Only Child and Dad
My late father was a fanatic about time. He would drive my mother crazy at the dinner table when he did a time check with his watch and the wall clock. But the height of his time fanaticism was when he, Mom and I went on holidays. En route to Toronto’s Union Station by cab, he always mapped out the quickest route there and insisted the taxi drive follow it. We also left a couple of hours earlier than train time and were always the first in line to get on the train. Daddy also kept an eye on all the train procedures and he was always saying “typical CNR”. I suppose he had some rights here as Daddy worked as a timekeeper for the CNR (And it gave us free train rides).
Which might explain my penchant for time, including keeping a daily “to do” list. It doesn’t seem to be helping with all the stuff I seem to have to do. I constantly run around in overwhelm, get cranky and am up way too late doing things around the house. And not getting enough sleep. It is now affecting my health. So I am putting my foot down. I decided I am doing too many different things and some have to go – or at least get postponed. I know; I’ve been this route before. But I have come up with a new idea that might work and that I would like to share.
Teddy reminding me to slow down
Starting with this month of November, I am now doing a monthly “Do Not Do” list . The list has things I will not do this month but will do next month. The list has things I will never do, including things others want me to do, and one off events that I really don’t have time to go to and aren’t important in my life, at least now. This is an ongoing list as no doubt more of these events and other things will pop up as the month goes along. It is my incentive to say the big “NO” more often and focus on what I need to focus on this month.
The big three to focus on doing this month are finish rewriting my memoir for my publisher – it is due the end of November and I am fed-up with just doing bits and pieces of it at a time. The rewrite is coming along, but I can do better. No. 2 is to catch up on the bookkeeping for this year for my writing and editing business. Number 3 is also something I’ve been doing in bits and pieces – but not just because of time, but the weather. I’m talking about preparing the garden and house for the season I hate with a passion – winter. I don’t do all the prep. myself as I have hired a fellow who cleans the eavestroughs and Mike, the main handyman. Of course I have to organize all this and I even have hired a new fellow to shovel the snow when that four-letter stuff arrives. What they do and what I do are on a couple of “to do” lists – one for house prep. and one for garden prep.
Yesterday I was outside on a rare afternoon when it wasn’t raining. But it was so cold. Among other things I had planned to plant the rest of the bulbs, but only got one planted. However, I managed to do three things: cut down some plants hanging over into the driveway (in the way of snow shovelling), do a little more with the tool shed (I’m clearing out most of the stuff in there as the shed is in bad shape), and I brought in my mannequin, Raggedy Annie, who sits out in the front garden in the summer.
So, from that I learned to do three things each time outside and hopefully it will all get done in time. But it is the “Do Not Do” list that may be my saving grace. As long as I stick to it.
Only Child Writes
More modern TTC bus
Traveling on public transit (TTC) in Toronto when I was growing up was simpler than now. And yes, sometimes fun. I lived half a block from a major street. My street was partway between two bus stops so Mom and I would get to the end of our street, look both ways and see if a bus was coming. It it was, it became a judgement call – go to the left (closer, but a street with lights to cross) or go to the right (a little further, but no waiting for lights to change). We had some idea of the time the bus was supposed to show up and it usually was on time or close to on time. Sometimes the bus stop was just around the corner as the TTC had a penchant even back in the late 1950s and 1960s to move the bus stop.
Mom and I had several adventures on public transit – not heart-stopping or bad – but adventures for a little girl. Riding on old streetcars in downtown Toronto. Riding the King Street car to the CNE (yes, it did go to the CNE back then), coming home on the streetcar and almost falling asleep on the way home. Mom stayed awake (I think), but even if she fell asleep we were going to the end of the line.
Newer, but not newest TTC streetcars
Then the first subway line opened March 30, 1954 . We missed the opening day, but took lots of rides on it to downtown Toronto and back afterwards. Sometimes Daddy came along too if on a weekend and we were heading up north (North Toronto) to visit family. Sometimes we had to make a change to a bus at the Eglinton end. But in winter before the first part of what is now called Line 2 opened on the Bloor-Danforth, we didn’t wait down on an inside platform to go east. Instead we stood shivering on a somewhat open platform in the middle of Bloor Street, just east of Yonge. Our only “shelter” was a back wall with an overhang temporarily in place. The second phase of the Yonge line, the University extension, running from Union Station to St. George Station opened February 23, 1963. But I didn’t take it until a few years later when I started working as a secretary at Queens Park.
The first phase of the Bloor-Danforth line from Woodbine to Keele opened in 1966 – just in time for me to take it to business school that fall. By the time I started work the following year, subway cars were getting crowed. People blocked doorways so getting on and off in rush hour was a challenge. In late 1969, when I worked as a clerk in Morality at Toronto Police headquarters (it was on Jarvis Street then), I often ran into a couple of the detectives in Morality. One day, they decided to teach one of these door blockers a lesson. Mr. Door Blocker was the only one who wouldn’t move out of the doorway to let people in or out. He just stood smack in the middle of the doorway. So the two detectives decided to teach him a lesson. No, they didn’t arrest him. Instead when the three of us arrived at our stop – Sherbourne – they each grabbed one of the blocker’s arms and took him off the train. I followed and watched. The detectives held him there on the platform until the train’s doors closed and the train sped away. I stood there and laughed.
Fast forward to today and it is too complicated and not as gentle. Yes, we have more subway lines but not enough to get people to work and everywhere else without them being stuffed up against each other. Subway stations, particularly the ones to transfer to another line, are jam packed, particularly in rush hour or of there is some big event on in Toronto on weekends (read “every weekend”). Passengers have escalated the rudeness and inconsiderateness to high (low?) levels. They not only stand blocking doorways while absorbed in their digital devices, some of them think they are entertainers and swing from the poles or overhead racks where you hang on for dear life. There are blue seats for us seniors, those with disabilities (I qualify for both although the latter is somewhat invisible), and pregnant women. But in crowded subways who is sitting on some of these seats – young men and women too busy with their digital devices to see if there is someone else who needs to sit there. Not all are like that and I am grateful for those who have given up their seat for me and without me even asking But I’ve had a few words with those who don’t. And despite the TTC criteria for who can sit on those seats, if I see a parent and young kids sitting in the blue seats, I don’t say anything. I think they need to sit there too.
The infamous blue TTC seats not usually empty
There are also all the TTC subway renovations, signal problems, track problems, closures and bus drivers who can’t seem to stick to their schedule. But that’s for another post. I have stories here. Stay tuned.
Only Child Writes
The teenage Only Child with her late mother
My late mother was a stickler for honesty. Unlike Gibbs on the NCIS TV series, who had his 10 rules for living written in a small notebook, Mom’s 10 rules were in her head, perhaps some buried in her subconscious. She couldn’t tolerate lies.
Some of the stories spanning out from this, could get complicated, sometimes funny, and sometimes leaving me at a disadvantage some way – but at least I was doing the right thing.
One that comes to mind is when one of my classmates who I hung around with was messing up in marking math exercises. We were in grade three and the teacher had us pass our exercises to the person sitting in front of us for marking. My friend sat behind me so I got hers to mark. She had some questions wrong and I marked them with an X. When she got the exercise back she changed he X to a tic.
That really ticked me off. But I was too shy then to say anything to the teacher. So I told Mom.
Her solution was for mr to tell the teacher. Mom even offered a 25 cent reward if I did this. I sold my friend out for 25 cents. But, hey, I told the truth.
However, when Mom learned that this same friend and I were cutting through the laneway behind houses and shops to come home from school, she told me I couldn’t do this because it wasn’t safe. But I was more afraid of getting the ire of this friend again, so I followed her like the proverbial Pied Piper, through the alleyway. What the heck. Nothing looked bad. The most menacing thing we saw was a man unloading food from a truck for the IGA store.
When I returned home from school Mom asked, “Did you go through the alley?”
“No,” I replied. And didn’t feel good about it.
Not so with sneaking out the back and dangerous way over to the park the girl gang I hung around with played in. Mom had definitely said I couldn’t take the dangerous route. I was supposed to go the long and boring way along the street and cross the busy street intersection at the lights, then continue walking along the sidewalk to the park.
Nope. I followed the ringleader (my math marker cheating friend) and the others to the end of my street to the dead end street and over to the steep steps down to dangerous, curving and busy Don Mills Road. And this was in the late 1950s before the Don Valley Parkway was built nearby with a major exit from Don Mills Road just a bit north of where we landed on the road. There were no sidewalks there, but if we did continue further south, sidewalks were on the part of Don Mills Road close to the busy intersection. But the shorter back way into the park was before that on the other side of the road. So we waited for a small break in traffic and darted quickly across to the other side. We always made it there safely.
I never told Mom; but she never asked on this one.
Looking back, except for a few of these diversions I told the truth – or more often kept my mouth shut as I was shy.
Fast forward too many years to now in the 21st. century. Not a big truthful world. There are scams, frauds, lies, etc. etc. happening non-stop everywhere. You know who in the States is a master at this. It is hard to think that anyone is honest anymore.
However, I have met some honest people, people who do their best to tell the truth. Which is my policy now, with more complications. For one thing, I am no longer shy and I can be blunt and sarcastic when truthful. Sometimes words seem to come out of my mouth without my mind connecting first. This ties in with my sense of justice versus injustice and people being inconsiderate and doing the wrong thing, often making the situation unsafe. For example if I see someone acting badly, I often just chastise them…in public.
One of my biggest peeves is people who block the subway stairs just so they can stand there and muck around with their digital device. They stand at the top of the stairs. They stand at the bottom of the stairs; and they stand partway down (or up?) the stairs, oblivious of anyone going up or down the stairs.
So, there I come, senior citizen with bad feet and a bad left eye. I’m hanging onto the railing and carefully looking down at the steps and what is or isn’t ahead.
“You’re blocking the way,” I say to the person in front of me. Are his feet glued to the step?
He turns around and we get into a heated discussion.
“I’m a senior and I have to hang onto the railing and not have to go around anyone,” I say.
“There is another railing over there.” He points to the other side of the steps.
“Yes, but that is for people coming up the stairs to hang onto.”
And so it goes back and forth a bit. But he does move out of the way. (I can be persistent as well as honest and blunt). Afterwards I wonder what would happen to him or others who do the same in rush hour when people are zooming up and down the stairs and assume everyone else is doing the same. What if someone accidentally pushed against the digital device fanatic and the person fell? Seems like a hard lesson to learn for being stupid and inconsiderate.
So, I don’t feel bad about being honest telling these digital menaces off.
But I try to use another of my mom’s characteristics, one she may have had difficulty using – being diplomatic. You can’t always be bluntly honest. Sometimes using some diplomacy and tact can go a long way.
I am also working on going up to people I see doing some good and complimenting them. For example, when I was at the CNE in August, the young woman (probably a student doing a summer job) who was cleaning the Ladies Room was doing an excellent job and going about it quietly without getting in anybody’s way. When she was cleaning the sinks, I walked up to her.
“Excuse me,” I said.
She turned around and looked at me.
“You’re doing a good job,” I said. “I know it must be tiresome.”
“Thank you,” she said.
Honesty has many ways to present. Unfortunately so does dishonesty.
What do you think?
Only Child Writes
House front of my childhood home
Growing up an only child can often unleash a myriad of feelings. In me, the negative ones were fear, loneliness, and often being the victim of bullying. My late mother used to help combat this by setting up a restful situation which I now call “rebooting my life”.
I was still in grade school, around eight years old. On sunny summer mornings when no one was around to play with, Mom would set up the card table, a chair, my big box of crayons, my colouring books and me outside on the front veranda. I could colour to my heart’s content. But more so, I got the chance to look around at the green grass which my Dad (sometimes with my help) mowed with the push mower, at the shrubs and roses and at the quiet neighbourhood. Occasionally I heard a bird chirp. Seldom would a car whiz by on the street which I faced and never would a wasp dare to come near me – at least not that I remember. But once in a while someone, maybe a neighbour I knew or didn’t know, would walk by on the street below. We would give each other the friendly eye and smile.
Today I do my own version of Mom’s rebooting my life. When things get overly problematic and/or busy (which they have this summer) I go out into my garden. I may dig in and remove weeds, pick berries or collect vegetables, but often I sit outside to eat my meals at the patio table in the backyard. Sometimes I sit in the shade of my neighbour’s overhanging black walnut tree and look out at the garden or read. Sometime I take photos of my garden. And yes, I do sometimes sit out front on my veranda, but I don’t colour. The recent trend (probably now passe anyway) of adults colouring in adult colouring books never caught on with me. Could be because I am a professional writer and amateur photographer. You really wouldn’t want me drawing anyway. I can’t even draw a straight line – with a ruler.
View of today’s backyard garden from patio
Dusk view from my current front veranda
However, looking back at my childhood (I know – my age is showing), I realize Mom had cottoned onto a good idea. We all need to reboot from all the stuff in our lives.
Only Child’s home and garden for her health circa 2011
Do you reboot? If you reboot, how do you reboot?
Only Child Writes
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