Tuesday, April 29, 2014


If you were to say That the first day of spring Is the day of the equinox Twelve hours each for day and for night, I would not argue. How could I? But the day when I sit Eating dinner outdoors Hair in a ponytail Bare feet on veranda boards With the breeze on my arm and no wish for a sweater, Then that would unquestionably Undoubtedly, unarguably Be my personal first day of spring. And that was today!

Monday, April 28, 2014


From time to time we would travel to Spirit River and stay with Aunty Adaline. We would bunk in her basement—a roomy place with comfortable furniture and a generous bathroom that was private for guests. But on one occasion we called her to say that we would be camping nearby at Saskatoon Lake. We would visit her for an afternoon. If her objection was only half-hearted, we did not notice. “It can be cold out there,” she said. “The weatherman is predicting cold weather.” “On July 31 we are certain it will be fine,” we said. We had not planned for snow. Saskatoon Lake is named for its bounty. The bushes hung heavy with purple deliciousness. But nobody likes to pick saskatoons while wearing mittens, so we did not pick a bucket for Aunty Adaline as we had planned. Instead, we called to say that we had changed our minds about staying over at her house. We had not been fully aware up to that point that Aunty Adaline’s health was changing. Where once we would have arrived to a warm welcome and the irresistible aroma of cake in the oven, we found her flustered, preoccupied with the combined effort of a search for her lost Life-Line Alert button and the remaking of her bed so that we could sleep under clean sheets. Her basement was messy, she reported, due to a recent flood. Though fully cleaned, it remained disorderly. She would not entertain the idea of our going there. We would share the big bedroom in her room. She would sleep in a single bed elsewhere. When bedtime came, we climbed guiltily between her sheets. The curtain of sleep descended. I was dreaming deeply when the wall spoke her name. “Adaline,” said the wall. I was not particularly surprised. Walls will speak to those who feel guilty. Deeper into the dream went I. “Adaline,” said the wall, more urgently this time. “Adaline, are you all right? Shall I send an ambulance?” Here is my best advice for those considering possible life-mates: Look for someone who will know what to do if the wall begins to speak in the middle of the night! For while I pulled the covers over my head in a hopeful attempt to silence the thing, David informed the wall that we were Adaline’s niece and nephew, spending the night in her bed. “Her Life-Line Button has been pushed,” the wall replied, and David, with characteristic practicality, dug in the space under the mattress until he found the lost button, and removed it from its hiding place so that it would no longer be activated by the process of rolling over in bed. . “Good night,” said the wall. “Good night,” said we. So the wall did not send an ambulance, and David was soon breathing the deep inhalations of a peaceful sleep restored. But I lay awake, wondering how long it might be until the RCMP would pound upon the door, sent to investigate the possibility that two sleepy robbers had somehow disposed of Aunty Adaline/

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Bill collector at the dentist's office: Now I ahve processed this work through your plan and the remaining balance is $6.12. Me: (shaking out my purse for spare change) that's ridiculous? bill collector: What's ridiculous? Me: To be scrambling for pennies on a payment of hundreds of dollars. bill collector: Oh, let me drop the pennies. That will be $6.10. Me: (to THE HOPE LADY AS WE BOARD THE ELEVATOR) Oh dear, I think I might have forgotten to thank her for the generosity. And THE HOPE LADY says: Some day I am sure this will make me laugh! Just one more example of the power of hope!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Fate—as fate so often will—has thrust me into a place where I never expected to be—Saturday morning dance classes sponsored by the Edmonton chapter of Parkinson Alberta.. Never mind that I don’t have Parkinson’s—a good thing to be sure. Never mind that I have four left feet, a stiff right shoulder, a sieve-like memory for consecutive sequences of step patterns, and insufficient vision to imitate the instructor by following visual cues. I’m there anyway, fighting off performance anxiety at the very mention of Charleston, Tango, Plie and Paradiddle. All over the world, people who have Parkinson’s are attending dance and sining classes. They are stretching their muscles, fine-tuning their balance, experiencing the liveliness that complex musical and movement functions bring to the brain. People with symptoms resembling Parkinson’s attend as singles or couples. The messages are clear: Do what you can. Try to do more than you think you can. Have fun. Never have I been more aware that a person who is blind from birth has no idea how people dance. How high do they lift their legs? How quickly do they raise their arms? Never have I been more aware that, in this class, where participation of any kind trumps all else, it really does not matter. For those of us who have spent our lives trying to achieve, it’s a difficult idea to fully integrate—this concept that participation is everything and fun is the ultimate reward. There’s so much to worry about, so much to remember. What is supposed to follow the eight heel taps of each foot? How can I have forgotten the Grapevine again? Why did I just bop my neighbour in the nose with the up-and-over? But every once in a while, near the end of the gruelling two-hours, we turn to partners. I look forward to this time. I am more comfortable dancing with a partner—my partner. The instructor says: “Do the Tango.” We laugh. Neither of us can remember the Tango, even though we learned it last week, and possibly again the week before. The instructor says: “Move towards the door.” David and I move in opposite directions. The conventions of marriage set in. I am outraged that he has moved the wrong way. Now we’ve missed the next instruction. “Not the door we came in,” he whispers. “That’s the door she means when she says to move towards the window.” Then we get the giggles. The instructor starts to laugh. Other people start to laugh. There is, I think, a certain liveliness in the brain.

Friday, April 04, 2014


Ben’s mother sent me an email. The email came from Ontario. “Ben can now say five words,” she announced. “He can say Eyra—the name of his girlfriend at the babysitter’s, mama, dada, hi and amen.” Just to prove it she sent along a little video. Mama said: “Aaaaamen!” Ben said: “”Aaaaamen!”SThere it was, plain for all to hear. The proof was in the video. Now I was as proud as any respectable grqandperson could be. But I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. So I did what any self-respecting soul might do. I bought a ticket, jumped on a plane, and headed for Ontario to come to the aid of that baby who needed somebody to teach him how to say: “Granny.” Even as I gave the travel agent number on my MasterCard I knew the job might not be easy. It is true that I am a granny, which means I am also a mother. And it is also true that my three children grew up to be perfectly competent talkers. But I am too old to remember just how they learned certain words. Fortunately, I am old enough to remember how my little brother learned to talk, way back when I was six or seven years old. At the time I figured he was beyond hope. Little brother grew up to be a capable talker, despite some rough beginnings. He made more than a few mistakes in his time. Mom always took his side when I pointed out how dumb he was. I specifically recall one day when he was farming on the kitchen floor, loading grain into a transport vehicle, naming that vehicle over and over again. Perhaps he would have attracted less attention if he had been saying, “Luck, luck, luck; or muck muck muck.” “The f sound,” Mother explained, “is easier for babies than the tr sound.” Like the tr sound, the gr sound is not an easy learn for a pint-size baby-talker. And I only had three days in which to teach the “gr” word to Ben. So wepractised hard right from the beginning, teaching the way any good teacher would teach. I started with the five words he already knew, asking him to repeat each after me. Granny said: “Mama!” Ben said: “Mama!” Granny said: “Dada!” Ben said: “Dada!” Granny said: “Hi!” Ben said: “Hi!” Granny said: “Eyra!” Ben said: “Eyra!” Granny said: “Aaaaaamen!” Ben said: “Aaaaamen!” I am pleased to report that we made tremendous progress in only one long weekend. By the time I left for Alberta, Ben could say “Granny.” It was as plain as day to anybody with a little imagination. Sometimes it sounded like mama, and sometimes like Eyra. Sometimes it sounded like Dada, and every so often, it sounded just a bit like Aaaaaamen!”

Thursday, April 03, 2014


This week we lost Aunty Adaline, the last of the generation that precedes us in David's family. We are now the elders. It's a worrying proposition really. What do the best elders do, anyway? We tend to say that elders in our society are not respected. And yet, I think they are, which is the very thing that makes elderhood such a challenge. The best elders are wise, but not too quick to share their wisdom. They are stable, but flexible. They bring the experience of the past, and a childlike wonder when viewing the present. Elders teach us to laugh at things we wouldn't know how to laugh at. They show us how to part with vanity. They love us. They want to see us. These are the things we lose when the last elders of a generation are gone. This is the responsibility that, by birth, is transfered to us.