My friend from north of the border takes his foot off the gas pedal just a tad in this week’s guest column. Even with the topic a tad less incendiary in that sense, Paul Curran’s writing flame still burns brightly.
Welcome to the weekly coffee and tea garden. My name is Paul, I’ll be your barista today and I’m happy to be here at Mark Bialczak’s Little Bitty in Syracuse, New York. Please come in and go through to the living room. Mark, his wife Karen and their pooch Ellie B, have prepared a nice, air-conditioned, comfy place for us so I can tend to your needs for a cuppa, and sweets. The weather this morning is cloudy with a high just over 80 F. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer – we have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our worldwide readership and adult beverages for those who wish something stronger. We can relax with a cuppa in the air conditioning while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. Ellie likes to be patted, so please indulge her when she greets you. Have a piece of cake (or any of the sweets on the next table) – electronic sweets are all calorie-free! How has your week been? Are you enjoying the weekend? Any special activities?
When I was contemplating this week’s post I gave some thought to friendships I have made on front doorsteps in the past. The most notable and best such friendship was with Penny, at the time a feisty blonde single mom with four kids. I was boarding at a friend’s place, and we used to sit out on the front steps in the summer evenings and chat about our days while consuming a few adult beverages. One memorable evening, a moving truck pulled up in front of the house kitty-corner on our intersection. A car pulled in behind and disgorged a wired 28-year-old woman with four children under the age of 10. The kids spread out on the lawn while the woman – Penny was her name – spoke with the truck driver. They soon started unloading when Michelle, the woman owner of the home and a friend of my landlady’s, wandered over to chat. Michelle was a kind soul who I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw her. Michelle was out to benefit Michelle. Anyway, she explained that Penny had been accepted to Ottawa University in their education program so she and her kids were staying at the house for a year. Michelle had bought the house as a long-term resale investment and so had purchased a split-level, five-bedroom, four-bath home for she and her husband. The downstairs was vacant. Michelle and Penny had met in Montreal while doing a performing arts degree.
Penny Looked Like This with Hair Tied Back
Later that evening, Penny herself flounced across the street. She half flew, half bounced wherever she went. With long blonde hair and an open face, the first thing that popped to mind was “blonde and clueless.” And sure enough, she asked questions that were not well thought out. But then I realized there was someone behind that cascade of blonde hair, someone hiding who was watching and listening and playing a game. She was deliberately dumbing herself down for some reason. I called her on it and asked why she would do that, and she just shrugged and said that most men do not appreciate the competition, so she found it simpler and safer to remain the dumb blonde. Her cheerfulness and energy was contagious and soon we shifted to her porch when the kids were in bed and all was dark. This became our routine and she introduced me to port. Although neither of us had much money (I was paying off a non-existent truck that a failed insurance policy had left me on the hook for and she was a starving student), we scraped up the money for a bottle each night. It became our motto: No matter how bad things get, there is always enough left at the end of the day for a drink of port. We shared that whole summer, one glass at a time, and became solidly bonded friends. As time went by we slept a number of times in the same bed (when traveling with the kids) but never had sex or even kissed passionately – and, if anything, I was the one who was scared. I had the feeling she would have been open to explore if I had wished – but I did not wish for I did not want to ruin our friendship.
The Getaway Car
Penny’s grandparents lived in Montreal, she grew up there and studied there and partied there. We spent a lot of time in Montreal (about a two-hour drive from Ottawa). I owned a Chrysler Intrepid at the time and it was fast and solid on the road. It was big inside and we could fit all four kids in the back seat. Penny was technically a good driver but she drove too fast on the highway. One day she asked if she could drive us to Montreal and I agreed. It wasn’t long before she was up to 160 km per hour, about 100 mph. She was driving fine and the traffic was light, but I warned her she could lose her license for that – here in Ontario any speed greater than 50 kmph over the limit is charged as careless driving and means license lost – we had to do that to stop the street racing that was becoming popular. Anyway, she was OK and her young brain had the processing speed to handle the car at that speed, so I kept quiet. Then the kids started to argue in the back seat and, I kid you not, she turned around to face them while going 100 miles per hour ahead, and began to lecture them. I grabbed her and turned her back facing forward and told her I was making a new rule – no turning to look in back when doing over 150 kmph (90 mph). My physical reaction must have scared the kids because they went quiet while their mother got a tongue lashing.
Penny was so full of life and cared so much about everyone that she was an excellent elementary teacher when she graduated. Her energy kept her students busy and she won a number of awards. It wasn’t unusual to find her up to her elbows in glitter and glue while creating a lesson plan for 6-year-olds or playing with her own kids. Penny herself had apparently been a handful when she was of school age and often found herself in the principal’s office or being disciplined and even suspended a few times. That she would even go into teaching amazed me but she was superb at it – except for one very small flaw that was almost her undoing. You see Penny was perfectly bilingual and spoke both French and English without the slightest accent. She had done one university degree in French and one in English; such was her mastery of both languages. She sometimes used this as a part of her dumb blonde act pretending to be only English or only French while she took note of all that was said in both languages.
Steve look-alike in Costume
Web Site: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/361062095096747501/
Anyway, Penny taught in a French school and around here they are very strict that only French be spoken in the classroom, as so much daily living is done in English. We had a mutual friend, Steve, who was a professional clown. Steve owed Penny a favor when she DJed a dance for him as he was double booked with a clown gig at the same time. Penny did not want money but rather took out the debt in the form of a trade for Steve’s participation in a classroom birthday at her school. At the end of each year, Penny would have a small party for all those in her class whose birthdays fell in the summer. She invited Steve the Clown who spoke only English but normally mimed most of the time anyway. To make a long story short, the clown talked, a passing teacher heard English being spoken and ratted out Penny to the principal. That evening Penny complained to me saying: “Paul, I am spending more time in the principal’s office as a teacher than I ever did as a student and that was bad enough.”
We’ll come back to visit Penny again another day as our time together over a period of 10 years produced some hilarious and thought-provoking stories.
Please join me in thanking Mark, Karen and Ellie B for their invitation to tea on this weekend. We are all honored that you dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation and please look around at Mark’s other posts while you’re here. Oh and roughseasinthemed, your bottle of chilled Muscadet is on the table on ice. Have a great week.
First Get in here
THEN ADD THIS