Sheila Horne graduated from George Brown’s Creative Writing Program and is the author of three novels: Sunshine Girls, Paper Sun, and Place in the Sun. She is also the co-author of Temple of Light, a book of poems inspired by the Sharon Temple. Her poems and short stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies. To read more, visit Facebook.com/sheilahorne, author or www.sheilahorne.com.

All posts by Sheila Horne

COFFEE SHOP TALK⎯Christmas Cakes

A friend’s photo of her fruitcake brings back memories of my mother-in-law and I baking Christmas cakes from a recipe handed down to her from her mother-in-law. The first week of October we would grind the fruit and soak the mush in wine and rum. It sat in a jar on the kitchen counter until the end of November. At which time we made the cakes under the guidance of her mother-in-law’s spirit who looked over us, making sure we followed the instructions. Once they finished baking, my mother-in-law poked holes on top of the cakes, poured wine over them and sealed them. Christmas week we iced them with marzipan and royal icing. 

During the week of cake baking, my mother-in-law would invite my younger son, who couldn’t keep a secret, over for a visit-just the two of them. While I walked him over to her house, I would warn, “do not tell Nana what we are giving her and Poppa for Christmas.” But my mother-in-law was very persuasive with cookies and milk, and he spilled the beans. It worked every time. It was all part of the excitement and fun of Christmas. 

My mother-in-law died in 1996. I didn’t make Christmas cakes that year and placed one less plate setting at Christmas dinner. It changed again when my mother died in 1997 and there was another empty spot at the table. The first Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve without my mother, and my mother-in-law was a comedy out of Christmas movie. It started with my stepfather criticizing the shirt I gave him. He didn’t think the material good enough quality, not for him. The colour might run in the wash. “Who washes in cold water?” he said. “Never heard of it.”

After he finished complaining about his gift, him and my father-in-law argued over centimeters and inches on the measuring tape. Over the years, when their spouses were around, they tolerated each other. Without their wives, there was no stopping them. It was war-all about the better man. The only thing to do: take them to the one place where they would behave. I rushed everyone to put on their coats and out of the house. “For the Christmas carols,” I said when my stepfather and father-in-law joined forces and fussed about having to sit an hour in church before midnight mass. 

The next year I escaped to my father’s house in British Columbia and spent Christmas with my family. On the flight back, I realized Christmas of past years was over. The numbers at the dinner table were dwindling. My sons were growing up. Time to adapt, make changes and fresh memories. There have been many Christmases since those days and I have fond memories of them. But the ones of baking with my mother-in-law will always have a special place in my heart. 

COFFEE SHOP TALK⎯Playing is Playing

I am a word person, definitely not crafty. The most I can do is paint birdhouses and feeders or refinish a piece of furniture with fusion paint. But I find myself in a mask with five other women, spaced over six feet a part in The Georgina Art Centre painting Christmas ornaments. It’s terrifying for me, as it involves not getting paint on the floor. Not only that, everyone seems to know that the floral foam brick stuck in the aluminum pan is not a gift for registering for the class. I thought it was and removed it. Once the teacher sticks it back in my pan, she explains the project: Acrylic Pouring. 

Soon we are smearing, drizzling, plopping acrylic paint on balls and wooden decorations. It all seems intimidating until I realize I play with words. I can play with paint – playing is playing. From play comes skill and I’m right. Turns out, crafting is not different from writing. At first you may not understand what you’re doing, make a mess, then you learn to play and it works out. Except for the paint on my coat, hanging at the back of my chair. Paint on my purse, sitting on another chair away from me. Paint on my glasses. Paint on my fingernails – how did that happen with gloves on? Paint in my hair. And of course, paint on the floor. 

COFFEE SHOP TALK ⎯ Flashback

The conversation starts with hair. And people obsessed with their hair. 

“Why is that?” I ask and tell her, if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back with dead straight tresses. She understands. We both have a curly mop with a mind of its own, especially in the summer heat and humidity. We are chatting on the phone, her with her coffee and me at the other end with mine, gabbing about everything like we do in Coffee Shop. 

“I always wanted Ann Blyth’s hair,” she says. “She was beautiful, a porcelain doll in Mildred Pierce.”

“In my early teens I went through a Lesley Gore stage, styled mine like hers.” 

She’s never heard of Lesley Gore or her hairstyles. Or, “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.”-Lesley Gore. Album: I’ll Cry If I Want To (1963)

Flashback to movie stars from the past: Grace Kelly, elegant with perfect hair. Lana Turner, hair spray queen, always played a tormented woman, like Susan Haywood. Rita Hayworth, the most gorgeous hair in Hollywood. Doris Day, a lovely voice, girl next-door type. “I loved Doris Day’s hair when she had the duck tail,” I say. “I had mine cut like that in my early twenties.” 

 Flashback to old television shows: Father Knows BestThe Donna Reed ShowPatty Duke ShowThe Dick Van Dyke ShowLeave it to Beaver. We have our favourite mothers from those shows. “I didn’t like Donna Reed or Mary Tyler Moore as mothers,” I say.  “Jane Wyatt of Father Knows Best was better.” 

“Mary Tyler Moore had the most natural hairstyle of all of them,” she says. 

Flashback to the seventies: Gilda Radner, fabulous curly, wild hair. “I wore my hair like Farrah Fawcett’s twisting it with the curling iron to make it curl the way hers did at the sides,” she says. 

“I was all over the place with mine,” I say. “Short, shoulder length, to the neck, hennaed, streaked, frosted. At one time I had the Jaclyn Smith look.”

 She laughs. “We were obsessed.” 

“Why is that?” I ask. 

COFFEE SHOP TALK⎯All Depends

The old dog doesn’t greet me. He hasn’t all summer. Instead, he lies on the cool cement floor in the barn. I walk pass, he opens his eyes, glances upward then closes them. His ribs, hipbones and the cogs on his spine are visible. Until this year, he’s always met me at my car for a head rub. Then he’d escort me into the barn. I mention this to the farmer. He looks down at the dog. “Well, I’ll tell ya, he’s an old guy, slowing down,” he says with a southern drawl. And I think: How come I’ve never noticed that he’s from the south. And how did he end up on a farm in Ontario? 

Today, I’ve made the trip for peaches, and a watermelon I saw earlier in the week. None. “No peaches or melons?” I ask.

“Nope, two busloads of people showed up early this morning, so that’s the end of the peaches and melons for this year.” 

I pick up three large beefsteak tomatoes. I eat a lot of them this time of year. Every week when I go to the farm to buy more, I ask, “how much longer before the tomatoes run out?” 

The answer is always the same, “two, maybe three weeks, all depends on how many busloads show up.” 

They come in droves to the farm to, ‘pick your own’ vegetables of all types, colours and sizes. In the spring: strawberries and blueberries. In the fall: apples and pumpkins. After Halloween, the farm closes. “Open maybe June or July next year, all depends,” the farmer says. 

I look down at the dog and say, “See you next year, old guy.”  

“All depends,” the farmer says and scratches the dog’s head. “All depends.” 

COFFEE SHOP TALK⎯Porch Days

For most people, January 1st is a time of reflection and resolutions. For me, it’s Labour Day. I set new goals and think back on past months. This year it’s been different. Sold and bought a house in the first two weeks of January, followed by months of packing and moving in the prime of Covid-19 to a town of six thousand people. But even with the constraints of the pandemic, it has been a wonderful summer. I walked miles twice a day, every day investigating my new surroundings. And I became a porch lady. I read, drank coffee, ate watermelon, mangoes and cherries while observing the daily buzz on our street. The cars, the bus, the remote control cars racing by followed by a group of boys-controls in their hands, the skateboarders, the basketball players. Packs of electric teenager girls on bicycles, giggling and yakking and, ‘oh my God, he said that.’ An overweight man on a child’s bike carrying groceries home, the people walking by and the friendliest neighbours-always a wave, a hello, a chat. They introduce their dogs: Justin, Randolph, Lily, Carmen, and Roscoe who is the keeper of the street as long as his leash lets him, then he does the perfect back flip into reality. All on a backdrop of blue sky, sunshine and leaves rustling in the lake breeze. Now it’s September, trees are turning orange and red. The days are getting cooler, the street quieter, my porch days shorter. It’s time to return to my desk, to write, to finish what I started, and set goals. 

COFFEE SHOP TALK ⎯ Romance without Logic Sheila Horne

Because of social distancing, I’m not in Coffee Shop. I’m in my writing room, looking out my window to the empty street, thinking about matchmakers. I once thought of myself as a matchmaker. The first time in the early seventies in the Windjammer in Wasaga Beach, I tried fixing up my friend with the guy sitting at the table next to ours. I saw them as a couple – both short, cute, the same colour brown hair cut in the same shag style with bangs. In fact, they could have been identical twins. She took one look at him and shook her head. I was disappointed. The second time I told a guy who asked me on a date about a friend of mine. She went out with him for a while, then realized what I knew about him; he liked to party too much. I assumed she did too. I was wrong. The night I met the person who would become my hubby, I suggested to the man who asked me to dance that the friend I was with might be a better dance partner for him. They ended up dating for two months until she realized she was lesbian. Or she lied to him. I’m not sure since she disappeared out of my life. Probably made a vow never to speak to me again. Then I tried to fix up someone with one of my hubby’s friends. After that disaster, I gave up. But contemplating Matchmakers makes me wonder if there is still such a thing. The Hallmark channel feels there is since I watched two movies last night about Matchmakers. As my research tells me, they are an alternative to online dating. Years ago I worked with a woman in her forties who talked about a mediator, a go-between negotiating with a man she was dating. I thought it strange. But it makes sense now. Perhaps she used a Matchmaker. They meet clients, interview potential matches, and give dating advice. They also perform background checks, administer personality tests, and build psychological profiles of their clients. The cost? $5,000.00 to $10,000.00. Makes me wish I hadn’t given up matchmaking. I might have gotten better at it. But, in a way Matchmakers are a lot like writers: always on the job, always have eyes and ears peeled to their surroundings. And they know how to ask questions. The difference is, Matchmakers are not afraid to approach people to ask if they are single. Something I am not comfortable with. But here’s my question about Matchmakers. What happens if they fall in love with the person they matched their client with? What happens if the client falls in love with the matchmaker? It happened in both movies. Since they were Hallmark movies, it wasn’t a problem. Turns out the clients bumped into the men of their dreams and fell in love – just like that. Everyone hugged and kissed. Even the dogs they adopted cheered. Hubby says I shouldn’t trust anything on a television channel with a W on it. Is he right? Is a television channel with a W on it all about romance and no logic? 

COFFEE SHOP TALK⎯Moving On

After many years I am packing up my writing room. It’s where I put on music and sit with a coffee. Look out the window and watch the leaves change from green to orange, snowflakes float, buds open and snow melt. It’s where I watch the grass grow, the lilac tree bloom, and spring arrive. Where my animals spend most of their day. They sleep while I write. It’s where my mind roams. Where I turn words into paragraphs and creativity rules. Where I wrote three novels and rewrote…and rewrote…

Books from the bookshelves are packed in boxes and labelled. Framed photos wrapped in bubble wrap sit on top of boxes. File cabinet cleaned of notes, short stories and forgotten manuscripts now typed and saved on an external drive. The bulletin board is clear of reminders and magnets with cute sayings. The shelf above my desk sits empty except for two Buddhas and a plant. I am moving on. To a new town. A new house. A new writing room where I’ll put on music, sit with a coffee, watch the seasons change and write… 

THIS, THIS & THIS

Here I am on New Year’s Eve in Coffee Shop watching snowflakes fall. And I can’t help but think: Why is Abba asking Fernando if he hears the drums? And what was in the air that night? Why is it when hubby and I go to Home Depot we never get a cart? And I have to put everything down and get one, which is always outside. Why, do men turn into The Hulk the minute they enter hardware stores? And when they do handy man stuff at home? When I go to the grocery store for one item why do I end up juggling ten in my hands? Why is it when someone complains about winter, there is always one person who tells them it’s Canada, as if the complainee doesn’t know they are in Canada. But when someone complains about the heat in summer no one says, “it’s Canada.” Why is that? Why is it that duct cleaners phone from India? They live in a hot country, do they know what a duct is? Or do they think it’s our ducks that need cleaning? Why, when I type the contraction, it’s my computer underlines it and thinks it should be the possessive, its? And what time was Paul Simon singing about in, Late in the Evening? Why is it people take things literally? Like what I’m writing at the moment. Like the man two tables over talking about the fires in Australia and predictions in the bible about the earth ending by fire this time around. Why will someone feel the need to answer the question? Why are the Kardashians popular? And what happens to all the contestants who didn’t win The Voice? Why is it no one has written a reply to the song, How Long by Ace? My enquiring mind wants to know how long it’s been going on: two months? A year? Five years? Thinking of love, why do people post their love life on social media? If I invest a minute of my time reading all about the love of their life, cheering them on, liking their posts, I need an explanation when it’s over. So, like the Bee Gees are singing right now, maybe you can tell me how a love so right can turn out to be so wrong. I need to know. I need closure. I really do. Why is it my hair never does what I want and always, always, always does what it wants, as if it has a mind of its own? Why do I think it does? Why is it Monday has a bad rap when every other day is fine? And why if Monday is good to John Phillips does it make him cry? Why am I sitting here thinking of this, this & this? Because Annie Lennox is asking, Why? And on a snowy day Coffee Shop is the best place to let the mind roam. 

COFFEE SHOP TALK⎯That’s Life

Coffee Shop no longer carries English newspapers. I think of making a fuss like I did with the music but I realize it’s been changing over the last year, catering to a larger demographic. I am now a tiny speck in Coffee Shop. Me, and the woman coming to the back with her coffee and muffin. She sits down at the table next to mine. I continue to go between watching snowflakes hit the ground and reading my book. Within minutes the woman begins a conversation about the teachers protesting outside the high school. I teach creative writing. I taught fitness for fifteen years. Except for teaching a group of uncoordinated high school baseball players aerobics back in the ‘90s, I have never taught a class room of kids. I do not know what goes on in classrooms and I don’t want to discuss it with her. But, somehow she feels that I need to know about teaching, teachers and the system. This leads to her talking about herself and giving me a few lessons about life. But this isn’t about the woman. This is about me. Without knowing anything about me, what is it that makes people feel that I am interested in their opinions? Makes them assume that I don’t know anything and need a lesson?  Do I look stupid? I asked Hubby once. He said I attract the weird ones. I have since the 1970s. He’s witnessed it. They see me across the room and head my way. I look approachable, someone they can try out their shit on. Since I am polite and easy-going I listen, hmm, aww and smile. I don’t challenge their nonsense. So, they continue. Like the woman is doing now, yakking about the highs and lows in her life, all the things she has done, throwing in a few items she feels I need to be educated about. It’s all very interesting, to her. And I think: She’s been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a queen. Before she gets up she says, “But that’s life.” And I think: We meet people. We listen. We are polite. One day we’re reading a newspaper in English the next we have to read it on our phone. Everything is temporary. Change is inevitable. We move. We find a new coffee shop. We go up and down and over and out. It’s all in the flow and that’s life. 

Child of the Equator

I’ve ridden in a donkey cart, legs dangling over the side. Tumbled from a wheelbarrow in a race, rolled on the ground laughing. Caught tadpoles, placed a caterpillar on a branch in a jar, watched it turn into a butterfly, then let it go. Trapped lizards, been surrounded by hummingbirds and butterflies, let grasshoppers crawl over my hands and stared them in the eye. Tormented frogs and listened to crickets sing all day and all night for rain. 

I’ve walked on paved and gravel roads without shoes. Stung by marabunta and army ants. Bitten by bête rouge and mosquitoes. Tramped through floodwaters and experienced drowning: The spinning. The tunnel. Endured cuts, bruises, and grazes on elbows and knees. Stepped on nails, followed by the dreaded tetanus shot. Slept under a net. Hidden from cockroaches flying into the house and screamed in terror until someone killed them.

I’ve taunted bulls and cows. Felt the sear of the sun, tasted the warm salty spray of the sea. Built sand castles and ran on the ocean floor when the tide was out to play with crabs, shells and what we called ‘four eye fish,’ then dashed to the shore as the tide flowed back towards the beach. I’ve flown in a sea plane, landed on the river and taken a canoe to the dock.

I’ve seen real poverty. The kind that makes you grateful for what you have. The kind you don’t forget—dirt floors, meals cooked outside of shacks on coal grills in dented pots black from smoke. From a distance I’ve watched children have fun bathing in the rain—the only shower they knew and I wanted to be one of them. Gazed at mothers sitting on rickety steps outside dilapidated houses plaiting their daughters’ hair with crisp colorful ribbons. And wished I had braids and shiny ribbons like theirs. 

I’ve breathed in the smoke of burning buildings and cane fields, and seen sky-high flames during riots. Witnessed the hysteria of people scrambling to escape an uncontrolled situation. And the eerie silent disbelief of little coffins of friends lined up by the altar in church.    

I’ve skipped rope on the seawall, inhaled cool evening ocean breezes and stared mesmerized at the trees and store windows in town lit-up at Christmas. Ate apples bought from stalls on the sidewalks: a yearly treat. Ice apples we called them because they were from somewhere in North America and it was icy up there.   

I’ve been excited and scared at the same time of the Mother Sally parade coming down the street to booming drumbeats and barking dogs. Laid in tall grass and found shapes in clouds. Stared in awe at a star-studded sky. Experienced tropical gale winds and tremors of earthquakes. Heard the roar of torrential rain on the galvanized roof and thunder like thousands iron balls crashing while lightning blazed across the heavens. 

I’ve danced at sunrise in pajamas, dew wetting bare toes and collected eggs from chickens. Ate hibiscus flowers, plucked fruit from low-hanging branches and ate them—unwashed. Clambered over fences and gates to picnic on a desolate cricket field. Climbed a mango tree only to get stuck. Drank water from coconuts falling from way up high. Eaten sugar cane from the field and molasses, and dark, raw sticky brown sugar. Drank milk straight from a cow, ate freshly churned cream and butter on hot out of the oven bread with homemade jam. And ice cream stirred up on the back step. And custard ice-blocks. 

I’ve scraped the leftover bits from the bottom of the fudge pot. Bare feet on hot asphalt, cup in hand, chased a vendor with a dirty pushcart selling shaved ice covered in syrup. Eaten Indian sweets, bought from the side of the road on a Saturday afternoon. 

I’ve run wild and roamed free until the six o’clock cicada bees buzzed: time to go home.