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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Observations in a mall: The old lady and the tea

People watching is my favourite sport.

I love sitting in a public place watching people go by. Guessing at what they do, who they are, what their lives are like. It can entertain me for hours.
It was on one of my trips to the mall when I noticed her.

She sat alone in the Avalon Mall Food Court drinking her tea from  a Tim Horton's paper cup. I knew it was tea because of her age. She was in her late 70s or early 80s. That age range came to mind because she had an uncanny resemblance to my mother. Her gray hair was short with the type of curls that could only come from rollers and setting lotion. Her black Sears rain coat was open revealing  a white T-shirt with a floral design around the neck. Her polyester blue pants had a permanent crease in the legs and her sneakers, which I am sure she had chosen for comfort, had seen better days.

She sipped her tea and stared blankly ahead. Not noticing anyone around her. Just deep in thought. It was noon. If this was my mother she would have wanted a sandwich or soup with her tea. Maybe she had eaten already. I wondered if she was waiting for someone. A grand-daughter maybe who had worn her out from shopping . Now she was relaxing with her tea. Catching her second breath.
I had to go. I was meeting a friend for the 12:30 movie and I hadn't bought my ticket yet. I left the food court and the lady behind hoping I hadn't left it too late to get a ticket. When I arrived at the theatre my friend was waiting with two tickets in hand predicting I had procrastinated.

It was after two by the time we left the theatre. We decided to shop for an hour before going home. We walked past the stores on the second level and my friend suggested we go downstairs. We passed the food court on the way to the escalator. I remembered the older lady. she wasn't at the table. I was just about to jump on the next revolving step on the escalator when I noticed she had moved. She was now sitting at the other end of the food court.  How odd I thought. She's still here.
We shopped for less than an hour and my back was killing me. My friend was parked in the underground parking at the mall and I was parked in the lot outside the food court. We parted ways and I continued up the escalator to the food court. I looked around but the lady was gone.

I knew before I hit the cold air I had better go to the washroom before I left or it would be a painful ride home. There were washrooms off the food court and I decided to make a detour.  When I was washing my hands I looked in the mirror and realized the lady standing two sinks down from me was the same older lady I seen sitting in the food court. She was trying to keep the water running but it was an automatic facet that shut off after a few seconds to conserve water. She noticed me staring this time "I can't get this water to turn hot" she told me. "I don't think it gets hot. I think they just give you enough time to wash your hands then it turns off automatically" I informed her.
As I dried my hands in the air dryer she went back to trying to run the water. I watched her in the mirror. She glanced toward me, seeing my back was to her, she took a clear plastic sandwich bag out of her rain coat pocket filled with tea bags and her Tim Horton's paper cup out of her other pocket. She took out a tea bag and placed it in the cup then filled it with warm water. She put the plastic brown cover over the top of the cup. Picked it up and left the washroom.

I gave her a few seconds then walked out behind her. She walked over to a table, sat down and began to drink her tea. She didn't speak to anyone. She just stared, deep in thought as before. My cell phone rang. "Don't forget I need white nylons for my dance concert" my daughter reminded me. White nylons. Where do I find them. There was a drug store just off the food court. I went in search of white nylons. Twenty-five minutes later, I was ready to leave the mall. I walked through the food court expecting to see the older lady sitting at the table but she was gone. The table was clean.
As I left through the food court doors, I caught a glimpse of her getting on a bus. I walked to my car and never saw her again. Thoughts of her consumed me on the drive home. Why would an elderly women spend almost four hours sitting in a food court? Who knows how long she was there before I spotted her. Why did she have her own tea bags in her pocket? Who was she? Her wrinkled face told me she had worked hard all her life and raised a family. Did they know she was here all afternoon? Did they care?

Is she one of the forgotten elderly?
The ones who sit at the mall all day because they can't afford to heat their houses. Or one of the boarding house residents who are not allowed to stay home during the day so they have to find a place to go. The mall would be a safe place for these people. Surely no security guard would ask an elderly woman to move along and stop loitering. Then it hit me.

The table was clean! The cup was gone. Did she take the cup with her?
I'll look for her the next time I am at the mall.

Maybe I'll be so bold as to ask her if I can sit with her. She reminded me of my own mother.
I'll tell her that and I'll ask if I can buy her a cup of tea.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Granny panties!

For the record, I do not wear granny panties!

They are a nylon-spandex with  reinforced tummy control panel support shaping panty that are engineered to hide the fact that I've given birth twice and keeps me from having muffin belly! I have more technology in my jeans than NASA has on the Space Shuttle.
So I am cleaning out my underwear drawer and hubby tells me to throw out the "granny panties." To my shock I inform him, "I don't wear granny panties!" Pointing out that my undergarments are carefully divided into my everyday comfortable nylon-spandex tummy controllers, my full-body Spanx that I wear under dresses, the panties that don't show through my work dress pants and the foolishness he buys me every Christmas. There are no granny panties in this drawer!

He picks up a pair of my NASA engineered favourites and says, "These are granny panties."
"No they are not!" I protested, "Granny panties are cotton, with flowers all over them and come up to your armpits." I grabbed my daily favourites out of his hand, "These are a modern-day wonder! They hide years of not doing sit-ups every day, cellulite dimples, Big Macs with extra sauce and muffin belly! My grandmother never had panties like this!"

"Call them what you want. They are modern-day granny panties" he informs me.
Putting them back in the drawer I thought, "I would have to join a gym if I ever gave these beauties up."

Anyway it got me to thinking. So I made a visit to La Senza. Maybe my underwear drawer needed an update.
The walls of the store were lined with massive posters of girls who don't eat so they can wear lace without tummy control panels. Looking at their photo-shopped abs didn't inspire me to drop to the floor and do a hundred sit-ups it just made me want to hold them down and force feed them hamburgers.

The 20 something sales girl came over with her size 0 figure and asked if I needed help. "I am looking to update my underwear drawer" I tell her, "I am looking for something that is comfortable but... sexy." I know in her head she's thinking "Sex at her age! Wow good for her!"
First she shows me the wall of underwear to turn on perverts. "No, that's not what I am looking for" and we move along to the "School girl" underwear to turn on pedophiles. "That's not me either" I tell her. Then she shows me the "new" line just in that week with the red or black fur around the waistband. "Doesn't that show through your dress pants?" I ask her. "Oh, you don't wear anything over these ones." "That ought to make my work day more interesting" I thought.

Then she brings out the most dreaded, torturous devise knows to woman... the G-String!
I tried a pair once and I looked like a summo wrestler. Even I laughed when I looked in the mirror. It brought back a memory to me. I was doing a two-day course at university. Before the course started we were all standing in the back of the class chatting and getting to know one another. I met this lovely lady who told me she was 60-years-old and was doing the course out of interest. When it was time to sit down, she sat in front of me and to my horror she was wearing low-cut jeans that revealed a tattoo of a pair of eyes above her cheeks but the worst part; she was wearing  a silver thong.

It was like a car crash, I couldn't look away. For seven hours her butt watched me, staring at me, scarring me for life. It was then I realized that thongs should not only come with a size on them, but an age limit too.
"I don't do fanny-floss" I told her. I need something comfortable. "Maybe you should go to Walmart" she says. "Maybe you should go to hell" I thought in my head.

With her sales commission still in my wallet, I left and called hubby from my cell phone in the car.
"Ok I am willing to compromise. What would be your favourite underwear?" "Ones that are on the floor" he tells me. "So I don't have to buy a G-string?" "God no!" he says to my great relief.

"I can keep my aerodynamically engineered control top undies?" "As long as I am  the only one who sees them" he says. "It's a deal" and with a flat tummy and no muffin belly I stopped at Dairy Queen for a chocolate milkshake and went home.
It goes to show, when it comes to granny panties, it's what's on the inside that counts!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Who the hell gave me a baby?

I wanted children when I was a child, but by the time I hit my twenties I knew it was a bad idea. I had a plant once, that I called Robert, because that was the best name I could come up with. It was a cactus and it died from lack of watering. I used to buy huge tins of cat food and dump it all in a bowl so the cat could eat all week because I honestly thought that's how you feed cats. Then I got pregnant. My greatest fear wasn't gaining weight or losing weight, I invested in packs and packs of Post-It notes so I could leave reminders to myself each night to feed the baby the next day.

There was nothing natural about it for me. I really was a fish out of water. At the time five other women I worked with became pregnant. Week by week they gave updates on how they loved being pregnant, how they glowed, how healthy they were eating. I hated being pregnant. I felt like an alien was growing inside me. I never glowed, my hair fell out by the handfuls in the shower, my face broke out like I was going through adolescence all over again and feet turned into flippers. My longings were for cold spaghetti out of a tin and salsa. I never craved for apples or lettuce. Why would the good Lord pick me to give life?
The first year was hard, I had post-partum depression and my son was colic. I don't know who cried more. At the time Martha Steward had her weekly "Living" show on TV and monthly magazines. I watched her religiously trying to be the perfect wife and mother. I stopped watching her the night she cooked salmon over lemon tree branches that she had cut down from her garden that afternoon. I knew the bar was set to high. I would just have do my best. I tried to breast feed but the well was dry. I just couldn't produce enough to keep him fed. The public health nurse kept telling me "Your milk will come in. Just keep trying."

My son was born in January and I was determined to get my life back. When Valentine's Day rolled around in February, I demanded we go out as we always did. I dressed up in a silk dress and we went to our favourite Mexican restaurant. Shortly after they delivered the appetizers my husband said "Did you spill something on yourself?" I looked down, my shirt was soaking. I ran to the bathroom. I thought I had sprung a leak. I unbutton the top of my dress and pulled my boobs out of my bra. The milk had come in! I looked like the Old Faithfull giser. Two steady streams of milk were hitting the cubical door and splashing on the floor. I didn't know how to turn it off. So I folded wads and wads of toilet paper and did something I haven't had to do in years. I stuffed my bra! I folded my arms over my chest and ran through the restaurant. Our food was just arriving. "We're taking this home with us. Please pack it up!" I told the waiter to his confusion. "I'll be in the car" I told my husband. That night, I sat in my rocking chair eating a burrito while I fed my son gallons of fresh milk. We both had gas the next day.

I remember one time the TV remote went missing for days. I tore the house up looking for it. When you have post-partum depression, you're one step away from losing it every second of everyday. I blamed my husband for hiding it. (Why I thought he would do that I don't know). I cursed and swore for days  threatening to throw the TV out the window if someone didn't cough up the remote. Then one afternoon, while paying for my groceries at Sobey's, I reached in the diaper bag for my wallet, only to find the remote.  I don't know how it go there. I laid it back on the coffee table. No one said anything. They were all too afraid.

My husband worked twelve hour shifts back then and I spent a lot of nights alone. One night when he was about 18 months old i gave him a bath, I laid him on the floor in my bedroom and put on his diaper. Before I had a chance to get him in his sleepers my mother called. I was only on the phone with her for about five minutes when it struck me that he was too quiet. I hung up the phone and peeked at the bottom of the bed. He had gotten in to my purse.
At that time my husband was still a police officer and no one could accuse me of marrying him for his money, I was on maternity leave making only 60% of my small salary from working in radio. A new baby put a lot of pressure on the budget so I had to watch every cent we spent. I had our monthly bills in my purse with the cash tucked into each envelope. I planned to pay them the next day. This was before you could pay bills by phone or over the internet. Back then you had to drive to NL Power, NL Telephone, Cable, etc. He had taken the money out of each envelope and was taking great pleasure in tearing each bill to pieces. Not just ripping them in half. He was making dime size pieces of each bill. I screamed and gave him such a fright he burst into tears. I grabbed him off the floor and put him in his room then went back to mine and with tears hitting the carpet, tried to tape the money back together. It must of taken me a good 20 minutes to find all the pieces. I almost had all the money put back together when my son waddled into the door in his diaper saying "I pretty Mommy. Look at me." I looked at him in shock. He had found a blue pen and started drawing on his little fat belly, then continued down his legs and arms, onto his face and up in his scalp. I thought I was going to have a breakdown. I had to put him back in the tub and scrub till he almost bled. I am pretty sure I cried more than him that night.

I always went to my mother for advice in the beginning. I figured after raising ten kids she had learned a trick or two. I dropped the baby off to her one afternoon so I could get the groceries in peace. She asked about his colic and I told her he was constipated and in pain at times but the doctor told me he would get over it when he started to eat more. He was also teething at this point. So all around he was going to be a joy to baby sit. I left the baby and diaper bag with enough provisions for a month (just in case I didn't come back) and went on my way.

When I got back an hour later my mother told me she had trouble with the Pampers I had left her. She never used them before and couldn't figure it out. So she did what she knew best. She took a small towel , folded it like an old time cloth diaper and put it on him with two big pins. It was kind of funny when I looked at him sleeping in his car seat. Then it struck me. He's sleeping! "How long has he been sleeping?" I asked. "Oh, about a half hour." Bewildered, I asked how she got him to sleep. "Just an old trick from back home. You said he was teething so I rubbed his gums with brandy and he fell off shortly after that." "You gave my baby brandy?" "Don't be so foolish, that's what you're supposed to do with teething babies." Disgusted I left her house to drive home with my baby passed out in his car seat. I was no more than two minutes away from her house when I got the smell. It was pure sewer! Then I heard this loud gurgling noise and the smell filled the car. "Did I walk in dog crap" I thought. Then I heard the sound of a fart a grown man would be proud of and I looked in the rear-view mirror. He was still asleep but he was smiling. By the time I got home my eyes were burning.

I open the back door and released him from the safety harness. He had diarrhea. The car seat was full of it. It was down his legs and the cloth diaper did nothing to hold it in. It dripped over the car seat and on the floor. I had to hold him by the arm pits at arms length to carry him. I forgot to take the house key out of my pocket so I had to hold him with one arm while trying to unlock and open the door. It was then another loud fart hit and a liter of diarrhea flowed down his leg onto my hip and down my leg. By the time I got to the bathroom we were both covered from head to toe with liquid shit! I had to take everything he and I were wearing and throw it in the garbage and we both got in the shower.
When we got out I laid him on a towel on the floor while I tried to dry myself. I heard another big fart so I grabbed him and held him over the toilet. I spent the next half hour sitting naked on the bathroom floor holding my naked son over the toilet thinking each time, "There can't possibly be more!"

I finally got him in a real diaper and both of us dressed. I phoned my mother and told her off for giving him brandy. "That wasn't the brandy" she informs me, "That was the prunes. I fed him a great big jar of baby food prunes to cure his constipation." For the next two days, I couldn't leave the house and he lost about five pounds.
The one thing I learned through it all is, don't sweat the small stuff. I was on my way to work one morning when I noticed chocolate around a fingernail. While maneuvering through early morning traffic I licked it off. Then thought, "I hope it was chocolate." I ran through my agenda that morning: fed the baby, changed the baby, got dressed left. Don't remember eating chocolate. Oh well.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Observations in a mall: The lady with the expensive purse

I was standing in the checkout line at the Dollar Store in the mall with a basket full of decorations for my daughter's birthday party. There was a young lady standing in front of me, she was the next to get checked-in.

Her hair was blond, perfectly straight. it fell just below her shoulders. Her long white coat came just above her knee. The hem of the blue dress she was wearing fell about an inch below the coat hem to reveal tanned legs. She was over-dressed for the dollar store. She held several items in her hand: a greeting card that said "Happy Birthday to the man I love," a small navy blue gift bag and white wrapping tissue. I guessed she was going to a birthday party. She placed the items on the countertop then laid her oversized purse down as if to create a barrier between her stuff and mine.
The teenaged clerk scanned each item without much thought, she had obviously worked here for a while. The total was $ 5.97. The lady took a credit card out of her  wallet. The clerk pointed to the machine on the counter and said "Swipe towards me, we don't have a chip reader yet." The cash machine spit out the receipt and the clerk tore it off, grabbed a pen and passed it to the lady saying "Sign at the bottom." The tip of the pin slightly grazed the front of the purse.

Without warning the lady grabbed the purse off the countertop startling both me and the clerk. She pushed it towards the clerk, her face filled with anger "Look what you did!" she yelled, "Do you know what this purse costs? That ink mark better come out or you'll be replacing it!" The young clerk froze not knowing what to say at first then "It was an accident. I don't see a mark." The lady slammed the purse down on the counter "I see a mark and it better come out! This purse costs over $5000! It's a real Louis Vuitton!"
It was then I realized she wasn't a young girl. I had only seen her from behind first but as she berated the clerk I could see her whole face. She was in her late 40s maybe even early 50s. The lines around her eyes were deep and you could see where the make-up ended on her  jaw line and her neck  began. She looked like a women who had spent too much time in the sun or a tanning booth. He lipstick was bright red, a colour that was much too young for her face. It was then I noticed her shoes. They were the black, plastic $19.97 pumps from Walmart. I know because I have the same ones. I thought to myself "Why would someone carrying a $5000 purse wear cheap shoes from Walmart?

The clerk quickly bagged the ladies items. "I want the manager's name and phone number" she demanded. The clerk wrote the information on a piece of paper and handed it to her. The lady grabbed it from her fingers and put it in her pocket. She left the store with the Louis Vuitton over her shoulder and the Dollar Store bag in her hand. The clerk's face was red, sweat ran off her brow and she wiped it with her arm. She was shaking and tried to smile at me while saying "Did you find everything you were looking for?" I nodded yes and her hands shook as she picked up each item to scan it.
I left the store and stopping at the food court for a coffee and to check my email. It wasn't until I sat down and opened my coffee that I realized Mrs. Louis Vuitton was sitting at the table next to me. She sat on the opposite side than I did. So we were face to face. She was on her cell phone and didn't look at me.  I only had a few email, mostly items to delete so I put the phone down and began my favourite sport of people watching.

My eyes kept wandering back to the overly dressed Mrs. Vuitton. Why hadn't she gone to her party? She put the blue gift bag on the table and took a small box out of her expensive purse. I recognized the name of the jewelry store on the front. She opened it and arranged the cufflinks so the birthday boy would see the monogrammed initial as soon as he opened the box. She put the box in the bag then took out the wrapping tissue and arranged it like a hankerchief poking out of the bag. She took out the birthday card and opened it up. She searched through her expensive purse but couldn't find a pen. She finally noticed me sitting across from her and with a smile asked "Do you have a pen I could borrow?" I lifted my blue Coach purse from the seat next to me "Sure" I took out my cheap plastic pen and handed it to her. She wrote "Love" then her name. She put the card in its envelope and placed it in the bag. She picked up her cell phone and continued to make calls. My pen was still in her hand.
It was then I noticed what Mrs. Vuitton was doing. She had her ATM card out of her wallet, she was calling the number on the back. I could tell she got the recording to type in her card number and password because I've made that call from a mall many a time myself. She followed the instructions and continued pressing buttons. I knew she was checking the totals in her saving and chequing accounts. She began biting her lower lip and hung up the phone. She took out the credit card she had used at the dollar store and called the number on the back. She entered the card number and continued to press numbers, checking the balance on her credit card. Then hung up. She took out a second credit card and did the same thing. The anxious look on her face told me she was at her limit. It was then I noticed she wasn't wearing a wedding ring.

As soon as she laid the phone back on the table it rang. She picked it up, "Hello. Oh I see." She was oblivious to me and spoke like I couldn't hear her. "Your children get the flu a lot lately. I have your birthday gift with me. I was looking forward to giving it to you." There was a pause as she listened to the caller, "I know you told me no presents but she won't notice this gift, I promise." I realized the man on the other end, the birthday boy she was waiting for, was married. "Ok, I understand. Will I get to see you over the weekend?" The look on her face during the pause told me she wouldn't see him then either. She hung up the phone.
She picked up her Louis Vuitton purse that had been sitting on the chair next to her and placed it on the table. She put her cell phone inside. It was then I noticed it! Her "Louis Vuitton" was a "Louie Vuition!" It was spelled wrong.  It was a fake! The purse costs no more than $35 at a Florida flea market. She had berated a teenage clerk at the Dollar Store over a cheap rip-off purse!

She stood up, picked up her present and the cheap purse. She realized she still had my pen in her hand. "Thanks" she said as she passed me the pen. She noticed my Coach purse on the table. "Nice purse" she smiled "I love quality." She turned her back to me and walked away. He cheap Walmart pumps clicked on the floor tile, her fake Louie over her shoulder and her plans for the night squashed.
"Quality" I thought. It takes a small person to berate a teenager over accidently marking a fake purse.  A smaller person still to interfere with a marriage. Would she ever call the store manager? I doubt it. I watched her leave through the mall's doors. This woman didn't know the first thing about quality.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day Mom!

I bought my first Father's Day Card when I was 32-years-old.  It was my son's first Father's Day.

Up until then I didn't know the exact date for it. All I remember about Father's Day is it was that dreaded week in June when the fatherless kids were told to colour and keep quiet while the other kids spent what seemed like hours making Father's Day cards from construction paper.
My father left when I was five. That story would take more than an article, it would need a whole book. Let's just say, that was the nicest thing he ever did for me. My Mother became both parents, raising ten kids on her own and running a boarding house on top of it. She cooked three hot meals for over twenty people every day, starched sheets and could plaster and paint like a professional.  She was the first to prove that women really could have it all, Children and a career!

I grew up in a politically incorrect world. Back then school books described the perfect, happy family as a mother, father and kids. If your family didn't reflect that, you felt like the poor cousin at the table.  Every permission slip came home with a note to be signed by your father or mother, not your guardian.
I went to an all female, Roman Catholic school taught by Nuns or women who should have been Nuns. I remember one class project, we had to draw a picture of our wedding day and how the church played a part (I was in grade two). Each girl drew a picture of herself in a big fluffy white wedding gown. Some were standing at the altar, some were walking down the aisle, some drew their family standing with the priest after the ceremony. I drew me (wearing my fluffy wedding  dress) and my mother, hugging each other with big smiles on our faces. Each of us took turns standing in front of our grade two classmates explaining our future self-portraits and the teacher asked each girl questions about who was in the picture and what was happening.

 Me, being painfully shy at that age, quickly ran up front and said, "This is me and my Mom on my wedding day" then ran back to by desk. The teacher called me back and asked "Who else will be at your wedding?" I thought and said, "I don't know." She asked, "What about your father? He'll be giving you a way." "I don't have a father,"  a laughter broke out in the class. "Everyone has a father. Your father gives you away at your wedding" she informs me at eight years old. "My mother will give me away" I told her. "Mother's don't give you away. It has to be your father." I sat back in my desk thinking I would never get married at eight-years-old because I didn't have a father. I never forgot her voice.
Truth was, very few kids I knew had both parents. I can only think of two families on my block that did.  The picture of the shiny, happy family on the cover of our Roman Catholic catechism didn't exist on my block.  I would imagine it didn't exist on a lot of blocks.

These politically incorrect times were awkward at times. Our school held an annual father-daughter banquet. I went one year with my mother. I think she was the only mother who attended. The  other women  were serving cold plates.  I remember sitting at the long table filled with fathers and daughters thinking that I wished we weren't there. Looking back on it now, I wonder was it her way of sending me a message that I was just as good as everyone else and a small protest on her part to send a message to teachers that times have changed.
Nowadays single-parent families are the norm. Teachers are very careful when they discuss what a family is. It's no longer just mother and father and kids. Sometimes it's just a mother, sometimes just a father, sometimes two mothers, and sometimes two fathers. The definition of family has changed... for the better.

The only thing that's important is a loving environment for kids. Everything else is secondary.
After my first child was born and I realized that being a mother is a damn hard job, I started giving my mother a Father's Day card. My thought being, that if she was both mother and father to me then she deserves to celebrate both days.

This past week I was at Lawton's Drug Store looking for a Father's Day cards. Just below "Happy Father's Day to My Brother" and just above "Happy Father's Day to Grand-Pa" was a new insert I have never seen before, "Happy Father's Day to My Mother." The slot was empty.
I assume I am not the only one had both parents rolled in to one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lot to be said for old friends

My friend Nancy and I have been having an argument for over thirty years. Back in our teens when the whole world was getting physical with Olivia Newton-John, Nancy and I decided to jump on the aerobics band-wagon and get fit.

We donned our spandex pants, rainbow coloured leg warmers and went to an aerobics class that was being held in the basement of a church at the bottom of Long's Hill. It was sixty hard minutes of tough stretching, jumping and aerobic moves. We looked like Lucille Ball and Ethel Mertz in a comedy routine from the "I Love Lucy" show.  By the time it was over we could barely suck in the nicotine from our DeMaurier Lights. Still in our sweaty spandex we began the long climb up Long's Hill towards home. Each step felt like we were dragging a fifty pound weight behind us. Half way up the hill a young boy on the opposite side called out to us "Hey fat arse!" Then ran off into a laneway laughing.
Now I thought that was a horrible thing to say about Nancy. She had worked as hard as I did and I told her straight out "Don't listen to him. Your arse is not fat." "I know" she says, "Because he was talking to you." Catching my breath from the climb and with sweat running down my face I told her "My butt is not fat. He's not talking to me." With a spite brewing in her eyes she said, "My butt is not fat. It's you he was talking about." So for more than thirty years we have argued back and forth. I feel sorry for Nancy not being able to face the truth.

Wasn't her first time either. Growing up we would constantly sleep at each other's house. Nancy was lucky. She had a twin bed to herself. I had to share a double with my sister. We had a record player in my room and stacks of 45s and LPs. One night we were playing record after record as loud as the volume button would turn. Doing all the latest dance moves on my bedroom floor kept making the records skip even with pennies taped to the arm of the needle. So we decided to jump up and down on top of the bed and see who's head could hit the stucco ceilings first. Saturday Night by the Bay City Rollers was blaring through the speakers and our voices were keeping up. Our heads were just about hitting the stucco when we heard a crash and came flying down to the floor. A second later my mother came through the door "Turn the music down. What was that bang?" She looked down to see the foot of the bed had hit the floor, the legs had cracked off. Nancy and I had fallen on our butts on top of the mattress. I quickly assessed the situation. I was jumping at the head of the bed, she was jumping at the foot. "Nancy broke the bed Mom." "I did not" she protested, "You were jumping too!" "But my half didn't break." I don't think my mother really cared either way. She took the legs from under the head and put the box-spring and mattress on the floor. No more legs to worry about. But in my defense, it was broke on her side. Must have been her fat arse.
Nancy and I are like sisters. We squabble back and forth then move on. She is the god-mother to my son and was there for his birth. I had terrible back labour that went on for hours. My husband left to get a sandwich and Nancy stayed monitoring the heart beats. They were going up and down and began to get erratic. Before I knew it the room was full of medical professionals. My husband got back just in time. I was ready to deliver. The doctor told us "The umbilical cord is wrapped around his neck. Don't push." I was scared. She screamed from bottom of the table "If you push once more you will hang your child!" I went numb. It was the closest I've ever come to an out-of-body-experience. The room was a blur, my husband was standing next to me. Behind him I saw Nancy, crying, praying. Then I heard the baby cry.

He was a colicky baby. He cried for days on end. I didn't know what to do with him. I cried, he cried. He never slept for more than an hour and I was sleep deprived. I couldn't get a cup of tea in peace. To shower, I had to bring him in the bathroom  in his car seat and get a quick wash. Still he cried. Nancy was going to trades school at the time and finished every Friday at noon. She would come over take my son and let me get a nap, a shower and a cup of tea in peace. I waited all week for Fridays. One Friday she called to say she wouldn't be coming because she was going to a fellow students birthday party at the Sundance on George Street. I felt like a criminal on death row who just had her last hope taken away. I cried so hard I could barely say "That's ok. You go on and have fun." At two o'clock the front door opened in walks Nancy. "What happened to the party?" "It was boring. Go get your shower." She took the baby for walk. The pardon from the governor had come. I would live another day.
Over the years there have been so many stories to tell. When I was in my early 20s I foolishly married the wrong man. She was the Maid of Honour. Nine months later it was over. I crawled back to my old bed in my mother's house. I stayed there for days. While gossips spread their rumours Nancy came over. She got in bed, put her arm around me and fell asleep.

Unable to say no to anyone, when a fellow at Club Max or Greensleeves would ask for her phone number, she would give them the phone number to the Mental Hospital. One time she was complaining that no one had asked her out in a while so I said phone the hospital and ask if they had any messages for you.
My mother says "Show me your friends and I'll tell you what you are." I must be doing ok if anyone is judging me by her. Not everyone has a friendship that lasts over forty years.  Just this past Saturday night we out danced twenty-five twelve year olds when the DJ played "YMCA" at my daughter's birthday party.

She did ok... for someone with a fat arse!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Angels we have heard on high

Did you know 68% of Americans believe in angels? I am not surprised. (I couldn't find Canadian stats).

Angels come in many forms; the flowing gown angel with majestic white wings, the old good-hearted angel named Clarence who appeared to George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, Charlie's Angels or even Victory Secret Angels (although they are not real, they're photo shopped). Maybe it's just someone who does an angelic deed for a neighbour.
I have always believed that angels come to you when you ask them to and in many forms.

I think when someone steps into your life and changes the course you are on for the good, they are an angel. These deeds may not always be earth-shattering deeds that open the heavens, it could be a small gesture or a word.
When I was young I was a tom boy. No one really knew I was a girl till I was about sixteen! Let's just say I was a little homely. A friend of my brothers was visiting from the mainland. I was also painfully shy so I was not good at holding a conversation either. At supper he tried his best to include me in the conversation but the best I could do was a nod or say yup. He must have grown frustrated at one point because he looked me in the eye and said, "You know Helen. If you would learn to talk properly you could really go places. I know you have interesting things to say. So just say them. I'd like to hear your opinion." It was the first time anyone asked me for my opinion. His words stuck with me for the rest of my life. Every time I was too shy to speak up I kept hearing "I know you have interesting things to say. So just say them." That one comment changed the course of my life. I taught myself to speak up and remembered what I had to say mattered.  He was an angel.

Over the years I have been involved with a youth organization focused on girls and I've done several career talks to teens. I always seek out that one kid that stands in the back of the room or hides in the corner. I find something nice to say that will make them feel good about themselves. Like, "I loved that picture you painted. You're such a good artist." Or, "You're so smart I can see it in you. Tell me what you are going to be when you finish school." I see myself in that kid and I  make sure I pay it forward. I realized that one good, encouraging comment you say to a kid maybe the one that changes their whole life. You maybe their angel.
When I finished high school I knew I wanted to go into broadcasting. No one in my family had gone to university or done any post secondary education. I found university intimidating. I called Student Services one day and tried to explain what I wanted to do but the person on the other end of the phone didn't have the motivation or time to help me. I became discouraged and was ready to give up. I just didn't know how to say out loud "I want to be in broadcasting now help me!" My friend Carol, who had a car at the time, which was a big thing, because I could barely afford the bus, told me "I will pick you up tomorrow and drive you to MUN and we will find the program that's right for you." She did and we found a broadcasting course in Edmonton that I liked. She helped me apply and I got in. The rest as they say "Is history." I graduated, went into broadcasting then jumped to communications. Carol was an angel who took the time to help a friend and it changed the course of my life.

We have become a world of people who look up to celebrities. I read one statistic that said one out of every three young girls would rather be famous than intelligent. That's startling considering many women in third world countries don't have the right to be educated let alone famous.
I've never idolized a celebrity. I've plastered my bedroom with posters of Elvis and the Bay City Rollers back in the day because I loved their music but I never wanted to be like them. Back then we also didn't know every move celebrities made either like we do today.  Can you imagine if Elvis sent out a Tweet every time he moved. The whole internet would be all shook up!

There are too many people misguiding young people. It's too easy to find the anti-angels.  Angels do walk among us. They are everyday people who just happen to be in the right place at the right time in your life. They motivate you to think about your life, they inspire you to do something, they put their arms around you and comfort you when you need it. They give you hope. They create serendipity - the happy accident.
Whether you believe in God or not, you have to believe in angels. Think about your life and the people who changed it for the better, they are the Angels you have heard on high.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Are you a Newfoundlander or Labradorian?

How long do you have to live and work in this province to be considered a Newfoundlander or Labradorian?

I asked a group of friends this question a few years ago and the responses I received back from friends who were born away (Mainlanders), but spent a good part of their lives here, were quite strongly worded. Some were adamant that they were NLers! 

One friend moved to Newfoundland and Labrador 35 years ago when he was 22 years old. His wife is from Harbour Grace and he has two children. One child born in Newfoundland and one born in Labrador, but he was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. So is he a Newfoundlander or a Mainlander? When I asked him, he said, “I’ve lived and worked all over this province for 35 years and I have the friendliness that all Newfoundlanders are known for. So, yes I am a Newfoundlander.”

What about the person who moved to Fort McMurry when he was 22 and spent 35 years living there, contributing to Alberta's economy? Is he a Newfoundlander? Are his children?

I was born in St. John’s but I don’t hang my clothes on a line, drink my tea in the woods and I get sea sick on boats. Am I a Newfoundlander? I heard a radio talk show host refer to transplanted Canadians as “Mainlanders” like they don’t really belong. No matter how many years they have lived here.
 
Where is the tipping point to becoming a NLer? Should we be treating that provincial birth certificate like it’s Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. Or should we call a person a true NLer when they have contributed to the economy for 35 years, raised their children here, served their entire career here and plan on retiring here?

Do you have to be a Stamp from St. Vincent's to be a Newfoundlander? Or a Letto from Goose Bay to be a Labradorian? Did you know that there are no "Clearys in Cape St. Mary's?" The Clearys are from Riverhead Harbour Grace or Bishop's Falls.

What's wrong with being a Raheja from The Goulds? Couldn't a Newfoundlander be a Xidos from Green's Pond?

I get frustrated when I hear things like "Why do Tim Horton's hire so many immigrants? We can't understand them." Really? How do you think they feel about us? Or when I hear people on radio call-in shows saying "Jobs should go to Newfoundlanders first." I am for that, if they are qualified. First I want you to explain to me what qualifies a person as a "Newfoundlander." What about my friend who has lived here for 35 years? If we both apply for a job should I get it just because I was born here?

When I enrolled my daughter in French immersion six years ago I was criticized by friends and family who claimed "You won't' be able to help her with her homework!", "She'll never be able to speak English properly?" or "Why do you want to waste her time on French sure she'll never use it here in Newfoundland?" Who says my daughter will want to live in this province. Today's generation are not tied to these shores like our generation. They want to be able to travel without paying hundreds of dollars for ferries and plane connections to Halifax.

Luckily times have changed and parents line up at three AM to make sure their kids get into the French immersion program. The selling point for me was when I was shopping at a mall in Ottawa.  I walked into a ladies clothing store and the teenaged salesperson who offered to help me first asked "English or French?" I asked if she was fluent in both languages, she answered "Yes, I speak five languages." That's who my daughter will have to compete with for a job some day.

The world becomes smaller and smaller everyday due to the internet and faster ways to travel. Only speaking English severely limits your life. According to the amount of kids in the French immersion program, Newfoundland and Labrador will eventually become a bilingual province! On a recent trip to Orlando, Florida I noticed we were the only ones speaking English.

When the province is facing the problem of out-migration, I think we should embrace the benefits of in-migration. Diversity is a good thing. After all, aren't we all immigrants? My husband's grand-father hid on a Portuguese fishing vessel when he was around ten and snuck off in Placentia. He couldn't speak a word of English. He was raised by the local parish priest. He was an immigrant and without him I wouldn't have a husband or a brown eyed, olived skinned daughter. My own family came from Ireland. We were immigrants at one point. We all came from somewhere along the way. Our ancestors came to Newfoundland and Labrador for the same reason today's immigrants move here: our unique culture, our friendliness and our reputation for always putting out the welcome mat.

Being a Newfoundland or Labradorian may not be some people's “birth right” but they have earned it through hard work, raising a family, contributing to the local economy and introducing us to their culture through food, festivals and neighborly conversations.

Welcoming immigrants to our shores is part of the cultural fabric that makes this province great. If you pay taxes here, then you're a Newfoundlander or Labradorian in my opinion.

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Is chivalry dead?

A Twitter friend of mine suggested I write a blog on chivalry. Recently he held the door to let a lady walk through and she made a rude comment stating she can hold her own door. He didn't know what he did wrong.

Sometimes women believe chivalry is rooted in sexism and outdated. That it is based on women being the weaker sex; A man must hold the door for her, stand when she gets up to leave a room, pull out her chair when she wants to sit down or help put on her coat.
Or is chivalry just good manners and good upbringing?

According to the dictionary, chivalry means the medieval system of knighthood; knightly qualities, bravery, courtesy, respect for women. Manners means polite social behaviour.
My friend is part of a generation that was told by their mothers to open the door for a lady. I was raised in a generation that expects him to hold the door. I am always appalled when a man doesn't open the door for me. My first thought is "Who raised him?"

Manners are a totally different thing. Manners are teaching your kids not to spit on the sidewalk or fart at the table. That's a totally different set of "raising" rules. I don't believe enough parents teach manners either.
I do teach my son to be chivalrous. It's not something I put on my "raising" priority list. It's something that comes naturally to me. Maybe I am turning into my mother, but when I am going somewhere with my son I always say, "Go up ahead and hold the door please" or "Let the lady go ahead of you" or "Help your grand-mother with her coat." I expect when I am not with him he does it on his own. I would be upset if someone told me they saw my son walking into the mall and he slammed the door in a lady's face. I would also be upset if they said they saw him slam the door in a man's face.

I also apply the same rules to my daughter. I am always saying to her "That's not very lady like" and she says to me "Mom, you're the only one who says that!" I don't care. Telling her to "Sit up straight" or "Skirts should be at the knee" or "Put leggings on if you're wearing that wide belt. Ladies don't spend the whole day pulling their skirts down to cover their behind!" or "Don't chew with your mouth open."
Both are warned not to spit in my presence or fart at the table. Manners are equally important for both sexes.

I like the way that Princess Catherine has brought being a lady back in vogue. She was criticized by the media for wearing nylons with her dresses. Really! The horror! A young woman with class! How awful for the media. Wearing dresses that touch her knee! My God, how will they sell papers? Pearls, those pearls passed down from her Mother, the tart! How dare she. After a decade of Pop-princesses that drive drunk and show up at events with no underwear, Princess Catherine is a welcome sight for mothers of teenage girls.
It is chivalry that reminds a man to hold the door for a lady and let her walk through. It's good manners to hold it for your male friend. Either way it doesn't make you a bad person for doing it.

Recently I met a friend at Tim Horton's for lunch. As you may know, I had surgery on my back at the end of March. Having two titanium rods screwed into my spine has left me unable to walk without a cane for a while. So I am still new in the "disabled world" and learning how to maneuver around.  
My friend had arrived before me and was sitting down with her meal. I went to counter and ordered mine. Then I was told to go to the counter at the end to get my tray. I struggled trying to keep my purse on my shoulder, lean on my cane and balance my tray filled with hot coffee and soup. There were several people standing around me and I couldn't help but notice they all looked at their shoes or the ceiling. Knowing they should do something but not sure what. A man sitting in the corner stood up and walked over. He said, "Missus do you need some help?" He didn't wait for my answer and took the tray from my hand. While he walked me to my table he said to the crowd, "You see the lady needs help and not one of you would help her!" They all looked away.

My friend had her back to me and wasn't aware that I needed help. The funny thing was, this man was the most unlikely knight in shining armour that I have ever met. He was covered in tattoos including a huge spider web that covered his entire face and several other works of art like sculls and crosses on his neck. If I had spotted him across the room, knightly qualities like bravery, courtesy and respect for women would not be adjectives I would have used on him. I would expect to see him on the nightly news being led into the court house in shackles. He certainly gave my friend a fright when she looked up and saw this man laying a tray down at her table. His taste in art work was definitely different than mine but someone raised him right.
Was I insulted? No I was thankful. I learned that knights come in all kinds of shining armour. Did it make me feel like a weak women? No, not at all. I would hope my son would do the same thing. It just made me feel crappy for judging a knight by the cover of his armour.

My husband was an officer with the Navy and is a retired police officer. He is both an officer and a gentleman. Chivalry is second nature for him. For almost 20 years he has held doors for me and pulled out my chairs at formal events (nightly meals at home don't count). He helps me with my coat always but we are equals in our marriage.
Is chivalry sexist? What if a gay man holds the door open for a woman? What if a trans-gendered person opens the door for a woman?  Are they doing it because they are sexist and because women are the weaker sex? I hold open the door for older ladies and let them go first. Am I sexist?
Listen, most women I know can kick your ass. There's nothing weak about them. Remember, Jane Fonda introduced us to aerobics years ago. We can mess you up bad. Ain't nothing weak about the sisters! We've been doing for ourselves for years.

I think women who say things like "I can hold my own door" are rude.  Plain and simple. It's just not lady like behaviour.

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