Friday, May 4, 2018

Alva and Leith

To walk up the steep and narrow back stairs behind the kitchen, in the earliest part of summer, was to climb into a crush of air, warmed and scented with spring.  At the top of the stairs, a small window, with bubbles and one badly cracked pane, floated even with the trees.  The leaves young and tiny,  sprightly and uncertain, and still friendly with the sun felt rare, and so she took an extra moment to notice them, watch a little as she moved past, and inhale it all.  The air was green scented and new, with just the slightest blossomy sweetness. This was an introduction for her, the first taste of summer in this, her marriage home.

She had changed the thicker winter curtains, just a few days before.  The curtains that blocked the squeals of wind and the layer of crusty ice that often coated the window panes, and even the miniature drifts of snow that would sneak in and onto the sills.  But those curtains had been aired on the line and were found folded on a shelf in the attic. And in their place,  thin breezy white curtains now moved at the long narrow windows.   

Sun had spread strong across this day, hot enough to warm the little road that lead through the two side meadows to the house.   I'm not sure we can rightly call it her house  yet for it hadn't even slightly detached from her husband’s parents. But with the passing of nearly six months, Alva had begun to settle in here, learning the chores and routines, and every day she fastened herself to a little more of it.  And this day, with her arms full of fresh, sunscented bedding, she noted that this may be the prettiest time of year for these upstairs rooms.  The bedrooms seemed to have been built for days like this, situated perfectly to soak up the pure country light.  Their sharply sloped ceilings, inclined at an angle so dramatic, that she smiled while she watched the light bend across the painted plank floors.  Pink bounced in from the fields, and glowed in it’s own peculiar earthy way as it rippled through those simple white rooms.  She tucked sheets onto beds and felt the muslin curtain bulge with little breaths of breeze, brushing against the back of her leg, and then tuck back in against the screening.  

Alva had married Leith at Christmas in a simple little snowy service.  With winter already in a rage, her parents had not made the frigid trip from Tignish,  And, it seemed that the solemn little affair that was her wedding, had locked her away from her family.  And from her family’s secrets, secrets she barely knew the outer fold of.  Her family was from far up west and they had sent her the summer before to pass the warm months with her mother’s cousin in Crapaud.  Her parents had hoped to remove her from a certain situation that was causing whispers and unkind chattering focussed on their family, specifically her brother Harold.  Alva, although she knew bits of the scandalous story, didn’t know the entirety of the shame she was being so expertly sheltered from.   And so her devoted young husband, along with his somber, hard working parents who’s home she now shared, knew nothing of the disgrace that hovered thinly above their heads.  

The story was not an overnight scandal, but had taken time to ripen.   Harold had always been a rowdy sort, a bit of a rabble rouser, but never anything but a good natured and kind brother to Alva.  However his latest stunt was more than just a spot of trouble.   For he’d found himself involved with a married woman who was several years his senior.   This woman was beautiful, with a restless, dreamy air surrounding her.  And eyes that had a faraway stare in them.  They suited one another, Harold and Iris, and they carried on together for some time, in secret.  But the horror was made quite public,  when it was learned that the pair of them had run off, under cover of night, making their way off the Island and South to the States.  And the most odious detail:  this exodus was not before a child had been born, a son who Iris tried to pass off to her husband as his own progeny.  It wasn't until her disappearance that the man she’d married almost a decade before, realized the deception.  When he stood at Alva’s parent’s door early in the morning following the couple’s disappearance, he had the baby bundled in his arms.  And when he withdrew a short time later to return to his farm, his arms were empty.  

All of these dark twists of the heart had taken place after Alva had been sent away to summer with cousins, sent away to keep her innocence in tact.    And much of it happened after her quiet little wedding to Leith. She only held a suspicion that Harold was keeping company with someone her parents found unseemly.  And so it had been just that chaste little particular that she shared with Leith in whispers.

This day that was spreading summer, in all it’s flowered loveliness, across the hillside farm she was learning to love, took a grave lurch when she saw the storekeeper Arnold Yeo turn in the lane.   It was the middle of the day and an odd time for him to be away from the store.  And, instead of walking the short piece from the store, he was in his car.  He stepped from the car just as her husband appeared from around the barn.  Arnold gave her a long and haunting look as she stood in the kitchen doorway, and he walked off with Leith toward the barnyard.  She could see their faces.  She saw Leith suddenly lean against a fencepost.  After just a few minutes, Arnold walked back to his car, nodded to her with a sad and gentle smile, and drove back up the road.  

And so Leith and Alva’s first child, although born to another, settled into her arms that same week.  There was a swaddling of tragedy and love, of sadness and scandal in this little bundle.  For the news that Arnold Yeo brought from the telephone at the store, was that Alva’s mother had not survived their family ordeal.  The layers of shame had pierced so deeply, her heart must have felt the blade, for the baby was left with her but two days when she was found in her bed, grey and lifeless.   And Alva’s father, desperate and grieving, buried his wife and the next day brought this grandchild to it’s young aunt to be raised.   And although a difficult request for a young couple, married but half a year, they welcomed the baby and loved him and named him Ralphie, and before too many years, gave him a houseful of cousin siblings. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

 Chewing Tobacco

Skies so clear and blue and soft they stretched forever over the green of the hills.  A road that cut through the thousand bits of green,  sloping and narrow and so very strong and bright with it’s deep red clay.  A 6 year old girl running with abandon.  Through the side fields until she reached the dusty red road.  Skirts flying and knees hitting each other mid air.  Long grass tickling ankles and shins.  Head bopping from side to side with arms pumping.  Hair flying behind, little bits of it getting caught in the corners of her mouth.   And suddenly finding herself going downhill, so her own momentum and the sudden additional speed of the sloping trajectory made it feel like she most probably could take off into flight, or tumble in a magnificent roll, tripping over her feet that couldn't possibly maintain such a speed.  And her little lungs gasping and burning.  Adrenaline and joy in equal parts washing over her.  And the pounding of her little feet vibrating in her ears as she threw herself into a stop at the bottom of the hill.   

She’d been sent to the store with a fistful of coins and a secret mission.  She loved to run down the hill from their farm, lunging as fast as she could, each time hoping for more speed, and landing at the corner where the road flattened out in the little village with it’s circle of store and school, two churches and a cemetery.  

This lovely little race would begin when Edgar slipped Elsie coins and whispered to her not to let her mother know.  And she knew her job held a special importance.  How she loved this secret duty.  Running down the hill like a colt to the little country store, buying her father a tin of chewing tobacco, and trudging dreamily back uphill to find him and quietly slide him the contraband little round tin.  Or, if he’d been called off to a neighbour’s or had driven into town with the eggs or any other errand away from the farm, they had a little place for her to hide it.  There was a gap in the wall of the boot closet, behind the shelf beside the sink, not big enough to be noticed, but certainly big enough for a clandestine little tin of chewing tobacco.  And she would stash it silently in the wall.  

And although Elsie kept her word, and never ever told her mother, of course Winnie knew.  Inevitably she would pinch his cheek and say, shaking her head, but smiling, “aaach Edgar, get rid of that”.   And he would return a sly little smile and continue with his work. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

it's summer now.  a constant warm sweetness in the air.  it's not just a rush of warm heavy air that blows past in a few hours.  it's what i expect now.   i eat a bowl of blackberries for my dinner,  my feet are rough and dirty.  the light sits low and warm until almost 9 o clock.   the sea gulls fly over while i'm sitting on the porch with a limeade and the white of their underbelly glows orange.  the heat sits like a drooly blur above the lake.  the yard is fluffed and green around the edges.  private and cool.  there is always sound.  birds and squirrels and water and voices and the rustle of leaves.

we have hired a painter and his ladders are sitting in the driveway, waiting for the work to start.  i mixed up colors tonight, little pots of paint to find the perfect gray  for the wood that sits along the edges of the stone i love so much.  along the roof.  the windows.  the eaves.  the trim of the little cedar shingled front porch.  i have made the color and i love it.  like a smudge of weathered wood.  i know we need to paint to protect the wood.  but i still want the house to look like a crackly, weather beaten little cottage, worn and cozy.  so the color is an old and faded color, and i'll leave the crooked little door to the front porch peeling and cracked.

it's almost 9 pm. it's not quite twilight.  but the gloaming has begun.  tomorrow we'll wake up in july, that month of freedom and skin.  it is completely summer now.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

6.43 this morning.  The sun finds a narrow opportunity to reach directly into my face through the porch covered east window in my little library.  The sun lights me in the warmest gentlest blinding way for ten minutes.  Stella on my lap purring and loving the glare.  I enjoyed it fully until it moved past me.  I love the early morning day.  

We are just starting our week, after a wonderful long weekend, welcoming the ease of summer.  We took ezra to the farm for a little hike.  We had a campfire with friends.  We hung loads of laundry on the line to dry in the sun and wind.  We freshened up the house.   The luxury of days to putter at home without being torn by the need to be at the studio filling orders and building inventory.  There was, however, a wrinkle of worry as my best friend from high school spent the weekend in hospital awaiting a surgical procedure today.  I am eager for her to be home and well.  
So we're slipping into the week refreshed and looking forward to the goodness it will bring. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

All day as I work words float through my head.  I think of sentences that I love.  And then I forget them.  Sometimes a fragment of a story teases me.  I rearrange ideas and descriptions.  Or I listen to podcasts of literature keeping my mind engaged without stopping the work of my hands and my eyes.  Sometimes I wonder if I'd be happier knitting words together in loops of story poetry.  It seems like a free and light pursuit.  I would need silence.  And a computer.  And my mind that absorbs and ferments all that it encounters.  Certainly when compared to the weightiness of the quilts, it seems so simple.  For I am overwhelmed with the accoutrements of what I do, heavy on my chest like a heart attack.  I have rooms of fabric, scraps that are endlessly disorganized, heavy sewing that takes up an entire room,  and then more fabric.  Tons of fabric.  It's how I make quilts.  The weight is important.  It is the warmth.  It is the charm.  It is the beauty.  But the fantasy of freedom and weightlessness surfaces often.  Yet I think I'd float away, too much stillness, waiting for the words. Too much stillness. So I sew.  Keeping the work a constant flow of materials and collections and treasures for my eyes to rest on, to sink my hands into, to build and cut and wrap up in.    

And so I'll sleep as the moon smiles in on me, through the branches of my beautiful tree, through the open curtain and the open window.   

Monday, May 12, 2014

Tom had all the windows open today.   Bringing the summer in.  And when I was walking up the stairs in the dark tonight, I was surrounded in it. Warm and sweet, I was breathing it in.  The scent of line dried sheets was spilling out of the bedrooms, into the hall as I climbed the stairs.  And there was just the gentlest touch of humidity, just enough to announce a summery feeling.  A breeze moving the bedroom curtain, an elixir of lake and grass, budding trees and magnolia & tulip blossoms.  

I tried to regain a little order in the studio today.  Folding mountains of fabric.  Washing new fabric.  Starting a couple of new quilts.  Working with the doors open and light pouring in.  The whole while, listening to moby dick.    I took a break with ezra to sit in the sun this afternoon, eating goats milk ice cream (organic and delicious).  I love when I have worked a long full day, and it feels like a luxury.   Aaaah, summer! 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

it has been one of those perfect gloomy days.  rainy and windy and not a bit of brightness in the sky,  but the studio was warm and busy and full of the hum of the sewing machine, the steamy rush of the iron.  and i turned a mountain of squares into 84 colourful, double-sided and double seamed napkins.  they aren't quite finished, but they're well on their way.  i could have stayed at the studio longer, but i wanted to come home and make crackers for our dinner. 
when i was little, my grandmother lived with us.  and it seemed like she never stopped bustling around the kitchen.  she loved to invent new and oddly healthy dishes from leftovers and her strange health food store ingredients.  she baked bread in v8 cans, so the sandwiches i took to school were often round.  and she always made delicious crackers.  
lately i've been experimenting with making crackers from organic and/or gluten free flours.  and i think of my little gramma's knuckley hands every time i'm pressing the dough into the bottom of the pan.  i'm sure i use more oil and salt and flavorful herbs than she did.  tonight was brown rice flour and spelt flour, garlic olive oil, sea salt and greek seasoning.  topped with dill.  and some wonderfully garlic-y fresh guacamole.  my version of my little gramma's crackers.