Monthly Archives: December 2016

Ice

Today’s post is a short story by Margaret Reilly, who still misses the rink…

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ICE

Margaret E. Reilly

The blue-gray light of a winter afternoon came in through the windows that lined one wall of the 4th grade classroom: windows that started waist high and went up to the ceiling in rectangular panes; windows for displaying the children’s art on; windows to gaze out of with endless longing. Martha looked out at the snow and then at the clock at the front of the room, up high beside the poster of John XXIII. She read the words beside John Kennedy’s portrait again, for the thousandth time, “Ask not what your school can do for you, but what you can do for your school.” Ten minutes to go. Three-thirty. Three-thirty-one. She watched the seconds tick by and filled in the blanks in a grammar sheet handed out by the teacher.

The windows were hung with Valentine hearts and cupids made in last Friday’s art period. Art was not treated as a subject like all the others. It was a reward given grudgingly and sporadically. Martha loved art class and would be filled with a hopeless rage when it was swept aside for extra math or some other more “important” subject. Father O’Whalen came in one Friday afternoon when they were painting life-size figures on huge sheets of craft paper, almost the best art project they’d ever done. The children had to stand up beside their desks, abandon their paints, and say, “Good afternoon, Father.” They had to pretend to be glad to see him when they were all thinking, “How could he come now when we’re having so much fun? Why didn’t he come during math class?” Father O’Whalen had a poor sense of timing. He didn’t understand children. When Martha heard the scriptural text “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” she knew it must refer to Father O’Whalen.

Finally the bell rang. Miss Beamish told them to put away their books and get their homework ready. Martha thought this was completely unfair. Once the bell rang she thought they should be dressed and ready to fly out the door. Now the torture really began. They went one row at a time to put on their coats and boots, with the teacher choosing the quietest row to go first. Martha sat so still she barely breathed. Malcolm Edwards, the worst boy in the class, sat at the end of her row. Every day he would fidget and drop things or start some kind of trouble and hers would be the last row to get dressed and leave. It wasn’t fair. How could Miss Beamish judge the whole row by the behaviour of the worst boy in the class? If a kid made up rules like that she wouldn’t have any friends to play with, but adults got away with this stuff all the time.

Martha’s skates were hanging on the peg underneath her coat. She hung them over her shoulder by the laces and hurried out with her book bag tucked under her arm and her coat half done, up. She headed for the skating rink in the park beside the public library. The shadows on the snow had already turned from blue to deep grey and it would soon be too dark for her to be out alone. She put on her skates in the hut and hid her book bag under the seat. Sometimes the big girls would come along and throw her bag in a snowbank, scattering her books and papers all over the field beside the rink. They only did this if they were bored, when there were no boys around to flirt with. It wasn’t anything personal.

Martha glided onto the ice and started her methodical circling. A light snow fell and gathered on her white toque and green plaid coat. She kept her hands in her pockets as she skated round and round, picking up speed on the straight stretches and losing it on each corner. A few boys played hockey, shooting the puck from one end to the other and calling out in the still coldness, but they didn’t interfere with Martha’s steady rounds. With each turn her mind became freer, nothing existed but the circle of ice in front of her and her gliding skates. Her thoughts grew still and came to a stop until there was no Martha – only a sensation of movement and cold and the grey-white ice. This is what Martha came for, although she never could have put it into words. If asked, she would have said, “I skate because it’s fun.” This freedom from self-consciousness was too important to talk about with just anyone. It was pleasurable enough to be a sin. If it was a sin she didn’t want to hear about it. Martha called this secret state the “funny feeling”. She wished she had a best friend to discuss this with, someone she could really trust, someone who wouldn’t laugh or talk behind her back. When spring came and the ice melted Martha could get this feeling on the swings at the park, but it wasn’t as good as skating because swinging made her dizzy after a few minutes. Skating was something Martha could do endlessly, tirelessly.

The street lights came on, Martha’s signal that she had to head for home. The sidewalks were covered with snow so she walked the four blocks on the tops of the snow banks, falling through now and then and filling her boots with crusty snow. From the porch she could smell supper cooking. One of her older sisters, likely Rose, would be getting supper ready since their mother wouldn’t be home from work until at least five-thirty. Every room in the house was lit up. Martha slowly hung her coat on the hall tree and stowed her boots in the cupboard. She savoured the last few moments of anonymity before becoming Martha again: cheerful Martha; good-natured Martha; bookish Martha. She went into the kitchen where Rose was standing at the sink, peeling potatoes.

“Could you grab that pot for me, Martha?” No one ever said hello or good-bye in her family. One just came in and rejoined life in progress.

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The Hat Trick

I published this one back in 2012 but then removed it when I submitted it to a short story contest. Needless to say I should have won but didn’t, so here it is again, in the spirit of a real Quebec winter.

Proulx at the bus stop

Proulx at the bus stop

 

Saturday afternoon Mr. Proulx took up his usual spot at the outdoor rink to watch his local church team, St. Joseph’s play their archrivals, St. Patrick’s Irish. By the time he arrived the Pats were up a goal. The wind was blowing so hard towards the net of the Joes that they were having a difficult time trying to bring the puck to the Pats zone. The Pats on the other hand, with the wind at their backs, flew down the ice at the hapless Joes. No sooner had Proulx arrived when the Pats scored again.

“Come on boys, let’s get one,” shouted Proulx.

He gesticulated towards the Irish net as if they didn’t know where it was. He pulled out a flask and took a long swig. A few of the players looked over and laughed. It was a familiar routine; Proulx shouting encouragement, and getting tipsy. Sometimes when Proulx leaned over to thump on the boards his fedora would fall on the ice. The first player to go by would flip it up and over the boards with his stick, barely missing a stride. The deftness with which one could flip a hat or a lump of hard snow off the rink was a matter of common pride.

At the end of the first half the score was 2-0 for the Irish. The referee blew his whistle and the players scrambled half frozen from their boxes, heading for the warmth of the shack. Proulx thumped their backs as they went in and again as they came out for the next period, reminding them that the game was not over yet.

With the wind now at their backs the Joes came on with fury, soon tying the score. Then the wind moved, and both teams rushed from end to end with equal speed, passion and precision. But there were no more goals, and with only two minutes left Proulx cheered and pounded vigorously on the boards, calling for his boys to score the winner. It was then that his hat fell off.

A gust of wind blew Proulx’s black fedora into centre ice right in the path of one of the Irish players. He slashed the hat on his backhand sending it sailing out of the rink. Like a kite it soared into the air, where the blustering wind carried it far away across a snowy field.

Swiveling his head to watch the hat, while his body was halfway through a quick turn in the opposite direction, a St. Pat defenseman tripped and fell. His pathway cleared, a St. Joe winger cruised in with the puck and scored.

Out in the field some youngsters were playing with Proulx’s hat when he walked up to them. One dutifully returned it as Proulx said to him, “That’s my lucky hat, you know”.

Monday afternoon Mr. Proulx was walking down St. Catherine St. smoking his pipe, his head held high. He had a satisfied look on his face, as if he had just heard some pleasing news. Only he hadn’t heard anything of the sort. This was merely his usual way of walking and pipe smoking.

He was thinking about how, his hat having fallen off at the opportune moment, he had inadvertently assisted his team to defeat the Pats. It seemed like it was nothing more than a lucky coincidence, although the rude treatment of his hat by the Pats player served to make it a case of just desserts for the Irish. Such is the randomness of hockey he concluded. It could have gone either way.

Passing by a liquor store he went in and purchased a hip flask of his favorite whiskey. Back on the street he continued his walk, pausing to look in shop windows full of Christmas goods.  He stopped at the corner newsstand, perusing the daily papers for anything of interest. He was about to move on when he noticed a small headline in the left hand corner of one paper.

One Goal Hat Trick it said. Proulx picked it up and handed over a few coins to the newsy. The paper tucked under his arm he continued his stroll. A few blocks west and round a corner he reached his tavern, where he took his usual table. No sooner had he sat down when the waiter arrived with the customary order of two draft beers.

Leaving his hat on, Proulx slung his coat on the back of the chair, relit his pipe and opened the paper. He peered at the little article in the bottom corner. To his surprise it was a brief account of the game at which he had lost his hat, and the subsequent events leading to the winning goal. The writer concluded with the observation that St. Catherine must have interceded on behalf of the team which the hat owner supported, her being the patron saint of hat makers. An affront to a good hat must have caused her divine intercession.

Mr. Proulx had emptied one glass. He reached behind himself to pull his flask from the inside pocket of his coat. He poured a little shot into the empty glass and drank it down in one gulp, followed by a swig from beer number two. Then he went back to reading. Here was a story about panic in the markets, here another about the divorce rate in Russia. He turned to the editorial page to see what the issue of the day would be. Now here was yet another shock: it was about miracles, the hat he’d dropped on the ice, and St. Catherine, patron saint of hat makers, lace makers and so on.

“Now that’s a strange coincidence,” thought Proulx. “Me sitting in a tavern on St. Catherine Street, reading about the very hat that sits on top of my head.”

Moments later Proulx’s friend Tremblay arrived, followed by two glasses of beer. Mr. Tremblay had no knowledge of the One Goal Hat Trick or of Proulx’s part in it. When he asked Proulx what was new in the paper, Proulx smirked and directed Tremblay’s attention to the first article.

“So you believe that your hat won the game?” asked Tremblay with a smile.

Mr. Proulx shrugged and pointed out the editorial page. Tremblay read on. He nodded his head saying “hmm” to himself several times as he read.

“A miracle perhaps,” he said when he was done, taking a sip from his second beer.

“Well, if it was a miracle,” asked Proulx “Then was it the hat, or was it St. Catherine?”

Tremblay was truly puzzled. Of course, it had to be something, but what, and how? He told Proulx that he would think on the matter. They drank up their beer and had a game of cribbage before they left.

It was windy and bitter cold out as they exited onto St. Catherine Street. Hard snowflakes drove into their faces and swirled up in columns like little tornadoes. Tremblay extracted a toque from his pocket and pulled it tight on his head. He looked at Proulx who was buttoning his coat when a sudden gust sent the lucky fedora flying into the street. They both turned their heads to watch it go as it hit the road and tumbled into the far lane. While Proulx watched in vain for a break in traffic a bus ran over the hat, leaving it crushed and filthy by the far curb.

Tremblay put his hand up to his head and groaned. Proulx remained silent, nodding gently as if talking to someone who wasn’t there. Then he pulled his pipe from his pocket and stuffed it between his teeth. He lit up, giving a hard puff so that it belched a small cloud of smoke.

He turned to Tremblay and gave him a pat on the back. They moved on down the street together.

“Well, it’s her street after all, isn’t it?” remarked Proulx.

Tremblay looked at him.

“You know, I had a notion that it was just the hat.”

“No, it couldn’t have been the hat,” replied Proulx. “It must have been St. Catherine.”

Tremblay looked back at the flattened fedora.

“Yes, you could be right.”

“Well, there’s no other explanation,” Proulx said with a sigh.

The hat lay on the street for a little while. Then a boy came along and picked it up. He punched it into some semblance of a shape and took it home with a mind to put it on a snowman.

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Solstice Greetings

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peanuts tree

Winter solstice is here, now the days will begin to get longer, even though the winter has just begun. That is some comfort! Here are a few scenes of winter, if you could even call it winter here, which is a joke to many who must contend with snow, ice and frozen snot-cicles. I count myself fortunate that I no longer suffer from those, and yet my hands still get cold! Such suffering! I got a pair of bum glove/mitts for that, with a mitten that flaps over the open glove fingers, thus allowing the use of a camera without exposing one’s entire hand to the frigid air.

My Annual Christmas Poem

Winter rain turns into snow
Off to the clothing shop I go
Tables piled high with ware
Jackets, scarves and warm hats there
Gloves and mittens for my hands
Flannel shirts from foreign lands
Shop clerk sporting Santa hat
Offers help with this and that
But my needs are few so I
Quickly pass all those things by
What I need hangs on the wall
Ten feet wide by six feet tall
Dangling folded up on hooks
Many sizes, colours, looks
Christmas day inside a box
Can you guess? Grey wool socks!

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horse in woolys

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there was ice, briefly – puzzling the ducks

random acts of Xmas decoration in the forest

random acts of Xmas decoration in the forest

the nutcracker found this mesmerizing

the nutcracker found this mesmerizing

only in winter do we get Hooded Mergansers

only in winter do we get Hooded Mergansers

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Have You Heard About the Herd?

While looking through cards  in the recipe box I recently found, I came across a few pieces of paper. One of them was folded into six and inside was a recipe for Baked Beans. What was more interesting however, was what was written on the back.

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Woody Herman’s autograph, in pencil!

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I had a look on the internet and it closely resembles a number of examples of Woody’s autograph, leading me to believe it’s the real thing. I simply can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be. But why was it on the back of a baked beans recipe?

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Here’s one of my Woody Herman LP’s, with many familiar classic swing era tunes. Woody was one of the top band leaders of the day, and once had Dizzy Gillespie as an arranger! The first Herman band was known as The Band That Played the Blues, but later they were called The Herd.

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I know what I’ll be listening to later today, perhaps over a plate of baked beans…

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Recipe Boxes & Typeface Detective Work

Once again I’m finding things seem to come in waves, and here is another example: I found my 2nd old metal card file box in as many days. This time the box was empty, but nevertheless the same box with a different paint job.

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Meanwhile I’ve been amusing myself trying to discover the sort of typewriter that was used to type the pastry recipe on the index card I featured previously. I typed the same words using an old Underwood Golden Touch but that didn’t look like it, so I then tried with a 1948 model Royal Arrow. That looked very similar.

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Here is the direct comparison of the new card (Royal Arrow 1948) and the original card (unknown). The old ink is now brown, and it looks fatter, but that may simply be how it was absorbed by the paper when it was typed in the first place.

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Going through the recipe box thoroughly I discovered a few more typed recipes, which I present here.

 

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This next recipe comes from a different machine, at 11 characters/inch. My first guess would be a Brother, but it could well be an Olympia too, as they made plenty of 11 pitch machines. I have not investigated this typeface yet.

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Back to the other typewriter again for a Mystery Cake.

mystery-cake

 

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Daily Six Pack

That arctic outflow has us in its grip, but only very loosely. Temperatures hover around the freezing mark, leaving icy patches about but also wet places where the sun shines for a while. On the lake the water level must rise at night, evidenced by the suspended ice plates I often see on days like this.

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With brilliant sun and cold we seem to get more birds. This Barred Owl was sitting directly above the path,  unperturbed by my attention, swiveling his head as I circled round to get a better angle. He  was still there when I returned an hour later, but another photographer had taken my place and no doubt filled his memory card with owl pictures.

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Across the floating bridge there were the usual crowd of Mallards and this lonely Hooded Merganser.

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Across the lake I had a brief look at this Cooper’s Hawk before it split in a hurry. Maybe it was hungry. They don’t sit still for long.

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The lake has flooded the surrounding lowlands and in a seasonal slough behind the ring of bush that borders the lake I saw a large flock of ducks and geese. I walked through the closely cropped grass past a gaggle of grazing Canada Geese to get a closer look. Quite suddenly the flock erupted and headed to the air.

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On the return leg a Bewick’s Wren was picking at the bark of a tree.

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The last bird I saw was this one, a male House Finch.

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Mother’s Pie Crust

ye olde recipe boxe

ye olde recipe boxe

I’ve been looking for one of these  for some time. My mother had one similar, but with a tartan pattern and beige brown lid. It too was stuffed full of mostly handwritten recipes. I venture this came from the 50’s, judging by the handwriting (tiny and perfect) and the business card stuck inside, which has a phone number that begins with letters (GR in this case). Having searched most of the cards I’ve only found one that was typewritten, and of course it is clear and easily understood. It looks to be elite (12 cpi), but from what machine? The stasi would have known these things! For those who might be making pies for the holidays, here is that recipe. Note the hopeful suggestion about fingers crossed.

pastry-recipe

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