Just One Of Those Days

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This post is dedicated to my husband, Nick.  He is the best man who has ever been in my life.  Nick, happy anniversary.

I think most of us have one.  A day that seems to attract special occurrences – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always memorable.  July 31st, over the past few years, has become one of those days for me.  Let me explain.

I’m a teacher.  Part of being a teacher is having 2 months holiday in the summers.  Until 3 years ago, July 31st meant I was halfway through my summer vacation.  On July 31st, I was never ready to be on the back-stretch of my holidays.  July 31st also meant I still had 6 weeks left to get by on my savings for the summer.  I (and every other teacher) has heard a comment like,”Gee, it must be nice getting 2 months holiday in the summer every year.” or “Wow, what a cushy job – you only have to work 10 months a year.  Must be nice.”  (Oh dear, enough with the comments, I feel a rant coming on!).  What most people don’t realize is that teachers are not paid in the summer, so that cushy summer holiday often comes with stress over money by the time August rolls around.  So for me, this is what July 31st was all about for years.

Then three years ago, everything changed.  Three years ago my (then) boyfriend and I decided that it was time for us to make a trip to the country of his parent’s birth – Italy.  It was a wonderful, magical journey that took us from Trapani on the far west coast of Sicily, across the island and all the way up the boot to Milan.  We finished off with four days in Paris.  On our third morning there, we got an email that Nick’s father had died.  That was July 31st.  While it wasn’t really a shock, he had been declining for some time, it was still a very difficult day.  It was taken up with phone calls to Ottawa, frantic emails back and forth to our travel agent, all trying to make sure that Nick could be in Ottawa in time for the funeral.  When it was done and we knew that he could be there, Nick asked me if he could have some time alone.  My stoic Nick.  I took Miyuki and we went off to spend a few hours in Paris.

What a roller coaster of a day.  I left the hotel heartsick for my husband.  It doesn’t matter if you know that Death is on the doorstep, he still brings pain and anguish.  But I wasn’t out wandering alone – my daughter and her crazy sense of humour was with me.  We decided to go to the Moulin Rouge.  I talked about this in an earlier post so I won’t go into a lot of detail here.  That evening was, however, one of the best 1/2 days my daughter and I have spent together.  She is a wonderful girl and fills my heart every-time I am with her.

Fast forward one year.  July 31st two years ago.  Picture a white gazebo, hung with burgundy and white ribbons.  Through the ribbons, as they flutter in the breeze, you can see the sun glinting off a pristine lake.  In front of the gazebo stand two people, oblivious to everyone seated around them.  That was Nick and I on our wedding day.  We had chosen that day purposefully as a way of celebrating not just our life together, but also as a way of remembering people passed – Nick’s father and mother, and my father specifically.  It was the best of weddings; beautiful, meaningful, but most of all fun.  That day Nick and I pledged our loyalty and love to each other – to the persons we were meant to be with.  We had already been together almost 6 years, and, while I won’t say everyday had been perfect, we had been perfectly content that we were with the right person.  Since then, our lives have grown in so many ways.

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Fast forward another year.  July 31st last year.  Nick and I celebrated our anniversary with a phone call from our realtor, Joe.  The offer we had made on our house in Sicily had been accepted.  We were going to have our house in Italy!

Fast forward to this year.  Today is July 31st.  We have been in Cianciana for almost a month.  Everyday, when I walk to the bakery or the fruit and veggie store or the butcher, I am stopped by this neighbour or that, just wanting to chat or to say hello or to tell me “Il fa caldo!” (it is hot!) to which I reply “Si’, troppo caldo!” (yes, too hot!).  Last night, Nick and I went to our neighbours’ house in the country.  We sat outside on their patio, under a thick canopy of grape vines, surrounded on three sides by olive, almond and fig trees.  We ate pasta and chicken and potatoes, and they poured Nick glass after glass of their homemade red wine made from their own grapes.  We finished the end of the day sipping strong espresso coffee.  So, today Nick and I are celebrating our anniversary volunteering with the local community group that is hosting the annual harvest festa, or festival.  There will be stacks and stacks of food.  It starts after sundown and goes until 3 or 4 in the morning.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our second year as a married couple than to do so with our new community around us.

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Follow the River Taff

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After we found the Kings Head, we drove the few minutes to a town called Abertillery.  Most of my Welsh family grew up there, including my cousin Gill who was driving us around.  Abertillery is a tiny town and one of the few streets is called Princess street.

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This is where Gill and her brother, Arthur, and my late cousin Joyce lived as children and where Walter, Gill and Arthur’s stepdad still lived at the time.  Sadly, Walter has since passed away, but I remember him as a warm, generous, quiet man.  He was strong and stubborn and lived in his own house until he died, in spite of Gill’s urging him to move to somewhere that would do his housework and cook his meals for him.

 

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You may have noticed in the picture, that Arthur – second from the left – is a larger than life kind of guy.  He spent his career working for Adidas as their liaison with the Welsh National Rugby team.  He could have taken a promotion, moved to London, and made scads more money.  Adidas certainly offered this to him.  But Arthur loved (and still loves) rugby so much that he chose to stay in what was his dream job.  Rugby is an important sport in Wales.  Every town has at least one team and Abertillery is no different.  My mother, amongst all her junk precious articles, has a book on Rugby in Abertillery.  That is one thing that I know I will keep once she has passed.

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Arthur was an amazing host.  This is when he is truly in his element – showing off the country that he loves and making sure the people around him are having a great time.  He took us for a lovely lunch in Cardiff, drove us to Penarth (lovely town right on the water just north of Cardiff), and then we hung out with his friends who announced, that even though my daughter and I were born in Canada, we were still Taffies.  The word Taffy refers to the people of south Wales and derives from the River Taff.  I have since learned that it is a derogatory word.  I apologize for using it but my story would fall flat if I said that we had been called T*****s.  I am quite sure that there was no insult meant when they used the term.  In fact, I could see the Welsh pride on their faces when they all agreed what we were and we took it in the spirit that it was meant.

A story that Arthur told me had to do with a branch of our family with the last name Walbyoff.  Many of them shortened the name to Walby.  According to Arthur, the Walbyoff branch of the family is descended from a Polish prince by the name of Prince Ralph.  I have googled Prince Ralph of Poland and couldn’t find any reference to him at all.  I suspect this is one of Arthur’s wonderful tall tales.  It doesn’t really matter – it’s stories like these that that make Arthur the larger than life guy that he is.

Just a note on my cousin Joyce.  She was the first of my family living in Wales that I met face to face.  Joyce came to British Columbia to meet family.  She stayed with me in Victoria for about a week, and my mother came over to visit with her too.  One of my favourite memories of Joyce was going shopping with her to find some culottes to wear.  I took her to the Bay.  She found a lovely pair of culottes, white with big tan polkadots.  She wore those everyday with such joy and panache.  Sadly, when she was packing her things to return to Wales, she left the culottes out.  When I asked her why, she said matter-of-factly, that she couldn’t be seen in them back in Wales.  Her neighbours would talk and her friends wouldn’t be seen with her.  This was back in 1988.

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I am very proud of my Welsh heritage.  My aunt, who was born in Wales, didn’t speak English until she was 13 and then she completely gave up Welsh as she was teased so badly by the other children.  I used to ask her to teach me some Welsh, but she never would.  She passed away when I was 17.  An opportunity and a beloved aunt lost.

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December Photo a Day Challenge: Family

December Photo a Day Challenge: Family

This picture was not taken by me (as I am in the middle in the photo), it was taken by one of my students who is now carving out a career in photography. She took pictures at my wedding and did a wonderful job. Her name is Naomi Fraser.

This is three generations of women in my family. My mother, myself and my daughter.