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The Sock Hop Kiss and Other Lessons

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I got dumped for my first time at the Grade 6 sock hop.

I paid the 10¢ admission for both Louise C and I, we danced to The Box Tops The Letter and the Bee Gees I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You. She was blond and pretty in a Grade 6 kind of way. It was heavenly

Then she ditched me (was it my purple paisley shirt?) before it was time for me to walk her home. Not a good date. Crap!

The second time was at the Grade 9 dance. She was a dark brunette and had some sexy dimples. We slow-danced to Black Magic Woman and Stairway to Heaven. We kissed for the first time at the exit door to the gym. It was heavenly.

Two hours later she was kissing my (soon-to-be-ex!) best friend Kevin in his basement rec room. Another bad date. More crap!

The third time was in a car riding back from the beach with my “girlfriend” and some high school work friends. She was moving on to a new guy (the driver of the car), but hadn’t quite told me yet. Triple Crap!

To be fair, the love ledger hasn’t always been one-sided, all credits and no debits. I’ve dumped others and seen the pain in their sad eyes and broken hearts. I think that is the crappiest.

Ultimately, I asked myself… What have I learned from the hurt, both mine and the others?

Today, I give you…

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8 Lessons I Learned at the Sock Hop and Beyond:

  1. My heart is fragile – love and desire – the chemistry and the butterflies – are gut-level emotions that don’t respond to logic. A love connection with someone else is a freak phenomenon that defies any sense of reality, a sci-fi animation where oxygen is no longer necessary to sustain life if someone you desire fiercely loves you back.
  2. My heart is strong – after a hurtful loss, and another, and another, we develop a resilience, the elasticity of experience that assures us that no matter the depth of anguish (whether it’s loss of love, or the loss of a loved one), the overwhelming sensation of pain will dull little-by-little. Pain lives on a bell curve that rises and falls. Time is the one friend that will never desert us.
  3. My life has many facets – love, desire, connection are major parts of our lives, but they are not the only areas that bring deep, genuine meaning. There are so many aspects to a full and rounded life that don’t require a dance partner e.g. pets, learning, exercising, music, books, working, volunteering, hobbies. Diversification on a personal level adds strength to our individuality.
  4. Lips are the gateway drug to romantic love – there’s good reason why some hookers won’t kiss a John (I’m told!)… a kiss is a powerful weapon, the key that unlocks the heart more than 1,000 words or “forever” diamonds ever will. That Grade 9 kiss I mentioned took me to the top of the mountain and then pushed me off the cliff.
  5. There are different dances in life – not all dance revolves around romance or courtship. Dance can be sexy and erotic. Dance can be friendly and cordial. Dance can be joyous and freeing. Dance can be technical and challenging. Dancing with your children can be the best dance you’ll ever have.
  6. Dance connects us to music – dance isn’t only a way to connect with another person … just close your eyes and feel the music infiltrate and massage deeply. Dance is a physical manifestation of what we hear and feel.
  7. Joy makes everything worthwhile – Joy is a stronger muscle than pain. Joy brings us back from the precipice when the night is dark and bleak. Joy is ultimately – thankfully – stronger than fear, anger, and grief. Joy should be a key piece of the movement of dance, a pleasure-drenched sway.
  8. A really great dance partner doesn’t laugh at my dance moves – Dance can teach us humility and grace… of course I feel like a dork when I dance. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it though. The average child laughs 300 times a day… the average adult…5 times a day. My dance moves shouldn’t be one of your 5 times. Yup, acceptance of our Elaine Benes dance stylings are the litmus test for when we know we’ve found THE one!

Alright, you may have figured out that I didn’t uncover these thoughts all in one go after the Grade 6 sock hop. The visions and impressions sift and settle over months and years and decades.

That afternoon sock hop in the Glen Brae middle school gym in 1968 was my first tuition payment, the first of many learning and growth experiences in my long life of learning and understanding.

Dance can unveil truths about us we never knew. I’ll stretch the metaphor of “dance” here a bit by recounting a clip from a favourite movie of mine.

In When Harry Met Sally, Jess (Bruno Kirby) and Marie (Carrie Fisher), at their wedding dance, thank friends Harry and Sally publicly for being so utterly unappealing as dates and partners, and as an unintended result, bringing the bride and groom together.

To Harry and Sally. If Marie or I had found either of them remotely attractive we would not be here today.”

A simple dance, a touch of hands, the shuffle of feet, is sometimes all it takes to define a worthwhile connection, or prove a sour attachment.

Dances are like diversifying your stock portfolio… you observe and connect with different partners (stocks)… some are wonderful but burn out too quickly, some totally suck from the first cha-cha, and finally, some burn with just the right intensity to sustain a lasting flame of prosperity.

Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d of had to miss the dance
Yes my life is better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d of had to miss the dance (Garth Brooks)

School days. It’s funny looking back and thinking about the apparent innocence of a Grade 6 Sock Hop where the greater lessons learned that day didn’t occur inside Miss Taylor’s classroom.

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School Bells Sing … Are You Listening?

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Remember when the music
Came from wooden boxes strung with silver wire
And as we sang the words, it would set our minds on fire,
For we believed in things, and so we’d sing.”

Harry Chapin

school days

DAMN! I’m wondering if this is the fire and brimstone of Old Testament lore shitting down on the Okanagan Valley (and maybe your locale too) with floods, fires, and the worst global pestilence of all – good ole boy Donny-John Trump!

The only ones truly thriving in this plague are the chosen ones – comedians…

Summer 2017 – again – has melted away like a deliciously sweet Pralines and Cream ice cream cone licked madly on the Penticton beachfront, the escaped drips available on the front of your T-shirt to sample later.

The diamond glitter of sunshine on the balmy lake water, tropical scents of sunscreen, electric bursts of music and kids’ laughter are, alas, diminishing.

The smoke from surrounding forest fires that’s languished over the Naramata hillside for most of the past month is nowhere to be seen today. Yesterday’s wheezy cough is today’s soothing clear inhale of September joy.

It’s the perfect Okanagan Valley summer day. Or has autumn already descended?.

I scan down the line of parked cars along the sandy beach strip and already there are fewer Alberta, Saskatchewan, Washington and Oregon plates… the British Columbia home-grown ones suddenly predominate, something not seen since mid-June when floods, not forest fires were the threat du jour.

And I’m sitting here on this first, beautiful day of September reminiscing about the many many September 1st’s and new school years that rotated past as my kids were growing from toddlers to school-age to tweens and adolescents and then, like reaching the end of the carnival Fun House – half exhilarated, half terrified – stopped.

Stopped dead like a healthy heart in mid-beat. The music went quiet.

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School day 1, 1990 – I vividly remember standing outside the portable of my 5 year-old daughter’s kindergarten class, gathering her up in my bursting-proud Daddy arms, she in her little white and pink polka-dotted dress, and kissing her so long.

She wanted my hug but she wanted even more to begin this new escapade. “Dad… Dad! Mr. Lambert’s ready for us!“.

One last little squeeze and I released her like a dove winging away, free in the breeze.

I felt a squeezing in my throat, wetness welling in my eyes as she skipped away.

She was so excited to be a “big kid” and entering the classroom with the Oshkosh group of little moppets, most of whom I would watch proudly stroll to the front of the stage in tux’s and ballgowns in 13 years to pick up their graduation diplomas.

She was so little, so pleased, so ready to begin this new adventure.

I don’t remember my parents seeing me off to school on my first day, so this is a treasured memory for me that resists the chalkboard eraser that has wiped away so many other precious moments.

……………..

Remember when the music
Was the best of what we dreamed of for our children’s time
And as we sang we worked, for time was just a line,
It was a gift we saved, a gift the future gave.

……………..

Suddenly, the kids were grown. The long chapter ended.

All of the Back-to-School crescendos and decrescendos, all the adolescent fire, rain and sun whipped and flung in a thousand directions over time, dissipated.

Now it was time to load up the van or the car or the plane (vehicles morphed over time, like my grey’ing hair colour, to accommodate the friends and the sports or dance activities of the time) and fly off to deposit kids and their boxes and computers in university or college dorm rooms.

I wore my Dad jeans up and down dorm stairs and hallways, hauling boxes, taking in the young adult excitement and smell of new freedom hanging loosely in the air. The aura of sexual tension was the wallpaper that lined the hallways filled with crop tops and short shorts and muscle shirts.

And just like elementary and high school times, the post-secondary years blew past.

Scary fast.

Formula One racer fast.

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Yes, my mind wanders through time and space.

There’s a colossal pod of starlings making a huge sound like a rambunctious swarm of cicadas outside my window this morning.

The grand cedar tree across the street is bathed in early sunlight and coated in the grey-black birds as if they’re auditioning for a new remake of some classic Hitchcock film.

The warmth of summer lingers.

But soon, the BC smoke and flooding will be a mirage in the rear view mirror.

Soon, new school clothes will wear out.

Soon, sweet flirtations will erupt in the playground.

Soon, notebooks will fill with pictures and poems and sums and quotients.

There’s a shift, a mental refresh, a reshaping  that occurs when the calendar strikes September… and the universe’s cycle continues its relentless spin.

To every thing there is a season.

……………..

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

autumn okanagan

An Okanagan Christmas Story

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Summerland lights

It was an unusual year in that there was snow on the ground.

Not just a skiff of the white, but enough fluffy ivory to strap on the cross-country skis and glide quietly between the rows of trees in the apple orchard. Just a muffled swoosh swoosh swoosh and the occasional chirp of a tiny pine siskin perched in the tall evergreens at the edge of the field.

The sky was a dull-grey and the unseasonally chill air froze my eyelashes with a frosty glaze. No more than 15 minutes, I figured. A good hard ski to get the blood flow running and then back into the warmth in front of the woodstove, ablaze with the fragrant chunks of fir I’d cut last spring.

The morning’s light had surfaced only an hour earlier as the moments grew close to the winter solstice.

I got dressed in my day clothes after the combination of muscle heat and fire warmth had penetrated sufficiently. Then popping on my Sorel boots at the back door, I headed out into the cold once again.

My retirement “job” this morning was to spend a few hours at One-to-One reading with some grade schoolers at Trout Creek Elementary – kids who were struggling with their reading ability and could benefit from some one-on-one coaching.

I slipped through the fence gate into the school’s playground. It was fun to see and encounter the little tykes as they chatted excitedly about their families and friends as if we were old buddies. The experience was all the more heartwarming because in the back halls of my mind were the memories of the days I spent here on the same playground and classrooms in my childhood.

A snowy day like this in the Okanagan Valley was confirmation that Christmas day and Santa’s arrival would come about with certainty.

The morning passed. I saw four youngsters in half hour segments.

We sat next to each other in short chairs at a small shiny amber veneer-top table in the small library across from the computer room next to the school’s front entry door.

First, little Tyler, a 7 year-old who wanted to be a drummer-musician like his uncle Teddy and knew with robust confidence the life histories of each of the Beatles, as well as their song catalogue. When he was able to refrain from wiggling, his reading skills were not too bad – clearly he could read the words – although when asked a question about the story, understanding the words read was a totally different matter.

Next up to practice her reading was 9 year-old Melissa, a dark-haired princess with baby-blue-painted fingernails  – she might have been confused for a little Ariana Grande in a dimmed room. Melissa was very socially aware and would eye each student entering the library as if she were a talent scout seeking America’s Next Great Model. “Did you see the belt on that Grade 5 girl’s skirt, it’s the wrong colour. I’d choose something red for her.

Reading wasn’t a problem for little adult Melissa, she could likely pick up and understand words beyond my comprehension if she was able to focus on the page rather than on the social scene passing by.

Next. Joseph. Not Joe. Joseph. Taking his biblical name to heart, this Grade 1 youngster was timid but made it clear that the books he wanted to read were stories from the Bible. Public schools in this province don’t carry a selection of biblical material, so I convinced him that story books filled with characters of strong moral values, like Mortimer Moose, could be seen through a context of the Bible. He bought into this and we were on our way. Amen.

Finally, a skinny log of a kid with tousled blond hair and red red cheeks post snowy-recess, stood, looking in through the library door. “Are you Peter?“, I asked.

He nodded shyly and moved forward a step and stopped. “Come in and have a chair, Peter. I’m Mr. Green. You’re my last reading buddy before Christmas break.”

Peter nudged forward and plunked himself on the seat, arms flat at his sides. He looked down at the table and said nothing. No smile. No movement.

Never having read with Peter before, I glanced silently through the brief notes left in a manila folder given to me by his teacher Mrs. Jermyn.

Hmmmm. “Peter Briskman. 8 years-old. Grade 3. Moved to Summerland one year ago with his father, Jacob Briskman. Mother Carla, died from cancer 2 years ago in Calgary. Quiet boy – advanced for age in most academic areas.” Such a sad story, I thought to myself.

Thinking I’d break the ice first before we settled into reading, I asked, “I like snow days like today. Is one of the snowmen I saw in the playground yours?

Keeping his face pointed downwards, he spoke reluctantly in a quiet voice.

I used to build snowmen when I was little and lived in Calgary. But not anymore. Now I make Mountain Goats.

– Really? Mountain goats? That’s kind of unusual. Why mountain goats and not snowmen? Is there a Disney movie about mountain goats that I missed?

No. Mountain goats live on steep hillsides where it’s dangerous and they eat the little bits of grass that grow between the stones. It’s very hard for them to live, but they find a way, even if it’s -50 outside. And, even if they’re injured they protect their babies against cougars and eagles. Have you seen one before?

I had seen the white shaggy goats many times, clambering along the rocky screed hillsides overlooking Okanagan Lake north of Summerland. Often, I would see groups of 3, sometimes 5 or 6 way up high in the distance of the steep rises above the highway. But I didn’t want to stop Peter from talking since we were just establishing some rapport so I said, “No, never.

– I can show you one I made on the back field today. I started it before the bell rang at the beginning of classes and then finished it at recess. Would you like to see it? We don’t have to go outside, I can show it to you through the window.

– Sure.

Peter ran ahead, leading me past a few scattered little tables to the window in the corner of the library.

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He stopped and pointed towards the area in front of the tetherball court in the centre of the playground. There was a lot of white out there; it took a moment for my eyes to adjust and take note of the large snow animal in the yard. It was an amazing likeness of the real thing. Even the sharp tapered white horns appeared genuine.

How had one little boy created such a sculpture? Had his Dad helped him build it before school began for the day? It was striking that it stood almost as big as the real animal; then, something unusual caught my eye.

– You’ve done an incredible job there Peter, but did you see that one of the goat’s legs is missing? Do you think maybe the snow wasn’t packed tightly and it crumbled?

The mountain goat had only 3 legs, a gap existed where the front right leg should be.

– Nope, that looks just like the one I see at home. I see it when I wake up and look out my bedroom window in the morning. It stands there and nudges its nose on my window. It gets the glass all steamy and gooey. Then it wont leave until I go and make it a cup of green tea and set it on the ledge outside the window. After it licks the tea all up, it turns and runs off into the trees behind our house.

I was about to respond when a man’s voice called out from behind.

– Peter? I’m sorry to interrupt, I’m Peter’s Dad, Jacob… I need to steal Peter away from you. I told Mrs. Jermyn I’d be here at a quarter to eleven to take him for his therapy session. I’m sorry if my timing is bad.

Peter turned and ran up to his father, “Hey Dad. Just gotta grab my backpack and coat and I’ll be set. See you in the new year Mr. Green.” 

I reached forward to shake Peter’s father’s hand.

Hi Mr. Briskman, I’m Mr. Green. Peter and I were going to do a reading one-to-one session but we never actually got started. It’s funny, but we got caught up talking about the snow creation he made outside. He’s an amazing little artist, such incredible talent for a youngster.

– Thank you. Yeah, Peter seems to have acquired some artistic skills from his mother, not me. I can’t draw a stick man that’s recognizable. But his mother, she could draw or make anything. She would sit around for hours – actually, she died a couple of years ago – but before she became sick, she’d be in her back art room drinking green tea, making charcoal sketches and working with clay, making sculptures of animals. Her animals looked so true-to-life that when people visited and saw her deer and mountain goat sculptures in the yard, they thought the beasts were real. We laughed so many times when visitors came to our door and mentioned the creatures standing in our yard. I guess Peter picked up her creative gene.

Mr. Briskman turned and began moving toward the library door. It was a moment of confusion for me listening to his words and the similarities with Peter’s story. I mulled the ideas about in my mind, trying to discern what was real and what was imagined; before he left the room, I asked,

 – I’m so sorry about your wife, Mr. Briskman. It must be very difficult for you and Peter coping with her loss. What was the cause of your wife’s death?

He paused momentarily at the door, and with a haunted look of longing for days gone by and a love that had left far too early, he replied,

She had an aggressive osteosarcoma in her right leg.

His eyes grew dewy and I could see a slight quiver at the corner of his mouth. He hesitated a few seconds before continuing.

– They eventually amputated her leg when the chemo couldn’t stop the tumour from growing. It was just too late to save her.

Shaking his head, he snapped back to the moment, regaining his composure.

– I’ve got to run now. Peter needs to get to his counselling appointment. He’s had a really hard time finding ways to deal with his Mom’s death. 

He paused.

– Mr. Green? Thanks for helping Peter … and … Have a Merry Christmas.

We shook hands once more; Mr. Briskman disappeared and I too paused in thought.

Then as I began to gather my things to leave, I turned to look out the window once more at the noble snow sculpture standing proud in the schoolyard and wondered if young Peter had somehow, already, in his own way, begun to work through the loss of a mother’s love and nurturing.

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