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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Breaking the Rules

Goody-goody Two-Shoes never breaks the rules. She colors within the lines. Has all her ducks in a row. Keeps to the straight and narrow. Doesn't step off the path. Toes the line. Observes traffic lights.


Does all this make her dull? Can she be goody-goody and interesting at the same time?


Oh. Here's an answer: nothing is either/or. That's the answer. Goody follows the rules AND breaks the rules. The difference between heaven and hell is figuring out which rules to follow and which to ignore.


Some of the distinction is context. I hate walking in New York City, where pedestrians ignore the red lights. In Toronto (in any civilized city, by my reckoning) if the light is red, you stand at the curb and wait until the light turns green. I think of it as a little respite from urban hustle-bustle, a chance to take a breath, to notice your feelings—well, to do whatever you want with that little gift of time. My point is that you have it. In New York City, however, there is no rest. The pedestrian hordes collecting behind you at the red light jockey for the opportunity to cross the street on the red as soon as they sense a break in the traffic. Sometimes they don't even wait for a break, but boldly charge ahead, trusting the cabs to stop before creaming them. Go-go-go is the name of the game. Standing in obedience to the red light brands you as a tourist and a goody-goody two-shoes, incompatible with the image of a with-it New Yorker.


In that case, I'm no breaker of rules. Nor do I shoplift. That's a very strange one. I had a friend years ago who managed a big discount box store. She often talked about "shrinkage" when discussing the store and its problems. As a textile person, I thought I knew what shrinkage was, but I was wrong. In her context, it meant shoplifting, which was such a widespread phenomenon that it had its own code word in retail.


And in my novel-reading I frequently encounter girls and even women who think nothing of lifting cosmetics, clothing, whatever they want, from stores. How can they do this? I apparently was so indoctrinated—either by my parents or by the nuns—that it never, ever occurred to me to take something without paying for it. (Add to this indoctrination a healthy fear of authority and the power of the law, and you'll understand that I really won't be shoplifting any time soon.)


What rules will I break? Well, I do jay-walk, especially on residential streets, though I am considerably more careful now (because I am less spry) than I used to be. The shortest distance between two points is the straight line. My rule is: whenever possible, take the hypotenuse.


I don't wear white after Labour Day, but then I don't wear much white even in the heat of July. (There are always exceptions, you must remember. A foolish consistency is the . . . and all that.) Hobgoblin, eh? There's a word you don't hear much of these days, except maybe in the four-week run-up to the New Halloween.


Rules I keep, rules I break. Most of those I keep are because of fear. Oh, dear. Did I just figure this out? I think I've known it for a while. But I do believe it makes me a Goody-Goody Two-Shoes at heart who only masquerades as a rebel. Why would Goody do that? One reason might be that the Goodys have a terrible reputation. The rule-breakers are universally admired as more interesting, leading exciting lives of unbridled exuberance. While Goody sits at home. Alone, presumably.


Well, this Goody explodes into the excitement of rule-breaking in the kitchen and in that skin-deep world of clothing. But you'll find her standing quietly, at rest, while she waits for the red light to change.


Copyright © 2015 Ann Tudor

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Forget What You've Seen

Well, that's a piece o' cake, let me tell you. Forget what I've seen? No effort required. It's done automatically. I see it, I forget it. A doddle, really.


And it doesn't stop there, does it? I hear it, it's forgotten. I read it, it's gone. I eat it—don't ask me about it the next day.


Soon—oh, I was going to make some smart comment but I won't

because I forgot the smart comment I had in mind. Saying "soon, I'll remember nothing at all" would be like waving a red flag to attract the attention of the Keepers of the Brain; they might make my silly exaggeration into an actual fact. I definitely don't need that.


Somehow while cooking dinner a month ago I turned the knob for the right rear burner all the way to high. Can't imagine how or why I did it, since I was cooking on two other burners and had no need to use the right rear.

I've told you before about the right rear burner--the one that doesn't respond to its pilot light. Remember?


We ate outside in soft spring air. Sat for half an hour afterwards. Went back inside to find the kitchen full of gas. Full of gas, the kitchen was. My fault.


We aired out the room. No harm done. Right?


Copyright © 2015 Ann Tudor

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Family That Plays Together

Think of that family. So large, you say, so many boisterous and talented children (rule-benders as well as Straight Arrows; take your pick depending on birth order.)


In the many years of ballyhooed togetherness, there was exactly one occasion when we played together, as a group. This is nuts, you'll say. But it's true—and it happened a year before the sixth one was born, so only five of us played together—and only once in 18 years. That I can remember, of course.


We were alone, at 12, 10, 8, 6, and 5. Who would leave this gang of sprouts alone, these disparate, unassimilated strangers forced by birth into the same space? Well, our parents did that Sunday afternoon. They went--where? To a wedding. A funeral. An anniversary party. (Our town was big on celebrating milestones: twenty-five years of marriage warranted a formal photographic portrait in the local paper and a gathering of family and friends for coffee and cookies.) Well, for whatever reason they left us at home.


The 12-year old was left in charge and, taking his responsibility seriously, he came up with the day's activity: we would put on a play.


I remember: finding costumes (the house was full of fancy clothes, vintage clothes, clothes that once fit someone and now fit no one); setting up a curtain between the living room and the dining room (a double-wide space that probably once had sported French doors), using a blanket and a broomstick; a strong sense of working toward a common purpose, something so rare in the family that it could have been called non-existent. I remember excitement as we prepared. I remember the clamour when the parents came through the front door and all of us at once told them what we'd been doing and invited them to sit down immediately and watch our play.


I do NOT remember one single thing about the nature of the play or who played what role—only that the drama (surely a comedy, given the family genes) offered parts for each of us, even the five-year-old.


This singular day made me so happy that I have remembered the feeling—if not the particulars—ever since. Just imagine how different things might be if playing together had been the rule and not the exception!

Copyright © 2015 Ann Tudor

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Small-town Swimming Pool

In summertime, during the occasional heavy rain, I like to sit in my rocking chair and watch the water gush down the gutter, as high as the curb, as murky as the hearts of men. And like Proust's Madeleine, that gutter water triggers a memory as vivid, though not as refined, as Proust's.


Indiana's muggy summer weather got temporary relief when heavy thunderstorms passed through, thunderstorms that gladdened the hearts of the county's farmers and delighted the children of the towns.


It is hard for me to credit it now, but what we did during the heavy rains was swim in the gutters. Is this true? Were we the only family in town with such lenient parents? I don't know whether our friends were also doing this at their respective houses. But we were. The six of us.


Once a deluge began we stripped down to underpants and raced to the gutter in front of the house. (That sounds like a novelist's description of his hero's downfall: "he was on a race to the gutter.")


As the torrent of muddy water flooded toward the grates of the storm sewers, we chose our spots and lay flat out, feet toward the oncoming water, heads raised above the surface to avoid drowning, mouths closed to avoid being swamped by the rain itself. None of us ever did drown, I'm happy to report, though that was due more to luck than to parental supervision. Parents in those days didn't supervise. They birthed you. They fed and clothed and housed you. The rest was blind luck. Or perhaps this is a familial tendency and not a generational one.


After being attacked by twigs and leaves and pebbles that pinged us and bumped our feet, we might reverse position and face the water head-on, belly down, chin lifted, making some but not much effort to avoid swallowing mouthfuls of gutter water. In this position we could at least look ahead and avoid what was coming toward us, such as larger branches. Or cars, perhaps, the drivers more intent on the rain pelting their windshields than on a passel of wild, mostly-naked children making their own fun.


During a Toronto rain I watch our local child-free torrent, wave after wave of roof run-off, garden pesticides, and asphalt leavings headlonging it toward our Gothic Avenue grates and I cannot imagine the children from our child-saturated street plunging themselves excitedly into the waters of the gutter.


What has changed? Standards? The make-up of gutter water? The concept of untrammeled, unsupervised fun for children?


Oh, where are the guttersnipes of yesteryear?


Copyright © 2015 Ann Tudor