Happy Birthday, Emma!

Today is my beautiful little granddaughter, Emma’s, fourth birthday. Amazing how fast the time has gone by. She’s the kid I’ve cut my grandma teeth on – she’s the one who has taught me the amazing wonder of being a grandma. Brit, Emma’s little sister, gets to reap the benefits of all I’ve learned.

Being a grandparent is wildly different from being a parent but it still contains a huge similarity – a child comes into your life and very quickly you wonder how on earth you could go on without his or her presence. The major difference is that the overwhelming responsibility for this child is not yours. That can be amazingly nice and unbearably painful as you bite your tongue and mind your own business – you don’t get off the responsibility hook and still get to weigh in with your two-cents-worth opinion all the time. Being a grandparent doesn’t work like that. And I get to see a daughter I respect and love stretch her boundaries to grow as a mother and a person. That’s a wonderful privilege, for sure.

This photo is courtesy of Glenda Monsen Photography

I get to notice all kinds of things I never noticed when my own kids were growing up. Being a parent usually comes at a time in life when one is quite busy – work and life and relationships get in the way of being able to just sit and listen and watch. I have the great good fortune to pursue work that allows me to take blocks of time off and I live at a distance from my granddaughters. At first glance the distance part seems like a negative, but it gives me the opportunity to visit and stay for a couple of weeks at a time. No use travelling that far for anything less. So I get to be on hand when the kids get up and when they go to bed and for everything in between. I don’t get to see them every day but when I am there, I am all there.

I’ve shared Emma stories in this blog before – here is the latest. It can be a real challenge to get information out of little kids – at least when you question them. Sometimes gems do pop out without any solicitation at all. Emma was standing in the kitchen the other day when she quite suddenly said, “George Sewer didn’t sleep . . .  and he didn’t eat for two whole days . . .  and he didn’t even play with his friends. He just painted – dot by dot.” Each of these statements was accompanied by a dramatic gesture with her hands and the dot part was emphasized by a jabbing finger.

Who the hell was George Sewer? Off to Google, we discovered that Georges-Pierre Seurat was a French impressionist painter and draftsman who developed a particular style of painting in softly flickering, small strokes or dots of colour called pointillism. Emma scanned the Google images page and thoughtfully pointed out two of Seurat’s paintings that the preschool teacher had shown them.

                                                 

Always being one to stir the pot, I said, “Maybe next month you’ll study Jackson Pollock.” Emma stared at me with interest – I think the reason being that the name Pollock is sort of catchy. Anyway, I added, “He would stand in his garage and put paint on his brush and throw it at a huge canvas on the wall.” (My knowledge of Jackson Pollock comes from what I remember of the movie that starred Ed Harris)

Emma asked, “Did he not eat for two days or play with his friends?” Closing the computer and moving quickly to prevent Brit from crawling under the hide-a-bed, I said, “Not sure about that but he sure did drink a lot.”

Later on that day, I heard Emma telling Bruce that when she went to preschool she was going to learn about Jackson Pollock and that he sure did drink a lot. I noticed that her preschool schedule says they are going to learn about Van Gogh in January – I wonder if they’ll cover the whole cutting the ear off episode. I don’t think I’ll bring it up.

I’ll end this blog with one of Bruce’s amazing portrait shots of our beautiful granddaughter, taken when she was not quite two.

My mom was a real writer . . .

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster. (Isaac Asimov)

I’ve been writing for a long time – mostly journals, essays and research papers. I don’t recall ever taking this type of writing seriously. I certainly would never have called myself a writer. In my mind, I wasn’t a “real writer” because “real writers” write fiction – not three-hundred pages of a Master’s thesis or articles published in peer-reviewed journals. This belief came from the fact that my mother was a “real writer”.

On the night my mother lay on her death-bed in the hospital she gathered her failing breath and focused all her attention on the doctor who leaned over her bed. In a tone that was full of dignity and pride she said, “I’m a published author, did you know that?”

Mom

My mom – June Guenette

As I think about witnessing my mother speak those words – words she felt to be so important she would utter them when she knew she

didn’t have too much more time to speak – I am awash in a cascade of childhood memories. I can hear the sound of my mom’s old-black-Remington typewriter lulling us to sleep most nights – the clack, clack of the keys and the bell at the end of the row that signaled the carriage return. My mom was writing a novel.As I grew older and became an avid reader of anything and everything I could lay my hands on, I begged to read pages from her novel. I can remember waiting with bated breath for the next page to roll out of the typewriter. The odd thing is that I can’t remember getting past the first couple of chapters, which my mother had polished to perfection by rewrite after rewrite. I know there was a full draft of the novel somewhere. I can’t remember what the title was but I do remember there was a pretty middle-aged woman named Laura who was in a terrible marriage. She seemed to spend a lot of time in her basically white kitchen lamenting her state of affairs. There was a very attractive young man named Rafe who seemed to really like Laura. He was always referred to by his vile father as “the breed.” Rafe had been born to a Native mother out-of-wedlock through some form of violence his father, Sheriff Calder, had subjected her to. Sheriff Calder especially gripped my young imagination as he went around town whistling, Ain’t Misbehaving, while lording his power over the people  he ruled with an iron fist.

As I reflect on memories of my mother’s novel I wonder now if she had only given me censored pages to read. In her later years she published a short-story and worked with a small group of writers to publish an anthology of their short stories. Yes indeed – my mom was a writer and my mom was a published author.

In many ways I know I’ve always been a real writer, but I do feel less of a fraud now when I say it out loud. I guess the process of struggling through several drafts of my first novel has helped. There is no one here in my isolated cabin on the lake, except the dog, to hear the clack, clack of typewriter keys, even if I were to use such an archaic method of writing; but I am a writer – just like my mom.