Author Archives: Linda E. Clarke

Linda E. Clarke

About Linda E. Clarke

Based in Halifax, Linda is a writer and performance storyteller. She has a special interest in personal stories and the stories of the many communities in which we live. In addition to performing in a broad variety of venues, Linda works as an educator, facilitator and director. Over the past twenty-five years, she has performed in numerous venues including theatre, storytelling festivals and radio. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications and Linda has also worked in film and video documentary production.

Nana

This entry was posted on by .

When I knew her, Nana smelled like roses and powder. She smoked pack after pack of Craven A cigarettes and laughed with the sound of those years of ashes in her throat. She sat in an armchair in the corner of the apartment that she shared with my grandfather, her cigarettes on a small, round table beside her with a lighter—those were the days of lighters—and an ashtray with a beanbag bottom. And a glass of Tang lemonade (yes, Tang made lemonade too). And the TV guide.

The apartment’s balcony was trimmed with Nana’s geraniums, ugly, red, scraggly but lasting year after year. There were clumps of dirt in their pots and my little brother, my big sister and I would throw them over the balcony—the clumps, not the pots—and watch them shower onto the windshields of the innocent cars in the parking lot below.

Nana was funny and gentle and soft. And strong as steel. She ran interference for us kids, over and over again, growing in stature each time she did. Every Sunday, all four of her boys and their families would crowd into that tiny overheated, under-ventilated apartment and she would make tea and we would sit for hours and hours. The boys—always “boys” no matter how old—were loud; they’d laugh and argue with my stubborn and handsome grandfather. My Nana and her four daughters-in-law, all of whom remember her with great fondness (unusual for daughters-in-law, I know), sat on the edges, talking and serving. Everyone smoked the air blue, so we kids hung like puppies out the window onto the balcony, looking for something to breathe.

Nana would often bake for us, too, layering the icing sugar on thick in one corner of the cake for my brother who ate so much she wondered where he put it all and, I think, secretly admired him for his unstoppable appetite. Or she would make chicken salad sandwiches—heaven on white bread with the crusts carved off and the sandwiches cut into four triangles—with sweet pickles on the side. On dreary days, she taught us how to play gin rummy and for my sister, who was older and had a head inclined to games of strategy, she played cribbage.

I loved Nana’s smooth, crepe skin, pink and soft as petals. I loved the wobble of her arms and her apron that covered her from shoulder to the hem of her dress. I loved her fuzzy blue eyes that swam behind her wire-framed cat glasses. I loved her feet—always sore although I didn’t know it then—and the small, embroidered slippers she wore in the house. They seemed to be from China and were very exotic in my child’s mind.

I loved the high spool bed I shared with her when I was a young child. I would pretend to sleep while beside me her huge shadow kept me awake with its gentle snoring. I would stare at the painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hanging on the wall at the foot of the bed and hold my breath so I wouldn’t wake her.

I loved that on those long ago Friday nights, when we arrived at their place after driving from Moncton, Nana and Grandad were eating dinner off folding tables in the darkened living room, watching wrestling on the small TV. Nana loved wrestling. I loved that too.

betweenthehouses

Between the Houses by Tessa May

*

Understorey Magazine is a project of the Second Story Women’s Centre and a registered charity. If you like what you see here, please share with friends and consider making a donation. Thank you.

Hanging Out the Wash

This entry was posted on by .
Abstract Blue Floral by Anya Holloway

Abstract Blue Floral by Anya Holloway

Ma hangs the wash on the long clothesline in the backyard of our butter-yellow house. The sea rolls in the distance. I watch from my window.

When the heat of high summer is a skin and the sea breathes from its deep belly, in the midst of that season heavy with close dreams, she crosses the warm grass, barefoot, laundry basket lopping against her hip. She sets it down and stretches to see the dull blue of the water, the languid gulls. From the basket she pulls curtains of rain and lays them, smooth and silvered, over the line. Her hands are dark against their shimmer. A wind builds, sweeps, drops across the yard, bending tired petals, washing dull leaves, pittering against my window as I draw it closed.

At summer’s end, Ma reaches into her great deep basket and pulls out a sheet of heavy fog. She snaps it straight and pins it to the clothesline. It blocks the sea, the trees, muzzles the sound. The air sweats diamonds that cling to the green of the grass at the cliff’s edge, the spider’s web in my window.

One brittle morning she picks a heavy shawl of snow from the basket; white, edges as sharp as ice. Watching her pin it to the line, my breath frosts my window. Outside all turns grey and white; air as cold as steel, sea as cold as iron.

When the winter starts to ease, I watch Ma, wearing her red rubber boots, carrying a crisp new laundry basket, round and deep. She sets it down on the softening snow by the clothesline. She cracks her wintry back and smiles at the sea, up at the bluing sky. Digging into her basket, she pulls out a jacket of fresh grass, embroidered with tulips, lilacs, daffodils; its buttons: spring buds. She takes two wooden clothespins from her pocket and clips the jacket to the line. She walks to the shore, her path traced by the yellow, pink, the purple of flowers of make-you-weep beauty.

When the sky is high blue, I open the window and the dust winks in the sunlight. The air breathes against my cheek.

One morning I hear the creak of the screen door opening below and I watch Ma carry the laundry basket snug against her belly. She is wearing a white dress with fuchsia buttons and a whirl of butterflies across its back. I see the sun catch the down on her arms. Her hair curls against her pinking cheek.

She sets the basket down and reaches into it to pull out a blanket of frost-edged air, clear and knife-sharp. Carefully, she lays it over the clothesline and steps back, warming her hands under her arms. The wind rocks stray leaves to the ground where, unseeing, she crunches them underfoot.

The breeze turns chill. Ma catches her breath, picks up the basket and hurries indoors.
Below me, the door closes tight.

I draw my window down, noticing
jeweled leaves on the trees
deep blue of the sea
sharpening of the sky.

The early fall of night.