Litter-ary

a sampler of Cat’s ink…

Travels with My Mother

By Cat Delaney

She’s been to a lot of places, my mother has. Born in Belfast, she immigrated to Scotland as a baby, then England, and ultimately, Canada (Toronto, Montréal, Calgary, Kitchener, and Stratford). Holidays took her to Jamaica, Nova Scotia, North Carolina, Québec City, Banff, Northern California, Mexico, Maine, and Vancouver.

She has tripped by train, plane, ocean liner (seasick), and passenger car. Lately she has travelled to Toronto, Stratford, Elora, Fergus, Salem, Waterloo, St. Marys, and the bustling metropolis of Linwood.

I am attentive to her. I always say hello to her in the car every time I put the groceries in there, or the cat litter, my dry cleaning, a bundle of firewood.

My mother is in the trunk of my car.

Permit me to clarify: she is in a box, wrapped in plain brown paper (as though she were some taboo item shipped in the mail), topped with a standard white #10 envelope that matter-of-factly reads, “Cremation Documents Enclosed”.

I don’t know what to do with her.

My mother died what I would deem an ignoble death. At 81, after years of dementia and strokes, she was riddled with illness, and there was nothing more her doctor could do. In accordance with Mum’s pre-dementia, written wishes, “life support” was withdrawn. In less euphemistic words, she was allowed to starve to death, over nine long days, rather than have the liberating overdose of euthanol that my beloved dog, Brodie, enjoyed just seven months earlier.

Die Mum did, 24 hours after I read to her her favourite Robert Burns poem, My Heart’s in the Highlands, and gave her my permission to leave, ensuring I would be okay without her. I lied. My travelling companion, my best friend. That was 05/05/05.

A giver to the end, she donated her body to the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Toronto. Once they were “finished” with her, she was to be cremated, privately, at St. James Cemetery and Crematorium in Toronto. About one year after her demise, I was notified politely, respectfully, and with utmost thanks for her kind donation, that her ashes were ready to be collected. I wept, perhaps more than at the time of her death, which had been a relief and release from prolonged suffering.

On a suitably rainy day in September, I drove to Toronto rattled by anxiety. For some reason, I just didn’t want to retrieve her ashes, not then, not ever. Was it a final statement, irrefutable, if her ashes were there, right in my hands?

I am no stranger to death. I’ve lost many friends, and most of my family. I’ve had dozens of pets die, and yes, I have their ashes, waiting in beautiful Italian brass urns for mine to be combined with them and spread in our favourite places. Some day.

The crematorium office was manned by a heavy-set woman, old enough to have been dead several years herself, wearing a truly bad wig. Dickens would have been charmed. She was emotionless when she asked for the name of the deceased. “Patricia Cooper,” I stumbled. “She was at U of T… I mean, she wasn’t a student. Hardly!” I laughed; the clerk did not. “Well, you see, she was…”

“A cadaver donation,” she finished coldly. In her tenure, this woman must have dealt with thousands of families of the dead; she was numb. But I wasn’t.

The box was surprisingly heavy. I’ve only before held the cremated remains of dead collies and cats. She weighed so much more, literally and figuratively.

Because I was joining a friend for lunch (purposeful distraction? I think so), and didn’t want an obvious box of ashes in view, I opened the car trunk, carefully laid the box in a corner, said, “I love you, Mummy,” and closed the lid.

And there she has been ever since.

When I got home later that day, I just could not bring myself to take her into the house. For a few days I conveniently forgot she was out there. After all, it’s not what I usually keep in my trunk with the bungee cords, snowbrush, spare tire, and car jack.

I set my resolve, a few days later, to transfer her indoors, but the phone rang. Then the dog had to be walked. I had to cut my toenails. She’s still out there.

Days turned to weeks. One morning when frost sugar-coated my car and I was worried she’d be cold (ironically, I believe we are only energy matter on the “other side”), I vowed, for once and for all, to bring her indoors. She could sit next to the Italian urns and commune with her grand-pets on the windowsill in my study. But I was barefoot.

Then, just last week, she came to me, clear as a bell, in a dream. Aha! My clue: she was asking (maybe begging) me to bring her inside. Bravely, I got as far as opening the trunk, but just stood there on the gravel driveway for the better part of ten minutes staring in at that box. The neighbours must think I’m mad. Perhaps I am.

Days passed. The guilt set in. What kind of daughter would leave her mother in the trunk of her car? Mea cupla! I mean, what if I was to sell the car? “Oops, sorry! Forgot about that box in the trunk, but how about those luxury floor mats?” What if someone rear-ended me? “Excuse me, but you just killed my dead mother; she was in the trunk that you pulverized!”

My inner philosopher spoke. Cat, it said, the reason you can’t do this because you don’t feel rooted right now. This is a reflection of your soul’s turmoil du jour. No sense of belonging for you, none for her remains, either.

Maybe I should go live in the trunk of my car.

My plans for Mum had seemed simple enough: wait until I die, and then combine her ashes with mine, and all the pets’. So, why can’t I get her out of my trunk?

The answer came from the other side. Of the Atlantic, that is. I received a letter from her brother, Vic, in England, asking me when I planned to return to see him and my aunt. I wrote back, promising to make the trip in May of 2007, and do as I did on my last visit, take a side trip to Scotland to finish the research on a novel that I am writing, set in 1850s Edinburgh. And then it came to me…

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here.

I will not hold Mum’s ashes until I die. If I’m lucky, that could be 30 years from now and she needs to be “deposited” somewhere, other than my trunk, for the next three decades.

My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I may be.

Will I get her out of my trunk before May? I can’t say for sure. Maybe she’ll be there until I drive to the airport to make our last trip together. To Scotland. To her highlands. Forever. Ever the traveller, she.

The above article was published in The Guelph Mercury newspaper under the title “A spare tire, A snow brush, Bungee cords… and mum” in December 2006.

Saint of Springtime

By Cat Delaney

Be not fooled by the sunshine of this fragile day,
For it may be rain costumed in feathers of yellow,
It may weigh the depths of lead and wrought-iron,
And cough like a tubercular old man set free,
But if you need to embrace this light and lift
The heads of snowdrops skyward in proof of it,
Then consider the earth, the rains and the dead,
Remember them for they will come again, surely,
Sure as rain, sure as death, steady, dependable.
No jaunty hats or pastel dresses and flowers
Serve to vanquish the passing of seasons and we.
The lawns ache to flaunt their greenest grasses,
But the wind shall sweep them any way it pleases,
The insects shall devour the roots and blades
As they choose and without protest, for they can.
Be not too inspired by the sun’s heat on your back,
For it is behind you and should you turn to face it,
It remains behind you, knife in hand, ready to stab.
Let the mud sift through your fingers, wet and cold,
Believe it to be the potion of slander when lies break,
Know it to sustain nothing but the worms that dig
Into your coffin, into your grave, and eat your bones.
Pass this day of spring in awe; do not believe in it.
Nod to its passing, smile in courtesy, and go on.
For despite all your hopes, in spite of your hopes,
It will leave you behind in the mud of foolishness.

The above poem won second prize in the 2007 Elora Writers’ Festival.

The following is the jacket sleeve copy from Cat’s upcoming non-fiction satire, Success Sucks!:

Success Sucks!

How to Burn Motivational Gurus and Cook Life Your Own Way

By Cat Delaney

“If you stick your neck out, be ready for your head to get cut off,” words you might hear from Henry VIII, but certainly not from any one of today’s “motivational gurus”! Drawing on western society’s weakness for the accumulation of stuff, for instant gratification, and for the entitlement that says they deserve it, motivational gurus have made millions. Until now.

Cat Delaney has failed, and failed a lot. Many times by following the exact directives issued by these “motivational mangia-cakes” as she calls them. In Success Sucks! she has distilled her experiences so as to instill a little sanity back into people who want it all, want it now and believe that if they think they can have it, it will be theirs.

Part memoir, part tongue-in-cheek philosophy, part recipe book, Success Sucks! is mostly satire that is highly readable for its broad-range wit and savvy observations.

Told with a universally understood culinary undercurrent (hey, we all have to eat!), the book takes motivational-guru addicts on a detox program that doesn’t work instantly, helps to change (not necessarily improve) cooking techniques, and guarantees nothing but a good laugh (mostly at ourselves). It’s also healthy ingestion for anyone not yet addicted to such sirens of silliness; prevention being better than cures when the main thing that might get sick is your wallet.

If laughter is the best medicine, then the icing on the cake comes in the shape of words of wisdom from a writer with a deft touch who was daft enough to believe she, like the entire rest of the world, could be successful by the terms of greedy people who didn’t even know her or her dreams. Or did they? How do these guys lure their victims? By preying on the vulnerable, weak and downtrodden (those who Delaney says have been “chickenized”!).

Success Sucks! The Motivational-Guru Junkies’ Detox Diet is more than a survival guide for misguided maniacal goal-setting addicts; it’s food or the beleaguered soul (to hell with chicken soup!) that wants personal fulfillment, not just a Ferrari in the garage, when they die. Which we all do, of course. But it’s also a grand, fun ride to self-awareness, mashed turnips, codswallop, gnus with guns, poetry, spatulas, fully dressed Italians, eligible neurosurgeons, tatty scones in lieu of bullets, lumpy gravy, perfect piecrust, other books, dogs with poor appetites, flying merde and Armagnac.

Bon appetite to your soul, your motivation, and your wallet!

 

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