Where You Are

I cannot see you where you are
Hidden far within your mind
Somewhere in the maze of
Tangled neurons and ganglions
Tip-toeing into vacant spaces
Where rational thought,
Speech and conscious movement
Used to be.

I cannot see you where you are
Tiny, pink upon a bed
I’ve seen in glimpses from
My daughter’s phone
A couple of thousand kilometres away
In a room well minded
By her grandsons
I’m not there but that’s okay
I know what we had.

I cannot see you where you are
Calling for momma, reaching out
Nearly one hundred years
To love gone by that never ends
And I am thankful that
Somewhere in there she still feels
Her mother’s love ‘cause
That’s what it all comes down to
Doesn’t it?

I cannot see you where you are
In my mind I reach out and
Hold your hand and say
I am with you always mom
Where ever you are
Where ever I am
The spirit knows no limits
The soul is never ending
The truth resides within our cells.

I cannot see you where you are
On this Thanksgiving Day
So I say:
You are always in my heart
Much as I am in yours
And for this I am forever
Thankful.

Even though
I cannot see you
Where you are.

(c) Catherine M. Harris, 7-Oct-2018

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My Life in Paintings

Here’s my 2018 CBC contest non-fiction entry – didn’t make the cut but here it is for you to read and decide for yourself whether it’s a worthy essay.  Enjoy 🙂


MY LIFE IN PAINTINGS

There’s a painting on an easel in my living room right now.  It’s half finished.  A little boy is splashing a skipping rope in puddles in our driveway and the splashes are flying up into the air.  I love the photo it comes from, and that young fellow is my son fifteen years ago.  I started the painting last fall for a contest then life got in the way.  It hurts to continue right now and that’s why the brush got put down.  My son is grown and living elsewhere.  I will finish it though, regardless of whether he’s around or not.  I am his mother after all, and nothing can diminish or erase the fact that I have a son I love beyond measure because I am his mother, no matter how old or distant he is.

 

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I have a painting in my spare room that is leaning on the wall, sitting on a shelf.  It’s big – 18×24 – and it’s a portrait of my mother.  It’s pretty much finished but it hasn’t got a frame.  Someday soon I plan to put a frame on it; it’s expensive so that purchase has fallen to the bottom of the list for years.  This painting I made for my mom at her request – she liked a photo that was taken of her while she was visiting a cousin in B.C.

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My mom loves to travel.  I was going to say loved but I won’t because she’s still with us.  She’s almost 99 and is in a nursing home, a small shadow of herself brightened by occasional glimmers of memory.  This painting though, she liked it except for one thing:  her chin is too long.  So here it is in my house, many years after she asked and long since forgotten.  She was right. Her chin is a little too long so I will fix that and frame it and put it on my wall.  It kind of makes me sad to work on it at the moment so I haven’t yet.  But I will.  I promise.  It’s also the last portrait I completed, mainly because I haven’t been asked again but also because I discovered it’s hard to make a portrait perfect enough to suit other people.

jen&kidspainting

 

 

 

 

I say this because when I was single I used to visit my young nephews (I had two then) fairly frequently and I took a lot of pictures at that time.  One photo I really liked was my sister in a chair with the baby in her arms and the oldest at her feet reaching up.  Kind of Madonna and Child if you will.  So I did an acrylic painting of that photo.  It took me a few months and then I had it framed in glass and wood.  At the time I thought I’d done a good job and gave it to her for Christmas.  She didn’t like how I made her legs look so that was that.  I have no idea what happened to it.  The thing is that’s probably the best portrait I’ve done and you know, it was a sweet moment in time.  I hope someday she comes across it and realizes that – if she still has it after several moves and all this time.

In my basement I have a painting that I call 26.  It is the only self-portrait I’ve done and I was newly married when I did that.  It’s me in a summer dress with a pattern I loved, sitting in a hanging swing in the gazebo of my ex-husband’s mother’s cottage in New Brunswick.  What’s not in the picture is the guitar on the floor – I had gone there for a bit of space and to play my guitar which I did a lot in those days.  I used to write songs and work out the chords for favourite tunes then I’d record them and give copies to people who wanted one which at the time was pretty much only my dad.

26

I appreciated the colour of the trees and the wood and my dress so for fun I put my 35mm camera on a beam and took a few timed exposures.  One photo stood out so I painted it.  This one I put on show in Mississauga once.  The only comment I got was “Why is this called 26?”

It lives in my basement because it’s big and it’s me and maybe if I had a larger house I’d find a wall to put it on but for right now it feels a little self-aggrandizing to hang it somewhere prominent.  Regardless, I like it.  I think I looked my best around that age.  It’s a nice reminder.

I had one painting come back to me.  This one doesn’t have people in it but it does have trees.  It’s quite large and it is of an entrance way to Apfeldoorn Het Loo castle at the end of a long archway of trees – the play of shadow and light and the arching branches were striking, and this is one photo I have from the time when my aunt took me on a National Art Centre trip to Holland and Belgium.  Auntie traveled often and this was the only time she took me on one of her trips.  She usually took my mother but for this one she knew I’d appreciate the outstanding artwork in the Netherlands. Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists. I was in my early 20’s and I had had a horrible year.

amsterdamcatpostcard

A dear friend died suddenly and a few months later I came down with walking pneumonia so between the two I was emotionally and physically knocked flat.  Auntie thought this would make me happy and she was also pleased that I was old enough to travel with her.  I gladly went and the trip was just what I needed; it was wonderful to spend all this time with her getting to know her in an environment experiencing something we both had in common:  a love of art.

When we came home I made her a photo album of our trip and for Christmas I gave her the framed painting of Apfeldoorn.  She proudly hung it over her bed – she collected original artwork and displayed it all over her apartment so for me that meant a lot that she liked it that much.  That painting stayed there for a few years but it was also at this time her health started declining and she only went on a few trips after the one with me.

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She died in 2000, and sometime after that I was given back the photo album and the painting with the mat still there but oddly, the outer frame is missing.  That’s okay, it still looks good.  It spent 10 years over the top of a stairway in my house in Arnprior, and now faces a door in my little bungalow in Fredericton.  It reminds me of a person who was important to me, and of a time of my life just before I got married.

Just as important though are the sketches of paintings not yet done.  One is a sketch I did of my daughter as a baby and I have to laugh because its very existence is much like an essay I started writing back then about life as a new mother: it ends mid-sentence after about three paragraphs.  I haven’t tried to finish it because you know what?  That’s what being a new mother is all about, this not enough time to do anything.

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I also have a sketch of Grammie-great.  I promised to paint it for my daughter someday because Grammie-great (her great-grandmother on her father’s side) simply adored her.   She died when my daughter was four and I think she’s her guardian angel. I will do this one soon, now that she is grown.

grammie-great_portrait_sketch

I’ve fallen behind in my paintings of people: my dad, my daughter, my spouse.  I’m just looking for the right moment in time and the right inspiration to come.  I may be old and white-haired by that time but hey, that’s what retirement is for isn’t it?  I think George Bush Senior would agree.

My latest printed photo album ends in 2004.  With the advent of digital cameras I now literally have nearly a decade and a half of thousands of images that if I don’t print them or something they will be lost in time.  I’m not alone in this certainly.  A painting can last forever though.  Why not put the really special moments on canvas in a way that maybe will long outlast me?  They might wind up in a dump somewhere, sure, but I hope when the day comes and I’m not here, that for at least one or two somebody will say: “Hey, I like this.  Let’s put it up on the wall.  Who did it?”

Carleton Park at Dusk

“Oh, it was Great-great-grandma.  Cool, eh?”

(c) Catherine M. Harris, 2018.  All rights reserved.

Dream about Corsica

This goes into disturbing dreams category, and I’m putting it here because the flash I had about Rob Ford and my flash I saw about the plane with the hole behind the door were both pretty prophetic so here’s this, in condensed version.

I was in a new place of business where I was somehow involved but don’t know how.  Anyway it covered several floors joined by a large wide white staircase.  I was in an upper floor and somebody asked where the owner kept something and we looked a bit for it, then I left and went downstairs.  There were people all down the stairway and they all seemed rather flustered.  I walked down several floors looking at these people and when I got to the main floor I asked a young woman who had tears in her eyes what was going on.  She said there had been a terrorist attack and a certain politician and a friend had been in a yacht in Corsica that had been destroyed and it didn’t look good.  She was angry that this politician had gone there, wondering what they were doing there.

I have written down the name of the politician in my personal notebook but I’m not putting it online, and I hope that is dream is not a literal one but a warning so I’ll leave it at that.  I’m hoping this is more of a warning that there’s an event related to Corsica that would metaphorically blow up this politician’s career.

Cathi’s Comments for May 13, 2018

It’s Mother’s Day today and it is also my own mother’s 99th birthday. It is wonderful that she has lived such a long and full life, but at the same time the fact that I haven’t had a conversation with her in four years hurts. She is still with us but her mind is elsewhere. She has dementia. She lives in a home in my old hometown, looked after by my sister and her family. My daughter visits when she can since she lives in the same province now but of course she has a busy life and I get to know how mom’s doing when she updates me. It’s all good but I do so much miss our long heartfelt conversations with her either by phone (which it usually was since I have spent more of my life away from the Ottawa area) or in person when we could. One of my happiest memories lately has been the weekend that she, my daughter and I spent in Pembroke enjoying each others’ company while my daughter was attending school there.

It’s so hard to see those you love and who have been a huge part of your life fade away. I saw that with her sister – my aunt – who suffered from a series of strokes. It was different with my dad who died of cancer, but again to see that force that was so present diminish is just so so painful. Any time you see a loved one pass in tiny steps it’s the mourning you start when it is obvious there is no coming back from this that wears on your heart. So forgive me a little if on this Mother’s Day I really just feel like crying.

I’ve been writing a novel for several years about a man who loses his mother to dementia. At the time I started writing it was more the reality of those I knew than as close to home as it is for me now though even then my mother wasn’t quite herself. It’s been a bit harder for me to continue on my novel (if you’re curious it is “Late Night Cleaners Club” at Tablo.io – you can read what I’ve written so far on there by searching the title) as there are days I just feel sad and don’t want to write about dementia and aging even if my novel is fiction. A little too close to home right now. I have been following Jann Arden’s Facebook and Twitter and my wonderful daughter bought me her book “Feeding My Mother” which I am enjoying in small doses and again, there are times I absorb myself in the subject and other times I just want it all to go away and let me pick up the phone and talk to my mom for hours again.

You never stop being your mother’s child, even if there are stormy waters under the bridge. I am fortunate that she may not have always liked what I did or the direction I was going but she was always there for me regardless. Not everyone is so fortunate and I hope my own children know that I am the same way. I may not always understand my childrens’ paths but I will always be there for them in some way, shape or form even if it is a late night “Mom you up?” text.

Right now though, this piece isn’t about me. It’s about my mom and how very much she has shaped who I am, in her own quiet way. So that’s the first point: you don’t need to be loud to get your point across. Just be smart and think about what you say. Which leads to the second point which was to let unkind words be like water off a duck’s back. Much easier said than done I’m afraid. I’m an Aries, I don’t bite my tongue well so this is something she always kept reminding me of. However, I had always told her that sometimes you do need to stand up for yourself, to not be taken advantage of and let people know when they are stepping on your toes. You can’t always let the water slide off the duck’s back if the water is mainly acid. Ah well.

My mom was the middle child of 4 children. She was born just after the end of the First World War during the great Flu epidemic. She is actually one of the very few people still alive who has antibodies to it. Can you imagine? Her parents and their immediate family all moved from Charlottetown PEI to Ottawa to start their careers. One thing I’ve discovered is that people who worked for the Federal Government at the time were invited to work. So my grandfather and his brother both got positions and later there was a great-aunt who became a Translator for the UN. They did well for themselves and lived good lives. My mother told me tales of having milk and butter delivered by a horse-drawn carriage; of iceboxes and ice delivered in big blocks from a truck; of coal delivered down a chute; of model A cars and flags that stood in for eventual turn signals; of Depression era men who would make marks on their fence telling others their house was a good place to stop for a bowl of soup. She grew up in the Depression and when the Second World War came around her older sister took her application form for the WRENs and joined while her father insisted she stay home. She worked at the Bank of Canada and got a degree. Her older sister and brother having gone to war, when it was over she was determined to see the world too so she joined External Affairs.

My mother’s travels to Ireland and Italy and Switzerland with External Affairs is a story in itself but it did lead to a later marriage to my father (she was in her early 40s when she had me). She got a Master’s in Library Science and worked in government as a librarian for many years and it was a period of time I remember. I spent many an after school reading ancient Warden’s Logs from the penitentiaries (I loved the ones from the 1880s and up to the turn of the century) as well as the magazines they had about policing. Later when I was working for the government myself we would go for lunch together, which was great. But while I was growing she travelled a lot in her job and I got to go with her many times. That was fantastic. So while there were times I wished we had a mom who stayed home like everybody else’s mom, who else did I know got to leave school and go spend a week in Springhill that included going a mile down an old coal mine and standing in absolute darkness? Or how about the lobster boils we always seemed to go to when we went to the East Coast? I loved our trips to Vancouver – we did this by train and by air. I loved those journeys so much I tried for a bit to move to BC when I first left home to no avail. Now I’m on the East coast and I love it here by the ocean. I just wish she had stayed healthy enough to come visit me after I moved.

Well, I could go on and on about my mom and some day I will. But for now I have to get ready for my own work trip to BC this week, and yes, as always I will think of her when I walk those streets again.

À la prochaine,

Cathi …..

Magical Mysterious Moe

An orange face peers out
From a hole in the wall
Where were you my boy?
Where did you go –
Oh there you are
Looking for mice between
Ceiling and floor in the
Basement closet and
Somehow you found a
Way up from the top shelf
Through a broken tile
How did you get in there
Anyway
My magical mysterious Moe.

Everyone’s a friend
Cranky visitor cat
Giant Black Lab
Timid Tall Bengal Cat
Strangers who come to the door
Bosses with wide shoulders to jump on
Kids selling cookies or
Asking for Hallowe’en candy
No problem there
He could sport a purple cape like
The best of them and wear it proudly
Our magical mysterious Moe.

He would sit on a sofa near the
Bottom of the skinny stairs
Yet at the end of my climb
There he would be
Laying comfortably at the top
I have no idea how he could do that
And yet he did
This magical mysterious Moe.

He could purr away any ill or pain
At 528 Hz and suitably kneaded
I could drift off knowing
I’d been at least healed at a
Soul level
By magical mysterious Moe.

So it doesn’t surprize me
That on a long Easter weekend
When vets offices were closed
And snowbanks were blocking
A favorite catnip spot in the garden
He spent it close by me in the living room
Beside a fire warm and comfortable
He seemed to feel fairly well on my birthday
Then slipped away in the first clap of thunder
Of 2018 when nobody was looking the next day

And

I know someday soon these tears will
Turn back to smiles for our
Big marmalade mischievous man
But forgive me if
I just can’t get over
The suddenness just yet –

You Magical Mysterious Moe.

 

(c) Catherine M. Harris – April 2018

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

This short story was written for the 2018 CBC Short Story Contest.  It didn’t make the long list so here it is and it will be added to the short story collection I’ll be putting out eventually (but is on Tablo if anyone is interested in reading my other short stories in one place).

Big disclaimer here:  As always, fiction is fiction.  There’s a couple of similarities to my life in this one however I want to make it very clear that this is in no way a portrait of  my ex or my own mother.  She is a wonderful person who has been very much present and supportive of me all of my life and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her quiet understanding.  I got very lucky that way.

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In a little corner of nowhere I lay my head. Some might think of this as paradise; hell, maybe even I do sort of. It really is a run-down falling apart cabin on a small lake far from anybody else if you call about 2 ½ acres far, that is. It doesn’t matter. It’s peaceful. That’s what counts.

It used to belong to my mother. Before that, it belonged to my father. Before that, his father because my grandfather bought these five acres when it was just a bunch of trees and grass and hills and a rocky shoreline on a lake. He liked to fish I understand. I never met my mother’s father. He died long before I was born.

I kind of wished I was like other kids growing up, you know, those kids whose grandparents were permanent fixtures in their lives. Built in babysitters and step in parents and keepers of candy and fun places to stay in the summer. It seemed like all my friends had these people. I didn’t find out until my other grandfather was dying that he was even alive. I never met my grandmothers because they had both died before I was born. My parents were orphans, or at least one of them was. The other suffered from the family curse of somebody cutting the other one out. Or not living up to expectations or some other shit like that.

So here I am. Pushing 60, living in a cabin heated by a woodstove that I just put in because the old one could have caused the cabin to go up in flames. This one is supposed to be miserly with the wood and burn it completely. That’s good because I need to figure out how to cut down trees, split them and dry it if I plan to stay here. Maybe I should get someone to do that, I don’t know. I can’t think right now.

All I know is that I have got to get this place cleaned up and patched up where it needs to be. I have things to do too. The deed is signed over to me that happened at the lawyer’s office for a small fee, but I have to switch over the electricity. So much depends on electricity that I’m considering – no planning – solar panels. It’s the backup heat, the pump for the water, the microwave and stove and fridge. Think I’ll get a generator. Thing is, I’m so remote here that if the power gets knocked out it could be weeks or even months before they reconnect it. I’m an hour away from civilization but you know if I were hurt or freezing or starving or something that I might as well be a hundred hours away. This is what I want – no, need – right now though.

When I last saw my mom she was a tiny curled up comma in bed. Long past words or knowing, just existing. It’s been twenty something years since I last saw her. Back then she was in her seventies but still vibrant and living on her own. She called me out of the blue saying, “Isn’t it time we talked? It’s been so long.”

I went, she poured tea which I took plain though she remembered I used to take it with milk and sugar. She had little cubes of sugar in a bowl with those silver claw tongs that belonged to some great aunt that went untouched. We talked about the weather and my brother and sister and their kids and spouses and I knew she knew all about me even though we hadn’t talked because they’d told her and she didn’t bring up my ex-husband or the fact he’d long since remarried or the fact that she cut me out of her life instead of him when we split up, but hey. Water under the bridge, right?

So she just nattered on about the grandkids and I smiled and sipped my tea and after an hour or so I said I had to go and it was nice seeing her again. After that I planned to not answer her phone calls but I didn’t have to worry about that. She never called.

She died last month, not long after I visited her in the hospital. I went because my brother – the sibling who still sort of regularly talks to me – told me to get my ass home and go visit because she wasn’t long for this world. So I went and in my mind I had a long list of things I wanted to say to her when we had a few minutes alone so I could maybe make some amends or at least explain my side ‘cause I’d been told that people can still hear when the body is breaking down.

That never happened because my siblings made sure there was always a niece or nephew with me in the room when I visited. I don’t know what they thought I would do to her if I were left alone and I didn’t ask. I’m used to that. I’m almost afraid to know what they really think of me based on what’s been said of me. I wish someone would have taken the time to ask me the truth of my life but they haven’t, so here we are. I long ago gave up telling my truth; they weren’t listening, what they’d decided was my life was all they wanted to know.

I found out I had a living grandfather when somebody came to tell my dad his dad was dying. I thought, what? Why did we not know about this person? My mom never told me. I do remember meeting grandfather and thinking, wow, he looks just like my dad, just like me. So when my dad left my mom a few years later for a younger woman my mom told us he was dead to her and if we loved her, he’d be dead to us too. I thought, why? He’s our dad.

My sister defended mom fiercely, my brother though somewhat angry he was more open minded. He wouldn’t visit dad’s house, but he would have coffee with him and call him once in a while. Me, I couldn’t cut him out like he never existed. He was my dad. So I stuck with him and you know what? His new wife wasn’t so bad. I liked her anyway.

Family rifts are evil things. At my wedding I was told if I invited him the rest of the family would go if the new wife wasn’t there, even though at this point my parents had been split up for 15 years. I said no, so my dad was there and my brother but that was it.

In an effort to make it up to me, my mom treated my husband like he was another son and he could do no wrong in her eyes. Not when he drank away the rent money, not when he “accidently” head butted me during an argument. Not when he disappeared for days at a time. Not when he pretended nothing happened when I had that miscarriage and wouldn’t go away with me for a week or so when I asked him to so I could swim in the ocean and heal my soul. Not when I told him to get out after he slept with a coworker. My mom asked what I did to cause that.

Somehow everything that happened in my life was my fault. The ex though, he was always wonderful in her eyes. Holier than the Pope, she thought I should have had a bunch of children and shouldn’t be working. I did have children but they didn’t go to church so I was a bad mother. Then she orchestrated trying to have my children be raised by my sister so they could be raised in the church.

Of course later having a boyfriend didn’t help me either; rather than being happy for me she interrogated the kids looking for signs of sexual abuse that didn’t exist. She wouldn’t accept that he, and I, were actually pretty good people. When he died, she never said a word and one of the three people in this world who actually knew me and cared was gone. That’s why I went to see her for that long ago tea party.

I know why she left me this cottage. She didn’t like it ever. It was too much work. The beach was too rocky. The water too cold. Fish nibbled at the air bubbles on her toes and I remember her screaming at that. It was too far away. So for thirty years it’s only been used off and on.

I know why my dad left it to her. She said it was because he forgot to change his will but I know that isn’t true. He left it to her because he knew she hated it, and she would have to pay the taxes. Just maybe he knew that someday it would go to me. I don’t mind the taxes. It’s a small price for my little piece of the world.

Someone once said I should write mom a letter, read it out loud when no one is around then take that letter and burn it. That was the first fire I burned in the fireplace. It was twenty pages long. The second was to my ex-husband, the third to my sister. The fourth, a one pager, was to my brother. Then I swam in the cool clear water and laughed at the minnow tickling my heel. My dinner tonight was a trout I caught earlier that I fried in a pan.

Life is good. I have a plan, a place to fix up, a pen and some paper. Tonight I start my novel as the sun melts its way into the copper and gold water. I sip my wine and think that maybe someday they’ll want to understand my side of the story and realize that maybe I did my best. But if not, that’s fine too. I know what’s in my heart and my thoughts.

I lift my glass and say, “Thanks mom and dad for this gift that you gave me. I’ll appreciate it more than you will ever know.”

I start writing: “Now I lay me down to sleep,” the little girl whispers into her pillow.

I’m free.

(c) 2018 Catherine M. Harris.  All rights reserved.

The Ashes

Thinking of lives in containers
Of souls trapped in bodies
And dreams left undreamt
When I hold these
Cold boxes
Plastic doesn’t suit you
You never were that.

I have your ashes
Caught in two containers
Cloaked in black velvet
Waiting.

Someday I will
Take you to the place
Where I was born
Far away Europe
Far away spirit
And I will see
With grown up eyes
The place where I
Breathed my first breath
Here I will leave
Half of your ashes.

Someday I will discover
Rome in Italy where
You sang in the streets
Young and carefree
You fell in love
And left a piece
Of your soul
Here I will leave
The last piece
Of you.

If ever I go
If ever I go
If ever I go

Across the oceans
That rest at my feet
And land on your shores
That far away
Some day
Dream.

(c) Catherine M. Harris, 17-Mar-2018.
To dad.