Movie star mom

Mom – 1940-something

Summers brought activity in the house to a boil. University aged children – offspring of family friends – came to work on the docks or in the fish packing plant run by my father. They lived with us and were looked out for by my mother who also cared for me, my sister, two brothers and my dad. Mom and my sister made lunches for all, assembling three or four thick sandwiches for each young man, enough to last the whole day. Continue reading

Tea totaler



I am not a teacup person. I don’t own a teapot, a necessary accessory for being a teacup person, although I do own a tea ball, one of those round metal things with holes that you stuff full of loose tea and set into a teacup and pour hot water over, then watch as a rusty fog takes over the cup. Continue reading


My job in the production of Christmas jam-dot shortbread cookies was to dip them hot-from-the-oven with their thumb-print craters filled with jam the temperature of molten lava, into a deep bowl of icing sugar. It felt like silk between my fingers, slippery and soothing. After dipping three cookies, my fingers were coated in 1/8 inch of compacted icing sugar. I licked it off while waiting for the next batch to cool enough to dip them in their first layer of sugar. They had to be completely cool before dipping again, covering the cookies thoroughly. While I waited I ate one. I wasn’t scolded. Continue reading

I don’t remember

I should remember more because it is one of the few half-decent memories I have of my dad. It’s half decent because I was 13 and he drank but the deal was I’d get to go shopping in Vancouver and we’d go see a Canucks’ hockey game together. I don’t remember my mom offering words of warning or wisdom in case he started drinking. No asking “Do you want to go?” No saying “You don’t have to go.” Continue reading

Hallowed ground

My mother stood behind her brother and sister-in-law watching them mourn their two long-dead children. He stood with his arm around his wife’s shoulders, her head down, Kleenex dabbing under her glasses. They were in a graveyard, a brief stop on a nostalgia tour for my mom, visiting all her old hometowns in Iowa and Wisconsin during the 1920’s and ‘30’s. Witnessing her brother weeping, she was uncomfortably wedged between tombstones and second hand grief. Continue reading

The creature

Comox, British Columbia – Canada

The 5:00 a.m. wake up call, a dull punch on the right side, doesn’t piss me off as much as it used to, but I’d like to get rid of it. It comes from the inside, like a creature is thrashing its way out. I parry the second blow with determined words:  “Settle down” I say. “I’m happy which means you’re happy, so lighten up.”  I employ my lifelong philosophy with the creature: Fake it ‘til you make it. Continue reading

Driving aimlessly – revising the past (Letters, Part II)

ComoxMy mother wrote me dozens and dozens of letters after I moved away from home. Her letters buck my assumptions that she was unhappy during my teen years on Vancouver Island. In the two decades since she died, my unconscious has been busy revising the past to suit my interpretation of her life which is, admittedly, filtered by what I needed from her. I think, as the shrinks say, I’ve been projecting my perceptions onto her life, making my thoughts hers. Continue reading

Teasing yarn out of fleece


Stuffed into a faux suede box that used to hold Guerlin perfume are some of the letters my mother wrote to me between 1978 and 1993. I put them in this box because it was the right size, it’s pretty and soft, and it seemed a fitting place to store these valuable-to-me-memories. Fitting because fragrance made her happy. So did the packaging. Pretty perfume bottles decorated her bureau, their shifting liquid colours shimmered in the mirror.

Attached to mom, scent lived and breathed. It lived in her closet, too, after she died. It lingers in my amygdala. Continue reading

Goldfish pond

Hidden at the side of the house, under a peeling arbutus tree, was an oval, moss-ringed, cement goldfish pond. In the plush winters on Vancouver Island the pond seldom froze. If it did, and I remembered, I chipped away the thin skin so the fish would live. Thinking of them frozen in the dark, suspended – dead – worried me. I say them. I don’t know how many there were – at least two. One was as big as my thumb. Continue reading

Suzanne and A Boy Named Sue

My name is Susanne and for years Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, and Shel Silverstein taunted me because of my name. Cohen wannabes stalked me through high school corridors mimicking his edgy baritone –

“Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half crazy…”

I smiled and tried to look mysterious and worldly, like a woman from Montréal, Cohen’s hometown, might look. With hair like the top of a teased cotton swab, this effect was hard to achieve. Jimi Hendrix had hair like mine but it didn’t work so well on a gangly white girl with fishbowl glasses. Still, I was pleased to be thought of as that kind of Suzanne – alluring and half crazy. It sounded tragically romantic. Continue reading