"Watch your heads, and sit down over there," said Grandma, motioning to a large trunk beneath the musty slants of the attic eaves. And then the storytelling began....

Antiques were folded into dusty boxes around us, their significance left unlabelled but for Grandma's remembering tales. I listened to the stories of my ancestors from the keepers of their treasures in that damp, dark haven where history and the future came together. And during those childhood hours in the attic, I would hear my calling—the.eternal quest for stories told and untold. I answer it still.
Musty smells and mothballs will take me there again, sitting on a box in my memory, enraptured. I hear knockin' on the attic as voices in my head—whispery phrases that need a turn, stories aching to be told, or simply memories wanting another moment of my time. When I hear that knockin', I know there's a voice to be heard and a story to be told. So, be careful on the ladder, watch your head on that beam, and have a seat on that trunk over there. Lean in, for I have some tales to share...

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Once Upon a Snow-Begotten Hump Day

How does one cure a "getting stuck in the snow in your driveway, finally getting out, arriving at work really, really late, only to get stuck in the parking lot” day? How do you survive a horrible-bank-meeting, kids fighting because they're home from school and overexcited, power goes out, sump pump alarm sounds, and water pump stops working kind of day? What if the city snowplow shows up to plow the lane, but not until it’s a full 10 hours past the time it's actually useful? How does one cope when this comes on top of two weeks of mounting frustration with bosses who are oblivious to the value of the work you're doing, coworkers who are sabotaging your efforts, equipment failure after equipment failure—and you need the equipment in order to Make Your Living and answer the Money Gods? What happens when you’re searching all of the jobs available in the surrounding area, but realize you qualify for exactly none, mostly because you grew up in Small Town, Indiana, and never learned the french that is necessary to land a job in the capital of Canada? What do you do when you are Buried in Snow in NOVEMBER?

Worry not, friends, I have the answer to all of these problems.

W(h)ine Wednesday, folks.

Those of you already on board Kelly's Facebook Train, are well aware of the absolute SACREDNESS of BEER FRIDAYS in her world (and the worlds of those on board). Beer Fridays are the end of the week treat, the reward, if you will, for persevering against all odds. They are the Goal to Reach at the end of a hard week's work. The light that shines through all other lights, and any darkness that may descend. Beer Fridays are a ritual, a tradition, and, by God and all that's Holy, an international holiday-in-the-making. (We're working on it, folks. In between Fridays...and beers...and the random hangover. Be patient please...It is our intention to make it global. Please feel free to start your own grassroot local chapter of a Beer Friday tradition. We only ask you give us credit for the Trademark ‘Beer Friday’ title. It is dear to us, and organically born of two friends sneaking a beer (ok two) one evening from the back of an old pick-up truck.  

But sometimes...SOMETIMES...we can't make it through an entire week. Monday sucks, Tuesday feels like it should be Friday already, and by the time Wednesday rolls around, the world just seems to crumple into a disaster of epic proportions. No one can reasonably expect a person—or people—to hold themselves up for another two days until the blessed relief that is Beer Friday. It is irrational. Perverse. Sick, I tell you.

It’s not like said people gave up, mind you. We woke up, as Canadians often do, and found the 30 centimeters of snow that were predicted by the local weatherman the previous day. In NOVEMBER. The school buses were cancelled, bringing on a litany of too-early-in-the-morning celebratory screams from the school children. Without a moment’s pause for breath, they began their epic battles for ownership of the Wii-U pad, and ipods and immediately entered the domain of Minecraft and some world or character known as Pikman (not to be confused with Pokemon or Pacman). The person that stayed up until 2am watching Glee reruns on Netflix the previous night moaned to herself, took a couple of extra vitamins, and braced herself for a day of negotiating electronic-device timeshares, babydoll apparel, and coloring book contracts. She did it with a smile.

It’s only 7:13 am.

The one who must go to school in spite of bus cancellations, because he must babysit the children whose parents have no regard for weather-infringing road hazards of staff, set himself into the seat of his Corolla…the snowtires already tucked neatly into the backseat for the appointment to put them on the vehicle—in three days. He pulls out of the garage...and gets stuck. Phenomenally stuck. In his own driveway. He perseveres, grinding gears, spinning tires, slipping and sliding this way and that, backwards in his long, snow-begotten driveway. He makes progress—maybe 20 feet out of about 100.

A daughter rushes to the rescue with a shovel. Her coat hanging open, no snow pants, the boots on, but untied. Toque eschew. She digs ferociously—relentlessly—at the snow beneath the tires and undercarriage of the car, flipping wet, heavy snow by the spoonful over her shoulder.

She is eight years old.

The Other Guy shows up and offers supervision, laughter, and the occasional suggestion for wheel angles to the Stuck Guy. He waves his arms around in the air, usefully pointing out the copious amounts of snow we all know is keeping Stuck Guy stuck in the driveway. Ultimately helpless in this moment, he gets back into his car with his Warm Wife who has been waiting patiently in the car, and steamrolls his way down the unplowed laneway, showing Stuck Guy why he should have purchased a vehicle with four-wheel-drive instead of the sensible family minvan.

In his defense, Stuck Guy did not cry. At least not visibly.

He said calm things into his cell phone, pulled his snowblower out of the garage, and blew snow all over himself and the eight-year-old Little Digger while clearing out the area around the car. He proceeded to blow tracks the length of the laneway…a full quarter mile…just so he could go to work. To babysit kids at school whose parents bring them to school rain or shine, blizzard or tornado, sleet or hell. Oops, hail. He gets it, though his wife is not so understanding as she watches her love leave in horrible conditions. Most adults don’t get snow days. Not even in Canada. Especially not in Canada. Snowshoe or die, folks. Canada is not for those weak in weather. Though this laneway is a city road, the city snowplow operators ignore it regularly.

The Other Guy rides off into the falling snowflakes with his Warm Wife. They go to the bank. Shit gets ugly. Someone cries. Dreams are lost and found. There are talks born of desperation, discussions of failures, possibilities, and faults. Numbers are thrown around like confetti, questions fired like an inquisition, and emotions squashed as if a plague. There is no room for sentimentality in this cut-throat business. Just another day in the livelihood of a small Canadian family-owned-and-operated farm. They wipe tears, take a deep breath, and consider their options. Then they discuss separating the family during the holidays and for several months beyond in order to make enough money to save the farm that’s been in the family for five generations.

The Warm Wife of The Other Guy settles into the century home that is in desperate need of renovation, and immediately returns to promoting her family business online, and working her full time government job from home because she had to take a personal day for the bank meeting. She tries to get it all done before she has to pick up her kids from daycare. She knows they need her to pay attention to them, to help them with homework, and to listen to them about their days, their concerns, their hopes, joys, and experiences. She is a good listener, a good mom, and loves to spend time with her family.

The Other Guy, unable to crop his livelihood because of snow and farm equipment that is broken still and again, uses his machinery for good. He drives his new bobcat tractor several kilometers down the road, stopping at driveways in the countryside to plow out his neighbors. He moves from one to the other, not stopping or asking for pay. He’s just being neighborly—because he can. He returns home to plow his own driveway only after helping out his neighbors. He thinks nothing of this.

Meanwhile, Stuck Guy is on a roll. He manages to make the treacherous drive all the way into town and gets to the school for duty. But he gets stuck in the school parking lot. This is not a joke, nor is it taken as such. Still, he does not complain. Instead, he reports for duty, apologizes for being late, and takes on his responsibilities for the day—caring for special needs kids, as well as assisting teachers throughout the school with tedious tasks. He does this with great cheer and pride. The school kids love him, the special needs kids adore him, and the teachers can’t live without him. However, he is not valued for his role by his superiors. His role is not rewarded by the school system, the school board, or the province. In fact, his pay—an hourly rate, not salary as teachers get—will be docked for being late, in spite of the weather. He does not care. He will continue to do what he does, and give more than 100%, because he believes in serving those who need him. He approaches his job as he approaches his family and his friends—he is devout. This is his lifestyle. There is right, and there is wrong, and he always chooses right, no matter what.

Back on the homefront, children are playing, as children do on snowdays home from school. There are five. Three of my own, and my other two. These started as daycare kids, but have become so much more. I realized that when talking to my sister who lives far away in Indiana. I talked about each child – their accomplishments and challenges, funny stories, and our collective thoughts, hopes, and concerns. I seamlessly went from the children I birthed to the children I've loved into my life without a moment’s thought or hesitation. They are like siblings, they are all mine, no matter the technicalities.

The power went out. This happens a lot in the country. And we had a nice fire going in the woodstove downstairs, so warmth was not a problem. But the Sump Pump had a real problem with it. It began to beep. Repeatedly. Relentlessly.

I opened the door, pushed some buttons with flashing lights. It stopped beeping. For a moment. And then began to beep faster.

I grabbed my phone and texted The Stuck Guy as well as The Other Guy. I am not comfortable with machines talking back to me. They are so difficult to discipline. Like toddlers. Or puppies. But less cute.
Suggestions were made from both sources. Push the buttons. One button. Then the other. Push them both together. I pushed the buttons at will to no avail.

I bent into the closet on my knees, cleaning cobwebs out of the shadows with the red locks of my hair, and leaned over the pit laden with pipes and floating balls. I dipped my hands into the slimy, ice cold water and lifted first one ball, then the other, and finally cupped both balls in my hands, gingerly holding them above water level.

While such a gentle gesture may be appreciated in certain circles, this angered the Sump Pump Lord.
He began to screech and whistle at me, beeping maniacally. Lights flashed—green, orange, red, and yellow lights spelling out words in too rapid a succession for me to decipher. The screaming filled my ears, the vibrations of rage tore through my soul. I just knew I had committed some irrevocable crime against machinery.

But I was a trained zookeeper. I knew that no matter what happened, no matter how dire the situation, no matter how much it struggles and fights…once you have caught up your animal and have a good grip on it, you must Never under Any circumstance Let Go Of That Animal. It will only put you in grave danger. Because now, it is PISSED OFF.

There was no doubt in my mind in that moment that the Sump Pump Lord was Pissed Off. I could not let go of its balls. With tears slipping down my cheeks, and the buzz of screaming ricocheting my brain against the sides of my skull, I leaned deeper into the pit of slimy water and gently transferred the left ball against the inside of my right forearm, freeing my left hand. When I was sure both balls were secure above water level, I used my left hand to again text The Stuck Guy, and to explain that I was, well, stuck.

He texted suggestions to me, all of which I’d already tried repeatedly, and all of which had failed. I begged him to tell me where the hatchet was, desperate to put the suffering Sump Pump Lord out of his misery. I couldn't stand to watch and listen to him in such torment. That’s when The Stuck Guy left me.

I’ll never know if it was because a child needed his attention at school, or his boss caught him helping someone other than Her Royal Self. Maybe the school had a surprise fire drill, or his car suddenly and mysteriously disengaged itself from the snow ruts of the parking lot as he watched through a classroom window. I like to think the phone simply lost its charge and died…as we all claim happens but never really does because who would actually let their cell phone DIE?! No one. It’s unfathomable.

Nonetheless, I was stuck at home cradling a pair of balls over a vat of smelly water in a dark closet of my basement. The Sump Pump Lord screamed obscenities at me in a language I couldn’t understand, and frankly, didn’t want to. I could only assume he was in agony and begging for his motherboard, mercy, or both.

It was time to let go. I dropped his balls.

They landed with a gentle splash in the stagnant water, and the screaming continued. My nerves were shot, my emotions raw, and I had no plausible options. So, I reared up to the full height of myself on my knees, leaned over the Sump Pump Lord, and pushed both buttons simultaneously as hard as I could. I leaned the full weight of myself into my fingers, ignoring the cobwebs stretching across my nose, up to my earlobe, and I didn’t let go.

It wailed one last bloodcurdling oath, and fell silent.

The quiet filled my head much the same as the screaming had…a steady pulse, a rhythmic hum of its own. The lights were gone too. My chin dropped out of respect and I honored the moment of silence with reverence and a little regret. I knew it had been for the best, the Sump Pump Lord was no longer suffering. I had done what I had to do.

And then it beeped. One soft, gentle beep. I glanced up. The glow of a green light beckoned my gaze. Steady and sure of itself, it spoke to me. I finally understood. “System Ready,” the light said. “System Ready.”

And it was.

I gently closed the door, offering the Sump Pump Lord privacy for his rehabilitation, and went upstairs. I scrubbed my hands up to my elbows as my mother, the nurse, had taught me. I took a deep breath, and pulled out my cell phone. It was time to pull more than a pair of floating balls out of a pit of despair.
I punched in some messages, and began to cook.

By 4:30, some mellow music was playing via Songsa on my ipod, a vat of chili was simmering on the stove, and a loaf of Harvest Beer Bread was baking in the oven (from my Sunset Gourmet side business,; warning, shameless self-promotion plug here: see http://www.mysunsetgourmet.ca/3097/). Candles were lit on the dining room table. The rest of the broken-by-Wednesday spirits began to drift into the house.

W(h)ine Wednesday, folks.

We gathered, my hubby, friends, and I around the long, simple dining room table. We shared the details of our rotten days, listening and talking in turn. We ate like gluttons. We partook of wine and local brewery beers, and a shameful amount of 5-minute microwave fudge (another Sunset Gourmet treat. Mmm…Just saying, check it out. LOL). One of us started nodding off at the table. It’s not the first time this has happened among us. I think we’ve each had a turn. It’s become an endearing habit between us. When the reality of our Hump Day Blues were worked out between conversation and relaxation, we turned to topics to lift ourselves and each other back up off the floor. We admired our children—their individual traits and talents—and how our parenting ideas were so similar. We discussed possible futures for the lot of us, and daydreamed a little about the Great What If. And then, the icing on the shitcake of the day—we laughed. Because, together, we Always do.

And that’s the point of it all, isn’t it? There are songs written about it. Lean on Me. You’re Not Alone. You’ve Got a Friend. Etc. When life’s kicking you, you need to gather round and talk it out with people who give a shit. Don’t save time with loved ones, your family and friends, just for celebrations. Those are great, but the truly great stuff comes of the time spent lifting someone up, and/or supporting each other.  And after you talk about the downs, make sure you include some Ups. Smile. Toast. Laugh. Really laugh. And then remember…sometimes you can’t…you shouldn’t…wait until the next holiday. Sometimes you can’t even wait until Beer Friday.

Every once in awhile you’re going to need a W(h)ine Wednesday. And that’s okay.

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