Saturday, December 12, 2015

Elephantine Luck

Denis & Marilyn
Forty five years ago, my Uncle Denis gave me a jade elephant pendant on a gold chain. I adored my Uncle Denis and knew he was about the coolest person I would ever meet. It was 1970 and he was ultra-hip. He lived in Yorkville, a very bohemian part of Toronto, and he had a super mod girlfriend. My grandmother wasn't happy that her son was 'living together' with his girlfriend, but she accepted it. Why? Because Denis could get away with it; he was that cool.

Christmas presents from Denis were always extra special and unusual. I didn't know I wanted a jade elephant necklace until I opened the box from him - he had found me the perfect gift. And, I wore it just about every day for the next 40 years.  I remember a friend of mine found me in a crowded library because of that necklace; my hair and hands were hiding my face, but the necklace was clearly visible.

I had the belief that the elephant brought me luck. I  ALWAYS wore it when I traveled because I believed it kept me safe. Exam time? Never took it off. Childbirth? You bet I wore that necklace into the delivery room! Then, on our first trip to India, I learned of the elephant god, Lord Ganesha. He is one of the best known and loved Hindu gods - and is the Lord of good fortune! So, of course I felt an immediate connection.  His image was everywhere in India and I took lots of photos. Before we left, I purchased a small gold charm and began to wear Ganesh around my neck as well.

Lord Ganesha and the Jade Elephant with a broken trunk
Shortly after that trip to India, the jade elephant's trunk broke when I dropped the necklace on a marble floor.  I was really upset that the necklace was flawed, but I took comfort in the fact that Lord Ganesha's tusk is also broken - so somehow those two pendants would have a connection. There are a few interpretations as to why Ganesha's tusk is broken - but my favorite is where Ganesh breaks his own tusk in order to use it as a pen so that he could continue taking dictation from a guru.

 Over the years, friends and relatives have given me gifts of elephants. My mother especially loves to find elephant themed gifts for me. I adore then all. My house is full of elephants! You can't even get past the threshold without meeting the first one.

A few years ago, I gave the jade elephant necklace to my daughter, Emma because she was going through a rather difficult time. She was living in the Annex in Toronto, interestingly a hop, skip and a jump from Yorkville - from whence the necklace had come. It was hard for me to give up my lucky charm - I had worn it for such a long time and so far it had proven itself worthy of my faith. But, Emma is the woman I love the most in the whole world and I figured she needed it.

And, guess what? Even without my jade elephant, my personal talisman, I continued to live a charmed life. I was even able to fulfill my lifelong dream to ride an elephant in India! So, maybe it's not the necklace that holds the key - maybe it's just the belief.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hospice Visit

Tonight I visited a friend who is dying. I suspected that her condition was incurable, but did not know for sure as she is an intensely private person. However, she recently moved from her apartment to a local Hospice facility.  That was my clue.

Our relationship began about 20 years ago - we worked together.   During our work-life together she was always outspoken, candid and tough minded. We got along well even if we didn't always see eye to eye. She did not mince words or suffer fools and talked smack about people all the time. In other words - my kind of work buddy.  After her retirement we continued to meet for lunch where we would inhale Italian food and gossip about people that we knew. She would love to tell long tales (although she'd often begin with "to make a long story short"). The best stories were the ones that started with "between you and me" as I knew these were particularly juicy - but not necessarily confidential. Interestingly, she loved to know details of others lives while maintaining a certain aloofness about her own. 
Her stories would often ramble off into other directions as she thought of other details or connections. But, she would always come back to the heart of the tale.

I entered her room tonight with trepidation. She didn't know that I was coming, and she didn't know that I had figured out that she was dying . So, I was hoping she wouldn't be angry with me for coming without an invitation.  But, there were others in the room, so it eased my entry. She was sitting in bed looking rather frail  -  but still cutting a rather imposing figure.  She was trying to eat some melted ice cream and told me that they hadn't served any Italian food to her yet. She was cogent... sometimes. She would use the wrong words for objects and repeated words and phrases that didn't fit the conversation. But, during her lucid moments we laughed and she was completely aware of what was happening.

I was so happy to see that she was in a facility that was warm and inviting with a lot of artwork that I knew would please her. She has very elegant taste and furnished her apartment with objets d'art from her travels and books .... lots of books. She appreciates things like silk scarves, cashmere sweaters, leather gloves and old jewelry. We reminisced tonight about some especially fine soap she had purchased many years ago in Italy .

Tonight she was clothed in a hospital gown - but her nails were done a lovely soft shade of grey/brown. I had brought some very fragrant hand lotion and rubbed it into her graceful hands. She inhaled deeply; I knew she appreciated the scent, and I was happy I had thought to bring it.

As I left I leaned in for a big kiss on her cheek and told her I was ignoring her privacy issues and was going to tell people her new address. She didn't object.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Music Memory

I listen to Toronto's JAZZFM 91.1 every morning on the way to work. Heather Bambrick, the morning host, has a feature where she asks listeners and musicians if they have a 'music memory' they could share.

As I listened to today's installment, I was transported back 22 years to the sound of Bill singing to a restless, wee baby girl. Emma was a horrible sleeper and always had a hard time falling asleep on her own. I would usually start the process by breast- feeding her until she fell asleep in my arms. The minute I laid her down in her crib, she would wake up; Mummy's warm embrace was no longer there to comfort her. She would look at me with those soulful eyes wondering what on EARTH I was doing leaving her alone in her crib.

Enter Bill: man of boundless energy. He would lift her up and walk with her until she fell asleep - long after I had collapsed.

It was a strange period in our lives. Emma was our first baby -and she was a mummy's girl from the very beginning.  Bill sometimes felt unnecessary and, unfortunately, I did not help the situation. I think I managed to make him feel like a second class member of the family - Emma always came first.

However, Bill was often the only one that could get her to sleep and stay asleep. You see, Emma loved to walk. She was most content in her stroller and she would often take naps there - rain or shine, hot or freezing. We had purchased one of those 'pram' type strollers which was quite roomy and a bit imposing.

She loved to be in that safe, little compartment. She and Bill would go for long walks around the neighborhood. And, more often than not, she would fall asleep while cruising through Delaware Park.

On nights when the weather was bad and Emma wouldn't go to sleep, Bill would do 'laps' of our first floor. Slowly, he would increase the angle of her seat until she was in a horizontal position in the stroller. The dining room was right under our bedroom - and I would listen to the stroller wheels hit the wooden floors after rolling silently on the carpet. Bill would also sing to Emma to help the process and the monotony.  I understand that normal people sing lullabies to babies. Not Bill. He preferred leafing through his memory banks of jazz standards. The song that worked the best was "Good Bye Pork Pie Hat",  Mingus' elegy to Lester Young. It is, shall we say, a somber tune. Bill is a great musician but a lousy singer - however, this song, with its limited range was mastered by Bill.  Even with a floor separating us I could recognize those plaintive notes.

Today, whenever I hear that tune, I envision that stroller wearing wheel treads into the dining room carpet while a blissful Emma is lulled to sleep by her adoring father. And Bill, no longer superfluous to the baby raising process, has found that his love of jazz a very useful tool.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

This I believe

I don't believe in a God in heaven. I believe 'God' lives in all of us and that if you want to feel closer to God you need only look inward. If you need strength you can find it within yourself - because it is there. You need to breathe and be silent and know yourself. Mostly, you need to understand that this life is fleeting.

I also believe that most people are basically good and I tend to see the glass half full. I guess I'm an optimist.

But, I'm not a Pollyanna by any means. A dear friend of mine recently asked me "if I knew me, would I be friends with myself?" My answer was "if I could stand the judgment".  I am horribly judgmental of others. But, I am much, much harder on myself. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my feelings, but, like most women, I focus on my failings and frailties and never revel in my accomplishments.

However, one thing I'm really good at is knowing when things are good. And, I'm ever better at stopping to appreciate those times. Those are the times that I feel nearest to God. Those are the times that make me cry  - not because I'm sad but because I know how precious the moment is. Whatever that thing is that makes me stop and reminds me that life is sweet, that life is short and that we MUST be kind to one another... that's what I call God.

And that presence is there when I look at Bill and tell him I love him.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The fine art of leaf removal

The photo doesn't show  his breath,
 but I clearly saw it this morning
When I got to work this morning I noticed the truck from our new lawn service was in the driveway. I was puzzled since it's (a) only April; and (b) 34 degrees. What could they possibly be doing here?

Once I got into the office and took my first sip of coffee, I heard a particularly jarring sound. Was it a a tuk tuk, or perhaps a ski boat or maybe a rocket ship was launching? Since I wasn't in Thailand, by the lake or near Cape Canaveral, I deduced it was a leaf blower.

A couple of years ago, my pal Randy Strauss gave me one of  his leaf blowers (he had a few to spare).  He is a marvelous gardener and took pity on me and my tedious method of raking. As you know, Bill does not participate in any gardening chores so (happily) it all falls to me.

I picked a particularly lovely warm fall day to start the process. Randy had given me explicit instructions about the gas to oil ratio and how to start the machine. It involved priming, choking and then yanking on the cord. Then you had to allow the engine to warm up a bit. Having grown up on a farm and dealing with the idiosyncrasies of balers and tractors,  I took it all in stride.

I must have yanked on the start cord 40 times. Pulls number 20 through 30 were accompanied by some choice words that easily flowed from my lips. Pulls 30-40 mostly involved screaming some phrases that would curl Satan's hair. I can just imagine the neighbors as they had their breakfast :
"I used to love these quiet fall mornings ... until that crazy bitch down the street started working in her garden."

I was about to throw the leaf blower in the trash when I spied a neighbor in his driveway with whom I was slightly acquainted. I swallowed my pride and walked down the street with the blower. He looked at me quizzically and, without a word, started the blower -WITH ONE HAND!

That was humiliating.

Blower in hand, I  walked back down the street determined to get the job done. This was going to be fun!

As I started to blow the leaves out of the flower beds and onto the grass, I noticed that I was also blowing all the (expensive) wood mulch out of the garden and onto the grass. What the heck?! That wouldn't do. I was perplexed and stood there, mouth agape, trying to figure it out. PS - I didn't dare turn off the blower while I contemplated my dilemma. So, I maneuvered my way out of the garden bed and walked to the backyard to see if I could tackle the leaves in the yard.

I began to use the back and forth sweeping action that Randy had described and was seeing some progress. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my neighbors new baby in their backyard. I could tell he was crying because his wee face was all scrunched up and red. I couldn't hear him ... because the damn leaf blower was so unbelievably loud.

I flipped the switch and turned the thing off.

Immediately, the baby's face relaxed.

I took the leaf blower back to the garage, grabbed my rake and happily began the tedious but quiet process of removing leaves.

Never used that leaf blower again.

Photo captured later this morning. The professionals
still haven't figured out a way to eliminate the rake!

Monday, March 25, 2013

My hat is off to Will!

Our son, Will came home for a few days during spring break. He was a little reluctant since none of his pals had the same week off and because he knew that I wanted him to help me purge some stuff out of the basement. Never one to mince words, he told us that he was basically lazy and really wasn't looking forward to helping!  He can be SUCH a little piss-pot (that was one of my dad's favorite descriptive words - originally I think it meant a 'drunk' but it morphed into meaning a 'little shit' in my dad's lexicon) but Will's joie de vivre is infectious and I love having him home.

One of the best things that happens when Will comes home is that the piano is played. He and Bill set up in the living room and play jazz together. The house fills with music and I can feel my entire body relax. Even as I'm washing up the dinner dishes, the sounds soothe me. I'm not sure if it's the music itself or the fact that it's those two guys playing the music together.

I go to bed much earlier than Will. His sleep schedule is like most other college kids - insane. Even though our rooms are fairly far apart, I can hear him laughing at things he reads on Reddit  - his news agency of choice - and other websites he frequents. His laughter, while not quite contagious, is very hearty and appreciative... and loud.  One night, too tired to get out of bed to tell him to keep the hilarity down, I texted him:

"Either close your door or try to be more miserable".

Will and I do talk seriously. However, we mostly banter with sarcasm and jokes. He loves to bait me - I pretend to have hurt feelings then I try to zing him right back.

We did finally tackle the basement together. It sounds awful (actually it was pretty horrible), but working with Will made it fun. Half way through the hilarity he drove to Dairy Queen  to reward us both with Chocolate milkshakes -- he knows my penchant for chocolate milkshakes! He willing took orders from me while I tried to determine what was garbage, what was for the donation pile and what we should keep. He even loaded up the van and made a quick trip to the Goodwill truck.

We took a break from the basement and the dust (we both have dust allergies and needed some Kleenex) to clean out his closet. We found all kinds of odd things -
including an old sheepskin/leather hat that my dad used to wear. Will didn't know that it  belonged to my dad. The interior of it says "proudly Canadian". Ha! I don't even know why I have the hat. PS - we also found one of my dad's shirts from the laundry - still in the plastic casing - dated 2002. Guess it's time to donate that one!

I suddenly remembered that my Uncle Tom had taken a picture of my dad on Christmas day -wearing said hat. Our family was staying at my Grandpa's farm house in Cobourg, Ontario. Circa 1972.

I rifled through some photo albums and found the photo  - thereby proving to Will that it was indeed the hat of Paul P. Martin!

Will liked the photo so much that he wanted to recreate the look.

In the original, my dad is holding a shepherd's crook - the crook part is just out of view (PS - we lived on a sheep farm so it wasn't entirely insane) wearing  a very colorful housecoat of my mother's and a plaintive expression. He was pretending to be Joseph (as in Joseph's coat of many colors). I'm not sure what the poinsettia is all about.  I don't think our dog, Macushla had a clue either. Needless to say, my dad had an odd sense of humor.

As we didn't have the crook or poinsettia, Will substituted an old paddle and an aloe plant. It's not an exact replica - it is still distinctly "Will" but it has enough Pauly P. in it that my Aunt Janet recognized the recreated picture without seeing the original.

Anyway, Will wore the hat around the house the rest of the day.

So now Will is back at school, the house is quiet, the basement is tidy, and in just a week we will mark the 10th anniversary of my dad's death. My heart is heavy.

I think I'll wear that hat today.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Weighing my options

Since January, Bill and I have been having a 'weight loss' contest. The biggest hurdle for me was writing down my starting weight. I have NEVER told Bill how much I weighed... IN MY ENTIRE MARRIAGE. I can barely acknowledge it to myself. When I get on the scales at the doctor's office I pretend to be distracted with the art work so I can't make eye contact with the nurse (and thus to ownership of the number). You know how some people have to look away when their blood is drawn? That's me on the scale.

But, once I confessed to Bill and wrote the number on the chart, I felt strangely lighter - it was kind of cathartic. Plus, Bill can keep a secret, so I knew I was safe. We've been keeping track each week; weigh-in is on Wednesday morning. We have weekly winners and year to date winners (there are no prizes - just the privilege of lording it over the loser for the week).  So far he is winning the "year to date". But, we both have been see-sawing on the weekly number. One week he was a huge winner - but it was also the week he had his colonoscopy... so, that one really shouldn't have counted.  He gained most of that weight back on the next weigh in.

When I think about it, this "contest" is really just a system to keep track of our weekly weight - rather than tracking our stupendous progress.

Bill has also been obsessive about weighing our dinner portions. He has a lovely little scale and is quite accurate. Today he packed my lunch (leftover Indian food that he made the night before, Trader Joe rice (delicious), and baby asparagus. However, the portion size appeared to be designed for a construction worker not a sedentary office worker. Even though I questioned the amount when I took my seat at the lunch table, I managed to chow down and eat the whole thing.  It didn't click until much later... he heavy loaded my lunch because weigh in is tomorrow!

But, I may have the last laugh. He is at a function tonight and I'm on my own for dinner.

I think tonight it'll be water and celery.