I've often been asked how I came about writing as a viable career and my easiest answer was always the movies. Since I can remember I loved the movies, I even remember the first movie I ever saw, Disney's documentary The Living Desert, and how a scene of a rattlesnake scared the hell out of me.
After all, it was on a screen 20 feet wide and 12 feet high.
After that I was addicted to the movies and soon knew the names of actors and directors and writers. I knew that after the director's credit, the movie would start.
Since then I have written a pile of movies but I also worked as a newscameraman, soundman and almost every other job on a film, as well as directing 3 movies and scores of commercials.
But it always came back to the writing.
Just before my mother passed away last August she kept telling me to "keep the calendars". I knew she would write little notes on calendars, appointments, things like that. But it wasn't until after she passed away that I discovered the entire stash of calendars stuffed into a corner of her closet.
And they dated back to 1971.
On January 1976, she received a call from my brother Dave, in Hong Kong, on that same day she called me in Vancouver and added, on the same day that there was snow and cold. She would also note the hours she worked.
Annie worked mostly in cafes, the kind that you rarely see now, where a hot hamburger sandwich was more common than a flambe. She was the youngest of six and when her mother died, her father took another woman and sent Annie away, at the age of 15. She had barely an 8th grade education.
Her calendars started around 1971, but some may have been lost in the many moves we made. Mostly they were like this:
On March 1973 she wrote "sick, one half day worked, $21.20."
On June 1973, "Dave got hurt in school, went to hospital".
May 1999, "found 15 morel mushrooms and went to breakfast to Roman Catholic church".
July 1975, "exchanged camera, bought better camera".
Dec 1979, "boys phoned, first snow storm and cold".
Nov 1981, "James came home".
I started reading the calendars a few weeks ago, having stashed them after her funeral and I began to see what she was protecting, even after she was gone.
They were her life, her diary. Very basic yet revealing the life of a family for almost 40 years. They were simple entries but yet very clear to me, even if the squares of the calendars were only large enough to write 3 or 4 words. So many of the entries bring back a memory to me, things I had forgotten.
And I realized that maybe, just maybe this was why I write. And oddly enough the same goes for my brother Dave, who also writes and works for a newspaper in Calgary as a writer and desk editor.
My mother was not formally educated, rather she was educated in hard work and sacrifice like most of her family and most people back in the 1950's. She didn't believe in credit cards nor in incurring debt, which would make her a rare commodity these days.
She also had a box of letters that date back to 1937 and lists of money spent every day, 5 cents for ice-cream, 35 cents for lunch, new scarf $1.75.
Her last entry though, was written by me, as I sat with her in the hospital. She wasn't able to write at this point, her anemia making her so weak she could barely lift her hand. Yet she insisted that I write in the calendar that she had another transfusion. I told her she had the transfusion weeks ago, but she insisted that I write down "Another transfusion".
So I did. Twelve hours later she passed away.
I always thought it was my dad who had the talent in the family, for a garage mechanic, he played the violin incredibly well, winning contest after contest even into his late 70's. And both Dave and I inherited a little bit of his musical talents.
But it wasn't until now that I realized that the writing part came from Annie, with a strong dose of Hollywood movies. So this is my plan;
I want to read all of her calendars and see if there could be a book in it, a diary of a woman but not your average diary. I have mentioned this to friends and many of them say their mothers wrote their version of a diary in calendars so maybe it just might be worth it.
Lesson learned; don't throw away your mother's calendars.
(Mon: Fear of fear)