Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Darlene's first birthday
Happy, Happy Day

Today is my 49th birthday.

Mom never phoned me on my birthday because I always called her first. This ritual began when my son Laurie (her first grandchild) was about eight years-old.

Every year on January 17th, since 1986, I go to bed and remember in vivid detail the night before Laurie was born. My water broke just before midnight. I remember sitting at the kitchen table as the early pangs of labour started, my overnight bag sitting in the hallway. It was the coldest January 17th on record, so as we waited for the car to warm up, I drank a full litre of juice, knowing that once I got to the hospital there would be nothing more to eat or drink until after the baby was born. I'd been so thirsty up until then that l dreaded the thought. My damp pants froze almost instantly as we walked from the house to the car. I wasn't worried that the child was coming nearly a month early, all I could do was remind myself over and over again that every person in the world had been born by a woman just like me. I could do it. Laurie was born at 7:50 a.m. the next morning.

Years later, when Laurie was old enough, when asked what we should do to celebrate my birthday, he'd stop and think for a few moments. Then his face would light up. His reply still makes me smile.

"I know," he'd say. "Let's pick up Nolan and go to Chicken Chef for supper."
Growing up, Nolan Thage was his best friend and Chicken Chef in Ashern was his favourite place to eat. Those were fun times. By the time Laurie was old enough to realize that it was time to stop blowing out the candles on my birthday cake, I understood that there was someone else who was remembering that day. 

So I started phoning Mom on my birthday to wish her a happy day.
"Afterall," I said the first time I called, "you're the one who deserves congratulations."

My last conversation with her was on January 6th.
"Happy day, happy day!" she said cheerfully when she answered the phone. She was in high spirits, reminiscing about how 42 years earlier, she'd given birth to my little sister, Darlene, who was supposed to be a New Year's baby, but false labour sent Mom home from the hospital.

"But you know your sister, she's always late," she laughed. "She tortured me for another week, but when she was born, because she was overdue, she looked beautiful. Her skin was plump and pink, she was so content - huge dimples - the most beautiful baby in the nursery."
I asked her about the rest of us, even though I'd heard the story many times before.
"You were little and wrinkly and cried all the time. I didn't know what to do with you. Your brother Mark looked like a monkey, honestly, he was an ugly little thing, it was kind of embarrassing. And Nance, well, she came so fast I nearly had her in the hallway."

I reminded her that next year, I'd be turning 50. Curious, I asked how that made her feel.
"How does it make ME feel, I don't care, you're the one who's getting old!" she laughed, missing the point entirely.

We talked for over an hour, mostly about plans for Laurie and Dayna's upcoming wedding. She and Paul planned to come; we'd pick them up at the airport and I'd book them a room at the Narrows Lodge. It would be a lot of fun. But in the back of my mind I knew that Paul's health had been failing, that maybe he wouldn't be able to make the trip.

The last thing my mother said to me was this:
"Your only son is getting married that day. You stand up there with your head high and be proud of what you've accomplished. You raised a fine son. Always remember that I am your mother. Make me proud."

Almost as if she knew.

Thanks Mom, for everything.
Happy, happy day.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Life as we know it

Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Our Winter Holiday

Like our mother, we all love taking a winter holiday. A few years back we discovered Isla Mujeres, a wonderful little place off the coast of Cancun. While typing Mom's column, I was amazed that she'd commented on the smell of sea air - like her, it is what I love and remember the most about those few moments after arriving at a hot, coastal destination.

The week before Mom & Paul died, Nance and our brother Mark said they wanted to go and they were trying to talk our sister Darlene into coming along. We booked our flights for February 24th.

We all agreed that never before did we need a holiday as much as this one and so we went, despite the grieving, the rigors of dealing with the estate and concerns about Grandma. Darlene and her family had decided not to go afterall, which made it easier for us to leave knowing that she and niece Emma would be home to watch over Grandma.

Mom & Paul
When it came time to get ready, I took the large, green Samsonite suitcase out of the closet and put it on the bed. It is the same suitcase I'd used just a month earlier to bring home treasures from Mom's house. It was her suitcase and the tag attached still has her name and address.

As I was packing I remember hearing about the time shortly after Mom and Paul married that she'd been hinting for months about how she wanted to go south that winter for a few weeks. It was right after Christmas and Paul made the mistake of saying, "If you can be packed and ready to go in 45 minutes, I'll take you." Mom was and they went.

Nance & husband John
Three of Mom's grandchildren came with us this year: Lace, Kassarah and Laurie.

Lace & my brother Mark
 While on the trip, Lace reminded me that in 1995 Mom & Paul took her and an exchange student from Germany (we remember his name as "Stretch" because he was so tall) on a winter holiday to Myrtle Beach, just a few years after she wrote her column about the trip in 1974. So she did get the chance to fulfill at least part of that dream.

Kassarah and boyfriend Rob
Our holiday was everything we'd anticipated. Because we'd booked it prior to their untimely passing, we'd made plans for a two day stop over in Ontario which had originally been intended to visit Mom, Paul & Grandma. It felt strange being there in the house without them there.

Laurie & fiance Dayna
When I got back to Manitoba, I made a pot of chili in Mom's memory, using the same cast iron pot that she used when we were kids. It is one of the treasures from Mom's kitchen that now means so much more to me than it ever did.

Karen's Chili

Olive oil
1/2 green pepper
1/2 red pepper
1/4 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Cook until tender.

Add 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef and cook until brown

1 398 ml can diced tomatoes
1 398 ml can kidney beans
2 398 ml cans brown beans
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. liquid smoke
2 tsp. Victorian Epicure Pueblo Bean spice
1 tsp. Victorian Epicure Guacamole spice
1 squirt Mexican spice
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
Garlic powder to taste

Cook on medium heat, stirring regularly until it starts to thicken and stick. Switch the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally all afternoon.

Serve in a bowl with a large spoon. To fancy it up a bit, add a teaspoon of salsa and sour cream; crushed tortilla chips (I use La Cocina) and grated cheddar on top.


Under the Dumb Plum Tree

Four kids, two dogs and a road map

Destination South
By Jaime Kaufhold
(February 20, 1991)

Thank goodness February is a short month, or at least it starts to feel that way as the sun shines higher in the sky and the days grow longer. Today as I sit down to write, I can see the Plum tree outside my window is covered in hoar frost, a pretty indication that the temperature is bearable.

Sometimes I get wild ideas, at least I used to. One of my favourite things to do is take a winter vacation. My parents moved to Florida when the children were little, so it gave me a wonderful excuse to try and persuade their father to take us there. In the same way that mothers forget the pain of childbirth and go on to have more children, fathers forget what it's like to travel 1,500 miles with a carload of kids and after some persuading, will agree to go again. The kids were as thrilled as I was because it meant they'd miss two weeks of school.

So on February 12, 1974 we folded down the seats in our Pinto Station wagon and loaded it with suitcases, pillows, four kids, two dogs, a road map and a packed lunch that was supposed to feed us for a whole day but between the kids and the dogs, was gone by 9:30 a.m. I remember the date well because it was one of the coldest we'd ever experienced in southern Ontario at -28 C and the car needed a boost to get going. Father took this as a sign that maybe we shouldn't go, but I took it as a sign that we definitely should!

Entering Detroit at 9:30 a.m. was a nightmare. I never realized there were that many cars in the world and the highway signs were confusing so our only hope to avoid taking the wrong exit was staying in the middle lane. A voice from the back seat made it known that we'd need to find a bathroom - and soon. We found a truck stop, fueled the car, used the washrooms and the smell of bacon cooking lured us into the restaurant where we all ordered cheeseburgers and french fries, one of the cheapest meals on the menu. Back then restaurant burgers (I'm not talking about fast food places) didn't have fillers and the fries were from hand cut potatoes. Today we have to search for places that serve wholesome "slow" food which just goes to show how much things have changed.

It was my turn to drive so I settled into the driver's seat, reassuring Father that the trip was going to be lots of fun, and at the same time, reassuring myself. Thankfully the kids fell asleep soon afterwards so it was a peaceful afternoon drive for me. When we pulled into a Howard Johnson's motel early that evening, the air outside was noticeably warmer than what we'd left that morning. It took another day and a half of driving and at least three more stops for burgers and fries before we pulled into my parent's driveway in Clearwater, Florida. We were stiff, hot, sweaty, grumpy and windblown since Pinto station wagons did not come equipped with air conditioning, but that moment stepping out of the car and inhaling the warm, salty air is one I'd never forget. Mom was thrilled to see us and Dad promised to take the kids fishing the next day. But right then all we wanted to do was put on our bathing suits and go to the beach. It was a wonder to be able to sit outside in February with flowers blooming everywhere and the ocean right there.

The kids went fishing with Dad and caught supper for us which was delicious. We spent three more days at the beach, visiting with grandma and grandpa and exploring. Then the day we were all looking forward to finally arrived - the trip to Disneyland. I remember as were were getting ready to leave Mom handed me a $50 bill which was a lot of money in those days and really helped us out.

Disneyland was impressive and surprisingly as much fun for adults as it is for children. We all loved it. There was so much to see we couldn't have possibly done it all in one day but we got sore feet and exhausted trying!

Our eight days in Florida went by fast and soon we were kissing Mom & Dad good-bye and on our way home again. By the time we reached the snowbanked roads in Stoney Creek, we were tanned, tired and broke. The kids went to see their friends and I turned up the heat, unpacked the car and since were all sick of burgers and fries, made a pot of chili for supper. For many years afterwards I anticipated our next winter holiday, but we were never able to make that trip again with the kids.

Now, 18 years later, Mom lives here with us. The kids are all grown but I still dream of winter holidays in Florida, and in those dreams, I'm now traveling with my grandchildren and we're looking for restaurants along the way that serve good old fashioned burgers and fries. But we're not riding in a Pinto station wagon!