Everything Changes — Chapter 1

IMG_0500The most discreet and defining change in my life was about to happen shortly. My mother was very socially conscious and living in a wartime home was simply not good enough. She wanted to be looked up to, envied and seen as having it all. With this in mind, my parents set out to buy a new home.

The purchase of the appropriate home was essential to how they saw themselves, or at the very least how my mother saw herself. My mother’s family was farmers by spirit, but my grandfather had taken a factory job. I don’t know the details of when they left the farm or when they moved into the city, but I do know that they always managed to live well, despite food stamps and the recession. They always had an abundance of food and enough money to buy what they needed.

The way that this was explained to me was that certain allotments of food stamps were for cigarettes and alcohol. Since my grandparents did not partake of either of these, they would trade these stamps for baking ingredients; sugar and flour. My grandmother could bake. It is not adequate to say that she could bake really well, because that cannot possibly describe how her fudge would melt in your mouth, or how a mouthful of butter tart was so delicious that you simply could not speak while eating one. She gave out fudge for Halloween and I witnessed a man that had drove from a neighbouring city to visit her house on Halloween in order to receive a piece of her fudge. She sold these baked goods for a tidy profit.

My father’s family was city folk. His father was in the police force and his mother, his father’s second wife, was a schoolteacher and significantly younger than her husband. I still don’t know how many half cousins I have on my father’s side because there was an almost complete split between the two families. My father had not gone past grade twelve himself. Not because he was not capable, but because it was not necessary.

We lived in chemical valley where crude oil is converted into gasoline and other products. He was hired full time right out of high school and was doing very well financially. This had to be demonstrated to everyone by the type of home that we lived in, or so my mother felt.

We visited these gorgeous places. I remember running around the schoolyard describing beautiful homes to my friends. I had to tell everyone. There were patio doors that looked out onto landscaped back yards, there were pools, there were large rec rooms and finished basements. The possibilities seemed endless. We were moving out of our old home, that was heated with a stove that sat in one corner of a livingroom, into places with central heat. I didn’t know what central heat meant but it sounded exciting to me.

The visits to the homes for sale went on long enough that my friends started to not want to hear about it anymore. Lost in the excitement of the move, I had totally missed the fact that I would be leaving most of these friends, to never see them again, or only see them in passing. That did not concern me very much.

When new students came to our school, they were celebrities. Everyone would flock around them to try to get to know them first. They were coveted potential new friends and everyone wanted to meet them. I assumed it was like this at all schools.

The conflict between my parents was unseen by me, at the time. My father was a very practical man. I know that my father wanted a garage and that he wanted to deal with the issue in a logical way. My mother wanted some place extravagant. I don’t know if money was an issue. The house that was decided on, my father explained to me, was largely because the person selling the house would also buy our A-frame from us. This was practical and straightforward. It was important to my father that this detail be taken care of. I don’t know if this purchase preceded the ability to put an offer on a house conditional on the sale of your other house, but if it did, that would explain my father’s decision. To be stuck with two homes would be a problem for any family, at any time.

My mother was not happy with the house.

I was not happy either. It was terrible when I realized that I was losing all of my friends, my backyard, my maple tree, my large bedroom, my tree lined neighbourhood and my family as it turns out.

The new house was a three bedroom bungalow, situated on the corner of a very busy four lane road, in a newer part of town. It was a block from the school. My father had to back out into traffic in order to get the car out of the driveway. There was no backyard because it was a corner lot and the large two-story double car garage took up most of the yard and blocked out any sun that may have entered the small sliver of lawn. There was no room for a pool, or a garden and there were certainly no trees of mention.

Vicki and I flipped a coin for the large bedroom and I lost. The room that I was now in was so small that my bed needed to be replaced with a single bed because there was not enough room for the old one. The basement had been divided into several small rooms, so even though it had a rec room, it was not much of a room. It was also uninviting in a way that some basements are.

So, in the summer of 1971, I found myself a freshly minted nine year old that did not have any friends, any backyard and no place to spread my toys out to play. To top it off, my cat did not make the trip. I heard that there was another nine year old girl on the block and I decided to go down and introduce myself. Now all I had was to go to the new school in September and see how that went.

Keep Reading: New Friends

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

books-finding

Martha Beck teaches you how to navigate the ever changing landscape of your life.

www.wendypowell.ca

Everything Changes — Chapter 1

IMG_0500The most discreet and defining change in my life was about to happen shortly. My mother was very socially conscious and living in a wartime home was simply not good enough. She wanted to be looked up to, envied and seen as having it all. With this in mind, my parents set out to buy a new home.

The purchase of the appropriate home was essential to how they saw themselves, or at the very least how my mother saw herself. My mother’s family was farmers by spirit, but my grandfather had taken a factory job. I don’t know the details of when they left the farm or when they moved into the city, but I do know that they always managed to live well, despite food stamps and the recession. They always had an abundance of food and enough money to buy what they needed.

The way that this was explained to me was that certain allotments of food stamps were for cigarettes and alcohol. Since my grandparents did not partake of either of these, they would trade these stamps for baking ingredients; sugar and flour. My grandmother could bake. It is not adequate to say that she could bake really well, because that cannot possibly describe how her fudge would melt in your mouth, or how a mouthful of butter tart was so delicious that you simply could not speak while eating one. She gave out fudge for Halloween and I witnessed a man that had drove from a neighbouring city to visit her house on Halloween in order to receive a piece of her fudge. She sold these baked goods for a tidy profit.

My father’s family was city folk. His father was in the police force and his mother, his father’s second wife, was a schoolteacher and significantly younger than her husband. I still don’t know how many half cousins I have on my father’s side because there was an almost complete split between the two families. My father had not gone past grade twelve himself. Not because he was not capable, but because it was not necessary.

We lived in chemical valley where crude oil is converted into gasoline and other products. He was hired full time right out of high school and was doing very well financially. This had to be demonstrated to everyone by the type of home that we lived in, or so my mother felt.

We visited these gorgeous places. I remember running around the schoolyard describing beautiful homes to my friends. I had to tell everyone. There were patio doors that looked out onto landscaped back yards, there were pools, there were large rec rooms and finished basements. The possibilities seemed endless. We were moving out of our old home, that was heated with a stove that sat in one corner of a livingroom, into places with central heat. I didn’t know what central heat meant but it sounded exciting to me.

The visits to the homes for sale went on long enough that my friends started to not want to hear about it anymore. Lost in the excitement of the move, I had totally missed the fact that I would be leaving most of these friends, to never see them again, or only see them in passing. That did not concern me very much.

When new students came to our school, they were celebrities. Everyone would flock around them to try to get to know them first. They were coveted potential new friends and everyone wanted to meet them. I assumed it was like this at all schools.

The conflict between my parents was unseen by me, at the time. My father was a very practical man. I know that my father wanted a garage and that he wanted to deal with the issue in a logical way. My mother wanted some place extravagant. I don’t know if money was an issue. The house that was decided on, my father explained to me, was largely because the person selling the house would also buy our A-frame from us. This was practical and straightforward. It was important to my father that this detail be taken care of. I don’t know if this purchase preceded the ability to put an offer on a house conditional on the sale of your other house, but if it did, that would explain my father’s decision. To be stuck with two homes would be a problem for any family, at any time.

My mother was not happy with the house.

I was not happy either. It was terrible when I realized that I was losing all of my friends, my backyard, my maple tree, my large bedroom, my tree lined neighbourhood and my family as it turns out.

The new house was a three bedroom bungalow, situated on the corner of a very busy four lane road, in a newer part of town. It was a block from the school. My father had to back out into traffic in order to get the car out of the driveway. There was no backyard because it was a corner lot and the large two-story double car garage took up most of the yard and blocked out any sun that may have entered the small sliver of lawn. There was no room for a pool, or a garden and there were certainly no trees of mention.

Vicki and I flipped a coin for the large bedroom and I lost. The room that I was now in was so small that my bed needed to be replaced with a single bed because there was not enough room for the old one. The basement had been divided into several small rooms, so even though it had a rec room, it was not much of a room. It was also uninviting in a way that some basements are.

So, in the summer of 1971, I found myself a freshly minted nine year old that did not have any friends, any backyard and no place to spread my toys out to play. To top it off, my cat did not make the trip. I heard that there was another nine year old girl on the block and I decided to go down and introduce myself. Now all I had was to go to the new school in September and see how that went.

Keep Reading: New Friends

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

books-finding

Martha Beck teaches you how to navigate the ever changing landscape of your life.

www.wendypowell.ca

Only the Edges are Sharp — Chapter 1 (Beginning of Book)

IMG_1129I’m sitting at my new MacBook Pro looking out the bay window of my office, which faces exactly east. I can see into my front yard, which is in terrible need of water. It has been a gorgeous July if you like to swim and sun bathe, which I do, but a terrible one if you are into water conservation. You would never know that there are any watering restrictions, or restrictions in the use of herbicides, for that matter, in my neighbourhood because it is the ultimate, multiracial, middle class neighbourhood on the edge of a university town, population 100,000.

Life is jubilant. I am in good health. Solvent. I have a lovely home, a great dog, four daughters, good friends and a steady job. I really did wake up in paradise, which raises the question, “How did I get here?”

My earliest memories are of a small A-frame house; the kind that were made by the thousands to accommodate the soldiers when they returned from WWII. It was built on a child friendly crescent. The road had too sharp of a bend for cars to drive quickly and they had no choice but to slow down. It encircled a small grass lawn which was common area for the children to play on, which we all did. The house was about thirty years old by the time that I remember it and the trees reflected that. I had several really large trees of my own in the back yard.

There was a row of tall, pointed trees on the property line. My father explained that this type of tree had been planted because they grow so tall so quickly. He remarked that no one considered how hard it would be to cut them down, in the small backyards, once they towered above all of the houses. My yard also boasted a mature maple with broad dark green leaves that my father built a tree fort in. He also built a sand box in the back corner of the yard. We were lucky that the grade in our yard had not been done properly. After a rain, or a melt in the winter, a puddle often formed in the middle of the yard. This meant for great body surfing fun in the summer and a maintenance free ice rink, of our very own, in the winter.

We also had an old metal swing set that had a slide going down one side and a glider in addition to two swings. The glider was like a small two sided porch swing designed so that you could enter from the side and sit across from someone. When the slider was pushed, you went first toward the person you were facing and then away from them.

This idyllic setting belies the fact that if examined by today’s standards, I was not cared for very well. My most prominent type of memory is one of being alone. I remember sitting in front of the television alone; climbing up on the kitchen counter to reach the food that was safely stored in the upper cupboards, alone; knowing that I would get in trouble if I woke my mother, alone.

I have memories of “swimming” in garbage cans that were kept in back of the house and had become full of water and maggots because they had been left without lids in the rain. I remember fights about milk going missing and cereal that was unaccounted for. There were great arguments between my parents. I was ever so afraid of doing something wrong, but I did not know why. I have vivid memories of stealing chocolate barrels that were filled with caramel and covered in a yellow gold foil. My mother bought these chocolates in a bulk mixture and they were intended for ‘guests’.

One evening my parents were getting ready to go out. The house had the characteristic feeling of anticipation. I could smell my mother’s perfume and my father’s aftershave. It was late and the sun was already down. There was light pouring out of the bathroom, where my father was, and the odd accent light on illuminating an otherwise dark house. The babysitter was expected and I knew that meant that there would be a 69 cent bag of potato chips purchased, which I’m guessing was a full pound of potato chips, but I don’t know for sure.

I was trying to answer a scientific question. My father used a hand held razor. By turning the handle, the top of the razor came apart in the centre and the two halves opened up from the middle leaving an opening for the blade. Inside there was a flat surface for the blade to lie against with a screw in the centre that held the head of the razor onto the handle. When the blade was dropped into its place the handle was turned in the opposite direction to close the housing on the blade. The blade itself was a rectangle with two long sharp sides that were the cutting blades and a keyhole shaped opening in the middle that kept the blade in place and made room for the screw head that was attached to the handle.

My question was a simple one. Was there something inherently sharp about the metal or were only the edges sharp? There was a very direct way to find this out. It was simple. All that I had to do was to take a razor blade and stick my finger into the hole in the centre to see if it was as sharp as the edges were. I knew that I was not supposed to touch the blades. There was no question that what I was doing was not permitted, so when my mother walked into the living room I thrust my hands under the pillow on the sofa. Unfortunately, when you are holding a razor blade in your hand, making a fist around it to hide what you are doing under a pillow is not such a great idea.

All I remember after that was that there was a great amount of blood and my mother being very upset. I don’t remember if they went out for the evening. I know that there were other evenings that they went out. An examination of my hands now does not reveal any permanent scaring so I couldn’t have hurt myself too badly.

By the way, only the long edges are sharp.

Keep Reading: Jumping to Conclusions

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

www.wendypowell.ca

Spring a Reminder of Change

Today is the quintessential first day of spring. Not the calendar month or the day with the highest temperature, the first day of the season. It is no longer winter. There may yet be snow but the snow that is here is melting. There is a slow rhythm of the drips as winter washes away.

The birds are back. The sky is filled with flight and sound. It is funny how much I’ve missed the beauty of the birds and their song. They sit on branches that show no sign of thickening, that precursor to the actual buds. The trees are bare. There are no spring flowers up yet and no hint of summer green.

I slept late and awoke to this fabulous day. I’ve often wondered if those Canadians that choose to move to warmer climes miss the change of seasons. It is always something new and more appreciated for its absence.

A reminder that time moves on and we are all part of a larger cycle of birth and death and renewal. Change is inevitable. Nothing is permanent. By being present we ensure that we are always appreciative of what we enjoy. To stop and give gratitude for all that we have and the exceptional lives we’re being allowed to lead. Showing this gratitude seems to open a door that lets more good come in. If you don’t think that your life is exceptional perhaps this deserves some attention. Stop to appreciate what you do like, it will bring more good in.

I have a fabulous east facing balcony on the second floor. From there I can see the sunrise in the morning and the constellation Bootes after dark, at least this time of year.

The universe conspired with humour while I enjoyed my balcony today. Three different men with three different dogs all had to clean up poop on the lawn in front of my house. The first guy had to come back, for the package, after he realized that I had watched his dog poop and him walk away.

The third guy had the further indignity of knowing that I was watching him. I came out onto my balcony mid poo and he had heard me. It is a fine example of how our lives happen in the moments in which they occur. We like to tell our stories about how great things will be in the future when we get that or move there or buy the next best thing but the true experience is always now. Simply by paying attention to the moment, my experience became about now. It may not be a grand trip to an exotic place, but it was funny watching these men deal with their dogs. Enjoying the first day of spring. Feeling gratitude for the humour, even if it was potty humour.

From the deck on the west part of my house, think sunsets and the Big Dipper at night, I can see a small pond that is frozen. There are geese walking across it as though to check it out as a future prospect. My pool is frozen as well and I crave its languid embrace. I still find it hard to believe that I have a pool and currently it is just as much a part of a dream as any other part of the future.

We don’t need to be reminded of how quickly our lives can be washed away, possibly before that next new thing even gets here. So perhaps we should appreciate today. Take the arrival of spring as a reminder that all things come to pass and feel gratitude for the things in our lives that bring us joy. How would you spend your day if you knew that everything was taken care of? Isn’t it, just for this moment?