Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: memories

The Things I Remember

The small volcanoes my Dad would make in the front yard near the black currant bushes. He smoked these cigarettes that were pure tobacco. Short and no filter, so there was always a little bit of leaf bits falling off the ends as you pulled it out of its paper wrapping.

Somehow I loved that. As much as I hated how they affected his health in the end. But I was a kid then and volcanoes meant nothing but my Dad’s magic, his smell, his hands preparing yet another small mound of dirt to put a minuscule cigarette butt in, and my wonder at the sight of that small trail of smoke raising just like he predicted. I remember that.

My Dad smoked outside only, no exceptions. When I was old enough to want to match the breath of late summer nights with my own I would follow him outside as he smoked that last one of the day and we would listen to crickets and the sounds that spoke of beauty and presence in words that sounded like songs. My Dad loved telling stories. I remember that.

I remember my Mom’s hands tidying up the kitchen table, handing me a cup of tea in late evening, the steam rising like a whisper and dancing the night away as we talked. I remember her smile in the morning, her voice, the caring ways she’d wrap us in so we would always know which way is home. We did, my sister and I, until the day home stopped being there.

I remember mornings of brightness and small baskets to fill with strawberries, fresh eggs and curious chickens, their greediness to eat the handfuls of lush green I was throwing over the fence. Beady eyes, eager beaks and sounds of mornings that could not be translated into anything but an echo. Such is the fate of heart imprints, they stay within.

It is because they do that that I believed time can stand still. I sipped at times and other times I spilled some, I cherished and I wasted, some of what I should’ve learned I learned early enough and some I learned too late.

Coffee time, I remember that. Sometimes it came with straight faces, other times with silliness and laughter. My parents chatting, tidbits of life. Never a doubt in my mind that it will last. Before life stomped its ugly feet loudly and roared, before I knew of fear and words left unspoken. Forgiveness for innocence… does it exist?

I remember the day my Dad typed Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ and brought it home. The paper was thin, almost see-through (the irony…), each typed word a chubby critter linked to others to create a story. The meaning eluded me for many years. Today it all make sense.

I have lost so much since and gained so much too…

Tomorrow is Dad’s birthday. His first without him in the only world I know.

Mom’s was two weeks ago. Her ninth since it is only the echo of her voice that comes on that day. What is left then?

Summers with mornings too bright, evenings so wrapped up in flavours and sounds, stories left behind, laughter and tears, feet running on hot pavement to escape sun, cheating time with hugs and lengthy coffee time, everything exists as long as we remember it should.

If… the paper is even thinner now and words faded. I read it again and again. The poem becomes a story becomes a river of memories and stories told and untold, of wishes and dances where the music simply does not matter… it is but the willingness to dance, to live as if you hear the music, to know that it is there, to trust that one day you will hear it and it will all make sense.

I light candles, I say prayers, I cry. I love the lilac bush that towers over the grave and I hate that it can spend infinite time there, so near… Where to from here… I will read the poem, again, I will slow down to surround each word with reason, each seed of wisdom with gratefulness, I will do it so I will remember.

Not only for myself but for my sons, for whom I will one day type a poem. This or another. Just because. Because I want them to remember. Because I know they will. Because I know it is a path towards understanding the shadows, the light and darkness that time dresses in as we move along…

Memories And Their Keepers

I remember being very young and resting my head on a small pillow in my mom’s lap. My ears were hurting and all I can remember is the warmth of my mom’s hand on my head. That is my first memory.

I remember climbing the quince trees in my yard and finding a comfortable branch to sit on and I remember the feeling that nothing in my world was even remotely upsetting. I remember my sister trying to coax me to get down to play with her and the others. Nothing could make me. As I think of it, I hear laughter and loud children voices and if I close my eyes I can almost feel the rough surface of the branch I was sitting on.

I remember sitting under the grapevine with my dad, late in the evening when the moon was up and talking about life and its meanders; it was summer and the night breeze was gently warm and carrying my dad’s cigarette smoke into the dark night. I came to be very adverse to smoking but the ever so familiar smell of that particular brand my dad was smoking when I was little (always outside, never indoors) will forever be a reminder of my dad, his voice in the dark and the comfort I felt sitting next to him on nights like that on the green bench under the grapevine.

I remember that every time I went home from university my mom would be at the train station watching every train car carefully until she found me. Her face would light up and she would hurry to be there when I got off. Her hugs, her smiles and her ‘I am so happy you are home’ bear the strongest imprint in my heart. My mom passed away more than eight years ago. Pain never went away, it has dulled and made itself a home in my heart and it made me realize that I am the keeper of our common memories, and I will remain one until.

I remember my mom’s hands as she made coffee, or reaching out to caress my hair. I remember her touch.

I often wondered about the photos on my childhood. They mean so much to me. They mean the same to my sister. They meant the world to our parents. Beyond that… Hard to tell. There was a time when memories stayed with people because they were told as stories. Others stayed in writing, scribbles and drawings on walls. I envy that. My armfuls of photos, yours too, the many faces of us passing through life, they are as permanent as they are perishable. Armfuls of paper, easy to dispose of by others who cannot relate to them.

There is no solid surface to keep them alive more solid that my heart’s. My memories are alive because I am.

It startled me a few days ago when I was sent a link. It prompted me to create a memory. I did. After I did and ‘Finish’, I teared up watching the memory depart into an ocean of bright bits – other people memories. It is a site that reminds of Alzheimer’s disease and its dreadful toll on memory you see. Seeing the memory I wrote there disappear as a dot was humbling. Here it is. It struck me of how many dots I am carrying around not even aware of them, long lost from the conscious mind, settled forever in pockets of brain that may or may not reveal them.

Like play cards facing down on a table… I wonder if I will ever be able to turn them all face up and shuffle through one more time…

My sister has turned many of my forgotten cards face up. She is one of my precious keepers of memories. She would tell me of things I am too young to remember, and as she does, I see them contouring as memories, becoming mine, as they rightfully are.

My parents used to be the keepers of many of my memories as well. Voices, faces, bits of life, precious as life itself and so empowering when they happen, so easy to forget; not out of carelessness but because life keeps on happening.

I want to remember. Seeing the memory I created disappear into the sea of many made me think of all the ones I will never be able to pull back from the ocean of life past. I am slowly becoming the keeper of my own memories, I am the keeper of my boys’ memories. Just like it should.

I remember saying goodbye to my dad last time I visited. We hugged and cried; like never before, he let himself be seen by me and I did too. I did not realize that I was becoming, right then and there, the keeper of that memory. My dad’s health has been deteriorating since and he remembers very little now. Though they are with him, he does not remember the cigarette butt volcanoes he used to make for us as children, making our eyes grow wide with wonder, he does not remember the Sunday mornings of ‘true stories’ he would tell us as we were snuggled under warm blankets, and he does not remember the starry winter nights when he would take me and my sister for long sled rides, all wrapped in blankets and staring at a sky that was as infinite as my belief that nothing could change my world.

Everything did, many times since. Life did. It is what life does.

That’s how it makes us keepers of memories. Oceans of them.

The Value of Humble

The car broke down over the weekend. It could be a small thing or a big one, as it often with cars. It could be solved in a day or the car could be a write-off. Yes, one of those. A humbling event that points to dependence, a sorry attribute of the intrepid human spirit one could argue.

No car meant we had to postpone the Harper Mountain ski outing planned for Sunday and it also means walking everywhere with a bike ride here and there, ice-permitting. The patches of hardened ice can be unforgiving to the blissfully, occasionally unaware or hurried human.

We walked to school this morning. A perfect opportunity for the four of us to talk, debate, laugh, point out to this and that and see the morning. It makes cheeks red and cold and it warms the heart. Why not then?

Midday is still sharp cold and I ride my new bike to town. My face is frozen and the feeling of car-less freedom is absolutely exhilarating. Soon I will pick up the boys.

On the way back the boys have stories, questions. We stop to look at leafs trapped in ice, some hiding under their perfectly shaped ice-images and ‘How could that be mom?’… Do you know? Isn’t it nice that there’s still why questions that leave you humbled and wondering…

We talk about Thomas Edison. The boys point to the unbelievable value of his discoveries, the light bulb most of all… ‘What if he had not invented it, mom?’ Indeed. What if. I point out to something that I often decry the slow and sure death of: patience, persistence over things that matter and we believe in even when they are mere ideas.

I point to relentless as one awe-inspiring quality of the human spirit. The boys are trapped in words and ideas, they are as fascinating to talk to as the leaves they point out as wonders along the way.

In the early evening, karate training sends us ten blocks away from home. It is snappy cold but Sasha hops on his scooter. We go slow enough to manage uneven sidewalk and occasional patches of ice. And we talk. Times becomes that much more precious.

After I drop him off I walk to the store, stock up on the bare necessities and walk up on 3rd Street. There are people here and there, fragments of laughter, conversations, cars driving too fast in the dark, taking turns that make me jump backwards… And then time stops again when the organ from within the Sacred Heart Cathedral envelops the cold in ‘Ode of Joy.’

How privileged to witness that. How easy to miss from a car where music might play – even the same tunes would not be the same – or conversations are tossed relentlessly. How important to witness this at least once.

I turn around at the top of the hill just before I enter a warm coffee shop. The North Shore sparkles. Silent. Close by, luminous darts of cars driving fast down on Victoria Street point to fast, another facet of Kamloops.

I listen and remember. My old hometown at night, as I saw it so many times from up on the hill where my parents home was. It was very similar to here, now. Surrounding hills, trains ushering their way through snow and sunshine alike, a river running through the middle of it and bridges as walkable cinches connecting one side to the other.

The sense of belonging creeped in and it felt good and warm, just like the coffee shop I was about to step in and the warmth of the heart I hold near mine waiting for me there.

A long day ends with both boys saying ‘It’s been a good day.’ We smile to each other. We did well. The car is not fixed yet. It turns out it’s not just a little thing. It will take a while. Everything happens for a reason. I know that already.

Heart Strings And Daisies

This morning has been no better or worse than others. In fact, slightly worse because an overnight rain soaked my shoes, which I had forgotten on the porch, yet again. First world problems as I call them.

The boys are cheery and gabby and we manage to leave the house on time with no altercations and no delays that make us run and jump over sidewalks like a group of sun-scared bats on the way to the first deep dark cave (no negative reference to school or maybe just a small one?…)

So we walk. There’s chatter and silliness and loud “No, no, I’ll say it. Mom, listen to this…” and some of last night’s toilet jokes on replay. Some are that good, according to 11-year-olds and under.

Hold hands, small hugging palms hiding in mine and if I hold stronger than I should is because I know the jumpy nature of such holds. They go poof before you realize it. So hold on while they last.

A sparrow hops from between some cigarette butts on one side of a chicken-wire fence to wet sand on the other. She’s round and fluffy and the hopping is exquisite. Elegant and light and we’re spellbound.

Toilet jokes are forgotten. We stare. She stares back. Hops. Stares. A hand squeeze but this time it is not me. It’s the small hand making me heed the bird and its exquisite tiny feet. “Mom, isn’t she cute?”

I am struck again by how we attach ourselves to memories of no particular day or place. Muck, sand, a brownish bird and five more minutes until school starts. All wrapped up in a forgetfulness-proof mental package that will never be stamped with the awkward “when was that again?”

The day rolls into a big fat cinnamon-tinted cocoon of a sunset with a glued-on ghost-white moon and when night comes I know of the one thing I learned about today. “No special day” memories, or no-planning-to-acquire-memories-but-did-it-anyway kind of day.

Heart stringsAnd I know of two things that will never leave my prized possessions box (not that I have one, but I will think of one) and those are: a string of no particular glamour that Sasha has loved and played with since the dollopy days of toddlerhood and he still holds dear, and a pressed little daisy which Tony gave me one day at a park that has long disappeared off the Vancouver map. It was drizzly and cold and ten years ago and a late daisy made it from his tiny fingers into my heart and journal. Just like today, we were half-way into winter, which is why heart strings feel warmer than ever.

DaisyToday I learned that heart strings are not negotiable. They just are. They appear out of nowhere and they will stick forever. It takes one to learn to spot one when it happens.

Heart strings are never planned for, so don’t start trying. That’s the magic of it all. They happen with no warning and often you realize what happened way after they’re gone. But they’ll be there when you least expect it. Magic.

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