In the early days of MS I started writing short stories to do something positive.
Many got reworked into bigger projects years but here are a few of the originals.
I have many and am still lifted up by them. You may recognize some.
Also see the bottom of page for an audio CD offer.
The Mos Mobile 1428 Words Sept 2012
“Oh pleeeeze God, not another winter on my bicycle”, I blurted out loud with hands clasped and knuckles white. I knew it wasn’t right to pray for things but this day I made an exception.
Prior to my bicycle days, I cruised through life in a propane converted hatchback my Uncle Al helped me buy. It was a decent car, kind of sporty, and a bit of a pick-me-up for just having come through a serious lengthy illness. Together with a new lovely flat, I felt I was getting my life back. Until I rear ended someone on the Alex Fraser bridge. Not only did I loose my safe drivers discount but was slapped with a whopping 20% surcharge, or $2,200 a year, for emphasis. I was 31 years old. I had no choice but to give up driving. Hence three years on my bike. Which included three winters. I suppose one can be considered lucky to be able to do a winter on a bicycle at all, but that's not exactly how it felt some days.
But it wasn't all bad. I covered many miles exploring the lower Mainland that I never would’ve done in a car. There were pockets of Greater Vancouver I thoroughly enjoyed: tugs on the river, sailboats in the bay, brambles along the border, migrations at the bird sanctuary, water at the watershed. From shady downtown streets to wide open gravel roads, under bridges and over passes. From the grocery store to the college campus. I felt proud of myself for maintaining a satisfying life without a car. Making lemonade out of lemons. I didn't particularily enjoy riding in the winter– the wind, the rain, the wet - but it did teach me the fact that driving was indeed a privilege not a right.
By the time my fourth October rolled around, I was done. I covered 80 k a week to and from work all summer and did not want to pedal through another winter.
Two weeks after my plea to God, I got a call from my dear old Aunt Jennie.
“Well, I'm getting rid of the old car,” she said. “I asked David if he wanted it and he said no, then I offered it to Heidi and she said no, so you're my third and final offer or else its going to the wrecker’s.” Wow…
Having grown up with Aunt Jennie, I knew her family well. They took care of things. Including the car. They bought it brand new, a mid size 4 door box suitable for a family of 5 – a family that was now grown and long gone. It was probably their second car in life. I’m guessing the first one lasted 20 years as well. Although it was no screaming heck to look at, a Chevy Malibu Classic four-door sedan, basic beige inside and out, that looked like old ghost-style cop car. I’m sure that’s why David and Heidi refused it. But I knew it would be sound. So with a gusty “Thank you,” that was the beginning of The Mo’s Mobile.
I had to customize it. Naming it was a good start. It reminded me of my first car way back. I had fun picking off the ½” chrome -r-c-h across the hood, going from Monarch to Mona. But something about the word Oldsmobile across the trunk of that car struck a happier chord. I always thought to order a couple more letters to rejig it to ‘Mo’s Mobile’ but never did get to it. The name always stuck with me though. So with that in mind, I ordered two decals in 4” black vinyl letters using a character font, and proudly christened the Chev’s hind quarters The Mo’s Mobile. Already it was feeling like mine.
Trinkets hanging from the rearview mirror came and went. Tropical freshies, Mardi Gras beads, and a crystal prism to name a few. My personal favorite was, as my cousin Blair called it, the “obstruction”, a giant strawberry sponge the size of a softball with no real function. It was just a big, and colorful. Which was just what the non-color background needed. My version of a spongy dice.
After a couple of months, the ceiling fabric began to sag. Another month went by and it began to rub your head like a balloon to stick. Being from a family of runts, it didn’t really bother me all that much but it really irritated my passengers. Which I found hilarious so didn’t rush to replace it. Plus it was an ugly job to do because there was a layer of foam insulation underneath the loose fabric that was disintegrating and sprinkled down like black gun powder. I knew it would be a mission to get rid completely, so kept putting it off. But the day finally came.
I got the idea to go to the Superfluity Thrift Store for inspiration. I was thinking old curtain or something. But the most perfect 1970s bedspread with dark brown, tan, and pumpkin colored geometric shapes leapt out. My eyes lit up and it was sold. The lady took my two dollars and I happily skipped out of the store.
On a bright morning, I layed out all the supplies for surgery. Glue, paint brush, scissors, exacto blade, drop sheet, rags. The old lining lifted out easily but the crumbling insulation snowed down coating everything in black baking soda. But I persevered looking at the funky bedspread on the doorstep. Getting it up against gravity wasn't exactly a fun job either. I smeared bottles of LePages glue on bare metal, then cut fabric to fit. It was a good exercise in body contortions. But the job got done and it looked terrific.
Other bits of spunk and flair got added along the way and The Mo’s Mobile turned out to be one of the best cars I ever had – aestically and mechanically. I grew to love its basic beige. My aunt and I marvelled it hid the dirt so well you could go months without washing it and never know it.
Six months after I got the car, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. The number of trips that car made to Campbell River and back is impressive. The number of ferry line ups, sailings and missed ferries is staggering. How often I’d stretch out across the bench seat gazing at the strawberry from the bottom up, or absently studying those 1970’s geometric shapes. How many times I threw my bike in the truck, and an overnight bag in the backseat.
As my mother continued to decline, the trips back and forth became more and more frequent. Sometimes with her and sometimes not. I remember one particular occasion when Mom and I were speedily racing down island to get to catch a ferry when we got pulled over.
The cop got to the car and I rolled down the window waiting for instructions. In a louder than necessary tone, Mom made no bones expressing her concern about missing the ferry. The cop was either deaf or gracious as he asked for my drivers license and registration. We scrambled for them, mom still muttering in disgust as I tried to hush her. He walked back to the cruiser and took seemingly hours to return. Leaning back in the window, he noticed the ceiling.
“Is this your car?” His comment quieted mom.
“Yeah” I said slightly smirking back.
He really looked at it and then nodded.
After a further long pause, he told us to slow down, and have a good night. We let out our breath thankful for the interior decorating gods. That they did slow us down enough to catch the next ferry alive.
That whole year the The Mo’s Mobile purred like a cougar cat and never failed once. Mom passed in June and we had a full-scale celebration of life in Burnaby on a Friday. And the timing belt on the car went on Saturday.
I guess we all were a little tired.
PS. That rear ender and those three winters on my bike did something. Weather had become so insignificant compared to what was really important. Mom had exactly one year from diagnosis to passing and in the last weeks when homecare came to relieve me, I’d go for a bike ride. Rain or shine. RAIN or SHINE. Living completely in the moment, the breeze rushing through my hair and fluttering in my heart. Being so drenched with life itself, the weather couldn’t touch me.
The Transaction 598 words 1995
A soaking black morning greeted me as I got off the bus on Powell Street and walked to work in the downtown Eastside. Being a smartly dressed woman in and about the skids at that hour looked somewhat out of place. But then again the core was filled of all walks of life.
The bundle of kraft paper towel was broken open and scattered a full two blocks long, down the sidewalk and in the gutter. The kraft brown sheets were saturated and stuck down tight. The rain had all but reduced them to pulp, which then seemed to morph right into the concrete. It bothered me to step through it grinding it down further. I liked things tidy. And right outside the Downtown Eastside Mission no less.
It was still there on my way home at 5 o’clock. I stopped to scrape up some of the pulp fiction with the edge of my boot but was anxiously watching for my bus at the same time.
A drifter passed by on the desolate side of the street. Layered in torn clothing, he wore a grimy toque, open jacket, and was looking down at his feet. I got an idea and hollered out “Hey wanna make two bucks?” His eyes lit up. I watched him assess and calculate the job. It seemed a fair price to the task at hand. He crossed the road, and set down his crumpled bag of wares anxious to get started. He asked if he could have the money now. He asked twice if he could have the money now.
I nodded yes and looked to see if my bus was coming, then back at him – right in eye to see if I was going to be duped for two bucks. I wanted to see past his disheveled outsides, give the guy a chance at some trust, dignity –– to see if he’d rise to the occasion.
Reaching for my wallet as he made his first trip to the dumpster with a double batch of soggy roughage, he worked in earnest. The job wasn’t too bad after all, they sort of all stuck together like a wet blanket. As I opened my billfold to make good on the deal, it so happened I had a brand spanking new two dollar bill (back when we had paper two dollars). It was earmarked for this guy I swear.
I snapped the crisp bill with emphasis between my finger and thumb into the man’s hand. He genuinely hinted a smile nodding his approval. I suspected it was money he earned without aid for the first time in a long time. This street fellow with crumpled clothes and ice blue fingers resonated. It was a true business deal.
As I looked around the corner to my oncoming bus, I extended my hand to seal the deal, express my real appreciation for keeping our streets clean. We shook hands in earnest.
He was on the level, unpretentious and I respected him more for it. He emphatically assured me he’d get the job done. It seemed like years since anyone trusted this guy, looked him in the eye and treated him with any value at all, let alone a hearted handshake and an unbent two dollar bill from an attractive business woman.
I walked by the next day and true to his word not a scrap was seen, not even the usual litter from the corner store. It might have been only two bucks and a sincere thanks but its value was right up there with the widow’s mite.
Arthur Adventures 1701words March 2014
Some of the most memorable non-memorable occasions I’ve spent are with Arthur. Three events that especially stand out are a Remembrance Day, a Halloween and an annual tulip trip to La Connor, Washington.
Arthur was a long retired chef and camp cook. Well into his 70’s when I met him through mutual friends, Arthur was as Dutch as Dutch could be. The language was a throat disease not a language he joked, tapping the dash as was his habit for emphasis. Arthur had a very bad back, literally bending him in half. He could straighten but the norm was 90º. I never did know exactly what the condition was, but he worked very hard at maintaining his range of motion and could stand straight with effort. After having to surrender his drivers license, he faithfully rode his bike and swam at the local pool like clockwork and I’d see him all over town. In later years he would trade his bicycle in for a walker, a large walker to fit his tall frame, even though he bent in the middle to right angles.
Arthur loved the VSO and the opera. He always bought seasons tickets to both. The performances took place in downtown venues some 100 km away and getting there was always part of the event for Arthur. He had collected a long roster of names over the years, and would always be lining up his rides weeks in advance. Each driver was expected to drive, pay for a modest dinner at one of several regular resturants, and take care of the parking fees. In turn, Arthur supplied the concert ticket, two if need be. Which were beautiful seats. In all, it was a most fair, if not generous arrangement.
He called one rainy night to line up a ride for a Remembrance Day concert. A concert at the Orpheum with the Dal Richards Orchestra he said. Arthur would be a good person to spend Remembrance Day with I thought. I knew a little of his story which dribbled out over the years. He had an affection for the Canadian military. So when I got the invitation, I immediately said yes.
Arthur had been a prisoner of war. The Germans occupied Holland and he was taken to a German slave camp. He was 18 years old. His brother also was a taken prisoner, although to a different camp. Arthur worked outside in hard slave labour, severely underfed, and undernourished for 3 years. I never knew what happened to the rest of Arthurs family, and could only shudder to think. Eventually, the Americans set all the prisioners free, including Arthur and his brother. But not before they had been reduced as human beings where it took over a year to recondition them back to mainstream life. Arthur went on to immigrate to Canada, marry, have children and lead a long healthy productive life. He remarried at 78 – to a woman 27 years his junior and died at age 90.
So in a nutshell, if anyone had anything to be bitter about, particularily around war, Arthur was surely was one. But it was not the case. He had a heart of gold and much love for many. He had a special soft spot for the Canadian military who liberated Holland. He continued to be interested and involved in politics right up to the end of his life. He made many friends in that arena, as well as his cultured friends, his local church community, staff at the various concert halls and the local merchants. Arthur was known and loved by all.
I respected Arthur’s attitude towards war, which he deeply understood having lived it first hand. I knew spending Remembrance Day with him would be memorable for me. Plus I really liked the Dal Richards Orchestra, who were hosting it at Vancouver’s jewel, The Orpheum Theatre. It was stacking up to be a beautiful afternoon.
We went for dinner as usual and took our usual seats at the theatre. Dal and the boys were already behind their individual podiums that had the script D on the front. Wearing their matching suits and ties looking their best as always, they quietly warmed up. A stray G note , or F chord would occasionally vibrate out.
With the house loaded, the lights dimmed, Dal welcomed everyone. The audience was a terrific mix from grey and very grey, to middle aged, youth and children, with no real majority in one category, which surprised me.
The band started out with some popular old-time wartime songs, unfamiliar to many, including myself, but embedded in others, like Arthur. I glanced over and he was bobbing his head, singing along, knowing all the words so very well.
As the show went on, it turned out to be a beautifully arranged variety type show with maybe six vinquettes. Each one presented uniquely different from the other and was a brilliant array of entertainment. Tasteful and not too sensationalized. Dal himself, I’m sure, experienced war first hand so knew the songs, their meanings, and played them in context. It was a standing joke with Arthur: their ages - Dal was older by five years. But who’s counting after 85!
One vinquette especially stands out. The stage set like a soda pop shop where servicemen in town came for soda. The pretty young waitresses and service men broke out into four couples dancing – exactly the same steps to exactly the same music they would’ve danced to in the 1940’s. Dressed so accurately for the part, girls in their sweaters with hair coiffured in great swirls and dramatic parts; men in their proud uniforms and collapsible caps on an angle. For me not being of age to have experienced this, it was a wonderful opportunity to see how some of the brighter spots of wartime might’ve played out.
I’d glance over at Arthur and he would be wiping a tear, or tapping a toe. He literally had gone back 60 years in his mind. The intros by Dal were so well articulated, he placed the scenes so well. At one point we stood to sing the national anthem, and at a another point, a solitary bugle rang out a lovely version of Taps. The afternoon flowed seamlessly. Even the children were mesmerized and captivated.
The show was a very full two hours and very entertaining. I was glad I got the call for this concert. This show ended with a ballad as a tribute to all the service men and women, past and present, gone but not forgotten, and one couldn’t help but be touched. The lights came on and no one stirred.
After a few moments, I asked Arthur if he was ready and we gathered our belongings. All the way home you could hear a pin drop, we were lost in our own thoughts. It was truly an honor to have spent Remembrance Day with someone like Arthur who could have so much to be bitter about but had so much gratitude instead.
To me, those are real heroes of war.
Another Arthur highlight was one Halloween. At the Orpheum. “Kind of an oxymoron don’t you think”, I mused out loud. But after hearing the concert synopsis I jumped at the invite. The idea of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performing the score to the original 1925 B&W silent film Phantom of the Opera at the Orpheum had me fascinated.
The Orpheum itself was a very ornate Spanish Baroque style theater built in 1927. Complete with the BC wall of fame on the third floor featuring an 8x10 glossy of every big BC entertainer; the lovely floor-to-ceiling picture of our own Diane Krall on the 1st floor, and the plush red carpets with sweeping staircases pulling it all together. Ah yes, The Orpheum.
In addition to the film, the theatre itself hosted a Hallowe’en costume contest. Of course being a first class venue, all of the costumes were rented and professional. No Value Village throw togethers here. At intermission it was spectacular to see Batman, an astronaut, and a pack of leprachauns lining up for a glass of wine. Or a cat adjust her whiskers and tail in the ladies restroom. After intermission we settled back in our seats, and the top 10 costumes were asked on stage where audience applause chose the top three prize categories. The Egyptian Pharaoh won the trip to Mexico. It was a delightful dazzling show to watch and participate in. And that was just the side kick.
The 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera silently crackled by in black and white frames portraying great ingenuity with the costume and set designs. The text frames were right out of the Dick Dasterdly damsel-in-distress flicks complete with curly borders. I had never seen The Phantom and found myself completely absorbed by the story, and the scenes were remarkable for something done some 80 years previously. The two projection screens were modest in size, nothing compared to the mammoth overkill of today, but there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.
The VSO accompanied each scene to a tee, they didn’t miss a beat. They captured every nuance, every innuendo. The conductor led 58 instruments through the gushing waters of the city’s underworld to the hidden hollows of an elite concert hall. They knew just when to danté and when to thrust full steam ahead with dramatic horns or frenzied percussions. It simply was beautiful.
When the film ended and the suspense vanished with the Phantom being taken away in the back of a 1925 cruiser, even the house lights inching up to full tilt couldn’t break the spell.
A 5-star Halloween if there is such a thing.
Over the years, there were many other shows, outings and visits. Arthur honed his life into the most profound, beautiful symphony. He was a true phoenix who rose up from a pile of ashes, to spread love and compassion in all four directions like the blades of a windmill. It was a privilege and an honor to be his friend.
Although he would’ve said the opposite.