Saturday, July 30, 2022

Height and the usefulness of ladders....

 The word for our second memory challenge is "ladder." Here's how I remembered it.

Given that my father was a silver medalist in Canadian diving, height had very little effect on him. Placing a ladder on the apex of a bungalow's roof so he could climb up and fix the orientation of our TV antenna was simply what he did to save money and improve reception.

One day, however, it was a little windy and I guess the weather had unnerved him. He asked me to stabilize the ladder, while he climbed up, yet again, to tweak the antenna. 

"You just straddle the roof of the house and hold the base of the ladder, while I climb up," he said.

Now let's put this in perspective. I was 12 years old, about 4'5" tall and 95lbs. My father was 42 years old,  5'7" in height and about 200 or more pounds. There was no way that I could prevent that ladder from toppling over in a sudden gust of wind. But, that day, I had become my father's keeper.

How he managed to get both of us onto the roof, pull up the ladder and then position it against the antenna was a feat in itself.

He climbed on the first rung. I inched forward to grab the sides of the ladder. He climber higher. I held my breath. Ladders shift with weight. I gripped the struts tighter hoping to anchor the ladder to the roof of the house with my fragile limbs. I couldn't fail. I had to keep him from falling to his death. The ladder shifted. I pulled tighter. How long does it take to adjust a wire or two? How long would I live with the guilt of his death. The wind blew up. I closed my eyes. I clenched my hands tighter around the base of the ladder. My knuckles were white. Surely this would be his Armageddon. Do all electrical engineers die by twisting the wires of Fate? 

Finally, the ladder shifted slightly with his decent. It was over. I was free and he was saved, for now anyway from a premature death. In fact, he went on to live another 62 years. His next house had an antenna with a built in ladder secured to the ground not the roof. I often think he had a Guardian Angel - Evel Knievel comes to mind.

At the time I never questioned his sanity in choosing me as his safety net. After all, I was the eldest, my mother's balance wasn't great, or she had more sense and the neighbour's had given up on him years ago.

In fact, this ladder incident was just one in a series of chores I was asked to do. Fortunately the other tasks were more mundane. I could jockey the car out of a snowbank while he pushed from behind. I was 13 or 14 without a license. This is second only to popping the clutch to start a car with a dead battery, while he pushed the car downhill, to get her rolling. Again I had no license. I could hold the solder while he used a blow torch in a tricky plumbing maneuver. This was easy I had done it before when I was 8 or 9. The list goes on. My father always wanted me to be a lawyer. No, I should have been an engineer.

Have a grounded day.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Sands of time...

My writing partner and I have reconnected and we have decided to write in a slightly different vein. Rather than simply giving each other words, as a challenge, we have decided to give each other "memory" suggestions. Yes, they may still be words, but they have to be connected to personal memories - definitely a challenge for me, as I tend to lock "things" away, avoiding the personal - so here I am baring my soul!!

Our first writing for this challenge will be on the memory of "sand." 

Well, my first recollections of sand are of a sandbox my grandfather made for me in our teeny-tiny backyard on Gladstone Ave. in Toronto. My grandparents owned an attached house that was 17' wide, so yes, everything physical was either very small or overstuffed and out of proportion. However, to a child, as long as there was love, harmony and a place to play, it was a perfect world.

My best memories of sand are also of summer. I vaguely remember a trip to Lake Erie, when I was very young. I remember losing a small wooden boat in the waves. Why there was not an adult there to retrieve it, is still a mystery. There were also more mysteries buried in sand, when my parents bought a small cottage on Lake Ontario in an area called Fairport Beach. This was not a holiday house, for us. It was meant to be our year round home, until the realities set in. There was -

1. No potable water. We had to fetch buckets of drinking water from our neighbour's well.

2. No flush toilet.

3. No bath and only one sink, which was in the kitchen.

4. My parents didn't own a car and the bus to anywhere was a two mile walk.

Although our indoor arrangements were limited, our outdoor amenities were amazing. I remember the long stretches of sandy beach, the endless sky meeting the boundless water, the piles of pebbles, the masses of driftwood, and the small pools of a million tiny minnows. This was nature's wealth to share with those who saw her riches. The beach itself was a playground of a different sort. There were just a few of us - my sister and I, the five Morrises, and the three Menarys, ranging in age from about three to eight. We climbed the cliffs, waded into the frigid waters of the lake, built homes of driftwood and lit small fires in the sand to smoke "punk" - small bits of driftwood that looked like cigarette butts - pretending to be adults. In fact there never seemed to be an adult around. Fathers were at work and mothers were at home. We roamed like the free spirits we were. 

However, not all was as idyllic as it seemed. On the steep headland that dropped down to the beach were pockets of clay. A clever trick the older kids played on the younger ones was to lead them across the cliff to a slippery patch of clay and let them struggle there, screaming for help. I remember it was terrifying. There was no foot hold and the drop to the rocky shore was at least 10 feet. Even if you managed to hang on to a weed or two the older kids would push you back onto the clay. My sister and I must have screamed so loudly that someone ran to get our mother. The others took off leaving us there looking like helpless prey. Fortunately, my mother, with a great deal of effort, was able to drag us off the clay and onto the rocks. She was not pleased. We, of course, were blamed for not being smart enough to stay out of trouble.

There was another nasty trick I remember, an older boy playing once or twice, as well. He was a fat-faced bully with squinting eyes and yellow teeth who would purposely start an argument with you near the edge of the cliff. He would inch forward accusing you of stealing or calling him names. Your natural instinct was to step back from his imposing figure. In the heat of the argument it was easy to lose your orientation and step back too far only to fall off the cliff. I think it was the sand that saved me. Yes, when I came home crying, I was punished for being stupid enough to put myself at risk. My mother's heart was made of rock not sand.

We didn't last long by the lake. I went back to live with my grandparents, when I started school and my parents moved with my sister to a small flat in Toronto, renting out the cottage to another young family. We traded the sandy shores of the beach for the concrete streets of the city, exchanging a wild and dangerous freedom for the confines of verandas, sidewalks and sandboxes. In my mind, I know that this safety was better, however, in my heart, I still yearned for the freedom of the timeless days, the endless reaches of the lake and the eternal stretches of sand with their breathtaking challenges.

Have a timeless day.




Sunday, July 24, 2022

My Kingdom for a Mermaid's Purse

 I know a little dramatic, but here's how I got there.

I'm in the process of trying to find ways of both appreciating and preserving artwork that I have done, my kids have done, and others, close to us, have done.


For the artwork in fabric, I have begun doing a series of quilts, as a way of preserving and appreciating some lovely pieces. This is a square from a quilt for a twin bed. Well, of course there will be two quilts, because they are for twin beds and have to be matching. Each quilt has 28 squares of appliqu├ęd and embroidered pieces of needlework that I felt had to be saved. These pieces would be crocheted doilies from my grandmother, a collection of silk and linen handkerchiefs from my mother and a "crazy silk" wall hanging I did years ago and never liked. I know the kids will just throw out the individual items as soon as I'm gone. In fact, they may still throw out the quilts, as well, but the guilt will be greater! 

Each square is joined to the next with a strip of fabric which in turn is embroidered. 


Here is one of the almost finished quilts. I have the other one close to being finished, as well, and I have hand stitched the fabric edging to the first one. I now have to piece together a backing for both quilts, embroider the edgings and secure the backing to the front with some quilting - evening activity for the "stuff" I do during the day.

...but I digress. I was talking about a Mermaid's Purse...we're close.....I don't do much gardening in July - it's either too hot, or I've given up, so I "putter" around adding something here, re-arranging something there...the list goes on. The other day I mounted several pencil sketches I did years ago. Yes, I actually found them in one of the 25 or so half finished sketch books scattered throughout the house. I also found sketches my eldest did when he was young - more ideas for quilts now that I know how to transfer pictures to cloth.


This isn't one of the sketches, but it's close enough. The framed ones are also of shells. This is where I needed help. I had two framed sketches, but needed a third for balance. I decided that I would do a new sketch, but it had to be of shells or similar beach finds. Well, we had kept a few treasures from our various trips to the sea and I was able to locate an almost intact Sand Dollar, a very small and totally intact Star Fish, but I needed a Mermaid's Purse (embryo case for a shark). We used to have about a dozen, but I guess I threw them out over the years. Suddenly, the idea of a beach trip started to materialize.

No, I couldn't justify spending a lot of money to go to the beach to collect a few shark cases. It was at this point that my daughter came home from work and asked how my day was going. I moaned about having thrown out all of our Mermaid's Purses and how I happened to need one right now!

My kids, for all I complain about their messy rooms, their tardiness in doing chores or their flagrant waste of food, time and/or money, are still very magical people. My daughter came downstairs a few minutes later with one almost intact Mermaid's Purse. This only happens in movies or in fairy tales, but it's what makes life precious.


I'm toying with the final arrangement for the sketch. I may show some of the crumbling edge of the Sand Dollar or the other side of the Mermaid's Purse, with its missing "arms" - a composition, perhaps, that comes closer to a statement on life itself. There will always be a missing tendril or two, some crumbling around the edges, beside one or two perfect accomplishments, all preserved in the treasures we decide to keep from the detritus of our lives.

Have a accomplished day!