February 27, 2016

John of Gaunt and Lady Katherine Swynford: A Royal Lineage

John of Guant Planatagenet
Katherine De Roet Swynford Plantagenet
The story of my 18th great-grandparents—Katherine de Roët Swynford and John of Gaunt—is the most endearing and enduring love affair in all of English history. My grandfather was the “greatest English nobleman of his time”—tall, lean, handsome, a mighty warrior, chivalrous, politically astute. He was the richest and the most powerful man as well; second only to his father, my grandfather King Edward III, and so great a prince that he was called the Greatest King England Never Had. My grandmother was renowned for her beauty, her kind and gentle nature, her financial acumen, her creative independence, most of all her piety. As his mistress, she was not his wife until late in the game. Still, she was (and is) “Mistress of the Monarchy,” for it’s through her children by John that Katherine became grandmother to both English and Scottish royalty, down to the present age. Several books have been written about their illicit and enduring love; their devotion to each other knew no bounds and withstood the test of time and the censure of church and state and public opinion. Lovers for twenty-five years before finally being able to marry, I’m not sure why there’s never been a blockbuster movie made, for their story is the very stuff of Hollywood: adultery, betrayal, chivalry, passion, sacrifice, separations, and murder. Ultimately, their devotion to each other changed the course of the royal bloodline and altered English history. The very least that can be said about their relationship is that without it I would not exist.

King Edgar of England
I actually plug into royalty long before John and Katherine. The very first kings of both England and Scotland were my great-grandfathers thirty-eight generations ago. Grandfather King Egbert reclaimed his English Wessex crown in 802 and by his death in 839 he’d been acknowledged as the first Sovereign over all of England. My Scottish grandfather, King Alpin MacEchdoch, was king of two kingdoms in what is now present-day Scotland, but because his son, my grandfather Kenneth I, increased the territory, founding Scotia, ancient Scotland, he is more often regarded as Scotland’s very first king. Still, the Scottish timeline begins with Alpin and from both Kings Egbert and Alpin I hopscotch down through the centuries: In England for about 600 years via the royal Houses of Wessex, Norman, Angevin, and Plantaganet; in Scotland some 500 years via Clans Dunkeld, Canmore, Balliol, and Bruce.

Alfred the Great
Some of my more illustrious grandfathers are Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, John Lackland (who’s cruelty and bad behavior prompted the Magna Carta), and Richard the Lionheart. A notorious grandmother was Isabella of France, married to my grandfather King Edward II. She did not like him much. Under guise of diplomatic mission she returned to France, took a lover (exiled for bad behavior), and together they crossed the channel with an army so large it scared off all the King’s men. She immediately deposed her husband and later had him barbarically and brutally murdered in the Tower so that she and Roger Mortimer could act as regents for her fourteen-year-old son, King Edward III. And this is where I tumble out of British royalty. 

King Edward III
King Edward III is my last English king grandfather. On the Scottish side I’d already fallen into obscurity by at least 100 years. King Robert the Bruce is my last Scottish king grandfather. Both kings were regarded as heroes and both were dearly loved. Probably my most adored kings in their time.

Still, I’d not fallen far from either tree. On both sides I remained (and remain) cousins, and my dual ancestry was reinforced because they intermittently intermarried—English royalty with Scottish, Scottish with English. The two crowns finally merged in 1603 when my British cousins ran out of heirs. We’re all fairly familiar with the basic precepts of this particular story. My cousin, King Henry VIII, went through six wives—divorced, beheaded, survived; divorced, beheaded, and died—and a break from the Catholic Church in order to begat a promising male heir. This never happened. Upon his death, his young and sickly son Edward VI, then Mary, and finally the “Virgin” Queen Elizabeth succeeded him. All three of these children died without issue, leaving England without a royal heir. 

King James VI and I
The crown was forced, then, in 1603 to slide sideways to Queen Elizabeth I’s Scottish cousin—my cousin King James VI. The crown slid his direction for two reasons: he descended from two of John of Gaunt and Katherine’s grandchildren—on the English side through their grandson John III and subsequent Tudor kings and queens—Kings Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VI, VII, VIII, Edward VI, Queens Mary and Elizabeth. On the Scottish side, he descended from John and Katherine’s granddaughter Joan. She’d married Scotland’s King James I way back in 1424 and begat Kings James II, III, IV, V, Mary Queen of Scots—who was mother to James VI. And so, as much as England and Scotland hated each other their thrones were united in 1603 under this man, renamed King James VI of Scotland, I of England—and from him come every king and queen since.

So what actually happened to me? How and where did I lose my direct lineage to the first kings of England and Scotland? I fell out of the Scottish family tree after Robert the Bruce, descending from his daughter rather than his son. I dropped out of English royalty with King Edward III, descending from John of Gaunt, third son rather than first. I was, however, grafted back in three times to keep my cousin thing going. 

King James I of Scotland
One: The first grafting was when John of Gaunt and Katherine’s granddaughter Joan married King James Stewart I of Scotland in 1424. He was brutally assassinated. She was injured trying to protect him but survived and married Scotland’s Black Knight, Sir James Stewart. I descend from the Black Knight.

 Two: The second grafting came about when John of Gaunt and Katherine’s great-great grandson ended the War of Roses and crowned himself King Henry IV. The throne until then had been held by John of Gaunt’s first wife’s children, but was now held by John’s offspring with Katherine, my kin. 

Joan, the Fair Maiden of Kent
Three: The third grafting happened when my 19th great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Holland, died. His beautiful wife, my grandmother Joan of Kent—known as the Fair Maiden of Kent—remarried, this time to John of Gaunt’s oldest brother and heir to the English throne, the Black Prince. Joan of Kent therefore went from being my grandmother to being my aunt. Unfortunately, her new husband died when their royal son was but nine years old. A year later the king himself was dead. This left Joan of Kent’s ten-year-old son Richard king—my step cousin. These three graftings, then, keep me still very much tangled in the royal family tree. Queen Elizabeth, although many times removed, is nonetheless my cousin.

I have always been frustrated by the lack of story in my forebears. For instance, what of my 4th great-grandfather George Wilbee, born in 1763 ?He was grocery store owner. What else? The sketchy storyline of Isabella Pettigrew Goodfellow has always driven me crazy. She weeded turnips at the Denholm Estate in her bare feet when she was sixteen years old, this I know. Her stepbrother raped her. Or was it consensual

See? So little detail to the drama! But then I bumped into royalty and out rolled the stories in all their brutality and treachery, their inspiration and innovative. The greatest story, of course, is the love affair of my 18th great-grandparents. John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roët survived the test of time and open censure from church and state and public opinion. Their illicit love changed the very course of English and Scottish history. And teaches us all that love can be triumphant.

Always a good story.

February 02, 2012

Six Orange Crates and Epiphany in A Fortune Cookie

Wayne and me Spring 1970
Eighteen years old and headed for college--that was years ago. At the time I was living in Mesa, AZ, and on "move in" day at Grand Canyon College (now a university), my best friend Wayne rolled into the driveway with a borrowed VW van. I had everything ready for him: six orange crates packed with everything I owned.

Since then I've moved a gazillion times, each time with an ever increasing accumulation of life's flotsam. The last time I moved, I got rid of an antique piano and six bookshelves of books,  untold bins of research, sacks of clothes I no longer wore, pictures, paintings, pots, pans, canning jars, salves and ointments that my youngest swore were around before he was born.

I'm moving again, and again weeding. I've tossed at least 300 books this time around. I've tossed hundreds of files, box after box of ever more research, garden boots, clarinet music from junior high (goaded by my youngest who says I'll never again play music so littered with black notes), even paper dolls I've been hauling around since I was ten years old and living in Northern California.

Each time I've gone through this process, I've inevitably thought of Wayne and that beastly hot day in Phoenix when he helped transport my six orange crates of belongings into a small dorm room and the rest of my life. Where did all this stuff come from? What happened to the days when I needed so little to create a corner of home for myself?

Where did all this come from?
The recession's hit a lot of people hard, me included, and from time to time I've felt a bit blue. But not long ago I found this epiphany in a fortune cookie: Accept something that you cannot change, and you will feel better. I thought of those six orange crates and how happy I'd been. Why feel blue over a recession? Especially since once upon a time, eighteen years old, I'd felt so happy, and with so little? I called Wayne. Which is why I'm selling my house for what I can get and boxing everything else up for storage: Wayne will invest what I can salvage.

People ask, "But where will you live?" I actually have three places I can go before heading for Banff the end of March to drive summer tour buses:

1--with a friend on Drayton Harbor;
2--in a cottage on Storm Lake;
3--at my youngest's condo overlooking Lake Whatcom.
Okay, 4--my mother.

The more common question has been, "But what if the market doesn't turn around?" They're asking, What if the midnight hour should strike?

I know exactly what will happen. Should midnight strike and I lose everything, I'll still have six orange crates and not just Wayne but many friends. And I'll be bouncing down some freeway or the other, off to some kind of "college"and the rest of my life, where it truly takes very little to create a corner of home for myself. 

Wayne and me, 2009, and 4 of my 6 orange crates, 2012

January 26, 2012

Guest: Lori Hutchinson, Educator

Dr. Maya Angelou: An example of life lived to its fullest.
by Lori Hutchinson
When I was growing up, I never took the opportunity to read any of Dr. Angelou’s work. I knew she was a renowned poet and writer, but I was not aware of the greatness of her personal story or her many talents. When I decided to finally read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I was blown away. Dr. Maya Angelou is more than a poet and writer; she's an all-around role model for wisdom and life achievement.
Dr. Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. When she was three years old, Angelou’s parents divorced. She and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, where racism and hatred for blacks was rampant. Angelou experienced the effects firsthand, something that shaped her strong determination for peace and good works. 
When she was eight, Angelou moved back to St. Louis with her mother. It was here she experienced something that nearly stole her soul; sexual molestation and rape by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. After the family went to court over the incident, her mother’s boyfriend was murdered by several angry family acquaintances. In the aftermath of these events, Angelou stopped speaking to everyone but her older brother, Bailey.
Angelou and her brother were eventually sent back to Arkansas to live with their grandmother. To help break her out of silence, a friend of Angelou’s grandmother, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, encouraged her to read works of literature out loud. It worked.
After experiencing several firsthand events of racism, Angelou’s grandmother began to fear for the children’s safety in Arkansas. She saved up enough money to send thirteen-year-old Maya to California, where Angelou’s mother had gone to live. Angelou's teenage years, living with her mother, was when she finally began to gain confidence and courage. 
Immediately upon arriving, she was awarded a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. Although she loved the arts, she dropped out within a year to become, at fourteen years old, San Francisco's first African-American female cable car conductor. At sixteen, she became pregnant—although she managed to graduate from high school just weeks before giving birth to her son.
To support him, Angelou worked as a waitress and cook, but her passion for the performing arts soon became her means of support. Throughout the 1950s, she studied dance and performed in several plays, including a European tour of Porgy and Bess. She recorded her first album, Calypso Lady, in 1957. In 1958, she moved to New York City where she joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild.
Always looking for opportunities to make a difference, Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt, in 1960. There she worked as the English-language editor of The Arab Observer. She next moved to Ghana where she taught at The University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama and worked as editor of The African Review. While in Africa, Angelou studied and mastered several languages, including French, Spanish, Italian and Arabic. This is also where she met Malcolm X.
In 1964, she moved back to the United States and began helping Malcolm X with his Organization of African American Unity. After Malcolm X’s assassination, Angelou was appointed as the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On her birthday in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. A poignant moment in Angelou’s life. 
In 1970, Angelou’s famous bestselling book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published. This was the beginning of a momentous and historic career. Today, Angelou has published more than 30 bestselling titles. In addition to writing books, she's also written scripts and scores for television and film. Her script for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia was the first script by an African American woman to be filmed, and it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. 
Angelou has also acted, directed, served on two presidential committees and received dozens of awards and honorary degrees. Today, Dr. Angelou is a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
It’s awe inspiring to read about this gifted teacher, role model, survivor, artist. Maya Angelou is a woman who’s truly taken life by the horns. If you’re a parent, mentor, or teacher, I encourage you to introduce the youth in your life to Dr. Angelou. She’s a real-life example of making good with the time we’re given on earth.
Lori Hutchison teaches high school English and owns the site Masters in Teaching. In her spare time, she enjoys writing guest blog posts about various topics of interest; especially teaching! www.mastersinteaching.net

January 23, 2012

Learning To Think

In going through some very old files while getting ready to move, I came across two things that meant something to me: One, a sketch I’d done of John Cabot in the late 1960s and, two, essays I’d written for my civics teacher in grade nine at Slausen Jr. High in Ann Arbor, MI.

I sketched a lot growing up and was sad when, having moved to Arizona for health reasons my senior year of high school, my mother threw out my art work. To her defense, there was quite a pile in the basement of our Iowa house. The two years I was at Maurice-Orange City High School (my sophomore and junior years), I took Drawing; and this consisted almost entirely of sketching classmates very quickly. We might go through five or six models in the course of one hour. I suppose, if I were my mother, I’d have given the whole stack a toss, too. Still, I’ve often wondered how good I was. And so discovering “Giovanni Cabot[t]o,” I was surprised to see I’d developed a serviceable skill at least.

My second satisfactory find was a sheaf of essays written for my ninth grade civics teacher at Slausen Jr. High in Ann Arbor, MI. I’ve always credited him for teaching me how to think.

He did this by handing off a list of famous quotes and requiring weekly opinion essays utilizing one of these quotes. “Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you” sort of thing. And so we’d write, he’d rebut, we’d rewrite, and he’d rebut our response. A single essay could go back and forth several times before being accepted, and not until he felt we’d sufficiently clarified and articulated our position. In this sheaf, I became intrigued by an essay using Thomas Jefferson’s “All men are created equal.”

“All men are created equal,” I began, quoting Jefferson in his preamble to the Declaration of Independence. “But what does it really mean? I believe that when Jefferson wrote this, he meant that all men were born with the desire to have liberty, an opportunity to live, and to seek happiness.”

I went on in what is clearly a very un-Republican way of thinking with respect to government. The government needed to afford opportunity for everyone, I wrote. Not just the lucky few. My teacher's rebuttal was extensive. “Why should the government supply these opportunities? What status is there in being a ‘mere working man’? If liberty is inalienable, how come some are taken away—or never granted by some governments? Why does democracy tend to not try to take them away, but rather to protect them? Or does it?”

I struggled to clarify. “It is up to the government to supply jobs, or how would anyone earn a living? The country would rot away. It is up to the government to keep it strong. One way to this is to have jobs for everyone.”

He pushed back. “Why can’t the government merely see that private industry is prosperous enough to have jobs for all? Isn’t this what we want?”

I had to rethink my position. Finally, I wrote: “I think it’s up to the government to create an environment where job opportunities abound and where everyone can earn a livable wage.” I remember being pleased with myself, the clarity ringing clearly in my brain. I’d gone from vague to specific. Government providing jobs, no, but an environment for jobs? yes—two very different things. This teacher not only taught me how to think—but how to say it.

I’m approaching sixty. These essays and drawing are more than forty-five years old. Do I throw them out? They’ve served their purpose, I know. I can’t imagine anyone else being interested. But still, their discovery reminds me of who I am. An serviceable artist. An articulate thinker. What if I forget? I am pushing sixty.

I think, if it's okay, I’ll hold on a bit longer. Maybe when I approach eighty, I’ll discover them again. And again be surprised.

Old Letters and New Revelations

People ask all the time, “How ever did you do it?” when referring to my being a single parent of three kids, ages 1, 3, and 6 for seventeen years. There's an assumption I did do it. 

The kids are grown and gone and two of them have kids themselves. Today it's January 2012 and I'm selling my house—and, consequently, going through old files. I just now came across a folder of Heather’s work. She was six when I left her dad, and she's suffered the most—her age of course, but the deeper impact undoubtedly was the responsibility I'd placed on her. Worse, because she gave me no trouble I tended to leave her to herself; there were so many other things to do. 

One of my most painful memories of her childhood was of her breaking her knee. I was gone. She was out riding her bike and was a few blocks from home when a neighbor kid, just to be mean, plowed right into her, dropping her straight down on her knee. Knee broken, she somehow managed to get the bike and herself home, hopping all the way, and get herself into my bed. She instructed her little brothers to pack it with ice and waited. And waited.

I was at a writers conference an hour and a half away. No cell phones then. When I finally returned, she’d been in pretty brutal pain for hours, watching her knee swell despite the ice and aspirin. I bundled her into the car and over to emergency, where they splinted her leg and suggested a surgeon. Amidst my sea of guilt, I was thunderstruck at how stoic and smart she’d been. 

So, no, I didn’t do it.  I couldn’t be everywhere—physically, emotionally.

In this file of Heather's today I found a pile of letters she'd been asked to write. “Are you wondering why I am writing you a letter? It’s because Mrs. Morris is making us. We have to do this every week on Friday and it has to be returned, signed by you. If we bring it back on Monday we get 25 points. For every day it’s late, we lose 3 points. I know you hate reading and signing letters...”

She’s referring to the inundation of paper work I was constantly receiving from the schools for all three of my children; everything had to be reviewed and signed and returned and, yes, I hated it. The clutter of it all in my head—while struggling to get the bills paid and food on the table and attend all the other things needing attention—was too much. I didn’t mind reading the material; it was the borage of signing and keeping track and reporting to the teachers ad nausea that I minded. Why all the falderal? When I was a kid, we did our homework and that was that. None of this running back and forth between home and school. As a kid, it would have driven me nuts. As a mother? It was all so meaningless and just one more thing to do.

But reading Heather’s letter today, away from the pressing needs of yesterday, I realize that my irritation had been hard on her. Not only did she have the responsibility of orchestrating the paperwork—her grade depended on it—she had my resistance. Stoically, she'd soldiered on. I'm bothered by this.

A second realization. “...it’s not my fault,” she wrote. She tried so hard not to burden me. A kid shouldn't be asked to do this. Parents should be able to deal with it. Plain and simple. I couldn’t. 

But if this first letter bothered me, it was the one dated October 9, 1989, that has really upset me. In the middle of her narrative, Heather wrote: “Now, I’m supposed to tell you what I’m doing this weekend. I’m going to Dad’s. I don’t think you care what we do.” Right in the solar plexus. Because I did care. The reports on weekends with Dad, though, usually triggered rage, disgust. My children’s lack of care was so profound and I so helpless that early on I’d begun to steel myself and eventually trained myself to remain passive when hearing about it. In later years? when they could fend for themselves? For instance, refuse to sleep in urine soaked sleeping bags? By then it was a habit to simply listen, to remain disengaged from their lives outside my sphere. Today I realize that Heather interpreted my passivity as “not caring.” I am remiss in the obvious and hidden as well.

Over the years I've often looked back to see if I could have been a better mother, better able to handle the crises, the mundane, the day-to-day. Every time I end up concluding that, no, I couldn't. I'd given it my best. Even though I knew at the time it wasn't enough.

So to answer everyone’s question, “How did you ever do it?” I am here and now answering anyone asking that I didn’t, obviously, and that my children suffered for my lack. 

But here’s the twist. Heather and her brothers seem to have forgiven my faults and negligence. And if I ever doubted it, one of Phil’s letters also came to light today, alongside Heather's. Apparently some really big crisis occurred in March 1999. I have no memory of it, there were so many. This one must have been a doozy, though. Phil was 21. He writes:
I had no idea this was going on, you say this started on the 30th? I have already prayed for you, and prayed again. Mum, I don't want you to scare me like that again.  You have been so strong for all of us our whole lives. I am not telling you to be strong now, because I can understand, no, I can’t, but I simply ask that you allow us to be strong for you now. Tears run down my face as I hear your distress, think about the beautiful things. Any year now you may be holding a grandchild in your arms. You can teach them to love themselves as you have taught me. Sending my children to grandma’s house is something I have dreamed of my whole life, to let them experience the love and encouragement I was so fortunate to have….Please always remember that I love you and that I, we, will be strong for you…
Their whole lives saw us lurching from one upheaval to the next while I struggled with poverty, poor health, and all the attendant worries that come with parenting. My faults speak for themselves—not keeping my distress to myself is just one. But if my children can forgive me? I didn’t single parent well to be sure, but it seems I did it well enough.

So here's my final answer to anyone asking "How ever did you do it?" My answer is simply this, "I didn't. But sometimes forgiveness intervenes."

May 01, 2010

Destination: Skagway, Alaska

My “half-my-age” son, Blake, insisted I apply for a summer job in Skagway, AK, as a tour guide at Jewell Gardens. He was up there last summer and is up there again this summer driving tour buses. He got it into his head that I’d love it, do well, and probably make some pretty good money in tips. "For someone your age," he tells me, "you look hot." Do I feel insulted? or not? More importantly, he felt it would do my two-year unemployment stretch of depression a world of good. Get my head out of the impossibilities and into something fun. So I applied. Long story short, I’m headed for Alaska this Thursday morning.

Here’s the truth. I’m scared to death. I have to pay my own transportation and it ain’t cheap. Too, there is no housing. Apparently people just land and “stuff” works out.

“You  remember I’m pushing sixty, right? I can’t do the camping thing. I can’t do cats and dogs if someone does take me in.” 

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he says.

Here’s the kicker. There is no doctor, no pharmacy in town. I have to take up five months worth of medications.

He arranged for free housing with the preacher, at least for May. Okay, a compromise. A place to lay my head for a couple of weeks. So I’ll go and see if “stuff” happens. If not? I’ll just come back and consider the adventure one thing I can scratch off my Bucket List. I’ve always wanted to get up there.

My job is to take tourists through the gardens, a glass-blowing factory housed in the gardens, and help serve my specific group at the tea house, also housed in the gardens. All of which I can handily do, and which I will enjoy.

A forty-hour week, I'll have time to explore, hike, maybe take a train out to some gold-rush sight, and probably write. Write lot. Bill Jensen tells me he can't sell my Narcissa story until the whole thing is written. Geez, I knew I was a has-been. But not ancient! I mean, really?

Friends have suggested I blog about heading for the wilderness as someone "pushing sixty” and probably a little crazy. Like maybe post pictures of the moose that tripped and landed on my car. Or the bear that mauled my Toyota Scion I call Lunchbox while trying to get the oranges packed in the back. Actually, this did happen once upon a time, no joke, when I was a child and we were traveling through Yellowstone, hauling a trailer. But, hey, that’s another story.

To get there, I’ll be driving the AlCan highway. Here’s the route of about 2,000 miles.

Up the Fraser Canyon of British Columbia to my sister’s in Quesnel. Through some mountains to my cousin Carolyn’s house in Hudson’s Hope. Then a long haul through wilderness where I’ve been told the wildlife is unbelievable to Liard Hot Springs on the B.C./Yukon border. For $19 I can soak in the hot springs and pitch my tent with the bears. Last leg to Skagway takes me to Whitehorse where my son tells me I need to stock up on food. I’ll arrive Sunday night at the preacher’s home/hostel. My other son Phil is lending me his rather fancy digital camera, so I can take pictures along the way.

I am now officially jazzed.

So, see ya in Skagway!

March 01, 2010

The Olympic Flame Is Out...

...and so last night my friend and I went up to join the thousands in downtown Vancouver to be "in the moment." 

What a moment! The torch flame out, only one bridge into the city left open (too many people!), we somehow found free parking, and stepped into a slice of history where my countrymen were not only buzzed from their record-breaking Olympic gold medals but intoxicated in the aftermath of a hard-won hockey Gold, the heart-stopping, lose-your-pulse greatest game ever! Canada’s Sidney Crosby making the winning goal in an overtime shutout with the US! 

“Ca-na-da! Ca-na-da!” chanted the surging crowd.

Madness! Euphoric madness! People dressed in flags, faces painted, fists in the air, horns going, the energy of pride, camaraderie, bursting into the air like the America’s “rockets’ red glare.” The Canadian flag very much there.

Oddly, Kay Dee, a displaced Texan, was more “in the groove” than me, letting out a shriek and a holler and a “Go Canada!” to passing strangers, fist-bumping people wearing flags like Super Man’s cape, high-fiving old and young. "Oh, Canada! Our home and native land! True, patriot love, to all our sons command..." she sang. Me, a misplaced Canadian living eight miles south of the border, I trudged alongside her with typical Canadian reserve but still managing to enjoy myself.

“Hey!” I grabbed Kay Dee’s elbow. “Take that girl’s picture!” Kay Dee trotted after Miss High Hair, me in pursuit. Epitome of grace, the lovely girl struck a pose. Cameras spontaneously flashed.


All around me Vancouver’s majesty and beauty towered. Lights shimmered off the inlet. Flowers twinkled in the streetlight. I saw it all through the filter of time, as a child coming into the city to visit the dentist, running errands (like the day we bought a copper milk jug somewhere in the loop off Oak Street Bridge and Marine Drive), long days at Stanley Park, visits to grandparents, playtime with cousins. A whole history here of pleasure, a garden of adventure, a haven of allure. My city. My country. My countrymen. I suddenly missed my home and yearned for all the days when life was simple and predictably peaceful--but ripe.

“I have to have a flag,” I said. Everyone had flags.

We almost tripped over a pair selling them. Big ones, four bucks. Little ones, two. “Do you have a twony?” I asked. Kay Dee shuffled through my backpack where we’d put her Canadian change.

A flag now mine, I secured it to my backpack. Yup, I was getting in the groove.

Not in My House, Not on my Land.”  We came across two posters we didn’t understand, held aloft by stationary strangers, a fixed point in a sea of humanity. We stood in the surge, trying to figure it out. A tall man, blond, blue-eyed, dressed in red, and leaning against a lamppost, shouted down from  his lofty height, “That’s our goalie! Roberto Luongo!”

“Not a protester?” shouted up Kay Dee.

No! Our goalie!” He turned to sport his LUONGO #1 jersey. "Our goalie! He’s saying, ‘You can’t have the gold! Not in my house, not on my land!’”

“Oh!” shouted up Kay Dee and I, both thrilled to understand. I reached and offered my first fist. “Ca-na-da!” Touch. A fist-bump, a connection to humanity, a reminder that it’s people, not government, who live in this world. We belong in it together. To quote the Americans out of context, “We, the people…” When had I forgotten this? Yeah, go Canada!  Go world!

I turned around. Kay Dee? Kay Dee? One minute I was staring down into the public ice rink, ten second later… Kay Dee? Seymour and Pender, this was where we parked. This was our agreement; go back to the car, start over. But she had the map.

“I lost my friend,” I told the stranger next to me. “Can you tell me where Seymour and Pender is?”

“Two blocks up, three blocks over. Good luck!” Another fist bump.Touch.

It took awhile to push my way through the curb-to-curb. Finally! But, wait, the entrance doesn't look right. I head down the slope into the garage. Nope. I'm turned around. Coming in the out. Typical. I start back up the exit. At the top do I turn left? right? 

Miraculously—I do believe in God, I do believe in God—there she was, walking past the exit. “KAY DEE!” I bellowed. She whirled, saw me. Her face lit up, her arms went up. I chugged uphill, my own arms up, and just like all the slow-mo movies of lovers running through flower fields and blue sky, Kay Dee and I ran through concrete corridor and artificial light and happily threw ourselves at each other.

Headed back into the madding crowd, we tucked arms. “I don’t care if we look like lesbians,” she shouted, “we can’t lose each other again!”

I agreed.

We agreed too, to stop in at the Olympic Store, temporarily held in the Hudson’s Bay Company. I have to say, the Bay is my favorite store. In the olden days, this is where we'd stop in to use the bathroom—a huge, high-ceilinged affair, designed with black and white mosaic tiling, regal and majestic with tall mirrors, green fixtures, and golden taps. If my sisters and I were lucky, or if we were with an old auntie, hands washed and feeling better, we’d head for the basement where the food was. At the deli, Mum, or an auntie, would buy us “pigs in a blanket,” sausage rolls wrapped in flakey pastry—to be dipped, of course, in mustard. None of this exists anymore. 

What exists was a long line just to get in. Kay Dee and I inched forward, peering in through the windows where Olympic jerseys and jackets littered the floor and looked too much like Ross’s Dress For Less to suit me. A madhouse once in and a push and shove through the throngs in search of an Olympic baseball cap, for Kay Dee’s husband, that wasn’t white. 

“Hey, what’s this?” I squealed with delight. Maybe I’m in love with the Hudson’s Bay Company because I’m in love with their blankets. I grew up with the traditional white one, with its yellow, green, and red stripe, keeping me warm at night. Today I have two red blankets, with black stripes, a six-point and four-point. Meaning, once upon a time they cost six and four beaver pelts respectively. But here, on display and lined up in a row, mannequins sported a variety of coats and jackets created from the blankets. A contest, apparently. Only one was chosen for manufacture, a mere $695. Ouch. The fox, a lovely four-point coat, was not in the running. Too bad. Lose the fox, and I was in.

The bathroom is now in the basement, and is--no surprise here--now sterile and generic and very Ronald MacDonald in its sheer ordinariness. But surprise, surprise, coming back up the escalator, we found ourselves fenced off. What, what? We can’t get out? Help!

Finally! Whew! Back outside, the crowd was getting thicker, younger. A singular vulgarity suddenly interrupted world peace. “Fuck the USA. A whole new way!’ Okay, enough. We popped into Tim Horton’s to rest our aching feet, have some soup, a sandwich, decaf coffee. A security foursome was hunched over fries behind Kay Dee. Two officials with ear sets relaxed behind me. A trio of flag-decked kids tromped in. “Can I take your picture?” Kay Dee asks. We’re right back to goodwill, courtesy, and Canadian character.

The city could not have been prettier driving out, crossing back over the Burrard Street Bridge, cutting left onto Broadway, up Granville, cutting another left to Oak, up Oak, and then over the Oak Street Bridge—somewhere down beneath us a cluttered shop that sold my mum our pretty copper milk jug. An hour later I was in bed in the States. Outside my back window were the lonely but lovely lights of Cypress Mountain in the distance, twinkling in an inky sky, serene testament to two-plus weeks of peaceful world competition. Hearts  were broken, records were made, all testimonial proof to ourselves that, despite the isolated jerk free to chant vulgarity in our faces, we can, we’re capable, it is possible, to achieve connection to humanity; we can override governments and barriers, reach across divides and shake hands, and fist bump the world that is us. Touch, feel, be. The flame might be out but, “Yeah, go us.”