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Archive for the ‘Patricia Louise Williams’ Category

I’ve been interested in Mike Dangeli’s work since I saw his ridicule mask in the Continuum show at the Bill Reid Gallery. The idea of taking a traditional form of commentary and applying it to modern relations between the First Nations and industrial culture seemed far wittier – and ultimately, more meaningful – than the other post-modern statements in the show. Later, when I heard Dangeli lecture about his efforts to live his culture in a modern context, I became even more interested. But it was only in October 2010 that I got around to commissioning a piece from him.

Whenever I commission work from an artist, I like to suggest only broad guidelines, and encourage the artist to experiment and maybe do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do. Accordingly, I told Dangeli that the painting was to be in honor of my late partner Trish Williams – the second piece I had commissioned in her memory – and could have up to four raised canvases. We discussed the primary colors, and I left him the pamphlet from her memorial service and some of the feathers I had collected over the years from our parrots. Remembering, too, Mike’s association of the north wind as a messenger between this world and the creator that might appear at a funeral, I also suggested that the north wind might be part of the design.

When I came to pick up the painting three months later, it had grown in its creation, with two side panels added to give room for Dangeli’s design.

The central panel of “Honoring Her Spirit” depicts Trish in raven form, with me represented by the red face on her wing. Around her are four ravens, for the four nanday parrots in our household during her lifetime, their bodies painted in the colors of nandays.

To the right, is a panel showing the north wind in the spirit realm. Where the central panel is made of definite lines in a more or less traditional formline design, the north wind is painted with thinner and less definite lines, its breath curling in non-traditional designs. The implication seems to be that we can only see hints of the spirit world – that nothing in it is as definite to our senses as the world around us.

On the four raised canvases, the birds sit poised between the two worlds, which suggests that they are part of both, or can move between them. The red lines on the raised canvases are roughly reminiscent of traditional northern designs, and spill over into the central panel, as the feathers do, both perhaps suggesting the interconnections between the two worlds.

However, the north wind is also blowing into the central panel, suggesting the coming of death. Trish’s transition into death is shown on the left hand panel, where her image is mirrored imperfectly, simplified and disjointed and drained of color to reflect our imperfect understanding of what happens after life.

This is a simple but powerful idea, ingeniously strengthened by the different styles in the panels. Yet what is eerie is that, although Dangeli did not know while he was painting, one of our four parrots died before he completed the paining – and only one of the birds is looking into the other world. The other three, who are still alive, are facing towards the everyday world. And if that is not enough, the feathers at the top center are from the dead parrot, although Dangeli no doubt picked them out at random. Whether these touches are serendipity or an example of the heightened perceptions of an artist, I won’t say, but they do add to the already highly personalized subject matter.

The painting now hangs in my bedroom, below two examples of Trish’s needlework. That seemed the most appropriate place for it.

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In the common room they’ve got the biggest tree
And it’s huge and cold and lifeless
Not like it ought to be,
and the lit-up flashing Santa Claus on top
It’s not that same old silver star,
you once made for your own
First Christmas away from home.

– Stan Rogers

This time a year ago, I was rushing downstairs with every knock on the door, hoping to get there before Trish did. At the door, the Kevin and Kell collections I’d ordered for her might be waiting, or the DVD of Oysterband’s 25th Anniversary Concert, or the Northwest Coast masks I’d bought. If one of them was, then I would have to figure a place to stash them until Trish was out and I could hide them more effectively.

This year, I am by myself, reflecting on how many traditions can accrete around a relationship in thirty-two years, and dreading the blankness of a Christmas without them.

The first Christmas we shared, Trish and I had barely been a couple for six weeks. We spent much of it at our separate families, but not before we exchanged gifts; she gave me a ceramic chess set, and I gave her Renaissance’s Live at Carnegie Hall. I still have both, although much of the Renaissance album is a bit lush for my tastes today.

The next year, we were an established couple, and backed each other up on all the obligatory Christmas visits. In fact, between dashing over to West Vancouver on Christmas Day, then to Parksville on Boxing Day, and half a dozen other places as well, we overdid the traveling so much that one of our first traditions was born: Never again. In future years, we confined our dashing about to the parents, and maybe one or two other events that we either couldn’t avoid or wanted to attend.

Other traditions were born that year, too. That was the year Trish started her tradition of giving her craftwork as gifts. Blackwork embroidery, cross-stitch, crochet, beaded ornaments, embroidery – over the years, the diversity was astounding, and all done to her perfectionist standards. One year, she made several hundred angels and bells, and sold them to buy Christmas presents, an effort she never quite equaled again. One year, too, I threatened the efficiency of her assembly line by doing candles, but the results were too mixed for me to do so a second time.

Trish’s crafts brought other rhythms to our Christmas as well. The one where she stayed up until three in the morning on Christmas Eve to finish a piece was one I might have done without. But the one of decorating our tree with her ornaments is one that always gave me a flash of pride, to have something so utterly unique in the living room.

Another tradition revolved around gift-giving. While I was a student and later as a grad student, we had a budget so tight that it always threatened to snap like a rubber band stretched too far, so we never got into the habit of buying large presents for each other. Besides, where was the fun in that? In our second year as a couple, we got into the habit of buying a couple of dozen small gifts for each other. Later, when our income increased had increased, we might include one or two moderately priced items, but, by then, the pattern had been set, and the small gifts continued – so much so that, over the years, Christmas and birthdays were when most of the books, music, and movies came into the household.

One advantage of buying small gifts was the amount of loving conspiracy that they inspired: splitting the alphabet in various gift categories so that we wouldn’t buy duplicates, secret phone conversations, and mysterious deliveries, all accompanied by cryptic and increasingly outrageous hints. We started using recycled gift boxes, wrapped in the most exotic papers we could find, and adding tags with puns and hints that would have made a veteran solver of crossword puzzles weep at their obscurity – tags that only really became meaningful after the gift to which each was attached was opened.

We learned quickly to take only some gifts for each other on Christmas Day, because other people became impatient with our exchange. But that worked out, too, since it meant we had a few presents to open when we awoke, and still more when we got home after visiting my folks on Christmas Day, and Trish’s folks on Boxing Day.

Then there were the stockings. There was always a marzipan pig in mine, and a Birk’s spoon in hers, either from her mother and me. Trish especially had a genius for finding the exotic and improbable at dollar stores, and often her stocking was the repository of the earrings I had found for her. In later years, when we decided the last thing we needed was more knickknacks or novelty items, the stockings were full of gourmet candies and sauces, which we would be happily discovering well into March.

Somewhere around December 28th or so, when the visits had temporarily slackened, came the gloating over the loot – I mean our first real chance to dive into the gifts and thoroughly explore them. Since our tastes overlapped so much, most of the time a gift could be appreciated by both of us, so we felt slothful and luxurious as we lounged around and made happy discoveries.

New Year’s Eve were for board games. Most of the time, there were just the two of us, but for a half dozen years, a couple of nephews were included, who always fought over the rules and pleaded with us for more alcohol than we would let them have. These massive game sessions would last for eight or ten hours, with pauses to refill the punch bowl on the kitchen counter and for me to cook a hearty lasagna of four or five cheeses.

And, finally, when the New Year had begun, and the guests were gone, came the tarot reading. Neither of us believed in such things, except perhaps as a psychological aid, but we both liked the atmosphere. Anyway, if New Years isn’t a time for omens, then when is?

After that, the days would drift back to normal until January 6th. On Twelfth Night, Trish insisted half-seriously, the tree and ornaments must be stowed away for another, or we would risk bad luck. So down they came, each hand-made ornament carefully wrapped away for another year, and I would march about the house all day singing a song from an old Steeleye Span album:

Oh, Christmas is past,

Twelfth night is the last,

And we bid you adieu,

Pray joy to the new.

This year all these things are gone with Trish. My Christmas shopping is much easier, but much less interesting, and my chances to see how gifts are received greatly reduced. I don’t really need the stacks of recyclable gift boxes in the walk-in closet, and I won’t be doing much visiting, since all except one branch of Trish’s family has apparently decided to drop me. I suppose I could start a new tradition and do some extensive volunteering throughout December, but I’m not sure you can call something a tradition if only one person is involved – and, anyway, it wouldn’t be the same.This year, every time I pass a gift that I no longer have reason to buy, I’m in mourning for the traditions that have died along with the person who shared them with me.

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Yesterday, I had a date with a ghost.

You see, November 11 was the anniversary of Trish and I as a couple. It was not our wedding anniversary; that was for the public. November 11 was the private one, the day we kept for ourselves. Whenever we could, we took the day off, and at the very least we tried to go out to dinner, although once or twice in the last few years, she hadn’t been well enough for us to celebrate on the exact date.

This being the first anniversary since her death, I debated with myself all day if I would keep the date. Perhaps it was too sentimental? Too much giving in to grief? But in the end I decided I was observing the day in my own mind anyway, so I might as well indulge myself. I dressed in my best – a black Dorothy Grant shirt, my gold ring, my copper bracelet, and the Lyle Wilson pendant that Trish had won at a raffle at the West Vancouver Museum – and wore all black, one of the colors that Trish had liked best on me, and solemnly descended on the restaurant.

I had chosen La Rustica, an Italian restaurant we had known at its height when we were living in New Westminster. We hadn’t been there for years, but we had talked about returning there to see what it was like. Now, I would have to see for myself.

The restaurant had been extensively renovated at least once since we used to frequent it, so I couldn’t sit at the table in the back where a photographer had taken a picture of us on our fourth anniversary years ago. Instead, I was shown to a table for two on the edge of the vacant dance floor. On nights when the band played, I imagine it would have been a bad seat, the sort that single diners usually get unless they complain. But that night, I didn’t care; it was well away from the large party from the assisted living home who were the only other diners in the restaurant, so they wouldn’t notice my odd behavior.

My date, I imagined, was in a green turquoise dress with flowing sleeves, one of the few that I kept when I gave her clothes away. Her hair was long, and dyed auburn.

I ordered two glasses of white wine, and at first the server got it wrong, giving me two glasses of wine in a carafe. “If it’s not too odd, could I have another glass?” I asked. The server looked askance, but she did as I requested, not quite daring to ask what I was doing.

I poured our wine, then clinked the glasses together. Not daring to speak out loud because I knew I would end up sobbing in that horrible breathless way I have had during my mourning, I delivered the ritual Scottish toast and response that Trish had always loved since she first read it in George Macdonald Fraser’s The General Danced at Dawn:

“Here’s to us.”

“Wha’s like us?”

“Damn few, and they’re all deid.”

I followed that with the question that one or the other of us had always asked, “Has it really been __ years?”

“It doesn’t seem possible,” I whispered to myself, finishing the ritual. By then I was daubing at my eyes with the linen napkin.

My tastes have changed tremendously since I had last eaten at La Rustica, but I chose what had been my favorite meal: onion soup, followed by veal in a capers and wine sauce, and an amaretto gelato. The restaurant was dimly lit, but I knew my date was eating the shrimp, something I never prepare at home because it might trigger an allergic reaction for me, but which she always enjoyed when we ate out.

At the end of the meal, I asked if I could go into the back. But the years and the renovations defeated me, and I could not decide where our favorite table had been.

Maybe that was just as well. Wherever the table was, it would have sat hundreds since we had been at it, and we could have left no impression that would have remained.

The server was looking at me strangely, so I explained the occasion, and left a large tip before I left.

Ordinarily, I would have hardly felt two glasses of wine, but that night I did. I decided that I couldn’t bear the bus, so I walked down the hill to the Skytrain to sober myself up. By the time I boarded, the cold had cleared my head. I didn’t say goodbye to the ghost, of course; she followed me home.

People talk of melancholy although it were a form of depression, and should be avoided. If you believe that, you will never understand, but I enjoyed my company that night, although the encounter left me feeling drained.

I don’t know if I will be returning to La Rustica, which proved only adequate (the sauce had too much lemon, and the restaurant was no longer growing its own herbs on the roof). But I already know that my companion and I will be going out again on our wedding anniversary, as well as next next November 11th.

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Three and a half months after my spouse died, I found myself attending another memorial service for her. Officially, that wasn’t what the Trish’s Stash Sale was about, but in practice that’s what it was, particularly for me.

Trish had many virtues, but tidiness was never one of them. When she died, she left three decades’ worth of craft supplies in our townhouse. Crochet, cross-stitch, hardanger, blackwork, ribbon embroidery, weaving, knitting – you name it, and at one time or other Trish had practiced it. With the help of her friend Lin, Lin’s husband, and Trish’s sister Marion, I hauled nearly a hundred boxes and bags out of the townhouse,divided into rough categories. Then, the Coquitlam Needlearts Guild (to which Trish had belonged for many years) started sorting it, and eventually decreed the sale to make sure that as much as possible of Trish’s craft supplies found someone who could use it.

I was asked to contribute a picture of Trish, and a picture of our parrots with the caption, “We Contributed the Seeds!” (apparently, some Guild members with poor closeup vision had worried during the sorting that the seeds were an insect infestation). I also provided frame art cards for some forty of those who helped with the sale, and a box full of Trish’s trademark origami ornaments to give out as further mementos.

When I arrived at the Scout Hall in Blue Mountain Park in Coquitlam today, I was prepared to help with setup. As the technical owner of the craft supplies, I felt a certain obligation – similar, I joked, to that of Doctor Frankenstein to his monster. But, despite the fact that it was barely 8AM (on a Saturday!), most of the work was already done.

I knew that some of the supplies had been already claimed by the volunteers for their unpaid efforts. Other things were being held back for Guild members to counter the increasing rarity of craft stores in greater Vancouver. Even so, Lin had told me yesterday that she was worried that what remained would never fit into the hall.

Fortunately, her concern was unwarranted. With an efficiency I can admire but never hope to match, the Guild had gone beyond my crude sorting to bag and price everything, and arrange it on tables. Working alone, I doubt I could have done the job in less that a couple of years – although, as the day wore on, that estimate expanded slowly to ten years. The effort was both extraordinary and unexpected.

I set up just inside the door, and found a stool to perch on. I was given a blue ribbon to wear to mark me as a volunteer – or “a friend of Trish,” as the organizer put it. By 8:40, the volunteers had turned into customers, and the first part of the sale began. It was for Guild members only, at half the price the general public would be charged.

I quickly settled down to a morning of urging ornaments and copies of the program from Trish’s memorial service to anyone who passed by my table. Often, people stopped to express their condolences. At times, I walked through the sale, remembering some of the items for sale, and sternly resisting the urge to buy anything back. More than once, a kind word or hug sent me stumbling outside until I could master the tears that were never far away.

At lunch, I wandered down to Austin Avenue for a sandwich, and returned with a dozen donuts. Almost all the volunteers bemoaned the calories, but most took at least half a donut.

In the afternoon, Trish’s sister Marion arrived, and so did their friend Nancy, who had visited Trish during her last stay in the hospital. The afternoon continued much as before.

As expected, the slowest sellers were the magazines, even though they had priced to sell. But the reference books, patterns, yarn, buttons, beards and fabric squares all sold between 50-70% of what was on the tables. But by 3:30, people had stopped coming, so takedown began with the same efficiency as setup.

At the last moment, a woman took all the miniatures magazines. That still leaves all sorts of charities doing baby clothes for poor mothers, quilts for women’s shelters or fire victims, and school craft programs to benefit in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, although expenses still have to be calculated, $2000 seems to have been raised for the Mature Student Award at the Freda Diesing School, which Trish and I founded in 2009.

Trish had wanted to make sure that her craft supplies went to those who could use them, and the Mature Student Award was something she was proud to have helped create. For these reasons, the sale felt like a last gesture of respect to Trish from some of her closest friends.

I’d like to thank them for that, and for their kind words about Trish and their kind treatment of me. Although I was left emotionally exhausted, so far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t have too many days like today while I actively mourn for her. Short of her still being alive and healthy, seeing good done in her name was the best thing that could have happened for me.

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The text for my partner’s memorial service, held 23 July, 2010:

(A memorial service is supposed to be a serious occasion. And, of course, it is. However, in re­membering Trish’s life, it is impossible for me to omit her own quips. I hope that no one will be of­fended by my inclusion of these quips, and instead look at them as a reminder of her personality).

Patricia Louise McKinnon Williams was known by many names through her life, including Louie, Pat, and, in medieval recreationist circles, Morag Nic Fhingon. But she preferred to be known through most of her busy life as Trish. The last name she was less careful about, since nobody except strangers ever used it – and even most of them were calling her Trish after the first ten minutes.

Trish was the youngest of the six children of Francis and Doris McKinnon of Cloverdale in Surrey. The age gap between them was so wide that the eldest had left home before she was old enough for school. It was only in middle age that she got to know most of her sib­lings, although she was always close to her sister Marion Crook.

She attended the Cloverdale Catholic School and the Convent of the Sacred Heart, experiences that made her what she called a “recovering Catholic,” meaning one who no longer considered herself Catholic, but would fulminate against the misbehaviour of priests or the pope’s pro­clamations. Later, she attended school in Switzerland, where she ob­tained a knowledge of French that she later claimed was just good enough for her to read Asterix and Obelix books in the original.

Returning home, Trish studied drama at Douglas College, then trans­ferred to Simon Fraser University. At the drop-in center, she met David “Corky” Williams, whom she married in 1977.

A year later, Corky died of an epileptic seizure. A month after he died, Trish attended an SFU Medieval Club meeting, where we met and started dating. Afterwards, she would inevitably tell people that she had picked me up in a bar. Her mother tried to encourage her to find a law­yer or doctor to marry, but within months it was too late – we had already decided to marry.

Delaying only until Trish found work in the SFU Accounts Payable Department, we married on May 17, 1980. We honeymooned briefly at my parent’s cabin at Whistler, driving there in a car loaned by her brother Ron, and the journey was much delayed by us pulling over every five or ten miles to open another wedding present.

In our early life together, much of Trish’s interest was in various medieval groups and science fiction conventions, where we became friends with a number of writers. However, Trish – who was always proud of her charter Greenpeace membership card – soon found her political conscience awakening. Together, we served several years on the executive committee of the Burnaby North NDP, and for a nearly a dec­ade Trish was active in her union local, serving as Treasurer for several years, and for a month as Acting President.

Later, Trish was to become involved in countless other groups: The Coquitlam Needleart Guild, The New Westminster Historical Society, the Pacific Rose Society, and, of course, her anonymous Monday night stitchery group are only the ones that come immediately to mind. She also became known in local exotic bird circles, as we quickly established a reputation for people who could take on Nanday conures, one of the noisiest and most demanding of parrot species. Eventually, our living room housed four: Ningabuble, his mate Sophy, their sons Rambunctious and Jabberwock and, later – after Jabberwock died – a rescue bird called Beaudin.

Just about the time we were thinking of having children, our lives changed drastically when a routine gall bladder operation in 1995 resulted in Trish spending most of the summer going in and out of hospital. She continued getting sicker, and, in the next fifteen years, was in hospital at least twenty times. In 2000, she had to quit to work. However, it took another three years before she was diagnosed and obtained her pen­sion: She had carcinoid syndrome, a rare cancer-like condition untreatable by chemotherapy or radiation.

In the last five years, her healthy and activities declined steadily. Even so, she managed to assist her sister Margaret Pedersen with the care of their widowed mother, and (when travel became impossible), to be­come an avid collector of Northwest Coast art. Her medical support team, all of whom inevitably became personal friends, remember her for her determination and cheerfulness as her condition left her prematurely aged.

By 2010, Trish had survived so many illnesses and operations that we assumed she had years left to come. But she caught pneumonia at New Years, and five courses of antibiotics were not enough to cure it. In June, she spent three weeks in the hospital, and returned home on oxy­gen for a week. Her nephew David Crook and his family visited her twice at home, the first time worrying about her condition, and the second time reassured that she would pull through.

But two days later, her condition worsened, and I took her to hospital in the early hours of the morning. She died at 2:55PM, surrounded by me and her sisters Margaret and Marion, and her brother Ron.

Right up to the end, Trish kept her determination to fight and her good nature, reassuring those around her and making friends while in hospital. For thirty years, she was not only my spouse, but also my best friend and an example to me – and everyone else. I miss her more than I can say, and I am sure that I am not the only one. – Bruce Byfield


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