diane baker mason


My bucket of bolts

By  Diane Baker Mason

I’m not a car person. I don’t understand the thrill of a newly-released line of imports, or the sound of a particularly sporty engine shifting gears. I don’t care about shiny, red, or topless,  or mag wheels or leather interiors. To me, a radio that works is a sound system. If a car gets there and back successfully, without noticeably losing bits of itself en route, it’s a luxury vehicle, and I’m a happy motorist.

So it’s a hard fact of life to face that the days of my mini-van “Mom-mobile”, like my days as a mom, are numbered. I no longer need all that room for hockey gear and sticky hordes of teenage boys. Nor am I that interested in (or capable of) tossing a canoe onto the van’s roof and hauling my not-so-physically-fit butt up to Algonquin Park. When I got the van, I was still in good enough condition to wrestle the “noo” onto the roof-racks all by myself — as if that’s ever likely to happen again.

I didn’t even buy the van I’m driving, to tell the truth. My father did. Dad couldn’t stand to see me wobbling around town in a beater of a Hyundai Excel, and after a brief donation of a Buick the size of a – well, of a Buick – he replaced it with a 1991 mini-van. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t really know if it’s a 1991. And I think it’s a Plymouth. No, wait, it’s a Dodge. Nope. I’m really not sure after all. But I am reasonably positive it’s white. With a grey interior. That smells like fetid dog, thanks to my fetid dog.

Unlike my father, who collects cars like Dinky toys, I treat my cars with what can only be called disrespect. I drive them too fast, service them too infrequently (except for the brakes and tires and squeegee-juice for the bugs and/or freezing rain). I can’t remember the last time I washed the Mom-mobile. I keep forgetting to, and then before I know it, it rains. Problem solved.

It has always been thus, as the saying goes. My first car, a Ford Torino station wagon, was as big as a double-decker bus and chock-full of the things I used to need, back when I was 19. In short, it was usually chock-full of friends and cases of beer being carted from party to party. When the Ford’s stereo croaked, I substituted a battery-operated tape deck balanced on the dashboard. The strains of the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack would whisper from its  little speaker, as my girlfriends and I performed endless Yonge Street Cruises.

The Mom-mobile now boasts some 225,000 kilometers, and has been through a transmission, a radiator, multiple sets of tires, and one set of twins from ages 8 to 18. Now it is occupied mostly by myself and my big black dog, who usually rides shotgun, thereby rendering the front passenger seat a risky sitting proposition for any subsequent riders.

About a month ago, in a fit of financial optimism, I considered replacing the old bucket of bolts. Spontaneously I visited the local Toyota dealer. The saleswoman was supermodel-beautiful and knew more about cars than Henry Ford. She used words I’d never heard before and showed me parts of the car that I should clearly be impressed by. We went for a test drive. It was only when I realized this car would cost me $500 a month – $500 more a month than the Mom-mobile was costing – that I rethought my spontaneity. Did I really need to buy something, which only fundamentally differed from my loyal mini-van, in that it wasn’t full of dog hair and personal effects?

So the Mom-mobile is still with me, rattling as it rolls along, its brakes groaning, its doors loosing a rusty wail when opened. But if you and I ever go out for coffee, trust me – let’s take your car. Especially if you’re wearing white.

The smell of home

By Diane Baker Mason

They say the closest memory-related sense is scent. It is not a sight or sound that triggers nostalgia, but a smell: the odor of mom’s baking bread, or of the hayloft in your cousin’s barn, or of the pine-tree-shaped air freshener that hung from the rearview in your Grandpa’s Chevy. Not the taste of the bread, not the feel of the hay, not the roar of the engine. It’s the smell of these things that takes you home.
Home is on my mind lately, since I am considering moving. One of my boys has moved out, and the other is soon to do so. I have fallen in love with the Beaches in east Toronto, and although I can’t realistically afford to move there, reality has never stopped me in the past, so move I intend to do. Therefore, I have had to take a hard, mean, look at my own condo apartment, which has deteriorated over the last three years to disaster area status. I tend to be away on weekends; my sons were not. Nor were their friends. And I had long ago given up on trying to cajole/nag/train them into doing even basic tidying (which I don’t like to do either). So my condo not only looked awful — it smelled awful, too.
I hired a trio of disaster-area cleanup experts and together with my remaining son, we stripped the condo of debris, and applied paint-stripper-quality cleaning fluids to all surfaces. Even the guinea pig got a “Total Home Makeover,” with a bleach-and-scouring pad treatment of his cage bottom, and cedar shavings. Instant memories of my pet hamsters, from when I was twelve years old: suddenly, with the smell of the cedar, I could feel those tiny soft bodies wriggling in my much-smaller hands.
Despite the cleaning, my apartment still doesn’t feel like home. Maybe it’s because I never saw it as home, but as a place I bought in a panic, to give myself and my then-barely-teenage sons a place to live. I don’t love it the way I loved my other houses or even the bachelorette flat I rented when I left my marriage eight years ago. And despite its professional cleansing (and my remaining son’s sudden, almost-religious conversion to Tidy Clean Person, something for which I’m hugely grateful), I still don’t get that “welcome home” feeling when I walk in the door.
Part of the problem is that the cleaning hasn’t kept the smells at bay. If smells could make a sound, my apartment would be a cacophony. First of all, there is our rancid dog. Licorice is a Lab mutt, and she loves the water (unless it comes in bath format). In the mornings, she prances through the Humber River; in the afternoons, she fords the streams winding through High Park; on weekends she is either swimming in Lake Ontario or sitting (yes, sitting) for hours at a time in the shallows at Bass Lake, hypnotized by the minnows. The problem with all this water is that it leaves bacteria on her underfur, which dies, which decays, which causes my dog to stink like a week’s worth of rotting garbage. I’ve had people get off the elevator to avoid sharing it with her. Baths and deodorant powders help for only a day or so. The only cure is winter, when all that water freezes over.
So there’s the smell of dog. There’s the smell of our musty old furniture. There’s the smell of my son’s cooking (he loves curries and fried corned beef). There are my son’s friends and their beer and cigarillos. There’s the guinea pig’s cage (a mountain of cedar shavings won’t cover the fact that it’s still a guinea pig cage). The place just doesn’t smell like me.
Hopefully there will be an animal-loving, beer-swilling, curry-eating tribe of Visigoths interested in buying a three-bedroom two-bath condo in a park-like setting, to whom it will smell just like the place they grew up. As for me and my bacteria-soaked dog, we’ve got our sights on someplace new. And she’ll either have to learn not to smell like dead fish, or I’ll have to learn to associate that smell with home. I guess anything’s possible.

*** First published in the Nov. 2005 print edition of Women’s Post