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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Flapdoodling In the Steinbeck Manner

September 15, 1998

Damn, this is hard sometimes.   Is that surprising?  I'll bet it is.  I'll bet time and again you've sat there with the paper and said, "What a buncha twaddle, must knocked that one out between the Bloody Mary brunch and the "little something" to get her through til Happy Hour!"  But the fact is, I spend hours and hours on these, sometimes days, and the hardest part isn't even writing it.  It's finding some thing to write about.

On a good day, Peter Novak will send me off on a failed mission that becomes grist for my literary mill.  Or a jaunt up-river on my skis will result in a thousand or so rapturous words.  Or, failing a adventure to depict, poor old Phil is bound to hoist himself on his own petard yet again, thereby handing me a column on a platter, so to speak.  But on a bad day I tend to sit here in mortal agony, twiddling the keys and feeling the lines in my forehead creep down into my chubby cheeks as I realize that I will never write another word.  Today, I have lines right down to my bellybutton and I'm reduced to this flapdoodle, as Steinbeck would have called it.  That's another word for bulltweet.

I remember reading about "flapdoodle" in one of Steinbeck's books.  I think it was in Sweet Thursday that he trucked off on a tangent and added a little passage that had nothing whatever to do with the story, a sequel to Cannery Row.  The digression was about the migration of Monarch butterflies and he said, more or less, "..and the butterflies arrive in their twinkling myriads and light on the pine trees, sucking up the fermented pine juice and getting cockeyed, and they fall on the ground and lie on their backs, waving their legs in the air and giving off butterfly shouts of celebration."  Butterfly shouts of celebration!  Don't you love it?

There's a knocking downstairs: I think my men are stapling paint. In a house as old as this one, a lot of paint gets slapped on ver the years.  During the recent warm spell, great thick flakes of it were loosened on the ceiling and it is a terrible temptation to just fastened them back rather than peel them off...

Speaking of terrible temptations, do you suppose it would be teasing fate too much to take off the storm windows today?  The way the sun slants in through those grimy panes this time of year is all it takes to start the first spring-feverish percolation in my veins and it's much too early to leave off my winter dithering.  I still have a lot of serious sitting around to do and that does not go well with washing windows.   

Oh, I forgot to tell you about an incident that happened on my holiday last fall.  Remember?  By bus to Vancouver Island and back?  Three months recovering from the trip?  Anyway....  You know how the bus windows are tinted, for your "travelling comfort"?  Well, when those tinted windows get even a little bit of dust or mud on them, your "travelling comfort" gets kind of claustrophobic with your "panoramic viewing" confined to the interior of the bus.

The roads were terrible out of Dawson Creek heading west and early on, the bus driver pulled into a service station and washed his windshield.  I tapped my dirty glass as he went by and indicated that a bit of water on the side windows would not go unappreciated.  His scowl told me that washing my window didn't come under his job description so at the next stop, I went bounding over to the pumps and borrowed their Squeegee.  Ignoring the sardonic eye of the driver, I lovingly washed and wiped my window, angling the sponge into the corners, carefully removing all traces of early winter in the Peace country.  Humming a gay little melody, I stepped back and inspected my handiwork.  Pretty darned good for a gal who's all done working for the year, I thought.  With a smile and a jest, I returned the long-handled washer to it's pail by the pumps, bought a cup of coffee and returned to my holiday coach.  The coach with the driver who didn't do windows.  The coach with every bit of glass dirty except one sparkling clean, dark-tinted window.  As I sat down, I leaned back over my seat and smiled at the pleasant lady who was studying the view.  "If you see anything good," I exhorted gently, "you be sure and tell me."

You talk about your spring fever...I thought I heard Herb Wahl on the radio the other morning, waxing on rapturously about his long-legged tomato.  Turned out he was talking about his long-legged tomato PLANTS, but he sure had me going for a minute.   

Thinking about spring always makes me think about our kids when they were little.  I'm sure there's a psychological reason, spring being the season of beginning life and all that, but I think it's more pussy willows and mudpies and my big spoons going out and never coming back.  I remember when our oldest boy, Toby, was in grade one.  Those were tough mornings, getting Phil out to work, Toby off to school and me with a toddler and a new baby, both of whom seemed to require my constant attention.  It was always chaos and poor old Tobe, a gentle, dreamy little boy, bore the brunt.  "Hurry, hurry," I'd nag, "You'll be late, get your coat, have you got your lunch, here comes your ride.." and I'd harry him out the door with a hasty kiss and a push.

One morning, Phil got up early and left for town.  Jo and Lise didn't awaken when I called Toby and it was just the two of us in the bright sunny kitchen, laughing softly and chatting as he ate his breakfast and I fixed his lunch.  When it was time to go, I helped him put on his coat and as I was buttoning it up, he gave a little laugh.  "This is gonna be a good day," he said, with a lilt in his voice.  I smiled back at him and straightened his collar.  "Yeah?" How can you tell?" "Oh," he said. "Just by the smile on my face."

Toby's 35 now, a heavy-duty mechanical supervisor for the gummint.  Too bad some of that aptitude didn't rub off on his youngest brother. Keel's pretty smart in some ways but I think he spends too much time reading and watching TV.  He's sort of a bust when it comes to practical things, like getting, and keeping, his cars and skidoo's operational.  Oh, he tries.  But I knew he was in trouble last week when his skidoo broke down again and all he could think of doing was to pee on the carburetor.

How many times does a mother's heart break?

So friends, enough with the flapdoodle, it looks as if I've managed to fill up a cloumn with it and now I can go and give out a few butterfly shouts of celebration of my own.

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