Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Purple Rain. Purple Rain.

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I learned about Prince’s death during the 2-hour wait to board the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria. I was still basking in the residual glow and euphoria of the Paul McCartney concert that my oldest daughter (OD) and I went to the night before.

Imagine, not only breathing the same air as the ‘cute’ Beatle, but singing along with him. And twenty thousand other people but it felt like he was there just for me. Until Wednesday night singing along to these particular songs only ever happened in the privacy of my upstairs bedroom at 204, where I pretended he was right there with me. Picture it. I’m sixteen years old, lying flat on my back on the floor, eyes closed, the LP Rubber Soul blaring from my record player and I am in teenage heaven.

It was the concert to end all concerts for me. A lifelong rock ‘n roll dream that I never really thought would come true. Shit like that didn’t happen to small-town girls raised in blue-collar neighborhoods from the middle of Nowhere Land. It just didn’t.

But there I was decades later grooving to one of my teenage idols. It was surreal.

It was equally surreal to be sitting in a ferry line-up and flipping through Instagram only to see a photo of my office wall come into my feed. The photo was taken by my youngest daughter (YD) with the caption “Shitty #ripprince #1999.” I immediately commented on her post with, “What?!”

In utter disbelief, I quickly typed #RIPPRINCE in the Instagram search bar. And sadly, post after post, photo after photo appeared with the same message. It rained purple tears.

I went to see Purple Rain with my oldest daughter (OD), the one who treated me to the Paul McCartney concert. She was six at the time. A bit young for a movie experience like that, I know. Please don’t judge. I’ve done plenty of self-condemnation over the past decades, so no need. I’ve taken care of that business for you.

But in my defense, feeble as my case may be, I was irrefutably out of my right mind at the time. I was freshly separated from my husband. My life was more than messy. It was a washout, a calamity of cataclysmic proportions. To say I wasn’t thinking clearly and not making the best decisions, would be putting it politely.

The thing was I loved Prince’s music and I thought he was beautiful and mysterious and sexy and an extraordinary musician. When Purple Rain came out in the summer of 1984, I really wanted to see it. We were living in Toronto. I was a newly minted single mother. I felt alone. Abandoned. Forsaken. Forgotten. And friendless. And by friendless, I mean no babysitter.

So I did what I thought was a good idea at the time. I took my not-yet-six-year-old daughter to see Purple Rain.

Over the years I have been plagued with guilt and have had many regrets about that decision. Questioned my sanity. Pondered the wisdom and prudence of my behavior. Lost sleep worrying that I had scarred her for life. Turned her into a music junkie. A lover of screaming guitar licks. Fostered a penchant for all-things purple. Inspired her to wear platform shoes.

Who knows what horrors I may have unleashed upon my innocent child that Saturday afternoon when we boarded the Dufferin Street bus and headed north to the Yorkdale Mall? No child, we were not going shopping. We were going to the movies. And not some run-of-the-mill bland Disney thing either. We were going to a cinematic and historic event. An epic musical phenomenon.

We were going to see Prince in Purple Rain.

The day after Prince died I texted my oldest daughter (OD) and asked her what she recalled of that movie-going experience and how it had affected her.

She texted the following:

“It was great to see Purple Rain as a kid. What stands out: the skinny-dipping scene and the fight he has with his father. Wanting to be on the back of his motorcycle. Jimmy Jam. How fun they were performing onstage.”

And then she texted this:

“I wouldn’t feel guilty. It was a good thing and a fond memory!”

Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t such a bad mother after all.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Snapshot of Ma in the Driveway at 204.

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Ma stood in the driveway waiting for her sister Hazel to come and pick her up to go shopping at Intercity. I sat in the orange plaid swivel rocker and watched her from the living room window.

The sky was clear and blue and the snow was crisp and clean. The snow banks were so high on either side of the driveway entrance that they dwarfed Ma’s already small frame. She was wearing her gray fake fur coat. I don’t know what animal it was imitating. Her purse was draped across her chest. She wasn’t wearing a hat.

While she was waiting, she traced the snow in an arc with the toe of her boot. Like a windshield wiper. Back and forth. Every now and then she would pause and look down the street for my Auntie Hazel’s car.

Her cheeks were blushed red from the cold air and her dark eyes were so bright and alive. I had to remind myself that she was well into her seventies.

I will always remember her that way. The image of her at the end of the driveway, with the winter sun shining its pure radiant light on that particular spot, in that particular solitary moment, and on that particular woman, just for me to see. To bear witness.

And in that sacred, intimate and private moment, my heart was overflowing with tenderness. And love.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Weekend from Hell.

E singing and playing his bass.

E singing and playing his bass.

It was the weekend from hell. A topsy turvy terrifying roller coaster ride.  One moment we could see sunlight and the possibility of rosy days.  Only to be sucked into the uncertainty of the rabbit hole the next.  In between we did our best to breathe.  Keep our head above the icy waters that threatened to take us down.  Mostly we tried to make sense of this unforeseen mess that we found ourselves in.

The surgeon, who had performed the biopsy, sent E home with a prescription for painkillers and antibiotics.  In thirty years of practice, he’d never seen a reaction to a biopsy like this.  Lucky E.  One for the medical history books.  I was a little surprised that the surgeon wasn’t more curious to find out why.  Then I’m like a four-year old who asks ‘why’ about everything.  Except for why me or why us.  Life is a game of Russian Roulette at times.  Shit happens to everyone.  Good and bad.  So why not me.  Or us.

The painkillers did their job for short intervals, which gave him little pockets of relief throughout the weekend.  E spent most of the time hunkered down in his Man Cave watching TV or dozing off on the couch.  Deep regenerative sleep was elusive and interrupted by pain so severe it would have brought a lesser man to his knees.  But E refused to buckle.  Since his motorcycle accident at thirty, he lived with chronic pain in his hip and right leg.  He still felt unsettling phantom pains from the big toe that was removed shortly after his bike was t-boned and ended up in a gutter fifty yards away.  This pain was close to that.

During the interludes when the pain was tolerable we carried on with our regular weekend affairs.  Errands and chores mostly.  I was still doing most of the talking.  Acting as his interpreter.  Under any other circumstances I might have welcomed the quiet.  Instead I missed his chattiness and running commentary on life.

One of the things we managed to squeeze in was Christmas shopping for his sweet 94-year old Mama in Nova Scotia.  Every year he gets her the same thing.  A sweater and pajamas from Walmart.  E is a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to shopping.  But Christmas shopping takes this crankiness to new heights.  The fact that he does it at all is a bigger miracle than the Immaculate Conception.  We combed through the selection of sweaters and PJs to find this year gift, then made a swift exit. The pain was returning and his tongue was again thickening.  Visions of baby’s fists were dancing in my head.

Back home, E noticed that the rear license plate on the truck had been stolen while we were shopping. E called the Cops to report the theft while I did a rant on the nerviness of the thieving creeps.  How could they pull off something like this in broad daylight? In a crowded parking lot full of Walmart shoppers no less.

Drinking was unbearable.  Eating impossible.  The pain “was like I’ve bitten down on my tongue real hard and can’t let go,” E said.

Imagine a cruel relentless Vice Grip.

By Sunday afternoon there was no improvement.  Painkillers were painfully useless.  A fiendish joke. We had no idea what the antibiotics were supposed to be doing.  Apparently nothing.  E agreed to another visit to the ER.  Before we could do that I had to get new license plates for the truck.

Things went from bad to worse.  While E rested on the couch, M and I drove across town in her car to an insurance provider that was open on Sundays. This should have been a straightforward no-brainer transaction.  Wrong.  As the insurance guy was filling out the form for the replacement plates he noticed that E’s name was on the registration of the truck.  It’s my truck but E’s name was included as a formality.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, but I can’t finish this transaction without your husband being here,” said the soft spoken insurance guy.

“Whadayamean?” asked the impatient cranky wife of a suffering man.

“His name is on the registration and he has to be here in order for me to give you new plates,” said the soft spoken insurance guy.

“Are you kidding me?  He’s really sick. I need my truck to drive him to the hospital,” said the increasingly impatient cranky wife of a long suffering man.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, but there’s nothing I can do,” said the completely-powerless-to-do-anything insurance guy.

M and I stormed out.  Mumbling under our breath.  Christmas Carols were wafting through the outdoor shopping centre where the insurance  provider was located.  It was an irritatingly cheerful and festive juxtaposition to our dispirited foul moods.

Back home, I conveyed our frustrating story and lack of success at obtaining the license plates to E.  He was furious and raring for a good squabble.  And if not for his inability to speak coherently he would have been all over that.  To end things on a peaceful note, we went to a different insurance provider to get the plates.  Happy ending to that part of the story.

By the time we got back home, it was early evening.  We decided to have dinner and then go to the ER.  M and I devoured our meal while E forced a few tablespoons of mashed potatoes past his raw cheeks, over his swollen tongue and down his throat.  It was excruciating to watch.  I can’t even imagine how it felt.

We never did go to the ER that night.  E wanted to see his own doctor in the morning. He may not have been able to swallow.  Nor speak clearly.  But he was still capable of making decisions that concerned his body.  We went that.

When I left for work the next morning he was sleeping peacefully.  The plan was for M to drive him to the doctors.  As I was driving up the long and winding country road that leads to the Agency, I was finally able to achieve some clarity.

This thought hit me like a ten pound hammer.  E had barely eaten nor drank anything since Wednesday night. How long could someone last before their organs started to shut down?

The second I got to my desk I phoned M.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Everything I Know About Fashion I Learned from my Father.

Looking handsome in his army uniform.

I like fashion.  Part of me blushes with embarrassment at confessing such a thing. For three reasons.  One. It seems superficial and frivolous, especially when there are so many serious and tragic things going on in the world.  Two. I thought that by now I’d be past caring about what I wore, much less if my butt looked good in skinny jeans.  Three.  I’ve never been much of a girly girl so having a passion for fashion and being a tracker of tony trends, that includes knowing the hottest color of lipstick, seems out of character.  This is one of those loves I’ve kept in the closet.  Under wraps.  Shawls.  Sweaters and other lovely things. Until now.

All dressed up to pull a sleigh through the neighborhood.

Here’s the paradox. In actuality, I don’t like shopping. I just like clothes and shoes and accessories and make-up.  If I was rich I’d have them brought to me.  Like the Queen.  Although I must admit I’ve been known to engage in a little retail therapy with my youngest daughter, from time to time.  Truth is, it feels wonderful, especially doing it with her.  She is my fashion consultant and barometer.  She has a keen eye for all things fashionably hip yet balanced by age appropriateness.  It’s absolutely fabulous Darling.  I highly recommend it.  In small doses of course.

Every now and then, I wonder if this trivial pursuit is really necessary.  The Old Man would say an emphatic YES.  So it is he who sowed the sartorial seed, and in this case, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Summer time and the living is easy. So are the fashions.

Ma was a natural Italian beauty.  She always looked lovely when she went out, even if it was just to the grocery store.  A splash of lipstick was all she needed and she was good to go.  Her personal style was a combination of things that were fittingly fashionably for the time and casually comfortable.  She preferred slacks and long-sleeved bright colored tops that coordinated. Her fav top was a hot pink check.  When it came to shoes, hers were always made for walking.  Grace and natural beauty aside, Ma would never have made it to the cover of any of the ladies’ magazines she so enjoyed reading.

His flair for fashion started young.

The Old Man on the other hand was the sharp dresser.   This was something I stumbled upon while curating hundreds of family photos.  It was in the faded pages of old family albums and in the musty cardboard boxes stuffed with cracked and gnarled black and white images that I discovered this other side to my father.  He was a Beau Brummell.  A Dapper Dan.  Snazzy and spiffy.  A downright trendy dude.  Where Ma’s fashion sense leaned towards the conservative and a touch predictable, The Old Man was stylish and clearly hip to current trends.  His polish and flair could be seen across the decades.  It was there in every precious detail.  Topdown.  Hats to shoes.  Everything in between.  This was all the more extraordinary given the geographic distance between our unsophisticated northwestern town and the fashion meccas. When I was young there weren’t many places to shop for clothes.  Nor did we have the financial resources to do so. We were a family of modest means.  Yet like Ma, he made much from little.  Where he got this flair for fashion I’ll never know.

The kilt-wearing band of brothers.

A large part of The Old Man’s adult life was spent in a uniform.    First there was the kaki colored army uniform that he wore in the early forties.  He is dashing in his official portrait.  His side cap tilted towards his right ear with brass buttons front and centre.  Black tie smartly snapped to attention.  Regulation trousers.  Two of the ancient photographs reveal an homage to the Canadian Scottish Regiment that he was part of.  The tartan kilt.  This provocative and valiant man-skirt showcased his strong legs adorned with traditional woolen knee-high hose.  Head gear was a Scottish beret with a fetching pompom on top.  A leather sporran hung on a strap around his waist.  And sturdy leather brogues were issued with marching orders.

The working man’s uniform.

He wore a uniform to work every day.  Blue twill pants and matching jacket complete with embroidered company name badge.  Shaw’s Holusm.  A basic ballpoint pen clipped into the single-button pocket always in the ready.  His name Bill embroidered in simple readable script across the lapel of the other pocket. He dressed this up with a crisply ironed shirt in pale blue or white and minimalist dark tie in navy or black.  Comfortable solid leather walking shoes were a must-have.  Easy smile and eager-to-please attitude complemented this working man’s ensemble.

Mr Cool with his family.

His summer attire was casual, designed for comfort and easy living.  Basic cotton or polyester trousers in neutral colors.  Beige, gray, navy or white.  With or without cuffs, side pockets and always belted.  Golf shirts were an essential.  Stripes, both horizontal and vertical, abstract patterns or plain versions in fashionable colors that coordinated with his pants.  This particular proclivity had nothing to do with the sport because he never golfed.  It was all about fashion. Pure and simple.  In the spring, or for breezy summer evenings, he layered this look with beautifully lined windbreakers that zippered to a close.  My personal favorite was from the early sixties. This little number was a cream colored short jacket cut from a toothy fabric with a wide ribbed elastic waistband that hugged the top of his hips.  The easy-going turned down color revealed a bolo tie anchored to a pale colored buttoned up shirt.  A study in contrasts.  Aviator sunglasses and ever-present cigarette were the definition of Rat Pack cool.

Mad for plaid and his new baby girl.

On cold wintery days in the fifties and sixties, he sported a knee-length dark wool overcoat with matching fedora.  No matter where he went. Even if it was a mere stroll through the neighborhood pulling me on a sleigh. He also owned a smashing mid-thigh single-breasted charcoal gray car coat with big roomy pockets.  And parkas with zip-out linings that extended their wear.  Sometimes function did take precedence over form.  He was also mad for plaid in winter.  Especially when it came to soft flannel shirts.  Either tucked tidily into his trousers or worn over like a jacket.  Still always buttoned to the top.  He wore this lumberjack garb on the weekends or in the evenings.  To hockey games with one of his brothers or while making a backyard rink for me.  If there is such a thing as primal memory than somewhere deep inside my soul is the comforting feeling of the flannel shirt he wore in our very first photograph together.  The one he carried in his wallet from my infancy to his death.  I can’t think of a better fashion statement than that.

He loved suits and music.

He loved suits.  And dressing up from head to toe.  He had many over the years.  Always stylish.  Not Brooks Brothers nor European hand-stitched expensive jobs.  Yet always the perfect cut and fit.  Sometimes he donned a natty vest that came with the suit.  Other times it was a v-necked knitted vest or sweater.  He went to church every Sunday dressed to the nines.  Shirt crisp and snappy.  Cuff links in place.  Tie full Windsor knot.  Shoes polished to a spit-shine.  Sunday mornings aside, The Old Man welcomed opportunities to put on a suit and tie.  Weddings.  Funerals.  Graduations.  Union conferences.  Any function with even a dash of formality would do.

Cool and casual.

He also had a collection of sport coats for more casual outings.  He relaxed his attire when wearing one of these.  Loosened his shirt at the neck leaving one button undone and the collar on the outside of the jacket.  No tie.  While I loved his rogue edition from the sixties my absolute favorite was classic eighties.  Deep burgundy velvet.  He wore it proudly to an Awards Ceremony in 1984.  It went beautifully with the striped Community Service medal draped around his neck that evening.  I also loved his navy blazer with the gold buttons and the extra wide white tie he wore with it.  A classic.

To say The Old Man loved shoes would be an understatement.  He called them “kicks” and there was always a reason to buy a new pair. The name was apt since he got such a big kick out of them.  His collection covered the cobbler’s gamut.  Pristine white sneakers.  Heavy black brogues.  Brown penny loafers.  White patten leather loafers.  Simple unembellished slip-ons.  Leather dress boots with zippers or laces.  Rubber galoshes.  And rubber slip-ons that covered the soles of his dress shoes to protect them from the harsh northern winters.  He loved them all.  He loved shopping for them.  Caring for them.  And most importantly, wearing them.

He also loved hats.  In his later years, he had a collection of baseball caps with various logos.  Teams.  Companies.  Places.  It didn’t matter.  He always wore them peak forward to shield his face.  They were often embellished with a quirky lapel pin or two from his collection of hundreds.  These caps were his standard summer headgear and he rarely went outdoors without one.  In winter practicality reined, especially as he aged.  The fedoras were put aside for more sensible woolen toques pulled snuggly over his ears.  Aside from the fedoras, which were so irresistibly dashing, I loved him best hatless. Until the day he died he had a magnificent head of hair.  He was an original Mop Top.

On the steps at 204 with his youngest grand daughter and Big Bird.

The Old Man cared about the way he looked even when he was elderly and walking was a struggle.  One of my favorite pictures of him was taken on the front steps at 204.  He’s sitting with my youngest daughter and her Big Bird knapsack.  A faint shadow of Ma can be seen standing behind the screen door bearing witness to the scene.  I was behind the camera.  It’s summer and true to form he’s dressed in his summer casuals.  Short-sleeved button-down plaid shirt, soft grey trousers, grey and black tweed socks, polished white leather sneakers and a red and black Reno baseball cap, peak forward.  He and Ma would be gone a few short years after that picture was taken.  Our time together had slipped away in a heartbeat.  In a fashionable New York minute.

My father taught me many things over the years.  Everything from riding a bike to driving a car.  Yet it wasn’t until this past year that I realized he also taught me everything I know about fashion.  Imagine that.

I love you Dad.  Happy Father’s Day.