by Diane Lowman

Although my mother acquiesced to text and Facebook, she was very much of the rotary phone and pen and paper generation. Long after she finished with the hands-on raising and nurturing phase of parenthood, she showed us she understood, supported, thought about, and loved us by snail-mailing missives to myself and my sister, and then to our children.

memories after the loss of a parent

She’d send me carefully cut out clippings about Shakespeare or yoga, along with coupons for coffee yogurt. She might send Suzanne articles on preschool art projects and dog food discounts. Always with a note, in her distinctive hand: Thought you’d like this, my honey. Love ya, Me Mom.

Sometimes she’d stuff so many into an envelope that they’d flurry out onto the floor like confetti. Usually, these messages in a paper bottle made me feel hugged from afar. At least I knew someone in Florida was thinking about me. Every now and then, if I were overwhelmed with kids and life, I’d roll my eyes and think: Who has time for this? How I rue those moments and miss the mailings now that she’s gone. Always, though, I thought, this is so her!

Now, I clip and deliver. Articles on architecture for Suzanne. Birding bulletins for Julie. Education ephemera for Jessica. Dylan details for Dustin. Film and photography facts for Devon. And shiny red apples of The New Yorker cartoons on authorship for my writing instructor.

“That’s so like mom!” my sister says, and smiles.

“That’s so like grandma!” the boys say, sometimes rolling their eyes.

“My mother did that all the time,” says my teacher. Everyone in the workshop chimes in with remembrances of things sent by their own mothers.

“Yes, my mom did this all the time, too.” I say. “It’s so like her.”

I feel proud to have, unwittingly, taken on this mantle of clipper and sender of ephemera to those I love. I smile to think that in this little way, I’m so like her.

Diane Lowman is a single mother of two young adult men, living in Norwalk, Connecticut. In addition to writing about life, she teaches yoga, provides nutritional counseling, and tutors Spanish. She looks forward to writing the next chapter.

You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, and her websites [My Life On The Post Road, Lotus Haiku, and The Shakespeare Diaries]

Are you interested in being a guest blogger on Blank Spaces? We are open to submissions that fit into any of our regular categories. See the blog submission guidelines in our sidebar.

Get the December Issue for only $13

One of our goals is to make Blank Spaces fully Canadian—meaning that not only is our print content submitted by Canadians, but that our printing company is also located in Canada. Unfortunately, we have been unable to find a Canadian company that can come close to the rate we're getting with our current printer. And, because we're not made of money, we have to go with the best rate—even though it hurts our red and white Canadian feelings.

We recently thought we'd had a breakthrough. A Canadian company! Prices actually lower than our current printer!

Well friends, we learned the hard way that .ca does not necessarily mean Canadian.

After paying shipping and duty fees, we saved $0 and received a product that was not quite what we've come to identify as our brand. Sure, it looks nearly identical—the only real difference is a slight increase in trim size and a slight grainy quality to any black and white photographs that were included—but honestly, we're just annoyed that this company slapped a Canadian flag on their website and tricked us into trusting them.

Thankfully we only ordered five copies in our test-print run and now we're looking to unload them to anyone who hasn't yet received our December issue and who doesn't mind a slightly larger size. All the content is identical and we still stand by it as a great representation of Canadian talent; but, because it's not quite perfect, we're accepting a loss and letting them go for $13 (shipping included).

Purchase through the button below - you can even add the upcoming March issue to the same order if you like.

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First Day

by Jennifer Ellis

I didn’t want to go. My sister and I were sitting on the couch, silent and sullen. I surveyed the aftermath from our Last-Night-in-California-Party as my dad packed his carry-on with our passports.

“Don’t forget to bring your jackets with you on the plane,” he cautioned my sister and I. “It might be cold when we land in Toronto.” I furrowed my brow and sunk deeper into the sofa, hoping that it would swallow me whole.

american immigrates to canada
I hadn’t been on a plane since the summer of 1987. My sister and I went to Ft. Lauderdale to visit my grandparents; my mother’s parents. My mom was still alive. She was deteriorating from Multiple Sclerosis, and my dad was struggling to keep it together. They all thought it would be a good idea to ship us to Florida while he figured out how to make ends meet and take care of my mom’s medical bills. No one ever imagined that she would be dead just before Christmas 1989. On the way to the airport to leave for Florida, I’d puked all over my new tennis shoes, and all over the back seat of Grandpa Arties rental car. Almost three years later, I could still taste the bitter taste of fear and bile, as we drove away from 510 Winchester Ave. on the way to LAX.

I somehow made it on to the plane without a repeat performance of the 1987 throw-up disaster. I looked out the window for virtually the whole flight. Until we crossed the border and started to descend. I turned to my dad in a panic.

“Daddy, where are the mountains?” I questioned.

“There aren’t any mountains in Toronto, Jen,” my dad gently explained. “Canada has beautiful mountains in B.C., But no mountains in Ontario.”

I turned back to the window and stared down at the foreign flat landscape. And I wondered how I could live without the familiar view and protection of the Verdugo hills.

We landed late afternoon. The line for customs stretched all the way back to the end of the room, and my patience from staring at the sterile orange tiled floor was running out. There was no escaping this room until the stone-faced guy sitting behind the partition studied your face and your passport and asked when your last bowel movement was. Then and only and then you were allowed to officially ‘enter Canada.’

Once we reached the terminal (from what felt like escaping the Iran hostage crisis) I asked my dad for some change to get a drink from the vending machine. It cost a dollar ten for a can of Coke that was about the size of a juice box. What a rip off! How dare these Canadians deny my oversized American thirst?! I went into the duty-free to inspect the magazine rack. I picked up the latest Teen Beat. Finally, something familiar. As I admired the latest shot of New Kids on the Block from their Magic Summer tour splashed on the cover, I noticed something under the title: “Canada’s #1 Teen Magazine.” I was officially in the Twilight Zone; and there was no hope of escape. No matter how much my surroundings seemed familiar, it was clear I was no longer in Glendale. I wasn’t even in the United States, for Gods’ sake. I was in Canada. This weird place with small and expensive cans of Coke.

My Auntie Penny greeted my sister and my dad and I with a big smile and even bigger hugs.

“Oh my goodness, it’s so great to see you Jen!” Auntie Penny gushed.

 “Hi,” I said nervously as she squeezed me hello.

I had never met her, and wasn’t sure about getting hugs from people I didn’t know. I couldn’t help but feel a familiar warmth from her greeting, and that somewhat eased my new immigrant anxiety.

We got into a taxi and headed to Scarborough to Grandpa's house. Our new home. The sky was covered in clusters of grey and white clouds as we headed down the freeway. Auntie Penny called it a highway. Highways were what you drove on heading into the dessert, I thought. I wanted to correct her and tell her that we were on a freeway. I decided to keep my mouth shut when I noticed that this freeway contrasted the chaos of L.A traffic, as we moved down the road without stopping even once. This was definitely not a freeway.

As we turned onto my grandpa's street I noticed that the trees had stared to turn colour. Grandpa George lived on a nice suburban street with big houses. No apartment complexes. The houses all had well-manicured, green lawns with perennials in the front gardens. I’d only seen something like that on Who’s the Boss?

As I got out of the car I was assaulted by an unfamiliar wind that seemed to permeate my sweater. I quickly followed Auntie Penny inside and dropped my luggage in the foyer. I was stunned. Grandpa’s house had stairs. I remember I’d always wanted to live in a house with a staircase. I always thought it would make me feel rich. I was trying not to show how impressed I was, but I couldn’t wait to brag about my new staircase to my friend Monica. Then a sinking feeling washed over me. Monica was thousands of miles away. Telling her wouldn’t be the same as showing her. I distracted myself from the reality of my new life by imagining that Tony and Angela lived around the corner.

Grandpa received us with warm greetings and his captivating British accent. He looked like the typical grandpa: bald on the top, white hair on the sides of his head, often donning a driver’s cap and sporting grandpa sweaters. I think he had come to California twice to visit. He bought me a Pound Puppy-which I loved. He had lost his dear Olive, my grandmother, the same year I had lost my mother. It was a hard time for our family. Grandpa wasn’t in good health. He seemed fine, but he had a pace-maker placed in his chest recently and was suffering from heart disease. I wanted to tell him I knew how he felt; that I’m sure I looked fine, but my heart was hurting too.

That night, as my dad was setting the table for dinner, I opened the fridge to look for the milk. At the bottom of the fridge were bags filled with a white milky substance. I was totally grossed out. I was convinced it was some kind of IV medication bag for grandpa. There's no way that was the milk.

“Daddy, I can’t find the milk!” I shouted.

“I told you it’s on the bottom shelf,” he said.

I closed the fridge and stormed into dining room as he was setting the table.

“Daddy,” I huffed. “All I see is bags of white stuff.”

“Yeah that’s the milk. It’s in the bags,” he said casually, as he laid out Grandma Olives’ china.

My universe imploded.

“What is wrong this place?!” I fumed. “How the hell am I going to drink milk from a bag?”

“You’ll get used to it,” he chuckled.

I felt like the Powers That Be were trying to trick me into believing I was still in the United States. People drove in cars, wore blue jeans, spoke English. First with the mini Coke cans and now my milk in bags? What if I got kidnapped? No milk cartons on kitchen tables so people could see my missing chubby twelve-year-old face, while eating their cornflakes.

That night while trying to fall asleep I felt like I had actually been kidnapped. I was in an unfamiliar bedroom, lying in a different bed, with a different blanket. I lay there feeling completely helpless. I turned my head into my first ever down-filled pillow, and cried.

And cried some more.

I wished I could cry enough tears to wash me away back to California, where I was sure I belonged.

Jennifer Ellis was born and raised in Los Angeles, California until the age of twelve when she moved to Toronto with her family. Jennifer studied radio and print journalism and is currently working on her first book. She is an 80’s pop culture fanatic, loves to travel and write about her experiences especially when she finds the perfect apple fritter. She currently lives in Burlington, Ontario with her partner Mike and slightly insane, yet loveable cat Friday.

Want to know more about what it's like for an American immigrant to Canada? Watch for another slice of Jennifer's life in our March 2017 issue - available for pre-order HERE.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger on Blank Spaces? We are open to submissions that fit into any of our regular categories. See the blog submission guidelines in our sidebar.

Submission Hightlights 2016 Edition

You already know this, but our number one plea to submitters is "MAKE US FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU!" and so, you won't be surprised to learn that our favourite submission letters did just that: they showcased personality, spoke to us like we're real live human beings (we really are!), and yes...they made us fall in love. Maybe not fully head-over-heels every time, but crushes are fun too!

submission examples for blank spaces magazine

Because if we like YOU, we're probably going to like your story. That's just the way it goes. Of course, there have been some brilliant submission emails that did not spawn acceptance and publication, but you can bet we still celebrated the 'who' of it all!

The following (in no particular order) are our 2016 highlights — those little slices of personality that hooked us and made us hungry for more...

"I have attached my little memoir snippet, even though you say it must be pasted in the text. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to do that. I am not very computer savvy, partly because I am retired and didn’t grow up with these things. And partly because I don’t have a manual."

"I discovered your site...and was instantly enticed. Your attitude is one I share: insane, crazy, awesome dreams and ideas are always worth chasing..." 

"Here is the latest, edited version of the poem.  I still hate the word 'twas, but can't seem to find a way around it. I love what you are doing with the magazine...I'm excited to see it. For some reason this wants to underline everything and I can't figure out how to get it to stop."

"The below brilliant piece of literature could be a blog post, or magazine article under the category of Shameless, or Story Matters (if you think it fits), or a fire starter...Also, the title sucks, and I know it.  Perhaps a better one will come to me in a dream..."

"I’ve always wanted to hone the creative side I have lurking inside. I’m a huge reader and am drawn to many styles. I tend toward the ‘quirky,’ and shorter fiction. Admittedly, I sometimes feel like the eunuch in a harem: I’ve seen it done, I know how it’s done, but I can’t do it. I’m hoping for feedback that could establish whether I could develop the necessary creative cajones."

"I discovered Blank Spaces this morning and, as a Canadian living in small town Texas, I felt comforted with feelings of home. Thank you!...There are many things I want to be when I grow up, and a contributor to Canadian Literature is high on that list! 

"Well, here I am putting myself out there in the face of possible rejection, with hopes of the holy grail all writers chase: publication.... I am proudly self deprecating. Tina Fey is my idol. And if you hate Tina Fey, she totally sucks. Please love me?"

So there you have it. As you can see, we're pretty easy to get along with...even if you have technical difficulties! 

OFFICIAL SUBMISSION TIP: make us smile with your creative cajones!

For our full submission guidelines, click HERE

If you'd prefer to download a FREE PDF version of the guidelines, click HERE.