A Foreign Language

      I grew up in a predominately female household. My mother, my sister and I lived on one side of the gender fence while my brother resided on the other. Even with a ratio of three to one, I don’t remember the household being particular frilly but it must have been somewhat feminine through the interests of the majority. My mother was married a number of times but none of them really took for one reason or another and through default my brother almost always sat in the King of the Castle’s empty throne. As titular male head of the household, though, he had no actual parental permission or political power which my sister and I were sure to remind him of on a regular basis.

     In the house of my childhood, growing up a boy meant that it was your job to cut the lawn, take out the garbage, do any heavy lifting and make sure you didn’t knock your head on the kitchen cupboard doors regularly left open by the shorter females you lived with. It did not release you from the regular stuff like doing dishes, covering your bed or cooking meals which we all took a crack at while our mother was at work. The one thing my brother didn’t have to help with was canning. He came with us to pick the apples, strawberries, cherries and whatever else. He would get as sick as the rest of us as (at our mother’s urging) we filled up in the field because whatever we took home was going into jars. But by the time he was old enough to be any real use in the kitchen his man hands were much too large to pack cucumbers for pickles and he could never get the hang of jam making. He was excused from the steaming hot kitchen to do what ever he wanted while we sweated it out over sterilized jars, pitted gallons of cherries using bobby pins and peeled and blanched enough peaches and tomatoes to build a skyscraper.

     For a while he had an old Chevelle that he worked on out in the driveway and he liked to lift weights down in the basement. After my mother had given up drinking for good he’d moved all his stuff down there and made it into a bedroom. There were mirrors on the wall behind the old bar that she’d never taken out and he used to watch himself as he ran through his routine lifting the bars and counting out the reps. My sister and I would laugh at him thinking that he was stuck on himself with his mirrors and his Charles Atlas and Arnold Schwarzenegger books but of course he wasn’t. He had an old pair of Tacks skates (when they used to be brown) and I think he could skate okay. There wasn’t any money for hockey but he went to Boy Scouts for years and he had an old canteen and a pair of snow goggles he’d made out of two spoons, some felt and an old piece of elastic binding. There was no hockey night in Canada at my house, no male banter, no baseball bats by the door and as our family went their separate ways comparatively early there were no whisker filled sinks and no clouds of Old Spice to fill the air.

     Today my household couldn’t be more different. For one thing the ratio has changed and I find myself for the most part in the minority. I’m not a weak woman and I get my way somewhat about the larger decorating choices but I do have to make small concessions to the sports enthusiasts in my life. Laminated newspaper headings of the Blue Jays World Series wins share space with pen and ink drawings of various garden blooms. The Boston Bruins logo is prominently displayed in my bedroom but it is picked out in a counter cross stitch that sits on a miniature easel atop the wardrobe beside china plates commemorating the Huddersfield Town AFC (1908-1998) and the Miami Dolphins Dan Marino. An autographed picture of the captain of Canada’s 2000 Gold Cup winning soccer team is surrounded by acrylic folk art sketches in the west bedroom and the themes of fishing and hockey fight it out on the walls of the east bedroom. The bookshelves are liberally sprinkled with books bearing the names of such sports greats as Muhammad Ali and Wayne Gretzky while decades old Sports Illustrated magazines sit stored in cardboard boxes slowly inching their way toward antique status. Those aren’t the biggest changes though.

     Along with the dominant presence of males in my life have come the trappings of their male activity. Any time of the year, day or night, my mudroom and the backdoor of my house play host to any number of objects meant to be used in physical and decidedly sweaty ways. There are golf balls, golf clubs, Frisbees, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, baseball bats, softballs, soccer balls, and footballs. Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg for these are only the tools of each particular trade. The meat of the matter, of all the matters, resides a little further below ground in the back room of the basement. It is here in this subterranean grotto that the flotsam of the years of masculine existence has come to rest. The hopes and fears, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat (to quote the old ABCs Wide World of Sports) or just the smell of de’ feet, de’ soccer shoes, de’ hockey bag and de’ athletic supporters.

     It’s a strange sort of alchemy, a laboratory filled with mysteries and formulas. It is a territory that I’ve come to somewhat late in my life and though I’ve purchased, washed, repaired and even used a number of the objects shelved in this room they still speak a foreign language. It’s the language of boys and men. It is a language that rolls out in terms of competition, not just first place or second place, win or lose but the value of a person rated through skill and agility, bravado and blood, endurance and the downright stubborn stupidity that makes old men smile.

     The baseball gloves must be stored wrapped around balls so they don’t lose their shape. Skates must be totally dried, the blades wrapped in old hockey socks or laid on wood to protect the edges. There’s toe black on the shelves along with 4 different kinds of tape and paraffin to wax blades. There are helmets and air pumps and buckets of pucks, weighted and regular. There are balls of all shapes and sizes, shin pads, cleats, nets and gloves. All of it is different but all of it is the same. The shape and the heft, the stink and the sweat soaked stiffness, the dirt and the tears speak the language of boys and men.

     The shelves are turned out regularly with the seasons and often I’m the one left to gather it all together before the cat decides that the stinky pile of general mess and mayhem is his new litter box. I complain a bit but it always falls short to ears deafened by the sounds of TSNs Top 10 Plays of The Day or the discussion concerning Maggie the Macaque monkey and her bottom scratching ways. I have seen all these things in use by more then one of the “men” in my family but separated from their users they take on a life of their own. I’m a stranger here among all the testosterone memories.

    It really is a mystery to me how anyone would want to wear an item of padding that was so sweat and dirt entrenched that it had taken on a permanent “corn chip” aroma. Yet I’ve seen these same items bring smiles of delight and hours of enjoyment to the masculine members of my family. It is the mechanics of their essence, lessons learned on the field, the ice, the floor that they’ve taken into themselves to become the very breath they breathe. Like a knight with his armor these bits of plastic and padding embody and strengthen these men. They create a world of black and white, of good and evil, of us and them and like the Paladins of old these men, these boys, have found a wholeness and a clarity, a nobility that is otherwise lacking in an everyday life.

     So these are the things of men and boys, the things that I don’t remember from my childhood. But perhaps they were there and I did not know enough to recognize them back then. It is a wonder to me how a ball or a stick, a helmet or a pair of gloves, a poster or a jersey can alter the nature of a person making them more or less then their everyday self. There is no use questioning it, one must simply accept the reality of it. To me these are the things of men that add to the attraction and mystery of them.

     Now there are whiskers in my sink, Old Spice in the air and dirty socks on my living room coffee table and I find myself bemused by the state of things but not totally displeased. I could do without the Blue Jays and soccer posters but it’s a small price to pay. I may not understand the language of men but I like to sit and let it wash over me. Like a tourist in a new place I’m drawn by the arguably bizarre, the unknown and the beauty of a foreign land.


13 thoughts on “A Foreign Language

  1. I adore you… LOL honest I do!
    As the first female to hold a management position in my family, albeit in my COMPANY (horrendous) I really like this blog… i feel exactly the same way.  Lost in a wonderland of man, trying fitfully to find the way of woman… but content to let it wash over and let them think they are in charge.. ha ha ha…..
    I hope you are taking care!


  2. Thatwas great.  I had brothers and then when I got married I had only girls and my girls only had girls….So we are a female family and have all the trappings of that.  My brothers even had all girls as did my sisters…


  3. @Cheryl
    We don\’t have a lot of girls in my family but I try to find the positives… like the above and how much easier it is to move the hand me downs around. 😉
    How are things over there in your testosterone boardroom ocean? I know you\’re running the show and if they don\’t know it yet they will soon. I hope every thing is going okay and that Bear is well.
    Take care,
    Lorna =) 


  4. My son isn\’t much of a team "joiner", but I manage to trip over skateboard ramps and bang my head on the skateboard rail in my storage shed…oh, every time I go in there.
    As far as taking you to Italy, pfffft.  Only if you promise to misbehave! 🙂


  5. this is a really charming entry!

    i grew up in a house of 3 girls, 1 mom and 1 very outnumbered dad.
    although my sisters and i all played softball and basketball, and
    trumped around in the pastures. so we were never short of the
    traditionally "boy" props.

    HOWEVER, one traditionally boy thing that i was not introduced to until
    my husband moved into my beautiful apartment with the original woodwork
    from 1918 and beamed ceilings was the love for all things electronics.
    his ENORMOUS television completely ruined my antique ambiance. and now
    the house is filled with gunfire almost nightly (he really enjoys video



    Sometimes, you just read my mind. I\’ve been sort of lost in your entries all afternoon.
    I\’ve often said that when my little boys would come inside after a hard day of playing and running and oozing all sorts of things from their bodies, they smelled like pennies.
    It\’s a stink that I love, though, and I will feel forever blessed that I had four amazing, amusing sons.
    I loved this.


  7. I loved this read. 
    It is a wonder to me how a ball or a stick, a helmet or a pair of gloves, a poster or a jersey can alter the nature of a person
    It made me miss my son.


  8. Nice to know youre missing me 😉 Great work on the photos, wish I was good at taking images, Ive only got Sony Erricssons finest 2 megapixel mobile phone though lol. How on earth did you end up with a Huddersfield town plate?! The mind boggles…..
    Should be back from Cyprus exile soon. I hope. Might be 21st of this month! Be great to get on the sofa with my duvet again, aaah simple pleasures 🙂
     Take care and speak soon, Craig xxx


  9. That sounds like my house growing up . Except it was void of talent . Then came my basement where only only the idiotic and Reaner will venture. I have no problem giving up the house to my family aside from two exceptions . Truck and tools are mine . This is a good trade ….. 


  10. I love it when you write about your life – especially when you open the door, just a crack, and give your peeps at peek at your younger years.
    Speaking of balls, the Mr. rec\’d one of those damn fwd:\’d emails pointing out how interesting it is that when guys are young they play with soccer balls, as they get older they play with softballs/baseballs, and when they get even older they play with golf balls — pointing out that the old and more successful they become, the smaller their balls get.    ;^) 


  11. I really enjoy your writing… and I can identify with the whole "sports" thing.  Growing up with two brothers who were constantly running about throwing and catching, skating, banging into eachother and otherwise making as much of a "boy" mess as they could was ok by me… I was such a tom boy that most of the time I was leading the "journey to the center of the earth" game, or we were "beaming up" to whatever new planet we decided to discover… each adventure requiring it\’s own costume and tools to be complete.
    Now, married to a real sports nut who played baseball passionately as a youth, and follows it religiously now… who played college football with a promising career (that didn\’t happen for various reasons) and who still "lives" it through television, I hear about it daily… almost hourly.  He loves it so much that even though I\’m kindof ignorant to all the particulars, I sit for hours listening to him talk about it and watching it with him… just to see his face light up.


  12. @Indigo
    Did I say "good"?… I meant bad, VERY, VERY bad. ;P
    Your apartment sounds lovely with its original woodwork. I always love the authentic touches especially if they aren\’t covered up with lead paint from the fifties. I know what you mean about the intrusion of those electrical conveniences as my son mod chipped his X Box ages ago and hogs the computer for hours as he plays Ultima On line. Compromise , how bitter is the sting? lol
    @Pomegranate Kay
    When my son was year old I got a job at a daycare center so I could be with him all day long (I was a single mom and I had to work ). When he was around two I was in the kitchen at the center getting him ready to go out to the play yard and Dodie the cook started to laugh. She had caught me smelling him as I put his jacket on. She said her daughter did it to her children too. It is a great smell, that little boy smell. It might be the sharp copper of shiny pennies or it just might be fresh air and unbroken hearts and pure being. There\’s nothing like it.
    I know what you mean…maybe it\’s a focus. A tool (stick, ball, toy) in the hand of a child really shows us how we can move the world if only we\’re willing not to be afraid to be with all that we are.
    You might be good at taking photos but you\’ll never know if you\’re going to stick with the mobile phone camera! lol
    As for the Huddersfield plate, you can thank the in-laws as that was whence they sprang from before setting foot on Canadian soil. I do hope you get home soon. It seems so unfair that you just moved into your new home and you never had the chance to enjoy it.
    Stay safe,
    I can\’t help but wonder if the reason that the Reaner is willing to brave the basement is that she has some hope of finding some forgotten Halloween chocolate down there.;P
    At my house the tools in the basement are mine and I am quite put out when someone uses the socket wrench and doesn\’t put the sockets back in the proper holder or they don\’t clean up after using the band saw to cut a hockey stick down to size.
    A peek at my life is likely to look more and more like a can of worms the wider the door is opened. It\’s been interesting to say the least but I think that most people on reflection could say that. Does the Mister know that you\’re on the internet discussing his "sporting equipment"? lol
    You made me laugh when I read "beam me up". We used to have an old bunkbed set and we\’d drop the blankets down from the upper bunk to make a cabin underneath and we\’d play Lost in Space. My brother would tell my sister and I that we had to stay in the cabin below and cook and clean while he drove the spaceship from the upper level (that didn\’t go over too well =P).
    Isn\’t it though? Strange attractors. =/


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