Georgian Bay: July, 1988. The clouds feather high in the cobalt sky. When Evergreen floats near the shore, I climb out the nose and jump to the rock holding the rope. My feet splash into the water. I stumble. My cousin Michael laughs.
From the bay, dad slides up the slippery rock. I had never seen my dad water ski before. Usually the water is too cold. He grabs the yellow rope from me and ties it to a boulder. Water from our feet trickles along the hot, dry island to make it shine.
Uncle Bruce drops the anchor out the back of the boat.
In the shade of the cedars, Auntie Ann and mom pin the red checkered table cloth onto the folding card table. I spot a box of Tim Horton’s donuts, the blue thermos of red Koolaid, and bags of chips and cheesies. The steel blue cooler sleeps by my feet. I open the lid: macaroni salad, potato salad, bologna, ham.
“Did he bring the costume?” Auntie Ann asks, neatly stacking the paper plates.
“Can you believe it?” Mom says.
I snatch an orange cheesy out of an open bag on the edge of the table. Mom raises her left eyebrow. I slink away but she notices the Mug root beer. I slid it into my hat when she looked for the plastic forks. My smile drips with charm.
“You’re going to ruin your dinner,” she chimes.
“No I won’t.” I crack open the silver tab on the can and smile again.
She shakes her head and turns away. “Ann, where do you think we should put the cake?” Mom’s gaze drills a hole in my face. “To keep it from everyone until it’s time.” Then mom grins.
I fan my towel five times before it lies just right on the rock next to Andi. The blue jean coloured water and windblown spruces wave as I watch Uncle Bob and Chantell motor away to a secret fishing spot. The sun twinkles. I tilt my head into the brightness.
Madonna belts “Get into the Groove” on my red Sony walkman. My pen pal from Germany, Clemens, sent the cassette with his last letter. Andi lounges on the sun-warmed granite next to me listening to Def Leppard. She oozes coconut tanning oil.
I sip my warm root beer. “What do you think Lorel is doing?”
“Don’t know,” Andi replies.
At eighteen, Lorel looks just like Brooke Shields and sings the lead in a rock band.
“Do you think it’s because of the snake?”
“Nah,” Andi rolls over to tan the back of her legs.
I wonder how anyone could miss a family picnic. I close my eyes and lean into the ground imagining my ancestors picnicking on these rocks a hundred years ago. Sometimes when I am out in the bay I feel so connected to the landscape. Maybe I lived on these rocks in a past life.
Maybe I’ve even peed in the same bush as my grandmother or great-grandmother or great-great grandmother. Gross.
I always find a rock that slopes into the moss near a big tree. I try not to slip. I try not to pull my shorts down if someone else is nearby. I try not to wander too far and get lost.
At our last picnic on the island at Sand Bay, I didn’t see Lorel go into the bush, but we all saw her sprint out. Yanking her bikini bottom, she staggered, screaming “Snake!”
“Was it a rattler?” Uncle Bruce asked.
Lorel told us how she heard the rattling sound under her as she squatted on the rock. “Ticka ticka ticka ticka.” When she glanced between her knees a Massassauga Rattlesnake stuck out its tongue, coiled and ready to sink its fangs into her behind.
Dad, Uncle Bruce, and his cousin Wally marched into the bush. I wanted them to slice off its head.
My brother Colin jiggles a wet life-jacket over me.
“I’ve been swimming eight times today,” he boasts, shaking his soaking hair.
“I thought you didn’t have to wear a life jacket this year?”
“It’s Sarah’s.” He drops the drenched life jacket on my legs and runs to the other side of the island to give mom a big wet hug.
After dinner we sit by the campfire. I put on my red Roots sweatshirt and sit next to Uncle Ernest. His fingers are yellow from rolling tobacco. I like how he talks out the side of his mouth.
Uncle Bruce stirs coffee in a beat-up black pot. A cloud of tanning oil, beer, cake, smoke, and Folgers coffee dances just over our heads.
Chantell giggles at Colin when he makes a funny face. Mom chats with Aunt Bernice about the time dad ironed the living room sheers. Andi and Sarah snuggle up under Aunt Estelle’s beach towel whispering sisterly secrets. Uncle John shoves another log onto the fire. Everyone glows from family picnic magic.
Grandpa and Grandma are here too. Even though I can’t see them I know it. Grandpa died in 1975, the year I was born. Grandma died in 1979. Mom had lost both her parents before she turned twenty-five.
Aunt Pat, Aunt Estelle, Uncle Bruce, and mom were smart. They decided to meet on a picnic island on Georgian Bay each summer. They wanted to keep close. They wanted to stay connected to the landscape of their childhood.
Our family history seeped into the moss and granite, whispered through the needles of the lonely spruces.
As dusk begins everyone talks at once. The juicy blend of hushed tones, deep belly laughs, and animated chimes weave and flourish in the spaces between us.
Aunt Bernice sits on a green plaid lawn chair. She crosses her long slender legs. “Yes, our only entertainment—”
“How did you get there?” Aunt Pat hoots.
“What?—That dance hall out on Salem’s island?” Uncle Bruce asks.
“Your father hated it. Muriel and Ernest came sometimes. Me, I danced for hours.” Aunt Bernice waltzes. “One two three, one two three…” She freezes.
“Would you look at that!” Aunt Muriel squishes out her cigarette between her loafer and the rock. Everyone turns.
Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live glides over the hill.
I recognize him instantly as my dad. He wears a black gown with a white collar, large brown sunglasses, and mom’s witch hat without the peak.
“How did a priest get all the way out here?” Aunt Bernice blinks.
“Anda how did you-a come to be all the way outta here? Sucha beee-a-uuutiful lady!”
“Are you here to see me?”
Father Sarducci’s head bobs. He traces his mustache with a finger. “Iva come with a verrrrrrr-y special message from the Pope. La Papa.”
Aunt Estelle rests her hand on Aunt Bernice’s shoulder. “Imagine! A priest!”
“In seventy years, I’ve never seen a priest out in the bay. He must’ve walked on water…” Aunt Bernice gasps.
“Ahhh..yes. Iva gotta some miracles to use onca in a while.”
The colour drains from Aunt Bernice’s face. Tears fill her eyes. She squeezes Aunt Estelle’s arm.
“It’s just me, Aunt Bernice. Dave.” Dad takes off the sunglasses and hat. Everyone laughs.
I’m assigned to the last boatload home. The hum from the motor on Evergreen’s floor mixed with the rocking of the waves make me tired. I sit at Auntie Ann’s feet wrapped in a large royal blue and yellow beach towel.
“There’s the lighthouse.” Auntie Ann pats my head.
I peer over the side of the boat at the red and white building, Gereaux Island Lighthouse. I imagine Grandpa climbing the ladder in the tower to change the oil in the lamp on a foggy night. And then I imagine Uncle Ernest and Aunt Bernice playing with giant turtles and waving at the passing oil tankers. I wish I grew up on a lighthouse too.
With the boats unloaded we settle into the warmth of the cottage. Outside, the black sky swallows the last bit of light.
We cram into the living room. Mom’s cousin Nancy passes out bright orange song booklets. The title page says ‘Lamondin Family Picnic, 1988.’
Uncle Ernest tunes his guitar. Aunt Estelle and Aunt Pat sip white wine by the woodstove. Mom laughs at something Uncle Bob says when he joins her on the couch. I lean on the grey stairs leading up to my bedroom in the loft. On the top step, Andi and Chantell flip through a songbook.
Toes tap. Hands clap. Together we sing “Green, Green Grass of Home,” grandpa’s favourite song.
Learning Big Lessons
We all learn from our parents. For many of us, parents are our first teachers and our most influential teachers. I’ve worked with so many families over the years and whatever the family story, whether the parents are very present or very absent, children learn big lessons. And we learn from every experience and encounter with our parents, things that can hurt us and things that can heal us, things that take us backward and things that move us forward.
It’s time to take stock and reflect. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen. Brainstorm as many things you’ve learned from your parents that you can remember. Include little things like how to fold a pillow case or how to drive a car and include big things like how to work hard or how to prioritize family. It may be easiest to start with your earliest memory.
When you have a good sized list, choose a couple items to unpack, listing all the learnings that connect to that one item. I learned so much (and continue to do so) from my mom and dad. Today I am going to write about what I learned from Mom and her homemade butter tarts.
This is the second article in a series about Influential Teachers.
Mom learned how to cook and bake from her parents…
Mom grew up in Northern Ontario watching her French-Canadian mother cook and bake. Grandma was famous for her blueberry pie, blancmange, chicken and dumplings, hamburgers with stuffing in the middle, swiss steak, sauce aux salmon, and of course tourtierre at Christmastime. Grandma always made her own pastry and was a master cake decorator. Grandma grew up watching her father, Olivier Charron, cooking in a boarding house along the Still River for coal dock workers in Britt, Ontario.
Grandpa cooked sometimes too when Grandma was at work at Silverman’s Department Store in Sudbury (outfitting miners with uniforms). FYI: Grandpa’s classic dish was pork chops and french fries.
It was great-Aunt Florence who was a good tart maker when Mom was a child. Grandma may have made tarts, but Mom remembers more about Grandma’s pies. Grandma would make five pies at a time, her apple pies were the best. For years my grandparents had five cabins on their property in Britt that they rented to tourists. Grandma would give away pies to their favourite guests, much to my great-grandmother’s shock, horror, and descriptive disapproval in angry French.
We learn a lot about food from our parents.
Mom took Home Economics in high school and it quickly became her favourite class…
The first thing Mom remembers ever cooking was for my dad when they were dating. Mom was about 18 years old. It was at Grandma’s house. Mom made a dish from her Home Ec class for her guy with shrimp, rice, green peppers, and melted cheese.
When I asked Dad this question, he says the first thing Mom ever cooked was a jar of Aunt Muriel’s “Chow-Chow Chilli” heated in a saucepan shortly after they were married. Although “chilli” was in the title it was actually a salsa meant to be a condiment: far too spicy to be eaten by the bowlful!
From my childhood, I remember Mom’s homemade pizza, cinnamon buns, blueberry pie, and butter tarts. Mom is an amazing cook and baker–everything she makes is filled with the best ingredients, careful preparation, and love.
The first time Mom made butter tarts she was in her mid-twenties, after Grandma died. Her neighbour and best friend, Cathy, gave her a list of tart making ingredients from a Kinette Cookbook over the phone.
Every Friday Mom and Cathy would bake while us kids were napping. Cathy taught Mom how to make bread and German food (gulasch, knochlen, kipferl cookies) and Christmas fruitcakes. Mom wanted to learn how to make tarts so naturally she called Cathy.
Using the list of tart ingredients, Mom made her first butter tarts and they were good! The tart obsession started slowly. By the time Mom was in her thirties she would come home from working all day to make 40 butter tarts and 24 cinnamon buns for the staff at her school the next day. (And she’d make dinner!)
Mom became known by all of us as the Queen of Tarts.
When Mom was in her forties, she lost her tart recipe. For over a decade we were tart-less! She prayed to St. Anthony for years, searching the house for her list of ingredients. Then in 2012 her prayers were answered. Mom found our beloved tart recipe in a kitchen drawer she had checked many times before. Now that Dad was retired he became the sous chef. Mom and Dad make butter tarts on rainy days. Together they have perfected tart making!
Queen of Tart Legends:
- Recently Mom and Dad made 120 tarts for a friend’s retirement and it took 2 days, 27 cups of flour, 3 pounds of butter, and 24 cups of brown sugar, 24 eggs…
- About 15 years ago, Mom and I had a baking exchange party with all our friends. Not long into the party we noticed that the tarts were missing. The exchange hadn’t officially started yet. We never did find the two dozen tarts. One of our friends had stolen them all!! No one at the party confessed.
- Mom donated two plates of tarts to a senior’s bake sale. Dad mentioned to a friend that Mom’s tarts were there. The friend declared she must covet the tarts but alas the tarts were sold quickly and gone. The buyer offered to sell a plate of tarts for three times the bake sale cost ($18)…
- Mom and Dad often give tarts to helpful people, local photographers, OPP, their priest. My favourite story though is about the tart they gave to a Bell Canada worker in the area. When they needed support the following year a new worker was dispatched and knew about the tart the previous guy received.
- Dad often brings a random tart out to the road for people passing that he knows (unless family is visiting because we eat all the tarts!)
- After my cousin’s wedding, before the post-wedding brunch, my uncle’s brother hid the butter tarts from his own family, including the bride and groom.
- Sometimes when Mom and Dad bring tarts to an event the host hides them (so they don’t have to be shared with the guests).
- Sometimes at a potluck the tarts are eaten before the meal as the appe-tarter!
- For their forty-second wedding anniversary Mom and Dad made tarts. Then they arranged the tarts into a “42.” (Also note that they usually make 42 tarts in a batch).
Five Things I’ve Learned from Mom and Her Tarts
- Heart: Mom makes tarts to show her love. (She doesn’t even eat the tarts!) The butter tarts are a sign of her generosity, talent, and kindness. She enjoys making the people around her happy. Mom teaches me the importance of putting heart at the centre, of giving our best to others, of creating something excellent to spread joy and express gratitude.
- Attention to Detail: Mom attends to perfecting each step in the tart making process. She inspects everything along the way, reflecting on how to make it better. By attending to every small detail, her tarts are absolute perfection each and every time she bakes them. Mom teaches me the importance of being methodical, following a plan, adjusting the plan when needed, and learning from the plan as time passes.
- Community: Mom uses tarts to bring people together. From family and friends to community groups to passersby, mom creates a sense of belonging by giving away butter tarts. Mom teaches me how to connect with others through generosity and to give the most to the people who are closest and part of our every day. It’s important to use our skills and talents in the service of building community and belonging.
- Practice: Mom worked hard to become an amazing cook and baker. She asked for help when she needed it. She utilized the lessons from her teachers. Mom teaches me that if we practice something, we will improve. If we practice it long enough, we can become experts. She chose to perfect her butter tart making not because it was her favourite thing to bake, but because of the joy the tarts brought others. Every year Mom and Dad continue to adjust the butter tart baking process to improve efficiency and excellence.
- Embrace the Crown: Mom has earned her crown as Queen of Tarts and she wears it with pride. It’s important to celebrate our achievements and to accept the compliments of others. Mom teaches me to take pride in my creations, to make space for others to celebrate, and to happily wear a crown when it’s been earned.
Questions in the Jar
Mom answered three questions pulled from my 50 Questions in a Jar so we could get to know her better.
Q: If you could eliminate one type of bug forever, which one would you choose?
Mom: Mosquito. Or deer flies. The last two times I went in the boat I got bit. You don’t feel them biting and then you itch like crazy after.
Q: If you were to be a matchmaker, which two celebrities would you match together?
Mom: That’s a hard one. I guess I’ll just say Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Q: Where do you go to have fun?
Mom: Florida. There is less cooking and more eating out. I get to wear shorts all the time. And of course the shopping.
Mom’s Butter Tart Recipe
The recipe should be enough to make 42 butter tarts.
- 8 cups brown sugar
- 8 large eggs (whisked together)
- 2 cups melted butter
- 2 cups good quality raisins (soak in hot water for 15 minutes before using)
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 8 tablespoons white vinegar
Mix all the above ingredients together well. Keep mixing it right up until you put it in the tart shells as the ingredients separate if they sit.
Mom uses Tenderflake lard, a whole pound, mixing up the whole package of dough. (Recipe is on the Tenderflake package). Divide the dough into six balls and wrap individually into plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling. Leave the balls of dough in the fridge until just before rolling.
Bake on mid to low (but not bottom) oven rack in a preheated 375 degree oven about 15-20 minutes or until pastry is brown and filling is bubbling.
Let stand to cool before removing from muffin pans, as filling is very hot.
These butter tarts freeze well.
My Comfortable Life
Puffy recliner. Fleecy blanket. Steamy tea. Binge television. Glowing fireplace. I ache for cozy, lazy moments when my mind and body can sink into a fog of “relaxation.” I crave time to do nothing but feel snuggly.
Furniture, clothing, shoes, food, climate–when given a choice I lean toward luxurious, convenient contentment. Ahhh…..so soothing, so delightful.
When I am most comfortable I feel deliciously numb. The pace of my life slows. Time becomes irrelevant. Just soft, warm, comfy “now-ness” reigns. On vacation or after times of big stress this is a blessing, but too much comfort during the rest of the year can slow down change, can blanket my other needs, can suffocate my life’s fizzle.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Comfort is rest, not experience. I don’t want to be defined by comfort. I want my dash to be dazzling, engaged, and purposeful.
And while I’m thinking about comfort…
Comfort is something we look forward to rather than look back on. We don’t post many selfies of coziness and hazy relaxing on social media. We are wired for action, not streaming television. Our love of entertainment isn’t what makes us human, it’s our ability to think, feel, and do.
Our heroes don’t say: “Be the sleep that you wish to see in this world.” We are inspired by experience.
We can take some time for comfort every day, but it’s equally important to make time for daring. Live with intention.
Daring and Double Daring
Kids get it. I dare you to do a handstand. I double dare you to do a handstand and a somersault. Kids challenge themselves and each other just for fun. When did I stop daring myself and daring my friends?
I need more daring in my life so I created “Daring in a Jar” as a way to push myself off the couch, out of the house, away from my screens, and into engaged living.
I gathered some scissors, coloured paper, and an empty jar. I cut the paper into small pieces and started writing down (one item per piece) all the things I wanted to do but was too scared or lazy or distracted to get to. On orange paper I wrote 50 action items that ranged in difficulty from “wash the car” to “plan a road trip” to “cook an authentic Italian meal.” On red paper I wrote 15 major life goals that ranged from “pay off credit card” to “write a novel.”
Each month I will pull a handful of slips, 4 orange and 1 red. The idea is to do one action item (orange) a week and one learning focus (red) a month. If a slip has bad timing (for example, it may be difficult to go skiing in July) I can put it back in the jar. My goal is to complete all 50 orange slips and learn about at least 12 red slip items by August 2016.
In mid-July I pulled four orange:
- Personally wash the car (and I mean really wash it inside and out without a car wash)
- Keep a gratitude journal for a week
- Ask someone for help (and choose something that makes me squirm)
- Get a massage (amazing!)
And I pulled one red:
- Be a good friend (so for a month I will reflect on and research how to be a good friend, examine my relationships to see how I can be more generous, think about what I need from my friends to feel fulfilled, and then try some new strategies out on my friends!)
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Chinese Proverb
Create Your Own Daring
I shared my “Daring in a Jar” with some friends. We decided it would be fun to get together and help each other fill our jars with dares, just to be sure no one is too hard or too soft on themselves. Someone else mentioned it would be a fun project to take on as a family. Plan a Daring Party or have a Daring Dinner.
Whether you play alone or with others, dare yourself. Live your dares out loud. Tell people what you are doing. Share your fears. Embrace vulnerability. Laugh when you’re surprised. Celebrate every mountain.
…Let’s get off the couch and step away from the electronics!
“I dare you…”
Last weekend was truly decadent. My car rested in the driveway from Friday after work until Monday morning. For two days I played. I felt like a child wrapped up in some important project like digging a hole in the sandbox and hoping it would lead to China or creating a dramatic play in the garage with all the kids from the neighbourhood. The work felt overwhelming, necessary, thrilling–just like the adventurous projects of my childhood.
Monday morning at work I bubbled and popped, telling anyone who would listen that I had started a new project.
“I spent the weekend researching my family tree,” I said.
“Yes!” The popularity of the genealogy site is ubiquitous.
“My cousin is a historian. We have a binder with our whole family history. Both sides.” A newly married teacher smiled.
Another coworker said, “Someone contacted me yesterday about my family history. I didn’t learn anything new though. Our family history was compiled years ago. We have a family historian.”
A family historian. It sounded so official.
Last year I took a research methods course as part of my graduate program at University of Toronto. I read Lives in Context: The Art of Life History Research by Ardra L. Cole and J. Gary Knowles. They write:
“In as much as it is humanly possible, life history inquiry is about gaining insights into the broader human condition by coming to know and understand the experiences of other humans” (11).
By becoming a family historian I can serve my family, document their stories, learn about my family’s journey from arriving in Canada hundreds of years ago to today. But family history research can have a broader context too. We look to the past to understand the present. We search for resonance in stories that are shared among generations, across cultural divides. In learning about my family I will learn about humanity.
I have not earned the title of family historian yet. This is the beginning.
Deanna Corbeil notes the importance of the word “story” in “history.” I like that. Family Storian. This blog is as much about story as it is about history.
Do you have a family historian? What led him or her to life history research?
I love sentimental Christmas presents. When I was in my twenties mom and dad gave me Grandpa’s ship wheel clock for Christmas. It works beautifully when I remember to wind it. It is an “Ingraham 8 Day Ships Wheel” mantel clock.
A few weeks ago I chatted with Erika Bailey. Her research at University of Toronto focused on experiential learning and a sense of place. Her work will be published in 2012 by Backalong Books. As I recall, to begin the stories with her research participants Erika asked them to bring an object that had meaning for them. The object became an entry point to a story about place, about learning.
Grandpa Lamondin’s ship wheel clock is one of my favourite things. I was a young child when he passed away, too young to remember him. But somehow having his clock in my living room helps me to feel close to him. It reminds me of the years he spent on the water living at the lighthouse as a child, then as a Georgian Bay tour guide for Toronto fishermen when he retired. I imagine he felt at home on the water.
The metaphor of time is powerful as I begin this journey into the past.
Life Rattle Radio Update #30
This Sunday, May 29th, CKLN Live Internet Stream will be airing the last two stories in our Mini-Festival of Family Stories.
Erika Bailey starts us off with a stroll past memories of family moments, personal regrets and acceptance, all framed by a frozen pond. Bailey’s use of the metaphoric sensory stimulation of winter will make you want to cuddle under that lap blanket you haven’t put away yet.
Then you should grab an ice tea, throw that blanket on the floor, sit on it, and take in the deluge of family Jessica Outram is about to unleash with her story “Family Picnic Magic”. You’ll get a kick out of seeing all of your own family characters reflected in the Outram clan, as well as a cameo visit from Father Guido Sarducci.
Be sure to listen this Sunday, to hear stories you won’t hear anywhere else!
Life Rattle Radio
9:00 to 9:30
Did you miss the show?