April 9, 2020

I’m writing this today from my locked down silent life that I and pretty much everyone else in the world is doing right now.  It’s the Easter long weekend starting tomorrow and I am fortunate enough to have a turkey breast roll in the freezer and all the food we need for the time being.  I work from my kitchen table and while there are some limitations in the bandwidth on the VPN, so far my colleagues and I are getting by.  I am one of the fortunate ones – I know this, though if things take a turn for the worse here in Canada I am also very much aware that I could just as easily join the many thousands no longer working.  I’m needed for now but not essential.

I’ve resisted the temptation to post a tribute to my parents today. The first anniversary of my mom’s passing was on the 5th and the twenty-fifth of my dad’s is today.  I have several essays on both of them here so I thought that I’ll  do quiet appreciation for them in my own way tonight.

It’s been a while since I last posted anything and that’s okay.  I’ve been working in the shadows on an essay that I sent in for the CBC Creative Non-Fiction contest, on myself and am trying to heal after what has been a brutal 2019.  A huge part of me wished I could just go away for a while so that I could heal my broken heart and soul and find myself again.  Fate has taken an ironic turn though, and I actually have gotten what I thought I needed all this last year: the time to reflect and to step back a bit from life to do that.

We are living in dangerous times and for many it is really hard to understand what the big deal is.  What the point is.  “Aren’t we overreacting?” They say.  It’s going to be somebody else.  It’s not fair.  It doesn’t make sense.  It’s half a world away.  It’s just a cold.  It’s only the flu.  It’s …[place your favourite saying here]… It can’t happen to my family.  The thing is, it can happen.

My mom was born in 1919.  She came into the world on heels of the end of the Great War, the War to End All Wars that didn’t.  The Spanish flu had claimed thousands of young peoples’ lives among others, this at a time when so many Canadians had died fighting for King and Country.  She was born at a time of ice boxes and model Ts and crystal radio sets.  She was a child in the roaring twenties and then the stock market crashed and the Great Depression set in.  As a young woman she saw many friends and relatives go off to war in WWII and some never came back.  She was around for the inventions of penicillin, insulin, vaccines, plastic, television, talking movies and technicolor, ball point pens, computers, cell phones, travel to outer space…the list goes on.

My mom always was concerned with the fragility of life.  It seemed a little silly to me but as someone who has had relatives die and lie in state in her drawing room, who had a childhood friend die of blood poisoning from an infected cut (“never wear red!”, she warned me – she thought the red dye in her friend’s clothes had poisoned her), who lived through so much on a grand scale that I did listen to her. I was always quick to point out how much things had changed but the reality is people die in unexpected ways no matter how advanced the world is.

I thought for the longest time that the evolution of society had fixed so many things and she – rightly so it turns out – was always just a little skeptical. She appreciated these advances even if some of them like computers and VCRs scared her just a bit.  To be honest I think what scared her most was the change in society’s mores and our lifting of the veil on so many hush-hush topics.  That subject is for another essay though.

Today I’m focused on how much we’ve taken for granted.  This is a lesson that was hammered home to me in 2019 when I realized that you can’t count on people to put aside their differences in hard times and that the senior officer position I tried so long and so hard for that I finally got in 2006 would get taken away with the stroke of a pen 13 years and 1000 kilometres later.  I was faced with the certainty that nothing is forever and that there may not be that open door waiting for me when a door closes.  I’ve always liked to think there was one.  What I did learn is you can’t hope that people will be kind or considerate when you think they will be and that makes me terribly sad.  I’ve always liked to believe in that there is a better day coming, and deep down inside everyone has a heart.  Maybe not.

With 2020 there is the knowing that sometimes you need to look at the past for lessons and use those lessons to look ahead.  What’s happening now in peoples’ attitudes is a little like Y2K when there was the big “oh my God everything’s going to fail” worry and the relief of the “I told you so”s when the world didn’t end.

The thing is,  I worked in assets in the late 90’s and we spent a good couple of years identifying all the possible equipment big and small that had software that potentially could crash and either had the software upgraded or replaced them.  It was an exercise carried out worldwide and of course the critical equipment was upgraded first.  That’s why the Y2K crisis wasn’t:  not that it didn’t exist, just that you couldn’t see it.  Most of it was fixed before it became a problem.  Which is what should have happened here but it’s a bit trickier with viruses.

I was in the Toronto area in the SARs era and it was kind of scary.  Driving by the hospital you could smell the hand sanitizer from the street.  On the doors there was a sign saying “If you are sick don’t enter” which I though was particularly funny given that this was a hospital.  But I knew what it meant, which was sick visitors.  Still it gave me a laugh every time.  SARs didn’t become the big deal that it could have but what we are dealing with now is a cousin and it is a big deal.

I grew up very much aware of the 1918 pandemic thanks to my mom and her family.  They had stories of people who suffered and died.  Their reality has shades of what could happen now.  And that’s the thing:  it hasn’t become that – YET – but it could if we don’t take the lessons learned from that and other pandemics.  Even the black death and the doctors who wore those crazy bird noses realized distance and a mask can help, even though that was caused by poor sanitation and rats.  Keeping people inside isn’t new, they knew even then that keeping people apart from one another helped.  In the early part of the 20th century there was a typhoid epidemic that killed hundreds and it, like the recurring yellow fever epidemics from the previous centuries were eventually stopped by better sanitation and vaccines.  And so it will be now if we make the effort not to spread it.

I’ll stop proselytizing now.  I’m beyond up to the eyeballs with corona virus information.  I’ve taken to not watching television news much and just catching the headlines, watching when there’s something important I want to see about.

Some things that I am appreciating is that like it or not, things are changing.  Right now, the Earth is taking a deep breath.  The skies are clearing, water is going from dirty to clean, people are having this time with their families and getting back to basics.  We’ve proven that teleworking is a functional way to work and save time and money. Children are being home schooled, people are taking up or getting back to hobbies they may have put aside years ago, instead of shopping we’re baking and cooking from scratch and contemplating victory gardens.  Dogs are getting walked and for pets, this is the greatest time ever! Time alone means time to think.  Time to read, to catch up on things you’ve put aside, to step out of the rat race for a while.  I wonder whether we will be as anxious to be living non-stop lives again when the world reboots itself, and it’s important to remember that it will.  After the black death that killed half of Europe’s population there came the Renaissance, a flourishing of art and culture and learning.  I wonder what kind of renaissance – and I hope there is one – will we see?  I just wish that people actually start to show compassion for one another, that’s my dream.

What do you want to see at the end of this?  How do you think we will grow?

 

2010-2019: A Look Back, and a Look Forward

2019 was a very difficult year for me but it certainly hasn’t been the first bad year this decade. The previous one was 2012 which led to me think about two things: one, that 7 year cycles are a thing, and two, that it would be good for me to see just how far we’ve come in the last ten years. Overall, things are looking up.

In 2010 we were living in Arnprior; son was busy with Air Cadets (somebody remind me to contact the Air Cadets here to return his boots and uniform if they want them) and band, daughter having moved to Ottawa with her dad at the end of 2008 was dating the fellow who would become her husband and started university at the Ottawa U nursing program in Pembroke at the Algonquin College campus and was in her very first apartment. Jim and I appeared as animators in The Prince and The Prior. That was a good year!

I was working on a long term assignment that I loved doing which was being the Procurement Module Team Lead for our Oracle Upgrade project. Jim was working for Cogeco where I was volunteering and we were both doing a second job as a night cleaner team. Think whatever you like about cleaners, I actually enjoyed doing that because first, it was exercise, and second, cleaners are some of the invisible people. It was nice spending a couple of hours a day walking and blending in with the wallpaper. I was also working on a university degree that sadly I wound up not continuing because of the money crisis that happened and my while my mom had helped a little, somebody told her that Athabasca University (an accredited university in Canada) was one of those correspondence schools that you see on the back of magazines so I was on my own with all university expenses after that.

I would stay on that project until 2012 and daughter would move to London to attend Western University with her sweetheart; her dad stayed in our house until 2011 when he moved back to New Brunswick to help with his mom who had developed a form of dementia following a heart attack. 2011 then was kind of a turning point year that led to the havoc that 2012 was, part of it being that management changed at my work and the project I was on was winding up in early 2012 so I took a chance and volunteered to work at a new Department that was being created. I was accepted and was expected to start work in the Fall of 2012 working in assets again.

2012 was one big black hole of a year where I was left scrambling trying to cope with some serious situations; it wasn’t just me either but in my case my choice to volunteer was a bad one because they didn’t honour what they promised and then made me a pawn in a management spat between two Departments and clawed back pay to the point that I was on the verge of bankruptcy. I went from being an expert and appreciated to being a number and treated terribly.

It was also a year that son was offered a chance at a fresh start and stayed in New Brunswick that year. I had applied to two jobs in the Maritimes, one of which they had checked the references and then the axes fell. Job was cancelled; I contacted one place I had heard needed people of my category in Fredericton – they wouldn’t consider a transfer so I had to apply when the job posters came out. Apply I did. I also went to financial help because a few months with only enough to pay the mortgage sent everything else spiralling into pay-up-or-else. I was told I had too much equity in my house, I had to sell that before considering any other options. I decided that if I had to sell the house, I’d move to Fredericton. At the same time I realized I could do early retirement and amazingly there was an opportunity to alternate with someone who was being laid off. That would solve the money problem at least a little. Alternate I did. At the end of the year I was still waiting for payment but I did do a job interview for two jobs in Fredericton though I told them I had already left. Still, I could come back. So 2012 ended in relief and a whole lot of what to do next in front of me.

2013 I was offered one of the two jobs and the other I was put in the pool for language reasons; I told them I couldn’t start because the offer came at the same time as my money finally and I would have had to pay back more than I was given (gross versus net). At the same time I was trying to figure out how to sell the house and get to Fredericton on my own – I spend the months thinking about that but never could figure it out, everything needed money upfront which I didn’t really have, not in that amount. I eventually accepted the job offer after turning it down twice. So back to work I was in June, and we were on our way to Fredericton. The house sold, some of the bills got paid and we all got a fresh start. Or it was for a bit anyway. All told, accepting that job I wound up paying $47k, $11k of which I still don’t know how I’m going to pay but I’m going to have to. Lesson learned – next time I leave (this was the second time) is the last. Jim retired in the sense that he couldn’t find a job until a short term one in 2018. But that was okay.

2014 was a fun year – daughter and fiance lived in the same city as me that year and things all in all were pretty good. 2015 was a time of a couple of goodbyes, of discovering how it felt like to be blatantly discriminated against (it made me feel old); me painting a new painting that I donated to The Ville and I did a bit of work on my publishing.

2016 was a sad and happy year all at once. Jim’s mother passed away, mine nearly did and remained in care after that, but daughter got married and that was a wonderful day indeed.

2017 was the year the clawing back had me living on 35% of my salary – this lasted until well into 2018. 2017 was also the year the childrens’ paternal grandmother passed away suddenly. All in all there wasn’t much going on in 2018 except that Jim worked for a little bit for the Museum here which was interesting. We also did a bit of night cleaning for the Museum which helped at a time I really needed it, and again, there’s something honest about being a cleaner – it just is what it is and no more. A little less stress than my regular job I must say. Anyway it was welcome extra money. With his job at the Museum we also got to attend a few functions and meet some new people – something that was nice to do. 2018, sadly was also the year we lost the last and most charismatic of our cats and our big-hearted big black lab.

Oh 2019. My mom passed away, I spent a couple of weeks out west, but mostly laid low wondering about life and what to do next. I don’t know where I’m going but I do know something has to change. So that’s where I’m at.

Looking forward I don’t know. I hope I’ll be able to retire comfortably but that will take paying off the remaining bills and that $11k and putting aside a couple of years’ worth of money to live off of. At this point, I’m beginning to think I may still be working 10 years from now which makes me sad so I won’t think of that. I do plan to finish a painting I stopped when the depression hit me so hard I couldn’t do what I love anymore and to paint the several I plan to; add to that the books I haven’t finished and started but I plan to. I also want to make 2020 the year I find myself again. Maybe I’ll have enough to take another course in anything again? This coming decade will the beginning of the next phase of my life and I look forward to that. So you see, things are looking up.

À la prochaine,

Cathi

 

 

 

2019: One Long Dark Night of the Soul

I’ve been grappling with what to say for my year end message, even considered not publishing one.  It feels a lot like I’m both under the spotlight and totally ignored which is a little weird.  There’s also a whole lot I’d like to say but really shouldn’t.  Someday those things will show up in a novel or short story or two – I’m leaning towards horror stories for this year!  I have a conundrum because there really are things I have to leave out and I will eventually speak my truth, just not today.  If you know me you know I always do eventually let my truth be known.

Why is letting your truth be known important anyway?  Does anyone care?  Honestly I don’t know.  But I do know there are some things that I have learned this year that deserve to be said.  That’s all.

In general, it’s been a year of loss, of coming to grips with peoples’ perceptions of me, of really looking at my own perceptions of myself, of diminution and starting a long road of what I hope will eventually be a healing of mind and soul.  I can honestly say I never thought I’d be where I’m at right now and it’s a little disturbing.  Perhaps when some time has passed maybe I’ll feel better about this year but that remains to be seen.

When 2019 started, I was missing the companionship of my wonderful dog who died a little unexpectedly.  I say a little because he was old and somewhat infirm.  We knew he was going to go but it happened sooner than I thought was all.  I do wonder if had I been able to afford the ACL surgery if his health would have been better.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that for now, I don’t want anymore animals I can’t afford to fix, and don’t ever want to have to wonder whether I should take an animal to the vet when they may not make it or have enough for cremation like I did with our wonderful orange cat. He died before I had to make that a firm choice.  Still, it isn’t right.  I know there’s pet insurance but like a lot of insurance having to pay first and hope the claim is honoured won’t help if you don’t have it to begin with.  So no more menagerie for now, maybe ever.  I just can’t face those kind of decisions again, at least not for the foreseeable future.

If this year were a tarot card it would be the six of swords – the dark night of the soul.  Not to be maudlin but it is how I feel. One good thing about this year is I got off the waiting list to see a therapist before my mother died.  Fortuitous timing.  Having a listening ear that you don’t need to filter or weigh your words is a good thing, especially if people get offended easily by your thoughts.  I recommend it if you can afford such a thing – I’m lucky that I have insurance that pays quickly and I’m in a place now that once or twice a month I can put aside the amount needed to pay up front.  The year before I wasn’t able to say that, so that’s another good thing.

In February I was told my mom was in hospital and back out but the next time would be the last.  Being far away (I assume is the reason since I was her daughter who she loved), I wasn’t on the list of family so it meant getting news second hand most of the time.  Not sure what to do and not having enough money yet to travel on my own accord I stayed put though it would have been nice to see her one last time and say what was in my heart. I didn’t feel a burning need to though because we were always on good terms so I really didn’t have much more to say.

In April I got an email saying she was in the hospital and wouldn’t be leaving.  The next day I got an email saying she had died that morning.  She had been in the hospital for three days at that point, but I didn’t know.  I missed being there when she passed. I wasn’t invited.  If I knew what hospital she was in I suppose I could have gone but I didn’t.  So there we have it.  I felt like I was somewhat less of a daughter and I don’t know if leaving me out was intentional or not.  Doesn’t matter though because there is no going back.  What has bothered me about that is that for my dad he wanted me to go see him the weekend he died, I said sure and then I was to told to call him back and tell him we’d come the next weekend so I wasn’t there when he died – not my choice.  This time I had no choice.  Me, the daughter not deserving.  That’s how it feels anyway.

The nearly two months between the death and funeral could have gone one of two ways – coming together in love as family putting aside differences, or magnifying differences.  It was the latter.  Just before the funeral I got an email telling me to sell my GICs (I’ve never had one) and the piano because my children were grown now (I play the piano – badly, but I do) and be there.  My ex and my son were also expected but not welcome was my common-law spouse of 17 years.  I wrote a long letter back that got filtered through people and was never read by its intended recipient.  I think I can safely say they will never read it.  All I was doing was clearing my name from misconceptions about me.  The truth is not welcome. The bright shining light in all this was my daughter and her husband, who went above and beyond and then some in all of this.  I will always be grateful for the help at this time because I know my daughter was hurting too – she lost her grandmother.

The obituary came out and I was in it with my former married name – something I haven’t used in 18 years and I legally can’t anymore. No one who knew me in my home town knew my mother was dead because the obituary had the name I went with when I lived in the GTA and that isn’t where it was posted.  They also didn’t allow public posts on the obituary. I don’t know if there were any kind words posted at all. 

I am not entitled to my own name.  My identity is not my own apparently.  My ex wasn’t impressed either being put beside me as my husband.  I’ve been together with my current spouse 4 years longer than with him but my current is vilified which means I’m also not allowed to decide who my spouse is.   I felt like I was living in the dark ages with all of that, honestly.  When did I lose my right to decide what my name is and who my spouse is?  You see – there is a horror story in here somewhere.  Someday I’ll write it but for now I’m just trying to figure out how this can be considered acceptable.

Shortly after that I wound up on an interesting assignment that lead me to spending a little more than two weeks in Vancouver and Lillooet.  A welcome break from my life with my work, at a time where I got to swim in the ocean and just have some quiet time by myself.  I attended the Vancouver Pride Parade that went outside my hotel.  It was an experience for sure, that trip.  I also wound up swimming in both the Atlantic and the Pacific that summer.

In the Fall there was a work restructuring that kind of wound up being a demotion for me.  That’s all I should say, but I will say I’m now in 5 different job pools and just recently applied for another.  It’s one that has as a minimum my now lapsed language level but coincidentally I need to now prove that at my current place so what was going to be a quiet end of year is being spent refreshing my knowledge of French grammar.  It is what it is.

Going forward I need to stop looking back.  There’s too much I can’t change, and it is hard to realize that no matter how hard I try there are people who will never accept me.  I have to look forward now because there is no going back.  So in short, I don’t know where I’ll be this time next year.  I like Fredericton but I don’t think Fredericton likes me.  Six years is a long time to feel like I’m “less than” and to lose so much:  my mother, all my animals, my jeep, a couple of friends, a couple of mothers-in-law, alive people who were close who aren’t now, my seniority at work.  To that end those 6 job applications are not for here.  I don’t think they are going to come to anything but if they do, it will be somewhere else in Canada. Chances are this time next year I’ll be right where I’m at now, older and hopefully wiser.

My goal for this year is to bring light back into my life.  To lift the sadness and depression and start shining my light back into the world again with my words and my artwork.  I miss being me.  And that’s enough of the navel gazing.

For the world all I can say is we must stop this trend of needing to be right at all costs, of wilful disregard of facts, of divisiveness and attacking people verbally when there’s a disagreement.  Having an opinion doesn’t mean you’re right, it means you have an opinion.  There also needs to be an end to the resurgence of racism, of ignoring human rights in favour of dogma be it secular or crouched in religion, of putting political parties above all else including the law.

This year we need to see kindness.  We need to see a laying down of swords. We need to see the return of empathy, of understanding, of listening, of caring.  Most of all, like always, we need compassion.

À la prochaine,

Cathi

Memorial for Mom

Freda B. Harris 13-May-1919 to 5-Apr-2019. Mom.

Mom, what a long and wonderful life she lived.  99 years, nearly 100.  Can you imagine?  She was a fair bit older than her contemporaries when she got married and had children and while it was challenging she did the best she could and I am so grateful for that.  We were unconventional but I wouldn’t trade that for anything because what I learned from this was priceless.  I had the great good fortune to be raised with two very strong and accomplished women in my life:  my mother and my aunt Lorna.  Both of them challenged what society’s determination of what a woman should be and did so with grace. 

My mother was born in 1919, just after World War I ended and during the time of the Great Flu pandemic – she was one of the few people alive who probably had immunity to that.  She told me stories of the time when telephones were party lines, the milk came by horse wagon in glass bottles with cream on the top, of ice boxes cooled by blocks of ice cut from the Ottawa River, of the Great Depression and the weird symbols that vagrants carved on their fence posts letting others know they had a pot of soup on the stove to share.  Listening to her gave me a fondness of the past and of learning about genealogy I carry to this day.  Life was precarious growing up in the time before penicillin and vaccinations and she came of age sandwiched between two world wars.  To grow up in that time was an era of loss and life and death was much more a reality for them than it is today.  She remembered family members lying in state in the living room of their house. 

When WWII started my uncle went to war and my aunt joined the WRENS while my mom stayed home and worked for the Bank of Canada while getting her BA.  She later got a Master’s in Library Science from the University of Toronto. 

When the war ended this was my mom’s time to see the world so she joined External Affairs and was posted to Dublin.  One of mom’s memories was watching Queen Elizabeth’s coronation on t.v. which was one of the first big events that was televised.  She was posted to Rome where she met my dad. 

My mom was a career woman.  She was the main breadwinner and she had a solid career which was remarkable for that time – I honestly can say she must have faced huge hurdles – it’s still a difficult slog for a woman in the civil service and I can’t imagine how it would have been for her when discrimination was allowed to be blatant as it was in the 60s and 70s.  Add to that that most women weren’t career women with families and she had the challenge of child care in a much less friendly environment. 

When she was the Chief Librarian for the Department of the Solicitor General I would do my homework in the library; because she travelled a lot she would often take one of us with her.  She went to many conferences which is when we usually went but she also inspected libraries in the Federal Penitentiaries across Canada.  One of her favorite stories (and mine) was the time she got snowed in at Dorchester Penitentiary – a men’s maximum security prison. 

For me, growing up with these trips and with all my parents’ friends visiting who were still in External Affairs made me think for the longest time that what you did when you grew up was get a job where you travel and live in exotic places.  I haven’t had the pleasure of that but I am lucky enough to have had a couple of jobs where I got to see Canada.  I think this travel bug is genetic; my daughter so far is busy visiting amazing places with her husband, and who knows what my son decides to come up with.

So you see, my mom essentially packed two lives into one; a full career as a single woman then the married career mother.  She was inclusive and she would do things with my sister and I that suited each of us and for me that meant swimming and being in the choir which was the only way she could get me to go to church – we both loved music and singing so there we had it.

One of the reasons my mom was so determined to make us a part of what she did was because her own mother had died at age 60 and our other grandmother at age 50.  That she was 42 when she had me, she wasn’t sure that she would live to see us grow up.  This weighed on her mind.  Every day beyond that accomplishment was icing on the cake for her and she was thrilled to become a grandmother – not just once but 6 times and to live long enough to see them grow up. 

My mom was a sweet, kind, considerate and thoughtful person who loved people unconditionally and who always tried to see people in their best light.  On the surface she portrayed herself as a gentle soul but inside she did have a band of steel to be able to live her life according to her truth which in many senses was very contrary to the way of life in her time.  She didn’t kowtow to convention, she did what was right for her. She was understanding that people need to follow their own hearts even if it isn’t what is expected of them.  I really appreciated that consideration. 

When I moved out on my own we would visit each other; she loved going to lunch with me when were both working downtown; we would spend evenings chatting and later when I moved to Mississauga we would spend hours on the phone chatting, something that we continued to do right up until 4 years ago.  I loved our long conversations – it was our safe space to talk about life.  When I learned that I could no longer call her, to me that was the first of the long heartbreaking goodbye. 

I will never forget the relationship we had and I am very grateful that I had a mother I knew loved me whether or not she agreed with my decisions.  She was the truest example of unconditional love and I am a stronger person because of that.

I learned a lot from my parents.  They were both good at relating to people and not being overly judgmental.  My mom was a wonderful force with the most beautiful light and I am so blessed to be able to say I am her daughter.  I couldn’t have asked for a better mom.

Cathi.

Easter 2019

Easter is a time of the ending of winter and the regrowth of spring. If you are Christian it is a time of rebirth, of triumph in the face of death. The long cold has succumbed to the warmth of the sun and the rain washes away all the dirt and detritus that has come before and to start fresh.

We put away the somber colours, open the windows and let out the stale air – we clean the house from top to bottom and put away the heavy outerwear. Soon the air will smell of fresh grass and leaves and the heady brief scent of lilac, my favorite flower.

I think about my past at celebrations such as these. Easter was one of the fun church events – my favorite was Good Friday where the church was draped in purple and we had the candlelight service, incense being swung down the aisle.

I grew up in what my mom called a mixed marriage – she was high Anglican, my dad Catholic. We attended both churches but were mainly Anglican back then.

I left church many years ago and I’m not really religious in the traditional sense: I liked being in the choir and the music but even as a child I had trouble with being asked to suspend my free will to abide by rules that seemed remarkably unfair to women.

I live my spiritual life quietly and in my own way. I’m fortunate that my parents raised me in both their different styles but each one loved me enough to know that the right path for me was the one that I chose to live, the one they hoped would make me happy. There’s been some pretty deep dips in my life for sure, however I am happy that I did have the strength of will and the resolve to live my life the way I thought best – not just for myself but for my own little circle such as it is.

I am grateful that my father and I were so close for so many years until he passed in 1995. So while times like Easter remind me of what I no longer have it also brings back flashes of when I was small wearing fancy Easter dresses with white gloves and wide brimmed hats that blew off in the wind; later, of he and I singing together after the dinner he’d cooked – usually ham and pineapple – and sipping a glass of wine.

My mom’s relationship to me was more subtle because my path led me to be autonomous and that meant working full time while raising children, living 3 other places with demands of life that meant trips for work and staying at her place or going out for dinner, long telephone conversations and letters and cards sent by mail.

My long good bye for her came about four years ago when it was not possible to talk on the phone anymore and letters could no longer be written or read by her. So I treasure with all my heart a letter she wrote to me for Valentines Day 2014 where she told me how proud she was of me. I’ve photocopied it and scanned it and after 5 years in my purse, I put the original away for safekeeping.

My mom was always amazed how she could create such different daughters: one fair and one brunette, one traditional and one “mod” as my aunt used to call me, both of us mothers ourselves.

Time can steal our health, our eyesight, our hearing, our minds. But what time cannot steal is the love that parents have for their children.

As a child I knew comfort in their words and their arms; as an adult as a friend and confidante to both. I am so glad to be the progeny of these two remarkable people. So as the days pass by and I myself grow older, I remember that there is nothing that can ever take away the one thing that brought me here to begin with: my parent’s love. I can no longer converse with either of them but I do, in quiet moments, in my heart.

And so my Easter message for 2019 is this: A parent’s love is everlasting, no matter where your path will lead you. The love lives on in your children and your children’s children and beyond. There is no one and nothing that can ever truly remove the love a parent has for their children and it is the passing forward of this to our own that is eternal. All that came before us lives in our cells. As such we are the embodiment of creation and light from the love our parents, and our parent’s parents, through time immemorial to the future. Long past the days where we are remembered , the light lives on.

Happy Easter everyone.

Ghosts and Ancestors, a Farewell to 2018

I started writing this on the eve of Christmas Eve, a little earlier than my usual New Years Eve missive and that’s fine.  I thought I’d take some time and really think through what I want to say because this past year and a half have been hard for me.  Not long ago Jim and I were in the car and it was a sad day for us because we had just lost our old dog but as we drove the sun was shining and rays of light were beaming through the clouds and Jim says, “It feels like we’ve turned a corner today.”  I agreed, it was just a feeling but it did seem like we’d entered a new phase or something.  I don’t know why but I hope it’s true.  We’re due for a bit of good I think.

More than anything I have really felt the fact that I’m over 50, though physically and mentally I don’t.  Still, the world doesn’t operate on how you feel, it operates on what it sees and yes, I’m sorry to say I do look a bit like your basic middle aged lady.  The days of doctors telling me I really should gain weight are long since over.  There’s an entire essay on being 50 begging to be written someday soon, so for now here’s just a bit of what’s been on my mind.

Being 50 is a lot like being a teenager.  Seriously.  The hormone changes that usher you into your next half century is similar to 13:  you have mood swings, you feel weepy sometimes, angry other times, a little lost and awkward.  You feel invisible.  Powerless.  Not always, but enough. I don’t know when exactly I started feeling that way but taking an early retirement for a few months when I turned 50 was probably it.  That and menopause.  I remember my dad going through something similar and me doing my twenty-year-old best to reassure him that he wasn’t worthless, that people did want him and there were still opportunities.  My dad was fatalistic about things though so no matter what I said often he felt he was on the downhill slide to oblivion.

That he died at aged 63 isn’t lost on me, and perhaps that weighs more on my mind than it should.  What I also remember is that my paternal grandmother died at age 50 and my maternal grandmother at age 61.  I look at those 3 people who lost their lives to cancer and I know that even though the two grandmothers died more than 50 years ago, only one would have possibly survived longer today.  My mom’s mom died of the same type of tumour that Gord Downey had – only she died a few weeks after VE day.  I like to think that I take after my mom in this; at 99 she is still with us, though she is lost in dementia these past few years.   She, like her sister who lived to 86 or her grandfather who lived into his 90s has the good genes.  I cross my fingers and hope I do too because most of the time I feel like there just isn’t enough of it to do everything I want to.  And I don’t know how time has sped by so fast.  I don’t want to admit it, but maybe I am getting older.

The other night I watched Bruce Springsteen on Broadway.  Wonderful autobiographical piece from an artist I truly admire.  He’s an icon of my generation and I remember my friend Russell’s wife Robin – a New Jersey girl herself – wore a black arm band for days after he married his first wife.  Now Russell is another one who never made it beyond 50; it was such a shock to me when he died (I was in my early 20s) that I became ill for several weeks and still have the allergies that cropped up after I got over the walking pneumonia.  Death was not a secret to me, my mother being so much older I was forever being taken to funerals with her mostly I think for the company and because I was brave enough to do it.  But this one oh how it broke my heart.  To this day I miss him.  He had so many plans for the great day he could retire and write those funny stories he was so good at.  I wish I’d kept a copy of the ones I’d typed up for him.  Life was more complicated when we were dealing with IBM typewriter balls and white out and carbon paper.  It really was that long ago.   But it was also only yesterday.

Bruce Springsteen has a part in his show where he’s describing sitting at a table with his father. He’s expecting his first child and his father has come to him to set their relationship on a new footing.  He said we have family who are ghosts – they’re just names who have no lasting effect, and we have ancestors.  These are the people whose influence is profound and lasts for generations – hopefully in a good way – and that’s what we should aspire to be.  I have made sure that my children know my father even though he died when my daughter was small and my son was born after.  My dad was a complicated man, and it’s too easy to focus on what was difficult.  What I want them to know is how smart, charming, funny and handsome he was.  He admitted that he wasn’t the world’s best father but he was a best friend for 20 years.  Some of my happiest memories are the two of us singing together.  It’s funny, singing in the choir with my mother is also one of my favorite memories.

I love researching my ancestry because for me, I grew up in a family divided and there was my mom’s side of the family and my dad’s side and I was placed firmly in the camp of my dad’s side from birth because of how I look.  I am not even remotely blonde so there we have it.  Me, I like to think I come from both sides of the family and that both sides have merit.  They’re both mostly Irish though from different sides of the religious battle and I grew up both. I walked away from that a long time ago.

Faith should never be used a weapon.  I’ve spent way too much mental effort trying to figure out how to be true to myself and please others when the reality is I can’t.  I want to be an ancestor but my creeping fear is that really I’m not.  It’s hard knowing that somewhere I crossed the Rubicon between belonging and not.  So be it.  A little bit of misunderstanding can go a long, long way and sadly, it morphs which is what has happened and since no one wants to hear the truth from the person who lived it, it is what it is.  Still hurts a bit though.  My mom and I always got along well; she understood why I’ve got the life I have and was accepting… so … yeah.

My mom. Definitely an ancestor.  A lot of who I am is because of how she raised me and by that I mean in a very good way.  She had two degrees and was a career woman when my friends’ moms were all at home; in fact she was the main breadwinner and married a man 13 years her junior.  She started her family when her contemporaries were becoming grandparents.  She lived in several places around the world and she traveled Canada. She made sure to take one of us with her on those trips.  She was always compassionate and accepted people for who they are.  I like to believe I learned that too.

One of the hardest things in the last 5 years has been the loss of the compassion and concern of my mother.  I miss our hour long phone calls where we’d talk about everything.  In me she knew she could tell me stuff when she worried how others would react and I appreciated her telling me those things.  She didn’t always like my decisions but she always understood me.  I feel a little adrift without that to be honest, but here we are.  I am fortunate indeed to have had her as long as I have even if I’m not in a position to visit right now since I’m not close by anymore.

In the last 5 years I feel like I’ve lost so much that things have to turn around.  Really.  We’ve seen the passing of all of our animals to various forms of old age (3 cats and a dog), Jim’s mom and his cousin, 1 pre-teen best friend and a 20 year friend of mine, my former mother-in-law.  For most of last year I had to exist on about 35% of my pay which was a whole special kind of fun.  Selling my jeep that I couldn’t afford to keep fixing.  My children are grown which is a good thing but it also means there’s a huge part of my life that’s done now, and it’s hard not to feel a little irrelevant.  Family rifts have gotten deeper and wider.  All of this is stuff that is outside of my control.

So going forward I need to concentrate on what makes me happy regardless.  That means not worrying about the unchangeable, of missing things I can’t get back, of feeling like I don’t belong.  I belong wherever I am, and if people don’t always understand me, that’s fine too.  The people who truly know me are the ones who matter.  The ones who know that I’m a writer first, a painter, a singer song-writer; the little girl who could be found up high in trees is still up high on ladders fixing things and under cabinets installing sinks or building pallet furniture.

Since I can’t change the past or erase unhappy memories, for 2019 I’m going to start my year with gratitude.  I am grateful for my little house, the big-boat van that stills runs, I have my children,  I have my partner of 16 years now, I have a regular pay cheque,  I have my health, I still have a mom on this Earth, I have my gifts and I have a little hope.  That is most of all what matters.

Take care in this new year, and please people live your life with compassion.  Now more than ever we need to put aside our differences and embrace our truths.  The divisions we see are mainly manufactured for somebody elses’ gains, not yours.  So how about making this the year we listen and we treat each other with kindness and respect.  You don’t have to always understand why people behave the way they do, but you can’t expect them to live it your way either just because what you do suits you.  Remember that.

À la prochaine,

Cathi

©Catherine M. Harris 31/12/2018

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 …..

Cathi’s Comments for December 31, 2017


I’m a day late writing this, mainly because a big part of me wasn’t sure I even wanted to post it. But then I thought, why shouldn’t I? If I go back to my very first Cathi’s Comments there’s a whole lot of water under the bridge, so much soul searching not only in the time when I posted almost every day, but also I’m constantly doing that in my essays and poetry and in a more abstract way in my fiction. So yes of course I should post my thoughts on this god-forsaken year.

I’ve been depressed since late last summer and I’m doing my best to keep my head enough above water to keep functioning and on really good days, be laughing but it isn’t easy. I try to look always at the possibilities of things but again its hard when the outcomes all seem kind of dark. When that silver lining is just aluminum foil, what do you do? For me I look at the causes then figure out what, if anything, I can do to make stuff better and if I can’t, what to do to get out of the situation. I’ve got a lot situations right now.

In short they are: family, money, work, perception of self, future of my career. Kinda heavy stuff. So let’s see: it’s a long story but one year I made enough because of one-time payments (one of which I paid back at gross for over two years) put me in a higher tax bracket. I owed taxes but in a few years this would go down by itself because I always get tax back. This August I found out I was losing 30% of my net pay for almost a year. Add to that the acting position I’d been doing for over 2 years was ended and I went back down two levels at the end of October. Somewhere in all of this there are still bills to be paid and I really don’t want to or even know how to get a part time job here. Jim tried for 3 years for a part time job before he gave up. I’m not sure what I’m going to do so I’m just putting my faith in the fact there’s always something that saves me just before I go over the brink. I just have to find it.

Family: it’s no secret there’s people in my family who won’t have anything to do with me. Why? Because I don’t fit the mould, and they won’t listen to my explanations of why my life has gone the way it has. I don’t live up to their expectations, and they didn’t listen to me so they’ve made up stuff that unfortunately is now being fed to other people which I find out about of course. If any of them read my essays or my comments they’d know what they think is wrong, but they don’t. Unfortunately I find myself in another situation where I’m blamed again for things that are misinterpretations. Rather than listen to my explanations, it’s discounted and erroneous stuff is believed. And it hurts to be in that situation. Nevertheless, I won’t apologize for falsehoods and for decisions I made for reasons that people don’t know the whole story of. I also am very good at keeping secrets. Where it’s important I won’t be telling the whole story even if it hurts me. So there we are. I can only be who I am, live my life the way I see fit, and if people really want to lay down the sword and actually come talk to me and then believe me when I tell my truth then maybe there’ll be some hope. I’m not holding my breath. It’s just that this year someone I didn’t expect did the same thing to me and so yes, I’m at a loss because if they aren’t willing to understand the truth as I lived it, well…. That one came out of left field because I honestly thought they knew
me better than that. So I can only let the ache die down and carry on.

Work and perception of self are kind of tied in together though perception of self is also a part of my family issues. Here’s the thing: I’m 55. I have officially 36 years service in my employment though it’s actually a little longer. Now I could – and did if you remember 5 years ago – retire. Thing is, as much as I want to, I can’t. I still have bills to pay that go back to when my ex and I split up 16 years ago if you can believe that. It’s almost paid off but it’s still there. I can’t retire really until all my bills are paid off and I have enough to live on for at least a year, preferably a year and a half. That’s how long it’s taking to get pensions these days, not everyone but many and I have no doubt I’d be one of the ones waiting and living on nothing. For me to pay off stuff I need to get paid properly. I also need not to be paying back pay at gross or back taxes at insane percentages. I need to be in a job that pays consistently at the level I have been for the better part of the last 8 years but for some reason can’t be it officially. A couple of years ago I was told “hey you came in third (for a promotion that had 2 positions) but you’ll have lots of acting. It’s all just pensionable time, you have 4 years to go don’t you?” (this is paraphrasing but the words are the same). To me that was age discrimination but to nobody else I’ve complained to it is. I was recently put on a waiting list for a course I needed for my certification after someone told me they told the person organizing the course I didn’t need it because I had 35 years service. It was one of the last ones I did need for the certification. I complained. At least that one got corrected and I took the course. Then came the news that the new way of hiring is based on pools, and the pools were “upping the bar” – you had to have a degree, a diploma or certification. Gone was the high school with x years of relevant experience. Last summer I was an expert. Now I’m nothing. So if I wanted to apply for my job at the moment, I couldn’t. So much for 36 years of my life devoted to what I do. This hurts. A lot. I have some things to still do for certification but it’s hard when my heart isn’t in it, knowing they don’t really want me. Maybe it’s the depression talking but that’s how it feels.

The thing is, 55 isn’t old. Most places you can’t retire before 65. Many people of my age range who would like to retire and even are allowed to at full pension simply can’t because life got really expensive 30 years ago and it hasn’t stopped. We’re the people who were crazy enough to buy houses at 20% interest rates, who saw credit cards go up to ridiculous levels and wages get frozen so we used them, especially when our marriages went down the tubes. So yeah, freedom 55 is a pipe dream for an awful lot of people. And most of us reject the notion that 55 is old, especially when we’re healthy. My mom is 98 years old. Don’t put me out to pasture yet, in many ways I’m still just starting.

I am pleased with myself in that I did submit to the CBC Creative Non-Fiction contest – I didn’t win but it feels awfully good have submitted. This can be read at mrssauga.wordpress.com under Essays. I also submitted to the CBC Short Story contest for the first time in a few years. I don’t expect to win but I will say the same disclaimer I do with all my fiction: it’s fiction, if you want the truth read my essays; and, my mother is wonderful person who has been a strength in my life, the character in the story is not my mother 🙂 You’ll get to read it whenever it’s rejected or if they accept it, when it’s published.

I’ve also been painting (in the middle of a painting called Ben After The Rain), and playing my guitar again. I’m still working on other writing and yes, I keep saying this but I do intend to update this web site to something more relevant to me now.

Here’s hoping that 2018 is the year I reverse all this nonsense and my money and career problems are solved. I can dream can’t I? I wish every one the very best and I truly hope that you live your life with compassion, show empathy for others and maybe just try to put yourself in someone’s footsteps before you react. Things are never as they seem. Remember that.

À la prochaine,

Cathi …..

Cathi’s Comments for December 31, 2016

This has been such a roller coaster year, with a wonderful high of my daughter’s wedding to the deep low of the loss of Jim’s mother.  In between I very nearly lost my own mother and by some miracle she was able to be present at her granddaughter’s wedding.  We travelled this year for specific reasons:  first an urgent trip to Ottawa to see my mother for what I thought would be the last time, and to come home and turn around and leave for a memorial for Jim’s mother in Connecticut.  Then in late August, back to Ottawa for a truly lovely wedding.

Being such a busy year with sudden changes – not just at home but a work too – there just wasn’t the time to do everything I had planned.  I started sketching out the illustrations for my Troll of Barondale story but am nowhere near finished; I have the canvases for 3 paintings I’ve been planning to do and they still aren’t sketched out; I got as far as the title of a chapter for Nanowrimo which of course meant that the book I was going to finish wasn’t; the pallet garden swing didn’t even have the pallets moved from the wall they are leaning against.  I’ll stop now before I get sad thinking about it.

I did start, and then stop for a bit doing the elliptical but I’ll be back on it again in the new year.  Our dog had a torn leg tendon and sore hips that had us worried we were going to lose him at age 9; instead we found a good new vet and began walking him 15 minutes a day.  Between walks, fish oil and glucosamine he’s almost his regular self.

So what did I learn this year?  Well, that after 15 years I felt the need to once again defend the legal reasons for using my own name which quite frankly burns my butt that I have ever had to do that at all. I think I’m tired of fighting over stuff that shouldn’t even be questioned. I still wonder whether it was wise going back to work, my soul sings when I write and paint and do my thing; I find myself spinning my wheels knowing I have things to offer but not quite fitting the bill so where am I more valuable?  I wish I had the luxury of answering that honestly; I have bills to pay and food to put on the table.  So for now I tread water holding my breath, waiting for who knows what.

The good news:  daughter’s wedding of course!  Son’s grade 12 diploma.  Jim and I got a family doctor, and tests show that I am a low risk of heart disease.  Good to know.  Seeing my mom again after 3 years of no time and money to travel back to Ottawa and even though she lives in shadows mentally, brief minutes of lovely clarity brought her back to me.

Where do we go from here?  For now, our little deer visited home in the outskirts of Fredericton is our place.  I am basically thankful 2016 wasn’t worse than it was for us – it’s been such a bad year for so many people.  I look forward to continuing things I put aside and I hope finally moving forward on new works.

What I have to say now to everyone is:  believe in yourself, treat others with respect and kindness, do something that matters, show heart in what you do.  We the human race need to face up to the fact that we cannot continue living our existence in division and hate.  There has to be room in everyone’s heart for acceptance and understanding even if you personally don’t like someone’s viewpoint or lifestyle please look past that to the person underneath.  If we continue on the path of hatred that is being spewed our world in serious trouble.  Most of all, please have compassion for others, it’s what the world needs most.

À la prochaine,

Cathi