Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: A Mother’s Prayer for Peace.

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Dear God,

It’s the middle of the night,

And I cannot sleep.

The rain is pounding on the roof

And the wind is howling outside my window.

But I am safe and warm,

Comforted by my feather duvet.

My faithful dog curled up at my feet

And my husband breathing softly next to me

Our children safe in their beds

Surrendered to dreams,

Sweet sweet dreams.

Yet my heart is not at peace,

It is broken with sadness.

For out there

Somewhere in a world I do not know

In countries I’ve only seen on TV

Are other families

With mothers just like me,

Who but for your gentle grace

Live a different life.

One not privileged with

Warm safe beds to rest,

To sleep, to dream of tomorrow.

Their lives, every bit as precious as mine

Are torn apart and shattered –

By fear

And hate

And hunger

And disease

And disaster

And ignorance

WAR.

I pray for these loving mothers

And for their dear families

That they ALL

Each and every one

Have what I have

And know, truly know

What it’s like

To go to bed at night

And NOT be filled with fear

That their beautiful child,

Every bit as precious as mine,

Won’t be harmed

Or blown to pieces

By an enemy no one really knows.

God, I pray that all these mothers

Know at least one moment of peace.

And that that moment grows and grows

Like a wave across the world.

A graceful, gentle, loving wave of peace.

It begins with one moment

And grows from moment to moment.

It begins with one mother

And grows from mother to mother.

And it saves one child

And grows from child to child.

May we share this moment of peace

Mothers of the world.

Now I lay me down to sleep.

Amen.

In gratitude and love,

boo king

Photo on 2015-05-09 at 11.57 AM

 

 

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: Stray Cats, Hitch Hikers and Under Dogs.

Some of the strays who found their way to 204.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All were welcome at 204 even the cute ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I Never Can Say Goodbye.

Ma enjoying her morning tea the summer before she died.

Goodbyes can be hard for me.  Especially when I’m saying them to someone I love.  Then they don’t feel very good at all.  But within every goodbye is the welcoming possibility of the next hello.  Saving grace.

Some goodbyes are more difficult than others.  Some are temporary.  Short lived.  But others are permanent.  Never another opportunity to bid someone a fond adieu.  These are the most difficult.  The heartbreakers.  The sorrowful ones.  And sadly unavoidable.  Sooner or later, it happens to all of us.

If we’re lucky there may only be a few really big goodbyes in our lifetime.  But along the journey there are many little ones.  These are the fine hairline fractures of the heart.  The tiny losses that are barely detected by our minds but somewhere deep inside our spirt, there is a knowing.  And with each one, life changes.  Maybe not in a gigantic shrieking way.  But there is a shift.  It’s the winds of changes, Dylan sang about.   And things are never quite the same as they were.  I think we record these moments in our soul.  Some we bury deep. Others we record for posterity.  Capture in black and white.  Or  record in living color.  And play back.  Again and again.   But no matter how many times we practice we are never ever truly prepared for the last time.

We probably say goodbye to someone everyday.  I know I do.  In the morning my husband shouts up the stairs on his way out the door for work.  “See ya later,” he calls.  I’m in the bathroom readying myself for work, toothbrush in hand and I holler back, “have a good day!”  He responds in kind, “you too!”  I can hear the back door slam on his way out.  Hello, where’s my kiss.

My youngest daughter does a similar thing as she leaves for school, or to meet with friends.  “Bye Mom.  Love you!” she sings.  Her sweet voice, music to my ears.  “Love you too dear!” I trill.  I could be anywhere at this point.  Applying mascara in front of the bathroom mirror.  Throwing on a pair of skinny red jeans for work.  Rummaging through my closet for a clean top to go with them.  Gathering up the bag of goodies I need for work.  I hear the door slam.  I hear her say “hello” to her best friend.  They giggle.  They talk loud.  They’re young.

At work there are numerous goodbyes.  Business associates and colleagues come and go.  I wish them well.  “Have a good day!”  “Enjoy your week!”  “Your weekend!”   Cheers and tootle-dos. And with each “so long, farewell, it’s been good to know you” there is always the promise of tomorrow.  Another day to say hello.

Some goodbyes are rites of passage.  Like when my son moved out of the house and in with his buddies.  He was a young man by then.  But that’s not what I saw as he moved his things out of his bedroom.  I saw my little raisin-eyed boy who loved to rub his hands together with glee whenever his favorite team scored a goal.  I saw the little boy who held my hand on the way to school his first day.  I saw our entire life together flash before me as he closed the door.  Just like they say happens when you die. I saw it all in an instant.  Hello, can we press rewind.

A similar thing happened when my oldest daughter left to go to college.  My son just moved across town.  But my daughter moved across the Georgia Strait.  In theory still close.  But there was this inconvenient body of water between us, which meant we couldn’t just hop in the car and be there in ten minutes.  This geographic situation introduced all the “special occasion” goodbyes.  Her birthday and Thanksgiving weekend combo.  Christmas vacation.  The quick trip over for a winter weekend.  Easter and maybe spring break if luck is on our side.  The long weekend in May or Mother’s Day.  Choose one.  Canada Day and little sister’s birthday BBQ if time permits.  Time.  Never enough.  But we’ve got memories by the truckload.  And lots of hugs and kisses at the ferry terminal or the back door.  “Love you dear.”  “Love you too Mom.”  Hello, can we have more special occasions.

By the time I had these rites of passage and special occasion goodbyes with my children, I was already well practiced with Ma and The Old Man.  I remember the first one like it was yesterday.  It was the hardest.  Painful doesn’t even come close to describing it.  When my son was three we moved to the Westcoast for the first time.  My sister was (and still is) living in Victoria.  The plan was to move in with her and start a new life.  It was time to cut the apron strings.  And stand on my own two feet.  Embrace adulthood by moving three thousand miles from home.  It was all very exciting.

The departure scene at the airport is imbedded in my memory.  Forever.  Leaving Ma was hard enough.  But leaving with her grandson in tow was agonizing.  She had helped raise him and he meant the world to her.  We hugged.  We cried.  We waved goodbye.  My son and I got on the plane.  I wanted to jump on the next one back.  I didn’t.  But I did return a year later with a new husband.  Hello, we’re home.

There would be more moves over the years and many goodbye hugs and kisses.  All in preparation for the big one.

Ma died a year and a half after she had a massive heart attack.  Until that fateful day she always seemed so young and energetic.  She was one of those people whose age was indefinable.  We all thought she’d live to one hundred, including Ma.  Her heart attack was a shock to everyone, including Ma.  In fact, once Ma was out of the hospital and recovering nicely, she immediately went into denial.  “Oh I didn’t have a heart attack,” she’d say.  “Oh but you did Ma,” we’d say.  She never listened.  And either way, she seemed in pretty good shape for someone who may, or may not, have lost over 70% of her heart muscle.  Hello, who knows best.

The year and a half that Ma lived after her heart attack was a gift from God.  Not just for her.  But for me as well.  Had she died instantly that day in early August, I’m not sure I would have fared as well as I did.  This long goodbye.  This period of grace from God was the time I needed to come to grips with my mother’s mortality.  Despite her youthful appearance and vigorous disposition, she was in her eighties.  She was elderly. And no one, not even Ma, get’s out of here alive.  That year and a half was a sweet gentle loving time.  I grew to appreciate the quiet moments.  I learned to sit and be still.  I learned to watch and witness.  I grew a grateful heart.  I learned to let go.

A few months after her heart attack my sister brought Ma out to the Westcoast for a visit.  Because she had been doing so well, we thought this would be a good thing for her.  She never did return home.  Never saw The Old Man again.  She pined for both.  One minute she was doing really well and the next she was severely ill.  Quite quickly we ran out of time to get her back home.  She was stuck in Oz.  Her last Christmas was spent in the hospital.  We spent the best part of it there with her.  It was a sad time.  But it was wonderful too.  Miraculous.  Not because Ma’s heart was repaired.  But because mine was transformed.  Permanently.  I would never take life for granted again.

Ma enjoying an intimate moment with her great granddaughter just days before she died.

In the days before her death my oldest daughter brought my granddaughter to visit Ma in the hospital.  They couldn’t get their eyes off each other.  There they were.  The one leaving earth and the one who had just arrived in a profound intimate exchange.  No words necessary.  Just a meeting of the souls.  Kindred spirits.  Evermore linked.

Hello.  I love you.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Where Would we be Without our Mothers.

Ma and Daughter Number One wearing matching sweaters.

I miss Ma.  Every day.  Some days I pine for her in the deepest way.  Especially at this time of year.  I’d like to sit and have tea and cookies with her.  Just one more time.  Phone her up to chat.  Long distance to wherever she is.   There are days when I weep.  Uncontrollably.  It’s like a sad Candid Camera.  When it’s least expected.  Tears.  I never know when they’ll erupt.  Or why.  I can look at the same picture of Ma a thousand times and all it does is evoke a smile.  But every now and again I’ll see it through a different lens.  And the tears fall.  Like the loss just happened.  Heart broken anew.

Ma was the perfect mother for me.  She wasn’t perfect.  And she’d be the first to point out her flaws. But only Ma could have given birth to me.  Without she, there would be no me.

I had a good mother.  And I gave birth to a good mother.  I am doubly blessed.  Twice heaven-sent.   Daughter Number One (DNO) gave me a granddaughter and made me a “boo.”  In our family this means grandmother.  It was an endearing childhood nickname that we hauled out of antiquity.  Ma was already Gran, Granny and Grandma.  No other title seemed quite as fitting so we came up with the boo thing.  And it just felt right.

I always knew I would be a mother.  It wasn’t like I lied awake at night dreaming of the day when I would hold a child in my arms.  It was just something I took for granted.  Understood would happen.  And I am so grateful that it did.  I love being a mom.  I love being a boo.

When Ma was a young girl, she did dream of being a mother one day.  Having a family to call her own. By the time she was ten both her parents were gone, and for all intents and purposes, Ma and her four sisters were left orphaned.  They were raised by their maternal grandmother.  Ma loved her dearly.  But she longed for a mother’s love.  I get that.  There’s nothing quite like it, especially when you’ve got a good one.

It was from that motherless child’s perspective that Ma’s desire grew.  To one day be a mother herself.  There was never any doubt in her mind. No second guessing.  It was her magnificent obsession.  Her four kids were everything to her.  As were her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Quite simply, Ma loved kids.  Not just her own. But everyones.  That was where her heart was.  And kids loved her.  Drawn to her like Mother Earth.  They may have come initially for her cookies.  But came back for her kindness.  And she had it in spades.  Her heart was compassionate.  Her understanding empathic.  Who wouldn’t want to run into the arms of someone so emotionally gifted.

Ma holding me as we pose for the camera.

It was love at first sight for both Ma and me.  I don’t remember of course, but on some level I think we do.  Somewhere inside our spirit lives this first moment of meeting.  Ma said I was born around noon.  It was summer time.  Possibly the living was easy.  Ma was happy.  From what I was told her water broke, she had me, missed lunch and that “I was the cutest baby.”  As it just so happens, my three siblings were also the cutest babies.  It’s nothing shy of a miracle how every mother has the cutest baby, or babies.  I love how equitable the universe is on this subject. But equality aside, this was our moment for mutual admiration.  My three older siblings all had their turn.  Now this was mine.

Ma said I had dark brown eyes and tons of long black hair.  I used to pull it and make myself cry.  And then look at Ma like she was the culprit.  Ma loved to tell this tale of my infantile masochism.  It was her “cute baby” story.  And I couldn’t get enough of it.  Partly because it made us both laugh.  But also because Ma always told it with an air of pride in my crowning glory.  Like this was some extraordinary accomplishment on both our parts.  And at such a young age.

Me and Daughter Number One posing for the camera.

I remember the birth of my DNO like it was yesterday.  I was two weeks overdue.  And super-sized.  Next to me, an elephant looked svelte.  It was the beginning of October and Autumn was showing off as usual.  I was hoping DNO would arrive a week early for Ma’s birthday.  What a perfect gift this would have been. But that day came and went.  Then I placed my hopes on my best friend’s birthday in the middle of September, but that too came and went.  By the end of September, the doctor decided that if the baby didn’t arrive over the weekend, he would intervene.  Monday came and still no baby.  An induction was scheduled for 5:00pm that day.  This was the last thing I wanted but by this time, I was compliant.  Ready.  I hadn’t seen my feet in months.  I was swollen.  And exhausted.  It was time for the bun to come out of the oven.

Perhaps it was just a curious coincidence.  Or maybe DNO was finally ready.  Because not long after we arrived at the hospital, I felt the first pangs of labor.  No need for inducement.  This became my “cute baby” story for DNO.  Just the suggestion was enough for her to take things into her own hands.  Do things her way.  This willfulness has never left her.  It is one of the things I admire and love most about DNO.  It has taken her to wonderful places that I have only imagined.  It is the engine that drives her courage.  Her strength.  Her determination to live life to the fullest.  It propels her towards big dreams.

My other “cute baby” story is how she came out smiling.  She had a happy spirit right from the start.  This too in part defines her.  I looked into her beautiful dark brown eyes and it was love at first sight.  And I knew.  There would be no stopping a girl with a cheerful demeanor and a will of steel.  Watch out world.  Here she comes.

On some level the birth of my granddaughter was more profound than the birth of my three children.  When you’re in labor you’re caught up in the fray.  There’s no time for perspective.  Reflection.  Or introspection.  That comes afterwards.  But when your child is having a child, you are witness to the miraculous. And you know it.  With every fiber of your being.  Grandchild number one (GNO) came into my world one beautiful morning at the end of summer and made it a better place.  All has been right  ever since.

Daughter Number One holding Granddaughter Number One.

My daughter had been in labor for over two days.  It was difficult to watch my child in pain.  If I could, I would have taken it from her.  It’s natural for a mother to want to take the bullet.  Jump in front of the train.  Walk without shoes.  And this was one of those instances where I would have done anything for her.  But this was her journey to travel.  Her odyssey.  Her miracle in the making.  Her moment.  My job was to wait.  To comfort.  And to love.

And wait  we did.  In the final hours before GNO’s arrival, my husband and I sat on the floor outside my daughter’s hospital room.  From that vantage point, we listened while my daughter’s partner whispered words of encouragement and love.  We listened as the medical folks led her through the final stages of childbirth.  We listened as she became a mother.  We listened as the doctor declared that a beautiful healthy baby girl was born.  Those were the joyful words we were waiting to hear.  Then it was time to meet our new granddaughter.  I held her in my arms and she looked up at me with deep dark chocolate eyes.  Just like Ma’s.  And this is my “cute baby” story for her.  I remind her often that she has her great grandmother’s black Italian eyes.  And that their time together was brief.  But they knew each other well.

Ma was a remarkable mother.  My daughter is too.

Ma taught me everything she knew.  How to bake a perfect ginger cookie.  Sew a seam on a summer dress.  Tend to an open wound.  Mend a broken heart.  She taught me how important it was to listen to your child.  And to hear the words spoken.  And those not.  She taught me how to open my heart.  And when to keep my mouth shut.  She showed me how to make much of little.  And to celebrate the birth of a child.  For there is no greater gift.

My daughter is teaching me every day.  I watch her with my granddaughter and my heart stops.  She’s engaging.  And smart. Full of all the right instincts.  She knows how and when to discipline.  She knows how to grow an infant into a little girl into a preteen and one day into a strong young woman.  She knows how to entertain her daughter.  And when to let her entertain herself.   She’s funny.  And fun.  Kids are drawn to her.  They see her great big heart.  And welcoming arms.  Who wouldn’t want to be embraced by those.

Yes, both Ma and DNO have taught me much. I like to think that I’m a better woman because of these two extraordinary ones.

A few weeks after this photo was taken my granddaughter was born. A few months later Ma was gone. They knew each other briefly but well.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: The First and Last Kiss and the Smell of Second Debut.

Always safe in Ma's arms.

I love kisses.  All kinds.  The sweet little girl smooches.  The best friend kiss and tell.  The back seat make-out medley.  The peck on the cheek.  The gentle ones blown across the room.  The long kiss goodbye.  And the one that makes it all better.

There’s also nothing like the first kiss. The first first.  Or the first with someone new.  The first kiss lights our hearts on fire.  And stays with us a lifetime.  We never forget it.  We may forget the name.  But never the kiss.

There is one kiss, however, that I don’t remember.  And the truth is, it was my very first kiss.  Long before the kisses with romantic undertones. The original one that trumps all others.  And most of us were blessed with a kiss such as this.  For me, it came from Ma in the minutes after I was born.

Little back story.  I don’t remember anything about me before the age of five.  It’s like my life began when I started school.  I’m not sure what it is about going to school that awakens us from childhood amnesia, nor why we start remembering things.  My first recollection is that of being a Mama’s girl.  No doubt about it.  I was a clingy fearful child.  And I never wanted Ma to be out of my sight.  This must have made life difficult for her.  Having me literally clinging to her skirt like a three-toed sloth.  But anxieties often have curious origins and I’m convinced that at the root of my childhood malaise was Ma’s age.

She would have been considered “older” when she had me.  By today’s standards, she would have been a spring chicken.  But back then she was noticeably older than most of my friends’ mothers.  At least that’s how it seemed to me.  Ma had already been married once before and had three kids by the time I came along.  That alone, put her in the same category as Methuselah in my books.  I worried about her not being around to raise me.  I remember calculating how old I’d be if she died at fifty, which seemed unfathomably ancient at the time.  How would I survive without her? The Old Man was capable enough but he was no Ma.  And he was The Old Man after all.  If my calculations were right, there was a strong possibility that he would outlive her.  He was four years her junior and a man.  With that kind of logic, along with dog-years mathematics, I figured biologically he was at least 28 years younger than Ma. Of course, my worries were for not.  Nothing happened to Ma nor The Old Man.  But the fear of losing Ma was real to me just the same.  On the other hand, I also had the same fear of losing my dog Sugar.  I used to do a similar calculation with her life expectancy.  The mammoth question in my minuscule mind was always, “would she live long enough to survive my childhood and teenage years?”  I wanted Sugar to live forever.  Or at least as long as a horse, an elephant or ideally a tortoise.  It didn’t seem fair that dogs didn’t get this same shot at longevity.  I needed her around until I graduated from high school, at the very least. She was my surrogate sibling and my love for her defied description.  True to her name, she gave me lots of sugar.  She not only survived my high school years, but she lived a year beyond my graduation from University. I will always remember her sweet doggy kisses.

I look back and remember those clingy years with equal doses of horror and astonishment.  It’s Friday night.  Ma and The Old Man are getting dressed to go out to a movie.  I’m like a distressed dog, who senses when it’s owners are leaving the house, and most likely without them.  I could smell abandonment in their every move.  It didn’t matter that it would only be for an hour or two.  It didn’t matter that my older sister was there with me.  There wasn’t a treat or bribe in the world that could convince me that things would be okay if Ma walked out the door without me.  All that mattered was that I was being left behind.  What if Ma never came back?  What would happen then?  So I did what every tiresome clingy kid does.  I bawled my eyes out.  I was too young to intellectually know how manipulative I was being.  I only knew that if I cried loud enough.  Begged and pleaded hard enough.  Flailed and foamed at the mouth.  Ma would come to her senses and not go.  This worked like a charm every time.  Ma, of course would comfort me.  And we’d settle in for the night.  I’d snuggle in her arms and she’d stroke my hair and kiss my forehead.  Things were as they should be.

Starting kindergarten was equally traumatic.  The first week was torturous.  For both Ma and me.  I recall sitting on her lap and refusing to join the other kids.  Soaking her short-sleeved sweater in tears and snot.  My arms wrapped around her neck like a noose.  The more she tried to pull away, the harder my strangle-hold on her grew.  Eventually, she was able to coax me into staying in the classroom without her.   My fears dissipated.  It wasn’t long before Ma was able to kiss me on the cheek and send me on my merry way. I actually grew to love going to school, to be independent for a few hours, and be with my friends.  It was also, the beginning of my love and admiration for teachers.  Mrs. O. soon became someone I could trust.  Maybe not love like Ma.  But pretty close.

That was the beginning of our daily kisses.  Every school day morning Ma would escort me to the front door.  Most days she would be all dressed and ready for her day.  In fall and winter she mainly wore slacks and coordinating tops.  And in the warmer months the tops were worn with pedal pushers or capris.  No make-up, just a splash of lipstick once and awhile.  This was the practical attire of a woman who spent her days cleaning the house, washing clothes in a ringer washing machine and hanging them on the line to dry, cooking meals, and baking goodies.

During the winter, Ma would help me with my outerwear.  Snow jacket and pants.  Lined rubber boots.  Hat and scarf wrapped around my neck like a woolen neck ring.  I was a northern Giraffe Girl.  In the spring and early summer she would make sure my shoes were done up properly, and if it was chilly or raining my sweater or raincoat was properly fastened.  Once I was thoroughly wrapped, buttoned or buckled, I would look up at Ma expectantly.   She would then lean down and give me a kiss on the cheek.  She smelled divine.  A combination of sweet tea and Second Debut.  Her skin was as soft as velvet.  Her lips warm and tender.  Her love deep and sincere.  This was all I needed to venture forth with confidence.  Her kiss was the secret sauce.  On with my day I went.  Much to look forward to.  And then at four o’clock I would return to the smell of freshly baked peanut butter cookies or chocolate brownies.  It was pure magic.

Stealing a kiss on the cheek from my sweet baby boy.

This sacred ritual of daily kisses carried on right through high school and university.  Even as a young woman with a child of my own, Ma would escort me to the door where we would exchange kisses.  By the time I was in my second year of university I was a mother.  Ma looked after my son while I attended classes.  She would carry him to the door on her hip.  I would kiss his sweet round face.  And then kiss Ma on the cheek.  I was now the kisser.  Some mornings she was still in her flannel nighty when she walked me to the door.  By then I was taller than her.  She was so diminutive.  I had to lean down to kiss her.  Breathe in the Second Debut.  The faint hint of peanut butter and home made strawberry jam on her lips.  My son on her hip, smelling in need of a diaper change.  That would come after the kisses were delivered.  Confidently I stepped out the door.  Back pack full of books.  Head down, deep in concentration.  So much to look forward to.  So much to learn.

When I moved away from home, the kisses grew scarcer.  But sweeter.  Time and distance had their way.  Daily rituals were disrupted.  But never forgotten.  Visits home were greeted with kisses of delight and joy.  Departures met with ones that lingered.  Imprinting the place where lips met cheeks.  Love and memories imbedded for life.

There were also all the special occasion and celebratory kisses.  Birthdays. Christmas.  Mother’s Day.  Graduation.  Weddings.  The birth of my children.  Then there were the comforting kisses.  The skinned knee.  The bruised shin.  The broken heart.  The end of things.  The losses.   And the best of all, the everyday kisses.  Little love plants here and there and everywhere.  For no reason in particular.  Just little reminders that no matter how old, or where you are in life, love can be captured in an instant.  And seized in a kiss.

I have no memory of Ma’s first kiss.  But because I’ve given three children their first one, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what the exchange was like.  She gazed down at me with wonder and awe.  And I peered through a veil of newborn fog into her warm chocolate eyes.  I knew instinctively that I was loved.  Would always be loved. Unconditionally.  Uncontrollably.  Unequivocally.   I was hers.  And she was mine.

The last time I kissed Ma, I didn’t know it was the last time.  A good thing I suppose.  Had I known, I would have been a clingy five-year old with my arms wrapped around her neck.  Unable to let go.  But I will remember that last kiss all the days of my life.  It will linger on my lips for eternity.  That, and the smell of Second Debut.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: There’s Nothing Like the Smell of Coffee in the Morning.

Ma and boo in PJs enjoying a morning moment.

I’m a morning person. I get up early while my family remains nestled all snug in their warm comfy beds. This does not mean they are sleepyheads.  Or lazybones.  It’s just that I’m a particularly early riser.  For it is only at this time that the house is quiet and still.  Like the Herman’s Hermits song proclaims, “there’s a kind of hush.”  Just the way I like it.

When I’m in full-blown writing mode I get up, I make a cup of hot tea and head for my room.  But it wasn’t always so.  The room was there but I wasn’t.  I was in another room with a bed and a warm body next to mine.  That was, and is, nice.  But for a writer, and a creative spirit, it’s not enough.  I made excuses for why I wasn’t in my very special room doing creative things.  You know the kind. Family commitments.  Full time job.  Busy life full of distractions and diversions.  Pets to walk. Cakes to bake.  But excuses aside, the truth was it made me sad.  Glum.  Blah.  Whiny even.  Then I had this eureka moment about 15 years ago. The switch was flipped and the light went on. I had this notion that if I got up an hour or two earlier I could go into my room and do stuff.  At the time, I wasn’t sure what that would be exactly.  But as it turns out I had a novel to write.  Some poems. A ton more letters to God.  And a few song lyrics. Then some music to go with those.  I learned that much can be accomplished in the wee hours before 6:00am.

The truth is, it wasn’t all that difficult for me to get up that early in the morning.  Pre-dawn rising is part of my family heritage.  If geneticists were to look inside our DNA, I’m certain they would find some little atypical first-light wrinkle in one of our chromosomes.

Little back story.  Because the Old Man was a Breadman, his workday began early.  Crack of dawn.  He had to get to the bakery, load his truck and be on the road delivering the bread and other baked goodies by 7:00am.  This was back in the day, when it was essential to deliver the ultimate in freshness door to door.  Warm and ready.

Ma always got up with The Old Man.  While he was getting ready for work, she was busy in the kitchen.  A fresh pot of coffee was perking in the dinted aluminum Percolator with the black handle and glass knob on top.  Once the water-coffee mixture began to bubble up into the knob, Ma would turn down the heat and let it settle and simmer on low.  While the coffee was brewing, the well-oiled cast iron frying pan was in full-on action.  Four strips of bacon fried to a medium crisp.  Two eggs.  Sunny side up with a fringe of brown crunch.  Two slices of white Wholesome bread toasted to golden perfection, then buttered.  The table was set for one.  Next to The Old Man’s plate was a jar of Kraft strawberry jam or orange marmalade, a bottle of homogenized milk, a bowl of white sugar, and glass shakers of salt and pepper.  These were the scrumptious aromas of morning for the thirty-plus years that The Old Man worked for the bakery.  This was the first heavenly scent of dawn and waking up.

Sometimes I would get up before The Old Man left for work and join him at the table.  But mostly I got up afterwards and had breakfast alone with Ma.  I loved my morning time with her.  I was never really that hungry in the morning but I ate anyway.  Mostly to appease Ma, so she wouldn’t worry or fret that I was malnourished or starving to death.  Ever since I was a youngster I drank coffee.  The Old Man was a Finlander so coffee was a huge part of his personal culture.  Next to Vodka, coffee was the Finn’s beverage of choice.  The coffee of my wonder years was nothing like it is today.  We’re not talking Starbucks super strength here.  Back then, coffee was akin to dish water.  And we were blissfully ignorant of any harm it may have caused a child.  I enjoyed my daily morning coffee until I hit my early twenties when I quit cold turkey.  As it turned out, it wasn’t so good for my sensitive nervous system, causing my body to shake rattle and roll after one or two sips. Tea, in particular herbal or decaf, then became my beverage of choice for decades.  It’s only been recently that I have started to enjoy one cup of coffee in the morning.  All things wonderful.  Ma and I were also Tea Grannies and loved our Orange Pekoe and Earl Grey.  Especially with fresh-baked cookies.  Simply divine.

For the most part, Ma and I had toast and jam for breakfast. We kept it sweet and simple.  White bread.  Lots of butter slathered on first, then a big dollop of jam.  Sometimes we’d add peanut butter.  Sometimes we didn’t add anything.  Just butter.  It all depended on whether we were in a sweet or savory mood.  My morning coffee was really more milk and sugar than it was coffee.  And it was delicious.  Sweet.  And creamy.  I drank it down quickly in big gulps.  Sometimes I slurped it from my spoon like soup.  But mostly I poured it back. “Ahhhhh.  That was sooooo good Ma,” I’d exclaim.

I enjoyed this quiet breakfast time with Ma.  We drew together, both in our flannel nighties, and talked about things.  The kinds of conversations mothers have with their little girls.  Precious.  Intimate.  Confidential.  I shared all my secrets with her.  I knew she was the one person in the entire world that I could trust completely with my tender young heart. I told her funny stories.  She laughed.  I relayed the nightmare that woke me up in the middle of the night.  She comforted.  I confessed my unrequited love.  She consoled.  I cried over my broken heart.  She caressed.  I confided my dreams for the future.  She encouraged.   I hurt her feelings.  She forgave.

On special occasions or holidays, when the family gathers, I still like to get up early, even though I don’t write during vacation time.  Our entire family comes together at Christmas and I’m usually the first one up.  I like to putter around in the kitchen and put the coffee on.  And that’s when it happens.  The fresh brewed aroma takes me back.  To a little kitchen table with its cheerful homespun tablecloth.  It’s set for two.  It’s cold and dark and wintry outside.  But it’s warm and bright and safe inside.  Ma pours me a cup.  Life is good.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Walk Talk And Listen.

Ma and Me on the town in our snazzy slacks.

I love to walk.  Alone.  Or with dogs.  Sometimes with people.  But mostly I like to walk alone (which sounds like the title of a good country song but that’s another story.)

I didn’t always.

A little back story.  I have a long history of walking, which began with my mother.  She too loved to walk.  She didn’t drive so in order to get around and maintain her independence, she walked or took public transit, which in our town meant the bus.  When my father wasn’t working, he drove her to and fro, mostly to the grocery store and the plaza, which eventually flourished and grew into a mall.  Progress.  But I digress.

I loved walking with my mother.  And talking.  Ma wasn’t a big talker, but she was an excellent listener.  This gift alone made her an extraordinary conversationalist.  She was quite simply, transcendent in this talent. With Ma, there was never any competition for airtime, cutting off mid-sentence, interrupted chains of thought, one-up-man-ship, running rings around, nor upstaging in quick wit and repartee.  She was a delighted, polite and interested listener.  I liked that.  I could pour my heart out and bare my soul endlessly and still she listened, with kindness, patience and love.  She offered her opinion when asked, her advice when needed, her consolation and comfort unconditionally.  I liked that too.

I think over the years Ma and I must have traversed thousands of miles and covered an infinite array of topics while doing so.  Everything from soup to nuts (literally).  We solved all of the world’s problems, or at least had a few good recommendations.   We walked off pain, sorrow, anxiety, fear, and a few extra pounds.  We laughed.  We gabbed.  We gossiped.  We wept.  We commiserated.  We stopped.  We started.  We looked back.  We looked forward.  We thought we could walk forever.  At least I did.

Although Ma is no longer with me physically on our walks, she is with me none the less.  I have conversations with her in my head.  I still seek her advice.  I still hear her laughter.  I smell her face cream, subtle and clean.  I ask her about God.  Is there anything I need to know Ma?

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Wisdom Doesn’t Come Easy.

Ma loved the shade her summer hats provided.

When my mother died two things happened.  First, I lost one of the people who were most dear and precious to me.  And second, she didn’t leave me with any words of wisdom regarding the “meaning of life and why we’re here.” She didn’t uncover any big secret during her life and impart that to me on her deathbed.  No, instead Ma, my daughter M and I played “I Spy with My Little Eye” on what would be the eve of her departure to God knows where.  We laughed at the grey wall.  I never knew it was her last night. I thought there was still time for her to cough up some tidbit that would help me understand what this thing we call life is all about.

I realize unearthing the meaning of life is a huge topic and probably an impossible burden to have placed on my sweet Ma, especially at the end of her life when she was so terribly ill but in my defense, she was a wise woman and I just assumed she would say something that I could hang onto for the rest of my life.  Put an end to all this seeking and just sail on through without any effort or care until we hooked up in the great Hereafter. I mean it’s only fair.  She was my mother for God’s sake.  She was supposed part with something really great, incredibly profound and comforting that would explain my purpose for being here.

Ten years later, I still grieve for Ma.  Not the way I did initially but I think of her daily and every now and again I am overcome with sadness and I cry.  These sudden spurts of emotion are random and always unexpected.  I can pass a photo of her every day for months and not think too much about it and then one day out of the blue I’ll see the photo in a completely different way, as if for the first time, and I start to cry.  Like a baby.  Inconsolable sobbing. Snot-faced and red-eyed ugly.  It isn’t just a photo that can reduce me to tears either.  Anything can trigger it: an elderly woman with veiny hands and long piano fingers examines a mango in the grocery store; a baby in the park with dark chocolate eyes glances my way; a dog barks in the dead of night; a piece of pie in the fridge looks cold; a fallen leaf forlorn; a rock; a bird; a plane, a hat.  Anything can set me off really.  There’s no rhyme.  And there certainly is no reason.

Why does this happen?  What is it about this random, seemingly unconnected stuff that reminds me of Ma and touches my heart so deeply.  Maybe because it isn’t so random after all.  And it is connected.  All of it.  To Ma.  To me.  To you.  To God.

As it turns out, I did learn something profound through that whole journey of Ma getting ill and ultimately dying.  This probably shouldn’t have been the epic revelation it was but I can be a little dim sometimes.  Anyway, here’s the thing: it wasn’t Ma’s job to tell me the meaning of life, nor answer the big question of why we’re here.  That wasn’t her responsibility.  It’s mine. This is all part of my quest, my journey.  Her’s was entirely something else.  Between her and God.  None of my business.  And maybe she did know something and wouldn’t tell me because by doing so she would have robbed me of the chance to figure this out on my own.  What greater gift.  Ma was wise.