+aimee+mel b+wCertain smells always bring me back.  Flood my brain with memories.  Ones I thought were long gone and forgotten.  I love it when this happens.  It’s enough to send me on a scent hunt.  Digging up recollections like hidden clues to buried treasures.

Then becomes now in a heartbeat.

I can’t walk into a kitchen where baking has taken place without thinking immediately of Ma’s cookie baking emporium at 204.  Oatmeal raisin.  Hermits.  Ginger Snaps.  Sweet and spicy.  Rich with love and motherly goodness.  One whiff of Italian food and it’s a Spaghetti Saturday Night.  The best comfort food smack dab in the middle of a brutal Northwestern Ontario winter.  Cold as the Arctic outside but warm and deliciously cozy inside. Turkey roasting in the oven conjures up decades of Christmases enjoyed with our family.  This mouthwatering array of aromas reminds me to count my blessings.

I can close my eyes and smell Ma’s Second Debut face cream. Breathe in her presence.  Inhale it’s gentle loveliness as my lips brush against her cheek.  Just like I did every morning before I headed off to school as a kid.  This fine scent not only evokes memories of the softness of her skin but the kindness of her heart.  In her later years she treated herself to a weekly hairdo.  She would return feeling pampered and pretty, filling the house with the beauty parlor scent of freshly coiffed hair.  Set for the week.  I’m reminded that although true beauty blossoms from within, it’s also nourished with a dab of cream and a nice do.

When I wash with Ivory soap I think of The Old Man.  A grimy bar sat in the soap dish next to the bathroom sink.  As soon as he got home from work he washed off the grunge that clung to his face and hands after a long day on the road delivering Holsum bread and Persian buns.  He’d emerge from the bathroom a new man.  An Ivory man.  Pure and simple.  Now when I stand in the shower preparing for my day, lathering on this creamy white soap, I am reminded that hard work of any sort is honorable.  No matter what you do.  Sell bread.  Or shoes.  Fly to the moon.  Or stand on your feet all day.  Work, especially in service of others, is good.

Old Spice makes me think of Sunday mornings and going to church.  Once a week The Old Man donned a suit and tie, and escorted Ma and me to Christ Lutheran Church on Walkover Street.  We drove there, despite the friendly invitation to hoof it.  All week he wore his stiff blue twill uniform that smelled of flour dust, sweat, and when I was really young, tobacco.  But on Sundays, he dressed for the occasion.  He was a stylish confident man with his two favorite girls in tow.  Old Spice has always been a feel good scent memory.  Yet also contradictory. Like The Old Man, in many ways.  A peculiar blend of spirituality and carnal pleasure.  Old time religion and hedonism.  Fear of the Lord and the folly of the man.  Imagine all that in just one sniff.

The mauve lilac bush at 204.

The mauve lilac bush at 204.

There’s nothing like the perfume from a mauve lilac.  One hint and I’m instantly transplanted to the front yard at 204.  There, a charming little tree bloomed every year in June.  It marked the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. It was a symbol of freedom and carefree days.  A simple bouquet adorned Ma’s kitchen table and filled the room with such exquisite inimitable beauty.  I’m reminded of the wonder and splendor just outside our door.  The natural abundance of the earth.  It’s symmetry and grace.  And for that I am grateful.

Then there’s the fragrance of first love.  I can’t walk in the early morning rains of April or May without thinking of him.  Not every time.  For the memory to come, the rain must possess a particular scent.  A bittersweetness.  Sadness in the joy.  Longing in the reverie.  Then I go back to this love that was beginning to unravel.  So new yet tired of itself.  Still, all these years later I think tenderly of him.  Of us then.  I know the smell of him.  It reminds me to be inspired by love.  To carry on.  Love again.  And again.  Enlarge my heart.  Grow it bigger. Until it beats no more.

And oh, the sweetest of all perfumes.  My newborn babies.  Tender. Innocent.  Still so close to heaven in their scent.  Still so filled with the essence of the divine.  Without earthly tarnish.  Nor painful sheaths sullying their pristine souls.  Just perfection.  I have been blessed to enjoy this redolence three times.  Three times I breathed in their beautiful newness.  Each time I was reborn.

I’ve read that the science behind this sentimental journey originates with the olfactory bulb in our limbic system, which is associated with memory.  Called the “emotional brain” it allows us to conjure up memories in an instant just by smelling something.

I am grateful for this bulb in my brain that allows me to go back.  Not just remember.  But to be there.  Time travel does exist.  And the beautiful thing is, we all possess this wondrous gift of uncommon sense.

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: Best Laid Plans and How To Blog. Or Not.

Boo in B+WA year ago I started a blog. I didn’t have a hot clue what to write about.  It was just something I felt inspired to do. The goal was to write two posts a week.  Maybe more, if the muse struck with high pitched frequency.  Kind of the opposite of lightening.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  Really, how hard could it be?

Bloody hard.  I’m not one to make excuses, especially when it comes to myself.  But it turns out writing one post a week was a challenge. Two, damned near impossible.  And more than that, well forget about it.  What I didn’t realize a year ago was that I actually had a bit of a life beyond the iMac and the things that go on inside my head.  So I reset my sails, pared down my goal and determined that one post per week would do.  Not only would this do, it would be an enormous accomplishment.

This is my 54th post.  Bravo for me.

Little back story. I had read an article online in The New York Times by Eric Weiner called “Americans: Undecided About God.”  This article intrigued me because the premise was something I thought a lot about. God was on my mind.  Here, there and everywhere. Just a little insight into my interior world. I thought it would be interesting to engage in an online conversation with other folks of a similar ilk.  I thought there had to be millions of people out there who would love to do this.  And most importantly, participate via my blog.  Looking back, I don’t know if I was incredibly naive or full of hubris.  Or just a pompous ass.  I’ll leave that for you to decide.  Keep it to yourself though.  My ego is fragile after a year of this.

Long blog short. This didn’t happen. None of it.  You know what they say about best laid plans. I don’t either.  But I think it had something to do with mice and men.  And things not always turning out the way you expected.

As it turns out, this confounding cliche proved to be true for my blog about God. It’s painful to be reduced to a literary cliche, I might add.  Thank you very much Mr. Steinbeck.

Not that God isn’t a hot topic.  He/She most certainly is.  It’s just that very few people wanted to read my blather on this theme week after week.  Good God jumping Jehoshaphat.  Truth is, I didn’t even want to talk about it.  I only thought I did.  I thought I had tons of things to say, given the amount of time I spent pondering. Contemplating. Meditating. Ruminating. Praying to and mulling over God.  Turns out I didn’t.

I had about three posts-worth.

The thing is, I didn’t deliberately change course with the blog.  It just happened.  It took another three posts to realize that I was telling these stories about my life growing up at 204.  As it turns out very few were interested in that either.  So on that level my little foray into blogging was a colossal failure.

Either I have an extraordinary talent for picking lousy topics to write about. Or very few people care what I have to say about those topics. Or I just write poorly about the topics that interest people, and therefore, refuse to engage. Thus, the lights go dim on computers worldwide whenever one of my posts is broadcast.  Regardless, my naive, hubristic, pompous dreams of blogging to the masses was possibly just a tad grandiose.  Do you think?  Don’t answer that question.  Remember the fragile ego.  May the echo of cracking ice on a frozen country pond haunt you eternally if you dare.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to not let those kinds of failures stand in the way of having a good time.  And that’s exactly what this past year has been.  The time of my life.  I wouldn’t trade it for a wiener on a stick.

It wasn’t easy.  In fact, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Except for childbirth.  Truth is, this blog was a bit like giving birth.  In this past year, I gave birth to a new me.  The authentic me.  100% genuine.  Bona fide and real. Most importantly, it gave life to the storyteller me.  And it set me free.

Before Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter came to life, I never in a million years would have considered revealing the things I did.  The thought was enough to make me shudder and hang my head in shame.  Oh shame. How vindictive, rancorous, spiteful, venomous, cruel and unkind you are. You are the schoolyard bully.  The coward. Tormentor and thug.

But through God’s grace, and one blog post a week, you are gone.  I, and those who shared this journey, have been liberated. Telling these stories about my life growing up with Ma and The Old Man at 204 didn’t cause my heart to stop, my world to implode as I had so feared all my life.  No.  In fact, the exact opposite was true. My heart beat stronger and fiercer.  My world exploded with love and kindness, compassion and empathy, joy and appreciation.

Although I didn’t intend to go down this path, I am so grateful I did.  Along the way, I discovered my parents, Ma and The Old Man.  I got to tell their story with all of its complexities.  Their complicated love for each other.  Their unconditional love for me, my siblings and their grand children. The lessons that love taught me.  Somehow through the rush of time and the dailiness of life, I’d forgotten that.  Or dismissed it as being trivial.  Or worse yet, not true. But this past year helped me to realize and remember all the love that lived at 204.  In all its shades, muted and glorious orange, the highlights and the dark shadows, the frostiness and the humidity, the large blue skies overhead and the beige sand beneath.  The home in our hearts and the heart in our home.

On one of our many walks together, Ma said, “I’d love to write my life story but I don’t know how. And who would read it anyway?” This notion, this gut-wrenching, heartfelt cry touched me.  Far deeper than I realized at the time.  It took years, and much practice as a writer and storyteller, to bring her story to life.  A simple tale about an ordinary woman, who in many ways, lived an extraordinary life.

I can write Ma.  I can tell your story.  Does it matter who reads it?  I think not.

As for The Old Man, had I not written this blog I may never have realized just how much I miss him. Orneriness and all. He had always been such a thorn in my side.  Not any more.  Extraction is complete.  Wound healed.  Only love remains.  I am proud and honored to be The Breadman’s Daughter.

Although there weren’t any grand discussions about God in my blog, the presence and influence of the divine was the underlying melody throughout.  God was present in every grace note.  Not only in the process of telling the story.  But in the stories themselves.  It was there.  In the space between the notes.  The reading between the lines.

As for those grander God discussions, I learned that in the end, I’m ill-equipped to have those.  I’ll leave that to Eric Weiner or Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay or David Javerbaum, even.  I could never write something so sublime and witty as The Last Testament.  Not in a million blog years.

What next?   More storytelling.  I think I’m better at that than blogging. I’ve joined Cowbird, the online community for storytellers, so all five of you can find me there.  I do have a few more Daughter stories to share with you.  You’ll find those here and on Cowbird.

If the blog survives, it’s my plan to take it in a completely different direction.  At least I think I will.  As you know, I’m easily sidetracked. And we all know what happens to best laid plans.

One parting thought, watch out for mice.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I Saw God in Church.

Dressed in head-to-toe Communion white and looking so pious with bible in hand.

I’m a sporadic churchgoer these days. There were times throughout my life when I was a faithful attendee.  The Old Man, Ma and I used to go every Sunday. I was baptized and took communion.  I read Bible verses and some chapters.  But never the entire thing.  Not enough grey matter between the ears to keep track of everyone and everything. Especially all the goings-on in the Old testament.  So many begats and battles. Bloodshed and betrayals. Miracles and meyhem. Famines and bad things happening to firstborns. So complicated and confusing.

But the New Testament is a whole other story.  While it contains its share of death, denial and despair, there is also hope and love and kindness and compassion. Sacrifice and forgiveness. Yes indeed, the New Book is chock-a-block full of precious and useful life lessons regardless of your faith or personal beliefs.  Who could deny that loving one another is the ultimate purpose of all humans no matter where on earth they call home.

My favorite stories are the ones about Jesus, in particular, the Nativity and the night he was born.  I also really enjoy a good old fashioned Christmas pageant.  Especially ones enacted by earnest five year-olds. I never grow tired of such performances.

When I turned eighteen, and for the twenty odd years that followed, I went in hot pursuit of God.  My spiritual excavations took me far and wide on my interior journey.  I looked under every rock.  Behind every locked door.  Inside a plethora of books and passages.  I sought the holy, the evolved, the gurus, the teachers, mentors, ministers, the religious, the spiritual, the wise, the dedicated, the sacred, the masters, saints and the venerated.  It was an incredible journey of wonder and awe.  It both grounded me and threw me off balance.  It gave me confidence and brought me to my knees.  I was exalted.  And humbled.  But mostly grateful.

The family gathered after the Communion for Sunday dinner. The Old Man and I had already changed into more comfortable clothes for this photo. Ma in her apron over her Sunday dress.

At that journey’s end, I found myself in a little church in the countryside.  It was a familiar place.  It felt like coming home. It reminded me of the little Lutheran Church where The Old Man, Ma and I shared a pew.  It wasn’t perfect.  It didn’t satisfy all of my spiritual needs.  Nor did it fill my hunger completely, nor answer my endless questions.  But it was a place to dwell, to sit quietly and learn. To witness and rub shoulders with fellow seekers on this bumpy, often terrifying, road.

It was there that this happened.

I saw God in church. It wasn’t at all what I expected it would be.  It was such a quiet whisper of a moment.  Manifested in a simple expression of love between an elderly husband and his fragile wife.  I don’t think either of them noticed that something so incredibly extraordinary was taking place.  But I did.  The providential witness.

The congregation was about to sing another hymn. Everyone was seated and looking to the Music Team Leader for direction.  He asked us all to stand and sing our praises.  Obediently, all the adults in the church stood, except for one.

Ma and The Old Man on the steps of 204. One of the last photos together.

He stood with confident ease.  Thin and stoop shouldered.  Yet strong.  In conviction and constitution.  She made a feeble attempt to rise. Her heart was willing. A formidable match for his on any given Sunday.  But her tired, frail body was uncooperative.

Without skipping a beat, he reached for her arm and gently helped her to her feet.  There they stood.  Side by side.  Singing with hearts wide open with love and devotion.  As it had always been.  Now and forever.

The tenderness of this ordinary, natural and unassuming gesture touched me in ways that were more profound than any sermon or hymn or prayer.  I was overwhelmed by the presence of God.  Just two rows up.

There it was.  In a flash.  An instant.  Grace.  Sweet, kind, patient, loving and humanly divine.

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: Baker’s Dozen – 13 Virtues from my Parents.

Ma and The Old Man pose in front of his birthday cake.

Ma and The Old Man taught me much during our lifetime together.  Some things were practical and intentional.  Like cooking and cleaning up after myself.  Brushing my teeth before bed.  The simple day-to-day things parents teach their children to help them grow up big and strong.  Others things involved character building.  Like doing the right thing just because it was right not because I particularly felt like it.  Saying please and thank you.  Expressing gratitude not bad attitude.  Then there were the big things.  Ten commandment big.  Don’t cause harm to any living creature. Don’t lie.  Cheat.  Steal, and that includes someone else’s spouse.  Respect your elders, especially your parents.  Then there were the things they taught me without even knowing it.  The ‘by example’ things.  The stuff kids pick up on.  Learn through osmosis.  By watching.  Listening.  Witnessing.

While all this learning was going on — the day to day, the big and the by example — thirteen virtues stood out. A perfect Baker’s Dozen.  These are what I would like to share with you.

8 From Ma:

LOVE: One of the big ones. The biggest.  For Ma it came unconditionally.  You didn’t have to do anything special to earn her love.  If you were one of hers, you just had it. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for one of her own.  Including lay down her life.  Thankfully she was never put into this position. What a blessing to be loved so dearly.  What more could a child need than to wake up every morning feeling cherished.  In the end, Ma was grateful that her life followed its natural course.  Although she hated to leave us all, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.  One day we will all follow her into the Light.  Her love was such a blessing to our entire family.  I still feel it now.  And I am grateful.

Ma and her grandson taking a moment to look at Polaroids.

WISDOM: Ma was a simple woman in many ways. Unpretentious. Unassuming.  She never graduated from high school and had very little formal education.  Although at age sixty she went back to night school and studied art.  We were all so proud of her accomplishment.  Her wonderful paintings are amongst my greatest treasures.  Education aside, Ma was a wise and enlightened woman.  She possessed profound insights. Introspective by nature, she was always interested in the “why” of life.  This led her to places of deep spiritual and philosophical understanding and acuity.  She was a good listener.  A skill lacking in the best of us.  I am eternally grateful for her counsel and sought it at every turn.  She was involved in every big decision I made.  It is my prayer that my children feel the same way about me. That when they turn to me for advice or simply a compassionate ear that I bring Ma’s kind of wisdom.

KINDNESS: Ma possessed this virtue in spades.  In abundance.  Good measure. Pressed down.  Shaken.  Running over.  Her heart was tender.  Not just for those she loved. But everyone she encountered on her journey through life.  Children, in particular touched her heart.  She never met a kid she didn’t like.  Her kindness was even extended to the naughty ones. Her heart was open and large towards the elderly, the downtrodden, the forgotten ones and those considered unlovable.  She was kind to animals.  They all knew a kindred spirit.  I am kind too.  Ma taught me well.

GENTLENESS: Ma touched everything with a gentle hand.  Her touch was soft.  Warm.  Benevolent.  She caused no harm.  Never spanked her children.  Nor scolded.  Shy by nature, her voice was quiet yet reassuring.  She was a Whisperer.  Even in the kitchen, nothing was forced.  Food was prepared in a sweet and easy style.  I will always miss her beautiful long-fingered veiny hands that caressed her world with loving kindness.

Ma and Daughter Number One smile for the camera.

PATIENCE: Ma was well practiced in this virtue.  Four children and an alcoholic husband could be taxing at times.  Being patient with children came easy for her.  She understood kids innately.  And consequently they were drawn to her like bees to honey.  She was like Jesus in that she wanted the little children to come to her.  Never too busy for a child.  No little one shooed away.  Her patience wasn’t only extended to the very young.  She successfully shepherded four teenagers into adulthood.  That took monumental skill and patience by the bucketful. Being patient with The Old Man was her biggest trial.  He was her Achilles heel.  I can only say she did her best to extend the same grace to him as she did the children in her life.  Nobody’s perfect.   Patience hasn’t always been one of my strengths.  Just ask my two older kids.  I’ll be working on this one for the rest of my life.  As I said, nobody’s perfect.

EMPATHY: Ma’s compassionate heart wept for the world.  She intuitively knew what people were feeling.  Felt their pain.  Embraced another’s sorrow.  She was the shoulder to cry on.  Her heart broke at the sight of any suffering.  Whether it was within our family circle. Or brought to her over the garden fence or through the television set.  Witnessing suffering on a colossal scale moved her to take action. She donated to many charitable causes and supported a third world child all the days of her life.  She inspired me to do the same.

COURAGE: Ma was timid, shy and meek by nature.  Yet she was also a warrior.  A little spitfire at times. Full of true grit. Especially when it came to protecting her kids.  She wouldn’t let anything or anyone cause us harm.  She was also courageous in the face of any adversity.   From the cradle to the grave.  Whatever the strife, she faced the challenge head-on with bravery and grace.  She also never complained about being sick.  She could be stoic to a fault at times.  We saw this intimately when she had her heart attack.  At first, she denied even having one.  She never ever gave up.  Ma taught me to fight the good fight right until the bitter end.  Like Dido said, there will be no white flags above our door.

THOUGHTFULNESS: Ma was considerate in her every thought, word and deed.  Not only in the small gestures.  Coming to the aid of the elderly.  Helping someone up who has fallen.  Figuratively and literally.  She was quick to send thank you notes, get well wishes and thinking of you cards.  My mailbox was always a wellspring for delightful little surprises.  She never forgot a birthday.  Cards were sent.  Cakes baked. Gifts given. She welcomed everyone into our home regardless of who they were.  There was always room at the table.  If she saw something in a store that she thought you’d like, she picked it up.  There were many just because gifts.  She had others on her mind. I miss dearly those cards and notes inscribed with her small meticulous handwriting. Trips to the mailbox aren’t as much fun anymore.

4 From The Old Man:

HUMOR: The Old Man loved a good laugh.  A silly joke.  A funny yarn with a good punch line.  He was always quick with one to tell.  A faithful reader of The Reader’s Digest, this was the source of much of his material. He also loved a good comedy on television.  Red Skelton could bring him to tears.  He laughed loud.  Heartily.  Easily.  Right from the belly.  I do the same.  I loved this about The Old Man.  It is also what I look for in friends and lovers.  I’m a sucker for a man who can make me laugh.  He will always tickle my fancy.  Laughter.  One of God’s greatest gifts to humans.  Thank you.

The Old Man and his grandson enjoyed a good game of crib.

GENEROSITY: The Old Man was one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back.  Unlike Ma, who was quick to give to charitable causes, he didn’t part so easily with his money. Not that he had much to part with.  He happily gave his pay cheque to Ma every two weeks. She was the manager of our family finances.  But he gave other things.  If he had something you needed or wanted he rarely said no.  As a teenager I appreciated this virtue the most.  Especially when it came to handing over the keys to his car.  That was a big deal back then.  The Old Man supported his family.  No matter what.  Roof over our heads.  Food on the table.  I always felt that as long as The Old Man was on this earth I would never be destitute.  I’d always have a place to go.  A safe haven where I would be taken care of.  I am so grateful to have had that.  E and I have created the same for our children.  We also go through a lot of shirts.

WORK ETHIC: The Old Man loved and hated his job. Regardless of how he felt on any given day, he got up at 5am and did it. He showed up. For some thirty odd years.  He never actually said, “Take this job and shove it,” but I suspect there were many days that he felt this way.  Possibly he had bigger dreams than he had ambition.  In his defense, he was from a generation of folks who raised families and did whatever it took to do so.  No complaints.  No whining.  No woulda-coulda-shoulda.  Just hard work.  If he had regret over his professional path, he kept it to himself.  I understand.  I’ve done the same.  I show up.

The Old Man and his grandchildren pose for the camera.

SERVICE: The Old Man did what he could to be of service to his country, his family, his community, his employer, his church.  He was in the army.  He volunteered in sport.  Umpiring Little League games was his delight.  He helped out at the church.  Did yard work and painted one of his elderly customer’s home on a regular basis.  Old Jenny was dear to him.  Although she paid him a small fee I suspect he would have done it for free.  He was honored with an award for Service to his Community.  He taught me what an honor it is to serve.  People need help everywhere.

1 from Both of Them:

PUNCTUALITY: Some people might not consider this a virtue.  But I do.  I don’t think either of my parents were ever late for anything.  They were either right on time or early.  Like many from their generation lateness was akin to rudeness.  It was also considered thoughtless and arrogant.  They respected the time of others and appreciated that no one likes to be kept waiting.  Nor should they.  Lateness required two things.  A good reason.  And an apology.  I love that they were both so courteous in this way.

We all wore paper crowns on New Years Eve.

My Own:

GRATITUDE: I will forever be grateful to both my parents for their Baker’s Dozen, these 13 Virtues.  My heart is filled with gratitude every day for the life that God has blessed me with.  Starting with the ultimate gift of my parents.  Ma and The Old Man.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: What Happens in 204 Stays in 204 and the Fine Art of Secret Keeping.

We couldn’t stop looking at him and he at us.

The older I get the better I get at keeping secrets.   I now understand how sacred secret keeping is.  What a privilege it is to have someone trust you so dearly with a confidence.  Even if they have shared their secret with someone else, it matters not.  This is your secret to keep. Held safe for as long as required.  It could be for a day, a week, a year.  A lifetime.  Some secrets I will take to the grave with me.

I’m from a family of secret keepers.  So perhaps this gives me a bit of an edge over those who are not so well practiced.  The biggest secret our family kept concerned The Old Man’s drinking.  Not just his alcoholism.  But his recurring rampages that terrorized our family. We were like visitors to Vegas.  What happened in 204 stayed in 204. This family secret, that I held close for over twenty years, was one of two that shaped the landscape of my youth. I looked out at the world, not with wide-eyed wonder, but with fear.  For the flip side of keeping secrets is disclosure.  I didn’t want anyone to know about The Old Man. Not even my best friend.

Some secrets are held in fear.  Others in shame.  This was at the heart of the second family secret.

Little back story.  When I was twenty-four I wanted to go to Europe.  I hadn’t travelled much.  Nor ventured far when I did.  Little trips with my family mostly.  Circle Route around Lake Superior.  Trips to Duluth, Minnesota.  Once as far as Minneapolis.  One quick secret disastrous trip to Toronto with my first love.   A cross country car ride to Victoria which included stops in Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary.  That was it.  My wayfaring adventures by age twenty-four.

We converted Ma’s sewing room into a nursery for a few years.

Many of my friends had already been to Europe.  Backpacking globe-trotters.  Nomads and gypsies.  Sophisticated and worldly.  I had been to Duluth.  I was green with envy and itching to gallivant.  This became the hot topic of conversation between my new boyfriend and I.  We made plans.  Beginning with acquiring passports.  We did all the appropriate paperwork and mailed off our applications to Ottawa.  This was a long time ago so the details of the process are a bit sketchy.  But to the best of my recollection, this is what we did.  Then we waited.  And waited.  It took weeks to hear anything.

Everything went smoothly for my boyfriend, who was far less new after weeks of waiting for passports. His knapsack was packed and he was good to go.  But this was not the case for me.

I never got my passport.  Instead, I got a letter from the government of Canada informing me that I did not exist.  ‘Don’t exist’ I cried.  ‘How is that possible?  I’m here aren’t I?  Look at me.  I’m right here.’  This occurred while I was living on the West Coast, the first time round.  I thought perhaps this mix-up had something to do with geography.  That I wasn’t actually nonexistent, just misplaced.

Determined to prove that I did indeed exist, I decided to go to the fountainhead.  Take it to the two people who were there right from the beginning.  The source of my genesis.  No, not God and Jesus. That would come later.  Ma and The Old Man.  But before doing so, I mentioned this misbegotten madness to my sister, who was also living on the West Coast.  I showed her the letter.  ‘Look at this,’ I uttered incredulously.  She read the letter.  Looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘I have to tell you something.’

The Old Man and his grandson sharing a moment together.

Ma and The Old Man weren’t legally married.  There was nothing shocking about this revelation. I had suspected as much for years.  But it was a bit unsettling to hear those words said out loud for the first time.  This subject was taboo in our family.  Strictly off limits.  In truth, I was the only one not in on the secret.  The evidence was there of course.  For starters, Ma and The Old Man never celebrated their anniversary.  Yet she went by Mrs. M.  And she wore a wedding ring.  This was good enough for me.  When I was really young I didn’t understand such things.  When I was old enough to know, I didn’t want to.  By the time I figured it out, I didn’t care. By then, I was actually in on the secret.  But no one knew that I knew what they knew.

Once the proverbial cat was let out of the bag I called Ma.  There was no going back.  The silence was broken.  The Boogeyman was released and he wasn’t all that scary.  I felt free.  I wanted to liberate Ma as well.  The call went something like this.

‘Ma, a strange thing happened when I tried to get my passport.’

‘What’s that dear?’

‘I got this letter from the government saying I don’t exist.’

‘That’s impossible.’

‘G told me everything Ma.’

Silence followed.  By a pregnant pause.  By more silence.

‘Ma why didn’t you just put The Old Man’s name on my birth certificate?’

‘I didn’t know I could.’

A common law marriage and an illegitimate child.  More secrets that consumed my parents.  Filled them with shame.  Followed by years of silence.  Humiliation.  Heads hung low.  I look back on their situation and my heart breaks for them.

By the time I was old enough to get married things were so different. Common law marriages.  People living together.  Shacking up.  It was happening all around me and no one cared.  Hippy chicks were having babies and wearing daisies in their hair.  Feminism had arrived.  Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan were inspiring young women everywhere. Myself included.  There was nothing illegitimate about any of it.  More options and choices.  No judgement.  Different strokes for different folks, as Sly and The Family Stone sang.

What a burden my parents carried in their hearts all those years.  In the end, it was a relief to have the truth spoken.  Confession is good for the soul they say.  This held true for my parents, especially Ma.

I can’t think of anything more soul destroying than living in shame.  The joy that it robs. The dignity that it steals.  The humiliation it perpetrates.  The things we teach our children without even knowing.  Nor intending.  Passed down from one generation to the next, along with Grandma’s handmade quilt.  I understand the shame Ma felt.  Intimately.  I too carry this pain in my heart.  Sometimes I don’t even know why.  It’s like the elusive butterfly.  Impossible to grasp.

My passport awaits. I just have to fill out the forms.

After the birth of my son I experienced a fleeting moment of shame.  I thought I was beyond reproach, yet this stung.  He was only hours old and he filled my spirit with such wonder.  A Nurses Aid, who was old enough to be my mother, entered our room to check on us.  I was engaged in a gripping one-sided conversation with my son.  As she was adjusting my blankets and plumping my pillow, she referred to me as Mrs. M.  I immediately corrected her and explained that I wasn’t Mrs. M.  That was my mother.  Then as carelessly as she tossed a crumpled Kleenex into the wastebasket, she responded with, ‘That’s what we call girls like you dear.’  She wasn’t being malicious.  Nor did she intend to hurt me.  Just stating the facts.  Telling the truth.  Yet there I was.  Drowning in a puddle of shame. Maybe we hadn’t come a long way Baby.

But the hand of God touched me that day.  The hurt didn’t linger.  Thankfully.  Besides, I had a beautiful brown-eyed boy to love and protect.  I had to toughen up.

I still don’t have a passport.  I haven’t been consumed by wanderlust these past thirty years so it hasn’t really mattered.  Acquiring one fell off the to do list years ago. My life has been full and adventurous despite traveling abroad.  Yet a part of me often wonders if I’m stuck.  Fearful that if I apply for my passport I’ll be told I still don’t exist.  At least not as me.  The girl with the unpronounceable Finnish last name.  I have an official Birth Certificate containing Ma’s first husband’s surname.  I look at it and think, ‘Who is this person?’  Not me.  I look at the ancient tattered Registration of Birth that the Old Man altered and think, ‘Who is this person?’  Me.  Not sure how he did it.  But somehow he removed the official legal surname and typed in his.  It always looked right to me.  You see what you want to see I guess.  I never wanted to be anything but the Breadman’s daughter.

And with God’s grace I am.  Always will be.  Passport or not.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Day the Rain Stopped or a Brief Course in Miracles.

Breathing in his love.

Last summer I did something I never thought I ever do.  Again.  I got married.   E and I had a long courtship.  Almost twenty years.  We weren’t avoiding getting married.  Nor were we opposed to it.  We even discussed it on many occasions.  In fact, E proposed very early in our relationship.  He even bought me a diamond ring.  Albeit from a pawn shop.  But still.  Romantic with a quirky twist.  Just like us.

The ring was lovely.  Oodles of women would have considered it so.  But it wasn’t me.  It was too much.  Really.  Over the top.  And then some.  Picture this.  Two rings, one a gold band with a mid-sized solitaire in a towering prong setting and the other a chevron of smaller flashy diamonds.  The two are then locked together like a Gordian knot to create one glittery bauble.  Symbolic perhaps of a man and woman embracing eternity. Or just plain complicated.

My beautiful Daisy Girls.

I wore the ring for several years but it never felt right.  I really did try.  I hoped against hope that it would grow on me.  That one day I would look down at my hand and not cringe.  Then something happened that changed everything.  On my way to work I lost the solitaire.  I made the horrifying discovery while in the washroom freshening up for the start of my day.  Where my priceless diamond once sat, there was now this cavernous hole.  I sat on the toilette and bawled like a baby.  It was pitiful.   Although I didn’t fancy the ring I dearly loved the man who gave it to me.  Seeing the empty cavity felt like a piece of my heart had just been wrenched.

This all took place in January.  Not a great start to the year.

My son walked me to the top of the hill to meet my love.

Then something miraculous happened.  It began with a heaping basket full of clean clothes that were in dire straits.  Desperately needing to be put away.  I had been ignoring this growing mountain of laundered shame for several weeks.  Concealed behind closed doors, more like dirty laundry than clean, it was easy to ignore.  Of all the domestic chores, putting away laundry has always been my least favorite.  But this situation had grown grim.  I could not add another stitch to the stack.  I had reached critical mass.  The tipping point.  Clean out of room.  Try not to judge.  We all have our weaknesses.  This happens to be mine.  I do plan to fix this undesirable character flaw.  Right after I grow more love, wisdom, patience, kindness, the ability to forgive the unforgivable, read the bible from Genesis to Revelations, understand E=mc2, perfect a B major chord, cook perfect brown rice, and lose ten pounds.  Then I plan to work on that laundry thing.

Our hearts were full of music and light.

It took about an hour to put everything away. Once complete, I was brimming with pride at my accomplishment.  ‘I’ll even return the basket to the laundry room,’ I thought while patting myself heartily on the back.  Yes, I was full of pride but very little energy  by this point.  The trek down the three flights of stairs to the laundry room was daunting.  Because I had lost the vim from vigor, I kind of dragged the basket behind me as I descended the steps.  It did this little bounce on the steps above.  Boing. Boing. Boing.  After the third or fourth boing something small and sparkly caught the corner of my eye.  I stopped.  Grabbed the basket.  Plopped down on the step and literally could not believe my eyes.  There it was.  The diamond.  It had been in the basket all along.  I hadn’t lost it on the way to work as I had believed.  Instead I must have knocked it off while grabbing something to wear from the closet.  This was a bonafide miracle in my books.  And to everyone I have told this story.  What were the odds of finding a teensy-weensy diamond at the bottom of a blue plastic laundry basket?  About the same as finding a needle in a hay stack.

The peculiar thing, or divine, depending on your particular perspective on the far-fetched. It was like this little diamond wanted to be discovered.  I say this because it wasn’t just lying inertly at the bottom of the basket.  It was literally bouncing up and down.  Flying through the air like one of the Wallendas.  Shouting “look at me look at me look at me!”

E and I decided it was too risky to have the diamond put back into the prongs of the protruding pawnshop ring.  We would start fresh.  Begin anew.  So I designed my own ring and had it handmade by a jewelry artist named Willy.  A simple bezel setting with the diamond nestled safely into the gold band.  No extra frills or gewgaws.  Just the single lost gem.  It was me.

My precious three.

When E and I decided to exchange vows last year he asked if I wanted a new ring for the occasion.  ‘Absolutely not’ I declared.  On the day of our wedding I removed it for a few hours so that E could place it back on my finger.  For eternity.  I will wear it to the grave.

We climbed to the top of a hill in the rugged park behind our house.  Joined on the walk by our family, friends and beloved minister.  My sister, two daughters, grand daughter and daughter-in-law were my “daisy girls.”  E’s brother was his best man and his band of brothers were his groomsmen.  My son, who stood in for The Old Man, walked me up the rocky slope to give me away.  We paused along the path to take a picture together. My son holding the camera at arms length as we languished in this precious moment together.  In the distance, the sweet dulcet sound of V’s violin and A’s guitar drifted over us like a cloud of honey.  An Irish waltz.  Maire Dhall.  Romantic.  Lovely.  When we reached the top my heart stopped.  I was overwhelmed by the magnificent view.  My Daisy Girls, V and A with their instruments, the minister, the groomsmen, our family and friends, our kids’ friends.  They were all there creating this wondrous circle of love.  And E.  Beautiful E. Handsome as ever.

If all that wasn’t miracle enough.  There was still another.

Love notes were hung from the trees for everyone to pluck.

Because this was a DIY wedding we kept things close to home and very informal.  Vows were exchanged on the Cairn overlooking the Garry Oak meadow behind our home.  The reception was held in our garden.  While planning this intimate family affair, I envisioned a beautiful hot and sunny summer day.  Just like those of my childhood and youth.  But this was the West Coast.

Although it has taken a few decades, I’ve learned that you don’t always get what you want.  Sometimes you get what you need, at least according to one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs.  It had been raining miserably for the weeks leading up to the day of our wedding.  To say I was coming unglued was an understatement.  The weather forecast was bleak.  It was unnerving to say the least.  The prospect of an outdoor wedding where everyone and everything was rain-soaked was disheartening.  It was a fiasco in the making.  Or so I thought.  I was completely irrational by this point.  Luckily E and his brother weren’t.  They presented me with a contingency plan, that even to my hysterical overwrought bride-to-be brain, made sense. They rented big tents for the big day.  My grand daughter and I went to the local dollar store and bought a ton of cheap plastic umbrellas.  At least our guests would be undercover.  Not perfect.  Or perhaps it was.

The Love Bird cake made with passion by Corina.

On the morning of our wedding I awoke to the familiar sound of pounding rain.  It no longer mattered.  This was our big day.  We were doing this thing.  Rain or shine.  My Daisy Girls and I got our hair done in the morning.  It was still raining.  On the way back to the house we picked up our daisy bouquets from the florist and the mixed flowers for the tables.  It was still raining.  Meanwhile my sister-in-law J and dear friend P prepared the platters of food.  Tents were erected.  Tables were set and flowers arranged. Love notes were hung on the trees.  I was still raining.  By two our wedding party began to dress for the occasion.  Our youngest daughter’s BFF did my make-up. The photographer arrived and began shooting. The 3-tier Love Birds wedding cake was delivered with care.  The minister arrived.  He said a lovely prayer with E and I.

Then the really big miracle happened.

Some time during the flurry of activity and hoo-ha of getting ourselves pretty for our guests and the camera, the rain stopped.  The sky opened.  The sun broke between the clouds.  There it remained.  While we did the wedding walk up the hill and exchanged vows.  It held vigil while E and I kissed each other and embraced our family and friends.

No wedding is complete without a trombone solo.

The rain was held at bay long enough for photos to be taken and our guests to make their way back to the sanctuary prepared for them in our garden.  By six it was sprinkling.  So what, I thought.  C’est la vie.  We were all safe and happy under shelter.  We celebrated.  We ate.  We were merry.  We made music.  My grand daughter played the trombone just for us.   E and I performed the wedding song I wrote.  It was a glorious occasion.  Perfect.

We made beautiful music together.

Everyone there to bear witness that afternoon remarked on how it was like the sky opened up just for us.  It was miraculous they all proclaimed. Even the most cynical in the group were inspired.

E and I both prayed for a hot sunny day for our wedding.  As we all know, prayers aren’t always answered in the way we expect.  Sometimes the answer is far better and more wonderful than we could have ever imagined.  We got exactly what we needed that day.  We wouldn’t have traded it for the world.  A miracle.  Heaven sent.  God’s grace shining down upon us.  What better way to begin a marriage?

Fragile Moment – Wedding Song by boo king © 2011

Verse:
I’m the strength in your most fragile moment
I’m the whisper in the dead of night
I’m the hand that heaven sent you
And I’m here to bring you light.

Chorus:
 I’m your love so dear and ancient
    I’m your hope so near and present
    Not forgotten nor forsaken
    Cause for you my life is given.

Verse:
I’m the truth in your last reckless comment
I’m the hunger in the soul of man
I’m the word the writer lent you
And I’m here to keep a plan.

Chorus (repeat twice):
I’m your love so dear and ancient
    I’m your hope so near and present
    Not forgotten nor forsaken
    Cause for you my life is given.

Our honored guests. They were with us in spirit.

Diaries of The Beadman’s Daughter: Life Before Me and You and That Other Guy.

Ma with my big brothers and sister.

Sometimes I find it hard to imagine that my parents had a life before me.  I’m also certain that it’s hard for my children to imagine me having a life before them.  On some level I guess I didn’t.  Not like this anyway.  It’s like my life is divided into two.  Life before kids.  And life after.  Each child changed me.  Made me more.  Expanded my capacity to love.  Larger and richer.  Deeper and unconditionally.

Before I met E I had pretty much given up on the notion of ever finding love.  Much less a husband.  And having another child was seemingly impossible.  Yet both of those things happened.  Proof that miracles do happen. Even if they were just the bland run-of-the-mill types.  Not your water into wine.  Or parting of the seas.  Raising the dead.  But these events were every bit as miraculous to me. This was also the case for Ma.

Little back story.   Before Ma met The Old Man she had been married.  Plus she had three kids.  She met her first husband just before WW2.  The details of this period in Ma’s life are sketchy at best.  All I know is that he was in the air force, flew off to war and evidently came back long enough to conceive children.  In the span of five years, all in one week in April, Ma had three kids.  Then after the war ended he “shacked up” with some woman in Manitouwadge or Wawa, and there he remained until the day he died.  He abandoned Ma and her children and never reappeared in their lives.  In return, Ma rarely spoke of him and my siblings did not preserve any memories of the father they never knew.  He was like “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” in the Harry Potter books.

The Old Man behind the wheel of the Woods Meat truck.

Ma met The Old Man when she was working the 7pm to 3am shift at a restaurant called Porky’s on St Paul Street.  He was working as a deliveryman for Woods Meat Market at the time.  He used to go in there after midnight for coffee.  Given the hour he frequented the joint, I’m assuming it was where he went after the bar closed.  He may have originally gone there for coffee but it was Ma who kept him coming back. Ma never said much about their first encounter except that he was incredibly handsome and had beautiful blue eyes.  She also said it was love at first sight.

My parents were from a generation of folks who didn’t discuss their romance.  Nor did they engage in public displays of affection.  At the most, there was hand holding, quick pecks on the lips when saying goodbye, and occasional awkward hugs.  For photos The Old Man would place his arm around the back of Ma’s waist.  That was it.

Ma in the woods with my two big brothers.

Due to this lack of romantic mythology I have fabricated my own version of their budding courtship.  It goes something like this.  Two incredibly shy people.  One with blond hair and blue eyes.  The other a raven haired dark-eyed beauty.  One Finlander.  One Italian.  Fire and ice.  Yin and yang.  He sits at the counter after midnight and orders a cup of coffee.  Cream and sugar.  Then he orders another.  She bustles around serving coffee and late-night sobering-up food to the other patrons scattered like lost sheep in the ratty Naugahyde booths.  He stays until three when the place closes.  He can’t get his eyes off her.   She steels glances his way.   Bolstered by a few too many drinks from the local watering hole, he’s able to find the courage to say hello.  By morning that false confidence would evaporate.  But for those few fleeting hours after midnight his shyness, especially around women, was held at bay.  She’s exhausted from raising three kids and working nights.  His sweet flirtations revitalize her though and put the youthful bounce back into her step.  She blushes and says hello back.  Their conversation is endearing in its bashful clumsiness.  It doesn’t come easy.  Still they persist.  Night after night.  This goes on for days, weeks, months perhaps.  Then the shy blond blue eyed Finlander musters the courage to ask out the Italian beauty.  After one date she knows he’s trouble but it’s too late.  She’s madly in love.  The sparks fly.  Then there’s me.  And life begins.

While Ma was working the night shift at Porky’s my oldest brother was at home with my other brother and sister.  This was the little family that existed long before I was even a twinkle in The Old Man’s eye.  By the time I was born my brothers were well on their way to adolescence.  My sister was old enough to take me for walks down the street in my carriage and dress me up like one of her dolls.  Because I don’t remember anything before the age of five my first impressions of my siblings is that they were quasi-adults.  Big people.  I knew they weren’t old like The Old Man and Ma but they weren’t kids either.  Definitely not playmates.  It was a peculiar psychological head space.  On the one hand I understood that these big people were my brothers and sister.  Yet on the other, I felt very much like an only child and longed for siblings that were closer in age.  In my childhood fantasies I often pretended that they were.

A hair curling night. They sure knew how to have a good time back then.

Despite the age difference I loved them all dearly.  I idolized my ‘big’ brothers.  They were both handsome, kind and patient with their baby sister.  They called me Babe.  I also loved that they were so different from The Old Man.  They weren’t alcoholics for one thing.  And they were the defenders of Ma, my sister and I.  They were our heroes.  Not cape wearing or white horse riding.  But on those dark nights when The Old Man came home reeking of alcohol and ranting about some past injustice brought upon his late mother at the hands of his old man, they were brave lionhearted men.

They were also boys of that era.  I loved that about them too.  They had slicked-back Brylcreemed hair and drove a mauve colored Harley.  They smoked roll-your-own Export A cigarettes and had do-it-yourself tattoos.  Our neighborhood was full of guys just like them.  Most of them hung out at 204.  But this was all exterior stuff.  The way teenagers looked back then.  Fashion and fads.  Ma always said she had good boys.  She was right.  Good boys who grew into sterling men.  Married their soul mates and big loves. Raised wonderful families and led good lives.  Decent.  Ma taught them well.

Me and my big sister on the front porch in winter.

The relationship between my sister and I was akin to oil and water.  We didn’t mix well but we did love each other despite our innumerable differences.  Genetics may have had a hand in this. Just who we were.  But mostly I think we were both products of our own times.  We were imprinted by the decades that informed us most.  The indelible impression.  She was a good girl from the fifties.  Defined by maintaining a high morale code and preserving one’s virginity until marriage vows were exchanged.  I am a product of the sixties and seventies.  Peace.  Love.  And understanding.   Complicated and perplexing.  And yes, there was living in sin.  Nothing was being saved for marriage.

Enough said.  My sister and I were different.  We loved each.  We fought like two female cats in heat.  Ma had to physically stand between us on more than one occasion.  We always made up and made nice.  Because in the end we were both good girls.  Just with different points of view.  Not wrong.  Not bad.  Just different.  As adult women we have come to terms with all of that.  The oil and the water was given a good shake.  It has emulsified.  Ma taught us well.

My parents’ relationship was plagued with challenges right from the start.  Legally she was still married to the man in Manitouwadge or Wawa.  She was raising three kids on her own, money was scarce and at times her world was a dark and frightening place.  The Old Man was four years younger, immature by all accounts, mourning the recent loss of his mother, and ill-tempered when drunk.  Not the best formula for starting a new life.  Yet somehow they made this thing work.  It wasn’t perfect.  But it wasn’t too shabby either.  More proof that miracles do happen.

My two blond blue eyed loves.

Flash forward to 1992.  History repeats itself on the West Coast.  I was a single mother of two.  Working at a little graphic design company owned by an old friend from back in the days at 204. He was the first big heartbreak love of my best friend, the person who introduced me to my ex-husband and my boss.  My mantra back then was “you’ve just gotta love a guy like that.”

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in March of ’92 I met a blond blue eyed alcoholic at a rundown country bar my sister dragged me to because I needed a little fun in my otherwise dull life. It was there that I fell head over heels for one of the jammers on stage.  He played upright bass in a bluegrass band.  There was just something about the way he played that thing that made my toes curl.  After his bit on stage we danced.  And we’ve been dancing ever since.

I dove in with my eyes wide open.  I’d seen this movie before. I knew how it played out having witnessed it up-close and personal my entire life.  There we were.  Just like Ma and The Old Man.  Yet not.  We’ve written our own story.  Everyone does.  This was our shot.  Sacrifices were made and compromises struck.  A beautiful blond blue eyed child was born bearing an uncanny resemblance to both her Dad and The Old Man.

The heart expands. Love grows. And life begins.  Again.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Countdown to Summer Vacation.

We loved to sit on our front porch in pedal pushers.

I like countdowns.  Especially ones that lead up to a happy event or special occasion.  Like Christmas.  The birth of a child.  A wedding.  On New Year’s Eve I like to watch the ball drop in Times Square.  All that glittery optimism and brilliant expectations for the year ahead.   A fresh new start in ten New York seconds.  Which could be 11 or 12 in the rest of the world given the speed with which a New York second passes.  Regardless, it’s out with the old.  In with the new.  A reason to celebrate.

Even though it’s been decades since I was in school, one of my favorite countdowns still remains that to the start of summer vacation.  There’s nothing else quite like it.  For me, it even trumps counting the days until Christmas. Despite all the caroling and egg nog drinking.  There’s no strings attached.  Just easy breezy eagerness.  And the joy of looking forward to lingering carefree days and laid-back leisure time.

Gretchen Rubin in her marvelous book “The Happiness Project” talks about the four stages of happiness, with the first one being anticipation.  This notion really resonates with me.  Because it goes hand in glove with countdowns.  As I am counting down, I am also anticipating and picturing that some kind of wonderful about to take place.  This in turn releases a bucketful of endorphins.  And those make me grin like a five year old coveting an ice cream cone covered in sprinkles.

Little back story.  The last month of school was both terrific and torturous.  By June in Northwestern Ontario, summer had fully arrived.  No longer lurking around the corner.  It’s presence was fully felt.  From the early morning dew to the humidity that blanketed everything long after the sun had set.  The heat was relentless.  Refusing to retreat.  Even in the darkest hours under a cheddar colored moon.  It was ever present.  And after a long cold winter, we welcomed it with open windows and screens on our doors.

This time was torturous because no one wanted to be there.  Not even the teachers.  Everything you really needed to know was already behind you.  If a teacher was bold enough to introduce something new, no one was listening.  We were a clowder of cats.  Completely disinterested.  We may have seen her lips moving but we heard nothing.  Attention spans were short.  And the intake valve to our brains even shorter.  There was no way anything education related was crossing the threshold to our brains.  Being inside was unbearable.  Being inside a classroom even worse.  The sun was shining.  The birds were singing.  The flowers were blooming.  We were all itching to get outdoors and be a part of it.

The fantastic part of that last month was the relaxed easy-going attitude of everyone.  The teachers did their part.  Classroom windows were flung open wide to allow summer in.  The sweet smell of heat infused with intense humidity, the divine scent of freshly mowed lawns and ubiquitous odor of freshly tarred roads settled over our desks, the blackboard, the books, the collection of potted pea plants on the windowsill.  It was a potent elixir that made us all positively giddy with happiness.

I like to see the world upside down and with a split.

In elementary school it was also the month of outdoor gym classes.  Track and field events.  Baseball games.  Red white and blue hard rubber balls bounced and boinged off sun drenched brick walls.  Hula hoops in neon colors sashayed around tiny waists.  White chalk hopscotch art filled the sidewalks.  Cartwheels.  Headstands.  Skipping ropes and Double Dutch.  Play of all sorts was extended.  And clothes were lessened.  Bare legs and bare arms showing off the beginnings of suntans.  Sandals and rubber flip flops.  Pony tales and new summer haircuts.

In high school every opportunity to be outside was embraced. It was a time to start working on the tan.  The goal was to be beach-ready when the final bell tolled.  Lazy lunches and spare classes were spent languishing on the grass.   P.E. classes were all about the outdoors.  It was track and field season and whether you liked it or not you were out there.  Running or dragging your butt around the track. Horse laughing with your friends.  Good nature teasing.  Disgusted by the sweating.  Complaining at every turn.  But secretly loving every moment.

Breakfast at one of the campsites on our Circle Route trip.

I don’t think Ma and The Old Man counted down the days until my school year ended.  But they too welcomed the lazy hazy crazy days of summer.  Relished the longer days and warm evenings.  This meant more time for The Old Man to tend to his vegetable garden.  Or umpire Little League games after supper. More time for Ma to pause and relax with a cup of tea.  Go for walks or simply watch us kids play from our front porch stoop.

We weren’t big travelers.  Especially going anywhere that required a plane, train or boat.  But we did have an automobile. A Ford.  This was all we needed to get away.  The Old Man got two weeks off in the summer which was a big deal back then.  During that time we’d often go camping or drive down to Duluth for a few days of shopping and sightseeing. One time we went as far as Minneapolis.  And another time we drove and tented our way around Lake Superior.   Doing the Circle Route was considered quite the adventure to our family.  I’ll never forget the thrill of traveling the Soo Locks.  Another favorite summer pastime was driving to Sibley Park, Boulevard Lake or Chippewa for a Sunday afternoon picnic and swim.  Oh the picnics.  How we loved those.  Some planned and some spontaneous.  On muggy evenings, Ma would pack up a basket of food and we would drive to Boulevard to cool down and have dinner.   Who needed a pool or a summer cottage when one of the best places to swim and hang out was just twenty minutes from our house.  We were blessed.

Evening picnic at Boulevard Lake.It’s been said that the family that prays together stays together. That could very well be true.  But I also think that the family that plays together stays together.  At least that seemed to be the case for ours.  Especially in the summertime.  Everyone just seemed to get along better.  A bit like the way we were around Christmas time.  Only the rosy glow lingered.  For two solid months our spirits were raised and uplifted.  Happiness hovered in the clear blue skies over Lake Superior.  Washed over us in Boulevard Lake.  Splashed us from behind at Sibley.  Shone over the Sleeping Giant with a big yellow smile.  Echoed across Ouimet Canyon.  Shouted from the top of Mount McKay.  And giggled inside a tent pitched in the backyard at 204.

It’s June and summer beckons.  Calls me back to that place.  I count down.