Friday, November 20, 2009

This One's For You, Gussy

I was saving this for Angus's wedding but that seems like way too far away for embarrassment fodder. Besides, I've got tons more embarrassing pictures of my first-born child, enough for two or three weddings.
Let's hope he just has one, though.
It gets expensive the other way. And, really, who needs more than one crock pot?
Honestly, this pix does not do Gus justice. He's actually a pretty good-looking kid. I often wonder how in the hell someone like me hatched someone as cute as him. (Of course, both my kids are gorgeous – gawd, I just about fell into the "not treating my kids equally" trap which can lead to a lifetime of regret and counselling and "mom always liked you better" and horseshit like that.)
Suffice it to say, he is a cutie. He's on his second girlfriend and he's only 12.
Twelve! Doesn't that seem a trifle young for a girlfriend? I was hoping I'd be old(er) and senile(r) before I had to worry about stuff like girlfriends.
He wanted to go to the Santa Claus Parade tonight. He hasn't been interested in Santa Claus Parades since he was six! But his girlfriend was going to be there. So away he went.
"Looking forward to the parade, are you?" I asked.
"Oh yeah," he said in his newly lowered voice. "It should be cool."
Cool, eh?
Oh, gotta go... I think I hear him at the door. Parade must be over.
Gotta post this embarrassing photo before he gets here.
Love ya Gus!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Stone's Throw

In this photograph, Sam is the perfect boy.
He is eight years old, skipping a stone towards an invisible shore, at the end of an endless summer day. He has scoured the rocky shore for suitable pebbles, clutching two or three in the grubby fingers of one small hand. With his pitching arm he hurls the stones into the setting sun, his fingers reaching into the sky.
These are hands I still like to hold when we cross busy streets. He gives them to me reluctantly as he grows older but I will ask for them as long as I can. My heart swells with tenderness when his small hand folds into mine. I am swept back to the time when his fingers were a day old, impossibly beautiful, impossibly small.
He is growing so fast. Soon everything will change.
But not in this photograph, where the stone is frozen in mid-air and my son is silhouetted against a blazing, glorious sun that will never set, and his hands, his beautiful, impossibly small hands, will always be a haven for his mother's heart.
Inverhuron Provincial Park, July 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ghost Town

I was in Haliburton today, Martha.
And nothing was the same without you in it.
The Echo office looked the same from the outside. It was a sunny day and the little blue house on the hill still gazed out over Head Lake, the blue siding matching the blue water, the sky above the same sheer cyan. The back parking lot was still full of cars. I watched a customer hurry across the porch and go through the front door, a sheaf of papers in hand. Maybe she had an appointment with the editor. Maybe she wanted to buy an ad. I don't know. It looked the same, that's all I know, but it felt ... different.
I saw one of the ad reps walking along the main drag, chatting and laughing with someone. She sort of caught my eye at the last second. Her face turned towards me but I averted my head, kept driving. I should have given her the Haliburton wave – you know, two fingers straight off from the steering wheel, a subtle nod. 
When you know enough people in a small town, just giving them the wave is enough to make you look like a bobble-head doll smoking a cigarette, fingers and head up and down in time to some old Lionel Richie song on Canoe FM. I heard "Truly" today on the Canoe... only on the Canoe. I love that radio station. You hear Lionel Richie and Bach and Elvis all in a row. And the radio announcers don't have radio voices; they talk like your friends talk; and they screw up the pronounciation of weird places in Afghanistan just like the rest of us would screw it up.
No nods, though. Kept driving through town.
I dropped into Home Hardware to see my ex and buy some Christmas decorations for the new house. We had a coffee at Subway and the woman behind the counter was kinda flirting with him. I smiled and thought to myself, "Help yourself, lady." The coffee was surprisingly good and we talked about the kids and about Christmas coming up and then he said, "So, Martha's gone, eh."
"Yup," I said.
"It sucks."
You can tell," he said. "This place feels like it's falling apart without her."
Yup. I knew exactly what he meant.
Even on this beautiful day, the village seemed like a ghost town without you.
No surprise, eh?
You were here for what, 24 years? A remarkable length of time for anyone to be a the same community newspaper. Because we all know that community newspapers like the Echo are merely stepping stones for youngsters seeking greatness in larger ports. Nobody stays at the same paper for 24 years, Martha. You did. And that's admirable, but not remarkable.
What is remarkable is how you became this community's beating heart.
How your words crossed some invisible void that exists between the dry newsprint pages of a newspaper and became a living ink. 
You won over the community, became the community, really, and in the process, you made what is deservedly and honestly one of the best community newspapers in all of Canada. That's not just hot air. That's more awards that anyone can count. In the business of community newspapers, you are recognized as the very best there is. 
And I was so lucky, so incredibly lucky, Martha, to have worked with you.
I remember the first time we talked. I had given birth to my youngest son, Sam, only two weeks previous. So it was mid-September 2000. Sam and his brother, Angus, were both inside catching their afternoon naps and I was outside, catching a few Zs of my own, in the hammock. I was woken up by my mother waving a copy of Haliburton County Echo around.
"There's a job for you in here!" she said excitedly. "Take a look!"
Sure enough, there was a part-time job for a reporter/photographer. Weekend work. I thought about it after she left, then picked up the portable phone I had in my lap and called the Echo.
It was a fortuitous phone call.
We must have talked for half an hour. We made a connection. Instantly! It was like we had know each other all our lives! At the end of it, you said in your trademark, breathy, in-a-hurry voice, "Well, it was great talking with you! I'll let you know about the job!"
I hung up, grinning foolishly. Feeling buzzed, somehow. Because that's how it always is when I talk with you.
Suddenly the phone rang.
"Hi, it's me! Martha! I know you're perfect for this job! And I know this is going to grow into something bigger. Can you start this weekend?"
So there it was. 
I was hired at the Echo from the comfort of my own hammock.
No resume. No dress suit or pantyhose. Come to think of it, I was probably still in my pajamas.
I have worked with a lot of great people in this business. Peter Hvidsten, publisher of the Port Perry Star, has to rank right up there with the best. He was my mentor, teaching me how to take better photos, how to improve my lay-outs, how to write better. He taught me how to love newspapers. No one before that point, including my journalism school teachers or anyone at my first job, had bothered to do that.
And no one did after that. No one until you.
You rekindled in me a real passion for the newspaper business. Your enthusiasm was contagious. Inspiring. You had no ego for yourself, no desire to be "THE EDITOR" with the power to bend people to your will. You listened to all ideas, from everyone... whether it was someone bending your ear at the grocery store, or the publisher of the paper, or someone in production, or me. 
You see, that was your real talent. Not the writing... although your writing is the best there is.
Your real talent is listening to every idea. Every story. Every person who crosses your path. No matter who it is, or where you are, or what you're in the middle of doing... you take the time to stop and smile and listen to whatever it is they are saying. You never forget a name (if you do, you hide it well). You make that person feel like he or she is the most important person on the face of the earth. You make that person feel special. Like you are blood-sisters. Like you were meant to connect somehow on this earth. Like you were meant to be friends.
Look at the photos of us together, Martha, on this page, if you don't believe me. See that light in my eyes? I am in awe, I am bathed in the light that comes from you, I am feeling like the luckiest person on earth because I am talking to you.
I used to think I was special. But I realized how ridiculous this was on the night of your farewell celebration at the Haliburton Curling Club. How I felt... this light I am talking about ... I saw it in the faces of everyone who was there. You had touched every single one of these people, with the magic that is you.
I can't explain what your magic is. It just is. It's what makes you such a fine writer. It's what makes you such an incredible friend.
Martha, I miss you already.
We may not have talked all that often, but I carry a piece of you with me, every day. 
You may have moved on to new adventures, but your passion for newspapers lives in my head and in my heart.
And, like the village of Haliburton, I will carry on.
But I will never be the same.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Secret to Happiness

I should be in bed. Dave's there already, watching Hang 'Em High on the Drive-In channel. Every Wednesday night is Western Night on this station. Yee haw. He likes Squint McClint. I like the dancing hot dogs leading into commercial breaks. They remind me of the Midland drive-in my parents took me to when I was young. I loved the dancing hot dogs. I'm hungry just thinking about them. I still don't know what they have to be so darn happy about. They're about to be eaten, for god's sake. Still, they're happy.
Why are the hot dogs so happy?
What is the secret to all this happiness crap anyway?
Dr. Oz ... (oh please, please don't mistake me for someone who watches Oprah's latest protege. He drives me crazy. He comes across so PERFECT but he's obsessed with eating nuts and goat cheese products and his ears remind me of Spock and he always makes me feel GUILTY for not being more like him. Just the mere sight of him drives me to the kitchen cupboard to open up a bag of Old Dutch.) 
... Dr. Oz says people's happiness is largely genetic, which means, I guess, that you're hardwired to either be deliriously happy or hooked on Prozac. Or something in between. 
I don't want to believe that.
I don't think we're hardwired for anything. Although my late father's favourite expression was, "Are you wired up right, or what?" And I think that is a very, very good expression.
I find myself wondering if my father had a happy life.
I don't know.
He never talked about stuff like that.
He never talked much at all, come to think of it. Not to me, anyway.
I regret many things in life ... one of those things is not knowing my father better.
A month or so ago I was painting the entryway into the log cabin on the Muskoka River Dave and bought this summer. I was painting and listening to music and suddenly I had a vision of my father coming through the front door. He was wearing a navy blue sweater and walking with a cane, but he looked healthier than he was in the last year of his life. He walked in and looked at the paint job and said, "That looks good, Cath." 
I start to cry again just thinking about it. But hey, I'm 49 years old, mired deeply in peri-menopause, and I cry at the drop of a hat. 
Anyway, this is my first blog.
Like I said, I should be in bed. I could hardly get up this morning. But I felt an overwhelming urge to write something.
Somehow, I think "writing something" could be key to my own happiness. Oh, and doesn't that sound like complete baloney?
OK, so maybe it won't make me happy.  Can't hurt, though.
And its gotta be better than watching Dr. Oz.