Saturday, March 1, 2014

Volume 3 Issue 4

The Line Up
This month TVFP brings you  HRH, the Empress of India, but first the artist Martin Frobisher, the famous Scratch Pad artist, whom we have known since Adam was knee high to a tick, has learned of our recent ontological difficulties and in response has sent TVFP a memoir of his parents, Frederick and Kathleen Frobisher. The piece was previously published in the prominent art magazine: Marble Zoup. The memoir is published with the express consent of the artist and the magazine (MZed having had some ontological difficulties of its own). We are most grateful for this generous show of support for our modest endeavour:
Martin Frobisher self portrait circa 1972

Frederick and Kathleen

My father was Frederick Robert Marion Frobisher. He was about five foot eleven. He was an athletic, handsome man. In the picture on my work table his RCAF pilot’s cap is tilted jauntily to one side.  He sports a thin moustache. He is half smiling as he stands in front of Long Sally, an unlit cigarette in his left hand.

Long Sally was an Avro Lancaster Bomber. Under the buxom, mostly unclad, long legged cartoon Long Sally I count nineteen bomb decals. The picture was taken in Halifax. My father and his crew were en route from Europe to the Pacific in preparation for the invasion of Japan. The picture was taken on or around August 6th 1945.  

My mother was Kathleen Maud Frobisher, nee Balfour. Next to my father’s picture I have a picture of my mother taken at Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg in the summer of 1946. The note on the back of the picture says, pig roast GB July 46. Her head appears to be disembodied above the fire. She is laughing, lips drawn back so that it appears as a snarl of laughter. The picture sometimes disturbs me. Her laughter seems so intense and feral.

 My mother was tiny, just over five feet, with auburn hair, and delicate features. The Grand Beach black and white picture records the almond shape & upward slant of her eyes. It is an elfin appearance. My mother retained her soft, Irish accent and I never tired of listening to her voice.

—Dear, it’s your mother.
—Dear, it’s your mother, we can’t come to your opening there’s been an unfortunate occurrence.
—Dear, it’s your mother, we can’t come to your wedding there’s been an incident!
—Dear, it’s your mother, Chloe if it’s a girl, Spike if it’s a boy.
—Dear, it’s your mother, your father has had a tumour removed. We’ve put it in a jar and donated it to science.

I loved my mother’s absent voice.

I was born in Winnipeg, on September 19th, 1952, at Grace Hospital at 3:09 in the morning. I was baptized, in St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, Christopher Balfour Frobisher. My mother called me Jamie. It was only when I was in my teens that I discovered that my given name was Christopher. My father called me Peddle.

My father was an engineer and had a consulting business. We lived in a small brick house on a quiet street near the Anglican Church where I was baptized.  There is one early, vivid memory. I remember standing under some trees. The car is parked nearby. The leaves are a yellowy green. The warm day has a cool edge to it under the trees. My father tells me to turn my back, but just the same I peek. My mother is putting on a suit similar to the one my father is wearing.  She is putting something under her nose. I remember thinking how funny she looked. 

I am lying on the floor in the back of the car. I am not to move for a least an hour. How long is an hour? My mother says, an hour is however long it takes. I am not frightened. My father pats me on the cheek and says, good man, Peddle. As a boy I loved it when my father called me Peddle. It meant we were best friends and that everything was and always will be alright. He places a blanket over me. I sing a nursery rhyme and then another. I find an unopened Double Bubble gum under the seat. Pud has lost his shoes. I remember this pleased me immensely, finding the gum and then Pud losing his shoes. After awhile I fall asleep. When I wake my mother is wearing a navy blue dress with white polka dots. She is putting on lipstick. Her cheeks are flushed.

—Okie dokie, there Peddle, my father says.
—Okie dokie!


My father called me into the living room one day. 

—It’s time we had our little talk, he said 

We had moved. I was around six or seven. Dad sat on the couch and lit up an Export A filter. I sat on the other side of the coffee table on the green hassock.

—Okay Peddle, here’s the deal  .  .  .  .

After my father and I had our little talk my mother called me into the kitchen. It was immaculate and smelt of bleach and fresh cut flowers. Nina, our maid, who, my father said was descended from one of the twelve tribes of Israel, was gone for the day. It was Prince William / Fort Arthur the great outlet for the prairie grain harvest on Lake Superior in 1958 or 1959. There were wolves on the outskirts of the towns that year after a summer of black flies & moose on the highway. My mother was wearing a brand new dress, mint and yellow stripes with little blue flowers in between. She was sitting at the table opening a package of Alpine menthols. To my astonishment she offered me one.

—Thanks, Mom, but I don’t smoke, I said, feeling very grown up. 

She lit her cigarette and fidgeted with the collar of her dress. My mother owned a lot of dresses. I rarely saw her wear the same dress twice unless it was during one of those periods when we we’re maid less.

—Dear, did your father have a talk with you, she said, blowing a cloud of smoke.
—Yes, he did, I said, gravely, as I see that this too is a serious talk.
—What exactly did he say, my mother asked.

I repeated what my father had just told me. My mother’s cheeks began to flush a little. She inhaled deeply and played with the tiny gap between her two front teeth. 

—Well, that about covers it, she said, managing a smile.
—So, mom do you have a condom?

My mother inhaled deeply again, drawing the smoke up her nostrils in two perfect grey cascades like seals bursting upwards towards a breathing hole.

—No dear, I have you, she said, and leaned over and kissed me on the forehead.


We moved often, sometimes on short notice. Once in the middle of the night. In one place we rented a large house built on solid rock. There was snow up to the eaves troughs. In another place we lived in two cramped rooms over a laundromat. I went to school sporadically. Sometimes we had a maid, though often we didn’t. My parents were often absent for long periods of time, though there was always someone to look after me. I can’t fault them for that.

—Peddle, there are two kinds of people in the world, leaders and followers, but you’re unique, never forget that, my father said to me one day.
—Thanks Dad, I won’t.


We moved to the East Coast. My father had a proper office near the pulp mill that was perched on the bank of the great river that flowed into the Bay of Fundy. We lived in a small bungalow in the west end of the city next to a graveyard. The house overlooked the Bay on those days when the fog wasn’t smothering the coastline.

We had a maid again, an Acadian woman by the name of Pirette. She was a large, cheerful woman, who was addicted to Harlequin Romances. She called me her petite chou. She made pork tortierres that were delicious.

My parents joined Westfield Golf and Country Club. My father golfed every Wednesday afternoon during the summer. He and my mother golfed on Saturday mornings and sometimes on Sundays. They skied in the winter. I saw very little of them. Pirette looked after me.

—Dad, I think I want to be an artist.

It was my last year of high school.

—You’re not a homo, are you, Peddle?
—No, Dad, I’m not a homo.
—Better see what your mother says in case you’re not sure.

I left in the fall to attend the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. As a going away present my father gave me a puppy, part border collie, part something else. I called him Pal. I phoned my parents just before Christmas to say Pal and I were coming home and to ask if could bring my new girlfriend, Bridget, but the line was disconnected. 

I did not hear from them for six years. Bridget, my son Toby and Pal and I had moved back east. We lived in Portuguese Cove, near Halifax, in a wood frame house with a big iron stove in the kitchen that was our only source of heat in the winter. Brigit and I loved our little house with the view of Portuguese Cove. We loved  our big iron stove. We loved our young son. We loved the art that we made. We loved so many things, but we were unable to love each other.

—Dear, it’s your mother.
— Gee, Mom, it seems like only yesterday.
—You’re father and I have been on a pilgrimage.
—To Holy Land, you’re kidding?
—Of course not, dear, the Napa Valley.

They went to the opera, the ballet, they golfed, skied, played on a soft ball team, took yoga lessons.

—In the Napa Valley?
—Of course not dear.

 My mother gave me a phone number. When I called it was either busy or I got an answering service. After a few weeks I stopped calling. A few years later I received a call from my mother.

—Mom where are you?
—Buenos Aires, dear.
—What happened to Toronto?
Buenos Aires, dear. We’re off to the Galapagos.

I received a post card from my mother a year later, post marked Boca Raton, FLA. On the front of the Post Card was view of the Empire State Building.  My mother wrote, time for a vacation. Having a ball. Love, Your Mother and Father.

Another year or so went by and I received a call from my mother.

Dear, it’s your mother?
—Hi mom.
—How are you darling, she asked and I heard the pop as she let go of her cigarette.
—Couldn’t be better?
—How’s the weather?
—Compared to what?
—The Bahamas, you’re father and I have relocated.
—From where?
—The South China Sea.
—Thanks for staying in touch.
—Darling, we were in a hurricane. Would you like to come for a visit?  All expenses paid? Would your wife and child like to come? We have lots of room!
—Bridget and I are divorced!
—Oh dear, I’m so sorry. You’re father will pick you up at the airport.

My mother and father had rented a blue and white bungalow about five miles outside of Nassau, near Cable Beach. Across the road there was a big casuarina pine forest. The bungalow was cool and comfortable. There were four bedrooms at the back and a large kitchen living room area that looked out onto a stone patio and Sandman’s Bay. The patio was shaded by a tall coconut tree. There was a maid.

The morning after my arrival I found my mother sitting under the coconut tree wearing a yellow construction hard hat having her cigarette and coffee. On the front of the hard hat it was stenciled, Princess.

—I’m so glad you could come, my mother said, handing me a yellow hard hat that had, Guest Who, printed on the front.
—We’ve seen so little of you over the years!
—Mom, did you and Dad ever rob banks?
—No darling, we didn’t. Whatever gave you that idea?

My father arrived home from work at noon. The maid had prepared tomato sandwiches. We ate on the patio, the three of us under the coconut tree, in our hard hats. My father wore a white hard hat with, Chief, printed on the front.

It occurred to me that my parents had become old. My mother had liver spots on the back of her hands. My father had lost most of his hair. His moustache had turned white.

—What brought you to Nassau, I asked my father, as a little green lizard crept up on the table to be fed a crumb by my mother.
—Opportunity knocked!
—Real Estate. We’re developing some property a few miles along West Bay.
—My associates and I, with your mother’s able help of course.

A coconut fell out of the tree narrowly missing my father’s head. The noise frightened the lizard. It spun and leaped onto the tree trunk. My mother chittered at it and the lizard jumped down onto her foot and ran up her leg.

—Do you like conch fritters, my mother asked, tapping me on the knee?

My father left before eight every morning after having coffee and a cigarette on the patio with my mother. He returned at noon for lunch and afterwards they went down to the beach and swam together. They did not seem to go out much, although they did on occasion. In the evenings we drank scotch and played cribbage or read the previous week’s New York Times. It was time for me to leave. I had a show opening the first week of March.

—Already, dear, you only just got here, my mother said.
—Here’s the deal, Peddle, come down anytime. Next time bring the wife and kids. How’s Pal?
—I put him down a few years ago.  Arthritis.

My father was to drive me to the airport, but we had an argument. It had festered for a long time. It was short and nasty. He walked down to the shore and stood, with his hands on his hips, looking across Sandman’s Bay. My mother drove me to the airport.

—I can never get used to driving on the left side of the road, she said, swerving out of the oncoming traffic. The Cortina had left handed drive. She kissed me goodbye, squeezing my hand.

—Don’t’ be angry. You’re father loves you, dear! You know that and don’t be silly about it. Call him and apologize. She kissed me again.

—We’ve set up a little fund for you in the Caymans, she said and pressed a slip of paper into my hand.


I phoned and the number was disconnected. I didn’t bother to write. It was a familiar pattern. The years went by. I fell in love. Jane and I purchased a small farmhouse in the hills above Firenze with the help of the little fund in the Caymans. We owned a loft in Toronto. Eventually I received a telephone call from my mother.

—Darling, it’s your mother, she said, as if she’d talked to me yesterday.
—When you were born dear, we put a transponder in your ear.
—Which ear?
—Don’t be silly, darling. Now, I hope this doesn’t come as too much of a shock to you, dear, but your father has died.
—I’m sorry, I said, shocked.
—I’m sorry too, dear. It was sudden and he didn’t suffer!
—No, I mean I’m sorry in the sense that I don’t believe it, I said feeling the tears well up in my eyes.
—That’s alright, darling. I’ve had him cremated. I’m sending you a videotape!
—A videotape, of what, I said, sniffling.
—Of the cremation, dear.
—Jesus, mom, without me.
—Well, it’s very hot in the Yucatan.
—What happened to the Bahamas?
—As far as I know they’re still there. But your father and I relocated to the Yucatan. He was starting a very promising venture when he had his heart attack. It was at the top of one of those Mayan temples, right where they sacrifice the virgins. He insisted on walking up all those stairs. We had a frightful time getting him down. There was a German couple who helped.

There was a note that comes with the video of my father’s cremation that said, if you want to get in touch with me, dear, I’m staying with your aunt Muriel in Fort Garry.

She didn’t include an address or phone number. It didn’t matter. I was pretty sure I didn’t have an aunt Muriel. Once again my parents had disappeared, one of them for good. 

It was spring. Toby and I had finished helping Jane with her installation piece and we were relaxing on the back deck after a long day at the gallery. The phone rang.

—Hello darling, it’s your mother.
—Hi, Mom.
—I hope you won’t be upset, but I’ve decided to remarry.
—That’s terrific. Why would I be upset?
—I know how close you were to your father!
—That’s okay, mom, when’s the wedding!
—Actually we were married a few years ago. Would you like to meet Ted?
—Where are you calling from?
—The Royal York?
—The where?

Why was I was not surprised.

—Say in twenty minutes. There’s a Firkin Pub on Front St.


At two thirty in the afternoon on a week day the room was empty. I saw my mother seated in a corner booth just to my left. She waved.

Don’t stare darling, come and give your mother a kiss!

Embarrassed and feeling awkward I stumbled against a chair. She smelt of cigarettes.

—Geez, mom, I said, unable to take my eyes off her.

She smiled, pleased at her affect on me.

How are you Jamie?   
Her teeth were perfectly formed a white as chiseled marble, the gap in the two middle teeth gone. Dentures I thought. And yet she was spooky.  Her skin was stretched so tight against her skull that I imagined a pulley at the nape of her neck.

—What’s new, she asked?
—Are you really my mother?

She blushed.

—Don’t be silly and say hello to Ted, dear and then go and see about a pint for yourself.

My mother looked over my shoulder. I sensed a presence behind me. I instinctively tensed as I turned, already disliking the man.

—Here’s the deal Peddle, he said, holding out his hand, no hard feelings?

Suddenly were streaming out of my eyes. I took his hand. He was wearing a panama, tilted slightly, jaunty. I remembered the picture of him in uniform under the wing of Long Sally.

—No hard feelings, Ted, I said, grinning stupidly.

My father sat next to my mother. They appeared eternally young, as they are in the two photographs on my table. They were very reticent in speaking about their plans for the future.

—We’re off to Russia, my father said.

My mother kissed me.

—Oil, darling, it’s the new caviar.

Then they were gone.

I did receive one post card from my mother, about a year after their departure for Russia. It was post-marked Prague. There was a picture of the Vatican on the front. She wrote, darling Jamie, there’s some Capuchin Monks here, near the via Veneto, who boil the flesh off their dead and make the bones into useful things like chairs and lamps. But nobody sits on the chairs and nobody lights the lamps. Ted sends his best, Love, your Mother.


TVFP is pleased to be able to share with you another anecdote from the great lady herself, Her Royal Highness, the Empress of India. HRH writes to us.

We were entertaining this man from the colonies, a Mr. MacDonald who was to received a Knighthood from us for something or other. He was babbling away and it was difficult to understand what he was saying as he was the full three sheets to the wind. 
—Mr. MacDonald, you are inebriated, we said.
He drew himself up to his full height and tugged on his jacket and appeared most indignant.
—I am Scottish and shall remain so until the day I die.
Later he told us a rather amusing tale.

An Englishman, an American, and a Canadian walked into a pub together. 

They proceeded to each buy a pint of beer. Just as they were about to enjoy their beverages, three flies landed in their pints. 

The Englishman pushed his beer away from him in disgust. 

The American plucked the offending fly out of his beer and continued drinking it as if nothing happened. 

The Canadian picked the fly out of his drink and started shaking it over the pint, yelling, 


The Canadian was of course, of Irish descent.

Ha, ha. Ha, ha.

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