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: The Photograph.

ma me dog on back steps at 204I love taking pictures. It’s just another one of those things that I come by honestly. I’m not a Pro, nor do I aspire to be. I just like to take pictures. Plain and simple.

My parents loved to photograph the sundry events of our domestic life. Both momentous and intimate alike. All the milestones were covered. So were the trivial, trifling and trumpery.

While browsing through our old family albums, it’s always photos of the small everyday things that captivate me the most. The prosaic and mundane events capture my imagination like no other. For it is in these ordinary images that I see the unguarded details and accidental gestures. They become the grand movements that spawn wonder, and where unexpected beauty dwells.

Everything from Ma in the kitchen stirring the Saturday night pot of spaghetti, with the food-worn wooden spoon that had grazed many lips and touched all of our tongues with its tanginess. Or The Old Man sitting in his favorite orange velvet swivel rocking chair, with his oversized horn-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, engrossed in the evening edition of the Times Chronicle. The exquisiteness of the waning summer light glinting through the living room picture window upon my unwitting father takes my breath away and stills my heart.

There were the bigger things too.

Like the photo taken of me on the Sunday I got Confirmed. There I stood in front of the Kodak Brownie camera looking more like a reluctant blushing bride than a religious devotee, who had just received the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it was the combination of my not-so-holy Mona Lisa smile, the newly sanctified white leatherette Bible that I was clenching so fiercely to my precious budding bosom, and the unfashionable translucent off-white organza dress Ma bought from a secondhand shop just for this pious rite of passage. In the same cream-colored album, just a few pages later, there shines the real bride photo of my luminous sister-in-law in her fairytale wedding gown looking beyond radiant on the day she married my big brother.

Then there’s all those birthday party photos of me surrounded by my little friends in our fancy dresses and Sunday-best shoes. Sitting cross-legged on the grass or standing side-by-side posing, smiling and squinting into the glaring midsummer sun. Ma really knew how to throw a good party.

The silly lighthearted things were captured too. Like the night my sister decided to pin curl both my brothers’ hair. All the crazy amusing family antics. Giggling. Hoot and hollering. Laughing our guts out. All there. Perfectly preserved.

Pictures were taken everywhere. From the bathroom to the beach. Around the kitchen table and all around Lake Superior. In front of the Christmas tree and behind the back porch. Sitting on the front steps, the front lawn, the front seat of the car, in front of the TV, and in front of God.

Ma, in particular, had an abiding love for capturing the events of our lives. She had a Polaroid camera that brought her endless hours of fun and fascination. Its ability to seize a fragment of time instantaneously was a marvel to her. Holding the print in her fingers as the picture appeared within seconds. Right before her eyes. Pure magic. A modern day miracle. A wonder of wonders. Oh how she loved it so. I feel the same way about the photos I take on my iPhone. Mind blowing amazement.

As a result of all this finger-snapping photo-taking, I have a glorious visual documentation of my life. One that covers the panorama of events and emotions. From the bitter to the sweet. Snared at the intersection where joy meets sorrow. Where the profound punches the profane. The everyday and the spectacular events in the life of a regular ordinary family. Nothing special. Yet remarkable.

I have looked at these photos hundreds of times over the years. More so lately as I record the stories of my life growing up at 204.

The cracked and tattered black and white images from the early days. The washed-out color photos from the seventies. The blush-inducing eighties pics. All the nineties farewell kisses. Ma and The Old Man both died in early 2001, and with them went all the interesting, eccentric, peculiar, wonderful, joyful, melancholy, and magnificent photo ops.

There is a photo that I looked at this morning, as if for the very first time, although I had seen it countless times over the years. One of the black and whites taken by The Old Man.

My recollection of 204 was of a lovingly well-kept freshly painted white wartime house, with an enviable vegetable garden in back and beds of sunny happy Marigolds under the front window, with a beautiful Lilac bush that bloomed every June.

But this picture told a completely different story.

Staring down at the image in my hand I thought, “Holy shit. Were we really that fucking poor?” And then, shaking my head in disbelief, I thought, “The place was a run-down beat-up crummy shack.”

But as quickly as these thoughts passed through my mind, I saw this treasure of a photograph through my father’s youthful eyes.

Everything he held dear in life was in that photo. Ma, his beautiful Italian girl looking so lovely in her flowing cotton skirt of flowers. His shy baby girl with curious dark eyes just for him. The sweet gentle caramel colored mutt, with her ears perked up and dialed to his whistle. And of course, the leather baseball glove on the bottom step, ready for a game of catch.

Not so shabby.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Annual Thanksgiving Jam.

316591_10150309850086266_1794444596_nI love Thanksgiving.  It’s like Christmas without the retail hook and hassle.  In Canada it’s a fairly low-key, somewhat muted holiday.  I find this understatement peculiar, since we celebrate in October, which is smack-dab in middle of Autumn’s glory. In most of our country, it’s a month of colorful spectacle.  Fall is strutting her stuff.  Showing off in every possible way.  Crisp days.  Big blue skies.  All those bold radiant colors.  Red and orange dominate the scene.

But in typical Canadian fashion there isn’t a lot of hoopla around this holiday.  Perhaps because it falls during a month when we have a fun and flamboyant fete. Creepy costumes and free candy are far more compelling than counting your blessings and gobbling turkey. Maybe having two holidays in the same month is just too much merriment and mirth.  Thanksgiving is like the peas of October.  You just want to get it over with so you can get onto the good stuff.  Have some dessert.  Lick your lips.  Let it all hang out.

At the end of the day, there’s just none of the fanfare that our southern neighbors bestow on their holiday of the same name.  No Macy’s Parade. No colossal pro football marathons.  This isn’t our biggest travel time of the year. We don’t flock from hither and yon to be together.  That’s what we do at Christmas. Plus, the next day isn’t Black Friday, the American fever-pitched super-sized shopping day of the year.

That’s just not us.

Technically the Canadian Thanksgiving occurs on the second Monday in October.  However, I doubt many of us actually celebrate on that day.  I bet if we took a poll, we’d discover many of us “do it” on the Sunday.  This allows at least one full day for recovery. It’s damn near impossible to fill your face with a ton of tryptophan-laced turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, canned or homemade cranberry sauce, a buffet of sauce-laden vegetables, copious amounts of wine or beer, ridiculous amounts of sweets, not to mention pumpkin pie, all topped off with strong freshly brewed coffee, with or without a hit of Baileys.  You can’t possibly expect to go to work or school or daycare the next day.  Seriously, can you?   No.

The Americans get Black Friday and Christmas shopping.  We get an alarm clock catapulting us from our collective Canadian tryptophan comas.  It’s a deplorable first world problem.

So in full-out Canadian style rebellion we celebrate a day earlier.  It’s defiant I know.  I guess to be fair, and God knows I’m all about fairness, not all Canadians do this.  But this is the way it goes down at our house. And has, for as far back as I can remember.  I’m a real stickler for family traditions. Just the way I roll. Or rock.  Bang my head and fall over.

When I was younger I completely overlooked, and took for granted, the “thanks” in Thanksgiving.  I didn’t appreciate the earth’s bountiful harvest, its lavish cornucopia.  All that was lost on me.  Christmas was the shining star, the big holiday kahuna and nothing could compare. It was all I could think about from the moment the Maple trees, that lined our street, turned from green to gold.  Yes, the family meal was delicious.  And yes, having a long weekend in the middle of October was nice too.  But beyond that, it was a lukewarm holiday at best.  No matter how hard Ma tried to make it lovely and festive.  It was never more than a pre-curser to Christmas. Well into adulthood I was still wishy-washy when it came to Thanksgiving.

300420_10150309848916266_1742277456_nBut that all changed about twenty years ago.

Something wonderful and miraculous and completely unexpected happened.  It began with a casual impromptu jam on the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend.  It was unplanned. Unrehearsed. Unscheduled. Nothing fancy. No big fuss.  Beer and chips.  Maybe a crudites or two tossed together.  A few bluegrass musicians.  And a whole lot of really fine music.  Little did we know that this modest unpretentious shindig would blossom into something legendary.  At least in our circle, amongst our tribe.  That first Saturday night grew into something so glorious and stupendous.  One of the highlights of our year. Talked about for days and weeks afterwards.  Imagine that.

Quite simply, on that Saturday night twenty years ago, our Thanksgiving was transformed.  A new tradition arose from the ashes of apathy.

The following year we planned the occasion.  Somewhat.  We invited a few more jammers, family and friends to join us for an evening of appies and music.  It was still an intimate and simple affair. A kitchen party through and through.  But the day after, basking in the glow of an evening done well, we began planning the next one.  By year three, we opened our home to even more musicians, family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.  There was a generous overflow of musical talent, food, laughter, kindness, joy, love and memories.  Beautiful memories.

304123_10150309850896266_2094474882_nThus began B and E’s Annual Thanksgiving Jam.

For over a decade we gathered for these jams on the Saturday night.  The morning after, I would wake up early to put the turkey on for our traditional family dinner.  This was a smaller, more intimate festivity attended by our immediate family and a few close friends.

We celebrated and gave thanks this way for well over a decade.  The Saturday Night Jam and the Sunday Family Feast.  Weeks of planning and preparing food followed by two intense days of celebration became too much for this old broad.  E and I made the decision to combine the jam with the feast, pare back the guest list to a manageable number and host a less demanding Thanksgiving Jam on the Sunday evening.  This has been pleasant and enjoyable.  But just not the same.

Last Thanksgiving we had no idea what was in store for us.  E may have had some inkling because the cancer was brewing in his body.  But the rest of us were clueless.  It was a big year.  One that took its toll.  Drained us both physically and emotionally.  We were often in the mud wrestling with the devil.  Other times we danced and soared with the angels.  We were all over the place spiritually.  E has had his recovery to contend with.  But so have I.  Sometimes I think he’s farther along that road than me.  I’m still untrusting of the process of life.  Wary and weary at times.

But we’re here.  I’m grateful for that.

And because we’re so very grateful, E and I decided that this year we would resurrect our Annual Saturday Night Thanksgiving Jam.  We’re doing this thing.  Celebrating the past year and all that it has taught us.  We’re celebrating our life. Our family. Friends. Music. Laughter. Joy.  Love. There will be turkey and ham and all the traditional trimmings. There will be apple and pumpkin pies.  Autumn will be showing off.  So will we.

And our hearts.  Our sweet Canadian hearts will give thanks for the opulent abundance that is all around us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Five Days.

E with his bass jamming at home.

E with his bass jamming at home.

In many ways I’m a creature of habit.  Sometimes I wish it weren’t so.  But at times it’s a blessing.  I slipped as easily into this new routine as my favorite summer flip flops. Driving across town to the hospital that first night felt familiar.  Like I had done it a hundred times already.

Truth was, I had.  Flash back a decade.  Same time of the year.  Same weather.  Same heavy feeling in my chest.  Except a different vehicle.  Different driver.  This cross-town trip had been part of our daily evening routine those last few months of Ma’s life.

I hated that this was so easy to do.

E was still in the ER when I got there.  It was a different wing with a large flatscreen TV and chairs set up in rows like it was movie night at the local community centre.  The chairs were full of patients and their respective support groups.  Beleaguered husbands and wives. Friends and lovers.  Sundry others.  Some of the patients were hooked up to IV’s on portable stands.  The place was bustling with movement and activity.  Even those with IV’s were shuffling around.  They reminded me of the Walking Dead.  Eyes wide open but with no particular destination.  Just a scent embedded in their nostrils and an indestructible urge to follow it.  E wasn’t one of those.

I found him in a hallway propped up on a gurney and hooked up to a couple of IVs.  Fluids and antibiotics.  These would be his primary sources of sustenance for the next five days.

He greeted me with his usual wide toothy grin and rascally blue eyes.  He looked better than he had in days.  It was a relief to see him smile.  Maybe things were turning around, I thought.  In a way they were.  It was a subtle shift.  But I could feel it the second I saw him.  After more than two decades with this man I could read him like a cheap paperback novel.  Smiles like that do not lie.

“I’m feeling much better,” he said as I leaned in to kiss him.

“You look a million times better,” I said. “What’s with the hallway?”

“Waiting for a room.  I could be here all night.”

“I’m just glad you’re here being taken care of,” I said.

I stood next to his gurney while we visited.  Moving aside for passing orderlies or nurses pushing stretchers through the narrow corridor.  It was noisy and more like a Pub then a hospital. The season aside, there was something uncannily festive in the air.  I kept my gloves on while we visited. Partly because I was chilly but mostly because I felt submerged in germs.  People were coughing and hacking all around us.  My imagination was running rampant.  I couldn’t shake the fear that I’d catch some crazy incurable virus or ugly transmittable disease and land up in a gurney next to E.  Although I couldn’t think of anything finer than lying next to him, one of us had to remain healthy.

I don’t know how long I stayed with E that first night.  Time takes on a different dimension in situations like these.  It stretches on endlessly.  And it flies by in a second.  I only know I left when we were both too tired to visit any longer.  I kissed him goodbye and headed home.

This would be my afterwork routine for remainder of the week.

When I visited E the next evening he was in a private room. The lights were too bright.  Glaring and jarring.  It was like a science fiction movie.  It hurt my eyes.  Assaulted by fluorescent lighting. E was still hooked up to the IV and looked so small lying on a normal sized bed. I had grown used to seeing him in small cots and gurneys.  To see him looking so frail and vulnerable took my breath away.  He looked like a little old man.  Just like his Old Man in fact, the year before he died at eighty-seven.

Where was my E?  How had he gotten to this place so quickly?  Was he really this feeble?  Rail-thin and boney.  His cheeks sunken and sporting shocking grey stubble.  And his voice.  It sounded just like his father’s.  Not E’s.  Who was this old man that had taken my love hostage?

I took a deep breath and forged on.

We chatted leisurely about his day as if we were in our own living room unwinding after work. He was full of praise and gratitude for the care he had been given by the nurses.  All things considered he felt good.  He jokingly referred to his portable IV stand as his dance partner.  He sashayed her through the hallways, he laughed.  Round and round in circles just to get some exercise.  For a moment, I was jealous of a steel pole and a plastic bag full of saline water. E’s mouth was still in pain and his tongue was swollen.  Yet things were improving.  He ate green jello.

I kissed him on the cheek.  Not the lips.  I didn’t want to touch his mouth for fear it would hurt.  It was difficult to imagine that my kiss would not bring pleasure to his lips.

I stepped out into the dark rainy night.  Alone.

On Wednesday night everything changed.  Originally, E had been scheduled to have a CAT scan after the surgeon gave him the results of the biopsy, which wasn’t supposed to have been for another week or so.  But because he was already in the medical stream the doctor ordered the CAT Scan that day.

The surgeon had been in to see E earlier in the evening.  M arrived right after her last class.  She was curled up comfortably on the little leather couch under the window, her grey flannel knapsack resting next to her feet.  She was chatting quietly with her dad when I walked in the room.  The lights were still blaring.  There were no soft shadows cast.  I took the chair under the hanging TV.

I had barely taken my seat when E broke the news.

“I don’t know how to say this,” he said. “So I’m just going to say it the way the doctor told me.  I have cancer.  It’s the early stages. The doctor said he can take care of it.  He’ll get rid of it.  Don’t worry.”

Don’t worry.  Don’t worry.  Don’t worry.

I wanted to throw up.

“That’s better news than it could have been,” I blurted. “And if you’re going to get cancer, this is the place to be.  We have the best of everything here.”

I rattled on.  Spewing the fragmented bits and pieces of information I had picked up from work.  One of our clients at the Agency was the BC Cancer Foundation so I knew something about treatments and research.  How advanced our Province was in this field.  While the advertising crone spouted lines of optimistic copy from a recent campaign, all the wife wanted to do was ram her fist through the wall.
On the way home, M and I stopped into the little Mexican cafe up the road from our house and picked up beef burritos.  We sat in front of the television and ate in silence.  The room reeked of salsa, refried beans and fear.

On Thursday night my sister and her boyfriend came to visit.  She had called E earlier to see if there was anything she could bring him.  He wanted KFC.  He wanted solid food.  Anything but green jello and tomato soup.  He craved something nasty.  Junky. Greasy. Chicken licken good.  She walked into the room with the illicit contraband concealed in a brown paper bag.  You could smell it the second she got off the elevator.  E’s eyes widened with delight.  And gratitude.  He opened the bag immediately and ravenously started in on the chicken.  It hurt his mouth but he didn’t care.  It was the first solid food he’d had in a week.  Green jello doesn’t count.

It was good to see him eat something that didn’t require a straw. We were like proud parents feeding solids to an infant for the very first time.  Grinning from ear to ear.  It was a surreal visit.  If not for E being hooked up to a monitor and IV, we could have been drinking tea and chatting around our kitchen table. The conversation ebbed and flowed.  Intermittent at times.  B regaled us with stories of his misbegotten youth.  We laughed.  We stared at the floor.  We were silent.  Then it was time to leave.

I kissed E on the cheek, whispered I love you and said goodnight.  I didn’t look back.

I had Friday off but still had to get up early for a doctor’s appointment that I had booked weeks earlier.  I was sitting in the clinic waiting room taking Instagram photos of my boots when my photographic musings were interrupted by a text.  It was E.  He was getting sprung from the joint.  Hallelujah.

By the time I got to the hospital he was going through the check-out process with his nurse.  It was the first time I’d seen him upright in five days. Without the IV stand, he looked like himself. E had returned.

E drove us home.  The sun was shining for the first time in five days.  It was a large blue sky.  Just like the ones that hung over 204 when I was growing up.

Things were looking up.

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: The Anniversary.

The Bride and Groom in the back seat of the wedding car.

Thomas Wolfe once wrote that, “You can’t go home again.”  Part of me believes that is true.  Yet part of me thinks you can.  I just did.  It took ten years and a 50th wedding anniversary to make it happen.  But I did go home.  Not to 204.  Although I visited the place, stopped long enough to take one photograph.  Then left.

I hadn’t been back in ten years.  Two funerals and one wedding brought me there a decade ago.  I swore I’d never go back.  Without Ma and The Old Man and 204 there wasn’t much appeal.  Those ten years flew by so quickly.  Like a crimson maple leaf in the Northwestern Ontario autumn wind.  Here and then gone.

When E and I got married last year my brother and sister-in-law flew out for the occasion.  We were sitting around our kitchen table one evening eating pizza and killing ourselves laughing over the silly things that only siblings find amusing.  It was then that my brother extended the invitation to attend their 50th anniversary the following summer.  At the time I said, “Yeah, that would be nice.  We’ll do that.”  But secretly I thought, “Not on your life.”  It wasn’t because I didn’t want to celebrate this milestone with them because I most definitely did.  I just didn’t want to do it there.  Over the course of the year I considered the possibility of flying 3,000 miles to spend a week in the West End, not smack dab in the old neighborhood but pretty darn close.  As quickly as the thought entered my mind I dismissed it.  Shrugged it off like a nasty mosquito.  Of which they have many in that neck of the woods.  But as the date drew closer, somehow my heart changed. I thought of what this would mean to my brother and his family.  It wasn’t just an invitation to a party. It was an invitation to come home and spend time with someone who shared an unbreakable bond and love for Ma like I did.

The flight was booked.  I was going.

The engagement announcement photo.

Little back story.  There isn’t much of their wedding day that I remember.  It’s all very sketchy.  Impressionistic.  Fuzzy around the edges.  I was too young to have captured any of it permanently in the camera of my mind.  So I am reliant on the story the black and white photographs and a yellowed newspaper clipping convey.

At 11:30 in the morning on Saturday, August 18,1962 my big brother’s life was transformed.  It was at that hour that he became a husband to the most beautiful girl in the room.  Two small town kids who met and fell in love.  Soul mates. Best friends.  Keepers of true love.  There for each other through the hills and valleys of life.  A blessing to everyone who loves them.  They are the dear ones.

The beautiful Bride having her picture taken at 204.

The day began with sunshine, sweet anticipation, butterflies in the stomach, hair appointments, intimate moments with family at home.  Captured on film for eternity.  These personal snapshots were followed by formal professional photos at Pouncy’s Studio. The costs for this photographic session, $52.10.  And the album full of exquisite 8×10 black and white photos, $76.87.  Enjoying the experience of leafing through the perfectly preserved book of romantic sweet memories.  Priceless.  An homage to the enduring MasterCard commercials that I love.

Vows were exchanged at St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Church.

The Bride with Ma and The Old Man.

Commitments made.  Promises kept.  The first kiss as husband and wife.  Confetti rained from the sky in adoration. The gorgeous bride in her white organza gown and radiant smile.  Cascade of red roses.  Crystals and pearls.  The tall dark and handsome groom in black tux and eyes only for the girl he loved, the woman who would be his love forever and always.  His dream come true. Her love at first sight.

The day’s ceremonies were followed by rejoicing and merrymaking where everyone danced into the night.  Cake was cut, bouquet thrown and off they went for the time of their life.  And what a wonderful life it has been.  Fifty years later and still in love.  Still dedicated to each other and an inspiration to all who cherish them.  They have shown us what a good marriage looks like.

The Wedding Album.

The anniversary celebration was joyous.  Lovely.  Memorable.  Golden. My niece orchestrated every detail.  From the delicious food, that she so lovingly prepared for days on end, to the colorful balloons, streamers and photo display to honor her parents.  Everything was letter perfect.  I can’t think of a better way for a child to pay tribute to the ones who love her so dearly.  What a gift.  Again priceless.

One of the highlights of the party.  Watching my big brother waltz with his best man. What was supposed to have been a reenactment of the first dance with his bride turned into a comical, zany and poignant moment caught on video by yours truly. Another priceless moment.

As I look back on those ten days spent with my brother and his family I am grateful for the time we had together.  I am grateful I made the decision to be a part of their celebration, to be a part of the happy memories.  I am grateful that I have a big brother who was man enough to weep when I surprised him at his doorstep.  He had no idea I was coming.  It reminded me that I need to show up more often.  Especially in the lives of those I love.  Until that moment in his driveway, when we embraced and he cried tears of joy, I think I had forgotten just how much I loved him.  There we were.  Ma’s kids.  Her first and last born.  Together.

My big brother with my niece and his pride and joy.

So Thomas Wolfe, I agree that I can never go home again.  At least not to the home that was once such a big part of my life, that shaped and informed the person I am today.  I can’t walk through the front door of 204 and say, “Hi Ma.  Hey Dad.”  Breathe in the scent of Ma’s ginger cookies fresh out of the oven, Sunday’s roast dinner, coffee brewing on the stove.  Kiss them on the cheek before I walk out the door.  Look back and wave goodbye.

But I can go home to remember.  To celebrate.  To honor.  To love.

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 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.