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Summer Jaunts

My son writes from Chicago, describing the activities of his family on one of their first summer trips with their young sons. I read with relish about the foam pit, exploring museums of technology and science, the planetarium, doing selfies at the shiny bean in Millennial Park, boat cruises on the historic river cruise, Beethoven in the park( no doubt in that wonderful, Gehry structure that resembles kettle drums askew), an eyepopping Broadway production of Aladdin with a real flying carpet. Even a few lines in an email crunched after an exhausting day and random photos extend the enthusiasm and joy of the family. I feel their excitement.

I’m reminded of the forays we took with our kids and try to recall the first. Was it to Boston and Tangelwood , lounging on the grass, listening to the Boston pops, and was there a star performer? I reflect that it was likely the same time we confused Sturbridge and Stockbridge, our plan to visit the historical children’s village nearby. I ponder, Was that the same time we also spent happy hours engaged at the kids science museum in Boston? I have memories of an entrance all shiny and metallic. Funny how time clouds it all. 

As a girl in the summers in Toronto, I’ld volunteer at the day camp at my school, a loose tangle of kids with nothing much to do, the rich kids all ready away in Muskokoa, but at least a handful of us organized to keep us outside in the sun and away from our homes.But for two weeks or less, usually, mid or late July , my parents would take us out of the city, usually sweaty and breathless car jaunts that we could afford, more I believe for the sense of freedom my father felt as he drove the open road, the equal of all drivers on a quest. He searched for trains, science museums, antique cars- hardly of interest to me, but fascinating to him. No tripadvisor then, just paper maps, free from the gas station, used to consult for highway routes.

I was bored, trapped in the car with my sister who was occasionally carsick and puked. We stayed at Howard Johnsons then, believed to be pretty spiffy by my parents, my delight the magazine stand where sometimes we were allowed to purchase a chocolate bar and a book. For some unknown reason one summer, we drove to Florida, one unbearably hot summer, burning our skin and indulging in pink watermelon to cool us off, my father disapprovingly admonishing my mother, sister and me about sun exposure. My father never sat in the sun, always in the shade pouring over Popular Mechanics, Consumer Reports, never a real book. I wondered why as I devoured book after book, having discovered fanciful tales and interesting people therein.

 Several times a year, we also drove to Buffalo and purchased our Susan van Husan shirts for $2.98 and if we were really lucky- on to Batavia where the toy store of our dreams existed. These were memorable excursions for setting the tone for being together, extending our boundaries, learning new things and being educated in how different life was outside our own home. In spite of my thorough dislike of the backseat ride, there was, as well, a thrill about travel, packing up, crossing borders. My mother always cringed at the US’s custom’s inquiry, afraid her folded green paper documents that did not resemble our small plastic rectangles signifying we were born in Canada, might identify her as an imposter. She carried childhood memories from her entrance to Canada at Pier 19, Nova Scotia as a five year old. She would retell stories of lice- inspection in Holland with steel combs that deeply penetrated her tender scalp, the looming imposition inquisition of guards, her quaking fear.

Yet our forays from the summer heat, these brief excursions set the model for the trips I would take with my own children years later. I never really considered whether we would go , but where. Others might plant their children with relatives or at camp, preferring alone- time with a spouse, but never my husband and me. We were a unit , adults revealing the wonder of the world to our kids, becoming kids again ourselves as we shared in their new experiences. Fresh eyes provided new perspectives and unexpected revelations from the innocence of a child’s purview. Besides, loosened from home rules, there was a certain freedom being on the road, away from constricting boundaries. That was invigorating too.

What stands out in my mind is New York when I was a girl. I must have been incredibly bored on the long drive, every few minutes, driving my parents crazy with my interminable “ When we will get there?” Their response was always maddeningly the same” Look out the window, Pat, “punctuated by The Alphabet and I Spy Something with my little eye games. Still I remember the Oliver Cromwell hotel, really a little dump, not that I judged it that way back then, but my parents’ reactions to the drab brown interior, likely way too expensive, pervaded my sensibilities. We were treated and awed by the Hayden Planetarium and Radio City’s the Rockettes. Knowing New York as I do now, I have no idea how my father on crutches manipulated this trip, his car, or us. My mother, impressed with herself, often repeated how she as an 8 year old girl had been charged to take her brothers by subway alone to the World’s Fair so many years back. Never allowed to take buses or subways by myself at an early age, I could not imagine her immigrant parents letting her!

Mentored by Sid and Goldie, my father’s sister and idolized brother in law , we were instructed into the educational possibilities of every trip, searching for the events and opportunities to extend our learning. My mother especially was in awe of their knowledge, names such as child psychologist gurus Piaget , Gesell, or even Dr. Spock, the lords of child- rearing. My cousin Jon was considered, in spite of the bragging rights of Goldi’s cousins, the infant terrible, the first born, the wunderkint, worthy of special schooling such as Dr. Blott’s school for the gifted, and obviously one reason for my aunt and uncle’s deep research into all books and things educative. Which obviously they must have communicated to my parents.

My other aunt, Marion ,considered herself the elite, the diva, particularly in all knowledge worth knowing. But her realm was theoretical, divorced from the practical and certainly the useful: wherein my parents actually excelled. And so we benefitted from all, although much of Marion’s insights were disregarded as high falutting fluff, worthless, but my mother’s talent in singing, her practicality, my father’s work in hi fidelity coupled with both his and Sid’s love for anything musical shaped our world. Unable to afford concerts, we were nonetheless surrounded by radio and records both classical and big band. Yet later, I found Marion a kindred soul, for her interest in the visual, for unlike the aurally- focused of my family, I could not discern the beauty of sound, discovering my solace in prints and pictures.

So we followed in the mould set out by my parents, taking our kids away for three months in Europe, staying in gites or homes, rather rentable cottages, that were close enough to castles or attractions I had pursued in Michelin, Fromer, travel,guides…Our children 10, 8 and 5 sprung from school for three months were exposed to art and churches, not the science my father had preferred because of my passion veering towards the visual and I wanted to share the stained glass, the sculpture of the medieval, the painting collections that had inspired me in the darkened rooms at university. As well, there were the hikes into mountains, the tasting of new foods and adventures we deemed specific to the children’s evolution as sentient beings. In Montebuono, we sweltered in the heat, but escaped to a nearby modern swimming pool where kids had to squeeze their heads into green Alia caps and after splashing wildly in the sanitized pool, munch pizza in the outdoor café; in Dordogne, Madame Bourret would bring us freshly baked pastries by her husband who strangely wandered the property in his underpants; in Brittany we shivered in a house recommended by Howard’s colleague where we drank cavaldos to warm ourselves in the drizzling rain in an unheated house ; in Paris, we needed two tiny rooms to house our group of five, Howard and Jordan sneaking out to ferret Chinese food, the girls and I watching those shows where people do outrageous things such as trying to grab balls the size of a house and swinging from obstacle to obstacle. I chortle to remember our son’s first tears upon having to leave his friends in Toronto brought full circle as he cried again to depart our European adventures.

Best of all was the kids’ exquisite use of language as they easily slipped into conversation with local people in France, we, the adults knowing to keep our garbled tongues to ourselves.I recall the look of the townspeople impressed by the confidence and ease with which all three communicated: the result of French immersion, that in spite of negatively impacting their Math skills, heightened their abilities to think and speak in a language different from their everyday one. In those days, with the father Trudeau, we conceived ourselves as both English and French, and a future for our children that might necessitate their knowledge of French should they travel far from our shores to pursue an international profession. There was a pride of having a dual citizenship of both founders of our country.

The years traveling with our children were some of the richest moments in my life. Surveying my life and examining it from the viewpoint of accumulated years, I can review the good – and of course the bad, the unintentional mishaps caused by stress, lack of information short sightedness, reacting too quickly, not listening properly: myriad reasons. However, we did hand down a daily pattern of living and vacationing, and a way of approaching life, gleaned from my own wise parents.

We eventually discover that one never has total freedom to choose and set their own path, yet we can set up small diversions, those family jaunts where alone and on the road, you see and hear and experience special relationships of warmth and wonder: that do endure a lifetime. At least ours have.

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Tripping the Life Fantastic

We never cease to feel that we have been given a gift by my mother now two years dead. Even today as I silently fret about the too hot hot weather when my friends and family are shivering at -17 and worse in Toronto. Partly it is the lustrous colour of the sky, not quite the cerulean clarity of Venice, but a clear and lustrous blue, that wraps around my vistas. Here I view the sky through the dappled trees that recall the sidewalks of The Impressionists, so I enjoy turning my head upwards.

And the flowers. Outside our condo , the magenta Bougainvillea welcome every day. Along the path towards our door, huge fans of fringed palms frame our entrance, and at the side white flowers that recall for me the shape of Canterbury bells. The condo and its grounds establish my oasis .  

Not just overlaiden with my sweet memories of LA when I was an adolescent, San Diego too recalls family trips to the world renown zoo when the town was the site of mainly military operations. Still we have made the place our home and our own,endowing the walls with photographs and paintings we love. We laugh to reflect on our home in Toronto where rooms stood empty for years and where Howard painted the walls a shocking pink when he had the time. I think our first real purchase back then was a rug woven in somewhere distant -and eventually piece by piece, we furnished the room: the place of honour given to a huge painting we purchased in Australia and made me cry, evoking some primal emotion by its shapes and textures. Although it was an Aboriginal work that included mandalas, the feet of the artist’s child, hedgehogs and straw bags, it worked much as a Hans Hoffman abstraction, the colour black popping out as foreground, the reversal of what might be expected. It arrived in a wobbly crate barely held together by dangling hinges, somehow magically surviving the arduous trip. Funny how something can touch you so deeply.Maybe it is as Duchamp reflected on an implicit memory that triggers a narrative from within although I had no words for the feelings that emerged from me. 

Our room at home holds small secrets as does our San Diego habitat. A painting of a Muskokoa landscape Howard commissioned for one of my milestone birthdays presents three separate but adjacent trees moving to the hum of the winds. To me they represent my three wonderful and so different children. Here too on a walk in Solana Beach at Fletchers Cove,I gathered a trio of flat distinctly differently marked flat stones. I arranged them at the foot of a tiny Buddha who sits on a platform of brightly coloured Mexican tiles that surround photos of my grandchildren. Like a tiny altar, I pay tribute to my children who have along with their father fostered my growth in unexpected and unintended ways. 

Today I hobble to the store because again I have tripped. Yesterday at Mission Beach. My one knee is permanently purple from its meeting with the ground. Last summer,at a vineyard wedding, I lost my footing on a hillock. Blushing with anger and embarrassment, I quickly popped back up, hoping that those with their tinkling champagne glasses were more focused on cascading flowers entwined in boughs than a tumbling mature lady. But a thoughtful guest came by to express that she had never seen anyone tumble so elegantly.That comment eased me back into the gay mood of the event and fortunately for me, I did not tear my pink dress from Thailand nor dirty my silver heels from Spain.  

Only my burning knee now surrounded by torn layers of coloured skin spoke to the fall. Sometimes I do worry about my balance except for the fact that even as a young girl and a teen, I would appear at our store, always with scraped, bruised and bloodied knees, having daydreamed and tripped on the way home from dreary school days many many times as I unsuccessfully navigated curbs en route home.. Even my sister recalls my return from a grade 12 exam wherein I burst through the store door, crazily crying, my black tights in shreds, seeping and gushing rivulets of blood trickling and gushing from the holes newly created in my foot’s folly. In my self congratulatory mood of praising my responses to the history exam, I stopped short to revisit the exam question in my head and realized I had answered the question on the Stuarts not the Tudors! Awakened from my heady reverie of an A exam, I fell hard to earth, pride and hubris at the heart of my tumble, broken in both body and spirt. 

At Mission Beach , the walkway is varied and slightly rocky, much as if the ground had been creased and pleated and so I once again lose my footing. As I began to trip, I tried to straighten myself, feeling I was in deed regaining my upright stature,balancing and righting my position.. But in a second I perceived I could not do it, my innate lopsided senses seeking their own points of reference. And so once more-flesh meets hard concrete . 

So it goes with me. If I cast my eyes to the ground to observe the undulating surface I encounter a pole, a tree, a door. Should I gaze straight ahead, my feet tangle with the unevenness of the street. So it is a conundrum for one so awkward in connection with the pavements beneath because truly my paths exist somewhere deep in my heads, or imagination, truly unconnected with my wobbling feet. 

The result this time are badly crusted medallions on both knees but worse yet, a leg that refuses to bend. And so each day I ice and re- ice, elevate, walk for brief amounts of time and eventually and slowly attempt to extend the knee’s angle a few degrees. I am angry to miss my yoga and Pilates classes as I cannot transition from floor to standing without support . I am humbled to think of my father and his polio because he could not stand or move at all without his crutches, every dip in the walkways, every uneven sidewalk a possible invitation to a fall- from which he might not be able to regain his mobility. For me, it is a week or so, for him, it was a life sentence after the age of 28. It is as they say, half full or half empty glasses. So we/I should not complain.   

The sun is back out and the variety of greenery draws my eyes as I drink my coffee and my mind rests. 

Maybe wearing knee pads is the answer.

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