Thursday, December 31, 2009
Time to gaze into the coals;
lament the year that flew;
to curl around the hearth,
around a bowl of stew.
Children want to read in bed
but grown-ups won't permit.
Power cuts are every day now,
candles must be lit.
So up to bed the youngsters creep
with book and hidden wick;
under the sheets they turn the page-
what a clever trick.
Time to ask the burning coals
how we got this far.
We think on all the happenings and
we thank our lucky stars.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:07 PM
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
On Christmas Day, Mater and I got acquainted with our respective, shiny new webcams. Now, all of a sudden, she could see me and I could see her; and we had a grand time looking at each another's surroundings- I at the familiar homestead in the darkest, bitterest depths of an Irish winter, and she at the sunlight streaming in the window behind me.
"You've got sunshine," she said, a muffled sob. "Lashings of it! In December!"
"Sorry," I said.
At times the camera worked well, other times hardly at all- the picture frequently got scrambled. When I could again see a clear image of the living room I asked, "What's that on the shelf behind you?"
"A handmade peacock," said Mater. "Would you like to see it up close?"
I said that I would; and over the telephones I distinctly heard Mater stand up to fetch it.
I watched that tiny window for nigh on thirty minutes: Mater, I do declare, never moved from her chair. The peacock remained a dark shadow on the shelf.
"Here it is," Mater said, "I'm waving it at the camera. Can you see it?"
I explained that I still saw her in her original sitting down position; Mater, surprised, said that she had travelled and returned, peacock in hand.
Thus a great debate was struck on the concepts of time and peacocks.
"I can still see you before you fetched the peacock," I said. "The old you."
Mater was perplexed and awed at the singular notion; more so when the minutes dragged on and Mater put the peacock back on the shelf and I was obliged to continually remark that I had not yet seen her stand up to get it. We waited for the moment, fleeting and outwardly innocuous as it might have been, to catch up with us.
But I never did see Mater get the peacock; later on she waggled her fingers and told me she was doing so, and I glimpsed that slight action as she spoke; so the peacock moment had been irrevocably lost somewhere in the middle. But why, and to where had it flown?
Later that evening, when Mater was tucked up in bed and dawn was edging towards Ireland, I wrote her a brief note.
I suggested that she ought to be asleep at the time of writing; unless, I added as an afterthought, she was still busy fetching the peacock.
And somewhere out there- who knows- she just might be.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:39 PM
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The pedestrian crosswalks scattered across my town are equipped with black boxes which emit various noises- helpful sounds that range from furious beep-beep-beeps to gentle sparrow chirps. There are a few, of course, that say nothing at all, but they flash their friendly green hands and silently suggest that we waiting walkers cross right now.
I have been walking a good deal lately and am more familiar with some crosswalks than with others. I routinely encounter one in particular that uses spoken words to make its announcement.
"Walk sign is on. Walk sign is on. Walk sign is on," it declares as I move boldly across the road.
I was growing used to its jarring insistence, inwardly preferring the subtle methods employed elsewhere, but glad, still, of its enthusiasm with regard to my personal safety.
Then yesterday, I found everything changed.
I was gliding across, the green hand was waving cheerily at me, and the little voice piped up- the same voice, but with an entirely different personality.
"Hey! Walk sign is on. Hey! Walk sign is on. Hey! Walk sign is on."
I jumped a bit, which caused a momentary stutter in my stride while I wondered who was angry with me, and why.
I hate to be heyed; and when I made it to the other side, I told the little black box just what I thought of its roguish manner, and of the uncouth crosswalks of today's society.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:24 PM
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Gently we were motoring through the woods, yards from the front door of our friend.
It had been such a long homecoming: we ran out of words as we turned onto the familiar forest path and understood that we were there, at last- it was not a photograph or a dream but a real scene, and we were in it and breathing it. Home again, after several years away; home again, so that our favourite small town lay just through the trees- striding distance.
A deer, slight and graceful, bolted from between the trees and halted when it saw us.
Spouse turned off the engine.
I must have looked like a deer in headlights myself, too thunderstruck to reach for the camera or to believe Spouse when he insisted I try to take a photograph.
"It'll run," I said. It was hard to argue without moving my lips. "If I twitch it will run away."
"Try," said Spouse.
I made an effort to reach for my backpack without moving my arms or my head or my eyes. My fingers closed around it; and then they curled around the camera; and then the camera was in my lap, its lens cap off, awaiting my instructions for posterity.
I thought that the deer would gallop away but it remained perfectly still, watching the pair of us. I felt sufficiently confident to roll down the window to improve the picture quality.
Most curiously, the deer granted us enough time to take another picture, and then another, and another, until Spouse and I were satisfied that at least one must have been acceptable. While we were scrutinising the camera's tiny screen, the deer slowly angled its head and studied another part of the forest, politely surveying the land while we fumbled with the camera. And yet- when I was ready to take one more picture, the deer recommenced its original pose of gazing straight into the camera.
I switched off the device, packed it away inside my bag.
"You can go now," I said quietly through the window. After all, we had a friend to catch up with and a whole town of memories to wander about in.
No sooner had I said the words than the deer was a faint brown blur among the trees- gone before Spouse started the engine, before I rolled the window up, before we resumed normal motion again.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:31 PM
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I addressed and decorated a handful of Christmas cards this afternoon: because I required Mater's assistance in a related minor matter, I dashed off a few appropriately merry sentiments while the telephone rested between my chin and my shoulder.
As I scribbled, I listened, in part, to Mater's chatter about a significant birthday celebration and what the day had so far brought. At least, I thought I was half listening; I now suspect that the listening percentage was a great deal higher.
"Do you think," I sought Mater's wisdom after a minute or so, "that it's okay to write HAPPY BIRTHDAY on the front of a Christmas greeting card?"
"Not really," said Mater. "Why would you want to do that?"
"I don't know," I said, "but I've done it just the same."
I threw that particular reject to one side and began again with a measure of determination while I quietly lamented the effort, the stickers and the various coloured attachments that had been lost.
I got the greeting right the second time, having first begged Mater for some seconds of silence so that I could concentrate on the words.
"Do you think," I soon asked Mater for another serving of advice, "that it's okay to spell the month as 'Decemember'?"
Mater, much as I expected, did not think so; but she had very decided notions on the subject of attempting too many tasks at one time.
"I'll try this one more time," I said through my teeth, "but if N. doesn't get a card from me this year, please tell her when you meet her that it wasn't for the want of trying."
Mater promised to do just that.
Frequently the best intentions get no further than the front door; one can only hope that the gist of the sentiment, at least, does not go astray.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:21 PM
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
On the phone with Mater;
she said "please hold a minute"
and set down the receiver
with me still chirping in it.
I whistled, then, she heard it-
across the kitchen whistled back-
returned my call with gusto;
both, we have the knack.
"Be there in a moment,"
called Mater, as she hurried;
I was happy whistling back and forth,
I wasn't worried.
But soon I took more notice-
the song had turned quite strange:
Mater sent back all my whistles
without a trace of change.
The whistling notes I whistled,
Mater matched them all-
whether I whistled three notes or six,
she'd duplicate my call.
Note for note returned to me-
I answered every one;
How did we synchronise so well,
as we had never done?
Mater came back on the line,
said, "verily I'm here."
A single thought occurred to me
and filled me with a fear.
"How much whistling did you do?
While we were parted so?"
I asked quickly this of Mater
who said she didn't know.
"I whistled for a bit," she said,
"but not for very long."
"Why do you ask? Did you not like
to hear the whistling song?"
I said to Mater that I thought
she performed a lovely show:
but- oh!- that all the later notes
were my very own echo.
No wonder they matched me song for song,
that we sounded so aligned-
I performed a duet with my own self;
how deliciously refined.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:41 PM
Monday, December 7, 2009
Mater connected to the Internet today when I recommended to her a brief segment of film I thought she ought to watch online.
"I'll watch it at the same time," I said over the telephone, "so that we can follow together."
I suggested that Mater indicate to me when she was about to press the start button so that we could begin and so that we could be synchronised.
Mater's usual formula, when I make such requests, is to press the start button and only then proceed to fumble about with a pair of enormous headphones, and then attempt to connect them to the computer; by the time the wires are untangled and the headphones are in position over her ears, and Mater is able to sit still and listen, the video has drawn to its conclusion. We either begin again or I slide off to make a cup of very strong and very sweet tea.
This time, Mater was unruffled and ready- and oh, so proud of her foresight. She intended to surprise me with uncharacteristic composure.
"I've already got the headphones on," she boomed over the telephone. "I'm ready to play."
I offered words which she could not establish the nature of- the headphones, of course, were enveloping her ears and muffling my comments.
"Pardon?" Mater prised the headphones up slightly in order to hear me better.
"You don't need headphones," I repeated, as gently as I could to soften the blow that must fall. "I'm sorry. It's a silent piece of film. There's no sound."
And for one long and particularly deflated moment, there was no sound from Mater.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:32 PM
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Spouse bought some coloured crayons and paper. He surmised quite reasonably that drawing, and colouring between the lines, would rejuvenate his injured left hand. Being primarily right-handed, Spouse determined that the other really ought to be utilised, and so away he went each evening to a quiet corner with his sketch book and a brightly coloured volume of cartoons from which he selected scenes to copy.
After numerous pictures emerged over a period of days, each one better than the one before it, I commented to friends about how marvellous Spouse was at replicating pictures with a weaker hand.
When I mentioned it to Spouse, he hastily corrected my assumption.
He confessed that he had so enjoyed the simple and soothing act of drawing that he thoroughly forgot the original purpose of the activity; and he had, all the while, been merrily sketching with his right hand.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 2:42 PM
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Spouse, as is his habit, calculated the matter without need of pen or paper: he estimated that all the walking I did in the last four months, back and forth to the local library, was the equivalent of hiking from one end of Ireland to the other.
"Keep that up," he said, "and you can do the return trip as well."
In truth, the route to the library offered a consistently more hospitable environment: I stumbled through no bog lands on my path, nor was I obliged to scale shapeless mossy hills, or pick my way through fields of staring sheep, or take shelter from blinding sheets of ice cold rain.
But now that I think of it, certain books I hauled seemed indeed as though they must have been torn from the side of a cliff on the Atlantic Ocean, so weighty were they; and there was the faintest, stinging hint of salt water in my eyes as I struggled home with arms numb, fingers aching, hoping that the enormous volumes of paper were worth the trek.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 3:11 PM