Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Excerpt from 'Just J' .

We used to make a big deal out of Christmas. Ours was always the largest tree on the block and on Christmas Eve we’d invite the whole neighborhood over. The outside of the house would be covered in lights and the inside with tinsel and fresh cut cedar boughs.

We live near a golf course and Mom would go there at night with Billy, me, a toboggan and a pair of clippers. She’d cut branches off the cedars that line the course and I’d pile them on and around Billy, who stayed on the toboggan. He’d do his best to hold onto them. Mom loved the smell; she’d sniff the end of each one after she cut it. Dad used to play the course, so he pretended that he didn’t approve, but he’d always tell Mom which trees needed trimming if she insisted on cutting them.

Everyone was at our Christmas parties. Not just people from the neighborhood but people from my parents’ work and my school friends too—back when I had friends. Mom would play the piano and sing Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Song for a Winter’s Night.’ I’d tell her she was awful and that it was embarrassing. She’d tell me not to take things so seriously and to stop worrying about what other people thought.

 Then she’d convince Dad to sing a duet of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside.’  I’d always make it clear to my friends just how mortifying I found it.

Mom loved to laugh and have a good time. Entertaining was her thing. She and my dad would do a dramatic reading of  ‘Twas the night before Christmas,’ acting out the different parts—complete with wardrobe and props—grabbing some unsuspecting person out of the crowd to spin around with at the ‘turned with a jerk’ part.            

It was the very definition of corny, but all the younger kids and the adults—with the help of a little rum and eggnog—loved it. My friends and I would watch from the sidelines, making sure always to be laughing at, and never with, them.

On Christmas morning, Mom would be up before any of us, even Billy. Dean Martin’s ‘Silver Bells’ blasting from the stereo would awaken the rest of us. She’d spray fake snow everywhere as we came down the stairs and then we’d rip open the mound of presents. At least, I think that was us. I remember it all right, but not to touch, not to feel, just to watch like an old film. Last Christmasnow that I can still feel with painful clarity.

There was no party, there were no lights outside or cedar insideonly a touch of tinsel and a sad little tree for a sorry little Christmas. We all had to wait for Mom to wake up and for Dad to help her down the stairs to the chair by the fire. He wrapped her in a blanket, put a scarf around her neck and turned up the gas fireplace. He then straightened the knitted, pale yellow toque she’d been wearing since she lost her hair. After that he went into the kitchen, made her a cup of tea and handed it to her gingerly.

“Are you comfortable?” he asked her for the thousandth time.

“Yes, I’m fine. Just open your presents.”

“You’re sure?” he asked again.

“She’s fine! Now can we get on with it?” I answered for her. Dad gave me a dirty look but he didn’t say anything. 

I vividly remember Mom’s frailty and how not even the fire’s reflection could give her face any colour. I remember Dad’s patience and gentleness, Billy’s enthusiasm, my anger. I watched all of it with a great fury and I let that fury be known for the rest of the day. Why shouldn’t I have been angry? I had lost my Christmas.

I got to be in the school’s Christmas pageant, but I was the only one there without a parent. Dad arranged for me to get a ride with the neighbours and their kid, Martha.

Martha stuck to me all night like a bad smell—literally—and in doing so ensured the complete destruction of what remained of my social standing.

The thing about Martha, besides her “top student” marks, and her random, loud, snorting laugh, is that she will occasionally stick her hand down the back of her skirt, pull it out and sniff it. She did it that night, on stage!

 My perfect evening was complete when, on the way to the car, Martha grabbed my hand with the hand—Merry Christmas!

All I wanted was one morning—Christmas morning—just a couple of hours of normality. But Mom couldn’t even give us that. How hard would it have been? One hundred and twenty minutes of pretending everything was all right. That was it. That was all I wanted.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Beautiful Thing (Hard as a Hockey Puck)

First performed, in 2001, at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Toronto, Ontario, by Jason Leighfield: a great actor and an even better friend.

Charles backs onto the stage talking to unseen people in the wings.

“Oh yes I know, I know, the string section alone it was . . . I was taken away, I was truly taken away.”

He stops and turns to the audience. He takes out a pack of cigarettes and starts the fiddle with it while he talks.

It’s what we desire, it’s what we long for, it’s what we live for. The quest for beauty is at the core of our very being. It’s a need, a shared addiction. In every turn we try to find it, capture it. But if we succeed in getting a hold of it we must be sure not to hold it too close, because if we do then we’ll soon tire of it and the beauty will be lost.

Perhaps, that’s why the things that we secretly find the most appealing, what creates the deepest longing in us, are the things that are denied us: the chocolate bar in the back of the drawer, the magazine under the mattress, the blood on the pavement, the love unrequited. It’s all beautiful, in it’s own way, but we’re not about to admit it in public.

No, we praise the slender supermodel while longing for the renaissance women; denounce the violence while staring at the screen; compliment the vintage while longing for the hop; and God forbid anyone should light up.

He takes a cigarette out of the pack, looks around, looks at the cigarette; looks around, again, lifts the cigarette to his nose, smells it like it was a fine cigar, and *SIGHS*. He lowers the cigarette and returns it to the pack and the pack to his pocket. 

For years I have professed to finding beauty in artistic and intellectual pursuits: the sorrowful sounds of Sibelius, the mournful notes of the cello; or in the madness which lies in the brush stroke of a starry night; in the forms, and even the very blows of the sculptures chisel.

Other times I would say, with great depth, that man can not create true beauty. That true beauty lay’s only in nature and that man’s gift was to be able to recognize it. Then I would point out the irony in the fact that we, the only creatures that can appreciate the beauty that surrounds, are in turn the only ones destroying it. I feel ashamed at my arrogant rumblings, now. Now, that I am about to confess to you what my true imagining of beauty is. One defining image.

I was fourteen. Most of the truly beautiful things we experience in life happen when we are young; that's when we're most open to them. I was with my friends on the frozen lake playing hockey. This, in itself, was a beautiful experience. The sounds of the mental cutting frozen water, the wood hitting the ice, the yells of excitement, surrounded by friends, without a worry in the world and all with one a clear objective.

There was a rush at the our net. My team was fighting them off. I held back, half way up the ice. Their goalie was my best friend Peter’s little brother who couldn’t stop a puck to safe his life. I knew that if my team could just get the puck to me, I could score from centre.

Then it happened, the puck broke free and floated down the ice to meet its destiny at the end of my stick. I quickly got it under control, swung around, lined up, pulled back . . . then I saw her. Against the backdrop of the setting sun she was silhouetted by a sky ablaze with the same red passion that burned within me.

She, was DarlenePeter’s older sister. She was just on the other side of the goal, practising her figure skating, wearing nothing but those beautiful white skates, pink tube socks, a toque and a scarf. Of course she wasn't really naked, it was -15 for god’s sake, but to me, she was in the buck. I guess I left her the toque and scarf to give the fantasy that touch of realism that made it all seem possible.

Oh, how the cold did such wonderful things to her porcelain skin with perfect red highlights, the pours all closed tight, everything so firm as she pirouetted. An airbrush can’t compare to the wondrous winter wind. It was amazing. Watching her somehow ripped me from this world made an interracial part of it all at the same time. I couldn't move or think; of course most of my blood was being quickly diverted away from brain to deal with more important matters.

The trance had such a hold one me that I stayed in it even when my feet were taken out from under me and I glided backward to the cold ice surface. There I lay, flat out. Well, not entirely.

With all the strength of adolescence one part of me defied gravity, as well as two pairs of long-johns, in order to remain standing. That part continued to stand proudly until Brad clipped its tip with his hockey stick.

As excruciatingly painful as that was I hold no ill will towards Brad. I came to realize, years later, that the only reason that Brad did what he did, was so that the others won’t see how captivating he found me. Through my eyes Darlene was the perfect Venice, and through Brad’s eyes I was the perfect David.

Of course, no one would have noticed Brad for they were all to caught up in the game. And Brad and I did our best to pretend that we were that caught up in it, too. That our vision was the same as everyone else's. But it wasn't.

Thinking of it now, though, I’m not sure if there ever was a true shared vision, or if everyone out there had their own dirty little pictures going through their minds—images that they kept tucked in the back of the drawer or under the mattress.

Years later when I kissed Darlene that still wasn't more beautiful. The all-night conversations and debates that lead to the kiss, when we first made love, our marriage, or the birth of our first child, which is what I tell everyone was the most beautiful sight I’d every seen:

“Nature, at it finest, working directly through us,” I’d say.

None of it comes close to seeing her on that ice, with nipples that could cut glass and me hard as a hockey puck and straight as a steel blade.

He pulls the cigarette pack back out of his pocket, takes a cigarette out of it with his teeth, lights it and takes a long drag. He exhales and watches the smoke drift away. 

That, my friends, was beautiful thing.

Copyright © Colin Frizzell 2001. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


SUNDAY ON THE COUNTY WRITES…THE COUNTY READS – following the news at noon. “Such Little Time”, Peggy and Art Frizzell’s love story in letters. Jamie Kennedy discusses his food philosophy and his new cookbook and County FM volunteer and writer, Ken Murray, narrates his story, “The Exception.” Listen on the radio or listen online www.993countyfm.ca