Face, Meet Sidewalk

Archive for September 2011

Dear Alma,

Since my recent Brush With Death, I have become quite reminiscent. Some might call it maudlin, but I have been enjoying my trip down memory lane quite a lot. I’m sure you are feeling the same way right now.

I was remembering how much time you used to spend at my house. We would stay up half the night playing cards and drinking coke and listening to the radio. My memories of those nights are so fond. It has been a while since we played, but think I am still ahead in the running gin rummy total. I must look for that little ledger book, I think it’s still around here somewhere.

Do you recollect the time we went to the beach? It was one of those nights where you slept over at my house so your father wouldn’t know when you got in. I remember the day you first met George. What a glorious day it was. If I recall correctly, the sun was hot and the water was refreshing and there were plenty of young men admiring us. Well, truth be told, they were admiring you, in that very risqué bathing suit. I never had the nerve to go out like that, but you pulled it off every time. I was so jealous of your sense of adventure (and your bosoms!).

And the dance that night! I was exhausted by midnight. I think there were only about a dozen of us left. You went down to the beach in George’s car after they shut the dance hall down and I went home. I almost waited outside for you so we would only have to open the door once because I didn’t know what Mother would think if she heard you come in after I did. But when I got there, I could hear her snoring from the porch. I was in bed when you finally got home, but I don’t think we even slept that night. You were over the moon. I had a feeling you two were in it for the long haul. I was so sorry to hear about his passing.

One of the things I remember most from those days was The Rules of Appropriate and Inappropriate Behaviour. How many can you name? A Lady never drinks hard liquor. A Lady never scratches in public. A Lady must never show more than an inch of knee. A Lady never goes anywhere without a hat and gloves. Now that I think of it, all those rules were meant to keep us from anything that was fun. You were so good at walking that line, though. You always managed to have as much fun as possible without getting yourself a Reputation. I was too afraid. I guess that’s why you ended up with seven lovely children and I nearly ended up a spinster accountant! Anyway, it all worked out in the end. Frank was very good to me. Although I couldn’t have admitted it a year after he died, our time together, however short, was worth the wait.

I hope you don’t mind this nostalgic little diversion, Alma. I’m sure things are still very difficult for you. You should think about coming for a visit. It would be just like old times, only with canes and walkers and a lot more fibre. I’ll have a full deck of cards ready whenever you want.

Fondly,

Violet

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Violet’s walk took her past the playground. Since her recent near-death experience, she tried to get in a walk at least every other day. She figured this new habit would not last much into winter, but if it could buy her some time right now, she was up for it. Besides, it was another glorious morning, the sun far too hot for the autumnal angle of the shadows it cast, and the walking felt good.

The children were finally back at school. There seemed to be fewer hooligans tearing around the neighbourhood, anyway.  She noted with some relief that she would likely not need the mirror mounted on her walking stick (she refused to call it a cane) to warn her of hoodlums coming up from the rear on skateboards.

The playground was about halfway through the route she took, and she stopped for a moment at a clean wooden bench near the swing set. She eased herself onto the unyielding surface and took in her surroundings.

The sky was curiously blue and utterly cloudless. It was warm, but pleasant in the shade of the huge elm that hung over the park bench. Children too young for school ran and played on the slides and bridges and rope ladders of the modern jungle gym, hollering joyfully as only children do. Every once in a while, a cry of indignation or pain would split the air, a child suffering hurt feelings or a skinned knee. They were invariable attended promptly and dutifully by a parent.

As she settled onto the bench and marveled at the summery weather, she noticed something odd (or was it interesting?) about the families at the park. There were no mothers. All the adults were men, fathers with one, two, even three preschoolers, down and digging in the dirt or capably hoisting kids in and out of the black rubber baby swings, all the while holding paper cups of takeout coffee and chatting companionably with each other.

It was an entirely novel concept to Violet. Men of Violet’s generation would never have been caught dead at a playground with their children. Parenting was for women. In fact, there was no such thing as parenting. There was mothering and wait-till-your-father-gets-home. Violet racked her brain to remember a time she ever saw a man on his own with children. The idea was simply foreign.

She watched with fascination as these men, dads, she supposed, interacted with the children. One pulled a tissue from his pocket and wiped the grimy nose of a very reluctant toddler before placing him expertly back in the sandbox. Another actually changed a diaper on the bench across from Violet’s. Still a third called out, “Joshua and Emily, five minutes!” The responding grumble that came from to identically towheaded children in matching rain boots gave Violet the distinct impression that they had heard that line before.

Violet knew that men were more involved in their children’s’ lives than ever before, but she had never witnessed it first hand like this. It was riveting.

A handsome man in a button-down shirt and jeans bent down to examine something slimy held by a child of about three. The man bore none of the soft, harried and haggard look of many young mothers Violet had ever seen. He appeared fit and well-rested. He exclaimed with evident delight in the same tone she could imagine him using to describe a priceless French painting or a vintage wine, only somehow this sounded genuine. The child looked pleased with his father’s approval and moved to tuck the slimy thing into his pocket.

“No, Tylen,” he said kindly. “No more worms. They plug up the washing machine.”

They do laundry, too? Violet wondered. When do these men work? She made a note to ask Dave if he had friends who stayed at home with the children while their wives worked. Of course, their wives probably had to work to help the family keep up with the mortgage payments. Maybe that’s why these dads were so interested in their children. Living wasn’t cheap these days.

It occurred to Violet that since it was Saturday, perhaps these fathers were on duty so that their wives could sleep in. As pleasant as the idea was, she had a sense that this was more than giving mom a break. These fathers were too knowledgeable about their children, too comfortable in their roles as parents to be pinch-hitting.

She thought about Frank and what kind of father he would have been. Detached, she expected. A breadwinner, although Violet had always assumed she would find a way to continue working if they had been blessed enough to have had a child. Perhaps he would have been forced to be involved, she thought.  Maybe he’d even have been good at it. For every time she heard him decry the child pitching a fit in the grocery store (“Spare the rod, spoil the child,” he’d say under his breath), she could remember the delight he took in handing out Halloween candy or seeing the Christmas play at church.

What a wonderful way to be raised, Violet thought. To have a relationship with a father that was not based on fear, or the power of absence. And what a gift for these fathers, to know and delight in their children in ways that previous generations never did. She had always thought she’d have made an adequate mother. Seeing these men interact so comfortably with their kids and knowing that with Frank she would have done fine,  a long-buried stirring awoke in Violet that made her pine for the babies she never had.

Violet’s reverie was broken when the father of Emily and Joshua called out again. “Emily, Joshua, time to go!” Five minutes had gone quickly.

“No!” the little girl squealed falling limp to the grass like a war protester. The little boy headed to a stroller over by the tree and began to climb in. Emily’s father deftly scooped her up under his arm and headed to another stroller, ignoring the piercing shrieks and tiny fists pummeling his kidneys.

“No, Joshua, that’s Isabelle’s stroller. Ours is over here.” One arm was still cradling the screaming, floppy Emily even as the other hand flipped open an enormous chariot with two seats. He wrestled the outraged child into the front seat and fastened her seatbelt. She was nearly purple with the effort of resisting him. The father, however, had not broken a sweat. He picked Joshua up under the arms and plopped him behind her, then reached into the basket underneath the seats and pulled out two small cups with spouts and a Ziploc bag. He handed each child a cup and some crackers from the bag. Emily, evidently understanding that further protests would fall on deaf ears, snuffled her way to silence and sucked on her cup.

“Nap time!” the father called cheerfully to a couple of other dads. They all nodded sympathetically and waved as the three left the park.

“Ok, kids, let’s go see if Mommy’s up yet!” he said, confirming Violet’s theory, to her immense satisfaction.

As she watched them go, Violet noticed that the child’s inhuman howling had actually made her ears ring. The mild melancholy that begun to emanate from her barren womb lifted at the realization that there were many good things about childlessness. Yes, there were reasons she and Frank had not been given any. She smiled to herself, got up, and headed in the opposite direction.


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