Category Archives: Friends

Concessions

My favorite but not the top vote getter

My favorite (I’m crazy about trees and wind) but not the top vote getter

 

I am not a picture person. I don’t naturally reach for a picture or ask to see pictures of other people’s children. Most of all, I am uncomfortable with pictures of myself. I have grown up enough not to hide when people take pictures of a group. (Maturity aided by hurt feelings of more than one event where I spent time wondering why no one included me in any of the pictures only to realize that someone had been me.) Despite growth, I have been reluctant to post a picture and my minor forays into electronic communication never include a tidy little avatar, real or sketched.

Read the words, I want to yell. Who cares about a picture? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to only know my voice? Pick whatever height, weight, skin, hair, face that pleases your imagination. I’ve told you I’m a woman, are imaginations so challenged of late that the rest fails to be adequately filled in as it suits?

Sometimes I like to see the picture of an author at the back of the book, sometimes I think it ruins it and I would have rather kept them exactly as I had them in my mind. Apparently, my views are not widely shared. A picture is not requested but required to even submit some other writing that I’ve done. Sigh. Procrastinate. Wonder if failed imaginations will rejoice if I have myself photographed in my lucky writing shirt, a blue plaid flannel? Somehow I know this is a bad idea.

I beg my friend to meet me at a nature sanctuary near her house with a camera. At least outside I don’t have to figure out what to wear. We spend exactly 5 minutes at the photo shoot. Me with navy coat and red hood showing, Me with just navy coat, Me with just sweatshirt. Despite cold fingers, my friend graciously offers to shoot more. I pretend to look around for another location for 3 more minutes and then pronounce the shoot finished. I can’t take any more of the pressure. Enough bending out where it feels a little dizzy. Time to get back down on the ground.

But which picture to pick? Requests for advice from six friends yielded almost as many responses. Luckily, many told me their second choice so I could at least manage a quorum. Final decision narrowed it to three. I’m sending one for my submission, using one for social media, and using the other for the About Me page.

This picture taking business has me thinking of my mother.  She would have known exactly what she wanted for a picture and been content doing it for ages. She has no doubt come  to peace with the fact that I never will. But she’s probably happy that I at least gave it a shot.

Songs from tiny town

Winterfrost by Missy Friedl-Shipley

Winterfrost by Missy Friedl-Shipley

I am a blip on the screen in the only place I could ever say I came from, not a hometown girl. We lived there six years. A little space in the grand scheme of things, but the time it takes to go from age 12 to 18 is a whole lot longer than that.

At graduation, I was all about leaving. (I didn’t know how the place where you say goodbye to childhood sticks to you.) The town was an ailing general store and a post office, a railroad track down the middle, and ten or so houses, maybe fifteen. A mile up the road was a church. The school bus was an education in chewing tobacco, sibling beatings, pregnancy, and girl fights.

I don’t belong here, I used to tell myself. Yet if I wanted some  place to claim me now, it’s the only place that even might.

In grade ten, we had a writing class led by an eccentric teacher in her sixties, a writer herself. Outside of music, it was the only creative water I was offered to drink during those years. The rest I had to find myself.

In the fall I reconnected with an old friend. I lived in the preacher’s house at the top of the hill twenty-five years ago. She lived closer to the general store. We rode the same bus and took some of the same classes. We sang together in choir, but otherwise, we had different circles of friends. We were friendly acquaintances with a similar appreciation for humor.

We both hurt, but we never talked about it. I cried myself to sleep at the top of the hill, too self absorbed to note the torrents and rivers of tears washing from her soul down at the bottom. We are talking now as we didn’t then. I am a writer. She is a painter, a photographer, and who knows what else. I’m not convinced she’s finished becoming all that she is.

The name of her site is a good enough introduction to her humor. If want to see art that is beautiful, thought provoking, sometimes funny, and sometimes sad, check out Wigglebutt Studios on Facebook. I recommend it whether or not you’re an art person, and especially if you are.

How we two came from the barren soil of that place, I have no idea, but we did. Maybe seeds from tiny town aren’t so unlikely. Maybe they’re lucky. I’m from the same place as Missy Friedl-Shipley, for heaven’s sake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday thoughts

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 Wherein we contemplate eggs

And wonder why they only sell some kinds in the store

Why we try to save ourselves from things that are interesting

Like asking which kind of egg we are

And from laughing when we crack them

because on the inside they’re all the same.

You and me.

      You and me. 

Me and you
Me and you

 

On Good Friends

Please excuse a story with a just recently used subject (boy two). The rate of change in 2014 is spinning so fast at the moment that I find it calming to put my energies toward writing about something as steady as Mr. Lalonde.

My boys serve on the altar at our church. One day I noticed boy two, afterwards talking to a white haired gentleman from the congregation.

Is that Mr. Lalonde? I asked.

Yeah.

You still remember him from when he used to do storytelling at your school?

Yeah. There’s that. But now we have races.

Races?

We wink at each other.

I try to see him first and wink when we’re coming up the aisle for the procession. He winks when he sees me too. Sometimes he’s first, but I try to always win. Then at the end we do it again when we’re walking out and I go by where he’s sitting with the candle.

Every week?

Yep.

A year ago, after much deliberation, we moved our family to a church that was closer to home. I found Mr. Lalonde myself to explain that boy two wouldn’t be there very often any more. I talked about getting them together for a visit but we never did.

After even more consideration, to start the new year, we have returned to the church we came from. The one where Mr. Lalonde attends. We appreciated our time away but despite the longer drive, this church is where we belong. January 1, it was nice to see boy one and boy two on the altar again.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. I play the piano at our church. Even when we were attending the other church as a family, I played there, and then high tailed it to meet everyone. Catholics don’t feel the need to stay for closing hymns. By the time I hit the last chord, at least half the congregation is gone. The other half have their hymn books away, their coats on, and their keys in their hands. The music ends. I pack up my things, check in about the next choir practice, and then I’m ready to get my coat on. If the family is there, they are waiting.

Not January 1, this year. Post pack up and goodbyes, with coats on, my husband and I stood chatting, waiting while boy two and Mr. Lalonde got caught up over on the other side of the church. I don’t know which of them was smiling more. Neither of them was in a hurry to leave. At last, boy two nodded his head, lifted his hand in a small wave, and started across towards us. Boy two’s friend tipped his hat to us and left smiling through the side door.

Celebrating Forever

We have no set traditions for our anniversary. Sometimes we go out to dinner. Sometimes we go to a bed and breakfast. Once, when we lived in a house with an unfinished basement, I secretly hung blue tarps and made a room. I hauled down a mattress and decorated our makeshift get away. I called it the blue lagoon. In another part of the basement I made a restaurant and movie theatre.

This year we invited the kids. After a candlelight dinner for six, we pulled out the video of our wedding. The audio was bad, but looking a little younger, there we were.

Tigger was relaxed, grinning from ear to ear. The priest was back from retirement and extremely nervous. It didn’t matter. He could have passed out and Tigger would have held him up and given him his lines until it was over.

I was in a different state. One step onto the carpet and I started crying. Except when I was speaking or singing the hymns, I couldn’t stop. I have never been so scared in my life. The video proves that I was there and that everything was beautiful. I’m glad of that. I cried again the next day because I truly couldn’t remember any of it except for the music and my smiling groom.

“Twenty years,” I told my beloved in advance of the wedding. “I can’t say forever. I’ll give you twenty of the best years of my life. After that, if it’s hell I’m out of there.”

He said he would take twenty.

“You’re only saying that because you have no idea what you’re getting into,” I said.

My goal when we were dating was to find a good father for my children. It seemed easier to stay objective and what was true love anyway? I hated the idea of becoming one. It sounded like you got married and ended up only half a person. A real prize in the world of the romantic I was.

The wedding was perfect, even if I can’t remember it. We had stunning taste in music and despite the crying bride, that groom’s joy is still contagious, even on low quality video sixteen years later. I sat in my living room with Tigger and the four greatest gifts of our marriage, overwhelmed at the mystery and miracle of it all.

Here we are. Together like it was always meant to be. Surrounded, pushed down, filled up, and overflowing with the blessings of love bigger than the sum of us.

“I’m good for forever now,” I said some years ago. “I’m glad you stuck with me.”

“It’s been worth it. I’m glad you said yes,” he said. “And by the way, I’ve got no regrets, but you were right. I had no idea what I was getting into.”

We laughed.

Holidays and THANK YOU!

Happy times, retro ski clothes and all.

Happy times.

I am taking time off from the blog to do things like watch musicals, play games, visit family, and skate on the pond. Three items of business follow. If you only read one, read #3!!!!

1. Blogs will be intermittent (and written only if something really compelling occurs) until after the New Year.

2. If you want a quick e-mail to let you know about the occasional post between now and when regular life resumes, now is a great time to sign up for County Road 21 updates by clicking here . The system is very old school for the techno world. If you sign up, here is what to expect . . .

I send out an e-mail with a link to the blog anytime there is a new post. Normally, this means one e-mail a day, five days a week. The e-mail is from countyroad21@gmail.com and is sent manually using blind copies in a group e-mail. I do it this way because I could figure out how to do it and because I don’t personally like to sign up for things where I get notification every time someone comments, or even puts a smiley face.

3.  IMPORTANT.  VERY IMPORTANT.  PLEASE READ.

I want to say thank you, to you, my readers. You have been such a gift to me. It is a privilege to have a place to write, and the fact that you show up and share the space with me both humbles and blesses me a great deal. Blog readership is growing, and that can only be thanks to you as well. Thank you sincerely to each of you for your support. For those who like to just read and not comment (a lot of my male readers fall into this category :) ) THANK YOU. For those who respond with comments, either privately by e-mail/facebook or on the blog, THANK YOU. For those of you who have read something you liked and passed it on to a friend or two, THANK YOU!

I pray for all of you often to have joy and love and all manner of good things caught up in your feet every time you try to take a step.  A very Merry Christmas to you and those you love.

With many thanks,

Michelle

 

 

 

Forgiveness Project Last Chapter

I’ve tried to write what comes for the Forgiveness Project. I considered something on liars.  I wondered about failed friends. I am both these things, but neither piece seemed like it needed that much attention. The most compelling reason for writing them was so that I didn’t have to write today’s post.

With admonishments to myself to suck it up and be a real man, I proceed.

What I would really like for Christmas is to be perfect. In thought, word, and deed. (Not to mention appearances, impressions, and memory.) I am far from these things. For this reason, I am running madly through the house tearing apart the cushions, looking under couches, beds, and in the closets, trying to find any last pieces of bravery I can muster to forgive myself. I do not want the harsh emptiness that comes with refusing to accept forgiveness. This isn’t about not saying sorry. All of me is sorry. This is about accepting freely offered forgiveness. I don’t want to smile, then quietly spit the gift back out, insisting it is ill advised and undeserved. The burden of my failings is heavy. It’s time to let go.

For not being the person I dream of becoming, I forgive myself. For not loving as gently as I picture myself doing someday, I forgive myself. For being a nasty, finger pointing, flaw finding person, I forgive myself.

Sometimes I take other people so personally that it short circuits my insides and I can hardly function. It doesn’t matter if the slight came from someone insignificant, if it hits just right, it can shake me for days. I dream big, talk big, then let the little stick girl living inside the inflatable body of me, go hide in the corner because she’s just so tiny and she’ll be lucky if she can figure out how to brush her teeth properly, much less be a truly decent mother, or make it as a writer.

I don’t like to write about my husband. In my head, I picture us as two oxen hooked to a plow, pulling side by side. Not the usual description of love. I know. The other ox doesn’t feel like something outside of me. He’s at work, he’s at home. It doesn’t matter, he’s pulling with me, loving me and cheering me on. The days I do that for him too, feel good. The days I change from dearest friend to behaviour modification specialist with charts for subpar oxen performance . . . well I hate that self. When I’m not being her, I want to take those damn charts and shove them down her throat. Anything to convince her to be human again.

I am not who I wish I was, but I am forgiven and I am trying.

I accept the beautiful gift of forgiveness offered to me. And I forgive myself.

A thousand pounds gone.

Music. Dancing. It’s almost Christmas.

Decisions on Hair

Long narrow face with long hair

Long narrow face with long hair

The kids haven’t had a haircut since before school started. It’s been two months since my last hair cut. It’s not a movement. I’ve been feeling cheap, and they’ve been wanting shaggy. Hair is not something I have a lot of opinions about. In fact, very few of my hopes and dreams have involved hair. Only one really. I wanted to grow my hair quite badly once in order to be a real Indian brave. My mother pointed out that I was only qualified to be a squaw. The fact that I am a girl has at times proved troublesome to me, but I ignored her narrow vision of my possibilities. In my dreams, I was already running barefoot in my long hair and loin cloth, bow and arrows in hand.

I have a grade four picture to prove that by the times I was nine, my hair had grown at least a little bit below my shoulders. When I was ten, my mother met a woman who had once been a model. I have since realized that this kind of person can be dangerous. My mother saw stars and a woman with qualifications.

Fifty-Something former model declared that my hair was all wrong for my face. There was a formula. My face was long and narrow. I needed short hair. My grade five school picture notes the change. Sometimes I would look and the mirror and try to see my face the way she saw it. This thing now bearing a description seemed deserving of inspection.

The next summer my face spoke to Fifty Something again. Straight hair did not suit. She could hear my long and narrow face saying, “permanent.”  All school pictures from there on are identical give or take an inch. I did not change my hair again until I was in my thirties, at which point I finally stopped getting permanents.

My girls admire extremely long hair. The only strong opinion I have about hair is that it shouldn’t be in your food when you are eating. I have therefore kept them in bangs against their wishes, until now. My boys have grown tired of the tidy cuts I like. So yes, my children’s hair desires landed in lock step with my budget cut backs this fall. We are all looking a little shaggy.

“I’m taking everybody in this week for a cut,” I finally say.

“Mom, please, no . . .please, please, please . . .”

“It’s cheaper this way,” whispers my wallet.

Their hair has been bugging me for weeks now. Friday, I finally snapped, but not the snapped where we finally get our hair cut.

We’re not going to the hair dresser. Any of us. The guy with a job can see his barber. The rest of us are growing our hair.

I expect mine in particular will look fairly awful, but I would rather have tried it than not. Before I cut it short again, maybe I’ll stuff a few marshmellows in my cheeks and see if it makes any difference.

 

Uncertain and solid things

photo compliments of morguefile.com

photo compliments of morguefile.com

Once upon a time I was camping with a group of girlfriends. The man I was dating was nearby and invited me for a canoe ride. He arrived early.

Go, said my friends.

I’m still reading my Bible, I said.

Read it later. (They were very insistent.)

I wore my lucky yellow shoes and got in the canoe.

Let’s explore this island, he said.

Maybe later, I said.

The man argued poorly but steered the canoe to the island anyway.

There was a lot of consternation about where to land the canoe. There seemed nowhere flat enough to pull it up onto the bank.

Forget it. I’ll swim for it later, he said.

I protested. A spot was found.

Two bounding steps later, he was fiddling to get something out of his pocket.

It was making sense now.

Will you marry me? he asked and held out the ring to show me.

Yes, I said.

There was nothing else to say so we didn’t say it. It was like holding hands with Tigger from Winnie the Pooh as we walked up the path to find a rock to sit on.

We went from zero to sixty in opposite directions. He from frazzled and uncertain to the top of the world. Me from confident and assured to blithering idiot. Tigger sat down content. I sat down and an entire river system smashed every dam holding me together.

I cried uncontrollably.

I kind of thought it was going to make you happy, said Tigger a little worried.

I am happy, I whispered.  Then I couldn’t talk. I was shaking inside down deep where you don’t let anything touch you. You don’t know how much more it can take in there, you just know it’s not much.

Tigger was relaxed and happy because he didn’t have a clue how dreadfully wrong things could go. Tigger was already so far into the sunset he probably wouldn’t even come back for a year or so. I didn’t believe in sunsets. Didn’t trust them.

An hour later I had stilled the terror enough to stand.  The sun on the lake and the old pines sang something like a lullaby that I recognized. Pieces of the Canadian Shield jutting up all around reminded me that come what may, some things would remain solid.

I like remembering that day.  It was the biggest leap I have ever been asked to make. Now it’s one of the solid things I go back to look at when it feels like too much is shifting around.  Yesterday, Tigger cleaned out the chicken coop and got it ready for winter.  Last night I asked him what he thought of a piece I had written. He hemmed and hawed to say he didn’t like it.

For some reason that made me happy. I woke up wanting to say thank you for those lucky yellow shoes.

Night sky

I like the idea of reaching for something beautiful like the stars, but it takes work to keep my eye on something so far away. When not overcome with passionate optimism, I am a person given to weary sadness. Sometimes it translates as hopelessness, sometimes as an inability to forgive the inordinate number of trespasses from those who surround me, and sometimes as  kind of general malaise. During the impassioned phase, it is not difficult to look up.

I am not in that phase at the moment. I am in the phase where my Pollyanna self would be shot on sight. It is called highly critical, general malaise mode. Inside that place, it is very difficult to look up. Ironically, when I could most use a steady gaze on something higher, my neck prefers to stretch sideways to inspect the shortcomings of my fellow travellers.

In nature, my children, unexpected things, I am sometimes given the needed adjustment for my view finder. When those fail, I flounder. More often than you would think, Mrs. Auchter comes to mind. When I knew her, she was in her eighties, blind and living alone. She had three people in her weekly life, Alice, who did her hair, Marion Fisher who got her groceries, and me.

I thought she had good reasons to be depressed, bitter, and resentful. But if she was these things, I couldn’t see them through her delight at seeing me every Sunday afternoon. She saved up all kinds of things to tell and show my high school self. A piece from Mozart played properly. Warnings from the radio about drugs. The state of her toenails. The good work of prunes. I picture her curly white head with marks from where she slept, her hunched up shoulders, the thick glasses she couldn’t see out of, covered in finger prints.

Recently I read about Josephine Bakhita. She was a very poorly treated slave for many years. Her enslavement was eventually pronounced illegal by the French courts of the day. No longer a slave, Josephine chose to live at a convent. She was assigned as doorkeeper and subsequently was familiar with the local people. She became beloved and very well known for her kindness and generosity of spirit. Literally thousands came to her funeral.

I need to know how this woman was dealt such an ugly hand and ended up a dealer in tender humanity. I have never been a slave, and I think what I do is at least as pleasant an occupation as doorkeeper. I notice the cupboard doors left open, the shoes kicked across the floor, and the dirty Tupperware from the lunches not returned and I am not a happy camper. Josephine Bakhita puts a serious wrench in my ideas about payback for such indignities.

But maybe she is giving me something better to aim for. Something to keep my head up looking at the stars.