Monthly Archives: July 2010

Only Child looks at larger families

Some of Only Child's cousins

A recent story in Times Magazine by Lauren Sandler, “The Only Child: Debunking the Myths,” has raised the ire of some readers, some with large families. (See for one of these). Personally, I could never have raised a large number of children – I didn’t (and still don’t) have the stamina or the resources (support and finances). But… and here it comes… others can do it. I’m not saying everyone with many children makes a good parent – heck, some parents of only children aren’t good parents, either. And I  must admit, when I see an unruly bunch of siblings acting up and the mother and/or father seems to have no control, I wonder “what were they thinking?” However, I have seen a lone child acting up in a supermarket and mom or dad unable to control him or her. So, it is really a two-sided story.

What do you think?

Although I grew up an only child, I had cousins from large families and I sometimes found it disconcerting inter-acting with them. But I also had some good times with them. In my memoir-in-the works, I write about visiting my eight cousins on my godmother’s farm. Remember, I’m a city gal.

As the sun slides down in the evening, Jimmie and Karl decide to teach me how to chase the cows home. Jimmie stretches the barbed-wired fence wide so I can climb through without ripping my arms or shorts. I appreciate that because back home, while tearing after my friends, I tried vaulting a fence and the rump of my shorts stuck and ripped.

Once through the barbed wire, I stare at big beasts with mottled black and white skin and bodies remaining stationary, except at either end – the tails sliding back and forth keep me mesmerized. How can they chew the weeds and grass bits so matter-of-factly while their eyes seem to dig deep into my head? They must know how frightened I feel.

“They won’t hurt you,” Jimmie says. “Just don’t run at them and startle them. Come on.”

Jimmie strolls forward, as if he has no concerns and Karl follows. I guess I see the cows through their eyes or maybe I’m frightened they will find out that I’m a scaredy-cat. I follow, picking my way around the black deposits scattered throughout the pasture. The cows become benign pets that we must set on the right track. We chase the herd from one field to another. Karl opens the gate – and the cows come home, not quite roller-skating, but close to it, because they suddenly surge in the gateway, and settle down for the night in the pasture by the barn.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, Part 1, copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

We cousins didn’t always get along perfectly. Sometimes the numbers “won” over the only. There was the time a couple of the girl cousins and some cousins on their dad’s side of the family  (not blood-related to me) played a trick. They convinced me that one of these other cousins was a twin to an elderly lady in the household. And despite her looking decades older, I believed them. Of course, they had fun at my expense when they told me the truth. I felt humiliated, stupid and gullible.  As I think about it now, I believe part of my gullibility was due to being an only child with little experience in sibling to-ing and fro-ing. But I suppose things like this happen in most families with more than one child.

As for that Times story, check it out at (enter “The Only Child: Debunking the Myths” in the Search Box).



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Filed under Cousins, Family Size, Hereditary, Only child, Only child memoir, Parenting

Only child has two stories published in anthology

Two stories published in this CAA Toronto branch antholog July 2010

At first glance my two stories just published in an anthology have little to do with the memoir I’m writing except the theme – death. The death of my parents looms in my memoir as that is part of its focus – growing up an only child in the 50s and 60s when your dad is dying of cancer and when he’s gone, it’s mom’s turn. In Gathered Streams, the Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch  anthology hot off the press from Hidden Brook Press  there is something connected to death in each of my stories. As I said when reading at the Book Launch July 18 at Toronto’s Bar Italia, “Both my stories are about death. One is actually in a cemetery. I chose to read from the more serious one.”

And that’s where my stories steer somewhat away from the memoir’s theme. The title alone of the short story tells you that – “My Brother’s Keeper.” The story is about a twenty-something woman, Claire, dealing with her older brother, Danny’s suicide. I’m not going to go into a big discourse, this post, on suicide, except to say that a cousin committed suicide and I attempted suicide over 25 years ago. However, after someone from a distress centre helped bring me back,  I decided to train for and volunteer for that telephone distress centre, which I did for five and a half years. These facts put together gave me the story idea but it is not about me or my cousin. What I find interesting was getting into the head of a woman who isn’t an only child and who has a very dysfunctional mother. I don’t consider that my late mother was dysfunctional – but she certainly was an eccentric character. So was my dad and maybe more so.

My other story in the anthology is a personal essay – a humourous look at how I felt taking pictures in the dead of winter (any pun intended) in a cemetery. And this one is all true. I have the photos to prove it. But again it shows how things can evolve from a certain premise. I went to the cemetery with the intention of photographing unusual gravestones. I did some of that but also got mesmorized by the trees in the cemetery. And I had to overcome my feelings of  “I shouldn’t be here doing this; it’s disrespectful” as well as deal with deep snow (it was February) hardened by an ice storm a few days before.

So where does all this hook in with being an only child? I think it shows that as an only child you have to develop some resilence; you have to move yourself forward to do things, often without support from others, certainly no siblings or in my case as an adult – no parents. Not all only children do this.  However, having siblings doesn’t guarantee support or even making and keeping many friends. I know one woman with several siblings who isn’t really close to any of them – at least from what she’s told me. She also hasn’t developed a network of friends and other support in her life, whereas I have – not overnight, but over the years.

And that may be the bottom line – what you have inside you helps determine how you fare in this life. But that’s fodder for a future post.

Go check out Gathered Streams at




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Filed under Book launch, Death and Dying, Hereditary, Literary Readings, Only child, Only child memoir, Suicide

Only Child finds changes in Mom’s garden

The rosebush I thought had died

Someone once said that change is the law of life. I don’t deal with change well, especially when it seems to just come at me from out of nowhere. Maybe one of the hardest changes is to see what happens to the home you grew up in after you move out. One of my blog readers after reading my last week’s post on my mother’s gardening. e-mailed me about her late mother’s rose garden and that she felt sad about it when her dad sold the house.

I think I did too when I first returned to the house where I lived as a child. The first time was when my son was eight and we were visiting his paternal grandparents in the same area.

On a hot summer day when my son and I visit these grandparents, I decide to show him my childhood home…. I chicken out going the direct route and we come in via the crescent along the ravine. When we reach my old street, I look closely to see if anyone I used to know is about. But you could shake the marimbas down the street and no one would even open the drapes.

As we near 139, I stop. A gas barbecue replaces Mom’s rose arbour in the back, but the rickety garage still stands.

“This is where I used to live,” I tell my son.

“Can we go in?” he asks, and without waiting for an answer he runs up to the veranda where a cat lounges.

“Hey, you can’t just go on the property,” I say. “It’s not ours anymore.” My eyes dart to the draped windows and I expect someone to peek, then come charging out the front door and ask, “What do you want?”

But the silence yawns like the cat in the sun. Martin pets the cat and rejoins me at the end of the driveway. We continue down to O’Connor and then over to the park where I used to play and then we return to his grandparents’ apartment.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Part Two, Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

I think I was insulted that someone would remove my mother’s rose arbour and replace it with a barbecue. It looked so drab and colourless. I didn’t like the change – it was more than my Mom’s pride and joy being erased. She was gone and so was my childhood. But that’s change and you are supposed to deal with it. I did  – in steps – you wouldn’t believe the number of times I had to “sneak” back to my  old neighbourhood for a looksee at the old place and at the same time try to remain inconspicuous. And I didn’t do it right after this episode with my son. I waited until 1998 when I decided I was moving back to the area I grew up in.

But I did get back to the house – inside and out. It was pure serendipity,  thanks to a couple of impulsive actions, first by me, followed by my cousin Gene from Michigan.

But that’s for a future post. In the meantime I’ve had to deal with what I thought was the death of one of my favourite rosebushes where I now live (see photo above). Come spring it appeared to be deadwood except for one lone branch that turned green; then it died. I dealt with that change by hacking off the dead branches to a foot or so above the ground and planting a new rose bush in front of it. And I do have many more rosebushes on my property.

But today, when rushing in from running errands, I saw a peach-coloured rose, rich green foliage and more buds on that supposedly dead rosebush. I touched the rose and it didn’t go away. There are lessons here – besides the obvious – stop running through my life and pause to smell the roses. Change is a multi-faceted animal. Sometimes you really haven’t lost what you thought you had.

Now I hope the old and new rose bushes won’t fight over territorial rights.



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Filed under Death and Dying, Gardening, Memoir writing, Only child, Roses

Only child gets gardening gene from mom

Dad standing under Mom's rose archway

I’m convinced I got the gardening bug from my mom – with a smidgeon from my dad and his proprietary outlook on lawns and trees. In spring, summer and fall I live for my garden so you can imagine how I feel in the bleak days of winter when everything is dead outside. Sure new-fallen snow is beautiful but it is nothing compared to the colours of flowers, the fragrance of herbs and the yummy vegetables and fruit in my garden. Right now I am above head level in black raspberries and I don’t even mind going out in the heat (well, early morning and late evenings) and picking them. I give away some of the extra raspberries  to my friends and also freeze some raspberries. My neighbour’s six-year old son has developed a fascination for picking berries and it is not uncommon for him and his friends to bang on my front door and ask, “Can we pick some raspberries?”

It all started when I was little -maybe around three and a half when I remember Mom and Dad digging in the garden in spring and I would watch…

On this April day in 1952 Mom and Dad are halfway through their spring ritual of turning the soil from fence to hedge. I cart out my small shovel and dig in, but I make only small dents compared to Mom and Dad’s efforts. Mostly I remember hovering, watching and listening.

“Albert,” Mom says. “Be careful around the strawberries.”

She thrusts her shovel, no nonsense-style into the soft sand. Her black oxfords sink deep and the once-white socks are splattered with sand. She hides her body under a flowered housedress. Having a baby at 41 and the indignities and intricacies of middle age has remodelled her into Fraulein Frump.

You couldn’t blame her for taking precautions when digging. The boys behind us, including Tom in my class who defended me against The Bully, stole the strawberries and raspberries, or so mother said. She never caught them in the act, but the remains not present the day after added up to more than a hungry posse of black birds or sparrows. And years later, when Tom and I reconnected, he admitted to the deed.

Then the planting begins. My clumsy digits bury the tiny carrot seed in the row of sand, which my mother carefully indents using the rake handle. When she hauls out the bean seed packet, she has her instructions ready.

“This is the top of the bean.” She pats it with her index finger. “See, it’s curved in. That’s where the bean plant will sprout. You plant that part up or the bean will grow down.”

And so, I swallow my impatience and become the obedient daughter – please the parent and the world will bow to you. I have a lot to learn but I suppose my young age and the results of my gardening actions could excuse my naïve expectations in life. The beans usually grew…up, up towards the heavens, if you believe in fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

I guess it was Mom’s farm background that pre-disposed her to growing a lot of vegetables and fruit. And yes, she had many raspberry bushes but hers were red raspberries and she just knew how, when and what to prune. Me, I know when (fall) and sort of know what (the dead branches, obviously) but whatever I do or don’t do the bushes seem to increase the next spring –  not complaining – I am grateful. I don’t know where Mom got the original raspberry bushes, but mine grew wild in my Aurora backyard and when I moved back to Toronto, a friend helped me dig up three plants and transplant them to my Toronto backyard. The strange thing is these bushes grew to below my knees in the Aurora backyard but here, well as I said above, they are giants. What do I expect living on a street with the word “garden” in it? I have truly come to my calling, my avocation.

My Mom didn’t just grow edible plants. Sometimes I think her rosebushes were her babies.

The rosebushes spread everywhere – front, back and if Mom could nurture roses through asphalt, the driveway would no doubt harbour a rosebush. Below the veranda, in the corner by the driveway, Mom has installed a trellis. When I sprawl in the green Muskoka chair on the veranda, my nose inhales the sweet aroma of the yellow roses poking through the trellis.

In the ‘50s, we could hold a wedding in our backyard at 139 – the deep red roses climb and entwine around the white archway attached to the white picket fence beside the driveway. As I yank open the gate, the fragrance overwhelms me. But my kid eyes absorb the colour, and as I skip through the backyard, I count the rosebushes winding through trellises against the back of the house, the side of our garage and the neighbour’s garage. My mother’s roses grow high and their scent permeates my nose, skin and right into the core of my heart and soul. She constantly frets over a hybrid tea whose blossoms exemplify the species name, although I don’t recall the actual name of the rose, just Mom standing by the fence and fingering the rose-coloured petals.

“The leaves have too much blackspot,” she says. “And this rose is finished.” Snip, snip go her clippers.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

My garden is a mixture of perennials, including roses, vegetables and herbs and like my mother’s garden, my garden is all over. But I mix. One of my tomato plants grows next to a rosebush in front; I have lamb’s ears, yarrow and black-eyed Susan in with my vegetables. Although I have a herb garden with lavender, parsley, sage, oregano, echinacea, basil, blue flax. chives and rosemary, I also have chives and sage growing in my flower bed at the bottom of my veranda and basil, rosemary and leaf lettuce growing in a big pot on my veranda just outside my front door. This makes it quick pickings for dinner garnishes, especially on rainy days.

I think I’ve expanded this gardening gene I inherited from Mom. But the fruits of this inheritance may have stopped with me. My son has no interest in gardening. That is left to his girlfriend – she has the potted plants on their balcony, including a nasturtium and pepper plant I gave her.

As for Dad’s proprietary gardening, let’s just say he kept the lawn cut and watered and gave my girlfriends and I “hell” when we yanked the leaves off the trees for “food” for our dolls. At least we didn’t steal the strawberries.

Pink Yarrow and Red Rose by curb



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