Monday, December 20, 2004


I had a rather nice surprise yesterday.
There I was minding my own business, propped up in bed with coffee, dog and paper when up from The Toronto Star’s media column written by Antonia Zerbisias leapt my own blog name under the boldface title: JUST FOR FUN: I goggled at it. Rubbed my eyes in appropriate cartoon fashion and read on: ‘… And for us girls, is a gal pal in your computer; she knows what you’re thinking about; boys, clothes and Bush.’ (Like there’s something else?)
The effect on my tracking numbers was immediate; boom, boom, boom boom boom… browser after browser stopping by for a quick peek – maybe a few gals looking for a new pal – and I’m not sure my regular readers (tiny, hardy bunch that they are) didn’t feel the elbowing and jostling as the newcomers dropped by to rubberneck.
I felt immediate shame and guilt of course; the date at the top of my last entry was a full week beforehand! Gentle readers were graciously dropping by and all I had to offer was a smile and some slightly stale copy. Here was Antonia favouring me with a gratuitous plug and I was still moaning about my busy week and oh aren’t the holidays murder and gosh what wouldn’t I do for a few hours more sleep and dog cuddling. Thin excuses, but mine own.
I emailed her to thank her and told her that next to the seed pearl earrings (from the fabulous designers at ExperiMetal on Queen Street – I can plug with the best of ‘em) given me as an early Christmas gift by a friend, her column mention was my favourite present by far. And weren’t girlfriends just simply THE BEST at gift giving?
She wrote back; her pleasure, no problem. But no actually – in her experience, some of her very best ever gifts had come from men, most recently a set of Pirelli snow tires with steel rims. This, she indicated, was true love.
And on second thought, I have to agree. But seed pearl earrings aside, it’s a lesson it took me some considerable time to learn.
When I was in my early 20’s, my then boyfriend gave me a membership in the CAA for my birthday. I’m pretty sure there was much the same cartoon eye rubbing and looks of shocked disbelief as yesterday, though with a completely different motivation. Membership? In the CAA? Something to do with cars, right? I scrabbled in the box, looking for the real gift under the gag offering and came away with nothing more than a few wisps of tissue paper and sense of having been hoodwinked – what was I supposed to show my girlfriends? How on earth could these dull scraps of paper indicate anything other than a stunning lack of imagination and a serious dearth of romantic sensibility?
When I think now of the real romance and the loving care springing from what was perhaps too active an imagination (visions of me broken down in the middle of nowhere – cold, frightened and helpless) it nearly takes my breath away.
But whether I’ve appreciated it or not, I’ve always been well gifted. In fact, I officially lost the right to complain for all time around my 10th birthday when my father gave me a pony. A pony! And lest you think I was more horribly spoiled than I actually was (which I realize now was considerable) please know – even as I begged and pleaded and left little tearstained notes around, suggesting I might actually pine away and die if I couldn’t have a pony – that it never occurred to me that I might actually get one. It was just too big an idea; too marvelous, too miraculous – too far outside the realm of reality to truly believe.
And then it happened. Paintbox (whimsically named for his pretty colouring) arrived. I’m surprised I didn’t drop dead of shock right then and there – quite honestly, it still rocks me and rekindles those feelings of astounded wonderment that I felt back then. How many ten year olds actually achieve their heart’s desire?
At the age of twelve it happened again.
We were living in England, in a smallish town called Sevenoaks in Kent, and I was attending St Hilary’s School for Girls. (Never before or since did I ever love learning so much, nor do so well; if I had a daughter she’d be in a girl’s school so fast it would make her uniform beret spin on her head like a propeller in a hurricane.) My best friend was Anna – the funniest, sweetest and most popular girl in the entire school.
She was also a scholarship girl. In the complex murky hierarchy that is the English public school system (or was then) there was always space for a few academically gifted nonpaying students, and with the level playing field that uniforms purportedly created, the class lines were supposedly a little less rigidly drawn. But still, think about it: I knew she was a scholarship girl. We all knew.
(Of course being Canadian, I was a little beyond the pale myself, which was probably why Anna so generously went to the trouble of making friends with me in the first place.)
She would also invite me over for tea every now and then – to her tiny little house with her friendly mum and gorgeous big brother (I think he was all of 16, but he’d be nice to us and play with us and I think he’s the reason why David is still my favourite name of all) and the big bottle of ‘Daddy’s Sauce’ always set on the dining room table. (“That’s for daddy!” she’d giggle, each and every time we sat down to tea.)
We had a couple of games that we’d play, like putting her pet tortoise out in the pocket handkerchief-sized back garden and hide our eyes for a while, then go to find where he’d crawled off to. We’d also play a game with a Mars bar, a pair of dice and a pile of her father’s clothes that involved shaking for doubles then dressing up, complete with hat and gloves and scarf and trying to cut a piece off the brown paper and string-wrapped chocolate bar before the next person got a turn. That Mars bar was the one treat Anna received each week; she had no allowance and few extras, but she always shared. David would play with us sometimes, offering up his treat so she could save hers, and I’m sure I fair swooned with pre-pubescent delight, the cause of which having nothing whatsoever to do with chocolate.
After tea, we’d go up to Anna’s room and talk or play or try on her clothes – and it was then that I would begin coveting with a desire that was so strong (and so secret) I often left her lovely home feeling unhappy.
Anna had a bra. A tiny (28 triple ‘A’) pink-rosebud printed bra. A proper bra – not a training bra, like a little abbreviated undershirt with a little silk bow at the front – an actual bra with tiny little cups, and a fastener at the back and straps that could be lengthened or shortened. I adored that bra. I dreamt of that bra. I coveted and longed and pined (I’m a great piner) for that bra with a yearning that also knew it would never be met. For one thing, I had no breasts. For another, it was Anna’s, and as much as I passionately craved those few small ounces of cotton and silk, I knew it was unthinkable that I should wish for her things. Unthinkable too that I should betray my desire to one so generous, so I kept my hunger to myself and took it off after only a few intense glances in the mirror to see my miraculous transformation.
But after two and half years in Sevenoaks, my family were told (with the usual abrupt surprise) that we would be moving again. Back to Canada this time, back to Toronto, where we would live for a further two years, before returning once more to England. (And that’s another story…) We had only a few days to leave school, pack bags and furniture and ship dogs (and the 1948 MG my dad had been having a mid-life crisis within) and start the whole new-girl process over again. I was heartsick. We had to sell my pony and say goodbye and leave all my lovely friends, most especially Anna.
I did it quick. On my last day, I came to clean out my gym locker and return my textbooks and say goodbye, and as wrenching as it was, it was nothing new; this was probably my third major move in the last 5 years. Hugs, tears, then home to help mum wrap the china and glass (and complain and bitch and whimper about the cruelty of parents who clearly made it their business to ruin their children’s blameless lives) and prepare for leaving the house the very next day.
So it was dinner time (and we always got special treats for dinner around the move) and we were having fish and chips in newspapers and making desultory conversation as each contemplated the million things that would never get done before the car came to pick us up on the morrow when there was a knock at the front door.
I went, giving my brother a look that would blister paint, warning him to not even dream of touching my chips, and opened the door to Anna.
She wouldn’t come in. She’d walked over from her house – some distance away – and just wanted to drop something off she said. She wouldn’t even stay to watch me open the weightless froth of tissue paper, just gave me a quick hug and a kiss and ran away.
I never saw her again.
Of course it was the bra. Freshly laundered and gently folded and given with a generousity that still makes my eyes prickle and well and is difficult for me to fathom. I wrack my brain and I don’t think I have ever given so unselfish and great-hearted a gift.
So yes, I agree with Auntie Z – sometimes the best gifts do come from boys, filled with love and care and concern and smelling like the garden hose department at Canadian Tire. But girlfriends – girlfriends will surprise you too.
Thanks again Antonia…

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