by Marie Wilson

Christmas by Candlelight

In grade four, our teacher taught us to dip candles. Then in December she announced there would be a Best Candle Contest. The prize: an illustrated book of The Night Before Christmas. I knew that poem by heart and thought it would be nice to have the book. I was also addicted to contests – colouring contests, country fair raffles, jelly bean estimating. Add all of the above to a love for this newly-learned art of dipping candles, and you had a keener for this contest. I ran home the day of the announcement to get started on my entry.

My next door neighbour knew I had a penchant for sparkly things and had once given me a big rhinestone. This was in the days before dollar stores, and cut glass jewels were as rare and precious to me as the real thing. Now, as my little white taper hung from its wick to solidify, I took the dazzling gem out of my treasure box and sunk it into the warm wax, right in the middle of the six-inch-tall candle. I then sprinkled a soupçon of silver glitter over the whole thing – and voila! paraffin magic!

The day of the judging, I wrapped my glittery wonder in a piece of tissue paper – its sparkly cyclopean eye winked at me, declaring itself the best candle ever. I had a lovely walk to school that morning, carrying my candle in a paper bag, dreaming of winning the book. At school, I laid it on the table set up for all the contending creations. I thought it looked pretty good next to my classmates’ efforts, and it gave me a thrill just to think I had made such a beauty. To me, it was in the same camp as silver stars in a twilit sky or a pale moon at dawn or harp music.

There was a general buzz in the air, then the whole room fell silent as Eloise Roane’s mother entered the classroom carrying Eloise’s entry: a big sparkling holiday scene – not just a candle but a whole Broadway production on a tin foil base. A perfect red taper, twice the length of my candle, grew out of holly sprigs and silver bells and shiny ribbons.

And the whole shebang was topped with soap suds!

The delicate sparkling froth wobbled as Mrs. Roane carefully placed the masterpiece on the table. I imagine now the process: it starts with Mrs. Roane finding the idea in Readers Digest and it ends with Mrs. Roane whipping suds up in the kitchen sink while her car idles in the driveway – niftily she plops suds on the yuletide scene to create a winter wonderland; finally, she instructs the junior Roane to get into the car and carefully hold the creation on her lap. Fortunately, they lived only a few blocks from school.

My own candle looked like a pale one-eyed urchin lying next to the Las Vegas centerpiece created by Mrs. Roane, I mean, by Eloise. She won of course.

Later that week, I packaged my candle up and sent it to my Grannie on Pender Island for Christmas. She liked it very much and it looked splendid in a candlestick on her mantelpiece. Best candle ever.

Footnote: photo was shot by the author in the best bubble bath ever. Happy Holidays, everyone!


Goodbye City of Angels

On my last day in LA, I got to see Angels Flight – a funicular that once took Angelenos and visitors up and down Bunker Hill on a short but steep trip.

Its original location (pictured above) was destroyed by city planners in the 60s, when the area’s beautiful, historic and architecturally significant buildings were bulldozed under.

In 1996, due to popular demand, the city reinstalled the funicular a few blocks away. An enchanting form of transit as glimpsed in old photos and such films noir as Act of Violence (‘49) and Criss Cross (‘49), the Flight is now mostly a tourist attraction.

Pictured above – glass skyscrapers replace the ramshackle Sunshine Apartments and other lovely structures: Victorian Mansions that once housed the wealthy and would later become rooming houses. So much lost charm.

Still, riding the car beats climbing all those stairs. Today it costs 25 cents a ride – up 24 cents from when it first opened in 1901. That wonderful apartment building with the sunny (and often ironic) name can be seen on the right in the photo below – it’s one down from the Hotel Hillcrest. A much better view is had in Criss Cross, as Burt Lancaster and friends plan a heist in one of its rooms (although the interiors were studio built).

Also on my last day, I visited legendary Leo’s Taco Truck.

Nearby, in a laneway I noticed a beautiful tree with pale pink flowers hanging from its branches like elegant trumpets.

I learned that it’s called Angel’s Trumpet and that it has hallucinogenic properties if eaten. This was discovered by teenagers in Los Angeles a few years ago, and kids were landing in the hospital at an alarming rate.

While the flowers and seeds are used in modern medicine, the plant can be deadly if ingested raw. It sent the LAPD knocking on the doors of any home that had such a tree in its yard to warn them of its dangers.

No, I didn’t win Best Screenplay. But here I am pictured with my many Oscars. Actually the important items in this photo (shot by Aaron) are my jewelry: crystal necklace was my mother’s, colourful glittery beads were given to me by Aaron, bracelet is a gift from my son Tom – an old-fashioned “M” typewriter key on a silver band, the big sparkle ring is from my daughter Anna and the little silver heart ring is from my daughter Chloe. That old evening bag was a gift from my dear Auntie Elva and in it is a keychain from my big sister Terri. In my heart were all the well wishes from friends and family – if I’d have worn them like jewelry, I’d have been laden. Lucky charms for a lucky duck – so many people cheering me on.

And finally, “Sideshow Bandit” has been shortlisted in the Rhode Island International Film Festival as well as the Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards. The angels must be smiling on me.

Aaron and me. There is a red carpet beneath our well-travelled feet.


Santa Catalina

In 1919, chewing gum giant William Wrigley, Jr. bought Catalina Island and had a mansion built atop one of its highest hills, providing a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean. This was the Californian island I travelled to recently for the Catalina Film Festival. The Wrigley Mansion still stands with its magnificent view but is now a bed and breakfast.

Wrigley was also the man behind what are now called the Wrigley Lofts on Carlaw Ave. in Toronto. In the early 20th century, he commissioned the building of those two beautiful Beaux Arts buildings (now the Lofts) and since The Canadian Chewing Gum Co. Ltd. was located nearby, the neighbourhood of Leslieville became known as the “Chewing Gum Capitol of Canada”.

But long before the duelling gums of Leslieville, Catalina was inhabited by Native Americans who called the island Pimu. Spain claimed it in the 16th century. Later, it was transferred to Mexico then finally to the US. While the Pimuvit mined and traded the island’s vast soapstone supply, the territory was later used for smuggling, gold digging and otter hunting. Wrigley made its primary trade tourism. Since the 70s, the island has been administered by the Catalina Island Conservancy.

The 2018 film festival was held in an Art Deco jewel of a building which Wrigley had built in 1929. Called the Catalina Casino, it houses a theatre and a ballroom but no slot machines or roulette wheels: “Casino” is Italian for “gathering place” and that’s the meaning of its name. If you want a nice glimpse of its circular exterior – surrounded on three sides by the sea – watch “Chinatown”: it’s there when Jake Gittes arrives on the dock for his visit to the Albacore Club.

The awards ceremony was held in the Avalon Theatre in the Casino amidst beautiful murals. My screenplay “Sideshow Bandit” was up for Best Screenplay, the whole reason I was on this unique island.

I imagine that island resident Norma Jeane Dougherty would have taken in a few flicks there when she lived on the island in the 1940s with her first husband. By the 50s, she’d escaped that life and become Marilyn Monroe, while Catalina had become popularized in a song called “26 Miles” (its distance from the mainland). From 1921 to 51, the Chicago Cubs (Wrigley’s team) went for spring training there, except during the war years when their ballpark became a simulated warzone for training marines and other war personal.

At this year’s festival, Richard Dreyfuss was presented with the Stanley Kramer Social Artist award, and I couldn’t help feeling like I was in the presence of a fellow Canuck – all because Dreyfuss rose to stardom in the quintessential Canadian film “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz”.

Back on the mainland, we visited Venice Beach where tents dot the wide expanse of golden sand and squatters sell their crafts and psychic readings amidst the hurly-burly of the boardwalk. Many of these folk look like they just wandered out of the Summer of Love – it was a truly anachronistic journey for me. And then I found the last remaining building from that amazing opening shot in Touch of Evil (58). Sweet. (I think that is supposed to be Janet Leigh looking out of the window.)

In downtown LA, I was delighted to explore The Bradbury Building – a most extraordinary structure built in 1893 after its architect consulted a Ouija board. This beautiful, light-filled building took much of its blue-print inspiration from a popular novel of the time called “Looking Backward”, which was set in the year 2000. How appropriate then that the Bradbury should end up being dressed for the toymaker’s house in the neo-noir “Blade Runner” (82).

The five-story central court is surrounded by a magnificent tiered maze of yellow-and-pink bricks, cast iron, marble, tile, terra cotta and, polished oak. It’s topped with a skylight that covers the entire ceiling. Bird-cage elevators are still in operation but one can also climb the open wrought-iron staircases. Today, most of Bradbury belongs to the Internal Affairs Division of the LAPD, which suits its history of appearing in many films noir, including “DOA” (49) and “M” (51).


Hollywood!

The Catalina Film Festival nominated my screenplay “Sideshow Bandit” for Best Screenplay & invited me to attend the awards ceremony. I’m eternally grateful to them & all my other sponsors & supporters for the opportunity to see LA & Catalina Island, as well as attend the festivities.

I stayed in the heart of Hollywood. The glamour of its early days barely glimmers through all the modern raz-ma-taz but if you keep your eyes on the ground, you can find Jean Harlow’s shoe prints or Eleanor Powell’s shiny taps imbedded in the cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Most tourists in this area walk with their heads down, not just for the foot-and-hand prints but also as they follow the Walk of Fame along Hollywood Blvd. Started in ‘58, the Walk runs 1.3 miles. As you can see, I found one of my favourite movie stars. (photo above by Aaron Schwartz)

I also found my namesake on the Walk: if you don’t know Marie Wilson from such flicks as “Fools for Scandal” (’38) or “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” (‘62) or her sitcom “My Friend Irma”, look her up: she was good! She also played the secretary in the second cinematic treatment of “The Maltese Falcon” – “Satan Met a Lady” (‘36). (Pictured below in “Mr. Hobbs”).

Just a block up the street from Hollywood & Vine, you can venture into the hills & escape the circus. There, California’s desert heart emerges: golden soil covers hiking trails that wind among sage scrub, oak trees, succulents & more. Atop Mount Hollywood, I visited the iconic Griffith Observatory, a Beaux-Arts architectural wonder. From its rooftop, I could see just how extensive the city & its wilderness is. In 1896 Griffith donated 3,000 acres of land for the building & a park, which has now grown to more than 4,000 acres. While pondering a bronze bust of Jimmy Dean commemorating scenes shot there for “Rebel Without a Cause” (‘55), I espied a handsome coyote trotting down one of the trails.

We’ve all seen scads of photos of the iconic Hollywood sign but I knew I could only truly appreciate the triumphs & tragedies it represents if I saw in person. I’ve been outlining a screenplay about a young woman trying to make it in the movies in the 20s, & since it’s a true story, seeing the sign was essential. Her name was Peg Entwistle, and she met her end when she jumped off the “H”.

There’s the sign just over Jimmy’s shoulder (or a stone’s throw from his hair).

Mulholland Drive, aside from being the title of Lynch’s cinematic wonder, is dotted with stars’ mansions. But these places are dwarfed by the magnificent rolling hills that the road winds through. It was great to glimpse Ida Lapino’s former house since I admire her pioneering work as the only woman director working in the studio system in the 50s. Lupino dared to focus on controversial, socially relevant topics, & was also the first woman to direct a film noir – “The Hitch-Hiker” (‘53).

Then came the boat trip to Santa Catalina, which is a subtropical island where deer walk right up to you like big gentle dogs, their lovely brown eyes inquiring if you have any food for them. And there are bison roaming the hills! In the 20s, some filmmaker had a herd brought over for a movie he was making then just left them there when he was done. But the Catalina experience is for the next instalment…



She’s An Artist

One of the most extraordinary young women I know thoughtfully places a dot at AGO’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit.

She’s the drummer for two bands: Prom Nite (with Anya, Ivan & Scooter), described by Vice as: “punk tempo with a glittery ambition”, and Anti-Vibes (with Sean & Claire), who’ve drawn accolades from music reviewers, including: “The drummer completely owns their set through crisp, accented handiwork, backing everything else wonderfully.”

Sometimes, she sits at the keyboard in our living room, teaching herself to play: the tinkling notes of Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies float up to me as I peck on this other kind of keyboard, making my writing contortions easier to bear.

She’s also a part time pearl diver at a popular vegan hash house. And she’s my youngest daughter.

In her little kid years, she drew oodles of cartoons: “Attack of the Household Appliances,” “Toast Patrol”, “Abraham Skinkon” (yes, the Prez reimagined as a lizard). Here’s a toon from when she was 7:

She’s a voracious reader who spends a lot of time in T.O.’s neighbourhood libraries. In school she tested as gifted and her science teacher suspected her of being an eidetiker (possessing a photographic memory). So, her brain is a marvel. But her intuitive/emotional aspects are pure gold. She lives true to her heart & her heart beats true.

She loves dogs & befriends them wherever she goes.

Now, see her shoulder bag in the first photo? It’s a quilted purse in the shape of a dachshund. Sourced at a secondhand shop, she chose it for the gallery outing because it matched artist Yayoi Kusama’s colours, patterns, aesthetic. She got a lot of compliments from strangers that day who noticed the fun bag. On more levels than I can express here – symbolic, sartorial, magical, maternal, etc. – I love her puppy dog purse.

One day, when she was 3, her big brother Tom and I woke her from a nap. As her eyes fluttered open, she proclaimed: “The king of rock’n’roll is dead.” We had no idea where that came from.

At the same age, she did a series of paintings, giving each work a title. A splatter of orange paint with a daub of brown, she called: “Trees in a Graveyard with a Symbol of Terror”. They all had similar titles; it was a series after all…and she was 3 after all.

In 2017, the solar eclipse occurred on her 21st birthday. Drinking pink champagne and watching the moon cast shade on the sun, Tom snapped a selfie with her and Instagrammed his little sister as “Goddess of the Solar Eclipse.”

The above image evokes Bob Dylan’s lyrics: “She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist/She don’t look back/She can take the dark out of the nighttime/And paint the daytime black.”

While on tour with Prom Nite, she found a dress in a Chicago vintage shop, perfect for her big sister Anna’s wedding. At $12.99 the price was right. With floral crown, she made the most beautiful bridesmaid. Doug (born next door 2 months before her) went with her, and they had a fantastic time.

Bride & bridesmaid –

Her name is Chloe. And she’s my little eidetiker.

And of course, she’s her own woman.

 


Ya Gonna Eat That?

In two different movies, Bing Crosby mucks about with a turkey dinner. As Father O’Malley in “Going My Way” (44), he has a lot of lines to deliver during the Christmas feast at the parsonage. While he speaks, he endlessly cuts a slice of turkey on his plate. He saws away until that slice must be a thousand pieces each the size of a grain of sand. And he never takes a single bite!

There’s some consolation: Barry Fitzgerald, as Father Fitzgibbon, gets to voraciously gnaw on a big turkey leg while his dining partner pontificates. But honestly, you just wish Bing would put that fork in his mouth – just once!

The Academy didn’t seem to mind though. They honoured Bing with Best Actor for his portrayal of Father O’Malley. Bing was up against his co-star, who was nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for playing Father Fitzgibbon (the rules were changed immediately following that bit of nomination abomination). Barry won for Best Supporting Actor – way to chew a drumstick, Mr. Fitzgerald!!

“Ya Gonna Eat That?” is a new feature wherein I examine movie scenes in which food is present but ignored (except by me).

Next up: the other film in which Bing mucks about with a turkey dinner.


Ya Gonna Eat That?

Because of the upper-crustiness of Douglas Sirk’s characters and the melodrama in his scripts, food is always getting left uneaten in his films. In “Magnificent Obsession” (54), Rock Hudson sits down to a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, the whole shebang. But Rock’s host, an artist played by Otto Kruger, waxes philosophical as he salts and peppers his eggs. Then, having not even set fork to food, Otto abandons the meal and walks to end of his charmingly-set table. There he lights his pipe and delivers some mystical wisdom. Rock eats just one forkful before he’s moved to join Otto at table’s end. The amazing breakfast grows cold as Rock skims his soul.

I like Sirk, and in some of his flicks they eat the food. And there’s always plenty of “hot coffee” for guzzling or sipping. For your own eating pleasure, Sirk’s lush mise en scene & campy style pair well with popcorn & champagne. Or you could enjoy a cup of hot coffee and eat vanilla cake while watching any lavish Technicolour, Cinemascope Sirk-us.

Marvel (and salivate) as Agnes Moorehead turns down chicken salad in “All That Heaven Allows” – blithely, via good acting chops. Mmmmm, chops…

“Ya Gonna Eat That?” is a new feature wherein I examine movie scenes in which food is present but ignored (except by me).

 

 


My Sister Terrill

She was named after a character in “West of the Pecos”, a Western novel by Zane Grey. There are big differences between the fictional Terrill and my sister. But of the former, a cowboy declares: “Yu’re the real stuff, Terrill.” And this too could be said of my big sister. Here she is, the real stuff and the real cute stuff, at age five –

When Terri was a teenager, I was an admiring little kid and she was my heroine: a track and field star, who won countless trophies and blue ribbons and accolades in the press, she of the dark brown hair, blue eyes and freckles. She also had a charming gap between her two front teeth which she eventually got filled. I still miss it. But gap or no, her smile could light up any stadium.

And when she became a young wife and mother, she was still my heroine – a beautiful woman with four beautiful babies. So many babies in her life! She now has ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild, all benefiting from her talents and love. Terri is a caregiver extraordinaire – here she is with great-granddaughter Anjali:

Here’s a story that I love: When Terri’s son Jon was in grade nine, he was enrolled in a new alternative program that was supposed to inspire learning in kids. But Jon was not inspired by the curriculum. Au contraire. So Terri went to the school one morning and had him taken out of the program. That same evening was parent/teacher night and she and Jon went to see the teacher. Terri instructed Jon to keep quiet, but she needn’t have, for the teacher dominated the meeting by listing everything she found bad about Jon. When she’d finished the litany of perceived failings, Terri asked her, “Do you have anything good to say about Jon?” The teacher replied: “No. I recommend Jon be removed from the program.” With steely resolve, Terri said: “I beat you to it. I had Jon taken out of your program this morning.” Then, affirmed in her decision to free Jon from this teacher’s clutches, she stood up. “Let’s go, Jon,” she said. And they walked out.*

That’s the kind of mom Terri was and is. And that’s the kind of person she is: keenly independent and not suffering fools gladly. If, on occasion you behave foolishly (as we all do), she’ll pour you a cup of coffee and make no judgments, but if your idiocy is constant and eroding, well, she might still pour you a cup of java or even a glass of wine but her heart would no longer be present.

She saved my foolish teenage ass a few times but offered no commentary nor lectures, just support and a cuppa and a few laughs after the fact. Here she is with our brother Dean whom she looked out for and loved (still does) just as much as those little kittens (maybe even more) –

All her life Terri has kept and cared for animals – dogs, cats, rabbits…and now chickens!  That’s Terri patting our beloved family dog Suzie (L to R: me, Dean, our sister Leah; I’ve no idea who those pirates are in the BG).

Terri probably got some practice for her role as mom by being a caregiver to her three younger siblings when we were small. Among other great capers, she led us on forest adventures where she taught us to make crowns from bright green ferns. In winter, she (along with Dean) hauled a sleigh-full of little sisters –

Terri had this amazing doll collection. Each doll was about 8” high and wore a costume from a different country or from the doll maker’s imagination. The big sister would kindly let the little sisters play with these dolls. My favourites were the Spanish beauty and the enchanting redhead who wore a gold Mata Hari costume.

My big sis sewed a beautiful dress for me for a grade 8 school dance: forest green with bell sleeves lined with satiny lemon-yellow. She gave me a strip of the lining so I could fashion a headband – it was 1967! Terri always gives the best gifts. One Christmas when I was a kid, she filled two tall decorative bottles with Smarties, tied ribbons around their necks, and gave them to Leah and me: endless candy in a green Genie bottle with a teardrop stopper!

Another Xmas, I unwrapped her present  to find a pink satin cushion with the Spanish doll sewn onto it, the black lace mantilla sweeping out across the shiny ruched fabric. Terri was always artistic, and when not running around the track, she was painting or drawing. Our family home displayed her youthful masterpieces on the walls.

Here’s a painting she did last year of her Australian granddaughters, whom she regularly flies across oceans to visit –

When her youngest child, Ron, was old enough, Terri enrolled in college and went on to become a social worker in order to help people. I can’t imagine having a nicer worker and used to wish she could be mine when I was a single mother myself. But I lived 3,000 miles away, still do. She’s in BC; I’m in Ontario. So she sends me snail mail, magical stuff – a fabulous hat she saw that had my name all over it, and more recently, a lovely wooden egg made from a favourite childhood tree that got cut down years ago.

Who else, I ask you, saves several rounds of wood from a beloved tree, then has it crafted into a few eggs for those who loved that tree, then sends it through the mail in the cutest little package, with a note saying: “Who knew maple trees could have eggs?”? My big sister, that’s who.

Here she is with her firstborn Bill and our Mom and our Grannie:

Terri has kept me apprised through the years of things happening back home. She even put my picture up in a relative’s hospital room once, so that my presence would be felt as the healing took place (successfully). I really appreciated that because it’s hard to be so far from a loved one knowing they’re playing chess with the grim reaper.

And I’ve witnessed Terri take care of plenty of ailing people (and pets) – like that time her daughter Leanne was so sick with pneumonia at age four. Terri kept vigil. She does all the usual things to bring healing to a body but also helps with recovery by telling the patient stories – often tales from their own lives that remind them of the good times when all seems far from good.

All through the years, Terri never once got mad at me – at least, not that I am aware of – that’s another genius thing I discovered about her: a capacity, for the sake of others, to not indulge in anger (this doesn’t mean she never gets angry; she does). And I never once felt angry with her. I don’t know how that can happen between siblings but it is our case.

Turn-of-the-century pic of me and Terrill –

There is so much more to say about Terri – I could write a book! It would be called “The Marvellously Terrific Ms.Terrill Marlow”. Yup, pardner, she’s the real stuff alright. And, she’s still my heroine.

***

Old photos are from the Wilson archives (thoughtfully maintained by Terri).

*Jon’s uninspiring teacher was fired later because so many complaints came in about her. Jon remembers: “The teacher was a very nasty lady, kinda like the principal from the movie ‘Uncle Buck’. I guess you could say mom played the part of John Candy pretty well.”


My Sister Terrill

She was named after a character in “West of the Pecos”, a Western novel by Zane Grey. There are big differences between the fictional Terrill and my sister. But of the former, a cowboy declares: “Yu’re the real stuff, Terrill.” And this too could be said of my big sister. Here she is, the real stuff and the real cute stuff, at age five –

When Terri was a teenager, I was an admiring little kid and she was my heroine: a track and field star, who won countless trophies and blue ribbons and accolades in the press, she of the dark brown hair, blue eyes and freckles. She also had a charming gap between her two front teeth which she eventually got filled. I still miss it. But gap or no, her smile could light up any stadium.

And when she became a young wife and mother, she was still my heroine – a beautiful woman with four beautiful babies. So many babies in her life! She now has ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild, all benefiting from her talents and love. Terri is a caregiver extraordinaire – here she is with great-granddaughter Anjali:

Here’s a story that I love: When Terri’s son Jon was in grade nine, he was enrolled in a new alternative program that was supposed to inspire learning in kids. But Jon was not inspired by the curriculum. Au contraire. So Terri went to the school one morning and had him taken out of the program. That same evening was parent/teacher night and she and Jon went to see the teacher. Terri instructed Jon to keep quiet, but she needn’t have, for the teacher dominated the meeting by listing everything she found bad about Jon. When she’d finished the litany of perceived failings, Terri asked her, “Do you have anything good to say about Jon?” The teacher replied: “No. I recommend Jon be removed from the program.” With steely resolve, Terri said: “I beat you to it. I had Jon taken out of your program this morning.” Then, affirmed in her decision to free Jon from this teacher’s clutches, she stood up. “Let’s go, Jon,” she said. And they walked out.*

That’s the kind of mom Terri was and is. And that’s the kind of person she is: keenly independent and not suffering fools gladly. If, on occasion you behave foolishly (as we all do), she’ll pour you a cup of coffee and make no judgments, but if your idiocy is constant and eroding, well, she might still pour you a cup of java or even a glass of wine but her heart would no longer be present.

She saved my foolish teenage ass a few times but offered no commentary nor lectures, just support and a cuppa and a few laughs after the fact. Here she is with our brother Dean whom she looked out for and loved (still does) just as much as those little kittens (maybe even more) –

All her life Terri has kept and cared for animals – dogs, cats, rabbits…and now chickens!  That’s Terri patting our beloved family dog Suzie (L to R: me, Dean, our sister Leah; I’ve no idea who those pirates are in the BG).

Terri probably got some practice for her role as mom by being a caregiver to her three younger siblings when we were small. Among other great capers, she led us on forest adventures where she taught us to make crowns from bright green ferns. In winter, she (along with Dean) hauled a sleigh-full of little sisters –

Terri had this amazing doll collection. Each doll was about 8” high and wore a costume from a different country or from the doll maker’s imagination. The big sister would kindly let the little sisters play with these dolls. My favourites were the Spanish beauty and the enchanting redhead who wore a gold Mata Hari costume.

My big sis sewed a beautiful dress for me for a grade 8 school dance: forest green with bell sleeves lined with satiny lemon-yellow. She gave me a strip of the lining so I could fashion a headband – it was 1967! Terri always gives the best gifts. One Christmas when I was a kid, she filled two tall decorative bottles with Smarties, tied ribbons around their necks, and gave them to Leah and me: endless candy in a green Genie bottle with a teardrop stopper!

Another Xmas, I unwrapped her present  to find a pink satin cushion with the Spanish doll sewn onto it, the black lace mantilla sweeping out across the shiny ruched fabric. Terri was always artistic, and when not running around the track, she was painting or drawing. Our family home displayed her youthful masterpieces on the walls.

Here’s a painting she did last year of her Australian granddaughters, whom she regularly flies across oceans to visit –

When her youngest child, Ron, was old enough, Terri enrolled in college and went on to become a social worker in order to help people. I can’t imagine having a nicer worker and used to wish she could be mine when I was a single mother myself. But I lived 3,000 miles away, still do. She’s in BC; I’m in Ontario. So she sends me snail mail, magical stuff – a fabulous hat she saw that had my name all over it, and more recently, a lovely wooden egg made from a favourite childhood tree that got cut down years ago.

Who else, I ask you, saves several rounds of wood from a beloved tree, then has it crafted into a few eggs for those who loved that tree, then sends it through the mail in the cutest little package, with a note saying: “Who knew maple trees could have eggs?”? My big sister, that’s who.

Here she is with her firstborn Bill and our Mom and our Grannie:

Terri has kept me apprised through the years of things happening back home. She even put my picture up in a relative’s hospital room once, so that my presence would be felt as the healing took place (successfully). I really appreciated that because it’s hard to be so far from a loved one knowing they’re playing chess with the grim reaper.

And I’ve witnessed Terri take care of plenty of ailing people (and pets) – like that time her daughter Leanne was so sick with pneumonia at age four. Terri kept vigil. She does all the usual things to bring healing to a body but also helps with recovery by telling the patient stories – often tales from their own lives that remind them of the good times when all seems far from good.

All through the years, Terri never once got mad at me – at least, not that I am aware of – that’s another genius thing I discovered about her: a capacity, for the sake of others, to not indulge in anger (this doesn’t mean she never gets angry; she does). And I never once felt angry with her. I don’t know how that can happen between siblings but it is our case.

Turn-of-the-century pic of me and Terrill –

There is so much more to say about Terri – I could write a book! It would be called “The Marvellously Terrific Ms.Terrill Marlow”. Yup, pardner, she’s the real stuff alright. And, she’s still my heroine.

***

Old photos are from the Wilson archives (thoughtfully maintained by Terri).

*Jon’s uninspiring teacher was fired later because so many complaints came in about her. Jon remembers: “The teacher was a very nasty lady, kinda like the principal from the movie ‘Uncle Buck’. I guess you could say mom played the part of John Candy pretty well.”