Wednesday, July 18, 2018

                                       A Family Affair

Within our little Island hamlet, there was much mingling amongst the citizenry.  Most everyone had known one another since birth, and their parents the same.  Privacy had a muddled definition in such a slight world.  For there was a tangle of friendship and family and romance and work, neighbours and cousins, and the young with the old, that had spread through these farms for generations.   Most often marriage was slid into through convenience, and the romance of the deal was mostly a lucky afterthought.   The family names shifting around with marriages, intertwined with a complicated intricacy, the layers of family becoming a language of their own.  It was known early on which of the youngsters would be suitable for one another and slight motherly manipulations would steer those with closer kin away from one another.  A rather delicate, and sometimes awkward, undulation.   

Sally Green was seventeen when she married Lloyd MacNeil.  She couldn't really remember that there was ever much of a romance between them.  There was excitement at the start of it, the thrill of feeling his eyes on her, and the curiosity of his touch.  She had always thought Lloyd a kind and easy sort of fellow, so it wasn’t difficult to spend time with him, to feel his arm around her waist, and to eventually think of him becoming her husband.  And there was a certain allure at the thought of a pretty summer wedding.  But that was almost ten years ago now.  Their’s was a little shingled farmhouse that sat at the end of a long red lane and the work of a farm and babies who had grown into young children,  a boy and a girl.  The marriage wasn't unhappy, but there was little wonder in it either, no delight.  They didn't share their desires or find things to laugh about or dream about.  They worked hard, as was the only way to get by, side by side, but without glances and smiles and intimacies that would make the humdrum moments gladden and sing. Their home was safe and solid and dreary.   They worked hard and loved their children.  And although theirs was not a marriage that fed Sally’s heart,  there had never been a thought that anything should be different.   

Sally was petite and very close to pretty, with a happy and sparkling spirit.   She was very unlike the other married women around her.  She had a youthful, daring way about her.   She wore her hair loose and falling to her shoulders like a young girl, and often chose trousers and a button up shirt instead of the standard housedress and apron.  She was full of stories and laughter and could easily have a fit of giggles shaking the table and spilling the tea with her spell of silliness, laughing until tears poured from her eyes.  Her laughter could fill a room and bring everyone into the joke.  The children always knew there were fun times on the horizon when their cousin Sally walked through the door.  And she visited often.  She’d swing in with a bottle of preserves or a bundle of flowers from her flower bed or a bit of pretty fabric she thought might be nice for a collar to freshen up a dress or come just to tell some gossip she’d heard at the corner.  She would drop around after the dinner dishes were washed up and before supper was begun, to have a bit of tea and share a few stories from up the road.  She’d give the little ones a tickle and then be on her way.  Even with  her own work to be done,  she always found a little escape whenever she could.  

It was an afternoon in midsummer, with the crackling sort of heat that can’t be escaped, a heat that only a long string of hot sunny July days can bake into a day.  The sort of heat that changes one.  Lloyd had taken the truck into town to sell the eggs.  And Sally had decided to walk down to the store hoping to chase away her restlessness and find cornflower blue silk thread for a dress she was working on.  The clay of the roads was powdered and dry from the heat, so that the dust would lift in smoky little puffs around her ankles with each step.  It was the sort of heat that silenced the birds and scorched the grasses and the flowers that tangled together in the ditches and the fields, so there was a green, baked honey scent that rose into the air.  The only sound to brush against her steps was the buzz of insects in the grass that followed her down the road.   And when she reached the corner, there was a thin glistening on her face and arms, and damp curls around her face and neck.  

The store was surprisingly cool when she walked in, shaded and still, with the familiar scent of flour and tobacco mixed with the metallic tinny flavour that hung within the walls all year round.  Creaky floors and the bell on the door brought the storekeeper in from the back.  Arnold Yeo was chatty and jolly, and he always had the stub of a cigar alight, surrounding him in a little cloud of pungent smoke.   She found her thread, chatted with Arnold, asked after Reta his wife, and was turning to leave, when Myron Green walked in, after a bag of nails and a tin of snuff.  Myron was a compact, muscley man, quiet, with a bright sense of humour.  He didn't often have much to say, but when he did, you were sorry if you missed it.  He was Sally’s favourite of her cousins.  

Sally waited to walk out with him, asking if he was entering any livestock in the exhibition coming up in a few weeks.   They chatted about their farms and the weather and he offered her a drive home to escape the heat.  

When Sally climbed into the old Ford truck, Myron told her he was  driving over to Rocky Point on an errand and stopping in at Meadowbank to pick up a piece of equipment from his uncle.  He’d drop her at home first, or, if she’d like, she could come along for the ride to the shore.  And a drive to the shore on a day as hot as this one, was not to be turned down.  Sally’s mother was at her place for the afternoon with her children, so she happily took this opportunity.  There was something frisky and fun and a little exciting about this impromptu, and even secret,  little drive that no-one at home knew anything about.  

The air grew saltier and softer as they approached the south shore of the Island.  They drove with the windows turned down low and the heavy salty air breezed through the truck.   Myron made his stops and then wondered if she’d like to find a bit of beach before they headed back.  A visit to the shore, for these farmer Islanders, would be a rare event.  The work was always waiting, so even a short drive to the edge of the Island with it’s cooler salty air and dramatic bright red sandstone was too frivolous to undertake more than once or twice a summer.   Which made this little afternoon perfectly decadent.  Myron  found a little spot where they could walk through the long grass to the sand, that wasn't too far off the road.  Sally stripped off her shoes and socks, tucked up her cotton skirt and dug her toes into the hot red sand.  She danced across the beach where the movement of the tide had corrugated the sand.   And skipped into the cool lapping waves.     At first Myron stood watching her, a little bewildered.  This was something they were both so very unaccustomed to, but Sally’s daring spirit carried her happily into the joy of the waves.   After a minute or two, he slowly decided to roll up his pantlegs and follow suit.  He walked along awkwardly, bare feet on sand, until he reached the far line where the tide had taken the little sea waves.   The sweet combination of scorching heat and the splashing waves, made children of them both. He threw rocks far into the ocean, skipping them across the surface.  Sally laughed and playfully kicked water at him.  The splashing was sprightly and mischievious.  And she found herself reaching for his arm when she was thrown off balance.  After a few times, her hand stayed easily on his arm, feeling the heat of his skin.  Easily, perhaps, but not without a tiny delicious terror.  And when his hand reached under her hair and found the softest tingly dewy skin on the back of her neck, it was like her heart was choking her.  

Once they were back in the truck, the space between them was slick with tension as they drove back towards their lives.  This sudden turn of emotion and the need it created, was unnerving.  The lowered windows and the rush of air did nothing to cool the flush.  When a burst of air rippled her skirt and lifted it up her leg, she ignored it.  But she felt his eyes glance across and his calloused hand reach over with a boldness that was at once so very timid.  They were mostly silent, both lost in their own reverie, both thinking of only one outcome.  Yet all was left unspoken.  

It was weeks later, on an afternoon, when most of the homes of the village were emptied into the church, with the farmers and their wives and children,  cleaned and polished and brushed and ironed.  This was a Sunday that Winnie and the children  had gone off without Edgar, for  he’d stayed at home to keep his eye on an ailing heifer.  She was in the front paddock, but he thought he'd take her some grain from the barn.  He heard them, before he knew what he was hearing.   And when he continued walking into the barn, he saw them. Their own barns would have been much too risky, and assuming everyone would be in church, they thought this would be a spot that they could steal an hour or more of privacy.   They were lost in each other, against the back wall.  Skin and sweat gleaming through a dusty cloud of chaff mixed in the pleasant herby scent of new hay.  A secret and forbidden tryst. They saw nothing in the dim light.  And their own rustling covered any sounds Edgar would have made walking in.  Their Uncle turned away quickly, his back straight and sure, and walked out of his barn, burdened with a secret only he would ever know they shared.     

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 still felt new and 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!