Never Open My Freezer


My daughter wanted small animal skulls for an art project. Naturally she asked my brother, a perfectly reasonable request none of us considered remarkable. “No problem” he said. We promptly forgot about it for several months. Out of mind until he messaged to expect a parcel sent Greyhound express.

If I could bottle my brother the label would read “Essence of  decency, character, work ethic, empathy, moral fibre and principles”. A man of few words, words saved for storytelling delivered with mesmerizing cadence matched only by the twinkle in his eye. Stories of thwacking a bear on the nose while witching for water, sticking his hand down a drainpipe to extract a rattlesnake, plunging through alone in the wilderness pond ice under the weight of fur bearing animals, once and for all riddance of Saturday morning Jehovah Witness interruption courtesy a half skinned Marmot passed off as his cat. Trapper, water diviner, nuisance wildlife problem solver, woodsman and yes – provider of small animal skulls for an art project.

Not wanting to hurt his feelings I kept an open mind to caution our Greyhound parcel was perishable. “Do tell” seemed appropriate. “Wow, thank you” was all I could muster on hearing its contents. It would appear ungracious to point out she wanted “small” animal skulls, how could I argue with news of several Lynx skulls (skinned but not free of brain matter), raccoons, skunk, marmot and squirrel similarly stripped but not purged and one cougar head skin intact. Not wanting to be a ninny, I heard myself calmly remind him I lived in the city. What were we supposed to do?

No worries he said. Put everything in a large pot, boil until bits start floating to the top. It might take a while, if it smells disgusting throw in some bay leaves and pretend you’re making stew. OMG!! I’ll spare subsequent details, suffice to say it involved extraction of soft boiled tissue.

He would have been proud. Stoic, unflappable determination opened the package, assessed the situation, put all but the far too large cougar head in a pot set on boil. Congratulatory back slaps waned relative to ever growing gray pot scum.I couldn’t say how long it boiled, I can attest to the moment gag reflex stench recalled adding herbs to skull stew. Big mistake! Rubber gloves – check. Soft tissue extraction implements – check. Why aren’t these skulls coming clean? Where did we go wrong?

Suddenly my daughter shouts “abandon ship” – we rationalize postponement not failure. “it’s ok, we just ran out of time, we’ll try again tomorrow”. We carry the pot downstairs intent on flushing skull scum water down the toilet. Nothing prepared us for the last swirling toilet gurgle ejecting a rogue floating skunk skull – a spectacle so absurd both of us collapsed in hysterical stress release laughter. Composure returned with dutiful bagging of drained animal parts. Bag of drained bits back in  pot, punctuated with the satisfying clang of lid containment. Cougar head wrapped in another bag – both problems parked in a basement chest freezer.

That was five years ago, it goes without saying our one and only attempt would be the last.We don’t talk about that day, it’s far too awful. Guilt of wimping out is troublesome. Worse still, I can’t bring myself to deal with contents of the freezer for fear of disappointing my brother. We no longer use the freezer, it serves to preserve a pot of assorted par- boiled skulls and one glorious skin intact cougar head. I need help!! Anyone looking for a frozen cougar head?

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Home Without Punctuation


Above the cacophony of a whirlwind trip to Saskatchewan, home finds me pondering an unexpected gift. One uninterrupted day, spent not with an 80 year old blind woman, but with Margaret – poet, author, artist and philosopher, who happens to be my mother. Her poem Case Histories languished in faded mimeograph purple, forty years of solitary card-board box confinement. A sheet of yellowing paper atop hundreds of short stories, poems and drawings. “Read it to me” she said, “I wrote it without punctuation”.

Case Histories

1.

I cant stand this too splendid too pale believe me Ill leave him I mean it all this marble this alabaster these pearls these sly opals winking weak colors through their milk the food we eat pale splendid food white asparagus tips bleached almonds blanched endive shoots seedless grapes fiddlehead ferns like pale green fetuses on porcelain plates ugh he would faint if he knew how I feel he is so pale and splendid he wont give it a thought his fine chalky hands his long slender back his high arched nose his buttercup hair did you know his hair is thinning what a joke mine is black and thick as ever funny it shames me I tie it up in this snood cant do a thing with my red ladyapple cheeks I frighten him he would like to coop me up my crystal case take me out every six months for that butterfly brush he calls a kiss he is the sick one strokes that fool milk eyed steed leans dreaming against its flank splendid pale

and so I do not think I will ever have a child what will I do what will I do my mother had a trick with a needle prick prick prick snow ebony blood and presto she had me Ive tried it nothing so far I hate embroidary

not a little girl I want a little boy nut brown hair russet skin dark merry eyes blunt hands sturdy legs blustery laugh yes yes yes I know where this comes from what of it

in my dreams Im in the forest the cottage glows with lamplight Im cooking vegetables decent turnips in an iron pot roasted potatoes chickpeas gravy a haunch of venison all juice blackberry wine mulled cloves cinnamon nutmeg the little men come in hooded happy I bend for their rough kiss beards tickle breath warm innocent they open their pockets rubies garnets sardonyx  hematite cairngorm all still in the matrix all unpolished all glinting

oh doctor I was rich the night dark as amethyst the firelight like toast no sign of the witch no sign of the prince

Margaret waits til I finish then asks me to keep her writing when she’s gone. “I know you’re the one person who’ll appreciate it”.  I’ll make sure nothing happens to it, but believe me – my appreciation has company.

Notes Flies Away


Tomorrow afternoon notes boards a plane for Saskatchewan. Battleford Saskatchewan to be precise, home to my mother and marginally older sister. Growing up we were “the sisters” – born 10 months apart in the same year, two people who couldn’t have been more different. Family is complicated, two sisters born the same year, thrust into one whether they liked it or not proved excruciating. Leaving home eradicated “the sisters”, forget drifting apart – we bolted in opposite directions. Decades passed, barely speaking to each other, years of judgement and mistrust with sporadic sprinklings of obligatory niceties.

Can’t say why I dialed her number, we hadn’t spoken in several years. All I knew was suddenly it mattered. Suggestion I was about to meet my best friend would have produced a “shut the f**k up”. We had nothing in common, let alone hope of setting assumptions aside long enough to hear each others voice – couldn’t have been more mistaken if I tried. Our lives changed that day, we heard each other for the first time and liked what we saw.

I fly away with giddy anticipation, tomorrow promises precious time with my curiously peculiar sister. We’ll dance, call bullshit and howl at the moon. She’ll indulge my affinity for the stars, and I hers for wine and sewing dance costumes. We’ll bemoan lost time and embrace whatever trouble our proximity evokes. We won’t squander our time together, although I must remember to apologize in advance to her infinitely patient husband. If you don’t hear from me for a few days, know I’m well and having the time of my life.

Trouble


Trouble doesn’t necessarily mean “trouble”, it can mean sit down and enjoy the ride, hold onto your hat because the wind is picking up, or holy crap – this is unexpected. Trouble can mean the start of a very good day; a bat shit day of wild abandon – troublesome only for those who reluctantly find themselves in a ring side seat.

I knew it was trouble when I booked a flight to visit my sister in a few weeks. It isn’t that I’m trouble or she’s trouble; the truth is – we’re trouble. We don’t mean to raise our families eyebrows or make too much noise at 3 AM – we just do, we can’t help ourselves. We are polite middle aged women who inexplicably turn into giggling morons if left alone too long. We dance, call bullshit on each other and collapse on the floor in fits of laughter.

This may not sound like trouble, yet assure you it’s troublesome to those in our path; we become idiots for reasons only we understand. In all honesty, we can’t understand what happens; what’s important is – it doesn’t matter.

I’m the little sister by ten months – she wasn’t even walking when I was born. If I was oil, she was water; two people couldn’t have been more different. We started school the same year, were known as the “sisters” and secretly loathed each others presence. We were always fighting or competing; she – outgoing, me – painfully quiet and shy. We drifted apart to the point of not even speaking to each other for years.

I couldn’t pin point the moment our lives changed; the moment we opened our eyes and looked at each other again. All I know is she’s trouble; the kind of trouble that makes me feel young and stupid, the kind of trouble that leaves us feeling sheepish as we apologize for disturbances in the wee hours of the morning. I don’t know who’s crazier, nor does it matter. Life is over in the blink of an eye; pondering irrelevant details is a waste of time – I’m perfectly content knowing trouble’s name is “sister”. Somehow, a week with her makes all my troubles go away.

Gift


A remarkable gift from Dad rests quietly on my desk. I didn’t tell him how much it meant, and doubt words could have formed a fitting sentence. Unwrapping it two days ago still feels like a dream, placing it gently on my desk provided a whispering pinch,  I was awake.

There I am on the upper left surrounded by my siblings. My beautiful older sister tilts her head cheekily, below her a brother whose faded image still shines with a “head up shoulders straight”  no nonsense approach in life. Below me little sister exudes mischievous joy as baby brother looks faintly down from above.

Dad’s gift took me home. Home isn’t where we live, it’s where we came from. A vine, twisted and permanent without demands of explanation or regret. Sometimes the greatest gift is a reminder of sinuous tendrils that bind us.

My gift rests where it belongs; a enchanted corner of my world that beckons without remorse. This is my family, thank you Dad.

 

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Celebration of Life


Decades in hospitality dictate my presence at countless funerals. Of an age where “funeral” defines passing of a life, modern terminology – celebration of life, does little to assure I’ll find it easier to cope with.

Today’s celebration of life began as any other. My job – facilitate an afternoon according to family wishes, anticipate variance in timelines, and extend thoughtful handling of a difficult and emotional event with understanding, flexibility and compassion. Thankfully I’m kept busy – but for necessity of service, I would fear the grip of debilitating sadness. Funerals, even of those whose lives never touched mine are difficult.

I make a point of “tuning out”, conscious detachment the only weapon against utter irrational collapse.Acutely aware of my tendency to dissolve into a heap of unflattering, misplaced blubbering idiocy – I’ve mastered the art of professional disconnect.

Today something shattered decades of veneer – our client, daughter of the deceased began to speak with tender whisper. Her words penetrated years of practiced resolve.  “I loved my father’s hands, he had beautiful hands. His hands held everything he cared for, his hands held hammers, rope, pen – and his hands held me”.

Not wanting to explain tears dripping off my chin, I bolted outside. No measure of “stop it you idiot”, squelched my reaction to celebration of a life I never knew. I recognized those hands – in my heart, these where hands of a life worth remembering.

 

 

 

Chicken


Years ago my mother wrote these words on a card to my daughter. From time to time, we all need to stop and ponder whether we truly hatched.

CHICKEN

I don’t want to hatch

I like shell’s clutch

This cramped vault

My mother’s muffled cluck.

 

Well, if I hatch –

I won’t hatch much.