Words for snow. I don’t know yet who I born to, but know from whom I became. At St. Timothy’s Church on Alta Vista Drive in Ottawa on September 9, 1967, a Scottish Protestant dairy farmer who married a city girl of English and Irish decent. Or, considering capital at the time, perhaps she was more of a townie. My father and mum. They step out of her family home, she out of her job in the meat department as a cutter at Rideauview IGA, commuting west, over to Prince of Wales at Meadowlands; newly minted, married.
Her family home; one made out of familiarity, comfort. The 1970s, a house that included two of six siblings. Third in the line, Patricia, two years older, and the seventh, Robert, over a decade younger. Sour Aunt Pat, who returned home with daughters not much younger than Bob, himself married, finally moved by 1981. Porcelain Red Rose figurines that occupied spots along small kitchen window ledge, just above the sink. White near-sheer curtain that half-hid, nearby cupboard that held, of all things, Tang. What only astronauts, and, I discovered, my grandmother, drank.
From the Page family bookshelf, Better Homes and Gardens FAMILY MEDICAL GUIDE, copyright 1964, 1966. My grandmother’s name and address writ into the flyleaf. Scraps of paper inserted as bookmarks, underlining “Infectious Mononucleosis,” highlighting “Hiatus Hernia,” “Middle Ear Infections.” Between her own children, foster children, eventual grandchildren, an essential reference book for the household. The stories of neighbourhood kids invited over for Christmas, Thanksgiving. A household community.
Lymph Nodes and SpleenImagine: as my father recently informed, I hadn’t realized the highway that connects Ottawa to Montreal still in construction during the late 1960s, theirs the last stretch of 417. What now a forty-five minute drive from capital to homestead once took more than two hours navigating backroads, the period my parents were courting the distance, 1965 to 1967.
infectious mononucleosis (“mono”) : white cell count ; differential ;
heterophile antibody test.
Hodgkin’s disease : chest x-rays ;
White cell count ; differential ; lymph node biopsy.
sarcoid : proteins ; calcium ; lymph node biopsy.
leukemia: see Blood.
It reinforces, not necessarily revealing, a strong will, dedication. A steady hand. This girl he courted for months, driving multiple hours each way.
This second half of my life so far, composing books. What these years have taught I already knew, perfecting new kinds of patience.
The single day spent clearing material from grandmother’s Heron Road one-bedroom, the brief period between placing her in a nursing home and quick downturn, July to August to September 2000. My mother in armchair beside sister-in-law, Shirley, reminiscing, perusing photo albums as the rest of us toiled, stripped apartment archive of decades down to parking level rental. What had to be done.
Two months to pack and move, and my mother wouldn’t allow until the final day, scrambling. Control she wouldn’t relinquish but wouldn’t do anything about, either. Stalemate.
In each household, books held as reference, I pour. Seeking clues that might not exist. Putting more weight in these items than they deserve. Perhaps received as a gift, slipped on a shelf and forgot. Seeking clarity through fragments. I grew up in a house that included books, but not a house of books. Is there a difference? Left for reference or sentiment.
As younger teen, earlier still, a book I never opened but the most glorious cover, full frontal woman from hips up, the most beautiful breasts. Home had only Sears catalogues. The Penguin paperback of Edna O’Brien’s A Scandalous Woman and other stories. Slipping into grandmother’s living room for a quick peek, a reminder. Slightly disappointed now that when she died, I didn’t try to retrieve. A youthful staple, standard, I’d often anticipate.
A boy never forgets his first glimpse of breasts. Innocent-sweet, and perfect.