“Ticked”

copyright – Henry Hogeveen

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Eastern Ontario. It seemed that summer may have finally arrived. I had my day perfectly planned from start to finish, including several hours to be spent outside. Then it happened….. I was “ticked”.

My days never go as planned. There always seems to be a little of this or that requiring attention. Like housework that I never seem to be able to stay on top of, or weeds, or my husband needs me to do something or ….. many ors.

I finally sat down in my mini office, lowered my head in concentration mode, beginning paperwork I had intended on starting two hours earlier. As the hours moved along, I kept adjusting my shorts a little. In the back of my mind I was thinking that my denim shorts were not that tight, so why were they digging into my hip. I adjusted my shorts. I adjusted how I was sitting. I kept working.

I finished working. I changed into my outside gardening clothes which are much looser. The nagging pinch on my hip was still there. I decided to have a quick look. I pulled my shorts waistband down a few inches and thought sheesh. What a stupid place for a pimple.

And then it moved.

I’m not sure which came first, nausea, goosebumps or revulsion. They were all there in quick succession. Gross. Super gross.

A TICK had buried its head into my body. Its head was totally buried. I couldn’t take off. I speed dialed the doctor. Don’t take it off, I was told. We will see you at 7:30pm. Now I had to figure out how to pass the next four hours with this little parasite stuck to me. Goosebumps from the top of my head to my feet, rippled over my body again and again. In fact, every time I thought about IT, waves of revulsion passed over my body.

I called my husband. Good you didn’t pull it off, he said. Smart to call the doctor. Phew! Good to hear I had made some good decisions here. We pondered where on earth I could have gotten IT. The last bunch of days had been cold and raining. The dog was on tick medication so ticks are supposed to fall off of her. The only place we could think of, was a nursery we had gone to on Father’s Day. We had stayed in the short grass or paths the entire time. No clue. A mystery.

I’m paranoid. I look up Lyme Disease and its symptoms. My body is itching in different places. I needed to distract myself. I texted, messaged and received a phone call to fill in the next hour or so. My one daughter suggested I put a Band-Aid on it. That made sense. Stop my clothes from rubbing on it. Irritating it. The spot was starting to hurt, to burn. No, she said, so you don’t have to look at it. Excellent advice. More goosebumps and shuddering. Slapped a Band-Aid on.

I start my outdoor chores for more distraction. Each time I bend it hurts. The little bugger doesn’t like being squished. I decide to sweep. I can sweep standing up.

Time passes.

Time to make supper. I feel weird making supper with my little parasite hanging onto my side. I do it anyway. Supper is made and it is almost time to head to the doctors. I look at the food and I cannot eat.

The doctor’s receptionist and I have a good chuckle. I tell her how grossed out I am over this little bug. She agrees. It’s gross. We share funny stories. Mine will be another one they can share in the office. The middle-aged woman with a tick stuck to her side, who can’t stop being repulsed. The doctor is on time. I make my typical wise cracks. He is slightly amused; I can see the smile in his eyes. He needs a special little tool. He goes and gets it. Down goes my waist band again by a few inches. I cannot see what he is doing. I am not sure I want to. A few minutes later my parasite friend is gone. I pace in the little room waiting for my one dose, antibiotic prescription.

I leave and rush to the Costco pharmacy to get it filled before closing. I let my husband know that the dirty deed is done. While I wait, I walk around the store. I am starving. I message all the people I shared my horror story with, to let them know that I had been set free. I still had more time to pass. I message with a friend. I tell her how hungry I am in a store full of food. Her response…. I guess it would be hard to eat when something is eating you. Yup! That summed up how I felt at supper time perfectly.

I got my pills. Two. To be taken together. I had to see the pharmacist so he could explain the side effects. No dairy for a few days and well other stuff. Suffice it to say I am staying home today.

I finally ate my supper at nine pm. I took my pills. My hip still hurt. Not the same burning hurt but it was sensitive. It still is.

I love summer with all it’s beauty. The plants, the grass, the trees. I do not like all the bugs that come with it. I really don’t like ticks.

Life can turn on a dime. Often, I am overwhelmed by the myriad of issues I deal with each day. Which task to work on first. Am I being the right support for the people closest to me? How will retirement go for me? How will I handle illness, housework, yard work and paper work? So much stuff. Lots of days I would like a magic wand to wipe it all away, sending me to a place of calmness and peace, less things pulling me in different directions. Banishing the wee creature that sits on my shoulder whispering, you are not enough, you don’t do enough, you don’t do or say the right things often enough. Perhaps one small tick parasite has helped me reset my path. I am not in control of my days. I am enough. One small tick threw quite the wrench into my planning this week. For the moment, I have reset and found contentment in my imperfect life. A deep-seated peace, secure in knowing I have done my best and I don’t get everything “my kind of right” every time.

Today, I am grateful to live in Canada where a quick phone call to a doctor, four hours and a dose of antibiotics, keep me safe from pesky little bugs carrying disease. I think about people who do not have health care like this. It leaves an ache in my middle.

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egg cartons – dirt – seeds = Community

Egg cartons, dirt, seeds and mosquitoes.

I finally planted seeds indoors yesterday in preparation for spring. Spring in Eastern Ontario is a long time coming. I am about eight weeks late. I planted anyway. My freshly cleaned boot tray, egg cartons, a bag of dirt and six packages of seeds consumed a third of our kitchen table for at least the last two weeks, in anticipation of the half hour I would need to put those seeds into the dirt. Last winter I read that certain plants keep mosquitoes away. Who wouldn’t want to keep those pests at the edge of your lawn? Fly up and down the street mosquitoes, but stay away from me. So…I designated two flower pots to plant mosquito repellent plants. Their job will be to guard our patio. Though mosquitoes are great bat food, I do not enjoy being their food. The deed is done and now I wait for results. I wonder if our cats will play in the dirt before the plants poke through. I wonder if the seeds will sprout or if I will remember to water them. Lots of things for me to wonder about.

I reminisce about childhood seed planting. I remember the excitement I experienced the day the Dam Seed box arrived at our house. A brown cardboard box full of seeds. Our seeds always came by box. We had a huge garden to plant and tend to. The garden fed my family of nine kids and two parents. I remember preparing the potatoes for planting. Old little wrinkled up potatoes, with sprouts growing out of them left over from winter. I had to cut them in four and was reminded to make sure that each piece had an eye. You know that divot in the potato where the sprout grows from when they have sat in your cupboard too long. If memory serves me correctly at least a quarter of the garden was potatoes. I did not dig holes for the potatoes, I was assigned to dropping the pieces in the hole, covering them with dirt. Then we waited. The shoots appeared and as they matured…. Voila…. potato bugs. Nasty striped little beasts that would consume the leaves killing the plant. Sometimes an older member would spread a white flour like powder on the leaves (I have no idea what it was) and at other times I was tasked with squishing the bugs between my small fingers. The bugs smelled and left my fingers stained red. I can still hear the pop the bugs made when I squished them. Seems gross to me now, but it was part of country life in the fifties and sixties. I think I would still be able to squish those bugs once I got over my initial…. yuck.

We worked and we played in the hot sun in that garden. Lots of brothers and sisters to play and fight with. Hot days meant water fights and swimming in the algae, slimed cow tank. Our cow tank was a large metal oblong receptacle that stood about three feet high fitted with a stabilizing metal bar across the centre. In the sweaty, hot days of summer I would swing my little bare leg over the side, sliding across the slippery algae covered bottom in my bare feet. Then I would grab the centre bar, hold my breath and swing under the bar from one side to the other. Laughing and so much cooler. I can still imagine the feel of the slimy green algae between my toes.

The seeds and garden were important components of our lives. It meant having food and not having food. I didn’t realize this as a child. The garden was just a part of my life’s rhythm. I was too young to understand how close hunger salivated at our door. There were no social safety nets in those days, only ingenuity, perseverance, a helpful community and shit ass luck. What and how much grew in the garden mattered. We did not have running water or a refrigerator in our house. Our family rented a freezer chest in town, but I have no idea how big it was or what was in it. Only that we had one. Growing and looking after the vegetable garden was a crucial part of our survival.

Potatoes were an important part of survival growing up. Meat, potatoes and vegetables made up most of my childhood meals. Boiled potatoes with meat grease, not gravy. Perhaps not the most exciting of meals, but we ate. In our garden we grew a lot of vegetables. Green beans, French beans, peas, kale, Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips, beets, lettuce, endive and radishes. Fresh vegetables are delicious. I miss the taste of them.

I remember as a young child sitting with siblings shelling peas, trimming green beans, cutting them into appropriate lengths, filling bowls and bowls. I liked using the red green bean cutting machine. Turning that handle until your arm hurt with the effort. In the background of my memory are my parents and siblings, helping, teaching, sometimes with patience and sometimes with no patience at all. Sometimes laughter and sometimes frustration and sometimes anger, but always being a part of my family community. Lots of siblings means hard knocks but it also means caring, a place to belong. We had each other. I still have each individual one of them and their significant others. My heart is crammed full of love when I consider each one. They were my very first community. We are different from each other. We are not a glob of cloned humanity. We have chosen different ways of doing life and sometimes we scratch up against each other because of those choices. These are uncomfortable places. Underneath the scratching lie strong values. Loyalty, work ethic, helping others, morality, trustworthy, honesty, outspoken (gets us in trouble), love. I began developing my ideas about community with my family when we worked and played in the garden. It is there that I had to learn how to get along with different personalities, how to forgive and be forgiven. How to put into play our family values. I have gotten hung up on my weaknesses over the years too. Struggled to overcome them. In my heart of hearts, I know that my first community, my family is a place I can land even while I struggle. They cannot fix or change me but I sure do feel their love for me. This is a very big gift.

Nature – Soul Healer

Took a picture of a cool bush. Rain is starting.

I hear a Red Wing Blackbird.

I share a laugh with a jogger as he spoke into his phone. He paused his jog so I could take the picture.

Rough day. Cried all the way home. Tears dripping off my chin.

Lots of criticism aimed at me. That is not what made me cry. I learned years ago to bury my tears on rough days. I learned years ago how to turn off my emotions when mean things happen. I am a stone-faced dolly. Numb. 747’s fly over my head. Turned off.

The cause of my tears was my daughter sticking up for me.

She spoke up for me and I felt instant tears prickling behind my eyelids.

Caught off guard.

I fought hard to keep them contained….until I was alone.

As I drove the slow drip of tears began.

Why was I crying?

I realized I cried because it is rare for anyone to stick up for me. It dropped all my protective barriers in an instant.

I am loved but not always seen. When I am seen, I hide. Overwhelmed by emotions I have trained to be silent.

I arrive at home. Not ready to go inside.

I do anyway.

I walk around my house.

I am restless.

I throw on an extra coat. Turn the sound off on my phone and head to the walking path.

I set my feet onto the path and begin to walk.

I breathe deep.

I focus my senses.

Rain spatters on last year’s dried out leaves. I walk the Cedar tree area of the path the rain becomes quiet.

I still hear birds. My soul is quieting. My mind’s wings no longer beat against its container.

The cool breeze moves my short thin gray hair gently about.

The Cedar tree branches sway ever so gently. The breeze ebbs and flows.

I hear city traffic in the background. People rushing places, going places.

Gratitude wells up. I am grateful for time outside removed from soul crushing experiences.

My defenses are poor. My boundaries are poor. Years of shutting down what I really feel or need, leave me stranded. I shut my needs down quickly. I protect myself.

It gives me pleasure to help others, to move projects along. To work together for a mutually agreed on result.

I do not wish to be made into a rug.

A cyclist rings their bell to warn me. I wish I was riding my bike too. I have asked for help to get my bike ready. Several times. It’s a common enough theme.

Perhaps I am invisible.

I would like to be surprised with my bike ready to go.

I set these thoughts aside.

They make me tired.

I am guilty of holding my emotions tight. Others may not realize what is or is not important to me because I do not let them know.

It seems easier to follow old patterns, stuffing my emotions down.

Focus on keeping peace. “It’s the second word that starts the argument.” My mom said.  I took it literally.

“Fight with me.” My husband said. “It’s not a fair fight when I do all the fighting by myself.”

He doesn’t understand that it’s the second word that starts the argument.

I need to keep the peace.

I need to stuff down my needs and feelings so there will be peace.

I need less chaos.

I am outside on the path…this is my moment. I can have my emotions out here.

Squirrels play up and down trees. I stop to watch. I envy their freedom.

The creek is full. It dances and sings. It’s happy running over rocks. I hear the creek sing, “I am on my way” …it doesn’t even know where it is going.

Oh, to not be sentient for a while.

Now, for this moment, I won’t be sentient.

I will only “be”.

Listen. I can hear the birds sing.

Feel. I can feel the wind on my face.

Touch. I touch the bark from a peeling birch tree.

Smell. I smell composting leaves, stagnant water, creek water, I smell spring.

I stop on the path to dig a little ditch to let the path puddle trickle its way from one side of the path to the other. I smile.

Helping.

I help the water go where it wants to go.

Raining harder.

I can feel the dampness settle in.

Time to go home.

Nature.

My Soul healer.

Muscles & Jelly Beans

One week ago, I was lying face down on a massage table peaking through a small hole, staring at the floor. Once a week, for seven weeks, I have stared through that small hole checking out the tiles on the floor listening to soft elevator style music. I am paying to lie face down and not move. This position forces me to be mindful of my body and the room. I am stripped down to my gotchies and socks. A white sheet and white cotton blanket cover me from my neck to the bottom of my feet. A big warm heating pad covers my back from my shoulders to my bum. One flat pillow lies beneath my hips and another under my shins. My hands rest on a small platform several inches below my chin. This posture ensures I am relaxed, allowing the therapist to ‘get to’ massaging my back. Every sheet, towel and blanket are white. It is a clean space. The walls are quiet browns. The decorations contribute to creating an atmosphere of peace and calm.

My body is about to be assaulted by strong fingers, hands and arms. The therapist pushes and pulls, stretching my tightened-up back muscles, forcing them back into their rightful places. Years of tenseness situated in my neck and upper shoulders have caused my muscles to contract and buckle into something I have heard and believe to be true, a knot. Those infamous knots people talk about. I have knots in my back. I do not know what they are or what they look like, but I do know how they feel. They feel ‘OUCH’. I remain voluntarily pinned to the table while my back is pulled and smoothed. I imagine it is like rolling out pie dough. Hmm. I like pie. I diverse. I lie there wondering what a back knot looks like. The therapist starts to push hard, wiggling and manoeuvring on a knot halfway up my left shoulder blade. I just have to know. My back knots are not visible and so far, I haven’t figured out a way to look through my skin to see the knot.

I ask. “You are working on a knot, right?” “Yes.”  “What do knots look like, feel like?”

Pause.

“Knots are like jelly beans embedded in strands of contracted muscle.” Jelly beans in my back muscles. For some strange reason I imagine white jelly beans. That doesn’t make sense because my back muscles must be red, like red meat. Something to ponder. “I am stretching your muscles so they are loose and limber again. So, they can do their work.” She said.

She works longest and hardest on my neck. This is where the tension begins spreading its miserable tentacles down my aching lower back into my aching hips. When I am tired, I can’t climb the stairs like a normal person. I do the two step. I put my right foot up and then bring my left to join the right. Repeat. First thing in the morning I can’t stand on one leg long enough to put my pants on. I lose my balance. Half an hour after I have started moving, I no longer lose my balance.

I do physio stretches to keep my back moving but the stretches haven’t taken away the constant backache/hip ache. Exercise or changing up food choices haven’t solved my aches either. They help but my old friend, ache, well, she remains. My favourite of all free advice is, ‘lose weight’. Sometimes I would like to respond with ‘cut off your arm’. Lose weight feels like a ‘shout’ word.

Maybe I can do some light weights I say to the therapist. Not yet. Your muscles aren’t ready.

I leave the massage therapist’s office and head home. I think about the jelly beans in my back. I think about each week’s question. How did my body feel after last session? Each week I respond with, I am sore for the first five days and the last two are pretty good. Just in time for my next session. The pain moves around in my body. Sometimes it feels like pain is shooting out the front of my hips. Like the pain is trying to escape or something. Sometimes the jelly bean beside my shoulder blade screams, begging to go back to its old ways. Nope. Jelly bean knot has to stay out of hiding joining the rest of the muscle in doing its job. Stay away jelly bean.

Today I went back for my eighth session. As I walk to my appointment, I think about jelly bean knots stuck in my muscles. Muscles are like steak, I think. My muscle steak is embedded with jelly beans. I look forward to no more jelly beans. Just stretched out working muscles.

“How does your back feel?” she asked. “I am not always mindful.” I say. “I had a busy week. My back continues to be fatigued after my sessions for a good five days. The general low-key continuous ache makes me tired and irritable.” The ache has moved again. My hips hurt substantially less. My back is often less stiff. I wake up less frequently in the night from aching hips. My right shoulder doesn’t crack and pop as much when I lift my arm. I can go up stairs like a healthy sixty-year-old most of the time now. The feeling is back in my right shoulder. I have fewer incidences of pins and needles in my right arm. I automatically stand up straighter. There is improvement. A little each week.

Massage therapy comes at a price. I do not have health benefits. I am fortunate I can still take money from another place and for now, place it here.

Today I left taking deep breaths enjoying the fresh snow and sunshine. The air was sweet and good. I moved my head around and realized my head was moving smoothly on my neck. I did not hear a single crinkle of tissue paper in my head. For a long time now, when I turn my head back and forth or tilt it front to back and side to side, I hear noises in my head akin to tissue paper being crinkled. I cherish my novel, one-hour break from it. After the next session, maybe, I will have a longer break. First though, I have a week of low-grade ache to negotiate.

60 years & elephants

I turned 60” today. It’s weird. It’s good. I am grateful.

In church on Sunday I reflected on turning sixty. I thought about having lived ten years longer than my dad. I thought about my mom being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at sixty and I felt abundantly grateful for the place I found myself in. I felt good. I mostly feel pretty good. I am healthy. I have a great family and friends. Yup, I have aches and pains and some are not so much fun. I don’t move as quickly as I once did and I sure can’t put my feet onto the ground at 6:30am crawling into bed at 11pm without substantial breaks anymore. I can’t garden for eight hours and expect to be moving just fine the next day. I can’t pack every day full of stuff without struggling to continue to breathe. I am learning to pace myself.  

I can still do a lot. I am not dead or even close to dead. Yet sometimes I get the distinct impression that perhaps some others think I cannot contribute. I call that ageism. I am a sensitive woman who stayed home to raise her children and jumped into a post secondary education late. Somehow, I missed the career employment boat. I finished my degrees. Because of a combination of my personality and lack of experience, I found it impossible to find a spot uniquely mine. Several university friends wondered what I would do. They had decided that I would need a unique situation and it seems that’s true. Plus, at sixty and a woman I am not very employable. I am great for volunteer work though… it seems. Go figure. I have picked up a couple of part time jobs that I like and, in that way, I am quite fortunate. I have had to let my dream of a terrific job where I could really make a big difference in someone(s) life, to bed. It seems I chose to drop this dream, when I first stayed home with my children thirty years ago. I did not do so cognitively.

I consider my life, my decisions. Good decisions, bad decisions and mediocre decisions. Just decisions.

I think Charles Dickens describes it well in a Tale of Two Cities.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

This is life.

Sixty seemed like another birthday until I saw the six and the zero on my birthday cake. Then it got very real. Then it was no longer imagined. Gratefulness butted up to reality. I consider what the next pieces of my life will hold. There are many many things left to do. Usually I welcome the challenge. At a slower pace now.

Finally, the elephants. I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago about my sister’s elephant collection and in particular a white elephant, she had inherited from our family home. That white elephant symbolized stability as it threaded its way through my life and the life of my sister who is thirteen years older. It brought memories to our other siblings as well. We all had different memories. After a friend read my post, she found a group of elephants in a shop she was at. She knew she needed to buy it for my sixtieth birthday. I am not an elephant collector but the pure white of this stand of elephants, reflected on my blue family room wall, gives me pause. An elephant family. All but one has their trunk in the air symbolizing happiness. Only one has their trunk down. The elephant of my childhood was smooth and very white as well and it has a special place in my heart. All be it a recently renewed found spot. The elephant of my childhood has its trunk down. These elephants represent my life. The uplifted trunks are the happy times and the down trunk the sad times. Three elephants to represent my three children and one elephant to represent the future or my two miscarried babies. I may change how I think about the elephants as the years pass, but for now this is what I think of.

Wikipedia describes elephants this way – “Wisdom & Loyalty: Elephant symbolism also represents sensitivity, wisdom, stability, loyalty, intelligence, peace, reliability and determination, which are all seen in the animal’s nature when observed in the wild. … In many cultures, elephants are revered and highly respected due to their symbolic meaning.”

My sixty years have included the elephants amazing attributes. My name, Anita, means God’s grace. God’s grace shining on me, helps me to live the elephant’s attributes.

The Mystery of the Button Box Solved

Memories frame my stories I wrote. An old button box, marbles and cows. Triggered family memories. Where was the button box and where were the marbles? Cow silence.

I learned the button box had been a lunch box in its first life. It was one of two identical lunch boxes my two oldest sisters used in the early fifties shortly after our family’s immigration, to truck their lunches up the road to school. Many years later, one of those sisters bought a replica of her lunch box because it reminded her of those days. A touch stone. Another sister bought a replica of the lunch box because it reminded her of the button box. A touch stone. I remember it as the button box. A box I sorted through checking out the different sizes, shapes and imagining what they were for. I remember watching mom sitting in a halo of light searching for just the right button to sew back onto a pair of pants or a coat or…. determined to detect the right colour and size to fit the button hole. In my minds eye I see my mom’s hands in the button box, the buttons flowing through her fingers. Flowing buttons feel like water running over your hands and through your fingers. It’s a calming sensation.

What my sisters and I could not figure out was who in the family had the original button lunch box. We considered which sibling might have it. Last Sunday the mystery was solved. I was at my oldest brother’s house enjoying a cup of tea and some great conversation. My button box blog post was mentioned. My niece said, “I think my mom has it.”

Whaatt!!!

“Yes, I think I do.” My sister-in-law said. A few minutes later she went upstairs and came down with the beaten up, handle less button box of my childhood. It was still half full of buttons. Still in use. My niece put her hands into the button box letting them flow through her fingers and over her hands. She urged me to do the same.

It was an old sensation.

A familiar sensation.

A peaceful sensation.

I could have continued to move my fingers and hands through the buttons for hours. Instinctively I began to look for my favourite big red button. I did not find it. I found a soft yellow replica but not the red one. 

The history of the lost to me button box was a simple one. My sister-in-law had been doing some mending, looking for a button and my mom gave it to her. “Take the whole box and keep it.” My mom had said. And this is how the button box moved to a new home. Once my brother heard the history of the button box, long forgotten memories were triggered for him. I saw the memory track begin its journey, in his eyes. Families have heirlooms; furniture, books, jewellery, china. One of our heirlooms is a beat-up old lunch box repurposed as a button box. An heirloom rich in memory and poor in dollar value. To once again run my fingers through the buttons had me at the top of the world.

It’s the little pieces that make up a life.

My brothers’ marbles collection triggered old memories. My younger brother and I kept good secrets when the longevity of our life was involved. My brother of the marbles, read my post and responded with “So you dared to play with my marbles did you. I was champ at school till that ?#!?&! made me quit because I took all of her kid’s marbles by gambling.” I had an idea who ?#!?&! was. She had it in for me too. My early school years were a misery because of that woman. First thing every morning we had to sit up straight in our desks with our hanky folded in a perfect square at the top left corner of our desk. Our hands were to be outstretched over the left-hand side of the desk so she could inspect our finger nails. In addition, my left handedness was a problem. As I wrote my hand smeared the ink across the page making it look messy. The solution = writing with a half piece of construction paper placed under the side of my left hand. I was supposed to have beautiful penmanship. NOT. A virtual impossibility with all that idiocy going on. Included for good measure, I was mischievous with a mouth that wouldn’t quit. I didn’t keep my thoughts in my head. They regularly summersaulted down my tongue falling out of my mouth. Much later I learned to keep my thoughts in my head.

My brother told me ‘the teacher’ came from Toronto to set up a Christian school in our farming community. Perhaps she thought we were dirty farm kids that needed cleaning up. If that were true, she had never been scrubbed by my mom. Scrubbed until your skin shone like a pink beacon from head to toe.

What I know is – she had it in for me. The punishment corner was one of my best friends. Writing lines became my after-school activity. Punishments did not change my behaviour. She didn’t like my brother either. My older brother speculated that perhaps she disliked me because of him. Once he beat up one of her kids and spent the day in the closet in the teacher’s room. We both dislike authority and arbitrary rules. We dislike bullies. Adults can bully kids. Perhaps this is the place where our dislike of authority and bullies began for us. Hard to be sure all these years later. We were kids then.

This brother helped me write my activity lines. I have never forgotten that he did that.

Last fall my brother played marbles at work. He found a bag of marbles, split them up among his co-workers. In fifteen minutes, he had won them back. I laughed out loud when I read his text. I was telling my oldest brother this story Sunday. He chuckled and shook his head a bit. “Yup, he always was really good at marbles. He always played to win. Didn’t cheat. But if he could find an easier way to win, he took it.” “No sense in playing unless you play to win.” My marble playing brother would say.

I think my brother finds it fun to win. Whether it’s a game of marbles or a good deal on a motorcycle, he plays to win. I love this about him. My eyes become open to the reality of people and how they behave. An accepting honest competitive approach to life. People are often not nicey nice to each other. Hiding our ugly beneath a layer of veneer can get really hideous and cruel. Far better to ultimately accept we are here to win the game of life.

Play fair.

Play honest.

Engage.

Take off the gloves.

Show your face.

Set the rules.

Sort it out.

Learn from each other.

Become better people through the wrestling.

Don’t cheat.

Learn your strengths and weaknesses.

Win your game of marbles.

P.S. We found the button box but it seems the original repurposed lunch box of marbles are lost forever.

My Memories Frame My Story

My mom had a button box which in actuality was an old tin lunch box. I saw a facsimile of it a few weeks ago when I spent a night at my sister’s house. Instead of exploring the brand-new bedroom, I was the first to sleep in, I explored the basement. I was being curious. I am curious because I love to learn and because so many things are interesting to me. The best way for me to feed my curiosity is to spend time all by myself absorbing the space I find myself in. I had slept in that basement many times and did not recall seeing the button box before. There are usually papers on a desk down there and I make a point of not looking at them. Papers do not spark my curiosity. I like to look around, see what catches my eye, speaks to my soul, puts my imagination into a tizzy. I was drawn to the old button tin in the corner. I had to touch it…pick it up. I took pictures of it. I took a picture of a rug beater, a replica of the one my mom used to beat the ‘snockers’ out of area rugs she had hung over the clothesline. I remember quite clearly a day we had been particularly trying and her taking that ‘thing’ off the wall, threatening us with it. She must have been at her wits end to do that. I had seen her beat the rugs into submission and I had no plans to join the rugs. No thanks. Fortunately for me, corporal punishment was a rare, almost extinct game played at our house. My dad said, ‘you beat the bad behaviour into the kids but not out of them’. I know I settled down quickly and the rug beater found its way back onto its nail. I was a busy, mischievous, impulsive, child in full ownership of an imagination that wouldn’t quit. My imagination has held me in good stead all my life, it has kept me free of boredom. My imagination also conjured a picture of me being beaten by a rug beater, an event I was not going to imagine into reality.

The button tin. The button tin was perched on an old-time school desk, sharing space with school pictures of my sisters. Turns out this was not the original family button tin, someone else in our family has ownership of it. My sister found the replica and purchased it because of her fond childhood memories. I am glad she did. The button tin was a treasure trove of the most interesting imaginable buttons. We were a large poorish family growing up in the fifties, sixties and seventies that didn’t waste a thing, not even buttons. My mom removed every single intact button from articles of clothing before she repurposed them. My mom was a talented seamstress who even hemmed rags so they didn’t fray.

The button tin. Copious amounts of toys were not a part of my childhood. I did have my profuse imagination to fill in the blanks though. Imagining games outside in summer was easy. Winter was different. We went outside, but not for hours at a time. Sometimes we were allowed to play with the old button tin which was filled to the brim with old mismatched buttons. We would turn that box upside down and play games with the buttons. We matched buttons according to colour or size. We grouped buttons. We were learning math the fun way before it became popular at school to make math fun. When we were done, we collected the buttons and put them back into the tin ready for my mom to find just the right button when she needed it, or ready for us to play with another day.

The marbles. Another favourite game my brother and I had was to play with our older brother’s marble collection. Big taboo around this game. Never let our brother know we played with his marbles while he was in school. He had a large collection of beautiful marbles. There were cat-eye, tiger eye, speckled and boulder marbles. They were brightly coloured machine-made glass marbles. Some had yellow ribbon inside and some had multi-coloured ribbon shapes inside. Marbles could be bought by the bag but my brother won his marbles playing allies with his friends at school during lunch hour and recess. My brother played to win. He played for ‘keepsies’. Marbles was a simple game, sort of. A hole was dug into the dirt and a circular line was drawn around the hole, in the dirt, some distance away. I am not sure how far away, several feet I imagine. The players stood behind the line and tossed their shooter marble into the circle but not into the hole. I am unsure of how you win the game of marbles, I just know that my brother won a lot and there were tons of marbles in his container at our house. On particularly cold or wet days my younger brother and I begged our mom to let us play with the marbles. We blocked off a corner of the kitchen in front of the door and turned the container upside down. The marbles rolled and winked across the linoleum, the bright colours mixing and moving. And then, well we walked on them in our sock feet of course. The marbles rolled around forcing us to wave our arms around for balance to keep from falling on them. Falling on them hurt. It was a fun game with lots of giggles as we flailed around on those marbles. When we were done, all the marbles went back into the container and put back where they belonged. We did NOT tell our older brother.

The cows. Another favourite indoor game was playing cows. At the top of the stairs, just outside our bedrooms, were a row of rails protecting all of us from going over the edge and tumbling down the stairs. The rails were just the right distance apart for us to get our heads through. The rails were green. I remember the colour of those rails from all the many times I got my head stuck in them and had to wait to be rescued. This was a cow herding game. In my childhood cows were herded into the barn and put into stanchions (a frame to hold the head of a cow in place for milking) to prepare for milking. Either my brother or me, were the farmer and the other was the cow. My head or my brothers head would inevitably make it through the rails without difficulty, all ready for milking. The difficulty arose when the cow had to go out back to the pasture and its ears could not make it back through the rails. The cow was stuck. Stuck = panic. Stuck = calling for help. Stuck = a frustrated mother who had told us on countless occasions not to put our head through the rails. With some manoeuvring by her or a sibling we were able to free our heads. The problem was a reoccurring one because the only way to play the game was to get the cow into the stanchion.

Quiet game. Each day when our brothers and sisters were in school my brother and I had to play quiet games beside our mom while she rested in bed for forty-five minutes or so. I remember the door being closed so she could hear us if we attempted a grand escape. I think we played with cars or trucks or blocks or something. It was really hard for me to be still and my mom was serious about us being quiet. She was wise to take time to rest and keep us safe at the same time. I hate to admit it, even though it was torture to be quiet, it was also good practice for me. I needed lots of practice to stay quiet. Sometimes one has to give up something for the good of the other.

I consider my sister’s button box. The pieces of her collection in the basement corner remind me of childhood; the button box, the rug beater, framed pictures of my grandmother’s seamless linen mending and my mom’s framed grade eight diploma. My mom was proud of her diploma. I was glad to see it honoured in that way. Added to my memories in that corner, were my sister’s, a desk similar to one she sat in as a child and a picture of her in school long, long, ago. My memories frame my life journey, where I started from, where I have been, where I am, where I am going. They frame how I see myself, then and now. I store each memory, the ones tangible enough to touch and the ones I see in my minds eye. My body, my mind, my spirit holds within it, the entire collection of my memories, they are my memoir. Inside of those memories are the things I did, how I took stuff in, my perception on how I was treated, loved, accepted or judged, encouraged or discouraged. My memories are touch stones. They evoke a myriad of emotions that can be complicated. Some are so very sad, some remind me of deep-seated anger, some of acute joy, some of mediocrity. I see my memories in living colour. They are my movie. Sometimes they are fun like my childhood games and sometimes they are hard when I remember how I felt betrayed by words or actions. Sometimes my grief outweighs every other emotion. Sometimes my joy outweighs every other emotion. The best part of my memories is how they construct me to be perfectly ‘me’.