Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Reflections in Mud Puddles.

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I love sunny days and large blue skies. The brightness and optimism of the unblemished firmament that stretches from horizon to horizon, and takes me back to my Northwestern Ontario wonder years. No matter how bad things were on the ground I could always look up and see that immense sky, and get a glimpse of God’s miraculous hand at work. I remember it then, and still experience it now, the feeling of peace and comfort knowing that I am connected to something so big and so powerful and so utterly wonderful. What an awe-inspiring and breath-taking view.

But lately I’ve found a reason to like rain. Or more precisely, what remains after it rains. I’ve acquired an entirely new attitude towards the potholes that pepper the country road where I walk. For they are the conduit to the glorious mud puddle, my new favorite thing.

When I was a kid I liked to stomp through them in my black rubber boots. Or after a warm summer shower I loved to go barefoot and sink my toes into the soft buttery ooze. I used to ride recklessly through them on my bike. But as I grew older they became wretched annoyances to avoid. Little nuisances and painful reminders of the relentless rainfall on the West Coast from the beginning of November till the end of April. I’ve done my share of cursing after being splashed and sprayed by passing vehicles. And I am not amused by those who quip, “well at least we don’t have to shovel it.”

But about a month ago, as I was walking along the country road at lunch, I saw things quite differently. It was as though I was seeing a mud puddle for the very first time. Like I was wearing magic glasses. And instead of avoiding, I sought them out. What caused this sudden transformation of vision? Why did my perspective change? What captured my imagination?

It was one of those serendipitous happy accidents. It had been pouring miserably earlier in the day. By the time I headed out for my walk, the sun was grandstanding and showing off its brilliance. It aced the surface of the mud puddle at just the perfect angle for me to see. I mean really see something so ordinary but suddenly so utterly extraordinary. Something I’d seen a million times before. Yet at that precise moment it was as if for the very first time.

I saw a reflection. And it was a beautiful sight.

Tall and stately evergreens. Gnarled and naked Garry Oaks. Blades of grass blowing in the breeze. Cloud formations. The sun, a blinding orb overhead. Telephone poles with wires stretching like tightropes. Street signs and other directions from above.

In the past month, I have sought out muddle puddles. They have brought new meaning, joy and wonder to my lunchtime walk. I’m the crazy lady crouched on the ground snapping photos on my iPhone of these fascinating little pools of dirty water. The smallest one I’ve photographed was about six inches, the largest about six feet long. I feel like Alice in Through the Looking Glass peering into another world filled with magic and all things curious. Everything is distorted. Depth perception is challenged. Shallow one second. And bottomless the next: like I could easily fall in and be lost forever in the shimmering darkness. Seeing such gigantic things like trees and telephone poles reflected and held so spellbindingly inside something so small. The juxtaposition takes my breath away.

The most magical thing about the muddle puddles is this. Like snowflakes, no two are the same. And even the same puddle is different depending on the preciseness of my presence, the direction of the sun, how it skims the surface of the murky water, and of course the angle with which I peer into it. Standing. Crouching. On my knees. These all affect what I see.

As a writer I can usually find words to describe most things. But in this case, words are inadequate. In fact, they fail me. Hopefully the photographs don’t. I hope they have captured some of the miraculous that I have witnessed, the dirty beauty of the earth, the sky, the sun and the wind, and the surprising unpredictable moment of confluence of all perfect things.

Technical note from a completely non-technical person: all photos were taken with my iPhone 6 using the Instagram App, with the Nashville filter.

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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: I Saw God in Church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was there that this happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathing in his love.

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

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

My beautiful Daisy Girls.

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

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

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

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

Our hearts were full of music and light.

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

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

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

My precious three.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Love Bird cake made with passion by Corina.

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

Then the really big miracle happened.

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

No wedding is complete without a trombone solo.

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

We made beautiful music together.

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

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

Fragile Moment – Wedding Song by boo king © 2011

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

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

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

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

Our honored guests. They were with us in spirit.

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

Ma with my big brothers and sister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ma in the woods with my two big brothers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My two blond blue eyed loves.

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

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

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

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