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Archive for the month “July, 2017”

To Party

Even for the most droll of us, there is some kind of party that is doable. Whether a soirée, an all out crazy dance time, a choreographed family gathering or even a simple lunch, there is a way to interrupt the flow of one’s daily routines and break up our ongoing days. I am not a party person, but even as a girl who would imagine herself invisible as she blended into the wall, preferring not to engage in any chatter or move to the beat of the music,  I occasionally craved a party.  And sometimes, we do in deed, need to party.

However, what I have always enjoyed is party prep, either as guest or giver. As guest, finding the right outfit, how to self style could fill several hours with fascination, contemplating the location, time and tempo of the event. How to straighten bangs that curled at the first hint of moisture in the air? Jeans or bling? But  even better for me , is to be the arranger of events, deciding how to enliven the mood, enhance the celebration and make the honouree of the party really shine .

Although my husband who does not meet his milestone birthday till next Tuesday had insisted without pause he did not want a party, I felt a party was exactly what was necessary.Optimism peppered with my strict commands and outright threats, for last year’s family birthday dinner had erupted into a diatribe between sibs about the existence of aliens( no joke) that left his 69 th in angry ruins, I decided to persevere with plans. In deed, children were sworn to good behaviour, avoiding such contemptuous topics. So without his consent but their promises, it had to be a surprise.  

Over the years, I have been able to surprise him for his fiftieth and sixtieth birthdays. The former was a trip to Boston where the children carefully fashioned for him a tourist map of all the activities planned, from five star restaurants to baseball games to museum trips . The sixtieth as well included two ball games in Chicago, this time our children and their partners coming along for the weekend. Special hotels, meals, diversions were all carefully considered although the sixtieth also included a backyard party with our close friends who shouted “ surprise” on cue. 

But this birthday party was to be different and I tried very hard to meet the challenge. Because I am now in California during the winter, I had to plan a July birthday in December before I traveled. I decided a small family dinner was just the thing amidst his continual grumbling that he did not want anything, particularly when friends and family persisted with, “ You MUST have something.” I pretended to support his irreverent decision, even planning to be in North Carolina when the day arrived.( Who knew he would trip in Berlin and make that trip impossible?)
No matter, the date chosen for the surprise was a week earlierthan his  actual  birthdate.

Our family has a special relationship with On the Twenty where Jordan proposed to Gillian. In the sweetest of family lores, over a dinner date more than ten years ago, he produced his journal for her to peruse over dinner, romantically kept from their earliest meeting. On the last page, he had written as she read, “ Tonight I will ask Gill to marry me”. So the out of town -usually 1 ½ hours if the traffic is good was far enough away and the stunning spot at the Cave Springs Winery was lovingly imbued with our own family history. Besides that, Howard and I, ourselves, had experienced the quality of farm fresh and locally crafted artistry of their fare numerous times when we needed a special dinner.

Fortunately there was a private room that would accommodate our family and so I booked it. Yup , back in December. They described the room as The Wine Library , not Cellar so there would be light and seclusion from the rest of the restaurant’s lively kerfulle. Knowing the Shaw Festival nearby and summer visits to Niagara Falls would fill the hotels and B&Bs, I also reserved accommodations for the kids in Niagara on the Lake and at White Oaks, putting Howard and myself at the Inn on the Twenty. Even back in December, believe it or not, not one location could meet the needs of all four families. So I spread them them out through the sumptuous wine country. 

Later in March and May, I could finetune the party. As the photographer suggested a colour scheme, I chose white, figuring all male members including kidlets would wear white polo shirts, the gals left to their own choices, but also whites: these, by the way, included one stunning Grecian number, two summer tops, one embroidered, the other peekaboo and my fav Max Mara maxi linen. To ensure the look, back in the the spring, I had ordered the shirts and sent them to my daughter’s house. If they had arrived here at our house, I would have throw them in a cupboard and retrieved them the day before.  

Wise woman that she is, Ariel opened the packages to discover a collection of black tee shirts, tank tops and mini dresses. One might think an exchange no bigee, but after fighting with a phone representative for half an hour, I finally demanded the manager who calmly and simply allowed an exchange.


For party favours, my preference is always chocolate. On line I could have Howard’s head inscribed on M&Ms, silver, pink and turquoise. Candy $6.98, mailing; $34.00. Gulp. Then came the great debate over the butt picture for the mini chocolates, both dark and milk chocolate. For really special events, I contact Simone Marie of Yorkville fame for her Belgian delights. On the wrappers she will provide your choice of photo and so there were three photos in the running: one official shot from Howard’s office; one with his back gazing out at the mountains at Joshua Tree ;and our fav of him in his Blue Jays shirt relaxing at The Tin Fish in San Diego. However the last also included a backdrop of another patron’s butt. Furiously back and forth, the children debated the pros and cons, the Joshua Tree could be any one in a park, the official one too stern, but what to do about the butt? In the end( ha), I could fortunately crop out the offending butt and we had ourselves a winner. 

Nervously I approached the day of the party, providing a ruse of wine tasting and a romantic weekend to entice my hubby to the spot. Although the newspapers promised a perfect sunny day, the rain thundered on the roof of our car and the traffic conspired to delay us. I worried that the children had not left in time, that accidents on the road would delay them. And what about our outside photo shot? Could a boardroom provide a dry albeit boring background?Would the drenching rain sour even the sweetest event? As I nervously picked the skin off my fingers as the car stopped in traffic, Howard casually marvelled at how his former partner had planned an outdoor wedding for his daughter on another vineyard several years ago. I recalled it had threatened rain that day but the sun had shone through with no need for the huge white umbrellas stored by the casks of wine. We had no umbrellas stored. But in spite of the favourable forecasts and even the radio’s assurance rain would end by 5!( our photographer arriving at 4), we were now caught in an annoying downpour. I frantically messaged the inn, the co- ordinator, Ariel, begging for another photo spot option. But only later did I realize I had no wifi and the cries for help failed. That worked to our benefit because the rain  eventually ceased and wound up bestowing interesting lighting in the garden dappled with hydrangeas, black- eye susans and lovely greenery. Post rain renaissance 

A public garden adjacent to our suite was to be the spot for the kidlets to cavort, and magically, thank you Weather Gods, it dried sufficiently for the grandkids to climb up and perch on the wooden bench. Even a pouting Remy was persuaded by a flower easily detached to contribute her two year old smile. Four month old Georgia only had to listen to the strains of Green Acres in order to burst into gurgling smiles.

And my curmudgeon husband , when our handsome soninlaw knocked at the door, was truly surprised. And somehow, too, Howard had chosen a white shirt for our outing so he even blended with the family colour scheme.

I knew what would please Howard was the presence of his guitar teacher Nick. Howard said that at first he didn’t recognize the long haired guy with the guitar who casually entered our dining room. Obviously not anticipating his Toronto teacher to be part of the celebration, Howard was again caught off guard. Jordan. Howard and Nick jammed on Howard’s latest hits that included Margaritaville ! Wonderfully Howard was the rockstar of the event, a command performance where his captive audience groved to his playing. Carter added his recorder to the mix to heighten the strings of Hallejuah. The kids danced, romped and even Aaron did a wild arm- flinging body swaying thing near the table, but all were engulfed in a fun evening, the delicious food enhancing the festivities.

A few people spoke, some did, some didn’t, but I contributed a brief speech, attached here:

In life, we are given gifts. I had no idea that my greatest gift would involve a guy in a funny flowered shirt on a blind date that has continued for 44 years of romance and adventure.

When you’re a kid, you take in a lot of information: on how the world works; who are the good guys and bad guys, what rings your chimes, how to live your life, and what you might want in the future. 

I was pretty ordinary, but had parents who loved and cared bout me. And I liked art- a lot. 

But when I met Howard suddenly my world came into focus. He made me feel I was special and smart and for the first time, I really believed in myself. As well, the values my parents had modelled became more real as I observed in him the integrity, honesty, intelligence and the strength to speak out. Even his admonishing an ancient lady who had skipped the line at Gryfes Bagels to get back in her place. 

Howard isn’t impressed by money or power and he is not judgmental.And he continues to teach and guide me every day. Ours is a give and take relationship. I’ve often repeated how before email technology , he made it a point to be home to have supper with the kids every night, returning to the office only after you guys were asleep in bed, sometimes midnight. He encouraged me and supported me to become a doctor of education, thus allowing for your truly wonderful dinners as the fighting family in the window of St. Hubert’s Monday nights when I was in class.

As a father, he has been exemplar, always there for you- whether calling with an attack of blindness from Albany; visiting for a weekend in London; or just hanging out at a Jays Game. Not to mention the family trips to Europe: of shivering in Brittany, eating pizza at Il Castillo in Montebuono and dumping scorpions out of our shoes, going down the wrong lane at Borghese Villa or blaming that poor Japanese tourist at Giverny.  

It is also true, life is no picnic, but dad is the cup full, not cup empty kind of guy. And win or lose, he soldiers on, putting life into context for me. 

So much goes into a relationship, the spaces between the pearls, as I said at Jordan’s wedding.But here on this magical night with my beautiful children, their spouses and  the grandchildren, I think we are all part of one another, and this spectacular man you call dad and I call Moo, I toast you as my heart my soul and my love. 


Short and sweet. And he even cried as I did. Happy tears. There are those moments in life that we want to revisit and hold close. The night of the party and the next night the memory of the party and its preparation reverberated in my head. Truthfully I was delighted at the perfection of planning that brought together the family for the celebration of their father.He truly deserved every detail, every word.  A party to cherish.

Legs, horrors and things

Several weeks before my Aunt Marion, my father’s most unfavourite sister died, she said to my mother, “You and Saul were giants.” After years of snubs, put downs and an imposed snobbery, my mother appreciated my aunt’s words. Perhaps being confined to bed and contemplating how she might manage with a recently amputated leg, Marion was expressing empathy for my parents’ struggle in life, and in particular how polio had effected them.

 And it’s true, unless you personally experience a travail, you can put your thoughts into empathy, particularly if you are a sympathetic person, but living something is very different than imagining it. Such reflection had been previously expressed by Howard; however when he tripped and fell in Berlin recently, he was able to truly empathize with the life my dad lead. Being his regular curmudgeon self, Howard soldiered on- as my father did when polio took his legs at age 28. Now on crutches, Howard wonders how did my father do it? Steps are a problem, especially if there is no railing to hold on to, going up as bad as going down. At the Pergamon and Deutsches Museum in Germany where they did have elevators, he comprehended anew what obstacles must be overcome in daily existence. Surprisingly, many airports, believe it or not, do not make it easy for the handicapped either. 

I recalled our trip to Los Angeles as a kid and how my father had to navigate the staircase up to the plane. And again, in Europe, we too just two weeks ago, had not the luxury of an entrance or exit to the plane, but steep metal steps to be navigated up onto the plane, passengers stomach to back, bunching , trying to avoid the rain showering down. My father didn’t talk about his disability, except to resent the word “cripple.” I wondered freshly, how does one trundle on in life, always encumbered with a burden that physically sets you apart? And how does that work on your attitude towards getting out of bed, moving from sitting to standing, swinging your legs or standing upright when on a moving platform? Are you caught in closing doors on an elevator, eschew of course escalators, cross the street in time while the light threatens and does change?These seem small considerations when you can pop up from your chair, stretch out your legs and bound to the door.

As an adolescent, it bothered me my father would not wear shorts. I pestered him insistently, for what possible reason, I wonder now why. He finally spit out the words at me, concerning the ugliness of his braces. I had consciously refused to consider him different to anyone else, arrogantly so and because we differed on so many things, my hardness only added fuel to opposing him, never giving any consideration at how mounting three flights of stairs to use a washroom at the CNE might exhaust him? True, he grew up a male or in a macho kind of world where men especially did not display any weakness( do men ever?) My mother confided how the ancient aunts scoffed at his lost manhood that no doubt floored them when the miraculous birth of my sister post polio occurred.

We want to believe our parents are invincible and will always be there for us. That’s one of the things about aging and approaching or exceeding the years when our parents left us. Too late, we wish we could have spoken or expressed appreciation for them. Yet, it is only when we have matured, spent the years, reflected and encountered the difficulties that aging encumbers us with do we understand and experience the ravages of time.

In Berlin, Howard and I read East West Street by Philippe Sand. Upon the death of his grandfather Leon, the author explores his grandfather’s lost years during the holocaust years never discussed or shared. Eventually as the story unravels, along with concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity, we arrive at The Nuremberg War Trials and the need for some to create a wall between the past and present in order to go on living. One woman explains that although she will not speak of it, nothing has been forgotten, the horrors always a part of her.One wonders at the bravery of so many to go forward into a future.

I think about my father and his rugged attitude towards life, only warm towards my sister and adoring to my mother: just keep on. Go out on service calls, absorb yourself in your music, don’t talk about the past. I understand now it would have been like pulling a bandaid off a wound that hasn’t healed. Too painful, too agonizing and why go back to a bad place, where you lost your legs, your independence, your partial sense of self. Why speak of the place where your dreams were extinguished and your manhood put on trial.
These are daunting journeys and I as well would not want to descend into the hell of those days.

However, there are the Eli Weisels, the writers who have returned to the Gehenna of Hell to relate he stories, some almost forgotten .Philippe Sand dispassionately takes us on a journey to a world where Jews were unwanted, despised, tortured, experimented on and made to disappear because they were Jews. The disabled and handicapped followed, like my father, afflicted by polio, their twisted stories, ghosts that shadow them. And my mind leaps to the parents refusing to vaccinate their children, believing the lies of movie stars or uninformed worriers, ignoring a future that will be corrupted and capable of ensnaring the healthy bodies of those blissfully unaware of sharing a cup of juice or kissing a chubby cheek. Propaganda that will impact on their and our world and destroy the limbs of helpless children, ruining their lives, separating them from the life they deserve. Years of research ignored, years of hard work to extend childhoods of safety.

These barbarians, dictators, the misinformed and worse are the poisoners of our world. Their narratives, told or hidden, the rocky roads that will detour the safety of untold journeys.

May we never relive those traumas of children or parents.

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