Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Stranger Among Us

Her name was Iris. She was German, a young German girl with a passion for travelling. She wanted to see as much of the world as she could, and she was determined to do it her way. It was the only way she could afford, and she felt she was capable of looking after herself. Looking at her you just wouldn't think so. She was slender with long straight blonde hair, and a sweet attractive face. She had just sufficient English to get by.

Our family was young then. We had two boys and a girl sandwiched between, all teens. We used to go to all manner of places together. Mostly in the out-of-doors, hiking, picknicking, canoeing, clambering up hillsides and, when the occasion permitted, mountains. We would pick berries in season in nearby Gatineau Park; wild strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. We would eat some, and have an evening of jam-making when the day was done. On this occasion, though, we had gone to the Sparks Street Mall, then stopped by the C.D. Howe Building at 24 Sparks Street, which was where my husband was working at the time. We wanted to go through the shopping concourse (underground) to pick up some specialty coffee.

Once there, we had separated, each of us going separate ways to satisfy separate curiosities. I was surprised by the quiet approach of a young girl with a small pack on her back, sandals on her feet. She asked if I could spare some change for yoghurt. I gave her some money then turned back to my pursuits. Soon she approached me again, asking where I thought she could get some yoghurt. Then we talked and I ascertained that she was a traveller, had nowhere really to stay. With us, I told her, you can stay with us. Oh, she said, I have to get my backpack. Where is it? By this time my husband had joined us, then our children. We set out with the girl to get her backpack.

There is a small picturesque island in the Ottawa River (in fact there are many islands in the Ottawa River) named Victoria Island. On the island was the wreck of an old building. It had been expensively refurbished and was to be used as a social gathering spot for local native Indians. This happened so long ago that I don't recall whether the building was pre- or post-renovation, because not long after renovation it was burnt out and smashed up by the same people for whom it was meant as a refuge, as a protest. Well, the girl had to crawl under a wrecked wall and make her way carefully to a damp cellar-like location to retrieve her back-pack. I was aghast at the thought of her having slept there for days. It was all right, she said, it wasn't that bad at all. And, she showed me, she had protection, a knife concealed at the back of her jeans waist.

When we arrived home, we urged her to make herself comfortable. She had a shower, and afterward spread herself, now in a long skirt, out on the lawn in front of the house in the sun to dry her long hair. What did our children think of this stranger? I hardly know, trying to recall. They accepted her, they were matter-of-fact about her being with us. I believe she was vegetarian so we adjusted our meals accordingly. That first night as we slept upstairs in our two-story house, and she slept downstairs in our finished basement in a bed made up for her on bedlinens on a leather sofa, I woke up thinking of that knife. My mind, my mind thought: we are Jewish, she is German. What if. What if she took that knife and went quietly under darkness to where the children were sleeping....

I think she stayed several days with us. She was very quiet. We talked, but not an awful lot. She was there, wraithlike and pure, a lovely young woman. Perhaps 18? What parents could let their child wander around the world like that without worrying endlessly I wondered. But Iris had her own mind, and despite our offers for her to stay, she decided to set out for Montreal. She would do as she always did, seek rides with strangers by the side of the highway. My remonstrances were futile, and according to her rule of Iris's law, groundless. We dropped her off at the conjunction to the highway leading to Montreal and gave her $20. She said she would call.

And she did, several weeks later. The telephone rang and a voice at the other end announced: "Here is Iris". Where, Iris, where are you? Why right downtown in Ottawa. Sit tight, Iris, we'll pick you up. So she was retrieved, and spent another few days with us before deciding she had to make her way elsewhere. Once again, the drop-off, another $20, and a promise to call. Call she did not. That was the end of Iris.

Until, perhaps a year later, we received a letter. From Germany. Iris had returned home.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Um, Our Neighbours

I'm at it again. Canvassing door-to-door. This time for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Invariably, my husband will ask idly who called, and after my response, his anguished "not again!". Can't I just say no, I've already canvassed for two other charitable causes in the last few months, after all. Sadly, it seems I cannot say no. Someone's gotta do it, I might as well. Might as well test my largely generous neighbours' patience with yet another incursion into their privacy. Knocking at their doors, asking for money; if this isn't a truly miserable thing to do, then tell me what is.

So, first to Susan's door. Susan with the wide, wide smile (she was once a dental assistant in the Army) and the always-welcoming manner. Susan must be the most socially-inclined person in my experience, always reaching out for social occasions, to meet new people, to bring people together with her little winter-and-spring soirees. Susan with the socially-repressed husband, a true curmudgeon, whose word, in this little family, is law. Both personalities obviously genetically endowed; late marriage for each - question is, why did she marry him? A teen-age girl, a younger boy, both of whom appear to have inherited their father's personality; all three would prefer to cross the street rather than have to acknowledge the presence of a neighbour. Yet, he responds generously to charitable appeals and does have a certain shy charm. This same person who would never, ever permit a neighbour to borrow even a small, cheap hand tool that he owns. Charles is a techie; does this explain anything? This person of whom his wife is forever saying "Charles won't let me", or "Charles doesn't want me to"; one and the same statement. They've been our next-door neighbours for 14 years. We can't have our grandchild play with Susan's son because he cannot be trusted not to wreak harm on others. Fact is, our grandchild won't play with him because, she says, 'he's so mean'.

Next door, an even younger couple, moved in four years ago. He's a big, big bloke, and she's no slouch in that department, either, though both are fit. Both have truly blooming personalities and will happily engage with anyone. Three very small children, lovely offspring, already exhibiting their parents' sweet temperaments. He's a manager for a vehicle-leasing company, and she free-lances as an album-and-memorabilia teacher (spare me!). Invariably generous in their response to charitable soliciting. When she's off somewhere, he cares for his tiny crew as ably as she does, cradling the 11-month-old in his ample arms, with the 4 and the 6-year-olds trailing behind.

Next, an East Indian couple whom we've known for 14 years, he with the slight frame and booming voice, she whose face has the timeless beauty, albeit advanced, of the east, and whose 22-year-old daughter exemplifies that same beauty in its freshness of years. They're shy, but comfortable with those they know. They've surmounted personal difficulties of many kinds and remain what they essentially are, decent, sweet-mannered people whose focus now is their slightly-built, beautifully-featured soccer-and-hockey-playing teen-age son. They give modestly bespeaking a tradition unknown to me.

A young couple who moved to the street several years back when the former owners were re-assigned (he an RCMP officer who became dreadfully tired of his job, protecting 24 Sussex Drive and its inhabitants, coming to detest the trips abroad when the Prime Minister and his entourage travelled to far-flung places, feeling he'd had enough of the bumph, and requested a transfer; she a true Heidi, for such was her name, a blonde, slender and cheerful young woman) both of whom I miss, but the new house-owners are equally blessed with similar personal characteristics; neither the former owners or the present ones have children, but this young couple have a Beagle puppy whom they treat as a child. Former and present welcome one with open arms and give gladly.

Then a Francophone, rather reserved, still friendly public transit worker and his Anglophone public school support-worker wife, also reserved and somewhat removed from the community they live in. He must have complete order in his life, his enviable lawn cut just so, their vehicles cleaned and washed certain days of the week, every week. They give slightly and selectively, their many years on this street barely noticed by the communitarian-inclined.

Ah, next, a former nurse whose three-time battle with breast cancer impressed on her the many alternative things she could manage with her life. Her husband, a quiet and unassuming man (both down-Easterners back when) leaves far less of an impression than she does with her kind yet forceful personality. She now travels extensively, both as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company and as a team-member with an award-winning dragonboat group. Their daughter has launched her own life away from home, and is happier for it, while their son, a quiet, introspective but friendly boy devoted to mountain biking is still at home.

Beside them, an Eastern European man who has lived on this street as long as most of its residents and of whom very little is known. In fact, he's seldom seen at all. He moved into this house with his wife who appeared to have become severely home-sick and decided to remove back to their home country while he decided to stay on here, rattling about on his own in this largish house. On the rare occasion when I have caught him at home he has proven to be a sweet mannered, wistful-seeming man who happily contributes to charitable causes.

Last on that side of the street, a slight, always-shyly-smiling lawyer, partner in his own law firm whose former wife was a tall, willowy, pretty woman inclined to a certain kind of, how shall I put it? ditziness, which finally led to born-again attachment to an odd Christian sect. Reason for the break-up which left their two children, teen-age girl and boy floundering between each home? her claim that he was too controlling. He and his new friend, whom he introduced me to - a young woman whose looks appear more compatible with his needs - in the driveway as they were heading out for a pleasant evening walk, graced my request generously.

Is this getting boring? I'll illustrate only a choice few more. Crossing the street, home of a fill-in elementary teacher and her husband, computer hardware specialist. She's brash and inclined to social ignorance, he's shy but not averse to greeting neighbours. Two children, fraternal twins, as unalike as two children could possibly be in every possible way, but who still manage, between them to swarm and intimidate other children - an event their mother appears not to notice. Generosity? She claims she never grew up with it and does not know how to practise it. I believe her, on the evidence.

Okay, I'm skipping now. On to the next. Homeowners a pair of military lawyers. He's of Dutch extraction (apropos of nothing) whose parents at one time spent a lot of time with their children until his mother died of colon cancer five years ago. Nannies from time to time, to look after their two children; more often extended family members, notably parents, for while at times each parent is off on extended duty abroad, at times they're off on separate missions, but both at the same time. Very personable, both, with an inclination toward pretentiousness, both verbal and practical. But they give, nicely, kindly, generously.

Gonna skip lots, because I'm getting tired of this myself. Homeowners on this street perhaps 15 years, both worked for the government as software programmers, then with a large industrial software company. She retired about 8 years ago when she was likely 42, and you can multiply that number by 10 for her weight. He's always on the go, with assignments mostly in the U.S., so he commutes on week-ends. Strangers on the street for a long time, but finally integrated socially. Sadly her weight leaves her unable to amble the street, so she is parked full-time on a bench in front of her house, with her three lovely cats. She considers herself a gourmet cook, and is an avid e-Bay consumer. The most generous charitable giver.

Look, I just can't take this any more. Gotta go. Two more houses left, before I call it quits on this one. Lots more neighbours, but I'll leave with this last picture: Francophone couple, both government workers, mid- to low-level. Lots of time off the job, and how the hell do they do it, even with holidays and sick days, beats me. Two teen-age children now, but when they moved in about 10 years ago the children were toddlers. Parents really decent, very nice people, children ditto. Another uxorious man; anything she says she wants he wants. She's become incredibly hefty, like her dear departed father. Her mother, a nurse, remains trim. She has insatiable wants of the house-proud variety. Let's see: in-ground swimming pool, cottage-like extension back of the house, connected to huge, tiered decks. Re-roof before required, all windows to be replaced because of rot - because of neglect. But he's a hard, hard worker, laying ceramic floors, doing his best to please her. They give, not generously, but who cares - the point is they see the need to respond and that's more than good enough.

Damn! I'm really finished now. Gotta do the ironing before our granddaughter gets home.

Hey, there's us too. We're someone's neighbours on the street. We're really nice. Everyone likes us, how could they not? Gee, I guess someone else should be writing this, not me. That is, if you're really interested in what we're like. You know, that thing called impartiality? Oh well, not to be.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Karla Homolka

Interesting, that within Canada in the same week, two women, one celebrated yet scorned, the other notorious and reviled, have been much written about in the news media. Belinda Stronach, the celebrity Member of Parliament, has occasioned many news articles, some lauding her decision to leave the Conservatives for the Liberals, some chiding her for obvious ambitions to reach a position of unearned power (certainly for a neophyte politician) and disloyalty to a party which she helped engineer and demonstrated ambitions to lead.

And then there is the notorious Karla Homolka, whose very name elicits shudders of disbelief. Who, after all, can believe that a young woman would energetically collude and participate in the rape of other young women, including her own sister? Who would, who could believe that an attractive, seemingly intelligent young woman would be a willing partner to murder? That being said, who could believe that a young woman, so besotted by her partner that she would be willing to take part in such atrocities would be found guilty, yet serve so little time in prison for her odious, unbelievable acts.

Well, this woman, Karla Homolka, is a true living example of the worst kind of sociopath. She has felt no remorse for the pain and anguish she has caused. Rather, she is still, and likely will always be, inbued with a sense of entitlement. That she was directly involved in the horrendous murder of two teen-age schoolgirls after helping to rape and torture them does not seem to have bothered her very much. Anyone with a sense of justice would be outraged as most Canadians were, to see photographs of this woman with other inmates celebrating, partying, as though they and she represented normal society. This, a woman dedicated to satisfying the most disgusting, disgraceful whim of her-then fiance, in agreeing to help to rape her own teen-age sister. Whom she first drugged into insensibility with medications which she stole from a veterinarian clinic where she then worked. A more unspeakably unbelievable plot for horror can't too easily be imagined.

That the investigating police force was so inept as to completely overlook vital evidence secreted in a bathroom of the house in which they lived, inside a ceiling light fixture is also difficult to believe. Don't these police watch any television? That a deal made in hell was made to provide a certain amount of immunity to this monster in order to have her testify against her husband was yet another travesty. That the police officer in charge of this investigation was so inept, that his men were so inept, hardly inspires confidence in the entire system of protection and justice. That this very same man is now the chief of police in this nation's capital is only another piece of this nether-world puzzle.

Oh, but that this woman, Karla Homolka, having now 'served her time' is set for an early July release is yet another chapter in the failure of our system of justice. While in prison she benefited from her unspeakable crimes by acquiring a better education than she started with. She learned another language, and with it is determined to settle into a nice, upper-middle-class echelon in Montreal. Oh yes, here's another 'that': That this woman's parents forgive and support her simply cannot register in my lexicon of human understanding. I must be missing something here.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Belinda, the Stronach

Well, it was a rather interesting week in Canadian politics. At the very least, within the nation's capital. A real cliff-hanger, that one. Will the NDP-assisted federal budget pass - or will it not? Many people willed it to pass, realizing that within its constructs was the potential to make this country a more livable, more citizen-humane place. And don't we need it, if only to make us feel better about ourselves. That is, if you're a moderately well-off citizen, thinking of the plight of the indigent poor, the homeless, the low-wage earners, the single-parent families, the children, the children, oh the children. Oh yes, foreign aid, assistance to students, the retired poor. Damn the tax breaks to wealthy corporations so eager to suck as much taxpayer-funded 'relief' as they can.

The above by way of being a not-too-terribly oblique way of moving us on to the - well, one of the stars, of that historical, hysterical vote in the House of Commons. Belinda, she of the immensely wealthy Magna car-parts empire. This woman, born with the proverbial diamond-studded spoon-in-mouth, lauded as one of the most influential and wealthy women in business (gasp) worldwide, has determined that her real place is not in the corporate boardroom but rather in the boardroom of the nation. If she is truly the corporate marvel as CEO of Magna as her curriculum vitae attests, then she well may become an outstanding parliamentarian. If she is, however, as many pundits claim, Daddy-Frank's little girl, placed by birthright into a most prestigious corporate position, surrounded by high-priced and eminently capable corporate types who actually do the work and accede credit to her, then well, it's another story. Then the story becomes that of the spoiled, bored, itching-for-power entity that many take her for.

There is ample reason to believe in both scenarios. Member of Parliament (Liberal-cum-Conservative) Stronach was bored with higher learning and left after her first year of University. There was a first marriage not terribly long lasting, then another which, although terminated also, managed to produce two children. Which may mean nothing more than that this woman may have a very active mind, tending toward boredom with unrelieved monotony. The requirement to focus one's mind in acquiring a good post-secondary education requires discipline and drive to ensure one's future employment prospects. The requirement to consider the well being of another person as equal in importance to one's own requires a certain amount of fortitude and certainly patience - usually rewarded with the satisfaction (made up of equal parts happiness and companionship; a modicum of tedium) of a successful marriage. If every whim ever expressed has always been fulfilled without even a soupcon of effort, perhaps the will to succeed by one's own effort will be understandably absent. On the other hand, simply because someone has been the recipient of such good fortune as to have all one's needs more than amply looked after, it should not necessarily rule out the possibility that a social conscience exists leading to a desire to put one's good fortune to the use of others.

That MP Stronach was more than a trifle discomfitted by many of the positions taken by the Alliance/Conservative party was obvious to anyone who could read a newspaper. Ms. Stronach voiced her opposition to some key positions espoused by her erstwhile party, most notably on abortion rights, on gay marriage, and most latterly, on the need to drag the country, kicking and screaming into another election. So much so that the leader of the party, gave her a dressing down, simply to remind her that he was the leader, she was the disloyal follower. Belinda, one gathers, balks at following anyone. And, in a sense, more power to her. Fact is, if some position so grates against the essence of someone's sense of fairness and ethics, let alone morals, then going with the flow would make her - what?

So she made her deal. Over to the Liberals. Good on her, if she realizes that that party more represents her own way of thinking, and as a result represents what she feels is in the best interests of Canadians overall. Yet, and yet. If one holds such strong principles, why would it take the enticement of a cabinet position to make the switch? That Paul Martin felt sufficiently endangered to offer the position is one thing; that he felt he had to, to secure her newfound loyalty to the Liberal cause is another altogether.

Oh, Belinda, woman of mystery. Are you the complex creature you appear to be, or are you a far simpler being? Will we ever know. You chose to leave a party that you yourself had a great hand in engineering. You chose to leave a budding personal relationship in search of a greater truth. Will we ever be privy to that greater truth, as it really is? Therein lies the mystery.

No mystery about the mass hysteria seen within the party you so wisely left. The misogynistic outpouring of scorn left no secret that the party is well peppered with slime-scrabbling proto-humans. Supposing that the New Conservative Party did have a support base among women in this country, it's entirely possible, post-Belinda, that women voters take a good hard look at the type of primitives they may be voting for in the next election. Not too soon, one hopes; the election, that is.

Only time will tell if Belinda Stronach is a principled politician whose concerns for the best interests of the country led her to cross the floor of the House of Commons - or whether she may be the unprincipled opportunist whose crass self-interest propelled her actions in a bid (a successful one at that) to propel herself a trifle higher on the political merry-go-round. I'd like to believe the former, and devil take the latter.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Supersize the Coffin, OK?

Why do people abuse themselves? Oh sure, they don't think that way, that by the manner in which they choose to live they're setting themselves up for misery, for an early death, but they're doing it nonetheless. No one can be unaware that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer, among other deleterious conditions inimical to the human body. Drug addiction has unfortunate direct consequences, to the body, the psyche, and even more indirect, more fatal consequences. Practising unprotected sex , leads to sexually-transmitted diseases of all kinds, not the least of which leads to AIDs. Indulging in over-consumption of alcohol helps one become an alcoholic, and no one is ignorant of the fall-out there. Over-eating leads to becoming obese, morbidly obese, and untimely death. In between there's the little stuff, like heart disease and artheriosclerosis, fun stuff like that.

Modern medicine is certainly helping us to cope, to live longer burdened by these diseases, but if everyone had the brains to discipline themselves in the most basic of ways, to make halfway intelligent decisions wouldn't we all be a whole lot better off? Well, yeah, sometimes people just fall into these things and lack the character to drag themselves out. Yep, shit happens. But in the final analysis aren't we responsible for ourselves, for our own well being?

In Friday's paper there was an article about a burgeoning market; the manufacture of super-sized coffins - for? well, super-sized people. Hey, I'm not talking about one of our lovely neighbours down the street, a civilian lawyer for the military who must stand about 6'-7", and very well endowed, both physique-wise and civility wise. A lovely person he is, but migawd, huge. When he first moved into his house about five years ago he struggled to remove the stump of a tree smack in the middle of his front lawn. My husband, 5'-7", brought over some tools and together they did the job, and our new neighbour looked up to my husband.

I could be talking about our neighbour directly across the street, also a lovely person. She is about my height, 5'-0", and let's see, I'd guess between 350 and 400 lbs. She is truly rotund. Humpty-Dumpty had nothing on her. She has a sweet and lovely face, is almost twenty years younger than me, a sunny personality and an interesting conversationalist (within limits). But this woman cannot even toddle down the street to pick up her mail at our communal mailbox. Is that living?

That same newspaper article mentioned above, identified the Goliath Casket Inc. which had manufactured a coffin even large than their usual; a seven-foot (wide) casket built for a 900-lb. man who died in Alaska. Most people, the article mentioned, can be squeezed into the company's 52-inch model, which is roughly the size of a regular double bed. (A standard coffin is 24 inches.) Sales at this company have been growing by about 20% a year. They sold 600 caskets in 2004; a fraction of the market. It's estimated that 200 to 300 over-sized caskets are sold every day in the United States; fifteen years ago that would have been 2 or 3 per day.

How satisfying can it be, how dignified, to be so severely incapacitated by one's appetite and subsequent girth that any semblance of normal life is denied? Does it take a genius to realize that unbridled appetite satisfaction leads to a severe diminishment of the quality of life?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

In the Beginning

There's a newspaper article in today's issue of the National Post : "Teenage lovers' bodies found after 20-year search", it reads. The article describes a mystery that has haunted a northern British Columbia mill town for the past 20 years has finally come to an end after searchers combing a heavily wooded area north of town discovered the remains of a pair of teenage lovers who were missing since 1985. The boy was 18, the girl 15. They had fallen in love, but the girl's parents had forbidden their daughter to date, deeming her far too young and too busy for romance, according to the article.

When I was 14, aeons ago, I met a young boy, then also 14, although at the time I was under the impression that he was a year older. I met him, in fact, at my parents' house. He had been brought along to a little 'party' a gathering of young boys and girls which my parents had allowed me to arrange. He had accompanied a young boy whom I knew and who was interested in me, although I had no interest in him. From the moment I saw this boy, the moment he walked into my house, I 'recognized' him. I knew, somehow, that he was the one person I had been waiting for, all of my 14 long years of existence. Many years later, say 40 years later, I asked if he could recall feeling that way. He laughed, said he was attracted to the little girl with the red sweater, but eschewed any thought of pre-recognition. He is a practical one to be sure.

I can't recall the party. Looking back, I'm a little surprised at a party at age 14, but that's the way it was. With some girlfriends from school I had gone several times to a converted house on Spadina Avenue which was a meeting place for young Jewish boys and girls, and we had met some boys, been invited to several parties. It was, I guess, a lively social gathering. It must have been there that I had met the young man I wasn't interested in, who brought along his sister-in-law's younger brother to my informal party.

A girlfriend of mine who lived across the street whom I had also invited to the party indicated her definite interest in the boy I now thought of as 'mine'. I telephoned this boy soon after the party, inviting him to drop over on the following week-end. My girlfriend, a long-time friend, was furious with me, and our friendship took a downturn before long. The boy, though, appeared interested in me too, and thus began a long and intimate friendship between two very young people. Well, that was - let's see, we're 68 now - 54 years ago.

He began coming over frequently, and we would go out for long walks in the neighbourhood, sometimes to area parks, sometimes just walking on the street, and talking. We would go to dances together at that same community centre, with other young people we knew - some of whom also formed long and lasting relationships. My parents weren't terribly pleased with this instant bonding, this too-soon pairing-off. All the more so as they became aware of just who his father was. My parents were socialists, bookish, hard-working and working poor who moved within in a social milieu of like-minded socially-active people, most of whom were immigrants like themselves. His parents were also immigrants but apolitical, unlettered and concerned only with furthering their personal social standing and opportunites for economic advancement. His father was not a 'mensch'; crude and rude but very mindful of sartorial impression and he was invariably impeccably turned out. While my parents were concerned with the advancement of society and equal opportunities for everyone, and worked diligently with others toward achieving that considerable end, his were concerned only with their own well being and held prejudices spurned by my parents and their friends. Not a suitable companion for me.

When their stated objections to my continued friendship with this boy did not impress me, as I suggested to them I had no interest in the father, only the son, they sought another tack. The opportunity arose when I had been on an outing with the boy and his family one day in the summer, and although I had not agreed to accompany the family unless I could be returned at a stated hour, and his father had agreed, the reality was that I arrived back home too late. I'd had a baby-sitting appointment at a neighbour's house (my mother arranged all such appointments - I hated baby-sitting), and my parents were furious with me. I was never to see that boy again, and that was that.

As it happened, I had a year-old brother at the time, and because my mother was very busy, helping my father out when time permitted in his little corner store on Bloor Street, a ten-minute walk from where our house was located, it fell to me often to look after the child. Which provided me with the opportunity to arrange meetings with my friend at, for example, Christie Pit Park, where I would take my baby brother for an outing. Eventually, word got back to my parents that I continued to see my friend, and they confronted me. I don't recall the details, but they relented, perhaps realizing that to continue forbidding me would only result in continued furtive meetings.

Our relationship resumed as it had been. He would walk me to parochial school, (after regular school hours) or wait for me to exit the school, then walk me home again. We continued to see one another after school on a daily basis, and on the week-ends. We had fun with friends, at various types of gatherings. My mother continued to make things difficult as she always found an unkind thing to say about him, and would even accuse him of underhanded behaviour, but I never did believe her, and resented her manner toward him.

When we were 17 we had been together for three years and wanted to marry. We told our parents this and they told us it couldn't be done, we were simply too young. We thought about eloping, but decided to listen to our parents, as they agreed that we could become formally engaged, and as long as we waited another year, until we were 18 years of age, they would agree to the marriage. And so it was. At 18 we were married. It was a formal marriage, the type that all parents envision for their children, an opportunity to host a formal party as it were, for their many friends. This was the last thing on earth we wanted. We wanted something small and intimate, involving only those people who were closest around us but it was not to be. So we suffered through what we both felt was the necessary unpleasantness of a traditional wedding.

After which we both had what we so desperately wanted. To be together. Who knows what might have happened with that young couple in B.C.? They might indeed have married had their parents been willing to let nature take its course. They might have produced children, might have remained together in love, or the relationship might have failed over the years. No one will ever know. Parents try to do the best they can for their children. They're not always right, but they do have the best interests of their children at heart.

Over the years we lost touch with the other young people we used to go out with and with whom we had spent so much time in shared leisure pursuits. A year ago, when I was speaking over the telephone with my sister who lives in Toronto she mentioned a familiar name to me. This was a woman whom she and her husband had met at a dancing club they regularly attend. In enquiring about each other's backgrounds: where they had gone to school, that kind of thing, this woman said she had known someone once with the same last name as my sister's maiden name. I gave my sister my e-mail address to pass on to her new friend, in the event she was on the Internet, and soon received an e-mail from her. And although others of our old-time friends were not computer-literate, I've since spoken with them on the telephone, or corresponded with them. None of them are still in intact marriages; some due to divorce or death. After all, 50 years and counting is quite a long time.

The Rhythm of our Days

Most days do have a certain rhythm to them. Routine, I would imagine most people think. Predictable in many ways, although little things out of the ordinary always occur, regardless of how well we know the rhythm of our days. Ah, today was Friday, the 13th, an auspicious day. Fridays are fairly predictable for us. After breakfast I always do some baking, and today it was an apple pie. Finished that, I prepared a bread dough and stuck it in the refrigerator to use on Saturday when we make our ta-da! - Saturday-night pizza. Then I prepared a chicken soup for our evening meal, and also the sauce which will go over chicken breasts before they go into the oven. The sauce is rather nice, comprised of chopped green bell pepper, a jalapeno pepper, white mushrooms, and tomatoes. Over these chopped vegetables I pour a concoction comprised of chopped garlic, grated ginger, soya sauce, dash of brown sugar, half a tin of tomato paste, and a bit of olive oil. This stews in a bowl on the kitchen counter until I pour it all over the chicken preparatory to baking it.

Good grief, where was I? Oh sure, while I'm busy in the kitchen, my husband does things like mow the lawn (after he brushes the dogs' teeth - no kidding, no tartar). One of our neighbours, Mohindar, comes over to jaw-jaw in his inimitable way. He's just had a shoulder operation and is out of commission for a bit. Then we went out for our morning ravine walk. We hadn't gone very far when a female Cardinal flew across the path down below us on the hill, her scarlet body muted by her red-brown wings. From a nearby tree the male trilled and thrilled us. Now that's notable, isn't it? This day we did come across a few other dog walkers, and Riley, our nutty little toy dog, growled, snarled and lunged as is his wont, loving to flirt with the potential of a swift demise. On our way home, we see a white cat in front of another neighbour's house, so my husband crosses the street to let its owner know that the cat is out, as it is not permitted to roam outdoors. This neighbour is a young and comely woman of superior intelligence, someone my husband spends many enjoyably relaxing hours speaking with.

Later, we did the food shopping. Since my husband simply cannot bear to leave our two little dogs at home alone (sob!), I do the food shopping and he either sits in the car with the dogs, or hoists them and takes them into Canadian Tire for that elusive tool or fitting that he simply must have. While I unpack the groceries, he replaces burnt-out bulbs, one in the powder room, a funny little affair quite unlike a conventional bulb, and the spotlight in our potlight, ha, a poet. We take a short break to peruse the two daily newspapers.

While he was mowing the lawn, the postie arrived and handed him a small box, with large Mao TseTung stamps covering the side surface. Because my hands were well floured, he opened the box and extracted a silk bag wherein lay three silver Tribal bracelets which I'd ordered through e-Bay. These are old cuff-type bracelets, beautifully worked with dragons' heads, set with torquoise, carnelian, lapis lazuli (the poetic cadence of the stones' names take me back to girlhood, reading books about Egypt). The smallest of the bracelets is for Angelyne, the other two, quite wide, are for her mother who loves bracelets and wears them marching up each arm. When our daughter was just out of her teens we first began buying her bracelets and since that time she has amassed a museum's worth.

I was glad they arrived (and speedily too) so soon after having paid for them. Reason was she'd had a kind of miserable day yesterday. Before she came by to pick up her daughter from us she'd gone by the gym (does this three to four times a week) for a work-out. She had waited, she said, about 15 minutes for the loose weights, asked the guy using them how much longer he'd be, and he said two sets 'and then it's over to you' he said. Trouble was, he left, and just as she made over to the weights, some other guy, big build, like most of them, thought he'd take over, and was putting his weights on. Not so fast, she said, wait your turn, or if you're in a hurry, work with me and we can do this together. This guy, about ten to fifteen years younger than her from her description, told her to get lost, only not so kindly. In fact a stream of profanity issued from his lips and he just wouldn't stop. Nor would she, and she informed him that she would tolerate some profanity directed toward her, but there was a limit, and if he considered himself an adult, he should behave like one, since his behaviour was such that she would not accommodate from anyone. He snarled she should get herself a brassiere, and she responded she would once he got himself a jock strap, and how did he like that? Whereupon she set about removing his weights and placing her own. He was with friends, and none of them said a thing. However, the manager did overhear what was happening and finally came over to put a stop to this guy's ongoing abuse.

Today, she had a telephone call from the owner of the gym who was extremely agitated, apologetic and determined to assure her that something like that would never happen again. Turns out this guy was a personal friend of the owner and the manager. The onlooking friends told the owner what had happened and he was apoplectic with anger at this 'friend'. So, you see, I wanted to bring a little lift to her spirits the following day and the bracelets, arriving just as they did, would do the trick, I thought.

Meanwhile, my husband went down the street to meet the school bus, and our granddaughter bounced cheerily into the house to tell us triumphantly that she'd aced her latest spelling test: 20 out of 20. Good going. What's more, the day before she had placed first in her age group in the racing heats and will now represent her school (among the other age-group runners) in the intramural races. And how about that? the evening before, her mother had pulled out that loose tooth, which had become reeealy loose, 'Boob' (that's me, her Bubie).

Angie was famished, of course, so she started off with a bowl of blackberries, consumed the rest of the Brownies, decided on one of the popsicles I'd frozen for her using cranberry-grape juice. She sucked the end of the popsicle, demonstrating for me how the end turns colourless as she sucks the juice out of the crystals, taking great pleasure in her little experiment. Oh yes, that wasn't quite enough, so she had a bowl of chicken soup and rice, and chased that down soon afterward with a stick of cheddar cheese. Have I yet mentioned how tall she is for her age, not yet nine? How smoothly graceful and lissom? I haven't? Consider it said.

She goes into the living room where her grandfather is reading the newspaper and plunks awkwardly into a miniature copy of a Victorian armchair which we had bought when she was a year old, and which she fit into very nicely at that time. She knows it is hers, I've told her that when she gets older and has her own apartment she can take it home. She has decided to ask whether she can take it home now, today. Greedy little oinker, because she's already wearing the beautiful bracelet that we showed her upon her arrival.

When her mother arrives, Angie shows off her bracelet. I show off the box with the large Chinese stamps. Our daughter's face lights up when she sees the bracelets and she is overcome with admiration for the work represented by these pieces of folk art. She has had a good day, after all. We see them off, Angie hoisting her chair into her mother's vehicle, then settle down for the quiet and peace of our Friday evening.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Reilly, Ace of Spies

About twenty years ago, maybe more, there was a British television series produced and broadcast in Canada as well as elsewhere, titled "Reilly, Ace of Spies". My husband watched it, I did not because I don't actually watch all that much television, preferring instead to sit close by him, but to give most of my attention to reading material. I do recall, however, the music associated with the series and I very much liked it. As, indeed, I admire and like most music associated with various British-produced television series. Let's hear it for the BBC.

Sam Neill played the part of Sidney Reilly, spy extraordinaire, and it was likely his most memorable role. Now, so many years later (although at the time my husband did do a little bit of research on the character of Sidney Reilly, finding out not an awful lot but, I suppose sufficient to staunch his curiosity) my husband picked up a book second-hand with the same title (upon which the television series was based), authored by one Robin Bruce Lockhart, evidently a long-time and highly respected newsman-cum stockbroker (now likely stone-cold, since the book was originally published as an acclaimed biography of a most mysterious figure in 1967).

An enigma, this man was called, as no one knew too much about his personal life, although his extraordinary exploits with the British Secret Intelligence was a much-celebrated fact. He was also described as 'sinister', although he was reputed to be a man of exemplary manners, outstandingly charming, well educated, and a bon vivant. He was a ladies' man par excellence, women seemed to fall all over themselves in their frantic anxiety to share his bed. He did marry, and more than once; without, alas, obtaining a divorce, making him a bigamist, a condition he felt was to be kept hushed, but his own business.

He was thought to have died at the hands of the Russian Secret Police in September of 1925, but as often happens when hard information is sketchy, he was also reported as being seen quite alive, by various people in various locales. Books other than this one were published based on his exploits, one by a former mistress titled 'The Gadfly', which enjoyed great popularity and was highly respected as a literary piece at the time. There was even a cartoon based on his character. The writer of this current biography claimed to have known Reilly when he was a child, living in Prague.

From the author's description, M.I.5 became highly dependent upon Sidney Reilly's expertise as an infiltrator, an agent, double-agent and agent provocateur. Winston Churchill was said to have known and respected Sidney Reilly, talk about moving in elevated circles. During WWI he managed to enveigle himself into the high ranks of the German Army, thanks to his proficiency with language, and his ability to exert charm and an air of authority along with an impeccable sense of timing, and utter fearlessness. His enterprise and determination to rid Russia of the Bolsheviks after the Revolution brought him great additional respect. He travelled the world in the service of M.I.5, and privately, for his own designs.

He was so famous for being deviously brilliant that Ian Fleming is said to have told the author of this book that: "James Bond is just a piece of nonsense I dreamed up. He's not a Sidney Reilly, you know!".

Well, doesn't this man sound like one in a million? An exciting, unpredictable and highly successful man in pursuit of his own brilliant persona, if such a thing can be said. He was born in Russia within the bosom of a patrician, well-regarded family, and lived a comfortable life until he was 17, and that is when he discovered thanks to a deliberate indiscretion by another family member, that he was really the illegitimate child of a highly respected Jewish doctor who had attended his mother (a mutual love affair). His world was shattered; like most Russians of the time he scorned Jews and all he was taught they 'stood for', and here he was, a lowly Jew. He severed all ties with the rest of his family and went overseas to drown himself in the horror of his discovery - and eventually his many adventures led him to his destiny.

Hey, this is really interesting, isn't it? I mean with all these ingredients doesn't this make a fascinating story? A true one, too. Which was why I couldn't understand why my husband offered to give me the book, to read myself. Which was fine (other than the fact that when he reads something that interests him he often tells me all about it, in excruciating detail, when we're out hiking; whether it's a novel, a biography, a newspaper or magazine article) but I demurred, since I knew he hadn't yet finished the book. He insisted, I began reading it, and before I got halfway through (I'm getting a little slow, I know), plodding up to that point, I understood why he didn't finish it. Apart from the fact that the author overindulges in exclamations which irritate the hell out of me (!!!! damn near finishes off the end of every sentence!!!) the book is dry, dry, dry and fundamentally flawed. It's a bloody bore!!!

A walk on the Wild Side

We begin our daily walk in the ravine by leashing our two little eager dogs, to walk them down the street to the ravine opening. A mere two-minute walk. As we enter the ravine, we can see the new fuzz on the sumachs, and that even overnight it seems as though the poplar foliage has emerged ever larger.

We take our older dog, the miniature Poodle, off her leash, and after some sniffing here and there, she's ready to walk along with us. The last few days I've ventured to take the leash off our six-year-old male toy Poodle, keenly aware that his fairly recently-performed sterilization hasn't impacted on his aggressive tendencies toward other dogs. Still, he's been uncharacteristically laggardly lately, and seems to be happier off the leash. The little laggard keeps looking behind him, before him, to each side, alert for the incursion onto 'his' territory of other animals. Should he see a human being he melts with doggy kindness and love for that person; dogs, another story entirely.

There's also a bit of a sweet fragrance in the air that we attribute this time of year to the poplars. They're dropping their long green seeds, and what really draws our attention this day is the generous sprinkling, like confetti, of quarter-inch-long white petals. At first we don't know where they've come from, but it soon dawns on us that we had high winds the night before (and some rain) and they must have been blown in from the blooming Serviceberry trees. Puzzling, because we don't see that many of the trees in the near distance to litter the trails. But sure enough, that accounts for the profusion of petals, one of which I pick up to find it wet, soft and fragrance-less. By this time we've descended the first long hill into the ravine and take the trail to our left which partners the creek, running a little higher now from the overnight rain. We stop at one juncture to overlook the creek as we notice a pile of geodes, washed down from heaven-knows-where - a regular spring phenomenon. These are perfectly round, fascinating-looking clay 'stones', evidently of ancient vintage and I have hoarded some of them over the years, to place in the garden, on the garden wall.

We go on to cross the first bridge, noting the profusion of Trilliums with their dark red heads nodding shyly among their distinctive foliage (no white Trilliums here with our clay-based soil, although we have seen the rare Painted Lady and even once, a yellow Trillium). Also drifts of Trout lilies, their pointed little yellow flower heads proudly lifted to be admired by passersby aware of their presence. Up another long hill to a crest, then down the next hill to cross another bridge only to clamber up the next hill. Red squirrels scold us with their indignant chattering from a tree limb. Black squirrels impudently shake tails in challenge to our dogs who hardly need the invitation to break free and frantically give chase, only to stand in consternation at the base of the tree the squirrel has spirited itself up.

Cork oaks still give no indication that they know it's spring, and we listen to a Nuthatch with its regular tooting like a child driving its mother insane, creep around the tree base, in company with its flock of Chick-a-dees, those perfect little birds of the Boreal forest.

Hazelnut bushes are leafing out nicely, hanging out the occasional male catkin. Dogwood bushes are also pushing through their slow foliage, and so are the Blackberry bushes. The trail is littered on either side with a wash of wild Strawberries in perfect tiny white flowering. Woodland violets in shades of purple, mauve and gold fleck the ground. Around the bases of trees are countless Lilies-of-the-Valley, a few even hoisting their tiny emerging bellflowers. We go across the open field, and as we proceed, the white-flowered Serviceberry rise on either side, and it is evident that new growth has already begun to flush some of the spruces. We can see where clumps of Irises and Lilies plan to debut later in the summer, and where Thimbleberries are preparing their home base. We're somewhat less thrilled to see those ancient species, Indian pipe, and Horsetails, but they're part of the scene as well as are Dandelions.

Down the next hill, we come across a woman walking her dog. She's someone we haven't seen for years. We see her husband, one of her sons, often out in the ravine, walking their dog Sydney who doesn't mind putting our little dog Riley in his place. The woman suffers from Fibromyalgia, and she walks slowly with the help of a thick dark walking cane. She's pleased that she's feeling well enough to take one of the shorter trails close to where she lives.

We keep descending, then walk along a narrower arm of the creek which, at this time of year, often is dry, but is now still running. Here we see Rue beginning to crop up, and Foamflower as well. It's also where we find our first Jack-in-the-Pulpit of the season emerging from the ground; the flower stalk with its understriped hood, not yet the foliage which will eventually hide the flower. This, we know, is the very same plant that my husband once, in his excitement at first seeing it, nudged it gently with his stick. So gently that it knocked the stalk in half, and we felt dreadful. Since that time these plants have managed to proliferate widely in the ravine, but most people pass right by without noticing them. For that matter, most people have never heard of Jack-in-the-Pulpits. When we were children, we remember learning about them in elementary school.

Down below there, where it's nice and moist all the time the many types of ferns unfold their fronds, and we see Fiddleheads ripe for the picking. At this juncture we're halfway through our hour's ramble.

We've more hills to ascend and descend, trails to take, and on one of the upper trails, where the Birch have not yet done much of anything, and the Maples have dropped their soft red bits and are sporting tiny red leaves, we scare up a woodpecker. Wonder what he was doing at ground level. We usually see the red-crested iron-hammer-head Pileated smashing the hell out of any tree unfortunate enough to draw its attention by harbouring resident insects. The huge holes left after the woodpecker has concluded its business would surely make wonderful homes for squirrels and chipmunks, we always think.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

After School

The back door opens and in comes Angelyne. The dogs are howling and begging for her attention, beside themselves with joy at her appearance. They jump up repeatedly, trying to lick her face, while she bends down to remove her shoes. She testily shoo's them away. Her grandfather walks through the door and the dogs turn their attention to him, joyfully greeting his return. They last saw him five minutes earlier, before he left to meet her school bus at the bottom of the street, as he does daily.

Upon seeing me, she breezily greets "Hi Boobie". That's me, her Bubbe; I like "Boobie" just fine, it kind of describes me in any event. Then the sad news, she's unable to eat anything, because of her tooth ready to fall out and just hanging in there. Oh sure. Out comes the chocolate milk. She decides, after all, she could try to eat the Brownies I baked two days ago, since they're not about to present a challenge to her tooth (I took them out of the oven a tad prematurely and they're more runny than they should be). "Can I have some pizza?" she implores after devouring the Brownie-guck. Half, I tell her, she can have half of one of the small individual pizzas we bake for her when we make our own giant pizza on Saturday nights. I cut the pizza in half and she indicates which half she prefers and zaps it in the microwave, telling me she won't stand in front of the microwave oven. "Dad", she tells me, "and Ryan (her stepfather and his son) like to watch popcorn popping in the microwave." "But I don't" she assures me, virtuously.

No, she responds to my query, she doesn't want any of the fresh pineapple I just cut up. Her tooth, she reminds me. She does nibble at a few grapes after I assure her they're seedless. And agrees that she wouldn't mind some cheddar cheese. How restrained. Generally, after school she devours everything in sight.

She fusses about in her school bag and withdraws her recorder and her sheet music. The recorder she's using is one used either by her mother or her uncle, when they were young. It's made of apple, a good recorder. Angelyne has what appears to be a natural ability to produce good sound, and she enjoys playing the recorder. She's learned how to read music, and sits down to play a few simple tunes. She is pleased with herself, and I am pleased with her. I ask why she had done so poorly on her last spelling test two days ago, only 50% correct. Didn't you study? I ask, and she says, not enough which is obvious enough, but then she elucidates, saying she was certain she knew all the words and didn't think it was necessary to continued practising.

She tells me about her day at school, a good one. She enjoys music class, and her music teacher today made everyone laugh by emphatically singing words to a particular song, to demonstrate to the class that they weren't sufficiently enthusiastic about singing. The children burst out laughing, and, Angie said, one of the girls laughed so hard she wet herself. Although Angie doesn't particularly like this girl, she was, she said, 'sorry' for her. Angie mentions that there are two Erins in her class, a boy and a girl. First time I've heard of these two. She doesn't like the boy, she says; his name is spelled a-a-r-o-n. Oh, a biblical name, I tell her. Yes, she says, but the boy is not at all nice. The girl's name is spelled e-r-i-n, she tells me, and she is really nice.

Did I notice she has sparkles on her eyelids? she asks me. No, I hadn't noticed, but now that you mention it... Mom stopped on the way home yesterday, she said, at Shoppers Drug Mart, and got some new nail polish, and also this eye blush. I didn't know my daughter wore that stuff; like me I thought she eschewed all make-up. No, Angie said, Mom wears stuff on her eyes. This was supposed to be a pale blue, but you can't see any colour, only the sparkles, so Mom let her put some on.

It's gotten cool, after a very warm day, and the sky threatens thunderstorms, so she decides not to go out, and wants to go upstairs and fiddle about on the computer. Upstairs I give her a small newspaper article to read back to me, and she does with only a bit of help:
Dog saves tot from forest - Africa
A newborn baby abandoned in a Kenyan forest was saved by a stray dog that apparently carried her across a busy road and through a barbed wire fence to a shed where the infant was discovered nestled with a litter of puppies, witnesses said yesterday. The seven-pound, four-ounce girl, named Angel by hospital workers "is doing well, responding to treatment", a hospital spokeswoman said.

Cool, we agree, and turn our attention to the computer. We look at some of her web sites and she decides what she's interested in. Over to you, PBS Kids, and Arthur. I leave her as she is more than sufficiently competent on her own. Used to be I would sit with her coaching her but she is comfortable enough on her own.

Dawgz r'Us

Can anyone doubt that dogs are the friendly companions of humankind? Just think: some forward-thinking individual thousands of years ago convinced himself (and likely others, eventually) that the offspring of wolves and jackals could be persuaded to rely on humans to advantage their futures. Little did these wolf/jackal offspring realize the ulterior motive; to harness their considerable abilities to forewarn of impending harm, to assist in the hunt; to herd; to patrol; to obey on command the whim of their owners. Their agreeableness would harness them forever to the needs of the obviously less-talented humans. And here we are today, with our beloved dog companions whose genetic imprinting still compel them to swim (ostensibly to retrieve downed prey), burrow into narrow spaces (same purpose), sniff out and hunt down (ditto), herd (assembly of other domesticated animals such as sheep and goats) all for practical naught.

But - they love us and we love them for all of their considerable attributes, attitudes, bumptiousness, personalities and most of all because they love us simply because of what we are and what they are. Dog people are dog people. Cat people are cat people. And seldom the twain shall meet in agreement.

Our daughter, herself the mother of a daughter, has amassed a herd of dogs. Her original dog, a German-Shepherd/Husky mix died at nine beloved years of age of an untreatable malignant tumour. The nerve of this dog - coddled and cuddled, fed outrageously expensive food, taken religiously to the veterinarian, even hospitalized twice for expensive operations - to die before her time. In her grief our daughter was inconsolable, and erected a 'shrine' of memory to this dog, which sat on her bedside table. However, despite her grief she swiftly brought home a young Sheltie pup. Followed soon afterward by an Australian-Shepherd pup. Then she adopted a two-year-old rescued dog, part German-Shepherd, part something-or-other, whose behaviour was frighteningly unfriendly, particularly toward men (for obvious reasons). Later came a rescue dog from Iqaluit, Nunavut, a three-month-old German-Shepherd/Husky mix (still growing and now over one hundred pounds). Another rescue: this a small white Pomeranian. Her partner, patient as all get-out, warned he'd had enough. Another dog and he'd move out. What did she bring home next? why a tiny pocket Pomeranian which, once full-grown weighed a stunning 3 pounds. The last (so far) was a Chihuahua pup, love-friendly like you couldn't imagine. Oh, I warned her, said she was in for misery with that kind of mix, that the big ones would bring the tiny ones to harm; at the very least trample them to death. Um, they're all one big happy menagerie.

She somehow manages to walk them all together, on multiple leashes, with a constant stream of advice and orders for one or the other to move to the left, to the right, to the middle of the pack. Incredible, just incredible. She bought a small back-pack so she could carry the two doglets with her when she went shopping and people absolutely googled-eyed them. If and when the big dogs get out of line, she wrestles them to the ground, sticks them on their backs, and admonishes them that better behaviour is in line for the future. They arise when she does, chastened. Just imagine the 'wow' factor (as in let me out of here) when you enter her home, and they all begin barking and yowling. Just as well she lives in the country on one and a half acres. Her partner is still with her, brave and patient soul that he is.

And I haven't even mentioned her other little menagerie; a stable of no fewer than five rabbits of various types, several rescues the others acquired because of their exotic appeal. Do the dogs and the rabbits get along? Well, after much patience and training they do indeed. This, after her original little rabbit, a belligerent-natured little black dwarf who protected his turf (her living room) from the dogs' presence when he was out of his cage, finally pounced once too often on the bad-tempered German-Shepherd who, in a frenzy of pain swung her head around once too often to dislodge the biting little furball and sent it flying into the opposite wall. It's buried on the property.

Us? We have two little dogs. In our long history together, my beloved and I have had a variety of dogs. Two boxers on separate occasions. A toy terrier, and a miniature Doberman-Pinscher. Now we have, sharing our happy home, an eleven-year-old black female miniature Poodle-Pomeranian, and a five-year-old apricot toy Poodle. The female has a laid back temperament, but she insists on ordering us all around, since of course, she's numero uno, and the male insists on being loved and cuddled endlessly, but becomes the picture of unredeeming aggression the minute he sees another dog he's not familiar with. We almost lost him one winter when he attacked a Husky, before we could stop him. One of the rare occasions when we had him off the leash, in the winter, we came across a young man on snowshoes, with a leashed Husky. Our stupid little dog attacked the Husky, which then did its best to swallow him, but I reached them at that point, the dog owner straining to pull his dog back on its leash, while I pried its mouth open and removed our little stupid, now howling with fright. Fortunately, because it was an extremely cold day, he had been wearing a sweater and a thick knitted coat over it (and little boots), which obviously did much to protect him. We apologized to the Husky owner and since that time rarely let our little bugger off the leash.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


It's that time of year. The news media are full of accounts of the Second World War, in particular. Lest we forget. For if we do, we are diminished. War is a dreadful abomination. Yet it comes about as a result of human nature. All the least distinguishing traits of humankind, in the sense that we're personally loath to 'own' these traits lead us to confrontation and, inevitably, war. It is as though we're programmed by powers beyond our ability to restrain ourselves (as indeed, it could be argued we are by our collective genetic code). We view the 'other', those not of our clan, with suspicion, with enmity, and just wait for the signals that other posts in plain view for us to react. The 'other' can be as close as a neighbour we simply don't like because they're different than we are, hold values we can't subscribe to, practise a religion other than that we're accustomed to, have social customs contrary to our own. And the 'other' can be transcribed as residents of another country, whose customs, history, values, ethos, religion are truly foreign to us. So we devalue them. Once that is done, it's an easeful step to believe they are not as good as we are, so any harm that may come to them, whether through a natural calamity or steps of our country's devising, are well deserved. We know better, but this natural inclination is just so easy to fall prey to.

I'm a Jew. As a Jew, thinking of World War Two, I think Holocaust. I think if Nazi Germany's grand thousand-year scheme to take over the entire world and rule it as an uber race had actually been realized more than the six million Jews who perished through a deliberate scheme of mass murder would have resulted. I would not exist; those whom I love would not exist. I am here. The plan went awry. I am here, despite the fact that so many of my distant relatives were murdered.

When I was a child, I recall my parents speaking in hushed tones, between themselves, and among their friends of horrible news seeping out through mysterious sources who spread 'rumours' of concentration camps, death camps. My father kept a 'black book' which, he said, I might want to read one day, when I became an adult. I was 9 years old when the war was over. I never did read his 'black book' but I read many books of utter blackness telling of the hopelessness of existence during that evil time in Europe.

How in the world, how on earth, how in heaven's name, could humankind treat of one another in such an odious, bestial manner? We read of Genghis Khan and his hordes, of the dreadful times during the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, when countries and their religions and their aspirations of expansion collided, but would anyone living in the century just past ever have believed that we would make every attempt to outdo the barbarities that made us shudder with disbelief that human beings could so senselessly take the lives of others?

Will it ever be otherwise?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Paradise in my garden

Surely there is a reason why the terms "Garden of Eden" and "Paradise" inspire us to envision a beautiful place of perfection of form, colour and fragrance, a wonderful place in which to find oneself. Who would not want to visit the Garden of Edens, picture-perfect arboretums and flower gardens in the public domain - sans serpent, of course, although I've nothing personally against snakes. (On the other hand, humankind in general, particularly those of the female gender are well known to mistrust snakes, be they the slithering-under-rock variety or the untrustworthy female-slayer.) Could be the snake got a bad rap. I do recall, once, when we were living in Georgia, trying to clear away a large pile of leaves, and digging my arms up to the shoulders into the leaves, desperately trying to bag them. Wasn't I just a tad startled when I realized that a long black snake was part of the leafy parcel I was hoisting? Well, that's another story altogether.

And Paradise, unearthly splendour promised to those who believe that beyond our mortal remains we may reach a place where all our wishes can be granted - in a garden of unsurpassed beauty. Heaven? Could that be heaven, mayhap? Well, why not, all things considered.

People who love gardens - and they are legion - whether or not they personally believe in the quaint (and oh, so satisfying) practise of digging into moist, fragrant spring soil, find tranquility and beauty there. Those who simply want to enjoy the fruits of others' labours, whether it be a public garden, or walking past a private garden fronting someone's home, surrender themselves no less to the aesthetic of the senses, than those who garden. They may actually be a lot smarter, since they admire, enjoy and derive pleasure from observing a palette that someone else has taken great pains to create, with the help of nature.

Those people who push nature around by arranging landscapes which suit them and busy themselves with the dog-work of soil amendment, planting perennials, nursing them along to maturity, dividing them, opening additional gardens, amending soil, planting more perennials, sowing seeds and coddling them to perfection derive an additional pleasure from the tasks they set themselves; great satisfaction in the art of creation. Nature's canvass given a bit of help. I fall into this category. And wonder how smart I am, despite the satisfaction, the joy of creation, since so often one forgets to sit back and just enjoy, admire one's handiwork. Oh, with the help of nature.

Regardless of which - it's worth every bit of effort. Every time I see another bloom reach ripe perfection, wonder at the colour, the form and texture I know I've found heaven.

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