The book is well written and poetic but it doesn’t appeal to me. I will finish reading it because it is for book club. It is the kind of book I have to take to my reading hideout in the market parking lot and finish as I eat an oversize sandwich on whole wheat with choice of pickle, celery or carrots and drink dark roast coffee. I can’t read this book at home.More to the truth, I won’t read it at home. The afternoon sun will fade. Grey nothing best described as late afternoon surrounds the car and I drive home. It is the way this book is tolerated. In a few days there will be a meeting and we will have a good time as usual for this is the book that has brought us together. A well written, poetic book,complicated and thoughtfully done, it has merit. Historical, educational, sensitive and bluntly graphic with images of sunlight on the feathers of geese and the flight of a terrified child falling into defective net,a flag held by other children,breaking both arms and no one coming to help. It has become a chore and most likely worth finishing to get the full benefit. My book, which I’ve never written glints in the moonlight. No geese.
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Snow whipped into a frenzy piled up past the ledge of the kitchen window and I still thought we would go to the concert. Even after the telephone chain call originating from the school trustee I thought there would be a chance that we could still go. I had the lead in the school Christmas pageant….as least in my mind I was the lead! My eight year old self suffered terrible disappointment that night. I never got my chance to perform as Mary and have the one goose necked reading lamp “spotlight” rigged up by the teacher shine reverently on my white and silver headscarf illuminating my blonde ringlets. All I had was the one rehearsal and the approval of the young teacher. Oh, so long ago and the pain goes deeply.
At the one room school, S.S. # 7 Bear Creek we had a stage platform with two side entrances. Those entrances and exits fascinated me when we did community concerts for our parents. The visiting health nurse also used the stage area for eye examinations and giving vaccinations. She would take off her high heeled shoe and pound the eye chart into the wall. With the curtain closed it was made medically official. We carried on with our lessons and waited our turn.
One exit led to the boys cloak room where they kept their coats and lunch pails. It always seemed grubby and smelly in there. The other exit led to a small teacher’s room with another door exiting to the outside.This little room was for the teacher’s stuff and there was a wall mounted crank telephone. The teacher let the Grade One kids play in there when she was busy with the older kids and I fondly remember wearing her coat, scarf,gloves,boots and going through the contents of her purse.
My sister was with me there for two years and then she left me to fend for myself while she went off to high school. Fortunately she was there for the horrible day in Grade Two when I sat on an ant hill under the maple tree to eat my lunch. She was the one to deal with my terror of having big black carpenter ants bite my tender little body in every conceivable spot. To this day I can recall the ants creased into my armpits and in my underpants. Another recess event I recall with some significant dramatics was when my sister diagnosed my raging out break of measles as I erupted one warm spring day into blotches and blistering bumps and informed the teacher to call home immediately.
When I was in Grade three with no sister around, Elveretta, a neighbour girl claimed me as her charge.She didn’t suffer fools gladly so I was basically protected from harm. She let me help her keep score for our baseball games and let me sit in her lap. The boys at bat would make it a point of honour to hit the ball over the top of the huge evergreen trees and send the ball into the orchard across the road. There were good girl players too like Elveretta and impressed me big time as they could hit the ball just as well, run like the wind and slide into base while wearing billowing knee length skirts .
I played as little baseball as I could and maybe hit the ball a total of two or three times. I preferred being off in the corner of the school yard telling stories and organizing plays about elves,fairies and trolls and delegating roles to my friends Julie and Irene, who just happened to be sisters and artistic types like me. They were real artists and could draw anything, even horses.Their creative input was invaluable.
I would visit Julie and Irene at their farm and they would visit mine. We had lots of fun together. Their parents were good to me and fed me Ukranian food. I remember turkey suppers, cabbage rolls, borscht, the best ever dill and garlic pickles and apple pies. There were some special pictures, painted trinkets and darkly coloured floral scarves draped around them in a tiny parlour which we were supposed to stay out of so we wouldn’t damage anything in there. Outside the barnyard geese would chase us, honk and spit, knock us down and trample us. That was terrifying and extremely noisy especially when we provoked the geese repeatedly despite being told to stop by both parents in English, Ukrainian and maybe Estonian or Latvian.
Back at school it was the simple little readers and sparse few textbooks that held my parched interest. No extra literature or media was available except for an occasional box of films from the National film Board.When the box of films arrived that is all we did for a couple of days. The classic poems from the readers soothed my poetic little soul but left me wanting much more. Basic knowledge in print form, limited text material ,barely fed me a starvation diet of information. The only books for extra reading available where a set of old black and yellow atlases , Gideon New Testaments, battered dictionaries and High Road to Song books.
It was a bit grim creatively. Exceptions were the times when the teacher would plan an art lesson such as painting the school windows with seasonal art or read aloud for a few minutes on a warm afternoon from her own book or request everyone to write an composition based on a a selected picture from her file of clippings. Possibly, I was the only kid who really loved this writing exercise. I recall others groaning when we did this task every Friday afternoon. A calendar clipping of a fall tree or a cute kitten in a basket or a dark and stormy sky set my imagination free. When selected ( without fail) to share my composition with the class I would deliver it with all the impact I could muster.
From Grade Five until the end of Grade 13 I was always selected to say my “speeches” . Not once did I win a speech competition. However, for thirty two years I taught kindergarten and other primary grades and loved the creative opportunity to play, read,write, tell stories, act things out, laugh, listen, draw,paint,dance around, sing and share what I love about communication. Retired now, I read every darn obscure book that interests me that I can order from the local tiny library and write a little and sometimes I write more. It all depends on me.
The call sang out in startled notes
I stopped and looked around
The sun was full of light and warmth
Footpath by tree was sound
Darkness fell and the moon shone bright
Others had gone their way
Party over, food wrapped
Carried on a tray
Almost home nearly there
just steps along the lane
It struck and grabbed a hank of hair
Strangely gentle with it’s pain
Now the tree is watched with care
The cat stays by the door
Village owls reside with us
My scalp’s no longer sore.
After Alice had made supper for us and Grandpa had a pipe on the porch we would head on down the old unused highway to meet up with George.
Alice was the older lady next door who had another exceedingly ancient old lady boarding with her. Alice made supper for Grandpa, the old soul who lived at her place and for me when I stayed with Grandpa. This went on for several years.
Grandpa passed away when I was about nine years old.
George was another old timer. He lived just at the edge of the old highway, down a lane that is still there. George would start out at his end of the old highway, bent over, both hands behind his back, head somewhat down, watching his feet and walk very slowly towards my Grandpa and I. We would meet up where the new road and the old road joined.
George and Grandpa were known as the two mayors of Poplar Hill. Two old farmers in their eighties walking along the road to find each other and talk over the day.Grandpa referred to this as having a” chaw” with George.
Going along on these civic duties I knew if I was well behaved I’d maybe get an ice cream cone at the corner store sooner or later. The cone wasn’t a sure thing. It was something you could imagine possibly happening and never asked about.
More often than not our return walk home would be completed in the twilight.Robie’s Store was usually closed by then and any hope of an ice cream drumstick was forgotten.
Grandpa had the cook stove fire embers stirred low for the night. It was at this time of day that Grandpa seemed older. His walk had tired him.His steps were uncertain. His cane became his best friend.
Grandpa told one bedtime story. It was always the same one about poor little kittens left out in the snow that were finally let in to warm up by the stove.Grandpa would add some special effects when describing how pitiful the poor kittens cried at the door while the snow and wind raged. I will never forget those crying kittens…..never.
Grandpa kept his house neat and tidy.
The parlour was kept sealed off unless there was any interest in looking at the faded green velvet picture albums of relatives or the need to entertain oneself with the stuffed turtle he kept there. He put newspapers on the floor to walk on and burned them in the stove when they were muddied up. You kept your boots on in Grandpa’s house. He kept his small pint of milk cool on the over head ledge going down into the basement root cellar. His bathroom was quite up to date with light green fixtures and kept spotless with a box of Spic and Span on the window ledge and a bar of pumice soap in the soap dish. For the most part, the bathroom was unused as an outdoor privy was preferred by Grandpa when he was on his own. Backed right up to the large iron cook stove was a narrow cot covered with bed linens from years gone by.He kept a tiny box of generic liver pills ( Dodd’s) on the window ledge beside this cot.
Grandpa wore dark cuffed trousers with a faint pinstripe, grey and red work socks, overshoe boots that zipped up, a green cardigan with a off white pattern on the bottom edge and a black felted fedora. His long white and red striped shirt was also his nightshirt. Long johns were worn in every season as far as I know.
He kept his teeth in a mug of water at night. A handy thunder jug was under his bed. Two small old fashioned glass ornaments were on his handmade dresser. They are now on the same dresser which has been repainted in a soft blue in my guest room.A small blue and gilt top hat dish and a tiny golden pipe attached to a pink leaf. I like to think they were my grandmother’s keepsakes.
Fifty years later, I’m living in the same village not far from Grandpa’s place and just around the corner from the old highway lane. People walk there, often with their dogs or when showing their visitors around our quaint community. The old highway has an area with a few houses and it is named after George’s ancestors. A street beside the cemetery has been named after my Grandpa’s ancestors. Alice’s house is still there. Grandpa’s house is still there. I never really knew where George lived because we always just met on the road and turned around and went home. I like to think his house is still there. It probably is there beside the old bridge at the end of the lane shaded by maple trees behind the long grass. I must ask Anna about it. Anna will know.
George and Grandpa along with about two dozen of their male neighbour friends are in a historic picture on my mantle. It was taken the day the fellows were all together to dedicate our park . It is a memorial park. A well used, loved and safe place.
As far as I’m concerned they are still known as the mayors of Poplar Hill.
Watching from the recliner with supper on the tray
it seems to be more
let alone all the opinions
waiting or interjecting
to be heard
while the others on split screens try to dazzle with a smile that is brightest or fake a frown or shake a well groomed head in argument
while the program host tries to either clarify or aggravate the debate even further
the outcome being an observation of two distinct sides
willing to argue but not willing to see
that might be a consensus or at least promote some understanding
it is a game
where it is fun to fight in a sport of trash talk
that makes it meaningful somehow
and the references to…
doubling down or walking back or finding the come to Jesus moment or sending in a Hail Mary pass or insisting that… here is the thing …that a fact is not what it is because it isn’t a fact on their side of the aisle and never will be and so there…
(fake smile, hair toss, serious frown and repeat as required)
everyone, myself included, recliner engaged
just sit back and let the battle rage
in front of ever accumulating flags with waving signs and huge groups of supporters standing there
or lining up
in front of pavilions
rallies and protest …take your pick
and it never really looks like there will be a solution
unless someone can
serious, very serious, scary nonsense
Not the way to go home but in the immediate vicinity
a dark moody time
sometimes a brighter sunshine filled afternoon
the lane to take in
being at home again
among the ancient
trees and tangles of undergrowth and weedy growth
just to feel the air
and hear it
through my mind and soul
to the very quick finish of the lane
along the hardened surface that takes me suddenly back to even a safer spot
sometimes I just need
as the dusk gathers
once more around
the older part of the world
the ceiling fan and the surprising chill
the night caused me to wrap up in the summer quilt
me off guard
my dream worked
seeing someone surprised at me being in their house
checking on things and scaring them no doubt by hearing my footsteps
at their front door
shocked at what was
and then only a few moments to make the morning coffee and see the neighbour
before finding out the news
yet again about the crazy
that happen oddly
a form of shock
had the impact of overwhelming
and a need to either go back to sleep or find a place with flowers and trees where some beauty remains