Category Archives: Friends

Using Fiction Tools to Write Memoir (continued)

Only Child in Grade 12

In our last memoir writing session this week, we covered the topic of using fiction techniques when writing your memoir. Today, we discuss setting. There are similarities with using setting  in memoir and in writing fiction, with a few differences.

Always, you need to remember, memoir is not fiction, so you can’t make stuff up. True, settings in fiction often are real settings – at least countries, cities and the like. But sometimes the city or town is fictional, as are the residences and businesses and of course the streets.

Setting in memoir can give the writer an advantage, though. For example, you can write about the place you grew up in – as it was then (and a lot of that is how you remember it. Look at those old photos) and you can go back and see how it is today. Is the house you grew up in still standing? Or is it now a huge ugly condo or a paved parking lot?

But the narrative of setting in both fiction and memoir is stronger and more interesting if you skip writing it like a travel piece and put your character (you, in the memoir) right there. Show yourself going into that high school for the first time – how did you feel? Who did you meet? And blend in what you saw? For example, when my friend Nancy and I switched high schools for grade 12, (in the mid-1960s),  we had a heck of a time finding the most important classroom – the study hall. I don’t know how many times we walked around the whole top floor of the high school (it was walking in a square – that’s what it felt like and the actual shape of it). Finally another classmate with a study period helped us find the room.

So, you can see how that could generate the setting of just this school floor as Nancy and I wandered around lost. And the emotions, some dialogue and the actual study room when we finally found it and entered it.

Here’s one of the exercises I had my class do for setting. If you have time, you could try it.

  1. Exercise: Take a scene from your past and write about it with you in it. This could be the backyard of the house you grew up in, your bedroom, the kitchen, the street where you live. Note: if your memoir is about a particular time in your life use a scene from that as opposed to a scene in your past that won’t have anything to do with your memoir. The purpose is to create the atmosphere as you remember it in one location important to your life and learn how to show it to the reader from your unique POV. For example, if you were terrified of thunderstorms and hid under the covers when one came, and your brother liked to run outside in thunderstorms, the two of you would definitely have differing points of view. (copyright 2017 Sharon Crawford)

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

 

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Filed under 1960s, classmates, Friends, Memoir content, Memoir writing, Only child memoir, School days

Only Child remembers friend who died from cancer

Black raspberries - which I shared with Tanya

Black raspberries – which I shared with Tanya

It is coming on to the first anniversary of my close friend, Tanya’s death from lung cancer February 3, 2016. The first indication that she and her husband Alex had moved in next door was when I heard than talk just outside my office window. Yes, our houses, our properties are that close.

Perhaps this was a sign of how close Tanya and I would become. I went over and introduced myself to them and later their orange cat, Marmalade when they brought him home.

Alex came from Russia and Tanya from the Ukraine. They had lived in England for nine years and one year rented a house down by Lake Ontario in Toronto before buying the house next door. The house next door required a lot of updates – Alex and his friends gutted and renovated the basement and the main floor. It was a small house, smaller than mine, so in 2010 they added a upper part – which after getting the proper city permits, Alex and his friends did most of the work for – except for a few things like electrical and the like.

Because  theirs family had increased when their son Anton was born 13 years ago.  You would see her and Alex pushing Anton in his baby carriage along the street. When Anton was walking, he would be out in their backyard and later when he started at the school at the end of the street, Tanya would take him to school. After school he would be out in the backyard playing with his friends. Some times Alex would be mowing the lawn or fixing something with the house.

But it was Tanya who was the heart of her family. Although she had asthma and had to stay in on very hot summer days or extremely cold winter days, still in spring to fall she would be out in her backyard, hanging out laundry, sometimes doing a bit of gardening, sometimes just sitting and enjoying the view. We always had long chats over the fence and helped each other out – if someone needed an extra egg and Tanya often offered to pick up for me heavy groceries such as apple juice. She also helped me get my garden soils bag back from Home Depot. She used to say she loved looking at my garden, even from their back window. Sometimes I gave her plants from the garden. But the big annual ritual was to give them containers of the black raspberries and tomatoes that grew in my garden. One summer, when Anton was getting really fussy about his food, he would eat the raspberries. I remember when they were headed up to a rented cottage with some friends, Tanya said that Anton sat in the back seat and ate some of the raspberries.

We looked after each others’ houses, properties, and in their case their cat, when either they or I went away on holidays. Whomever was away would bring back a little treat for the one(s) looking after the property. Usually I visited my cousins in southwestern Ontario and brought back a small box of chocolates from Chocolate Barrs (yes, that’s the name of the owners) in downtown Stratford, Ontario. We also exchanged Christmas presents, some of which I would buy on my holidays. And visited each other for lunch and for my annual Christmas party (which I stopped doing after 2013 – too much work).

One of the things they did that was beyond the call of duty was to help me when my basement flooded the first time in November 2005 – this was around six to eight inches of water in the recreation room, hallway, laundry room and up part of the stairs. Tanya let me borrow her cell to call a friend and my ex and later the insurance company because at first my phone line was all static because of the water downstairs. The phone service came back the next day.

But Alex came over right away when I banged on their door for help. For some reason he had brought home the heavy-duty Shopping Vac from work (he works in construction and has a small company which subcontracts out). Alex cleaned up all the water downstairs. So when the city works department people came to check it out they only saw the ravages and figured it was a drain problem. So did the insurance people and the drain company that replaced and upgraded the main drain outlet on the floor in the laundry room.

Fast forward to late fall 2015 when I got a call from Tanya who told me she was sick. I mentioned something about the asthma. I remember her words: “It is much worse than asthma. I have cancer of the lungs.” She was on a special macro-biotic diet and wanted me to get her some special foods from the health food store on the Danforth. So I did, with pleasure and sadness when I brought the food and saw her at home. She was up and about but attached to a portable respirator with a very long cord. She explained her dietary regime and was always cheerful. Alex and another of their friends, Linda, also got her food for her.

Then we had Christmas – her last. I was glad I could go over for a short visit with Christmas presents Christmas Eve and that she called on Christmas Day and talked to me and my son. Tanya, Alex and Anton were going to that rented cottage (winter heated, naturally) for a week after Christmas Day. But Tanya was rushed to the local hospital because of breathing problems, Alex told me the next day as he was loading the car to take Anton up to the cottage as his friends were there too. Alex was coming back to be with Tanya.

The day Tanya was to come home her doctor took one look at her and had her transferred to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. She never came home. I was able to talk to her once on the phone but when I called the next time I wasn’t allowed to speak to her but they would give her my message. She started chemo but it made her so sick the doctors had to take her off it. It was too late anyway; she was diagnosed too late – if it acts like asthma doesn’t necessarily mean it is only asthma.

Whenever I saw Anton or Alex I asked how Tanya was doing but was careful what to say to young Anton. Both were optimistic, but the last time before… when I spoke to Alex alone, he wasn’t so optimistic, making that gesture that means so-so. He said she couldn’t swallow and couldn’t talk.

February 4, Alex phoned me and said “Tanya passed away yesterday.”

The memorial service was held a month later in a big room at a legion hall. Friends brought food and non-alcoholic beverages. There were words from friends. I went with one of my other friends, Al from across the street. Carol, his wife, a close friend, couldn’t make it because she was sick with the flu. But all of Anton’s friends were there sitting with him at a table. And the neighbours came out in droves. There were pictures – print – displayed of the three of them. It was very moving. The following May we all helped plant a tree in Tanya’s memory on the grounds of the grade school Anton had attended.

Tanya, I will never forget you. You died too young – 51. I hope in summer you can look down and see and enjoy my garden.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Chives in my front garden - here for now

Part my front garden which Tanya enjoyed seeing

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Filed under cancer, Friends, Gardens, Only child

Helping lost people turns into something personal

GO train on the go

GO train on the go

This summer I am making it my business to help people who are having difficulty finding their way around Toronto. I don’t actively seek doing this but when I see someone who appears lost – or if they are asking for help getting around – I do my best to help them. Some days when I’m out nothing happens; some days there are a couple of instances. But last Saturday it got personal as my friend K. from Oakville had to return home by GO train and the situation for boarding was very vague.

K, N and I had spent a day at Harbourfront and N and I walked K back to where she figured she would go to get her GO bus. It was where she had exited.

The long waiting room with windows on one side and entrances to stairwells to some of the platforms on the other side was not very helpful. Neither was the Departure schedule on one of those changing digital boards. All the upcoming GO trains and Go buses were listed, but the boarding platform was not listed until five or 10 minutes before boarding time. Instead, you saw the word “Wait” beside the trains and buses. There were no officials around to ask; no indication where the nearest washroom was, and no seats to sit on.

K has back problems and other medical issues. N has a hip problem and I have a couple of digestive disorders. We would have appreciated at least a place to sit and someone official to ask if we were even in the right place. With this Union Station in construction flux, this latter part isn’t unreasonable. Last time K came to Toronto in the fall, she boarded her GO train at the other end of the large Union Station. So it wasn’t inconceivable that there was another place with platform entrances, particularly as the ones we saw here didn’t go up very far in numbers. The wall maps were useless.

So we waited, fretted and oh, did I forget to mention – no air conditioning so it was hot and humid inside. By continually checking the departure board I figured out that all GO bus platforms were numbered in the 40s. I also figured to get to them, you would go to the end of this long room, through the doors and there would be an indoor walkway to take you across the street to the GO bus terminal. Not for trains, though.

Five minutes before K’s GO train was scheduled to leave (they were running every hour only on the weekend because of construction) a platform number appeared. By that time, there were a number of people huddling around and they all proceeded through that numbered door. K hugged N and me and followed the others through the door to board her GO train.

I was so outraged by this major consumer service flaw, that I filed a complaint with GO online using their complaint form. Besides what I mention here, I also suggested they take a page from VIA rail (also goes through Union station but in the main area), i.e., that they list the platforms for all GO trains and buses departing – all the ones on the screen as they appear. The one word “wait” which they have, should deter people from entering the platform ahead of time in case there is another GO train or bus departing or arriving there before then. VIA does this and it is not unusual if you arrive early for your train when you go to the place to line-up, there is another line-up for an earlier departing train. VIA rail also has updated announcements via loudspeaker. That wasn’t happening a this GO waiting area. So that makes you wonder what blind people do? Maybe GO is in some violation of accessibility laws.

There was a notice in the waiting area and GO online that the platforms would be changing August 10 for construction so I also suggested they implement my suggestions when they do their construction.

If they can’t get their heads around giving good customer service to regular GO riders, they need to remember this is the big tourist season in Toronto and if regular riders (K does take the GO but in her area only, not into Toronto usually) get confused, what about tourists?

What do you want to bet that the powers that be at GO Transit all drive cars?

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Consumer action, Friends, Getting lost, Helping Others, Only child, Public Transit, Union Station Toronto, VIA Rail

Gardening for health and pleasure

Spring in Only Child's front garden

Spring in Only Child’s front garden

Finally some spring going into summer weather and I was out in my garden every day this long Victoria holiday weekend.

My body and soul needed it. For the pain in my body from the complications of a lower digestive disorder to just feeling fed-up at the crap shoved my way in this world, I needed to be in my garden.

But I took it slowly (except when pulling weeds) and a little at a time each day. Overdoing it just wouldn’t do. And so I also ate meals out on the patio, and sat out in my garden, reading the newspapers and more in the latest mystery novel I’m into.

It is so joyful to see all the green (even the weeds – they do have their purpose for me – like pretending each weed I pull is the person or company causing me grief) and the colours of the flowers starting, blooming and even those, like the tulips,which are just finishing up for the season. Right now the coral bells, peonies and irises are getting ready to open out; and coreopsis is in full bloom as are the multiplying blue and white forget-me-nots. The forget-me-nots in the front come back every year somewhat in the same area. But the ones in the backyard garden came lush and plentiful for the first year. They came under the fence from next door. Tanya, my friend from there who died of lung cancer in February, planted the forget-me-nots last spring in her garden. Their name is very appropriate as every time I go out in my garden I expect to see Tanya out there, saying hi and then the two of us talking together and helping each other in some way. I see these forget-me-nots as her gift to me, a remembrance of our friendship from when she and Alex moved in next door, 10 months after I had moved this neighbourhood,

I still  miss Tanya and feel her spirit when I am in my back garden.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under cancer, Friends, Gardening, Gardening health benefits, Health, Only child, Perennials

Only Child’s close friend dies of cancer

Tanya's view of Only Child's backyard garden

Tanya’s view of Only Child’s backyard garden

My friend, Tanya, from next door died of cancer last week. And I am heartbroken. But not as much as her husband and 12-year-old son.

Tanya was only 51. I have talked about her in previous posts including mentioning the cancer. It was a very aggressive cancer and the medical profession didn’t catch it soon enough. Not that doing so would have stopped it. (More on that aspect below). It got so bad she couldn’t swallow or talk and the chemo had to be stopped because it was too harsh and not doing anything. I last talked to her on the phone New Year’s Day when I wished her a good 2016. If only wishes were truth and what would actually happen. That was the first day she had chemo. I told her to call me if she wanted to, but the cancer got worse.

No, I didn’t visit her in Princess Margaret Hospital, but I did call the hospital about her – they weren’t really very forthcoming. But I did keep checking in with her husband and son. Also, from the info on the hospital’s website, I gathered they might not even have let me see her because. I have recurring sinusitis and cancer patients are so susceptible to infections.

The last time I saw Tanya was Christmas Eve Day when I brought over my Christmas presents for her, her husband and her son. She phoned me Christmas Day to thank me (and I thanked her for her gifts). My son, who was here with his girlfriend for Christmas, also talked to Tanya on the phone.

During December I was one of the friends who shopped at The Big Carrot Health food store for Tanya’s food for her stringent diet – all organic. At that time she was still up, able to prepare her food, talk, watch TV and read. But she moved around connected to a portable oxygen tent for her breathing. She had a longtime history of asthma. And there is where the medical profession probably messed up, mistaking the lung problems as “just asthma.” I gathered she wasn’t diagnosed until late fall last year.

I had known  Tanya for just over 16 years when she and her husband moved in next door. We would help each other – yes, the usual borrowing the sugar (although in her case it was ketchup and other foods, even onions.) Often she would pick up a few groceries at the store for me and not even want the money for it. She also drove me the few blocks to Home Depot in May so I could pick up and get home, the bags of topsoil, manure and cedar bark for my garden. I gave her fresh black raspberries, tomatoes and rhubarb from my garden for the three of them.

Tanya loved to sit out in her backyard and look at my garden. She said it was beautiful and peaceful. As I don’t have a photo of her, I am posting a photo of part of my backyard garden in her memory.

Alex, her husband was very helpful with house problems. Eleven years ago when I had the big flood in the basement, he came over with a huge shop-n-vac from his work and removed the four or five inches of water from the basement. Last summer, he removed the big old chesterfield from my living room and placed it at the end of my driveway for city pickup. He did this himself.

When I went on holidays, Tanya and Alex looked after my property, bringing in the mail, watering the garden if necessary and watering my too many plants inside, checking on the house to make sure all was okay. When they went away, I did the same, including looking after their cat, Marmalade.

Marmalade died late last August. A harbinger of things to come?

Tanya is gone and I miss her.

And I am becoming a big believer that bad luck plays a big role in who gets cancer – but also in who survives it. I just look around and see what is happening, not just personally, but from news stories, statistics and research. In a previous post I said that four of my friends had been diagnosed with cancer. Well, one of them went for further testing and no cancer.

Then, there are people like Tanya.

Last year John Hopkins medical centre did a study on the luck factor – and the rating for that factor was as high as 65%. They concluded that the main causes of cancer are three – environment, genetic and luck. I have discussed this with friends and some of them pooh-pooh the luck factor.

I say – look around you. Look at who gets cancer, when it is diagnosed, the treatment and if it helps or not. The results are all over the map.

Which brings me to my my conclusion – for now. Too many people of all ages are getting cancer and too many of them are dying from it.

And yes, I know. I have an even more personal reason for being concerned. My late father died of brain cancer (which started out as lung cancer). That was back in 1965. He was 66 when he died.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under cancer, Cancer Cures and Research, Cancer Treatment, Dad, Friends, Health

Only Child finds a little joy in horrid world

Busy city street - sign of current times

Busy city street – sign of current times

Yesterday a friend and I were talking about the world today, the world we live in. We both agreed that is is a horrid world – too digital, too hurried, extreme weather, the terrorism, etc. I said it all got going into this state when we entered the new millennium and she agreed, with the addition that back in the 70s there was the Vietnam War. I added that back then there wasn’t so much of everything.

I don’t think it is because we are both seniors (albeit at the lower end of the seniors age bracket).

Truth is we are inundated with too much crappy stuff these days.

It is hard to find a little peace, a little joy. But we need to. The only other option seems to be to “get the hell out of Dodge.”

Last night while hurrying along a Toronto street to do some grocery shopping, I realized – hey, the weather in Toronto is warmer than usual for this time of year. No actual winter weather. True we’ve been getting a lot of fog and clouds and rain is coming later this week. I think something my ex said in an email earlier yesterday also was somewhere in my mind. He and his wife live out west and while they are getting a lot of rain he likes it because it is warmer then.

So, I did a momentary mind pause, slowed down my walking, and stopped cursing the Food Basics store for having one cooked ham on sale left (and it was awful looking – too much fat and a small string curled up in it – you know the “ick” factor).

I actually started to enjoy the evening, thinking it wasn’t bad weather-wise, still warmish.

How do you find a little peace and joy in your life?

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Carpe Diem, Cities, Extreme Weather, Family and Friends, Friends, Happiness, Seniors, Sign of the Times, Winter Weather

Only Child finds more solace in Aurora

Main street middle of Aurora looking south

Main street middle of Aurora looking south

So far this summer I have made three trips back to Aurora, Ontario, where I lived from 1975 to 1998. Twice to meet old newspaper buddies from our community newspaper writing days; but also to go to Aurora’s  Doors Open and with my friend Carol to the Farmer’s Market.

This is the small town (now a much larger town) where my ex-husband and I raised our son, Martin, where I kick-started my freelance writing, editing and writing instructing career. Where I became involved with community groups from a noisy ratepayers group to a horticultural society, to an arts and crafts group. And through my writing and the other parts of my life met and made many friends. Some I’ve kept in touch with or re-connected with.

Unfortunately, some of the older ones (i.e. older than me) have died (four I know of) and that’s scary, because it means the next of us in age, including me, are well, next on the dying list.

Death aside, just seeing Aurora – the changes and the sameness was interesting and soul-filling. I still like walking down the main street, which is a lot nicer now with the shops – some the same and many new. I can still walk along the side streets off the main street and see the old houses and their front gardens. But I do not like the big condo that looms right on main street almost right across from a boarded up grocery store (was the IGA-Sobeys chain – and my main grocery store when I lived in Aurora). I’ve heard that another condo is going up there. I kept my back to it when waiting for the big blue VIVA bus to take me back to Finch subway station in north Toronto.

I love zipping up and down Yonge St. between Finch and middle of Aurora on these sleek modern buses – once I learned how to use the machine to buy the tickets. It’s easy – just follow the step-by-step instruction which appear as you go along. And the machines are right by most of the bus stops. Service is much oftener than the old GO buses when I lived in Aurora. Same for the in town buses for Aurora and Newmarket – more often and better routes. These York Region buses also do some of the VIVA routes but make more stops.

It was good to reconnect with old newspaper buddies. I had kept in touch with  a few  –  Bob, Barb and Jim  over the years and one of the others I reconnected with – whom I didn’t really know very well back then in the late 1970s, Sheila, we have connected and phone each other and email sometimes. One of my former editors is ill and in a wheel chair but he and his wife want to join us on the next dinner outing there – sometime in October before winter rears its cold, wet, ugly head.

I also reconnected with one of the librarians at the Aurora library that I used to know. Reccia is sometimes down in Toronto, cat-sitting for her daughter when her daughter is away. Her daughter’s place is close to me, so yesterday I met Reccia for lunch at a cafe near her daughter’s place.

Reccia found me sitting on the park bench outside Aurora Public Library August 15, when I was waiting for Sheila and Rob to pick me up for dinner. It was just after the Doors Open – which gave me the opportunity to see the restored Hillary House in Aurora (doctor’s house it used to be called as there were four succession of doctors, from the mid-1800s. I actually knew the daughter of the last doctor there in the late 1980s and early 1990s  when she was in her late 80s. She has been dead for a few years).

I also got into somewhere I would never get in except for Doors Open – the Masonic Temple. It reminded me of a church – no wonder it was originally a church as I found out from the Mason who gave us the history. Currently, this carpeted place has sky blue velvet armchairs along the outer perimeters, a lectern at the back and three throne chairs on a small elevated platform at the front. Empty space in the middle except for a table with a Christian Bible, the Torah  and other religions’ “bibles.”

Carol and I drove up this past Saturday for the Aurora Farmer’s Market. Quite large and quite a variety – soaps, gluten-free baked goods, fresh produce from the farms, jewellery, etc. Yes, I bought something from each of those categories. Afterwards we drove (well, Carol did the driving) to Goodwood Ontario to Richter’s Herbs and I finally got my sage plant to replace the one killed over the winter, plus more rosemary, basil and some thyme. Afterwards we drove to Newmarket and ate outside at a restaurant overlooking Fairy Lake. By the time we got there, we were eating Lupper (Lunch and Supper).

And I plan to go back for that newspaper get-together dinner in October – on the blue VIVA bus.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

 

 

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Filed under Friends, Libraries, Only child, Public Transit