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Catherine and James McCallum

I visited my parent’s graveside yesterday

I was in my hometown again after many years to speak at a memorial of a dear high school friend, a soul mate of mine. I think we kept each other from going crazy in those early years.

The day following the event I left my hotel with a large coffee in hand and headed for the cemetery and a visit to my parents’ graveside.

It was a perfectly glorious day. Sun splitting the rocks, fall colours abounding in full splendor, a light breeze scattering the few clouds above.  I was the only person in the entire cemetery. Aren’t Sundays the day people visit these places? My only company was a symphony of bird calls from the forest behind the gravesites. I couldn’t have ordered better accompaniment for the visit.

I cleaned off the debris from their stone, now slightly weathered, laid down the small stone angel I had brought to place there, and sat down on my blanket, also brought for the occasion.

Where to start, mother and father? Mom, you’ve been gone 22 years, Dad over 20. Your grandchildren, some of whom you never met, are grown and thriving, and carry so many of your hallmark characteristics. Scott’s twin Brooke has your forthright manner, Dad, and no nonsense demeanour. But she still loves a good laugh, just as you did. Mom, I see your gentleness in Dana, and your disinclination to judge.

Father, you said we didn’t need a place to come like this, that we’d remember you without it, and of course you were right. But on a rare day like this it is a place to come and be alone with you. To just be.

I trace your names etched alongside one another on the stone.

Are you together in heaven too? I have no idea about any of that. But what a lovely thought. One I’ll hold on to, for today at least.

And while I’m at it I’ll think of you both deliriously happy, somewhere, beyond anything we know.

To my Relay for Life Teammates (the morning after):

Hi Teammates:

I am on my fourth coffee so am actually approaching coherency once again (I am ever the optimist!)

Looking back on this Relay, I realize every year has its own character. There have been years marked by ridiculous weather, by personal and particular losses, by event size and location, and more. But each stands apart.

I think 2011 was the year of contemplation. There was minimal drama (I mean, not a water sluice, flying tent, or oil slick the whole night). And Mary Poppins was certainly a more demure theme than 2010’s witchery. Couple our rather sedate evening of twinkling (literally) fairy lights while we dabbled with the Proust questionnaire, and yes, contemplative fits.

I think (and am happy that) we all came to know one another a wee bit better. As Bertrand Russell wisely said: “Just connect.” And this year I felt we did.

Somehow it all comes together doesn’t it? Some of us are mothers, meaning frenetic schedules and impossible demands, but you show up whenever you can and for as long as you can, and give your all. What great lessons for your children.

Bekah is the perfect example, who told me last night that she and Melissa and possibly some other friends may work toward having their own team next year. It did my heart good to hear that: Whether or not it happens is less important than that they want it to.

And burying the lead, which I am not inclined to do, here goes: We raised the most cash yet in 2011, am I right?

Just want to thank all of you for working so selflessly for others, people you may never know but whose lives may change dramatically because of the effort you put in here each and every time out.

I am proud to count myself among you.

Hope to see you out and about this summer. Enjoy your holidays wherever they take you and the roads leading to them.

I leave you with some favourite quotes about friendship:

Yes we are [friends] and I do like to pass the day with you in serious and inconsequential chatter. I wouldn’t mind washing up beside you, dusting beside you, reading the back half of the paper while you read the front. We are friends and I would miss you, do miss you and think of you very often. I don’t want to lose this happy space where I have found someone who is smart and easy and doesn’t bother to check her diary when we arrange to meet. ~Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body, 1992

“I felt it shelter to speak to you. “ Emily Dickinson

“My mother used to say that there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet. She’s now in a maximum security twilight home in Australia.” Dame Edna Everage.

Overnight Relay for Life fundraiser tomorrow night!

We have our overnight fundraiser called Relay for Life for cancer research tomorrow night in a town nearby. We raise money all year, my (our!) team of 10 women breakfasts: garage sales, barbecues, theatre nights, name it – and then one night a year – tomorrow! – we join up with dozens of other teams from our area to walk through the night together, at a local fairground. Two team members at a time walk for half an hour and then two more replace them, from 7 pm til 7 am.

We pitch our tents; share stories; I run a Trivia Challenge for everyone at around midnight every year; and we eat junk food and gab. Our team’s theme this year is Mary Poppins, thus our campsite will resemble a rooftop, complete with chimneys and smokestacks, and sprouting form these foam board cut into curls of smoke in various shapes. Suspended above all this will be twinkling lights, and a silhouette of Mary Poppins herself flying aloft (we’ll rig it somehow, not sure how quite yet, maybe good ol’ fishing line), her umbrella unfurled, her carpet bag in hand.

I am glueing plastic daisies to my hat today, and preparing my outfit – long black skirt, fitted tweed jacket, ankle length lace-up red leather boots, and of course, my trusty tartan umbrella. I even found an initial M to iron on to my jacket lapel. I bring the baking naturally. Doing a “high tea” theme this year in keeping with the very proper English theme of Mary Poppins. Scones, raisin and cranberry orange, homemade jam, mini-cinnamon buns and fudge brownies, and two decadent layer cakes, one filled with caramel, the other with chocolate mousse. My BAD. But my teammies need carbs for energy at 3 in the morning.

Reason for all this fuss? Only the best cause ever: Reducing cancer in our lifetimes.

Back from Book Expo America!

Just got back from New York and Book Expo America, where any author without a publicist is in the minority.

Confirms that the book business is indeed a “business,” now more than ever. These are cautionary times in publishing, and if I hear one more time the phrase: “Poetry is a hard sell,” I will no be held responsible.

Interest in poetry never wanes though, as judging by the number of people who expressed genuine interest in my book. That was very heartening. There was precious little poetry on display actually, which made me unique, without even trying.

The line to meet uber-writer James Patterson wound up and down several aisles and these people wait endlessly with seemingly infinite patience.

I handed out hundreds of copies of my book and chatted with, well, everyone, including security guards. I learned an extraordinary amount about selling books and most importantly that I need to “build my profile” in order to attract a distributor of any size. So that is my m.o. over the summer.

Back soon…

Beached

I just came in from an idyllic beachcombing on the beach at the end of the old Queen’s Highway. Went with my dear friend Sandra who just happens to be a marine biologist (cough) and there could not be a better surfside companion.

Every time I’m alongside an ocean with her I learn something intriguing. Today is no exception: I found out that dolphins are toothed whales. Who knew?

And how do you distinguish a dolphin fin from a shark fin? (Ya never know when that might come in handy.) Easy! Dolphins roll at the surface so you see more than just the fin. If you see the fin and nothing more, head for the mattresses.

We were both hunting for sea glass so I was all ears on the subject. It takes about 20 years for a piece of glass to evolve into the much sought after “beach glass,” used in pendants, earrings, bracelets, etc. Twenty years, that is, of buffeting by course sand and salt and sea spray. And the glass must be exposed to all these elements during that time. Buried in the sand it will remain protected and intact, well, pretty much forever.

We happened upon a tiny jellyfish, a fascinating creature, not often seen as they are the size of a baby’s pinkie. This jellyfish, nicknamed “By the Sea Sailor” and I am not sure of the Latin name but will find out, looks like a perfect miniature sailboat. Picture a tiny keel boat with one mainsail erect. The mainsail in this case is the fish’s protective barnacle made of a fingernail like substance.

Yes, they are small but they are amazingly resilient. Like Sammy Davis Jr. (RIP) Or that scary midget in Twin Peaks. When these jellyfish die their hardy mainsail remains… their weathered windblown legacy.

More beaches – and discoveries await.

Baby, It’s Cold Out There!

We’re up in Haliburton today. I am looking down at the lake and it is a winter wonderland. There I did it, used the “w” words. Deer tracks are everywhere; wwe spotted two big ones gazing down at us from the hillside this morning. They are the definition of serene. How can they be so composed in 10 degrees Fahrenheit?

When we got here last night and opened the place up I could see my breath – inside! Started building a fire and kept our coats on the entire evening. I went to bed fully clothed as my two westies gazed longingly at my filled hot water bottle.

No wonder past generations took so few baths. Remember, no central heating! Can you imagine the effort to heat up enough water – bucket by bucket – to fill a tub – and the courage to take off all those clothes?

Only a few days til the big one. Cannot wait!

In the Wee Small Hours: Relay for Life 2009.

Sitting here with my tea, (mmm), drying out (?), casting my mind back over last evening (into morning) and the highlights of Relay 2009.

Here goes, in no particular order…

As Sally headed to her car for home, I yelled out, “Ya know, it was above and beyond – your coming at all.”

Sally’s answer:

“Oh, Shut Up!” (It might have been the pain talking.)

Leslie, stifling gales of laughter, telling me the hood of my stunning two piece rain suit (circa 1918) gave me an “interesting shaped head.” When I glimpsed myself after in the bathroom mirror (and regaled in horror) I can only ask that everyone who critiques me is as forgiving as she.

In the wee hours my asking the teammies assembled in the tent in the wee hours “Who would like a song?” This question was followed by, oh, roughly 14 minutes of unadulterated silence (in fact it’s the first time I’ve heard crickets in the pouring rain), only broken by the sound of Donna asking, uneasily, from under her Shetland wool parka, sounding a trifle less than thrilled, “Are you gonna sing?”

In my sleep-deprived stupor did I actually shout out “That’s bullshit” to the tent behind us when they complained about our making noise?

Just checking…

Going Off the Grid.

I was asked the other day if I had ever considered “going off the grid.”

I am still laughing. Granted, it’s a hysterical laugh because the mere thought of moving off the grid leaves me shaken.

The person asking me this is what the current culture would term a survivor – ie. a survivor in the outdoor, who needs pesky running water, I can start a fire inside a sleeping bag in a rainstorm kind of a person. And indeed she has been completely off the grid for longer than I have been wearing nail tips.

Propane factors heavily in her life as do multiple layers of clothing in winter and hypothermia. I told her that not only had I never considered going off the grid but that I may even be considered married to the grid in some cultures. I know it’s a close call as to which I value more, my husband’s affection or an indoor toilet. Just don’t make me choose.

She said there were two types of people and when she said this I knew it wasn’t going to be flattering to me. Don’t ask how I knew that: I just did. She said the first type could be dropped off naked in the forest and feel comfortable. The other type, well, the other type wouldn’t. Feel comfortable, I mean.

I clarified for her that not only would I feel uncomfortable but that even entertaining the concept was causing me to take short, gasping breaths. I told her that I didn’t feel comfortable naked in my own shower at home, but I don’t think she believed me.

She said we have too many possessions and that we are plastic people. I had several reactions to that, all unspoken. The expression plastic people is so 1979 I can’t even begin. And yes, of course we have too many possessions. Blah, blah. Just stay away from my itemized, alphabetized shoe closet.

She said I had to be prepared to do without, that the time is coming when we’ll all be forced to live by our wits and eat berries and wash our hair with lichen.

I asked her what lichen was and then assured her that if we go apocalyptic, she’d be the first person I’d call.

Aloha!

Looks like it is going to come to pass. Off to Hawaii on Tuesday. The poet Goethe was right when he said: “Be brave and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

Or as a childhood friend mispronounced it, HeeWee.

It should be a balm for the four of us. Bring on the champers and the hula girls, the latter not politically correct anymore – alas, because although some of that old (other) world stuff was horrendous, granted, but some of it which has been lost was just plain fun. I always enjoyed having a door opened for me, not that I expected it. But I enjoyed it when it happened. Nowadays at the shopping mall I consider myself lucky if I am not kicked through it.

HeeWee hee wee come.

Returned from Eleuthera!

We returned to below zero temps so it wasn’t the most eloquent of homecomings. But still good to be back and ensconced. And this helped immeasurably to soften the blow…

Walking in to a warm house with a stocked fridge and handmade notes from the two wee kids next door. Evan, the 4 year old, launched himself at me from across the threshold, a long hug first, and then, when he had collected himself, demanded to know just how long we were away. Arms folded on chest, scowling, looking quite miffed.

I am ecstatic to report that the news on my brother Scott is good. His CAT results came in two days ago and showed nothing of significance. But the oncologist cautions it is early days. (This doctor sounds like a real charmer: very dour and to the point, but Scott says he prefers that to the Disneyland approach.) Scott will be retested in May and of course his testing will be frequent and thorough from now on. Apparently the first three years are the most critical for metastases activity. This makes our Hawaii trip all the more special for us and most certainly for Scott and Kim. They are over the moon about it, and with this reprieve we can all breathe easier for a while.

When I think back now to Eleuthera and the magical Double Bay, even though only days have passed, it has a dreamlike quality. It is ever thus when I leave there. We thought last night of everyone around the piano at Tippy’s, with the swells of the ocean as backbeat. Driving on the 401 at the time, amid eight solid lanes of traffic with an icy rain descending, needless to say which scenario was the more appealing.

We are preparing our letters toward a possible home exchange for next year. I like the barter idea, much like thrift shops – bring one bag in, take one out. A lovely economy.

Off to manage this mountain of luggage and laundry – and, oh joy, oh bliss, my tax return, now there’s a page turner, but buoyed with Scott’s recent news – and we were all on tenterhooks – I’ll be singing through it all. (OK, calm down, Tricia, maybe not the tax return…)

I already have chosen our film selection for 2010’s movie nights in Double Bay: Glengarry Glen Ross (David Mamet’s absolute brilliance at work here– he is also a gifted short story writer – see if you can find or download “The Rake.”); The Winter Guest, (Emma Thompson) The Visitor, just saw this one and loved it. Full of spaces and silences, the camera lingering – deliciously – as in the Leone movie, Once Upon A Time in America.

I miss Eleuthera already.

t.

Writer and Poet

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Tricia McCallum

Always be a poet. Even in prose.
Charles Baudelaire.

In essence I am a storyteller who writes poems. Put simply, I write the poems I want to read.[…]

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