Posts Tagged ‘memory prompt’

A Seven Treasures post by Janis McCallen

The Seven Treasures series is back by popular demand, with this guest post by Janis McCallen.

As a young girl, JANIS MCCALLEN began writing about her life in small diaries — the kind with a little brass lock and key. At eleven she wrote her first novel on a Royal portable typewriter set up on a card table in the basement. In her teens, she wrote angst-filled poetry, and she has continued to write ever since.

Currently Janis writes poetry, short fiction, and memoir. Both her poetry and prose have been published. During the warmer months, she can be found in her writing studio tucked at the back of her garden. She is the Membership Coordinator for the Writers’ Community of York Region and a member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. Together with Elaine Jackson, Janis co-facilitates day-long Writing from the Centre yoga and writing retreats. Every other week, she pens a writing-related blog post on the Writing from the Centre website.


My sister and I waited several months after my mother’s death before we could bring ourselves to sort through her cedar chest. There we found it, wrapped in brown paper: her wedding dress. It is cream-coloured satin, gathered at the bodice, with a full skirt and a long row of satin-covered buttons down the back. The Second World War had delayed my parents’ marriage and the ceremony took place in October 1946.

Sixty-one years later, on a sunny June day in 2007, I wore that dress when I married my longtime partner, Tom, in our garden. With a few minor alterations, it fit perfectly. Although my mom had passed away the previous year, as I walked down the garden path and under the honeysuckle arbour, I felt she was with me in spirit. She probably smiled to see her gown in the spotlight one more time.


As a child I loved kindergarten — especially the art-making part. I recall the satisfying squishiness of the clay that my pudgy fingers teased into shapes. And I remember the smooth satiny feel of paint as I spread it with my fingers over waxy paper and watched patterns emerge. A painted wooden robin is one of the few pieces of my early artwork that survived. It’s made from wood scraps I glued together, fastened to a spool, then painted. It reminds me that my five-year-old Inner Artist is still alive, and that I need to let her out to play more often.


My husband surprised me with a gift of this hand-painted porcelain brooch when we attended the Augusta Heritage Festival’s music camp in Elkins, West Virginia, over fifteen years ago. A guitar, banjo, and mountain dulcimer adorn its luminescent surface. For many years during our summer vacations, we attended such gatherings in the U.S., where we studied and played Southern Appalachian music.

Music is still a part of our lives. And the sounds that surrounded us during those heartfelt weeks come back to me whenever I wear this brooch. I hear guitar, banjo, mountain dulcimer, autoharp, fiddle, and stand-up bass along with the haunting sounds of southern singing. I also hear the teary farewells that were shared at the end of each meaningful camp experience.


3. Photo of my GrandparentsThis photograph of my grandparents was taken in the backyard of their home in downtown Toronto in 1911. My grandfather, with his impish Yorkshire grin, looks so proud of his family: his wife Elizabeth and their children, Greta and baby Norman. Six more children would follow, including my mother in 1917.

I wish I could step into the photograph and talk with my grandmother about the unusual circumstances of her early life. In the late 1880s, she and her older brother were placed in an orphanage in Leeds, after their mother died and their father couldn’t keep them. They were sent to Canada, along with about 100,000 other “home children,” through the British Child Immigration Scheme. My grandmother was placed on a farm outside Stouffville, Ontario. I “found” her in a copy of the 1891 census in that town’s library. Her age: 10; her occupation: domestic servant.

So far I have been able to piece together only fragments, but I’m now embarking on more research so that I can write my grandmother’s story.


6. Hand-painted Buddha DSC02269AOur image of the Buddha — just 12 centimetres square — was painted for my husband and me by a young Tibetan monk named Tseten Dorji, who lived in Kathmandu, Nepal. We began sponsoring him in the late 1990s and our monthly contributions both supported his religious and art education in a local monastery and assisted his parents. His family had seven children and lived on what Tseten’s mother could earn selling religious trinkets at a local market. His father was ill and unable to work.

We corresponded with the family over a four-year period, and have a scrapbook filled with letters and artwork we received. Through them we learned about daily life, religious life, school, holidays and celebrations, local plants and animals, and the political instability within Nepal, including the regular violent actions of rebels. After Tseten’s father’s health improved, our support was no longer needed, and eventually we lost touch. When I look at this framed picture Tseten painted for us I wonder what he is doing now, and if he is still in the monastery creating beautiful art.


A delicate strand of cultured pearls is stored in its original blue velvet Birks jewellery box. My mother’s best friend, my “Aunt” Gloria, began putting pearls away for me at Birks when I was born. On my sixteenth birthday she presented me with this box wrapped in silver paper. I can still feel the coolness of her fingers and the happy chill that ran up my spine as she placed the pearls around my neck and fastened the silver clasp. I ran to the dresser mirror in my parents’ bedroom to admire them. I felt so grown up.

My aunt was like a whirlwind. She never sat still during her visits, smoked Sportsman cigarettes and left bright red lipstick rings on the butts. And she laughed a lot, throwing her head back and freeing what sounded like musical chimes interspersed with bursts of air. When my aunt was around, my generally sensible mother turned into a teenager. Her voice became high-pitched and her face flushed. Sadly, my aunt developed dementia later in life, and my mom watched her best friend of over seventy years slowly fade beyond her reach. I think of my aunt, so full of life, every time I wear those pearls.


7. My Hiking Knapsack DSC02299AI bought this royal blue knapsack twenty-five years ago as I prepared for a two-week hiking trip in England, and it has accompanied me on countless other trails since that time. Some of its badges are now frayed, and in a few places it’s been lovingly re-stitched.

If the knapsack could talk, it might prefer not to recall exhausting climbs, sudden downpours, heatstroke, sweat, blackflies, and mosquitoes. But I think it would happily share memories of wandering on the rolling moorlands of Yorkshire, amongst black-faced sheep with wild locks. It would surely recall being on a rocky outcrop in Algonquin Park and spotting a moose grazing in a calm pool below. And it would certainly remember standing beneath the ancient red and white pines, two to three hundred years old, in Temagami. My knapsack will gather new stories when my husband and I return to Algonquin Park to hike this September.

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Seven Treasures, part 19: guest post by Natalie Shahinian

Artist and writer NATALIE SHAHINIAN is happiest in her pyjamas, snacking on peanut butter licked from the end of a spoon. When the spread is on sale, Natalie stocks up, solely in the event of an emergency. She has been quoted as saying, “I don’t want to imagine a world without peanut butter. That would be an awful way to live.”

(Read about Seven Treasures and find links to more guest posts here.)


1. Marbles

It may have been her parents’ farm, but it was B’s kingdom. An only child, B was audacious among adults, and immune to any punishment if she was caught. With acres of farmed fields stretching some distance, it was impossible to know all of B’s offences.

She putted large, spongy soccer balls of overgrown cucumbers at cars in the full parking lot. She terrorized the Italians, stealing mature blossoms from the zucchini patch. She pulled open a curtain of tall rushes and shot out on her dirt bike, delighted with the panic she stirred up among customers.

Through an unspoken agreement only parents understand, it was decided I was to befriend B and set a good example. I was stumped, for a while. Then I prepared for my next visit.

That day, when B saw the purple whisky pouch rattling in my hands, she bolted for the farm’s ready-picked shop, returning with an identical bag that rattled like mine. All that visit we traded Oilies and Pearls, lost in a tilled kingdom of our own. Until the big marble in the sky began to swirl orange, pinks, and gold upon our faces. Goodbye, goodbye.

2. Pencil Crayons

It happened the year my sister returned home from studying abroad. I came up to her knees. She came up to my soul.

You have to be careful with these. They’re special. Not like any of the ones you’ve used before. Her hands were holding something inside her unzipped suitcase. I stood up.

She took out the tin tray of pencil crayons, Caran d’Arche. The lid was so ornate and beautiful; I couldn’t believe the real gift was what was inside.

Colours arranged in perfect pointed tips. Just the sight inspired me, and still does.

3. Metropolitan Button

If I faced west on the entrance steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I could see the Front Desk in the Great Hall where I spent most of my internship. If I faced east, I could see Fifth Avenue, the M1 bus, doubles of dog breeds on long leather leashes, and a heap of apartment buildings. I could see the museum I kept rediscovering that is New York City.

During my first week of orientation, I picked up tips rarely circulated beyond the Museum doors. The green salad at the Restaurant is a hit or miss. The elevator outside of Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas is usually empty. The best fashion to be seen, outside of the Fashion and Costume Institute, is at the Roof Garden Café on a Friday, after five o’clock.

Granted, none of the insight shared qualified me as a native New Yorker. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t let myself identify with city’s inhabitants when a stranger would turn to me and ask for directions, or a tourist would want my opinion about a particular place or restaurant; the closest grocer, the best independent-designer shopping district, the specialty bookstores. The server at the bakery, who started put my order together before I walked through the door.

Deep down however, I knew, I had more in common with the city’s visitors regardless of what I had learned or had been told. It was in the way people not from there looked at everything in the city like it was under a piece of glass. The John Lennon Memorial in Central Park, the pretzel vendor on the street corner, the graffiti in the laneway. For me, the small, especially, would stand out: the sparkling granite of the sidewalk, the misprinted admission button for the Museum. Art was everywhere, not just within the galleries. And, still in love, I couldn’t help but look, and look, and look.

4. Shark Tooth

Lying on its side, the outline of the shark tooth I found while collecting shells at the beach looks like an irregular “D,” her first initial, and I remember.

The sunburn isn’t a big deal, D. Honest. It’s, like, nothing.

D calls my bluff with a palm-full of cold aloe gel on my reddened spine. THWACK! I never had a chance.

I howl, and then nearly choke on my own laughter, and she rolls off the bed in a fit so silly she can’t even glance at me. She’s crumpled on the floor, laughing and holding her tummy. I exaggerate my agony, laughing too now, filling the space around her.

5. Nest

Nothing about the day was remarkable. Not the weather, not the time, not the route. And if it hadn’t been for the fallen nest, lying on the edge of someone’s front lawn, I would have forgotten about my companion since, Mother Nature.

Look how the dry grasses are woven! Isn’t it amazing? A bird did this! With its tiny beak, it made a home. A HOME! With the neckline of my T-shirt, I wiped the tears from my eyes. Behind me, I felt Her smile.

At home, I presented to my mother what she had missed. Multiple sclerosis had put an end to our leisurely walks together. Relying on both of us for support, Mom peered over the nest, absorbing its craftsmanship with wonder. That’s when Mother Nature began to ease her hold, certain I could take the weight of Mom on my own, acknowledging my thankfulness, growing smaller and larger with every whisper. I know . . . I know.

6. Wacky Packages

To spend time with my cousins, I had to take an oath to belong to their exclusive fraternity. Thou shalt watch the cartoons of their choosing. Though shalt learn to pedal fast if thou wantest to ride bike alongside. Thou shalt wrestle and expect to get hurt. Furthermore, thou shalt not cry, nor tattle, nor be a sissy baby if thou shouldest get hurt.

I took the punches, and the plots of destruction, all the way to the convenience store, where the three of us would buy coveted Wacky Packages. It was a fair price to pay for acquiring a pack containing trading cards and stickers spoofing household brands. And with two brothers to trade and laugh with, I rarely had any doubles . . . or doubts about the time spent with them either.

7. Ceramic Mug

At the end of summer, L, your skin would be caramel brown. Your ponytail would be a brighter blonde. (Buttercup!) And you’d be taller. Much taller since the last time I’d seen you, before you left for camp.

What was this place that served peanut butter on hot dogs? Had beds so high you had to climb a ladder to reach them? I pleaded with my parents. Can I go?

Unlike L’s, my camp was in the city, at a local public school. A yellow bus dropped me off in the mornings, and in the afternoons took me back to the ketchup and mustard waiting for me at the kitchen table and the bed I could crawl into on my own. My days, however, were the notes in the margins of a story about to unfold.

I painted. I danced. I wrote stories. I put on a show. I made new friends, broke someone’s heart, and so, for a while, got used to sitting on the bus, alone.

And I knew it was right. All of it. It reached to the brim of my ceramic cup, the one I made in Pottery, and then began to flow over.

It tasted exactly like you looked in August, L.



Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Seven Treasures, part 18: guest post by Suzanne Adam

SUZANNE ADAM left her native California for Chile in 1972 to marry her Chilean boyfriend. She explores how this experience has shaped her life in her memoir-in-progress Marrying Santiago. A member of Santiago Writers, she has had narrative essays published in The Christian Science Monitor, California Monthly, and Sasee Magazine.

Tree-hugger, avid memoir reader, nature writer, talker to stray dogs and cats, gardener, CNN news junkie, serious recycler, walker, birdwatcher, lover of storms and laughter, Pilates aficionado, and doting granny, she’s embracing aging and working up the courage to let her hair go grey.

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 15

Every Wednesday, bloggers around the world share a photo they’ve taken that tells a story without words. Here’s mine.

If it brings to mind a memory and/or inspires you to do some writing, I hope you’ll let me know in a Comment below.


View more of my photos here.

And visit my Wordless friends Carin Makuz (Matilda Magtree), Cheryl Andrews, and Kristen den Hartog (Blog of Green Gables).


Recent Posts on Writing

Don’t Be Shy! Self-Promotion Tips for Writers

The Stories We Tell

13 Scary Things about Writing Your First Book

And Morgan Holmes’s Seven Treasures, the latest instalment in my memoir series


Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Seven Treasures, part 16: guest post by Shivaun Hearne

SHIVAUN HEARNE has managed the editorial and production department of the University of the West Indies Press since 2000. She was born in England, raised in Jamaica, and educated in Jamaica and Canada. She lives in Toronto.





My charm bracelet. This is, admittedly, a bit of a cheat in this list, holding as it does twenty-six treasures. But it is my most prized possession and the thing that contains my history and connects me to most of my beloved ones, living and dead. I don’t wear it as much as I’d like to because I fear losing one of the charms, but even the ones I’ve lost (including one that was miraculously found) have a story.

The short version of the charm bracelet tale is that it was my mother’s. About fifteen years ago, before charm bracelets became popular again (the whole Pandora fad), and for reasons unknown to me, I declared I needed a chunky charm bracelet and my mum had this tucked away in her drawer. I don’t remember ever having seen it in my childhood forages into her jewellery drawer, but it appeared when I needed it and it was perfect. From the unknown Sophie’s charm recalling the 1884 Cotton Expo in New Orleans,  to my uncle Chris’s engraved infant-sized St. Christopher medal (a christening present), to the increasingly clever vintage charms I seek out and that my husband, Kevin, manages to find, this has become the portal to my story.


My Canadian citizenship card. It may seem an odd treasure, but it’s small and portable, and despite my entitlement to two other citizenships, Canada is the country that embodies who I am and the citizenship I embrace with pride. I was born in England and raised, from the age of six months, in Jamaica. And I love both countries. England, to me, is a sense of family — it was my mother’s country, despite the fact that she spent most of the last sixty years of her life in Jamaica, and the country of most of my small family. I feel a sense of connection, but I lived there with one eye always on the door, never really at peace. An island of myriad delights, it is, ultimately, a country that breaks my heart and a place where I cannot live as I would like. And so, Canada: my country of chance.

When I was seventeen and looking at universities abroad, I was wisely advised by a family friend to consider Canada because tuition fees were lower here than in the U.S. When I saw that tuition was lower still for citizens, my father’s long-forgotten Canadian birth certificate suddenly became significant. He had long since claimed his Jamaican citizenship and always travelled on that passport. He had in fact been dismissive of the accident of his birth here, partly because he loved Jamaica fiercely, but I think partly, too, because it was tied to a family “shame”: his mother had left his father while pregnant, to join her sister who was working in Montreal. I didn’t realize until years later that their marriage certificate is dated November 25, 1925, and my father was born February 4, 1926. Do the math. My grandfather travelled to Montreal in 1928 to bring his family home, and so my father was raised in Jamaica.

A month before my eighteenth birthday (after which the process would become more complicated), I hied myself off to the Canadian High Commission to claim my citizenship to a country I had only ever seen from the inside of airports, en route to England.

When I came here for university in 1985, because I entered as a Canadian citizen I had none of the orientation for international students: that meant sudden and full immersion. After an odd first few years, I found my feet and made some wonderful friends and the first roots of connection to the country took hold. I stayed until 1990 and then returned to Jamaica, intending to remain there only a year. That year turned into fifteen.

On a visit to Toronto in October 2004, I was struck with the feeling “I have to be here.” Six months later, I was living here once again, ostensibly for a year — but I knew already that it would be forever. And then, I met a Canadian man who felt like home to me, and is.


The Offering. I bought this painting the day after my mother’s funeral in 2009. We went to the opening of an exhibition by a friend in Jamaica, Lisa Lindo. I had seen this work on the invitation and fell in love with it, and when we arrived it was one of the few pieces that hadn’t sold yet. I was with a dear friend, who suggested I buy it in memory of my mother. The fact that I had just that day received an unexpected cheque from the Jamaican government (for funeral costs for a pensioner) in the amount of the price of the painting made it seem like kismet. I bought it even before I had a wall to hang it on. When we moved into our house, there was a nail in just the right spot in the living room, and that’s where it hangs to this day.


The key to our house. I have dreamed of owning a house for as long as I can remember. As a child I would read the real estate classifieds and imagine living in the places described there. Now, having a place of our own, one that feels permanent — as much as these things can be so —  is a source of great joy. And I love the life that my husband and I (and our dog, Alice) have built here since 2010. I work from home, and I have yet to tire of these walls. (Admittedly, Scotiabank is the real owner of the house, and I accept that we are merely renting from them, but the bank is a less capricious landlord than an individual who could decide to sell at any time.) More than wanting a house, though, I want this to be a home away from home for my family of friends, a sanctuary of the sort I have known through the kindness of others. And the unexpected bonus is that we live in a wonderful neighbourhood with lovely neighbours, some of whom have become close friends: I have a sense of community, of connection to a place, of belonging.


My wedding ring. Kevin and I met in 2006 and lived together for years before we got married. He proposed a few years ago but I knew I didn’t want a traditional wedding or ring, and as a joke I said, “Whittle me a ring out of wood from the cottage.” Obviously that wouldn’t work, but I got a bee in my bonnet about having a ring that incorporated wood. On we found a wonderful company, Minter & Richter Designs, that uses a process of stabilizing wood and setting it in titanium to make a virtually indestructible ring. We sent them black walnut from a tree at the cottage and they made exactly the rings we wanted. We got married in September 2010.


The Cottage Logs. These journals are a record of our life together at the Far Side, our off-the-grid cottage on a pristine lake, and perhaps the most pure and special place I have ever known. Kevin had bought the cottage a few years before we met, and it’s where we really fell in love. We can be completely cut off from the outside world (other than CBC radio, my eighth treasure), and be absolutely at peace together on this extraordinary piece of the Canadian Shield. We started the logs in 2007, intending them to be a record of temperatures and weather conditions, wildlife sightings, and daily activities, but over the years they’ve become so much more. Guests add entries too, and even when our notes are almost illegible, the process of deciphering them brings memories flooding back.


My iPhone. The first one, I mean. The one that was actually an eyePhone. This was a Christmas present from Kev, before either of us even had iPods and when iPhones had just come out, and I had declared, “No i-ANYTHING for Christmas. We can’t afford it.” So he made me the eyePhone, which I thought was hilarious and clever. We both got iPhones a couple of years later and that was life-changing, of course — but my first eyePhone will always be special.



Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Seven Treasures, part 14: guest post by Frank Soriano

FRANK SORIANO has been happily married for twenty years and has two children — a son, sixteen, and a daughter, fourteen. For thirty years he was employed by a government agency, and he spent the last ten years of his career as a leadership consultant. He was recently released (happily) from indenture and is now a freelance consultant specializing in leadership development, team building, and communication.

Frank participated in Allyson’s June 2010 memoir writing workshop organized by professional keynote speaker Nina Spencer at Verity club in downtown Toronto, Canada.

*     *     *

Here are my seven treasures:


Let me tell you what I did during my summers from the ages of 12 to 20. I went to Camp Soriano, and in retrospect, I realize that made me one of the luckiest kids in the world.

I would get up at 6:30 a.m. and eat breakfast and then catch a ride with my father to his store, where he made custom-made orthopedic shoes and operated a shoe repair shop. Over the course of eight summers, I learned to shine shoes, and replace heels and soles. I also used a Singer sewing machine to repair purses, handbags, shoes, and anything else that needed stitching. That Singer was black cast iron, and incredibly heavy, and it operated with a foot pedal.

I remember asking my father to teach me how to make shoes so I could help him more with his work. He would smile at me and show me his hands, dark with black ink, callused, and wounded, and say to me, “I don’t want your hands to look like mine. Go to school and get an education.”

I still have the sewing machine, which I saved when my father sold his business. I haven’t used it for close to fifty years, but I’m willing to bet that I can still operate it. My mother refers to it as a dust collector, and my wife thinks of it as more junk in the basement.

To me it is so much more.


Miniature wine press

This is a story my father loved to tell.

He was brought up in a small village in Italy, near Naples. When he was three years old, my grandfather would put two glasses in front of him at the dinner table, one filled with wine, the other with a blend of water and wine. My grandfather would ask my father to tell him which glass was just wine.

After tasting some from each glass, Dad always picked the right glass. This, according to my father, was how at an early age he developed his taste for wine.

After moving to Canada, as soon as he was able to, he bought himself all the necessary equipment, including il torcio, the wine press. He prided himself on making a fine wine, a process he had learned back in the old country from his father.

Every fall, usually in the second week of October, we would set off to buy cases of grapes — specific brands, in specific quantities, to ensure the “right” mix for his treasured wine. There was also a “process” and we were not to deviate from that process.

Grapes were purchased on a Wednesday night, broken up using a machine for that purpose, and left to ferment in the barrel for three days. After dinner on Saturday night, we put the grapes in the wine press to squeeze all the juice out of them, a procedure that went on all night. Grape juice flowed from the wine press, and regardless of the impurities we would sample it and determine whether it was going to be a “fine wine year.”

The next morning, the wine was brought down into the cantina — the wine cellar — in gallon jugs and poured into a larger, 40-gallon glass container, where it was allowed to ferment for a short period of time. And all the grape remnants were removed from the equipment, which was washed and stored away until the following year.

As his health failed, my father realized he wouldn’t be making wine anymore and he wanted me to sell the wine press. I just couldn’t. It takes me back to my childhood, and a special time that I shared with him. I never saw my father look happier than when he was engaged in this yearly ritual, learned from his father and handed down to me.

The truth is, I haven’t made wine since my father passed away a number of years ago, so for now, the wine press sits in a corner of the garage. One day it may be used once again. I’d better be sure not to deviate from the process.


When my father first arrived in Canada from Italy, in 1948, suits for men were double-breasted with pointed wide lapels and big buttons. Trousers were pleated with cuffs. And ties were wide. Every man owned and wore an Italian Borsalino hat, a fedora as it’s known here. It was made famous by Al Capone, and later Humphrey Bogart and Indiana Jones. And now Justin Timberlake wears one.

In my dad’s day it was a “must have.” Back then, cars were built such that you could actually wear a hat like that while driving.

I suppose I’d always been fascinated with them, and thirty years ago, I purchased a Borsalino hat for myself. It’s navy blue with a wide band. I like the look of it: the wide brim, the peak. When I wear it, people comment on how great it looks and how more men should wear them.

To me the hat is symbolic of a different time and place, glamorized but fascinating. You know — Al Capone, Elliot Ness, and the Roaring Twenties. I still wear that Borsalino hat, especially when the weather is cold.


I met Bubbi Ida in 1976, and over the years I spent many an evening talking to her on her front porch about the nature of life and our existence. Later, my kids adopted this remarkable woman as their Jewish grandmother.

While visiting Venice in the early 1960s, she had purchased a marble figurine of a charioteer reining in two muscular horses. She told me she had carried that figurine in her hands all the way back from Italy to make sure nothing happened to it. The sculpture is a work of stunning craftsmanship, and I have always admired its detail and the sense of power it projects.

In her later years, when Bubbi was giving up some of her treasured possessions, she asked me to take care of the figurine for her. Now one of my treasures, it sits proudly on my fireplace mantel.

I’ll be forever grateful that for the past forty years of my life I had the good fortune to know Bubbi Ida. The charioteer and his horses remind me of this woman who exemplified wisdom, compassion, understanding, generosity, and kindness.


I can’t remember a day that I didn’t enjoy going to school, and part of my joy came from playing defensive tackle for the York Memo Mustangs.

I still have my football jersey, ripped and torn, evidence of some meaningful collisions and tackles on the field. Over the years I have stitched it up repeatedly and my kids have had fun wearing it to school for “theme” days.

As it happens, my daughter is a competitive swimmer, part of the York Swim Club. The club uses Centennial Pool, which is connected to my old high school and was completed when I was in Grade 11. Days when I go to pick her up, I make my way to the back of the school and walk toward the football field. The running track has been neglected and is overgrown with weeds, but the football field is still used by students there.

As I can stand there I can almost see my team playing against our rivals, and I am reminded of the many happy days I spent in high school, and why I treasure that red and gold football jersey, number 82.


When my parents got engaged in the late 1940s, my father presented my mother with an engagement ring and she reciprocated by giving him a matching set of Parker pens, black with gold caps. One was a fountain pen and the other a mechanical pencil. My father loved to write, especially to his sister in Italy.

Not a lot of people use fountain pens today, and there’s not much handwriting done either. But there is a singular beauty in the flow of a fountain pen that cannot be explained to anyone who hasn’t used one. Pens may be more advanced these days, but the fountain pen reminds me of a day when you would sit down and take the time to write a letter or note and would not be rushed.

I still have both pens and keep them safe, planning one day to pass them on to my son or daughter, a reminder of the grandfather they came to know and love.


Like most parents with children, at some point we became overwhelmed with the number of toys and games the children had accumulated, many of them gifts from close friends and relatives. The problem is, where do you store them?

My wife suggested purchasing a cabinet from IKEA. “Over my dead body,” I said with my inside voice.

A carpenter wannabe, I told her I would build a wooden cabinet myself to store the toys. The cabinet would have stile-and-rail panels for the doors, Winnie-the-Pooh decorations, and two-tone paint. My wife thought that I was overreaching, but I was determined.

It took me six months’ worth of weekends and I learned as I went along, but I ended up building a six-foot cabinet, painted just as I’d visualized it, with more than enough room to store everything.

The kids still use the cabinet, though these days it’s for belongings other than toys. And when I look at it I know that I made something that they cherish as I do. I hope, too, that as a result they see me as someone who wasn’t afraid to try something I’d never done before, someone who was willing to learn through doing.

Maybe after they’ve left home, I’ll keep the cabinet for my own toys.

Also read Frank’s short memoir “Letters to My Children” on this website.

Watch for poet Catherine Graham’s “Seven Treasures,” coming soon.

Friday, September 14th, 2012