Hagar Shipley and the blue pen (updated)

We just finished reading Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel. The book follows the story of Hagar Shipley through Hagar's eyes at the end of her life. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

I say "we" because the copy of the book I read, borrowed from the library, is marked heavily with a blue ballpoint pen. Every page is marked. Sometimes entire paragraphs are underlined. Notes are scribbled in the margin. "Irony." "Disoriented." "Important!"

When I saw the notes coming on the page, I told myself I wouldn't read them, but I did. Every time. I couldn't help it. 

It was like watching a movie with someone sitting beside you explaining the obvious plot points. It was like going to a room to be alone, only to find someone else sitting there.

Near the end of the book, I found a clean page. It was so free of blue pen that it was startling. It was on this page I found the line that made the whole shared journey worth it:

"Pride was my wilderness, and the demon that led me there was fear."

Why my blue-penned friend didn't underline this sentence, I cannot say. I traced under it with my finger, and wrote the words "all of us" in the margin in invisible ink.

(UPDATE: Good lord, they made a movie and didn't tell me. One misses a lot, in Parentland.)

Little wisdom

I'm going down the basement steps. It's early in the morning. Alice is on one hip, a laundry basket is on the other.

Mid-way down the stairs, Alice's head bumps into a low point on the ceiling. It was just a bump, but startling enough. I waited for the tears. They don't come.

Me: You bumped your head.

Alice: That OK. We bump sometimes.

Tell it again

Santa brought a couple of CDs from our new favourite kids' artist. Elizabeth Mitchell understands, much as Raffi did in his first three or four albums, that kids music shouldn't be disposable. It should be timeless. It should be something they'll sing all their lives.

Evidence here and here.

The lyrics to one of the songs on her album "Sunny Day" pretty much sum up the philosophy of the Tomato Transplants blog. 

Tell it again!
Tell it again!
Tell it just the same!
The very same story,
the very same people,
and give it the very same end.

Imagine the damage that had to be undone.

Our eight-year-old neighbour, Jonah, runs around our house. He has whooped our kids into a blind frenzy.

Jonah: It's Christmas Eve! Santa comes tonight! Tomorrow is Christmas!

Me: Um, it's actually the 23rd. You've still got two days until Christmas.

He stares at me. I am clearly a moron.

Jonah: (to me) Whatever. (to the kids) Whooo! Tomorrow is Christmas!

It's also where I store my humility

Jane sits in her booster seat in the car. I lean over her to strap on her seat belt.

Jane: Daddy, you have a huge nose.

Me: Thanks.

Jane: Why do you have such a huge nose?

Me: Just lucky I guess.

Jane: Wow. You must be really lucky.

Being included. Being three.

I am in a playground with the girls. A few other kids are here with us climbing on the equipment, sliding down slides, and playing games.

Two sisters, about seven and nine, chase each other in a game of tag. Their three-year-old brother is desperately trying to gain their attention.

Boy: Guys! You got to include me, OK?

I smile, but my heart breaks. Being three is so hard. You're so big, but so little.

His sisters don't even notice him. They run off.

Boy: GUYS! You're s'posed to in-CLUDE me!

He runs crying to the car, where his mum waits. Minutes later, he is back. The tears are gone. His hands are on his hips. He has a secret weapon.

Boy: (confidently) Guys. Mum says you got to include me or we're going home.

I am a bad person with great teeth

We have a new dentist. Which is good. Before my appointment with him, I hadn't been in... a while.

Erin had been  much more recently than I had, but she was still nervous about her visit. The woman takes terrific care of her teeth (brushing multiple times a day, flossing, rinsing...), but unfortunately, while her teeth look great, she has a history of problems.

After her visit.

Me: How'd it go?

Erin: He's really nice. Wonderful, actually. But I have to go back to take care of my cavities.

Me: Erg. When is the appointment?

Erin: Appointments. I have four.

Me: Four cavities?

Erin: No. Four appointments. I have so many cavities, they need to tackle them in groups.

It is not fair. At all. Making it even less fair is my experience in the same chair.

Dentist: OK. Looks great! You can go.

Me: What do you mean I can go? Don't I need an appointment for my cavities?

Dentist: You don't have any!

Me: Not one?

Dentist: Nope!

I start to freak out. Erin's not going to like this.

Me: You've got to give me something

Dentist: I've got nothing to give you! You've got healthy teeth.

Me: What about this spot here that I can feel with my tongue? Surely, that's a gaping cavity.

Dentist: Let's see.

He looks in my mouth.

Dentist: Oh, that's just a build-up of enamel on an old cap. Here, I can buff that off right now.

He gets out his polishing tool. In a moment, the bump is gone.

Me: (feeling the spot with my teeth) Hey, that's great!

Dentist: Just keep taking great care of your teeth. You do floss regularly, right?

Me: If by "regularly" you mean this morning and eight years ago before my last dentist appointment, then yes.

(Don't tell Erin any of this. I beg you.)

Just to clarify

Erin is driving the kids to pick me up. They are admiring the Christmas lights along the way. They pass a nativity scene.

Alice: A baby!

Jane: That's Jesus.

Alice: I not Jesus!

Ninety-three Decembers

I smell the snow before I see the first few flakes in the air. My insulated boots crunch on the gravel of my driveway. I'm walking in the dark of this cold December morning to the bus stop, about a mile away from my house in rural Prince Edward Island.

I think about a day ninety-three Decembers earlier in Romney Township, Kent County, Ontario. The day my great-grandparents moved their six children to the farm that they would eventually call the "home place." Winter had already set in by December of 1917. The roads between the old farm and the new farm were not passable, so the move was made by bobsleigh over snow-covered fields, about eight miles.

The crescent moon shines above me on my left as I walk, as do a couple of bright stars. The sun has yet to crest the horizon, but the glow in the sky tells me it's not far away. 

Moving Day was a Tuesday. The family had moved into the house by that evening. In the barn was the family's livestock, including a few cows, some chickens, and a pregnant sow. Not everything made it over on that first day. My great-grandfather ("Pa") would return in a few days to the old farm with his eldest son, seven-year-old Glen.

I watch the line of cars whiz by on the highway. The cold air stings my cheeks. I wait for a break in the traffic before crossing and walk a few hundred paces to the abandoned driveway that is my bus stop. I pull my phone from my pocket and check the time. I'm a few minutes early.

Thursday dawned and it seemed a fine day to travel. Pa and Glen hitched the team to the bobsleigh and rode off in the direction of the old farm. I imagine five tiny faces pressed against the glass window of the new house watching them ride away.

They would not see Pa and Glen again for nearly a week. As the story was told to my great-uncle Reid, who was just a baby at the time, what came next was the worst storm anybody could remember. The temperature dipped to 20 below.

Ma checked the livestock in the cold barn. She wrapped two young calves in blankets to keep them warm, then discovered the sow was having her piglets.

She tucked each newborn piglet into the folds of a blanket and trudged through wind and three-foot drifts to the house, where she placed it in a box by the oven door. Then back to the barn again, until all eleven piglets were safe. She repeated these trips every hour as she brought the piglets back to the cold barn to let them suckle from their mother, then back to the warmth of the house.

The bus is now ten minutes late. This isn't unusual, but on this cold morning, it's inconvenient. I stamp my feet. Several dozen crows fly over -- the first of hundreds that will eventually pass over my head. The first group is followed about a minute later by the the new light of the sun. They ride the crest of dawn from east to west like a wave.

Pa and Glen would bring the bulk of the firewood on their return trip, and the house was getting cold. Ma sent her eldest girls, Marguerite (eleven) and Edith (nine), into the snow to dig out a few wooden rails from a nearby fence. Ma did some digging of her own and discovered a small handsaw packed among the few things that had made it over from the old house. She cut lengths of rail to feed the stove.

The old cook stove roared to life, warming the house, the children, and the eleven little piglets. Ma made soup and bread. 

Most of the neighbours lost livestock that week. Ma would say later her greater fear was losing one of her young children.

I dig my phone from my pocket again and see the bus is now nearly a half-hour late. I remove my gloves and type a message into Twitter, and in an instant hundreds of people know I'm late for work. I call Erin, who bundles up the kids so they can all drive me to my office in Charlottetown. 

By the time I arrive back at the house, the motor of the car is running and the interior is warm. I kiss each of my kids' cold red cheeks and think briefly of a meeting I am running late for.

Close call

I am waiting at the street corner for the light to change. First the advanced green goes. Then green, including the signal for pedestrians to cross. I take a few steps out into the intersection.

I am crossing in front of a white car. The driver is signalling to turn right, and nudges her car a few inches forward. I look and catch her eye. Her car stops.

"Good," I think. "She sees me."

When I am directly in front of her car, she hits the gas.

Two people walking behind me gasp.

I calmly put my up hand, signalling for her to stop. She continues on.

"This could be bad," I think.

Just as I am about to jump on her hood, she sees me and slams on the brakes. The people behind me gasp again. I believe they are there only for dramatic effect.

Momentum carries the car another foot or two forward, and I happen to be occupying that space. Her bumper gives me a good nudge. It takes my balance a moment to decide whether or not I'm going to fall over. It decides not.

Everyone is still.

I realize I'm still holding up my arm up signalling for her to stop. I calmly bring it down. I think briefly of giving her hood a good slap, but I don't. I lightly tap it twice, then continue walking across the street.

The message waiting on my phone

Henry: Hi Dad. I just made a model rocket out of three pencil crayons. The big brown one is the fuel rocket. The two green ones are the boosters. And... the white one is the space shuttle.

Erin: (muffled in the background) Tell him how it's held together.

Henry: I held it together with an elastic. And, they're actually the right size for the rockets. The brown one is the biggest. The two green ones are a little smaller. And the white one, the space shuttle, is the smallest. So, I love you. Bye.