Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: memories (page 3 of 15)

No. 1 skeletons

Emply glass milk bottles.My head is full of different types of memories. Some are good memories, like playing hockey on the pond with my dad or my mom taking me to get my ears pierced. Other memories are sad, like when I had to say goodbye to my friends and move to a new community a couple of hundred kilometres away. I also have memories about things that once didn’t made sense to me but I’ve since clarified them over the years.

In Westville, NS in the mid-70s, there was still a milkman. Carton and jugs of milk were sold in the store but the milkman also delivered milk in glass bottles to homes around town. My family’s house even had a cut-out in the wall of our entryway for the milk. Every morning my parents put out a sign that either said “No” (they didn’t want milk) or “Yes” (they wanted milk). When the milk came, the full bottles were put on the shelf in the entry way. The milk was kept fresh with a cap, a cap that had No. 1 written on it. When six-year-old me read that, I was confused.

Huh? No one is supposed to drink the milk? Why not? I asked my parents about this and they explained to me that the N and the O were short form for the word number. The milk people were declaring their milk as Number One – the best milk to drink. Oh. Sure?

Apartheid was another thing I struggled to understand. Dad and me (I might have been seven) were shopping for a birthday present for mom and we went into a nice store. I found a glorious shiny brass plate and thought I had struck gold. It was perfect.

“No,” said Dad. “This was made in South Africa. We don’t buy anything from there.”

“Why not?”

“Because of apartheid. The government there doesn’t treat black people fairly.”

I’m sure my father gave me a more lengthy history lecture but I couldn’t understand why this South Africa would treat its people terribly. However, the lesson was learned and my world both widened and shrank at the news that not everyone is treated equally.

Red Skelton’s name was a head-scratcher for me as a kid. On a March break trip to Florida, my family was visiting John’s Pass, a touristy fishing village. Red Skelton, the comedian and early TV performer, had an exhibition of his art there and was also there in person.

“I just met Red Skelton!” said my mother.

Red Skelton with artwork,

Red Skelton with artwork, 1948. Macfadden Publications.

“Who?”

I had interpreted the artist’s name as Red Skeleton. Why was mom so excited to see a bloody skeleton? How was this guy even alive?

“He’s a clown who paints clowns.”

That did not make the image in my head any better.

Knowlton Nash is another figure I had a hard time figuring out many years before I became a journalist myself. When my family was in Ottawa staying at the Chateau Laurier, Nash was staying at the same hotel. There was some sort of world conference going on and the CBC anchor was either covering it or part of it. My mom spotted him in the hotel gift shop.

“There’s Knowlton Nash!”

Nolltown Gnash? I looked over the man my mother was (covertly) staring at and saw a blond haired man with huge glasses. He’s an icon in the media world where I’d end up later in life but as a tween girl, I had no idea why this man was worthy of being recognized. And what was up with those mammoth glasses?

Nowadays, I can just google anything that muddles my brain. But back then, when computers took up a lot more space than the palm of my hand, I had to work things out for myself, skeletons and all. Interestingly enough though, my own last name never caused me any nor my playground playmates any confusion.

“Tell me a story, Lea Storry!” they’d shout to me at recess.

Thankfully, my parents didn’t call me Rita.

No Bones about it

Me and a dog,.

Me and my buddy Bones. Photo by Don Aubrey.

A few years ago, I walked the dogs and patted the cats as a volunteer for the Fort Smith Animal Shelter. There were a lot of stray animals in the tiny Northwest Territories town. It’s especially imperative there’s a haven for animals there because of the extreme cold in winter. Once the dogs and cats are in the shelter they get tons of warmth and love from the volunteers.

I went to the shelter on weekends and sometimes during my lunch hour on weekdays. When I first started working at the shelter I got teary eyed every visit thinking about all the abandoned pets. But I kept going because if I wasn’t there, who would take my place?

Most of the cats enjoyed a pat or 30 (I ended up taking one of the kitties home.) They purred and cuddled and played with me in the cosy kitty room. I always had to hurry to shut the cat room door when I was leaving because they’d try to follow me out.

The main room was where the dog pens were housed. There were huskies and Labs and even a mini Pinscher that I wanted to adopt. There were old dogs and middle-aged dogs and puppies. There were adorable dogs and funny-looking mutts and dogs I couldn’t walk because they were too large and too strong and they walked me.

There was one big guy named Bones at the shelter and if you met him in a dark alley you probably would run the other way. He only looked scary. I’m not sure what breed he was but he was definitely a cross between a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler. He had the brown and black colouring of both canines, the ears that stuck straight up in a Shepherd and the snout of a Rottie. He had the strength of a horse and even his tail could pack a mighty thwack if you walked past him. Bones wasn’t meant for fighting though and it showed through in his soft, kind brown eyes and friendly demeanour.

Cats/

In the cat room.

Bones could have been a bad man but he was the sweetest dog in the world. He enjoyed people and pats and going for walks. I loved him a lot. We used to wander around the snow-covered paths in winter looking for new sights (for me) and new smells (for him). Bones was my best buddy. I’d tell him all kinds of stuff and he never butted in with unwanted opinions or advice. Ever. He just kept silent and let me do the talking.

It took a while before Bones was adopted so we had a pretty long relationship. He even chaperoned a couple of dates I went on with a human. Bones wasn’t the jealous kind and he let my soon-to-be boyfriend tag along with us.

Bones went to live with a local family in Smith and was often seen hanging out at their shop. I went to see him a couple of times and he’d always stand on his hind legs and give me a bear hug. He knocked me over each time as he was almost the same size as me.

Thus year, 2017, marks almost 10 years since I last saw him. He was hit by a vehicle a while after I moved from Fort Smith to B.C. I heard the news through a shelter friend and I cried over the loss of my big, furry friend. I still miss him.

Gifts not presents

Woman sitting in Fanas, Switzerland.

My big ugly coat I can’t find. I’m in Fanas, Switzerland here.

Christmas is on the horizon and for many of us, that means lots of cookies and eggnog and family time. My immediate family (and family-in-laws) don’t live close enough to us to hop over for some seasonal cheer but my husband and I consider our friends as extended family.

It’s a gift we have these people in our lives in Calgary. This week though — this cold, cold week — I’ve been thinking about other gifts that I’m grateful for: and not expensive presents.

It’s super-duper freezing outside and I walk everywhere (most everywhere). Somehow, I’ve lost two winter coats. Oh I know they’re packed in boxes but I’m not sure which boxes. I didn’t label them when I loaded them full of housewares and clothing and knickknacks in preparation for a move. Well, that move hasn’t happened yet but winter has. I did know where one special winter coat was put and dug it out.

The special coat was my Nana’s. It’s pink and pure virgin wool (so says the tag) and has a fur-lined hood. Nana lived in northwestern Ontario and it’s cold there. The coat must have worked because she used it for a long time and then handed it to me before I moved from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) about 10 years ago. I never used the vintage coat in the N.W.T. because I had a black, puffy parka that looked like a sleeping bag on steroids.

Now I can’t find that black coat nor another black parka that looks almost the same. I had to start using my Nana’s coat. I put it on today and walked downtown in the -33 (with wind-chill) weather. It worked! I was warm and cozy in the wool coat and I even got some compliments on it while I was shopping in the mall.

I never saw Nana again after she gave me the coat: she died soon after I went to the N.W.T. Her gift is finally being put to use 10 years later and I’m grateful for its warmth and the reminder of her as a flesh and blood person. She wasn’t always an old woman. She wasn’t always my Nana. She was young and had ideas and dreams and perhaps, in her coat, she lived some of them.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Another gift is the gift of nature in the city. Like I said and many of you know, it’s freaking cold. But have you seen how beautiful it is outside? The fog rolling off the Bow River in the morning turns everything around it silver. The fresh snow covering the brown leaves on the ground and ugly grey pavement convinces us that the streets are pretty and Christmas is just around the corner. At night, when the festive lights are turned on, they still can’t compete with the stars. The clear cold air only accentuates their brilliance, reminding me that I’m one small person on this large planet.

With the holidays comes goodwill. People hold doors open for me. They stop their vehicles to let me cross the street. They put down their mobiles to engage in conversation with me, a stranger. This is a great gift and I wish it continued all year long because this is an important gift: the gift of time. Taking a couple of seconds to be friendly doesn’t take much and you’ll never know how deeply your kindness was felt.

“A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Staying ahead of competition

People running a race.Capital Ideas Calgary is a community that links business owners to an important resource: other business owners. Each week, Capital Ideas puts out a question that’s answered by entrepreneurs based on their experiences.

Last week, Capital Ideas Calgary asked businesses: What market research helps you stay ahead of your competition?

Here’s my answer (along with other business owners): http://capitalideascalgary.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/2016.12.01Final.pdf

I always answered June’s question: How do you maintain life balance as an entrepreneur?

Here’s my answer published in the Calgary Herald on June 16, 2016: http://capitalideascalgary.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/CH-0616-final.pdf

What would you answer to the questions above?

A banner day

Girl drawing.

A loon scene.

Revelstoke, B.C. has a wonderful tradition: hanging hand-painted banners to deck the streets of the mountain city. The community-based program lets artists (and non-artists) paint their impressions of the town red. Or green, or brown or purple. After some prodding from friends, I put paint to canvas and helped create a flag for one of Revelstoke’s light poles.

The street banner program has been part of Revelstoke for many years. It’s hard to miss the flags hanging around the city. They wave hello and goodbye to people coming and going and brighten up dark November days when the snow has yet to make it all the way to the ground.

Revelstoke is more than a place for tourists to ski or go mountain biking, it’s a community where people have jobs and kids go to school and life is lived. I called Revelstoke home a few years ago and still have friends there, artistic friends. A couple of weeks ago I was visiting one family when it was their turn to create their banners.

Next year is Canada’s 150 birthday and the Revelstoke’s banner program is celebrating the milestone with the theme “Canada’s 150th — Strong, Proud and Free.” On that note, banners this year had to represent Canada and you could only use red, white or black paint. Hmm, in that case I think I’ll paint Canada at night.

Girl drawing.

A squirrel and a fox scene.

As a writer, I rely on words to paint pictures. I cannot draw or paint at all. (Okay. I can draw brown trees without leaves and blue ponds with grass.) Thankfully, my friend Pauline and her two daughters are accomplished artists so I had a lot of help. Pauline put together images of a heron standing in water ripples. She borrowed some elements from First Nations art and designed an extraordinary piece.

Next, I had to trace the design onto a thin sheet of Mylar, (plastic about as big as a piece of paper). Then we took the sheet to the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre where the Mylar was put on a projector and the image shone onto a white waterproof canvas framed in wood. I traced the outline of the heron with a black marker onto the banner. The canvas was laid down on a table and Pauline and I got to work filling in the heron.

For me, painting was hard work. I didn’t have the patience or the creativity to colour inside the lines. (I was a terrible colourer as a kid. Always straying from the boundaries of the picture.) I took lots of deep breaths and concentrated on not making a mess. Pauline and her daughters gave me tips on how to move the paintbrush.

Outline of a heron.

Hello heron – tracing the outline of the bird onto the banner.

“Use your whole arm, not just your hand.”

“Slow down. You don’t have a deadline.”

No, there was no rush but there was pressure, pressure to make something that people would look at and not wrinkle their noses at. Pressure to have a banner that would represent Revelstoke as well as Canada. Pressure to not screw up.

With words, you have the freedom to move them around and change them. With the click of a button, the flick of a wrist, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, disappears. Painting is more permanent. Splash some red on the white canvas, like I did, and it’s not easily washed away. The red, diluted by water and detergent, turned pink. It changed the scene on the canvas, and made the heron seem like it was looking at an early sunset. That wouldn’t happen with words. But it’s sometimes good to know you can’t change things. Even if you paint over the sunset, it’ll still be there.

Heron painted in.

You’ll have to go to Revelstoke in the spring to find the finished oeuvre.

The business of art

family_lines_artThe Department of Canadian Heritage is looking to hear from you about Canadian culture. What are your views on our arts scene? What’s important to you about our culture – is there even a Canadian culture? How do we support Canada’s artists, content creators and cultural entrepreneurs in order to create a cultural ecosystem in which they thrive… Here’s my answer: http://bit.ly/2flj74E

A Wilde ghost writer

family_lines_ink

What do ghost writers have in common?

They all use invisible ink.

Happy Halloween!

The ghost above is Oscar Wilde. He was an Irish writer who wrote in the 1880s. You probably know The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest: these are just two of his works.

Ode to my Rad Pants

Rad pants.

Look at how Rad those pants are…

I’ve had my Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) Rad pants for many, many years. I got them from my roommate in Toronto in 1995. Mo liked my Guess jeans. I liked her Rad pants. We made a trade. I think I got the best part of the deal. The jeans would have been out of style a long time ago. The Rad pants, however, just met their end last week.

Ode to my Rad Pants

You once sheltered me from the sun

and kept me warm when there was none.

You protected me from rain, snow and sleet

and went with me to the mountains where my friends meet.

Your blue-sky colour always made my day

and we’ve been to many places, even Lutsel K’e.

Through thick and thin you’ve been the trousers of my heart

I’m thankful for your years of service but we have to part.

I’m so sorry to say goodbye and put you in the bin

but you’ll go to MEC heaven with a grin.

May you frolic in green meadows and sing and tap dance

Because you’re Rad… Pants.

Pants in bin.

Farewell…

The dammed fish

Creek with snow.

The creek in winter.

My sisters and I spent a lot of our free time playing in the Nova Scotia woods with the neighbourhood kids. Since there were only a six houses in the area there wasn’t a lot of children but there was a lot of things to do. Sometimes we liked to go to the creek behind our family’s home and build dams.

The creek is what’s left of a mighty river that used to power a mill up the road. In 1950, the Nova Scotia government stopped up the river and made a lake by constructing a dam for hydroelectricity. And that was the end of the mill and the river and the beginning of the creek.

The dam.

The dam.

The creek was full of nimble water spiders and pretty florescent green dragonflies and beautifully freckled speckled trout. You had to stand still and stare at one spot in the dark brown tea coloured water before you could spot a fish. We think there were some gaspereau fish, also known as alewife, under a rock where the creek pooled. But never caught one so was never sure.

I always dreamed of reeling in a big fish in the creek. The trout dad taught us to catch were tasty but small. I wanted some that had heft, that would fight, that would make a good story.

One summer day my siblings and our friends cooled off by heading to the creek. We waded over to the other side to explore that part of the waterway. There were a couple of small streams branching off and we decided to dam a section.

We worked hard. Gathering rocks and large sticks and then moss to use as mortar. A wall took shape, resembling the inside of Nick’s log house. It reminded him he had to go home and he headed off, scaring his parents by getting lost for a couple of hours in the forest. We stayed and finished our project. Wouldn’t you know, the dam held the water back. Success.

A couple of months later and it was autumn. Nick and I were hanging out and needed something to do. What about checking out the dam? Off we went into the woods. Ducking under branches, jumping over rocks and leaping across the creek in our rubber boots and sweaters to find our handiwork.

It was still doing a good job but being kids we decided it needed to come down. So we started to pull at the sticks and loosen the rocks and grab at the moss.

What was that? I could see the top of something large and dark near the surface of the water. On the creek side that was dammed.

Stepping into the water I leaned down and peered into the churned up murky creek. It was a fish. A very big fish.

I shouted to Nick and he had a good look at it too.

“That’s a big fish!”

Here was the fish of my dreams. I needed to catch it. Since I didn’t have a rod or a net I would use my hands. Nick helped.

We wrestled with the several pound fish for a good five minutes. It was slippery and floppy and strong and didn’t want to leave home. Then, with one heave I threw it onto the land. It didn’t just lay it. It went wild with fury and scared me.

I had caught the fish. Now what? I didn’t want the fish to die. Besides, it wasn’t fishing season and I didn’t want to break the law. So I pick it up and slipped it back into the creek. The undammed part. And watched it swim away.

In the company of memoir writers

Man and book.

A happy client, Karl, all smiles with his memoir.

Last week a friend forwarded me an article from the New York Times. The piece was about memoir companies and the people behind them: writers as well as business owners. They strongly believe in collecting and preserving stories before they’re gone as do I.

I also appreciated the insight and explanations from the memoir writers about the business behind the stories. Many people don’t know that writing someone’s memoir takes more than just saying, “Tell me about your life.” A project is a process of mapping out outlines, countless interviews, writing, editing, collecting photos, taking photos, scanning in photos, more editing, drafting contracts, laying out the book, making changes, making additions, sending the story off for approval, then making rewriting, then publishing and finally, getting paid. (Which sometimes is harder than you think.)

In the end, the book is a compilation of anecdotes (both serious and funny), lore, tales of ups and downs, big moments like holidays and vacations, quiet moments like a walk by the river and of course, a few family traditions and the meaning behind them like why does Aunty Mary always put butter on your nose on your birthday? A memoir is the remembrance of a life lived and it’s an invaluable treasure to have your loved one’s words captured forever. For me, it’s a great joy to be a part of passing down the legacy of stories.

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