Monthly Archives: June 2015

A Real Fixer Upper

In the summer of ninety four, I  had a brilliant idea. In preparation for my high school reunion, I would dye my lashes. That way, I could cry freely without worrying about make-up. Unknown to me, thick black eyeliner was also applied. “People love this,” the beautician assured me as I walked out the door, stunned and blinking into the light. “Oh my God,” my husband said when I got home. “You look like Nana Mouskouri.” The ensuing tears did not damage the dye. I finally took a toothbrush to my eyelashes and removed it all.

My next brilliant idea came about ten years later. I wandered into a Winnipeg store that offered an instant all over tan. The small cubicle resembled a phone booth. I felt like Clark Kent, about to transform into the real me. Spray shot from the walls, coating my entire body. Wow, I thought. This is amazing. There was no mirror. Next, the clerks offered to tattoo make-up onto my lips and eyes, their faces the examples of their success. But their permanent lip and eye liner was so outside the lines, a three year old could have done better. “No thanks,” I said uneasily, starting to wonder about my fake tan. When I got back to my sister’s house, my mother met me at the door.

“You look like you’ve been living at the dump,” she said. I walked over to a mirror. My eyebrows were twice their usual size, and extremely dark.  There were streaks around my hairline and brown smudges on my forehead and chin. I looked like a person who had not bathed in a very long time. This time, I used a much bigger brush for the cleanup. The kind you keep under the kitchen sink for dirty pots.

I have a fondness for self improvement. A desire to tweak the Judy design by giving myself some kind of upgrade.  When I was very little, I liked to cut my own hair. And Susan’s. But never mind about that. I enjoy self improvement books. I like to meditate with Oprah and Chopra. I probably need a new wardrobe. And really, I should try yoga again. But I hate to shop, and I’m not very flexible.
We all yearn for what we don’t have, even when we like who we are. It’s part of the human condition for everyone except Jesus and the Dalai Lama. And there’s nothing wrong with a make over, if that’s what you really want. But I’ve found that, lately, if the mood for change comes over me, its better if I just clean the kitchen sink or wash the car. I still have to use a brush, but at least it doesn’t hurt. And with that chore accomplished, I feel really good. Which is the whole point. 

The Summer of 61

 I turned 61 this year and the symptoms are settling in nicely. For example. A few weeks ago I twisted my knee. It didn’t happen during Zumba, where we contort ourselves into every possible position while moving to a Salsa beat. It happened, sadly, and with a hint of cliché, while I was weeding the garden.

My inner self, the real me, has immense energy and a sunny outlook. But my body insists on remembering every dumb move it ever made. Every klutzy moment and resulting injury insists on making a fuss long after it should be over. Ahem, they say, fighting for the turn to speak. Remember me? Like two years ago when I jumped off the garden wall and told Clarence to catch me. My back was out for three weeks. His fared slightly better. And remember when sun screen wasn’t invented yet and fair skinned people got sunburned so badly our skin looked like a futuristic dystopian plague?

My body has imposed martial rule over my dietary choices. No bread. No sugar. 85% chocolate for a treat. Lots of salads and healthy fruits and vegetables and not a lot of beef. Hardly any junk food, unless you count a few rice crackers every now and then. Because I get hives if I break curfew. And anemia. What, you may be wondering, is my payment for all this good behavior? Twelve pounds. A twelve pound gain in one year. But no hives, and I feel healthy, so. Sigh.

It’s annoying how my outer self refuses to match the inner me. My dad warned me about this. “One day,” he said, “you’ll wake up, look in the mirror and wonder who that stranger is.” I’m not quite there, but when I get out of bed in the morning and walk like I have no joints in my legs, I understand a little of what he meant. On the other hand, if I was born in the early 1900’s, I’d have been dead ten years ago.

So. I will continue to count my blessings every day. I will remember that my mother lived large until the very end. She wasn’t one to dwell on aches and pains. She didn’t remember much about menopause. We didn’t worry about that, she said, and couldn’t understand all the fuss about childbirth, either. Women of her generation just got on with it. That included grieving. I should have paid better attention when she lost her parents.

I will remember the summer of 61 for many reasons. For the day I buried my last parent. For coming to terms with my own mortality. And of course, for the army worms marching through our small town. But that’s a complaint for another day.

A Little Don Time

I’m in a funk. It’s a beautiful day, but there’s a fire somewhere and the smoke is burning my throat. So I put away my garden tools and check to see if the coast is clear. Then I slink into the house, turn on the TV and let Netflix load.

Binge watching TV has replaced afternoon drinking as the way to avoid the boring things in life, like chores. I’m a serious reader with an obligation to my local library, but Don Draper keeps calling my name. His slicked back hair, immobile face and no nonsense tone compel me to drop what I’m doing and tune in. Especially when he says, “Betty, its going to be fine.” I know, Don. And thanks for the reassurance.

We have a complicated relationship, he and I. For one thing, I can’t trust him. These Mad Men and their lying ways. They spend their days making up stories about products, and their nights lying to their wives. “Just off to meet a client, honey.” Sure thing, Don. Roger. Pete. All you lusty, smoking, hard drinking men with your pressed shirts and suave ways.

Supposedly the series is a comedy. Well, I’m not laughing. Neither is Don’s wife, Betty. In fact, I think she only smiled twice during the first three seasons. The show was produced by AMC, who also made Breaking Bad and the Walking Dead. Of the three series, this one is the darkest. Sure, Jessie is chained in the basement cooking meth in the first. Zombies are trying to kill off the remaining humans in the second. But still.

Misogyny. People who smoke and drink day and night. (My chest gets tight just from watching.) Men who lie without turning a hair on their brylcreemed heads. Women named Sweetheart and Dear who choose to believe them. Characters so complicated, no therapist can ever sort through the dark closets of their psyches.

Remember this. If you’re going to binge watch Netflix shows, make sure you have a plausible story lined up. Grab a dust cloth. Take out the vacuum cleaner. And be careful. Once you fall down that rabbit hole, its very hard to find your way out again. To help kick the Netflix habit, find a supportive group. Once you’ve shared your concerns and confessed your darkest fears, there just might be time left over for to turn on Netflix and find a new series.

    Ode to a ’64 Rambler

    I was seventeen the first time I drove uptown in my mother’s car. It was old. A nineteen sixty-four mint green Rambler with standard steering and brakes. At five foot two and a hundred pounds, I had to throw my whole body against the wheel just to turn the corner. When I got uptown, I remember wondering, “What the hell were they thinking, letting me take the car?” Driving that thing was the equivalent of a chipmunk trying to steer a Tyrannosaurus Rex. “Go that way, dammit,’ I’d squeak. Sometimes the car would obey.

    My friends and I spent hours in it listening to the radio. When you share the house with six other kids and two parents, you have to be creative in finding your space. My dad would holler through the garage window, “You’re running down the battery!” Sometimes I listened. Sometimes I ran down the battery.

    Like all cars built then, it was extremely spacious. On family vacations, Linda would sit up front with mom and dad. Joni would lie in the back window. Bill would sit on the floor on some kind of board system, while the rest of us shared the back seat. Any fighting that took place was purely recreational.

    My first incident with the Rambler happened on the way to Denare Beach. I was stopped by the RCMP for a reason I can’t remember. Probably because I look about ten years old. My friends in the back, each holding a case of beer, wore expressions of such innocence, they might have been preparing for their First Communion.

    Meanwhile, I had to follow the cop back to his car for questioning. In the next minute, like a slowed down insurance advertisement on what not to do, the Rambler rolled backward and hit the patrol car. It was a gentle roll. I didn’t get charged with anything, just told to fix my parking brake. “My mother’s parking brake, you mean.” I was quick to grant her ownership of the car when it was convenient for me.

    For the next incident, my grade twelve biology class was on a field trip on the North Star road. After wading through weeds looking for God knows what, we were driving back to class when the Rambler left the road, almost of its own accord. The roll downhill seemed to happen in slow motion.

    There were no seatbelts, so there was a lot of head bumping before we finally stopped. After a brief moment of hysteria, we found a ride into town. With whom, I can’t recall. All I remember is arriving home and seeing my mother’s face. Hearing the sound of her voice. “My beautiful car! Oh My God! My Rambler! I mean, I’m glad you’re all right but…My Car!”

     Mud along the shoulder of the road was blamed. But if I hadn’t slammed on the brake, it wouldn’t have happened. We were all fine, except for the Rambler. In spite of its tank like qualities, it was no match for a rocky hillside. Mom, I’m still sorry. The upside is, I became a cautious driver. 

    I always swore that if I struck it rich, I’d buy my mother a brand new car to make up for the loss. It never happened. So, God, its up to you. Give her something for racing around heaven. She was an excellent driver and a very good person. And when we meet again, I’ll probably want to borrow her new car. I think she’ll say yes.