My Sisters Were Wizards

When I was a kid, my sisters were wizards.  They had magic words that could turn a pillow-high, cozy warm brass bed into the March family living room.  They had incantations that produced beautiful horses, stinking French sewers and one sad little dog named Greyfriars Bobby.  They could conjure people and places at will, and on one occasion, they harnessed the wind from a stay-home-from-school bitter Saskatchewan storm to propel our ships out of danger.  They cast spells that bewitched me so completely that, long before I was allowed to cross the street by myself, I could travel through the puny barriers of time and space with ease.  And it was there that my sisters abracadabra-ed their friends for me — Black Beauty, Travis and his dog Yeller, Hans Brinker and the queen of long, lazy summer afternoons, Nancy Drew.


The source of my sisters’ sorcery was the Mayfair Public Library.  It was a cavernous basement with high little citadel windows and dim, humming electric light.  It was a place of holy quiet, brown with wisdom and heavy with wooden shelves.  It was guarded by ferocious matrons in sensible shoes.  They kept their eyes on little boys who might be loud — or sticky — but, by then, I knew how powerful and precious books were, so I sat quietly and kept my eye on them.  I remember thinking, “I’m a little boy now, but someday… someday, I will decipher your runes and, like Lochinvar,* I’ll come and I’ll take what I want and know your magic for myself.”  I knew I would do this.  I knew it because my sisters were never jealous witches, concealing their art.  Tired of me pestering them to read to me, they were already showing me that the tiny symbols in the books made sounds and the sounds made words — and the words, taken together, made power.

Today I am a wizard.  I have spent a lifetime studying the alchemy of words — reading and writing them.  I still smile when they are used well in delightful new combinations and still cry when they are abused.  I will never tire of their wonder.  I do this because once upon a time, in a time that doesn’t exist anymore, five magical sisters loved their little brother so much they taught him how to read.

*My sisters knew Lochinvar personally and, two years in a row, two different sisters memorized his adventures — so I did, as well.   Even now, I still have a stanza or two.

Fictional Friends II

fictional friends.jpgYesterday, a dear friend of mine, Rosalind (“Ros”) Myers was killed.  She was blown to pieces by a bomb, which, I believe, was planted by some renegade members of the CIA.  Ros was a dedicated professional, but she was also witty, charming and could be thoughtful and entertaining.  Although many of her friends had lost track of Ros in recent years, she will be sorely missed by her colleagues and her father, Jocylen, who is currently serving a forever sentence in a British prison.  Ros died as she lives — in television reruns of Spooks on Netflix.

Ever since I learned to read, I’ve always had fictional friends.  Not those “special” ones who tell you to kidnap the neighbour’s cat but real flesh-and-blood people who live their lives in a parallel universe to mine.  One of my earliest recollections is asking my first grade teacher where Dick and Jane were running to.  Miss What’s-her-name didn’t know and told me it wasn’t important.  However, I knew it was.  I knew those two crazy kids had horizons beyond Spot and the big blue ball, and one day they were going to get there.  You see, I had an advantage: I had older sisters who had been reading their stories to me for some time.  I’d already eavesdropped on the conversations of Meg, Jo and Beth and sat in on the adventures of Nancy Drew.  Dick and Jane might have been as dull as Kraft Dinner™, even to a six-year-old, but I was nice to them because they were my introduction to the world’s greatest cocktail party.

There has always been much made of the fabulous world of books and how they can take you to places you’ve never been, etc. etc.  That’s a nice cliché, and it probably works.  But the party that is fiction is so much more than that because it’s populated by people we all want to meet.  It doesn’t take too many chapters into Gone With The Wind before you want to have Rhett and Scarlett over for sushi; and once you’ve seen the movie, it’s a lock.  Imagine a rainy evening playing Trivial Pursuit™ with Holmes and Moriarty or a picnic afternoon with Pan and Tinkerbell.  There isn’t a heterosexual woman alive who hasn’t at least thought about Captain Jack Sparrow — or Loki.

The great thing about fictional friends is they never jerk you around.  Maid Marian never gets on the phone for three hours, carping about how Robin is spending way too much time with the Merry Men.  Or how the only things he ever wants to do is go camping or robbing the rich, or how he’s never there for her, or how being the King’s ward is not all it’s cracked up to be…if people only knew.  And it goes on and on and on.  No, Maid Marian never does that.  She has some decorum — some class.  Sure she has her problems – no doubt — but she handles them without the drama.

Likewise, James Bond never gets drunk and starts bitchin’ about how M and Tanner are idiots who couldn’t spy their way out of a wet paper bag.  Nor does he lament his lot in life and threaten to “march in there Monday morning and tell them both to take this Licence to Kill and put it where the sun don’t shine.”  That’s the last thing on Bond’s mind.  He has a job to do, he loves it and he takes pride what he does.

Over the last half century, I’ve met a lot of people, and aside from maybe twenty or so, I have to admit that the ones I like best fall under the category of “any resemblance to persons either living or dead is purely coincidental.”  My fictional friends never tire.  They never whine.  They never inadvertently hurt my feelings.  They know when to show up, and they know when to shut up and go home.  They share their lives with me and for the most part have no secrets — but I wish I knew them better.  They’ve helped me through every difficulty I’ve ever faced and have never been too busy to be my companions.

I’m going to miss Ros.  She was always a true friend, but I know that — no matter what — if I ever want to see her again, she’ll be there.

Fictional Friends

books.jpgThe most neglected area of  psychiatry, psychology and sociology is the influence of fictional characters on our lives and personalities.  Unlike family, teachers and friends who, like it or not, invariably have their own agenda, fictional characters are totally altruistic.  They are dedicated to us with the love of a thousand puppies.  Their very lives depend on us and they return the favour by showing us people, places and things we would never see otherwise.  They let us indulge ourselves in the kaleidoscope of life — good, bad, beautiful and ugly — without ever having to get our hands dirty.  Over time, these fictional people become our fictional friends.  They help shape and come to share our hopes, our dreams, our joy and our despair, while offering us insight into just how we’re supposed to cope with this carnival of emotions.  But long before that, before Tom and Huck and Harry Potter, we are influenced by the mythological creatures of our childhood — the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy — and Santa Claus, the guy who taught me the value of sisters and that the world just isn’t fair.

Every child knows the meaning of Christmas.  If you’re a good kid, Santa Claus brings you presents; if you’re not — ya get dick.  It’s a simple either/or equation.  Like most kids, I was middle-of-the-road, but, come the day, Santa always forgave my transgressions and I got my share of good loot.  However, one year (I think I was six) I noticed Malcolm Carson, the total bully of the neighbourhood, had a brand new hockey stick just like me.  He’d got it for Christmas, just like me.  But, then, on closer examination, I discovered that his was a Victoriaville with a wicked Bobby Hull curve while mine was an ordinary CCM straight blade.  Now, I knew for a fact that Malcolm had not been a good boy.  Within the last month alone, he had stolen my hat, pulled my hair, punched me in the stomach, washed my face with snow, threatened to make me eat dog poop and chased me home on more than one occasion — with poop in hand, I might add.  (FYI, I wasn’t even one of  his more frequent victims.  There are people from Mayfair Grade School who are still in therapy because of that little bastard.)  Anyway, this was a total tear in the fabric of my reality, and even though I didn’t understand the words, for the first time in my life, I understood the true meaning of WTF? I approached a sister with my conundrum (unlike parents, sisters normally gave you the straight goods.)  Her response (and I think she was reading Jean Valjean at the time) was:
“Santa Claus is a busy man.  There are millions of children in the world. He can’t look after all of them.”
“Then, how come I have to be good?”
“Santa Claus likes you.”
“He doesn’t like Malcolm?”
“Probably not.  Look, Santa Claus does the best he can, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  It isn’t fair, but that’s life.  You got a hockey stick; what more do you want?  You need to quit worrying about what other people are doing.  Forget about that little brat.  And the next time he punches you, you punch him back.  Like this.”
“Now, get outta here, I wanna finish my book.”

Friday:  What happens when you learn how to read