A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Scissor - That Singularity
Saturday, January 17, 2009

When I first met my future wife Rosemary Healey in 1967 I had no idea what Canadians were like. I knew nothing about Canada. Rosemary was blonde, she spoke English, she wore miniskirts, see seemed to be a gringa like most of the other gringas we Latinos were inexorably attracted to. I first noticed something was amiss when she told me about her grade 12 students she had brought from Canada in an exchange program. It sounded odd. "Do you mean the 12th grade I asked her?" Then she told me of a man she said was the prime minister of Canada. His name was Pierre Trudeau. And she added, "he is sexy." I had no idea who the man was. In Mexico at the time my only connection with Canada was the pine (not a pine at all, and how was I to know it was a Douglas Fir?) we bought at Christmas time. A label said, "Importado del Canadá."

Rosemary was born in New Dublin, Ontario. I asked her if she had totem poles in her town. She told me she had never seen one in her whole life and in fact the first one she ever saw we saw together in Chapultepec Park, not far from where we lived in Mexico City. I was further confused when I asked her about Indians. Like those poles she told me she had never seen one in her life. It was from Rosemary that I first heard of a Canadian sport called skating on the Rideau Canal. She told me the best place for it was in Ottawa which was not far from the university she had attended called Laval in a place called Quebec. To top it all she pronounced that last place like the que in que será, será... It was about that time that I had read a National Geographic article on Canada that stated that Ottawa was the coldest major capital in the world and even colder than Moscow.

The big shocker was the day she told me, "Alex, you need a new pant." In hindsight I should have known better. In Spanish pants can be pantalones but we usually prefer pantalón. In fact if you go to the Real Academia Dictionary of the Spanish Language (RAE) you cannot find words like pantalones or tijeras. While you would say both in Spanish and in English to pass me the scissors, in fact that word does not exist. The instrument in Spanish only exists as a singularity. Perhaps Rosemary was speaking in some ancient but correct English were a pant was pant, nothing more and nothing less even if that pant had two cuffs.

It became patently obvious that I was in love with a strange foreigner. The Americans to the North of Mexico had a good word for such non-Americans. They called them aliens.

But things began to normalize when I noticed that Rosemary had an affinity for that troubling singularity, the scissor. The scissor would always disappear no matter where I hid it. The scissor was always important in my family as both my mother and grandmother had many pairs of them. The sight of my mother and grandmother with a scissor in hand was a comforting memory of my past that was now refreshed by Rosemary. We bought some black plastic material and a bra. I used the bra to make a pattern and with Rosemary's scissor I cut the plastic into the appropriate wedges. Soon Rosemary had skillfully sewed a bikini to die for.

In fact Rosemary was not only interested in the scissor to the point of obsession (that has not changed 40 years later) but she also broke every watch I ever gave her just like my mother broke all the watches my father and then I gave her. My mother had an immense collection of earrings. These were of the solitary and single kind. She lost an earring as fast as she bought them. Ditto Rosemary. How was it possible that Rosemary had inherited all these traits even though she was not related? To this day I cannot forget the smile that was always on my grandmother's face when she held the scissor you see here. This scissor is in my desk and Rosemary knows it is verboten for her to even touch it. We have purchased countless of that tool for years. They disappear, they become unsharpened or she loses the screw that holds the single unit together one with the other. I have bought Rosemary and English, German, Italian and even a Swedish scissor. Alas the are all gone. I keep my grandmother's Italian Monarch out of her reach in my desk centre drawer. I use it to cut my negatives or to cut my transparencies in strips.

Rosemary has other uses for the instrument. She insists on using it to prune and cut her perennials even though I bought her an expensive pair of Swiss Felco secateurs which like scissors can also be a secateur (but not in my Word Spellcheck). She manicures the grass around our rose bed and the other flower beds with the scissor.

When she comes in from the garden with her presently favourite orange scissor, Rosemary uses it to cut the French bread for cheese fondue, or cut my homemade pizza, the roasted chicken and the meat when I make shis-kabobs. Her scissor is truly home & garden.

I have received countless manicure sets from Rosemary, through the years but within months I cannot find the tweezers or the little scissor. The only one she has not ever touched is one I have for cutting my nose hair. Because Rosemary uses the little manicure scissor for othet tasks when I attempt to cut thread with it after sewing on a button (Rosemary does not sew buttons) it is so unsharp it won't work. I have to scurry around the house to find a unit that will.

Rosemary is the official Christmas and birthday wrapper. At Christmas time she likes to wrap on the floor and I can hear how she snips the paper and if I spy on her she has a contented smile on her face. Rosemary and the scissor are one.

Besides my mother, my grandmother and my Rosemary the only other person I ever met who had an affinity for the instrument was Alderman (not yet our mayor) Philip Owen. He had a store under the Hudson's Bay Company parkade bridge on Seymour Street in 1986 when I photographed him for the first time. His store was a high-end establishment that sold Vogue patterns and the best cloth for the Cohens, the Belzburgs and the patrician elite of our city.

Here was a man who just like my wife, felt good with a scissor.


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