January 2016 archive

A beauty pageant

My search for purity became a way of countering boredom.

I sat in church sandwiched between sisters and brothers on the hard wooden benches of Our Lady of Good Counsel and listened as the priest droned his way through ideas on how to be a better person. His sermon considered how to live a good life, how to honour God’s teachings, but not how to stay awake or take the priest’s words seriously.

So I tuned out and watched the people around me instead.

When I was in grade three over the course of many weeks I began to notice that my teacher Miss Anderson sat several rows in front of me on the other side of the church. I could see her side on, eyes to the front, as if she were concentrating hard on every word the priest said and needed to get a good look at him in order to take it all in.

Her faced raised to the pulpit took on an angelic look, saintly and devout. Her skin was pale against her raven black hair, which she wore in one of those French buns my mother raved about but could not manage in her own hair because hers was too curly.

Miss Anderson gave off a radiance that left me in love with her. And as the priest rambled on I fell under her trance but pulled myself up short with a series of rules I set for myself on the nature of female beauty.

To begin, and based on what I had learned in church and at school, I decided that the Blessed Virgin Mary was without a doubt the most beautiful woman who had ever lived. And given she was an eternal saint, her beauty dominated all others.

Next in line, I included my mother. My mother was more beautiful to me than any other woman I had ever seen beyond the Blessed Virgin, and although my mother’s skin sagged around her neck these days and she complained about the wrinkles on her elbows, wrinkles that gave away a woman’s age, she told us, I had also seen my mother’s younger woman photos when she was a movie star, with her own head of dark, albeit curly hair, and although her skin was not the alabaster white of my school teacher’s – my mother’s complexion turned towards olive – she still radiated the beauty of the angels.

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So I gave my mother second place.

After her, in third place came Miss Anderson and because I was allowed thereafter to make my own choices, the next in line came from the television screen, a movie star called Ava Gardner.

Every Sunday I looked around the church for other beauties to add to my list. Not only were they to exude a radiance that belonged to the saints, they needed to be pure, unsullied in their demeanour. These words came to me from the nuns and the prayer books, which told me all I needed to know about truth and beauty.

The priest one day talked about parishioners who had complained about the church. He took these people to task. They were complaining about their own church, he said. Their own church, one to which they belonged as though they were finding fault with someone else’s church.

How could this be?

These people set a bad example for the rest of us. We were in this together and given that our religion was the one and only religion, the pure religion, the one true faith, then it was important for all of us to honour that position and be loyal to our calling as God’s children.

That attitude of purity overruled all superficial aspects of beauty. A pure mind was best of all and a pure mind was almost impossible to achieve, unless I stopped paying attention to what was on the outside and cared only about the whiteness of my soul.

 

An old fashioned fix

The mechanism that keeps the fly door shut broke off during the Christmas day festivities. Someone must have pushed too hard against it and the screws that held it in place against a strip of wood on the side of the door cracked open and the whole thing fell down.

The door still works but you have to close it purposefully. It will not swing shut of its own accord and so my husband decided to fix it once and for all. He’s fixed it before, new screws, and a new anchor strip of wood but somehow it never manages to hold fast beyond a few years, so this time he fixed it the old fashioned way.

He took a piece of stainless steel wire. He has a lifetime supply of the stuff, which he keeps on a roll on his workshop. He bought several of those little cup type hooks, the small brass ones that people use to hold up pictures and he screwed in a line of these along the top of the flywire door. He tied a weight to one end of the wire and threaded it through the hooks to a certain height down the side of the door so it acts like a pulley and weight.

Every time you open the door and leave it open, the weight of the contraption on the end of the steel wire slowly forces the door to close. It’s slow because the weight is at a certain level and density such that the door will only close softly. My husband did not want the fly wire door to slam.

The extraordinary thing about this construction to my mind is the nature of the weight itself. An old tap atop a piece of brass fitting like the top of a squat tap. It once belonged to a family friend, now long dead who used to turn metal for a hobby.

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The whole construction reminds me of this friend who made so many gizmos out of metal. This friend fixed things the old fashioned way and rarely relied on modern conveniences to run his life.

Not for our friend the new water jugs. He used the porcelain jugs of yesteryear, the ones that contained an exposed element, which periodically blew. And when the element blew, he replaced it with another element.

Our friend was a man ahead of his time for recycling. He recycled, not because it was good for the environment though that might have been part of his motivation.

He recycled mostly because he was appalled at the cost of things.

In supermarkets he’d argue with the shop assistants whenever the price of an item suffered a steep rise. He’d ask to see the manager every time his regular supermarket decided to relocate items on the shelves – as supermarkets tend to do from time to time so that you need to re-learn the lay out of your local shop, and if the supermarket decides a product is not selling they pull it from the shelves.

This final crime was the worst.

Our friend’s wife hid behind a shelf while her husband regaled the manager with threats of letters to the editor whenever they took his favourite mustard, jam or butter from the shelves.

He liked things to stay the same. At first no one noticed but in time there were other signs.

Twenty years later he had all but lost his identity and could not even hammer in a nail.

It was tragic that our friend should suffer such an affliction, one which took away his greatest talent, his ability to fix things, if only the old-fashioned way.

My husband’s door – however ungainly – is a tribute to this man and to people everywhere who use old style techniques to make the world a better – if not less stream lined – place.

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