All the siblings in my family are a creative lot. There are story tellers whose verbal skills in amusing us over and over again with the same tales we’ve heard a hundred times before are such that they will gather a captive audience in two minutes flat if word passes around room to room, or front yard to back yard, that they are at it again. Keith and Jim are famous for this. They are truly able to see the humour in the situation, whether it is Keith’s ladder flying off the roof of his truck in the middle of the 401, or Jim getting snagged by his undies in a pre-dawn fall off his deck, while holding a running chainsaw. (Supposedly there were these annoying tree branches rubbing up against the bedroom window…)
There is nothing I love more than a long phone call from Keith, on his occasional quiet Saturday mornings, to tell me what crazy escapades he has been up to in his house-renovating, barn-painting, overly busy life. Keith is also a really great writer whose reflections on life on his face book page are poignant and publisher ready, despite his protests to the contrary.
My youngest brother, Don, is more serious than either of his brothers, but he is a very prolific journaler. His very small hand-written script, tightly travelling in a regimented way across stacks of note-book pages, reminded me of what I had seen of soldiers’ war-time letters, on precious air mail paper, in military museums. Those pages at the end of Don’s kitchen counter one particular day, when Rolly and I had travelled to Sarnia to pick him up, sorely tempted me to read them, while he was busy gathering his things together. But I would not invade his privacy in that way.
Don is fighting a battle of his own on a daily basis as he continues his struggle with Multiple Sclerosis, which he has had since he was 25. Often, on the rides to or from his home, he will reminisce with us about childhood days, or tell us stories of the experiences he remembers from working on a Great Lake freighter, or reflect poignantly on his personal joy in life. Being a decade younger than I am, he had a totally different perspective on things while growing up, and it is fun to hear his take on things. I am determined to have him share some of his writings with me at his discretion some day if he is willing. I’m sure I would be blessed, but not surprised.
My older sister Marsha is a very well-respected retired teacher. She has the gift of being able to explain things to small children in simple ways that enable them to learn new things very quickly— such things as how to tell which shoe to put on which foot. “Just put your shoes together so that they make a boat. If the front part of your shoes where your toes go are close together and look like a boat then they will be on the right feet when you put them on.” I just would never have thought of that, but a kid certainly gets it. Marsha is also a gifted photographer. When she comes back from any trip she has taken, with her photos all clearly captioned and the interesting facts about her destinations highlighted, whether it be a jaunt down a local side road in autumn, or a trip to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, you feel almost as if you have been there with her. The most difficult journey she has taken to date, has been a journey through grief following the loss of her husband John, whom we all loved dearly and miss more than I can adequately express.
Jeannie, likewise, has been on the same type of journey, in the loss of her husband Steve, but she has travelled a little further along. Living in Vancouver for many years, she has always been the family’s most prolific letter writer. She is someone who can even make a cup of tea and a tangerine sound so amazing in the written account of an afternoon break that I would almost swear off Diet Coke and chocolate for life to join her in such delightfully fulfilling repose. I said “almost”. The reality of the situation is that her enthralling way of being able to capture the steaming essence of green tea, and citrus excitement, seems almost supernaturally inspired. But just as the spell is broken in a darkened movie theatre as soon as the credits stop rolling up the screen and the lights go on, and you know you are never going to be anything like that gold-medal-winning-marathon-runner for world peace, it’s the same. Tea is only tea, and a tangerine is no better than a close second to a Toblerone bar any day in my books! (Love you Jeannie, but that’s why you are the string bean and I am not!)
My sister Kathy is another of the family’s story tellers. Yes, I realize that my constantly referring to my parent’s, and siblings, their spouses and all of our children as “The Family” does sound a little like a tribute to the movie The Godfather but it just can’t be helped. We have a history together, and moments too close to the extremes of emotions for them not to have affected us in a way that bound us together as an enduring unit. Besides that, our mother for some unknown reason, being “supposedly” of German descent could always makes one mean spaghetti sauce.…( Sorry Mom)
Now—back to Kathy. Kathy would never have to take a back seat to anyone when it comes to story telling. But judging from the many pratfalls, and every other kind of falls, that seem to have been thrown into her path, on a more or less daily basis, according to her hilarious accounts, she likely fell into a back seat on more than one occasion (And only in a good way of course— The driver of the Fair Queen parade’s car suddenly slamming on the brakes, or a wobbly highheel tripping her up while entering a Taxi, and the like). Fate seems to have thrown Kathy into a Dorothy-like heel clicking life. This hopeful heel clicking can be heard as she hurries down city sidewalks from one to another of the establishments of clients of her and her husband Jody’s printing business. In her stylish pumps and matching suits, Dorothy–like, she faces some very strange situations— like unknowingly parking her brand new car beside a spray-paint application to a nearby building’s exterior on a windy day, or ending up in an Ontario whirlpool rather than a Kansas whirlwind when she toppled into a hot tub at a pool- side party. All very story-worthy material, given the right delivery…. and delivery, with perfect timing is what Kathy is good at.
Janice is the one who keeps everyone smiling, with her jokes and her stories, and her reflections on days gone by. She somehow seems able to find the bright side of things in her observations on modern farming, both the catastrophic and the mundane that occur in the cycle that she and Al her husband experience in large acreage cash crop farming, near the farm where we all grew up. Good days, bad days and all days in between, Janice is able to patiently smile, add another plate or three to the dinner table, at a moment’s notice, and still keep up a running dialogue of humorous remarks and exchanges.
She is the youngest of the girls in our family, and was a silent observer to most of the goings-on of her older sisters, as we behaved in ways that swung wildly at times between the valiant and the violent, in our loving but hot-tempered exchanges with one another. She tells stories about all of us at times, but they are always gilded carefully around the edges with a beautiful application of love. “Remember that hair-cut you gave me Vonnie, where you kept on cutting the bangs higher and higher because you couldn’t get them even? In the end I looked like a boy. And you thought you could really cut hair! Oh well you really tried…” Only when I teased her about the end result and how much she actually did look like a boy did she let slip with what she really felt. She snuggled in closer to me on the couch, threw an arm around me in a close hug and whispered loudly in my ear “You Jerk!”
The truth will tell. And then again, maybe it won’t!