Only Child and Mom mid 1960s
My late mother had a saying – “you can’t win no how.” Which sounds negative, but when you look at how people’s lives pan out, Mom maybe had a point. Especially as her life was cut short by a brain aneurysm at age 63. She was also somewhat crippled by arthritis and scleroderma. All this happened after my dad died of cancer at 66.
Perhaps I should consider her somewhat lucky that she didn’t live longer to have to deal with more bad things happening in her life. At the time of her death she and I shared an apartment. However, I was engaged and the wedding ceremony and reception were already booked – the latter by Mom herself. She was scared to live alone and pondered whether she should spend six months (late spring to early fall) annually at her younger sister’s on the farm. Maybe not a good choice as Mom fell on the doorstep outside my aunt’s farmhouse. This was a new house and these entrance steps numbered two. It was the damn arthritis.
The damn arthritis really was what killed her. It made her fall off the vanity dresser chair (in her bedroom) onto the wooden floor and bang her head. She got headaches but thought they were because of her eyes – maybe new glasses – and she had an ophthalmologist’s appointment in mid-September.
She went into a coma overnight the end of July and had to be rushed to the hospital. Despite surgery, she never woke up and died five days later.
When I look at my life compared to hers, I begin to wonder. First, about her saying “You can’t win no how.”
I certainly am not going through my senior years without a fight despite my health issues of diminishing eyesight in my left eye and getting worse, a digestive disorder, living on low income, and having to deal with more problems than well – let’s just say that the phrase about God not giving anyone any more crosses than they can bear is a myth.
As a child, I was meek, mild and shy and didn’t really get my courage legs until in my 30s. My writing and being a single parent then forced me to change. It grew gradually. But I have one trait ,which I think comes from my Dad – I am a stubborn senior and God or somebody help those who make my life miserable. On the other hand those who are good to me and help and treat me well, I try to do the same for and to them. “Do onto others as they do onto you” is more my saying than “you can’t win no how.”
Perhaps besides the stubborneess, my saving graces are my writing, my garden, my son and his girlfriend, my cousins, close friends, reading (despite the bad eye) and even watching favourite TV shows, and walking. A keen interest in life and a desire to see justice done doesn’t hurt either.
Now, if I could just find time to get to bed early enough to get enough sleep…
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
What is your story – along these lines?
Only Child Writes
My son, Martin, me, and Juni by my garden
Children can be more resilient and creative than adults think or maybe even the child herself. When my dad had cancer it was devastating. I was almost 10 years old when the first cancer episode happened – Daddy was diagnosed with cancer in one of his lungs. An operation to remove half the lung was supposed to stop the cancer.
It did in the lung. Two years later it had spread to his brain. He had horrible continuous headaches and was constantly vomiting. In those days (early 1960s) the only other cancer “treatment” was burn, i.e., radiation. And so my Dad back in the hospital had radiation on his brain. He wasn’t expected to live. Mom and I grew closer and one of her older sisters came to stay to “help” us out. She meant well, but wasn’t the best help to be around. However, after some weeks the radiation seemed to work and Daddy returned home. My aunt also returned to her home. Now Mom and I had to get used to Daddy being back home and back to work and get back into the routine.
It was then that I got the idea to teach Mom to play the piano. But I never connected it to dealing with Dad and his cancer until a few years ago. So I wrote a story about this called “Don’t Look Down”. After rewriting and rewriting and after a few rejections from submitting it and more rewriting and rewriting, I submitted it again last year to The Smart Set, an online only magazine published by Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was published January 17, 2019 (and for writers reading this post, yes I did get paid. The copyright also now reverts to me at this time, as long as I state where it was first published and when, which I just did).
The story begins like this:
“Don’t Look Down
Coping and communicating through music
There we sat, Mom and I, side by side on the piano bench. A mirror on the panel above the keyboard reflected our fingers, perched to perform. Deadly piano-playing duo? Not quite. You see, I had decided to teach Mom to play the piano. She was in her mid-50s; I was 13.
Perhaps a grade eight history-teaching project had infected me with the teaching bug. More likely it was connected to Dad’s second bout with cancer. At the hospital, the radiation had zapped his tumor. Now he was back home and had returned to work, but Mom and I were left with the aftermath of his life/death ordeal. We needed a diversion to keep us sane in this sudden change to supposedly safe routine. Besides, my music credentials were impeccable — five years of learning Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin on our pink Roxatone-coated piano.”
When you were a child did you use your creativity to cope with a horrific experience?
Still have the piano today. It really is pink.
Only Child Writes
When I was a child, my mom and I would play a mild form of roulette to catch the bus. Our street was halfway between two stops so we would walk the very short half block to the main drag, look both ways, and decide which bus stop to go to. Sometimes we could actually see the bus coming and sometimes we couldn’t. But there was always the chance the bus would show up as we walked (or ran) to either stop.
Fast forward to today. Bus schedules for each route are shown on the TTC website. Any “alerts” as the TTC calls schedule interruptions or changes are posted and continually updated. Those with smart phones can get an app so they can get up-to-date bus arrival times. A few bus stops have digital information with arrival times for the next two buses. Subway station bus levels have electronic times posted that change to match the actual bus schedules.
So all should be working well – even when buses are delayed for some reason. AND WE BUS RIDERS SHOULD KNOW ALL THIS BECAUSE THE INFORMATION IS ACCURATE.
Here’s my experience… or some of it.
From where I now live I can take four different bus lines – two stop at the stop near my home and all four stop a long block away. Usually I check online before I leave to see what’s what with the schedules and any alerts including construction nonsense.
Might as well save my time and eyesight, though because…
The Woodbine bus does run to schedule – its own schedule which seems to be timed about halfway between the actual schedule posted online..
The O’Connor bus – well it will take you for a ride (or not). Even on Sundays when there is no construction in the way, the drivers (and in some cases their supervisors) can’t get it right. Last Sunday I was coming home from some grocery shopping – no problem with the subway, but when I landed at the subway station to switch to the bus, it was “fun and games”. The electronic schedule said that one O’Connor bus was now due. I can take either one to get home. So, that was good. A bus did come in right away and stop on the O’Connor side of the bus platforms. But its sign said “Coxwell 22” bus, which means it was going the other way on Coxwell Avenue. So after unloading the passengers, it drove around to the other side of the station where the Coxwell bus picks up passengers (and unloads them too). Furious, I returned to the electronic schedule on the wall. Now the O’Connor C was scheduled to arrive in 14 minutes and the O’Connor A in 18 minutes.
Guess what probably happened. The a****** supervisor probably gave the O’Connor bus driver instructions to switch to the Coxwell south route because of the bridge work there and a festival being held by the Lakeshore. Meantime the Coxwell buses were arriving okay and people got those buses. So what was the problem?
The O’Connor buses? The C was late and arrived a couple of minutes before the A. I boarded the A. Both buses took off right away from the station like a herd of elephants was after them. (Maybe that should have happened earlier). As the A bus beetled out of the station, another A bus was entering. My A bus was right behind the C bus, until the C turned down one street.
This is a regular occurrence. So is the change of drivers’ nonsense. I don’t know if the drivers themselves are arranging to switch at stops partway along the route instead of the subway stations (or wherever the end of the line is) like they should – just for their convenience, or some you-know-what supervisor in his or her “wisdom” is telling them to do so. But it is annoying to have the driver suddenly grab his bag and leave the bus – often with not telling us why – because his shift is over. Sometimes his replacement driver doesn’t arrive for some time.
I have sent in complaints to the TTC before on these shenanigans, but is anybody doing anything about it?
It would appear not.
I have a courtesy rule. When I get off a bus, I say “thank you” to the driver. But not when they are late or do the driver switcheroo mid-route – especially if it is after dark.
Too bad I can’t afford a cab or Uber.
Will I be forced to hitch-hike?
As for my late Mom – she is probably rolling around in her grave. Or her spirit is frowning. She definitely is not laughing.
Anybody have similar experiences with public transit where you live.
Let’s share stories.
Only Child Writes
When I was a child my mother didn’t work outside the home – until I was in high school, when she had to because my dad had cancer. Before that when she was home she did work – albeit house and garden stuff. If she had to go to a doctor’s or dentist’s, it didn’t matter when. If the plumber had to come during the day weekdays, it didn’t matter.
Fast forward to today when many of us work from home, running our own business. I am a writer, editor and writing workshop instructor. Except for the latter and doing book promo in person, I do my work in my home office. Or at least I try.
Lately the non-work-related interruptions have been interfering with my work time. Sometimes I have to go out for them and sometimes I have to phone them to get something straightened out with the house, ID cards, etc. Most of this stuff is not generated by me. To put it bluntly, it gets shoved at me. And it takes time, often more time than you think.
Take health-related issues, particularly dental and eyes. This spring and now summer it is my left eye. It is in bad shape. Not my fault and not the eye professionals’ fault. What is their fault is the majority of them don’t have evening or Saturday hours. So I have to waste my work-time travelling to appointments, sitting in waiting rooms (sometimes for a couple of hours) and then actually seeing the professional.
And don’t get me on the subject of government agencies who only operate on regular business hours. So you have to take your work time to renew ID cards. At least you can call the bank outside business hours if you have something that needs straightening out.
I know what some of you are thinking. “She runs her own business from home for Pete’s sake (and who is Pete anyway?). She can set her own hours.
Teddy time tracking
Well, I do. I just prefer them close to regular weekday business hours – 9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. The only exceptions are when I do in-person book signings or presentations (usually on a Saturday) or panels or talks related to book promo and the odd writing workshop that is on an evening (most are during the day on weekdays). But in the interest of time I like to stick to regular working hours and use off hours for personal stuff, for the most part. That would include medical. At least the medical clinic I go to has evening and Saturday hours. It is close enough to home I can even go on my lunch break.
I really resent having to use my work time doing health, house (as in getting things fixed although my handyman usually does come evenings or early mornings and except for explaining what is wrong, he usually stays out of my way so I can work) and government-related stuff, especially when clients start to wonder when I will have their work completed.
Not sure what do do about this? I do have the phone calls under some kind of control with a vm message that tells callers when I am available to answer the phone for business and personal (and I use the “We can’t come to the phone right now.” message beginning). If it is important they can leave a message or call during those hours. One friend calls anyway during my work time but not business phone calls time. I don’t pick up the phone. When I check messages I hear her apologizing for calling at the wrong time. But she should know by now. She also usually leaves a “life story” message. I have two of those that I gave up listening to and they are left as “skipped messages.” I have no idea how to delete them without listening to them. Guess I will have to borrow a phrase of another friend who is smart in her vm mail message for incoming calls. “Please leave your name, phone number and a brief message.” She adds something about limited space for vm messages. I could do a variation of that. After the first part I could add “so all callers can leave a message.”
That’s the phone. Now about all the people and organizations, etc. stealing my work time because they don’t cater to the working crowd.
As one of my friends says they need to “get on the program.”
How do you deal with these non-work related interruptions? I don’t mean life and death. An ill family member, a death in the family. These are exceptions.
Now back to my client work. This blog post hasn’t even taken as long as the public transit ride to the eye doctor.
Only Child Writes
When I was growing up, dinnertime for Mom, Dad and me was sitting around the table in our small kitchen. Mom and Dad would sometimes be talking about the household budget while little ears lapped it up as well as the food – often leftover roast. But Dad had one habit that drove Mom crazy.
He looked at his watch, then up at the wall clock above the table, then back to his watch, lifting up the expansion band. I expected it to go “boing, boing,” but it was silent.
“Albert, do you have to keep doing that?” she would ask.
“Have to take it in to get regulated,” Dad replied. He had good reason for this.
You see, my late father worked for the railway, CN (or CNR as it was called back in the 50s and 60s). He was a timekeeper but he worked in the head office, then in downtown Toronto. As far as I know he wasn’t out on the tracks timing the trains. But who knows. The trains came in right by his office at Toronto’s Union Station.
Only Child loves train travel although engines aren’t steam anymore
He carried this penchant for time when the three of us rode the rails travelling in the summer. It was a free ride, and not just for Dad. Mother had the spouse’s free pass and until I turned 19 I had the child of the CN worker’s pass. Mom got unlimited free rides; I was limited to seven a year. But we never took more than three or four trips a year – and one would be not really a holiday. There were a lot of funerals in my family and a few weddings.
But that’s for another post. Today’s post is all about Dad and time. When we rode the rails, Dad made sure we arrived at Union Station early – sometimes two hours before train time. Did Dad think we would miss the train? No. He was just doing his job outside his job. No one missed his scrutiny – from the cab driver who drove us to Union Station – via a different route than Dad had dictated to who carried our luggage (not the red cap porter) to the trainman who collected our tickets once we had boarded the train. Dad’s favourite expression was “Typical CNR” which could be taken as either a bad review or I suppose even a small compliment. At any rate Dad and his watch kept close company.
But riding the rails had its fun, interesting and now looking back – nostalgic times. Nothing like the murder and other crimes that occur on the train to Hanover in my short story “Porcelain Doll” (Beyond theTripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012).
Consider the times we were travelling in – mid to late 1950s and early 1960s. Right when train travel in Ontario was still in its heyday – although not for much longer with the almighty automobile starting to take over. (Note: my parents didn’t drive so we had no car).
Our main annual trip was to visit the farm relatives on my mother’s side of the family. That took us to Mildmay Ontario (a few miles from Walkerton, the town that had the bad water scandal in 2000), and Lucknow, Ontario. Then we had to take three trains, which meant two changes. But what rides and what differences. The trains from Toronto to Guelph had diesel engines. The one from Guelph to Palmerston still had a steam engine whose noise used to scare me and my constant travelling companion, my doll Darlene. Guelph was also an interesting ride through. As that second train started out from Guelph, looking out the windows you could see the train was running on a track right in the middle of a street. It is still that setup today (although the trains are more modern) and it still makes me hold my breath when travelling through. The third train, with its short ride from Palmeston to Mildmay, was the most interesting. The “coach” we rode in was actually a sleeper car and Daddy would go into a short talk on the closed dark wooden bins above which came down and turned the area into a bedroom. I also remember the texture of the seats – they itched the back of my bare legs.
Only Child at 13 with Mom and Dad at the Lucknow farm
Dad has been long gone (he died of brain cancer, at 66. I was 16). However, I have inherited his penchant for time. I must get what is on my daily to-do list done that day and God help anyone or anything who interferes (Telemareters and long-winded acquaintances on the phone pay attention). But I also go after transit that is not on time, but not the CN, or VIA rail which has taken over the railway passenger service in most of Canada. No, it’s the city public transit, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) which more times than naught, messes up on its schedules. So I sometimes complain online about the incident. Couldn’t do that back in the day.
Guess I do have my father to thank for to be aware of time. And in line with that, on this upcoming Father’s Day I will honour my late father by thinking of him and toasting him – not with his favourite drink – beer, which I don’t really like – but wine. It’s the thought that counts. I’m sure Daddy would understand.Happy Father’s Day Daddy (wherever your spirit is), from your little railway brat.
How are you honouring your Dad this Father’s Day?
Only Child Writes
Mom in her backyard garden 1944
I come from a long line of gardeners and farmers. My grandparents had farms and my mom grew up on one of them. When she came to Toronto to work, met my dad and married him, when they bought their first house, the one I grew up in – they made a garden, It was like a ritual every spring and when I came along, even at four and five years of age I got into the act. Each spring, Mom and Dad turned the soil, Mom planted vegetable seeds and I helped her do the latter – with a lot of instructions from her. After the soil-turning, Dad looked after mowing the lawn – with a push mower.
Four-year-old Only Child ready to garden in April
I also use a push mower to cut the lawn and like my mother I have to have my garden.
But in order to have a garden, you have to be able to get out there and work the garden, remove the weeds, plant the seeds, baby the perennials coming up again. This year it’s been raining too much in southern Ontario so I am literally sometimes out there gardening between rainstorms. Meantime, out in British Columbia and Alberta it is dry, dry and there are spreading wildfires. Somebody up there got the weather mixed up – we need the rain to fall in western Canada and eastern Canada (Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces) need some dry periods – like more than just a day, or just a few hours.
So, I’ve been slowly making my garden beautiful. At least it is green and the perennials are coming up and blooming. So is the lettuce and onions I planted.
Do you garden? How does your garden grow?
Here are a few early photos of my garden. Enjoy
Only Child Writes
Waiting to be planted
Waiting to assist with the planting
A few perennials among the weeds
Rhubarb ready to pull, cook and eat
Bringing some flowers inside
Martin and I outside Allen’s on Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day in Toronto was grim, gray, cold, windy and later rainy. So I was looking forward to a bright light in the day – brunch with my son, Martin. At my request he had booked a table for brunch at Christina’s a different restaurant than usual. But when I arrived a few minutes after him and walked over to the table where he sat, I got a shock.
Martin told me that when he came to the table he was told that they weren’t doing brunches today, only regular lunch and dinners. I spoke to the waiter and then the manager. They also told me they weren’t doing any breafasts and the owner said that this was just for today, not other Sundays. I looked around at the almost empty restaurant.
On Mother’s Day? What was the owner thinking? Does he live in another universe? And this obviously stupid move was NOT on their website. I had checked the website before Martin reserved..
Martin and I didn’t have to talk about this much. We agreed to leave and go elsewhere. So we walked out. He called our usual Mother’s Day brunch spot – Allen’s on the Danforth and managed to book a table starting in fifteen minutes. He started to call for an Uber but I said we could walk it and I had to stop in a green grocers on the way there to get some lettuce. Which we did.
Allen’s was like old home – food and service. And they had brunch including his favourite salmon and my two scrambled eggs with hash fried sweet potato. We told the waiter about our experience at Christina’s and said we should have come here first. So, Martin and I had our bright spot with Mother’s Day. And outside on the small patio, he took a shot of us – well fed and happy. I’m glad this worked out because I relish the time I spend with my son. We are both busy – him with work and the band he plays guitar in (Beams), so we don’t get together too often and so connect on Facebook. I missed Martin’s partner, Juni, who usually comes with him, but she was just getting over food poisoning. I’ve had that before and it is not nice.
Both Martin and I discussed what to do about Christina’s. I said I was going to do a bad review on Yelp and he was going to complain via the company he reserved the table through online as they would email him a request for feedback. So, I joined the Yelp crowd and posted my review of both restaurants. For Christina’s and for Allen’s. And I just looked and it appears to not be there on Christina’s. But I was straightforward, not rude. No reviews are posted there after May 10, so maybe. I’ll wait befoe reposting. Christina’s bad service does get a mention on my Yelp Review of Allen’s here. Scroll down. It’s under “Sharon C.”
So, I learned a couple of valuable lessons.
It is important to spend time with your family.
It is also important not to let businesses screw around with your well, business, and/or engage in false advertising (remember this change was not on their website).
It is also important to take nothing in life for granted or you will be screwed. Something I have to keep reminding myself.
A belated happy Mother’s Day to all mothers.
And the weather? It is supposed to be warmer and sunnier this week with just a bit of rain. But I’m not taking that forecast for granted.
Only Child Writes