MY SECRET MOTHER-From Worzel

Godfrey and I were indignant with one another. Concerned with his wheezing, I had dragged him to a medical clinic. He sat, muttering in Welsh on an ugly, orange plastic chair, mine was itchy ass wicker. A lethargic goldfish stared at me from a lonely bowl. There were sticky magazines, and a grubby “Golden Book Of Bible Stories”. Two nurses behind glass discussed evening plans- “I’m seeing Pierre again tonight”…ooh, he’s big!’…

Across from Godfrey a chap sat bleeding, the result of cleaning a grill with a meat cleaver. An elderly lady asked us if we knew the lord. Godfrey’s reply in Welsh seemed to satisfy her. Finally his name was called, he stomped off, complimenting Pierre’s date on her smock. I waited, and waited, until coolly informed my vagabond had bolted out the toilet window. I found him two blocks away, feeding his face with doughnuts, pretending to admire a hedge.   

Over the years Godfrey spent with us, we delighted in observing the characters riding the #50 city bus. One we oft saw was a prim woman our age, always absorbed in the same book- “My Secret Mother”. The cover art featured a blond woman in pearls, a buck-toothed child eating bread and jam, a man is leaving out the saggy screen door, carrying plumbers tools. It was quiet on the bus this day, “I smell beets”, Godfrey griped, “Shut-up, I replied.

As he would talk to anyone, talk of anything but beets, to my dismay, he introduced himself to the book reader, and asked if he could borrow “My Secret Mother” when she was done. She clapped it shut, stuffed it in her bag, and gravely informed Godfrey that, “Such a good book, I never want it to end!’…

All many years ago, today I rode the bus out to Devonian Park where still roams a multi generational flock of feral chickens I promised Godfrey I would feed on Tuesdays. Only the people on #50 have changed- sleepy Kevin has moved on, the clanking sweats of tired builders, the loud group of young women claiming to be “The Supremes”. And the book reader, who inspired me to write of my own “Secret Mother”… 

I had a secret mother, she was unafraid of thunderstorms or bees or cattle, or to join me in battle, an old blue blanket rumpled as the sage prairie, or oft a wild, roily sea.  No dolls, just tin ships and plastic horses once the school bus ate my siblings, she played all morning with me.

My secret mother, sent me outside in all weather, to happy dig for treasure with spoons, pennies hidden neath the pansies. Let me eat raw pie dough, and burnt ketchup on thick toast, chicken soup from a tin, and she never made me sit politely when her friend Mrs Vowel  dropped in.

I later learned from my sister, and Inkerman our older brother, we all had that year before starting school, without you or Cudberth, alone with our secret mother. “Lacking a working car she drove us once by tractor to the shops, down main street roared the rusty Massey- Ferguson, us waving and smiling to everyone.”

Afternoons we watched “The Edge of Night”, and “Galloping Gourmet”…came the day, end of summer, I was wedged into a cousin’s dress and shoes, our Aunt June took all of us to school. Teacher loomed, pointer in hand, told the class- “Worzel’s mother, Three Mile Lil, has left by train for the coast”. I had a self embarassing lunch that day, sister Fillipendula packed burnt ketchup on thick toast.

Most days I was sat in the old, cold cloak room, in company of others who did not listen or had wet themselves. I learned to hide a book to read, behind spare chalk on the high shelves. Hid it in my arithmetic work book cover, told any one who asked that indeed, I had a secret mother.

Three Mile Lil sent one birthday card when I turned eight, said she missed burnt ketchup on toast, and all the tinned soup that we ate. Inkerman, Fillipendula and Cudberth got the same card for years always on the wrong date.

I recall with odd fondness though, my wayward mother, who oft drank along with that “Galloping Gourmet”. And called on me to stash empty wine bottles, to shoo pixies away down the drain. All that hit a wobble, no more ketchup on toast, when stepmother Mrs Gibberflat soon came…

Yes so long ago, here I sit a silly old woman feeding chickens…and recall an early work of Godfrey-” Apricot Chicken”.

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THE ABSOLUTE AMOUNT OF JOY- From Worzel

I will share one of those simple city moments…homeward bound on a Friday afternoon, spat bug like from the humid maw of the #50 bus, and hitching up my drawers on the curb- observed two, seemingly “challenged” young men arguing over a rubbish bin. They were pointing into the trash, where one had dropped his bus pass, and working out what day tomorrow was,   “Verne, tomorrow’s Saturday, then Sunday, then tomorrow’s Monday and you need your bus pass…there  was joy in the working it out- as the two friends retrieved the grimy pass and hurried off- as I did, thinking of joy on my trudge home.  

My long suffering husband, Garnet reckoned talking to Godfrey about joy was “Akin to being handed an empty ice cream cone,” and happily munching on what he was given”. Godfrey never feigned joy, he truly disliked beets, had his share of blue/gray times, he grieved for an angry world, yet could create three scoops from an empty cone, and munched on life’s joys.  

I recall the last winter Godfrey spent with us- deep in my turquoise chair, with his journals, wrapped in a quilt against the chill. We had cinnamon scones in the oven, coast gobular snow falling wetly, darkening the days by 3;00. Peaceful, it was, knowing all I loved would always be with me in this small flat. Here are some of his writings on childhood joy. From Godfrey..

When my parents were not bickering, not shouting at each other, they would dance. Down the streets, pushing me in the pram  my sister Alice ran after, I recall their laughter, dad dancing Ma down the cobbles of Batley, down the foreshore to the sea.

We had countless aunts, all buxom in build, they wed men named Hugh, one after the other.  In the dim, smoky halls, pickled beets on trays of silver, shrill singing and tatty frock of my grandmother, an odd little boy, who disliked beets, learning the absolute amount of joy- so to I danced.

Cross the cow crowded paddock, I leaped chasing swallows, pirouetted  over dragons with the beets I was slaying, danced past my Uncle Lou, back of the pub when his band was playing.

With older sister Alice, at a slow, solemn funeral knee high in a sea of black. We got into the tea-cakes, (Sponge with cream fill)  I was quite ill, but Alice sicker, over the robes and shoes of the Vicar. There was yelling and calling on “Vim” for the stain, Alice grabbed up beets, and chased me round the graveyard again and again. I danced out of her reach, beyond range of the beets, laughing as I hid in the coal hod’s dark corners, was dragged out still laughing by the undertaker, and a large mob of disgruntled mourners.

Learning the absolute amount of joy….Racing down the sand on a sturdy pony, bonfire on a summer birthday, quiet riverbank to read by winding through our valley, bakeshop in the tiny village where everybody knew me. Doing, on occasion what I was told- “Godfrey shut up, go play in the road” ordered Alice- brought home coated in tar, first ever ride in a police car.

That icy swig of fizzy drink that Worzel grew up calling “pop”. Oh the joy of belches, long car journeys, racing off to wee when Ma chose to stop. I survived all, and grew bigger and danced kilt a twirl, yet too awkward ever dare speak with a girl.

The absolute amount of joy- that one friend who ate beets for you, crossed a pool of manure when you were in need of rescue. carried knapsack nimbly to  the Tor of high stone, stride for stride, twas Beatrice laughed at our squashed lunch packet, taught me to milk and goat and how to ride.

Windblown hair to your shoulders, sun warmed boulders, smell of wet, clean flannel, from the hike up, icy water in my hands cup, view over Sonsie meadow land, joy in new book open in my hand. And though Beatrice, you loathed it- would dance at the receptions of those oft married aunts.  There is absolute joy in you- solid as your puce cottage, dear as the memory of evensong on the pathway through the tall grass to your loo.

There is joy in the compiling of Godfrey’s story, even after five years. Beatrice, home in Wales still refuses to consider a “Computery thing” . Her letters come on valley time, today in her 1939 Royal Visit biscuit tin with what may be Neenish Tarts, now a sweet buttery wodge, I will post the tin back filled with Nanaimo Bars, which Beatrice’s tenants  Benny and Adelaide adore, and Alice claims expertise at concocting. Alice teases the pastry loving old pair by putting walnuts in every thing she chooses to share, knowing walnuts give both of them hives.

Beatrice writes- I am rarely invited into the yellow painted sleep out Benny and Adelaide occupy here on the farm. Only large enough for their bed of books, plaid steamer trunk, berry pails for chairs, and plank table, all cooking is done over a fire in the yard. On the wall hang framed photos of The Queen,( Adelaide’s former employer,) a view of the Yarra River dated 1956, and one of spirited women, pinny clad, racing with fry pans down the cold, February streets of Olney. Pancake Racing with joy, in 4th place, I recognize the youthful, though even then bow-legged Adelaide. Pancakes- Benny and Adelaide agreed- the absolute amount of joy.

LITTLE OTTER IN THE BAY-Bye Worzel

Godfrey…yes, he was an odd young man who disliked beets, even in middle age he disliked beets and was odd, but he could make friends in an empty room, or old lurching bus…never had my feet been so cold, never had I so longed for home.A broken water main had extended our twenty minute bus ride to a two hour nasty. I stood wedged near the door, prodded by a bundle of hockey sticks, blasted by arctic wind when some lucky soul was disgorged, and far too close to Mr Goldmoss Stonecrop, a very large man in a very wet fur coat, his name indelible in my mind as he bellowed it regularly to the poor driver, about the state of the bus, and fact he was bringing the wine.

I lost Godfrey in the morass, a bag of oranges had been dropped, and gentleman that he was, took up the task of rounding them up. The aroma of citrus penetrated the B.O. fug of cold #50 bus. Godfrey was under the dubious rear seats, rolling oranges out, some that may have been down there a long time. Finally, we were popped out at our stop. Godfrey had a cinnamon bun for me,(no nuts, raisins, or icing), a sun smooth stick from a beach in Panama, two holy cards, and tickets to a cat show.

“There was a lot of wet eck”, he reported, I nearly lost my kilt snagged on a rusty bolt, and feel somewhat decorticated”. “Let us go home Worzel, he took my arm, cake and pot of tea are long awaited”.

What I learned of living simply I learned long ago from Godfrey, though the wisdoms came slowly…as did this morning’s ferry, over bitter harbor water, and sky an oatmeal foam gray. All I need is good hot coffee, pen in hand, winter storms, Blue Heron, and my little Otter in the bay.

Oh, that I may return a wild creature, blade of grass, or the rollicking sea otter, she has found a tarped rowboat to use as a slide, down the snowy canvas otter plays over the side. Born to cold water, my little otter.

I learned stillness indeed not from otter, but from Heron, feathers blue, tall and stately he stands, perched on neighbors balcony, middle of the city. I’ve a new ache in my knee that was not there yesterday, hot coffee, pen in hand, winter storm, blue heron, and my little otter in the bay.

Errands over quickly, snow in harsh driven pellets, reminder of walking arm in arm with Godfrey. “He said, “one at a time, each step we take,brings us closer to warm home, turquoise chair and cake”.

There is a higher wisdom in the patient, wading heron, we can learn to take it slow by winters storm, Reckon it’s what Godfrey, if he was here looking out the window would say. It is turning of the year, I have pen in hand, good hot coffee, blue heron, and my little otter in the bay.

TELLING MARGARET STORIES- From Worzel

He disliked beets, did my friend, the vagabond Godfrey,I knew him 28 years, and the times he stayed in the city with us, remain with me daily in poem and memory, vivid to, the adventures we shared on the old #50 bus….

From windy Wharf Street to the wild lands of Sooke, and beyond, there was swearing and spewking, drinking and fighting, screaming children depending in number what stop you got on. Two elderly ladies road regularly, always sat near to me, and across from ever curious Godfrey.

” Margaret” was the main subject discussed on the bus, by these two old friends, in gossip legend and story.  We had lost a frozen turkey on the #50 bus, were aboard the wet morning when the door fell off, witnessed a woman throw her husband out the window, Margaret’s friends always caught the bus at the casino.

But Margaret herself never did…We learned she had an interest in old board games and Bison, and Margaret loved, loved beets with a passion, her home bore the tell tale stains if you looked, and Margaret put beets in most dishes she cooked. The beets horrified Godfrey, I stayed wedged at his side, watching the water logged blackberry bushes below 8 mile bridge, twas upper low tide, a warm morning ride…

When Margaret was a hairdresser, so it was said, a valued customer’s name she misread, “May I please speak to Jesus”?, it is Margaret calling, on the phone she bellowed cross the noisy salon. an abrupt guffaw sent poor Esters’s teeth flying, legend grew with the telling, those in for rinse and set, told of Margaret.

Proud of her talents in art, Margaret painted an Edwardian Lady, in verdant green meadow she poses on a boulder, but has only one leg. A handsome young stable lad climbs the hillside towards her, missing leg slung across his brawny shoulder. I prodded Godfrey, it had to be, a prank at the heart of Margaret’s story…

He would talk to anyone on the #50 bus,talk of all but beets, asking where Margaret was, never occurred to us. There  was vomiting, sobbing and language frequently coarse, once we sat behind a couple close to ninety, discussing divorcing, we met vagabonds  heading for western trails, we endured the smells, and at times really terrible singing.

A rat ran the length of the bus once, someones escaped pet, and it always got noisy when the two elder ladies, reached the climactic end to a story of Margaret. They smiled sideways at Godfrey, “Feh”, he would mutter at me, they get me every time, impish old ladies out a pranking deliberately…

Call it the passing of the years, as Godfrey was adamant that time waited for the bold, or the pains and vagaries that sneak in as we grow old, but every jolt and reek, every damp seat, every long wait at the stop, where in spring from above caterpillars drop, every bus trip he is still beside me. Recently, a tourist asked the name of the mountains we could see across the strait. Three young people riding did not know. Made me feel sad, for Godfrey did, and would have happily discussed the snowy peaks, would talk of any thing but beets…

PATHWAY OF THE DRAGON HAT

Worzel here, whilst felled by flu, I received an odd message from a “Lonewolf”, old friend of Godfrey’s, that the sharp eyed city roamer had, quite possibly, located Godfrey’s long lost, knitted dragon hat. Could it be? Alice reportedly wore it at his wake, but it was probably her own, he lost his wooly hat long ago. I spent some time, dreaming out the window, wondering what may have become that hat… 

     It was I, embroidered on it, inside the brim on an itchy strip of burlap- Godfrey’s Wooly Hat- if found, please set it back on it’s journey world round.   Only interested in the practical was Godfrey, if we were out about the city, he would often “feh” and “snet” when I paused to look at shoes, he wore a red bandanna in summer sun, wooly hat rest of the year, his knitted dragon one.

I call this type of impish, mild winter day,”Godfrey Weather”. He would escape, off river ratting,”  find a stream, and up it I rat, far as I can wade or hike, but somewhere today, have lost my dragon hat,”he lamented.

“Ma knitted it for me before I left home, thought the bell she sewed on the tail gave it laughter, like a clot, I never properly thanked her”. “I had it when I left, via the burnt fire escape, ladder hanging down, wore it on the #50 bus out of town, dabbed my chin with the tail as I breakfasted on ice-cream, did not lose my hat to the cold upstream”.

“I used my hat for a pillow, as always midday nap, it is plaid, with one purple, and one green ear flap”. As he set out to trace his lost hat’s path,  I imagined it’s journey as I soaked in a hot bath….

“On the Chilliwack River, that wide bend near the highway, strange place indeed to hook a wadded up old tea cozy, he never thought it was a hat, did not look inside the brim, he was a fly fisherman. A simple fisher, he believed, as Godfrey did, time spent fishing waited for him. As it does, but not forever, and when all was over, we found the dragon hat still on his tea-pot now gone cold, it was biffed into a box, sent off where used goods are bought and sold.

At the Charity Shop,” Cranky Pat”, sorted bags of “Tat”, turning out trouser pockets, shaking purses, seeking money. She found the wooly hat, read “Please set me back on my journey”. Pat knew good knitting, learned it at her own ma’s knee, knew whimsy and character, end of day she took the dragon hat home with her.

Pat put a new string neath the wool dragon’s chin, sewed a new bell good and tight, she took donuts, warm clothes and the hat, to the city park where oft hobos spent the night. The box was welcomed, and ransacked thoroughly, the wooly hat was left, hanging in a tree. Waiting next stage of it’s journey…was spring of the year, the hat rinsed by snow and sun, before it moved on with anyone.

She was a street musician, used the hat to catch coins and notes on the corner where she sat. Happy to play, until the cops took her away, dragon hat left behind for the next kind soul to find. Who just so happened, not long after to be, little Debbie- Marie, five years old. “Do not pick up rubbish on the street”, mother would scold.

The child scooped up the hat, with the long tail of plaid, just like the scary movie she watched with her dad. Debbie-Marie, sensitive and aware, for one so young, figured the old hat may hold a story to share. She hid it when they got home, on the head of her stuffed teddy-bear. And there it stayed, until Debbie-Marie was old enough to understand, the words embroidered still on the old hat’s headband. She to, one day, would set her sights on the poet’s road, pen in hand, and strong of will, with her hat’s tail wrapped about, long enough to keep out any chill.

Yes, I like to imagine, that the wooly dragon hat is out there still….

MISS EMILY’S STATUE- And other Wharf Street Stories- from Godfrey

I will bow to poetic license for Godfrey, for he knew I would wet myself seeing a cougar on our street..the shy and majestic cats  how ever, oft find them selves cornered in the neighborhoods about….

Cougar Nearby!!   Out on the sidewalk- gun a wary, see nervous the kneeling cop. Where the guts of what once was an urban deer lie, entrails in the posh neighborhood, lock up the poodle dogs- Cougar nearby!

Cool of morning or early eve, they move so quickly, did you see ?, along the fence rail?,  just a tan blur, very long, thick tail. Skinny cat, young and bewildered, wanders forest of narrow streets, rests in public park after he eats, hunkered down, safe in the brush from hunter and hound.    In the poshest neighborhood hear the cry! Lock up the Chihuahua, cougar nearby!

  Roll On Wharf Street- Deft wee paws lift the rubbish bin lid, over the top. Masked rascal, city raccoon at the bus stop. Drags the garbage bag along Wharf Street, Crows, Seagulls, Rodents and more Coons, everybody eat!. I walk up-town lest the bin man see. (Short Handed Dupree, he is cranky) the carnage spread about, and shout at me.

And at the same bus stop, met up with old “Dot”, famous long ago for her trucker’s cafe’. She passed it to her daughter, the wisdom her old Ma, and Ma’s Ma had taught her.When  the four lane highway came,  it swept the old truck stop trailer  away…there’s a fancy new place, but they talk of Dot’s still-“Was best burger, pie, chips and gravy in Parksville”. I worry for Dot, with her cart, watching snow geese and ducks heading south from impending cold, tough as she is, this street is no place for a fine, fry cook to grow old.

Mrs Williams- We call her,” Mrs Williams”, oft seen riding the #50 bus. She has been reading the same book for years, never looks up from it, no matter how crowded, knows her stop by heart, gets off same one as us. The book is covered by neat, brown paper, tucked tween her purse, and business suit lap, she reads the book over and over, and next week on the bus ride, reads it again. Worzel reckons-” Mrs Williams” is a naughty librarian…I would talk to anyone, talk of any thing but beets…perhaps one day if I can, will discuss books with Wharf Streets Naughty Librarian…

Coho Ferry- Ruggedy ship of grey and red, always on time, she will not wait, rumbles off in summer, several trips a day, over the water to Washington State. I had never ridden on The Black Ball Ferry, not ridden it yet- but recall when she took out the float plane dock, as close to disaster as Coho could get. We were watching “Coronation Street”, Worzel and I, we heard a crunching sound, a warning cry. I thought a roller skater, had fallen on his head, looked out the window, in case the chap was dead.

Purple prose, from the ferry deck arose, words lacking couth, like “Fez” “Shice”, and “Holy Fock Tooth”. Down below our window high, the wayward Coho drifted by. Off out the harbor, we watched her go, foul language and dock planks in ships wake churned-  back to our T.V. show we turned, Slibber Sauce, not on our evening dare  intrude, rough sailing for The Coho, dramatic interlude.

Miss Emily’s Statue- Monkey, Woo, on your shoulder, Griffon Dog at oddly shod brass feet..A statue of you is insensitively placed, near a posh hotel, foot of Wharf Street. There was darkness, humor, sorrow, genius, in your eccentricity. Instead of facing ivy covered walls, I wish your statue was not misspelled, and had been placed facing forest and sea. We fossicked about, in the tall grass, the wild part, of the old cemetery….and in the wind, sat back neath the summer skies you painted, in the wind we lay back, to hear your poetry.