Road Trip


 

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My Dad’s house, the only remaining corner of the old farm, served as a focal point for my recent impromptu road trip. I can’t call it my house – I kicked up dust trails, screeching tires as I bolted 36 years ago, Nary a glance in the rear view mirror – no thoughts other than to escape a perceived rural prison.

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Keremeos B.C.

Hitting the freeway out of Vancouver, traveling the 100 miles or so to Hope and the point at which rain forest, farmland and open space gives way to sharp ribbons of mountain highway – the only change in perception is one of feeling my trip has begun. Familiar surroundings still void of emotional attachment. I know what’s coming, understand precisely which bend in the road will ignite inexplicable memories – yet find myself awestruck each and every time. It begins to simmer at Princeton, by the time I reach Keremeos I’m hopelessly lost in another time and place. It isn’t regret or longing, rather an appreciation for the place I came from.

In no particular order, some images of “home”…..

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The place I was raised will never be home again. I can’t “wish back” sprawling acres of fruit orchard we inhabited by telling all the vineyards to go away. It serves no purpose to boo-hoo our baseball diamond – now a parking lot for wine tours or whine because our long driveway now leads to many houses. Beneath the surface I can still make out dirt roads once traveled by our tractor, the “cactus hill” in the middle of my old stomping ground may have a strange home perched on top, yet cactus still bloom and remnants of our old forts still litter the periphery.

What I can do is embark on a road trip – a restorative reminder, not of a physical home but the home that shaped me. A home of sagebrush, rolling hills, clay cliffs, wildflowers and wooden structures. These photographs aren’t impressive, particularly well composed or artistic. What they are is “home” – images that mean something to me.

 

It Helps If You Love Your Job


The executive assistant explained she was planning a birthday party for her boss. Navigating broken English we understood they wanted Canadian food, only the best for a party in two days. Lack of common language didn’t hinder our ability to put on a splendid party. Not surprisingly, executive assistant’s “best” involved champagne fountains, expensive scotch, and dazzling floral festooned archways dotted with twinkling lights.. Never one to judge, we pulled out the stops to make boss one of the weirdest birthday/wedding/ sweet sixteen/ 70’s disco parties I’ve laid eyes on.

Our client said everything was perfect – exactly as she imagined. As guests started to arrive it became apparent female guests fell into two distinctly different camps. The ball gown and tiara set, mingled with barely covering your panties in skin tight Lycra dresses teetering on 4 inch heels crowd. Oddly age wasn’t a factor, nor did it seem to make the slightest difference – I suppose dress code was “optional”

After dinner attention turned to the stage for speeches and video montage of boss man’s life. We found the pictures helpful, managing to piece together boss man’s rise to glory in the real estate market, despite absence of our mother tongue. Formalities over it was time for Karaoke.

As I stood next to the stage, a Lycra clad woman approached saying “help” -one of the few English words she spoke. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out her problem.  Blind sided by her period, every square inch from the edge of her skimpy garment to the top of her rhinestone heels demanded immediate attention. I led her out the back door, leaving her hunched over in the back of our van as I went to find a feminine product. No luck – the best I could do was a pitcher of warm water and two clean bar rags – one to wash up with, the other to stuff in her underwear. Her motioning for me to do the washing was met with a firm “oh, hell no”. She shrugged, washed herself, and put the bar rag in her panties.

Suddenly overcome with a sense of urgency she left the van, making a B-line for the stage. I’d missed them calling her name, I didn’t miss her perfect rendition of Lady Gaga’s I Was Born This Way.

Just another day at the office – it helps if you love your job.

Recollections


I’m convinced this happened. In part because I know it did, coupled with inexplicable occasions of imagery and sensation. Clouded by perception,  recollections flourish as forces independent of memory .

I didn’t know my mother was a writer; she was a school teacher – went to work every morning,  marked papers at night. We lived on a farm; Mom and Dad, five children – practically a litter of puppies. My sister ten months older, brother eleven months younger, five of us separated by five years.

I remember the oddest things, more often than not smell triggers a snapshot. Bees wax evokes blinding memory of the washing machine tub Dad rigged to extract honey from his bee hive frames. Turning the handle, brass spigot honey drips fill a pail. Magic of sagebrush after summer rain  takes my breath away. One whiff and I’m six again, picking sunflowers on a hillside.Red feathers bolt to the table my father patiently crafts lures for fly fishing.

I remember the doorbell , but can’t picture the man behind it. I smell acrid flashbulbs of the reporter, my mother surrounded by smiling bewildered children against the backdrop of a bookshelf. Even when that bookshelf contained a new set of Encyclopedia Britannica,  my mother’s name embossed on pages of the volume  “Stories From Around the World” – it didn’t occur to me she was anything but a school teacher. I wasn’t old enough to understand she published her first story at seventeen, coincidentally in Seventeen magazine.  Had I known the runner up for the story contest was Sylvia Plath, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I didn’t know she was a writer.

Memories dissolve with age,  becoming pages in a book. Reading it over and over until each word is  known by heart. Time omits pages that make us uncomfortable,  re-writes passages as maturity burdens us with insight. Without warning sensory triggers  cast a spell so powerful, we stand defenseless as years melt away.

I’ve given up trying to remember specific events, living for moments when triggers take me to another time and place. Uninvited recollections live as whispers in the breeze. Gazing at night skies a gust of wind might blow to resting on damp grass, my mother keeping us up past bedtime to wish upon falling stars.  When least expected the smell of bacon in a cast iron pan takes me to an old canvas tent in the woods. Straining to picture Mom proves elusive but I know she’s there, teaching us important things as my father stays home on the orchard. Memories of her depression and bouts of madness live in pages of a dusty old book. I only read them if I want to.Knowing she was a writer wouldn’t change a thing, recollections of the crazy farmhouse I grew up in don’t care for analysis, they march to a different drummer.

Does Anyone Remember How to Cook?


This ponder reflects the closest I’ll ever come to any sort of resolution. With it I’m offering a suggestion; when visiting the grocery store – never venture into the aisles. Only shop the edges of your market, go home and cook a meal. By skirting the walls you find the building blocks for a great meal. It’s all there – fruit and vegetables, dairy, meat, even meat substitutes for those so inclined. Give in to the lure of the aisles you enter the realm of packaged convenience, a place ruled by slick marketing and ridiculously over-packaged “time savers”.

Our single serving, ready to serve world is becoming so widely accepted – I believe people think they’re cooking when they combine a chicken breast with pre-peeled potatoes, frozen vegetables, and packaged sauce.

Maybe I’m getting old, or perhaps my rural upbringing left a lasting imprint of fresh baked bread, home made jam, and canning peaches. Microwave ovens were science fiction, I didn’t have one in my house until after I was married. I remember when instant potatoes hit the shelves; we imagined ourselves to be astronauts – it escaped reason why else you would have to eat them. In our wildest dreams we couldn’t have grasped where Betty Crocker and Tang drink crystals would take us.

Obesity rates increase each year, and childhood obesity is epidemic.Food allergies are out of control – working in the hospitality industry I’ve watched nothing less than a phenomena develop. Twenty years ago there was an occasional peanut allergy. today ever other person is gluten or lactose intolerant. Vitamin and food supplement industries have exploded as we try to get back the nutrition processed out of our food.

Never mind the dozen or so pubic hairs estimated each of us consume in a year or the allowable rodent “dirt” in our peanut butter and cereal – that’s the least of our worries. Venture into the aisles and enter a chemistry lab. It takes up to 50 chemicals to imitate the flavor of a strawberry. Processed cheese can elude to it’s namesake with 51% cheese, the rest is chemical soup. If not for added chemicals, the 10 teaspoons of sugar in every can of Coke would make us immediately vomit. Appearance, taste and shelf life satisfy the bottom line – nutritional buzz words lull us into submission as chemists spin their magic. Try to justify resources squandered on over packaging and  impact unavoidable waste has on the environment –  give up on that fruitless exercise and ask yourself why you would eat a chemical found in anti freeze used to keep pre-packaged salad crisp for weeks.

We’re fat and unhealthy because we eat like lab rats. Bodies are shutting down; rejecting and reacting to chemicals that have no business in so called food. Ponder the edges of your grocery store the next time you shop, it won’t solve all the problems but it’s a good place to start.

http://www.forensicsciencetechnician.org/30-scary-food-facts-you-need-to-know/

Office Party Refresher Course


My years in hospitality always peak at Christmas. Office party season; the “black Friday” for ballrooms, high end venues, caterers, and event planners. The spring and summer wedding spree pales in comparison. A wedding may take an exhaustive year to plan, follows an itinerary of speeches, dances and toasts. Most people know how to behave at a wedding. Restraint and manners apply to most gatherings. In fact the only function where common sense goes out the window seems to be the Christmas party.

Far from pondering human nature, reasons to “cut loose” on the company dime are clear. That said, I feel an obligation to offer an office party refresher course. In no particular order; some basic rules to consider…..

Dress appropriately, especially if you plan to “tie one on”. Do you really want to face co-workers on Monday morning as the “hot mess” who fell out of her dress.

Your company is giving you a nice dinner, a few drink tickets, and taxi voucher home. There’s no need to “pre-drink” or sneak liquor in.

Raise your voice in advance if you are vegetarian, vegan, lactose/ gluten intolerant, or likely to expire when exposed to peanuts or shellfish. Acting like a princess after the fact will leave your tummy rumbling. If we get a heads up, we’ll lay out the red carpet, nothing less than royal treatment. Demand it without notice, the shoulder you get will be frosty cold.

Don’t steal the decorations or wear them in your hair.

Don’t ask for a pole because you want to “limbo” When gripped with desire to limbo, it’s time to go home.

Never beg for a drink after the bar is closed or “borrow” wine from another table. Don’t embarrass yourself by repeatedly claiming the server took your drink in order to get a free one. You’re drunk, we’re not. What you think is genius; is just plain silly.

Thank your employer. Always remember – your behaviour is noticed.

Lastly; if you are the “boss” no respect will be gained by a drunken Karaoke session.

The list is endless. Unfortunately this ponderer is too exhausted after the 15 hours just spent on another office party.

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From “the Office” 2006

Regret


Something to ponder – I wrote this about my life, yet feel it applies to all our lives. Regret is a heavy burden.

I should have been so happy. Understanding the people in my life was a reason to celebrate. Instead, my tears were feed by an incurable sadness.  I had found my first regret, it wasn’t for myself, I was strong now, my vision was clear. I wept for others; I wept for words unspoken and lives of those I loved melting into obscurity. I cried because I would never know what may have been if I had found my voice sooner. Things unsaid, questions unanswered, opportunities missed.

I wanted them back. I wanted to sit Baba down, not as my grandfather, but as John. I would ask him to be kind to my father. I’d tell him how proud I was of my father, I’d make him understand. He should have been told – the measure of a man is not in the car he drove, or the committees he headed.  Someone needed to point out that the worth of a man is quiet and strong, it’s defined by the impact he has on others. I wanted him to know my father was a good man. I could have made him see what his overbearing, condescending, never good enough approach had done to my father. I wanted to shake him, shout at him, tell him that despite everything he had done to squash my father; he had managed to rise above. My father had found his own way, he actually made a difference. There wasn’t a parade, a high school band, strong and quiet my father marched on.

Having straightened John out, I’d ask him about his life. I I knew he owned the land we lived on, that was abundantly clear. I knew his sister and mother lived in a nearby town as we visited them every month or so. I knew at least one of his brothers was killed in the war, and he had a terrible farm accident that nearly killed him. That was it. I wanted to ask him, to understand what made him tick. If I could understand his life, I could understand why nothing my father ever did was good enough. I know he had a kind heart, it simmered to the surface when you least expected it. I doubt he had any idea what he was doing to my dad. Suddenly I wanted to comprehend his life, but it was too late. So I cried.

I wanted my grandmother back. Not as Granny, but as kind, sweet, gentle Annie Gladys. I would put my arms around her, she needed to know that her life hadn’t been defined by John. Her life had mattered. She was an angel, a beacon of light, someone we could always count on. Not once did she raise her voice, solid as granite, she was our foundation. I wanted to tell her everything she had done for us. I wanted her to know that someone recognized her sacrifice, she may have vowed in marriage to love , honor and above all obey. Someone needed to tell her, she hadn’t been lost in that promise. She kept her vows, she was a good wife, and managed, despite it all to touch us with her beautiful spirit.

I couldn’t breathe, at first I thought it was panic, and soon recognized it as incurable despair. I never told her I loved her. Not once. I wanted her back. Had she died thinking we took her for granted. Had I found my voice in time, I might have been able to touch her heart. She needed to know she wasn’t alone, I wanted to be her secret allies, and she had to know someone noticed. I wondered if anyone had ever told her they loved her. I wanted to know if she loved John. I wanted to ask her about her life, her dreams, her childhood.. Then I cried.

My mother’s father was my granddaddy. I wanted him back . Not as Granddaddy, as Cecil. Cec was quiet, I always sensed he had stories to tell. I thought he was cool. We used to sit together in silence at his kitchen table, smoking Black Cat No. 7 cigarettes. He had the thickest, curliest hair. He was so unlike Baba, he was a gypsy, a drifter; he moved his family from place to place working in the mines. He panned for gold; he believed in and searched for the Sasquatch. I had so many questions, I wanted to know everything. I wanted to tell him everything was OK. I hoped his life had made him happy, I wanted him to find a voice. I would listen. I wanted to see a twinkle in his eye. Then I cried.

I wanted my Nana. She was a Margaret, like my mother, everyone called her Madge. I had the most questions for her. My God, she had lived in San Francisco in the 20’s, working as an illustrator for catalogues, then fashion magazines. What was is like. I needed to know. How did she end up with Cec, moving from job to job? I needed to tell her she was responsible for an amazing child. My mother came from this crazy place, I wanted to thank her. In my heart, I’m sure she was brilliant, and then stifled by responsibility and circumstance. Like my mother she was exceptional, what might she have been if left to her own devices. I loved her for her off beat take on life. I loved that even though her garden had arguably the worst soil imaginable, being at least half sand, she always thought she could grow tomatoes. I wanted to tell her that even though her garden may have been hopeless, her greatest accomplishment was in helping my mother grow into an interesting person. I needed to thank her for fostering my mother’s brilliance, for allowing her to be different. I wanted to ask, had she known how remarkable my mother was, or did she take it for granted, as she was remarkable as well. Then I cried.

My regret began to fade. My tears became fence posts. I had spent my whole life, building this fence. It enclosed a meadow. A magical place beyond description. It was here I kept the memories of these remarkable people. I couldn’t have them back, but I could visit them any time I liked.