Posts Tagged ‘memory triggers’

A Seven Treasures post by Sabrina Ramnanan

Sabrina Ramnanan

Sabrina Ramnanan

SABRINA RAMNANAN was born in Toronto to Trinidadian parents. She completed her BA in English and BEd at the University of Toronto. Sabrina is also a recent graduate of University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies Creative Writing Program and the recipient of the 2012 Marina Nemat award. Her work has appeared in Diaspora Dialogues, Cerulean Rain, Writing in the Margins, The Caribbean Writer, and Joyland. Nothing Like Loveher debut novel, will be published in April 2015.

 

1.

Four years ago a dear friend gifted me a copy of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Journal. It lives in my office, as most of my treasured things do, facing the door so that every time I enter the space I can’t help but notice it. I have made what I consider a valiant attempt to write one happy sentence a day since I received it. I haven’t always been successful. In fact, there is at least one day marked with an angry X for a reason that now eludes me. But for the most part I have chronicled in this journal four years of random snippets of joy that I can flip back to and relive as many times as I like. This simple act of penning my gratitude makes me appreciate things big and small, reminds me to smile on days I’d rather not, and calls to mind a friend with a spirit as lovely as this gift.

2.

I adore my collection of the Thousand Paths series of books. They are stunning little things full of simple wisdoms, and I am constantly arranging and rearranging them on my bookcase and desk because of how cheerful and pretty they make every space. I hunted these down in a used bookstore one summer, tiny gems in big bins of throwaway paperbacks. It’s funny that I haven’t actually read them all — or even one in its entirety — but every page flipped to at random holds just the perfect message, and I can’t imagine writing in my office without them.

 3.

officeprintsI had these prints custom made for my office about the same time I decided that I was going to be a writer — and tell people about it. Both quotes perfectly encapsulate how I felt when I made that decision, and thankfully, how I still feel now. They are reminders that I chose right, which for a person as vacillating as me feels like an Olympic win.

 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 
― Robert Frost

[Sabrina]

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined. Henry David Thoreau

4.

courageAt a conference a few years ago, I was asked to close my eyes and choose an engraved stone from a box of maybe one hundred. My fingers could have closed around a Truth or Peace stone, but instead they found this Courage stone and hung on. I needed courage then. I was at a crossroads in my life, trying to figure out how seriously I should pursue a career in creative writing, and if I did, how far I should veer from the only career I’d ever known: teaching. I struggled, went back and forth on the decision a million times, it seemed, and for just as many reasons. For months I kept my Courage stone at my bedside table, and then gradually, as I felt more compelled to write, I moved the stone into my office, where it has remained ever since. I still need courage now; I need it every day, to write, to teach, to be a mother and a wife, to balance my roles and still look and feel like a normal (whatever that is) functioning person in society. And so, this stone is always relevant, special, and holds all kinds of meaning for me. This Courage stone chose me, and so I keep it near.

5.

My yoga mat isn’t the most expensive mat in the world, and these days I don’t use it quite as often as I’d like, but still, it is dear to me. On this mat I have discovered pleasant and unpleasant truths about myself, the strengths and limitations of my own body, and how to find stillness in the chaos. It is a symbol of my growth and a gentle reminder that my journey is only just beginning. This mat, so much like a magic carpet for all the places it has taken me, never fails to deliver just what I need, even if I don’t know what that is before I unroll it.

6.

In my filing cabinet lies an envelope in which author Lawrence Hill once mailed me feedback on a short story. I haven’t opened it in years, but it is tucked away in my writing folder along with all the other kind words instructors and writing mentors have given me over the years. When I feel discouraged, or begin to question just what it is I think I’m doing, pretending to be a writer, I glance at the file and know that all kinds of well wishes are tucked away in there just for me. They are like silent cheerleaders from the past and present, endlessly bolstering my spirit.

7.

pondMy Canadian home backs onto this lovely pond framed by just enough trees to give it a rural feel, even though it is a dot in a suburban maze. In the autumn at least one flock of Canada geese glides across the pond’s surface; in the winter it is a Narnia wonderland; and in the spring and summer a blue heron perches on a rock in the middle to witness the unfolding of warmer days. There is always something to see on the pond. I can lose myself in its simple beauty at any given time of day, and when I walk away from the window I am always, always just a little stiller.

Read an excerpt from Nothing Like Love here.

For more writing inspiration, browse the Seven Treasures series.

Friday, March 13th, 2015

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 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

Seven Treasures, Part 6: guest post by Susan Johnson Cameron

Read the series Introduction here.

SUSAN JOHNSON CAMERON is a retired elementary school teacher. She grew up in a small northern Ontario town, graduated from McGill University and taught in Hudson, Quebec, and Peterborough, Ontario. Susan and her husband live on Buckhorn Lake, north of Peterborough. She recently graduated from the Humber School for Writers and is revising and editing her first novel. Susan has always been interested in genealogy and in filling in the many details that make her ancestors live again. Her fictional narrative mirrors the life of her paternal grandmother and puts flesh on the bones of the early pioneers of northern Ontario. Although New Ontario was developed by countless politicians, entrepreneurs, miners, prospectors, and lumberjacks one hundred years ago, it was the hard-working women settlers who gave it a soul.

*     *     *

These are my seven treasures:

1.

I have a beautiful original gouache painting of a pair of robins, a reminder that robins have always been significant to me. My father rescued a baby robin many years ago and brought him home from work in his lunch basket. I recall digging up worms in the garden to feed “Tweety” and how he’d perch on one of our shoulders or make a mess while having a bath in a dish of water. There was another saucy robin that I became acquainted with decades later. “Dirty Harry” entertained us with his humorous antics at the time when we were coping with my father’s long and difficult battle with lung cancer. Last June eighth, the day my second grandson was born, a robin repeatedly tapped on the kitchen window and an upstairs window. A coincidence perhaps, but robins have a special place in my memories.

2.

Two songs mean a great deal to me. When my Uncle Charlie died at the age of 93, I thought that his funeral would be a celebration of his life. It was, but I hadn’t expected to feel so overwhelmed with sadness. After my cousin David concluded his memorial speech, he requested that everyone sing “You Are My Sunshine” for Uncle Charlie. I cried as I sang, remembering how my father, who had passed away several years before, often sang that song. I hadn’t known that it was a song many of my cousins valued too, until I saw that they were singing through tears. The other treasured song is a lullaby that Dad sang to us when we were very young, “Go to Sleep, My Baby.” I now sing it to my grandchildren, and my sister confided to me that she sings it to her grandchildren too. When I researched the lyrics, I was not surprised to read that it originated in northeastern England, where my paternal grandparents lived before settling in northern Ontario in 1912.

3.

In the photo, my maternal grandparents are sitting with me and my siblings on a sofa in their farmhouse livingroom. I am on Granddad’s lap as he holds me. My family was not generally demonstrative but I do remember my grandmother would give each of us a kiss when we arrived for our annual two-week vacation “down south” — the farm was in Maple, Ontario, and it took me years to stop calling Toronto “down south.” This photo triggers happy memories of summer holidays in a grand (to my eyes) Victorian farmhouse.

4.

Somehow I ended up with Mom’s old recipe books, which is funny because I don’t enjoy cooking. But just reading her notes beside her “tried and true” recipes brings to mind marathon Christmas cookie baking (I think Mom invented production-line cooking), picking blueberries for her blueberry muffins (and suffering blackfly bites), lemon or date-and-nut loaves that weren’t for our dessert but were her contribution for a church bazaar, and a recipe for oatmeal cookies that makes me drool just to think of them (the secret was the pound of real butter).

5.

Decades ago, my dad gave me an old photo album, acknowledging my fascination with family history. I’ve always felt that I was the person in our clan chosen to find the ancestors. Inside that album, along with the expected old photos, Dad had tucked letters, ticket stubs, and even a receipt for a child’s coffin. Over the years, using those clues, I’ve found a great-uncle who was killed at Passchendaele, a great-grandfather who drowned off the coast of China, a great-grandmother who in her eighties travelled from Bergen, Norway, to northern Ontario, and an aunt — my father’s only sister — who died from measles when she was just two years old. In discovering my ancestors, I feel I’m finding myself.

6.

I treasure a tiny, white hand-made clay box. It is decorated with a brown teddy bear on one side and a black cat on the other. Pressed into the lid are carefully printed letters made by a young child. They spell out Mrs. Cameron. It was a gift from Ingrid, a sweet girl in my grade one class many years ago. Whenever I look at that unique gift, I am reminded of all the children who have touched my life over my teaching career. I have many happy memories, and some heart-wrenching ones too. When I get together with fellow teachers, some retired like me, and some still in the classroom, I often hear, “We could write a book!”

7.

My three sisters and I each own a small, silver dragonfly brooch. Eleven tiny crystals travel from the eyes to the dragonfly’s tail. Truthfully, these pins are not pieces of jewellery we would ever have chosen, but they are precious to us. They were gifts from our mother, who gave us each one because she was always meticulous about treating us equally. Though Mom has been gone for over a decade, we all dig out our treasured dragonfly brooches for special family occasions, especially weddings. When I wear mine, I’m flooded with memories of her.

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Seven Treasures, Part 5: guest post by Amy Mattes

Read the series Introduction here.

An original Skirtboarder bred in the Kootenays of British Columbia, Amy Mattes has been called “a feminine tomboy with an old soul” and “a walking mood ring.” She loves to travel, drink Jameson, and take long walks on the beach with her Boston terrier, Louie. Amy is also attempting to write the next great Canadian novel. She’s got scars and stories from over a decade of skating, and while she no longer enjoys the feel of falling down, she still relishes the feel of getting back up and trying again. Perhaps for this reason she’s been called both “intrepid” and “wise.”

 

 

Here are my seven treasures.

On family . . .

1.

After my mom’s mom passed away, my sister and I were presented with a Ziploc bag full of her jewellery to pick through. Most of it was costume style and tacky, and I could picture the bobbly rings on her bony fingers accentuated by bright nail polish as she smoked a menthol cigarette (she always wanted us to grow our nails too, so she could show us how to paint them), and the gaudy bracelets on her skinny wrists as she held a glass of vodka orange juice. I finally chose a long silver chain detailed with unique, flattened silver circles that seemed in style.

I wear it a lot. It has become my go-to for dates, and the most elegant way to dress up a basic outfit. I love its length, its weight, the way it lays between my breasts. The necklace makes me feel sexy and, to be honest, I get a lot of sex when I wear it. Even though I don’t know how long she owned it, I like to imagine that it made my grandmother too feel sexy, when she was younger and single, and before she got sick.

2.

I had a selfish reason for learning to play the harmonica. I wanted my mother to give me the one that had belonged to her father. My New Year’s resolution one year was to learn her favourite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, and I did. I played it for her eagerly, hoping that in return, she’d let me have the instrument. But I discovered it would take more than that. It seemed I had to learn every Bob Dylan and Neil Young song as well as every obscure train-travelling song ever written.

When she was finally ready to part with the harmonica, my dad decided he was ready to part with his father’s as well, so I was given both my grandfathers’ instruments at the same time, a dear couple of heirlooms. They sit on a shelf in my apartment now, and looking at them transports me back in time to when my grandfathers played them. Every once in a while I pick one up at home and play, or take one camping, learning a new song or just playing one of those I practised to earn these gifts.

3.

For my 30th birthday I wanted to play rich girl. I wanted a big to-do. So I planned a girls-only trip to Las Vegas and started organizing a black-dress-themed party. Only the dress I envisioned was nowhere to be found. I am very picky. I am also quite poor.

At Value Village I finally found it in the costume aisle, a perfect one-shouldered, ruffled LBD for $19.99. I decided that the only suitable accent would be a pair of diamond studs. Now, I had never owned a pair of diamonds, and I knew I shouldn’t spend the money on them (a month’s worth of groceries). Still, I was determined. I shopped around, but was unenthused by the ones behind the counter.

One day I mentioned the diamond search to my father, and soon after, in the mail, I received a note from my mother with something special attached:

Dear Amy,

Your father bought me these earrings when we first got married. As our marriage got better the diamonds got bigger. Just kidding. Happy Birthday.

Love, Mom

I wore them for my 30th birthday — with the dress, they were just right — and I’ll always honour this gift, its story, and my parents, who have now been married for thirty-four years.

On growing up . . .

4.

The May long weekend in my hometown is a special festival with a May pole dance and pageant and parade. As kids we’d watch the girls in the pageant giving speeches and showing off their talents and we’d be hysterical with excitement for them, picking our favourite gowns. When I was fifteen, I entered the contest and was crowned Miss Kaslo Princess 1997. I still have my gloves, tiara, and sash tucked away in a box. The teen years are an awkward and often terrible time, but these treasures remind me I had a lot of fun visiting other towns as Miss Kaslo Princess, sitting on the back of convertible cars, waving at pedestrians, throwing candy in parades, and knowing little girls were admiring my dress. I’m sure the adults wondered how I smiled all the time. Well, I’ll tell you: the trick is to put Vaseline on your teeth. And when you wave to the crowds you chant to yourself, “Elbow elbow, wrist wrist, touch pearls, smile—switch.” And then you switch hands and say it again.

5.

After high school I went to Europe with a backpack and acted like I was discovering everything myself. In Barcelona I made a friend from Sweden who offered me a free ticket to see Depeche Mode, the English electronic band, so like any young rebel who doesn’t care about money, I decided it was worth missing my flight to stay for the concert. I spent this stolen extra time in that great Spanish city and had the night of my life. I have never felt so alive. I still have the ticket stub, which is stuck to a Polaroid of me in front of the Eiffel Tower dated September 13, 2005. The energy and freedom of that Barcelona night put my impressionable youth behind me, and a wild sovereignty took its place.

On love . . .

6.

The first act of change was to take all the photos of us off the walls and put them face down, eventually moving them to a milk crate by the garbage pickup. The one photo I did keep is a strip of three black-and-whites of us together that we took in one of those three-dollar photo booths, at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California. I remember it was taken right before we played a game of pirate mini-golf, and right after we drank large Cokes and went on a spinning ride that messed my hair and made both of us laugh, a lot. In the photos we’re making faces and striking comical poses and having a good time. I have a hard time looking at them; they make me sad. But I don’t want to get rid of them either.

On home . . .

7.

My last item is a vintage suitcase, currently used as décor. It reminds me daily that I’ve come from somewhere and have places to go but that home is where the heart is. If I needed to, I could put my whole life in that suitcase and be portable. I love old, second-hand treasures, and this one is a symbol to me of movement, but also of foundation.

 

 

 

 

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Amy Mattes participated in Namaste Gardens Writing & Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica, January 2012.

 

 

 

Thursday, May 24th, 2012