Monday, January 26, 2015

Family Matters

The aromas of coffee, bacon and pancakes mingled in the air as a stream of guests arrived for breakfast on Saturday and the Annual Missions Committee Planning Morning. 

Debby; one of the members of the committee; said, smiling as she walked by me, "Good morning Belinda; have you talked to your brother lately?" 

"It's been a couple of weeks; I'll have to call him later!" I said and smiled to myself at how often people ask me if I've called my brother lately. Either that or they ask, "How's your dog?" I don't have a dog, but I felt like I did when Brenda lived downstairs with Molson. He went with me to so many places and became beloved friend of so many people, and became well known here too, through his regularly recorded adventures.

It was a couple of hours later, after serving the missions committee what seemed like a million or so English pancakes with lemon and sugar that I tidied up the kitchen, left them to what sounded like some exciting planning, and found the phone.

I lay back in the lazy-boy reclining chair in the bedroom, with a cup of coffee, ready to catch up on all the latest news, and indeed we did cover a lot of ground over a luxurious hour.

Rob was in a philosophical mood. "You should always acknowledge your shortcomings, Belinda, if not to other people, at least to yourself." I can't remember what elicited that thought but it sounded wise and I noted it. 

I read him Siblings Forever, the blog post I wrote about him recently, which caused him to reminisce about Mum. "Do you remember how she would say, "If ever anything happened to you or Belinda--and you lost an eye, you could have one of mine."

I said, "But what if we both lost an eye?"

"Well," said Rob, "She would have given them both." And that, we both agreed was definitely true. 

We talked about TV series and movies and that was when he said something about putting a CD ROM in his laptop and it getting stuck. 

"Wait a minute," I said, "You've got a laptop???"

"Yes," he said, "Didn't I tell you?"

"No," I assured him, "You didn't!"

Now if you've been reading this blog for a very long time you will know that Rob has long lived contentedly without the internet or any technology other than a cell phone. Two years ago when I planned a trip to England to surprise him on his 60th birthday, which was on April the 6th 2013, I wrote all about it here, and I felt that I had a flock of friends in on the surprise; enjoying it with me. I was totally secure in the fact that Rob would never find out through the blog. Then on March 23rd, less than two weeks before I was due to arrive, he shocked me by saying, "I'm thinking of buying a laptop Belinda." And I wrote a blog post entitled, A Race Between Me and a Laptop

I went from excited anticipation to nervous disbelief at his timing. But I needn't have worried. I forgot, Rob doesn't rush these things. Saying he was thinking about it was a very early step in the process. And, as his son John reminded me at the time, even if he had bought one, it would have still been in the box when I arrived. :)

So the fact that the momentous occasion had passed me by unmentioned, took me by surprise--again!

"What kind?"

"A Toshiba."

"What size screen?"

"I'm not sure Belinda--I think it's 15 inch."

It has Windows 8, which people in "The Close," don't like, so there is a strong chance that it will be removed and replaced with Windows 7 by a neighbour. But Rob has a laptop!! No internet, but a laptop!

Rob really bought it to put his photographs on, but he is inching closer to cyber-space--it's only a coffee shop away.

"I've got a great deal of blockages to things like that," he said about using the laptop, "I don't see the obvious; arrows and symbols and all that, and even if someone told me, I wouldn't find it easy." I could imagine Robs big fingers hovering above the keys like zeppelins over a tiny village.

"Me neither," I said.

"Terabyte, gigabyte."


"Dog bite," said Rob.

I heard goodbyes being said downstairs, and it was time to return to my Saturday here in Canada, grateful for the mysteries of telecommunication and fibre optics that make instant and seemingly miraculous communication possible. Because family matters.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Writing Lessons

I was the last to read a piece of writing out loud at the meeting of our writers group--our challenge being to write a description. I had rewritten a description of an old friend, originally written as an assignment for a writing course.

Before I started reading I thought I had done a fairly good job of describing her, but as my carefully crafted words left the page and passed through my lips into the air, I felt them sinking to the the ground, lifeless. "She" wasn't in them somehow. I had painted a word picture entitled "Bird of Paradise;" but the soul that had touched my soul and left a lasting imprint, was missing; I knew it; did they?

I finished reading with a combination of embarrassment and relief. It was the end of the evening anyway; I knew my friends needed to head out into the cold January night before it got very much later and I was anxious to end a moment that felt awkward to me.

I looked up from the page with a smile, preparing to conclude our evening, when someone asked, "How did you know her?" 

And over the next ten minutes I told the story of how we met, our growing friendship, some details of her life, and her eventual death. I didn't need a mirror to know that my eyes were shining; my face animated--I saw them reflected in another kind of mirror; those of my listeners. I was so grateful for a second chance to tell them who she was; to honour her memory by bringing her back to life so that others might know her.

The page that I had read lay beside me on the floor, a paper doll in comparison. Where did the difference lie?

It was my third rewriting of that particular description.  Maybe my mistake was in trying to capture her image in a moment of time, rather than by describing her in the context of our lives; I probably just needed to relax and let "her" flow out through my words rather than work so hard at it; I'm not sure.

I am not giving up though! I have written about her elsewhere on this blog and I am glad I have that raw material captured for something more substantial about her in the future. Here is a link to one of the other stories I have written about my dear friend Agnes MacDonald; this one was seven years ago: The Tree by the Cookhouse.

I am grateful for the encouragement of our writers group; The Writers Nest; and the knowledge that it is in writing, possibly being embarrassed and writing again, that we learn to write better--I'm all about that. :)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Siblings Forever

"To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other's hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time." - Clara Ortega

"We know one another's faults, virtues, catastrophes, mortifications, triumphs, rivalries, desires, and how long we can each hang by our hands to a bar. We have been banded together under pack codes and tribal laws." - Rose Macaulay

These quotes, from an International Business Times article, on National Sibling Day 2014,  capture the unique power of the sibling relationship.

I was thinking about this at the start of the year as I wrote down some things I am grateful for in my gratitude journal and found myself giving thanks for my brother. 

Rob, 3 years younger than me, has a unique and precious place in my life and heart --our lives having run parallel for almost 62 years and not having other siblings.

There is a set of photos taken on a summer's day, about 60 years ago by Mum that always makes me smile, and also feel sorry for having been so possessive of my toy pram. And he was having so much fun until I seized back my doll!  

We had our share of sibling rivalry growing up, but now it is rare for more than two weeks to go by without one of us calling the other even though we have lived on different continents for 45 years. I tend not to call anyone else just to chat because I always have this thought in my head that I will catch them busy doing something--be interrupting them--nothing I have to say seems worth doing that. But with Rob I am confident that anything he is doing will instantly be second in importance to my call; if I catch him in the middle of a show, he will turn the sound off. We both know what it was like to feel as though we were less important than the news on TV, and we will never do that to each other.

We can talk for an hour about the most menial details of our lives, and they are important enough to keep us interested.

In Rob I have someone to whom I could confide anything, and know that he will tell me the truth in return, yet not judge.

He is intuitive, sensitive and instinctively knows my heart, for good or bad. Sometimes he knows what I am thinking before I express it in words.

We are different in personality and outlook on life and yet we share a history no one else does; our childhood; and family dynamics.

I sometimes measure the quality of whatever I am writing by how Rob might read it. He doesn't enjoy writing, but he is gifted in drawing and has the ability to describe a scene in a movie so well verbally, that when you actually see it, you recognize every detail and experience deja vu. He knows good writing and he isn't impressed with facades or jargon. He can sniff out insincerity pretty quickly.

So the last time we spoke and he said to me, "I sometimes feel that I just haven't done enough for other people," I reminded him of all that he means to me; how important his place in my life.

And to end with a smile, click here for "13 Things Only Siblings Understand."