by Marie Wilson

We Were Born Before the Wind

I met Star Parsons when she sat in front of me in grade six. We fought foot wars beneath our desks as the teacher droned on at the front of the room. These silent battles were like arm wrestling only with feet: my toes pushing up on her heels, which were pushing down on my toes. I don’t think there was ever a winner but then that wasn’t the point. From this clandestine game a friendship grew.

In grade seven, Star was placed in a row for A+ students, while I was exiled to some random row across the room. Star’s intelligence was dazzling to me. Once, in grade six, we’d had an assignment to make calendars for people in an old folks home. Each student had to draw one picture to go with twelve tear-off months. I drew a house with a picket fence and a cat. Star drew a cross-section of a brain.

With so much distance between us in class now, our hands had to take over from our feet as silent communicators: we invented our own language of gestures, which we used whenever the teacher’s back was turned. Our signs were often preoccupied with our emerging curiosity with sex.

After school, Star and I sometimes headed for the ravine beyond the schoolyard to read aloud from “Candy”, a novel published in 1958, scandalous in its time. Now in the mid sixties we were discovering its forbidden content in the paperback version which I’d lifted from my big brother’s room.

Sitting on rotting logs, inhaling heady scents of skunk cabbage and pine resin, we giggled over the raunchy language and titillating imagery. Then we got out pencil and foolscap to create our own smut. These co-written bits of juvenilia were buried after each session along with the book in the cool dark earth, to be dug up the next day for more explorations into the unknown world of carnal relations.

Star Parsons was not her real name. But one night I dreamt that name for her and the next day a Star was born. (Well, she was always a star and always will be). In my rec room, Star & I belted out brassy show tunes: “Let Me Entertain You” and “Big Spender”. She played a mean piano. I sat on the piano top or danced, as we sang in our best trashy New York accents: “I don’t pop my cork for every guy I see!”

When grade seven ended, we boarded a ferry for Pender Island, where my grandmother lived in an enchanted house known as The Glade. Road crews, firemen, hydro workers all stayed at The Glade when they came to the island to work, and Grannie often told us stories about them, casual chatty stories that we turned into something else altogether. Refracting every word Grannie spoke through our pornographic prism, her utterances were full of double entendres.

Lighting up a long slender cigarette, Grannie would intone, “I give my men the best deal on the island.” One flash of Star’s ocean blue eyes in my direction and we had to stifle our teeny bopper laughter. Of course, Grannie was talking about room and board but to two tweens with their minds in the magnificent gutter of girlish imaginings, she was a brazen madam, fresh out of the pages of “Candy”.

The subject matter of that book edged ever closer to us as we headed up to junior high that September, wearing for the first time bras, nylons, garter belts. Soon I was sporting a Twiggy cut and walking to school in sling back shoes.

In grade nine when Star turned fourteen I made her a sock monkey accompanied by a poem I’d written in which the monkey’s facial features symbolized our budding lives: “Ruby red lips for our days of ill repute/whether they have gone by or are yet to come.” Gone by? Such innocence!

And then, Star and her family moved away. There was no easy transport between our towns so we kept in touch with weekly letters and monthly visits. The summer after we finished high school would be the last we spent together.

We hitchhiked to Tofino and set up camp on Long Beach. The sixties had just ended but hippies still lived in their jury-rigged A-frames and beach lean-tos. Van Morrison’s “Moondance” album drifted over the land from car radios to mingle with the sound of the pounding surf.

By summer’s end, the government forced the hippies out so the area could be turned into a national park. In true anti-establishment defiance, the squatters burned their glorious homesteads to the ground. Another death knell for the sixties. For Star and me, it didn’t matter the decade – these were the timeless days of our adolescence, the sweet tail end of our long and glorious childhood.

Star Parsons and I, we were born before the wind.

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Happy Birthday to my best friend forever, Shirley Connell (aka Star Parsons), pictured here on Long Beach in a double exposure which I shot before double exposures became a thing (that’s my sister’s horse on the right, in another time, in another place).


Natalie Wood’s Bracelets

Due to an on-set accident when she was small Nat always had her left wrist covered in her later movies and publicity shots: opera gloves, long sleeves, watches, bracelets – lots of bracelets: demure for Maria in West Side Story (’61), flashy for Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy (’62). The arm jewelry is designed to wrap her wrist tightly and stay in place thus hiding a severely protruding bone.

In a film called The Green Promise (’49), the child star goes through a raging storm to rescue her lamb. The storm was created on set, and a little wooden footbridge was to collapse once she’d crossed. But the crash came while she was on the bridge and she broke her wrist.

The only time I didn’t see a bracelet or gloves hiding the misshapen wrist is in The Silver Chalice (’54). She plays a Biblical slave girl in a toga with no adornments, and the bone is obvious. (An aside: How do you change wood into mayo? You can’t, but believe it or not, they cast Virginia Mayo as Natalie’s grown up self in The Silver Chalice. Not even close!)

Why have I become so totally preoccupied with Nat’s left wrist? As I watch her movies or scroll through stills, I am always trying to catch a glimpse of that imperfection she was forced to hide. Catching sight of it is like seeing a rare bird. But it reminds me that these impossibly perfect creatures of the silver screen were/are actually real people with real flaws of flesh and soul and heart, except that maybe they aren’t “flaws” at all.

 

Photos from Top: Gypsy, Rebel Without a Cause, The Great Race, Rebel Without a Cause.


Among the Stars

Gord Downie was our neighbour. The house he lived in for most of his Riverdale years stands just behind the Bain Co-op where I live. Some in the neighbourhood knew him only by sight or reputation, some knew him more intimately; sometimes he passed by unnoticed with the brim of his hat tipped down, other times he could be seen joyously raising a pint at Dora Keogh. Maybe we skated past Gord at the rink in Withrow Park or played hockey at Riverdale with a masked goalie we weren’t aware was the Tragically Hip’s frontman.

Or, we only knew him by his music, which meant sure knowledge of his heart & soul: Wheat Kings, a song about David Milgaard’s wrongful conviction, offers some of his best lyrics. Gord’s honorary aboriginal name, Wicapi Omani, is Lakota for “man who walks among the stars”. We’ll miss Gord in the neighbourhood and in the world but we’ll see him among the stars, and we’ll always have his music, and the wisdom and joy and solace it bestows.

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Sundown in the Paris of the prairies
Wheat kings have all treasures buried
And all you hear are the rusty breezes
Pushing around the weathervane Jesus

In his Zippo lighter, he sees the killer’s face
Maybe it’s someone standing in a killer’s place
Twenty years for nothing, well, that’s nothing new
Besides, no one’s interested in something you didn’t do

Wheat kings and pretty things
Let’s just see what the morning brings

There’s a dream he dreams where the high school’s dead and stark
It’s a museum and we’re all locked up in it after dark
The walls are lined all yellow, grey and sinister
Hung with pictures of our parents’ prime ministers

Wheat kings and pretty things
Wait and see what tomorrow brings

Late breaking story on the CBC
A nation whispers, “We always knew that he’d go free”
They add, “You can’t be fond of living in the past
‘Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last”

Wheat kings and pretty things
Let’s just see what tomorrow brings
Wheat kings and pretty things
Oh that’s what tomorrow brings

Gord Downie 1964 – 2017

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Listen to Wheat Kings here: bit.ly/1TYtIy6

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Special thanks to Jennifer Hazel & Slim Twig

photo: Withrow Park by Marie Wilson


Beautiful Joe

Joe was just a pup when his owner starved & beat him then cut off his ears & tail. His plight gained worldwide attention when a Canadian woman wrote a novel about him called “Beautiful Joe”. Soon after the horrible mutilations, the pup was rescued by a kindhearted minister & lived out the rest of his years with the minister’s loving family in Meaford, Ontario.

In 1914, Margaret Marshal Saunders, the woman who wrote “Beautiful Joe”, lived in the flat directly across from mine in an historic housing complex in Toronto. The bricks were hot out of the ovens from the Don Valley Brick Works in what was then known as Riverdale Courts, when Saunders moved into a four bedroom “cottage flat” with her sister Grace. Now called the Bain Co-op, it is here that the author penned another novel: “Boy, The Wandering Dog”.

I look out my window at her former residence & imagine Saunders sitting at a lace-curtained window, pen in hand, thinking up dog thoughts, because “Boy”, like “Joe”, is told from the dog’s perspective, a literary device that took off after the publication of “Black Beauty” in 1877.

Published in 1894 under the name Marshal Saunders, “Beautiful Joe” would help lead the charge for the humane treatment of animals everywhere. I often contemplate Saunders’ good works, both as writer & animal activist, as I tread the very ground she must have walked with her own dogs. This is the same turf where I now walk my dog Nixie. Or did until a few months ago, when suddenly she started having trouble climbing stairs. My apartment is on the second floor & she weighs a hundred pounds so our walks became less frequent, even though she is only five years old.

Marshall Saunders owned a lot of pets in her lifetime. A number of them were strays which she named for the places where they were found. She once owned a bird named “38 Front Street”. Nixie is grateful we didn’t christen her “Kijiji”. Nixie (pictured below) looks like Joe except her ears are intact. But she does get the same frightened ears-flattened-back look that Joe has in his portrait whenever she is in pain. The vet said she would need an MRI for a diagnosis at a cost of twenty-five hundred dollars. This pup has seen me through some hard times. I was not about to let her down.

And so, inspired by her trusting eyes & the courage of Beautiful Joe, I launched “Beautiful Nixie”, an online fundraising campaign. Due to the generosity of people everywhere, a month following the launch, Nixie got her MRI.

The imaging showed a protruding disc, & surgery was prescribed. Cost: Five thousand dollars. Nixie’s love & devotion once again catapulted me into action. I hit the campaign trail & a month later, she had her operation, in part because the vet kindly arranged for me to pay half the cost upfront & the other half thirty days following surgery.

When I look at this photo of Beautiful Joe, which was reproduced as postcards back in the day, it gives me the fortitude I need to carry on & raise the last instalment of money, the last half owed to the vet. Despite Joe’s slightly fearful look (a result of missing earflaps, I think), the portrait is a record of great hope. The pure sweetness & strength, the downright goodness, of that dog catapults me forward in my fundraising efforts. I do it for Beautiful Joe & Beautiful Nixie & for all the beautiful dogs in the world.

Thanks to all donors, the campaign goal is in sight! If you wish to help, you can donate here: youcaring.com/mariewilson-885356

Beautiful Nixie on Facebook: bit.ly/2zuvxBk

Contact me here: mariewilson53@gmail.com

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photos:

Beautiful Joe – Osborne Collection, Lillian H. Smith Library, Toronto.

Pink Sky with Windows – Aaron Schwartz

Bain Co-op in Bloom – Aaron Schwartz

Nixie – Marie Wilson


World’s Most Amazing Dog

All through her childhood, my youngest daughter wanted a dog. I finally said yes when she was 15 & she wasted no time finding a pup on Kijiji. The owner was asking $100, so my daughter & her friend pooled their cash & went to meet the dog. It was love at first sight.

The owner told the teenagers to keep their money, saying he only advertised that amount so he wouldn’t get irresponsible people picking up a free dog for who knows what purpose. That first night in her new home, we made every effort to make the confused pooch feel comfortable. Pretty soon she was wagging her tail & settling in. Her name is Nixie.

On the couch in our sunroom, Nixie used to sit like a person gazing out the window. As far as we’re concerned she is a person! But in the dog park, she’s all dog, playing with a ball or other dogs & running as fast as possible. Her favourite game has been to lead other dogs on an obstacle race, charging around logs & under picnic tables, performing quick turnarounds & tricky deeks. In all seasons, the fun never stops for her in the park.

Until recently, that is. A couple of months ago she started refusing to go up stairs, which was challenging, as we live in a 2nd floor apartment. Then she’d yelp with pain when jumping up on the couch or bed. She is only 5 years old. She’s been homebound now for almost 2 months and stays almost all the time on her blanket on the floor. We hoped the rest would lead to healing. But it hasn’t. She’s seen two vets but they can’t diagnose without an MRI.

MRIs are expensive. And so, a fundraiser! I am so grateful for all who have donated to & shared our campaign to help Nixie thus far. To us she is truly the World’s Most Amazing Dog. Let’s keep this funder going and get Nixie a diagnosis & on her way to better health!    https://www.youcaring.com/mariewilson-885356


City Saplings, Urban Ancients

For many years, this tree has given shade to sinners & angels alike, judging neither. Churchyard trees bear testimony, provide shelter, give life. Children who’ve hopscotched beneath their boughs grow up & go away but still the tree stands, noble & uncomplaining. Its leafy past commingles with the ancient moon & the old church & together they form a trio of historical importance on First Avenue.

We revere the ancient & pander to youth, often forgetting how important the latter are to the planet’s future. Like a gangly but bright child, this sapling might go unnoticed by passersby. But to those who stop to take note, it may remind them of the great cycle of life. Its presence enlivens the solidity of the great wall on Bain Avenue near Withrow School.

Like pigeons, urban trees hang in there despite all the concrete & pollution. This maple thrives in a laneway near King & Yonge, just around the corner from the Beer Bistro. It reaches up to the sky-scrapered sky with leaves of almost-impossible-green and beckons to the rush hour traffic to slow down & take a breath of the air it helps supply.

The Rooster Coffee House provides field glasses for anyone caring to play spy or ornithologist while sipping java on Broadview. With or without binoculars, you get a vast view of Riverdale park & the downtown core (this must be how the street got its name!) Front & center is this grand old lady – her natural splendor compliments the unnatural splendor of the city beyond: in summer her emerald finery blots out buildings but in winter she welcomes the great grinding metropolis into her boughs; woven throughout her majestic branches are bank towers, City Hall, the CN Tower.

Photos: Aaron Schwartz


Words for a Wedding

Just before Anna was born, I was reading “Anna Dostoyevsky’s Diary”. It was a good book, and it inspired me to name my first born…Anna.

When she was 2, and we were in the playground, Anna used to point and say: “Wings! Wings for Anna!” She meant “swings”.

And when she was 3, she invented a magical land called “Pink World”… and she named all her dolls after food. My favourites were: “Tapioca-Lisa” and “Pear-Cherry”.

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At age 11 Anna filled out a questionnaire that asked:
“How do you picture yourself five years from now?”
She answered: “With a perm.”
Another question asked: “What do you value in life?”
Her answer: “Art and Love”.

As a teenager she grew taller than me. She helped care for her brother and her sister – both who turned out just as amazing as she did – and one morning, teenage Anna tucked my hair behind my ears and asked if I wanted tea. I said: “We seem to have switched roles today: you’re the mom; I should go to school.” And then, we laughed.

We shared a lot of laughter.

Anna once wrote: “Real love can be measured by how many jokes you can share with another person.”

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In her book “Cake Secrets” Anna put together these words: “There was that link between cake and the spiritual world again. I could not ignore it.”

When Anna was 7 she created a booklet of drawings and words titled “A Dash of Special Magic”. In it she wrote a story. It was just three sentences long. Here it is:
“She had a husband. She didn’t know his name. She called him ‘Handsome’.”

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On her blog, Anna wrote: “Life has a funny way of surprising you and pretending to be magic.”

Tonight, on the occasion of Anna and Gabe’s wedding, we think the magic is real and the love is true. And that Gabe is Handsome…and wonderful, and that – Anna. Has. Wings.

Also, there will be cake.

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Photo Credits (top to bottom): “Fairy” by Marie Wilson; Headshot by Tim Leyes; “Up on the Roof” by Scott Monroe Baker; “Dorothy Parker Party” (Anna May Henry installation) by Anon; “First Dance” by Aaron Schwartz.

 


Diamonds & Coffee

5:45 a.m. The deserted streets of New York City. A lone yellow cab approaches along Fifth Avenue to the melancholy harmonica & strings of Moon River. The cab stops in front of Tiffany & Co., & a lithe young woman steps out. As the car pulls away she looks up at the iconic clock; her sleek black gown & stunning pearl & diamond necklace are as gorgeous from the back as from the front. She walks to a display window where glimmering things float in reflective surfaces, including her own early morning image: oversized sunglasses & swept-up hair adorned with sparkling ornament. From a white paper bag she takes a pastry & a cup of coffee: Breakfast at Tiffany’s. One of the best opening credits in movie history.

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And then two scenes in, Mickey Rooney spoils it all with his monumentally ill-conceived portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi. Worse even than his Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935),  Rooney’s racist mugging in Breakfast makes me want to hit him over the head with a champagne bottle (empty, of course); catastrophic casting in a flick that is full of missteps. So we look for the gems, both literal & figurative: a mailbox perfume atomizer, jewels in earrings that sparkle for miles, the fire escape crooning of Moon River, purple tasseled earplugs, turquoise eye mask with gold eyelashes, more Givenchy frocks, a few elegant hats,  Audrey.

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And then there’s the charming feline star, Orangey, who won a Patsy Award (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year), for his performance as Cat. Meow. The world would not tolerate a remake of Breakfast but if such a thing could ever happen Holly would be more fucked up & Paul would be gay, just as Capote wrote them & hoped they would appear on screen. They could still wear spectacular clothes & dig NYC but the pain & grit would be more evident & ultimately more satisfying.


She Gets Too Hungry…

…for dinner at eight… So my beloved cooks earlier than eight & it’s always sublime. First a glass of pink champagne. Then, a plate of pickles and chips. Aaron pickled these beets. And then he pickled the eggs in the pickled beet juice (the chips are out of a bag)

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Chowder with baguette & olive oil…

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Linguine!

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I’m also very hungry in the morning and so he makes this…

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Or this – star fruit, dragon fruit, prickly pear, yogurt with good stuff on it!

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And that’s why this lady is devoted to this guy (or one of the reasons anyway).

Next up: Snacks!


Sketches of Aaron

To converse with Aaron is to have doors flung open in your brain that you didn’t even know were there. His mind never ceases to amaze: original, insightful, educated, open. But be sharp; he doesn’t suffer fools gladly (genuinely humble fools exempted). Prepare to be challenged. And to laugh.

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Aaron and I met 13 years ago at a Valentines Day party given by our good friends Tony and Phillip. After midnight, we bid our hosts adieu and walked home together. That was the start of something beautiful. These days we meet at a sort of secret getaway for a drink after completing our day’s work. We listen to music, sometimes we dance. He has a martini, I have pink champagne. And we talk. The way he sees the world, in all its stunning complexity – the good, the bad & the beautiful – enlivens me day after day.

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When Aaron is interpreting the law, his wisdom will shake your snoozing mind awake. If he’s discussing art, his perspective will bust your pea-brain notions wide open (also your highfalutin concepts). You grow. Everyone should be so fortunate as to sit and talk with Aaron.

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PS. His grey matter is not the only thing I love about him!