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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation


July 15, 2001

“Aaargh…” Phil’s pre-dawn exclamation of disgust roused me from uneasy slumber wherein I dreamed of selling cinnamon buns out the alley door at Mac’s.

“Whazzit? S’happening?”  Well-known for my rapier-sharp tongue and scintillating wit, I have to confess that my dialogue does not begin to coruscate much before 6 AM.  “You sick?”

“Yeah, I’m sick,” he growled in response to my caring enquiry. “Look at that #$%@^ snow!!”

Struggling up through layers of doze and remnants of nightmare, I peered over the hump of his shoulder at the snowy scene just beyond the bedroom window.  “Wow,” I breathed,  “lookit it all.”  I batted him on the hip. “C’mon, let’s get up and go for a walk.”

My husband gave me that “what, are you crazy?” look and pulled the covers up over his head.  I think I heard a “stupid old lady” as he disappeared from sight but by then I was already up and pulling on my long johns, intent on getting out and experiencing the best moment of my year: first snowfall.

I don’t know quite what it is, this primal reaction of mine to winter’s fundamental evidence. 

Even knowing that the coming season will bring problems and hardships does not dampen this joy with which I greet the onset of winter.   The knowledge that my own chubby little person will undoubtedly be at risk of injury, such as frostbite on fingers and patootie when, at some point, the temperature falls to an extreme that stirs atavistic dread in all of us, fails to suppress my exhilaration.  It must be some carryover from my childhood, I suppose, when that initial snowfall meant wearing the new blue snowsuit with the little white dog on the pocket for the first time.  Or, perhaps, it was the impunity to throw things at my friends and siblings without fear of parental retribution. Given my less-than-ladylike nature, I suspect it was the latter. Certainly, it includes the memory of snow angels and fox-and-goose and sleighs and skis. Whatever the reason, first snow galvanizes me up and out the door as nothing else can, with or without a new snowsuit, usually in my summer shoes because I have not yet ferreted out my winter boots, but always with a grin as wide as a wave in a slop pail, as my friend Ross used to say.

I have to tell you, however, that snow angels are not high on my list of winter things to do, anymore. It’s just too darn hard to get down and then, even harder, to hoist myself up again.  And a real shame it is, too.  Given my present length and breadth, I could be peopling the neighbourhood lawns with angels of substantial proportions. Heroic angels, so to speak, and just what we need in these trying times.

And speaking of heroes, that was a pretty nice turnout for the Terry Fox Run this fall, especially when you consider the cold and the damp of the day and general depression following the attack on the World Trade Center.  As always, the eloquent Ron McFadyen chivvied the crowd into a fervor with his recollections of young man they had all turned out to honour and like many there, the tears I wiped away were not only the result of the sharp wind. 

It never fails to amaze me how many of the same faces come year after year to the event: most to participate, some to help with the organization, and others just to lend support and whatever is necessary to make the run a success.  We try always to publicly acknowledge those who unfailingly and with such grace answer our yearly request for equipment and/or services and products but every once in a while someone gets missed in the final roundup.  This year it was Paul Sheridan of Yukon Spring.

My association with Paul goes way back to the ‘70’ s when he was one of my oldest offspring’s instructors. He always seemed to endorse our belief that Toby had indeed hung the moon, and therefore, our relationship was pretty positive. Presuming on that bond, I had few qualms about approaching Paul for a donation of bottled water for the first Run I helped organize.

“I...um...Paul…um… it’s Ellen Davignon, you remember, Toby’s mum?”

(My articulation doesn’t coruscate all that much when I have to go cap in hand looking for handouts, either.)

But yes, Paul indeed remembered me, assured me that he still believed the thing about Toby and the moon and implied that there may have been a few stars involved as well, politely inquired as to Phil’s frame of mind with regards to his recent retirement, and bye the way, how many jugs of water would we be requiring?

He made it so easy then and has continued to do so for all the years since.  As one of the organizers, I have to say a heartfelt thank you, Paul, for your generous and continuing support for the Terry Fox Run.  As a mother, I must confess that my gratitude is for something a little more difficult to define.

The Rotary Thanksgiving roses were nice this year. They aren’t, always, due to method of transport and scheduling and so on, but these were lush and lovely and long-lasting. At least, the ones I got for my Mom were.  Mine were, as always, most noticeable by their absence. As a general thing, Phil doesn’t do roses.

Not that he wouldn’t have if I’d given him the slightest indication that my latest burning desire was to have roses. Or even if Elaine Smart had caught up with him the way she does with me. She would have leaned and he would have caved, just as I do every year as she tracks me down and brandishes her Rotarian order book under my nose, crumbling like a hot pastry in the face of Elaine’s determination and my own jam-tartiness.   On the other hand, Phil has always marched to his own inner rhythms. He might well have been able to withstand Elaine’s exhortations to bring a little beauty and romance home to his lovely wife.

I can hear him now.  “Roses? What the heck does she need roses for, thrown them out the next day, money down the drain.  Found her a new foot stool in the Free store at the dump t’other day, she don’t need any roses to make her happy.”  Bringing home the foot stool does not constitute  romance exactly, but in Phil’s inimitable way, it is courtship’s first cousin.

Don’t get me wrong.  If he’s brought to the trough and his nose held under, Phil buys me things.

My birthday is coming up and our daughters, Lise and Jo, will see to it that I will receive my heart’s dream with his name on the card. “What do you want, Mom?  Dad’s looking a little desperate and we’re taking him shopping this weekend.”  And I’ll get the books or the shirt or the earrings or the perfume, without which I could not live one more moment, and I’ll be happy and he’ll make like he did it all on his own, “…I heard you say that was what you wanted so I bought it and there you are. Are we having cake?” What the heck, I’m not that big on romance anyway.

And now it’s time to round this off and go and start with the flour and vanilla and eggs and stuff.  If I want presents, I’d better be prepared to come up with the payoff.

Besides, I just heard Phil’s mating call:  “Hey Ellen, where are you?  Come and see what found at the dump!”

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