Archive for January, 2008

The Luncheon…

January 29, 2008

Some years ago, my friend, “Admiral’s Ex-Wife”, sustained me through the organization of a good-bye luncheon for female teaching cronies. This was shortly after I was dismissed from the leukemia ward and just prior to Rumpole and me moving down to the coast to be closer to further medical treatment. AE-F ensured the sandwiches were just so, crustless and fresh, the salad crisp and the tea, the correct temperature. It was just a tad too precious and refined for me, but I got through the luncheon having learned more precise lady-like manners and didn’t drop the teetering tea-cup over a visiting guest. The whole lunch and tea was entirely pleasant. It reinforced firmly in my memory not only the good collegial relationship we had shared, but also the individual natures and value of various teaching colleagues.

About six years ago a young friend (and model for Venus for our infamous Naked Lunch) was moving to Edmonton with her young husband, who was to begin medical School at the UofA Edmonton. Lila was a young woman of wonderful character, lively, intelligent and someone I was only too glad to have as a friend. EB, our young woman-poet friend, someone Rumpole and I considered a much appreciated “loaner daughter”, was also friends with Lila. The three of us decided to have a farewell lunch together before Lila’s departure to the wilds of Edmonton. EB decided to be hostess, which was just fine by me.

Lila and I were instructed to drive to the local East Indian restaurant to pick up an order of Samosas and Chick peas, then to cruise by the local liquor outlet to purchase a good bottle of red wine and then, to make our way to EB’s town-house to chow down, chat and say our good-byes. As Lila and I were taking off our boots and coats in EB’s vestibule, EB chattered at us in her up-beat EB fashion and then announced. “We have a special treat for us today. A short video, made by a film-maker friend back East, just arrived yesterday. We have to watch it together!”

She served the samosas and poured wine for each of us, then made us take up places in front of the TV set and set up the video. “Just wait,” she said with a grin, “you’re gonna love this one! Brent and I watched it last night and were completely blown away by it.”

We toasted Lila, clicked our wine-glasses together and took a bite of samosa as the title came up on the screen. “The Rite of Passage Party”, in arty font appeared. The ‘documentary’ unfolded in front of us as we sipped and munched our luncheon fare. A young twenty-something man complained to his live-in girlfriend that he felt cheated by life, that he had not had a proper ceremony to mark his passage into manhood. As he presented himself on the screen as an uncircumcised male, he proposed to his girlfriend a solution to his feeling of being an incomplete adult, and that was to hold a circumcision party for himself. At this point I choked on a bite of samosa, which I then tried to wash down with a swift gulp of wine. Lila started cackling and said “Oh, no….he can’t be serious?”

“Just wait, you guys,” EB cast me a concerned glance as I sputtered. “It gets even better!”

Sure enough, the young man’s live-in girlfriend rolled her eyes in disbelief and said, to the effect, “whatever….” Next, we saw him designing invitations and posters for his “celebration/happening”, making up guest lists, trying to line up caterers, someone to perform the actual circumcision. The printer where he sought to have invitations and posters printed though he was nuts, but, hey, he was a paying customer, so he duly printed the stuff to be sent out. After the mail-out of invitations, the young man’s friends, one by one contacted him by phone and asked if this whole thing was for real, or was he maybe kidding? He reassured them that this was a serious and solemn occasion and that he wanted them to celebrate with him. It was coming up with a skilled circumciser that he was having a hard time. He made an appointment with a Rabbi from a local synagogue and eloquently pleaded his case. naturally, the Rabbi sent him packing. By this point the three of us women had dissolved in incredulous laughter. What next? EB replenished our wine glasses. We watched the screen with rapt attention.

The young man, retired to his apartment/studio that he shared with his girl-friend. He sat down in his overstuffed easychair recliner in front to a wall covered in Modernist ‘penis paintings’ and proceeded to give his problem some thought. It occurred to him that maybe the local tatoo-parlour operator, Mike S, could do the required operation. Cut to young man in the tattoo parlour beseeching Mike S to do the deed, while Mike S is carefully needling a snake on some poor sap’s epidermis. A true professional, Mike S, doesn’t miss a beat with his repeated fine needle poking upon hearing this request, and promises to problem solve around how he could perform this operation. “I deal in skin” he points out. “Isn’t foreskin skin? I’ll practice.”

By this time, I was practically rolling on the ground. This was the most unexpected entertainment for a luncheon, but how would the story be resolved? Why would a young man willingly seek out such pain? EEK!!! Lila was perched on the edge of her chair. “This is unthinkable!” she kept muttering, between swigs of wine.

Cut next to Mike S practising on surgery on water-filled balloons – this was most surreal. We girls kept saying to the young man on the screen, “don’t, oh no, please don’t do this!” All to no avail. In spite of all his invitees refusing to come to this important celebration because they all think he is nuts, the young man hits the streets in an attempt to inveigle complete strangers into witnessing “his rite of passage”.

The occasion arrives. The witnesses all arrive in their cocktail-hour finery, bearing gifts. They hang about doing small talk and sip on martinis and wine, munch hors d’oeuvres. The ‘operating dais’ is the young man’s overstuffed recliner covered in white sheets and towels. It sits in the middle of the living room and as guest circulate, they cast doubtful glances at it. The time for the circumcision arrives. Mike S, ceremonially garbed in a wildly-coloured t-shirt, covered in tatoos, takes up his position beside the dais, scalpel in hand. The young man makes his announcent to all assembled and takes his place on the dais. Someone covers him in white towels, and the guests crowd closer, casting at each other disbelieving looks. The live-in girlfriend passes a large bottle of Johnny Walker Red to the young man, which he then chug-a-lugs. Ah, that good old anaesthetic stand-by, used in Western films for casual operations on fatal wounds, and now, in this Eastern film for an impromptu circumcision. The camera pans to Mike S’s scalpel wielding hand approaching a white towel expanse. Cut to loud screaming and fadeout-to black.

By this point, I’ve been chewing the edge of my wine-glass, Lila is moaning, “oh no, no, nooo….how could they?” EB is watching our reactions carefully. She has seen it all last night with her husband.

The film ends with a monologue by the young man, sitting alone in his living-room on the overstuffed chair in front of the wall of penis paintings. The room is empty of all other furniture and belongings. It seems the live-in girlfriend  felt it incumbent upon her to leave off cohabiting with the young man. She has moved out and on, leaving him alone, in his now painful state of acknowledged and duly celebrated and witnessed man-hood. He waxes philosophical; he feels completely at ease with his situation, physically and psychically – only expresses regret that his girl-friend abandoned him at such a profound juncture of his life. End of short film.

Only now does EB reveal that this is not a documentary, but a short fiction scripted, cast with professional actors and shot and edited by the filmmaker and his technical crew. Lila and I explain how we both felt the film had the candour and directness of a documentary, and that the disjunctures in the film had a real splice-of life quality. The acting had been unactorly, improvisational in feel. Thus we both felt that it had been an artful short film that should be seen by many other people. We all agreed, however, that had our husbands been with us watching this film, none of us would have been able to react without flinching and being uncomfortable about their possible reactions.

So, there is my tale of two different luncheons with lady friends and colleagues. I cannot ever imagine watching this film with the “Admiral’s Wife” or with the teaching cronies. We operated in circumstances of social and political correctness, and I had been their token ‘wild’ colleague – the art teacher, who they all probably suspected hid her seamier tendencies under careful P.C. wraps. Lila and EB had been my models and friend and we enjoyed a less correctly prescribed social relationship where such a topic as the one in the film we watched together would not be considered by any of us to be an improper topic discussed at a ladies’ luncheon.

The Party is over…

January 28, 2008

They looked beautiful in their finery. Glasgow Girl, her hair done up in an elegant up-do, was picture-perfect in her wedding dress. Renaissance Man made a dashing and splendid sight in his kilt regalia – the only man in a skirt, at this party. I was  happy to see them together like this. Rumpole, looking distinuished, rumbled and rambled a wonderful anecdote about the two of them. He played his bass quite well with the band, in spite of the fact that earlier in the day I had inadvertently crushed his bass-plucking fingers while helping him and Barb shift the portable bar into place. Amazingly, while he hopped around clutching his injured finger, he demonstrates a rather unusual and unfamiliar ability to sing in a high key. Luckily, the swelling had subsided by the time the band struck up with music for the party.

My sister, Margaret, who has faithfully attended at all of Renaissance Man’s milestone celebrations, was there with her husband and daughter. Margaret, an attractive matron, danced up a storm with Renaissance Man. She demonstrated some dance moves Go-Go girls would try hard to emulate, much to her daughter’s amusement.

Renaissance Man’s friends, Pete, Heidi and Stevo, also known  by their band name, “Sex Under Cars” warmed up the revellers with some groovy punk music. The crowd just loved them, especially Heidi, who sings with an amazing growl and was dressed in a vintage black dress with lace inserts in strategic places. After them, Rumpole and Renaissance Man’s band, “Pyro Bob and the Maniacs” sounded a tad Lawrence Welkish, very mainstream.

The guests were colourful for the most part. The exceptions were those of us of a matronly persuasion who worked around the periphery of the celebration, monitoring the tables groaning under all the foodstuffs, clearing dishes, watching the celebrants with amazement and amusement. We all wore black; why, I am not sure, but there we were, black crows fluttering about. Martha had on top of her elegant black duds a rhinestone-studded apron. Lucky, in her black dress presented as attractive and sophisticated. Barb worked the bar like a pro. Looking-for-Beauty strolled around taking pictures. She had on the most elaborate black-on-black blouse and pants outfit. Our-Lady-of Perpetual-Crisis showed off her new, svelte, personal-trainered figure with a stunning black ensemble. We looked, good, efficient and, dare I say it, as if we had colluded prior to this do about how we were going to present ourselves, which is absolutely not the case at all. We simply must be going through our “black phase” simultaneously.

The whole party had a big-barn celebration feel to it. There were little children dancing and goofing about. People chatted, danced, visited at different tables. Lots of hugs in greetings and goodbyes at the end. We had to shut things down by 11pm. as we had to be out of the building by mid-night.

Dismantling elements of an event such as this takes orchestrated effort of many individuals. We, the old crows, packaged leftovers and sent them off with various groups. The younger men broke down the band-stand, band equipment and loaded up the cars and trucks. The younger women disassembled tables and crated dishes and cutlery. The young men cam and hauled all this stuff to be moved by cars lined up outside. By the time the building security came to kick us out, the hall was completely empty. The security guard was amazed our exit was so well organized.

Rumpole went off with the band to return the equipment to their home base. The rest of us dispersed, quite exhausted to our various destinations. Looking-for-Beauty drove me home. We unloaded a ton of supplies into my studio and staggered off to the kitchen in search of some tea. We were sipping our tea, quite wilted, when Rumpole arrived home. He collapsed on a kitchen chair and announced, “On my way home it ocurred to me that I had left my suit hanging in the Legion Hall.” He had changed clothes into comfy band clothes earlier. I figured the suit was safe, hanging where it was until Monday morning. LFB toddled off home.

Rumpole and I spent yesterday in a fog of exhaustion. We have to return the dishes and cutlery to the rental place this morning, and then go and retrieve his suit from the Legion Hall. We have some leftovers to consume, for which I am most grateful as doing cooking is something I do not wish to do for several days. My flu is still lingering; Rumpole’s flu has again cycled back. All our friends are exhausted. But, the big party is truly over. It was fun, but not the kind of fun we want to have much to do with for a long, long time.

The day before the Big Event…

January 25, 2008

Tomorrow, 26 January, is the reception Rumpole and I, and numerous pals are preparing to allow Renaissance Man’s and Glasgow Girl’s Canadian friends celebrate the formal nuptuals which took place in Scotland last year. None of their Canadian friends  attended the ‘do’ in Scotland, nor did I due to my inordinate fear of flying. Rumpole did go, dressed up in Scottish finery-Hunting Stewart tartan. For the re-enactment here of the wedding, both Rumpole and Renaissance Man will be wearing kilts, while Glasgow Girl will be resplendent in her wedding dress.

Initially, I offered to have a dinner reception for up to 30 people. That number was one with which I felt comfortable in handling the preparations and catering. However, since early planning days the number of guests has swelled to about 70 persons. During the last month hysteria and fear of failure has overtaken me. I have vacillated wildly between “I can do this” to “HELP ME!, please! Whatever possessed me to undertake this reception?” If it weren’t for Martha, Looking for Beauty, Barb and Lucky charging forth to the rescue,  my death by defenestration, hara-kiri or jumping from a bridge beckoned as an attractive option instead of “organizing a reception – and cooking for it”.

Thank God for calm, capable and loving friends! It can’t be easy for them to deal with a ditherer who makes and loses various lists, changes her mind, whines incessantly and has the nerve to attempt to micro-manage experienced hostesses who have come to her rescue. It comes to mind that all of these women buddies are calm, good at problem solving and terrific go-getters. It also comes to mind that they are infinitely patient with someone as volatile as me.

On this past Monday I came down with the horrid flu doing the rounds here and have been generally out of commission since then. Sitting here this morning, after Martha came over and ate her breakfast before going off to pick up the wedding cake and  the vegetables for salad, I am surrounded by mountains of serving dishes, recipe ingredients for my allotted food preparation, mixes for drinks and boxes of wine  bottles and beer cans. Still in my pajamas and housecoat and snuffling into napkins, I have studied, repeatedly, the recipes for various salad dressings. One would think that after 40 years of making salad dressing I’d have some sort of idea of how to go about this. But it is the quantity required that I find hard to wrap my brains around. Plus, I have to do the chopping of garlic and mixing of oils, etc., wearing disposable gloves and dust mask, so I don’t infect the hordes.

Looking for Beauty has a saying she keeps bringing up in order to calm me down. “Just proceed slowly, put one foot in front of the other.” I think I’ll heed her advice. But first I have to disinfect the kitchen.

Practice Writing – Circles…15 minutes

January 17, 2008

Mr. Joplin’s black-board writings were works of art. He formed beautiful rows of elegant cursive script, letters perfectly spaced, the runnels between horizontal rows spaced just so, to permit ascenders and descenders from becoming cramped. But it was the peculiar way in which he dotted his “i” that lent special distinction to his written hand. He placed accurate round circles above the lower case Is. In a blackboard full of notes we, in class, were to copy into our notebooks, what was written had the appearance and elegance of sacred text. I laboured over transcribing these notes and emulated the slowness and care with which Mr. Joplin scribed on the black-board. I strove to make the meaning of wisdom he imparted have beautiful form. My notebooks were labours of love. I felt reverent toward the information. And, I learned to slow down my writing and when a word containing an “i” was complete, would patiently hover over the “i” and with great deliberation form the circle above it. The act of doing this caused me to savour the writerly gesture, the making of a mark, to not take it for granted. The circle marks slowed me down to an almost trance-like state.

When I learned calligraphy, making circles and rounded elements became easy for me, due partly to this slowing down of making a mark of a circle from Mr. Joplin. It seems funny to think back on this now and realize that what someone does in demonstrating a way of doing something has consequences for developing skills related but not being taught at a particular time. Or, was Mr. Joplin unaware of the unintended consequences for students of his circling his Is instead of dotting them casually, swiftly without thought?

This Writing Practice topic was suggested by the folks at  www.redravine.wordpress.com. They provide constant stimulus for me for developing my writing. Thank you Quoinmonkey and Ybonesy!

The hanging…

January 14, 2008

The rickety aluminum ladder spanned five feet on the floor and ascended ten feet in height. Terry scaled it like a young chimp, sure-footed; she perched herself at the top. Imperious, like a surgeon in surgery, she held out her hand and demanded “yardstick”. She steeled herself, centering her mass. She pulled the pencil from above her ear with one hand, with the other she measured a distance down from the ceiling and ticked a mark on the dove-grey gallery wall. She, then, aligned the yardstick horizontal from that pencilled mark and measured off a distance. Then she snubbed the yardstick up to the ceiling vertically and marked off a measurement equal to the pencil mark on the other side. She poked the pencil above her ear, and held down the yardstick. “Hammer” she called out.

Flora, the curator, hopped to it; she grabbed the yardstick and placed the hammer into Terry’s outstretched hand. She stepped back and joined Looking-for-Beauty who was standing back photographing the proceedings with her digital camera. I slouched beside them and watched this young woman perching so surely on that ladder. LFB showed me some shots on her camera screen. Great photos, even if Terry was shown from the back. She took some balletic poses; her oversized black t-shirt and black tights made wonderful, unexpected, shapes against her outstretched arms.

Terry fished some nails from her waistband, held one between her lips and made to fasten the other into the wall. A couple of efficient slaps of the hammer seated the nail. She stretched to the other side, plucked the nail from between her pursed lips, positioned it with a deft touch and pounded it into place. “OK, you guys, bring the scroll,” she said and turned from the waist to watch Flora and me roll up either end of the ten-foot paper scroll and position it between the ladder and the wall.

Flora and I unfurled the top part; Terry pulled it into place at the top of the wall and secured the hanging clips to the nailheads. She scooted down from the ladder and pulled it back a few feet. Flora and I unrolled the bottom of the scroll and let it hang. Terry stood back and appraised the level of the top edge. “It’s off level,” she said. “G, please bring me the big level.” She pushed the ladder back into its original position, scaled the rungs, grabbed her pencil with a flourish and held down her other hand to receive the level. She calculated, made a corrective pencil mark on the wall to raise one side of the scroll, handed down the level and exchanged it for the hammer Flora handed up to her. Within seconds she corrected the position of the nail and rehung the scroll,  now perfectly horizontal and vertical.

Once she had climbed down, we all stood back and admired the tall multi-media painting/drawing. We scanned the overall impression made by the rest of the works on the gallery walls. Terry had hung the large works with use of the tall ladder. Sarah and I had hung all the medium and small sized works. LFB had documented the process, and Flora had overseen the positioning and sequencing of the whole exhibition. We had worked largely in silence as a team and the installation seemed to have taken hardly any time at all.

I was so happy that I could do my little bit, in spite not being able to see clearly the measurements as Sarah and I worked with the tape, level, hammer, hangers and pencil. But it was Sarah’s first time in doing an exhibition installation, and I could help her routinize the system of hanging a series of same-sized works. It is a method much like riding a bycicle – once you have mastered the skills and routines, doing it once again even after a long absence is the same as getting back on the bike and riding off. I must say, I returned home afterward with a certain feeling of satisfaction. I like being part of a work team; it feels great to accomplish such a job.

At the exhibition opening next Saturday, Sarah, LFB, I, Terry and Flora will have the pleasure of seeing the young artist’s reaction to seeing his works hanging in the gallery space. We know his studio is not large enough to permit such a preview of how his series looks, up all together in a space designed for viewing the impact of this body of work. I know we are all hoping he will have a spurt of pleasurable satisfaction and pride when he first casts his eyes on all this. His work, after all has been a labour of love and deserves love of labour from all of us in bringing it to public viewing.

Blackie T. and the British Israelite Church inheritance…

January 8, 2008

Blackie T., Carol, Byline Woman, her husband The Engineer, Lawrie and I were good friends during our art school years between 1964 and 1968, and afterward. We attended different courses while at art school, but spent time after school frequenting a Mom-and-Pop Chinese restaurant on Robson Street for cheap dinner. Here we would pile into the scarred Nougahide upholstered pews, place all our coin on the scarred table surface and tally up how much money we had among us all and what we could afford to order to feed all of us. Generally, we ended up sharing a large platter of Egg Foo Yung with a side dish of steamed rice, all of it liberally spiced with soy sauce. The free Chinese tea that came with our order was usually refilled at no extra cost, and we drank it down, grateful for its aroma, heat and taste.

One evening, Blackie T, after considering the offerings on the Wurlitzer juke box at the front of the restaurant, poked his face between the branches and leaves of the humungous jade plant separating the seating area and the booths and yelled back at us, “You guys won’t believe this! My father has disinherited me!” He stomped back to our booth in Rhythm with a song by Elvis, “I’m all shook up”.

Lawrie thoughtfully sipped at his jasmine tea. (Remember, this was in the days before Green Tea  and other varieties of tea became the rage, sign of sophistication and indication of an educated discernment of tea varietals.) Or, at least, the tea kind of smelled pretty and of flowers, I thought. We were all squeezed in on both sides of the booth, and Blackie T. had dragged a scarred chrome and vinyl chair to the side on the aisle for himself. Our dripping wet coats hung from the bar with hooks on either end of the booth benches. We were all feeling rather peckish (the girls) and famished (the boys). To us the word “disinherited” was a familar sounding one. Most of us had heard it uttered by our parents at various times, usually with reference to our reprobate tendencies of attending studies at an art school, where we were going to sink into abject bohemianism and moral turpitude. We anticipated in silence Blackie T’s revelations about the form his disinheritance was to take.

“Okay,” he announced, throwing back a scalding cup of tea, “my father has broken ground on the church construction. He is spending the money he promised me on building the bloody church.”

We all gaped at him in disbelief. His father had money enough to build a church? Was he trying to force Blackie T. into a ministry of sorts? Most of us secretly held a strong conviction that Blackie T was a rather ill suited art school student. He made the most atrocious brush and black ink work of no seemingly redeeming aesthetic value. He had flunked out of medical school in England three years previously, loved electronics and collected arcane information of all sorts, and had never demonstrated to any of us the slightest interest in thoughts religious or spiritual.

Blackie T interrupted Elvis crooning “owwo woo woo yeyyeahey,” “Yep, my inheritance is to be turned into a church in Duncan. The foundations have already been dug.”

“Must be Anglican,” muttered Lawrie. “They are kind of thick on the ground in Canada. Those Islanders love anything British, being Anglophiles.”

“Oh, no. it’s not that traditional,” growled Blackie T. “Father’s a British Israelite. He is building the first British Israelite church in BC.”

“That must mean they conduct services with  British Yiddish lingo. With a cockney accent,” proposed By-line Woman, in her inimitable sarcastic and witty vein.

We snorted and snirkled with great glee at her witticism. The creaky lady owner of the restaurant delivered our Egg-Foo Yung and steamed rice, and plunked dessert plates in front of us. We fell upon the food as if we hadn’t eaten for several days, subdividing it carefully into six equal portions, and proceeded to stuff our faces.

“Well, those British Israelites believe they are remnants of a lost Tribe of Israel,” said Blackie T as he tried to extricate a bean sprout stuck in his back molars. “I think father is the only one on Vancouver Island. Maybe he thinks if he builds a church he can attract believers.”

“Oh, this is so weird!” exclaimed Carol. “I have to see this church for myself. Do you think it will be up and ready for occupation by the end of next summer?”

“Well, father is pressing to have the main construction to lock-up stage by end of July. Let’s get together at my mother’s place in Ladysmith in August end and take a trip to see the church for ourselves,” Blackie T suggested.

We decided that a summer trip to the Island to see this new construction would provide us all needed distraction from our crummy summer jobs. So we planned a weekend camping trip for the first weekend of August. We’d camp out in pup tents at Blackie T’s mother’s, and do a tour and inspection of the Church. As we ate our humble repast, we proposed possibilities for how Israelites might have ended up in England, and decided this was so far fetched a proposition that Blackie T’s father could not possibly be in his right mind. At the end of the meal, after two refills of our teapot, we thought it wise to disperse to our individual destinations.

Summer came, with it end of the school year. Lawrie went to work with his brother as a faller. Carol’s summer job was as a stock-taker for a company that did stock assessments of large grocery stores. I worked as a cleaning woman at Vancouver General Hospital. By-line woman went to work as a clerk in an insurance agency, and her husband, The Engineer, carried out his shifts at a local saw-mill. Blackie T. returned home to the Island, where he worked as factotum on his Mother’s estate.

Blackie T.’s parents had divorced. His father had withdrawn into monastic existence on acreage near Shawinigan Lake. His Mother retained the family home and acreage in Ladyshith. Blackie T bounced between his two parents, trying to satisfy and convince them both as to his attentiveness and loyalty as a son. This was his full-time summer job; one which he carried out with great attentiveness.

Came August. Lawrie, Carol, I, By-line Woman and The Engineer convened at Carol’s apartment to load up our pup-tents and sleeping bags into The Engineer’s station wagon. We piled into the vehicle and drove to the  C.P.R. ferry terminal where we caught the ferry to Nanaimo. On the ferry, we couldn’t afford to eat in the dining room, so ate our pre-packed sandwiches as we lounged outside on the upper deck. From Nanaimo, on the other side of Georgia Straight, it was a short drive to Ladysmith.

Blackie T and his mother greeted us. His mother was already into her cups by 4pm in the afternoon, and she led us, lurching drunkenly, into the back yard where we were to set up our pup-tents. We organized our places to sleep and entered the house. Of course, Mrs T was so inebriated that there was no supper ready, so all together we pitched in and cobbled together a supper out of stuff in the pantry and fridge. Wine flowed freely during supper. Mrs T. launched into an alcohol-fuelled recitation of how her ex-husband had ruined “her baby’s” life by having the temerity to build a church with money slated to keep “her baby” from ever having to sully his hands with mundane occupations. Blackie T poked back the food, looking mightily aggrieved.

After dinner, Blackie T suggested we wait till sundown, and then take the trip by car to Duncan to see the Church. He waved a key around to show us he had access and did not need to break down the doors to get in.

“But, Blackie,” I protested, “we won’t be able to see the inside when it’s night-time.”

“Don’t be so dumb, G,” he retorted. ” I had to sneak the key away from my father. No one can know we have been inside.”

He brought a flashlight, some candles and a gallon of wine and loaded up The Engineer’s station wagon. We all piled in and left Mrs T waving drunkenly at us from the edge of the driveway. Duncan is some twenty minutes drive from Ladysmith; the church was not a long drive off the Island Highway. The Engineer parked the wagon across the street from the church and killed the headlights. We sat in the dark, smoking and passing the gallon jug of wine around while listening to the cooling ticking of the car’s engine.

“We have to be very quiet while crossing the over the road. If the neighbours hear us they’ll call the bulls.” Blackie T led our motley group in the dark of night to the church door. He fiddled with the key in the lock, opened the door and shepherded us inside the dark church. Lawrie had the flashlight. He fired it up and scanned the beam around the interior.

“Turn that off.” ordered Blackie T. “We’ll light one candle and set it near the pulpit.” It’s odd how quickly our eyes acclimatized to the low light condition. It was possible to make out the arches and beams and other structural details. Oddly enough, while the floors were roughly concreted, the pulpit had been lovingly finished. We milled around turning and gaping around in the dark. By-line woman took a swig from the gallon jug of wine and passed it around to the rest of us.

“I need a smoke.” said Carol. “Who else wants a cig?” She placed the jug into my hands and pulled out her Craven-As.

I was about to pipe up and admit that I, too, needed a cigarette when Blackie T. hissed. “Don’t you two dare smoke in here! That’s blasphemy. Besides which, father will know I have been in here. He hates cigarette smoke.”

The Engineer wandered off in the dark toward the back of the church. The rest of us sat on the concrete and passed the wine jug around. All of a sudden we heard a scuffle, a muffled thud and a loud “Oh, shit!” And then groaning and a plaintive “Help me!” Lawrie jumped to his feet and lighting up the flashlight started to head in the direction of the distress call.

“Turn off that light!” ordered Blackie T.. “Here, take the candle with you!” We followed on Lawrie’s heels as he crept toward the dark depths of the church. “Take it slow and careful,” cautioned Blackie T. “It’s easy to get hurt in here.”

We came upon a hole in the concrete floor. It was about 5 feet deep, a quite wide rectangular pit with what looked to be dirt floor at its bottom. Lawrie shone the flashlight beam on the moaning and prostrate form of The Engineer, splayed on the pit floor. He was rubbing his chest and sides feeling for injuries.

Poor, concerned By-line Woman. She asked solicitously, “Are you all right dear?” She sat down at the edge of the pit and reached her hands toward him. Lawrie jumped into the pit and began to help The Engineer up. He was all right, only winded. Whew! Lawrie hooked his hands together to provide a foot hold for The Engineer to step into and elevate himself enough to be able to throw the other leg onto the pit’s edge. Then we pulled him out and husband and wife were once more reunited on ground level. By-Line Woman passed her husband the wine jug. “Have a sip, ” she said. “You can use it.” He took a protracted swallow, passed the jug, and began to swat the dirt from his clothes.

“What the hell is that hole there for?” he asked.

“I believe you happened upon the crypt, or rather, fell into it,” said Blackie T. “But you have risen again, and we really should give thanks.” He walked the candle back to the pulpit, set it on the floor nearby and grasped the pulpit’s edge with his large hands. “Come, all of you. We must now give a prayer of thanks for being reunited with our good friend; for his safe return from the depths.” He looked downright eerie, lit as he was from below. His  handsome saturnine features took on a devilish cast, his widow’s peak almost seemed as if sprouting horns.

I did not like this turn of events. It felt wrong to make a mockery of a space which was intended for a spiritual purpose, never mind that it may have been a cultish belief that may be celebrated and shared in the place. I felt distinctly uneasy and said so. I asked Carol and By-line Woman to come outside and have a cigarette. We left, went out and sat in the tall grass outside the church. The men followed shortly afterward. Blackie T locked the door, gathered us all. We walked across the road to the car, climbed inside and got on the way.

“So, that’s your inheritance, eh?” said Lawrie. “Do you think it will ever be used for British Israelite services?”

“If father lives until after the building is complete, then he will probably will it to some organization of similar flakes,” explained Blackie T. “But if it is not quite complete, he’ll probably leave it to me to finish. I guess I can always live in it, although it might be a bit strange to live in a church.”

Blackie T’s father did not see his church completed before he died. A few years after completing art school I lost contact with Blackie T. Carol and Blackie T died within a couple of months of each other five years ago now. I never did ask Carol whether she knew if he had ever lived in the Church. They had remained in  greater contact throughout the years. Occasionally By-line Woman, The Engineer and I talk about our youthful doings. Next time we’re together, I’ll be sure to ask them if they know what happened to Blackie T’s inheritance. And I do wonder if the British Israelite Church is still standing in Duncan, or if it has served some congregation or another as a  spiritual home.

New Year’s Eve…

January 2, 2008

It was to be a quiet, uneventful New Year’s Eve. Rumpole and Renaissance Man were to play at a New Year’s gig with their band. Glasgow Girl went along to help serve food and tend bar for the celebrants. I was most grateful to serve as companion for Mousey, as I have not now, or ever, been a party-girl, and am bored to tears by the noise and bustle of large, raucous gatherings of the festive kind that New Year’s parties tend to be.

Martha agreed to spend the evening with Mousey and me, as she was entertaining no other option for this evening. I feel unease at having sole responsibility for this little grand-daughter now, with my bad eyesight and the lack of confidence and clumsiness that has come along with it. Martha and I planned to bring along a take and bake prepared pizza,  a movie, Yahtzee and Dominoes. We spent some time on the 30th selecting a movie, buying the pizza and debating what games we could play after Mousey’s bedtime. We were ready and looking forward to the entertainmet of Mousey’s company.

We convened at RM and GG’s house at the appointed time, loaded down with our stuff. Mousey met us at the door with Glasgow Girl hovering nearby, putting on her shoes and coat. Mousey immediately forgot about her mother and glommed onto Martha, who seldom sees her and thus presented as great novelty for her. We got her to wave bye-bye to her mom and proceeded to be entertained by a steady stream of Mousey’s favourite toys,  and her attempts at conversation which takes the form of completely unintelligible sentences, complete with emphases of tone and an occasional word which referred to objects. Of course when Martha or I asked her a question, she would nod and say a long convoluted reply which neither of us really understood. miming and pointing. Our three-way conversations had the surreal aspect of spending time with a foreign speaker where only small portions of meaning could be gleaned by us two older visitors, whereas the native, small person fully understood what we meant when we spoke. Really weird and quite funny.

Martha put the pizza in the oven to cook while Mousey and I dragged her high-chair to the dining room table and readied some snack for her to eat more appropriate for her tender system. Mousey ran into the kitchen and observed as Martha pulled the pizza out of the oven, slowly waved her little hands and uttered “Hot!” and commanded me to pick her up so she could see Martha slice it. She licked her lips; her eyes brightened and lingered on the pocked pattern of the wedges. She was eager to be strapped into her high-chair and drummed her hands on the tray part, quite excited until I placed her biscuits on it. Martha brought the pizza and placed it in front of us; we helped ourselves to a couple of slices. Mousey picked up a biscuit, sampled it, and tossed it over the edge of her high chair. She beaded me with her dark eyes and held out her hand, beckoning me to share with her. I plucked an olive slice and handed it over to her. She sampled it, made a moue of disgust, took it out of her mouth and tossed it overboard, like garbage; she waved her hand at my pizza slice and made a long, garbled sentence with a loud demanding tone that brooked no misunderstanding. I picked a piece of crumbled sausage and dutifully handed it to her. She liked it, and made impatient gestures to keep more coming, and be quick about it.

“Not a good idea, G,” cautioned Martha. “She’ll get diarrhea. You’ll be sorry later.”

I handed Mousey another, unsullied biscuit. She was having none of it and threw it away. More waving of her hands at my pizza slice. This little one has inherited her father’s cast-iron digestive system as well as his adventurous appetite. I figured a few bites of sausage, cheese topping and crust might not harm her.

After eating, I wrapped her up in a blanket and took her outside into the yard to look at the neighbourhood in the dark. She oohed and aahed at the Christmas lights on neighbourhood houses. We stayed out for a few minutes and she identified lights, houses, cars driving by. “It’s dark,” I said to her. “Is it time for you to have your bath now?” She nodded. “Dark…bath,” she said. “Dark night…can you say good night to the lights, houses, cars and the dark,” I asked her. She made her farewells to the outdoors and we went in to ready her bath.

Mousey did not linger in her bath for long. She was eager to get dressed in her sleeper and rejoin Martha in the living room. She curled up beside Martha and had an extended conversation with her, threw herself on her lap, inspected her curly grey hair, and wriggled and giggled. She dragged her blanket over, pulled it over the two of them and leaned on Martha and gazed up at her face while sucking on her middle fingers. This she did only when she was sleepy, so I scooped her up and suggested she give Martha a good night hug. Then we put all her toys to bed, in their appointed places, went back to wave good night to Martha.  Mousey turned off her bedroom light and went to her bed cheerfully. She blew me a kiss as I covered her with her blanket. She grabbed her Pooh bear and fingered its ear. “Help Pooh go to sleep. He is tired and sleepy,” I suggested and waved her good night.

Mousey settled in easily and talked in a light soft voice to Pooh. Martha got the Yahtzee game organized on the dining room table. She went over the rules of engagement and scoring in the game. I had not played Yahtzee for many years. Mouse quited down, so we waited for a little while to let her fall into a deep sleep before beginning the rattling of the dice. I went off to grab myself a drink, and to go to the bathroom. A few minutes later, as I was sitting on the toilet, came a loud thump followed by sudden screaming from Mousey’s room. “Oh, my God!” yelled Martha. “G, get in here!” I quickly pulled myself together and ran into Mousey’s room. She was up in Martha’s arms, tears streaming down her little face. “I think she is all right,”whispered Martha. I took Mousey in my arms and placed her on her changing table. Took off all her clothes and checked her thoroughly; moved and felt her limbs, chest and back. She looked a bit shocked, but was, fortunately, had survived the fall unscathed. I dressed her up again and bundled her in her blanket. Martha and I inspected her crib. It was intact, so we figured she had climbed out by using her Pooh bear as a ramp to give her height to scale the side of the crib. Out came the Pooh, relegated now to spend the rest of the night on the couch with the other stuffed toys. I brought Mousey into the living room and cuddled her. She had not cried for long, and she nodded when Martha asked her if she was scared. She lay in my arms and snuggled down. Twirled her hair around her finger and sucked on her fingers.  After some time had passed, as she could hardly keep her eyes open, I took her back into her room and laid her in the crib. She turned on her side and I rubbed her back until she fell asleep.

Back in the living room, I said to Martha, “Why did she have to climb out of her crib for the first time on my watch? I’d better report this to Glasgow Girl on the phone right now.”

So, I called GG’s cell. Told her what had happened. “How did Mousey fall out of her crib? Is she all right?” she asked.

“She scaled the wall, climbed up, and gave herself a good shock.” I told her and asked. “Has she ever done this before tonight?”

“Ooh, the little bugger,” replied GG with her Glaswegian brogue. “This is entirely new behaviour for her. I guess we’ll have to put her in a regular kid bed now.”

“This new change will give you and RM many nights of broken sleep. This next phase can be daunting. Until you change her crib she will now try to find ways to keep climbing out.”

“Of, dear God!”exclaimed GG. “I guess we’ll just have to suck it up.  Got to go now and tend bar. Don’t wait up for us.”

Surely she had to be kidding. There was no way I’d be able to nod off later, given that I’d worry about a repeat of Mousey’s earlier performance. I hung up the phone and Martha and I began to play Yahtzee. we had forgotten to bring pennies so couldn’t gamble on the games, but I beat her two games out of three. She was disgusted with the fact that she had helped me make my winning strategies. We decided to next watch the movie, “Dream Girls”.

This musical had some wonderful musical bits, a couple of  brief Diana Ross cameos, terrific acting by Eddie Murphy and was the right movie to watch on a New Year’s Eve. It finished just before midnight and Martha went off to her house to make sure her Jack Russel, Murtaugh, was not excessively traumatized by the setting off of fireworks in her neighbourhood. Of course, he was probably oblivious to any fire-cracker noises, as earlier Martha had dosed him with some dog equivalent of Ativan. But she frets about him and was eager to get home and make sure he was not having a nervous breakdown.

I settled out on the back patio to have a cigarette. A sudden wind arose, the sky was clear. People were banging pots and pans in the neighbourhood. Lights from the house next door winked through the gaps in the hedge. I sat there thinking that with my poor vision now this view appeared to be a scintillating, shifting dark scrim where pinpoints of light formed and reformed new and novel constellations.

Once back inside, I dug around for books to read. Before I got a chance to settle with a book about Scotland, Mousey woke and started yelling and complaining. I went and got her, changd her diaper. She was wide awake and resisted going back to bed. I wrapped her in her blanket and took her into the living room. We turned off the lights and sat by the low glow of lights from the Christmas tree. “Look…dark,”said Mousey pointing to the window. Then she wanted her bottle, but when given it licked it and then tossed it aside. She tore the glasses from my face, put it over her eyes and grinned at me. She peered through them and looked toward the window. “Dark” she said. Then she pointed to the Christmas tree lights and said, “light”. So I talked to her about how we sleep in the dark, and get up and play in the light, that now grandma was tired and sleepy, Pooh was also sleeping. She was not convinced and wriggled to get down and go about playing. I kept her wrapped in her blanket, on my lap. She whined at first, but soon acquiesced to sitting calmly with me. I closed my eyes and yawned at her. She mugged back at me, grinning. She fiddled with my hair, eyes, glasses; peered closely at me and tried to get me to giggle. I finally bored her back to a sleepy state and as soon as she was flagging I suggested she say good night to the dark and the lights, took her back to her dark room where we waved to all the stuffed animals, wished them a good sleep. She lay down in her crib, quite content and waved me good night.

I returned to my perch on the couch and opened the book on Scotland. Had trouble staying awake, so went off to tidy in the kitchen, polished the dining room table and finally turned on the TV, with low volume. Flipped through the channels. There was nothing even vaguely interesting, so I kept flipping channels. Soon, the sounds from the garage door announced the arrival of Renaissance Man and Glasgow Girl. “Mother, why are you still awake?” he asked. It was, after all 3 am.

“I want to go home to my bed now. I didn’t dare to fall asleep, in case Mousey might repeat her vaulting from her crib.” I explained how she had gotten up shortly after midnight and showed little inclination to go back to bed, but in the end was quite amenable to the idea of going back to sleep once she had been sufficiently entertained. “She should sleep through the rest of the night, quite well.”

Rumpole arrived, shortly thereafter to take me home. On the drive I told him of Mousey’s discovery of being able to get out of her crib, and how that could hurt her “You know, I’m surprised that parents get through this phase, sometimes relatively sane and unscarred. But I sure don’t have the stamina for the kind of vigilance required for keeping a toddler safe.”

Except for Mousey falling out from her crib, it was fun to spend the new year’s eve with her. She is an absolute delight to be with. But today I was exhausted. Well, that doesn’t matter. I’m just happy to have her in my life and look forward to all the changes in her we all will have the pleasure to witness during the next year.