Thursday, August 19, 2004

Summer Snapshots Cook's Lake 1949

When I look back on those early days, it is always in the golden ambience of summer. Now, a sixty year old woman, trying to bring back that magical purity, I watch the light of the memory movie play against the crystaline screen of my mind.

I am in my white cotton nightgown, standing in the doorway of the cottage at Cook's Lake. My father takes the picture. My skin is so dark and my hair is so white blonde that, later, when we look at the photo on the black albun page I look like a negative in black and white.

My father, pale and blonde in his Khaki shorts and shirt, playing horseshoes with my bare-chested uncle, tanned, dark and handsome uncle. I hear the reassuring, thrilling sound of my uncle’s deep-chested laughter. the horsehoes clanging against the post. I have two fathers. I am safe.

My Uncle Harry swims out into the lake, making sure that all of us are watching, then disappears for what seems like hours. We think he has drowned. Suddenly, he pops up somewhere else, far away. The three children laugh and cheer, relieved, but awed that he could stay under the water so long without breathing. He seems immortal. After all, he survived being killed by a bomb. He has a medal from the Army. He is a war hero!

I wake up early in the morning, dress in my beautiful rainbow skirt and top, and walki down to the beach and out into the water, in a dream. The water is over my head. I am walking slowly, watching my skirt balloon out around me, noticing how the pale sunlight through the water whitens the rainbow colours. Suddenly I realize that I need to breathe. I cannot breathe under water, I turn around and walk back strongly, purposefully, towards the shore, bubbles escaping from my mouth. I am holding my breath. I am magical, brave, just like Uncle Harry. Emerging from the water, I am triumphant, free. I am one with the water. I walked in and out, without fear. I have never forgotten that timeless moment when my love of beauty and my faith in magic made me immortal.

I never told anyone that I could have drowned because I forgot that I couldn't breathe under water, I reentered my cottage life with my family, the endless days of swimming, diving off the raft, and lying naked in the rowboat with my brother and sister. We were deleriously happy, even if the neighbour's children were not allowed to play with us because we were "wicked."

"Just one more dive and I will come in for supper. "

I know I am not a bad girl. I am a good girl. See me wearing my rainbow dress carrying two splashing heavy buckets of water from the pump to my mother in the kitchen. The kitchen is dark, and has rough wood floors. My mother is always in there, filleting mudfish that we catch in the rowboat. I am allowed to go out in the rowboat with my father and my uncle. I am given my own fishing rod. I catch a fish! I get so excited that I let go of the rod. It sinks beneath the water. I am mortified with shame. But my uncle and my father forgive me. I am redeemed.

My mother and father and Uncle Harry are sitting in the Adirondack wood chairs talking, laughing, playing cards. while we swim. Despite the fact that we are at the cottage, mother’s long dark hair is neatly upswept, nineteen forties style. She is still wearing her flowered apron but, as a concession, she has shorts on, instead of her usual dress. I call to her to come and join us. She makes some excuse not to come. She looks happy to be with her brother and her husband.

One day she relents and arranges to spend time with me. In the rowboat alone with my mother, rowing across the lake, I am surprised by her strength. She shows me how to row the boat by myself. Determined to master it, I manage to manouever the oarlocks and keep the edges towards the water, pulling with all my strength and keeping us moving forward. When we get to the other side, we catch a huge mud-turtle in the reeds. We bring it back to the cottage and keep the turtle in a huge tin wash-bucket for the whole summer. At the end of the summer we reluctantly release him into the reeds once more. I wanted so much to take him home with us. But I am a big girl. I understand.

I am seven years old. It is summer and I am my the kitchen at home, standing on the kitchen stool, leaning against the porcelain sink, watching the bubbles rise in the sunlight. I am wearing blue shorts, nothing else. My hair is blonde and curly, bleached blonde by the sun. I am supposed to be washing dishes. Instead I am playing with the mounds of bubbles in the sink. Each bubble expands, rainbows, explodes gently, then dissolves into cloud piles of tiny bubbles. I am lost in the magical wonderland of it, each irridescent bubble containing a whole fairytale world of wonder.

Lying on my front lawn, watching white butterflies flutter above me, scattering orange blossom petals in my hair, I am eternal innocence.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Life at 2 Lumley Avenue

Life at 2 Lumley Avenue was pleasant, even magical. The orange brick house could have been built by the sensible one of the Three Little Pigs. In fact, it was more accurately "The House That Jack Built " (Jack being my father who constructed the house along with his friend Vic Peiro in the early nineteen forties.)

On either side of the stone steps leading up to the porch were white mock orange-blossom bushes and a rockery garden containing Bleeding Hearts, Forget me Nots, orange California Poppies, Lilies, Irises, Peonies, and a fragrant French Lilac bush. It was a lovely English Country garden created by my New Zealand born father, complete with white picket fence and trellis at the side of the house. I would bounce my tennis ball against the house playing rhyming games by myself, or sit in the back yard doing my oil painting, while keeping an ear out for the younger children riding their tricycles on the street. Everything was picture perfect, peaceful, and above all, safe.

My mother was kept constantly busy raising three, sometimes four children. I was the eldest, Eileen, born on Bastille Day, July 14, 1943. My sister, Maureen (more Eileen?) was conceived on my first birthday. She came along twenty one months later, in April of 1945. A year later in April 1946, Eric, our cousin was born, and came to live with us in August of 'that year. He stayed with us until he was five, and as soon as he left to live with his father in New York, my mother got pregnant with my brother Paul, who was born in 1950.

My mother was extremely well organized. When she wasn't hanging out the laundry on the clothesline that she had done in the wringer washing machine , she was making dinner or canning or making pressure cookers full of applesauce. Her cold borscht was famous. On long summer afternoons we waited as she filled dozens of glass milk bottles with the creamy cold pink drink. My father came home from his job as a tax accountant at exactly five-thirty. Supper was exactly at six o'clock. He would take a nap on the living room couch while mother finished cooking dinner and I set the table. it was my job to wake him up. Another one of my chores was washing dishes, which could take me hours, since I got lost in playing with bubbles in the glass cream separator, used for taking the cream off the milk in the glass bottles. While waiting for dinner, I would sit on the kitchen stool, kneading the Parkay Margarine plastic bag to spread the colour. It was enormously satisying puncturing the bright red bubble in the middle and watching the colour spread through the white margarine like streams of blood, finally turning it gold. Next to mixing the batter for chocolate chip cookies, that was my favourite chore to do, but it became tiresome. Then there was always the joy of vacuuming. watching as the colour of the burgundy living room carpet shifted depending on which way I brushed it. It was like the sun on my mother's sealskin coat, laid out on her bed. The children would lie on the bed burying our hands in the fur, smoothing it back and forth to watch the light change the colour from champagne to chocolate.

Apart from those rare, perfumed and lipsticked nights when our mother would tuck us in before going out with my father, I remember her always at the porcelain sink in her apron, washing dishes or preparing meals. I would be sitting in the living room playing marbles against myself with my black cat, Magic, watching. The radio would be playing Classical music on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As the piece would be coming to a finale, Mom would wipe her hands on her apron, push her way through the swinging door that led to the living room, and run in front of the Blaupunkt radio, just as the announcer was about to report the name of the piece and the composer. She would beam as she beat the announcer to the punch, always correctly. Then she would return to the kitchen, satisfied with her accomplishment of the day.

The house ran like clockwork. Everything always seemed perfectly clean and under control. It was quiet, except for the sounds of classical music, and the deep tones of announcer's male voices. Behind the desk where my father worked at his accounting books after dinner, there were built in bookshelves filled with rows of books that my father collected. Over the couch there hung two matching Diego Rivera prints of Indian girls. My parents had bought from Rivera himself when we drove to Mexico in my father's green and yellow Mercury when we were five and seven.

Nothing disturbed the peace and order. Except for one small detail: the constant squabbles with my sister. When we were babies, mother had read her Doctor Spock. She dutifully arranged our nap times at different hours to avoid sibling rivalry. It didn't work. An Aries, my sister could never seem to forgive me for being born first. To add insult to injury, my cousin Eric came to live with us, only one scant year and four months after my sister's birth. birth, sandwiching her into the position of the middle child. By the time I was two years and eight months old I was the big sister to two younger siblings. I loved it!

Mother treated us like the Bobbsey Twins ( a children's book series of the time.) Along with giving my sister and I matching names, she sewed us matching nightgowns out of crinkly white cotton with tiny blue roses sprinkled all over them, held up on our tiny bodices by wide blue satin straps. We had matching French four-poster beds, with matching blue and white ruffled cotton bedspreads. We would wrap the bedspreads around our heads, letting the rufflles trail along the floor, and play "Princess." Sometimes, though, the Princess needed a Prince, so I would press my sister into playing the part, which understandably, she resented enormously!

My sister had an adorable round little face and sturdy body. Physically stronger, and definitely more aggressive, she would torment me with tickling fights which quickly turned into pinching, scratching, hair pulling, followed by a mad chase up the stairs to the bathroom where I would narrowly escape her (I was the faster runner) and lock myself in for the afternoon.

I never complained, because I was told I was the responsible one. I had to "understand" and take care of my little sister. Years later that phrase, "You understand, don't you?" would come back to haunt me. I didn't understand. But I wanted so much to be a good little girl and earn my mother's love that I accepted my role. I learned to act. The possibility of not being good never occurred to me.

Until I reached Kindergarten. The first day of school, the stern old battle-axe of a teacher, (dressed in a white lace blouse with a big bow, brown plaid skirt, and wearing brown laced up Oxford shoes) surprised me by approaching the table where I sat with my classmates and fanning out a rainbow array of brightly-coloured construction paper and asking me to choose a colour. The wonder of such a thing as coloured paper astounded me. I had never seen anything like it. I chose black. There was a box of pastels on the table, and I proceeded to scribble little marks on the paper, oink, then lime green, then mauve, fascinated at how many colours there were, and each colour appeared differently on the black paper. What an extravagant luxury!

I was immersed in this glorious activity when the teacher appeared and asked me what the marks on the paper were. I realized suddenly that this process of discovery of colour was not enough. They needed to BE something. As I gazed at the black page wth its bursts of colour all over it, I remembered being held by my mother with the blanket snuggled against my face and lifted to see the fireworks. I must have been less than two years old, probably more like eighteen months, but the wonder of that memory has stayed with me since. I can remember thinking that the plastic yellow star shaped buttons in my mother's button box were probably what was in the sky.Thinking quickly, (I was, after all, a highly imaginative child) I said, "Fireworks at night!" Apparently satisfied, the teacher wrote the words of my first story on the page.

That day began a life long affair with colour. I longed for coloured construction paper and coloured pastels. I wrote my name in the pages of the children's books. One day a friend of our family came to visit us from an exotic place called Detroit. She was a teacher and brought us books and, wonder of wonder, construction paper! One sheet of it. Grey. Immense. A treasure. I kept it hidden in the top shelf on the upstairs hall linen closet. When I wanted to use it I pulled the drawers out and climbed to the top of them to reach the top shelf where I kept my cherished piece of paper. Sereptitiously I would cut a circle out for some project, and put it back where I thought no one could find it except me.

How to obtain crayons was another question. I knew that when it came to food and clothes and books, all good things were available. But paper and crayons did not occur in my world, except at school. One day, a few months later, I discovered the stock room in the new school I had moved to now that it been built in our neighbourhood. There were rows and rows of boxes of crayons. Thinking no one would miss it, I took one And was caught.

The punishment was severe. Though I was only in Kindergarten, I was taken into the Grade One Room, where, after I was sternly scolded. Then, with the Grade One teacher as witness, my new. Kindergarten teacher pulled down my panties and spanked me. Devastation. The magical, creative, innocent little girl that I was suddenly exposed. Underneath the good little, the responsible big sister who looked after her little sister and her cousin, the little girl who loved magic and fairy tales, there lurked a shameful THIEF! There was something seriously wrong here. The possibility of failure occurred. In a world that had been filled with warm blankets and clean sheets, beautiful music, fireworks filled nights and sun-filled days, corn on the cob and beefsteak tomatoes, ballet dancers and laughter, suddenly became dangerous. In that moment of of deep humiliation and shame I unconsciously decided that I would never happen to me again. Somebody should have made sure that didn't happen to me. And surely somebody should make sure it never happened again. And if they didn't, somebody should be made to pay for allowing me to be so heinously hurt. This is the mind of an upset five year old that I was not even aware, until recently, was running my life, and attracting theivery, attack, humiliation, and punishment into my world.

That incident, and its ramifications, has haunted me ever since. Because, of course, what we keep hidden in the shadows, our secret fear, is what we are sure to attract. Humiliation and exposure, and dangerous painful punishment, and no one to protect me became the theme of my life. It affected how I behaved, what I did and didn't do. My sense of safety in the world was definitely impacted. I must not let anyone know who I now understood myself to be, alone, unsupported and guilty. I swallowed the story of my loss of innocence whole. But I couldn't let anyone know, least of all myself.

I had already learned how to play "Let's pretend." At three, I made my first appearance on stage. Spellbound by the footlights, red, blue,, blue, yellow..... I forgot my little goldfinch dance. I looked up and saw the spotlight shining like the streetlights against the black sky on an icy winter wonderland night. Then I had felt safe, bundled in my snowsuit, supported by the love of my parents, learning how to skate. Now they were in that velvet black darkness of the auditorium, laughing fondly and loving me as I remembered and performed my dance.

I knew it was safe in the spotlight. so I began to hide there. I became the consummate actress, playing the part of the good girl, while retreating into the safe and magical world of fairy tales. I became Maid Marion, helping Robin Hood save the poor by robbing the rich! I immersed myself so much in magic, that when I read The Tree that Sat Down, by Beverly Nichols, I literally believed that if I put three pennies in my top drawer and DID NOT LOOK FOR THREE DAYS, they would turn into something that I strongly desired.

I looked, of course. But then I tried to kiss my elbow, because one of my books told me if I could do that I could turn into a boy! I just wanted to see what that would be like so much. Perhaps if I was a boy the other children at school wouldn't torment me so much and call me a "fairy." I had made the mistake of bringing my ballet shoes to school and dancing in front of the class, and acting in front of the class in a little play. I joined Brownies and learned how to darn socks. I got straight A's on my report card. Except for one "B". I ran home, so excited at this wonderful report card, only to be received with, "Why did you get a "B"? Again, the possibility of failure occurred. I would never be good enough to earn my mother's love.

I was trying so hard to be a good girl to cover up that hidden shame. I never knew if my parents knew about what had happened that day in Kindergarten. Nothing was ever said. I only knew that they seemed pleased when my picture was on the front page of the newspaper just for being a pretty golden haired little girl in the park. If that was what made them happy, I would get busy looking good. I became a dancer and an actress. By the time I was ten, I was the youngest member of a Children's Theatre Company. And I had my books to comfort me.

While I was locked inside the bathroom, I would lie in the bathtub, or sit on the toilet, reading. I spent one entire day reading a novel called SHE, about a woman who was thousands of years old, and restored herself to youth and beauty by bathing in a lake of fire at the center of the Earth. I was lost in that world. My mother got so upset and worried about me that she put a ladder up to the second floor bathroom to get me out.

Finally, one day, to get away from it all, after some fight with my mother, I hid in the back yard amongst the raspberries, and watched as she called my name. I packed my little green leather suitcase that my uncle Leo in Montreal had given me, my Princess bedspread and my fairy-tale book, and marched across the street to the Russell's house. I crept down the driveway, around the side of their huge house, and through the backyard to the edge of the hill behind the house.There, overlooking the valley below was a white trellised gazebo, and behind that the hill sloped down to the "varine." as we used to call it.

The Russells lived in an enormous Tudor-style house, with a circular driveway. My parents referred to "Russell Steel" in hushed reverential tones, as a way of explaining why their children were driven by a chauffeur to private school every morning in a limousine. When I played with the Russell children, we occasionally were allowed inside the house where, in the place of honour in the mahogany beamed living room we got a glimpse of the portrait of Mrs. Russell, lovely, like a Queen, wearing a long green velvet dress with ermine trimmed sleeves.

The Russells fascinated me, seeming to live a distant life of unapproachable privilege. Every night, at exactly nine o'clock I would watch from my bedroom window as the beautiful Mrs. Russell would glide past the casement windows across the front of the house to the bathroom. She would walk gracefully back, and then, a few moments later, Mr. Russell, tying his robe, would trace the same pathway down the hall and back as she had.

As far as I was concerned, along with the Parson's house, next door, which had stone turrets and looked like a castle, the Russells was the closest thing to a mansion that I had ever seen. One day, as I watched, a great number of trucks pulled up to the front of the house, brought out huge bunches of flowers in the garden, in time for a large party which turned out to be a wedding, which we children watched from across the street. Then, at the end of the day, the trucks came and took the flowers out of the garden and took it all away.

It took courage to trespass on the Russell's property, but this forbidden majestic place was the perfect adventure for me. This was where I took myself the day I decided to run away forever, and find peace and beauty in a fairy tale world.

What a splendid afternoon that was. I must have been about eight years old. I made my way down to the foot of the hill where I found a beautiful old oak tree leaning over a lovely little brook. Wrapped in my princess atire, I managed to climb the tree with my fairy-tale book.There in the dappeled sunlight, ensconced on the solid bow of the tree, I read and watched the water spiders on the surface tension of the water. Finished my story, I climbed down and decided to investigate just what it was that was holding up these tiny spiders. As I took off my shoes and stepped into the tiny stream, the spiders skimmed away. I decided to investigate exactly where this lttle meandering stream led. In fact, I wondered where it actually began. As I followed the ankle deep water around each curve, shrouded in flowering bushes, I finally came to what I was seeking. There, as I pulled aside the honeysuckle bush, bubbling up out of the ground I had found the spring, the source of the water.

I stayed there a long, long time, lost in the wonder and beauty of my discovery. It seemed like Heaven on earth. But finally it was time to go home. I came back to the house with my suitcase, hoping that my parents would be worried about me. As I approached the house I could hear that they were in the living room. There was laughter coming from the open window beside the driveway at the side of the house where my father's Vauxhall car was parked. They appeared to have guests. I got into the car, and listened as hard as I could to hear any mention of my name. Nothing. They did not even seem to have noticed my absence! I stayed in the car, waiting, until eleven o'clock at night. Finally I slunk back inside the house, unnoticed and went quietly to bed. Nothing was ever said.

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Sunday, August 08, 2004

California Guru

For Christmas John gives me a briefcase and an injunction. "Get an attitude, go downtown, and get a job!"
I already believe I have a job, and am doing it well, I am rasing our children and teaching parenting part time at a Family Service organization. But that clearly is not enough. John insists that I pay back the $25,000 that we borrowed from my mother to save him from bankruptcy. I am doing so, at the rate of $250 a month. in order to get a handle on what I could do to earn more money, a friend of mine recommends that I take a course that she has recently taken called the Art of Personal Marketing. The course promises to give me a clue as to what I would love to do as a career or business.

I find myself at the address my friend has given me to attend a guest evening with the course leader who is apparently coming from San Francisco. It turns out to be a mansion on Marine Drive, which is millionaire row in Vancouver. There are many cars, and balloons outside to indicate where I am to go. As I walk up the front path I find myself behind what could only be described as an entourage. A woman in a long flowing brown Egyptian cotton gown is surrounded by people as she enters the house. She is speaking with a broad New York accent, which I later discover is from the Bronx. She seems to know many of the people there, greeting them by name, asking about their family. She appears to be much loved and celebrated.
I think to myself "California Guru."

The living room is filled with people, at least sixty, sitting on the floor surrounding the arm chair where the woman named Sandy Levey sits. There is a lovely bouquet of flowers at her side, and a lit candle. The room hushes. She starts to talk and the jargon of the New Age, which I have had no exposure to whatsoever, pours out of her. At one point she says something about someone telling her that she thinks that what occurs in her seminars is a change "at the cellular level." What the hell is she talking about? How can something that happens in a weekend seminar change your cells, for God's sake? This is crazy! I'm getting out of here. But I can't leave until the talk is over. At the end of the talk Sandy says that she is available to have private interviews with people and there is a sign up list. Much to my amazement I find myself lining up.

As my turn comes and I enter the room where Sandy is sitting, I notice that there is a soft golden light around everything, especially her head. It is extremely quiet and peaceful . I sit down and wait, not knowing what to say. Sandy says, "So why do you think you might want to take this course?"
"I didn't say I wanted to take this course! It's SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!!! My husband would never let me soend that kind of money on myself!"
"How old are you?"
"I'll be 46 on Bastille Day, July 14th."
"You're not getting any younger."
Long silence.
"You know, if you have a problem with your foot you go to the very best foot doctor in the world, If you have a problem with your soul, you go the very best soul doctor in the world."
Now this struch me immediately as weird. I had started wearing high heels again in an attempt to get an attitude and get a job. My feet, especially my left one,which had not worn heels for ten years, were KILLING ME!"
"How did you know about my problem with my foot? Are you psychic or something?
"Sandy, with a face like a pixie crossed with Yoda, tilted her head and smiled. "I have those abilities, yes."
I was a goner. For some weird reason this woman, without saying a thing, had spellbound me as if she had seen right into my soul. I somehow knew that my soul was in trouble. I was going home to TELL my husband that I was taking this course.

In one extraordinary weekend in June of 1989 at the Vancouver Courthouse, I
I spent the weekend writing and working on my dream, backed up by five massage therapists with tables in the back of the room, and many different assistants helping people identify their dreams. Finally at the end of the weekend, I presented my new career to the huge hall filled with people, I realized that what I wanted to do was become an international seminar leader and speaker like the leader of the course, Sandy Levey, and inspire people to create outrageous marvellous lives and live their lives out loud! The applause was deafening. As the evening progressed, each one of those people, at two minutes per person, presented their dream to the audience, and won enormous support. There was a concert pianist from San Francisco. There was a singer from Vancouver who subsequently had a concert at the Vancouver Cultural Center, their was another wonderful singer named Edith Wallace who was nine months pregnant and ready to deliver at a moment's notice. She was hysterically funny. Each one had some gem of talent or skill to offer. I felt I had discovered a whole new world. I came home, exhilarated and planned a party for all seventy five people. They came. They were all over the house and the lawn. I loved it. John hated it. It was the beginning of a whole new life for me, and the beginning of the end of my marriage.

A few days later, when John completely rejected my enthusiastic pleas that he get involved, that there was something here, a force that deserved reckoning with, I realized that I needed to do a LOT more work. I phoned Sandy in San Francisco and told her what was going on in my mind. She suggested that I come to San Francisco and do the course over. She was leaving for Sweden to get married and might not be back again. This was the last course she was offering in North America for the time being. So I did it. I flew to San Francisco for the weekend.While I was there, I realized that I had skills and talents enough to do anything I wanted in my life. I was enormously gifted, and all I had to do was decide what the purpose of my life was, find a form to fulfull that purpose, and I was off. The purpose I came up with was to inspire people to live their dreams and to express themselves creatively. I had inspired my husband to achieve excellence, and now it was my turn.

Sandy now lived in Sweden and came to Canada to lead workshops. I attended every one of them, and wrote down everything she said. I even invited my eighty year old mother to attend one called The Art of Surrender. It utterly changed my perception of my life. I was inspired. Over the following year I hosted a show on television (albeit interviewing Sandy) and Sandy invited me to write her book on the Art of Personal Marketing with her. She had a contract from Prentice Hall. We spent a marvellous week on Cortez Island at Hollyhock farms writing. We did eighty pages in five days. The book seemed to write itself.
I want to share the enormous benefit I received by promoting her work. I spend hours on the phone, enrolling for her workships. John is getting more and more irritated, especially at the long distance phone bills to Sweden!

But on the whole, things are good. We have a wonderful life. I am loving being a mother. Although I am only making around ten thousand a year working for Sandy, and another few thousand as a teacher of parenting, my dream to become a spiritual counsellor and an international inspirational speaker, writer, and teacher seems to be developing nicely. Thanks to John's support in the early years, I have already earned my Masters in Counselling Psychology. I am now working as a counsellor with clients in my living room, doing Voice Dialogue, Gestalt therapy dream work and helping people to identify and live their dreams.

There is just the small detail of two young children to raise. And the enormous distaste and resentment of my husband for this new turn of events.

A Dream of Margot

Vancouver, November 1990

I am dreaming. In my dream Margot is receiving people from all over the world. They are coming in to a small room in Oxford, many of them young men, and they are literally sitting at her feet as she gently teaches them her wisdom. She is about forty-five, wearing a sweater with a collar and a pleated skirt in the style of the forties. Her hair is curled under, close to her head, her face radiant as she turns to me. She tells me, "Don't give up. you have at least twenty years left to teach.' I wake up from this dream puzzled. Although Margot has been a figure in my life for many years, never once has she appeared to me in a dream.
It is a weekend morning. I get up and go down t to collect the mail from the mailbox at the foot of the steep driveway. There is a letter from my cousin Paul in New Zealand. As i open it I am shocked to see Margot's face, shrivelled, grey haired, but still with that glorious smile, looking up at me from a folded magazine article my cousin has clipped to send to me. Margot's husband has recently died, and she is heartbroken, greiving and dying of cancer, alone and destitute on her farm in Panama. The author of the article has travelled all the way from New Zealand to reach her. She tells everyone not to worry, that she is where she needs to be.

A House in the Mountains

North Vancouver, June 1989
My dream has come true. I am living in a split level ranch house in the mountains with my wonderful husband John and our two girls, Jessamyn and Kathleen, aged 8 and 5. John is a successful software entrepeur. When he realized I was going to have a child he gave up his job as a tree spacer and taught himself computer prgramming on a PET computer which ran on a cassette tape. His first program was the I Ching. Since that time he had become a wonderful father and provider. He worked his way up from the threadbare skinny brilliant visionary theatre director that he was when I met him at age twenty three to a computer software engineer and manager of his own department at a major telecommunications research company. His sadness at adopting this conservative lifestyle, albeit financially rewarding, is the subject of much discussion. How can he have his creative freedom and still support a family. It is the same dilemma my father faced as a government accountant who became an award winning photographer and film maker in mid life. Both of us feel trapped in this dilemma. We love our freedom as much as we love our children.
So, despite John's success, our lovely children, and our beautiful home, and our privieged life, the marriage has become strained.

Shortly after we moved into the house, John faced the task of reconstructing his softwre business over the prior four years when he was building his own software company. He had had some success, selling to the Ford Company and the Ohlin Company, but his records had been lost by an accountant at major accounting company, Touche Ross, which had befriended John. In his struggle to establish our family economically, he had neglected to pay income taxes.

Three months after we moved into the house, he completed the task of reconstruction, and realized he owed $90,000 in back taxes, After much soul searching, he declared bankruptcy. In order to save the house from being repossessed, we have had to borrow money from my mother. This caused a great deal of turmoil in the household as my mother did not want to give us the $25,000. I begged and pleaded, terrified that we would lose everything we had worked for ten years to accumulate. These upsets on the phone begin to permeate everything in the house. There is constant worry and stress and fighting over money.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Diva in the Kitchen

That night the whole company of principal dancers come to our house for dinner. Margot is standing in front of our Westinghouse fridge. Elegant, wearing a white blouse and calf length black skirt and high heels, her hair swept up in a bun, she is surveying the contents of the refrigerator while my mother, embarrassed at the bulging contents within, explains how you use a refrigerator to Margot. It is 1949. The war has been over for four years, but the famous ballet comrades are still on rationing. No eggs, no butter, no meat. There is no meat in London, and certainly no refrigerators to keep it in. But since her recent rise to fame, her brilliant smash success in New York, Margot has allowed herself the luxury of purchasing a fridge exactly like ours, but not yet taken delivery. It will be there when she gets home. I look up at her in wonder. What a splendid, regal woman she is. It is as if the Queen has come to call and she wants to know about the real world of the commoners. I forget that my own mother only recently went from a wringer washer to an automatic.

The dinner conversation revolves entirely around the subject of the longed for meat. Though we have salad, and mashed potatoes, what these comrades who have endured the long years of war really love and crave is the roast beef! My father tells Margot that he will arrange to have meat sent to her from Canada by Eaton's. Everyone seems delighted by this act of practical generosity. Since this is their first trip to North America, following Margot's brilliant triumph in New York, everyone seems very anxious to go to Niagara Falls. As a good host my father numbly offers to drive them all to Niagara Falls. They are thrilled.

After dinner my sister and I are sent upstairs to get ready for bed. We get our "sleepers" on, the kind with feet, and a button down behind. In this gear we are invited downstairs to dance for Margot and the rest of the dancers before bedtime. Afterwards she gives each of us a signed ballet shoe that she had worn that night. She used a pair for each act. It exactly fits me now. It holds the place of honour next to a photo of my father next to Margot.

I have an album of photos and telegrams that my father made about Margot. It contains the telegrams he sent her to tell her the meat was arriving, and a photo of them on a trip when he drove her to Chicago. She is leaning her head on his shoulder shyly, her back turned discreetly to the camera. This is the beginning of her fame in North America. My father, jacketless revealing his suspenders, has one arm around her protectively, looking at her smiling, shy face gazing coyly at the camera. Leslie Edwards is taking the picture. My father looks absolutely dazzled by her beauty and grace, and astounded by his good fortune. There was a sense of magic and specialness about this elegant woman; so beautiful, like an angel, charming and gracious. She radiated beauty and joy. As a little girl I recognized that she was loved by multitudes, and especially by my father.

Every two years the Sadlers Wells, soon renamed the Royal Ballet, came to North America. The next time they came it was to Maple Leaf Gardens, because there were so many people that wanted to see Margot dance. And every time she came to the "Fitzes" house. Whenever she was coming to town, mother and father would invite their most interesting friends, Celia Franca and her boyfriend Burt Anderson, Mr and Mrs. Atwood, (Peggy's mother) Thea Shulman, who lived next door to the Atwoods, the Daly's, etc. It was the crowd that appreciated the Arts. Conspicuoulsy absent were the Russells, of Russell Steele, who lived across the street in a tudor mansion.They were not my parents sort. After dinner, and our dance performance for the dancers, we would be sent to bed. My mother would roll up the carpet, and, while I listened from upstairs through a glass held to the floor, there would be waves of laughter and dancing to Italian Taranetellas.

Margot's Christmas card held the place of honour in our living room. I felt blessed. Her presence in my kitchen inspired me for the rest of my life. I followed her life story, reading in the paper that she had married the love of her life who had left her to earn a fortune so he would be able to afford her. She was always in furs and jewels, but it never seemed to affect her natural charm. After she became Dame Margot, I went to visit her backstage at Covent Garden in London when I was seventeen, and had just been chosen to attend the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal. She met me with a towel around her neck, covered in sweat, following the afternoon rehearsal I had just been allowed to watch. What an honour to have known her. My life was filled with wonder and magic. I was blessed, and I certainly knew what I wanted in my life from that day forward. I wanted to see that look in my father's eyes when I was on stage, a famous dancer/actress like Margot.

The fact that my father knew such luminaries gave him a mysterious and special glow in my imagination.When my parents would get dressed up to go out to the symphony or the theater, my mother in her fur coat, wearing her black dress with black lace at the throat, she would come in to tuck us in, smelling of perfume, her long dark hair swept up in the nineteen forties style. She was like Margot to me, and beautiful and romantic figure. She would come home with the autograph of many famous people in my marble leather covered autograoh book, Artur Rubenstein, Dame Myra Hesse. My father would take us into the radio studio to watch his friend Jan Rubes do his show, His wife was a star on the Guiding Light. He brought me her autograph when he went off to New York to see Margot.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Fonteyn's Pearls

The Royal Alexandra Theatre, November 1949

I am so excited. I am six and I am going to the ballet! Since I was three I have been dancing. My first appearance on stage is still imprinted on my memory, the lights, the thrill of feeling the audience responding. Now I am going to see a famous ballerina named Margot Fonteyn! My sister and I are wearing our identical dresses, mine blue satin with lace collar, hers green satin. Our mother sewed them for a wedding on her Singer sewing machine. This is the first time we are allowed to wear our patent leather shoes with straps since the wedding. It is a very special occasion.

The theatre is elegant, with red velvet seats. Because my father knows one of the dancers we have very good seats. The ballet is Giselle. I read in the program that it is the story of a much beloved village girl who has a boyfriend, but she falls in love with a prince, who is bored and attracted to her innocence.

The eldest, I am sitting beside my father, feeling very grown up, watching the ballet unfold in front of me. My father has explained the story to me. The beautiful dancer is acting out a scene where she finds out the prince that she fell in love with (while he was disguised) is already engaged to a noblewoman. He was just toying with her because he was bored and her innocence seemed attractive. When her friend tells her the truth, she becomes distraught and overwhelmed. Her huge brown eyes are wild, her long black hair disheveled. She is out of her mind with pain and grief. She takes the pearls that the prince gave her off her neck, and flings them across the stage.

I can still hear the pearls skidding across the stage as Margot writhes in agony and drops dead of a broken heart, while her mother hovers over her, seeing her prophetic vision of her daughter dancing by moonlight with the Willis (those who die before their wedding night) in long white gowns. A perfectly tragic romantic fairy tale, it left an indelible impression on my young heart and mind.

After the performance, the owner of the theatre, Mr. Rollo May, shows my father and my sister and I around the theatre. He takes us into the lighting booth, lets us look through coloured gels at the postage stamp of a stage below. Then we are taken backstage to the dancers dressing rooms. Astonished, I see the beautiful red-headed dancer Moira Shearer, who I saw on the movie screen in The Red Shoes. She is sitting in front of a lit mirror surrounded by a group of dancers. Two of them are men. One, handsome and dark, is Leslie Edwards. The other, Robert Helpman, is still in makeup and costume while he sits cutting Moira's hair. He is my father's friend, who danced as the partner of Margot Fonteyn. All of them are welcoming him. They call him "Fitz." Apparently he travelled with Robert's brother, Max Helpman in the nineteen thirties as Business Manager for a n Autstralian Vaudeville company called Williamson's. He was a great poker player, and earned his passage to London playing poker. He arrived in 1930 and found himself in a silent movie at Gainsborough studios. He found his way into the theatre scene in the East End of London and had a wildly romantic time, and spent his time surrounded by flapper actresses and famous people who adoptd "Jack" and fondly called him "Fitz." And now, nineteen years later, they are reunited. My sister and I watch the whole scene, fascinated.

I am spellbound as clumps of bright blood red hair fall to the floor as they chat and laugh. They are all best of friends, Leslie Edwards, tall, dark and handsome, Pamela May, beautiful and graceful, but none of them as stunning as Margot Fonteyn. She radiates joy, smiles at us graciously, and asks us how old we are. My sister answers boldly that she is four, and then turns the question back on her. "How old are you?" She is amused, but does not answer.
My father goes to call my mother to ask her to have dinner ready. The Sadler's Wells principal dancers are coming for dinner!

The Pearls Scene Four

July 1946

The little girl has just turned three, She is standing on the stone porch of the red brick house where she lives with her mother and father and her sister, born a year earlier. She is waiting for a taxi which is bringing her Uncle Harry. He gets out of the car, and there is light all over him. In his arms he is carrying a tiny four month old baby, her cousin Eric. Only three, and she has two babies to take care of! What a big job for a little girl. But she will do it well.

She loves her handsome Uncle. He is a soldier. He wears his uniform when he comes to visit from America. He smokes Marlboro cigarettes. She watches, fascinated, as he taps them on his wrist watch, tamping down the tobacco. He is dark, with big brown eyes, a deep hearty laugh, an eloquent articulate voice, tanned skin, a man's man. Children adore him. He brings his Purple Heart Medals for the children to play with.

As they get older, he teaches her and her sister to sun tan, lying under the tree in the front yard, counting the minutes until everybody must turn over. When he comes from New York to visit his son, he brings wonderful presents for all three children; a wooden Noah' s Ark, with carved animals, books, The most memorable gift when the Queen of England is crowned in 1953. He presents a golden Coronation Coach and six white horses.

The little girl has a sister named, and a cousin that she treats as a brother. Her father seems very close to the boy. Perhaps he reminds him of himself as a little boy, adopted by another family. There are hushed conversations about the boy's mother. She comes to visit once. She is very pretty. But she never comes back again. When Harry is there, every second weekend, he sleeps on the couch in the living room.

The Pearls Scene Three

Eaton Auditorium, Winter 1945

The audience is hushed as the little girl, blonde curls tucked under her goldfinch costume, comes forward on the stage to do her dance. She is entranced by the deep velvet black. Even though she cannot see them, she knows it contains her mother and father. As she walks downstage she sees the footlights: red......yellow...... blue, ...... red...... yellow....... forgets completely about her dance. A soft wave of laughter emerges from the blackened auditorium. She knows the laughter is kind. Her mother and father are out there. They would not laugh at her. She looks up to see if she can see their faces. The spotlight hits her in the eye. Instantly she is back on the street with the streetlights shining through the icicles on the trees. She is home.

The Pearls Scene Two

Toronto, Summer 1945

Sunlight bathes the little girl as she sits on the floor beside her mother's bed. While her mother sits at her built in vanity putting hair pins into her black upswept hair, the little girl is playing in her mother's sewing box. She asks about the paper envelopes with pictures of chintz covered chairs. "How can a chair be in an envelope?" she wonders. She picks up a tiny yellow plastic button and holds it up to the light streaming through the venetian blinds. Is this what shines in the sky at night? What are the fireworks that she saw, held in her mother's arms last night? Do they look like this? She watches the light shine on her mother's fur coat, spread out on the bed. On the dresser is a picture of her mother and father. Her mother looks almost Chinese, but the little girl does not know what that is. Her black hair is cropped short and close to her head. She is wearing a black dress and a silk collar with a pin set with pearls around her neck. Her father is wearing a good suit. His curly blonde hair neatly combed. The two look elegant and formal, self possed, as if knowing that this is the picture their children will remember them by. It is their wedding picture. It was taken in 1936, "before you were a twinkle in your father's eye!"

The Pearls Scene One

Winter, Toronto, 1945

The moon hangs pale against the indigo sky, a pearl amongst diamonds. The trees are frozen in ice. Below them, a tiny girl gazes up in wonder at the dazzling streetlight shining through the branches dipped in silver. Her blonde curls are stuffed under her brown wool toque; her mouth and nose are beaded and damp behind her muffled woolen scarf. She has been zipped firmly into her snowsuit and snow boots by her dark haired, dark eyed, red lipsticked mother, wearing a smooth brown seal fur coat. Over the child's snowboots are strapped double bladed skates, her first Christmas present. Her handsome blonde blue eyed father, wearing a rough wool dress coat and a brown fedora, props her up gently under her arms, and pushes the toddler along the bumpy ice road. Leaning securely back in his arms, the little girl remembers.

The Pearls

Shelora, here you go...