Thursday, 13 December 2012

twilight

It was something, Porter told me, hunting for words, his eyes focusing on events far back in time, that he remembered from when he was a boy. Something that had stayed with him, but until he heard my mothers story and met me hadn't really made any sense.

"I remember my father coming in from work," he said, his hand touching mine, "and I remember how angry he was. My mother was sleeping on the couch  - she usually did when he was working late - and he blew right past her - no hello, no kiss, no how was your day. I was at the top of the stairs - I'd been up in my room playing with a toy and my flashlight. Even that young, I didn't sleep very well, and it had been thundering. My father shouted for my mom "Gracie! Get up! Alice is gone!"

I slid my my fingers around his, noticing that his hand was cold in mine. "It sounds like your Dad was really upset when Mama disappeared, Porter. Were they friends?"

He nodded. I couldn't understand the tenseness that still flooded from him. "Why does that memory make you angry?"

"Because, Katie, my Dad didn't grab a flashlight or a bullhorn or round up my mother into a rescue posse and go beating the woods. My father told my mother to put on her dark coat and to grab the shovel."

I sat back, mouth agape, putting the pieces together, trying for a way that didn't paint Clay in a bad light, and failing.

Porter looked miserable. "I've been over this again and again in my head, Kate, trying to remember  more about that night. What stands out the most is my Dad was so angry. I'd never seen him that upset. He snapped at my mother  - he usually treated her like a queen - and roared at me to go back to bed when he caught a glimpse of me huddled at the top of the stairs."

I thought. Clay had always been so open, so friendly. But I had no experience with murderers, and couldn't trust my instincts. Or could I?

I listened to Porter's heart beat under my cheek. (When had I moved toward him?  He was comforting and familiar and smelt like paint thinner and fresh air, and despite what he'd told me, I was relaxing in his arms.)

He kissed the top of my head. "I think" he said, angling so he could see my face, "we need to talk to my father."

I nodded. "Tomorrow."
                                                                                                    

Saturday, 1 December 2012

light blue

I couldn't get Maud to talk about Mama anymore. She'd huffed at me when I asked if she'd like to stay the night and called for a taxi, and we'd had twenty minutes of horrible, stilted conversation while she waited. She had said that the house looked terrific, but I was left with the impression we hadn't talked about what she really came to say when she offered her cheek to be kissed and finally said goodbye.

I puzzled on that the rest of my evening - if showing up and warning me off finding out my history wasn't the purpose of her visit, than what on earth had been?


The next morning came without any clear answers, and I yawned my way through breakfast. I was finding Wood's leash for the walk to the grocery when he woofed once and went to the back door, waggling all over the place. I went to the door, telling him he was a very undignified dog indeed, and went immediately tongue-tied and clammy at the sight of Porter on my porch.




I quelled the silly girl inside me that wanted to sigh with how handsome he looked, forced my features into a delighted (I hoped not foolish) grin, and sang out "Good morning!"

He smiled. "Katie. I brought you something." He held out a crumpled lunch sack. All sorts of romantic, foolish things popped into my head - flowers? Candy? Jewelry? A letter professing undying love?

Where, I asked myself, did that thought come from??

He tipped the contents out into his hand. "I saw these up at Hanover Ridge, and I thought they'd match that little chest of drawers. Was I right?"

I touched one of the antique drawer pulls, admiring their soft shine. "Perfect. Thank you."

 His voice was very soft. "Katie?' He was so close, all rugged hair and big dark eyes and Porter....

And then Porter Ryan kissed me, there on the porch with the sun lighting up the flowers we'd planted and the breeze sighing in agreement and my knees just disappeared. He stepped back and smiled down at me. 'Good morning. What should we do today?'



That evening, after a day spent refinishing, sanding, and painting the chest of drawers in the hallway (it wore its new coat of pale pale blue well, and the little knobs twinkled like stars) and two long walks around the town and sandwiches eaten near the pond, we sat watching Wood run through the yard and talked about the Peach Festival. I was telling Porter about the committee I was on 'The women there are very kind and very, very politely trying to kill each other. It's funny watching them smile and knowing that the other shoe will be dropping any moment. But that will be over soon - the Festival is next week!"

Porter laughed. "I hope this town will survive!"  He eased himself out of the rocker, looked toward where the first stars were beginning to peep out of the sky, blew out a breath, and asked "Kate, how invested are you in finding out about your Mom?"

It took me a minute to catch on. "Very invested. Why?"

"Because I think I might know where she went."












Monday, 5 November 2012

a warning shot

The next morning (after being woken by a cold dog nose and a fine slop of slobber) I was drinking coffee and rubbing Wood absently with my foot, thinking about last night,  when I heard a 'Hellooooo!" echo through the downstairs. It was Julia. Wood scrambled up and made a beeline for her, woofing the whole way. "Well, hello there, gorgeous." Julia said, leaning down and ruffling his head. The hound sighed and rolled over on his back, all paws in the air. Men seemed to do that around Julia.

She eyed me. "Taking the day off?" I nodded, suddenly aware of how my paint-splattered jeans and tee shirt looked less than crisp next to her own garb, and tried to resist the urge to pull at my clothes.
I was so glad to have a day off. I wanted nothing more than to hole up in the house, admire all the work I'd done, and maybe indulge in a giant bubble bath.

"I thought we could go over ......"she broke off, seeing my face fall, and revised (fairly obviously) what she had been going to say. "To Bangs Falls and look at dresses for the opening night of the festival. There'll be a dance, you know." She eyed me, a grin creeping over her face. "After, of course, we go over these figures for the refreshment tent."

Ah well, what was a bath compared to going shopping with a friend? I smiled back. "Of course. After the figures. Just give me a minute to change."



I was a tired girl that night. I'd spent far more than I'd planned to, but Julia had a talent for finding outfits that made me look as if I had a shape, and I'd enjoyed myself immensely. I'd even brought back a collar and lead for Wood. I was totally unprepared for my doorbell to ring as I held up clothes so the dog could stare puzzledly at them. (Wood's brain: Is a food? No? Oh. Next item: Is a food?)

I recouped a little as I went for the door. It must be Julia, I thought, and had a smile on my face as I swung the door open "Did you forget something? I think we forgot my......" and trailed off, because it wasn't Julia at the door.

It was Maud. I stared, open-mouthed. She stood silently regarding me for a few moments, then rolled her eyes and huffed. "Really, Kitty, I know I taught you more manners than this. Invite me in, girl, and close your mouth before the flies get in."

I gathered my thoughts. "Of course, Aunt Maud. Come in. Did Ford bring you here?"

Aunt Maud shook her head, her eyes darting everywhere, taking in all the changes I'd laboured over - the new soft paint colours, the lacy curtains, the  furniture now covered in pale fabrics.  She looked askance at Wood's dog bed, sitting near the fireplace. "Kitty! Do you have an...animal living here?"

I grinned. I couldn't help it. "Aunt Maud, meet Wood. He's the one sniffing your shoes right now."

She squeaked a bit and jumped back, then took in his waving tail and foolish look of doggy devotion, and ....smiled? Aunt Maud smiled? and put out her hand. My dog rose to the occasion, not jumping or slobbering, just calmly accepting her murmurings as his due and snorting when she stopped patting his head.

I'd never had a dog at the Rowland house because Maud was so set against them - they dropped hair everywhere and dragged dirt in the house and rolled in disgusting things and would probably eat the supper right off the table, to hear her tell it. So to see her calmly making friends with my hound was a little surreal.

She looked up after a minute, with a wistful smile on her face. "I've missed having a dog about." I goggled at her. She coloured a bit and then pulled some of the old steel back into her spine like a well-worn coat. "Kitty. What have you been doing this summer?"

"Aunt Maud. (I waved her to a seat.)You can see what I've been doing.  I know you were here when Mama lived here, so you can recognize the changes. Otherwise than working hard, I've been co-chairing a committee for the local festival. You must remember Minna Clairborne? I'm working with her daughter."

Maud had begun to relax, but she snapped to attention. "Minna? Why on earth are you hanging around Minna? Katherine Alice, I do not want you near that woman. She is poison. She no more knows what happened to your mama than I do, and I do not want you to be listening to her tales."

Minna had seemed perfectly rational to me. "Aunt Maud" I said slowly, "why are you here? I'm happy to see you, but why now? And why didn't Ford drive you down?"

My great-aunt seemed to be growing angrier by the second. "I came" she said, biting the ends of her words off, "to see you, Kitty. To see what you have been doing. And to tell you that I know your grandfather has been filling your head with foolish tales about your mother. Katherine Alice, I knew your mother like a sister. Your mother no more ran off into the night without taking you and your brother than I would. Stanton has this idea that she's been" she groped for a word "....hiding from us all these years. Your Mama loved you. She would never leave her babies. No, Alice is dead. And I want you to leave her be."

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. "Really, Aunt Maud? You think I should go on not knowing? I should just ignore the fact that while no one seems to think she was suicidal (Maud winced) there's no suggestion of who could possibly have hurt her? I should just let my father be the scapegoat for this? How did you explain this to Grand-Dad?"

I paused. "Except.... you didn't tell him, did you?"

Maud stood up, her face tight in the half-light. "I do not intend to discuss this, Katherine. And I don't want you to either. Let the dead stay where they are. And stay away from Minna Clairborne."




Sunday, 4 November 2012

under the stars

The past month had been a whirlwind. Clay and I had been working hard on the house, Julia had convinced me to serve on the festival committee, and I'd acquired a dog. Porter was around enough to make my breath catch, helping his father paint and plaster, sending me long slow smiles, disappearing in the afternoons, reappearing with parcels and packages under his arm, always with that steady look. I was breathless a lot, and it didn't all seem to be from the work.
.
I was sprawled across the rocker, tiredly studying the stars just starting to peep out past the porch roof and trying to work up some enthusiasm to go figure out dinner when a cough and a footstep alerted me that I had a visitor. Wood, the half-grown hound pup Clay had found skulking around the junkyard when he'd been dropping off a load from the basement, lifted his head, thumped his tail once, then relaxed again. I wasn't surprised when Porter stepped into the circle of light - Wood had spent two weeks with Clay and Porter before finding his way up the drive and into the house. (I had better treats.) Now he showed no signs of leaving and I..... liked it. I'd never had a dog, but he was company and it was nice to have life in the house. His foolish face smiled a lot, and he was a pretty good listener.

The ghost of Mama seemed to have retreated. These days, I was living fully in the present - working hard, learning who I was, growing up. Maud would be surprised.

"My, Miss Kitty, you do look a sight" Porter said, half-mockingly. "Did you and Dad finish everything today?"

I was sleepy and content where I was and suddenly, horribly aware of what a wreck I must look like. This is my house, I told myself sternly, ignoring how my stomach leapt when I saw him. I look tired and a mess because today has been long and hard and I got a lot done. But....

"No, not everything. But quite a bit. I'm learning a lot. I think I ask more questions than your Dad has time for, but he's been terrific. And look at the house!"

He rocked back on his heels and stuck his hands on the pockets of his jeans. "She's coming alive, all right."

I scrambled up and went out on the lawn, admiring my home. Pink, purple and yellow coneflowers and lantana rioted in the windowboxes and lined the newly re-bricked walk, lending happy colours to the scrubbed brick of the steps and chimney and re-whitewashed siding. Soft light glowed in the windows, Wood snored on the porch, and the dusk dressed the old house like a dowager in her best dress.

I was happy, I realized suddenly, and couldn't resist a quick turn on the grass. Porter put out his hand and pulled me to him, grinning, then spun me away. "A dance, Katie? Under the stars?" He hummed something under his breath and lowered his head to mine, his arms continuing to shuffle me slowly around the square.

His voice died after a minute, and I lifted my head to see him staring intently at me. Instantly blushing (and glad that the deepening twilight made it likely he couldn't tell) I swallowed a few times and blurted the first thing that came into my head "I like it when you call me Katie."

Porter looked amused. "You do, huh? I find it much easier to make a girl pay attention to me if I call her by her name. 'Hey you' doesn't work as well." He was stepping back, diffusing the odd tension that had sprung up between the two of us when he took me in his arms, and I was grateful to him for it.

"No, I mean it. The only one who calls me Katie is my grandfather. Maud called me Kitty the first time she saw me, and it stuck."

He studied my face. "You look like a Katie." He was suddenly very close. "I think of you as Katie." Porter murmured and brushed my hair back from my cheek."I want to kiss you, Katie."

He put a finger under my chin, his eyes dark and turbulent. "I won't, though. Not tonight. Tonight - dance with me, Katie."

I went back into his arms gladly, and we danced, there in the shadows, all sorts of unanswered questions swirling around in my head. Why was I so afraid? I'd been kissed before. But Porter was different than the boys I'd walked out with in school. Porter was....different. And I was very afraid I was falling for him.






Monday, 22 October 2012

tea and flowers

Julia's house was stunning. Stunning. Like something out of a magazine. I was feeling a little country-mouse-goes-to-town while I waited on the porch, but that disappeared when I saw Julia's wide welcoming smile. "Katherine! You came. I think Momma's in the sunroom - come on back and we'll go find her."

Minna Clairborne was a tiny woman with the face of an angel and a back bowed by years of illness.  She waved me into a chair near hers and chirped "Oh, you look just like your Mama! Alice had the same eyes and pretty little hands. I'd know you anywhere, child. Come tell me what you've been doing."

Julia brought in teacups and passed around sweets while I regaled them both of what had been happening  this summer, how I'd uprooted myself and come to Bailey, how people were changing the house around me, how waking up to diesel engines and the sounds of work-boots clomping didn't phase me anymore.

Julia whistled. "Sounds like everything in your life changed. Are you missing anyone back home?" She waggled her eyebrows at me, ignoring her mother's shocked hiss. "Julia!"

"Oh, Momma. Besides, that handsome Porter's back in town for the summer, and living right on her doorstep. If he's going to have a broken heart, I'd like to know about it. Might want to stand in line." She laughed at her mother's expression. "I'm kidding, Momma. Porter Ryan is still just the boy who used to pull my pigtails."

I felt a quick twinge of something - was it relief? - that pretty, smart Julia didn't see Porter  - well, that way -  and changed the subject to Aunt Maud, feeling my cheeks heat up.

"Aunt Maud hasn't been here to see the house. I wonder if she's waiting until it's all finished?"

Mrs. Clairborne patted my hand. "Maud always was a firecracker. She gave your mama fits when she and your daddy first got married - wanted everything to be proper all the time, when your Mama was more....relaxed, dear. Alice was a gentle soul, but she could get riled up with Maud - I swear the first year they were married she must have threatened to leave six or seven times. 'Get that woman off my back, Phillip,' she'd laugh. 'You never knew what you were marrying into!' And he'd grin at her and tell her she brought the crazy into the marriage. Of course when they had your brother, he had to take care of your mama for awhile while she got her strength back, and that summer was when things changed. Alice never told me what they said, but things were never the same between Phillip and Maud after that."

 She smiled. "But people have a way of taking little insults and blowing them up out of proportion. By the time Dover was in knee-pants, things were simmered down. But then, a few days after your Mama ran over here all excited to tell me she was having another baby, Maud showed up on her doorstep and there was a hummer of a row. Maud was screeching  and your mother was shouting back that she'd do as she pleased and your father was stuck in the middle of it, trying to make peace where there was suddenly none."

Mrs. Clairborne jumped as the clock bonged. "My! You shouldn't have let me go on like that. Julia, why don't you take Katherine out and show her the gardens and I'll clear away these tea things. Katherine, Julia will invite you to tea again soon - next time I'll try not to get stuck in stories about long ago!"

I had so many questions, but I dutifully followed Julia out to the gardens and admired the flowers and shrubbery there. Sinking down on a bench, Julia smiled at me, twining some blossoms around her fingers.  "So, what's it like living next to Porter?"

I shrugged, trying not to look too eager. "I just met him yesterday. He seems...nice."

Julia nodded, then grinned. "Yeah. Nice is SO the word I'd use to describe Porter Ryan."
 She jumped up and gestured me ahead of her. "Come on - I'll show you the rest of the backyard and you can tell me how ....interesting....Porter Ryan is."



Sunday, 30 September 2012

julia and porter

Mrs. Thayer ruffled up her feathers and scowled across the room. "Pheobe! I don't know where you left your manners, but you certainly didn't bring them here!" Miss Brooks looked chastened but unbowed.

 "Gloria, you know that last years' festival was poorly attended, and never so much as the day of that play." A quiet murmur of support ran around the room. Mrs. Thayer looked furious. Before she could speak, the woman sitting to my immediate right rapped her notebook sharply on the table. "Ladies! We are not here tonight to decide the details of the gala - tonight's meeting was to discuss general ideas only. Besides (she stared down everyone until they fell silent.) Kendall Thayer is away at university now, and will NOT be returning to our fair city for the next festival." I could have been mistaken, but I could have sworn I heard a soft 'Thank God' come from her lips as she fussed with her papers. "Now, who is leading the refreshments committee this year?"

I tuned them out, smiling and nodding in the right places,wondering why on earth Grand-Dad had been so insistent that I involve myself with this group, and busied myself watching faces.

There was a lot of feeling expressed about just how this years' festival would be run. Last year, I idly thought, could not have been good. The women were hard into it, several sharp conversations going on at once, their heads dipping with emphasis, voices rising. The woman to my right (Julia, I suddenly remembered, her name is Julia) let out a tiny 'tsk!' of annoyance, then sighed and let them all go. She glanced my way and our eyes caught. She shrugged a shoulder, and I realized she was very near my age. "I time it." she said, simply. "It does them good to get the irritations off their chests. And last year  there was- well, there is a lot of irritation over last year. I give them seven minutes, and then I'll call them back into order. That way", she said, flashing a surprisingly fond smile at the still-quarreling women around the table, "no one will have time to say anything they'll really regret, they'll feel better for getting it out, and we can all get back to business. You must be Katherine - I'm Julia Clairborne. It's a pleasure. My mother couldn't be here tonight - but she'd love to meet you. Come around tomorrow for tea?"

I was taken aback and charmed, all at once. "I'd love to" I said at last. "Oh! " she said, glancing up at the big clock hanging on the wall. "Time to reign in the passions. Ladies. Ladies!"

And we swept into a storm of signing people up to head committees and assigning tasks to others. The big clock boinged twice more before we adjourned, and Julia bid most of them goodbye before turning to me. "Clay will be able to point out where we live, but I think you've probably seen it. The big yellow house at the corner, right before your driveway."

"We're neighbors?"

"We are. And Momma would love to see you. She was friends with your Mom when she first moved here, and she remembers you as a tiny girl. Come by tomorrow after lunch?"

"I think I'd really like that."

I stepped out into the hot sun and looked around for Clay. Not seeing him (the hardware store? The bank? Where would I look?) I set off towards the end of town, mulling over the meeting and trying to put faces to names. I walked past the tall man lounging against the bumper before I realized that I was standing in front of Clay's truck.

"Well now", a voice drawled. "You must be Kitty." I looked up. "I'm Porter. Dad said to come get you. He got caught at the dentist. I think"-a dimple flashed in his cheek- "he'll brush more next time. Let's get you home."

He smelled like moss, I decided as we whizzed through the streets, or something woodsy and cool. Other than a few niceties, though, we were silent on the way, the wind whirring through the open windows the only sound. Porter whistled a couple of notes, then tapped his hand on the steering wheel.

"So how long are you going to hang out in Bailey?"

 "I'm not sure. Until after the festival, anyway."

He slowed to turn into the driveway and cut the motor in front of Clay's shed. He leaned back in his seat and sent me a half-smile. "Well, I'll see lots of you then. I'm staying with Dad this summer."

'Here?"

He nodded. "Here."


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

time and tide

BobbyKyle woke me up.

 Well, not him, exactly, but his giant, belching-smoke machinery did. I sat straight up in bed and discovered that a man with a worn gimme cap was felling limbs right next to my window. He winked as I yelped and dove for my robe.

 By the time I hit the kitchen, hair still wet from my shower, the roar of his big truck was gone and he was seated at the table with Clay, both men deep in conversation, coffee cooling in front of them.

 "Hey, Miss Kitty" said Clay easily, "what's going on for today?" He nodded his head towards BobbyKyle. "Bobby tells me he met you this morning." BobbyKyle had a firm grip and a shyer smile than I would have thought for someone who had already seen me in my nightgown. "Hullo, miss" he said, shambling to his feet and shaking my hand. "I'm so glad someone's come back to live here. This old lady (he gestured at the room) was getting lonely all by herself." He looked around the kitchen. "The inside's not bad. There's a big spot of the gingerbread over the eaves that's broken though, and there's some rot in the porch. Don't you worry. We'll get her shining." Clay nodded.

"No one better for that then BobbyKyle. He practically grew up here. He'll soon set her straight." BobbyKyle launched into a complicated tale of neighbors and Sunday dinners and climbing apple trees and while I didn't quite understand it all, by the end of it I knew he loved the old house I had and would make her new and proud again.

 We were wet from washing all the windows (our chore for today)and covered in bits of leaves and debris, BobbyKyle still shearing branches high above us, letting the sun come sparkling through to the windows when I heard a discreet cough and turned to see my Grandfather, holding a grip of flowers, eyes twinkling down at me.

 "So, Katie, I see you've met Clay. What do you think of your new house?" I launched myself at him, feeling suddenly homesick and very small when I felt his arms around me.
"Hey now." he said softly, patting my back. "No tears. I came to bring you these and to see what you've done to the old place."

 I felt less shaky, and raised a smiling face to him. "Come inside and see what we've dreamed up."

 I had Grand-Dad settled at the kitchen table with tea and the drawings that Clay and I had worked so hard on before I spoke. "Grand-Dad, why didn't you tell me this was Mama's house? And what do you want me to do here in Bailey this summer?"

 Grand-Dad put down his cup."I didn't tell you, Katherine, because I wanted you to fall in love with the place before you found out its' history." He chuckled. "That didn't happen, huh?" He twinkled again. "I wondered if Ford would remember."

 "Katherine, I wanted you to live here because I think you can find your Mama." He waved a hand. "I know that everyone thinks she's gone. I can't, though - there's a part of my heart that refuses to believe my daughter is dead. So, I brought you down here. You alone in this family have the guts and determination to find Alice, and bring her home."

 I opened my mouth to protest - this happened years ago! Teams of trained police officers couldn't find her! How on earth could I - and closed it with a snap when I saw his face and the trust shining out of his eyes. I nodded.

 "All right, Grand-Dad. I'll try."

Monday, 3 September 2012

front porch

After supper Ford ferried Clary to her cousin's house, and I cleared up the kitchen and wandered out onto the porch, making notes about what I wanted to do first. I was still thinking about Mama and wondering why Grand-Dad hadn't told me this was her home  - and what was I supposed to do with this information? - when Ford came back. He folded his long self into one of the (squeakily protesting) rockers and looked out over the shaggy yard. He took tea with a murmered thanks but stayed deep in thought until I poked at him.

"Ford? Why didn't Grand-Dad tell me he'd bought Mama's house? I know he didn't tell Maudie - she'd have been all over that as another excuse not to let me go. Another damned-fool reason to milk the past and hurt the girl, Stanton." My voice shook a bit, but I imitated Aunt Maud anyway.

My uncle shook his head. "I don't know, Kitty. It seems like something you should have been told." He looked around with a frown.  "I must have been here before, but I don't really remember. I'm sure I don't remember Alice in this house."

Shaking off his pensive mood, Ford grinned. "Well now, girlie, what are you going to do next?"

Pump Grand-Dad for information was on the tip of my tongue, but I coughed back the words and took a long sip of my drink. "I think I'm going to spend tomorrow going through the house.  I'd like to poke around a bit and explore, and then Grand-Dad is going to have to explain this 'business' he wants me to help with. "

My uncle checked his wristwatch. "I promised Clary I'd pick her up in an hour. But until then, what can I help you with? I heard you and Clary discussing a desk..."



That night I didn't sleep well. I blamed it on the strange creaks and groans the unfamiliar house made, and the wind busily dragged tree branches across my bedroom window. I decided I wasn't just going to lie there, and was up and in the shower at seven a.m, mind full of errands to run and paint colours to pick and....

Downstairs, I turned the corner and pulled up short when I realized there was a man in my kitchen. "Hi there" he said, holding out a mug of coffee. "You must be Miss Kitty. I'm Clay." I wanted to scream - should have screamed, most of my training had prepped me to scream - but his wide brown eyes and crinkly smile disarmed me a bit, and I took the offered drink. A few sips later and I was ready to talk.

"Just Kitty, please. You're the caretaker?"

He laughed softly and shrugged a shoulder. "Something like that. Now that there's actually someone living in the big house, I'll get BobbyKyle down here to thrash back those trees. It'll give you more light. And I'll be around if you need anything."

The coffee had loosened my tongue. "My uncle said you could tell me about the town."

He shrugged, easy. "Sure. Anytime you want to hear a bunch of old stories, you let me know. I grew up here, married a local girl, raised my kids a few blocks from here.  My wife died a few years back. Her relatives owned our house, I had nowhere to go, and Stanton said I could stay here if I helped keep it tidy and running, just in case Miss Alice came back home. But it's too big for me - this place lost it's light when Miss Alice die....(he gulped and reddened a bit) ah....left - and so I stay here in the little house. It suits me better."

I raised an eyebrow. "The little house?"

He nodded. "It's at the foot of the driveway. I'm sure you saw it coming in."

I was aghast. "The shack?"

He chuckled. "Now that's what Ford calls it. I call it home. It suits me just fine. It's solid on the inside, dry and snug, and actually big enough for two."

So Grand-Dad had given me a house with a built-in watchdog at the gate. I wasn't sure whether to smile or give in to the slow-simmering tweak of anger I could feel twisting around in my belly. I chose to tamp it down and grinned at Clay. "So! What shall we do today? I wanted to look at the basement and the outbuildings and see what needs fixing and what might be stored everywhere."

He set down his empty cup. "Let's go."


I was running dirty sweat when we broke for lunch.  Clay staggered in off the porch, arms piled high with boxes, and set them down with a grunt. I opened a few cupboards and realized, guiltily, that I hadn't done any food shopping yet, and was pathetically grateful when Clay offered to take me out for a bite.

We ended up across the street from the grocery, eating ham and cheese sandwiches and sour pickles at Martha's Eat-In.  I was full and happy by the time my plate was clean, and peppered Clay with questions about the neighborhood, the house, and how he'd met Grand-Dad. He answered in between giant bites of peach pie, and by the time we left Martha grinning over the tip he'd left and headed into the Piggly-Wiggly to stock up on a few supplies, he and I were joking around like old friends.

It wasn't until we were back at the house and he was gathering his stuff to leave that I broached the subject I'd been thinking about all day.

"Clay, what do you think happened to my mother?"

He stilled and stopped loading wrenches back into his toolbox. "Kitty, I just....don't know." He shifted his weight and looked up at me, his eyes honest and kind. "I thought for a long time that your father had something to do with it, but we searched and searched - she's not here. Honey, I think she's just.....gone."

When your father was the last person to see your mother alive, you get used to the whispers and stares. Clay saying that my dad had killed my mother wasn't a exactly a new opinion, although it still stung. I swallowed hard - Mama! - and just nodded when Clay said he'd get BobbyKyle to come around in the morning and start mowing.

He left soon afterwards and I sat for awhile, letting the peace of the house soothe me.

"Mama, what happened to you?"








Wednesday, 15 August 2012

bailey

And within a few weeks, I did.

Aunt Maud had not been keen about my moving out. Grand-Dad finally broke into her chain of 'but what if this happens' with a quiet 'Maudie, do you really think I would send our Katie-girl out into harm's way?' after which she sighed heavily and began writing lists of things I could take with me to my new summer place.

It was arranged that Ford would drive me down, and to my surprise, Clary was in the front seat when we went out the door. Her face lit up. 'Kitty! Can you believe this? You're going to be living down the road from my cousin's house! Ford said I could ride along and I'll go see Judy Mae while you're getting settled. This is goin' to be so much fun!" Her enthusiasm made it easier to get in the car and ride away from the only home I remembered.

I couldn't resist a backwards glance at the house - was that shadow Aunt Maud standing behind the etched glass front door? -  and then we were gone.

Clary and Ford talked in soft tones while I lounged in back, cradling a wicker hamper that Clary's mama had sent with her so I wouldn't have to cook right away, and wondered if there had ever been a prettier day for changing destinies. Rowland slipped away as my thoughts went back and forth, and soon we were on the highway, avoiding trucks and laughing about signs on the side of the road. "The fruitcake capitol of the world?" My friend shot me a grin. "I didn't know Miss Venie had family here." She broke the tension, and we both giggled.

Bailey was a pretty town - shabby old houses set under huge trees jockeyed for position with newer low-slung homes, most with kids' toys in the yards. The sidewalks were wide and only crazed slightly with moss and treeroots, and the park was green and deep and cool.

I was beginning to get lost in my own sea of doubts - could I really live by myself? - when Ford slowed, then stopped the car. 'Taa-daa!' he said, pointing over the side of the car at a very overgrown patch of jungl-y bushes and vines. Off to one side there was a weedy driveway and a very small, ramshackle held-together-with-spit-and-hope building perched unsteadily on the edge.

Clary wrinkled her nose. "Really? That's it?"

Ford chuckled. " No, that's the shed. C'mon." He lifted one of my suitcases and a lamp and left me with the picnic basket, while Clara grabbed the mess of quilts and pillows I'd brought with me. We trudged up into the greenery, our feet making soft snicking sounds on the gravel. I was busily keeping branches away from my face when Ford stopped. "Well, Kitty, here it is."

I looked up  - it seemed to take a long time - and followed Ford's outstretched arm. Tucked up atop a gentle rise set a light-coloured house with a porch. The trees pressed in on it, making it look very close and dark, and the whole picture had an air of sadness at being forgotten.

Ford whistled. "I had no idea she'd look that bad. Grand-Dad said he'd had someone checking up on the house - he was told it was ready to move in. I'm not sure I should leave you here."

But I was curious, and afraid that if I left, I'd never come back. "C'mon. Let's go see the inside."

Ford produced a key, and the porch-boards groaned a few times but held when we walked across. The front door was a little warped and only gave way, screeching, when Ford strong-armed it, and the inside smelled close and stuffy but not musty, which probably meant there were no leaks in the roof. The interior (once Clary found a lightswitch) was nice - someone had loved this house. Clear colours and extensive mouldings were everywhere. There was even furniture - a stuffed chair there, a table here. Moving down the hall, I found a parlour with a small piano, and a big kitchen.

Clary had followed me. "Mm! Kitty, this will be lovely when you get the dust out of here. Look at all the windows!" There were lots of windows, and the kitchen was easily the brightest room in the house so far. I had a sudden flash of myself drinking coffee here, looking out over the porch into the backyard. It was a peaceful picture, and I felt a sudden swell of confidence. I could do this.

Ford was stomping around upstairs. Clary and I followed, stopping to exclaim over different details, and found him in one of the bedrooms, flipping a mattress on a bed. "I checked the taps - you do have water, and the lights work. These mattresses were covered with a sheet, so they shouldn't be too dusty for you to sleep on tonight, and tomorrow Clay will be here to tell you all about the town. He knows everything about this area."

My stomach was doing flip-flops at the thought of being left alone in a strange house. "You're not leaving now, are you?"

Clary  looked up from the quilt she was folding at the end of the bed, her eyes solemn as she took in how scared I was. "No, honey, we're gonna stay and eat some of Mama's fried chicken. Then Ford is gonna take me to see Judy Mae 'fore we head back." She dusted her hands together. "There. That's done. Let's go down and find some glasses and have some tea on your new porch."

Ford and I both followed her downstairs, Clary twittering about how lovely this would all be, how great this house was, how lucky I was to have such a fine place to call my own....

I was starting to feel much more cheerful about it all while Clary and I made lists of what I needed. We were debating a couch versus two big overstuffed chairs, digging out glasses for the thermos of cold tea her mom had sent, when Ford made a strange noise and I looked over to find him with his nose practically touching a photograph on the kitchen wall. He stepped back when I came near. "That's Stanton" he said. "Funny to see him so young."

The young man in the top hat and tails was unmistakably Grand-Dad, and the radiant woman on his arm could only be Ginny (as all her children and grandchildren had called her.) "Oh," said Clary, her voice soft, "it's their wedding-day picture."

I straightened suddenly. "Why is Grand-Dad's picture here? I thought he just bought the house a few years ago?"

Ford blew out his cheeks. "Well, yes. Grand-Dad bought the house back from Marion a few years ago. But really, the house hasn't been used since Phillip died."

Phillip was my fathers name. There was a buzzing in my ears. "My father lived here?"

Ford reached out to steady me. "Yes. This was the house he bought when he got married."

"Married - to Mama? This was Mama's house?"

"Yes, Kitty. This was your mothers home."



Wednesday, 1 August 2012

alice katherine

My mother had always been an enigma to me. She'd been happy during her marriage and pregnancy, Grand-dad had said, but sometime after my early, sudden, squalling birth, had decided she couldn't handle a second child and had....well, left.

Grand-Dad had searched, using the old boy network, and finding nothing, had quietly hired a series of private detectives to find her. Meanwhile, my father resolutely drank himself to death while staring out the window of Grand-Dad's house, watching for her to come home while I played on the floor. I had hazy memories of him, but mostly it was Maud and Grand-Dad that I thought of as parents.

Few mothers ran away from their months-old daughter. And even fewer just simply couldn't be found.

Grand-Dad said once that she was quieter through the winter as she grew heavy with child, more given to roaming the halls at odd hours and stroking her belly as she talked. They'd put it down to jitters, or fear of a second birth as hard as my brothers, and hadn't worried too much until she'd started laughing in response to conversations no one else could hear. It was decided that she was 'tired' and she spent a month at my aunt Georgia's house, but it only soothed her for a short while and soon she was roaming again, pacing the house in the moonlight.

I tried to imagine her, wide eyed and muttering, stalking the moon from one end of the house to the other, her hair pulled back, her hands clenching and unclenching as she walked. It was hard to superimpose that picture over the few photos I had of her - where she looked out, smiling and calm, dark eyes filled with what I thought of as love as she held me in her lap.

Then one night she'd taken her coat and gone out into the dark, and never come back.

There'd been a search, of course. Grand-Dad had enough pull with the State boys that Mama's face was plastered everywhere for months. But the leaflets had yellowed where they hung, and there was no trail. No body, either - they'd dredged several ponds and the marsh, and old wells and caves were prodded and checked.

She'd been gone twenty-two years. I'm older now than she was when she had me.

Grand-Dad walked for awhile, waving at a few people. We were close to the old railway station when he finally said "Katie, are you happy living here?"

His question surprised me so much I missed a step and nearly walked off the path. "Grand-Dad?"

 "Would you like to go somewhere else for awhile? I have a little house a couple of hours away from here - close enough so you could come and visit, but far enough so you could spread your wings and not spend your life taking care of us old folks." His eyes twinkled. "Maybe for the summer?"

I was sure I'd mis-heard him. I'd lived in Rowland almost my entire life.

He was quick to read my mood. "It's not a punishment, Katie. I need someone to oversee a few things for me in Bailey, and I thought you'd be perfect for the job. It's a bit of hard work....but there should be plenty of times for fun too."

He nodded at Mrs. Dailey, who was clipping her peonies. "Just think about it, Katherine." The rest of the walk was pretty quiet. Grand-Dad seemed lost in his thoughts, while I wasn't sure my head could contain mine. Did Maud know? Would she agree to this? Did I want to strike out on my own?

The house was still when we returned. Ford had taken Maud to her club, and Clary must have gone back home. Grand-Dad headed off to his study, and I took the broom with me out on the back porch, but after a few sweeps I gave up and headed for the closest rocker, mulling over what Grand-Dad had said.

Ford pulled in to the driveway, music blaring, and I gave him a grin.  "Where's Clary?"
He rolled his eyes. "You know darn well that Maud would rather go to church with mismatched shoes on than be seen with Clary Johnson. You should have seen her when she realized the top was down on the car." Ford was a good mimic. "Fo-ORD! You do NOT expect me to GET in THERE, do you?"

My uncle and I had always gotten along. He came and sat near me. "Did Grand-Dad ask you about the house in Bailey?"

I nodded, still giggling a little about Maud and surprised he knew.

"I think you should do it, Katherine."

Saturday, 28 July 2012

from playing dolls to kicks and falls

There are ordinary days where everything is swimming along, just a normal day, and suddenly (suddenly) you realize: the kids are growing up.

We threw out Rosey's bedraggled playhouse today. She was teary-eyed but agreed that it was time - it was ripped in a few places, and creased in others - and only squeaked a little. She kept a glittery painted piece "to have" and we cleaned out the front porch of about a million (hint: Roo does NOT EVER NO NEVER need any more Barbies) plastic dolls......

and then we put up a punching bag. So the boy can round-kick and front-jab.


Wow, they're growing up.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

the horror of it all

We're moving the office at one of my jobs - started this morning, will probably take another stab at it and complete the move next week. We're moving into some offices in the same building as the public library - I don't think I need to tell you that I'm looking forward to this!

But today was moving day, and it was sweaty and grunt-y and not-so-much-fun, made even less so when it was discovered that our secure locking storeroom....wouldn't unlock. So I had to babysit the document boxes until a solution could be found. "No problem!" I thought. "I'm AT THE LIBRARY. I"ll just grab something to read."

(There was a certain amount of glee running through my psyche at that moment.)

Really, what could be better? I'd just.....

Then I realized I was too early and the library didn't open for another hour and the earth wept and teeth were gnashed and a storm blew in. Or maybe that was just me.

Yes. I was LOCKED OUT of the library.



Thank God I have a Kindle app on my cell phone.

Monday, 16 July 2012

uncle ford

Uncle Ford was grinning at Clary when I came into the kitchen, bumping her shoulder all friendly-like and leaning in to whisper. She shoved him away when she heard my step on the stairs and turned to me. "Kitty! What are you up to today?"

Yes, it was strange having my friend date my uncle.  Aunt Maud would never let Ford forget that he was thirteen years older than that Johnson chippy. After all, (disapproving sniff) what would the neighbors say? I think if she didn't have such a broad and obvious sweet spot for Ford, Maud would have hassled him until he agreed to give up the foolishness of dating a local girl. But he was the son of her favorite son, so she grumbled and tight-lipped and yet did nothing concrete to stop his budding romance. If she'd cut off his allowance, he'd have straightened up. Uncle Ford was very comfortable having his life financed.

After all, what was worth more - independence, or free room and board?

I smiled at Clary. "Just finishing up the dishes, then I might have a walk down to the wharf.  There might be some bluefish in."

Uncle Ford mugged at Clary, winking at me. "Never mind her, Clara. Let's take a drive."

I dumped the dishes in the waiting water, trying not to be a little hurt that I wasn't the one Ford wanted to take for a spin (I loved riding in his convertible!) and blocking out most of the noise they made giggling at each other before they left.

Finished at last, I took my book into the front parlour and was just getting comfortable when Aunt Maud's bell went off. It wasn't three seconds later that I heard her call for me. (Maud was never a patient person.)

Grumbling a little, I got up. It wasn't until I was right outside her door that I remembered I'd forgotten the tea. On the off chance that she wanted something else, I stuck my head in. She was scowling down at her mail and barely looked up. "Tea, Katherine. My tea. Stanton will be home soon, and he doesn't have time to wait."

I made a face at her grey curly head and went back for her cup.

The front door slammed just as I got back upstairs. Grand-dad's voice boomed along the halls. "Where's my girl?"

"Just a second, Grand-Dad. I'm up with Maud."

A minute later, he pushed the door open himself. "Hello, Maudie." His voice was soft. Grand-Dad was always very gentle with his sister, even when she was being her worst cantankerous self. I'd only heard him raise his voice to her once. He winked when he saw me.

"What are you doing inside on such a beautiful day, Katie-girl?"

Aunt Maud harrumphed. "Katherine is finishing up in the kitchen, and then she is taking me to my bridge club. As she usually does on Wednesday afternoons, Stanton."

Grand-Dad coughed and sent her a chiding look. "I thought Katie might like to come out with me this afternoon. I don't have any appointments this afternoon, so I thought she and I'd get a breath of fresh air. Perhaps Ford would take you to the club."

Maud grumbled, but agreed. I hurried to change out of my dungarees and jerk a quick comb through my hair. Where were we going to go today?

My grandfather knew everyone in town. As we strolled along, he'd point to a house and tell me stories about the people that lived there. Or, even better, stories about the people that used to live there and how things were when the town was thriving and new.

And sometimes - sometimes, I could get him to talk about my mother.


Tuesday, 3 July 2012

auntie maud

'What?' she said, looking up from her ledger, blinking at me over her half-spectacles.
'Nothing', I shrugged, 'Just wanted to see what you were up to.'

She gestured at the half-eaten lunch there among the blankets. 'You can take that away, Kitty. I'm finished."

I wanted to scold, to tell her she should eat more, that her doctor and my grandfather and her friends said she should eat more, but I held my tongue. Some things just aren't worth fighting with your great-aunt about.
Besides, she would eat, sooner or later. She was just in a snit (although she'd never admit to it) about Uncle Ford courting 'that woman'. And I hovered on the fence, afraid to comment for fear I'd piss her off, since she owned the house I lived in - and 'that woman' was my best friend.

Clary and I didn't meet under the best of circumstances. I spent a few years wishing she would just move away, since she and I both picked out Daniel Randall for our beaus. (A mistake I quickly rectified when Dover came home the first day of seventh grade and told us his new pals' nickname at school was 'Dandy Randy.' Maud did NOT approve.)Still, he was a hero at school (my brother included) because he could spit all the way across the cafeteria, and he had a habit of leaving frogs around for Miss Venie to find, usually with great screaming and flapping (even for a teacher used to boys and their tricks.)

One night at the Grange Hall we both ended up in the bathroom at the same time. She asked if she could borrow my lipstick (I said no, of course, it was my favourite one, the perfect pale pink to go with my dress) and was totally disarmed when she cheerfully plopped her purse down in the sink and said 'I didn't figure you'd let me, but no harm in tryin'. Can you believe that Eddie Myers? I'm almost certain he put his hand on my butt.' I couldn't help it. I leaned over and said, full of scorn, 'Don't you know if someone's hand is on your behind? I'd slap Eddie Myers, if I that was me.' Clary brushed some wisps of hair back behind her ears. 'Weeeell,' she said, looking intently in the mirror, 'I'm sure somebody touched my butt. I'm not sure, though, if it was Eddie. Could have been (she cut her eyes up at me) Danny Randall.' I sucked in my breath. "You are rude, Clary Johnson! I shouldn't even be talking to you."
I turned to flounce away and she reached out and grabbed my arm.
"Don't be mad, Kitty. I was jus' playin'. Besides, everyone knows he's been looking for you all night."
She was lying but I ate it up. "You think so?"
Clary nodded. "Sure. You gonna kiss him?"

Great-Aunt Maud cleared her throat. "Kitty, why are you standing there? I asked you to clear this away! Now run on and go find your Uncle Ford. I need him to do something for me."
More like making sure he wasn't out on the porch kissing Clary Johnson, I thought, but just nodded. 'Of course, Aunt Maudie. Want me to bring up some cookies later with your tea?' She hemmed for a moment. "Who baked them?"

 I grinned at her. "Mrs. Johnson."

Sunday, 24 June 2012

small town, big lights

Right now I'm sitting on a car hood, watching a drive in movie. This in itself isn't spectacular (although with the scarcity of drive-ins, it kinda is) but I'm sitting on a car hood, watching The Lorax at the drive in movie at the school

My childrens' school is so conscious of the families nearby and what would draw us all together, that they began showing drive-in movies in the heart of our community - the school. 

(Literally - the screen is up on the building!)

There are no stars tonight - it's actually spitting a little, but for the families sitting in their cars and trucks it matters little - they're cozy, full of popcorn and nachos from the concession stand, and watching a movie.  Little ones curl in the backseats, pillowed heads just peeping up over the headrests, while the adults grin at the memories of Saturday nights spent at drive-ins when they were young.

The village school - this same place that's drawing families and the community as a whole together is on the review list. It's becoming harder and harder not to express my frustration with this.

But on nights like tonight, watching the delighted faces and hearing an owl far off in the woods? It doesn't seem to matter. This is good and lasting and making memories. This school is doing what schools all over the country should be doing - working hard to keep their communities  interested and involved. 

This is worth it. 

This is worth it.




Friday, 22 June 2012

juris doctor

The candles were guttering out in the pale light when I found him, head down on the table, an empty bottle clutched in his hand. There was a wrapper stuck to his cheek, pizza boxes thrown on the floor, and his buddy Travis was raising the roof with his snores on the half-broken daybed in the corner. It must have been a great night.

Not that I blamed him for cutting loose. It had been a long winter, and an even more tedious spring, tests and exams and study study study, punctuated every once in awhile with pop quizzes and fits of bleak black depression where he insisted that he'd never make to graduation, never ever never, and what kind of man was he that he'd let his girl get a job and put him through school? Never mind that I wanted him to succeed, was sure that he would make an incredible lawyer, loved his fight and his grit and his unbending sense of justice and fairness, was awed by his determination and the solid good core of him.

But now....now it was time to get him up. I moved around to his side. 'Ry? Wake up, honey.'

He spluttered something and re-settled. I shook his shoulder, which got me a 'hmmmmm?' and a fluttering of his eyelids. Okay. Time to pull out the big guns.

I bent down and said loudly into his ear "Ryan! The baby's coming!' and stepped back a few paces when he almost hit the roof. He was on his feet, his eyes wide with shock. 'Wha? Wha? Dory, you can't be.....' his words slowed when he realized I wasn't rushing out the door or showing any kind of discomfort. Instead, I was grinning at him.

'No, I can't be. Honey, I'm only five months along. But here....I got the mail. And....this is addressed to you.'

I handed over the plain white envelope that held our futures and watched as he held it in his hands, then shrugged a little and opened the seam.  He read for a moment, then the the sun came out in his face as he smiled.

'I sit the bar in July.'

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

shine less

I see her walking by and I wonder if she's seeing me.

No, she's not made eye contact or done a half-wave or any of the other furtive motions we make when you spy someone you're not sure about. Just the quick, quick of her heels clicking on the pavement and  the whoosh of the stroller in front of her. The child inside looks bored.  He's clutching what looks like a dirty doughnut (or it's a....dog toy?) and a sippy cup.  I only see him quickly, though, long enough to register his long eyelashes curling down on his cheeks, and then they turn the corner and are gone.

I put down my cup and lean in to talk to the man across from me, knowing that she'll be back. She walks the town every day, and where we sit is on the loop.

The coffee shop is busy, and smells like raisins and danish. When the front door opens, a blast of scent eddies out into the street and you can see passersby blink and smile, snorting in the sudden goodness. The bells tinkle on the door and the waitresses pour good coffee and chat about the weather and the local goings-on. It's a great place to see your neighbors and figure out what the latest scuttlebutt is. Or just people watch.

My companion is droning on about health care (on a bright sunny day like today it's hard to take dire statistics and Department of Health pseudo-scandals seriously, so I'm only half-paying attention) and I watch as the woman with the bright blonde hair approaches again, this time on the other side of the street. She stops in front of the post office, adjusts the still-sleeping boy's shirt, and turns the other corner, her hair flicking out like a metronome.

I've never asked why she walks - if she's running from (or to) something, if she's escaping demons or merely has a colicky babe.We've spoken, and we know each other's names, but we're not close enough to do anything more than wave or grin if we catch sight of each other. She appears then is gone again down the alley. Does she think about me and wonder why I would choose to stay so tethered to a chair? Why we're not all out wandering and exploring town? And I wonder - whose way is better?

Friday, 8 June 2012

hurry scurry, time will flurry

The end of the school year is always a bittersweet time. The kids are longing to get it all over with, but there's still that little part of them that doesn't really believe that it will ever end and is horrified when it does.
The school building itself must feel the excitement. (It does, after all, frankly hum in the air.)

This month is crazy at school. There is a bike rodeo and the release of small salmon that the kids have raised from eggs. (One class will also be setting monarch butterflies free.) There will be drive-in movies (see, I told you the village school was magical!) beginning this Saturday night, and a huge weekend camping trip for the older grades. There will be a beach day for all the students. (See, when you grow up near the ocean (and have fearless teachers) the whole school gets to go on field trips to the Atlantic.)

There will be a graduation held for our sixth graders and goodbyes to the vice-principal.

And then there will be silence. The doors will be locked, and for three months the only sounds will be from the community groups that use the building.

Kinda a shock to the old weathered school, but I like to think it dozes in the sunshine, waiting for fall to make it come alive again.

Waiting, happily, for the children.


Monday, 28 May 2012

They grow up too fast


 This morning during the whole 'Ahh! Must leave for work NOW!' madness, Bear was hollering for his shoes and I, half-paying-attention and on my way to the bedroom from a swooping run for the dryer and the sock bucket, was pointing out 'There, there, do you see them THERE' and was stopped by B's puzzled "Those aren't mine."
 
"What? Of course they're yours. I wore them yesterday when I was tromping around."
 
(I have big feet.)

Bear grabbed out another pair. "No, mine are here. See? Different colour."
 
"Well then whose are....." there was a pause before our eyes met in horrified realization.
 
Yesterday, I wore my son's shoes. All day. Comfortably.
 
Cass is TEN, and apparently going to be tall like his grandfather.
 
I am in so much trouble. I also need bigger bricks.
 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

stories everywhere

I am surrounded by stories.

Books, yes, fables and fairies and cows and vampires and zombies and puppies and star-crossed lovers and winding country lanes and immigrant grandmothers and jockeys crashing over the finish line and pat the bunny and zorro drew his sword and there were three wise men wandering and junie b, world pioneer and yellow and blue make green and woodworking for the new century and my friend flicka and under a spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands and a quiet old lady, whispering hush.

And it's not just the books. My things tells stories, stories that I tell to my children in vain hopes they'll remember some of what I say, stories about Nana's charm bracelets and Neenaw's letter and the cabinet that my parents dragged in from a dumpster in a Chicago alley and refinished. How Mama came over the border to be here. How Gram would sing songs in the hallways in the middle of the night when it thunder stormed so her kids wouldn't be afraid and how their Papa always had treats in his pockets. How Granddad introduced you to Wallace and Grommit. How the first night we stayed here I woke up in the middle of the night and your fathers arm was over me and I thought huh. This is how it's supposed to be and went back to sleep.

Stories.

People tell stories, too - not only with their words or by making sentences but by how they are. Often their actions speak louder than their words ever could.  And when I see a head tilt, a flashing grin, a palm slid slowly along a countertop, I make note. I see the regret, the exultations, the sorrows, the hiding away.  I see.

People are stories too.

I've been writing lately, scribbling thoughts down (pen and paper! can you believe??) about a situation, a character that won't leave me, her thoughts and background and friends and what her grandfather wore to work each day

and nothing will probably come of it. I am a master at leaving my stories gasping and half-written.

But in the meantime, I'm having fun discovering her life and what she thinks. As you would,


if you'd only stop to see some of the stories around you.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

walls of stink

I realized tonight my house is full of scent. Not the usual 'mmm what's for supper' stuff, but scent.

My dishwasher - and hence, the dishes -  smell like lavender.
B bought new laundry detergent, Apple Mango (Madness?) Something, and it makes our clothes smell like bubble gum.

The kids' shampoo smells like peonies, while mine is a blend of erm... musk and chrysanthemum green, and B's is minty and cool.

The dog smells like dog, at least, although his ear meds make him smell a little fruity. And we'll be polite and not talk about his back end. It too smells like....dog.

The cats litter is almost too scented (mm! Overly-perfumed clay!), but since I have three cats, frankly the stuff could be asbestos and rhino toe-clippings, and I wouldn't care.

The downstairs reeks of Swiffer fluid and Pine Sol and oil soap and Fantastik and oven cleaner (okay, for tonight, anyway) and the bathroom smells like scrubbing bubbles and soapy steam.

Tonight, I'll go to bed on my Apple Mango Bubblegum  sheets and wish it was warm enough to sleep with a window open, and wonder....just why is it that we're all so afraid of just smelling like....ourselves?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

may the circlet be unbroken

He wore his wedding ring tonight.

We had to hunt to find it - years of working as a paramedic and having it tucked away in a 'safe'place made it an odyssey to find - but now it's back on his finger and it's funny, how something so small, so inconsequential, so unimportant in day-to-day life makes me flood with love and fondness.

He's never really worn it. For special occasions, and whenever we go back over the border, sure. But Wednesday-night-to-watch-the-hockey-game? Never.

And it surprises me how good it makes me feel to see it.



Saturday, 5 May 2012

Random, random, random

Damn, I love living here.

Spent the day carousing with my friend while B sawed huge trees down (yay for forestry!) and our children ran wild and free. They went swimming again (in May! Loons, all of them) and came home , happy and saturated with the joy of it all.

My friend and I are planning a Mothers Day event for the school, and so we've been sorting tea services, finding appropriate costumes, and finding props. (Hey, it can be hard to disguise a gym, especially without the benefits of crepe paper or the gentle blurring of dusk) so it'll be props. Props a'plenty. We're practically rummaging through attics, shouldering aside the elderly. "You don't mind if I borrow your precioussssssssssssssssss, do you?"

I kid, of course. But this 'do is going to be a very cool thing.

I'm watching a show on tv called ER Vets. Reality tv featuring sad, hurting animals that come in, are treated, and (mostly) bound off at the end, happy owners and doctors smiling  while they gambol off into the sunset.
My question is WHO are these owners that don't BLINK when the vet cocks her head and says 'I think he'll need an MRI then some Xrays, and maybe some exploratory surgery before we do that root canal.'

And (I swear) the people trip all over themselves to nod, nod, yes, yes, where do I sign, not at ALL huddling in the corner of the exam rooms weeping and caressing their Mastercards (which is probably where I'd be.)
Not that I don't love my pets. ('Cause I do.) But I love eating, too. And making house payments.

The school fight grinds on. grumble grumble grumble. This may be one of those things where waiting to see what happens next is hard but necessary. And I'm not a patient person.

I've been playing Words With Friends a lot lately. I may actually  gather up the nerve to challenge my grandfather to a game soon. (Maybe. Grandpa likes to play with words. And he's crafty.)

Told you this was random.....








Friday, 27 April 2012

helping the kids

I've told you about the village school.

 How it cemented my resolve to move here (I mean, come on! A tiny little school still running? Still open? Still happily and joyfully used?) I came from a land of BIG schools, of being one of four third grades, of never really having an identity in a large class. I looked at the schoolhouse and fell in love.

Here, there is instant recognition and a continuity of place. Here, the children are taught traditions and new technology - both roots and wings - while learning everything they need to excel in whatever they decide to do. Here, there is always love.

But here there isn't always money. Our beautiful and perpetually sunny breakfast program lady- the one that gives our children healthy, fresh choices to start their days with - entered a contest run by a local insurance company. Winning this could give our school a $500.00 cushion for morning bellies - and 500 dollars buys a lot of yogurt and cheerios, scrambled eggs and fresh fruit.

It's easy to enter. All you have to do is follow this link and like the picture.

That's it.

the link is here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=360622940657050&set=a.354415057944505.99387.214517711934241&type=1&theater

Thank you so, so much.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

it's going to be a long night

Up with a suddenly-sick Roo and remembering when she was small. Heck, I even put on an Disney film (I think it's Disney - the one with the cows that save their farm?) and curled her up on the sofa, just like when she was an eence. Fed her some ibuprofen and some ice cream, small sips of lime soda (okay, I was out of ginger ale) and patted her hair until she drowsed. She looks so little when she sleeps.

Today was a great day. Browsed a local 'old nice stuff' shop, had a lovely lunch with a friend, played with the kids outside. It was a great way to finish up a year

In the morning, I turn forty-one. I can't wait.
Well, not so much the age, because that doesn't seem to matter so much now that it's not really a landmark year, but for all the great stuff that I think - no, I'm sure - is going to happen over the next year.

I'm actually pretty excited. Now, if I could just get my daughter not-sick and off the couch....

Saturday, 14 April 2012

the girl in the pink shirt and the pink and yellow cap

THIS girl. Is growing up way too fast. 

I need bigger bricks.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

traffic stop

I took the curve in front of the grocery too fast.

My mind was elsewhere, full of the daily hubbub, the usual go-here-go-there-are-we-getting-low-on-that that runs as background most busy days.

So I pulled out too fast. And stared, incredulously, as a telephone pole (was that there before?) was suddenly in my way, filling my vision.

I swallowed hard, feeling the echo of what-could-have-been deep in my chest, the THUD, the disjointedness of the moment, the sudden silence. Air bags? A screech of brakes? WHUMP and a disjointed did-I-do-that?-shit-I-did-that and an overwhelming desire to turn the clock back just a few minutes. The sheepishness of the crumpled car.

It seems the body does remember  - I've been in one car crash, and it was 24 (twenty-four???) years ago. This was visceral, deep and automatic.

Swallowing hard, I took my foot off the gas, and turned neatly past the pole.


I will never pull out of the grocery parking lot so quickly again.



Monday, 2 April 2012

lunch lady

Today is my day to fix lunch at the school.

 Peeling, chopping (because our kids get the freshest and the healthiest, and that involves prep) stirring. Soon I'll start laying out the plates. 23 today (I need to double check that, actually) but I'm spellbound by the view out of the kitchen windows.

 The playground is momentarily quiet, the grassy fields just beginning to hint at restless spring green, and waiting for soccer balls and chasing games through the nearby woods. The hum of lessons seeps through the corridor - a delighted cheer, a piping far away 'You got it! Now try the next one.' The secretary laughs in her office down the hall and there's someone in the bathroom taking a very long time to wash their hands.

 This school means everything to this place, and to these kids.

 How could anyone say that this place - this joyful, encouraging place - isn't worth keeping and isn't the best thing for our children? This is their home, their base, their breath.

 This is where every teacher knows every student and their parents)and can greet brothers and sisters not-yet-old-enough-to-attend by name. Where parents are welcome and volunteers smile when they see the kids.

 This school constantly tries to be different for their pupils - to make memories. There is a big fish-tank in the office fill of just-hatched salmon eggs (the kids will release them this spring into the river that flows through our village) and the kids come to stare all-agog and comment between classes. This school houses an offshoot public library, hosts pilates and other self-help groups, regularly invites in local authors to speak to the children, and was an award winning entry in the region-wide Community Christmas Decorating contest.

Later this week there will be a giant Easter Egg hunt on the grounds. Pre-schoolers are also invited, because this open-hearted school wouldn't leave out the small ones in the community. There will be sightings of the Easter Bunny and mysterious golden eggs. It will be a good time. Why would it be any other way?

This school, this cherished, lovely snug little school, is under review. Under threat of closure. And I say again, why?

Don't try and tell me this school isn't good enough for my children.  For our children.

Because it's better than good enough. For them, it's their world.

And that's better than enough.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

the bunny dragon

Most of the time we call Bear's bus 'Dragon'. (Well, what would you call it? And it has an odd shaped vent on the side hood like a snarling mouth.) But for this week? It's name is Bunny.

I have no idea why. :)

Saturday, 24 March 2012

sprung

Yesterday was scrumptious.

I can't really think of any other way to put it - summer temperatures in March??

The weather was talked about like juicy small-town gossip -
'Can you believe?' Shocked faces. 'No, I never...'

And then people would trail off and breathe deeply and shake their heads a little in disbelief.

Funny, isn't it? How an early spring or unseasonable temperatures lead to remarks about what's waiting in the wings, about what we're going to have to endure - as if this fine March day (it was warmer in Nova Scotia than in JAMAICA!!!) will have to be paid for with high winds and encroaching waters.

My poor little quince bush, though. It put out shoots and unfurled leaves like little waving flags to welcome spring and now we're supposed to have flurries by the end of the weekend.

My kids left for school in tshirts and sweatshirts and came home in shorts and tank tops. And suntan lotion.

In MARCH.

Big breaths in like cake, sweet and frothy and perfect, the birds and trees and everything greening and announcing that spring spring SPRING was here!

A day that made you glad to be alive.

 Just scrumptious.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

hiding in closets with birthday boys

My grandfather's ninety-fifth birthday was last week.

And he spent most of it in the closet.

When I called to wish him a happy birthday, the phone rang and rang and rang - a little odd, but maybe they were out? Celebrating, no doubt. Painting the town red. Why ever not?
I would call back later.

I checked Facebook that afternoon and found out that not only was I wrong, I was really wrong. Not only were my grandparents not out kicking up their heels, they were huddled in their bedroom closet with towels wrapped around their heads*, worrying that a tornado would burst through their walls and send them on a spin through the countryside.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa. May this next year not be so tumultous.


*My aunt's idea, to protect from debris. A good one, even if the visual still makes me crack up a little.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

the silver bells of whye*

I'm taking a quick break from putting the bulletin together on this blustery, wow-winter-really-is-here day. (it's cold and bitter and not at all what we've become accustomed to)

I'm not used to being here in the manse at this time of day anymore - it's light and bright and the school bus drops off kids right off on the corner.  There's a lot going on!

(The parents have decided to take their munchkins in warm cars - no homeward strolling  in this wind today.)

But yes, I haven't been here in the middle of the day in awhile and I can hear the church bells and they're lovely and pealing out over the wind and still joyfully ringing out

and still
and still??

It must be a wedding. Except who gets married on a Thursday at three pm? That must be a coooold wedding party. I started to feel sorry for the bride in her white dress, resolutely setting her teeth against the shivers that wanted to crawl up her spine and worry her knees, the groom, wishing he had a wool waistcoat instead of just a cummerbund, the flowergirl pulling at her skirts and sitting down to protect her ankles.

And then I remembered that the minister here is an avid gardener who loves windchimes.




*Why so worried, sisters why?  (Look it up, it's pretty. And kind of grim.But pretty, like the windchimes here)

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

{wink}




I love how the slightly mismatched windows of the old yeast factory wink in the morning sunlight.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

ziteous maximus

I'm hiding behind my computer a bit today, a litle perplexed by the giant scab/dead skin patch on my chin where a rogue blemish lurked beneath the skin for awhile. Then I got impatient and rubbed at it, and now it looks like I've got some creative rug burn. Or something.

I'm forty, for pete's sakes. Why the acne now?? I thought I'd found a skin regime that would stop all this - this is my first breakout in three months, so I guess I can't complain, really...

Probably just couldn't compete with the news that the kids' school is on the review list. Again.

We've stopped this before. Clearly the odds are against us. But we have fire, and we have conviction.

And I have a zit. Damnit.

Monday, 20 February 2012

cat's in the cradle

We told each other that things would never change. That living so far apart didn't mean anything - how could it, to such old friends? - and we'd always talk on the phone and be able to pick up where we left off.

There were phone conversations and months-long-comfortable silences and christmas cards.
And then things
 went 
dark.

She had a new marriage, a guy that loved her with his whole heart and soul, a new business and a new outlook and was refinishing her house and she had been a whirlwind always, surely we would connect soon? and we..just..drifted..apart.

Sure, there's Facebook, but being a voyeur into an old friend's life is strange and unsettling. I've never been more aware of the public persona, of how I come off when I post. How odd it is to know someone better from the outside, and to have only memories of the inside.

We haven't emailed or even facebooked in quite awhile. Still keeping tabs on each other, still whirling in our own little orbits, but so very, very far away from the chattering girls we once were, comfortable in our own skins.

And now, to further hammer home how our lives have diverged, there is a baby. A baby! I'm thrilled for her and wish her the very, very best.

But it was odd to first learn of the baby's existence with the birth announcement on Facebook.



(please understand this is less hurt than puzzlement - how on earth did we ever move this far apart? Our lives are completely different now, and that's the way it is and will be - I'm just becoming aware of the last few tendrils of things I called home snapping lately.So how can I be homesick, when I don't really know where to call home anymore?) 



Friday, 17 February 2012

Is it October yet??

You know how when you first start doing something, it's fun and wonderful and wacky and all-consuming?

Last year I helped out with the Halloween event at our school, and we've already started plotting...and the learning curve this year? DAUNTING.

Latex...pvc pipes. Welding, for pete's sakes! I have an entire weeks' worth of material to read about pneumatics. Until last month I had a vague idea that pneumatics were something that shut doors, or maybe some complicated pivot device that lowered rowboats. And now, this spring, I'm going to be working with people to fashion devices that will use these new technologies. It's a little mind-blowing.

Of course, we'll be doing a lot of scavenging too. (Because this halloweening of stuff? Is expensive.) Spring Cleaning should be fun. (Anyone want to get rid of any old plywood, ceiling fans, motors, pallets, foam sheets, plastic sheeting, circuit boards, or other assorted stuff? Lemme know!)

I hope to be sharing some of these new props as I make them (just to tease, you understand, to see the whole thing you'd have to come to the Shocktober event)

Cass is thrilled that his old mom is doing such cool stuff - while trying to talk me into using something with torpedoes in it, while Roo is steadfast in her head-tossing 'I will nevah go down there, Mama!'

We'll see.


Now, I'm off to figure out how to read about a bewitched shovel. (Delicious shudder.)

I can't wait to get started.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

sitting on the side of the road

I ran out of gas today.

Really.

There was a little bit of spousal involvement (Honey? You are always welcome to take the car I'm going to take to work the next day if you pay attention to how much gas is left in it when you get home, m'kay?) but I can't kick too much - he's the one who came and rescued me.

It was beautiful there - I was close enough to the side of the road so I didn't have to worry about being smushed, and close enough that I could (sneakily) people-watch. It was a sunny afternoon, clear and crisp. (This would be an entirely different post had I spent the time waiting for Galahad wet and shivering.)
Instead, though, I spent the time watching the people on the outdoor track, how busy and industrious and happy they looked, like a gaggle of robins, and made out a mongo shopping list.

I'm beginning to enjoy my enforced car time - Tuesday night is C's judo night, and the studio is juuust far enough away that driving home is ridiculous, so I've gotten quite happy with a book and a coffee and the stillness of the night around me. (I saw the most gorgeous moonrise last week. It hung in the trees forever with a pumpkin-orange glow, and took my breath away every time I looked up.)

Life lately seems to be a lot of hurry. Sometimes it's nice to sit and sip and stare at the moon and do nothing.

Monday, 30 January 2012

out of season


The quince bush is confused by the harum-scarum winter we've been having ( or maybe not having would be more truthful) and is putting out tender new buds.

Buds. In late January. And they were pretty and new and breathtakingly sweet and a lovely harbinger of spring-yet-to-come

and it snowed this afternoon.

It was a quick storm, actually, threw first snow, then rain on the area then left, sullenly grumbling about coastal temperatures and tidal pulls, how inland there'd be woods and fields that would be fine dumping grounds, fine...then it blew itself gustily away and we were left with stillness.

Now the air is still and questioning and everything is crisp and hushed and waiting, somehow.

I know it's winter. I know.

*sigh* But I was rooting for those dainty little out-of-season quince buds.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

i am lucky

I am lucky to have this Sunday.

Sunday around here means hot coffee, something yummy for breakfast - today, cheese eggs and bacon -  long deep draughts of fresh air and sunshine.

The woodstove roars as we plan walks and adventures for after church, our kitten-filled laps warm and purry and full of snuggles.

There is some out-loud reading. Barbie and the Princess School. An article from CNN.

The whole family kitted out in pyjamas and wool socks and laughing as we make plans for a sunny day.

Days like today, how could I want to be anywhere else??

Sunday, 15 January 2012

things that go scritch in the night, or I get itchy just thinking about it

I didn't get a lot of co-operation when I suggested ripping the bedclothes off and letting the beds air a bit today, (actually, I got the rudimentary beginning snortings of a snit from one and the total involvement in a video game from the other) so....

so I pulled out the big guns and gave them a science lesson about dust mites. How they live on dead skin. How a protein in their feces (we covered what feces were, too) causes wheezing and runny noses. How about 80% of the dust floating in a sunbeam is bits of dead hair and skin.

And when that wasn't enough, I showed them the weird, headless elephant pictures of microscopic dust mites.
 Viewing those was a fine line between health hazard that you should watch out for and nightmare material that will wake you up screaming in the middle of the night, but I think they're both okay.


The beds were stripped. Windows were opened (briefly, my gosh it was -12C out there!) and dust wiped out of corners. Fresh linens on, we all checked our pillows (I sharpie-marker the date we started using them on the tags) for their sell-by date (2 years) and talked about how fresh air and sunshine was important for everybody, not just growing boys and girls.

It was a nice night.

Now up to a verah long shower and pj's fresh out of the dryer.

Goodnight, all.

and then we'll find shelving for the garage

Or something.


The list for next spring is growing. Ominously. 

Paint the house, including the trim around the windows.
Finish the ceiling in the livingroom
Choose a colour for the livingroom and paint it.
Repaint the bathrooms, the kitchen, the kids' bedrooms and the upstairs hall
Put MAJOR MONDO shelving into Cass's room
Put some bookshelves up in R's room
Hang R's chandelier
Bathroom floor.
Re-do front steps.

BUILD raised-beds for garden.
Figure out how to raised-bed garden, and DO IT.
Cass's bed.
Furniture-polish (anyone remember Mrs. Murphy's Oil Soap??) everything
Find and buy pot rack
New desk lamp
Build and populate chicken coop. (What?)
Graft and/or replace aging apple trees

Yes, there's a reason Bear goes pale whenever he sees me with my big pad o' things to do...

I mean, we'll get it done. We will. But right now looking at all of it, here in mid January, it's a whole pile of stuff looming into my sunny spring days.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

most of the time, she looks like a cat

but then at night when she sucks her toe before she falls asleep, it's obvious she's still a baby.

Sweet dreams, y'all.