Tag Archives: Creative Non-fiction

First Snow

 FIRST SNOW

Margaret Miller

I was thirty the first time I saw vehicle snow chains, a necessary part of my new life in northern British Columbia. For thirteen years I’d been a city driver, confidently navigating my way through the traffic maze of Australia’s largest city, Sydney. Ice scrapers, block heaters, lock de-icers and snow chains were not a part of my life. But all that changed when I moved half way around the world to a small cabin at Moberly Lake, more than a thousand kilometres north of Vancouver. 

I spent many weekdays alone at the cabin. The closest neighbours lived a few kilometres away; the small town of Chetwynd was a twenty-minute drive south. One winter morning I planned to visit a new friend in town, so pulled on extra layers and Mukluk’s and waded through freshly fallen snow to the two-wheel drive truck. After some worry and a few wheel spinning efforts I knew I was snow-bound. I simply could have returned to the cabin and phoned my friend to let her know I was marooned until the driveway was ploughed. She’d understand; weather often altered plans in the north. But I was hungry for company; a new-comer with too much time on her hands feeling frustrated at the bottom of a long driveway. I pulled the tire chains from behind the bench seat and my ready-for-anything snow pants, suited up and wriggled under the rear wheels of the pick-up. I’d been shown how to fit chains a few weeks earlier and knew it could be awkward. But it wasn’t rocket science.

Like most Aussies, I hadn’t grown up with snow. Summer or winter, my backyard was green and the eucalypts in our garden and street were always in leaf. During crisp winter mornings, frost collected on the lawn and in rare summer hailstorms ice stones briefly blanketed the street so it oddly resembled a Christmas card. But it never snowed. The only flakes I grew up with were housed in a small glass dome on a shelf in our living room; one tiny cottage and three tiny evergreens trapped under glass. White flecks swirled in the oily sky when the dome was tilted. Was this anything like real snow?

In my twenties, I set off from summer-time Sydney to experience snow in Britain and Europe. With the temperature hovering in the mid-thirties, I departed from the airport, carrying a knee-length wool coat, wearing thick socks and laced boots. I explored cold London for a few weeks, rain and drizzle but no snow, then ventured northwest in a blue rental Mini to Wales. I woke the following morning in a cozy Cardiff Bed and Breakfast and parted the heavy drapes by my bed. A few inches of snow had fallen overnight. White dominated the landscape; everything looked new and clean. I hadn’t heard a thing. No tell-tale pitter-patter on the roof during the night. No rattle at the window pane. I studied the new view. A downy layer on the lawn and shrubs. The stone fence, dark and mossy under a white crown. A vanilla ice-cream scoop on every fence post. Big white pillows on the roof and bonnet of the Mini. A white strip on the overhead wires. Did snow stick to everything? I thought about driving in these changed conditions. Could an Aussie in a Mini handle it? The B&B owners offered pointers on winter driving, so I ventured out in my first snow to my first medieval castle.

There were few visitors at Caerphilly Castle that day. Mid-week, off-season. After a cautious drive along flat roads, an immense fortress loomed in front of me. Dark stone; tall walls; turrets and towers, most intact and straight, some crumbling or leaning with gaping cracks against the grey winter sky. And fresh snow everywhere. I donned my long wool coat, pulled the hood over my head and left footprints in the snow as I crossed the draw bridge and made my way to the top of the gatehouse. New snow-covered the seven hundred year old structure; milk-white against grey and dark brown and black. I stood alone in a quiet sepia landscape devoid of colour.

I saw snow in other landscapes in the next few years: a tour of Scotland, a beginner’s ski course in Innsbruck, weekend jaunts to the Snowy Mountain seven hours south of my Sydney home. But snow remained a novelty for me, a respite from the mild winters and long, hot summers of Sydney. Then in the eighties I moved to Canada for life with Bryan, a Canadian I’d met travelling, and snow became part of my daily life. I certainly knew snow could be beautiful; it sparkled in sunlight and captured the hues of the rippling Northern Lights. And it was fun; we played in it, skied across it and down it. But snow was work; for seven months of the year, we shovelled and piled it, ploughed, scraped and occasionally cursed it. As a driver, snow tested me. With practice, I learned to read winter road surfaces, to be soft on the brakes and to steer into skids. I came to recognize the bump-bump of a frigid morning drive as the flat spots on the tires rounding out and accepted the need to stow emergency winter gear in the truck.  But my pioneering sense of adventure wore thin that morning, so I grabbed the chains angrily and dragged them in under the vehicle. 

I felt warm and cramped under the truck, but my effort with the first chain was working. I fitted and closed the locking levers, then wriggled over to the other wheel. I pulled and tugged a few more minutes, then more success. I crawled out and climbed into the truck, turned over the engine and hollered when the chains bit through the snow and carried the Toyota and me up the driveway and onto the ploughed road. I pulled over and repeated the whole process in reverse. Chains unlocked and off. Snow pants off. Gear stowed. I cooled my flushed face with snow from the roadside, sucked on a ball of it to quench my thirst and settled back into the driver’s seat. I slid on my sunglasses, pushed an Eagles cassette into the player on the dash and drove through the northern landscape to the home of a new friend.  

One Saturday a few weeks later, when the temperature warmed to a mild five degrees below zero, Bryan and I decided to top up our water storage tank. The cabin had no running water, so year round we relied on lake water and with careful winter use it could last about a month. A green garden hose snaked up from the tank to the ceiling in the mudroom, passed through the wall, crossed the living room, and dropped through a second wall into the bathroom. The spigot that dangled over the claw-foot tub was the only water source in the cabin. We had no shower. No flushing toilet. No kitchen sink or taps. No hot water tank. But we were comfortable. The big kettle on the gas stove heated kitchen water; an immersion heater designed to prevent livestock water from freezing heated our bath water.  

We suited up for our water collecting routine and ran  a Pink Floyd tape to the outside speakers under the eaves on the deck. Bryan disconnected the electric pump from the metal tank and lugged it twenty metres to the frozen lake. He fetched his chain saw and a few tools while I ran an extension cord and another hose from the tank down to the collection spot. About fifteen minutes later, after Bryan cleared snow from the ice, cut an impressive thirty centimetre block from the solid surface and checked all fittings, soft and delicious water ran uphill and into the tank. I checked the kitchen clock. It took about ninety minutes to fill the tank, so we’d need to watch the time. 

 

After the work of set-up we relaxed on the deck with steaming mugs of tea.  

“Time to build a snowman,” announced Bryan. “The snow is just right and the steep driveway will be great for this.”

It would be my first snowman. I’d seen cartoon versions of giant snowballs rolling downhill so understood a little what he was thinking. We tested snow quality with small balls rolled on the flat spot near the cabin. They swelled and left widening tracks in the snow. We moved a good distance up the driveway, eager for a massive ball to begin our man of snow. Unwieldy weight defeated us, so we moved closer to the cabin and began rolling again. We worked together to create three impressively large snowballs and maneuvered them close to the picture window in the living room. We laughed, stacked and decorated the balls. I smoothed the big white tummy and carefully shaped the white head. Branch arms grew from our man’s shoulders and spruce-needle hair sprouted from his scalp. Would we be able to find stones for eyes under all the snow? 

“Of course he needs a carrot nose,” said Bryan. “Any in the cabin?” 

Any carrots in the cabin? Realization hit us at the same moment. How long had we been playing in the snow? We rushed back into the mudroom. Lake water gushed from the storage tank onto the floor. The mudroom, living room and only bedroom were flooded. Shoes floated under the coat rack. Plywood floors and carpet squares were sodden. Bryan yanked the hose from the tank, threw it outside and unplugged the extension cord. One final hiccup of water trickled down the outside of the tank, then all was quiet. We looked at each other and started to giggle. Much of our home was waterlogged. It was mid-winter and below zero outside; and our big new snowman was waiting for his nose. We laughed. 

After more work inside and outside the cabin, we shared a bottle of wine by the woodstove in the living room. The pump was back on the tank. The extension cord rolled and stored. Hose drained and coiled. Chain saw and tools stowed. Floors mopped. Soggy rugs hauled outside to freeze and stand guard by the woodpile. We relaxed together on the couch and looked through the picture window at our big man of snow, his carrot nose firmly in place. 

Advertisements

Nine Tons of Rock

Nine Tons of Rock

Patrick Dobson

Three rock yards: One sat on an old railroad switch north of the city. The second was just over the Kansas River in sight of my bluff. The third lay down in the Turkey Creek Valley.

I had a wall to build. My house was new, built in the inner city as in-fill housing, what we used to call “worker housing.” The hill in the backyard used to be one of Kansas City’s construction and demolition landfills. The incline allowed water to pool at the base and around the sides of the house, creating a malarial swamp. I didn’t know how to build a wall, but I wanted space to sit and build fires. I needed to terrace the hill to make room.

At the first rock yard, the owner, Chris, was out back burning a load of trash and wood. He greeted me with a strong hand. I was his only customer.

“Rock. We got it,” Chris said. He was a tall, sturdy man in a flannel shirt, overalls, and a heavy canvas jacket. “You just look around here and you see somethin’ ya like, we’ll arrange to have it delivered tomorra.”

The stone was gorgeous even if Chris’ yard wasn’t. Stacks of various colors, sizes, and shapes sat on dirty pallets set on muddy sediment, runoff from behind a railroad service shed. Water pooled in concrete bays where Chris kept stores of substrate and fill—limestone gravel and chat, river rock, granite dust, and sand. Behind the bays rose mounds of disturbed earth. The railroad still ran next to Chris’ property—now a line from an intermodal yard in North Kansas City to Houston. Piles of rubble and ballast lay tangled in weed, grape, and scrub. Discarded appliances jumbled about as if on a stormy sea of Virginia creeper and poison ivy. On the property, Chris had started and restarted a hundred projects, some finished, some in evolution.

We walked along the muddy road, talking prices. Moss Rock, $200 a skid. Kansas Dry Stack, $350 a pallet. Cherry Blend, “twel’fiddy per three twenny square.” He ran his catcher’s mitt hand over his shaved head as he talked up the advantages for each of the ten kinds of stone and gravel on the lot, for wall and walkway—since I needed both. Ten. That was all and that was good. A limited selection is a grand thing for an uncertain shopper like me.

Chris was a good man and an excellent educator for the novice in stone, and not a bad salesman. We came to the fencepost limestone from farms in central Kansas. “I can’t go get it myself,” he said. “Them farmers don’t like having ya on their places. They bring it to me, and I sell it for a hunnert a post.” It was beautiful. Pin and feather holes still visible along the length of the stones. A person could find a “hunnert” uses for them, he said, all of them ornamental and none of them practical. That’s the nature of landscaping sometimes.

After looking at the posts for a while, talking of the unique stratum of stone they come from, I used an excuse to leave without buying. “I have to run this by my wife,” I said. We shook hands. He smiled. He knew I was off to look someplace else.

A few days later at a rock yard in Kansas City, Kansas, just in sight of the bluff on which I live, I ran into a man and his toddler son. The yard was open to shoppers. Richard was a landscape architect. Harry, his son, rode astride his father’s shoulders in thermal overalls. They looked like they were out for a stroll in the park. There was no one else in the yard but us.

“Just getting some ideas,” Richard said, looking around the yard. He handed me his card. Guenther Lawn & Landscape, Basehor, Kansas. “I got a patio with five kinds of vintage stone I have to put together. I’m just trying to see what’s around.” Vintage stone. It occurred to me that even ordinary limestone is made only once.

“Me, too,” I said. “I have a steep hill in a small backyard up there on the ridge.” I pointed to Silk Stocking Ridge about mile and half distant. It rose out of the industrial river bottom of warehouses and railroads. The buildings of downtown Kansas City towered above the bluff.

I gave Harry a finger to wrap his hand around.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, really,” I said. “I just want to see what kind of stone’s around.”

“What’re you thinking of?”

“Whatever’s around this area,” I said, turning back to the yard, a crossword of neatly stacked pallets of stone. “There’s rock all around where I live, and if I had the time, I’d pick it up myself.”

“But a man’s got a life to live,” Richard said. “That’s why me and Harry here’s going for burgers after this.”

“Have to make it fun.”

“Rock’s always fun,” he said.

We parted ways and I looked at the stacks of stone and their prices. Pecos Tan, Buckskin, Osage Buff, Birch White Ashler, Calico Crème. Nothing made much sense. I understood simple names like limestone, sandstone, granite, feldspar. The yard’s market names for the rock added a layer of mystique to sometimes ordinary stone. Where did it come from? How did it get here? Who quarried it? The signs in front of the pallets of rock contained none of this information. Sometimes a state of origin was listed, but never a geologic stratum, never a notion of an era or epoch.

It was a good yard and seemed like an honest place. But it was too neat and orderly. Battalions of neatly stacked pallets of stone stood in perfect lines on a lot two blocks square. It was a lot like a suburban lawn center, the opposite of Chris’ railroad switch. I’m sure the owners worked hard to give the yard an aura of gentility. People with money ordered stone in bulk and had it delivered. Men like Richard created new spaces with it. 

The third rock yard had a website. Pictures of stone. Prices per ton clearly marked and how that price worked out per square foot. No shenanigans. I drove over and parked on the gravel lot out front. Men in work clothes walked in and out of a spare room next to the office. They said “good morning” to the room as they walked in, and everyone replied in return. They were contractors, workers, all with gloves in their pockets, some with concrete and stone powder on their jeans and boots. They stood in a loose formation at the counter. A woman sat at a desk behind a rough wood partition. A little cocker spaniel made the rounds of the men, most of whom bent down for a pet quick and soft word.

A printer’s box on the counter displayed samples of different gravels. Price per ton, limestone or granite. I asked where to see stone I could build a wall with, and the woman smiled, got up from her desk, and led me by the arm to a door at the end of the office.

“It’s all right out here,” she said, looking out onto hundreds of pallets and piles of stone. The yard was orderly but worked in—somewhere between Chris’ entropy and the suburban yard’s cleanliness. “You just look. See anything, just come back and tell us. Any of us can answer your questions.”

All the stone in the yard had nice names, much like the yard where I met Richard and Harry. But the yard was separated into classifications I understood—limestone, sandstone, quartzite, granite. Small signs in front of skids and piles of stone listed the genteel market name of the rock. The signs also displayed price per ton and square yard. Notations beneath named places of origin. Some signs even provided the name of the quarry. The prices were all better than either of the two places I’d been before.

Dwight stood behind a simple counter in the sales room. He was a big man with canvas overalls and jacket, his name embroidered on his shirt. His hands were the size of baseball gloves. I asked him about the big pile of stone I’d seen in the yard, the stone I wanted in my yard.

“Kansas Dry Stack,” he said. “It’s good stuff for around here. What’re you planning?”

“I want to build a terrace in my back yard, something about twenty-five feet long, about four of feet high,” I said. “I won’t be using mortar. It’s a hill. A lot of water comes down and through the hill.”

“Good thinking,” he said. “Winter’d murder a mortared wall. If you’re not into anything fancy, that dry stack is about the best I can recommend.”

It was also the least expensive per ton. Other rock would build the same wall in fewer tons, but without mortar holding things together, this rock was looking great.

Dwight pulled a pocket calculator from behind a cash register, worked a couple of figures into the keys, and wrote some things on a small pad with a golf pencil—everything looked ridiculously small in his hands. Then, he told me how much I might need, as well as what might cover two walkways either side of my narrow driveway (which turned into muddy sumps in the rain). He told me how much it cost.

“Seven tons all together. Five Kansas Dry Stack. Two Kansas Flag. We can have it delivered tomorrow,” he said, looking up from his pad. “What do you think?”

“I’ll do just that,” I said.

“It’ll come in a big truck,” he said. “You have any problems with your driveway or the place we’ll deliver it? Any cracks, that sort of thing?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“There won’t be any problems unless there’s problems already,” he said. “As long as there aren’t, there won’t be.”

I ordered two tons of limestone gravel I would pick up in my truck a half ton at a time when I needed it. He rang the figures into the cash register, and I handed him a credit card. I signed the ticket and walked away the proud owner of nine tons of rock—seven of Devonian limestone, two a little flatter than the rest, and two tons of limestone pea gravel.

The next morning, I woke early. I had arranged for delivery of the stone after my obligations at the university. When I was finished there, I rushed home in time to see the bucket truck drive up the boulevard. When it halted in front of my house in a flush and squeal of airbrakes, I was in awe. The truck wasn’t a small, big truck. It was a big, big truck. It was cherry red and well-scuffed. A tall, lanky, older man climbed down the ladder from the cab and shook my hand. He smiled kindly and talked softly. I told him where I thought I wanted the stone—off the side of the driveway. I would haul it from there in a wheelbarrow to the back.

“That’s a sound plan,” he said. “I see you gotta crack.”

We looked down at the drive. A fracture ran from the street up the ramp. Right in the middle. I’d never noticed it before.

“You think it will be a problem?” I said.

“With these new drives, it’d be hard to say,” he said. A wisp of his thin white hair flipped up in the breeze. “Could be a little heave or settling. The truck could make it worse or it could do nothing at all. It really depends on what your insurance looks like.” He smiled and adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses.

“I’m not going to worry. Repair it now or repair it later. I wouldn’t know where else to put this stuff.”

He unclasped the door on the back of the bucket, climbed into the cab of the truck, and backed it into the drive and onto the side yard. Once stopped, he pulled the engine out of gear and the engine revved and the bucket began to rise on a hydraulic arm. The back gate swung open, and with a great clamor of stone on steel, then rock on rock, stone slid and bumped out of the truck onto the grass. My neck and the back of my head became sore with tension. Was this the right rock? How do I build a wall? The man pulled the truck forward, and more rock tumbled out, and then more. When it was nearly done, he bumped the bucket up and down on the arm to get the last of the stone out.

It struck me as the man smiled and waved, as I watched the red truck bump off down the boulevard beneath the bare sycamores toward the rock yard: I was committed. I’d build a wall and to do that I needed to move this pile of stone–some six feet high and twelve and some feet in diameter–120 feet and down steps to the backyard. The only way was one rock at a time. The possibilities defied my imagination.

The Witches!

The Witches!

Annabelle Blomeley

The girl walks to the edge of the woods, hands in her pockets, wind through her hair. Goosebumps raise on her arms like mountains, leaves crunching like thunder under her feet. Behind her, children laugh and a friend calls out to her in a high squeaky voice. She turns and when the other girl reaches the woods, they both turn to stare at the tall pines and oaks that loom overhead. They both wear t-shirts and jeans, with jackets pulled close.

“What do you think they’re doing?” the other girl asks, her heavy breathing making clouds form in the crisp air.

“I don’t know. Probably something bad,” the girl responds, pulling her blonde hair out from under her jacket. 

They stand in silence, shoulder to shoulder.

“I think we should go back inside,” the blonde girl says, her hand trembling.

Together they walk against the wind, back towards the looming school building in front of them. Other kids run to line up to their teachers, their noses pink with frost.

The two girls line up to a man with a beard, who calls roll and leads them inside. The pavement turns into tile as they walk through the door, heat hitting their faces like fire. 

They then learn how to add fractions in math and how to grow flowers in science. They get reading time next, and the girls hurry to get the two spots on the red couch next to the window. The teacher mentions signing out a book from the classroom library and the girls get up, carefully leaving notebooks and jackets that mark their spots. The blonde girl signs out Roald Dahl’s The Witches  and signs A.B. next to the book’s spot on the list. The other girl, who has stick-straight brown hair and freckles, signs out a book about Ancient Egypt and signs B.L. And they walk back to the couch, where the springs creak as they sink down into the cushions. The room is quiet, full of only rustling of papers and shifts of seats. With one of the bulbs completely burned out, the room is illuminated dimly. Outside the sky is gray and the swings on the playground sway in the wind, lonely.

“What do you think they look like?” A.B. whispers, looking down at her book whenever the teacher looks up from his desk.

B.L. pulls her knees to her chest and glances outside. In her head she sees pointy hats, broomsticks, and long noses. “Like witches probably,” she responds, her eyes never leaving the window. Finally, she turns back to her friend and glares at the front cover of A.B.’s book. “I mean, they probably look like that,” she says, pointing to the witches on the book with evil eyes and claw-like hands.

A.B. shifts in her seat. “Maybe they look like the blonde witch in Hocus Pocus. She isn’t ugly like the others.”

“Maybe,” B.L. responds, her eyes never leaving the window.

*

The next day, the pair walk towards the woods again. They bring extra jackets today because the weatherman told them to. A.B. is even wearing her pink and orange scarf. 

In the girls’ hands, they are holding chalk, stripes of pale pink and blue lining their palms and coloring their fingernails. Together they stare at the woods for a while, but eventually they get to work on their assignment. 

First B.L. stands straight and holds up her arms, while A.B. gets on the ground and outlines her shadow on the concrete of the sidewalk. Then they switch.

“Since we’re done we can go play now,” B.L. says, glancing over at the teacher who is reading a book on the old concrete basketball court.

A.B. nods and they walk to the edge of the woods. This time they peer in and move along the base of the trees, straining their eyes to see more than wood and leaves.

“Found it!” B.L. shouts, pointing to an opening in the trees where a few pieces of metal stick out of the ground. Further back, they can make out a peeling red set of monkey bars and an ancient slide that lays on its side and is half covered with leaves.

“The others won’t even notice we’re gone,” A.B. says, glancing anxiously at the teacher and the students who were throwing a frisbee. 

B.L. looks back, nodding. “Yeah, we’ll only be gone a few minutes, right?”

A.B. stares and slowly nods, her hair flowing like waves in the breeze. She sets her chalk on the ground carefully, and quickly stuffs her hands back into her jacket pockets. 

The girls walk into the woods together, stepping over rotten trees and crumbling rocks. They trip up now and then, gasping quietly and moving on. They both stop at the metal playground erupting out of the ground, taking note that it resembles a graveyard. B.L. starts shivering.

A.B. bends down and runs her finger across the red swing set, paint chipping off in her hand. She recoils from feeling the cold metal on her skin.

B.L. walks up to the slide, which is standing straight up. She slowly lifts her leg and puts her foot on the silver surface. It creaks under her weight.

“My dad told me that they don’t make slides like this anymore,” B.L. whispers, putting her foot back on the ground. 

“The metal kind?” A.B. asks, shuffling over to her friend and glaring at the slide.

“Yeah, he says they make you slide real fast.”

A.B. nods and carefully puts a foot on the first step of the ladder that goes up the slide. Step by step, she ascends, gripping the rails until her hands turn as white as snow. Finally, she makes it to the last rung, freezing in place at the top.

“There’s no way it’ll hold me,” A.B. whispers, looking around at her bird’s eye view. There was nothing but trees and branches for what seemed like miles. Clouds hung low and wove between leaves and trunks, reaching out for A.B. like a hand.

A.B. jumps down. “I don’t see anything,” she says, breathing heavily.

B.L. nods, sympathetically looking at her friend. She turns away and shuffles aimlessly through the metal poles in the ground. 

“What’s this?” she asks, kicking a pole that makes a clinking sound.

A.B. walks over, grabbing the side sticking out of the ground. “It looks like monkey bars,” she says as B.L. grabs the other side.

They look at each other and pull. Nothing budges. They both position their feet and put all of their strength into it, sticks falling away and dirt flying into the air. The other side finally creaks and erupts out of the ground like a geyser. A.B.’s foot slips in the leaves and she gasps as she hits B.L. who tumbles down after her. 

They both lay in the dirt under the monkey bars, stunned. From the sky, they imagine that it would look like they were hanging off the bars, just playing together to see who could keep their grip the longest. But they are not, they are instead staring at the clouds in awe, breathing heavily with their hands shaking. And after the initial terror disappears, A.B. sits up, her scarf covered in brown specks of dirt.

B.L. rubs her ankle where A.B. had slid into her, a footprint etches across her jeans like a map to nowhere. 

“Sorry,” A.B. says, glancing at the other girl. 

B.L. giggles. “It’s all good.” She pushes her palm against the dirt in an effort to stand up, feeling a slimy blob wriggle through her fingers.

“Ew!” B.L. yells, flinging her hand off the ground and shaking it in the air. The girls look down, eyes big in disbelief. Hundreds of worms, snails, ants, and roly polies litter the ground like squirming polka dots trying desperately to seek shelter. 

A.B. and B.L. gasp and frantically push themselves off the ground, wiping their jackets off as quickly as they can. The unlucky bunch of bugs that had held onto the girls when they got up, now rained down like waterfalls. 

For seconds after, the girls wipe themselves down, not caring about anything else. But a rustle echoes through the trees, and A.B. is the only one who notices. She looks up, forgetting about the insects that weighed her down like anchors. 

“Do you hear that?” she asks, grabbing B.L.’s arm and gripping it.

B.L. stares into the sea of wood and leaves where everything is still and quiet. They can’t hear the wind anymore, only the sounds of their own breaths forcing their way out of their lips. 

B.L. turns to say no but a deafening rustle vibrates through the trees. Birds flap into the sky from the tops of the branches, leaves fall in bunches, and the wind blows the girls’ hair in circles. They could almost swear they see a figure (just a figure and nothing more), darting through the trunks, skillfully keeping out of sight. They hear another sound behind them, turning as quickly as they can and (maybe) seeing it again. They feel like they’re being watched, eyes boring into them, every little move recorded. So they scream and run towards the school, pushing branches and spiderwebs aside. They feel like they run forever, until finally they burst into the clearing, falling onto the gravel, and freezing in place.

The girls look at each other. A.B. grabbing B.L. and forcing her up, together wheezing in harmony. They make eye contact and A.B. opens her mouth, forcing her words out like they’re glued to the back of her throat. 

“The Witches!” she says, eyes wide. “The Witches are real!”

VIOLENCE OFTEN HIDES

VIOLENCE OFTEN HIDES

by

Bonnie Lykes

 

The consignment shop is only a yard from vicious traffic. It doesn’t seem fair the sweetness of so many grandmothers and dear uncles suffers the exhaust. Flimsy tapestries, shaky wood shelves, a nickel cooktop, beaded wallet, a painting of post-modern ladies fanning fans all crammed up, orderless. I have an open wall that needs something.  

I shuffle, in neutral, and wish, for what I don’t know. A path winds through these mismatched histories. The owner wears army shorts and a thin white tank. His boney hands grab at the piles. He snatches at pleather, wood, and canvas cranked all around us. His skin is alive and peculiar. An intensely complicated tattoo covers his face, neck, ears, shins, and arms, and, I’m sure, sweeps down to his dark inches. The ink is delicate and crawls over his body like a fine red lace. No macho flowers or smiling snakes, no Sanskrit. No philosophical quotes, no irreversible ex-lovers—only dark, angel-hair lines. They look like the fragile twines of an antique doily stretched in all directions to cover him completely. Jesus, he’s stuck in a net! Whenever he turns, I avoid his eyes and look at his big black boots. He has no open flesh. Not an inch of real pigment. No shine of plain sweat to commiserate with. I can’t look straight on, but I feel his eyes beam, caged and frenetic.

I rest my hand on a table statue of a fisherman with a bent spine. I move on to a black ashtray with yellow lettering: Belle Of Baton Rouge Riverboat Card Room. I linger. He bleats out, “You want that one?” He hunches and lurks five feet away consistently. 

I answer to his boots, “No, no thanks.” 

He floats a fragile nightstand up and away from a throng of loveseats.

* * *

Continue reading VIOLENCE OFTEN HIDES

Liberia, 1985

 

Liberia, 1985

John Edward Ellis

In our neighborhood, the electricity dies at night.  On those evenings—the blackouts—my father holds a flashlight, and he and I walk out the front door of our house, into the yard, to a shed—inside, a generator.  When I press the switch, the generator howls.  The house is floodlit again, and the silhouette of my mother, eight months pregnant, presses against the balcony window, her stomach reaching against electric light.  

Around the yard is a high wall and an iron gate; beyond, night collapses.  Mosquitos thread the humidity in the kind of space and time that gnaws on the imagination.  It is the end of April, and as my father and I sit in the yard, he tells me he’s going to have to leave soon, for work.  He tells me to help my mother while he’s gone. 

When I go to sleep that night, I see Liberia’s coasts, the beaches where my father takes Sarah, my older sister, and me, on Sundays.  I see dunes—round, full, expectant—as if something waits beneath the sand.  The beaches curl north, curl south, and both ends reach their respective horizons.

In May, my father leaves.  My mother will pick Sarah and me up from school.  The school is one room.  Inside, we sit at a table; Sarah draws and I write.  The afternoon passes without us seeing it go; as the sun steps behind the mangrove trees, our teacher takes us to my mother, waiting outside, in the car.  Sarah points to my mother’s stomach as it grasps the steering wheel.  She asks if our little sister kicks.  My mother says sometimes.  Feel.  She holds Sarah’s hand against her stomach.  

When will she be born, I ask.  

My mother says soon.    

We go to the market in Monrovia.  Women walk with pots balanced on their heads.  Naked children sit on their mother’s laps.  Men stand behind tables, holding up baskets of fruit.  

Sarah and I walk behind my mother.  We watch people yell at her, telling her to buy things.  She buys cassava and shoves it into a cloth bag.  We walk back to the car, and inside my mother breathes in, as if shivering.  She puts her hands on her stomach and her breathing softens.  Sarah and I don’t say anything.  My mother puts on her seatbelt.  Let’s go home, she says, frowning.  Hopefully, the electricity will stay on tonight.

I think then of walking next to my father, of holding the flashlight, of seeing the house lit like fire.  I look at my mother.  Mom, if the lights go out, can I go outside and turn on the generator.  My mother smiles.   

All week, after school, Sarah and I play in the yard.  Fruit has bloomed in the trees, and we throw rocks, trying to hit coconuts between the palms so that one will fall to the ground.  Musu, who works in the house, watches Sarah and me while my mother runs errands.  Musu tells us to be careful throwing rocks.  

Continue reading Liberia, 1985

THE CASTLE

THE CASTLE

Mary Street

 

Dublin, Ireland, 1978: The taxi pulled up to the curb on a narrow street, lined with identical brick houses side by side. Pushing past the metal gate that opened onto a tiny, bleak front yard, I knocked on the black enamel door.

Vera swung the door open, baby at her hip, her face betraying a slight panic when she saw me.

“Ah! Mary! What a surprise to see you!”

“But, didn’t you get my letter with my arrival date?”

“No, no, Mary. Don’t you know we’ve had a mail strike for the last month? But, come in, come in.”

And so began my short vacation to Ireland, a special get-away for a single woman about to get married back in San Francisco. My suitcase was packed with the bare minimum: a pair of jeans, a quilted green jacket I’d bought in Chinatown, a sort of peasant blue dress with a billowing skirt, a pair of high leather boots.

I stayed for a few days with my Dubliner friends, then planned to explore Galway on the west coast. Vera’s husband was a cameraman at the television station, so a highlight of my visit included tickets to a popular variety show, broadcast live.

Wearing my blue dress, I made myself comfortable in the audience. There were maybe 30 seats, situated in a small studio painted entirely black. A tacky velvet curtain served as backdrop for the moderator’s desk and chair, atop a small elevated stage. Very low budget, but the right ambiance for the first guest. It was a farmer who brought along his goat for the interview.

The moderator cracked jokes, and the audience leaned forward, enthralled. I shifted in my seat and wondered how long the interview would last. Then came three dancing girls, dressed in satin shorts and fishnet stockings, crammed onto the stage. They harmonized about the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B.

After a rousing finale, the goat, the farmer and the dancers marched off the stage. The audience followed them into an adjoining room for a cast and crew party. My friends and I found seats to relax and share a cup of tea. I was about to sip from my cup when a young man joined our group, kneeling beside me to fall into conversation.

“Ah, yer from San Francisco, miss, and where do you go from here?”

“Well, my friends have suggested I take the train tomorrow morning for Galway, to stay at the castle there.”

His eyes twinkled. “And what time does your train leave, may I ask?”

His eyes were very sweet, very playful. He seemed irresistible to me.

“Seven a.m. On the dot.” I swallowed hard.

He broke into a merry smile and said, “I’ll be there, and I’ll go to the castle with you.”

And then, he took a bowl of sugar cubes, held the bowl high while he met my eyes again, and silently spilled the sugar cubes onto my lap. He leaned over, took a cube delicately between his teeth, and dropped it gently into my tea cup.

As he slowly leaned away from my lap, he turned his face toward mine and grinned.

Did I blush? Did my heart race? Did we exchange another word? None of that remains in my memory. I can recall the weight of the sugar on my dress, the way his dark curls fell forward as he leaned to capture a cube from my lap.

Next morning, I left on the train for Galway. Alone. I felt disappointed that he hadn’t materialized, but it was a relief to keep traveling light without a stranger as extra baggage. Once I arrived at the castle converted into a hotel, a bellboy escorted me to my room in a tower overlooking a moat with white swans.

As we rode the elevator, I asked him, “Are you from Galway?”

“No, ma’am, I’m from Belfast, Northern Ireland.” He stared at his shoes, then looked up to see if his response made any connection with me. His ill-fitting beige bellboy uniform only made his poor complexion look more sallow. A ridiculous cap on his straw-colored hair made him look like a sad monkey.

That night, I wore the blue dress — my sugar cube dress — to dinner in the elegant hotel dining room. A gregarious couple from Texas invited me to join them, sharing a bottle of wine and a wonderful meal. Feeling well fed, content and tired, I nodded hello to the bellboy as I passed his station on the way to the elevator.

“Room 11, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Right,” I said. As the elevator door closed, I thought, “That’s odd.”

An hour later, I was locked away in my turret room, snuggled under a comfy quilt. Suddenly, I heard the distinct sound of metal to metal, as a key turned in the door lock. A slice of light from the hallway cut across the far wall as the door slowly opened.

Into the room slipped my prince charming monkey bellboy. He stood stock still facing my bed, his back against the wall. Wordless.

Reflexively, I pulled the covers up to my shoulders, as I sat up in bed.

“What is it?” I half-shouted.

“Electricity’s out.”

I switched on the bedside lamp.

“Well, this light’s working.”

A long silence ensued. I glared, my mind racing. He took a deep breath, eyes on the floor, then nodded.

“Yes, ma’am. Just checkin’.” And he left.

 

Image from British Library, original photo of Dublin Castle by Maurice O’Connor Morris, 1888. (Wikimedia Commons)   

Love Lessons

Love Lessons

Sue Granzella

In third grade, I learned that the Irish nuns of Saint Apollinaris School were married to Jesus. It was true; each Sister of Mercy, in her heavy black habit that brushed the toes of her sensible black shoes, wore a gleaming band on her left ring finger as very shiny proof.

“But are you all married to him, Sister?” Katie Bickle voiced the question that most of us were thinking. It was 1968, and Sister Mary de Chantal was teaching us about love.

After Sister explained the mystical marriage to us, we learned another confusing truth: the sisters loved each other and Jesus so much that all possessions were owned in common. In their convent, no one could accumulate earthly treasures, as all belongings were shared.

“But what about your glasses, Sister? Aren’t those just yours?” I was certain that I’d never seen Sister Mary de Chantal’s black-rimmed, cat-eye glasses on any of the other nuns. Continue reading Love Lessons

Vulture

IMG_0036

Vulture

Katie Vautour

French-English dictionaries tell me that my family name translates directly to vulture. Nan was more of a goose—I guess because she married in—clucking at bad ideas, honking and baring her sharp teeth at anything threatening.

 

In Arizona, oranges are as common as pinecones are in New Brunswick. My brother and I throw half-rotten fruit at each other in a parking lot, dodging between cars that people will have to wash later to get rid of sticky citrus.

My phone rings. It’s Nan, saying her arm hurts where they scooped out the lump. She whispers biopsy, as if saying it quietly makes it better, or like it’s a “bad” word, or maybe God will hear and will just forget anything bad is happening.

Justin hurls an orange at a cactus. The cactus has lumps, grey knots like those I imagine cling to Nan’s arm. The orange is pierced on the spines with a thwack, juice spraying everywhere.

 

Justin and I are back in Saint John, outside Grampy’s house: blue shingles, white trim. He tells us that when the ambulance drivers took Nan to Hospice, they asked her address and stopped in front of the house so she could look at it and her eccentric collection of lawn ornaments. There is a statue of the black boy in red suspenders and white shirt, fishing amongst a forest of flailing pinwheels and glinting metal curlycues. To get to the garden, I would have to manoeuver through an aviary of wooden birds, wings twirling in the wind.

“I don’t know why your grandmother’s got so many damn birds,” Grampy says. “We’ve got enough real ones as it is. I’ve seen flocks of woodpeckers trying to drill bugs out of the suckers.”

Compared to New Brunswick, there aren’t many birds in Newfoundland, aside from the obligatory seagulls and pigeons and puffins. Occasionally, I’ll see one cardinal and wonder where all the others are.

 

Nan’s room is a white chamber. The bare windowsills are white as the nurse’s clipboard she prints on with blue ballpoint after adjusting some wires and tubes. I hear a squeak from the corner, it’s my Aunt saying, oh, well I think the pollen made Nan cough more, so I moved them.

Pollen. As if flowers caused her lungs to seize and collapse.

Justin marches down the hall in polished black boots and retrieves the flowers from the nurses’ desk. He slams them on the windowsill. A haze of yellow pollen rises like a revolt in the sunlight.

There is a variety of plants, daffodils, roses, black-eyed susans, a strange spiky plant with yellow fur (probably from our family back in the desert). Someone sent a single white orchid. I wonder if they knew how appropriate that was. Nan is like an orchid right now. People love orchids but can’t keep them alive because they don’t know how to care for them.

 

The last time Nan sees me, she stares open-eyed, sucking air with her eroded cheekbones. Smokes kept me breathing, she had told me, better than puffers, better than fresh air. I’d smoke through a hole in my throat.

I try to smile at her but I can’t.

“Did you notice how much Nan looked at you?” Dad asks later. “She was glad you were there.”

I know she wouldn’t want me, or any of us, to see this. She would rather huddle her family under a fence of feathers, shielding us all from truth.

 

My brother is the only person in the family who takes the idea of “bird” literally. He is an air force pilot, and usually flies real planes, but now he sits at the computer with fingers connected to cords and buttons as if he’s hooked up to a life support system. He flies digital planes against digital bad guys, blowing the shit out his enemies as if defeating them defeats his sadness and confusion.

I perch on the arm of the couch beside him, pecking at my fish and fries. I guess I am a vulture—not just because the dictionary suggests that denotation.

I am a scavenger by profession. I scour streets for scraps, picking through carcasses of recycling bags for objects or interesting materials. Then I rearrange them and glue them together, then call it art and people gawk at it with curiosity.

 

One of the funeral directors offers Grampy a rose to lay in the hole. He takes it and starts shuddering. The flocks of family scatter in dull black coats, huddling from the hiss of spray from the sea. Some cock their heads, observing my grandfather curiously from a distance.

I glare at them. Never mind vultures. My family is a bunch of ostriches sticking their head in the snow. I concentrate on my feet, bursting iced twigs like capillaries in a lung.

Standing beside the unmarked grave, Grampy looks like a vulture: hooked nose, bald head with sprigs of white sprouting around the rim, black coat flapping over his hunched back.

He stands under snow-bandaged tree limbs, shaking fingers still holding the rose. Glistening beads of water sparkle on the petals. When I touch his arm, he drops it in the hole and shuffles away through the snow.

 

The luggage carousel in the St. John’s airport grinds to a stop. The red light flicks off. A plump lady with a bobby-pinned blue hat holds the microphone to her painted lips and cheerfully announces that they overbooked the plane in Toronto, so our luggage got left behind and we will receive it in a few days.

The crowd of people with hugs and luggage that are not mine is overwhelming, so I wait outside, standing in the ice-bitten streets, neon lights wavering on the sleet-soaked asphalt.

A tough street pigeon, complete with Mohawk, wobbles around my ankles, cooing, as if I landed here only to challenge him for his turf.

My boyfriend waits for me in the car. “Let’s go home,” he says.

Home?

 

My other grandmother, on my Mom’s side, passed away in January. The morning I am supposed to fly back to New Brunswick for her funeral, the flight is cancelled due to a storm. I might be a vulture, but unlike my brother, I cannot actually fly. When planes get cancelled, I get stuck on this island.

This day also happens to be my boyfriend’s niece’s birthday. She’s five. For the sake of normalcy, I agree to immerse myself in a world of pink taffeta, and other things I never liked even as a little girl. Under pressure to find delight in china cups, I have only an overwhelming sense of trespass. My grandmother, who was being buried under layers of ice-crusted snow, would have insisted on throwing out any food served on china that had the tiniest hairline fracture. Then cracks from those chipped teacups crawled onto her palms and into her brain until it shattered into pieces and she couldn’t put anything back together again.

I sit with hunched shoulders, sipping tea out of a teacup too tiny for tea, brooding about the web of roses wreathing the cup. My grandmother’s dementia had sprouted suddenly in her mind, a parasitic plant digging deep roots down into the darkness, thriving off her memories until they were all gone and it withered up and died with her.

Vultures are unusual creatures in this setting. Tiny birds avoid me, flapping around with blankets over their shoulders and heads, shrieking like some aviary on acid. A bold one flicks her head, throws a blanket at me and says:

“Katie doesn’t have any wings!”

I forget my manners and run away to cry.

 

I lean against the door of a car I’ll never ride in again. In a cab, I’m in a place but no one knows where I am. I hope the driver will devote the rest of his life to taking me home. Bits of me get left the air each time I fly. The idea of me and home disintegrates when I get shaken up, shaken like an etch-a-sketch erasing my one Grandmother’s memory, like the long ash of my other Nan’s cigarette crumbling on a breeze in her garden.

Duel on the Strait

LeBlond story pic- IMG_4685_edited-1

Duel on the Strait

Richard LeBlond

During my visit to the island of Newfoundland in late summer 2011, remnants of two hurricanes struck, and a third came ashore just after I left. Newfoundlanders shrugged. The Cape Ray area near Port aux Basques often has winds in excess of 190 kilometers per hour, equivalent to category 3 hurricanes. Those winds used to blow the sarcastically named Newfie Bullet off its narrow-gauge tracks before it was permanently blown off by construction of the cross-island highway and freight-hauling trucks.

Nowadays, strong winds are mostly a bother to boats and laundry. Boatmen stay ashore, except for crews on the large ferries to and from Nova Scotia and Labrador. Those vessels are part of the commercial highway and must set against the wind – and sometimes it seems, against reason.

Winds were strong along the Strait of Belle Isle during the latter part of my detour to southern Labrador. A few days before I departed, the Labrador ferry, Apollo, had set out from St. Barbe, Newfoundland, for its two-hour crossing to Blanc Sablon, a small town in Quebec about two kilometers from the Labrador border. Aboard the Apollo were some high-ranking government officials, but the winds were too strong to dock on the Quebec/Labrador side of the strait. So the ferry loitered offshore, waiting for the gale to ebb. But the wind wouldn’t cooperate, and the vessel eventually had to return to Newfoundland, a wasted six hours of official lives.

(Those passengers got off easy. Two weeks later, the ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland dawdled offshore for 36 hours before docking, thanks to the remnants of hurricane Maria.)

A big part of the docking problem at Blanc Sablon is that the Apollo has to back in. The ferry always noses in to St. Barbe on the Newfoundland side, so cars and trucks heading to Labrador drive on through the bow. The Apollo backs into the dock at Blanc Sablon and the vehicles drive off through the stern. Backing in is a much more difficult maneuver than nosing in, and requires more power. Wind just makes it worse.

The failed crossing with the high government officials was prominently noted by the region’s weekly newspaper, the Northern Pen (and the inspiration for the newspaper in Annie Proulx’s novel, Shipping News). The Pen reported the Apollo was in need of repair and had been operating all summer at only 65 percent of its power capacity. During my own later crossing from Labrador to Newfoundland, I was told by a crew member that the vessel had to shut down the kitchen, as well as all other non-essential power uses, to gather enough thrust to perform the backing-in maneuver. It is possible the journey of those high government officials was thwarted by an overlooked toaster.

My plans were to leave Labrador on a Monday, but I had become so enamored of the little outport of Red Bay that I decided to stay two more days. It is well I did, because the Monday crossing I had originally reserved was cancelled. Not just the crossing was cancelled, but most of the day for those with reservations, due to the particulars of the ferry operation. Had I tried to depart Monday, I would have left Red Bay about 10 in the morning to arrive at the terminal in Blanc Sablon by noon. The ferry was scheduled to leave at 1 p.m., and those with reservations have to check in at least an hour before departure. Arriving late not only forfeits the reservation, but incurs a $10 penalty euphemistically called a non-refundable deposit.

On that Monday, the winds again were too strong for docking, and the Apollo meandered to and fro just offshore before finally giving up about 5 p.m. and returning to Newfoundland. During that time, those who were booked for the 1 p.m. crossing had to sit there and wait until the decision to abort was made. I would have wasted a day that could have been – and actually was – happily spent in Red Bay.

So instead I left Red Bay for Blanc Sablon on Wednesday morning. The wind was mild and the forecast good. But by the time I got to the ferry terminal, the bluster had picked up again. Way up. The Apollo had not yet docked, and could not be seen, as the strait was clotted with a fog as thick as pease pudding. I checked in at the terminal office, where no one knew what was going to happen. I was assured the Apollo was just offshore, out there in the pease pudding. I prepared myself for a lost day, splitting time between reading a book in the pickup, and standing in the bluster on the edge of the wharf, looking for some sign of the ferry, some attempt by it to get close enough for us to cast our hope to one another.

And then, after an interminable and dismal wait, the Apollo slowly appeared out of the fog, an apparition in transit from phantom to matter, gathering detail real and imagined. At first it was the ghost ship of the Flying Dutchman, then a three-master 150 years late from a whaling voyage, and penultimately a World War II merchant vessel come in from its dance with a German submarine. The Apollo was all of these, beyond its allotted time, unable to dock, condemned to wander in sight of land as the wind and the captain stared each other down.

The afternoon wore on, and the wind actually strengthened, diminishing hope. But the captain did not blink. Instead, after two hours of posturing, he attempted to back in, despite what seemed a greater danger. Maybe it was the aftertaste of the failed crossing with the officials, or the subsequent bad press. Maybe it was a call from the owner, or a look from the first mate. Whatever it was, he did not blink. Heaving mightily against the wind, the captain swung Apollo’s stern to the Blanc Sablon dock.

After the ferry unloaded its Labrador-bound traffic, we boarded and set off through the frothing strait for St. Barbe. I bought a 5-ounce cup of black tea at the cafeteria for $1.81. A refill cost as much. The tea was already brewed and came out of a 30-gallon container. A chronic tightwad, I tried to regard it as another contribution to the needed repairs. Nonetheless, the ferry owner is walking a fine line when he risks our safety and charges $1.81 for each small cup of generic tea. “It’s the Apollo for cod’s sake,” I tell him in absentia, “not the Queen Elizabeth II. Most of your passengers are out of work for half the year.”

As soon as we were free of the Blanc Sablon harbour, the Apollo began to lurch from side to side. We were exactly perpendicular to the wind and its battering waves. At first, it was just my tea cup accelerating across the table. But soon the vessel began to roll violently. Some people, having spent years of their lives on boats, thought they could walk, but instead could only slam into bulkheads. Dishes and pots in the kitchen slid along counters and crashed to the deck. Doors banged open and shut. I threw life-preservers to the fears that kept bobbing up in my mind of ships lost at sea.

As we got closer to Newfoundland, the wind hardly let up, but a bit of sun made its way through the fog, and little rainbows sailed above the waves reeling off Apollo’s bow.

“That was one of our roughest rides,” a crewmember said as we approached St. Barbe. But the young woman sitting at the next table disagreed.

“This happens all the time,” she said. She worked for the school system and crossed over to Labrador every week. “It’s always windy on the strait.”

But rather than being a comfort, her words were a disappointment. I wanted it to be one of the worst rides ever. I had paid dearly for those fears, and she had reduced them to mere paranoia.

The Stuff of Fairy Dust

The Stuff of Fairy Dust

A Memoir by Karen Wright

I am utterly alone, in Taos, New Mexico, in a barren, dusty field off the back porch of a motel where I’ve stayed on previous trips. Alone, I am home, asleep and dreaming. The sun shines in a cloudless, transparent blue sky. Sagebrush dots the landscape. The land is dry, dusty, the dirt devoid of nutrients. This is typical southwestern soil. Take any paint of a bold, primary color, add enough dry, southwestern dirt, and the result is a muted color–cozy, warm, welcoming, safe, secure. These are the colors of Taos. These are the colors that summoned and inspired numerous artists, including Ernest Blumenschein, Andrew Dasburg, Nicolai Fechin, and Georgia O’Keeffe. These are the colors that keep me coming back in my waking life. These are the colors, thick with the stuff of antiquity and primal dust, that beckon me in this dream state.

Dreaming in Taos colors and drawn to its soil, glistening with energies felt and unseen, I think about my husband Alan, the love of my lifetimes. I etch memories of our time together in the dust, my impromptu canvas. When I finish, I kneel down and gently gather each stroke, each memory, placing the collection in a locked chest of golden memories, and tuck it away for another day. In waking life, Alan is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. He was diagnosed nine months after we were married, six short years ago. It was the second marriage for both of us, but the glue uniting us has an other-worldly strength that cured the moment we met.

I have been Alan’s caregiver from the beginning, and I will be his caregiver to the end and beyond, if such a thing is possible. Still, watching this gentle, sweet man being robbed of his life, of our new life together, is the most difficult thing I have ever done. Holding his hand and whispering tales of love, surrender, and gratitude, watching him slip away, has taken its toll on me, has brought me to remember and cherish each shining jewel of our life together. I can do nothing to stop this transition, his passage. His remaining time here is short, and I am coming undone.

Continue reading The Stuff of Fairy Dust

BREAD AND SALT

Bread and Salt: What a Jewish Cemetery in Poland Taught Me about an Arab Cemetery in Israel

© Robert Brym (2014)

Department of Sociology                                                                                            University of Toronto                                                                             rbrym@chass.utoronto.ca

1977

On a wet spring morning, Marek drove southwest out of Warsaw toward my father’s hometown. During the two semesters he had spent as a postdoctoral student in Canada, he and his wife had rented the basement apartment of my parents’ house in Fredericton. My mother would periodically invite them upstairs for a meal, giving my father an opportunity to recount his youth in Poland and the war years in Russia. The two couples – one Jewish and in their mid-60s, the other Catholic and in their early 30s – liked each other, and when it came time for me to attend my first international conference, in Poland, I had little compunction about contacting Marek and asking him if he might be willing to drive me to Bodzanów, the little town 90 minutes outside Warsaw where my father lived until 1939. When I met Marek and his wife in their Stalin-era apartment bloc an hour before we set out on our trip, I saw immediately why my parents were so fond of them. They offered me bread and salt, a traditional Slavic welcome for a respected guest. Their intelligence and generosity of spirit shone.

Continue reading BREAD AND SALT