Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Chameleon

I am a chameleon.

Ever since I can remember, I had the ability to blend in with any group.  The bigger the crowd, the better my assimilation.  It's not a conscious act on my part. It is as natural as breathing and as difficult to control. I can hold it at bay for brief moments but eventually my natural tendency kicks in and I become part of the landscape.

Gestures, accents, gender, ethnicity, even skin colour - none of those matter. I mimic them as easy as you breathe.

Whether it's a gang of ginger-haired terrors one minute or tea-drinking grannies sharing knitting patterns the next, I have one of those faces. It's familiar to everyone. Often because it's most like the one that looks back at you from a mirror every morning.

I am whoever is around me. Sitting at home, alone, I am barely myself. Music, books, decor are all from the people I have been over the years. I look in the mirror and see no one. Just a blank face waiting for colour and expression.  I do not know my right from your wrong. I am no one and everyone.

I do my best to be around good people. Caring people full of kindness, empathy and compassion. I have been on both sides of most debates. Been bullied, beaten and spat upon because of my gender, colour of skin or clothing. Being a chameleon means I know fear, hatred and violence.  I try to choose the side of love but that often results in more beatings.

I have hidden in my room, away from all the different skins, but that was as lonely as blending in the crowd. Self-loathing is more destructive than external hate.

Tonight, I will shake off the oppressive mantle of self-doubt and join the biggest party of revelers I can find. People who know how to have fun in the face of opposition, pride in who they are, and dance regardless of who is watching.  Tonight I will be a gay Latino and love life.




Monday, June 13, 2016

Box of promises

A well-dressed man ran into me with a box of promises. The rose inlaid box hit my hip then crashed to the wet pavement.  The lid popped open.  Some promises spilled out and broke against the harsh cement.

The promises weren't meant for me.

I still have the scar on my hip

Monday, June 06, 2016

Jeanette Ethel Sutherland

My Aunt Jean was born Jeanette Ethel Davis in Pelham, Ontario on June 7, 1913 to Charles (b. Newcastle, England) and Margaret(nee Campbell, b. Dowally, Scotland).  22 years to the day she lost her son, and 22 years plus one day after she lost her beloved husband George, Aunt Jean joined them.
It broke my heart but the thought of them reunited did a lot to ease my grief.  I love this photo of them.



Apparently, I am now the family historian. Aunt Jean passed down a lot of stories as we sorted through old photo albums.  One photo is of her grandparents James and Catherine Campbell, taken at the turn of the 20th century!


Anyway, because of that, I was asked to give her eulogy.  The following is what I wrote but full disclosure, I veered off track at one point.  From what I remember, I hit the highlights.

What do you say about someone who lived 103 years?  103 years of mostly good health and a sharp mind. There are simply too many wonderful stories to recount here today.

One of my earliest memories is of going to Aunt Jean’s house for a visit over a cup of tea.  The tea was in a pretty pot. Milk and sugar were served in proper dishes and we drank out of delicate tea cups. There were always cookies.  Although I was quite young, Aunt Jean asked me about my day as if the dramas of a three year old meant something to hear.  It was a kindness I strive to emulate with all the young children in my own life.

Tea with Aunt Jean was a constant in my life. As recently as five or six weeks ago, we had tea, no cookies, but lots of good conversation.  She would ask me to bring the laptop so we could go through old family photographs.  Every visit she would remember another story or person and I would do my best to record it in some fashion. Most of the time I was too caught up in the story to get it all down.

Over the years, she was a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a nurse, a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. Even last year, she told me about her new friend the gardener at the nursing home. He was from China and they talked about travel, culture and plants.  “Isn’t that something?” she asked. It was her understated exclamation for most things. You knew you’d really caught her attention when she said that.

When I was young, dad told me aunt jean was my great-aunt. I thought that was a description, an appropriate superlative not a familial designation. I still feel that way.

When you’re young, you don’t give much thought to the life your parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles led before you came on the scene.  Aunt Jean though, she never stopped experiencing life.  She modeled clothes, beautiful designer clothes, when she was in her 60’s! I don’t know where she got the confidence for something like that. She and Uncle George went dancing, out with friends and worked in the garden.  Age didn’t slow either one of them down.  Losing George and Robbie was devastating and I don’t know how she survived it. 

She stayed in the house that Uncle George built for her until she was 96 or 97.  My cousin Sandra came from BC to visit one winter before Aunt Jean moved into the nursing home. The three of us sat in the front room and talked about our lives, how we kept ourselves busy then went to the kitchen for tea.  As Aunt Jean poured hot water from the kettle into the pot she apologized for serving us in the kitchen. Her mother would be appalled at her manners. Sandra looked at me as if to ask was Aunt Jean losing it.  She caught the look and said, I still hear my mother’s voice telling me when I do things wrong. The three of us laughed. It never ends? No, no matter how old you get you’re always your mother’s daughter she told us.

The first time I went to Scotland I wanted to find out more about the Fenton side of the family – my paternal grandmother’s people.  While staying with friends over there I kept in touch via Facebook. One evening, I was doing some research while chatting with mom online. She had Aunt Jean on the phone who wanted to know if I’d found her mother’s family! So of course I abandoned the Fentons to look for the Campbells. I’m so glad I did that. My next trip I was able to find the farm where Aunt Jean’s mother was born. There was a family rumour that Granny, Aunt Jean’s mother, had been born in Stirling Castle. Close. But not Stirling. Her father was head ploughman for the Duke of Atholl at Rotmell Farm.  The very farm, by the way, that inspired Queen Victoria to build Balmoral. It’s in the Queen’s diary.  Anyway, there was a problem with Granny’s birth so her mother was carted up to the castle where Granny was born in the kitchen. I took photos of the farm, the cart road that still exists and the unique white washed castle. Not only that, but the farmer was able to explain that all of aunt Jean’s aunts and uncles were born on the Duke’s estates around the country.  It meant a lot to Aunt Jean to be able to sort through all the information and find out where her mother had been born.  It meant a lot to me to be able to share that experience with her.

Family meant everything to Aunt Jean. She never regretted giving up nursing to become George’s wife.  While it had been something she enjoyed a great deal, a career simply wasn’t the way to go back then.  All my life I heard about Young George and Robbie’s talents and accomplishments. Then the grandchildren.  But all the cousins too, most of whom I’d never met.  She would show me pictures of babies and graduations then weddings and explain all the relationships.  She loved all the babies.  Jamie, your baby made her so happy.

She was a woman of style and grace. I don’t normally dress like this (black and white as opposed to a lot of colour) but Aunt Jean had expectations of appropriate attire and I wanted to honour that.

 I never heard her be cruel or unkind but Rachel reminded me of The Look. You were never in doubt if Aunt Jean disapproved of dress or behaviour.  She was quite harsh with me once many years ago.  I was complicating something thinking of all the obstacles.  Aunt Jean was firm. This requires that. I was trying to substitute that. She broke it down into the simplest terms. No substitutions. You have to put the work in to get the results you want.  Regardless of what this and that are, it’s been advice that’s led me out of more than a few missteps.  There have been many times when I’ve asked myself what would Aunt Jean do.

No matter where we go from here, we all carry Aunt Jean with us. Whether it’s an expression, a way of doing things, a sense of style, or even The Look (Rachel has it down perfectly) Aunt Jean has touched each and every one of us – and always will.


I invite each of you to please go up to someone here you don’t know and share a story of your life with Jean. 

Jeanette Ethel Sutherland June 7, 1913 - May 18, 2016

I miss her every day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Challenges

I'm typing one-handed to say I'm still here, still writing (mostly in my head). I'll be back to post more entertaining words when my hand heals or I figure out my Dragon Naturally Speaking software - whichever comes first. Given my accident-prone nature, it should be the software.

Until then, some words I've been thinking go together well. Arrange to your own amusement:
Fast trains
Dogs
Beavers
Chocolate
Closing doors
Gravel
Topsoil
Rake
Pain
Blood
First kiss
Last kiss
Hope
Disillusion
Optimism
Fire
Bicycle

Friday, April 22, 2016

The hole

Taking a break isn't the same as quitting.  I rested my arm on top of the shovel's handle and surveyed my handiwork.  Five hours of digging, three liters of sweat and screaming muscles in shoulders, back and legs only got me a hole less than knee deep.

I dropped the shovel and stepped down into the hole.  I lay down in the hard dirt and stretched out - or tried to.  I'm 5'7".  If I cut my feet off around mid-shin, I'd be able to lie flat.  My shoulders had to hunch and my hips rubbed against the sides. The hole wasn't wide enough.

I sat up then climbed out of the ground. A slight breeze blew hot air around me. It was cooler down in the earth.

I blinked the sweat out of my eyes and wished I'd had the sense to wear a hat. With a loud sigh, I dug back into the hard clay.  The hole wasn't going to dig itself. If I walked away it would never get done.

I had about four hours of daylight left. Time enough to widen the hole, maybe lengthen it.  It would be shallow, there was no getting around that. I still hadn't figured out how I would disguise the freshly dug pit.  The darkness would have to cover my tracks. It wouldn't matter in the daylight.

I'd be gone by then.




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Breathe

Can't. breathe.

I clutch my hand to my throat - like that's going to help - and stagger down the stairs.  The lobby is empty.

Each breath feels like being stabbed with a serrated knife.  There's not enough oxygen reaching my brain. I don't know what's happening. I don't know what caused it. I definitely don't care.

I need air.

I struggle to the front door. Outside the sun is shining. It's a crisp Autumn day and the cold air will revive me.

I trip over the couch by the door. My sternum hits the arm and I gasp. Air rushes from my lungs, the world tilts and suddenly I can breathe.

I drag as much air into my lungs as possible. Leaning on the sofa arm helps me orient myself. The oxygen rush to my brain is exhilarating.  I slowly roll and collapse onto the couch.

A man's face fills my vision. With his nose almost pressed against mine, I can't help but see the rage in his eyes.  "You did this to yourself."

With gloved hands, he picks up both of my hands.  He wraps one of my hands around a paring knife and slowly forces me to slice across one wrist then switches hands. Weakened from the loss of air, stunned by his presence, I don't fight.

My hands drop to my lap, blood weeps onto my nightgown.

My gaze is glued to his, watching myself die in the reflection of his eyes.

He's right. I deserve this. I deserve worse.

I killed his son.




Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Barn dance

Andy spun Gwen through the dance floor in the middle of the barn.  It wasn't a livestock barn.  Used mostly to store antique cars and expensive convertibles, the barn doors were opened wide when Spring came and the cars left to purr down the country roads. Bales of hay were hauled inside, a small stage lined the back wall and the barn dances began.

Andy swung Gwen out for a twirl, dropped to one knee and brought her to rest there just as the song ended. Breathless with laughter, Gwen kissed him.  The other barn dancers whooped at their display.

Andy's hip gave out and they fell to the floor in a tangle of limbs. The hooting turned to concern but Gwen waved them off. She levered herself up with the finesse of the gymnast she'd been in her youth.  Andy struggled to his feet then took Gwen's hand. They bowed once to loud applause then moved back to the hay bale reserved just for them - the original owners of the 1945 Ford Coupe that Andy bought with his army severance cheque after the war.