Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: memoir (page 5 of 15)

Manwich mistake

Sloppy Joes.

Sloppy joe / Manwich = Yuck

There’s a memory going around and around in my head. Waiting to get out…or spill out. The story is about a sloppy joe.

I was little, maybe about six years old, when I was invited to my friend’s birthday party. Her name was Suzie and she lived across the street in a white house a few homes over. She was a couple of years younger than me and I remember her in a pink dress.

I bet I was excited for the party. In that way when you’re a kid and you can eat all the goodies you want and not worry about getting a muffin top. (Though I doubt muffin top was even a word used in the mid-70s in Nova Scotia to describe wobbly stomach bits hanging over your jeans.)

My two sisters and I headed to the festivities. There were friends and games and it was lots of fun. Suzie’s mother walked around to each kid asking how many sandwiches we wanted. When it was my turn I said, “Two, please.”

Two because I didn’t know if Suzie’s mother would know I meant a whole sandwich. If I said I wanted one sandwich, she might think I just wanted half a sandwich. I wanted the whole thing. The two parts of the one sandwich.

I guess the kind of sandwich didn’t matter to me. My prospective party meal wasn’t going to be gluten-free or multi-grain or sugar-free anyway. Back then, a sandwich would have a fifty-fifty chance of being peanut butter or peanut butter and jam. On white bread.

I was sitting in an armchair when Suzie’s mother brought me my sandwich…that wasn’t. I had no idea what it was. In front of me were two buns oozing ground beef. What I didn’t know then – but I know now – is that Suzie’s mother had said “Manwich,” which is a brand name for sloppy joes.

The sloppy joes/Manwiches/whatever did not look good to me. They didn’t taste good either. And there were two of them.

My parents raised me with manners. When you are visiting someone, you eat what they give you. You eat everything they put on your plate. You leave nothing.

Whether I took big bites and gobbled it down quickly or took my time sliding the sloppy joe down my throat, I don’t know. I only know that those two Manwiches were the first two and last two of my life.

Common people

Family_Lines_peopleThere’s a theory that we’re connected to every single person in the world through six degrees of separation. That is, we all have someone in common everywhere and anywhere we go: a friend of a friend of friend of a friend… It’s a small world after all as I rediscovered during a recent trip to see a client in Burlington, Ont.

My client has a German background and we’ve been working on her stories about living in Hamburg and growing up during the Second World War. She came to Canada with her husband for work years later and her three children were born and raised in Burlington. I met my client through her daughter, who is a good friend of mine. We met in Vernon, B.C.

I went to Ontario two weeks ago to finish my client’s story. We were looking for photos to add to her memoirs and I was flipping through the pages of an old album when a picture caught my eye. I thought I recognised the people in it: a friend and her family. It was them.

I’m from Nova Scotia and met my friend playing floor hockey in Grade Six. We were opponents and my friend high-sticked me in the mouth. And I had braces. There was some blood shed on the Port Williams Elementary School gym floor and despite this, we became friends and stayed friends. I visited her in Montreal and Germany and went to her wedding in the States. She came to my wedding a few years ago. So what ties me, my friend and my client together?

Burlington, Ontario.

Burlington, Ontario.

Burlington. It’s the common denominator. My friend is of German background and when her parents lived in Burlington, they made friends with my client. When I went to Burlington, I saw the photos. It was a random discovery but a cool one. It certainly made the world feel a lot smaller.

Do you have a six degrees of separation story? Tell me about it.

Winter in summer

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park - Kananaskis Country.

Aug. 22, 2015. Chester Lake trail – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park – Kananaskis Country.

It’s still August but that doesn’t mean it won’t snow in Alberta. Here’s proof that the dog days of summer in the mountains can be white and cold. At least the sun is shining and the lake hasn’t frozen over…yet.

Whatever the weather, it’s not time to reminisce about another season passing. It’s not time to move on to making autumn memories. No. The calendar says summer and darn it, I’m going to enjoy every last drop of it. Even if those drops come in a frozen form usually found in winter. Summer snow makes a cool story anyway for those of you sweltering in the heat.

Giving back

detail-pen-photography-Favim.com-5198291Capital Ideas Calgary asked businesses: “How does your business give back to the community?”

Here’s my answer published in the Calgary Herald on July 23, 2015: http://bit.ly/1MaJcig

How does your business give back to the community?

Everyone has a story but not everyone has the chance to share his or her stories. This especially true of people living on the streets or dealing with addictions. As the owner of a writing business, I’ve been giving back to the community by teaching memoir writing workshops at homeless shelters and detox centres.

I’ve been volunteering through a Calgary organization called This is My City (TMC) for a few years. TMC brings art and people together no matter what their social status. In my workshop, Write YOUR Story, participants learn to tell their tales in their own words. They can write happy stories or sad stories or scary stories or inspirational stories. Positive or negative, these anecdotes give a voice to people whose words might never be heard.

Take a funky interlude

Sea King.

A Canadian CH-124 Sea King performs deck landing. qualifications on board dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) during PANAMAX 2007. PANAMAX 2007 is a joint and multinational training exercise tailored to the defense of the Panama Canal, involving civil and military forces from the region. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Brett Dawson (RELEASED)

If you lived in the Maritimes in the 90s, you might remember TV interludes. Every now and then a video put to music popped up on the screen instead of a commercial. Why there were interludes, I’m not sure, but it was a nice break from ads.

ATV (CTV in the Maritimes) broadcast the interludes and I have often wondered if the musical breaks were just a Maritime thing. Or if across the country, we were all glued to the 90s version of Vine. Whatever the reason, take a funky little respite with these three interludes.

Sea King over Halifax interlude

ATV downhill skiing interlude

Christmas interlude

Who are you?

Painting of a soldier.

Do you know who this soldier is?

A few summers ago I bought a painting at a yard sale in Vernon, B.C. It’s acrylic on velvet; almost like one of those velvet Elvis pictures you see hanging in someone’s creepy wood-panelled basement. Except it’s not Elvis staring back at me, it’s a soldier. This soldier is nameless and nationless but his story may have been revealed by a click of a mouse.

The painting appealed to me: the colours, the texture of the “canvas,” the subject, and I brought the piece of art home for four dollars. The unknown soldier has travelled with me around Western Canada and now lives in Calgary. Even though we’ve been living together for about seven years, I don’t know anything about him.

One friend who met the soldier thought he was a Gurkha, a fearsome soldier from Nepal. Their famous motto is, “Better to die than be a coward.” Gurkhas still carry their traditional weapon called a kukri, an 18-inch long curved knife. An interesting speculation but I don’t think this guy one of these warriors.

The other day I was wasting time online when I clicked on a BBC News link: Why the Indian soldiers of WW1 were forgotten. The article’s main photo was in black and white but I immediately recognized the uniforms: my soldier’s kit. Was he an Indian solider in the First World War?

I don’t know. But through the article by I learned that the feats and the losses and the stories of these soldiers are missing from most of our history books. Some people, including me, have no idea of the contribution of the Indian units. It also makes me think about the time when I lived in The Gambia, West Africa. My roommate and I walked past the Fajara War Cemetery a couple of times and I wondered why we don’t hear about Gambian veterans. Where are their stories?

There’s no signature on my soldier’s likeness. No markings to tell me where he is from or where he belongs. Nothing to identify him. However, his silence spoke to me and opened a new portal into the past and introduced me to some forgotten sacrifices.

Welcome to the work world

Scarf.

This isn’t a Gap outfit but I am wearing a scarf. This photo was taken in New York City.

Every time I walk into a Gap, I have the urge to tuck tags into shirts and fold sweaters that have been messily discarded by shoppers. The Gap was once a major part of my life in a time when I was falling apart at the seams. (Insert joke here.) Now the retailer is closing a quarter of its stores, maybe even the one I worked in.

It was the late nineties, spring, and I had just graduated from journalism school. This was degree #2. Confident I would get a reporting job in Toronto, where I had been living for two years and where my boyfriend was, I stayed in the big city. That’s where all the opportunities would be anyway. Right?

There was a recession during that time and it slowed down the job market. No one was hiring a green journalist right out of school. No matter how much I made my resume stand out. (I had seen job seeker experts who told me to do something different with my CV. So I put a photo of me rock climbing.) The eye-catching picture along with the aspirational headline about no challenge being too tough, did not net me any work.

In early September, I was finding life a little more difficult than I thought it would be. My boyfriend broke up with me and I hadn’t realized my dream of becoming a globetrotting journo. I also only had $4 to my name and I couldn’t even take it out of the bank machine because withdrawals had to be at least $5. There was no way I was asking my parents for money. I’m an adult now, I thought. Independent. Independent adults look for any way to make a buck. Not just in their fields.

After a week of terrible one-day jobs like shilling bulk tickets to a comedy show, I was wilting. Who knew being grown-up was so hard? A friend saw my distress and helped me. His sister worked at a temp agency and she hooked me up with work. My first placement was on Bay Street with a well-known investment firm.

The night before work, a woman from the firm called me and told me to dress appropriately. I was to wear nice trousers and a nice blouse and nice shoes.

“Oh, and don’t forget to accessorise. Wear a scarf,” she suggested.

That wouldn’t be a problem. I always got compliments on my fashion sense. I’m sure that I’ll blend in with the rest of the corporate employees. In the morning, I left feeling fine and dandy and ready to work. Here I come working world!

My day on Bay Street revolved around putting mail in people’s inboxes. That’s the extent I remember. It wasn’t the best job but it wasn’t the worst. I was getting paid.

Gap store.

I once worked at a Gap. And spent many an hour folding.

I went home that evening and my roommate and I celebrated my new job by getting lost walking around Toronto trying to find a Dairy Queen. Later that night, around 10 p.m., the investors woman called me and asked what I had worn to my new job that almost-done-day. I told her and emphasized I had even put on a scarf. This didn’t impress her.

“They told me you looked like you worked at the Gap,” is what she said to me. “Don’t come back.”

My Bay Street days were over. Now what was I going to do? Even though the investment company woman was incredibly rude and kind of hurt my feelings, she gave me an idea. I was going to apply to work at the Gap: and I did.

I was a “sales associate” at a shop on Queen Street West. It wasn’t a great job but it paid me and I got a clothing discount. Besides that, I leaned some valuable customer service lessons that I use to this day. The Gap was a weird anchor for me in a time that was frustrating and sad. While it was a time I don’t want to re-live, it was a time that gave me lots of perspective and now, funny stories.

Campfires and pirates

Campfire.Stuart McLean was telling stories about singing songs yesterday. The Vinyl Cafe was all about using your voice to carry a tune and carry a tale. Something many of my friends can do. Not me.

I like music. I was in band in school. I was in choir too and I also took piano lessons for many years. Now a days I listen to songs on the internet or through my mobile. I almost never hum along. I don’t like singing. Except, I just remembered, around a campfire.

I was a Brownie and a Girl Guide and a Pathfinder and a Ranger. Camping is a big part of the Guiding movement and I went every summer to live outdoors for a week. After sun soaked days of hiking or sailing or jumping off the dock into the lake, we sat in a circle singing campfire songs. Songs written years before we were born. Songs that wove stories of tragedy like the Titanic into melodies. We sung the words without sadness. Because we were young and the worst thing to happen that day was a wasp sting.

My favourite song to sing around the flames is Barges. It’s a simple composition with lyrics about ocean-going vessels bringing treasures from one part of the world to the other. There are even pirates fighting in the midst of the score. Barges is a song that harmonizes music with a good story. Any voice can carry this tune and every imagination can take to the seas when singing this story under a starry night.

Listen to Barges: http://bit.ly/1LaqVCt

Make memories today

bike rider.

Beginning, middle and end

Toronto.

Toronto skyline.

I instruct writing workshops and one thing I teach is a story has to have a beginning, middle and end. An easy way to accomplish this in a piece is to remember to use the three o’s: objective, obstacle and outcome.

To get the point across I split a class into groups of three. Then I have everyone write an objective (beginning) and pass their paper on to the next person. That person then has to add the tale and write the obstacle (middle) of the first person’s story. After he or she is finished, they pass the story on to the next person, who concludes the story with the outcome.

The end result is usually a pretty cool story: even though it’s been written by three people. But the point is not to write a masterpiece but to show how easy it is to craft a story when there’s structure. Some amazing tales have come out of this exercise. Here is one:

Oct. 23 2013

It was supposed to be a nice day and he hoped the sun would keep shining. He had a ring in his pocket and a proposal on his mind. He loved his girl and it was time to make her his wife.

The only problem was she lived in Toronto and he lived in Calgary. Neither of them had enough money to visit each other in person, even though we were able to converse over e-mail. The man had heard that sometimes web dating didn’t work out because a lovely woman could turn out to be a burly guy. But in his heart, he knew his situation was different.

“That’s it!” he said to himself. “I have to get to Toronto. Nothing will stand in my way.”

He took the ring and pawned it. With the money from the trade he bought a ticket to Toronto. If she loves him as much as he loves her, she won’t care that he don’t have the bling.

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