Monday, September 28, 2009

The Road Kill Salad

It sat on the shelf of their studio. A glossy red pottery bowl. Swirls of indigo and black spun up from its centre. Not too large. Perfect size for a salad for three or four.

I touched its glossy surface, cupped my hands around its outer rim and caressed its smooth sides.

The deep red of its colour entranced me. It felt peaceful. Serene. I had been looking for something to celebrate our trip -- the drive up the West Coast Highway -- to commemorate it. What better than a beautiful pottery bowl. A love bowl. A bowl of bounty. Of abundance. Of joy.

We were in Field, BC. At the gallery/studio space of Ryan and Kathryn Cameron. Their Velvet Antler Pottery & Gallery has been in the same location for over 20 years. A bright and vibrant couple, Ryan and Kathryn came to the small town of field to work on the railroad. "I was a teacher looking for a change," Ryan told us. "My dad didn't believe we could make a go of it here." Over twenty years later and they've proven him wrong.

Here is a small village of fewer than 200 people who live, work and play at the base of Mount Stephen in Yoho National Park. Over the years Field has evolved from a railway town, its original purpose when first established as a group of tents and huts in 1871, to a thriving little mecca of hiking and skiing and a cultural and artisan hub of activity.

Here is where one of my favourite restaurants in the Rockies sits nestled at the end of the valley, overlooking the Kicking Horse River and the peaks beyond, The Truffle Pigs Bistro.

And here is where I bought a beautiful red pottery bowl that held a treasure-trove of memories and possibilities for the future.

In honour of my father, who used to often say, "Use thy noble vase today for tomorrow it may be broken," I carried that bowl home, set it on the dining room table and used it as often as possible.

It's only been a couple of weeks since that bowl took up residence and last night, after a series of poor choices, my bowl broke.

Now, I'm not crying over spilled milk, or as in this case, spilled tomato boccocino salad which was 'to die for'. Nope. There's a lesson in this broken bowl. An important one too.

It started with my debating which bowl to put the salad in that I was making for Alexis' going away dinner at our friends, A & J. An inexpensive glass bowl? Just in case it breaks. I even thought about the fact I'd be wise to transport the salad in something I wasn't too attached to but in the end, opted for my favourite red bowl. "The salad looks so pretty in it," I thought.

When it came time to leave, I was in a hurry. We needed to stop by Indigo Books to pick up a gift for A & Js daughter as, when my daughters saw the one I'd bought, they laughed. "Mum. That just isn't her."

"But it's orange," I'd said. "And C. [the birthday girl] is an orange. Oh, and it's fair trade product too!" I'd added on quickly to cement my rationale for gift selection. (In color personality testing orange is spontaneous, free-spirited, unconventional.) The little orange felt purse and felt ball necklace I'd bought were, if nothing else, whimsical and unusual.

My daughters stood in front of me and eyed me like I'd possibly taken a leave of my senses. They sort of had the same look they'd shared when I'd shown them the large, glass mermaid I'd bought for C.C. as a Christmas gift. It was a work of art. Earth stones and pebbled glass surrounded a beautiful orange glass mermaid suspended between two pieces of twisted metal. "Uh, mom," they'd said in unison. "You may like it but we can guarantee you, C.C. will not appreciate it the same as you."

The mermaid hangs from the apple tree in the backyard. Whimsical. Unconventional. Strange.

So, when they'd clarified the strangeness of the purse and bobble necklace for a 24 year old, we'd agreed to get C. something that was more age and life appropriate. Which is why I was in a hurry when we left for dinner.

I grabbed a large paper shopping bag from the bin of bags. I could have chosen a plastic one, even a cloth one, but I love brown paper shopping bags. They're earthy. Environmental and reusable! And I was re-using this one as the tote for my salad, a bottle of wine and a small paper bag full of gooseberries.

Now, a tomato boccocino salad contains liquid. And, no matter how carefully I covered the bowl with plastic wrap, some of the liquid was bound to leak out as we drove to Indigo and then to our friends.

But I didn't think of that.

When we arrived at A & Js, Liseanne, my youngest daughter, jumped out of the car, opened the back door and picked up the handles of the paper bag.

I was about to say, "Hold the bottom," when a loud smack split the air.

I hobbled around the front of the car to the driver's side and surveyed the mess. The bowl had split open like a coconut spewing tomatoes (four different kinds), boccocino, and cucumber onto the road. The bottle of wine had fallen under the car where its liquid ambrosia pooled in the surface of the road.

I stood and looked at the mess and wanted to cry. "My bowl. My bowl. My shattered bowl."

I looked at Liseanne's face. She was devastated. "You broke mum's bowl," her sister observed.

"No she didn't," I replied walking up to Liseanne and giving her a hug. "It wasn't her fault. I wasn't thinking when I put it in the paper bag in the first place."

Liseanne pointed down to her shoes. A pair of bright pink opened toed flats she'd bought in New York the previous fall. "It's the first time I've worn them," she said. "Look, they're ruined. The oil got all over them."

"They'll be okay," I reassured her. "We can clean them up. But first, we have to clean up this mess."

And that's when the fun started.

When informed of the catastrophe on the street, C, the birthday girl, her brother, C. and friend W. came out to survey the mess.

"Oh my god," said C. "Does this salad have boccocino in it? I love boccocino," she exclaimed as she bent down to pick out a piece.

W. joined in. "Me too!" Carefully, these two twenty-somethings began to pick out pieces of tomato and boccocino, joyfully eating as much as they could without also getting any road dirt or pottery shards in their feast.

"That was a real roadkill event," C.C. stated later when he arrived from the golf course and was told the story.

That it was.

And the lesson...

It was just a bowl. Hopes and dreams and memories do not live in its depths. They live in our hearts and minds. They live and breathe in the air around us.

It was just a bowl. What was more important was that Liseanne not carry with her the responsibility of feeling she was the cause of the broken bowl. "I'll buy you a new one," she said to me as I stood beside her looking down at the mess."

"That's not necessary," I replied. "You are not responsible for this mess. I am."

And that's where the series of poor choices played out. A paper bag for my favourite bowl? I don't think so. A piece of cellophane to hold in its moist contents? I don't think so.

When something is treasured, it needs to be treated as such.

Memories are the treasures I hold in my heart. Last night, a bowl broke and it was worth it to watch and listen to the laughter of C and W as they chowed down on a salad they didn't want to miss out on.

"Louise is the best cook ever," she had told her friend. "We gotta try the salad!"

And they did.

Not as planned. But they tried it none the less and we all got an evening of laughs as we recounted the story of The Road Kill Salad.

The gift of love was not in the bowl, it was at the table around which we sat and shared a meal. Two families who have known each other since long before their children were born. Two families bonded by a tie stronger than a broken bowl, or spilled wine upon the road of life. Two families who have gathered over countless dining tables over many, many years and shared in love and laughter, good times and stories, joy and sorrow.

And over the years we have supported each other, in good times and bad. We've been there at the birth of each other's children, at birthday parties and graduations. We've supported each other as we've struggled to make sense of life's ups and downs and we continue to do so now as our children grow into adulthood and spread their wings.

Last night, we toasted Alexis and her imminent move to Vancouver. "We'll be back at this table other times," A, our host said. "We'll be sharing in many more meals and here's to you Alexis and your next adventure."

The birthday girl announced her intent to apply for a job in Vancouver. "We can live together!" Alexis and C. said in unison.

The ties that bind people in love cannot be broken.

It was just a red bowl. It can be replaced. Nothing can replace the love we share. The laughter. The joy. The strength and courage. Nothing can ever break it, either.

Nameste. May your day be filled with bonds that tie you to each others hearts in love and leave you free to fly.


S L M Moss said...

You bring me to tears. Such a peace and a blessing to those around you when you can recognize the things that are truly important, even in the moment of the immediate loss of something valuable to you.

Maureen said...

Great post, today!

M.L. Gallagher said...

Thank you Sarah -- I collected the shards and am going to make them into a piece for the garden!

Maureen -- thank you. I visited your blog and you make me wish I was living on the eastern Seaboard! I love the A Book about Death exhibit. It is inspiring. I would love to do a similar project -- A Book about Homelessness -- and have those experiencing homelessness, those working in the sector as well as artists/writers/politicians, etc. create cards that can then be created into a book for carrying away.

So lovely to 'meet' you here.


S L M Moss said...

What a delightfully creative idea! :) I'm sure it will be a gorgeous addition to your garden, and it remains something precious, not lost.