In many tiny moments I think about life and death. If I am carefully pouring sugar water into a small glass bottle for hummingbirds, I think about my Dad and how he would have done this, when he was alive. How my Dad would have enjoyed my bird feeders, and laughed with me about the bird battles over seeds and sugar water. When I smell sweet wild flowers in the air, I think about how this is something we can only do when we are alive, or when I feel a perfect breeze while taking in the laundry off the line. Mundane tasks make the strongest impression in my mind. Making toast, going through books on a shelf, small mundane tasks make me think about what it is to be alive. Daily or weekly tasks that make us feel as if we are getting something done, they are the most potent. As I roll the smelly garbage can to the road, and it makes a trundling sound and I feel the satisfaction of not having forgotten to get the garbage out, I think of what it means to be alive and functioning in our world. Our tasks and thoughts are so very arbitrary, nothing much will matter when we are dead, but everything must matter when we are alive. I think of my Mom who can’t do the smallest chore due to pain and exhaustion. She can’t cook a meal and say ‘there’s lots more’ as she always does, did. She can’t wipe down her table and set out plates and tell an anecdote and open a bottle of wine simultaneously, as I can picture her doing in my mind. She is too tired and her life is slowly coming to an end. Every little part of my life, my child saying, ‘Mama’, calls from my eldest looking for advice, hugs from my muscle bound teenage boy, every weed I pull and bill I pay, reverberates, like the sound of a low bell. Reflecting on being alive while one is alive is not a youthful state. I am not in the sensual moment, free of perspective. I am standing beside myself seeing my hands pouring sugar water. I am not unhappy, just seriously reflective. Lying in my comfortable bed without immediate fear of death or illness, I remember what it felt like to be twenty. The luxury of sleeping when young, when the future is a blank and expectant canvas and all one had to do was move forward. Now I seem to think and fret in bed, thinking of all the things I have to do. I want to bring back that careless mind because my fretful thoughts are unnecessary. I am young now, if I manage to grow old. We are living with death and loss when our parents are sick or dying. This is a predictable phase of middle age, where some of us will act out and grasp our youth, and others may become depressed. I feel fine, though stretched out. My heart and my capable mind are busy planning, scheming, paying bills or putting off paying bills, planning for the very young and very old. What will make all these people around me the happiest, what can I do to facilitate the lives in my small universe. I remember when my mother was in this role, and how she played it. Now her practical life has faded and her best moments are with her vivid memories. My memories collect on dusty shelves; a little child’s humming as she draws, a loving mustache kiss, and the kettle boiling in the morning.
I have mentioned this to my Upper Canadian friends and they scoff and, by their silence or pursed lips, seem to suggest I am lazy and or dim, which is their general impression of east coasters in any case.
‘Just go to a second hand shop’ they say. Oh, I go to second hand shops. The Thrift store in our local university town has a constant circulation of stinky old furniture with the occasional sound dresser or desk, and those get SOLD stickers plastered on them as soon as they hit the store floor.
If you are desperate for a dresser you have two other choices, over priced ‘anitique’ shops or the press board shit furniture from Big Box Stores. Quite honestly I think that antique hunters raid the second hand stores and truck the stuff back to Ontario or into the States. It is hard to find that unexpected gem among the crap.
In our peripatetic life we have left furniture behind in our many moves, never using a truck. And without generous relatives we have needed to find kitchen tables, couches and beds.
Sometimes we have used the ‘hunting’ approach. Locating the couch or bed, we would circle around it and then drag it home. In search of a futon couch it was necessary to go Moncton, accept the inevitable terrible service and buy a full priced item of questionable value.
In comparison to the big ‘hunt’ style of furniture acquisition is the womanly style of ‘gathering’. ‘Gathering’ is a necessary strategy out here in the east, a survival technique for the barren grounds of the Maritimes, where the couches no longer roam free.
I prowl and scavenge for furniture. My eye is always peeled. This means that whenever I am out, in any capacity, in any place, I am thinking about lugging home a piece of furniture. Garage sales? Plant stands? Wooden chairs?
If I am visiting my Mother in Toronto I just have to close my eyes to opportunity as I know I cannot ship it back home. But if I am wandering in the local environment of Tantramar I will keep an eye out at all times.
It might be an old English armoir obviously created for small rooms, or a wooden desk, or god forbid, a red velvet couch. I am always looking for a red velvet couch. All my life I have been looking for a red, or even better, a dark green velvet couch.
My husband will accuse me of being an impulsive shopper but in this accusation is no understanding of the ‘gathering’ style of hunting. ‘Gathering’ ebbs and flows and never ends. ‘Gathering’ involves negotiations and machinations, begging for trucks, shuffling of furniture, and a long term view.
So it is the opposite of impulsive, it is gradual,consistent and thoughtful.
And that is the state of mind I was in when I bought a red velvet antique couch while attending the opening of a museum in a historical house. They wanted to get rid of the couch, they promised delivery. It was a good looking red velvet couch and even ugly couches cost more. So I put the money down.
Complications arose that caused me a sleepless hour or so in the middle of the night; Joe was aghast, there was no where to put the new couch because the new room, where I will shuffle the old futon couch, is not finished. But my mind held the vision of the red velvet couch sitting in my newly painted study, and I held on to that picture in my mind.
I started my negotiations with the minutiae of life. If I got rid of the old piano I had bought in a fit of chagrin when my Mom told me I could not have the old family piano, then I could put the couch there until the back of the house was finished.
I put an ad up in kijiji for a free piano and then held my breath a bit and within a week a very nice man drove up to the house and practically singlehandedly shoved the very old, worn and massive piano into his equally massive truck and drove away with a big smile.
I was honest to a point with the man on the age of that piano and how it was good for kids to learn how to play. I had, in fact, had it looked at and it was so old you could only tune it so far. I know the family piano will make its way out to me some day so I will wait for it while Frank practices on an electric piano (just not the same at all).
One step closer to a new couch. We are many months away from that couch being in my newly painted study. But it will happen eventually. I know that with sure conviction because I have seen myself make things happen before.
Children have been born and houses have been bought and all on the wings of planning, patience, striking when the iron is hot, and the skillful art of negotiation. And underneath this ‘gathering’ and nurturing mentality, I have a a belief in myself and my path before me that makes things happen.
I am swimming in the waters of life, head above the surface, gentle calm breathing, eye on the the shore. Sometimes I hunt and sometimes I gather. What, was that a rocking chair on the side of road, stop, back up, we are taking that home.