someTHINGSiwantmySONtoknow…………geNetiCs

Although I had just emerged from the bath where tepid water and Johnston & Johnston had done their level best, I could still feel the heat of the day on my skin and smell the chlorine in my hair. We had been to the public kiddie pool where we had spent a magnificent summer day swimming.

At four years old this pool was the most spectacular part of the summer. It was painted the most opulent shade of blue, a blue that I believed the ocean must resemble. Right in the middle of the wading end sat a wonderful sprinkling waterfall that you could climb up to, spreading your hand as wide as could be in order to see how many shoots of water you could stop-up. It was a pool that was meant for smaller children, prompting the bigger, rowdier children to make the trek all the way across Main Street to the full size indoor pool. Our pool had a shallow wading end as well as a deeper end with two different slides, one taller than the other. And I learned early on that it was a pool with a hierarchy. The little children, those of us who had not reached school age, were relegated to the wading end, the slightly older children were appointed the shorter of the two slides and the oldest children exercised total domain over the largest slide where the water was the deepest. I can remember as a four year old yearning for the day when I would be old enough to glide down that large slide, slipping gloriously under the cool water without hitting bottom.

As best as I can recall it was during this year, my fourth year, when I first became acutely aware of myself as a body, a person separate from my caregivers and different from my peers. That year I wore a swimsuit that was sailor-themed, blue with a pleated white skirt around my waist. In fact I think I must have worn the same swimsuit as a three year old as it seemed a size too small. I was aware of the leg holes digging in between my thighs and my round belly pushed tightly outward through the middle. Judging from the other children my age at the pool that year I was still hanging on to my baby fat when they had relinquished their pudge for smart-looking two piece bathing suits. I recall looking down on my protruding belly and remember thinking that I felt less like a sailor-girl – lithe and tanned from the sea, ready for any naval disaster that came her way – and more like the dumpy majorette whose lot fell to playing the triangle in the parade as she was too round to carry the drums or whirl the batons with the required grace.

On those days that were spent at the pool Grandma Book was uncompromising in that we were always required to have a bath at night. I figured this was just a waste of water, after all, we were already clean. But she would insist that there may have been germs in that pool that were resilient to even the most stringent of chlorine treatments. When she talked about open sores and impetigo, which conjured up images of large, gapping wounds that seeped yellow and green pus, I gladly hopped in the bath and scrubbed myself with Ivory soap. The bath water was always cool on those pool days, not warm, because the summer sun had unfailingly left its mark on my small body; pink limbs and face a contrast in colour to the white belly that my bathing suit had covered. My sister’s skin didn’t burn in the sun, her skin turned the most envious shades of bronze. We were so different.

In addition to the bright pink skin, the slightest sun on my face caused large red freckles to pop up, so many freckles that it was as if someone had taken a paint brush and splattered red paint all over my face. And not just my face but my arms and legs too. Every spring it was the same story, April rain gave way to May sun and as the buds rose on the trees so to did my freckles. On summer days when it was too hot to move, my Grandmother would put Laurie and I on a blanket under the enormous maple tree in the front yard where on even the most scorching days the large green leaves could rustle up a breeze and provide a perfect canopy of shade. And under that tree I would put my head in Laurie’s lap and she would count those freckles that marked my face, once reaching as high as four hundred. On those days I thanked my lucky freckles.

I would learn that I had come from a long line of fair-skinned, red-headed, freckled people on my Grandfather Book’s side of the family. I can still remember Great-Aunts who were more speckled than even I was and eventually I came to view my fair, freckled skin and strawberry coloured hair as an insignia, a mark that branded me a member of a tribe. And when I became pregnant with my son, whether it was by sheer will or some other universal magic, I was certain that he too would be born of the freckled, red-headed clan. He did not disappoint. But it wouldn’t be until I was in my mid-20’s that I would fall in love with those freckles and mourn their gradual loss as the years wore on. Although, my hands and arms are still flecked with those blemishes and if I gaze directly into his face, the sun can still conjure up a few freckles on my face.

Once out of the bath the towel confirmed that I did indeed have a sunburn when even gently patting off the excess water felt as though I were being dragged across a stoney pathway. It would be days before I would be allowed back in direct sunlight and I would have to settle for the mundane child’s pool that my Grandfather painstakingly put together for us every summer in the back yard under the shade of the oak tree.

Having been bathed I knew that soon my bright pink skin would rise with goosebumps and briefly turn the most pure shade of white as Grandma Book applied the Noxema that would temporarily quell the scorching. She would begin ever so gently, rubbing dabs of the ointment on my face, using only her baby finger so as not to add to the pain. But by the time she advanced to my upper arms those dabs would become globs and she would use her whole hand to rub in the cream. By the time the white had almost disappeared into my skin I would begin to feel the hard callouses on her hands. She wouldn’t mean for these thickened pieces of skin to rub across my pink baby-flesh like sandpaper, it was just something she wasn’t aware was happening. She was a woman who worked hard at every task set before her; plunging her hands into the hottest of water, wringing out wet clothes with brute force, digging in the garden with abandon, and all this after putting those hands to the yoke of farm work for the first half of her life. They were hands that were always at work, rarely idol, and when a softer touch was required it was difficult, almost unnatural, for those hands to adjust. So I tried not to flinch when those callouses rubbed up against my sunburned baby-skin, I didn’t want to give her away.

With the cobalt blue bottle put away until next time and the smell of camphor and menthol rising off my body I would climb the stairs to the white iron bed in the small green room at the top of the house. I knew that when I slid between the crisp, clean sheets that they would still smell gloriously of the outdoors – folks hung their laundry outside on lines to dry during the warm weather in those days. The fresh, cool sheets would further soothe the sting on my skin that the sun had turned red that day and the smell of the ointment would follow me to sleep.

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someTHINGSiwantmySONtoknow………….FirstMemories

I suppose that it is natural for all of us to attempt to unearth our first memory. As a child I can recall bragging about memories of still being in a crib – undoubtedly false memories of course. But when vying for the earliest memory with a group of other children my competitive nature convinced me that I had remembered that far back, excused the lie and took the victory. Children can be awful, cant’ they?

My true first memory is of sitting on my Grandmother Book’s knee. I sat on one knee and my sister on the other, flanked by the rolled arms of her green living room chair. Grandma Book had long legs and her knees were bony. I can still feel those bony knees as they dug into my small child-leg, me trying to find a place of comfort between my own sinew and muscle. I must have been three or perhaps just turned four years old and I remember that we were newly bathed and dressed in soft summer pajamas, ready for bed. She had one arm wrapped around each of us and our heads just reached to under her chin. We all seemed such a perfect fit.

It was evening and aside from a few birds singing their goodnight songs it was silent outside. My Grandparents lived on a small dead end street so there was very little traffic. And people lived quietly back then, sitting on front porches drinking their evening coffee before retiring inside to the television and the evening news. The only other sounds were the ticking of the many antique wall clocks that hung one next to the other on all of the walls in the small house that my Grandfather had built when they moved to the city in the 1930’s. My Grandfather Book was an antique clock dealer and there was always an ever-changing array of clocks in the house, all ticking together and ringing on cue. As a child I was so accustomed to those noises that they became soothing, a rhythm which lulled me to sleep, and if I was awoken by the odd gong in the night it reminded me where I was and that I was safe.

On this day, in many ways my first day, the light from the curtains streamed into the small living room. It was a gentle, dusky light, the kind of twilight that closes slowly on summer days, hanging on to our side of the earth for as long as it can before it relinquishes for moonlight. The drapes the sun seeped through were heavy and red, giving the evening light a pink hue as it lit across the wall, illuminating the faces of those old timekeepers. I remember watching the dust dance in this blushing light and the familiar ticking clocks were making me sleepy. But then the still of the evening was broken. First with the rise and fall of my Grandmother’s right knee, the one that I sat upon, which sent my foot swinging into the air; then the same rise and fall of her left knee, which sent my smaller sister’s foot swinging even more wildly into the air. And with this we knew that the songs would begin.

Velma’s singing voice was not sweet and lilting, she was not a petite songbird who warbled melodiously. She was a strong woman who laboured most of her life in farm fields, a woman who did not shy away from hard work and her singing voice seemed to bear witness to the rigours of that life. It was not that her voice was grating or jarring in any way but rather gruff and croaky, deep for a woman. It was in no way an offensive singing voice and she could competently carry a tune, at least well enough to the ears of her grandchildren.

I knew that the first of the songs would be up-tempo, songs that Grandma learned to sing when she was a child; songs that were passed down from generation to generation as they were belted out in unison while work was under way in the fields or under the night stars when banjos were strummed and feet stomped in time. Songs that no one really sang anymore, their relevance dying as each modern day gave way to the next. Invariably these songs would begin with ‘Little Brown Jug’ – the original version from 1869 not the newer Glenn Miller version from the 1930’s – a song with lyrics that would today be viewed as somewhat suspect for the ears of children. But folk that came from generations of farming seemed to have a trust in the innocence of children, assuming that a song which told the tale of swigging from a ‘little brown jug’ would not ignite a child’s curiosity for drink and plunge him or her into a life of alcohol-fueled debauchery. In fact one of my favourite lines from that long ago song, ‘…she loved gin and I loved rum…’, was only novel because it was one of the easiest lines to remember, not because, at four years old, I had a predilection for gin.

When she sang my Grandmother would keep time with her feet, left and then right and then left again, her heals hitting the floor with each ‘Ha, ha, ha, you and me, little brown jug don’t I love thee’, and our small feet would continue to fly through the air as they had done when she began. Sometimes her heels hit the floor with such alacrity that my Grandfather, who would be in the basement with his small clock parts and magnifying glasses, would thump on the ceiling with a broom stick, letting us know that it was getting a tad too raucous above his head. But undeterred, the bumping and jostling in time to the tune would continue with ‘Mr. Froggie Went A-Courtin’ – which incidentally did not instill in me a desire to later seek out adult mates with ‘….a sword and a pistol by my side….’ – although in hindsight that may have proved a more fruitful approach. And then she sang the ‘Worm’ song. This song always made my sister laugh but it had the opposite effect on me. How sorry I felt for the protagonist of that song who ‘nobody liked….and everybody hated’ with such vehemence that he was driven to the ‘….garden to eat worms’. How despondent he must have been. And the song reminded me of rain. Seems I was a serious child even then.

Once she had belted out all the ‘fun’ songs Grandma Book turned her singing to those songs that would quiet us, her voice falling softer, her feet sinking still to the floor, replaced by the gentle rocking of her shoulders to-and-fro. Her gnarled, arthritic hands which had drummed out the rhythm of the first songs on the arms of the chair now fell to hold tightly around us, as though sealing us up in a cocoon of three, safely swaddling us against whatever darkness may try to to seep through her cloister-like bonds. And it is here where my true first memory lives.

I can recall the the quiet songs with such clarity, the Sunday School songs sung with such earnestness it were as though she was anointing us with prayer. The solemnity with which she sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and her impassion throughout ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children’ would bring tears to my eyes. Often these songs would sound to me as though they were pleas, entreaties laid at the foot of Jesus, petitioning that he would indeed love her little children. And as she sang she would sometimes hold us so tight that it would hurt. But I never wriggled. Because in those songs, those close embraces, I could feel her heart breaking. I could feel her urgency, a yearning so desperate that its outer edges smelled of fear. And I knew that she was terrified that harm would befall us, that we would get lost along the way, that the weight of the world would one day hobble us. That we would grow up.

And although I remember the intense fear and heartbreak she felt as she sang those songs, keeping us as close to her as was humanly possible, it is the intense love that I remember most clearly – rocking in her arms, the hush of the night coming down and then slipping safely off to sleep.

DEAR BLOG,

Dearest Blog,

I thought it was high time I dropped you a note to explain my long and conspicuous absence. I find myself having to apologize to you for my neglect. My inattention has left you languishing alone for far too long, wilting in the shade of a single entry. Drooping under the towering gloom of my unkept promise to return, I imagined your words to have scattered with the wind and am grateful to find you still here, where I left you last. Do not believe I have forsaken you…..I have not, I could not….for I am ‘drenched in words, literally soaked in them.’ I am compelled to write, compelled to shape and mold, to order and arrange, fashion thoughts and ideas, new worlds to inhabit your pages. It is this very desire to bring you those worlds that has occasioned me to become lost. Since last we met I have been mired in words, entangled in language, beguiled by the scrawl of my own pen. And it is this alphabetic bewitching that has thwarted my efforts to return to you.

Somewhere in the midst of grappling with vocabulary I became mindful of an irksome nagging, a faint niggling at the edges of my still infant blogging ability. Soon I realized that I had begun to doubt the validity of what I was putting to paper, wondering whether my prose was suitable fare for a blog post….and I mean ‘suitable’ in terms of form, not content. Then I happened upon a very popular blogger who recently spent a week outlining the necessary steps to achieving a successful blog. His first post advised of several basic rules to happy blogging….to keeping your blog happy. Upon reading this post I found that I was indeed in the midst of infringing upon almost every one of those blogging guidelines. Still, I could not refrain from putting down words, I seemed unable to lay my pen aside and correct my course; filling and defining empty space became an all-consuming passion. Thus, imprisoned as I was by my own script, I failed to recognize my undoing by that very script. In attempting to find you I had become lost from you. Sweet irony, Dearest Blog, the inclination of we humans to run faster once we have lost our way.

Once mired in words, as I have been of late, it becomes a near impossibility to break free from their indomitable grasp. While in this lexical grip I cannot persuade those words to unloose me; they hold fast until they prevail upon me a vow of devotion, a pledge to procure the finest amongst them – the best possible words for the best possible sentence in the best possible paragraph. Therefore, a great deal of my blogging time has been spent in deference to the pursuit of ideal language. It is during this pursuit of literary Utopia when I realize that my narrative to you, Beloved Blog, has ballooned. Grown by leaps and bounds, by nouns and verbs, my script has swelled over the edges of its paper landscape. And it is here, in this growth, that I violate the first and most definitive principle of good blogging – I abandon brevity. For the sake of expressive language I relinquish economy of language. My discourse, Dear Blog, grows larger with every ideal descriptor I am able to ferret out; with each new stroke of the pen my commentary thickens ‘round the middle. If measured in girth my contribution to the blogging world would require plus size support hose and risk a catastrophic coronary event….and this would simply not do, the heart being the very essence of the thing.

Wading through the syllabic morass I find myself in, searching for poetic perfection, I have discovered a fondness….I delight in the hike over alphabetic slough, enjoy the trek ‘cross marshland where idiom, jargon and vernacular all clamor for air. I find that there is exploring to do in the land of language; origins to exhume, tenses to dig up, imagery to root out and meaning to be unearthed. I do not want to disappoint, Dearest Blog, with incomplete sentences, unfinished thoughts, partial metaphors and fragmented themes. Nor do I want to abandon my nouns without the companionship of their adjectives, to misplace my modifiers, dangle my participles or waste prepositions. If my scribbling were to end hastily I am certain that the outcome would be disappointment for both you, Dear Blog, and any hapless reader who may stumble upon my hieroglyphics. An unseasonably brief narrative would blow in on a jejune wind carrying with it the facile smell of callow green leaves….the succulent sweetness of a ripened, more matured narrative unmistakably absent. And what of those bumptious linguistic helpmates of mine who so brazenly commandeered my pen hand for the good of the writing….surely they warrant a place on the page.

And so, Merciful Blog, you have my confession. There is little more to do now but beg your pardon. I am a self-professed ‘word-ie.’ I marvel at the power of words and am enthralled by their ability to create. If I fail to honor those words by not using them to their best advantage I believe it to be a discourteous slight to both them and to you Dearest Blog. Certainly others are more gifted than I at making their point with less hyperbole; but for myself, I live in the land of embellishment and thrive in the violet shadow of purple prose. So you have my unending apologies for those narratives yet to come; know that I am contrite in my rule breaking and lament my compulsion for literary embroidery. I find that I must also repent the unavoidable infraction of a second blogging rule; the florid nature of my rhetoric not only increases the size of my narrative but it also increases the time it takes to complete a narrative. Hence, Patient Blog, my posts to your pages will come with less frequency than most other blogs. My sincerest hope, Dear Blog, is that you come to like and respect me in spite of my sometimes lengthy absences, my sometimes protracted and overlong tales. I will endeavor to spin compelling yarns absent flatulent, wandering narrative. You have my pledge to avoid verbosity as best I can and my promise to exploit language only in its best interest….but if my words do become inflated I look to you for the spike in the road.

Soon I will return to you with a proper narrative…..yes, a longer narrative. Until then adieu!  

Coming soon…….The Perils of Turning Fifty…..and……Don’t #&*% On My Driveway!

MY FIRST BLOG?? – OR – BLOGGING ABOUT BLOGGING

It has taken me a very long time to work up the nerve to post something on this blog. For months I have fidgeted with the internal workings of the WordPress blog page, trying in vain to understand all the widgets and gidgets that can be called upon to render a blog page more functional, more attractive, more compelling. Telling myself all the while that my dancing in the technological dark was necessary for a successful blog. Then I spent some time with a friend who has had a working WordPress blog for some time now and she gently pried open my eyes to the fact that what I was really doing whilst fumbling around in Dashboards, Tools and Settings like an anxious teenager was throwing up obstacles to putting pen to paper…..bytes to memory. This friend further pointed out that I had plenty to say and that it was just a matter of ‘doing’. ‘Just do’ she told me. So I have taken my friend’s advice and abandoned my clumsy groping of the left hand sidebar and made the great leap to ‘doing’.

Below is my first blog post…..albeit brief. At least I think this is my first blog. This post reveals what has been badgering my ‘writer-mind’ for the last little while, what is upper most in my thoughts, what direction my initial pieces of writing will take. It is not a piece of writing based on a specific topic or time, it is more a post about posting…..a prologue to blogging….a preface….a prelude. Perhaps it is just another smoke screen, another obstacle to the real work – the honest blogging that so many of you do so successfully. If that is in fact the case, I solemnly promise that my next post will be fat with hyperbole, rich with rhetoric and flowing with intoxicating substance.

MY FIRST BLOG???

Of late I have been unable to coax anything out of my ofttimes miasmic mind that could be counted suitable for public consumption. I have been beset with doubt and stumped by those all-too-familiar hurdles that we writer-types sometimes throw up against ourselves when, for whatever reason, we feel the need to gum up the works. Numbering amongst these many hurdles is my foray into the technological intricacies of WordPress, as I described above. However there are other taller, darker, bleaker obstructions that clutter my mind. Not least of which is a rising stench that clings to my thoughts on modern politics and an equally pungent fume that clouds my social commentary. This civic-minded blue funk has made it difficult to put words together without sounding like a raving lunatic…..a priggish, puritanical, stiffly starched lunatic……bellowing on about the state of 21st century affairs. I would be mortified if, in my writer-ly debut, I were to emerge as a grandmother waxing lyric ‘the-good-ol’-days’, eulogizing a time that probably did not exist in the first place, or supposing that my rapidly advancing age affords me the license to proffer advice or wisdom. God. No. God no. This is not me. I am not this person. But if I am a little bit this person, my grandmother’s granddaughter, I steadfastly refuse to trot her out for public display.

So instead of the biting political and social commentary promised in my blog profile I am afraid that anyone who stumbles upon these musings will have to settle, at least for the time being, on fare that is much less high-minded and idealistic. Instead I will deliver up nosh of a gentler, less aggrieved sort. A more familiar sort. Fare that is calorie and carb packed full of motherly advice and familial tales.

Sounds predictable…..I know. But I’ll ask that you not push the eject seat on these ruminations just yet.

The ancestral yarns and maternal narratives that I will attempt to chronicle will not be reminiscent of the comfort food you might expect when presented with kindred anecdote. My ‘familial tales’ will likely be angst ridden and despondent. And as for my ‘motherly advice’…..truthfully?…….I was a rubbish mother for much of the time. So fear not, these ruminations will not be the maudlin or mawkish, proper, polite or cloying reveries of a life well-lived. Instead you will find naked truths, unapologetic admissions, overdue avowals and occasionally…….even some bloodshed.