Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: Revelstoke

Non-fiction fiction

This is fiction. I don't snowboard. Only ski.

This is fiction. I don’t snowboard. Only ski. Revelstoke, 2011.

Sometimes memories aren’t serious. They can be silly, too. Here’s one from my Revelstoke days in 2011.

Smushed dreams

I lean my bicycle against a snowbank outside of the Revelstoke post office. The sun is shining with all its strength, which isn’t much in B.C. in early December. It’s not too cold, but it’s not warm enough to melt anything other than some icicles hanging from the building.

Inside the post office, I stand in a long line up. We’re all waiting for something. I look at people ahead of me and invent a story for each one. The woman carrying her ski poles, maybe she’s a ski patroller. Maybe she found two people who skied off the resort and found themselves stranded in the drainage – no way out? They could have spent a freezing cold night in the snow but they didn’t have to – thanks to her.

Oh, my turn! I head to the counter and pay for a stamp. Then I put it on the Christmas card to my parents. I turn to go but the clerk calls out.

Revelstoke post office.

Revelstoke post office.

“Why did you do that?” she asks.

“Do what?”

“Put the stamp on sideways.”

“I don’t know,” I say, taking a step towards the door. “I didn’t mean to do it.”

I don’t mean to squish the ant crawling past my boots either. Oops.

Perhaps this ant was on its way to his or her friends. Perhaps she was at her tiny mailbox and found out some good news. Perhaps this ant was about to tell them about it.

“I’ve won that language scholarship,” she would have announced. “I’m going to Paris to live for a year.”

“You can’t speak French, Antina,” says another ant. “Formicidae are strictly English and chemical communicators.”

“Well, I speak French and I’m going to France.”

Little Antina has always dreamed of going abroad and learning to speak the romantic language better. In Grade 4, she wore a blue beret to school. All her classmates laughed at her. The wasp students especially stung.

“Hahahaha!” they sneered. “Hahaha! Antina thinks she’s French. She’s nothing but an insect.”

“Shut up!” cried Antina. “One day you will see. You will see me going to France.”

She tilted her blue beret at a jauntier angle, stuck her antennae high in the air and scuttled away.

“The nerve of those Vespoidea! Jerks.”

From then on, Antina made it her mission to excel in French . She got top marks in school all the way through and she graduated head of the class. It didn’t hurt that she lived in the Canada Post office, which is bilingual, so there were many things for her to read, translate and learn.

Mount Begbie in the distance.

Mount Begbie in the distance.

University was in the cards for Antina. She thought seriously about her career options. There were a few she was interested in. She could see herself involved in sciences: stuff like research or fieldwork. However, she didn’t like the isolation of being in a lab. How about something in social science? How about a Bachelor of Ants degree?

“Je sais! I’ll be a French teacher.”

Unfortunately, before Antina had a chance to attain higher education, her whole family was eradicated one day in July. She came home to the colony and no one was there.

She searched and searched and searched. She found her brother and father withering and dying in a corner. They told her that her mother and two sisters had first escaped the dusting of pesticides but ended up breathing in the noxious fumes when they ran inside to help the rescue.

“Antina,” sighed her dying dad. “Go to Paris. Live your dream. I love you.”

“Oh papa! One day I will. I will go to the City of Lights. I will climb the Tour Eiffel. I will mange fromage et pain et vin et beaucoup des choses. Bien sur.”

She never did. How could she? Antina was all alone now and needed to make her own way. With no money for food, how could she pay for school?

Antina took up a labour position in the post office. Her job was to travel the line of customers and pick up anything they dropped. Well, not everything, but items of value such as bagel crumbs, cookie pieces and the occasional apple core. She was vital to rebuilding the population.

The work was hard. The work was dangerous. Often during a single day, she was almost smushed. She stayed because the pay was good. To reward herself, she applied to language programs. It helped keep her dream alive, it kept her hopes up.

When she got the reply about the scholarship in the mail, she was ecstatic. Finally, finally all her aspirations, hard work and desires were coming true. Antina was off to tell her supervisor the good news. Anthea was a good friend and would share her happiness.

Unfortunately, Antina was in such high spirits she let her guard down. This one time. This one and only and last time. Because that’s when I took a step from the counter – towards the door.

If only I had put the stamp on correctly, then the clerk wouldn’t have stopped me. I would have walked past Antina. I would have walked out the door and hopped back on my bike and spun off through the piles of snow.

Au revoir, Antina.

Laughing at life

Hockey jersey and high heels.

Funny photo: hockey and heels.

“Ha ha ha.”

That’s me laughing. To myself. I constantly crack myself up. But while I think I’m funny, it sometimes doesn’t translate well onto the page. However, I can’t always write about serious life lessons or sweet little moments because life makes us laugh too. We need to inject humour into our memoirs.

Writing humour is tough but it’s a best-seller once it hits the shelves. Writing a poignant, heartwarming story is a lot easier than writing a comedic memoir. Why? Because we all have different senses of humour.

To some writers, being funny on the page comes naturally. Just read this sentence from Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat Pray Love.

Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.

That’s so true and hilarious at the same time. She is taking something that’s an incredibly big commitment and making us think about it in a different way. She’s making us look at having a baby in another light. Writers are always looking for ways to describe things in a new way. Gilbert did it here. (No pun intended.)

Life isn’t only a series of ponderous thoughts and events. We have laughter and comedic relief every day. Even in our darkest moments there’s a dot of light. The other day was terrible for me. There were so many things going wrong — and not going right — personally and professionally. I just wanted to get home from the gym and drink the extra-large tea I had just bought and not talk to anyone.

I pulled into the garage and parked in my designated spot. Then I grabbed the tea by the lid and … splash. Hot tea spilled all over the tops of my legs: the burning liquid quickly soaked into my gym tights. I hopped out of the car as fast as I could and wondered what to do. Should I stop, drop and roll? Should I take off my pants in the garage where anyone might drive or walk in? Ouch! That tea was boiling.

A few seconds later, my legs were no longer on fire. The tea was tepid and I was left with an empty cup and feeling more miserable than ever. Oh the tragedy of being upset and being doomed to have nothing ever go right.

Cat in a drawer.

Tomas being funny.

Right. Stop taking yourself so seriously.

“I tea-d myself,” I said aloud to myself. Then I started laughing. It was funny. We’ll all need to laugh once in a while. Why not start with me?

Jokes

Some people find me funny and others might just find me funny-looking. However, I did win first prize at a joke competition in a Revelstoke bar a few years ago with a laugh I wrote. I won’t repeat the joke here as it’s a bit racy but I do have two others I created and can share with you.

Where does Batman go pee? The batroom.

Where do enzymes go to work out? The digestive tract.

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.

A crisp spring

Calgary city view.

A spring afternoon in Calgary, March 21, 2014.

It’s supposed to be spring right now but it’s not. Definitely not. Winter is hugging us tight and is not going to let us go. Usually during chilly February evenings I like to warm up with a bowl full of apple crisp. Right out of the oven. It’s a great way to sweeten dark winter nights and with the snow still flying in March, I think it’s apple crisp time. Despite my terrible cooking and baking skills, it’s one thing I can make.

My mother made supper for the family on week nights when I was growing up in Nova Scotia. The five of us would sit at the table around 6:30 p.m. or 7, after my dad got home from work, to eat our meal. Sometimes we had baked sole, sometimes haddock, sometimes Shepard’s pie and sometimes chicken. We always got dessert.

My favourite treat wasn’t chocolate cake or ice cream or pudding – it was apple crisp. Even when it was piping hot I’d be shoveling into my mouth. Even though it scorched my tongue. Through the burning I’d taste sweet Annapolis Valley fruit, baked into a soft compote. The crisp was also a little bit crunchy – from the topping of oatmeal and butter and brown sugar. Mmmm. Delicious. There’s nothing better when the snow is falling outside and the wind is trying to get in the front door.

Supper table.

My family’s supper, lunch and breakfast table.

The recipe came from my mother’s 4H cookbook from where she grew up – Burris, Ontario. Now it’s been a family recipe for almost 40 years now. My mum taught me to make apple crisp when I was younger. No easy feat as I just don’t like being in the kitchen.

Peeling the apples was fine and my dog, Jasper, would wait for the trimmings. He would gobble them up and want more. I loved the crisp’s topping so much that I told myself when I lived on my own I would make a whole bowl of it and eat it all myself. (I’ve lived on my own for a while but haven’t indulged in a pound or two of topping in one sitting.)

I have prepared the dessert so often that I don’t even need to look at the instructions anymore. It’s often the dish I take to potlucks or serve at dinner parties and it’s surprising no one is sick of it yet. Unless they don’t have the heart to tell me.

It doesn’t matter where I’ve made the apple crisp – from The Gambia, West Africa to Sackville, New Brunswick to Fort Smith, Northwest Territories to Revelstoke, British Columbia, every time the aroma hits me I’m reminded of home, winter nights and my family.

Apple crisp (from memory)

  •  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degree C).
  • Peel and slice about 6 medium sized apples
  • Place the sliced apples in a 9×13 inch pan.
  • Spread 1 tablespoon of white sugar over the sliced apples

Topping

  • Combine 3 cups of oats, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of flour, pinch of salt, ¾ cup of melt butter and mix.
  • Crumble evenly over the apple mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about ½ hour to 45 minutes

Memoir as poem

Mount Begbie.

Mount Begbie in Revelstoke, B.C. on a rainy day.

Memoirs aren’t strictly a written record of events. You can use poetry instead of prose. Both are expressions of creativity but poetry gives the writer, and reader, licence to use words in different ways.

Robert Frost, a renowned U.S. poet, used verse to remember certain moments in his life. His work, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, is one such example.

I am certainly not in any league with Frost but I do like to create rhythmic literary memoirs. One day while living in Revelstoke in 2009, I was waiting for a summer storm to crash into the afternoon. Here is how I captured the moment.

Storm

Mountain rain storm

No thunder

Or lightening

Just the resonance of drops hitting the

Metal

Roof

A natural on unnatural sound

I want something amazing to

Happen

To see electricity reach out from the sky

to strike out from the

Grey

To collide with the green peaks

A fragment of magic in the

Midst of ordinary

There it is

Finally

A crack, a peal, a shard of a noise through noise

Thunder

So deafening it splits the clouds

They break

and I can see a perfect hole of

blue

Burned into the dark sky.

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