Monday, February 22, 2010

Spring Break: Day 1

I'm busy sitting in my favourite coffee shop, the WaterShed, eating a beautiful bowl of broccoli & cheddar soup. I know I shouldn't be, since I didn't take a Lactaid, but it is too good and beautiful to pass up. There is such a thing as a time machine in my life, and that is either a distinctive smell or a taste of familiar food. Today, as I spoon generous helpings of warm and earthy soup into my mouth, I am transported back to my grade 2 elementary school days.
When I was in grade 2, the year was 1995 and I was 7 years old. Even now, at 21 years old, when people ask me the best year of school or life that I can recall, I immediately jump back to Miss Bonnah's classroom in my mind. Miss Bonnah was a tall woman, and I always remember her in teal cotton pants with either a white collared cotton shirt with matching teal stripes or, on an important day, a beautiful handmade soft, pink sweater. She wore a pearl necklace and earrings with it if I remember correctly (which I often do). Miss Bonnah had short charcoal coloured curls and she lived somewhere in Burks' Falls I think, with her father whom she took care of. Miss Bonnah was passionate about phonics and her faith, and she often played guitar in class as an aid in teaching us about God or the alphabet. I think I had more homework that year than any other year! Every week we learned all about a new letter, brought a page of fool scap home and wrote out equal amounts of lines of printed lowercase, printed uppercase, cursive lowercase, and cursive uppercase letters. I remember how my hand hurt and how Miss Bonnah and my Dad told me it was because I held my pencil wrong. I hated to hear that, and the stubborn child in me still holds my pen the way they told me not to and I have a permanent bump on the ring finger of my right hand as a trophy to prove it.
If you're still with me, I imagine you're wondering where my soup comes in. Well, it's one of my favourite memories of the Autumn of 1995. We read a picture book in class called Stone Soup, about three travelers who came upon a very poor village who refused to share any of their food with the pilgrims. The pilgrims had nothing but an empty pot so they filled the pot with water and a large stone and started cooking it over a fire. As villagers walked by and asked the pilgrims what they were doing, the pilgrims replied that they were cooking a most delicious stone soup but that they needed just a few more ingredients to perfect it. One by one, all of the villagers contributed a little something to the pot which before long became a beautiful soup that the whole town shared and enjoyed. In honour of the story, Miss Bonnah took our class on a field trip to the Farmers' Market to buy fresh vegetables so we could make our own Stone Soup. We each picked out an ingredient and the next day we washed a large stone which we put in the bottom of a giant pot with water and each contributed our ingredient to the soup. It was the best thing I ever remember eating, so warm and full of everything fresh and good and autumnal. The soup I'm enjoying this afternoon reminds me of that stone soup in its earthy depth, and thanks to this soup I am reliving a favourite memory that I haven't revisited in years. No wonder I love food so much.
That was also the Autumn that my parents and my Poppa went on a trip to Japan. I don't know if I'd even really heard of Japan before that year. They won the trip through a Labbatt's contest, I remember my Poppa entered and grumbled about how he didn't know why since he never won anything, and a few weeks later my Mum received a phone call from Labbatt's, looking for my Poppa to let him know that he had won a trip for four to Japan! While they were away, my closest brother and I stayed with my Nana and her new husband, my Grandpa Carl. My older sister and baby brother stayed with our aunt and uncle just down the road from my Nana's. My brother and I missed my parents and Poppa like crazy but they faxed us pictures from the Hilton in Nagasaki almost every day for the two weeks they were away. It was fun getting a ride to school with my Nana everyday and having exciting lunches unlike any my Mum ever made for my brother and I. Nana sent us hot lunches and treats, cookies that my Mum had baked for us before she left for Japan. I remember feeling guilty/excited since the cookies had chocolate and peanut butter chips in them and my Nana didn't know that our school was supposed to be nut-free. I never would have and I never did tell my Nana, because I didn't want her to feel bad. As I remember those thoughts, the old familiar pit in my stomach that is the classic sign of an overdeveloped sense of guilt (especially related to food, for some unknown reason--I never was a chubby child) is strangely present now.
Upon my family's reunion at our house in Muskoka, we sat out on the deck in the backyard and shared stories of our time apart. I was so overwhelmed with joy to be back with my parents and my Poppa that I remember fighting with my siblings for a place on their laps, as well as for time to speak of how much I had missed them and the adventures I had had in their absence. The adults had brought back all kinds of presents for us kids, including authentic traditional kimonos for my older sister and I and wooden katanas for my little brothers. I also remember the weird candy they brought back for us that wasn't even very sweet, and looked something like chocolate covered cheesies. My parents talked about how much the locals seemed to love my Poppa, about the old Japanese widows who stopped him in the street to pray buddhist blessings over him and the hotel managers who brought him baskets and baskets of his favourite apples when he started to get sick, and how he swore the apples stopped his cold in its tracks. My Mum brought me back toy make-up and little Hello Kitty toys, purses, and school supplies before anyone in my town had even heard of Hello Kitty. My dad had bought a video camera especially for the trip and showed us videos he took in a restaurant of a man in another booth eating rice with chopsticks faster than anything he'd ever seen. You could hear my Poppa laughing loudly in the background and my Mum whispering, "Andy! You are so rude! Stop it!" to no avail. The details that I remember from this period of my life, even from the days following my parents' return from Japan is surprising to me, especially since I can't seem to recall things I've learned in classes in the past week.
It was in grade 2 that my mum was given a Breadmaker, that I wore a red and navy blue knitted vest with a kilt and a smiley face t-shirt to my school pictures, and that my older sister and mum spent a whole afternoon tying my hair in rags in the living room while I watched a movie--possibly Cinderella. That particular detail is one that stands out clearly in my mind. At this time, my older sister was dating one of her first boyfriends, Travis. The day that she and my Mum tied my hair, Travis came over for dinner to meet my parents. When supper was ready, my Mum sent me downstairs to my sister's room to get her and Travis for dinner. I went downstairs in my housecoat and rags, knocked on her door as I'd been told to do, and no one answered. I knocked again, and still no one answered, so I opened the door and went inside to get them. What I saw has been burned into my memory, and until this past summer, brought an instant sick and guilty feeling to my stomach: Travis and my sister making out on her spare bed, my sister's shirt half undone. My sister gave me a deadly look that I will never forget, and told me that if I ever told my Mum what I saw that she would kill me. I believed her, swallowed the tears that were beginning, and ignored Travis's comforting calls to me to come back, and ran up the stairs to tell my Mum they were coming. I didn't tell my Mum or Dad what I saw until it occurred to me that there was something wrong with being 20 years old and still affected by a 13 year old empty threat. I told my Mum last summer in an attempt to free myself and received a laughing reaction from her, and was given the freedom I hoped for and laughed myself. She wondered that I had kept that inside for so long, and I think it speaks volumes of the loyalty and fear I feel towards my now-distant older sister, even after so many years. After that night, I never let my sister and Mum do my hair in rags again because I was afraid that somehow history would repeat itself, even if just in my mind.
Without going into details, a list of other memories of this year include:
my First Reconciliation and crying in front of Fr. Broda because of my sins
practicing Confession at Miss Bonnah's desk with fake sins
baking loaves of bread with my Mum for my religion class
my First Holy Communion
bringing a witch shaped cake to school for a Halloween party
learning about puns with Miss Bonnah
learning the song Auld Lang Syne before Christmas break
the Summer Olympics in Atlanta
representing Mexico as a class for Olympic events at school, and being placed on team Japan in intramural sports. (I even wore my Kimono to school for our Olympic assembly)
entering a contest to name a ship that a local retirement home was purchasing
flirting for the first time
my best friends' Jacqueline and Roch moving away

Can you believe that all of this was inspired by one spoonful of soup?

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