Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Maple Tree.

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I have a Maple Tree in my front yard.

I brought it with me from Ontario as a tiny sapling.

I removed it gingerly from its mother tree the morning I left to return to BC.

I wrapped it in a wet paper towel and a plastic baggy.

I placed it carefully into my purse where it journeyed across Canada with me.

I loved it so and made a promise to my parents to take good care of it.

I planted it temporarily in a small terracotta pot.

I replanted it and replanted it into ever-bigger pots that sat on my sunny patio.

I watched as it grew and grew until it was the same height as me.

I bought a little white house after my parents died just around the corner from the rental.

I lovingly removed the Maple Tree from its final pot made from a wooden barrel.

I planted it permanently in the front yard deeply anchored in the solid earth.

I called it Marion after my mother.

She is well over twenty feet tall now.

She is far bigger than my mother could have ever imagined.

She is a faithful reminder of my mother and the life we shared.

She provides a welcome canopy of shade.

She keeps my front room cool and comfortable in the summertime.

She is beautifully naked and oh so graceful in the winter.

She quietly stands guard and watches over this little white house.

She is eternally helpful and obliging that way.

She also makes me feel safe in the shelter of her branches.

She changes color with the seasons but not the way her mother tree did back in Ontario.

She wonders about some of those autumn colors of her lineage.

She ponders the reason they are missing from her leaves.

She thinks her mother tree looked divine in a particular shade of red.

She mourns the loss of the things she did not inherit.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Garden of Little Big Things.

DSCN0818I’m big on the little things. The small, unexpected delights that make you smile. Or grin like a fool in love. Stand on your head and spit nickels. The unplanned moments and spontaneous incidences, with their elegant perfect brevity, that takes you by surprise. Then there are all those transitory things that are so easily overlooked or often passed by completely. Those are quite simply, the best. When you raise your head and say, ‘thank God I saw that.’

I also believe in everyday miracles. The tiny wonders that make you grateful.

This summer I was fortunate enough to bear witness to the innate generosity and enduring tenacity of the earth, quite literally beneath my feet. It began with a compost box in our backyard. Actually it began before that. With delicious winter meals of roasted squash and crispy green salads populated with grape and cherry tomatoes.

DSCN0834Little back story. Our house is built on a rock. A massive boulder that ascends heavenward less than ten feet from the back door. Steps have been cut and built into the rock so that you can climb it with ease. At the top it levels off into this lumpy grassy knoll in spring that is parched and stripped of color in summer and then mushy from the relentless rains of fall and winter. Always a farm boy at heart, E refers to this as his Back 40, but unlike his Annapolis Valley roots, where food crops grew in abundance, this little piece of paradise is canopied by Garry Oak Trees and shadowed by the Douglas Firs that tower like looming sentinels in the park that butts up against our property. We soon discovered, our first summer living here, that growing things to eat would be a challenge at best. And far too often, downright heartbreaking.

Like the early settlers and pioneers of the New World, E and I persevered. We were inspired by a deep yearning to sow good seeds, tend to them with loving kindness, watch them flourish and burgeon so that by summer’s end we could enjoy the harvest season, nature’s bounty, the abundance of Autumn. Surely this is what Mother Earth intended, even for gardens grown in difficult settings.

DSCN0971E persevered. I gave up.

Through tenacious experimentation with planting various and sundry seedlings, grew understanding, wisdom and respect for what we had in our Back 40. First and foremost, we accepted that it was different from any other garden we had ever grown. It did its own thing, for the most part. It was a maverick. In many ways, it was a mirror to our own natures.

Eventually E figured out what grew. And what didn’t. Blueberries for example, love the rocky ridged beds that E built and filled with enough earth for them to take hold and produce an abundance of juicy berries. We have over a dozen bushes now of different varieties, including pink blueberries. Who knew? On the very top of the rock, where the trees don’t block the sun, big bouquets of petunias grow beautifully in cobalt blue and burgundy glazed earthenware pots. And a variety of tall elegant grasses do well on the sunny slopes that flank the steps. In the long narrow bed that clings to the side of the rock, just outside our kitchen window, a grouping of succulents with tiny pink flowers that bloom in autumn have taken occupancy. I am a blessed woman.

One of the things we have grown to appreciate the most about this wild horse of a garden are all the things that grow naturally, without any help from us. For the rock knows what it needs and what it wants. Like all the wild flowers that grow in the tiny pockets in the rock. Purple things, little mysterious gems that pop up everywhere all year round. I don’t know their fancy Latin names. I just call them beautiful. Then there are the daisies with their sunny smiles that hang out on the side of the fishpond with the orange spiky lilies, red hots, the scraggly fuchsia bushes and overgrown grape vine. And of course, there are the clingers and hangers-on. The pale green lichens, the mossy carpet bits and the small-scale succulents.

DSCN0735The birds love it here too. Plus, they also do their share of planting. Without them, we wouldn’t have the pink and yellow funny-faced snapdragons.

But of all these miraculous things, the most wondrous of all, are what E calls “the volunteers”, a phenomenon of sowing and reaping that occurred for the first time this summer. One that took us by surprise, and delighted us, beyond measure. And to think, it all started last winter with roasted squash and tomato salads. And that black compost box.

In the spring E filled all the rocky beds with the rich mulch that he had been collecting all winter. And from that, six mystery squash plants and three tomato plants took hold. Sprouted and grew effortlessly. Miracle plants. Gracious gifts from God and Mother Earth.

We’ve spent the summer watching them do their own thing. Just doing what comes naturally, I suppose. Add a little sunshine and water to E’s well-mulched earth. And voila! Hallelujah! A miracle.

And we slow dance under the harvest moon.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: My Mother’s Hands.

Long piano fingers so elegant and lovely.

I miss Ma.  Sharing cups of tea.  Or lingering conversations on a quiet summer evening.  Laughing until we cried.  Long walks through the neighborhood.  Enjoying the pleasure of each others company.  Mother and daughter stuff.  All such lovely things that I cherish and hold dear.  But of all those things, it is her hands that I pine for.  Reach out and wish that they were resting next to mine.  Hand in hand.  Beautiful.  Comforting. Tender.  Reassuring.

Her touch was my first.  My touch was one of her last.

Her fingers were long, thin and graceful.  Pulsing with veins.  Like indigo rivers across translucent terrain.  We used to call them piano fingers because they could easily span an octave of keys.  She never played an instrument.  Except the music of her heart.

Her hands were hard working.  Dependable and strong.  They understood the connection between soap, water and a scrub brush.  A dish rag and a scouring pad.  Intimately.  Thoroughly.  Hardwood, tile, linoleum and wall to wall.  Down on all fours.  Scoured and cleaned.  Washed and wiped. Polished and shined.  Gleaming with pride.

Ma loved clean laundry.  Before washing machines were automatic, she filled her wringer washer daily.  Pulled her family’s clothes, piece by piece, through the hard rubber rollers.  Filled her wicker basket then meticulously hung the day’s laundry on the line to dry. Wooden pegs and twisted wire.  Summer or winter.  Spring or autumn.  The sparkling laundry fluttered and flew and often froze.  Board stiff long johns and flannelette nighties.  Her magical hands orchestrated it all with ease.  Held it close and let it go.

Hands that could cook up a storm.

Her hands were a sight to behold in the kitchen.  She cooked and baked.  Stirred and tossed.  Kneaded and coaxed.  Folded and cut.  Meals were prepared with tenderness.  Cookies were baked with love.  Cakes were dressed and adorned for every occasion.  Table was set.  Dinner was served.  Dishes washed and carefully put away.  Countertops glistened.  The floor was swept.  The refrigerator hummed with contentment.  Such power in those hands.

A paint brush found its place to dwell.  Between her thumb and pointer finger.  Strokes and splashes across the canvas.  Dabs and feather light lines.  Details drawn.  Smudges and smears.  Oil on canvas.  Flowers and trees.  Fruit in bowls.  The Sleeping Giant.  Artistic.  Expressive. Imaginative wondrous hands.

Her hands held books and magazines.  On topics diverse and sundry.  Her hands were eager to learn. To grasp the meaning of life.  To find the truth.  To seek wisdom.  To scratch her head when none of it made sense.

Fabric was transformed in her hands.  Curtains from calico.  Tablecloths from cheerful colorful cotton. Dresses from wool or the softest silk.  Jumpers from baby wale corduroy.  Skirts that twirled and flared.  Slacks that zipped or buttoned.  Shirts were crisp or casual.  A surprise dress at the end of a school day.  A new wardrobe to start the year.  Machine sewn.  Hand stitched.  Embroidered edges.  Guide me home.

Hands that gripped life and love and held on tight.

The exquisite hands that caressed my newborn head.  Supported me while I learned to walk.  Clasped my hand on my first walk to school.  Tended to my scraped knees.  Wiped the tears from my eyes when my heart was torn and broken.  Touched my shoulder with the language of love.  Embraced.  Hugged.  Carried.   Stroked.  Hands that gripped and held on tight.  To love.  To life.

Young hands.  Mother’s hands.  Old hands.  Grandma’s hands.  May they reach down from heaven and touch this daughter’s heart tonight.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Stray Cats, Hitch Hikers and Under Dogs.

Some of the strays who found their way to 204.

I love stray cats.  I’m not talking about the feline variety, although I do like them.  Nor am I talking about the band from the eighties.  I like them too.  The stray cats I’m referring to are all the misfits of the world.  The ones who don’t belong.  Or haven’t found their home.  The square pegs. The oddballs.  Weirdos.  Freaks.  Under dogs.  The ones called last to the team.  Or not at all.  These are my favorites.  I have a huge place in my heart for this motley collection.

I don’t remember when my heart first opened up to let the strays in.  From the very beginning of me, it seems.  Like Lady Gaga, I was just born that way.  I also think that Ma and The Old Man were born that way too.  Maybe it’s in our family DNA.

Little back story.  Over the years many stray cats found a place at the table at 204.  Or on the couch.  Sleeping bags in the backyard.  Rusted out vans in the driveway. Everyone from cute young hitchhikers to the lost girls I met at school.  The travelers.  The seekers.  The Emotionally wounded.  Those consumed by wanderlust.  And the temporarily homeless.  All were welcome.

Some travelers who camped out in the back of 204 for the night.

One girl comes to mind readily.  Although we haven’t spoken in decades, I have never forgotten her.  To the best of my recollection, and photographic evidence, we met for the first time in grade eight.  We were an unlikely pairing.  Yin and yang.  I was painfully shy, quiet and introverted.  She was naturally outgoing, loud and gregarious.  One day she would blossom into a beauty but in grade eight there was very little to suggest that this would ever happen.  That was an awkward age to begin with.  For all of us.  One look at our grade eight class photo says it all.  Not one raving beauty in the bunch.  In all fairness, we were transitioning through that God-awful uncomfortably homely stage where our body parts hadn’t quite jelled.  You could see it in our grim expressions.  If there were smiles at all, they looked tentative and forced.  We were a collective mess.

But in her case things were even worse.  Add a high forehead.  Acne.  Lazy eye.  Thick glasses.  Not a pretty picture no matter what lens you use.  Too bad there weren’t more crystal balls around back then so we could have seen the swan emerging.  There were hints of course.  Perfectly even white teeth, great smile and beautiful legs.  I didn’t have a lazy eye nor a high forehead but I did have acne flareups, thin lips and skinny bowed legs.  So I could relate.

Beneath her wise-cracking-gum-smacking-nothing-bothers-me veneer, she was also angry.   I was too.  Another thing we had in common.  Except she probably had more cause to be.  I was angry at the world for its lack of equitability.  I moaned and groaned at how unfair life was.  And she was my case in point.   Her mother died when she was a little girl leaving her and her older sister to be raised by their alcoholic father.  The Old Man was an alcoholic too but he was a saint next to this guy.  They lived in a tumbled down weather beaten house on the fringe of our neighborhood.  I don’t recall ever going inside.  The outside looked like one of those scary haunted houses in horror movies. That was enough for me.  The ramshackle nature of the place, and her father, both embarrassed and humiliated her.   Like many alcoholics, especially those who are gooned most of the time, he was unpredictable.  She often sought refuge at 204.  Like in the Dylan song, we gave her “shelter from the storm.”

Ma and The Old Man loved this girl.  Flaws and all.  They saw past the loud, often obnoxious behavior to the insecure girl crying out for love and attention.  And for whatever reason, I just plain flat-out liked her.  She was hilarious and fun.  Spontaneous and full of surprises.  Every day was a new adventure.  She took me places that I would never have gone otherwise.  Introduced me to people I never would have met.  Widened my circle.  Broadened my horizons.  Expanded my universe.  We may have had a few close calls along the way.  But it was worth it.  All relatively innocuous when I look back on it now.   She dressed up my drab life and I am grateful.

She added thrills and spills to my life and I kept her out of trouble.   When she went to the edge of darkness, I had her back.  Took care of her when she got drunk.  Held her hair out of her face when she threw up in the revolting toilets at the Arena where the weekly teen dances were held.  The smell of the urine soaked concrete is permanently imbedded in my head. I also made sure we got home safely to 204 before things went too far.

Ma saw herself in this motherless girl. She understood profoundly  the craving for a particular kind of love.  That only a mother could satisfy.  The truth is, this girl was a snap to love.  She was abundantly affectionate and demonstrative.  Hugged hard.  Squeezed the love right out of you.  She expressed her rainbow of feelings without hesitation or self-consciousness.  Who wouldn’t be drawn to a person like this?  Ma, The Old Man and I were like bees to honey.  She had us at the first hug and tight squeeze.

All were welcome at 204 even the cute ones.

Some people bring out the best in you.  Others just bring you out.  That’s what she did for me.  I always felt more courageous when I was with her.  Less inhibited.  More myself.  I liked who I was when she was around.  We may have been yin and yang but we were also two peas in a pod.  We were more alike than we were different.  I think that’s true of most people.  If we dare to peel back the layers.  We find ourselves there too.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts.  Most of us are taught that at our mother’s knee.  Tired cliche.  Overused platitude.  Hack-kneed homily.  But cliches don’t become cliches for nothing.  Within their lackluster facade are essences of truth and wisdom.  Don’t judge a book by its cover.  Another cliche.  Also true.  It’s hard not to judge people.  Especially when they are different.  All the more reason to pause and open your heart and mind to what it feels like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  Another cliche.  Again true.  It changes you when you do.  I have proof.  Sitting in the front row of our grade eight class picture. The only one wearing boots.  My unlikely friend.

What did Ma, The Old Man and I see in this girl?  Quite simply. Ourselves.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Orange Swivel Rocking Chair by the Window.

Pregnant with Daughter Number One. Great expectations in the tweed version.

I like to stare out the window.  It’s a relaxing and meditative diversion.  Some people experience this by looking heavenward to the stars.  Or by sitting in front of an aquarium filled with exotic tropical fish.  Others like to watch the tides roll in.  But I’m a window gazer.  A peaceful tranquility washes over me whenever I sit in front of a window.  And look out.

Little back story.  In our house at 204 there was always a chair in front of the living room window.  Or at least from the time the house was renovated and a large picture window replaced the small wartime paned version.  This window cried out for a comfy chair and a place to watch the world outside.  With this in mind, Ma arranged the furniture so that there was always such a chair. And within arms reach, the treasured pedestal table with its sundry potted plants over the years, and always a coaster conveniently placed to support a cup of tea or coffee, glass of milk or Pepsi.

Daughter Number One liked to window gaze too.

It wasn’t exactly a big world to gaze upon. Not like looking up at the infinite sky on a clear August night.  But it was my world for many years.  This was the cherished spot where I honed my observational deftness.  Even long after I had flown the nest I loved to return to the chair by the window.  To daydream.  To reflect.  Or rest.  Often to recover from the battlefield of life.

Over the years, several different chairs occupied the space next to the window.  They all had a few things in common.  First and foremost, the color orange was represented in them somewhere.  Solid, tweed, plaid or striped.  Ma used to say that she loved color and she wasn’t kidding.  And when it came to decorating our living room, orange was undeniably her color of choice.  Something I never fully appreciated until I looked at Ma’s albums filled with scads of photos of family and friends taken on the various chairs.  Not only orange chairs.  But Curtains.  Lampshades.  And wall to wall carpet.  It was a dizzying sea of riotous color.   Autumn lived perpetually in our living room.

On the outside Ma was a quiet, soft-spoken demure woman.  But if a person’s color preference reveals anything about their true character, than Ma’s interior spaces were filled with fire, passion and fervency.  She was a courageous artist fearlessly expressing herself in the boldest of possible ways.  Orange.

The First Born having a snack in the striped version.

This common thread of orange aside, these chairs all rocked and swiveled.  This made them very practical because you could position them in any direction depending on the need.  They provided a 360 degree panorama of our downstairs.  Swivel slight to the left for television viewing.  To the centre back and you could watch all the kitchen activities, in particular Ma cooking up something spectacular.  To the right and you could engage in lively conversation with whomever was on the couch.  And centre front, there was the view of our street.

These chairs were also enormously fun.  Swivel and rock in a full circle. One way and then the other.  They turned us all into whirling dervishes.  Spinning tops.  Every bit as good as the old leather and chrome stools at the food counter in the basement restaurant at Eaton’s.  Giggles and glee.  Tee-hee!  Plus, they were all so comfortable you never wanted to leave.  No matter what was going on in my life, whenever I sat in the orange chair  by the window everything was right with the world.

In truth, there wasn’t a whole lot to see out of that window.  Mostly just the houses across the street.  The mauve lilac that grew on the edge of our lawn next to the lumpy sidewalk and the Manitoba Maple on the boulevard.  I watched it grow from a tiny sapling to a magnificent old sentry watching over our little wartime house.  In summer it shaded our front yard.  In fall it graced us with glorious red, orange and yellow leaves that danced and quivered in the wind.  In winter it held strong and steady while the snow collected on its barren branches.  In spring came the buds of hope and great expectations.

One summer the city added cement curbs and paved the street.  We were delighted to say goodbye to the pot holes and annual tarring of our road.  I have to admit though that the smell of tar triggers happy memories of childhood summers.   It’s right up there with the scent of Coppertone, freshly mowed lawns, wild roses and hot rubber hoses.

The First Born sharing the plaid version with The Old Man.

One of my fondest memories is from the winter.  I was home visiting over the Christmas holidays with my two older kids in tow.  It was a large blue sky afternoon.  The kind that only Northwestern Ontario can produce.  Nothing quite like it anywhere I’ve been.  On this particular afternoon Ma got a call from her sister Hazel to go over to the mall for the afternoon.  Ma rarely turned down an opportunity to go for an outing.  It didn’t really matter where.  I sat in the orange swivel rocking chair by the window and watched Ma as she stood in the driveway waiting for her sister to come pick her up.  The snow was crisp and clean. The snow banks were so high on either side of the window that they dwarfed Ma’s already small frame.  She was wearing her gray fake fur coat.  I don’t know what animal it was imitating.  Her purse was draped across her chest.  While she was waiting she traced the snow with the toe of her boot like a windshield wiper.  Back and forth.  Every now and then she would pause and look down the street for Auntie Hazel’s car.  Her cheeks were blushed red from the cold air and her dark eyes were so bright and alive.  I had to remind myself that she was in her seventies.  She looked like a young girl.  Full of life and eagerness.  I will always remember her that way.  And how the sight of her touched my heart with such tenderness.

Ma enjoying a moment of relaxation in the solid version.

In my room, the place where I write and dream, my computer sits in front of the window overlooking our beautifully imperfect garden, which is green and lush at the moment. Teeming with birds, squirrels and dragonflies, the occasional deer, raccoon, duck or heron.  When I window gaze here I also see another time and place.  I’m transported to an orange swivel rocking chair that sits by a picture window.  It hugs me.  It holds me when my heart is heavy.  It comforts me when I’m full of fear and lost all hope.  It rocks and swivels me to a place of peace.  I see the street where I grew up.  Played scrub ball.  Rode my bike. Scraped my knee.  Ran under the sprinkler.  Sat on the neighbors front step and shared a first kiss.  I see the place under the maple tree where I sat in the shade and drank Pepsi.  I see the tarry road and the dreams of other roads to travel.  I see The Old Man tending to his garden.  Raking leaves.  Shoveling snow.  Blowing his nose in a big white cotton hanky.  I see Ma waiting for Auntie Hazel.  I see God’s hand reaching out and touching all of it with wonder and grace.  I see love in the large blue sky.  I am cradled in my mother’s arms.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 101 Lessons for a Good Life.

#73 – Every child born to our family is wanted and loved.

I like lists.  I find them quite useful.  They keep me organized.  Or at least they create the illusion of doing so.  A nifty thing about lists is how they come chock-a-block with little goals.  Each line item something to be accomplished.  Been there.  Done that.  Now move on.  And there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of scratching something off the list.  Personally, I like to draw a thick heavy line right through the achievement.  Preferably in permanent ink.  Finito.

There are daily lists.  Like the “to do/call/email” list at work.  Some are weekly.  Grocery lists fall into this category.  Others are annual.  The family Christmas wish list reigns supreme.  Some are fun.  Like the list of things we need for our Annual Thanksgiving Bluegrass Party.  Then there are sundry others.  Everything from books to read, songs to download,  places to see, people to meet, things to keep and things to chuck.  All worthwhile and handy to have in your hip pocket.

One of the best lists I have ever compiled is the one that I am sharing with you today.  It’s a list of some of the things that Ma taught me during the course of our lifetime together. These are things she said, did, led by example, or simply implied.  There are 101 things on this list.  There could have been one thousand or one million.  Because she taught me so much and I am so very grateful.  But I’ve narrowed the list down to 101.  I like this number.  It reminds me of the first year course numbers when I was in University.  English 101.  Pyschology 101.  Anthropology 101 where I met my first true love.  It’s a solid number with the implication that there is more to come.  And who knows.  Maybe there is.

The list isn’t in any particular order.  It’s random.  Like life.  Some things are common sense.  Others uncommon. Extraordinary.  Some are peculiar.  And contradictory.  Some are funny.  Others very sad.  At times confusing.  Often profound in simplicity.  And full of classic cliches of the time.  But also bright.  And wise.  Witty.  Practical.  Pragmatic.  Confounding.  Infuriating.  Loving. Tender.  Touching.

Cherished gifts each and every one.  From Ma to me.  To you.  With love.

1.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.
2. You can’t make someone love you.
3. Always wear clean underwear.  Carry a pair in your purse just in case.
4. Tomorrow’s another day and this too shall pass.
5. The secret to baking a good cookie is to remove it from the oven just before it’s done and let it finish baking on the sheet.
6. Time heals all wounds.
7. You can’t take it with you when you go.
8. Bad breath is better than no breath at all.
9. Everybody needs love even those who are difficult like your father.
10. God is inside of me.
11. The secret to a good spaghetti sauce is to let it simmer all day.
12. Don’t complain.  No one’s listening anyway.
13. Nobody’s perfect. They just wish they were.
14. Life is far too short.
15.  Send your child to school in fresh clean clothes every day even if it means doing laundry every night.
16. Don’t go out in the sun without a big hat and long sleeves.
17. Walk whenever possible and always have a comfortable pair of shoes at the back door ready to go.
18. You don’t need make-up, except for lipstick.  It brightens your face and makes you look pretty.
19. Keep a nice home and welcome everyone into it.
20.  Always tell the truth.  No one trusts liars.
21. Pay attention to how the dog reacts to your boyfriends.  The dog is a good judge of character.
22. Splurge on a really nice dress for a special occasion.  Treat yourself and don’t feel guilty.  It’s important to feel good when you go out.

#23 – Don’t walk around the house with your shoes on. It’s rude.

23. Don’t walk around the house with your shoes on.  It’s rude.
24. Always wash your face and put on night cream before going to bed.  Repeat in the morning with day cream.  Moisturizing is the key to beautiful skin all your life.
25.  Pick up a “Ladies” magazine while you’re grocery shopping. It’s an inexpensive treat.
26. Not everyone belongs in a group.
27. Don’t throw Tupperware parties. No one will come.
28. Stay away from bad people.  Especially men who are bad for you.  You’ll get hurt every time.
29. Call if you need me.  Anytime.  Anywhere.  I’ll be right there.
30. Babies like to be picked up when they cry.
31. Nothing beats flannel pajamas and nighties.

#32 – Take pictures of the flowers you are sent.

32. Take pictures of the cakes you bake, the flowers you are sent, the gifts you are given, the Christmas tree every year even if it looks the same, it’s different.
33. Support a third world child regardless of your financial situation.
34.  Cry when you’re sad.  Yell when you’re mad.  Sit silently when you need to think.  Laugh at the funny things.
35. Get up early.  Put the kettle on first thing. Start your day with a cup of tea and piece of toast.
36. It’s okay to wear comfortable clothes around the house just as long as they’re freshly washed and ironed.  Being comfortable isn’t the same thing as being a slob.
37. You can never give a child enough love.  That’s not what spoils them.
38. Accept invitations to lunch or an afternoon shopping at the mall.
39. It’s okay to fall asleep on the couch while watching television.
40. Don’t worry about your age.  There’s nothing you can do about it.
41. Always send Thank You cards.

#42 – Remember everyone’s birthday with a homemade cake.

42.  Remember everyone’s birthday with a homemade cake and a nicely wrapped gift.  At the very least give a special card.
43. Take care of your teeth.  False teeth just aren’t the same as your own.
44. Invite people to stay for dinner.  There’s always plenty.
45. Make the bed as soon as you get up.
46. Have supper together every night and make Sunday dinner extra special.  Roast something.  Have the entire family over.
47. Give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t hold grudges.
48. You don’t need a reason to give a gift or to send someone a note to let them know you’re thinking of them.
49. Try not to hurt someone’s feelings but apologize right away when you do.
50. Mind your manners.  Always say please and thank you.
51. Wash your hands all day long but especially before touching food.
52.  Bounce a baby on your lap and sing “doodley doodley doodley doo.”
53. Pick up litter when you see it.  Stuff it in your pocket if there isn’t a garbage nearby and throw it out when you get home.
54. Never let your grey roots show.  It makes you look old.
55. Baths are better than showers.
56.  Always bring out the good china for company and on special occasions.
57. You’re never too old to start something new.
58.  Nothing tastes quite as good as a sandwich made with lettuce freshly picked from the garden.
59. It’s okay to buy certain things for your home “on time.”
60. Write letters.  Everyone loves getting them.
61. No one will love you like your mother.  Especially a man.
62. Some people can be mean.  That doesn’t make okay for you to be mean back.
63. Take all kinds of vitamins and supplements.  They’re good for you.
64. People with thin lips are nags.
65. Pay your bills every month no matter how broke you are.  Even if it’s just a little bit to everyone you owe.
66. It’s a sign of beauty if a girl looks like her father.
67.  Get the dishes done right after you eat.
68. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and enjoy dessert.
69.  Learn to sew clothes, embroider tablecloths and knit scarves.  Teach these to your daughters.
70. Learn to cook and bake, especially if you have children.
71. Read everything you can about being healthy and subscribe to Prevention Magazine.

#56 – Always bring out the good china for company and on special occasions.

72. Try to see the good in everyone.
73. Every child born to our family is wanted and loved.
74. Exercise every day. Walk. Do yoga. Ride an exercise bike.
75. Go back to school at sixty.
76. Don’t waste your time gossiping.
77. A health food store is a good place to shop.
78. The secret to a perfect pie crust is a secret.  But here’s the recipe.
79. Be kind and decent to everyone no matter who they are.
80. Walk facing the traffic at all times.
81. Be nice.
82. Don’t go empty handed to someone’s house.
83. Pray for people whether they asked you to or not.  Especially your children.
84. Don’t go blabbing family business to the neighbors.
85. You can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it.
86. You’re just as good as anyone.
87. Always make lemon pie from scratch.  It’s worth it.
88.  Forgive and forget.  Sometimes it’s easier said than done though.
89. Celebrate the holidays with your family.  Have big wonderful meals and lots of gifts under the tree.
90. You don’t have to get married to be married.
91. Potatoes are versatile.
92. No matter how afraid you are, get on the plane.
93. Respect your elders and those in authority, especially teachers and police officers.  Their jobs are hard enough.
94.  Don’t be a show off, braggart or know-it-all.  No one likes people like that.
95. It’s important to have a room of your own to sew or paint or make things.
96. Always have Kleenex up your sleeve and a package of peppermint Chicklets in your purse.
97. Offer your seat on the bus to older people and pregnant women.
98. Italians are nice people.
99. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, especially to children.
100. You only get out of life what you put into it.
101. You’re never too old to play on a swing.

#101 – You’re never too old to play on a swing.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Attic, Hunting for Treasure and the Letter from Jerry.

The box containing the letter from Jerry.

I love treasure hunts.  And finding things I thought were lost forever.  There’s nothing like cleaning out a closet and finding some long forgotten gem.  An old photograph.  A thinking-of-you card or note.  A love letter from someone you once thought you couldn’t live without.  A concert ticket.  Recital program.  A baby book with a lock of hair and a lost tooth.

Most homes have storage spaces where certain things are put away.  For another day.  Another year.  Another time.  Sometimes these things get lost in the deep dark recesses at the very back.   And before you know it, forgotten.  Like they never existed.  We had a little attic in our home that contained such consigned to oblivion artifacts.  It was there that my addiction to treasure hunting began.

Little back story.  We lived on a street lined with wartime houses. They were all pretty much identical except for the size.  Two, three and four bedroom wooden bungalows that looked like they were built more for hasty necessity than longevity.  The big bad wolf could blow one over with a huff and a puff.  Ours was a four bedroom model, with two of those bedrooms on the second floor where the ceilings were sloped and the walls hung low.  My two older brothers occupied one of these rooms.  The other was where Ma sewed and I played by her side.

In “the boys room” there was a little door about three feet tall.  It looked like something that belonged on a child’s play house.  It’s Lilliputian size made it all the more alluring.  Irresistible. Tempting.  And I was drawn to it like a bee to honey.  A moth to light.  In my young impressionable mind it was the door to a whole other world.  Not necessarily like the one in The Chronicles of Narnia.  But equally fascinating and compelling to a small girl with a big imagination.  Truth was, on the other side of the door was just our attic.  And not like the kind you see in the movies either.  It wasn’t some dusty expansive space on the top floor of an old mansion filled with cobwebs and spooky pirate chests that groaned when opened.  It didn’t contain the magical world of Narnia with all its Turkish delight, White Witch and the great lion king Aslan.  But it was filled with family treasures.  And its own flavor of magic.  At times it could be scary.  And sometimes with a little inspiration, it could be downright spine-tingling. But it was always fun to explore.

It was dark, dry and dusty smelling with extreme temperatures. In the summer it was like the fires of hell.  You’d break into a sweat after two minutes.  In winter, it was colder than the Arctic.  You could see your breath if you could see at all.  It was pitch dark so you had to leave the door open and carry a flashlight.  The floors were uneven and creaked with ever move you made.  Slivers in stocking feet were commonplace.  There was also the odd nail that popped up out of nowhere.  The outer wall was lined with pink fiberglass insulation. And slanted so that the entire space formed a perfect right-angle triangle.  It was cramped and claustrophobic, which made moving around a challenge.  Even for a small person.  You had to hunch over or crawl on all fours.  But to me, it was the perfect size and shape.

Part of the fun of going into the attic was the fear.  Nothing filled my heart with terror quite like the scary shadows cast by the flashlight.  Ricocheting sinisterly off the fiberglass walls in the ghostly enclave within the upstairs bedroom.  Littered with the artifacts of our family’s personal narrative.  Dusty cardboard boxes filled with worn out clothes.  Old baby doll carriages with broken wheels.  Tangled webs of Christmas lights.  Battered suitcases with broken locks.  The canvas tent and metal poles.  Old hard cover books.  Stacks of dog-eared Popular Mechanics and Readers Digest.  Family Circle magazines with all the recipes clipped out.  Shoe boxes filled with old negatives of photographs taken on the Six-20 Brownie Junior.  A bulky Scrapbook containing a lock from a first hair cut, and pages of birthday cards and other childhood memorabilia taped carefully into place.  Dance Costumes stored in a McNulty’s dress box.  Old dolls with missing eyelashes and hair cut short by an amateur hairdresser.  Dime store Dishes with chips and cracks.  Bundles of metal clothes hangers.  And sundry bits and bobbles that The Old Man and Ma kept for reasons known only to them.  Treasures each and every one.  Freshly discovered foray after foray into the enchanted land.

I experience this same awe and wonder every time I re-discover the letter from Jerry.

Over twenty years ago, when I was working in a Toronto advertising agency as a Copywriter, I was partnered with an Art Director named Jerry.  We got to know each other quite well over the course of the year that we worked together.  Professional lives quite often blur into the personal in these circumstances.  We seek the universal thread that binds.  Common ground.  Connectivity.  I think it makes us better workers.  And our work better.

It was during one of our many creative sessions that Jerry and I somehow got onto the topic of mail.  I had mentioned how much I loved opening the mailbox to discover a surprise card or a letter.  But this rarely happened, I explained.  All I ever got was bills and junk mail, I complained.  I longed for the good old pen pal days, I declared.  Sigh.

My self-esteem was at an all-time low when Jerry and I had this discussion.  My marriage had fallen apart.  I felt ugly.  And not only unloved but unloveable.  Jerry listened.  I had no idea how well until a few days later.

It was a night like a hundred other nights.  I came home from work exhausted.  Rushed to get dinner started before my kids tore one another apart.  Fury induced by hunger and low blood sugar.  All three of us.  Once dinner was underway I hung up my coat, kicked off my boots and went to the mailbox.  It contained the usual things.  Bills, bills and more bills.  Junk mail from companies wanting me to buy their goods or services.  Disappointing all of it.  But in amongst the undesirable mail was a white business sized envelope addressed to me in cyan colored ink.  The kind used in fountain pens.  Or fine writing instruments as they were commonly referred to back then.  We all owned at least one.  In fact, I was given one when I departed from this agency.  And still have it as a keepsake and a reminder of another time, another place.

Just the sight of that cyan blue fountain ink made my heart beat faster.  I didn’t recognize the handwriting.  But something told me it was going to be good. No matter what. In that instant before opening the envelope there was optimism.  And hope. Elation.  My hands were shaking as I carefully removed the folded lined sheet of paper.  It looked like a page removed from a student’s notebook.  Six by nine inches.  Blue horizontal lines with two red vertical ones forming the margins.

It began “Dearest Bonney.”  You could tell that the writer had corrected the spelling of my name because the dot over the misspelling was still there.  I hadn’t spelled my name with an ‘ie’ since grade eight.  But this only added to the sweetness of the salutation.  The letter went on to say, “This may only happen once so really enjoy it.  But it’s happening because you are truly the kind of person who deserves to come home and find a letter from someone….”  The rest is between me and Jerry.  It was (and still is) the best letter I have ever received in my entire life.  I hold it amongst my dearest possessions.

Jerry and I weren’t lovers.  There was no office romance.  No secret affair.  We were just “Buds.”  Colleagues. Friends. But he gave me a gift like no other.

That was well over twenty years ago.  I have not only moved across the country, but have lived in several different houses since I got here.  Yet the letter has moved everywhere with me.  I packed it away when we left for the Westcoast.

But there’s a peculiar thing about this letter.  It keeps being found.  Over and over and over.  It’s the Groundhog Day letter.  I pack it away.  Forget about it.  And then a few years later I discover it.  All new and fresh again.  Like that night twenty years ago.  Like the treasures in our attic.  Every time I pack it away it’s in a different container, in a different spot.  This isn’t intentional.  It’s usually as a result of some sort of house cleaning.  Or purging of the past.  And with that goes the consolidation of those things being chucked and those things being kept.  The letter from Jerry is always in the “keeper” pile.  I love the serendipitous nature of discovering the letter.  The random accidental earthing of this jewel every few years.

It happened again last Saturday.  I was on the hunt for more family photographs and bits and pieces of our history when I found it.  Tucked away in a box inside a basket at the top of one of the closets in my office.  It’s an awkward spot.  Things that are stored there, are left there.  Kind of like Las Vegas.  But last weekend I was on a mission.  And the great treasure hunter in me had re-surfaced.  I had to find something good.  And I did.

In the box along with Jerry’s letter there was an assortment of random things. One of the most peculiar items was a placemat I made in elementary school for Christmas.  It looked like it was made from a white sheet.  It was adorned with two red bells, several food stains and “Merry Christmas” in my handwriting.  There was also a letter from my parent’s lawyer regarding their estate, a slide rule from high school, a golf ball, a Sarah McLachlan Surfacing CD cover, a photocopy of an American Express card cut into four pieces, a 19-year old candy rose and a combination lock.

There were a lot of other things too.  But once again I separated the wheat from the chaff.   All the stuff I described, along with the letter from Jerry, has now been placed into another box and stored away.  For the next time.  When I need to be reminded that I am someone who deserves to come home from work and find a treasure in the mailbox.  Love in cyan blue fountain ink.

Footnote: I have no idea where Jerry is today.  I don’t even remember his last name.  But I will never forget him and his wonderful thoughtful gift.

The beginning of the letter from Jerry.