‘Seven Treasures: A memoir series’ Archives

Seven Treasures, part 12: guest post by Meghan Latta

You’ll find links to previous guest posts in this series here.

MEGHAN LATTA studied art at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she pursues writing and illustration in her spare time.

My treasures:

1.

I buy interview clothes and wear them all day as I walk across Dublin, the cobbles of Temple Bar slowing my step. After dropping off resumés and wandering the streets looking for Help Wanted signs, I sit in coffee shops for hours. I sit and draw faces over and over, thinking about love and distance.

I go to the gallery and think about being deliberate, about choosing one thing over all others, committed enough that the bare bulbs above your head don’t matter. I see the artist’s studio meticulously reconstructed and glassed off like a zoo habitat. An exotic animal.

As I walk back to the flat, the rain starts suddenly, and then all the air is grey with it and everyone moves faster on the sidewalks, or crowds under overhangs, looking, turning, hands in pockets.

From my window later I watch the birds wheeling and wheeling over the city rooftops. The window mostly looks out at a wall and the low cigarette-and water-filled rooftop of another flat. Then I lie in bed and look through the small gap in the curtains hoping to see anything else. I would like the flowers (the tiny red roses and green leaves) to leak from my shirt and cover the land.

The shirt finally becomes unwearable many months later; in a hotel bathroom in France I hear it rip for the second time. I take it off, and hover over the garbage holding it, looking at the rose pattern that was a strange kind of comfort in the cold and colourlessness of Dublin.

I don’t keep much; on this trip especially I have gotten good at throwing things to the wind. I tear the fabric more, separating off a small square that I pack away in the bottom of my bag.

2.

I have many sweaters to ward off the constant cold of Ireland. One of them I wear because it reflects my mood. The rearing red animals. In a row, mouths open, front legs flailing. Roaring on the deep blue wool background. A heart is like a cricket trapped in a sweater (I’ve said this before).

I talk to friends on Skype and they keep asking, “Why don’t you just leave?” And I explain again about my stolen passport, my wish to find a job, in spite of the warning of the border guard when I entered this country — less a warning than a puzzled laugh — “You want work … here?”

In the meantime I have chewed all my fingernails off.

He was reading Margaret Atwood in one of the coffee shops I spent far too much time in, and later, while we were walking, he asked me what I would do to the Millennium Spire — that needle to the sky in the middle of Dublin. I said, “Put a giant disco ball on the tip and shine a laser at it.”

I told myself, I will not pull on the threads of your sweater. I will not tie you to me.

The cowardly lion stutters, C-c-courage.

I was only going to draw his mouth, and the rest of the face followed. The lines have their own logic. To draw someone is to follow the curve of their lips and the angle of their nose, and this closeness is a dangerous thing. If you draw them you are doomed. You are doomed anyway. If you have no photographs, you find proxies.

I want to tell him about Canada: the jesus ducks, the ice coating the inside of the bus window, the way flax looks like a sky. The blithe white butterflies, the exorcism in falling rain in her backyard, the deer twitching in the twilight fields, their tails a bright flag. His sweater reveals the thinness of his arms; we could be a white-on-white painting.

The red of my hair out-brights my shirt. I feel a flashpoint, the animals on my sweater too loud.

3.

I hold up the eye, a pendant without a chain.

Dublin seems like a bad dream, the wasted nights spent unrestful, running many miles to nowhere in sleep, and now, sitting on a terrace, the ocean just there, everything made of the same pale stone. The green light of the beer bottle spills across the page.

The only real souvenir I buy is from Malta, in a shop at the end of a line of white stone leading from the seaside temples to the Blue Grotto. The Grotto is a cleft in the Maltese shore where the beating water has formed an underwater cave, and the tourists go there now in boats and stare up at a cathedral of hollowed stone. Disappearing into blue. The myth of paradise.

There are saints by all the doors. My shadow lies over the ocean and the worn stone pier. Spirit eyes stare from the ships in the harbour, vivid against the water. If I had a god, I would find it here; if I had a lover, I would take him to this place; if I had an army, we would rest here and let our horses drink.

4.

I am like a scarf loosed on the wind. Oporto, Portugal. Finally I have found the warm sun. Walking the surf’s edge, my feet in the cold water, I feel the sun burning my chest, the wind tangling my hair. I smell the saltfish and burning sugar, gaze out at blue on blue, then down at my own white flesh on the sand, thinking of the white-on-white painting we never made.

The nuns blown onto the shore like seabirds. The old men playing cards with stones to weigh them down. My feet follow the tide line, in and out of the water, stepping over jellyfish fragments. The eye around my neck stares out at the ocean, as it is meant to, its eyelids ridged with diamonds; it knows not to blink. The ocean stares back and cannot blink either.

I take one white stone from the beach and put it in my pocket.

5.

In a restaurant in Florence, Italy, the cook and I watch Mr. Bean on the television. He looks up often from the pasta carbonara he is preparing to watch. The comedy needs no words, and the cook and I have very few words between us.

A man behind me, maybe the owner, asks me if I am English, which I take to mean English speaking, and I say, “Yes, how did you know?”

“Your shoes, they are very English.”

I laugh and say I bought them in Ireland, so yes, they are “English,” and how well he knows shoes.

6.

Ireland is still cold and wet when I return after four and a half months travelling. Though it is not true that there are no trees in Dublin — as someone once told me — their leaves are small and faint.

Once again clouds hang over the city. I collect my suitcase, stored at the home of a distant friend of a friend, and take the bus back from a neighbourhood filled with children, big brick houses and stained glass. As I look back, the god rays are shooting out over the top of the cloud. In the distance, veiled and almost erased, are the two small-breasted mountains. Beside the road the sandpipers peck and bob along the tide flats.

I don’t have many clothes here, I tossed most of them along the way, and so I buy a light seasonal cardigan. I like the stripes; they are coloured like America, blue and white shot through with bands of red.

I have written him an email saying I am only in town for a few days and then I am returning to Canada. I walk into the restaurant of a fancy hotel downtown and he walks in too, and he could not see my face because of the umbrella pulled down so low against the torrents of rain, but he says that in the lobby he recognized my shoes.

We sit together wrapped in my coat that smells of fire. He says something about finding a loose thread on my cardigan and pulling until it was gone. Sometimes things do happen this way, from the page to his mouth.

7.

The Dublin terminal looks like science fiction. The tiles shiny and sparkling, the shoes of the guards as they pass just as polished, moving black. He makes a few jokes so I won’t cry, and we sit shoulder to shoulder, waiting.

I run the gauntlet, buy chocolate bars we don’t have in Canada from the vending machines, drop my passport and don’t notice until a stranger hands it to me, and then stare out the airport window at the field of roads leading to no place, hearing my own accent for what feels like the first time out of the mouths of others.

When I make myself look back at the gate, he is gone, and a nun’s head glares at me over a low wall.

I get on a plane.

 

I can’t tell how much time has passed, now that I am moving back through it from the future, following the sun circuit over the earth. In the plane the electronic map shows us where we are, and how cold the air is.

 

 

Note from Allyson: Meghan is my niece and also the artist who created the painting from which I chose the detail in my website banner — of a little girl in a garden. The little girl is me, and Meghan’s painting is of a photograph she liked that was taken years ago in the backyard of my childhood home. Hanging now in my dining room, her painting is one of my treasures.

Next in the series: watch for author Diane Schoemperlen’s “Seven Treasures.”

 

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Seven Treasures, part 11: guest post by author Kristen den Hartog

You’ll find links to previous guest posts in this series here.

KRISTEN DEN HARTOG is the author, most recently, of the novel And Me Among Them, published in the United States as The Girl Giant. With her sister Tracy Kasaboski, she wrote The Occupied Garden, a family memoir about her father’s childhood in Second World War Holland. The two are currently at work on a story about their grandmother’s family in First World War England. Kristen lives in Toronto, and writes about the books she reads with her daughter at Blog of Green Gables.

 

Seven treasures, in no particular order:

1.

Years ago I lived in Alberta and I would spend the weekends with my friend Janet, driving from town to town in a pickup truck to visit flea markets. We’d buy up old things like delicate chipped china, or mysterious rusted farm tools. Once we came upon a pair of cloth-covered scrapbooks, made just after the Second World War, every inch covered with bizarre rather than political news: a 24-year-old typist whose appendix was on the wrong side; a boy found living among gazelles. The random way the books were put together offered few clues as to who made them, or why. More puzzling still was why someone would get rid of them. It seemed to me that the books needed to be rescued, in the way of family photos that have lost their families.

2.

I inherited my dad’s stamp collection when I was a child. The hobby didn’t last long for me, but I treasure the collection because it makes me think of my dad as a boy in Holland. I can picture him poring over the stamps — tiny works of art in scalloped frames — wondering what the countries themselves must be like, and how he could get himself there. The collection makes me think of my dad now too — a fit, weathered 74-year-old with the dust of many countries on his sandals. In the mid-1990s, he sold his house and belongings and set sail with his wife in a boat they built themselves. Almost twenty years later, they’re still travelling the world, and have been to most of the places in his childhood postalbum.

3.

I was given my grandmother’s wedding dress, but I never married, so it hasn’t been worn since September 1934. My own parents divorced when I was little, so my idea of marriage deflated somewhat early on. But when I think of my grandparents, married for more than sixty years, I’m impressed. She kept a scrapbook full of Valentine’s cards signed “?” — though of course the sender was no real mystery. Perhaps a lack of mystery can be a pretty wonderful thing. The dress reminds me that relationships can last. Before my grandmother died, she waited for my grandfather to come and hold her and kiss her goodbye. In the ensuing years he often spoke of her. “She was one heck of a lady,” he’d say.

 

4.

When I was 7, my dad took my older sisters and me to New York City. He says now that he wanted to show us there was a very different world outside our small hometown in northern Ontario. And certainly we got a taste of it. I have vague memories of driving through Harlem, and travelling the wrong way down a one-way street. One night, as we slept in our hotel room, someone entered. My dad and I were in one bed, my sisters in the other. They woke and saw a light under the bathroom door, and assumed it was me or my dad in there. I slept right through till morning, and woke to the sight of police officers interviewing my dad and the news that we’d been robbed. All the cash for our trip was gone — a fortune to my dad back then — but the camera remained, a good one, I think, with fancy lenses. That’s why we still have this picture of me and my sisters on the ferry heading for the Statue of Liberty. (The sisters are also a treasure.)

5.

From the time we met, my partner Jeff and I have been squeezing into photobooths periodically, documenting our life together. After Nellie was born, we began bringing her in too, and over the years we’ve collected a hodgepodge of these zany photobooth shots that we keep in a special album. I love these pictures, four in each set, Nellie toothless at first, then toothy, then toothless again.

6.

This is a virtual treasure. A few years ago, I started blogging about the books I read with my daughter, Nellie. The essays aren’t book reviews of any kind, but meandering little posts about how books weave themselves into our family life. Sometimes I research an author like Roald Dahl or William Steig or E.B. White, and include anecdotes about them as well as old book covers, or some of Nellie’s drawings of characters. Over time, I see now, the blog has become an evolving journal of Nellie’s childhood, of parenthood, and of our family’s trip through children’s literature. There are all sorts of memories, images, and quotes stored on the blog that might otherwise get forgotten, such as her musing about the fact that “sum bilive, sum don’t.”

 

 

7.

I have a little wooden rocking chair that was my mom’s when she was little. It’s meant for a toddler, but when we were teens my sisters and I could still wedge our bottoms into it and walk around with it stuck there. Those kinds of antics always got my mom giggling, at which point she was vulnerable and you could get her giggling even more. The chair makes me think of her and her wonderful, infectious laughter, and our house on Darwin Crescent — three girls and a mom against the world.

Also by Kristen den Hartog on this website:

“The Shape of the Story”

“Reviving Mary Ann: sisters follow clues to bring the past to life on the page” 

 

 

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Seven Treasures, part 10: guest post by Thomas Pals

Thomas Pals with his wife Miki and some of his students at a wind farm in Hawaii

Read the Introduction, where you’ll also find links to previous posts in this series.

Originally from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, THOMAS PALS has lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His current position as an adjunct English Professor in the Department of Science and Engineering at Ritsumeikan University allows Tom to design and teach courses including academic writing, science in civilization, technology and business, and engineering for developing countries. Tom has co-authored a number of English language texts for science and engineering students. He has lectured and presented throughout Asia and even occasionally in North America.

Unlike his good friend Allyson, Tom laments the fact that his job includes writing. This post could well be his one and only attempt at writing something non-academic. In his free time, Tom likes to BBQ, brew various IPAs, hike, and travel. He lives with his wife Miki near Kyoto, Japan.

*     *     *

These are my seven treasures:

1.

Saturday, February 7th, 1970, was a beautifully warm winter’s day. Even though I was only seven and a half years old, I remember it — the day my grandfather died. Some kids had broken into a vending machine to steal candy. While trying to chase them down, my grandfather collapsed on the street in front of the small dry cleaning and coin laundry shop he and my grandmother owned. He died of a heart attack right there in his wife’s arms.

The next day my grandmother called me into their bedroom and handed me my grandfather’s wooden cane. “I want you to have this,” she said through her tears.

My grandfather hadn’t always needed his cane. He only used it on days when his knee was bothering him. Other days you would find me running down the hallway with it, ready to pole-vault over anything that tried to block my way. When my grandfather couldn’t find his cane, he always knew to ask me where it was.

It’s hanging now on the inside knob of my bedroom door. When the time comes that I need it, I’ll know where it is.

2.

Charles Lindbergh

You can get a photo of Charles Lindbergh off the Internet in about two seconds. But how many can you say were taken by your grandmother the day she met him?

Bonnie June Carlson didn’t seem to think it was a big deal, but I have the proof: a black-and-white photo of Lucky Lindy standing next to the Spirit of St. Louis. How could she have met Charles Lindbergh and never mentioned it? Was it some sort of secret?

And there were other photos too. One of her playing baseball with her brothers. And another of her sitting on Grandpa’s knee on their very first date. She was 53 when I came into the world, and apparently she had already lived a full and amazing life. I knew her for less than half of it, yet in that time she astonished me. She gardened. She travelled. She read. She comforted. She laughed. It was hard to see her go, but at 100 she had lived a remarkable life. Having recently reached 50, I wonder if years from now my life will look even half as interesting to anyone.

My grandmother’s photo of Lucky Lindy sits on my desk, reminding me to live amazingly now, and always.

3.

A good gas grill is hard to come by in Japan. People grill here, but not at home and not with gas. They bring a portable charcoal grill to the beach or riverside and have a picnic. That’s great, but not convenient. Another problem is that the charcoal is usually natural hard wood from a developing Southeast Asian country. Chopping down forests for the sake of some grilled food is just not a very good idea. That’s why I was thrilled when I found a genuine Coleman gas grill for sale at Costco in Fukuoka.

My yearly summertime visits to my brother’s Minnesota place always feel like home. Together we grill almost every night I’m there. Now, in Japan, my house is a summertime haven for Japanese friends, and co-workers who miss the North American cookout. It’s not all burgers and brats, though. Lots of veggies and sea creatures join in on the fun. Ever grilled fresh octopus? How about tofu, sweet potato, okra, or eggplant? I just add some homebrew from the kegerator and younger teachers think they know why I’m called Professor Pals.

4.

Here’s something else you may not know about living in Japan. For the most part there is no central heating. If it is cold outside, it is cold inside.

My wife and I always sit on the floor. The only furniture we have is a TV stand, a few flat cushions, and our kotatsu, which is the centre of our home as it is any traditional family home. It is our coffee and dinner table rolled into one. In the winter, you simply remove the top of the table, throw on a nice warm blanket, replace the top, and turn on the little space heater attached to the table’s underside. Instant warmth and comfort. If you get sleepy, you lean back on the tatami floor and take a nap.

I really can’t tell you how many times my family, friends, co-workers and students have congregated around my kotatsu. But the numerous photos of nabe, sukiyaki, and yakiniku parties stand as evidence of shared moments together. Would these gatherings be as numerous or memorable with a normal table and chairs? Somehow I doubt it.

There is magic in the design of this Japanese table, the tatami mat floor, and the family atmosphere these create. If and when I ever move back to North America, my kotatsu is coming with me.

5.

My parents split when I was just 4 years old. I don’t remember ever seeing my mom and dad love each other. I never saw them fight either. I was just too young. God bless my mom, who at age 34 was left to raise five of us on her own. As a kid, I never really knew the hardships because she was a steadfast, loving mother. As an adult, I finally understand what she went through.

The rejection we all felt as a family did affect us. It is part of who I am. So when a couple years ago I came across a photo of my mom and dad together, I was shocked. In it, my dad is sitting sideways with his legs casually draped over one arm of the chair as his head rests on the other. He has his right arm around her, pulling her in, and he’s looking up at her. She is facing the camera with a serene smile on her face. Of course we had taken some family photos before the breakup, but in this photo they looked so … in love. So natural together. My dad really must have cared for her at one point.

When I asked Mom why I had never seen it before, her eyes grew sad. She hadn’t consciously hid the photo. For years it was just too painful for her to look at. It is a photo of love soon to be lost, and heartache yet to come. I can feel my mom’s pain when I look at it, but at the same time, I am mesmerized.

Since I scanned it into my computer, I often find myself going back to it. I’ve even shown it to other family members, but I am not ready to share it with you. You may not see its true value, and that would be a shame.

6.

An iPad may seem like a lame choice for a treasure. I think so too. It’s not really the iPad itself that is a treasure, but what it can do — and with whom.

When I first moved to Japan over 20 years ago, it cost me $3 a minute to call home. How things have changed. Just this week, on my iPad, I talked to my high school buddy living in Thailand, my brother in Minnesota, a nephew coming to Japan for a visit, and a colleague here in Japan who needed some help with work. Total cost: $0. Not to mention the fact that — also on iPad — I ordered flowers for my mom for Mother’s Day, gave a lecture about genetics, watched a Twins game, finished reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography, and received a message via Facebook from a friend in Canada who asked me to write a guest post.

Sometimes technology rocks.

7.

Tom walking his niece Samara down the aisle. "The tie almost looks purple here. It's not. It's blue. But then again, I'm not really that red either."

My nephew Schuyler gave me my favourite tie. Every time I wear it, someone comments on what a great tie it is. Normally I don’t wear one, but this tie makes me feel almost … fashionable.

It is a blue necktie designed by Jerry Garcia, but it comes from the Steve collection. That would be my brother Steve. My nephew swiped it right out of his closet — because I asked him to. Not this particular tie, but one that both he and his father both liked. Since my lawyer brother was kind of a clotheshorse, I knew I would get a good one.

The first time my brother Rick saw it, he asked me where I got the cool tie. I told him I got it from Schuyler via the Steve collection — and now Rick has one too. We like our ties because they are more than just great neckwear. You see, the Steve collection has only limited editions.

I miss my big brother. He demonstrated so much to me about life, and yes, death. This treasure that I got for free has a cost that is sometimes almost too much to bear. But on New Year’s Eve 2011, when I walked his daughter down the aisle, I was proud to wear my tie from the Steve collection.

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Seven Treasures, Part 8: guest post by Rick Brazeau

Read the Introduction, where you’ll also find links to previous posts in this series.

RICK BRAZEAU is a long-time photographer and a short-time writer currently living in Milton, Ontario, with his dog, Georgia. You can see some of his work on Facebook here.

*     *     *

 

 

 

These are my seven treasures:

 1.

Once I had a little dog that I lost in a messy divorce. I know how silly that sounds, but it’s true.

I’d promised my buddy that I would look after him always, and in the end I wasn’t able to. So a few years later I went out and found another dog, same breed, that needed help. She was on drugs and was going to be put down. I brought her home from the state of Georgia and weaned her off the meds. It took her about a year or so to develop her personality.

Today Georgia’s funny and mischievous, loyal and lovable.

And I take care of her, and always will.

2.

Recently I got a tattoo on my arm of a quill and ink well. I think it’s pretty cool — blue and red feather, grey and dark blue ink. I got it because of an unexpected connection that I developed with a beautiful, talented young woman who managed to move me deeply and truly.

So today I have an adopted daughter who lives two thousand miles away but yet still lives within me. She already had that tattoo and I asked if I could copy it — although I have to say, mine is cooler. (Just kidding.)

I wear the tattoo as a reminder of my friend and of all my connections, all of the people who move me. They are why I try to create. Why I take pictures. Why I am learning to write.

3.

I bought my first camera — a Miranda Fv — 40 years ago and discovered that when I can’t focus (pardon the pun) on what is happening around me, I can pick up my photo gear and suddenly I’m in the moment, the now. Worries of the past melt away and concerns about tomorrow disappear. All that matters is what’s happening in front of me — within view of my lens.

I no longer have that old camera. When you’re an addict it’s hard to hang onto things, and even people, that are important to you. But through it I found photography, which became my first voice, a way for me to express myself without worry of being silenced.

4.

Photo credit: Julien Faugère

There’s a Cajun dude, a zydeco musician, Zachary Richard. He plays guitar and squeeze box and has a beautiful voice. Zydeco is Acadian music that got mixed up with Louisiana blues and a little East Texas country and is often sung in French, and when I listen to Zach I can’t help but think of my uncle Teles. He was a real lumberjack outside of North Bay — black piercing eyes, hawk nose, and hair combed straight back.

We’d visit the camp once in a while. You could only get there by horse-drawn sleigh. After everyone trudged back in from a long cold day we’d eat a quiet dinner, then gather around the wood stove and Teles would pick up his fiddle. He’d lost a couple of fingers on his bow hand and when he’d really get playing, a lock of his hair would flop down and he’d brush it back with that hand, but some would always be left hanging where the gap was from his missing digits. Someone would start banging out a beat with two spoons and maybe, just maybe, others would sing.

I never got a recording of those backwoods jam sessions and the world is a little poorer for that, but I’ve got Zach and zydeco to bring me back to that lonely lumber camp in the middle of a Northern Ontario winter.

5.

My mom wrote to my dad while he was in Italy during the Second World War, and one of her letters is among my treasured belongings.

The letter is lovely and full of hope and promise, written on a single sheet of very thin paper that when folded becomes its own envelope. The page is filled, on both sides, with my mom’s neat writing, all in English except the last line: “Je t’aime de tout mon coeur mon cheri.”

What’s extraordinary is that the airplane that was carrying the letter was shot down. Yet the letter survived the crash with four burn holes through it the size of Loonies. Dad received it in that condition a few weeks later. I like to think of the comfort that he got as he read and reread those words from home.

The letter was in his pocket when a grenade landed in the L-shaped foxhole where he was posted. He lay for three days in the Italian August heat and rain with a broken vertebrae in his neck, unable to move, a dead man across his chest.

And he survived.

I can’t help but think that the letter and what it represented may have kept him from giving up.

 6.

Photo credit: Rick Brazeau

I moved recently, downsized a little, but I must have a garden. What I’ll plant I’m not sure, but I need to have space for a lilac bush, my baby rhododendron, some flox, and a few other bright and beautiful growing things.

The flox I first got about twelve years ago during my last marriage. When we split up, I transplanted a few stems to a friend’s place while I regrouped in an ugly apartment. When I eventually bought a little townhouse, the flox took centre stage — and will again at my new place very soon.

Have you ever saw a hellebore poke a pink or greenish yellow flower through a blanket of snow? As the snow melts, the flower dies, followed by the old leaves, only to be replaced after the next long, grey winter by new growth that’s twice as big and with twice as much promise of colour.

What magic.

And the most magical part of my garden is that I can take it with me.

7.

The photograph is a goofy one of a little red-haired girl in a mauve fairy-princess dress. She has a beautiful smile on her face and her arms around a guy wearing white slacks and sweater and a pink nose and bunny ears.

It was Easter. None of the adults in that room could believe that I would do it, but I hopped down the basement stairs and into the rec room and in my best silly voice kept saying, “Here comes the Easter Bunny, yup, yup, yup. Hippity-hop, hooray!”

I love that little girl. I held her when she was only a couple of hours old and I looked into her eyes, taking in every detail for the very first time. She looked right into me, right into my soul, and I couldn’t stop looking back, and suddenly I was falling. I can’t explain it but if you ever saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, the scene where Dave is hurled from one universe to the next … that is how I felt.

That moment gave me the conviction to stand up for an injustice that had occurred to another child many years before.

My fear didn’t disappear, but the love that was forged in the hospital room on her birth day gave me the strength to stand up to the Church, to stare it down.

It was hard and scary, but they blinked first.

How could I not dress up silly for her?

Your turn. What are your seven treasures?

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Seven Treasures, Part 9: guest post by Elizabeth Yeoman

Read the series Introduction here.

Elizabeth Yeoman near Nájera, Spain, on the Camino de Santiago (Photo credit: Maria Hernaez)

ELIZABETH YEOMAN is a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her teaching and scholarly publications are about language, culture, history and memory. Her poetry and travel writing have appeared in literary journals and she has contributed media pieces to the Globe and Mail, the Women’s Television Network and CBC Radio. She is currently working with Labrador Innu elder and environmental and cultural activist Elizabeth “Tshaukuesh” Penashue on a book based on Elizabeth’s diaries. Elizabeth Yeoman also blogs at Dinner in Strange Places.

*     *     *

These are my seven treasures:

1.

The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers: I won this as a prize for an essay contest sponsored by the Nova Scotia Association of Garden Clubs when I was in Grade 7. I think the topic of my winning essay was the joy of gardening. My father took me to Halifax, a four-hour drive, to accept the prize at a banquet — but when we got there he said he was very tired and would I mind if we just went out for supper by ourselves. Though he was quite a prominent labour lawyer, he was reserved and self-effacing in his personal life, so perhaps after driving all that way he felt he couldn’t face a formal dinner among strangers. I didn’t mind; I too felt a bit reluctant now that we were so close to the actual event.

Instead we went to a Hungarian restaurant called Tokay, which I thought was the height of sophistication, treated ourselves to exotic food we had never tasted before, and drove home again: two shy escapees from public recognition and formality.

The book was mailed to me later and, as the photo shows, it has since been much enjoyed.

2.

A drawing done by my daughter, Ilse, when she was 14: This is us on the top deck of a London tour bus; that’s her on the left and me on the right. She wasn’t very happy at that stage of her life but she liked London and she was dying to go on a tour. Though I didn’t want to, I agreed to go because she was so rarely excited about anything in those days.

As soon as we climbed the stairs of the double-decker and emerged into the sunshine again to see the lions of Trafalgar Square and all of London spread out around us, her face lit up. We spent a memorable day together seeing the sights from our bus-top perch.

 

3.

My wedding ring: I have lost a total of four wedding rings. The one I wear now is the third, which I found again after losing the fourth.

I can’t remember how I lost the first one; it was so long ago and the details mundane. The second one was more dramatic. I was going to Spain with a friend, to walk the Camino de Santiago, and I said to David, my husband, that I wasn’t going to take any valuables with me, not even my wedding ring. “All right,” he said jokingly, “go ahead and look as though you’re single so you can pick up men.” I thought his joke might have just a touch of seriousness to it so I took the ring after all, but my hands swell when I hike and I ended up carrying it in a pouch with my passport. I have no idea how it got lost. I don’t think it was stolen; the passport was intact. The ring must have fallen out, and probably still lies somewhere on that ancient pilgrim trail.

My third wedding ring is a replica of an early-seventeenth century ring found at the Ferryland archeological site in Newfoundland. I lost it too, and felt so badly that I secretly tracked down the goldsmith and got him to make a copy: a replica of a replica! Later I found this one buried deep in a tiny forgotten pocket of a knapsack. For a while I wore both of them, but still later I managed to lose the copy.

One more and the “Five golden rings!” of the Christmas carol will hold true for me and we’ll move on to six swans a-swimming. “More difficult to lose them,” David mutters.

4.

A patched jacket and a mini replica of it: I bought this jacket to take to Labrador for a week-long trip into the bush on snowshoes. It was 30 below and the jacket was essential, but the very first night in the tent I brushed against the red-hot wood stove and melted huge holes in it. The down flew up like a cloud and my friend Tshaukuesh burst into laughter, then saw my stricken face and clamped her hands over her mouth. She found some fabric and a sewing kit and I spent that evening and the next day sewing, sewing, sewing: tiny stitches to keep the down in. It worked, and I was able to complete the trip.

After I got home to St. John’s, a small package came in the mail. It contained a mini replica of my jacket, patches and all. My Innu doll has worn it proudly ever since. When I look at it, I can imagine Tshaukuesh laughing to herself as she stitched it for me.

5.

Another book, Nigella Lawson’s cookbook Feast: I never expected to like the British cooking diva and domestic goddess. She is too successful, rich and glamorous for someone like me who always sides with the underdog. But as I found out when I finally read one of her cookbooks, she is also funny, self-deprecating and down-to-earth, and she understands what really matters in life. And in death.

Feast has a chapter on food for funerals and I love Nigella for that. When my friend Rita’s father died, she said, “If there’s anything good about a death it’s the sense of community.” A stream of people brought food to her house and her family didn’t have to cook for a week.

My father died suddenly not long afterwards, and it was the same for us. I remember one dear friend walking up the driveway carrying a tureen of lobster chowder and two more arriving together with homemade date squares and loaves of bread. There were plates of sandwiches and cakes everywhere. I couldn’t eat, but knowing the food had all come from people who cared was enormously comforting. And as Nigella puts it, “Any food is a reminder that life goes on, that living is important. That isn’t brutal: it’s the greatest respect you can pay to the dead.”

6.

One red mitten: When I was 22 years old, I spent a few months walking and hitchhiking around northern Europe by myself. I got a very cheap flight from Halifax to Prestwick, in Scotland, explored the Highlands, and then gradually made my way to Wales to visit my friend Joanna. After a week or two in her warm and ebullient company, I left to travel onwards. I really didn’t want to leave but I was afraid of outstaying my welcome and also I think I wanted to test my courage by making this solitary trip. It was a record cold winter and I was under-dressed for it: freezing and lonely, with very little money, but determined to complete the itinerary I had planned.

Several weeks later I arrived in Amsterdam where the canals had frozen solid and everyone was skating, warmly clad, ruddy-cheeked and cheerful. Not having skates with me, I watched from a bridge, spent the night in a bleak military-style hostel, and the next day made my way to the post office to retrieve a small clutch of airmail envelopes with Canadian stamps and, best of all, a package and a letter from Wales. Joanna had noticed my inadequate winter garb and decided to knit me a pair of bright red mittens. But she had finished only the first one and, in her enthusiastic way, sent it along without its mate, promising to send that too as soon as it was done.

I never did get the second one. Still, I wore this single vivid mitten for the rest of that long cold winter and, even if it only kept one hand warm, it was wonderfully comforting.

7.

A photograph of a theatrical setting for Patrick Meyers’s play K2: My brother, Alan, built this abstract replica of the mountain K2 for a performance of the play at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal. He gave me the photo, in a frame he had also made himself, not long before he died of cancer in his early fifties.

Alan had by then built a successful career as a stage carpenter after barely passing Grade 12 (the second time around) and then trying various trades and vocational programs. He had spent most of his high school years playing bridge and pinball, and several months after that carving a single highly detailed stone chess piece. I suppose when he realized how many more there were still to carve and how little the whole set would be worth in relation to the amount of work involved, he decided to cut his losses.

The career he eventually found suited him: creative and meticulous, solitary and independent, yet with the potential, when he wanted it, for the conviviality of the theatre. When he gave me the photo, he said with characteristic understatement and just a hint of pride, “I think when Dad came to the play and saw that, it was the first time he realized I wasn’t just a bum.”

Thoughts? Comments? What’s one of your seven treasures?

 

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Seven Treasures, Part 7: guest post by Adrian the Elder

Read the series Introduction here.

Born and raised in Toronto, I left school when I was seventeen and hitchhiked around North America on an unforgettable non-stop three-year odyssey of exploration and discovery. Except for a five-year stint as a personnel manager with a large camera store chain, I’ve worked all my life as a photographer, mostly in my own studio. Twelve years ago, much to my surprise, I met Linda and married for the second time, and a few years after that, closed my studio. I now enjoy life’s unexpected shifts with my retired and also very active wife. I dabble in my basement photography studio and spend a lot of time writing about some of my experiences, which I post on my blog: http://adrian-the-elder.blogspot.com

Please join me and my treasures in the sandbox. I hope you’ll find some of what I have interesting to look at while I tell you what each means to me. You’re welcome to play with them if you like; all I ask is that you take special care with my clay pot, as we have been together for more than forty-six years and it’s far more fragile than I am.

Read the rest of this entry »

Thursday, June 14th, 2012