Meow!

 

women

Three ladies in a crowded room

With voices sweet as fine perfume

Casting tales of want and woe

To talk amongst so many though.

 

Pronouns sown anonymously

Her and they, then I and she.

Feel free to share your thoughts if any

Three voices. Still, amongst so many?

 

And then a name is dropped by chance

A tilted head, a sideways glance.

That name to some, a familiar word

Three voices have been overheard.

 

Fearing lest they be misread

Try to recall each word they said

In chronological succession

Three voices now with more discretion

 

Lesson learned? One can but hope,

To understand the breadth and scope

Of risks and dangers that one faces,

Talking private things in public places.

 

 

© rdfindlay 2017

Farewell Old Friend

 

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I recall my fridge in younger years,

Bounteous with food and beers

And deep within its frosty innards

Lay Popsicles and frozen dinners

Long before the doctor’s call

To lower my cholesterol

My Frigidaire had not forsaken

Ice-cream, pork-chops, ham and bacon.

Now all I eat I watch the fat in

And every morning take my Statin

And under doctor’s orders measure

Dias and Systolic pressure.

Now every drawer and shelf and bin

Is stocked with what my wife puts in

No frozen pies, no pork, no ale

Just soups and fruit and fish and kale

So here I stand. Door wide open

Staring in. Wishin’. Hopin’

To find some morsel that still will please

But no. Just peaches and cottage cheese.

 

©RDFindlay 2017

Harry’s Summer Cottage

In the sixties, we may have been the only Findlays living in Canada, but we weren’t the only Tompsons.  My mother’s Uncle Harry lived near Toronto, a two hour drive west.  Along with his older brother Jack and his mother Kate, Harry had immigrated to Canada in the years between the world wars.  He was a short quiet man with an infectious though infrequent laugh.  In his late forties, his hair grayed around his temples. Harry smelled of dark leathery Cavendish tobacco, a scent warm and comfortable and as part of him as the dark briar pipe perched constantly at the edge of his mouth.

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Harry’s hands and arms were calico from some mysterious childhood scalding. In his twenties he had gone off to war in Europe and spent two years in a German POW camp, though he never talked of it.

“You be polite and don’t ask a lot of silly questions.” my parents warned us. And though I managed to stifle my curiosity, I could not resist the temptation to run my hands along his mottled skin. The bleached white hairless patches on his hands and arms gave him the impression of a pencil portrait half drawn.  A black and white composition partially erased. Harry was different, interesting, kind but guarded, a man full of histories we were forbidden to uncover.

In addition to his home in Toronto, Harry and Jack owned a cottage a few hours to the north, near the town of Barrie on Lake Simcoe. On at least two occasions we vacationed there during the summer with Harry, Jack and sometimes Kate joining us on the weekends. The place wasn’t actually on the lake shore, but a short walk down a hedge lined gravel road would find us on the pebbled beach of one of the largest lakes in southern Ontario.  The cottage is one of my favorite summer memories, safe and secluded and appointed with old and quirky furnishings.

Water in the kitchen was drawn by a hand pump over the sink.  In the bathroom, the water tank hung on the wall above the toilet and was flushed by pulling on a wooden handled chain.  Outside the bathroom door, secured to the wall, a cartoon plaque with a rotating arrow could be pointed to a description of the activity of the occupant.  Takin’ a nap, soaking the laundry, sitting and thinking, were but a few of the humorous possibilities.  On a side table in the living room stood a party-line candle-stick telephone that rang in patterned staccato to indicate to which party the call belonged.  But for me, the most fascinating feature of Harry’s cottage was a 1930’s floor model RCA Victor dial-tube radio. It was a thing of beauty.

Harry found humor in my fascination. The radio stood nearly four feet tall, towering over me as I knelt before it, inspecting its knobs, buttons and toggles.  I admiringly ran my fingers along the ornate carving of the wooden panels. The handcrafted oak encasing the mysterious internal electronics shone with the well-polished pride of a prized possession.  Harry had kept it in perfect condition. His amusement and pleasure were evident as I asked with excitement if I could turn it on.

“Sure, give her a go.” He said.

My hand grasped the large brown knob on the face of the radio and turned. It offered surprising resistance. I applied more pressure. Was I turning it the right way?  And then…Click!  But there was nothing. Silence!

Instinctively I crawled around the base to make sure the device it was plugged into the wall socket.  Yes, all was in order.  I looked to Harry, afraid perhaps I had done something wrong, or God forbid, broken the electronic wonder. But Harry just stood there, looking down at me, bemused.

I looked to the dial face.  A warm yellow-white light dawned in the numbered glass. A slight hum emanated from within the frame accompanied by the low familiar “shhhh” of the white noise between radio frequencies.  Harry’s expression warmed, matching the glow of the vacuum tubes slowly coaxing the old radio to life.

“There she goes. She’s getting a bit long in the tooth now,” he added. Bending down slightly he pointed with his milky white finger.  “That’s the tuner.”

The tuning knob felt large and cumbersome in my small hand but turned with surprising ease and fluidity. The red transit line passed across the numbers on the display face.  Fractional, static smeared snippets of popular songs, commercials, and news, crackled from a large speaker concealed behind brown fabric and slotted wood.

I was thrilled, yet unexpectedly disappointed.  My unsophisticated brain had imagined the old radio would play only old broadcasts, “The Shadow” or “Little Orphan Annie”.  Or perhaps the music would be same as the 78 records we had played on my grandmother’s old wind up Gramophone.  Song’s like Gene Austin’s “Love letters in the Sand” or Al Jolson’s “Sonny Boy”.  It was strange, a warp in the fabric of time, like watching Bing Crosby sing The Rolling Stones.

At the summer cottage, my brothers and I would fill our days swimming in the lake or playing croquet in the yard.  Some days were taken up with marathon monopoly sessions, making up our own special rules, building and going bankrupt around the kitchen table.  Mother would make us lunch of cucumber sandwiches, potato chips and pickles eaten outside at the picnic table or sitting with our Kool-Aid balanced on the arms of the brightly painted Adirondack Chairs.

In the evenings we played crazy eights or other card games. But many nights I would just lie on the rug-covered hardwood floor listening to the music playing low on the old radio. My parent’s and uncles sitting around me, their laughter and voices murmuring, I was surrounded by the furnishings of an old movie and accompanied by the soundtrack of the sixties. I would listen until the music and the voices faded and I would fall asleep and dream radio dreams of The Lone Ranger and Superman.

Breakfast Junkies

Often, a Sunday morning will find my wife and me going out for breakfast. We have a few places we favor and occasionally we choose the retro store with the restaurant attached, Cracker Barrel.  Without fail, the place is packed.

cracker-barrell

This morning was no different. At least 40 people were playing checkers and sitting in rocking chairs ahead of us, a twenty minute wait the greeter informed us. And sure enough, before our demeanor slipped into “hangry”, we were at a table with a menu, a cup of coffee, and a glass of tea.

So how do they do it?  I mean there’s only a couple of ways you can order an egg for breakfast. You fry them, scramble them, or fold them into an omelet. Yet, every weekend there’s a line out the door of breakfast junkies looking to get their Old Timer fix. I just don’t get it.

Sure, there’s the allure of shopping for everything your Granma ever wanted, but is that enough to explain it?  I don’t think so. There’s got to be something else.  And then it occurred to me.  It came to me like a side of grits with biscuits and saw-mill gravy. There’s something in the eggs. Let’s break it down.

CRACKer Barrel. Huh? Yeah? You feel it?  Makes sense now, right?  You can’t see it, smell it, or even taste it, but it’s gotta be in there, Crack!  I’m surprised they haven’t been caught out on the street corner offering the first egg for free… or haven’t they?  I’ve never been in the kitchen, but I wouldn’t be amazed to discover the eggs over-easy being handed to the server through a slot in a heavy steel door. I mean if they aren’t all jacked up on something, how do you explain how they churn tables like a Ford assembly line?  I had to prove this theory.

So I snuck out a portion of scrambled eggs in a napkin, and made my way through the parking lot full of cars and Fedora’d chickens in pale gray trench-coats, to a small pharmacy run by a guy I know.  In a matter of hours I had the answer, Omega 3’s, my friend.  Omega 3’s! That’s right!  Alpha – Omega!  The beginning and the end!  It was crystal clear to me and I looked at my wife, who had faithfully remained by my side, and recognized the knowing look in her eyes.

I looked at her.  She looked at me. And she spoke the words we had both suspected.

“Hey, perhaps twelve cups of coffee is not such a good thing for you!”

Sam

My dog, a lab, is mostly manic

With only occasional bouts of panic

At thunderstorms and fireworks

Set off at night by thoughtless jerks.

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By nature she is always happy

And even when I’m feeling crappy,

At the door, my ass a draggin’

She greets me with her tail a waggin’.

 

She seems to find no imposition,

My sometimes surly disposition

And meets me still with love and gratitude,

Despite my curt and sour attitude.

 

Those times when I’m not glad to be me,

She is never sad to see me

Reminding me when this occurs,

To be less like me, and more like her.

 ​

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The Salt Life

Dear Buffy,

I hope you are well recovered from the debilitating anxiety you suffered over the recent Presidential Election.  The potential loss of your domestic help must have left you frantic.  I’m so happy you were able to recruit suitable Canadian replacements. Do keep in mind they will require less food and they will bruise ever so easily. Any-who, I ‘m just dropping a line informing you of the tremendous success of my recent boating adventure.

sea-ray

Although nothing like the yachts in our native Kennebunkport; I found passage on the most adorable little dingy, crewed by authentic locals. You would have been thrilled.  There was a former Sommelier and his operatic wife, a television personality and her photographer, a wonderfully ethic Italian restaurateur and his spouse, and an old man and his younger companion whom, I can only assume was his daughter.  The entire outing was a farcical charade if ever there were such a thing.

The crew arrived toting their belongings like the porters on our Nairobi safari.  Apparently their supplies consisted of inexpensive cheesy comestibles and cheap domestic sparkly because the entire group were either opening bottles of bubbly or spending inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom.  They were as giddy as orphans on Charity Day at the country club pool.

We were barely under way when a group of them (to the dismay of the First Mate and completely against previous instructions) were swilling beer and congregating on the swim deck to smoke something the locals call “cigareets”.  Eventually the Sommelier became so inebriated, he fell over-board.  The poor fellow was much distraught and had to be restrained, tied to a paddle board and floated several yards behind us on a tether.

The afternoon was waning and so we headed back to dock with the paddle board in tow.  Now that I think of it, it did greatly resemble a piece of bait tied to a lure.  I suppose then not too surprising that the board and its occupant were attacked by what was later determined to be either a pod of deranged dolphins or the most effeminate swarm of sharks I have ever seen. At any rate, the poor drunken Sommelier was lost.  His wife, upon waking from her nap, was inconsolable until an unopened bottle of champagne was discovered.  All in all, the day was a ripping good bash about.

Please give my love to Grand Papa and inquire about an advance on my allowance.  It seems the television is out in the Bentley, so the purchase of new transport is an unexpected expense.  Cheers to you and the gang.  I’ll be home in time for the Spring Regatta.

Best wishes,

Skippers.

The Bones on the Wall

capuchin-chapel

A few years back, my wife and I took a trip to Scotland with my brothers and their spouses.  We travelled back to the land of our birth to scatter the ashes of my mother and father over the waters of their beloved homeland.  After fulfilling our parent’s wishes, my younger brother and his wife drove north to explore the ruins of castles, while my older sibling and his wife joined and me and mine heading south for a cruise of the Mediterranean.  We ported in Niece, Monte Carlo, Sicily and my favorite destination Rome.

I had long been fascinated by the eternal city, the history of the empire, the accomplishments, conquests and abuses of the emperors, the rise and fall of one of the greatest civilizations in the history of the world.  Upon arrival in Rome, through the brilliant foresight of my sister-in-law, we were not limited to a crowded ship sponsored excursion.  She had arranged for our party to be picked up dockside by our own personal driver who escorted us for the entire day on a private tour of the city and its many sights.

Instead of just one or two locations, we visited all the places most favored by tourists, The Colosseum, Circus Maximus, The Trevy Fountain, The Pantheon and Vatican City to name but a few.  But for me by far, the most fascinating stop in our long day was not to be found on any cruise line brochure.

The Capuchin Crypt is a collection of six small chapels beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto.  The walls of the chapels are adorned with the skeletal remains of friars who have been buried in and exhumed from the holy soil (carted by the friars from Jerusalem) beneath the church. Macabre does not begin to describe it.

Despite what has been written about the place, both by the Catholic Church and its detractors, I find it still to be a curiosity, not only historically, but for what it reveals about human nature and our desire for immortality.

On average, a friar could expect to rest for thirty years or so before being dug up to make room for the next newly departed. I recall in amazement the dark bones decorating the walls in each of the small rooms, and it occurs to me how much like memories are the remains of those holy men, buried, almost forgotten, then dug up and exposed by some unforeseen event.  Those bones speak to me as I write.

I rediscovered writing in a Life Story class at my local library.  I always regretted not having recorded the remembrances of my parents.  After their passing, I had only the shadows of the stories they imparted to me as a child.  At first I thought writing my story was about sparing my own children the same sense of disappointment, but I came to realize it was more about telling my own journey in my own voice.  It was about telling it for me, more than anyone else.  I want to write down what I recall, while I still recall it.  My father died of complications of Alzheimer’s and the ghost of his infliction haunts me still.

And so I started digging up the bones.  Like the Capuchin friars, I sift the sacred ground of my memories, unsure of what I might discover, recovering pieces buried for decades, one fragment leading to another.  I pull them out and arrange them on the wall, the pages of my journal.  It’s not a popular tourist stop, just an obscure little place stumbled upon occasionally by people looking for something else entirely, known perhaps only by the locals or a few invited guests.

So far I have only dug in familiar ground, focusing in one or two rooms where the light is good and the floor soft and shallow.  But I know there are other rooms where greater force will be required to break the surface, where the shadows cling not so closely to the corners.  But whatever I uncover in those dark places, the bones on the walls will be my own.