The year we spent waiting for my grandmother to die has come and gone. Mostly I ran on beaches and clambered through trails overlooking the meeting of Atlantic and Indian oceans. Plettenburg Bay – a place tourists spend thousands of dollars to reach. They plunge from the highest bungee jump in the world and watch herds of whales drift by – a watery safari.
I am 10 years old. In front of me lies my grandmother; her body stretched to either edge of a splintered wooden box. Mother’s mother. Stuffed tightly around her edges are queen proteas. They overwhelm her. Their furry thick petals and wild green leaves look like heaven (not in the religious sense but the feeling of it). Her casket is awkwardly placed on the coffee table. It pushes up against the green couch, she had chosen to face sliding screen doors overlooking a hilltop of proteas and the distant sea. There was importance and there was vague memory before death, after death and in-between.
I knew my mother was there, at her bedside, when everything slipped away. Their two hands clasped, my grandmother’s breath growing shallow (as I’ve heard it does when death is slow to come).
I don’t walk up to the box that holds her awkward shape; long, cold, stiff. I obsess over the wild beauty that surrounds her. Flowers soft to touch. I imagine her closer, I touch her skin – pull on it.
Family gathers around a deep hole in the garden. I don’t come within five feet of the hole as I watch each person drop handfuls of dirt into it. I’m not afraid of seeing the box carefully placed in its cavity. I’m scared of standing in front of a crowd. Like a magnet, I stick to the side of my mother. Her edges are corduroy, soft and crumpled.
All faces are a blur, except for my aunts. Her yellowish skin and excessive sniveling shock me. She sucks in air through her nose. Every movement made is monstrous and cruel. All else is fine. The air that wraps her face is new air, thin and whispery. The grass under her feet perfectly kept, sculpted around a wild garden. The rest is sea, dirt, tree and protea – a good death.
Today Canada remembers veterans of war. I spoke to my great uncle Bob about his experiences as a POW as well as his journey through a broadcasting career. This audio piece was used a few weeks ago in At Humber, our daily hour long current affairs show out of Humber College. The show is produced by final year journalism students at Humber and is broadcast on 96.9FM Radio Humber. Enjoy the story. Everyone should interview their elders about the past, there are so many stories out there.
I have returned with an audio piece. Wade Davis’s Massey lecture will be broadcast tonight at 9pm (Monday Nov. 2nd 2009) on CBC radio one’s Ideas. I was able to interview him before his final Massey Lecture presentation in Toronto. He was able to give me a half-hour long interview.This is my little piece, produced today and aired on At Humber. I may end up producing a feature profile piece with this interview if I find the time.
Artwork from Nuit Blanche exhibition
“In SANITY”, The Story Behind The Wall
Presented by Workman Arts Project Ontario
This sculpture was done by Annalise and is based on the profile of Cynthia H. a patient who was held in the Toronto Asylum for the Insane from 1904 – 1909
All works were based on patient bios from Geoffrey Reaume’s book Remembrance of Patients Past.
Cynthia H.’s fallopian tubes, uterus and one ovary were removed while at the hospital. At the time doctors believed that a woman could be cured of ‘insanity’ by removing her reproductive organs.
All sculptural works at the exhibition reminded me of each individuals struggle but also identified them very specifically as personalities. Each work appeared as an homage to the person being depicted.
Bicycles: essential form of transportation within city limits. Any old second hand bike with no working gears is fine. Problems arise when you decide to go on extended trips outside of the city limits, beginning to recall the value of those clackity gears. In any case, at least it’s good exercise. That’s what I was telling myself two days ago biking up Islington to the McMichael Gallery.
I even think my first bike had gears, gears and training wheels. I came late to any form of adventures on wheels, according to some. I was 8 years old. The bike was a shocking pink with little white wheels jutting out to the side. Determined to not look a fool I practiced obsessively and soon enough the safety wheels were thrown into the depths of a closet.
Once I was a practiced professional, which didn’t take long, I made it my project to control my sisters learning experience. I told her where to turn, pushed her up our gravel driveway and said what ‘didn’t work’. The entire time she was contentedly oblivious to my direction. I squinted my eyes and clenched my teeth trying my best not to show frustration. Well I suppose she was only a four year old who couldn’t possibly understand all of my bicycle wisdom in one lesson.
Next was open roads with little traffic and no hands……nothing like city biking.
Have you ever imagined how many times you could wrap yourself around a gigantic tree, perhaps a baobab tree? No other tree seems to be as prominently installed in the mythical imagination of the western mind. What is bigger? What can compare?
Your entire back pressed against its side. Warmth emanates through your body breathing life into trails of traveling blood. Flip yourself like a coin. Tummy and chest hug smooth bark. Repeat, over and over again. How many times would it take?
For me this mythology was real. I remember what baobab bark felt like and yet this tree still feels like the stuff of fairytales. Part of the reason for this is because it is implanted into my childhood. From my current North American perspective much of that childhood seems like a mythology. There were giant trees, unending desert, unusual grasses and swimming in Okavango tributaries. Yes there was also a small town, where we lived with all amenities available but the memories that pop out are the ones from camping expeditions.
I am leaning against a baobab, my foot resting on its sprawling root. Above me branches reach out in every direction. A tire swing hangs from a lower branch, gently swaying. To my left sits our little blue buckie (truck). For miles ahead of me the bleached Makgadikgadi Pans stretch out; buckles and cracks texture its surface.
After scouring the ground I have returned to rest under this large embracive tree. In my hand, fingers press against little red stones called garnets. In front of me friends are still collecting these small red treasures. That moment ends there. Memory trails off and enters other days filled of other happenings that I almost can’t believe were my own. Memories are very much like dreams, a conglomerate of truth and what you have convinced yourself to be real.