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Visits to the Graveyard

Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, one usually visits one’s ancestors at the cemetery. And so this past Sunday we found ourselves in both Hamilton and Toronto, wandering in the heat to say prayers to those who had lived and were now lost to us. 
The journey to the Beth Jacob cemetery or Gates of Heaven in Hamilton is about a 50 minute drive, eventually snaking over Snake Road, driving over a one car bridge that beneath houses a train track. The place itself edges on a mountain. Here we find much of my husband’s family, most lined up in almost straight formation and called to attention by their surnames.

Some visitors are overwhelmed by emotion. Sadly but neutrally I view my mother- in-law’s name in a double final resting plot, sharing it with her husband, Labol. I never knew my husband’s father who passed away at 42, but I imagine my husband’s finely tuned moral sense and art of the negotiator are derived from the man I’ve only seen in photos. In a bit of a mishmash on her grave is carved the wording, a marble marker that stands in place of the person. There is no suggestion of who she really was, her characteristics, personality or talents, the great affection she spurred in her nieces and nephews. Only the words “wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother” .

Death is certainly the great leveller. Although there are a variety of stone types and shapes, manner of inscriptions and the odd quote here, there is an overall uniformity, perhaps reminiscent of the congregants at City Shul during these holy days . But in truth, I am dry- eyed, feeling little here. She is more in my thoughts and head when I attempt gefelte fish or am reminded of a shower she once hosted for her niece also long dead more than forty- four years ago. I recall she wore white and shone over the proceedings of cake and conversation. A butterfly, in deed.
Later in the day, it is the Toronto cemetery, Beth Tzedec, perfectly maintained and with a greater sense of symmetry than Beth Jacob as there is less choice between size and decoration and inscription here on markers: rules that the mourners will respect. Yet in spite of that, the graveyard is more of a park and one might imagine youths slowly wandering through the paths here, then meandering, stopping on a bench to reflect, gaze inward and connect with their thoughts. Even the flowers decorating graves are stipulated, not a hodgepodge, but a stately collected gathering chosen for memorials , for the eye and leg of those who frequent even as rarely as we do. As is the custom, we place a stone to signify we have come to visit. My husband reads the prayers, and it is done. I am reminded of Emily Dickinson’s poem( See below).

Hoping to come and go fairly quickly on this day, we arrive around 4 but spot a graveside funeral that is occurring so close to my parents’ stone that some of the mourners are actually leaning against it, the burial exactly in front. So we make a short pilgrimage to my aunt and uncle’s resting place which is easily locatable because their marker is surrounded by overgrown bushes.

But the funeral lags on, a group under large black and white umbrellas to shelter them from the scorchingly intense heat of early fall weather. We must continue to wait, bearing witness to the passing of a woman we did not know, but unable to move towards reciting our prayers and certainly not wanting to interrupt the sanctity of another’s passing. Finally when we are able to approach, I am- again- not feeling much, perhaps drained by the sun or the frequenting ghosts have flown further skyward to also escape the heat. I read the deeply engraved words on my parents’ stone , noting the familiar design I created of menorah and star particularly for them on the stone.
My parents have been abstracted in this moment, when they should have been most near, as usually in this place, I do conjure them with love, missing them strongly, but their faces or even a sense of them does not come to me; I cannot feel them near.  

The rabbi from the funeral reaches out and takes my hands and I am overwhelmed. As he reaches over the gravesite and our hands clasp over it, I experience a oneness with place, persons, a breaching of time. His is a warm thoughtful, action that extends beyond words as if to echo the “ Heneni” we heard discussed in the Dvar Torah. In a moment, all combines, a Mindfulness moment, “I am here, mummy and daddy.” The rabbi , looking tired, makes the visit real in a sense as the pressure of his hands and mine responding seem to affirm that we are both alive, sentient, reflecting and responding in the place of death. A strange compilation of longing for the dead, standing amidst compressed memories of my growing up life with them but also a bit like Robert Herrick’s Gather he rosebuds while ye may. Talk about T.S. Eliot’s time past, time present, time future! Only later here, I analyze. There, it is the sensation , the pressure of emotion, that is outstanding. Body not mind at all. How ironic as my parents’ bodies are no more, only dust.

Perhaps for the rabbi, it is a means to provide comfort for the mourners, perhaps to him as well, a verification that he stands in the realm of the living when his service that day is to walk among the dead, move as an agent of G-d to dispense comfort, reassurance that life will continue on. The hand holding moves into another dimension for me, the squeezing, the warmth even on a day so hot that flowers wilt . It seems to attest to the ability to be able to draw breath, move in this dimension of life, at least until we no longer are able. I ruminate at the simplicity of the gesture, no elaborate words, no soulful looks, mere touch that supersedes all else in that moment. It connotes kindness, respect and care. I appreciate it, especially as I am bereft of tears.

I’m reminded of the military gravestones in San Diego, all in strict accordance for markers of service people, small rectangulars standing at attention, much like a frozen wall of waves that stretches on and on, indistinguishable, one from the other. Yet even here on this Sunday, we in this place, must hunt a bit among the dead to scout out our loved ones.

Some people visit cemeteries as in the ones in Paris like Pere Lachaise that is home to famous writers and writers. Occasionally we have also veered off the beaten track of cities to also honour the dead. As in Buenas Aires to see Evita Peron’s family tomb- where she may or not be contained. There unending sculptures of angels in pink marble, some the size of tiny houses. The rich are celebrated in death as they did in life.

In New Orleans, St. Louis cemetery in the French Quarter, showcases an interesting arrangements “ a city of the dead” because of the high water level, so corpses are baked in their family graves- the dust of generations mingling as family member after family member share the same final resting spot.Ashes to ashes..all shattered urns…

In Prague, the magnificent 14 th century surviving Jewish cemetery where the intermingling of rural and urban traditions coalesced. Usually there is no human depiction in Judaism as the Bible forbids “ images”; however here, if my memory serves me, we view depicted on the angled surviving almost toppled tombstones the profession of the one buried: a baker with his bread, for example, not just detruncated blessing hands or a flame, or menorah marking the spot, deemed acceptable by the faith.

Years back there were benevolent societies that were set aside for Jewish burials. Immigrant and even resident Jews formed groups to assist their kin: no doubt spurred in by the antisemitism they encountered at work, school and university quotas and restrictive practices and attitudes of their neighbours. Their aim in building a better society resulted in the Mount Sinai and Western hospitals in Toronto. My father once told me that his mother sold bricks to raise money for the later. Near my house, on Roselawn, precious real estate space was once the outreaches of the city, far from Kensington Market and so here far from city core was the resting place for Jews. I visit my progenitors, Molly and Sam, this week, taking with me implements to tidy their graves. Maybe once , I had visited the graves when my mother was in her middle years although on the passing of my father, I stood outside the gates and called in through my tears, “Buby Molly, do you know? Your son has died.”

There is a taboo of graveyards as if the dead will pull you in and mark your days so even the recitation of Kaddish or prayers for the dead at the conclusion of services at synagogue incites the gong that ushers those with living parents quickly out of the congregation. We wash our hands as we leave the cemetery too, water taps installed within the gates, metaphorical again perhaps.

Although we do not ruminate on the dead, during our high holidays, the visits to cemeteries stimulate sobering thoughts reminding us to put life in perspective.

Emily Dickinson’s “ Because I could not stop for Death”,

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove

At Recess – in the Ring –

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –

We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –

The Dews drew quivering and Chill –

For only Gossamer, my Gown –

My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed

A Swelling of the Ground –

The Roof was scarcely visible –

The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity –

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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.

Displacement and City Issues

I’ve been home barely a week but fitting back seems more difficult this year. And although I am older, it has felt different. Which surprises me because the two past years have followed almost exactly the same patterns: from location to classes and exercise- with the exception of extending my friendship circles and adding a book group, this year has repeated the last two in San Diego. 

Coming home, I feel that my house space expand from one floor to three and I feel almost lost. Of course the weather and skies that fill me with gratitude and warmth in San Diego are grey, overcast and shivery here so instead of popping out on my morning walk, I now unlock my car door and re- establish the daily routines- of exercise and such . Today 10 cm of snow so sidewalks are slick, glazed with ice. Even the robins have found shelter today.

The cynicism and revulsion I experienced nightly as I watched Lester Holt and Scott Pelly discourse on Trump are personalized now . When I go to review scholarship applications at Artbarn and have to navigate behind barriers— barriers for Metrolinx that will be in place for four years – yes, at least four years-while the neighbourhood is destroyed, I am shocked by the chaos created by the goal to improve road and thoroughfare access. Several stores are all ready vacant as their businesses are ruined, and unavailable to customers. Where is the vibrant shopping community that featured Miele appliances and upbeat clothes and Chinese dining and colourful flowers?

Trying to gain entry to any store along Eglinton is a quest behind and through barriers as work slowly proceeds – progenitors of this action oblivious and uncaring that the incomes of the owners have been jeopardized or totally lost. Not to mention the stagnation of traffic. Where a month of inaction due to disruption would be a cause for outcry, four years is a death sentence. I wondering if our council people fought hard, but obviously they lost the battle.

I ponder the similar mess on St. Clair which at the end did NOT improve traffic flow. I wonder how those small shops endured, as many did. Is it any wonder that Gap can remain rooted while a mom and pop grocery cannot. Was there no other way to work with the neighbourhood or parcel out construction in the name of saving the neighbourhood activity? Like Trump on climate, the baby is throw out with the bath water. It is the 21 st Century with strategies that recall the Middle Ages.

I wonder if this construction and ruin is merely a Machiavellian ploy so that more condos can replace the shops that once drew people to this area. Eglinton and Avenue and Eglinton and Yonge with its schools and boutiques and streets upon which to walk are being eaten up by condos in the area , no single owner establishment able to pay rent-.Is this work intrusion into the area a lingering payback to the old old days when this borough was separate and garbage was collected at back doors? Is some bureaucrat , silent guffawing at dismantling this part of town? Or more likely, developers ,salivating, winking and planning for their takeover.

 And on my walks over the last few years whether south on Yonge or north on Avenue, I have observed the encroachment of those condos. I surmise that as businesses dwindle on Eglinton, they will be replaced by condos that like the construction blocking Artbarn, first disrupts , making access difficult or impossible and even dangerous , and results in the understandable necessity of the evacuation by the owners- relinquishing the space, parks, close subway access , community centre, the well located walk ways to the slobbering condo corporations.

Lying through their teeth that there will be more accessible and living space to replace single house lodging, the condos will offer at unbelievably inflated prices what my father used to call “ chicken coops”. And will only be available to those who can afford the exorbitant prices in what was once prime real estate- in part due to the great little shops. Just today I was told of the thinness of walls in new condos just north of St.Clair at Bathurst, but a wise first time owner, not wanting to share secrets with the condo next door, turned it over for a cool 300,000 over what she had paid. Who could blame her? So I imagine that our city planners and government deciders are destroying first, businesses, driving out and eliminating the diversity of the area-, levelling the ground for those damn condos whose construction merits will vary greatly.. It infuriates and raises my blood pressure.

So much makes me angry.I notice in the butcher shop near Artbarn, the rearrangement of cabinets, wisely away from the door that opens onto construction, and instead of the feel good welcome, I intuit something else here and I wonder if shoppers have in deed begun to go elsewhere. I had intended to head towards the vegetable store on the other side of Avenue Road, even my aunt deceased almost twenty years used to purchase her greens here, but I am unsure if there is a path that is not blocked by machines and construction workers. All is turmoil as I ironically note that in the middle of the street a worker’s car is parked ( where shoppers, should any persist, of course would be towed) and there under the loom of giant machines even for home owners two blocks away experience the shaking of the once stable bedrock of homes.

True California is LALA Land and I am a visitor there but also a part time resident, also annoyed by the noise and disruption of new screens outside my door. But there I can wander out- into the sunny shade, ramble a bit and see the reason and the order for the intrusion. Here I cannot.

Spring must be on its way here as I watch a plump robin on my fence. But sadly too I note the two toned squirrels digging for the bulbs planted in the burnished fall in my garden, digging deeply, as the ground is now partially cleared of snow. Will the raccoons lumber by too soon, nocturnal animals so out of sync, that they do not differentiate between day and night. Suddenly Hunger Games flashes into my head, the mottled fur of the squirrel recalling the outrageous costumes of inhabitants against the rubble and hunger of the destroyed cities. Doesn’t it begin by dismantling roadways?

It takes a while to re-orient oneself back home without being able to plug back into professional work. Gradually we reinvent ourselves, loosening the rituals of the day to renew our interests that once organized our lives.. This is the good and bad of retirement, but as in few matters, we are never fully in control of our lives, conforming to the predilections, spaces and times of others. And so I gradually re- engage myself, accommodating my days to my activities.

I write to express my pleasure and displeasure at myself in my world. But this morning, it is the grey skies and my disrupted neighbourhood that prompts my litany of complaints. How sad the world has become.

Leaving San Diego 

As my sojourn in San Diego is coming to an end, I am reflecting on what makes this place a home for three months. Years ago I would watch Survivor and one of the finale shows would glimpse a participant traversing the island, pausing to review or recount an event, a person , an emotion experienced in haste but reflected on in leisure, as if sampling a sweet or meaningful food that had lodged in their consciousness, but in the quiet of being mindful, the thought re- emerged for consumption.

So here too are my thoughts on my refuge from the bruising Canadian winters. Above all is the clear cerulean sky that is the backdrop to trees and walks in this city. There is almost an aural clarity to that sky, the picture perfect backdrop I associate with Giorgione paintings in Italy, the limitless of space that theNorthern Italian painters created in the looming expanse above their heads. In Joshua Tree National Park, it was the same- emitting that refreshing blueness: that if you stare too long, you will be turned to stone. I have noticed hummingbirds recklessly dart into those orange flowers with their extended necks, crows play with the currents, allowing the wind to swoop them higher to soar on inclement puffs of wind and flocks of gulls move together over the breaking waves on the beach. In the Galapagos, it is different as the colours of vegetation and wildlife contrast in their setting, dazzling red crabs and the naughty turquoise footed boobies strongly observable against the black and grey rocks, but here, it is all one, meshing and coalescing indivisible , perhaps a total mindfulness of setting.

How often Howard and I remark on our location here because we never imagined that within 10-20 minutes, all necessities of life could be gleaned: from food to book groups to exercise to windowshopping. With my sturdy feet, a bottle of water and sun visor, I set off for yoga or pilates, secure in knowing the level of instruction is confident, attentive and challenging. There is no judgment in classes, but careful teaching provides for variation in exercise, attuned to “ mature” bodies whose necks, shoulders or backs might not be as limber as in youthful arrogance and ignorance when all is accepted as functioning and moving gracefully. The Community Centre not only welcomes all, but offers a plethora of programs to educate mind, spirit and limbs. It is here too that a friendly face is always willing to acknowledge an outsider, making them feel welcome.

I engage in yoga here, twisting and grunting and extending, but never properly balancing (as in the tree, pose), fascinated by the names of poses such as happy baby who grabs the soles of the feet or warriors.one, two and three, feet arranged for battle. What always comes to mind is Maxine Hong Kingston’s book Warrior Woman whose battles, I recall, had to do with her paths through and into life. I find it strange that a non competitive exercise commandeers the name of “warrior” for a stance. Before the classroom mirror, do I look fierce, ready to battle? No, for my arms and legs, each wanting to wander off and sit with the the bougevvilla or sift the sand stands at the ready.

At home my Pilates person will endeavour to realign my parts, correcting my errant head and re-aligning my hips. But for the meantime, there has been no pain, only the reawakening ache of new muscles, different from my routines at home. The reformer instructor at a private establishment is young and when I enquire that I think my zoas muscle is protesting when I go up or down a hill, she dismisses my query by responding, there are lots of muscles in that area. It is a group class that meets on Sundays and I recognize the Pilates exercises but with arms outstretched, legs rotating, head bobbing up and down, my co- ordination most times is lacking. She comes to correct and last week when I feared placing my feet on the movable bar might cause me to tumble, she gently reorganized my trembling parts into safe and correct positions. I may be the oldest of the eight people on the reformers, a few slightly younger, but mainly the women are in their 30’s and this is a level one class! I challenge myself and feel proud as my shaking legs practically knock against the walls when thankfully, the 55 minutes have been completed.

And my California friends. Yesterday I met a former Canadian for coffee. We began by attacking Trump, totally in sync. And somehow we veered into guffaws and laughter that shook us from the inside out. My other passel of amigas feels genuine- even having known them for such a short time. Yesterday one reached over to warmly touch my arm, conspiratorial in her understanding of a shared confidence. Our former condo owners are like guardian angels always checking in,, offering insight , warmth, care and camaraderie. I can pop up stairs or call for a favor. Like a steady current, they ensure my security, as friends known a lifetime. And the newest friend is a kindred spirit. She, like my Wednesday lunch companion, discusses books, family, reminisces about our prior lives and we share a deep connection. This is a kaleidoscope of varied personalities.I am mindful of the Le Petit Prince and the fox whose regular meetings bound them in spirt. But truly, what could be more delightful than expressing one’s thoughts under a brier of twisted branches beneath that fabulous sky?

As an added sprinkle to my cupcake are my cousins who live in Laguna Beach and LA, the very people who began my enchantment with this state when I was young. Meeting with them reawakens my original delight that helped ensure an awkward 15 year old could build confidence and procure enduring friendships. I return to those memories of my cousins, embracing them time and again as the backbone of my writing. The recollections and renewed conversations refresh me.

As an added perk, my writing is more often published here- first in magazines, then in journals. I will have two pieces on Celebrations and Passover in The Jewish Journal. The editor wrote in an email that my pieces always make her cry. I was touched. I feel a connection built through our exchanges, and next year hope to meet her face to face. Several years ago, I was contacted by a travel magazine to travel with “ real” writers to Nevada. I imagined this was the kickstart to a new career, but it did not happen so this little surge of articles tickles me immensely: small publications here and there occurred, but here it has been closer to a little flurry.Pleasing.

So with a heavy heart, I leave but am anxious to meet my.brand new granddaughter,Georgia Parker, and return to my wonderful Toronto friends, my cosy house and lovely children and grandchildren.

Always I am in awe that these three months are due to my mother’s careful saving who like the elves turning straw to gold, provided us with the means to extend our path into the California climes.

Ageism and the Queen

Why was it that when Mic Jagger produced his last child a few months ago he was not shown in a rocking chair beset with grey hair and cane. More likely, with responses of thumbs up and “Attah boy,” gossip was impressive that an old dude was still so young.

But be a woman – of quite a lesser age! and the image that comes to mind is dowdy, frumpy, lacking in lustre. In the last year, I have been associated with this image at least twice.In not revealing my own age but describing myself in blogs and articles as a child of the 60’s I have received negative epithets that suggest I am ready for the Mosha Zakanam( Yiddish for old folks home). And it really infuriates me.

My grandparents WERE old and worn out by their 50’s, my buby Molly huffing and smoking “ special” asthma cigarettes, her stringy hair pulled back in a bun and never dyed, her short waisted body always in drab shapeless dresses, her lopsided hobble completing the resemblance to a crone. Yet the image of her lilting warm eyes remains as well. Molly’s husband ,Sam, was unsmiling, ageless, posture ramrod straight, and although he did not wear tails, one had the impression that behind his back he might have carried a pointer stick. They spent their days, before I knew them, crouched over sewing machines at Tiptop Tailors, immigrants with few choices but the weight and burden of life on their thin shoulders.

My mother’s parents, too, although seemingly better polished, also were not attached to a particular age; however, I did think of all grandparents and people taller than I as “old”. My mother’s father always cupped a half- smoked cigarette in his palm, and appeared to be coasting or dancing across the floor. My other grandmother’s scowl was timeless as well, angry from her dislocation from Europe, her cleaning and cooking for the landsmen from Poland my grandfather,Joe, trooped through their doors as unwelcomed guests. As a child, I found my grandparents all distant and cool, rarely hugged or even smiled at by them. Yet my mother adored her father, and the stories concerning special foods my father’s mother made for him out of love were endless.

But I was a baby boomer, one destined to jangle my lovebeads into grandparent hood.As well, all those my age had aged nicely, strengthening their core, exercising, consulting the latest experts on health and food choices, contemplating mindfulness training, gauging their cholesterol, finding Contemporary clothes to disguise the bag and sag of accumulated years. We moved easier( well some with knee or hip replacement), we were more knowledgeable about good heart choice meals and more veggies. We got down on the floor with our grandkiddies. We learned how to commandeer technology, computers, iPhones, IPads, that superseded typewriters, adding machines, snail mail and telephones. Some even ventured on Social media. So we moved with the times and adapted.Unlike the dinosaurs( or so I reckoned).

So last year when I had a trio of blogs accepted in a newspaper in cool California, I was pretty impressed that such a publication that appealed to a youthful culture would first, be interested and then actually, pay for my writing. The first two blogs , on my experiences in the San Diego scene, perhaps hinted at someone beyond a Millennial; however, the third concerned how I had tripped at Belmont Park, an experience I explained that had occurred from my earliest days as I am continually caught off guard by a scene, a flower, a friend and wind up with tangled feet hitting the ground hard, my head and body two separate entities, my knees permanently purple.

However the index that located the blog in the zine introduced my piece as” Old Lady Trips”. And I do not think they were punning on a Canadian connection to pot.

So infuriated was I that I emailed my contact who demurred that it was his editor who applied titles, not him.I immediately forwarded him a recent photo of me. True, it was flattering, as I did not send a picture of me in my worn nightie and rollers in my hair.He responded, “Oh my…!”. Oh my, in deed.

But just yesterday , so delighted to have an article published in a national newspaper, I could not wait to see the accompanying sketch. To my horror, the picture which did highlight the pointillism of Seurat’s Grande Jatte in the background ,displayed in the foreground a frump: the author(ME!). Upon closer examination, I noticed a purple cardigan, impressive rump and the most unshapely calves on the figure holding on to a picture frame. Her hair harked to the 20’s. Horrified , I looked closer to identify the personage as Queen Elizabeth the second- and not the one now dramatized in The Crown either. Certainly not a baby boomer.

What were they thinking? That someone who sat in a lecture hall in the 60’s was now 90? That someone who visits and discourses on art and art galleries is a decrepit soul who creeps in and out of rooms? That all this art stuff belongs to the over the hill types? The idea of the Queen being drawn into a picture frame was in deed cute, but truly, except for her horses and corgies, I have never associated her royal highness with colour, shape or form- with the exception of perhaps an interesting matching hat to her ensembles.

I wanted to scream ageism, sexism and send off a caustic comment to the paper, but my husband reminded me such a blast might prevent anything of mine being published there again should I follow the petulant like Trump model wherein he twittered about Meryl Streep’s comments at the Golden Globes. But perhaps only twerps tweet. So I took the higher ground . “Go high, “intoned Michelle Obama in my ears, and I chose to explode my outrage here in my blog.

Still, why is it that men get better with age, and women even boomers, get older?

Dinda and Her Two Grandsons from San Diego

I open my birthday card and surprise!, it’s tickets to the Chargers football game. Oh great, I say, as anyone who knows me knows I’m no sports aficionado. I’ll do a few baseball games, lots of basketball, but football?. Once when I was newly married, I did my new husband a huge favour by attending a game in Ottawa – and actually endured the game in the pouring rain. I vowed to the stars, beating my chest, never again.  

But the Charger ticket was a gift from my son- and my husband reminded me this would be a family affair as my two grandsons would be visiting San Diego after skiing Tremblant and the Chargers were their favourite team and it would be fun. I grumbled with a smile.Anything for those little guys.

Thankfully the rain in San Diego that absolutely thrashed the city occurred the day before the game so at least I didn’t have to watch guys in tight pants run amok in the downpour.

Usually San Diego boasts perfect weather but because of La Niña and the Santa Anna winds this year, California is a bit off, no doubt miffed that Trump wound up as president so the climate is severely out of sorts.

So we set off and I learn about “tailgating”at football games – which means that people sit in parking lots near the game before kickoff, cooking their dinners and imbibing.It reminded me of Rio on New Years where families from grandmas to screaming infants all dressed in white gathered on the Copacabana with their hibachis to cook their meals, offer gladiolus to the sea and basically, just hang out together. I had previously believed “ tailgating” meant driving too close to the car ahead of you. I now comprehended in football lingo that sitting by your car in a smelly parking lot and eating a salad near your gas tank must refer to the “ tail “ of your car.Maybe there’s a football connection here that alludes me.

During the game, one of my grandsons asked me,”Why do they fight for the ball? It’s like playing a game, tackling one another and trying to grab the ball?” He suggested that they should politely stop and enquire “Would you like the ball?”… then tip their caps to one another.Sounded more gentlemanly to me too.

Still my eye was constantly drawn to the gold pompoms of the cheerleaders who did, to my mind, a much better job than the girls at the Raptors’ Games, whose moves are often vulgar and not very pretty, especially in their costumes that scream polyester.Here in San Diego, these girls looked like real American girls.

After the game, in the car on the way back, my son asked, “How did you like it!” . One grandson replied , “ It was boring and I didn’t understand it”. Also it was really really long. That’s why it was boring.” Me too, I thought even though my son had provided a tutorial on how the field was divided into 10 yard segments and the teams had to pass or kick the football down the field.

My other grandson said he liked the game a little bit, but not surprisingly, not that much. He bought a little stuffy bear because he had some money to spend. So that was good.We shared a very long bag of caramel ( and very expensive) popcorn ,but we didn’t finish it. Actually one of our little guys wondered,” I like balls, but why not baseball or soccer? That’s better than football.”

My little guys also hiked at Torrey pines and appeared to be more impressed with the natural beauty of rocks and surf. They had created a scavenger hunt and found all the things on the list: a caterpillar, a butterfly, ,a stick, a spider, dog poo, and cactus. They watched the ocean. They explained the waves make shapes with the water; however, they related that they couldn’t feel the breeze. They also followed a path of 118 steps that went nowhere, having to go back up and around to the top: much to their Poppa’s annoyance.They brought back beautiful rocks. And let’s face it, Torrey Pines is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

So besides the Lego Show in Balboa Park, an afternoon at local Doyle Park with its many attractions upon which to swing, slide and twirl, the awesome Disney movie Sing, chocolate at Ghiradelli , Chinese Food at PJ Chang’s, the impact of football was lessened. And for me, their Dinda, I was very very happy.

Full disclaimer: Written with the grandsons.

Things in Wrong Places

This week my daughter staying here with her two babies looked up at a tall tall tree two houses over and observed a hawk. Yes, a hawk in midtown Toronto at Avenue and Lawrence. She knows because she does these amazing nature walks in the country where she lives in a picturesque town outside of Philadelphia. What was a predatory bird doing in North Toronto?

That got me thinking about things that don’t belong.

The Republican National Convention brought to mind that old Jim Carrey movie, the Truman Show, or what I remember of it. Watching the beautifully scripted and choreographed sons of Donald Trump, I felt as if I were watching a play composed in a studio. Young men who over the years on Celebrity Apprentice who barely uttered more than mono-syllabic grunts of approval to their mega boss were poised and well spoken. My mouth hung open. And daughter Ivanka , the cherry on the ice cream in her perfect pink turning left and right to capture the crowd’s attention, all lauded their ignoramus of a father as wise, hardworking and ever so compassionate as a president hopeful.And maybe he will be! I noticed Trump’s demeanour had been improved and even his down to earth too loud ramble began to sound reasonable: That is the scary bit as the dictator weaves his web with lies and slurs and vague unsubstantiated promises that He can and damn it, will “fix “ America ( to the hoards chanting, “USA…USA…USA…” )and make it right, always capitalizing on fear, he pontificates, Give me the power- and the people on the floor of the convention, the overwhelming number of middle and lower class white Americans in their silly shiny hats and gaping mouths ( like mesmerized me?) cheer and shout approval. Papa will take care of the dragons of government and keep out all the bad people. He will protect you and build walls.

And later on Sunday’s Meet the Press, the same toned down Trump explains that the purpose of the EU was “ to beat America” and by the way, keep all those war- ravaged Syrians in camps at home. So much for the land of the free and the brave. And forget NATO.

My mind like many others imagined the moustachioed dictator who promised similar security for Germany, keeping or exterminating or locking away those rodent- faced Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Catholics and mentally- impaired. The beer halls were full of nodding, applauding folk who burdened down by war treaties like Versailles and restrictions after WW1 were tired of their economic restraints and their humbling by other European countries. Chanting, marching, goose- stepping – remember Regensberg? Nuremberg?to progress with the funny outcast fellow who bellowed and promised pie in the sky, better times, make Germany great again, they desperately wanted to believe.

Amidst Trump’s crowd, one black, one Latino and a few in skullcaps( well, he did say Israel was the only friend in the Middle East) . And my heart sang Shame, shame, shame on you Americans, falling for the lies of the rich businessman. He has exposed himself in debates, in interviews, on talk shows- wherever- as less than a performer and the gall to think he possesses the knowledges to repair America. It truly boggles the mind that he is a possible White House hopeful.Today, July 25, 2016, his rating was 48% to Hillary’s 46. Has the world gone totally mad or are we just watching a egregious TV show where the old guy( with the comb- over ) gets the pretty model like Sophia Vergara?

Sesame Street used to sing, “ One of these things is not like the other, one of these things does not belong…” I know my thinking unusually does not reflect the majority, but none of our friends in San Diego support Trump, and the only person anywhere who said they did was an customs guard we has encountered at the aero port. We were joking about Rob Ford( before his cancer) at the border crossing , and this seemingly gentle , pleasant man volunteered with great pride his choice for the next president of the United States.Gad Zooks! Even Republican hopefuls repulsive Ted Cruz and John Kasich rejected him, one openly lambasting him; the other refusing to attend the Convention.

To jump back to actual fictional, Black is the New Orange, has also reached an incredibly depressing level of life, this time in prison as the privatization of Litchfeld.The humanity of the prisoners is revealed as personages you might chat with at the grocery store or the library appearing devoid of their crimes, heinous or not: contextually stories even make one sympathize with their reasons for being jailed.They hang out, complain about the food, tend gardens, do nails, confide their desires for love, companionship and better lives. Fraud, swindling and even murders are comprehended as the endgame due to incredible circumstances. The women, all races, colours, sexual orientation are almost mundane as girlfriends.

However,overcrowding and the imposition of psychotic guards have distorted circumstances to such an unbearable degree that inmates ( in the last episode) have rioted, peaceful tactics and sitins having been abandoned. Brute force trumps any reason. Again, it is the rule of the ignorant, the bullies to have the inmates taught “ manual education” as opposed to opportunities for true learning, forcing them to actually build more institutional cages, even destroying the small patch of land where a handful of tomatoes and fresh vegetables were grown. To the outside world, their re- education boasts a valuable skill; more lies, repositioning truth for profit.

I am not taking aim at business nor on the basis of one NETFLIX ‘s show decrying or believing that that like Chicken Little that the sky is falling. But as I survey the world With Brexit and Trump and his idiotic talk ( last night’s joke regarding Hillary’s lost emails), daily gun rampages everywhere, the world does seem to be coming apart. Yeats would intone, “things fall apart/ the centre cannot hold…”,ironically in 2016, way past Orwellian predictions of a brave new world. This cannot be what brave looks like, I fear.

 Ban guns, listen and hear the voices of the oppressed, don’t forget the past, and do not vote Trump.

Poetry Collectives and Such

Last week I received a glorified chain letter, but with a difference. It was entitled poetry collective.Annoyed, I reflected I would not participate but I did not delete it from my machine. A few days later, coming across it again, I thought it might be a neat idea to receive a poem or two.

Now- I am not a poetry person, rather my solace is fiction and prose and narratives. Yet in my head are stored bits and pieces of poetry that rise to the surface occasionally. “Such as home is the place…”, the haunting Robert Frost poem that emerges whenever my plane lands in Toronto; or the mantra I uttered to my kids for years as we pulled into the drive way. I giggle to recall one of my courting love notes to my husband when we were seriously dating, an. e. e.cumming’s line about” I like my body when it’s with your body…”

It is a nuisance to engage in writing chain letters, but angered by my day’s events yesterday and looking for an outlet, I pounded on my computer. What poem, I ruminated , shall I send out into the world? Oppressive weather, lost earrings, changed appointment dates? A return to the slings and arrows of life in Toronto prompted William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming. Heavy, dark and forbidding. And how perfect for angst of Easter, but truly in tune with my mindset, I remembered from my university years “ …turning and turning, the centre cannot hold”.

Was I ready to explode too?

Yup, I was feeling torn apart, angry, twisting with frustration. So I clicked on the first name in the list and sent off the poem, a bit embarrassed not to be sharing rosebuds but gloom and doom that “ the centre will not hold”. I felt heavy, my imagination clothing me in the cloak of a grim reaper, my scythe ready to slice through the encroaching darkness.

But quickly, a response returned to express :the receiver loved the poem. I thought I recognized her name and to be of my vintage so I imagined she too might have been  introduced to Yeats back at university 40 years ago. Perhaps  her awareness of stodgy intellectual love- driven Yeats was accompanied by thoughts of U of T’s grassy quadrangle, and being young and wistful and dreaming of a happy future, maybe even in a  classroom.

The next step, however was to blind copy 20 people with the request to also send out poems. I chuckled to include my list of friends from Vienna to Los Angeles, contemplating a worldwide circuit that might travel around the world spreading poetry. So maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea and my mood began to lighten, especially when I was forwarded this,”It’s a green speckle time/ my favourite time of the year/ when all the trees begin to bud/ and summertime is near”. Joyously, some qother participant, had decided to play along with his best shot, his of a burst of spring.

Alas, my damn computer refused to co- operate and I had wasted almost an hour tracking down correct configurations of email addresses. Anger rising again, I reduced the size of my list, anticipating I would bcc in smaller bits, but again, my damn computer would only send one bcc at a time. So I sent 5, thinking, maybe I’ll do this later, but almost immediately two of my respondents emailed with thanks, but no thanks, I don’t do chain letters.

 I completely understood but the idea of poetry circling the globe like children of many colours dancing was morphing into a fleeting wisp of a thought.

Just back from three months in San Diego, the incomplete chain letter fell to the back of the closet in my mind.The crashing ice storm, the appointments put off, the reassemble of one’s life back home forced itself into my head space.

Where waking up to the blue cerulean sky had awakened a positive spirit in San Diego,the grey of Toronto had reminded me of more cold bitter days until we limp in to spring -in maybe two more months or more.The enjoyable colours of birds of paradise springing wildly by the walkways en route to yoga class were replaced by rustling squirrels and one very confused robin caught in an icy downpour here.The desirability of walking out to meet the day in shirtsleeves had returned to the grumble of dashing into the car buried to the chin in multilayered beneath my winter coat and turned my smile upside down.

Double humbug. I’ld even stopped the uplifting morning meditations and felt myself the tight brown shell of a small nut. And now even poetry would not go out into the world to shake some snow from tree limbs.

I should be happy: warm, secure in my lovely house, finally reuniting with my gracious grandsons here at home. But I am yearning for the sun- not sweating by a beach, but striding out in the fresh air, feeling alive and grateful for the day.

I’m not a supporter of things American and the name Donald Trump or Ted Cruz raises my ire and makes me rage with anger that so many people can be so stupid to support these crazies. I soothe myself that our fellow Justin Trudeau although not his father’s prodigy of brilliance is,at least, demonstrating the right moves towards diversity and environment,espousing a better world. But I must wonder at opportunities in the US, and why in 3 months, five of my writing articles were accepted in a variety of publications while here in Canada, no one is interested.

And why in California, people are welcoming and smile at you, often strangers initiating conversations with no ulterior motives, and why, too, does the service industry really try to satisfy -even should you sound or look weird?I love Canada and even when my husband was offered opportunities to move or study in the states, he refused. Whenever I can, I laud our healthcare, our innovations, our society, the Eldoas.

But maybe as the tail of winter is wending through my mind and I am experiencing shadows not sunlight, I feel down, yearning for the pink buildings of La Jolla and the outside cafes for leisurely lunches with my friend Peggy. Like frog and toad, I know spring will come again, but right now as the gloomy brown day envelops my yard and the perplexed robin stands perplexed on the soggy lawn, I yearn for the purple bougenvilla at  the side of our condo.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)       THE SECOND COMING
    Turning and turning in the widening gyre

    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;

    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know

    That twenty centuries of stony sleep

    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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.

Saying Goodbye to Maury

I read obituaries.

At first, it was to ensure my name wasn’t there, but then to watch for people I knew or may have known. Others must do this too as I was surprised by the unexpected visitors at my mothers’ funeral and subsequent shiva. Maybe obituaries established one of the earliest forms of social media, a written town crier or play on posting of bands at religious institutions: getting the word out anonymously.

Which is kinda creepy as you never know how many or who is reading your posts or reflections, but I guess that is the point- of needing to impart something to someone beyond yourself and your immediate circle.

For me, I express my thoughts as a personal need to write, rather than to communicate and anticipate others who will read my words ( although I am delighted by a comment, even disparaging ones as prompted by my own near and dear: for example last week’s regarding the commercialization of parenthood. Yikes). Guess it’s much like a Catch 22. Put yourself out there and take a chance because not everyone is going to agree with your version of life.

When I searched the Obits onE Friday I read that a second or third cousin had passed away. I knew him only briefly, one of those many relations that you encounter at a pretzel bar at a bar mitzvah or wedding, a quiet, lanky fellow, the late arrival of a bouncy, chatty woman and her silent sam of a husband. They were lovely, lovely people, my father’s first cousins, always welcoming, smiling, accepting: the kind of family people write books about when they idealize a friendly Jewish family. And both Fanny and Bella, my father’s aunt and first cousins, were the perfect stereotypes of a clan you would want to belong to, and great cooks as well, mavens of the artistry of matzoh balls, rugala, gefilte fish. At least that was how I drew them in my mind.

Likely shyly, I was introduced to Bella’s son once or twice, the cousin who passed away, now grown up: a husband, a father, a soul taken too early. I can mythologize him too because I didn’t really know him, but I had a sense of how much his parents adored and deep down loved him, one of those change of life babies, a delightful surprise to his very reserved and gentle parents.I could fantasize a little about Maury because my remembrances of his parents were so dear and palpable; and likely, if he followed in their footsteps, he, too was likewise good, kind and undeserving of an early death.

Ascending heaven, I imagined his adoring welcoming mother gather him to her arms and murmur “… enough suffering, my darling, come with me. “ Yet, having read Dr. Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven , I could also hear Alexander’s son imploring his father back to life, “Dad, dad, don’t go, come back.” And Alexander did miraculously return. But in the distant- cousin’s, Maury, case, his illness did not subside and Maury had to leave-even though as the obituary stated : his children were his life. As he was Bella and Sam’s: you could read it in their faces.

Last weekend when I had dinner, the first time in more than thirty years with my sister-in-laws, our talk focused on the passing of our mothers, theirs most recent in February. I shared with them an image from a film- whose title I cannot recall, but it had stuck with me: an aged grandfather succumbs in his wheelchair, but as he is passing, he props himself up to standing, and his physical frailty begins to recede so that soon, he is carefully walking, then gliding, then blissfully running as the years fall away. He gallops and gallops and then smack! he is encircled in his mother’s loving arms as she hugs him tightly to her body and his face is blissful.

Do I believe in an afterlife, I don’t know, yet I do not think we can possibly know everything there is to know in this realm and beyond. Far greater minds have grappled with an afterlife or spiritual ascent of our souls! Whether yes or no…but here is the time and place to enjoy: Gather your rosebuds while ye may, Robert Herrick implored all those dancing girls in the light of day.

Russell Smith in The Globe and Mail recently opined about the difference between life happening and being haunted by it. Better to be part of The Happening (with apologies to the existentialists and Alan Kaprow back in the boomer’s haydays) rather than the lament the many years passed that might have been, sighing for moments that could have but didn’t occur.

That remembrance of our earlier days enchants me a little as I envisage myself jumping on trains in Europe,hitchhiking, following paths with no idea where they might lead, footloose- but always a guardian angel at my back as I- even to my own surprise, returning time after time home safe , full of stories and excitement at what I had seen and done. Perhaps the world was safer 40 years ago and you could trust and be naïve and wander into dark streets by train stations reeking of city and encounter people at hostels and become part of their travelling bands, taking on their routes, abandoning them and picking up someone else’s when you got bored or tired or annoyed. A slipshod life without direction only a framework of addresses where to find your parents’ mail that might corral you.

I look out at the flowers this summer, the dark lilies in particular and I see their trajectory of life from bud to shrivelled carcass, the moment of full glorious bloom, and I foolishly hope it will endure to light the days and nights to come. Maybe that is partially the draw of San Diego for me- flowers in continual bloom, ravishing birds of paradise, ever blooming agapanthus, cacti that ignore the scorching heat so they manage to endure and survive.

And perhaps that is the blessing, the ignorance of youth, to scoff, to try, to fly before you learn your wings may melt.

For Maury, I hope that his life was filled with the sweetness his parents would have wanted for him; and now I hope he rests with them., embraced by that fierce love.

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