Saturday, December 31, 2011


This is my year. I claim it, I revel in it, and I will embrace all the change, chaos, love, joy and creativity it brings. Peace, love, blessings.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

and her response...

From the aforementioned DJ...this note arrived in my inbox the morning after I sent the email. I am just late in relaying the message....

Anna...I have been waiting for this email since 846am...ever since it came out of my mouth.
You indeed did nail it...a little slip up...and for that I am truely sorry...I will keep myself in check in future. I know words are cutting and haunting....and I have a responsiblilty to use them to be as kind to eachother as we can.

Anna...thanks for keeping me in check...Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

(I am really pleased with this response. First of all, she responded. She realized as soon as I did that she spoke in error. And she will probably think twice before she speaks, next time around. We can change the world positively and peacefully. I truly believe this)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

an open letter to a morning show dj

Hi xxx (when I sent the letter, I used her real name...)

I was listening to your morning show on my drive to work. I don't always tune in to your show, but the music and the lighthearted banter usually starts my day on a positive note.

Today was a little different. During your "relationship advice" segment, you were discussing how to keep romance alive in a long-term relationship, and you mentioned that date nights were a fun idea. And then you said "I know it sounds really gay and cheesy and all that...."

I am sure that your use of the word "gay" was an honest slip-up. I don't believe you intended to offend anyone in your audience. However, there are a lot of people listening to your show, including young children, who may unconsciously mimic what you say on-air. Because it sounds cool. Because if they hear it on the radio, it might be okay to say it to their friends.

When my eight-year old goes to school, she has to remind her friends that when they make fun of gay people, they are making fun of her mom. Her friends don't understand the true nature of what they're saying. When I went to school, kids used phrases like "that's so gay" all the time. They didn't understand the implication; that by using those phrases, they are implying that there's something wrong with being gay. Kids learn what is acceptable and what is not from the adults around them. Other adults also take their cues from conversations that they hear on-air, at the workplace at bus stations and in other places. When we pay attention to what we say, we can send a strong message: any words or phrases that transmit bias are not okay.

I want my child to feel safe at school. And while I don't believe that you intended to cause harm when you spoke this morning, I felt, for one tiny second, like there was something wrong with me. It brought me back to the days when I was a child in school, facing down the bullies who somehow, somewhere learned that it was okay to call other people names.

Ironically, one day last November, you were at my daughter's school, painting fingernails to celebrate "wear pink day," which is an event devoted to building tolerance among students. You might have even painted her nails. She's just a normal kid, who shouldn't have to worry about what people think of her mom.

I hope that in the future you choose your words a bit more carefully. Lives in this province have been lost because being different, being gay, is not okay.



Sunday, December 11, 2011

deflecting the reality of poverty

I've been thinking a lot about poverty lately. Specifically about food security issues in North America. With countries as vast and wealthy as the United States and Canada, how can it be that men, women and children still go hungry? But they do. My first spark of outrage came from the following quote by  US presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, as he proposed to drastically reduce funding for the food stamp program:

If hunger is a problem in America, then why do we have an obesity problem among the people who we say have a hunger program?

In other words, overweight people are healthy.  And the implication is also there - poor people do not take care of themselves. It's not about the affordability of nutritious food versus processed, packaged junk. Instead, Santorum confuses his audience by drawing an inaccurate correlation.

On my side of the border, the northern side, similar misinformation may be leading people to believe that there is no hunger problem, indeed there is no poverty problem in Ontario at all.

This article,
written by Margaret Wente and published in the Toronto Globe and Mail on December 10th 2011, is a fascinating look at how reality can be obscured with a few wordy twists.She uses statistics on  the availability of home appliances and technology to convince readers that the issues of poverty in this country are overstated. Wente airily dismisses the tragedy of Attawapiskat and the increasing number of food bank visits with a wave of her virtual hand. Of course, it's a shame that such pockets of poverty exist, she implies, but look at how the bottom 20 percent of the population are truly living:

" In Ontario, for example, 65 per cent of the bottom fifth of families by income have air conditioning. Seventy per cent have DVD players, 65 per cent have cable TV, 56 per cent have home computers and 98.9 per cent have colour TVs. (Thirty years ago, even the most affluent families had few, if any, of these things.)This steady rise in material well-being helps explains why the Occupy movement didn’t catch on as many people expected it to. On the whole, average people think their lives are pretty good. “They don’t feel the moral outrage that radiates from the more passionate egalitarian quarters of society,” writes Prof. Cowen."

What does she mean by the bottom fifth? She doesn't actually explain.

(And is someone in the bottom fifth an "average person?" I  believe I am an average person. I don't own my own home, I have some debt, a full time job, a car, and I am able to feed and clothe myself more than adequately...who is the average person? )

According to the Ontario Association of Food Banks, the median market income for households in Ontario with 2 or more persons was $67,500 in 2009. The Low Income Cut-Off for that same year was $25,414. 1.6 million people in Ontario live below that measure, out of a population of 13 000 000. I have no way of determining if Wente is referring to people who have income levels below that amount or not. But here is some useful information courtesy of a 2009 OAFB report:

  • 374,000 people in Ontario visited a food bank at least once in 2009. This represents about 2.9% of the population.
  • 6.5% of Ontarians were on social assistance in 2009
  • The average after-tax  monthly income of a person visiting a food bank was $1,321.
  • the average weekly food expenditure for those visitors was 70.99 per household, or 26.86 per person.
  • on average, food bank users spend 65% of their money on shelter and utilities
  • only 52.2% of food bank users live in households where everyone has a warm winter coat
  • 35.9% of users are under 16 years of age, 33% are new Canadians, and 51% are without necessary health care.
  • the child poverty rate in Ontario in 2009 was 15.2%
Something doesn't measure up with Wente's calculations. How are all these people, part of the bottom fifth, even remotely able to afford DVD players, colour TV's and home computers, let alone access to cable and internet. Oh, those 99% whiners, wanting to change the system when the affluence of our nation is available to even the lowest of the low!

I'm leaving statistics behind and getting personal.

22 years ago I was a single parent on welfare. And guess what! I had a colour TV. I even acquired a car before my daughter reached her first birthday. And there was no welfare fraud involved.

The television was a cast-off, given to me by my parents. The car, a 1981 Chevette, was acquired for less than 500 dollars from my brother so that I could transport myself to college and my child to day care without spending hours per day on the bus.

I admit, my first computer was harder to come by. I had to wait until my daughter was 10, and my teenage sister spent a year out of the country before I had a computer, or internet at home, even though I had been employed full time for several years by then.

So, did anyone ask those in the bottom fifth of income earners how those televisions, air conditioners and home computers  were acquired? Did they head off to the nearest electronics store and buy the newest plasma, or flat-screen TV? Did they pick up a bargain at Future Shop?

If they did, I'm guessing that credit,  Kijiji, home leasing programs, or a strict savings regimen could account for those purchases. But since nobody bothered to ask the real questions, I'm going to hazard a guess that many of those luxurious DVD players and televisions could have been acquired from a local thrift store.

The one behind my house sells them. You can get a TV for 35 bucks. It won't have a flat screen, but it;s guaranteed to work. Better yet, on any given garbage day, such items are free for the taking. Heck, there's even a TV up for grabs at my place, that I can't give away.

You see, while members of the bottom fifth - or more accurately the bottom tenth - are struggling to pay for food and rent with the same paycheque without going hungry or being evicted, the upper eighty percent - or forty percent - or twenty percent (I really am speculating as I have no reliable stats) of income earners are consuming and discarding their material goods at an alarming rate. We want the biggest and the brightest, we have the lines of credit that allow us to purchase the biggest and the brightest.  We are told that to keep our economy humming, we need to keep buying things. And so we leave our cast-off goods at the side of the road, knowing that someone will come along and pick them up. Failing that, we cart our old computers off to the thrift store, to avoid paying the hefty electronics disposal fee that most landfills impose.

Someone will want it. And so while homes are filling up with all those electronic goods, as if by magic, children in this province are still going hungry.

The article does make a point. We are better off than we were one hundred years ago, but does not satisfactorily explain why. We, in Canada have social welfare programs, as inadequate as they are, that offer income support to those who cannot work. Education is Ontario is mandatory to age 18. We have access to universal health care. There are government regulations in place that fortify certain food items with essential nutrients such as iron and Vitamin D, so that malnutrition has been greatly reduced.

Those programs came about as a result of government legislation. Intervention at the highest level, because people who cared about the most vulnerable in society were able to use their voices and create change in this country.  Sadly, there will always be misinformation, media articles that mislead or obfuscate the truth. But there is hope, in the form of social protest, because those who are marginalized and vulnerable, more than ever, need people to speak with them, and for them, in order to create a better future. Poverty has not been eradicated in this province. And while many of us live in luxury, especially when we compare ourselves to people in developing nations,  a 6.5% poverty rate, is too high.

We can do better.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 6 1989

It was a day like any other.

It couldn't have been. I was twenty-four, and had an eight day old baby. I was staying with my mom and dad, sleeping in their rec room, with the bassinet close by my bed. I was probably nursing in front of the television during the six o'clock news.

Fourteen women were murdered, and ten women were injured  that day at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. They were killed by Marc Lepine, targeted because they were studying or associated with engineering, females in non-traditional roles. Many of those women were my age.

Twenty-two years have passed since then, but I remember:

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique's finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student
I never knew them personally. I don't know their names, specifically, or their families, or what their dreams and aspirations. But I do know that they did not have the opportunities that I did. Their lives were cut short because they were women, because they didn't fit one man's idea of how women should present themselves in society. Their passions, their talents and aspirations, their intelligence, all snuffed out because of hatred. Misogyny. A society where women have been granted rights and freedoms, but still not equal on so many levels. Do you doubt this? Do you think that in the 21st century, we have reached a place where we can finally rest on our laurels?

Well,  this is Canada,  and on federal and some provincial levels, funding for the office of the Status of Women has been cut. Apparently, we have achieved our status. Shelters that protect women are chronically underfunded. Women are still paid less than men, and are under-represented in business and politics. Women who raise children on their own are at a greater risk for poverty because the programs that give them income, housing, access to education and job search support do not adequately provide for those who are most vulnerable. favourite....our  federal Conservative government recently voted to abolish the long gun registry, citing that it was costly to maintain, and punitive to farmers and hunters. The push for this legislation began when fourteen women were murdered in Montreal. Women in isolated, rural areas are at risk for violence - at the hands of partners and spouses who will no longer be required to register their weapons. Most police forces, and many provinces wish to retain the regsitry. The government is refusing to even provide the information that would allow provinces to set up their own registries.

Here's the thing. People will tell you that the women who were killed on December 6 have been immortalized by the feminist movement to push a left-wing agenda, that we have co-opted their names and their memories for the sake of promoting feminism, gun control and  abortion rights. That we no longer need to remember.

But we do. In Canada, the United States and many countries around the world, women are killed, violently, every day. Because they are women. Because they are perceived as being less valuable, as being the chattels of their fathers, brothers and husbands. They are denied basic human rights. They are told, on a regular basis that they should not have control of their own bodies. We have moved backwards, not forwards. The Montreal massacre was not the last time that women were murdered because of their gender. It should have been.

It should never have happened in the first place.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


It's been so long since I've come to this space.

It's not a lack of writing or inspiration that keeps me away. In fact, it's the opposite. I have several notebooks filled - with my hand-scripted morning pages, story ideas, narratives and even song lyrics. It's the need for pen and paper that keeps me away, coupled with a very busy summer season.

I began my blogging life with so many questions, so many unanswered desires. it was truly a quest to discover who I am. While I have a better idea, I also know that self-discovery is a lifelong journey. I am still learning. May I continue to learn.

But where I was once wracked with agony and loneliness, life has changed for me. The winter sun is just rising above the trees that frame the creek bank near my house, and shines warmly through my kitchen window. I am still in the same place, my daughter is watching TV in the next room, and my love is asleep upstairs. My love is awake in my heart.

There is much more to be said. But as my personal struggles have eased, as I've come to a new understanding of who I am, and what place I want to hold in the world, I find myself unable to hold back from expressing the things that matter. All the things that matter.

Equality and human rights are foremost, alongside a deep and abiding love for this planet. I want to share with you some of the changes I have made, some of the plans I have to get right with the earth, get right with my is so full right now. I feel like there is so much to do, and I fear leaving some of the important bits undone.

For several months now, I've been planning to move - well, eventually I will move to a new physical home, but that will take time, money and planning. My next move will be to a new virtual space, with the same name and a slightly different location. It will be very easy to find me, because I will leave traces of myself everywhere. I waited too long in the shadows, longer than I should have (to paraphrase a musical line that resonates with me), and I don't intend to recede. What I need to do, more than ever, is face the sunlight, live my truth, and love with an open heart. For some, an open heart comes easily. For me, there is hard work in opening myself to all the love and energy that surrounds me. I am grateful, so grateful that life has led me here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

“Are you done yet?” 

“Hold on a sec. Just getting a smudge off.” 

He gently wipes the corner of my eye with a tissue.  I am lying on my back across my bed, with my head hanging down. I have a perfect, reversed view of the kitchen across the hall. My long hair touches the floor. Ryan is kneeling over my head with an opened tube of brown/black mascara in his hand. He is waving the blackened brush dangerously close to my hair.

“Watch it,” I caution. 

He pulls at the skin below my lower eyelid and touches the wand to my lashes.  “Do you think you could hurry?” 

Ryan always has trouble with the bottom lashes. He does most of my makeup in the bathroom mirror, but when it’s time to do the bottom lashes, we finish them in my room. He has applied purple and grey eye shadow, rubbed dark rouge on my cheekbones, and covered my lips with caked-on, gummy lipstick. The colours are all wrong, dark and violet-hued, clashing with my fair complexion and auburn hair. I know nothing about makeup, but I know a clown when I see one. My eyes are too big and animated, and my smile is too glossy and forced. No thirteen-year old should wear dark beige, wrinkle defense foundation. This is what happens when you borrow your mother’s makeup. 

He walks up behind me in the bathroom, and peers over my shoulder, looking at both of us in the mirror.  “What do you think?” he asks.

“Well, I don’t look like me." I tuck up my hair and pull on a wig. I shake my nylon brown curls."But I don’t look real either. Nobody will believe I’m your cousin."

  We are friends in the neighbourhood, strangers on the school playground. He hangs out with the cool kids, the girls who live in town. I have a few friends, mostly girls who are bussed in from the farms around our community. The town girls despise me. I’m different. I don’t worry much about my hair or my clothes. I’d rather read. Or kick a ball. Or play Four Steps Around the House at twilight, just as the streetlights are warming themselves up.

At school, I don’t talk very much. I keep my distance from most people. I’m not always sure what to say. And when I do talk, everything comes out wrong. I prefer to hide behind the pages of a good book. Or any book.  Some of the girls in my class are nice. They let me hang out with them, but they’ve made it clear that we only do certain things together. I can stand in their group at recess. We can do homework together, at school, and we joke around a bit. I do not share in their secrets. I don’t spend time with them after school. I won’t be invited to birthday parties, boy-girl parties, or Saturdays out.

I am somewhat gratified by the opportunity to mingle, to stand with other girls. I spend a lot of time on the playground alone. My desperation prompts me to accept these crumbs and I require no more.  I never expected Ryan, a popular boy, to become my friend. He lives across the street.

One day, as I sat reading on the front steps of the house, he rode up the sidewalk on his ten-speed.

“Hi,” he says, startling me. I drop my book.

“Hi.” I am at a loss. What else do I say?

“What are you reading?”  I pick up my book and hold it out to him, Jane Eyre.

He pretends to be interested.  “Do you like it?” 


“You read a lot.” 

“It passes the time.” 

“You know, maybe if you didn’t read so much at school, more people would talk to you.

“I doubt that.” 

“Maybe you should try it.”


Ryan appears at my doorstep the next day. We have a short discussion about math homework. He jokes. I laugh.  “

You have a nice laugh,” he remarks.  I look away, embarrassed.  “And you know something else. When you’re at home, your voice is different. It’s much louder. At school, when you talk, I can barely hear you.

“I don’t talk much at school.” 

“I noticed.”

The next day at school is a particularly awful one for me.

I fart. 

Out loud.  On the playground.  In front of everyone. 

And stuck-up Betty MacDonald walks around with her nose wrinkled for half an hour. “What is that smell?” she asks her friends. She makes that annoying clucking sound with her tongue every few minutes and points her nose higher in the air.  “She didn’t even say excuse me,” she announces to everybody and nobody, periodically throughout the day.  All the girls like Ryan. She makes a point of telling him the sordid story. 

“So, what’s the big deal?” he asks her in my presence. “Don’t you fart?”

I have an ally.  A secret ally. 

We don’t talk at school very often. We hang out in the evenings all the time. We act like we don’t have phones and flicker our bedroom lights at one another when we want to talk. He is conscious of my unpopularity, and reminds me that he has a reputation to preserve.  “But, you know what? We’ll find a way to show them who you really are.  I scuff my North Stars in the dust and study the sidewalk. Who am I, really? 

Ryan does a brisk trade in movie posters. He buys Tiger Beat and Teen Beat, and he cuts out all the pictures. On the bus he trades his Leif Garrets and Shaun Cassidys for pin-up girls. Farrah Fawcett is his favourite, but he also likes Jacklyn Smith and Cheryl Tiegs. He makes loud panting noises when he sees his favourites, and dramatically holds his new possessions close to his heart.  I know what he does with the posters he acquires. 

He sells them to the boys.  He has no posters of any kind in his bedroom. There are pictures of old cars on the walls. 

At the end of September he hatches a plan. 

We are playing on a construction site, in the foundations of the new houses on our street. Construction is still a novelty in our town. We are living in the first new houses built here in more than a decade. Suburb-like, we sit on the edge of town, adjacent to vacant, surveyed lots and farm fields. The new houses are being built down the street from us.  We don’t realize that we are taking chances when we peer around studs and chase each other across unfinished sub-floors. We descend into concrete basements by means of the ladders carelessly left on the site. Our shoes are caked with mud and clay.  We are sitting on the edge of a foundation, swinging our legs into a future neighbour’s basement.

"I’m having a party,” he announces.  I stop swinging my legs. 

“I can’t invite you.”  I stand up. I’m going home.

“Wait!” he calls. “I have an idea.”

I stop. I’ll hear him out.

And so begins my transformation form me to not me.  He becomes an expert make-up artist. And I learn patience. His hands grow steadier. He is fascinated with the process; he becomes meticulous in the application of concealer and colour. We practice my make-up every day for two weeks. Sometimes, he tells me, to get the eyes just right, he practices on his own face at home.  We have a limited palette, as I have no make-up of my own. We only have what we’ve managed to borrow or swipe from our moms.

Ryan found a silvery brown acrylic wig at the Salvation Army, which will complete my disguise. It smells, and makes my head sweat. My make-up smears.  The big reveal is to take place at the Hallowe’en party. He has given our classmates prior notice that his cousin is coming. Everyone wants to meet her. His cousin is really a costume. She is me. When everyone removes their masks at the end of the night, I will pull off my wig and I will be revealed. 

Nobody asks if I am coming. 

We decorate. We make cardboard tombstones with clever sayings, and ghosts out of white construction paper. Ryan borrows most of my record collection, my April Wine, my prized Meatloaf album, and my K-Tel compilations. I help hang orange and black streamers. There will be bowls of chips and candy kisses. I’m starting to feel like it’s my party, too.  . At school, the girls talk excitedly about who they’ll dance with, what costumes they will wear. The lights may be out. There will be slow dancing for sure. All the girls have a crush on Ryan. 

So do I. I think.  I think about what it would be like to kiss a boy. Would his lips be soft or hard? Would my glasses get in the way? Would he put his arm around me, or hold my hand? Ryan’s okay looking, I suppose. Taller than me. A bit soft around the middle. Kind eyes. I like his smile. And, when he is around, I am a person. Other times, especially at school, I am a shadow. 

Two nights before the party, he comes over to do a final test run. I am painted, wigged, dressed, and as ugly as I can be.  I stare at myself in the mirror. No matter what colours are slathered on my face, I am still me. My body is still mine. My hands, my nose, my shape cannot be disguised. How do we change my voice, or alter my walk?  I scrub my face clean. I go back to my room and hand him the wig. 

“It won’t work,” I tell him.

“I know,” he says. “I’m sorry.”  Here’s where he is supposed to invite me to his party anyways. At this juncture, he should stand up to the bullies and the town girls and say, “This is my friend and I like her. The rest of you can go to hell.” 

 Instead he says, ”Wanna kiss?” 

“Okay.”  We are sitting on my bed, close together. He doesn’t touch me. He descends upon me with his mouth wide open and moves his tongue around. His eyes are open. I’m not sure if he is kissing me or spitting into my mouth.

I peer at him in the semi-darkness. “Is that it?” 

“Yeah. Why didn’t you open your mouth?”

“ I didn’t know I was supposed to.”

“Let’s try again.”

I relax my lips. This time it’s a bit better. It’s not quite as unpleasant, but still very wet. I don’t really care for kissing, after all.  I become aware that I am kissing him like my mother kisses my father, like television women kiss television men. He is kissing me in the way he thinks lovers should kiss. We, neither of us, have kissed anyone before now. 

“Let’s go outside,” he says. And while we are standing around with the neighbourhood kids, he pulls my arms over his shoulders, into a half-hug.

He sagely discusses the merits of French kissing with another boy from school. ”Mouths open all the way. That’s how you do it,” he declares.  Of course, you can be an expert after only one kiss. It’s all in how you present yourself.

I don’t go to the party.  Ryan’s make-up sessions do not go to waste. He pulls on the brown wig and dresses like a girl, with perfectly applied mascara. I assume. I only see him from a distance as he stands on his front lawn, greeting his arriving guests.  The music is loud enough that I can hear them playing my records as I watch TV in the basement of my house. I act like I don’t care, while my parents are around. Later, I watch the party through the basement window, in the dark, and I cry. 

We are never friends in the same way again. Sometimes I think about kissing him. Sometimes I want to kick the shit out of him for being such an ass. His reversion is only painful for a little while. I don’t really stay in the shadows. Instead, I keep my place in line at school. I refuse to give up my seat on the bus that Betty saves for nobody. No saving seats, I tell her.  She clucks at me. I really don’t care.  I start daily arguments with the boy who sits in front of me. We both enjoy the banter.  I actually get into trouble for talking, once in a while. 

Sometimes I look across the road at his house. I think about what he might be doing. We don’t play together after school any more. He has joined forces with the neighbourhood bullies and teases me as I make my way to and from the bus stop. He gets a lot more attention for his cruelty than he ever did for being nice to me. I feel betrayed.

At night, I notice when his bedroom lights go on and off. I think about how we used to blink our bedroom lights when we had something important to say to each o

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

just when you think

that you can move forward...

Well,  most of the time I can get by, because I forget, for a while that anything happened. On the surface.

But I hug my kids a little closer. I called my oldest, who was watching my little one last Saturday. I was driving home from Toronto and I could see ominous storm clouds in the distance, moving into our area. I wanted to know that they were safe, at home. She said to me "Mom, if the storm is bad, I want you to pull over. You be safe, okay."

And we are, more or less, on the fringes. It's like the fraying of a favourite shirt, so gradual and silent, that we barely notice how the cuffs have worn themselves off. An undercurrent of warp and weave that runs a dark line through the brightness of our Ontario summer.

But then I think to myself, "Oh..."

The other day my dad (bless his heart, at 72 he has embraced email, facebook and digital cameras) emailed some pictures to me. They were supposed to be pictures of an outing with the grandkids, my youngest included, to a local safari park. He inadvertently sent me some photos he had taken of the van, at the wrecker's, post-accident. I assume they were taken for insurance, or legal purposes. My dad is not maudlin enough to keep them as mementos.

I can't stop looking at them. I accidentally downloaded them onto my phone, and I can't bring myself to delete them. I don't know why, because I get absolutely no comfort from staring at the images. I wish...I hope that the end came as swiftly as I suspected. I wish...I hope that the young man who plowed into my aunt's van makes amends somewhere, somehow on this planet. I'm not talking about jail time, or the legal system. Instead I hope that he stops at every intersection he encounters and looks carefully to the right and the left before proceeding. I hope he channels his sense of guilt and shame into something positive, works hard to bring the light and love into the world that he so carelessly snuffed out of it.

He didn't look. He couldn't have, or he would have seen the van smack in the middle of the intersection. I've driven through that intersection dozens, probably hundreds of times in my lifetime, never thinking that at any second, a vehicle could come plowing through. I took that road back and forth  from St Marys to London and back every day for almost two years when I was in college. Will I ever go back there? It's inevitable. But I will never cross through that section of road with the same lack of awareness, the same sense of safety that I once possessed.

It's that same awareness that I need to bring to my body, my life, the people that I love. it's entirely too short and unpredictable to bank on a future that may never happen, or that may be altered in a few seconds of ignorance. Live it. Revel in it. Every day.

Before it's gone.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


We've been fairly fortunate as a family. A few of us have been lost along the way but for the most part we are hearty, healthy and complete. Or we were, until last Friday.

My aunt - my mom's sister, who was married to my dad's brother - was killed in a car accident last Friday night. She was my other mom - so often, when we were growing up, our families were together, and we were just one big pile of seven, eight, and then ten kids, altogether. Five in each family. We took vacations together. We traveled across the country in my uncle's camper.  Seven kids and four adults. All of us in a single vehicle. On two occasions we even lived together, during housing transitions.

It's been a long week, and it's only Thursday. My sisters, nieces, daughter and I did the music at the funeral, which was very difficult, but far easier than sitting in the church with nothing to do but remember. My cousins are lost. My uncle even more so - he relied on my aunt for so many things. I am holding onto all those good memories, and the knowledge that my aunt lived a full and busy life. She was an amazing, strong, outspoken woman, a dedicated mother and grandmother, and a person who lived her beliefs.

She always accepted me for who I am. I will not forget that.

After the funeral, my cousin J and I (the only girls in a sea of boy siblings and cousins until her younger sister arrived when I was ten) talked for a long time. We are our mother's daughters. We are strong, independent women who do what needs to be done, and we fall apart quietly after everyone's gone home. We get stuff done. We hold our families close. We will survive, thrive, and carry her example with us.

In fact, we will keep on moving forward. Does that sound like a song?

Yes, this was one of the songs that carried my aunt home. With a few verse additions and deletions.

I will remember, and move forward.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

the workshop

It was a Saturday morning - too early for me, and I'd only driven an hour to get there. It was altogether too early for Ivan Coyote, who had arrived from Vancouver the night before, and had gotten very little sleep. There were about a dozen of us who had gathered to attend a memoir-writing workshop, facilitated by one of my favourite writers. A few locals, a few fans, and a few attendees of the local storytelling festival that my hometown hosts each year. I fall into all three categories.

We all had different reasons from being there, as was made clear by the round of introductions. But at the same time, we had a common goal - to write, whether we were at the beginning, middle, or end of a project.  I love Ivan's work. And I write. Years ago, I interviewed my grandmother for a memoir project that I neither started nor finished. But I never thought about the other writing I do, my personal reflections, as memoir until I began to read Ivan's work and hear her stories, both live and on the Internet. Up until then, I'd taken my own experiences and attempted to fictionalize them in some way. Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes it didn't. Even now, at the back of my brain, my inner critic mutters "but who would want to read about you?"

I learned a lot last Saturday. I learned that I don't have to know everything about a topic in order to write about it. I can write what I know, or I think I know; I can write what may or may not have happened. Somewhere in the spaces between the notes, the melody will appear. I learned that the "Heather's Pick" I was suckered into buying last week (for my US friends, Chapters is a Canadian bookstore chain that denotes so-called good reads as "Heather's Picks." ) was not a waste of fifteen dollars after all, but an opportunity to explore and evaluate some extraordinarily bad writing. These tips, in and of themselves, are invaluable for any writer. But I confess, right now, to deeper lessons, which were not overtly taught, but  much more poignant than I could have imagined.

  • I miss my grandmother. I miss her a lot. She died just over a year ago, and was a mainstay in my life for almost 45 years. I miss her beautiful Dutch accent, which I never hear anymore. I miss her telling me that she doesn't like my hair - no matter how I had it cut, she liked it better the time before. She left me her stories. I have done very little with them besides hoard them on a bookshelf, waiting for the right moment, inspiration, time to research, plan, et cetera. Today would have been her 100th birthday, and I need to celebrate her remarkable life.
  • While I initially said that I was there to work with my grandmothers stories, I recognize the validity of sharing my own unique experiences. "The truth about stories is, that's all there are." (Thomas King)
  • I don't need to take any more workshops that teach me how to write, and where to find inspiration. I tell myself I'm a beginner when I am not. I constantly undervalue my own work. I'm not saying that I wouldn't choose to take a workshop with Ivan again, or Ferron (and I will, this August), or any other person I consider to be a mentor, or a personal inspiration. But when I am there, I need to recognize what I want and need to extract from the experience.
  • I need: to take that ever-growing pile of writing that fills my notebook, my hard drive and my brain, and do something with it. I really have no clue what my next step should be. I need honest, constructive feedback on my work. I need some kind of mentor who can help me navigate this process, because I feel stuck in a mire of words upon words. Am I as good as I think I am? I don't know....
  • When Ivan asked us to write about a room either in our childhood home or another room of significance, I should have avoided writing about my grandmother's kitchen (my other grandmother, this time). It was a cop out. I've written about my grandmother's kitchen many times. In fact, I wrote a piece about my grandmother's kitchen three weeks ago, when I was trying to formulate some early memories based on some photos I had found.
I should have written about the room I was sitting in. I was so triggered by that room. There I sat, in a circle of chairs, feeling very small and alone. Just as I felt when I was a little girl in Guides, and I would  sit with the rest of the troop in a circle in the very same spot, struggling for an acceptance that I would never find. The room resonated with that old energy, and instead of channeling it into words, I let it get the best of me. I should have scuffed my stocking feet along the hardwood floors and taken myself to the cathedral windows, leaned on the deep windowsills covered with cracked yellow paint. I could have looked out across the lawn, towards the United Church (they call it Church Street for a reason). I would have seen the blue/green glimmer of the river I love, in the distance. I might have remembered something positive about my childhood. I am no longer the child who doesn't fit. No Girl Guide leaders will whisper to each other about my undersized uniform, or my lack of a suitable gift exchange present. There are no girls who will giggle behind my back, or in front of me. They can't force me to sleep in a room by myself during the annual sleep over because it happened thirty-five years ago, and we are all gone from this place. If I can still hear their voices echoing from corner to corner, it's because I let myself believe, for one fleeting second, that they were right. I didn't belong. I would never succeed.

I acted accordingly, letting the opportunity to ask questions and create conversation slip away because of my sudden shyness. I forgot, for a while, to view my location and my situation from a place of power. But  I regained my equilibrium (in the car, but I didn't cry...I couldn't, my sister-in-law was waiting a few blocks away and ready to cut my hair, and it would have taken way too much explaining....)  I realized that in spite of asking very few questions, and therefore not getting the answers that I really needed, I received more than I could have hoped for.

Another time, given the same opportunity, I won't let those chances slip by me again. If I had a do-over, and achieved the same result, I would consider it time well spent. After all, I had a golden morning with one of my favourite writers, and storyteller extraordinaire. Priceless.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I've neglected this space

There's a lot going on. It's all good, but at the moment it's not allowing me much time at the computer.

I'm writing....daily...but write most of my work in longhand, in my notebook, with mental notes to transfer my work to the computer. This is how I write, but it takes time to transition from cursive to times new roman.

It probably seemed like I dropped of the radar when I met someone. I guess this is true, for all the right reasons. I was very lonely when I first came out, and now I'm not. I have someone to talk to, to hold, to love...and my need to unburden to a general population has changed. It's not that I have less to say. It's just that the things I want to say are very different than they used to be. There are facets to my life that bear recording, and repeating. My life and words have value. I'm a lesbian, a mother, a sister, a daughter, an earth-loving witch who has dreams, a full-time job and a lot of other work to do.

I'm not disappearing.

You see, three weeks ago, the girl and I decided that it was time to make the big move. The one I've been resisting. The one where I emotionally put myself on the line and make a firm decision. And once we decided that living together was the natural, right thing to do, everything else fell into place very quickly. She was offered a position in a local college that's almost the same as the one she has now. We've booked the movers. We're in the midst of sorting and packing, and trying to fit the trappings of two mature lives into one space. It's working. It will be as wonderful as it is now. But in the meantime, between now and the middle of June, I am a bit short on time. Parenting comes first, always. But then....

There's my poor, wretched waterlogged garden, yet to be planted. Will it ever stop raining?

The Conservatives won the election. Boo!

I am going to take voice lessons. I need to build my confidence.

We have summer plans...witchcamp in a few weeks, Pride events, a chance for me to attend a writing workshop with Ivan Coyote, a Ferron concert, Michfest, Melissa Etheridge in August.

My birthday. And possibly new ink....

Lots going on. Much to tell you...I'll be back as soon as I can.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

camlin gets political

Canadian politics generally don't garner a lot of attention at a more international level. Unlike our neighbours to the south, our elections appear, on the surface, to only cause a minor ripple on the political landscape. This time, I feel it's different. Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has characterized this election as unnecessary. I beg to differ.

For the uninformed (judging from my stats, more people from the US read my site than from Canada, so if you are Canadian, you can skip this part...) Canada is being governed by a Conservative minority. That means, the Conservatives hold more seats than any other party, but the other parties (four of them) have a combined total of more seats than the party in power. An election can be triggered by a vote of non-confidence, supported by a majority of MP's. This happened on Friday April 1st, sending Canada to the polls for the third time in seven years. Some people believe this to be a frivolous waste of time and money. However:
  • The vote of non-confidence was declared because our Prime Minister has been found in contempt of parliament, for failing to disclose the true cost of several items - the purchase of a large number of fighter jets, corporate tax cuts, and a new law-and order agenda. This is akin to a President of the US being impeached. It's big. Harper has dismissed these allegations as frivolous political noise.
  • Our government has become more secretive and closed, despite Harper's campaign, many moons ago, for a more open and accountable governmental process. At the early stages of this election, the general public has been held at arm's length, and the press has been limited in the number of questions they can ask our Prime Minister. The Canadian Association of Journalists released this letter describing the frustrations they face.
  • Many of Haper's public appearances and photo opportunities are staged. The general press have been barred from attending and are kept at bay by the RCMP, our national police force. This prevents Harper from having to answer any potentially embarrassing questions.
  • At two recent rallies, university students who had registered to attend were barred from the event. In one case, a political science student was barred because her Facebook profile featured a picture of her with the leader of the Liberal Party. In a separate incident, a number of enthusiastic students created a video and their own gathering, a non-partisan rally to encourage other students to get out and vote. Some of them subsequently found themselves barred from attending the Harper rally that was taking place on their campus, in spite of having been previously registered.
Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are attempting to mimic US-style, right-wing politics. They are trying to convince everyone that the Canadian "taxpayer" (as opposed to citizen, I guess) has one primary concern: the economy. And the best way to achieve economic stability is to lower corporate taxes, and cut unnecessary government spending. Apparently, spending twice as much as you said you would for an F-35 fighter jet qualifies as fiscal prudence. But child care is not a priority. Nor is child poverty. The Conservatives were touting a new program that would offer forgivable loans to immigrants that would help them achieve equivalent Canadian qualifications for their professions, but no one has yet mentioned the drastic funding cuts recently made to English as a Second Language programs.

If the current government is returned as a majority, I expect to see an erosion of the services and benefits that we take for granted as Canadians. And, our Prime Minister has previously shared his personal views on sexual orientation, before it was politically prudent to remain silent. He has eroded the office of the Status of Women, and has promoted aid programs that focus on abstinence, while ignoring women`s reproductive rights. There is currently no abortion law in Canada, as it was struck down by the Supreme Court a number of years ago - but a conservative majority might try to change this. In spite of the fact that Harper says gay marriage and abortion rights are not part of his platform, I simply don`t believe him. He voted against the recent Transgender Rights bill - which was passed, but then died as a result of the election. This government is completely lacking in transparency and accountability - I don`t think this will improve if they are given more power. Canada`s human rights record has been tarnished since Harper took office, and he has taken several large steps backwards with regards to environmental protection.

There is no doubt in my mind that Harper has to go. I just hope that the rest of the country feels the same way.

    Sunday, April 3, 2011


    A trip down memory lane...if you were are familiar with small towns you might recognize some of these themes....

    The town appears unexpectedly, a ripple on the landscape of gentle hills and rich farmland. It owes its existence to the meeting of two rivers, one being the powerful Thames. Thousands of years ago, the rivers cut deep into the soft earth, forming the high-walled fortress of hills that surrounded and enclosed the town. The water’s strength compressed the earth, and over generations the mud became limestone, and the limestone gave the town its sustenance.

    It began as a thriving village nestled in the forks, fed by the river’s energy which churned through man-made canals into the flour mills, the cotton mill, the lumber mills. It was sustained by the railroad, for as two rivers met in its centre, two prominent railway lines criss-crossed the skyline with towering viaducts, joining the tiny community to the outside world. People and goods could travel northeast to Stratford, southwest to London, west to Sarnia, and east to Hamilton.

    As the town grew larger, houses spiraled up the hillsides, proudly built with the products of the lime quarries. Stately grey, chiseled, mortared solidly into place, these houses lined the streets, outlasted their inhabitants,  and remained unchanged as the town grew around them. Homes spilled into the higher elevations as the twentieth century began. Churches built their prominent spires on commanding hilltops, visually reminding the good citizens of their parochial duty, of the extreme and patriarchal authority of God.

    Efforts were made to bring culture to the community. A group of enterprising sousl built an Opera House. Choirs and orchestras flourished in community centers. A town Hall was erected, and its limestone towers continue to dominate the downtown area. The pious citizens argued and raged over accepting Andrew Carnegie’s gift, but at last, a library was built. Goods came in from far away via the railroad. Life was comfortable convenient, familiar, for those who lived in town.

    But even then, did the shelter of the hills insulate the residents from the finer points of acceptance? There were few initial ties beyond the railroad. Did the isolation create an environment where the hierarchy was strictly enforced, where the small-town stereotypes of clannishness and secrecy became fully operational?

    Or, is this the way of all small towns?

    Before the car, before the rapid, convenient transport of humans across distance, movement in or out of town was limited, remarked upon. Notices were, are sometimes still printed in the local paper:” Mrs. Andrew Smith entertained her cousins, the Missed Marielle and Ruby Langford of London last week.” People did not drive out of town to work, not until the eighties and nineties, when cars became more affordable and credit was easy to acquire, when the cost of gas was lower than the cost of property tax in bigger cities.

    New families occasionally move in, sometimes having connections in town through friends and family. A family from outside can transplant successfully, given the right ingredients: money, prominence, and willingness to conform. It matters whether or not you join the Lion’s Club, the IODE, or the Odd Fellows. It matters whether or not you are eligible to join the Royal Canadian legion, or the slightly less-respectable Army and Navy, based upon your family’s participation in the previous war.

    What you do for a living is critical. Did you take a job that Walter’s cousin applied for, but didn’t get? Did they hire you to bring a new perspective – if so, be aware that newfangled notions are not always welcome. Are you properly respectful of the old guard? Did they tell you all the established family names on your first day of work?

    It matters where you shop. Are you buying in local shops,  thus assuring that goods are bought and sold in the historic, yet sadly-provisioned business district? Or perhaps you make a pretence of local shopping, but you are wealthy enough to travel to London, or even Toronto, and acquire your goods in fashionable, upscale establishments. Kingsmill’s. Simpson-Sears. Eaton’s – after all, Timothy Eaton was once a local boy. Do you dare admit your scarcity in a public manner and shop at the Salvation Army thrift store?

    Anonymity does not exist in small towns. People watch you. They notice where you go. They remark upon your presence. Just being neighbourly, is all. They discuss what you wear, and how you present yourself, after you’ve left the room. They feign surprise at the door left ajar, the conversation overheard in the ladies’ room at the church bazaar. Are you pleasant, yet respectful, to the old guard, the denizens who can trace their family lineage in this town back to the nineteenth century?

    You’re new here, aren’t you? Haven’t seen you here before. Know anybody, before you moved up? Did you know the Jackson’s, or the Reese family from London? They’re cousins of mine. How long have you been here? Found your way around yet?  After you’ve been asked the questions a dozen or more times, you become weary. Does it matter? Why does it matter? Your answers may become more elaborate, or they may become short and sharp. If you start asking the questions, or heaven forbid, provide any feedback, you are either greeted with over-enthusiastic warmth, or you are coolly reminded of your station. What right do you have to ask those questions? That’s the way it’s always been done, nobody’s had a problem with it before you came along. Maybe you should live here awhile before you pass those kinds of judgments.

    You feel the resident’s coolness, watch them dance in tight circles, shoulder to shoulder, as they weave in and out of building, down sidewalks, past rows of chairs at PTA meetings. They dance facing inwards, with their backs to the forlorn, the misfits. The circle grows tighter and tighter until they are stuck, unable to move forwards or backwards. Their feet stomp in place for so long that they are digging themselves into the ground, buried in the stagnant, infertile clay of exclusivity.

    You live here. You are an outsider. They will take your money, but not your advice. Your presence is required at PTA meetings, but you are expected not to speak. Your children are welcome at school, but please do not ask the bus driver to pick them up, you’re out of the busing area. We make allowances for some families depending on the difficulty of the walk. No, your children may not bring a lunch to school, even if it takes them twenty minutes to walk home at lunch time. Only bus students may bring a lunch.

    And so on.

    The streets are clean. The roads are deserted at night. The town is steeped in silence; there is a calm that cannot be found in your former urban home. It is so quiet that it’s hard to sleep, at first. And after your eyes drift closed, you are forcefully awakened by the blast of a train whistle.

    Everything is closed on Mondays.

    Mail is not delivered. You pick it up at the post office. The Post Office is a modern building that smells like a dusty stack of books. You ask for your mail at the counter, as you are on the waiting list for a post office box. You open your mail and discard the junk. Before you leave, five or six people have noticed you, eyes shifting away when you make contact. Some acknowledge you with a glimmer of a nod.

    On Sundays you pile the kids into the car and go to church, six to a pew. Back pews are always filled, so you march the little ones to the very front, on the left hand side of the church, under the watchful eyes of the priest as he delivers his sermon. You make the sign of peace with everyone around you, but they do not speak to you as you hurry the children to the car. You are asked to join the Catholic Women’s League. You pay your dues and discover that only the executive meets, there are no regular events, and the single ongoing project is knitting red slippers for altar servers. You don’t knit.

    Your kids are divided at school. Separate playgrounds, different teachers, each child concerned with preserving their own social integrity at all cost. This could mean that your daughter mocks your son, as she trudges the long road to and from school with him. But, in the face of adversity on that walk, they become unified. They turn their backs with stoic despair, having learned from you that it is better to ignore those who taunt them, than to rise to the insults. You really didn’t know how bad it was, you tell yourself later. In the other world, the world that was, they whooped and hollered their way to school, with friends fore and aft.

    They don’t fit. Their clothes don’t fit. They don’t understand the distinction between town kids and country kids, what passes for the racial dividing line in a sea of white faces. They don’t laugh at appropriate moments, like when the kid from the dairy farm arrives with a head full of straw and muck on his boots. They don’t know not to laugh at the girls who huddle in a circle, giggling at nothing. Their silence at home about such matters causes you pain. You only overhear them as they whisper to each other after dark, consoling each other at the end of another long day.

    In winter, they are the kings and queens of the best toboggan hill in the south ward. All the kids become their friends for a hour or two. Everyone goes home at night, and arrives at school the next morning with a bemused expression and frosty silence when your kids greet them with familiarity.

    In winter the snow piles high. Schools close when it storms. People stay indoors, watch the snow swirl and settle, and wait for the plows to clear out their streets. You learn to carry jumper cables, you buy a block heater for the car, and you invest in snow tires. The children walk to school, trudging from one end of town to another four times a day because you are five houses away from the busing area. At lunch, they barely have time to take off their wet mittens before you send them back out the door. If they’re late, the principal will call you and suggest that you re-organize your schedule so that your children arrive at school on time.

    Here, the trees are taller than you had imagined, healthy and abundant. Your children laugh and squeal at the squirrels, still a novelty. They play in a huge back yard filled with trees, alive with the voices of birds and the rustle of movement from the wind. Bats swoop from leafy branches at night and settle in the vacant barn, in the lot next door. You sleep with the doors unlocked, the windows wide open, and you awaken to a chorus of birdsong every morning. There is no traffic. There are no squeals of bus brakes, no distant hum of transport trucks moving goods along the 401.

    Your friends and family are long-distance calls away. They visit when they can.

    You walk alone for hours when the kids are at school. You travel along the riverbank, by the abandoned railway. There’s a dirt road that follows the Thames for miles out of town and you hike along its dusty track. You take the kids with you, and teach them to wade in the water, and to fish. All of you watch in awe as a great heron flaps its wings and sails skyward, with long legs trailing gracefully behind. Your kids expand their vocabulary and knowledge, learning about cattails and milkweed, burdock and skunkweed. And skunks. You listen as the water cascades over rocks, an endless burble, a trickle between your bare toes. You rest on the limestone banks and forget time, forget place, forget that you are a stranger.

    You are here.

    Thursday, March 24, 2011

    family restaurant

    Every small town had one.  In the days when people didn't leave town as often as they do now, there had to be a place for the locals to hang out, for the older folk to bring their families for Sunday dinner after church. My small town was no exception. You’ve seen one like it, I’m quite sure. Maybe you got lost one day, and end up in my hometown, driving down the main street with cars parallel parked on both sides. You probably noticed the striped awning below the white sign with red lettering. “Family Restaurant," it  announced proudly. The windows were partially occluded by grease, but the sidewalk in front of the building was swept clear of any offending particles of dirt. Through the window, you could see the photos of hockey teams sponsored by the restaurant, and dusty, artificial plants.

    Somehow, I ended up working in this fine establishment.

    The uniform puzzled me. Why deck waitresses out in black bottoms and white tops, in a greasy spoon where everyone dines in jeans and their work clothes? Why bother telling the waitresses that skirts are mandatory? I worked briefly in a teahouse, where the chef served fresh scones with double Devon cream and cranberry chutney, and even there, I wasn’t required to wear a skirt. I left that job for a different one, with more hours and the promise of better wages, and instead I ended up looking like an oversize penguin in a French fry wagon.

    Black skirts are mandatory, and the shiny polyester hooks on the jagged counter as I sidled past Jimmy, the owner. His eyes never met mine; his hair was greasy and slicked back. Some weeks he trimmed his mustache, and other weeks the hairs dipped past his upper lip and into his mouth. He was a slight man, shorter than me, and he constantly wore a dour expression, broken only by insincere smiles of welcome and departure as the patrons arrived and left, pushing their wallets into their back pockets as they strode out the front door and into the main street of our town.

    My white blouse was a shiny faux satin and it gaped in front. I hated blouses and buttons because nothing ever fit right. I tried to fix the gape with pins, but that never worked; there was always a telltale mark on the front of the blouse. Nylons were mandatory, and I was been told that heels were acceptable but I stuck to comfortable shoes. I thought about waitresses from the 1950’s behind lunch counters, effortlessly serving coffee and pie to hungry men who sat on red vinyl stools. I thought about the TV show Alice, where Mel the cook was blustery, but had a heart of gold. The girls at Mel’s Diner wore pink dresses and frilly aprons, so I guess I was better off.

    We had vinyl-covered booths and counter service in front. The back of the restaurant looked dark, because of the burgundy flocked-velvet wallpaper and fake mahogany wainscoting. Red Tiffany lamps were suspended over tables surrounded by overstuffed banquettes.  The owner hoped to attract a different crowd in the dining room, people who could afford his hot beef dinners, lamb chops, pork schnitzel. But most of the people who bought those things spent their Sunday Dinner budgets at the fancier place around the corner at the old post office, where the windows were two stories high.

    There was always something to do, unless you were in the boss’ good graces, and then you could sit whenever you wanted. I didn't particularly care to be in his good graces, so I filled Heinz bottles with cheap substitute ketchup and  wiped the sugar bowls when it wasn't busy, I mopped floors, cleaned bathrooms and sanitized counters over and over again. I took orders, and tried to remember who ordered what. I brought the tickets to the kitchen where the owner’s nephew made comments in Greek that may or may not have been sexually suggestive.

     I learned to fill drink orders first. There were round plastic trays with cork inlays to catch the drips of liquid spilled by careless hands. I would open a spigot and pour pop into an ice-filled glass half way, and then let the fizz bubble down before I filled the rest of the glass, just as he taught me.

    There was so much to remember. Pick up. Walk down the stairs without falling. And always his hands were on my waist as he moved past me, fingers inching lower, accidentally brushing my buttocks once, twice.  He would casually sidle past me to the bar, to serve a favoured customer, to stand at the other end of the counter instead of this one. On that particular morning, coffee was in order for almost everyone, and I grabbed the steaming pot as I walked past the drink station, deftly avoiding both the blank stare and creeping hands of the owner.

    My co-workers tittered when Ethel walked in. They didn't seem to notice Jimmy's hands, always creeping, the air full of suggestion, the meaningful looks he gave them under greasy locks. They didn't see anything wrong with the monthly staff meetings where he plied everyone with beer, even the underaged, and then ruminated about the skirts (shorter) and the blouses (tuck them in).  But when an undervalued customer walked through the door, they screeched about like starlings that flocked to the same branch, weeding out the undesirable element for the sake of conformity. Other times they were like seagulls, pecking over a single scrap of hot dog bun from a vendor’s cart.

    “You’re newest,” they told me. “You get to wait on her.”

    I didn't understand. I’d seen her all my life. She often stopped into the convenience store where I used to work,  asked for “Export A” cigarettes, bought a Coke and a sub, and left again. She always said hello. Always thanked me. Not so tall, but taller than I am. Built like – a man, I guess, with her square frame, her gravelly, cigarette-soaked voice, and her hands, large and rough. Most often she wore farmer green coveralls, winter and summer, and black rubber boots with red soles, winter and summer.  Our town drew farmers from three nearby counties. It was the nearest place to buy groceries for miles around. When they were in town, the farmers picked up the local paper, stopped for a coffee, and heard the news on the bench outside the  Royal Bank. They almost all wore the same thing, except on Sundays; coveralls and black rubber boots with red soles, often with muck and straw clinging to the heels.

    She was loud and confident, shooting the shit with the other farmers she met, and sometimes ate with. I knew her farm; had seen her truck parked at the end of her laneway. She lived on the Winterton road, in a place where the creek had cut a cleft into the hillside. On the property there was a big old yellow-brick farmhouse. The fields and yard were well cared for, and there was a barn in back of the house, like almost every other farm on that road. Beautiful horses grazed her fields, horses that wandered and galloped under her watchful eye.

    So what if she called herself Hal and her name was really Ethel? If my name was Ethel, I’d change it too. So what if she lived with another woman – that was the rumor. A dyke, the girls called her, and giggled behind their hands at her like she was  about to proposition them, run her hands subtly around their waistlines as she passed them in narrow spaces. I approached her with trepidation, waiting to be swallowed whole, so fearsome did the other girls make her sound.  I felt afraid, even though I knew her, even though I was aware that there was really nothing to fear. I was conscious, as always, of my shiny skirt and squeaky shoes which betrayed my inexperience, my newness in this place.

    “Yeah. I’ll have the breakfast. Two eggs over easy, bacon, white toast,” she said, before I could pull out my little notepad and look official.

    “Would you like coffee?”

    “I sure would, ma’am.” She looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes, clear and blue. Her face was dark tanned, her skin rough and uncared for. She turned back to the man in the booth next to her, and continued their conversation about the hole in the roof of his barn, and whether or not he could fix it himself.

    What’s the big deal? The other girls were smirking at me.

    “Oooh, she likes you. If she really likes you, she’ll leave you a big tip.”

    I didn't get big tips. I was a lousy waitress. I hated this job. I was only putting in time until I started college in January.

    The two girls I worked with were lifers. One worked there because she left school at sixteen to have a baby. She used to be in my class, before she dropped out. She was nice enough, but I never knew her well. She was always flawless-looking in high school, with perfectly blonde hair and big, blue eyes. The fatigue she felt in every bone in her body was clearly visible. The rings under her eyes, her sweet smile, and the redness of her fingers should have drawn her more tips than the older girl, but they didn't.

    The other one was waiting to marry her fiancé when he graduated the next year from Lakehead University.  She was always angry. She took all the regulars, flashed her big fake smile at them, and was always ready with a joke. But as she served, she swore and muttered and mumbled under her breath at the same people she just smiled pretty at. She got the tips. Most of them.

    I wanted to ask my old school mate, “Doesn’t it creep you out when Jimmy….?”

    But nobody talked about it. They might fawn over the local vagrant with strong family connections. They would greet the mayor with a welcoming smile. They'd go out of their way to serve hot chocolate to a cement-plant bastion for a twenty-five cent tip. But they fought over who must serve Ethel, just as they argued over who must serve the residents from the Community Living Centre. And they took the owner's advances as a matter of course, as the price to pay for the privilege of working here.

    When other waitresses moved with grace, I was awkward in my role. I stumbled over nothing. My larger-than-average body took up too much space. Perhaps that's why Jimmy’s hands were always touching me, gently moving my soft curves aside so that he could pass, brushing just a little too close. I preferred working on the days that his wife was there, as taciturn as she could be. And I noticed that when his daughters were working, they were not subject to the same treatment as the other staff.

    I poured Ethel's coffee, and I carried her cup to the corner booth, near the front window. Her green cotton cap was sitting on the table now, and there were bits of straw falling out of her short, untidy hair. She was no different than the other farmers we served, who frequented local establishments complete with the tools of their trade. They'd been mucking out stalls and milking. Nobody paid any attention to their attire, or to the mud they tracked through the front door, because local merchants were conscious of the need to retain their steady business. But Ethel, a farmer, with the same boots and hat, was considered a pariah, an eyesore, an embarrassment to the community.

    I slide the cup onto the formica table. “Thanks dear,” she said to me, without looking up.

    My shift was over. But the other waitress pleaded with me to stay a bit longer.

    “Can you finish Ethel's table before you go? She really creeps me out.” So I did, serving her breakfast and clearing away the dishes, waiting as she lingered over her coffee. For my trouble I pocketed a three dollar tip, almost as much as my hour's wages. And I learned something about what the others might think of me, should they discover the secret of what I did last year, when I was a counsellor at an all-girls summer camp.

    The owner watched me from his station at the till, lowering his eyes so that we didn't connect in that way. Always watching, shaking hands with my father, smiling widely for the mayor, sweeping the store front on Main Street as the important people walk by. He shoved his fingers in his pockets and jingled his keys as the young single mom, her face flushed and warm with effort, moved to the counter to fill a drink order. He sidled past, with his hands on her waist, and brushed against her in the narrow passage between the lunch counter and the service area.