It was snowing again! Driving, gusty snow. I stood at the front window pondering the scene. Where does it all come from? I wondered. But it was Saturday and we were on our own schedule, I could expose myself to it now, later, or not at all. Usually on Saturday mornings Jody and I like to hit the local coffee shop for the weekend treats we felt we deserved. After treats, we wander around town then pick up fresh bread at the bakery as our last stop. Today I sure didn’t feel like stepping outside. “Alright Hattie! The governor isn’t gonna call!” Jody shouted from the hallway. Yes, Jody is the practical one. “We need to get to Beacon Bakery soon or all the good bread will be gone”. We had friends coming for dinner tonight, so I knew two things: one, fresh bread was important and two, that meant heading out in this weather. We were driven by another reality of small town life: the single bake. Whereas the bakery we haunted in the city baked bread three and maybe even four times a day to meet demand, in Carter there was one bake in the morning and when it was gone…it was gone. Which reminded me about the third reality – the driveway would need shoveling at least once more.
When we moved to Carter two years ago, I invested in a stout pair of Sorel’s for just such blizzardy days. Even though we had only lived about an hour and a half South of here, the weather in Toronto was always milder and the snow didn’t seem as treacherous, or intrusive for that matter. Maybe it was all those millions of people tramping it down, or the tall buildings re-funneling the gales. The locals here chalk it up to what they call the lake effect. Because Georgian Bay is a huge body of water off Lake Huron it attracts the snow. I’m not a climatologist so I don’t understand how the bay attracts the snow but I admit it is true! I knew for sure that that it was blisteringly cold and the snow pellets blasting my face wouldn’t make life any easier – Sorel’s or not!
On the other hand, I didn’t fancy driving the three blocks required to accomplish our coffee-slash-bread goal. Especially since driving involves scraping and shoveling! So, I pulled a pair of Columbia snow pants up over my jeans, zipped up a fleece over my turtleneck sweater and wrapped my Toronto Maple Leafs scarf around my neck. If you know anything about the Leafs, you know that sometimes its good to have signature clothing that can be obscured, covered and out of sight. Jody had been duplicating my actions but from a seated position at the chair by the window. Toque, gloves, Sorel’s and go.
We peered in the misty windows of CUPtopia, where the local coffee wallas drip and steam their miracle beverages. There were seats. The floor near the doorway was a bit slick with slush. Jody prefers to sit on the couch near the front window. Prefers is likely the wrong word; she gets a bit pouty when someone else is siting there. Fortunately, even though there was someone there today, it was someone we could join. Roland is one of Jody’s teaching colleagues from the high school. Roland was maybe a bit older than we are and certainly a bit more rotund but I envied his exceptional posture. He also sports a long, thick beard that circles his face. It mesmerizes me; I’m conscious of watching it bob while he’s talking.
I hurried to the line to beat the next folks through the door while Jody loosened her outerwear and started talking with Roland. I placed our latte order, mine with almond milk, Jody’s with skim milk and one sugar and I selected a dandy raspberry scone for us to share. I paid and pointed out our seat to Bev, the barista. I was glad Bev was filling the order because she’s one of the regular baristas whose lattes I trust. According to Jody, I am too fussy about coffee. I’m known to walk away from a weak cup. Really? The way I see it, a $7 coffee ought to be damn near perfect!
As I joined Jody and Roland they were debating James Fennimore Cooper’s role as a disillusioned provocateur in mass American ex-patriotism. This is how English teachers amuse themselves I guess. I looked around for another nurse to engage in a discussion about bodily functions. Alas, I was bound to be drawn into Jody and Roland’s debate and to study the bobbing beard. Jody’s graduate studies focused on literature produced in Paris ‘between the wars’ as she says. While JFC’s time in Paris predated that period by just shy of a century, Jody was generally eager to connect various dots contributing to the period stretching before and beyond her preferred era. My interest in this body of literature was keen but not obsessed, which was my clinical assessment of Jody’s interest.
“Good morning Roland” I said as I slid onto the couch beside Jody. I mugged a delighted face as I displayed the raspberry scone at a jaunty angle. She leaned over with a grateful smile and placed a quick peck of appreciation on my cheek. “Only half though we’re sharing”.
After her eye roll Jody brought me up to speed on their conversation. “Roland and I were talking about James Fennimore Cooper” Jody said to me while looking at Roland.
“Like, the Last of the Mohicans guy?”
“That’s the one. Roland is thinking about adding The Last of the Mohicans to the senior reading list. JFC’s narrative is said to be inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe”.
“Ivanhoe makes me think of Roger Moore. They don’t make TV shows like that anymore. Now its all arguing drama, yelling drama and raucous sex and innuendo.”
“As much as I’d love to debate television right now, Hattie, I’ll just close by agreeing that Ivanhoe never took his clothes off.” The beard! Roland wanted to get back to his primary audience, Jody.
“Pity that.” Jody closed the discussion of Ivanhoe.
“I read Last of the Mohicans a million years ago” I replied to Jody, also looking at Roland, at his eyes. “Do you think it’s a story girls can relate to?” I don’t remember connecting with it in any big way. All the action is kind of …I don’t know…manly.”
“I was hoping that might emerge from the analysis and discussion as we read it in class” Roland half defended himself.
“Hmmm. Seems a bit risky. What if the kids don’t notice? Or if they aren’t distressed by the conventional ideas about women in the early 1800’s, or our relationships with First Nations people?” I added sipping on my latte and surveying the scone, which I had placed a little to far away for casual grazing.
“That’s what Jody was saying and just so you know,” Roland raised his eyebrows adding emphasis to his thin patience with my response, “it’s the dilemma I opened the conversation with. My wish is to add an early ex-pat to catapult my term on American Literature and Benjamin Franklin didn’t write enough fiction.”
“And Gertrude Stein is too late” Jody mused, smirkish. Roland was fully aware of Jody’s penchant for Gertrude.
“And a bit unintelligible for the average high school student…maybe even the average anyone”. I quipped. Then added quickly Gertrude I mean, not JFC.” My comment didn’t warrant a single beard bob.
The conversation about James Fennimore Copper, Parisian literature, and High School English programs in general died down shifting to a casual exchange of ideas and experiences, including the best price for grapes at the three grocery stores in Carter competing for our market – literally. When our coffees and scone were deep in our satisfied bellies, we layered up again, bid farewell to Roland who was staying on to wait for his wife, and struck out for the bakery.
A chime noted our entry into the Beacon Bakery alerting the owner to a potential customer. She smiled as she wiped her hands on her apron, like the grand old bakers I imagine of old. “Good morning ladies. What can I get you?”
“We’d like two loaves of Dutch Crunch please” we said in well-rehearsed unison. We discovered this bread shortly after we moved to Carter and it quickly became our mainstay of wheat and gluten, much to the chagrin of some of the more trendy, whet-frees we sometimes associate with. It was mostly a regular bread-shaped loaf but on the top were extra pieces of crust baked right into the dough.
“You are half lucky, ladies. I have one loaf left” was the cheerfully delivered only partially cheerful news.
Jody and I exchanged an alarmed glance and quickly negotiated getting that last loaf into our hands immediately. Only then did we agree on a substitute as our second loaf. We paid up and headed out into the wild again.
“I blame James Fennimore Cooper!” I said with vehemence when we were safely out of the baker’s earshot.
“Maybe it was you dragging your ass this morning instead of just putting on your gear and getting out the door” Jody countered.
“Maybe someone else is on to the Dutch Crunch” I worried aloud.
“Obviously someone else is onto the Dutch Crunch.” Jody asserted seriously. “Now we have to be ever more wary…”
“…and swift in acquiring our treasures” I laughed but only half in jest, I was also seriously worried about the future supply of Dutch Crunch.
“So, now what do we do? We have guests coming for dinner. We were going to serve the Dutch Crunch with the soup…”
“Sweet Jesus Hattie! We can serve any friggin’ bread with the soup”. The few kicky curls that had escaped from her hat shook with intensity. I was glad that Jody had come to this conclusion but I mocked a horrified gasp nonetheless.
“Works for me” I laughed. And we trudged single file through the path that early footsteps had ploughed through the snow covered sidewalk.
My job when we entertain is to clean, tidy and mostly stay out of the way. Jody is much more interested in cooking and baking. She is an exceptional soup maker and enjoys concocting new arrangements. While she was ‘building’ her current soup, I worked away like a guilty man, well a guilty woman I guess, and tidied away all the books, magazines, coffee cups, notes and thingamajigs that littered our home. We shouted conversation through the three-by-four foot hole that we jackhammered between the kitchen and dining room the same week we moved into our home. I say poked deliberately; we knocked through the lathe and plaster ourselves, leaving the finishing up to my brother, who unlike me knows a thing or two about carpentry. I vacuumed, dusted and placed the cushions strategically. I scoured both bathrooms, changed all the towels and set the dining room table. “Looks great” Jody commented as she walked through. “Thanks, smells great too” I bowed in respect.
And it turned out, it more than smelled great; dinner was delicious. Jody’s incarnation of curried butternut squash soup served with the precious Dutch Crunch bread was a hit. As it turned out, once we laid out the ingredients for the meal, we realized that the Dutch Crunch was the absolute correct match for the soup. We surrendered and decided to share. We can be so grown up sometimes. Our friends Elaine and Guy loved it. At first we lied, telling our guests we drove to a bakery in Geneva about 40 minutes away. Then we fessed up with long faces, worrying that full disclosure might further impact our ease of local access.
We sat comfortably around the table after devouring our meal, raising the stock of our various opinions about the state of the world. We met Guy and Elaine shortly after we moved to Carter. He is a lawyer in town and she is a professor at the local college. They match Jody and I in terms of irreverent cheek and we find similar things amusing. Elaine also teaches English so she and Jody have a lot in common. Guy and I always have something interesting to add to their banter. This being Saturday night in Canada, my Maple Leafs were on television. Being it was the Leafs; I had the sound turned down. My hopes, nay the hopes of we all, have been dashed all to often. This year the Leafs were re-building the team. To my account, this was a perennial operation. Nevertheless, all observations about rebuilding aside, the Leafs were victorious. Adding exponentially to a fun evening.
Jody and our guests sipped Irish whiskey in celebration. I devoured a second piece of Jody’s lemon and green tea cake with vanilla cream icing instead. Extra dessert was my strategy, more correctly my reward, to abstain from alcohol. About ten years ago, I was involved in a skiing accident. The injury to my right knee was pretty substantial and required three different surgeries to correct. As you can imagine, the pain was excruciating at times and I am not the kind of person who can really put my feet up and rest. To manage the pain I used narcotic pain medication. Sadly, I found a pain-free life a little too attractive and in very short order I was hooked. Because I am a nurse and my physician trusted me, and because really and truly it was clear that I had significant pain to manage in my day-to-day activities, I had a very large supply that I was able to stockpile before any red flags went up.
It was a long and tedious recovery for me. I always knew in my head that addiction is a real thing on its own and not just an absence of willpower but now I also knew this in my heart. Jody stuck by me, actually it was her encouragement and love that pushed me to change before I risked my job, my career – everything. After a stint in medically supported detox, I joined a regular outpatient rehab group and found others in the same boat as me. I still attend the reunions and I value some of the connections I made long the way. I tried Narcotics Anonymous but when we moved to Carter I found too many familiar faces, given my job. In rehab I learned to live clean and I respect that now. I find it relatively easy to abstain from alcohol, even in these social kinds of settings. But I am an absolute failure when it comes to cake.
Before Guy and Elaine could leave, we needed one more scoop of the driveway. Guy was insisting but as hosts, Jody and I believed it was our ‘duty’ to our guests. Also, it was important to us not to gender the heavy work. However, neither of really wanted to go out in the elements. To Guy and Elaine’s amusement, we resolved it the way we resolve the ‘who will be the gentleman’ question in those situations when a ‘gentleman’ usually steps up – we used rock-paper-scissors. This way we could do away with the stereotypical pink and blue jobs and all the duties were accounted for. Alas, Jody’s rock crushed my scissors. The job itself was mercifully short. It almost took me longer to gear up and make faces in the window than the actual shoveling. Everyone was suitably entertained. Being out in the cold made my crib feel warmer than ever and I fell easily into my slumber.
After a late evening entertaining friends, my usual Sunday morning lay-in was much appreciated. I usually attend a yoga class Sundays but as I pondered a third cup of coffee I had second thoughts. “C’mon” Jody encouraged. “I’ll join you”. We finished the post-soiree tidy up together and within half an hour we two were bundled up again in our winter-wear, layered over yoga-wear. Jody scraped the icy snow off my jeep and I wheeled it out over the most recent hump left by the plough and we headed to the yoga studio at the edge of the next town.
We arrived just in the nick of time. The room was warm and welcome. We recognized many friendly and familiar faces. We smiled and waved silently not wanting to disrupt the peaceful environment. Jody and I staked out our territory with our mats and sat quietly to prepare our minds for practice. I have trouble with a few postures because I will never have full range of motion in my left knee but I can get close enough to yield the benefits of each pull and stretch. Although in yoga one is meant to concentrate on posture and breath, my usual experience was a wandering mind. When I didn’t extinguish a stray thought, it casually coiled itself into a thread and soon, without my full commitment to mindfulness, I was successfully distracted. But I always did aim to still my monkey mind.
Today, I couldn’t wrestle down a thread sparked by Bridie. Death. Being born makes death inevitable. There is no immunity. Down dog; inhale; lunge. Love equals hurt. The more I love you, the more hurt I will experience when you die. Is the opposite true? Arch; twist; bend. How is loss different when we can prepare for it? Kinda squat; exhale. Nancy’s remark: I welcome death. I chastised myself for distraction but I could not reel in my thoughts. Without focus, does my body still benefit from the postures? Does my mind need these contortions as well? Stop thinking!
After class, we hung out at the studio for a while chatting with familiars and hearing about the upcoming events and workshops that we missed during the announcements at the outset of the class. There was a special meditation class starting in two week but it would be on a Tuesday. And a Yin class on Thursdays. For us, Sunday is the only predicable opportunity for class because both our schedules can easily slide through into the evening. We learned that next month a Buddhist monk was giving a talk on a Saturday morning and Saturdays were doable. We both entered the event into our phone calendars, a sure sign we would do our best to get here. I set a calendar alert to remind us that an early Dutch Crunch run would be required that morning. Other than one small incident, the rest of the day was lazy. To be fair, I was operating with both mine and Jody’s interest at heart but Jody didn’t quit see it that way.
“Hattie! Did you eat the last two pieces of cake?” I realized the seriousness of my offense in Jody’s shriek.
I padded into the kitchen, chastened. “Yes. Yes, I ate both pieces of cake.”
“Why the…” I knew Jody was mad when she came close to over-riding her school-teacher aversion to cursing “why the…hell did you eat both pieces.”
“Well…” Her stare was grinding me down. “I’m starting a diet tomorrow”. I could tell this wasn’t giving my explanation any traction. “OK” I continued, hoping I could win her over. “I know in my brain that all those calories are stored away in my body turning ever so slowly into fat. And I know that eating them up so they were out of my site and tempting me less was wrong.” Was she weakening?
“Hattie, sometimes you are a selfish bitch!” I knew it. I apologized but I also knew from experience that further détente would be unproductive. Jody’s fury was notable given that bitch is a word she holds very strong opinions about. At least he air was free of new snow and any shoveling would be in our future.