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The man on the plane

I flew home from Winnipeg recently, and sat beside an older gentleman who was making careful notes in a red spiral notebook. It’s the same kind of notebook I had in my knapsack at that very moment, where I keep notes for the MFA chapter I’m working on. Because I’m nosey, and I thought maybe he was a writer, I asked him.

He hold me he was actually sketching out plans for an upcoming sailing trip he was taking from Florida, a very long list of things to check and double-check before he sets sail for the Bahamas. But, as it turns out, he was a writer too. He told me about the short story collection of incredible but true stories he had independently published recently. He asked what I did for a living, and I told him that I too was a writer. He replied that he had thought this when I first sat down. I was inwardly pleased, thinking maybe I exuded a hip writer vibe after all,  that my cat eye glasses and careless bohemian chic (crumpled look) offset those long moments of being tangled in my own jacket, backpack and purse as I removed items from my carry-on bag so I could finally jam it into the overhead compartment above our row.  But no. It was because of the Casey and Finnigan illustration that I bought from the gift shop at the Human Rights Museum which I was carrying with me in the clear plastic bag now resting at my feet, along with my overflow items. He had assumed they were the pictures from the children’s book I’m not writing. I told him what kind of a writer I really am and we talked for the entire flight home.

He shared his discouragement at the difficulties of finding agents and publishers. I suggested he join a writer’s group for support and encouragement. He recounted the scene from “Midnight in Paris” when Ernest Hemingway tells Owen Wilson to avoid other writers because they are so competitive. I handed him  the “Humans Write” pen I had also bought at the Human Rights gift shop (no, I did not purchase a single item that had anything to do with the theme of the museum, just silly stuff) and told him I wanted him to have it. When I returned from the teeny tiny washroom at the back of the plane he had dug out his favourite pen to give to me. And so we departed, row mates and fellow writers, just a little bit encouraged, each of us with a new pen.

My longest running friendship is turning 50

I have friends who are older, but I don’t have a friend I have held so close to my heart for so long.  Crackly home movie footage shows me, six months older, trying to give Janet a good swat from my carriage, parked next to hers.

Our mothers were sisters, but we would have found each other anyway. I would have skipped up to her at recess, and said, “You look like someone who might enjoy fake swimming in your furnace room.” And she would have said “Yes. Absolutely. Let’s do that.”

We always knew we were lucky to be cousins who were friends, the same family dinners in dining rooms either blue or orange, depending on which sister was hosting, the same loud reunions, the same weddings in awful peach dresses and yes, the same funerals.

To laugh at the same absurdities in them and in us, and oh, those crazy mothers of ours.

It hasn’t all been enough giggling to have an entire Via-Rail train car turn on us, of course. There were the days of cautious measuring out of red kool-aid in her kitchen, crouched down at eye level to make sure not one of us got a single drop more, its own kind of oppression when you are young and thirsty. There were my bully days when I made her be Ken to my bossy Barbie, no matter what. Clearly, Mrs. Harriet liked her better. I became a teenage hooligan long before she did, and she’s always been nicer.  And she has given me grace upon grace.

We have lived in different cities for years, but we wander the same inner streets often, tripping over the curbs and walking into telephone poles. We share a landscape, and that map of where we have come from. We overanalyze and overlaugh, and that last one not really enough.

So now I know what it is like to have a friendship that is 50 years old, thick trunked and strong as anything. It grows in the yard of that nutty family farm we share, but it is its own sturdy tree. I hang a swing from it, and find shelter and shade, always, beneath its leaves.

Speak to me like you are Barry White. Please.

If you’re going to ask me about all we’ve got going on this week and next, speak to me like you are Barry White. This week, I’ve had to ask loved ones to stop talking to me like this: “OH NO!! ARE YOU OKAY???” and “HOW ARE YOU GETTING THROUGH THIS??I’D BE FREAKING OUT!! I’D DIE! I COULDN’T HANDLE IT!!!” I have told those beloved people that I can’t listen to questions like that unless they are asked slow…and low. Lots of pauses. No shrieking. No loud voices. No hysterical giggling, just gentle murmers while stroking my arm if I’m not holding coffee.

I understand. We have a lot going on as a family right now. Three of us are moving to Ottawa. One of us is flying to Costa Rica for four months. In the last two weeks we’ve sold a house, bought a house, registered a kid in a new high school, figured out details for our traveller, I’ve spent a week in New York City for my master’s, and this week alone we have activities almost every night.

I’ve realized that when you feel like a sheet of glass that could shatter any moment, with just the right amount of pressure, a Barry White voice is the only answer. When asking questions of someone in the middle of Big Stuff, go slow and go low.  If you need a reminder, here it is.

My dad 19229

My Mom and my Dad, who turns 80 today, met a couple of young(ish) RCMP officers on Parliament Hill a few years ago, who were astounded to learn that Dad’s regimental number was 19229. That means, roughly, that he was the 19,229th RCMP officer in Canada. The force was well into the 55 000s at that point, and these particular members had never met someone with such an early number. They exclaimed and fussed and fawned a bit over my Dad. Which he would have enjoyed.

When I heard this story on the weekend, it got me thinking about how special my Dad is, and not just, of course, because of his RCMP number. I watched him dance a little jig (an actual jig) this weekend in front of his wood stove — the main way the log house they built and still live in full time is heated — because my mother gave him permission to build a small fire to take the chill off. I watched him cavort with his great, great nieces and nephew, down on his hands and knees, being funny. I watched him work at a Christmas craft sale because he is the guy who helps with everything that needs to be done in his small community.

I listened to my sister talk about what a fortress of strength he has been for her through the years, and that has been true as she has faced particularly huge and painful challenges. And my Dad spent a lot of time listening to me talk about my life and work and kids,  and about the MFA I’m enrolled in and the writing I am doing. Even the details of a research paper I just submitted. He asked good questions. My Dad wanted to know. And that for me has been one of the most special things about 19229 over the years. He cares. He’s interested. He reads my books and articles (and when you’re a writer, someone can love you very, very much and never, ever take the time to do that). Dad is an encourager. When I was 9 he told me I could do anything I set my mind to. He would still say that to me, and to anyone else who needed to hear it.

This weekend we drove to and from Truro, in that special Nova Scotia mist, talking the whole way back and forth like old friends. And one of the most beautiful things about having a Dad like mine who is 80, is that you do have a very special, and quite funny, old friend.

Tumble in the cranberries

This weekend I sat at my dining room table and consumed a pie recipe. It was almost a poem. Especially when I reached this line: Tumble in the cranberries. That is what cranberries do, as anyone who made sauce this weekend knows. They tumble. They are so fat and firm at the same time, they have no choice. They are berries packed so full of themselves in their tight little red skins, that they bounce off each other into the pot, or the pie.

I loved this recipe that I will never, ever make. I  can’t imagine ever having the time or the patience to individually rub each pea-sized piece of butter between my thumb and finger, flattening them into little discs that will help make the best pastry ever.

My pie, I know, would not turn out as if it had been made by poem. But just being reminded of the richness of words, and how with just the smallest of efforts you can make cranberries tumble, instead of plain old pour, or stir, or the boring everydayness of just adding them into the pie filling, made me smile.

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