Saturday, January 30, 2021

Where we will teach you how to rock

I know it sounds a bit nutty but every morning before work, I sit in a wooden rocking chair in our living room for about half an hour. 

And just rock. 

Monday to Friday. After breakfast. 

After I do the cat litter and/or take out the recycles. 

After I’ve read all the parts of the Toronto Star that I’m going to read. 

Sometimes I’ll have music playing softy while I rock, and some mornings, I’ll sip tea or coffee. 

But I don’t read or touch my phone or laptop. I simply rock and look out at the street. 

I’ve been doing it almost every weekday for the past three months. 

Not only is it relaxing, rocking's educational, too. I'll explain in a bit, but first you have to know that, yes, Iris the cat gets a piece of the (in)action.

Iris, in the early days of my rocking adventure, realized she can take advantage. 
MEMO TO SELF: Can Iris's sign guy not come
up with a Cat Ballou pun?

If you could see into our living room at, say, 7:10 a.m., while I'm still in the kitchen downing a peanut-butter-and-banana-on-toast sandwich, you’d see Iris waiting, leaning against the left leg of the rocking chair, the same way the drunk gunslinger Kid’s Shaleen’s horse leaned against the saloon in Cat Ballou.

Iris knows that when I rock, my left hand dangles down beside the chair so she can indulge herself by skulking back and forth under my outstretched fingers, effectively getting free skritches. 

But beyond that? The only muscle I need to rock is in the calf of the leg the other leg is crossed over.

The chair almost rocks itself. 

I like it best when the rocker happens to be astride a slightly squeaky floorboard, so my rock sounds like a slow metronome. 
has me chair trained.

As inevitable as Iris is that every morning now, I think a lot about my grandmother Carter, who I lived with during my first year of university. She rocked. 

Mary Bridget (Mayme) Carter, who died at 99, also had a ticking chiming clock on the mantle, which rang out the same Westminster chime that the clock we have in our front hall sings, every 15 minutes. (That’s how I know when my rock is done and I have to get to work.) 

When she was a young woman in the Ottawa Valley, where she grew up, she was a dance teacher. She married a man named Pat who was 18 years older than her and they lived on a farm in a tiny crossroads called Huntley, Ontario. She gave birth to seven kids; lived through two world wars, and the Great Depression.Mayme witnessed the arrival of air travel, electric stoves (which she distrusted at first) and microwave ovens. I also have a feeling that sometimes she cheated when we played euchre, but not much.

She was in her early 90s when I lived with her and she never let me leave the house without money in my pocket—she’d ask “do you have any spondooniks” which is such an arcane reference to money that it stumps Google. (Google did remind me, though, that the name Peter means rock.) 

One thing about Grandma Carter is that right up to the end, her mind stayed in very good shape. That keeps me hopeful about my own. I also wonder if the rocking chair contributed to her acuity.
There's nothing tedious about thinking.

Another thing? Before I started rocking, I wondered, a bit sadly, how bored she must have been, sitting rocking all those hours. 

Now that I’ve discovered the joy that can be had simply rocking, I don’t feel bad for Grandma Carter any more.

Especially when she had all those memories to enjoy.

Finally, I believe my daily rock has, without my planning it, replaced my morning commute, which I miss a lot. 

Going to and from my office was recess from life. No reading, no scrolling, just sitting in a very comfortable chair in an air conditioned car. For sometimes up to an hour. Sometimes listening to music. Thinking. 

Sounds luxurious right? Grandma Carter knew a thing or two.

Just sitting, thinking. It just might keep me on my rocker.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

How my mom taught us to pray (The Extended Pray version)

Many evenings after supper when I was growing up in Sudbury, if you visited our three-bedroom house where my parents raised 10 kids, there's a good chance you would have found all the occupants of the house on their knees, in the living room, saying the rosary.

Sounds sort of solemn, ritualistic and, well, kinda culty, doesn't it?

RAD DECOR: All living room structures could
serve as prayer propper-uppers

That's because it was. 

And the more I think about it, the more I understand the life lessons those evening prayers taught me. (Not the least of which is, if you're having trouble getting your grown kids to move out, you might wanna think about including rosary recitation in your daily routines. Just sayin'.)

But really, before telling you how "the Beads," as we called it, affected us, a few explanations are in order.

First. When I say the whole family, fact is, I can't really remember a time when everybody lived at home. 

My oldest brother Pat moved out shortly after I was born, two of my older sisters Mary and Bertholde went away to school early and by the time I was old enough to know anything, my second oldest brother Tom was in the working world. I'm also certain that other evenings, if, say, my older sisters Charlene or Norma or brothers Alex and Ed knew the rosary was a-comin', they'd find something else to do.

But never mind that. Mom's rosaries didn't need a quorum. Whoever was in the house was enough.

And neither was the rosary a nightly occurrence. It just seemed that way.

Some evenings, I imagine my mom (her name was Huena) employed the rosary as a way to quieten down the house.

And it unfolded thusly: Mom would lasso whoever was present with something along the lines of "it's time to say The Beads." So everybody--including visitors never mind if they weren't Catholic--gathered in the living room and knelt down in front of some furniture. 

It was pretty random. 

I'M PRAYING the company that posted this great image on
the web wouldn't object to my using it. But just to cover my
bases, here's their site

Two of us might kneel at the either end of the couch, somebody else'd get down beside a footstool or maybe against the back of a straight-backed chair. 

The lights got dimmed. And there we'd stay for the next 15-to-20 minutes, praying.

I'm sure that over the years, more than one unscheduled early evening visitor was taken by surprise by this scene, which I think looks like what they found under the ashes at Pompeii. I remember one night the cops showed up for some reason. That did not deter Huena.

Once we were all on our knees, my mom or dad subtly cued us to make the sign of the cross, or, as we called it, bless ourselves. (It's what the Dominican baseball players do as they step up to the plate.)

After we blessed ourselves, the "Beads" included the following opening prayers, always in the same order: The Creed, which we called "The I Believe in God," the Lord's Prayer, (we never called it that. It was always "The Our Father"), three Hail Marys (for the non-Catholics out there, this is where the popular phrase "throwing a Hail Mary" comes from. You're welcome.) and those three Hail Mary's would be followed by the "Glory Be!" 

SHIITE CATHOLIC: That's how comic Jim Gaffigan describes 
his wife Jeannie. Me and my dad (above) approve.
I should explain that this was a group effort. One person in the room would be chosen to lead the prayers, which mean he or she would say the first half of all the above prayers and then the others would recite the second parts.

After those five prayers were said came the main part of The Beads.

First, the leader would say the Our Father and everybody else in the room would recite the second half. 

(This is way more complicated than I thought it would be.)

Then, the leader said the first half of the Hail Mary and the group would answer with the second half and then that would happen--I hope you're sitting down--10 whole times. In a row.

Finally, after all those Hail Marys, the leader recited the first half of the Glory Be, as in, and I quote: "Glory Be to that Father, Son and Holy Ghost" and the crowd responded: "As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end amen." 

Do you realize how long it's been since I recited that? 

And there it was, up in my frontal brain lobe, right beside the first verse of  "Gilligan's Island!" 

I should also add that I, personally, didn't mean a word of it. I had no idea what the vast majority of the words we were saying meant. But that's neither here nor there. At that point, the leader--a role that was sometimes passed around in mid-rosary--repeated that series of 12-prayers five times.

Are you counting? We're up to more than 60 prayers. Said out loud. On a regular basis, in our living room. After all that praying, I'm pretty sure we could be as bad as we want and still get to heaven.  But I digress.

Those five verses of prayers were called the "decades" of the Beads, and I just remembered that sometimes, mom or dad would remind us that they each corresponded to something call the "Mysteries" of our faith: The Five Glorious mysteries; the five Sorrowful mysteries, The Five Joyous mysteries, and two more that I forget, the same as I forget the second verse of Gilligan's Island.

And after the five decades? 

Even more prayers but these involved nowhere as much audience participation. In fact, that part of the rosary, I was pretty much on cruise control for. That last part involved long complicated prayers that only the adults knew.

Here's a coincidence you'll greet happily. Not only did those big prayers bring the rosary to a close, they also finally brought us to the reason I'm telling you all this.

This Christmas, my lovely and thoughtful cousin Nancy Fulsom, whose mom was my dad's sister, sent us a Christmas card and printed on the front was one of those long complicated adult prayers that punctuated the rosary. 

It won Christmas.

HAIL NANCY: The card that won Christmas

The moment I saw the words, I was filled with a flood of wonderful memories. Here's a word: Verklempt. I think it means all colours of emotions.

The card was such a heartfelt gift, we're keeping it on display in our living room. 

When I look at it, I hear my dad's very unique manner of introducing the Hail Holy Queen, all those years ago..." 

"HAIL HOLY queen..." Tom intoned, like a Catholic Imam, alerting us all to the fact that we were now in for some long complicated and frankly, boring prayers that we'd never learn the words to.

And now, it's probably safe to tell you I very often mumbled during that part of the beads, pretending to know what I was praying about. 

I used to do the same thing when I was an altar boy at St. Clement's Church. We were supposed to know a bit of  Latin. I knew none.

But there were a few prayers the priest recited the first part of and we altar boys knelt angelically in front of him, our hands together and heads bowed, pretending to say something. 

All we knew was the right number of syllables and lines. It seemed to do the trick.

It's a skill that came in handy in life. 

I pretend to know stuff a lot.


Friday, January 1, 2021

A cold hard truth: Lots of us can't hold our licker

MA BIG SOEUR MARIE ET ME: She attended the French
side of St. Albert's school where the fence got licked in
both official tongues. 

I belong to a Facebook group called "I grew up in Sudbury." 

I don't often post to the group and neither do I know what possessed me to do so, but Wednesday, I asked the following: "Where was the frozen fence you licked and got your tongue stuck on? Mine was in front of St. Albert's school on Eyre Street." 

The first response arrived seconds after I hit enter. Andrea wrote: "Carl A. Nesbitt school." 

A few minutes later, came this, from Jennifer, another Nesbitt student: "Nesbitt. "Me too!" 

I'm writing this on Friday, Jan.1. (Happy New Year!) The fence posting (see what I did there?? Ha!) has been up for a little more than two days.

More than 450 lickers responded. 

The majority just reported in a location. 

Like Brenda, here: "At primary school. Notre Dame du Saint Rosaire in Blezard Valley."

And turns out a lot more than fences got stuck on. 

Cheyanne: "Bus stop (lamp post) on Leger Cres. School fence. Redwood Acres."

Or this one, from an overachiever named Peggy: "Barn door latch in Cape Breton. I even had to go on tip toes to reach" 

Or the athletic Rose-Anne: "We had metal snowshoes like gliders and I stuck my tongue on it. My mother came to the rescue with a glass of water." 

Carole: "I do remember doing this at Cabot street park on the play turn thingy ha. Think we would learn the first time. Ugh. Awful feeling. Lol. I can almost feel the sting." 

 Maurice: "Did the deed (only once) on the metal part of my sleigh." 

 Al: "Queens Athletic field. (A Sudbury outdoor sports facility.) Skating the oval. Stopped to sit in the stands and decided to stick my tongue on the railing. I’ll never forget this. I may have been 6-8 years old lol."  

Jenny: "Ski lift at Adanac" (Sudbury's local downhill skihill was called Canada spelled backwards.)

TABANUSH! Done incorrectly,
getting unstuck hurt like the devil.   

Riki: "Tetherball pole at old Levack Pubic School."

Suzanne: "At my memere's in Sturgeon Falls" 

Ray: "St. Louis de Gonzague on a black pole. I still remember seeing my tongue skin on the pole and bleeding like mad. I ran home crying. I was around 7 years old." 

Erin: "Mine was the metal zipper on my ‘Alaska’ snow suit from city surplus." 

Linda: "My parents fountain in back yard pool. Ripped my tongue off and left most of it there! Popsicles for a week" 

Grant: "The hockey rink they use to have at Immaculate Conception school on Lavoie St in 1968, I was 5! Licked the door hinge..stupid move! Mom had to poor tea on my tongue to get it off!"

Jon: "Central Public School, Kirkland Lake, Boys entrance. Ouch!" (Okay. Jon here is one of the few people I actually know who responded. Jon and I have worked and played together over the past 40 years and I'm just telling you that because he is one of the smartest people in my universe, he's in fact wise, he's a successful businessman, publisher, artist and all-around great citizen. What I'm saying here is, frozen-fence licking is not for dummies.)

Back to the stuck folk.

In some cases, authorities were summoned. Erin: "Alexander School kindergarten. Firetrucks were called. 1989."

Anna: "Mine was on the poles of the Brights Wine store beside Kresges downtown. Remember my Dad just pulled my head and you could see the little white marks left from my 👅. I was really young but I’m sure it hurt. Remember crying lots LOL."

Kelly: "St Michael’s school. My grade one teacher proceeded to scare us half to death with a story of a kid who ripped off his entire tongue and couldn’t ever tell his mom he loved her. I felt I needed to test that theory. She lied." 

David: "École St-Pierre schoolyard. But I hardly touched the metal fence post - just enough to feel about a millimetre stick and unstick. Lucky moment. But still memorable. Why did we do it?" 
SOLID ADVICE: Here is a link to a blog about how to get
unstuck. It's also where this great photo came from. 

Lisa: "My bratty classmates dared me, and I too got my tongue stuck on the same fence post on Eyre St as everybody else, LOL. We might need a support group now." 

Mike: "I remember Norman a.k.a. Bucky at école Sacrée Coeur in Val Caron. His whole tongue was stuck on the fence post because his sister dared him. Gross! I remember a lot of blood!"

Rita: "The playground slide."

Rita, in a follow-up post: "The big question is why??"

Solange: "I remember my first time was in the school bus."

Louise: "Well I was smarter than most...I licked the metal on our shovel."

Arynn: "I had a swing set in my yard with an attached slide. I licked the flat part of the slide. Didn't know what to do, pulled hard, tore a strip off. Never ever did that again.

Merle: "I remember in Grade 1 at St. Jean's school lol. After recess we all had to line up and for some reason the Grade 1s were all close to that long green steel railing and think there were about 6 of us and we all got our tongues stuck on the pipes. Remember Miss Gordon coming out with the warm water and getting all of us unstuck with poor old Mr. Chenier who was at the caretaker at the school. He was French and would mutter some 'tabernac' words when all the kids came in and a bunch of us all stuck to the pipes."

You should know that the elementary school I attended--St. Albert's, was actually two schools. The first floor was English; the French kids attended on the second storey and for some reason, we seldom interacted. It's the subject of another blog but this week, over frozen tongue stories, some of us, er, bonded.

To my original question, Vic answered: "Yup. Probably the same fence post. Eyre and Albert. Lol." 

To which I responded: "At least we first and second floor kids had that in common. The fence got licked in both official tongues."

Vic: "You got that right. Esti. You and I ever fight? LOL"

I could read these all day.

Eliza: "I didn't lick a fence. I put my mouth around a bar on a swing at my friend's house. Ripped the skin off both my lips. It hurts."

Debra: "Immaculate Conception school in Val Caron, Ont. (A few miles north of Sudbury) Put my tongue on the school fence while waiting for the school bus. Damn missed the bus, too. Had to walk home... Took about an hour and I peed in my snow suit. And I was about 7 years old."

Monica: "Sudbury Downs racetrack. Dad was parenting." (I remember taking my three young children Ewa, Ria and Michel to the track, too. It's very educational.)
I could tell you lots more, and perhaps might in another blog, but I think you get the picture. 

Plus I have to stop some place so might as well with my favourite. Read it. You'll understand.

Anita: "Once only. Was the entrance door for the grades 1-6. Friends dared me, right? Who can refuse a dare? Luckily, my dad owned his own bus when he found out...he came running to help me...he put his warm hands around my mouth and blew hot came dad was always my hero...and even now when something goes wrong I feel his presence."

Peter: "Me, too."