Family / Humour / Life

A Life in Six Sentences

Homesickness can be a terrible beast. Just ask anyone who has spent any time with me lately. Not only do 95% of my sentences begin with the words “well in Nova Scotia….” , I’ve also been listening to so much Anne Murray and Rita MacNeil that my neighbours now think it’s 1987. My diet of late consists of nothing but  lobster and Solomon Gundy seasoned with the salt of my own tears. I’m even learning how to play the bagpipes. Lemme tell ya- that sh*t is not for the faint of heart. Or lung capacity. Guess I’m gonna have to kick my crack habit if I ever want to get  Groundskeeper Willie good…..

Anyway, I was recently crying about discussing my homesickness with my good friend, Dominique- who like me, is a Toronto transplant. Only she hails from the beautiful and yoga-loving Vancouver, British Columbia. And no she’s not a Real Housewife. But she could be.

Exhibit A: Hotness

She’s got the “hot part down. Might have to work on the whole “bat sh*t crazy” angle, though.

Anyway, during our conversation, she told me about a way she stays connected to her family- and I thought it was so heartfelt and sweet that I asked her to write a guest post on it for The Camel Life.  Since I already gave away the entire balance of my checking account and all my knickknacks, she agreed to do it out of the kindness of her heart. Awww. And it’s just in time for father’s day, too! Enjoy guys!

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Like our host, Breezy K, I’m a recent immigrant to the city. I live downtown, in a tiny condo, high up in the sky, with steel appliances that I never use (true to the stereotype, I actually have heels on my kitchen shelves), and “neighbours” whose names I don’t hope to know. I know the dogs in the building better than the people, mostly because they’re more animated in the elevator.

I moved away from home – Vancouver – 9 years ago, and while I’ve spent some summers there since, I have never moved back permanently.

Being far from home, I don’t see my family as often as they or I would like. I talk to them almost daily, and while we keep meaning to Skype, we never do. But, my mother being fairly technologically advanced, she texts me throughout her day with pictures of the majestic cedar trees from her hike, the beautiful view from the top of Grouse Mountain, or the particularly stunning sunset from the beach. [No, I don’t know why I left the West Coast]. In contrast, my father is of the firm belief that technology is much like a butterfly wing, liable of being rendered kaput at the slightest touch. If I so much as pick up his phone, he implores, “Don’t TOUCH it! You’ll f*ck it up! I have my system and it works!” I tell him that, in actual fact, he has no system at all: no contacts input, no text messages sent, nothing. To which he replies, “Good. I keep it that way on purpose.” My father’s method of keeping in touch consists of gingerly pressing the “Send” button on his 2003 device, then asking me where I am (the answer “at work” is always met with surprise), and then asking me if I’m crying into my beer yet over my decision to live in Toronto, “that godforsaken city”. I tell him I don’t usually drink beer at work at 10 am. He suggests that maybe I should – I’d have more fun.

So long paragraph short, my parents are awesome. And involved in my life. And as much as I’m great at staying in touch with them, there are certain forms of communication – like mail – that I never consider using. Unless it’s Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, in which case I usually end up realizing that mail requires travel time, of more than a day, and doesn’t arrive on weekends (bizarre), and I end scrambling and staring at the post office attendant blankly, not knowing how to respond to her request for $30 to express post a $4 card.

My parents, however, have always had a love of mail. My mom has been sending me $5 bills with a little note attached ever since I moved away from home. My dad will cut cute animals out of newspapers (usually cat food ads?), write a message on the ad, fold it up, and mail it off to me. I can’t tell you how many ads for cat or dog food I have stashed somewhere, with my dad’s writing on them – unwilling to throw them away, but not quite sure what to do with them.

Recently however, they have taken to sending me a barrage of postcards, each featuring striking Inuit drawings of birds. The images are beautiful works of art by Canadian artists, and the messages … are also works of art.

One of the first in the series features what the back of the postcard tells me is a “Guardian Owl” – an owl with 8 wings, each wing with its own bird head. My mother wrote “Hi Bird! [She calls me that for some reason]. Some days at work, do you feel like you need this many heads? Might be a big help. Oh well, my dear, you’re doing just fine with one head only. Love!”

The next one is also an owl. My mother writes, in the elegant cursive that only women over the age of 50 have kept up as a craft, “Hi Bird! This is a nice owl. He doesn’t have a name, but you can name him if you like.” My father wrote, “THIS BIRD’S NAME IS BIRD! HE LIVES HIGH ABOVE THE TREES IN TOFINO. HIS HOBBIES ARE FLYING AND SURFING. P.S. HE EATS POPCORN AND DRINKS VODKA.”

Standing alone in my kitchen, my coat still on, I laughed out loud for a long time. And then I laughed again. And then again. I could picture my dad’s voice perfectly. While my mom had thought of the option of naming the animal, my dad had decided that, as plain as it was to see that his phone would break if I touched it, this bird’s name is bird! And of course, owls could eat popcorn, and certainly could drink vodka.

The next one read like a Hemingway short story, with diction as touching as any great writer could whittle: my mom observed that this bird, entitled “Little Raven” by the postcard, looked very smart. She hoped that I liked him. “He’s very handsome”, she added. My dad explained: “HE HAS A UNIVERSITY DEGREE IN SPANISH AND MATHEMATICS. NOW HE IS IN THE MIDDLE OF GETTING HIS MBA. YOU SEE, HE IS VERY SMART. HIS DREAM WAS ALWAYS TO BE AN ARTIST. BUT HE CAN’T HOLD A BRUSH. POOR THING. LOVE.”

Such a vision! My dad had written out a life in six sentences. The missing romance in the story was obviously implied, given the degree specializations.

What jumped off the page though, was love. Love via postcards via short stories. My parents missed me, and wanted to make me smile, to make me laugh, to give me something to open other than bills. And because of our family’s insane love of animals, they connected with me through bird postcards. These silly postcards made me happier in the moment that I received them than anything else I had received all year. They reminded me that my parents know I’m out here, high up over the trees, in a condo. Sometimes skipping dinner and just eating popcorn. Definitely drinking vodka. Some days feeling like I could use an extra 8 heads. Surfing used to be something I did every summer. And sure, I’m smart. Is it my dream to be an artist? Isn’t it everyone’s?

My parents, together, one in last century’s cursive, one in CAPS LOCK, spun a narrative as comforting as the moment in grade 9 when you “get” the analogy of Animal Farm. On one of the postcards my mom wrote “Hi Bird! This little bird is your cousin”. On another, my dad wrote in reference to a bird with bizarre feathers, “It’s total chaos in his bathroom – every morning!” Sounds like me, yup. There is a postcard bird for every one of your twenty-something highs and lows. Your career woes, your poor nutritional choices, your drinking [habit?], your former hobbies, even your inability to get out the door on time. The moments where you wish you had figured out how to hold a brush instead of a laptop and a law degree. Either way, it’s okay, because you’re flapping your wings, high up above the trees, and doing it just fine with one head. And even if you sometimes feel like a poor thing, there’s always a cheery “Love!” at the end of the message. We should all be so lucky.

Question of the Day: How do you stay connected to your family?

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11 thoughts on “A Life in Six Sentences

  1. I’m a conjoined twin so I only need to look to the left to see my brother.

    My family all lives close enough to one another so we can actually hand each other cat food ads if we wish. I’m sure once I move they’ll call me or talk with me online. It’s almost impossible to not stay connected.

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  2. I keep in touch with my family at arm’s length, as it’s a pretty dysfunctional family. However,,,I still do remember to send mother’s/father’s day cards as well as Christmas cards, and manage 1 or 2 visits a year and the occasional phone call.
    On the topic of living in T.O,,I grew up in the big city,,and moved north to the country to have and raise my children,,now that they are just about grown up,,I look forward to being closer to Toronto, and I wonder if you both will move back home one day and feel the same way about Toronto as you do about home right now?
    Have a awesome wknd gurls,,great post!

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  3. Family is a blessing and staying close to family is so important to me too; it was important to my parents. I also write a lot about family, values, fitness and entertainment on my blog.
    Continued blessings,
    Maria Lauren

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  4. Oh Dominique, your parents are adorable! I moved only 2 hours away for a couple of years and got my mum on Facebook to keep her up to date. I have regretted that as I am now happily home again and it took months to wean her off posting all over my wall unnecessarily. What I do begrudgingly enjoy is her picture texts. Often I will receive a running 4-5 picture messages showing what she’s up to in a day. She is only a 10minute drive from my house but I’m so busy and she’s so tech savvy that it ends up being our way to stay in touch.

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