a small jug of sweet peas for their 67th anniversary

sweet peas

It would have been the 67th anniversary of my parents today. They were married in Halifax not long after they met. Four children, many houses (my father was in the navy), many tea-chests opened in new places to discover that treasured items had been broken. Hockey games, Little League practice, hospital visits for tonsils, fire-cracker burns, a fractured pelvis from a horse accident (me), camping trips to places far and near, fishing rods propped against a wood pile. Readers of my forthcoming book will learn far more about our relationship than might be comfortable—like so many families, ours was complicated. But there are moments when you’ll see how much I loved them. Love them still. And am grateful for them meeting (it was a blind date), marrying, raising their children to care about the world.

When we returned that day from CFB Esquimalt with the stranger who was our father to our house on Eberts Street, my parents went into their bedroom and we were asked to leave them alone. I imagined my mother twirling for my father in her new suit and then the two of them hugging on the bed. Her Harris Tweed coat was hanging in the front closet, and I went in, closed the door from the inside, and put my arms into its satin-lined sleeves where I could smell my mother’s Avon underarm deodorant mingling with the wool. I was inside her coat, inside the embrace she was now sharing with my father. I was my mother, hidden from her children, the collar of the tweed coat rough against my neck.

(from “Tokens”, in Euclid’s Orchard)

mum and dad wedding day

for my mum, Shirley MacDonald Kishkan, 1926-2010


From “Tokens”, an essay included in Euclid’s Orchard, forthcoming from Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017.

What do I do with a bottle of fifty-year-old perfume? I am 57 myself. It’s not something I’d wear. I discovered Chanel 19 in 1972 and never have found any reason to change. I don’t even know if this bottle is still viable. Does perfume turn to vinegar, as an opened bottle wine will if not used within a reasonable time? When I sniff the bottle cap, I say that I smell my mother but how can that be? She wore perfume so seldom — ¼ of a bottle over 48 years. Maybe she knew she would never have another bottle of French perfume, maybe she wanted to ration it to keep the memory of my father’s return fresh. What I am smelling is the way I would like to remember her, in a rustling cocktail dress one or two evenings only, her feet wiggling into pretty shoes, checking her seams in the bedroom mirror, her eyes bright with anticipation of dancing! Not the old disappointments, a daughter who didn’t visit often enough, the house sold, her husband dead, the days growing shorter and shorter as the year approached the longest night, the bottle of French perfume forgotten in the camphorwood chest, among the gloves and her one cashmere sweater, an old silk square from Zanzibar folded neatly on the bottom.