Welcome to Snippets and Snapshots
After glancing through my family photo album the other day, I realized that it might be nice to add a story or two that might explain some of these vintage images, especially those crazy kids who are clearly charter members of The Sisterhood of Tartan Kilts & Itchy Wooly Panties.
This process is a great way to begin exploring vintage treasures, excavating long-gone experiences, and adding a teaspoon of wit and wisdom to the mix.
For those who wish to consider writing a memoir, this is a handy technique to jog one's memory by sifting through the past with the help of a few visual clues.
Who knows what you'll uncover in the bottom of that old shoebox full of funny family photos? Maybe it's time to try creating your own scrapbook stories!
Image Credit: Sassy Sisters from the Family Photo Album by contrariaN creativE
My father always wanted a boy. However, either the stork who delivered all babies in the world made a mistake in my case, or else the Fickle Finger of Fate decided that she had another destiny in mind for me. Either way, I was the first- born female in our family.
I must have known intuitively that my gender was a bit of a disappointment to my Dad who grew up with two younger brothers and an afterthought, a sister 16 years his junior whom his father doted upon. Dad rarely if ever spoke about his family or about his life. Mum, the keeper of the family geneology and family photo album, revealed to me that he was very resentful of his younger sister who stole the spotlight and knew how to win the affections of her father. Dad, the first male from a Celtish lineage (born in Victoria, B.C.), was as a sensistive young lad packed off by his strict Irish-born father (from a military family), to a British boarding school. There he acquired not only a first-class colonial education, skills as a champion discus thrower and javelin tosser, but also how to endure a brutal learning environment filled with the terrifying taunts of taskmasters and the telltale trouncings of cruel classmates.
At an early age, I was conscious of the fact that I possessed a strong-will, a laser-sharp focus, and a curious mind. Mum once told me that my two favorite pastimes as a little nipper involved running around in my birthday suit under a hose propped up on a wooden deck chair in the backyard or else grinning with glee after taking a bite out of each green tomato hanging on the vine in the veggie garden of our modest home on 19th Avenue in Vancouver.
I learned that if I was going to seek the attention of my father it would not be by making patty cakes, playing with dolls, or dressing like a princess, (that was my younger sister’s territory and talent). No, I was different. I guess I thought that if I wore boys bathing trunks, played with Matchbox trucks, wind-up trains, and cowboy cap guns, or asked my Dad to help me build a tree fort and a soap-box derby cart, I could become the son my father wanted. Not knowing anything about physiology, I figured that all I had to do was stand over the toilet and pee into it like the boys did. No matter how hard I tried, I just kept missing the pot and feeling a warm trickle down my legs that ended up in a canary-colored pool of liquid surrounding the base of the porcelain throne which I had to mop up with a huge wad of toilet paper. It was then that I realized for the first time in my life that I was powerless to change my gender in spite of my single-minded, persevering nature.
The years went by and while I couldn’t urinate against a wall like the boys, I made up for it by watching wrestling on TV. This came in rather handy especially when I learned how to assume the stance for a half-Nelson manoeuvre and shrieked at the top of my lungs while baring my open hand in a judo-chop swing. That's all I needed to scare off a band of bullies who on several occasions threatened to beat me up as I walked home from school on a short-cut trail through a heavily-wooded area. Thankfully, my knack for throwing baseballs and footballs like boys meant I could play on their neighborhood teams. But, as my Dad didn’t play these sports in school and was reluctant to be seen throwing a ball back and forth with his daughter in the backyard, we never really connected. He did however teach me how to skip stones on water (something he learned on a trip to Scotland). I also recall one occasion when he took me out in a rowboat on a lake to learn the fine art of fly fishing. Demonstrating my prowess in an art that he had learned from his father proved to be somewhat problematic in my case. After getting a queasy tummy from trying to navigate the lake swells, learning how to cast with my grandfather's hand-crafted fishing fly, and then allowing Dad to use a pair of pliers to pry loose the errant fly that became lodged in the bridge of my nose, abrubtly ended my fondness for piscatorial pursuits.
I always envied my school-friend Pat who had an older brother whom she simply adored. Their mutual affection for each other has become the touchstone of their remarkable lives following the untimely death of their father during their teenage years. Perhaps not having a brother, prompted me to try even harder to get my father’s attention. So, in high school I took up volleyball, basketball, and grasshockey, even securing a spot on school teams. However, knee injuries as a grasshocky goalie often left me on the sidelines. My Dad had never come to a practice, but one day when I didn’t come home at the expected hour, he took it upon himself to find me. When he saw me sitting in the bleachers with my raised leg bound in tape, I think he recalled his ownpainful experiences as young an athlete and we briefly acknowledged without words that we shared something in common. And, it reminded me of another indelible yet fleeting moment, when my parents received a call from a summer camp commandant about a very homesick young girl. Although Mum wanted to keep me there (based on her enjoyable experience at summer camp), the sight of me in a state of uncontrollable tears and cries for help must have have jogged my father's memory of his fear-filled days at boarding school, convincing him that home is where I belonged, and thanks to him, I left immediately.
When it became obvious that I would be unable to pursue a career in sports, I realized that I would need to learn some skills to work in my Dad’s small office. My grade 10 typing course came in handy, and while I did some odd jobs in the office, I was more intrigued by how he managed his business given the scant money that Mum was given to run the household and pay the bills, and by the fascinating stories of "visiting firemen" (a euphemism for Dad's business clients) who joined us from time to time at the dinner table.
At my parent’s urging, I attended university, the first one in the family to do so. Mum said I would meet interesting people and get married to the right sort of person. Dad, never said anything, probably because my maternal grandparents paid my tuition fees since my parents had no savings set aside for an education beyond high school. However, neither the completion of my arts degree, my subsequent marriage to a foreign student, nor the birth of the first grandchild, a boy, met with my father's approval.
The Tomboy is now all grown up. After more than six decades on planet earth, she has concluded that while being a tomboy was a thrilling adventure, thankfully life allows us to play many roles which offer equally mysterious and magical opportunites to explore the unknown.
Image Credit: reproduced from the family photo album by contrariaN creativE
How many times to I have to tell you, I don't like scandal broth!
This young lady was never one to turn down an invitation to join a good-looking gentleman for a spot of tea and a biscuit or two on a blanket.
However, it wasn't until I was all grown up that I asked my mother what the heck I was doing sitting on on a strange man's knee. Now my mother was a Montreal debutante, so she knew a thing or to about how to behave well and look absolutely ravishing in mixed company. All of which explains why I was dressed up in my grandmother's hand-smocked white dress, while my mother was capturing a spontaneous moment with her guests at a Sunday afternoon teaparty on the neatly manicured lawn of my grandparents elegant home in the British Properties of West Vancouver, B.C.
My mother was a true social butterfly who recognized the importance of rubbing shoulders with the rich and/or famous. So, it's not surprising that she spotted an opportunity to coax her eldest daughter to pose for the camera by gently sitting on the knee of a highly decorated British World War II aviator who had lost both his legs during a bombing raid and subsequent crash of his aircraft.
You'll notice that while I had agree to this photo op, I was not in the least fooled by his charming smile and sparkly white teeth nor his attempt to win me over with a bite of soggy chocolate cake and a sip of tepid tea.
If truth be told, this is the first and last time that I've been caught on a camera draped over a male's knees wondering what other surprises lay in store for an inquisitive little lady like me.
Image Credit: The Tea Party - photo from the family album by contrariaN creativE
Who's the man with the engaging smile and twinkle in his eye?
My Dad was always a bit of mystery to me, just like most of the males in my life.
He shared very little with me about his life growing up on a large estate in Duncan, B.C., his dismal days far away from his parents and brothers at a boarding school in England, or serving as a communications officer at Allied Headquarters in London during the German bombing raids in World War II. For the most part, all that I know about my Dad's formative years came from snippets of stories that my Mum told me over the years, especially after several falls, the onset of vascular dementia and his death in hospital at the age of 85.
As you can see, he retained his good looks into his senior years. In fact, his engaging smile and twinkle in his eye, were all part of his Celtic heritage. This was a man whose eyes literally lit up when he told shaggy dog stories in his Gaelic accent to an enraptured audience. And, every Christmas, I recall that it was Dad who could be counted upon to step up to the grand piano in my grandparents living room and belt out those carols in his deep baritone voice.
And while Dad never spoke about the war, nevertheless he continued to serve as Colonel-in-Chief in the Signals Regiment of the reserve armed forces, and every summer he would disappear for six weeks to Kingston (Royal Military College) to help train the young cadets. Hence, we didn't see him much during the summer, and often during the winter months, he spent hours every weekend doing marching drills at the armory. While his military life was foreign to me, what I do recall was how dedicated he was to making sure his kit was clean, his putties tightly fitted, and his boots were polished until they shone like stars.
Image Credit: My Dad - from the family photo album by contrariaN creative
Or, what do you mean polka dots don't suit me?*!
This rather grainy photo is of my Mum, clowning around at summer camp in the Laurentian Hills outside of Montreal, Quebec.
I was rather struck by this surprising find in the family photo album as she rarely revealed the humorous side of her pragmatic, shrewd-thinking, and penetratingly critical Virgo-born personality.
The eldest of two daughters, born to an estate investment professional and a gifted pianist, my mother attended private school in Montreal's Westmount neighborhood. Being a rather tall, gregarious, and sharp-tongued girl, she admitted to me one day that she was dyslexic and somewhat lonely growing up which is why she had invented an imaginary friend to keep her company in uncertain times (in this case, the years following the market crash of 1929 known as the Great Depression).
Perhaps her grades in school reflected the agony she experienced as she tried to overcome the problem of mixing up letters and transposing numbers. As a consequence, she never finished her matriculation (but surprisingly many years later, she finished college and completed three years of an arts degree at Simon Fraser University). Not wishing to pursue a career in music to avoid competing with her mother, she instead convinced her parents to allow her to enrol in a well-known art school in Montreal where she excelled as their top student. While she spent time under the tutelage of Canadian painter, Campbell Tinning, and produced a number of pastel and oil portraits as well as landscapes, in my view, she never truly developed and lived her passion.
She certainly enjoyed the good life, judging from the smiling photos of her in an evening gown as a Montreal debutante, (a Victorian ritual that involved the introduction of daughters from well-do-do families to high society and to present to them an array of presentable prospective suitors). Her marriage later to my father, (who hailed from the West but had attended a British boarding school), was a step outside the anglophone circle of well-heeled Montreal society. I'm sure that my father's ill-fated love affair with a young Catholic French-speaking girl, and meeting my Mum on the rebound, perhaps left them both unhappy with the choices they had made. My mother's quick mind, strong character, and intensity of emotion, while attractive features, often overwhelmed my father's more shy, sensitive, and remote way of being in the world.
My parents were known for throwing some of the best parties in neighborhood when we were growing up. They both revealed their charm and wit, however Mum had to rely on the "Joy of Cooking" to create the canapies as she possessed a unique talent for burning toast that filled the kitchen with acrid smoke, or else consistently under-cooking the family's stuffed roast turkey at Christmas.
I understood later that as an artist, my mother had difficulty facing the criticism that often accompanies any public exhibition of creative work. This may well have been the reason that she resigned herself to simply dabbling in it as an amateur, while focusing most of her energy as an adult on raising a family which necessitated managing everything on a very modest income. Perhaps neither of my parents fulfilled their aspirations which is why they sought a new chapter in their lives, going their separate ways after 25 years of marriage.
Mum retired with my grandmother to a home she purchased on Salt Spring Island which reminded her so much of the Laurentian landscape she adored as youngster attending summer camp. And although she did not clown around as much on the island, she told me that she had at last found a sense of inner peace by cultivating a natural garden, her own canvas which she could bring to life using her imagination and her fingers in the earth.
Image Credit: Clowing Around - photo from the family album by contrariaN creativE
My son the pilot
For those who know a bit about astrology, my son was born under the star symbol, Sagittarius - the Archer (a mutable fire element and ninth sign of the zodiac associated with travel, freedom of movement, and idealism).
Although he exhibited no interest in bows and arrows as a child, he did however display a number of characteristics in common with his Sagitarrian playmates: a distinct dislike of tight clothes (particularly jeans), a fondness for royal blue and white attire, not to mention a pair of bright, intelligent and sparkling eyes which often twinkle with good humor and a winning smile that he wears through all sorts of turmoil and turbulence in life.
So, it is not surprising that this young male homo sapien, ruled by expansive, jovial, and life-loving Jupiter would be most comfortable in a celestial environment. In his case, he was inspired by my uncle, a tall, warm-hearted Yorkshire man who became a commercial airline pilot and married my favorite Aunt Cynthia from Montreal.
From an early age, my son sprouted wings. No, not the angelic variety with a halo conveniently perched above a divine head, I mean those tiny colored metal ones worn by all aviators. Of course the standing joke in the airline business is that due to flying at high altitudes, some pilots do behave like all-powerful Gods with an inflated sense of their self worth. Fortunately my son is not one of them. He seems to have learned how to strike a balance between living in the clouds (both figuratively and in reality), and keeping his feet firmly planted on terra ferma by remaining closely connected to family and friends all over the globe.
Growing up in both Vancouver and Montreal, this light-hearted lad demonstrated a keen interest in planes and in the allure of life as a pilot. He listened avidly to my uncle's stories about what goes on behind the scenes on a flight deck, his travel to exotic destinations whether it was Alaska, the Orient, or the South Pacific, and the deep sense of comraderie shown by those who make flying among the stars their life's calling. Fortunately, my son had many opportunities to undertake his favorite activity, flying as an unaccompanied minor, which gave him the chance to don his uncle's hat, pin the gold epaulettes to the shoulders of his white turtleneck shirt, and sport those tiny gold and red wings on his chest. On more than one occasion, he was temporarily adopted by the flight crew who allowed him to visit the heart of the action on board, the flight deck or move to a first class seat to chat with the passengers and munch on some great food.
Looking at this photo, I am reminded of just how far he has come from his adventurous excursions across the country and even overseas, to earning a living in a printing plant so he could finance his private flying lessons, getting his first job as a flight instructor, piloting turbo props and jets, and even becoming chief pilot of an air ambulance company.
I am grateful that my son has an optimistic spirit, a generous heart, and a practical mind because these qualities have come in handy when the uncertainties of life, like air turbulence can take you for an unexpected ride. He says that his intuitive sense of "situational awareness" is critical in his work, as is his ability to keep calm under dire circumstances like the time a bird smashed through the windshield of the single-engine plane he was flying over one of Canada's busiest air traffic cities. By remaining alert and focused, he managed to retain control and land the damaged aircraft safely to the relief all who witnessed the incident from the ground.
So, next time you fly to your destination, remember that those who pilot your plane and provide service to you as a passenger are real people. Perhaps like my son, they consider it a privilege to be doing what they love and bringing you safely home wherever that may be.
Image Credit: My Son The Pilot - photo by contrariaN creativE
For those interested in turning their memories into memoirs, this is an excellent resource, offering practical advice and exercises to start the ball rolling.
Symbols and Signs in the Shifting Seasons of Life
You have to wonder what sort of imagination inspired this wacky work of art.
There's always someone in life who thinks they can bend the rules of linear thinking.
I am smiling for the camera, what the heck are you doing?
Just because I have a prominent proboscis doesn't mean that I'm a brown-nosing nosey parker!
So, what's wrong with being a wordy sort of woody personality?
I believe there's a blinking beast looking down at me from that tree.
If children should be seen and not heard, then why are they offering them a jolt of java and the job of keeping the house and garden free of rodents?
Frankly my dear, I think something's fishy going on here.
If you don't believe there are any horses in the bathroom, how about looking for bears in the cupboard?