Search This Blog

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Wheelbarrow

I used to own a wheelbarrow. Thirty years ago I envisioned a vegetable garden in my large Denver yard, imagining family meals composed of the food I would grow there. I rented a sod-remover and took up the grass from a large section of the yard. Then I rented a roto-tiller to turn the soil (I later learned that roto-tilling is a good way to lose your topsoil). And then I bought a wheelbarrow, because I wanted one. When I used it to move heavy bags, awkward containers of plants, soil, and rocks, I felt like a real gardener. A person of the soil.


We moved into the house in November. Eighteen months later I married a Canadian, sold the house AND the wheelbarrow, and moved to Toronto. My vegetable garden saw only one brief season.


In Toronto I wanted to own another wheelbarrow. But our house is a city house. Although it has both a front and a back yard, there is no access to the one from the other, except by going up 6 or 8 steps, through the house itself, and down 6 or 8 steps. Not good wheelbarrow terrain.


Even though I no longer have access to or need of a wheelbarrow, I still love the idea of transporting heavy loads simply by lifting those two long wooden arms. Probably if I had one now—and if I had a garden large enough to require a wheelbarrow—I'd get tired when I used it. I might find that I no longer had the strength to do more than one or two loads without taking a break. I might have to acknowledge that I am no longer 30. Or 40. Or, all right, 50. We'll stop there.


But my son has a wheelbarrow. His yard isn't huge, and he probably doesn't really need one. But I would never tell him so because I think the love of wheelbarrows might be an inherited trait. It may be in his genetic make-up that he simply must own a wheelbarrow to use whenever it is even remotely appropriate.


He also bought a child's wheelbarrow for his son, Sam, and the summer before Sam turned two, he eagerly pushed his wheelbarrow all over the yard while his parents were gardening. He obviously inherited my love of wheelbarrows.


Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Tidal Wave

Tsunami is a word much in the news these days. There was even a lively exchange of letters in the Globe about whether tsunami is a pretentious word and we should all go back to saying "tidal wave," an inaccurate phrase reminiscent of '50s adventure movies ("Bruce, we have evidence that this whole island is about to be attacked by a giant tidal wave! We must move to higher ground immediately!" "But, sir, what about the women and children? And the natives, sir? We can't just abandon them." And so forth).


Tidal wave was the phrase we used, in 1959, when I lived in Honolulu. I was teaching at the posh Punahou School, my first teaching job. (One's respect for a school does decrease somewhat when one realizes they've put a novice teacher in charge of their 7th and 8th graders.) Anyway, I was learning how much I didn't like teaching 7th and 8th graders, and in the meantime I was sharing a large house with three other young women teachers, all of them new to the island, all of them new to Punahou Schools.


Our landlord was Chinese. The interior doorways between the major rooms were moon-shaped and latticed. The only other thing I remember about the house is that, to maximize the rents, the landlord had built a long room onto the side of the house, outfitted it with the appropriate facilities, and called it an apartment. It was rented to a young newly married couple, and their bed adjoined our kitchen. That juxtaposition pretty effectively kept the four of us out of the kitchen whenever hubby was home. The casual, noisy randiness of our neighbors made us exceedingly uncomfortable. And the frequency! My dear!! Who knew?


One more thing about the house: it was on the Ala Wai Canal. I'm ashamed to say I made no attempt to find out about this canal. I don't know what it was for. I knew how to find my way around it by car, following the Ala Wai Canal Boulevard to get places. But it was hardly a transportation canal. The Erie and Wabash canals actually opened the Midwest to trade and industry, but that was not the reason for the Ala Wai Canal. All I know is that at one end it opened to the ocean.


It was November. We'd all been in Honolulu since August. And in November there was an earthquake in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The cry went up! Tidal wave! There may be a tidal wave! It could hit the Hawaiian Islands! The radio warned us to take steps.


We were all Midwesterners. What did we know from earthquakes and tidal waves? Secure in the knowledge that nothing could ever happen to us (because we were ourselves, young, and in our skins), we paid no attention to any of the warnings.


The word was that the tidal wave could "come right up the canal." Who knew what that would look like? It might raise the water level of the concrete-lined canal by a foot or two, which would cause some flooding. Or the wave itself might come racing up the canal and engulf us all. So, since no one knew, and since we wanted to be able to relate the straight dope to our family and friends back home, we went outside and walked over to the canal.


I distinctly remember strolling along the walkway that bordered the water, the four of us, peering into the canal and looking for changes that we could attribute to the "tidal wave." Nothing.


Finally, we got bored and went home to bed. In the morning we learned that nothing at all had occurred.


I hadn't thought of this for 40 years. Not, in fact, until a more recent earthquake and tsunami made it clear how unpredictably, how suddenly, how powerfully the ocean can respond to a shuddering of the earth. If our Honolulu experience had been more serious, the four little mainland innocents might have been no more than a statistic.


As it turned out, we were just stupid and lucky. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here to tell the tale.



Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Full Circle

I've always liked a full circle skirt. Because of the way it is cut, the waist has no bunchy gathers or even flat pleats to thicken your waistline. It is smooth and just big enough to go around you. And then its four panels flare wildly so that at the hemline your skirt makes a full circle. Not that you could really know that unless you take the skirt off and lay it out on the floor. Then, sure enough, it does lie in a full, two-dimensional circle.


We were often the recipients of hand-me-downs when we were young. Not from townspeople, as I remember, but from distant relatives or old friends of my mother, Eileen. More than this I do not know. Who were these people? Eileen never spoke of old friends she'd known before she married our father and became a small-town mother of six.


So how did she know someone who custom-made machine-knit dresses? We received a box one day with half a dozen elegant and totally inappropriate fine-knit dresses, some made of pastel metallic yarns that shimmered and glistened with movement. The dresses were all of a size—too small for my big-boned mother, who might have been able to carry off their style with aplomb. But they did fit me, a skinny 16-year-old. As I remember, Eileen altered them using her excellent dressmaking skills, but it was hard to disguise the shiny knits and make them look like a high schooler's outfit. And if I was 16, my sister Sari was 12, so they were even less appropriate for her. Baby Mary Eileen was four; maybe they ended up as dress-up clothes for Mary Eileen.


But to return to the full circle skirt. The crowning glory of one of those care boxes was a rich brown taffeta double-circle skirt. Can you believe it? It was so full that it was actually two complete circles, shaped to fit smoothly at the waist. Now that was my favourite skirt. It might not have been created with high school in mind (did I really wear it with bobby sox and saddle shoes?), but that never bothered me. This was the era of the full-circle felt poodle skirt, after all; mine seemed to be a more elegant variation of that.


I kept the brown taffeta double circle skirt well after I stopped wearing it. It moved all over North America with me, making the cut each time I whittled down (tried to whittle down) my belongings before a coming move. In fact, I still had it when my own girls were in high school, and they loved to wear it. Some things never change: a girl's desire to swish and swirl is one of them.


So where is it now? Which daughter made off with it when she left home and then tired of it and let it disappear? (She could after all have returned it to me, no questions asked.) Neither daughter admits to having lost the brown taffeta double circle skirt.


It's a shame. But before I weep bitter tears, I'll remind myself that it was a small thing; perhaps I thought I couldn't live without it, but I've managed. I just hope

it ended up with someone who loves it.


Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor