Sunday, December 21, 2008

marooned in real time

We're stuck for the time being after a dusting of snow here in Portland led to more and more snow. On Friday afternoon we tried to take our little Geo Tracker shopping and even with me sitting in the back seat holding a fruitcake there wasn't enough weight to convince our little Fuchsia to take us up the steep ice covered driveway. Oh well, old habits die hard and, having spent so many other years in rough winter climates, my habit of storing up extra food means we won't go hungry. Now freezing rain is working on adding extra ice to the inches of snow that fell yesterday so I'm hoping the power doesn't fail.

This is a picture of me and my Dad taken during our first winter in Canada in the early 50's. None of us had learned to skate yet but he and my mother ventured out onto the ice so they'd be there to catch me when I fell down - an inevitable first consequence of having blades on the bottom of your shoes. I always miss my parents most particularly at Christmas but I've been thinking lately of how much things have changed in general since that faraway time.

There were no superhighways, suburbs, shopping malls or agribusinesses. People lived either in the city or the country with not much in between but a few small towns. It wasn't much different here in the US and nowadays Canada has all the same stuff as we have with the major exception being national health care. I know it will sound incredibly antiquated and perhaps even unbelievable but our first house was small and tightly built with a coal stove that provided heat. We did have a gas stove, running water and a gas water heater but there was also a well with a hand pump only a few feet from the back door. When it snowed dozens of neighbors went out with shovels to clear the cars and the private road that led to the houses. The cars were mechanically simple enough that people could repair most glitches on their own. Televisions were a rarity so radio and newspapers provided news and a softer version of entertainment.

I think the biggest difference is that there was a general sense of community. Needs were simpler and people were willing to share what they had whether it was help with building a new room, care of a sick person, an extra place at the dinner table or whatever was needed. There were always parties and get togethers with lots of laughter, stories about even older days and talk about politics and work.

Will we be able to recreate a simpler lifestyle again if we must? Next time we can drive the miles from here to the market I plan on buying a snow shovel I can lend to the first strong young neighbor I meet. Meanwhile, I remember my Dad and the woman holding the camera in that sweet time.. my Mother.

Happy Christmas everyone with much love. I wish you Peace and a slice of warm apple pie to greet you when you return home.


  1. your photo bears striking resemblance to a Norman Rockwell painting.... hearkening back to the simpler times you mention. we're into our darkest days of winter hear. it's 5 p.m. and the sun is down. happy solstice, greetings of the season, and keep warm.

  2. What a beautiful reminiscence. Earlier today I was just thinking back to the family parties and holidays. Like so many mobile Americans, we've moved away from our families and our kids don't get to enjoy the same kinds of holidays we did. Forget gifts. If our kids are deprived, it's because they don't have the family experiences of the extended family.

    Thank you for sharing a slice of your childhood with us.

    I hope that you and yours have a wonderful Christmas.

  3. Oh man, what a great picture of you and your dad. I love the hat. And I like the story you told. My winter recollections are of cityscapes covered all in white. I used to love looking out the window at night from my top bunk, watching the snow blow by the orange-colored street lights. By the way, I watched the part of the NY Jets - Seattle Seahawks game. The snow looked like it was coming down pretty hard there. Did you get lots of snow by you, too?

  4. this was lovely to read and a time of long ago to me as skating where I lived because if there was no ice, there was no skating....I remember my grandparents, with the wringer washer (indoors!), the coal/wood stove and the ice parents had it a teeny bit better but not much...people worked harder, made less and were happier, it seems although that is through the lens of time and a very long ago....I know kids are alot worse off with tv, computers, video games and everything else to give them an excuse to stay seated instead of "going out to play."

    putting that aside, have a wonderful christmas week and happy new year!

  5. what a great picture. we have a pond down the block from our house. When it freezes everybody goes there to ice skate. It reminds me of when I used to skate when I was little.

  6. Dear Susan: I love that picture. I love the strength, joy and confidence you had and I adore how your father is right there with you, holding you, watching you and so very much with you. Really beautiful.

    I wish you a Christmas filled with the light,warmth and beauty that radiate all year long.

  7. gfid - I think Norman Rockwell was one of our neighbors. I do recall a weird guy with an easel out on the lake.

    dcup - Yeah, family ties got stretched quite a bit once they built the interstates.

    spartacus - It's my favorite picture of the two of us. I'm sure New York winters must have been amazing to see. Yes, we do have more snow than they've seen here in 40 years.

    linda - I see you remember it too and I think kids were better off having their imaginations encouraged and their bodies challenged.

    skippy - Welcome to phantsy. I'm glad to know you guys still get together to skate on a pond when the opportunities come.

  8. What I meant to say is:I wish you a Christmas filled with the light,warmth and beauty that you radiate all year long.xoxo

  9. lbr - Bienvenue! The picture still has great resonance for me. My Dad was nearly 40 and Mam early 30's when I was born - the War caused 6 years of separation. I was always aware of their great tenderness toward me even when I wasn't always appreciative.

  10. lbr - I like it either way and I wish the same to you :-)

  11. So, who's got a better slapshot, you or Boom Boom Geoffrion? ;-)

  12. Randal, I'm betting Susan has the better Slapshot, so duck man.

    This photo has such power for me. We have a huge park a few blocks from home and it has a largish lake we used to ice skate on. When I was six my parents took me there for the first time with my new white skates. My dad did take me out on the ice the first time, but there is no picture to commemorate the moment. There was a fire in a tall metal drum that we roasted marshmallows over and a man sold hot chocolate. One of my best childhood memories. But once I knew my way there, the parents refused to go with me. So I would trudge there through the snow to skate with the other kids. But it was never as happy as that first time with parents who appeared to love me.

    The park still exists, the lake still exists, but now the City drains the lake every autumn for "safety" reasons. But the real reason is that the City has a big downtown ice rink where they rent skates, and sell hot chocolate at a huge mark up. Not the same experience at all.

  13. Lovely post (And lovely painting below it - I like the skate raised high in back, the sure sign of someone relaxed on the ice - and I love the light in this one).

    I remember my Boy Scout troop had a get together at a pond near my childhood house in NY state. They had chopped holes in the foot think ice and put up tip-ups so we could fish for pickerel. We skated around, sat by fires on shore, and raced out to every red flag that went up, so see who would get to pull up the fish.

    I also remember making a hand sail to use on a larger lake with my skates. I was pulled at great speed, hooting and hollering, across the lake. The trip back was tough, though, since I didn't know how to sail a boat, and so I'd never learned about tacking... I'd like to try that, now, but we never get ice here in NC.

  14. randal - Boom Boom's got twenty years on me and about 100lb but I've still got quite a slap if required :-)

    utah - The lake in front of our house was 1.5 x 2 miles so was a little too large for draining. One of my favorite places to go skating later on with friends was through the marshes nearby. That was really magical on those sunny ice-twinkly days. It was cold though so I was always dressed in thick sweaters, socks and snowsuits - never mind the hats. I was a skinny little thing but at least well padded enough that falling down wasn't too painful. As winter wore on the skating grew less because of all the snow packed on top. Although my Dad learned how to skate I don't think my mother ever returned to the ice after the picture day.

    steve - First, just so there's no mistake the wonderful picture on the bottom is by Kliban. I'm not so sure I'm capable of painting the stuff but yesterday wasn't the time to try.

    I remember walking across the lake to school and seeing fish swimming beneath a foot or more of clear ice. It was very neat. Some guys hauled shacks out there for fishing but it seemed a pretty cold and boring way to spend a day or night.

    Once the snow pack got too thick for skating we did sails on our little sleds but I recall walking back too. Like you, I never learned to tack. In late winter when the ice was really thick they'd plow tracks for stock car racing. It was fun but seemed kind of trashy even then - more so now.

  15. I'm now paying attention to the weather in your area. And it does look like you're getting slammed again. I blame it on Palin since these storm systems are blowing down from Alaska. That bitch just won't let it go.

    I have emergency group therapy today. We bunch of looneys are all in crisis. Good to know I'm not alone, and that the shrinks office is concerned. They are even sending a cab for me. Two more days of snow. Roads too bad to travel for the crazy ones. Isn't it nice that they are so concerned about us.

    I hope you're staying warm and dry.

  16. the photo of you and your father is very special. look how attentive he is towards you.
    the world has come a long way since the 1950's. the world has invented indoor plumbing, jet airliners, color television, electric blankets, computers and jumbo mortgages since then, so i'll go with life being easier today than then.
    but simpler? ummm, no. when they broke up ATT in the 80's, everything got more complicated. the customer became a distant second to corporate interests. and corporations want to be paid for holding that snow shovel. don't ever let them have it!
    good luck with the ice and snow. and merry christmas, susan!

  17. utah - It wouldn't surprise me since Canada's such a nice place it couldn't possibly be coming from there. I did spend a warm and dry day (thank you) but unfortunately, it was spent at work.. alone, but for my boss and the doctors. The buses aren't running up here and I don't blame people for staying home. It's as nasty as I've ever seen. The hospital didn't call a weather emergency and tell the non-essential staff to stay home because they don't want to pay them. Bunch of jerks.

  18. sera - I'd be more than happy to see some of the corporate types holding the snow shovel right now but I know what you mean. My dad used to describe greedy people by saying 'they wouldn't give you the stink from their shit'. I think that was the worst curse word I ever heard him use.

    This too shall pass. I wish you a wonderful Christmas too, my friend.

  19. What a great piece and lovely photo Susan. I only met your dad in his later years, and now have seen him in his prime-daddy period.

    As for the simpler times...there is a bit of that where I live. Maybe the place never made it to the modern times...

  20. Just before I moved, I took my print of that picture into work so that it wouldn't get lost in the shuffle. It's still there, and there's been a lot of oohing and aahing over it.

    Bon soir.

  21. Merry Christmas - and may all your dreams come true in a happy New Year!

  22. gary - I could still be convinced to give it a try. All the best.

    ben - Yeah, it's a good one :-)

    zee - I wish you all the best of the season too.

  23. i can see normy rockwell as the weird guy on the lake with an easel.... but at the risk of being insulting, aren't most creative people just a wee tad weird?... after all, weird is defined by the norm, as depicted by the masses.... who are largely just trying to be like everyone else, only better. and creative people tend to be the round pegs that don't fit in that little square hole. the norm seems to be lacking in passion.... which is a particularly common trait in the weirdo artsy crowd. and jeez, su, a brainy woman with incredible political savvy, who can paint and draw like something out of magical dreams....? you think that's NORMAL? and, heck, that's why we love ya. merriest of christmases.

  24. gfid - No insult taken since I know you're an artist too ;-) The norms of the world can be most tedious company indeed but perhaps we should feel sympathy for their inability to walk the edge. It's a glorious world and I wish you all it's magical benefits in the coming year and beyond.

  25. Norman Rockwell is what I thought too! A real slice of American pie, there, Susan. Beautiful.

    I came to the states from a milder climate when I was eight.I never took to skates. But when I was a high school kid, my friends and I would sometimes walk across a frozen pond as a shortcut. I remember it being much, much colder when I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts.

    Interesting how WP was earlier today talking about what it was once like on the bank of the CT river while we drove by the exact spot just down the hill from our home. He remembers a little ice fishing shanty town where men went to fish and kids ran around exploring and helping with the fish. Somewhat similar to what Steve said.

    Prior to the age of eight, I spent summers on a rocky Atlantic shore in Portugal. Why I especially loved the trip to Nova Scotia. To see wild, un-tampered coastline. Hardly any people. No party scene or suntan lotion. My childhood beach in Portugal is all developed with condos now. You can't see the water until you're on top of it because the view is obscured by lots of 6 story buildings. Made me sad.

    I loved this post. Health and happiness in the new year, Susan.


  26. pagan sphinx - It seems there's been a lot of building everywhere that benefits few. I've read about little houses and big hotels covering formerly pristine Greek islands in order to accommodate British retirees. Now everybody is having to go back home and, since the places were badly constructed, many will just decompose and get washed back into the sea. There's some consolation in that thought.

    I hope you are well and that the new year finds us all in good health and good spirits.

  27. Best wishes for the New Year to you. I liked the story and pictures of you skating with your dad. Like you, I was born just after the war as my parents endured the long separation with my father serving as a bomber pilot stationed in the UK / India. I think the sense of community arose in the post war period because of the terrible memories and the sense that we need to look after one another mad make the most of lives together afterwards.

  28. lindsay - My parents were separated for most of 6 years during the war with my dad in the navy where he worked in a ship's engine rooms and mam in a munitions factory south of London. It was a trial for so many and I think you're right that our generation was permanently marked by the psychic shock. Have you ever wondered about reincarnation?