It has taken a long time to get to this place

I remember all those times I felt righteous indignation
all those times I was sure you were wrong,
and I was right
and maybe you were wrong, sometimes,
but now I understand
just how hard it is
how complex the human soul
the layers of our interactions
the trying – the striving – to do the right thing
when so often all you can do is come up short
and then try again next time.

I remember so many of our struggles and differences
but I want you to know that I also remember the good times:
nights in front of the tv
making toasted tomato sandwiches
trying to break my fear of spiders.
I want you to know that when I look at my boy
I think of you and smile
and I remember the good times, too.

An unexpected exploration of my childhood assumptions spun from a conversation about parenting with my son and the NaPoWriMo day 29 prompt to write a poem based on things we remember.

Paradoxical Serendipity

a motorbike howls
tempest of smoke-smog
billowing loud
drowning out birdsong
clouding neighbourhood sunlight
swallowing weekend’s gaity
in ignoble protest

STOP!

but there’s something there
it yanks blood ties untested
unravels memories felt
(not remembered)
this disturbance of the peace
cradles my childhood
like buttercup yellow
bright, innocent
precarious at road’s edge
tumbles me into thoughts
I had lost
sought these 30 years

Where is the nobility in this dream?


Building something out of a mix of overly-poetic and everyday words for NaPoWriMo day 24 prompt.

Shards of Memory

They’re putting coins down a hole in the house foundation, my husband and son, for the future – either their future when they think to dig them up again, decades from now, or for some unknown future, for some unknown people.

The coins, this shared moment, all our shared moments, are the shards of memory we hold onto, shards that, like light, cut through dark times – ours and the world’s. 

They are monuments to the present, to who we are now, to who we think we’ll be in the future. They tell our future selves, “this is who we were then,” and they ask, “remember?”

They are the light we shine into the uncertain future, a piece of ourselves we send forward in time.

These monuments, these bits of the present which will become memories, will remain unchanged while we, we will change in unknown and uncertain but surely vast ways. 

They are changeless while the world and those of us in it embody change.

This point in time may be remembered differently by each of us – my husband may remember this as the day he cleaned out the hole in the floor, the time he and my son bonded over a common interest; my son will remember the rusty nails that came out of the hole and may think about how he and my husband agreed to put coins in the hole, about how for a few minutes he stopped thinking about missing his first dad; I will remember it as the weekend of the Paris attacks, the first time in years my son spent a whole day with his dad, and how safe and surreal and happy everything felt at home this morning – but though we all have different perspectives, the memory and the coins will always be part of our shared identity, our shared moment.

They are among the bright shards of light cutting through our family’s complex narrative.

Early Memories of Home

This is the only house I’ve ever known. My parents bought it before I was born. I hope we never move.

It’s big – three storeys, including the attic – and brick, with a thick front door made of oak, dark green trim around the windows and real, old slate on the roof. But that’s way, way up. I’m more interested in the front lawn, where my Dad sometimes parks his car (when he does, I tell the passers-by that that’s my Daddy’s car), and the back garden.

I like to sit in the back garden with the cats, under the branches of the huge mulberry tree. There, I feel protected by the tall, grey fences that run down both sides and the garage at the far end. Flowery vines wind their way up the front of the garage and there is a rockery in front of it, with little flowers spilling over the stones. A magnolia blossoms to one side. Beside the garage there is a little area with a large sandbox and a gate out onto the laneway beyond. I like to dig in the sandbox, but so do the cats.

I live here with my parents and sometimes my Great Aunt, when she comes into the city on the big, green tripple-decker train. She takes care of me while they are at work or when they go out. There is a small bed up in the attic that she sleeps in on the nights they stay out really late. I like to wake up in the morning and find that she’s still here.

My room is at the top of the stairs on the second floor, and my parents have a bigger room just down the hall, toward the big, sunny family room that overlooks the front lawn and the busy street.

I can hear all the city sounds from inside but they blend together until I don’t notice them. I do notice when the trains go by, though. They shake the house and they make my door rattle.

The walls and ceilings and doors in the house are white and the floors are a dark, polished wood. They smell of floor polish if I get right down close to them.

There is fuzzy beige carpet on the stairs. I like to sit halfway down the stairs and look through the dark, wooden rungs, or run my fingers along the polished banister. From here, I can see the Chinese dragon painting that hangs above the door leading into the front vestibule. The glass on the door is frosted with a fleurs-de-lys pattern etched across its surface.

I can also see the living room and the dining room. I like their fireplaces; they have tile hearths and fancy mantles with mirrors on top. We never use the living room fireplace, but in the winter, we sometimes light a fire in the dining room.

I can’t quite see the kitchen from the stairs, but I know it’s just around the corner. There’s a heavy white door with a brass push-plate that swings open into the kitchen, or hangs closed, or sometimes swings back against the hallway wall, blocking the stairs to the basement. I know I have to be careful not to catch my fingers between the swinging door and the wall.

The kitchen floor, like the vestibule floor, is tiled a chocolate brown colour. There are lots of neat things in the kitchen; big baskets up high on top of the white cupboards, copper jello moulds and green ceramic measuring pitchers, an island on wheels in the centre of the room with a chopping block across its top, and jars full of dried fruits. There is a stool, too. It’s pretty high but I like to sit on it with my back against the window frame, and watch my Mom or my Great Aunt cook.

On summer evenings, I lie in my white crib with the bedroom window open onto the back yard. I listen to my parents’ voices drifting up from the patio as I watch the peachy sunset light dance between the shadows of the leaves on the bumpy white wall, just past the crib’s white bars. I wish I could stay awake long enough to sit out there and talk and laugh, rather than having to stay in bed, trying to go to sleep.

I have some toys in my crib with me and the rest of them are lined up on shelves facing my bed. I remember my Mom putting them up on the shelves but that must have been a long time ago.

Sometimes I get tired of being in my crib and then I stand up and bounce and call out. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m supposed to be napping, but I’m not tired anymore. My Great Aunt is talking on the red phone down the hall. She’s just out of sight, which means she can’t see me, either. I would like to be down the hall with her, not in my crib. I have no more sleepiness left in me today.

Maybe if I stand on my tippy-toes I will be able to climb up and over, and then I will be out.

THUD.

I did it; I’m out!

She’s coming now. I can hear her saying goodbye to the person on the phone. She knows what I did. She heard the thud and she heard me say “ouch.”

I hope I won’t be in too much trouble.

Three Red Chairs

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Glossy and red, the three chairs stand out in our white, white kitchen. They were the first coloured accent to grace our famously white house. Now, there are red accents all over our home. But the chairs started it all.

Their square and sturdy frames contrast with the natural sable-green of their woven rush seat pads. When you sit on them, they make the squishing, crackling sound you hear when you settle down on a patch of dry grass by the sea, or when you walk across a farmer’s field at harvest time. When you pull them out from the table, they make a dense scraping sound, a sound that echoes from the tile floors of my childhood.

They are among the few items in our house that have followed me through my life. When we bought this house, I insisted we had to keep them, find a place for them, use them. Of the few pieces of furniture I contributed to our blended collection, I fought hardest to hold on to these chairs. 

They are clustered around a small, round white table in the corner of the kitchen, a table identical (though one size smaller) to the table they once clustered around in my childhood home.

Back then, we didn’t have a table in our kitchen. We didn’t eat in our kitchen. But we had a sunroom, an addition my Dad built off the kitchen, looking out over the back yard.

This was the room that we ate breakfast in year round, it was where we ate lunch on the weekends we stayed home from the cottage and it was the casual dining room, for warm summer days when we didn’t bother with the big dining room and didn’t eat outside.

The red chairs were there through it all, though back then, around the larger table, there were four of them: three without arms, one with arms. The armchair was my Dad’s while the other three were occupied by my Mom, my Great Aunt (who lived with us most of the time) and me.

Those chairs saw early weekday mornings of fruit and yogurt and toast. They saw weekend breakfasts of croissants and jam and cheese, or Sarah Lee coffee cake, or bacon and eggs.

They were dragged into the kitchen for me to stand on to help with the cooking, or to search for things in cupboards otherwise out of reach.

They were part of afternoons spent painting; sometimes it was my mother with her watercolours, sometimes it was me with my plump, child’s fingers gripping a broad brush, watching the pinks and purples of the guache streak across large pages of newsprint.

They saw the back yard change and grow. And they were there as I changed and grew.

Eventually, my Great Aunt moved back home with my Grandmother, leaving an empty chair and a silence that was louder than the sound of her stirring sugar into her coffee cup (plink, plink, plink) and her cheery chatter.

At 18, I moved out and into university residence. And then there were two empty chairs.

A few years later, my parents divorced and my mother sold the house. She downsized, and put the extra furniture into storage. Including the red chairs.

When I returned from my life abroad and was ready to buy a house, my mother offered me the chairs. They were chipped and banged and the seats were starting to come apart. They bore the scars of a lifetime of wear. But I was so happy to have them; a piece of my childhood.

I have gone through a divorce myself and have moved house several times since then, but the chairs have followed me along the way. Before my husband and I moved into our current house, my Mom and I had the chairs repainted and their seats re-woven. They look fresh and new again, the way they must have looked at the beginning of their lives.

Because my childhood friends always had kitchen tables and for some reason I felt like I was missing out on something, I asked my husband if we could leave space for a table in our kitchen. And that is where three of the chairs are now. In a nod to that sunroom of my childhood, they sit by the back window, overlooking our back garden.

This is where I sit each day when I write. It is where we sit for many of our weekend lunches. My son and his friends sit there for lunch when he has playdates. We decorate our Christmas cookies there. My son does his homework there in the evenings, or hangs out and watches me cook. When he was younger, and lighter, he used to stand on one of the chairs in the kitchen to help me, just as I did as a child. And I still stand on them to reach things in the highest cupboards.

Sure, the grass seats may shed a bit, may catch crumbs and leave bits on the otherwise pristine, white floor underneath them, but I’m sure they did that way back when, too. We could have them re-covered in a more practical, solid covering. But then they wouldn’t be the same chairs. For the sake of my nostalgia, we put up with the mess.

Those three chairs remain at the centre of our family life, just as I always remember them.

Consistent. Glossy. Red. Comforting.

*  *  *

Written for this week’s writing challenge, Object: The writing challenge this week is to begin with an object. Take something small, and concrete — a thing, a noun — and use that as a starting point. You may simply want to describe the object: what does it look like, how does it feel, does it have a scent, a flavor, does it make a sound? Or you may want to use an object as a focal point to expand into something bigger.