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: Life is a Beach.

Ma always on the lookout at Sibley Park.

I can’t swim.  But I do like the water – to an extent. If my body were a map, my breast bone would be the dividing line.  Like the equator.  That’s the border between fear and faith.  It’s the big divide where comfort zone meets terror.  But I do love the beach and pretty much everything about it.

Little back story.  I came by my fear of the water honestly.  Ma passed it onto me along with a fear of driving, dark streets at night, wild animals and dirty underwear.  I’m not sure of the origin of Ma’s fears.  Certainly not her own mother, since she died when Ma was three.  Regardless, Ma was not a big fan of aqueous immersions.

The way Ma expressed this fear was both lamentable and exasperating. It went something like this. It’s a beautiful sunny day.  We’re at a beach.  One of three – Chippewa Park, Boulevard Lake or Sibley Park.  Each had noteworthy characteristics that I loved.  Chippewa had an amusement park of sorts (merry-go-round) and a zoo (polar bears in dirty cement pits) and a long shallow seductive shore.  Boulevard was in town, easy to get to by bus, had a great concession booth and comfortable grassy shoreline.  Sibley was an hours drive from town, was situated on the Sleeping Giant (which in itself was irresistible enough), had a hot sandy beach and freezing cold water (which made me giggle and shiver upon initial entry.)

As this story unfolds, we are now at the beach. I’m in my bathing suit, Ma’s in her capris and The Old Man is jauntily attired in slacks and a short sleeved cotton shirt.  Usually I have at least one friend with me.  Most often it is D from across the street.  She’s one of five C-kids and I am a devotee of this wonderful crazy mixed up dysfunctional family.  We’re all appropriately attired, a blanket is laid out on the sand, towels and flip flops are tossed carelessly about and delicious snacks that Ma has packed are set out carefully on the blanket.  (If we’re at Sibley Park a picnic lunch will also be included in the day’s fare.)  D and I head down to the water and everything is copacetic.  Except it isn’t.  Already I feel Ma’s tension.  It permeates from her body like a noxious over-powering perfume. Just as our toes touch the water’s edge I hear her calling.  “Not too deep now!” she cries.  “No further than your knees.”  Knees?  Are you kidding?  So I call back, “Ma, you can’t swim in knee-deep water!”  “Okay, then no deeper than your waist,” she replies.  Waist?  Really?  So D and I wade out to where waist meets water.  And Ma hollers, “Far enough!”  Are you kidding?  Apparently not.

Compliantly, D and I find our little piece of liquid splendor somewhere between knee deep and waist high.  And we frolic.  And splash.  And squeal.  We dog paddle.  And float on our backs.  We blow bubbles with our faces under water.  The entire time, Ma’s worried anxious eyes are upon us.  I can feel her held breath.  Her pounding heart.  But she doesn’t say a word. She doesn’t have to.  Except when she thinks we’ve strayed too deep.  Or for that one millisecond when she loses sight.  We’ve drifted behind the fat kid floating in the ten-foot tractor tube.  And we’re gone.  Ma calls my name.  I can hear the edge of hysteria in her voice.  I emerge from behind the tractor tube boy.  Safe.  I wave reassuringly.  And all is well.

As a result of all that fretful smothering by the shore, I never really learned how to swim.  I spent much of my time reassuring Ma that I was indeed alive and still breathing.  But also, another thing happened.  I grew fearful too.  Maybe it was dangerous.  After all, we heard those tragic stories of kids who drowned, leaving in their wake broken-hearted devastated  parents.  Not just in lakes either.  But in creeks.  And bathtubs.  Mud puddles even.  Water was a heinous loathsome devourer of little children.

Of course, deep inside the well of Ma’s fear of water was just the plain and simple fear of loss itself.  Her losses were so great.  And they came so early.  I don’t blame her for wanting to hang on and protect those who were most dear to her.  To somehow hold safe, the small.  And the fragile.  The vulnerable.  Prevent them from walking into the deep.  And never return.

I don’t recall Ma ever going into the water.  Even her bath water was shallow.  I do have one lovely ancient black and white photo of her in a lake.  It looks like she is up to her neck but apparently as the family story goes, that was all trickery.  The water was no deeper than her waist.  Still the end result was one beautiful photo.  Of one beautiful, frightened courageous woman.

All this fear and anxiety aside, I still have only the fondest memories of summers growing up.  Despite her fears, she faithfully took me and my friends to the beach.  And through the years, I learned that there are many things to do by the water’s edge that are equally entertaining as swimming.  Adventures to be sought.  Imagination to be awakened.  Treasures to be hunted.  Oh the natural beauty of polished pieces of glass.  The Noxzema blue bits were my favorites.  Broken shells and hunks of gnarly driftwood.  Exotic micro creatures hiding under rocks.  Sand castles and suburban homes.  Catching miniature fish in yellow plastic pails.  The tickle of hot sand as it sifts through your toes.  The music of waves rushing to shore. The sounds of laughter and glee.  The smell of Coppertone.  And hot dogs.  French fries and onion rings.  And the glorious sun high in the large blue sky roasting our skin and filling our hearts with warmth.  And the promise of forever.  These were the gifts that Ma provided. This was the trade-off.

Magic.  And mystery.  And wonder.  All this in place of the butterfly kick and the front crawl.   But I have learned to swim in other ways.  I know the fine art of survival.  And the dance of intent.  The call of the courageous.    I know when to hold up my head and squint into the sunlight.

I wrote a song called Sibley Park.  It was inspired by my summers spent there with Ma.  Here are the lyrics.  It’s in the key of C.  Like much of my life.

Sibley Park © by boo king

We went to Sibley Park
And we swam in the coldest part
We took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

The sand was beige and hot
And my suit was full of polka dots
We took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

We ate Oh Henry bars
And you dove off my freckled arms
We took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

Our moms sat in the shade
As we swam and they drank lemonade
They took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

Gus barked and chased a stick
As he raced and he   did dog tricks
We took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

I went to Sibley Park
Where we swam in the coldest part
I kept pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

I wonder where you are
You recall the way we were before
When we took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus.