Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: For the Love of Mary Passingham.

Ma in shorts

Dear Love,

I wanted you to know that my great grandmother’s name was Mary Passingham and she was born on the Isle of Wight. And that some day I’m going to write a romance novel and use Mary Passingham as my pen name.

I wanted you to know that I have always had a passion for reading books and I think that was a gift from Mary Passingham.

I wanted you to know that when I was growing up and everyone else in my house was watching television, I read books. And that I dreamed about another life that had nothing to do with the one that I lived.

I wanted you to know that my mother was raised by Mary Passingham and that she died when my older brother was two months old.

And that my mother loved her dearly. I say my mother, “loved dearly” because Mary Passingham was the only person who ever called my mother “dear” while she was growing up.

And I wanted you to know that because Mary Passingham called my mother “dear”, my mother at age ten, would walk two miles to Eaton’s to buy Mary a spool of embroidery thread. Just to be her dear. And because Mary taught my mother how to embroider. And my mother taught me.

I wanted you to know that Mary Passingham had no money but she loved my mother dearly and that once she gave my mother a bottle of Evening in Paris perfume for Christmas. My mother cherished that bottle of perfume. It didn’t matter that it cost only seventeen cents because it was a gift from Mary. And she received no others that year.

I wanted you to know that I never understood why I loved books so much until my mother told me that Mary Passingham spent her days reading books, doing embroidery and growing vegetables in the summer. In the summer my mother and her sisters feasted on Mary’s garden.

And I wanted you to know that Mary taught my mother how to bake bread. And my mother taught me. And that my mother loved sandwiches made with Mary’s homemade bread and lettuce from her garden.

And that I love sandwiches made with my mother’s homemade bread and lettuce freshly picked from her garden.

I wanted you to know that I love to spend my days reading books, doing embroidery and growing vegetables in the summer.

I wanted you to know that Mary Passingham had a china cabinet made of carved oak filled with knick-knacks and trinkets and that my mother polished it for her every Saturday morning.

And that my mother has a china cabinet made of Canadian maple filled with knick-knacks and trinkets but I never spent my Saturdays polishing it. Although I loved that china cabinet.

I don’t have a china cabinet but I have a house filled with knick-knacks and ornaments. And I love them dearly.

I wanted you to know about all these wonderful gifts that Marry Passingham gave to my mother. And my mother gave to me. I never knew Mary Passingham. Only my mother did.

But I wanted you to know that I love my mother dearly just as she did Mary. And even though I never met Mary I loved her dearly too.

Love,

Boo

Footnote: I came across this sweet little piece today while looking for an old story I had written called The Sixteen Jacket. I hadn’t seen it in years and thought it was lost. Both this piece and The Sixteen Jacket were written decades ago when I was a young woman, and long before my mother died. I don’t even remember who “Dear Love” was. I’ve decided to share it unedited, and exactly as I had written it back then, to honor with loving kindness the young blossoming writer that was just beginning to emerge from a veil of shy awkwardness.

Cherished pillow cases embroidered by my mother.

Cherished pillow cases embroidered by my mother.

I spent months embroidering the front of this denim skirt.

I spent months embroidering the front of this denim skirt.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Listening to Books.

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I love to read. I end each day snuggled under my shabby chic bedding, with my head propped on a stack of soft marshmallowy pillows, reading glasses perched on the end of my plastered-in-night-cream nose, tea, warm milk or water on the bedside table and a good book in my hungry hands. I can’t think of a better way to end the day.

But I also enjoy listening to books.

This simple pleasure dates back to the last year I lived in Toronto, the one and only year that I drove in that fabulous and fatiguing city. Back then I particularly enjoyed listening to Wayne Dyer during my drive time to and from work. His soothing and reassuring voice comforted me during many difficult days, and gave me the courage I needed to move 4,000 miles across the country with two kids and 3 cats, and with absolutely no prospect for work. Nada. There was only this inexplicable and powerful yearning to go west, the kind that I imagine the early pioneers must have possessed. And there was also the unwavering belief that a better life waited for us on the other side of the mountains, next to the big blue sea.

Plus, I just had faith. Faith that if I did this very big and scary thing, it would all turn out okay. That God and the Universe and my Fairy Godmother would provide. We 3 Kings would be taken care of. And we were.

Some of my favorite audio books have been Christmas gifts from my son. There have been a few where I’ve thought, “this can’t possibly be something I’d enjoy. What was he thinking?” But those were often the very ones that I’ve enjoyed the most. Like Beyond the White House by Jimmy Carter or The Elephant to Hollywood by Michael Caine or the one he gave me this year Brief Encounters by Dick Cavett. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved Billy Crystal’s Still Foolin’ Em. I laughed and cried in equal doses listening to this one and was reminded once again why I’m such a huge fan of this man.

All really wonderful books that I probably never would have even given a second glance had he not been given them to me.

I just finished listening to Bossypants by Tina Fey. I read the book when it first came out in paperback and it was an enormously entertaining read. But listening to Tina read her own words, was nothing short of brilliant. I realized that the voice inside my head reading Bossypants was all wrong. It was me doing Tina. So to hear the real McCoy was heavenly and a much richer experience.

The thing I like the most about listening to audio books is the intimacy of being alone in my truck while someone’s reading to me. There’s just something precious, no matter how old you are, about having someone read to you. For that brief encounter, I am able to suspend all disbelief, and imagine that I’m sitting with Barack Obama or Steve Martin or Bill Bryson or The Beatles while they tell me – just me – a very personal story about their life. It’s beautiful and lovely. I highly recommend it. Not as a replacement for reading books. I would never in a million years suggest such bibliophilic blasphemy. But in addition to reading, and especially if you’re crunched for time.

You can listen and learn something new. Listen and laugh out loud. Listen and cry your eyes out. Listen and ponder the wonders of the universe.

Or you can just listen. And enjoy.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Depression.

Face of DepressionThis morning I woke up.  Thank God.  As I was making the bed I thought about my plans for the day. Making a cup of cinnamon coffee. Writing my blog. Banking with E.  Shoe shopping with M. The first two items on the list made me happy.  The third, not so much.  The fourth delighted me.

Then I had this thought.  My two daughters are my best friends.  Then I had this thought.  I wonder if they’d find that pathetic.  I know I’m not theirs.  Nor should I be at their ages.  Then I had this thought.  My mother was my best friend.  Then I had this thought.  When she died I not only lost my mother, I lost my best friend.  Then I had this thought.  That blows.

Then I started to cry.  Bawled my fucking brains out as I was making the bed. The whole nine yards. Messy tears and snot all over my face, the pillows, sheets and my new shabby chic comforter.  Which by the way, was incapable of providing neither the degree, nor the depth, of comfort required to stop this sorrowful eruption of muck and mournfulness.

Then I had this thought.  I’m sad.  Probably even depressed.

I come by this melancholy honestly.  Not that he talked about it.  Not ever.  But I think The Old Man was depressed, most of his adult life.  Maybe it was because he was Finnish.  Their suicide rates are high, especially in the winter, which is long, cold and dark.  Much like Northwestern Ontario, where he lived his entire life.  I got out when I was twenty-four.  It was too dreary for me.  On so many levels I can’t even begin to describe.

What caused his depression?  Who knows. I can only speculate.  One part environment.  One part DNA.  One party magical mystery tour. The Hammond Organ

The Old Man sought refuge and relief from his misery in alcohol, watching sports on TV, buying new shoes, eating anything laced with sugar, swearing at inanimate objects, going to church on Sundays, shoveling snow in the winter and digging in his garden in the summer, umpiring little league games, taking long Sunday drives, scratching our dog’s belly, and sleeping. The older he got the more he slept. He was often antisocial, spending long hours alone in the spare room, behind closed doors watching TV or reading the daily newspaper.  There was a Hammond Organ in that room that he tinkered with but never really learned to play.  (However, he was an accomplished spoon percussionist.)  The memory of that room, and his self-imposed exile and isolation, makes me sad.

People didn’t talk about their feelings back then.  Men especially, kept things under wraps. Stiff upper lips and pulled up boot straps. The Old Man stuffed his sadness inside a profusion of plaid flannel shirts, only to unleash it every three months like clockwork, after a long night at the neighborhood saloon. The Crest on Red River Road.  Instead of manifesting in tears, his hurt took a far darker, menacing form.  He’d come home seething with anger.  Uncontrollable rage.  He never hit anyone because he was like a small yapping dog.  All bark and no bite.  But he ranted relentlessly and bullied the shit out of Ma and her kids. He was an unholy terror. It was one hell of a time.

During those dark nights of the soul, I hated him.  Wished him dead.  Prayed to God to strike him down with a bolt of lightening.  A precise and explicit message from heaven.  But that didn’t happen.  Thankfully.  Because the truth is, The Old Man was a good man when he wasn’t drinking. He had a kind, tender and sensitive heart, and he loved his family fiercely.

And he was ill.

An alcoholic.  But the alcohol was merely self-medication.  The deeper illness was depression.  It makes me sad now to think that we didn’t know that.  I mean, we knew intimately the subject matter of his rum and coke induced rages.  The things that angered and tormented him.  But we never understood why. Our family knew very little about the pathology of alcoholism as a disease.  And even less about depression.  Back then depressed people were crazy.  Plain and simple.  It was far better to be a self-pitying miserable alcoholic.

Over the years, I’ve often wondered if while I was praying to God to strike him dead, if he was doing the same thing. He went to church every Sunday.  What were his prayers?  Did he pray for help?  Beg for healing?  Did he seek forgiveness?  Did he find comfort there? Did it any of it help?  I hope so.

So here I sit.  Years and miles away from Northwestern Ontario.  Daylight is breaking.  How do I deal with my sadness?  This depression?  The tears that stain my cheeks and cover my shabby chic comforter? I do this.  I write.  I run.  I do yoga. I take long walks along quiet country roads.  I take photographs.  I play with my dogs.  I love my family fiercely. I eat well. I take vitamins. I talk to my wise girlfriends about deep dark feelings.  I pour my heart out to my husband.  I listen to my children and look for clues on how to live a joyful life. I laugh my guts out.  I pray.  I meditate.  I write letters to God. I count my blessings. I get up, go to work and give it my very best shot.  I play my guitar and my clarinet. I read books. Listen to music. I dream. I hang out. I waste time. I watch TV. The Old Man Hipster

But I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t do drugs, except for the occasional ibuprofen. I do my best to stay away from sugar, especially white. I don’t give myself pep talks. They don’t work. I also don’t scold. Engage in self-pity, self-loathing or self-flagellation. I watch my inner dialogue. I try not to spend too much time alone in this room.  Although that’s challenging because one of the things I love to do most requires that I spend long stretches of time in isolation.

Over the years I have found solace in motivational books and tapes, teachers, preachers, the wise and the enlightened. I’ve learned acceptance. Of what was.  And what is.

Will I ever be completely free from depression and sadness?  No. The truth is, I don’t want to be fully extricated. It’s part of who I am.  Like my hazel eyes and crooked smile.  It’s the fuel that fires some of my richest writing. The fountainhead of a few of my best ideas.  My literary wellspring. It’s what allows me to feel things deeply. Not just my suffering.  But yours.  And yours.  And yours. I shed tears for all living creatures. Even the dead rats I come across on the country road I walk.  I like that about me.

Depression reminds me of my humanness.  My weaknesses and strengths.  It dictates that, in order to stay healthy, I must stay connected.  It opens the eyes of my heart. And unleashes love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, hope.  And above all.  Empathy.

I get it Dad.  I get your pain.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Waiting Rooms.

Some days I feel dark.I have become intimate with waiting rooms over the past few months.  But none have gotten under my skin so deeply as the one at the Cancer Agency where E had the PET scan.

It was a small crowded room packed with patients waiting to be tested and their respective support groups.  And me, the consummate Groupie.  We got there early so there was ample time for E to fill out the intake form and for me to get restless and bored.  The chairs were stiff and awkwardly close.  The lights were unbearably bright.  Mocking and cruel. The air was weary. This was not a place to linger nor languish.  Here, you waited, got it over with and then got the hell out.

We waited.  And waited.  Waited some more.  At one point, I fell asleep and may have snored, ever so slightly.  E gave me a little love nudge.  I bolted upright and looked around, momentarily confused by my surroundings.  Oh yes, we’re still here I thought.

E’s name was called precisely at the appointed hour.  I gave him a quick peck on the lips, squeezed his hand and watched as he followed the nurse through the heavy metal double doors.  What lay beyond was all a big mystery to me.  I wanted to keep it that way.  Others had gone before him and they all came back okay.  So would he.

I settled in for the 2-hour wait.

I managed to read a few pages from The Color of Water before succumbing to the call of slumber.  My eyelids fluttered and slowly closed.  My head sagged heavily onto my chest like a two hundred pound pumpkin.  Not a pretty sight.  In the end, it was the drool trickling from the corner of my mouth that brought me back to wakefulness.  I wiped my chin with the back of my gloved hand, closed the book and slipped it into the side pocket of my purse.

Then I did what I do best.  Observe.  Witness.  Listen.

There was a painfully thin older woman in her seventies surrounded by her family, who were helping her fill out the daunting intake form.  Her son patiently went through the form question by question. Sometimes answering for her.  And like E and I, sometimes guessing at questions with possible multiple answers or ones that simply didn’t make sense. Close enough was good enough.

There was the young man waiting for his beautiful wife.  She was one who had gone through the double doors before E. When she emerged, he jumped up and was immediately at her side.  “Ah, my beautiful wife,” he declared as he kissed her cheek and took her hand. They sat in the hallway together for a moment, holding hands.  Then he returned to the admitting desk with questions about the “reports to the doctor.”  “Would they get copies as well?” he asked.  Once assured that all was in order, they left. He, with his arm around her waist, and she, with her head snuggled into the sweet spot in his neck.  It took my breath away.

There was the athletic looking woman with the grey hair and backpack slung over here shoulder.  She stood next to the wall with her equally fit friend and made arrangements to meet up afterwards.  There was the heavyset woman who sat quietly knitting.  The middle-aged man in the leather bomber jacket and faded jeans reading the paper.  The teenage boy with the headphones and rapper-style hip-hop jeans, who paced the hallway in step to the music he was listening to.  The young happy bubbly girl barely into her teens, who greeted her anxious parents with a big smile and a reassuring, “It wasn’t that bad.”

And there were others too who came and went during my wait that dreary afternoon in the middle of February.  All there for the same reason.

As I write this, my eyes well with tears at the memory.

The Big C is an equal opportunity invader.  It strikes randomly and carelessly.  Unapologetic and audaciously so.  Old women confused by the questions on forms.  Girlfriends with backpacks and sensible walking shoes.  Beautiful young wives with handsome thoughtful husbands.  People killing time by reading newspapers and books.  Knitters of scarves and baby blankets.  Middle-aged men in denim and leather.  Young teenagers, whose walk on this earth too new to leave footprints.  And yes, even bluegrass musicians who play the upright bass with passion and heart.

The rich.  The poor.  And everything in between.  The happy and optimistic.  The pessimist and naysayer.  The sad and lonely.  The newborn and the ancient one.  There are no precise demographics. No one can pinpoint the target audience.  By touching us all in some way, the whole thing seems so common. Perhaps that’s the divine irony.  There are no favorites here.

The thing that struck me the most while I was waiting.  Hit me in the gut so deeply and profoundly. It was what all these people had in common that I did not possess.

Bravery.

Take that Big C and shove it where the sun don’t shine.