Metropolitan Homesick Blues

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SNAGGED

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He takes an old plastic pail from the back of his Chevy Silverado, flips it upside down and twists the open end into the sand and gravel shore close to the edge of the river. He returns to his truck and briefly rummages around in the back, mumbling to himself until he finds what he’s looking for – a well-worn red cushion with duct-taped corners now split from wear and revealing fraying foam edges. He gently places the cushion on the top of the pail, shifts it around searching for what he feels is the right angle.  He pats it twice just to make sure that it still has the support he needs for a long day of sitting. 

He leans his rod against the pail and opens the lid to his tackle box. It doesn’t take him long to rig his line. Flipping back his rod he casts out over the muddy brown, slow-moving water. The lure traces a high arc before plopping down in the middle of the river. The bobber surfaces and floats uneasily with the current. Satisfied that he hit a deep enough spot he slowly lowers himself on to the cushion.

“Now we wait.” A slim smile cracks his normally stoic face. He lights a cigarette and looks up at the traffic heading in and out of town over the long concrete bridge spanning the river. 

“They’re going somewhere.” He exhales a long, thin stream of smoke. “I ain’t going anywhere but here.” 

He knows there is nothing better for him, nothing more that he wants to do other than what he’s doing right now. Sitting. Waiting. Watching. Willing the fish to his lure.

His wife is at home, reading, as she does when he goes fishing. It’s a good thing the town has a library, he often says to her, otherwise we’d be broke if you had to pay for all the books you go through

Aren’t you the lucky one, then. She is happy to get him out of her hair. She prefers to have the mornings to herself.

He can’t stand her kind of doing nothing. Even as a boy he was always outside, wandering on his own…exploring…letting the world pass him by. To him solitude is a state of grace.

It is cold down on the river shore. The slow rising sun isn’t warming things up yet. That’s the way he likes it. He squints into the stubborn early morning light. A small breeze sends ripples across the water’s surface moving his line back and forth, so he has nothing to do but light up another cigarette and wait. He doesn’t mind if the fish ignore him.

Out of the corner of his eye he notices a young man setting up a folding chair just down shore from him. The old man smiles when he sees what the fellow is wearing – ball cap, jacket and pants with more zippered pockets than needed and boots, all in that dark green and beige camouflage pattern you see a lot of come deer hunting season. When he sees the fellow arranging a thermos, cooler, iPhone and ear buds, and one of those big, plastic, multi-drawer tackle boxes neatly beside his chair, the old man just shakes his head and smiles.

When the young man starts casting out his line and reeling it in repeatedly, the old man senses something that he’s familiar with. With each cast he the feels it building inside. It’s a frustration the boy should be feeling, not him. But, he can’t help himself.

“You ought to let your lure just sit a bit so they can get at good look at what you’re offering them. Doesn’t look like the fish will be chasing bait this morning,” he says in a loud voice. 

“What?” The young man doesn’t look up. He keeps casting and reeling in. 

“I said, relax, the fish don’t seem to be in much of a hurry right now.”

“What makes you the bloody expert?”

The tone of voice surprises the old man. He didn’t expect that kind of response, but he was familiar with it. Since his suggestion isn’t welcome he turns away, content to stare at the water and take shelter in his own thoughts.

He never did deal well with confrontation. Whenever he came up against anyone with strong opinions he would shrug and allow that they had a right to what they were thinking. This was his way of avoiding arguments. He didn’t like conflict. To him, people who put so much effort in wanting to be right all the time didn’t have a sense of peace about them. 

His wife said he was always in retreat, that he had no spirit for a good argument or discussion. Her gentle criticism didn’t bother him. Throughout his working life he wanted nothing more than to be left alone to do his job. Those he worked with saw him as a calm, easy going, but private individual…what they called ‘a good worker’. He managed to survive, retire well and still feel good about himself. 

“Are there any fish in this river?” The young man is shouting at him.

True to the person he’s always been, the old man doesn’t respond. He looks away, drops his cigarette into the sand grinding it out with the heel of his boot. In his own time, on his own terms, he might get around to answering.

“Do you ever catch anything off this shore?” There is a tinge of agitation in the fellow’s voice.

The old man sighs, shifts his weight on the cushion and slowly turns to him. “Sometimes. Sometimes you just have to wait them out. Sometimes you only wait a few minutes. Sometimes you wait all day long. Sometimes you wait for nothing.” 

“Thanks for the advice.” The fellow puts as much sarcasm into the words as he can. 

The old man hears it, but isn’t bothered. It isn’t his fault if this fellow doesn’t see the truth in his answer. If this young man could put his impatience on hold for a second and listen to what he was being told, he would understand. He’s like most of the people the old man dealt with throughout his life. They were all in a big hurry. Expecting a quick solution. Demanding satisfaction right away. When they didn’t get what they thought they deserved he could see how it diminished them little by little. 

The old man stands up and reels in his line. It takes less than a minute. He knows that he’s being watched. He can see the fellow swaying from one foot to another. From the body language the old man can tell that this young man is annoyed with him. The realization that he is getting under the fellow’s skin makes him feel good…makes him bold.

“Son, what is it you want me to say, exactly?”

“You could answer my question straight up.”

“I did. You just need to listen more. It isn’t my fault if the fish aren’t biting.” 

He paused a moment deliberating whether to keep talking.

“It certainly isn’t my fault if you aren’t catching anything. I’m not either. So, really, what is the problem?”

 All he is doing is trying to communicate the reality of the moment. If this guy isn’t prepared to deal with reality, then fine. He isn’t prepared to let him upset his morning. 

Toying with someone like this isn’t something he’s done very often. It comes as a surprise that he can bring himself to this point. He knows he is deliberately taunting the fellow. If his wife were here she’d say this was certainly no retreat. Finally found some spirit is what she would probably say. He laughs softly at the thought.

The fellow ignores the old man’s last comment and casts his line down river. He turns his back to the old man who stands watching, serene and satisfied…doing what feels right to him…enjoying this moment. 

As the young man reels in, his line goes taut. His rod bends and moves in the direction of the current. He jerks it back quick and hard to set the hook and turns to the old man.

“Looks like sometimes is right now for me,” 

There’s a look of triumph on his face. His rod bends even more as he struggles to bring in his catch. With each turn of the spool he looks in the old man’s direction and lets out a short, high pitched whoop. About a minute passes. Nothing happens. Nothing moves except the river.

“Looks like you caught bottom,” says the old man.

Ignoring him, the fellow whips his rod up, down and sideways trying to get free. His face grows red with frustration.

“You keep pulling on it like that, the hook’ll only set deeper into whatever you snagged.” 

“Got an answer for everything, don’t you old man.” 

“I’m just…”  

“I don’t need you to tell me what to do.”

It  feels as if the wind off the river is blowing these words into the old man’s face, collapsing the moment, forcing it to fall in on him. He doesn’t have control of this situation like he thought he did. At this point his will gives way to a crushing weariness. For years he has unconsciously given in to a fatigue so palpable, so deep that it weakened his spirit. He suddenly realizes how exhausted he is.

The old man closes his eyes, trying to shut out this feeling that he has known all his life.

He feels the fellow’s anger flow into his body on some invisible conduit. Tension grows tighter in his head as he watches the young man struggle to pull his line free. He feels the fellow’s frustration pressing down on his chest. Like the line that is caught on an unknown obstacle deep beneath the surface he feels hooked to some unfathomable reality laying deep in his soul. He can’t breath. An unseen snag at the bottom of his brain holds him fast and won’t let go…won’t let him surface so he can suck in a lung-full of air. He squeezes his eyes shut hoping it will all go away.

Something snaps inside like a switch, releasing feelings he’s resisted for too long. Pain burns momentarily across his palms. 

Opening his eyes he finds himself standing beside the young man, holding the remnants of the fishing line in his bare hands. 

The young man looks at him not realizing what happened. He lifts his rod, free now from the hold of the river. Wind catches the severed line. 

The old man walks back to his pail and sits down on his tattered cushion. He looks at his hands and sees a thin trace of blood where the line cut into the skin of his palms.

There is no pain, just a feeling of liberation.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

December 16, 2019 at 12:45 PM

BRUCE COUNTY BACKROADS

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Side roads. Concession roads. Hardtop and hard-pack gravel. Graded and ungraded. Rutted and rain-eroded. They can get your car dust covered or mud caked depending on weather and which road you’re on. They are Bruce County two-lanes leading you everywhere and not necessarily where you want to go.

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We often drive these Bruce County back-roads. She is looking for birds. I’m looking for pictures. I don’t care much about shooting birds. My meager 250 mm lens fails in comparison to some of the big glass that other shooters carry. Most times, birds are just too far way to capture anything decent.

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I’m OK with that. I’m more interested in what was…the abandoned barns and farmhouses, the fences, the fallen in roofs and stone foundations…the what’s-left-on-the-land from times gone away.

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The structures that faced years of winds and weather, that struggled to stay upright and remain proud of what they provided to their hard-working owners…structures of shelter and warmth, places, markers that families once called home.

Some markers are different.

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This pockmarked weathered stone, its carved inscription unreadable, sits solitarily, a sentinel overlooking a vista of fields un-ploughed or planted. It seems out of place. More often than not you’ll see clusters of resurrected tombstones sitting on the side of secondary roads salvaged from some long forgotten cemetery to make room for more farmable fields. This one stands alone.

Cloud shadows silently drift across the fields it watches over. Why is it there? Is there meaning in its placement? Or is it just a photo-op for a wandering amateur with a camera? I doubt if I will ever know. But I take the shot anyway and move on.

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There is a great deal more to discover and capture on these roads.

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So we drive on.

Night Snow

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Under the street lamps that pool their light on the now white road wind whips the flurries into individual cyclones whirling about helter skelter. Cedars on the roadside go dark, lost in the shadows, lost in the black of night. In the cone of the streetlights the snow takes on highlights that accentuate its movement. It dances with the wind, blurring in flight, never, it seems, touching down, hovering around and inside the beam’s pool bringing new life to the light. Night Snow is different than snow falling at daybreak…more menacing. You are unsure of what it leaves behind until dawn crawls up the dark trailing early morning light to show you its night work. Night Snow is like a secret gathering, an army, a relentless force building for an attack at daybreak when the world wakes and is forced to face the consequences of all that Night Snow has left behind.

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Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

March 4, 2015 at 8:16 PM

SHOOTING ICE

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Ice is hard. Resistant. Stubborn. Ice can withstand any single human effort to break through…especially if ice has transformed concrete steps into a glistening, smooth, intransient obstacle that should be left alone. There is no point in trying to break it down (as I did) to get a better foothold – to get a better angle on the object you’re trying to photograph.

Such foolishness can possibly lead to disaster. I sometimes hurry to get things done – and in my unfocussed haste – misjudge and make mistakes that do not end well. I am a victim of my own stupidity.

There is a millisecond between attempt and failure when you are completely unaware of what you’ve just done. In that microscopic moment between slipping and landing you see nothing. The world around you becomes blank. First it’s simply, “Here I am trying to break through the ice with my foot. Here I am on my back lying on the ice. How did that happen?” Your next thought is, “Where’s my brand new expensive camera? Did I land on it? NO! Here it is secure in my hand that’s extended above my prone body. AT LEAST I WAS CONCIOUS ENOUGH TO SACRIFICE MY BODY TO PROTECT IT!” Then it’s, “Why can’t I get up?”

Because you’re lying at the bottom of uneven ice-coated steps, stupid!

Thankfully there are no witnesses to my next ridiculous act. Camera held high, I rolled over, grabbed the ice-coated railing with my free hand and painfully pulled myself to a more secure level. It took a while. Ice does not give up its victims without making them struggle. Eventually I made it. Looking down at the frozen steps I just scaled I chastised myself for being so reckless. And stupid.

When we take chances success is usually 50-50. Clearly this was a chance I shouldn’t have taken. Any go or no-go decision is often quick and thoughtless. Spur of the moment as they say. It is always difficult to judge the wisdom of one’s next move until after you’ve made it.

Life, the pundits say, is about taking chances. “Find a Way or Make One. Just Do It. Who Dares Wins. Deeds Not Words.” Pick any current phrase that suits you. Sometimes the taking works – sometimes it doesn’t. This time for me, it didn’t. That’s just the way it is.

I didn’t get that just-right angle for the shot I was looking for. But, I hurt too much to be disappointed.

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MEA CULPA

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I have not paid too much attention to this Blog since well before January. Not because I haven’t had anything to say (which is partly true). But blogging, to me, becomes a tad boring (for the writer) if the writer isn’t following a personal message or cause or theme. And I, for one, don’t believe in listing or recounting all that happens to me on a regular basis.

brdfest2What I have been doing on a fairly regular basis, though, is posting a blog for the Huron Fringe Birding Festival (http://huronfringefest.wordpress.com). Not because I am birder but because I’m married to one and she is on the Festival Committee and I let myself be talked into becoming their ‘Blog Master’ as they have titled me.

Birders are interesting people, if not a touch obsessed. Actually a lot of them have become good friends. Their varied backgrounds and varied interests make for good conversation and good laughs. The Festival is over now so more time will be spent literally rambling on metropolitanhomesickblues.

So what has been happening over the many months? Sadly our cat of 19 years has left us. 

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Miss Molly was a clawless, long hair “tort” as they say, a rescue cat my wife brought home one day. She does that sort of thing with animals. Molly and I were buddies. When she wasn’t sleeping she was wherever I was, even in the middle of the night. When she walked into a room she walked to me and demanded (in the voice of her people) that I pick her up to carry her on my shoulder or place her beside me in whatever chair I was sitting in…room for her or not.

When she had had enough of her lazy life, Molly told us. She went quietly. She is well remembered.

A short piece of the Bruce Trail became my responsibility over that period.

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I am Trail Captain for a length that runs above the Slough of Despond towards Skinner’s Bluff. Its up on the North Bruce Peninsula and it’s a lovely hike. My duties are to inspect the trail at least three times a year and keep it clear and walkable as it varies from gentle to rocky to wet in the spring. Rest assured there will be words and pictures coming your way as summer unfolds.

Of course, who can forget the now legendary Winter of 2014.

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I can’t remember when it started, but it felt like it lasted forever. The Great Lakes were frozen over. The ice never left Lake Huron until mid May. Blizzards, road and town closures, endless driveway snow blowing, shovels and roof rakes were the norm.

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 All of that is past us now. Just had to get it all out of my mind on to the page as an excuse to write this blog.

SPRING DAY SUN

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Sun shadows fall on the diminished snow and wind wicks away whatever white grains remain as the contradiction of sun and cold conspire to sacrifice only the surface, revealing nothing but more of the same. Winter is not yet done with us. 

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Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

March 22, 2014 at 2:56 PM

THE OLD RAILWAY TRESTLE

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“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past…”

Shakespeare – Sonnet 30

Recently a haze of childhood memories clouded my mind struggling to become clear. I was back in the city of my early years, revisiting the people and places that were so much a part of my early life. To my Italian relatives, especially my elderly aunts, those formative years were still clear. It was easy for them for they never left Sault Ste. Marie. They never abandoned the memories. I, unfortunately, did for a different life in a different place. I depended on their stories to bring those days into sharper focus.

One morning, I walked with N. to the now closed Soo Locks where I use to come to watch the big Lakers carefully creep through the canal leaving barely enough room on either side. I would marvel when the water gates closed at their stern and marvel even more when water levels rose lifting the ship ever so slowly up to meet the open expanse of the St. Marys River, before it crept away creaking and groaning under dead slow speed.

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Looking down the length of the waterway I saw the long span of the International Bridge to Soo Michigan rising over the river. Beneath it, rusting and abandoned was the old rail bridge. It didn’t take me long to remember what childhood friends and I did there on lazy Sault Ste. Marie summer afternoons.

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Railway tracks ran behind our schoolyard straight to the trestle. We would follow them, running between the steel rails trying to stay on the railroad ties and not touch the thick gravel. We paused only when we spotted a spike sticking up above the wood. This was a prize we stopped to pry loose.

It was only when we approached the trestle that we slowed down. Here we had to be careful. As we moved out under its steel span the ground gave way to open air. We were suspended over water now. To us, it was a long way to fall. We stepped carefully from tie to tie, yelling at the top of our lungs partly to keep fear at bay and partly to prove that we knew no fear. To hestitate would invite the taunt, “codardo, codardo, codardo, andare a casa di mamma.” Translated it branded you a sissy telling you to, “run home to mamma you coward.” None of us ever did.

Once across and before we ran down the embankment to the river we always looked back. It was in that one brief silent moment that we realized it was our only path. We knew the times when the freight trains rolled through so we were sure of safe passage home. And when the whistle blew for the sift change at the steel plant we knew we must be on our way. A freight was due through about an hour after that. Any later getting home would always mean trouble. Somehow our mothers knew where we had been even though they repeatedly forbid us to go there.

There is a river of memories that flows through us all. Its source springs from things past. These memories are but embers sitting silently, buried deep in our soul. All we need do is breathe on them gently to ignite a remembrance of things past.

LAMENT FOR MY LITTLE TOWN

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Eight years ago, when the thought of retirement began to creep into the routine of our frenetic city life, the idea of finding quietude and simplicity in a place close to nature became a worthy objective. We knew of Southampton. Friends of ours retired in this simple summer town spreading up from the shore of Lake Huron at the mouth of the Saugeen River. The Bruce Peninsula, with all its natural allure and waiting-for-us-to- discover trails, was full with the promise of a much simpler life. Saugeen Shores would be the ideal choice for us. Oh, we were aware of the size of the nearby Bruce Nuclear Plant. Yes, we saw the Wind Turbines at the Information Centre. But we never gave either a second thought. We found our Shangri La, so to speak. The quiet contentment we were looking for would be all around us.

Not so today.

There is a fault line running under the length of Saugeen Shores. Two tectonic plates, one the proliferation of Wind Turbines (especially the C.A.W. Turbine), the other the proposed Deep Geological Repositories (DGR) for Nuclear Waste, shift and grate against each other. This once quiet community has become a community of protestors. Concerned citizens have formed committees against both. There are coalitions, review panels, mountains of research on both sides, accusations against local politicos, a claimed lack of transparency from council and nuclear authorities and the specter of a hosting agreement that suggests that surrounding municipalities are receiving upwards of $500,000 annually to support DGR plans. It is said that these municipalities will be splitting a 34 million dollar windfall by 2034 for their willingness to back the DGR. Conflict of interest, closed door meetings, a lack of transparency and questions of resident support all add to the tremors now shaking the foundations of innocence that once bolstered this town.

It saddens us to see this happen. This kind of controversy isn’t what we expected when we retired here.

Even so, our life hasn’t changed. There is still a slow, simple pace to our daily comings and goings.

With the potential of nuclear waste beneath us and wind turbine turbulence surrounding us, perhaps the magnitude of the controversy will one day change things. Perhaps not.

Right now it matters little. The reality of the DGR, if it happens, is decades away. Past the time when we will even care.

Upcoming generations will be affected. They should get involved now. From what I’ve seen they are not.

Meantime, we will live our lives as we intended. For all of the back-and-forth, the finger-pointing, the denials, the he-said-they-said and the hand-wringing – the sun still shines – most days.

WALKING

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Not long ago I stood gazing up at the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment rising high and ragged from the water on the far shore of Colpoys Bay. Not long after I found myself on the top of that same ridge marvelling at a reverse angle view of the small, curved sandy beach where I started.

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To get to this point, we entered Hope Bay Provincial Park, followed the Blue Blazes of the Bruce Trail Conservancy until the Hopeness Side Trail led us to this impressive panorama. It wasn’t a rigorous a walk up. That was yet to come when we left the trail and cautiously made our way down the cliff face in search of caves.

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We slid over leaf-mulched paths, skated down scree, circumnavigated moss covered boulders, traversed narrow slate strewn passages, free climbed short rock faces and fallen cedars while straight below us, through an occasional break in the trees, the crisp blue water of Georgian Bay sparkled in the sun.

In his essay ‘Walking’ David Henry Thoreau wrote, “When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us if we walked only in a garden or a mall?” This ‘walk’ was certainly no stroll through, “garden or mall’. The land set the pace. We had to measure up to it. Recently, though, I have leisurely strolled through fields and woods, taken walks on back roads, shorelines and town lines.

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 In fact Thoreau describes me perfectly when he writes, “…with regard to Nature I live a sort of border life, on the confines of a world into which I make occasional and transient forays only…” Living here in Bruce and Grey County country has made these forays all the more possible.

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I have read Bruce Chatwin, Robert Macfarlane, Wade Davis, Edward Thomas and others. I have soaked up Robert Frost’s early poetry. I have lost myself in their stories about tracks and footprints, songlines and journeys into wild places, about their visions of the earth as a network of paths dating far back in prehistory.

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And I sometimes find myself regretting that I didn’t follow their lead a lot earlier in life. One must, in the cold face of reality, earn a living and live up to one’s obligations.

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At the same time it is important, for the sake of sanity, not to forget that there is another world beyond the borders that now hold most of us back.

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The therapeutic nature of walking, out beyond the confines of everyday circumstances and into the land, through fields, footpaths and country roads is restorative. A solitary stroll or hiking in the company of like-minded wayfarers lifts your spirit and lets you leave the known world far behind.

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Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

July 5, 2013 at 6:00 PM

NO EASY TIME

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In this sweet and sad life things never go the way you want them to. Plans and aspirations often take a road least expected and a change in direction often leads to the unexpected. This is the ying and yang of life – the light and dark – the good and not so good.

You could say these are trite thoughts, more of those interminable clichés so prevalent in today’s social media. But, they are truths so real, so prevalent that their reality can be a drain on your dreams.

Alice probably never thought of her life this way. I imagine she simply wanted to endure her simple existence and survive as best as possible. We found evidence of that in a battered old cream-coloured ‘valise’. (Valise was the word she used for her small suitcase.) Family photos, post cards, trinkets, treasures, legion flags, remnants and reminders of the war sent to her by her husband – all those things she held dear but had now forgotten were in there. The significant signposts of her life we found in a square gun-metal-grey lockbox. She didn’t know where the key was at first but she knew that her important papers and documents were safe and secure even though they were long past any relevance or use to her today. This is where she kept her past – her memories.

They are remnants of a life lived and loved ones lost. Today those moments come and go, each one struggling for a place of prominence in her mind. Recollections of her young life come rushing through intruding unexpectedly, transforming the past into the present and the present into confusion.

Still, this is Alzheimer’s and we must deal with it. It is hard to understand why but as Virginia Wolfe wrote in Mrs. Dalloway, ‘What does the brain matter compared to the heart.’

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Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

January 8, 2013 at 3:09 PM