Written by Martha Valiquette A week after my precious son was born, I was in a straitjacket, face down on the floor of a rubber room. Helloooooo …Locked Up In D.C. A Postpartum Psychosis Story
Thinking of and praying for the folks who are suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. May the destruction be swiftly repaired and order renewed.
The very beautiful trail we call the River Walk.
It’s a good day!
If you dim the lights and squint, you can just about see this beautiful place I have attempted to depict. I have used a bit of creative licence in not including every last dwelling and vessel. I hope you can forgive me my shortcomings. I love you Newfoundland. You are truly breathtaking.
Myself and six others were eager art students of artist and published author, the lovely Emma Fitzgerald through the extremely well managed and friendly Chester Art Centre. Location of classroom: the Chester waterfront, farmer’s market, library garden and museum. This was sketching and water colours en plein air. It was my first attempt and I am happy to report that I was challenged by it but also that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Once again I felt completely lifted up and at ease with Emma who was a gracious instructor- always finding the place in my art where I had most clearly expressed myself. One time telling me, “I think that one is done” and when I looked, of course it was! Also, the concept of leaving white space was reinforced as a technique which anchors the painting. Who knew?
Folks, if you have ever looked at a piece of art and wondered if you could express yourself with paint (or something) on paper (or something), I would encourage you to give it a try. Remembering that I started this journey with watercolour two months ago and I am thoroughly enjoying it!
I’ve always loved Prospect. Walk on the big rocks, touch the sky and smell the surf. Oh and don’t forget the big thumbs up and sunny smiles.
We went across the border into Calais, Maine USA. I was craving pancakes and well, yummy! This pancake was delicious!!!!
I have never walked out into the day without looking north to see the sea. Of its own volition, my head turns and smile erupts to witness today’s colour and tidal height. An implant from Upper Canada, the salt water view and distant hills are still pure joy even after twenty years here!
Remember to leave a comment. I love ‘em!
This pretty and incredible place is found not far from my front door. It is one of my favourite places to stroll and to contemplate. There are several of these pretty inlets that reduce to red mud as the tide ebbs. It is a peaceful place which is abuzz with pollinators and a flutter with birds.
What is it about an abandoned railroad track? It is just so walkable and inviting. The smell of the creosote and the echo from the boards, the crunch of the gravel… All of it bringing back childhood memories of skipping from board to board along with grasshoppers and butterflies. I sometimes imagine the days before highways when the train transported folks to their destinations, soldiers to their training camps, goods to the various shops in town. Will those days return when fuel for vehicles is no longer feasible?
Everything is growing, blooming and buzzing. It’s a place to sit and watch life bubble up around me.
This is a very sweet part of the province. And it features the highest tides in the world!
This is the view from above Halls Harbour, Nova Scotia. The sunset that evening was incredibly pretty.
Folks, thanks for taking a wee look at my latest art. Remember, this is a new thing to me (age 56) and I am learning a ton! I’m so very much enjoying this form of hobby. Take a moment to make a comment! I love them.
What can I write? I’m enjoying creativity in the form of watercolour paint and ink for the first time since oh elementary school (I’m in my fifties!) Join me on this very tame but fun ride.
I went to Chester Nova Scotia for an art lesson with the lovely Emma Fitzgerald, artist and author of several books. I picked up so many cool tips and encouragements. Let the art come out. Talk to yourself like a friend. Don’t worry too much about perspective. (In fact I’m pretty sure Emma said to ignore perspective.) I loved to hear these gentle encouragements. I felt completely comfortable in this class. Unjudged. Unhurried. Lifted up.
Here are some simple works I have done since.
Thanks for joining me on this little adventure into watercolour and ink.
Van Morrison was crooning on the radio as we drove along the highway from Halifax to our Big Valley. The scenery was breathtaking and was nearly undisturbed by other motorists. We were in our little cocoon of a car and enjoying a gorgeous drive. Why then did my belly feel sick and dread? I was coming to the realization that this feeling and this music was linked to a bad memory. I told Dean that Van Morrison was incredible – an incredible icon of a musician and lyricist but I really did not like Van Morrison.
Why? he asked.
His music reminds me of an asshole I encountered when I was nineteen.
Do you want to tell me about it? You don’t have to, if you don’t want to, said Dean, being sensitive and sweet and kind, as was his usual.
I said, well, I’m into it now. May as well…
My story began and I can’t believe I had never told him this one. We have been married for thirty years!
When Mom and Dad got divorced, Dad and his new wife bought a motel in Niagara Falls. He was therefore unable to help me with my University fees at Waterloo U. I left school and headed back to Barrie but not before applying to get into the Canadian Armed Forces. For a while I stayed with my Mom (and her drunk of a boyfriend) in her tiny apartment but, this wasn’t ideal. Since I had found a full-time job at LaFayette Restaurant, I decided I had enough money to get a place of my own.
I found a room for rent in a house just down the street. It was walking distance to my job. The room was large and bright and had a shared kitchen and bath. The owners were a young Asian couple. There was only one downfall of the room – it was an attic bedroom with an open staircase leading up to it but there was no door – neither at the bottom of the stairs nor at the top. I wasn’t super bothered by this because the house was quiet and the couple was very sweet.
For a few weeks it was fine but then another boarder moved in. Cue the ominous music. His name was Charlie. He was small, skinny, unattractive and he did not smell good. His mannerisms were awkward and he was opinionated and outspoken with a strange cackling laugh. He was instantly overly familiar with me as his eyes travelled the length of my healthy, curvaceous body and my long dark wavey hair. A few days later he would remark that I really needed to lose a few pounds. Yes, back in the 80s some men used to openly make remarks like that. They would police women and try to ‘keep them in line’ with hurtful, personal remarks. What a fucking jerk.
The next thing that happened was I was watching tv in the living room when he came and sat down too close to me. Yuck, I thought. There was only one ottoman and he put his feet up and made sure to caress my feet with his, by accident. Ew. I moved away and shortly thereafter, I went up to my room. I could hear that he had switched to playing guitar and was belting out some, you guessed it: Van Morrison. He would play his guitar and sing Van Morrison every chance he got. I think he thought it was cool and that he would attract me. All that happened was it made me hate a great musician.
Late that night the worst happened. I was asleep in my bed, up in my attic bedroom. Suddenly I became aware that someone was in bed next to me. Uninvited! When my eyes opened and landed on his sneering but hopeful face on the pillow next to mine I nearly lost my mind. I jumped out of bed. My body involuntarily shuttered as I did a little dance to get his cooties off of me and simultaneously thanked the lord that I was wearing pyjamas. I screamed at him to GET THE FUCK OUT!!! Perplexingly, he seemed surprised.
I called the police and this bastard somehow convinced the cops that I was the problem because my bedroom had no door. I mean, what was I asking for without a door on my bedroom? What could you expect of a red-blooded male? The misogynistic pig cop actually went along with this pervert’s thinking but not before he questioned me in such a way that shamed me instead of the pervert. The perv stood there watching this procedure in which the cop actually asked me how many sexual partners I had had. What the fuck?
I was in shock and had a pronounced sinking feeling of hopelessness. Now I would have to move again.
The asshole had given me a set of mixing bowls (?) the previous week, which he said he had found. Before I left the house with my bags packed, he asked for the mixing bowls back. To borrow a phrase from my hero the fictional character of Ruth Langmore on the hit tv show Ozark, that’s the calibre of fuck-nugget I was dealing with.
I am still troubled by this all these decades later. But if I could go back and do one thing differently, I wish I had walked up to the pervert to return the mixing bowls, taken his shoulders and kneed him in the balls- really hard.
I still can not handle the music of Van Morrison. What a shame.
Notice by pool:
“For your safety, please do not feed Iguanas”.
We certainly are not in Canada anymore. We finally managed to get on another trip regardless of COVID-19 and we find ourselves on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica once again. (We were here in 2004 – twice. Again in 2019 and again now in 2022). We love this little country in which it is so easy to find calm.
Last night at sunset, we walked the dirt laneway to the beach in order to see the colour of the sky. It was gorgeous shades of orange and pink. Just shortly thereafter, the switch flipped and on came the cicadas. Yikes. No kidding, my initial thought was to look for the coming dirt bike and prepare to dive into the ditch.
One of the truisms of travel is the pleasure of meeting folks who happen to be out and about in the world too. Fanny and her mother were two of those incredible people who most certainly have good messages which will now be in my toolbox going forward. Here are quotes: “if you were bringing something ‘just in case’, leave it at home”. So very true. Fanny said you will be able to buy things wherever you go and, she said, on the Camino de Santiago (a 30-day walk or pilgrimage in Spain) I learned that I would be given something I am missing and she went on to highlight examples of this. The conversation about being provided for totally reminded me of my post Yo Universe! Thanks Again.
Later, the mom added, as we were talking about going into retirement, wanting to travel more and longer and not sure about the house as well as not being in love with the work involved in the yard and snow maintenance. Her answer “hire a gardner and a snow clearing company!” She says it’s better to keep the house. She doesn’t trust condo politics and fees (nor do we) as well as we may not know anyone on the condo board. Also they are small and don’t offer easy access to nature. In your house she says, just open the door and you’re outside. Also, you are in control of your expenses and maintenance bills like when to sink money into a large project – your roof for example. With your own home, when you spend money on something that’s up to you.
I have just practised yoga on the dark golden sand of Jaco beach, late afternoon. I did headstands while watching the crashing surf upside down with the odd barefooted beach walkers passing by. We arrived here yesterday by taxi from Samara. We are reluctant to rent a car although many travellers do so. It’s a pleasure to be chauffeured and so we simply enjoy it. Without a rental car, we alleviate the worry of damage to the vehicle, taking the wrong turns, finding gas stations, parking spots and service stations. It just feels a whole lot freer to travel without a car. And, I have heard the opposite from folks who rent a car. So, as always, it’s up to you.
I am inserting a few tips on what to pack and wear on your travels. I get asked questions about this stuff and so I will insert ideas for you. (WTW= what to wear.) Please comment with your best ideas. Remembering that travelling without checking a bag can mean decisions need to be made on every item you bring in your carryon luggage. Why not check a bag, you ask? Mainly to not give the airlines a chance to lose your bag which then causes delays and claim headaches. So, planning and judiciousness is key when choosing the items to bring with. Almost like the funny song by Monty Python: Every Sperm is Sacred, well every item going into your carryon is sacred. (And ever frugally, we buy most clothing items second hand.)
Today we arrived to the village of Atenas, Costa Rica which is known for its favourable climate, being in the highlands at 800m above sea level. Of course when I read that elevation my mind flitted back to 1994 when we arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal having flown from Australia where we had been travelling and working on a farm for two months. We had no idea how chilly it would be in Kathmandu and found ourselves wearing woollen toques to bed in the Kathmandu Guesthouse. We had tippy-toed passed the staff of twenty young men wrapped in blankets sleeping on their sides on woven mats in the great room where we had read our novels and swapped stories with other travellers earlier that day. When we eventually made our way to Pokhora, Nepal, at sea level, we sighed at the relative warmth. Much later, after 30 days trekking in the Annapurnas, we found ourselves in the tropics of Royal Chitwan National Park where we fondly remember the entrepreneurs all along the arid dusty roadway selling FREEZING COLD drinks – these were highly sought after by us and were quite the feat to proffer.
I digress. We have a cool bungalow surrounded by majorly huge house plants (grin).
The biodiversity abounds in this country. Iguanas, birds of all sorts, monkeys, sloth, some sort of raccoon that ambled across our path one evening, geckos, marine life and a gazillion insects. One evening in Samara, a grasshopper the size of a well fed nuthatch flitted into the open-walled dining room and landed then froze on a chair. Ok. I was frozen too except for my hands which were waving and my mouth which was shrieking. A waiter calmly palmed it and gently released it to the jungle just beyond the non-wall. That was a relief. That thing was huge.
Leave me a comment. I love ‘em!
mascara, ponytails, not sleeping and underwires plus a few more things…
1. I stopped working. That is, I retired from the work-a-day work force. I’m not going to lie, it has been a bit of an adjustment but I am quite certain I can make this retirement thing work. I have a list of daily tasks, reading and learning (currently Spanish on the free amazing app Duolingo), exercise, communication with friends and family and meditative walks plus meal planning, groceries, laundry and doodle care. These things shape my days during this pandemic while I dream of world travel once return to Canada testing requirements lift. (There has been a rumour that the restrictions will lift April 1!!!!!) Oh my goodness. Can’t wait!
2. I stopped avoiding stairs folks due to dropping about 50 pounds! Obviously had to climb up before heading down (in both cases, actually). This is hubby ahead of me in St. John’s, Newfoundland. These days I enjoy stairs and getting back into good physical condition. It is an epiphany to witness the body getting stronger and more fit.
3. I stopped social media (is blogging considered social media? Hope not.) This on the heals of watching a documentary called ‘The Social Dilemma’ and now understand the reason social media are free. If a product from massive technology companies are free, it means WE, the USERS and our ATTENTION, are the product. Keeping our attention is the purpose so that their advertisements get more time to normalize into our awareness and become that item we recognize and eventually buy. Our attention is their aim. Sadly, their tactics for keeping our attention can take us down myriad wormholes – wormholes that they provide to us through their algorithms! The top idea to get away from some of the social media pressure is to simply turn off notifications. Simple. Here’s an article out of Syracuse University with further recommendations for you: https://launchpad.syr.edu/3-things-we-learned-about-social-media-from-netflixs-the-social-dilemma/
4. I stopped drinking alcohol. I felt backed into a corner first by peri-menopause and then by full-on menopause along with, lets not forget, mental illness. I found that imbibing begets more imbibing. If I don’t drink, I usually don’t miss it. There are all these new non-alcoholic beverages on the market and at some restaurants which make this an easy choice. Hubby brought home zero percent alcohol coronas baby! So with a wedge of lime, we were feeling tropical. Today was above zero so, there’s that.
5. I stopped wearing makeup. To be fair, I haven’t worn much makeup since the 80s. I’ve always wondered why I sometimes feel obliged to paint my face? Do men feel obligated to put daily colour and chemicals on their faces and eyelashes? So, I’ll keep it to the light pink barely-there Burt’s Bees lip balm and nothing more. (for a funny story on (not pink) lip balm read: ‘Trying Something New‘).
Ok, if I was going to a fancy thang, I might apply a very little bit of makeup. I’m not a fanatic.
6. I stopped hating being alone thanks to the pandemic forcing the issue. But, the sun is coming up folks! This is a pretty morning sunrise on one of my solo (with doodle-dog) walks around a pair of ponds just up the trail from my house.
7. I stopped rolling up my yoga mat. Instead, now it lies in a ribbon until I flick it into place and get on it. Or, it can sometimes be found laying in wait for me, all set to go. I am incrementally building strength, flexibility and balance. It takes time but not nearly as much time as I thought, because I’m doing it daily. I’m back into my fluid, intuitive daily arm-balance and inverted yoga practice. I still love being upside-down, it seems. Several people have asked me what I include in a typical daily practice. Here’s an example.
8. I stopped wearing my hair long and I stopped the perpetual hair band on my wrist. One day I lost the love for my long tresses. It was dragging me down. I put my washed wet hair into a slick ponytail and asked Hubby to lob it off. I later went to a hairstylist and she made it look sweet. It is short. It’s just easier. Fresher. More up to date. (Not saying I hate long hair, it’s just a break from 30 years of the same relative hairstyle which was born of the fear of a loss of femininity should I cut it.)
9. I stopped long enough to enjoy this view, and many others. This is the gorgeous Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. We love this place!
10. I stopped not using snail mail and now I have a five year-old pen pal. She is an incredible communicator getting to the brass tacks in each colourful letter: have you ever seen a puffin bird? Even though people do not look the same on the outside, they are the same on the inside. I like talking with my friends a lot. What do you like? And, what is your favourite pet animal?
11. I stopped sleeping well due to facing past trauma, though it’s important to do so, with professional support, when ready. So, then I stopped trying not to take a sleeping pill. I hate them but I also hate 3 hours of sleep at night. I had written a post about how to get a good nights sleep by taking a health supplement. For me, that lasted about three weeks and then back to insomnia and the dread, loneliness and hopelessness that comes with it. I have sought help and was recommended to do a self-study of this program found at mysleepwell.ca* out of Nova Scotia’s own Dalhousie University. Now I am doing myriad things to aid in the normalizing of a decent night’s sleep. Here’s some of the programs’ recommendations: only sleep in the bed (for example, no reading in bed). That was huge. So, reading in a chair until I’m sleepy for bed. The thinking is to associate your bed with sleep only.
There is much more to it like keeping a sleep diary. Sleep hygiene (clean up you sleep act) like: no screens in the bedroom – don’t use your cell phone for a clock. (I picked up a travel clock for under $20); dim lighting, full darkness at night which may mean better curtains or blinds or a sleep mask, no pets allowed in who would disturb you or other humans who snore. If there is a chronic snorer, or twitchy-legged partner? Try to find a bedroom and a bed that can be made quiet with a tightly closing door and/or a hallway door that closes too. The double door stops you being awaken by the cat. The very one who used to jump on your face at 4 am wanting to be fed or cuddled. We’ve all been there. Feed your cat at night. We have big brains but sometimes these simple little tricks elude us. I know.
Sleep needs to be your sanctuary.
These measures and a few more (caffeine only in the morning; less or no alcohol; dim lighting; cool room, no heart racing exercise a few hours before bed) are to be done for a while until you’re habitually sleeping soundly for seven to nine hours per night without any sleep medications (and if you’re on sleep medications there are instructions on how to wean yourself off of them for good but, it must be done slowly to stick).
I am very hopeful that this system will work for me. Hubby got me a new sleep mask to help with this project (such a sweetie!). It works very well – not letting any ambient light in. Inky blackness is all I see if I open my eyes in it. Find it by searching for zizwe sleep mask. I also wear earplugs that are suited to my female, smaller ear canals. They come from a Swedish brand called happy ears and are very effective. So basically, I put my mask on and my ear plugs in to help block out unnecessary light and sound.
12. I stopped wearing underwires. ‘Nuff said. Good riddance.
13. I stopped taking my good fortune for granted. OK, to be fair I’ve always been really good at counting my blessings but now I really count them.
Well folks, what have you stopped in this year 2022 or in the last year? Leave me a comment. I love ’em!
*Sleepwell is led by Drs. David Gardner & Andrea Murphy from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and contributed to by psychologists, psychiatrists, family doctors, pharmacists, people who live with insomnia, researchers, and sleep experts to make sure that our recommendations and content are accurate and practical. Funding: Drug Evaluation Alliance of Nova Scotia, Government of Nova Scotia.
As a child I did gymnastics and recall the happiness I found in moving my body into various positions. Balancing and stretching, inverting, tumbling and focusing. Twenty years later, I was fortunate to find yoga due to my new friend who was known to be an extraordinary yoga teacher. She invited me to join her beginner class. I recall fondly my very first practise with her and the joy I felt moving back into my body to feel every muscle. Breathing and feeling blessed. I was in tears of thankfulness during her led savasana (final relaxation) her soft accent nudged me further into comfort and reminded me to let go and just be. The chanting of om* while sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, the walls of the room humming with our combined voices, then my palms together, nodding, peace.
My yoga sequence is organic in nature, unconventional. It works for me as I concentrate on doing my favourite postures which reveal themselves to me as I practise. This is just an example of one of my practices which is almost always oriented to inversions (head lower than heart). What to do on the mat comes with practise, like anything else. Start by taking a few classes then take action. Start slowly and build. Stand in mountain. Tree. Sit in easy-seat. Kneel in hero. Roll. Even a ten minute practise is something. It will come. As another fabulous teacher used to say to me: Any amount. Any amount.
I come to the mat on my knees, creases of ankles flat to mat, glutes on heels, hero pose, virasana, prayer hands, breathing. Tuck toes under and sit on heels, breath. Hands flat to mat, all fours alternating cat and cow back arches with inhales and deep rounds with exhales then into down-ward facing dog, up dog, down dog then one leg kicks up and over my back for three-legged dog, switch legs. From there to easy seat, sukhasana, with one leg in front then the other. Then butterfly seat. Five breaths. Knees together hands under bent knees, round spine rolling back on spine from tailbone to neck. Five rolls which massage spine. Hands on mat behind me, feet to mat into reverse table, I alternate lifting and lowering hips until triceps zing. Flip over. Prone on elbows for plank for 25 breaths or more. Cobra. Plank for a few breaths. Cobra. Flipping over and lying on my back, corpse pose, savasana. Breathe. Pointed toes now flexed now pointed, raise straight legs up and over my head. Plow, halasana. Five deep breaths. Knees rest just above face. Then bent knees rest gently on forehead. Thankful. Ankles and toes symmetrical. Grasp large toes, straddle legs over head, round spine, rock to seated vee toe-hold on sits bones, ubhaya padangusthasana. Legs together, roll to back for 60 elbow-to-opposite-knee crunches. Hands to small of back, elbows on floor roll back and up into shoulder stand, sarvangasana, toes pointed in air, glutes tight. Split legs, arch back and reach with one leg to mat then other leg comes down arch into bridge, setu bandashana. Bend one knee and push off the mat with other foot back up into shoulder stand and again. Roll down. Taking a foot in each hand, Happy baby. Rocking side to side bringing first the side of one ankle to the floor the over to the other ankle. Focus is at my feet thanking them for each journey they allow. Bring feet flat to the mat, edges of each foot to each edge of mat, back on mat. Bend elbows to place hands under each shoulder to take full wheel, urdva dhanurasana, three times, five breaths each. Flipping over into crow, kakasana, slowly bending elbows lowering my crown to the mat into headstand, sirsana, 15 breaths, pressing into hands and with focus lifting back into crow. Feet spread on edges of mat deep squat with prayer hands, malasana. Hands on mat. Bring feet in front of each hand. Wrap legs around arms drop seat into arm balance with ankles hooked, bhujapidasana. Move mat to wall. Forearm stand, pincha mayurasana, at the wall. Child, balasana. Handstand, adho mukha vrksasana, at the wall. Forward fold into sun salutations, surya namaskar. Grateful. Blessed. Savasana. Namaste.
*Om is a sound thought to be the original sound of the Universe. Om is chanted to promote relaxation and focus. Om, pronounced ah-uu-mm is considered an unlimited or eternal sound. It is a deep humming sound made while expelling breath.
Photo courtesy of currieyogagraphy.ca Thank you!
I am the sixth of seven children: molded, formed, nudged, inspired and influenced by these unique remarkable people. They are my sisters, brothers and parents and they are in my stories, even if not mentioned, they are there.
My, my, my but times have changed because when I was little, there were mostly big families! I knew families and have friends today who hailed from families even larger than seven kids…eleven, thirteen, fifteen children! Almost unheard of in today’s world.
My earliest stories are about the times in my family when the Catholic church reigned. Birth control was shunned and every sperm was sacred. (Monty Python’s song). Consequence: Many children were born. In my family, Mom stayed home and worked non stop to make it all possible, “holding down the fort” and doing three-parts of the work (as my Mother-In-Law would say) while Dad escaped to teach, in his clean suit, starched shirt, tie and hat, cleanly shaven and with Old Spice splashed on.
At the end of the day, Dad would come home to a hot, home-cooked dinner on the table followed by homemade, from scratch daily dessert and his newspaper during clean up.
My parents married in the 1950s and had seven children (all born in different towns from Burk’s Falls, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan. (All of us were born between 1954 and 1969.) Imagine having seven children and moving and setting up and adapting to seven different homes plus moving to the lake every summer! As my eldest brother points out, there was always at least one full-sized piano to move, level and accommodate too, not to mention at least one pet.
Big families equal many many happenings. We all interacted, not always happily, with lots of singing and story telling and had tons of fun but often not. At the drop of a dime there were tumbling fights or screaming debates at any moment as resources were vied for and negotiated.
These incredibly diverse personalities that made up my family churned out a plethora of hilarious, and not so hilarious times. Countless memories that informed our lives. For my stories about my big family, click on the Those Were The Days! category and enjoy.
Leave a comment about your growing-up years…I LOVE your comments!
Left to right standing: Amy (1955), Mom (1930-2001), Eva (1954), Jobe (1964), Mark (1960), Dad (1929-2008), Luke (1969, in arms), Me (1966, I’m the little one at the front with one bent knee). Sitting: Matt (1956); This photo was taken at the lake in about 1971.
Memories, like wriggling worms, are unearthed regarding my time serving in the Canadian Armed Forces
I joined up in 1986. The inspecting officer would stand very close to address me while I stood at attention and did not move, not even my eyes should shift from a fixed gaze while his nose nearly grazed my neck to catch my scent. Nor, I knew, should I demonstrate my revulsion if I wanted to be successful. This was in Chilliwack, Canada on Basic Training for the Canadian Armed Forces. Later I overheard him bragging about inspecting me with my puffed out chest when standing at attention. Oh brother. So began the boys-will-be-boys attitude of my time in the Canadian Armed Forces. It now angers me to realize the wrongs and subtleties of the situation. It has taken a long time for them to unearth. I was tainted by my upbringing in a tough male environment with an overbearingly masculine father and four brothers (plus two much older sisters).
The memories of the worst transgressions had been suppressed for three decades. I have pried open the can of worms containing all of the ridiculous double standards, innuendo, gaslighting, sexual misconduct, male toxicity and worse.
The worms wriggle and remind me of another offence which had been buried. Like the time the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Comox Accommodations Officer, a senior Captain, used his master key to enter my locked room at midnight while I was in my bed in Officers’ quarters. The head of that worm poked up randomly today. I had completely forgotten how furious and freaked out I was and how I screamed at him to just get the fuck out! I felt unsafe and exposed. There was no chain on the door. I had forgotten how I didn’t sleep for several nights after that. Tossing and turning and hoping he would not return with his master key. Creep!
Then there’s the time that a classmate of mine in the woods near Royal Roads Military College near Victoria, well, I thought he was a friend of mine – we had just been in the same platoon on basic training and shared many intense wins together. We both had a couple of drinks and we were joking around, bantering, sitting close to each other on a fallen log in the rain forest, just out of the circle of the campfire party that was happening for first years. Before I knew what was going on he pinned me down on my back. Kissing me brutally. He easily overpowered me. He was so strong! I was telling him to stop but, like a predator on prey, he didn’t. Afterwards when we both realized that he had just raped me, our friendship was over and things were quite awkward. It was shortly thereafter that I saw a photograph of myself on one of the main bulletin boards for the wing. In the photo I was fully clothed but someone had drawn a big red circle around my pelvic area with an angry SLUT! and an arrow pointing to said pelvis. Everyone looked at this bulletin board every day several times, including the ones in charge (this was the 1980s when bulletin boards were an important tool for the passage of key information). When I saw the image of myself there like that I wept. I was enraged, humiliated, saddened and completely frustrated with how unfair things were. HE WAS THE SLUT! HE WAS THE PROBLEM! People actually thought it was my fault.
Another new memory unearthed itself which I will slot in here as it came to the surface of my mind months after I originally posted this. It involved a senior cadet at Royal Roads Military College orchestrating a hotel-room drunk in Victoria, B.C. for attractive first year female cadets. He and his couple of fellow seniors got us completely inebriated by plying us with liquor through drinking games coupled with the pressure for us to follow orders. I recently remembered him raping me while I was passed out, then awoke then passed out again. A shocking memory which surfaced just the other day, some 35 years after the fact.
I thank the stars that I had gone on the pill just prior to leaving for basic. (I remember the thought process all too well. It would be dangerous to NOT be on the pill if even just one man couldn’t control himself around me). Whereas it could be the guy ‘getting off’ (a primordial physical release) but it could mean a great deal more to me: the end of a career? The horror of abortion? The facing of major life decisions on my own forced upon me by his need to ‘get off’ or to ‘put me in my place’. I took those pills in order to not be accidentally impregnated by some too eager prick.
To add insult to injury, two years after the hotel-room drunk / rape, this same ginger-headed now new lieutenant was the directing staff (DS) on an important army course called Environmental Specialty Land in Borden, Ontario. I don’t really know where I went in my head in order to function around him, especially when I had to receive orders from him and later be debriefed by him in a tent, alone. I remember finding any reason to laugh and with my now husband in my same section coupled with another hilarious Cape Bretoner, I guess I just soldiered on. I was desperate to pass this training in order to be promoted. I had nothing to go home to. I needed this and despite the assholes abusing me, I was good at army life.
But, for decades I have wondered why I didn’t end up finishing my degree at mil col. Finally, in my fifty-fifth year, I have the answer. At the age of 20 I was raped, humiliated and blamed. My identify was stolen. My innocence lost. I would forever mistrust 99 percent of men, sleep as light as a feather or not at all, and lose almost full interest in sexual intimacy for decades. Thanks assholes. Thanks a hell of a lot.
For three years I was in a field unit in Germany. Field unit meaning that we were quite actively practicing for war and for the resupply required. This took our unit out on exercise a couple of times per year. We also would attend something called a gun camp where we would practice shooting and other field exercises. In Valdehon, France, I was in my private barrack room one day fetching something needed when I realized somebody was standing behind me in my open doorway. He was a colleague of mine. He had wild eyes while he looked at me and I realized something was wrong. He walked towards me. In full daylight while the rest of the unit was on the ranges, he backed me into a corner with a sick grin on his face. I was disgusted as a cold finger of fear traced down my spine. I would not be raped again. I put both hands on his chest and pushed him forcibly away. I told him not to bother me with that type of thing again or he would be in trouble. I knew though, in my head, that if I were to raise a stink about his behaviour it would just bite me in the ass and he would brag and swagger and nothing would happen. I didn’t want to jeopardize my standing as a woman in this unit who was holding her own.
On one of our field exercises I was in my platoon’s headquarters truck when one of my sergeants walked in and locked the door behind him. He grabbed my arm. I could smell cigarettes and sour alcohol on his breath. He was sweating. He was known to be a heavy drinker but was loved by the unit for his ability to happily handle extreme physical challenges. We had marched the 4 day x 40 km Nijmegen marches on the same team. I thought we were allies. But, no. He told me he would now have what he wanted from me. My body stiffened and I bore my eyes into his. Between clenched teeth I told him if he tried anything on me I would fucking kill him. His face froze. I could literally see the wheels spinning in his warped mind. He stopped. He went away. Just another day for a female junior officer in a field unit.
Not all of the men I encountered were like this. After all, I married the man that I met on the first day of logistics training at Canadian Forces Base Borden. He is the love of my life and we have been married 28 years. He knows all of these details and he gently helps me through them. I am a very blessed person but even so, I have suffered. I believe that I suppressed, buried and downplayed these memories. I hadn’t been sure of the details but I just knew that it had happened. When the class-action law suit about sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces came to me I found myself nearly catatonic with the sudden validity of the shit that went down for me when I served. Suddenly, some of the particularities in my life made sense. My extreme spidey-senses towards creeps, for one. Not sleeping well was unfortunately another and the list goes on.
As a woman in the Canadian Armed Forces, on a daily basis I received unwanted attention from male subordinates, colleagues and seniors. Just last night I remembered a female senior Captain ‘trapping’ me at her apartment one night. Me brainwashed to follow orders couldn’t leave. Her telling me I just HAD to stay at her place, sleep in her musty, smelly bed because of the weather or some other stupid reason. She inched closer and closer to me on her dusty, creaky couch. Leering, smiling weirdly and breathing heavier than necessary. Oh my fucking god. I was gonna lose it that night. I am still not sure if she touched me. I just simply have not unearthed that memory yet. But there is a blank there.
There were cat-calls, lewd comments, leering, innuendo. Comments about my appearance as a matter of course and not just ‘you look nice’. Detailed picking apart of my body’s shape and size, my hair, my face and whether I was smiling or bitchy that day. While talking to my husband (who had been my peer in the military) about this with regard to his routine experience in the military, comparatively speaking, he stated that he had none of that. He was free to do his work and more easily received accolades. The men I worked with in the military had no troubles like mine.
Many men in the military with me at the time would be shocked with regard to my physical strength. I worked hard, (my mother’s daughter). I stayed strong, always pulling my own weight and doing the things that people said women couldn’t do like very long marches in combat attire, chin-ups and push-ups and maintaining a positive outlook even while in the shit, like digging ditches or sleep deprived. I did this because I knew that it would help me to be “respected”. I was terrified of failure. I had no support at home in Barrie. I would have to go back to find a crap job on a bottom rung if I failed. It was the fear of that that kept me motivated and with blinders on. But even while pumping-off up to seven chin-ups, bar set so physically high, I needed a strong-arm boost with large hands encircling my small waist, just to reach it; even then, I could hear men commenting on the shape of my ass.
Mama put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore
That cold black cloud is comin’ around
And I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door
I have had another episode. Geez, I did not see this one coming. It started innocently enough with me needing to take an antibiotic for two weeks due to a stomach bug I had. Well, the stomach bug has gone and that is good but, the antibiotic left some detritus in its wake and for three weeks I have been reeling from the flotsam and jetsam of it. I have been stable and solid for five years. One gets used to not having an episode. So, when one arrives starting with a lovely little piece of hypo-mania, well it is hard to detect.
The first thing that happened was my appetite completely changed. I had almost no appetite for several days. I was putting that to the antibiotic. Then, my garden became a perfect place of unbelievable beauty. I was noticing so much. It was so pretty. The muted colours were brilliant. The brilliant colours were just bursting. The bees were little miracles. I couldn’t get enough. Didn’t want the day to end out there.
Then the numbers started: Leo was 22, I was 33 when he was born, I am 55, I was born in 66, Dean and I met in 88, Leo was born in 99. These numbers would roll through my brain over and over again. I checked the time and it was 4:44. Randomly, later I checked the time and it was 5:55. This just HAD to mean something.
After a couple days like this I told my hubby that something was coming down the pike. I didn’t really believe it. Nor did he. Five years of wellness. How could this be? It was a Wednesday and I told him that he better get his office stuff and work from home for Thursday and Friday. I was going to need supervision. Adult supervision.
That night, middle of the night, I awoke. My insides were roiling. My head was spinning. Into the blackness of our room I called out to my husband Dean. A blessed heavy-sleeper. ‘Dean. Oh no. No! No! No! Something is happening. Dean!!!’
I sat up. I could not feel my lower body. It was numb. I couldn’t leave the bed.
Now I was wailing at the top of my lungs. Dean was clutching me and smoothing my back. Cooing “It’s okay, it’s okay!”
“There is so much pain in the world, I said. So much pain in my family. So many people are so hurt. So many of my friends have such a hard life. I can’t take it, Dean. I can’t take it. My heart.” I wailed.
M, I am going to get the phone and get Leo in here (our 22 year old son).
Leo came to our bedroom door in his housecoat and sized up the situation. He had been fast asleep. He quickly saw that I was in complete distress. This was not pretend pain. This pain I was speaking of was real for me.
My hands clutched my chest. I was rocking and wailing, “No! No! No!” I asked him to help me.
“How can I help you Mom? What can I do?” he asked, his eyebrows stitched together in concern.
“Just sit here with me. Give me your arm to hold,” I said with desperation in my voice. “Talk to me.”
Now I was gripping his strong arm thru his fleece robe. It was helping. But I was still feeling the pain of the people I love.
“My heart is broken and it is going to open wide. This is going to be bad, Leo,” I stated.
Leo answered with calm, strong words. “Mom, you are having an episode. You have a chemical imbalance in your brain which is causing you to feel like this right now. Dad and I are here to help you. Try to let it dissipate.” He was so grown up now. So manly and mature. I loved him hugely for these words and everything else about him. This is my child. I am blessed.
Dean was running around trying to find the number for emergency mental health. Throwing items in a bag so we could get out the door to the emergency department of our area hospital.
Leo continued to tell me I was okay. But then it happened. A large hand, within a back glove and with pointy finger tips placed itself between my shoulder blades of my back. Words were whispered into my ear,
“Go into the bathroom,” it ordered. “Lock the door and take all the Tylenol. Go now!”
When Dean came back into the room, I told him about the words that had been in my head, somehow not my own words. His face showed his fear. Leo told me not to listen to that voice. He said I should try my best to connect with him now and ground myself. Those things were being filtered through my mental illness. “They need to be ignored,” he said. (Meanwhile Dean ran and hid the Tylenol bottle).
Then I saw the entity in the dim part of my bedroom. He was standing there in a trench coat and a hat. Collar up, hat pulled down low. It was the calm spirit of my father. He was pleased that I had figured out the riddle. I had been sexually abused because he had been sexually abused. I had figured this out because of the press about private schools which he had attended. All boys’ schools could be (not always, but often) horribly dysfunctional and abusive places. Not only that, but he had died with CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy- due to the incredible number of head trauma that he had received through sport – hockey and football. The CTE had caused his rage-a-holism. Riddle solved. Understanding him would allow for compassion. “Find the compassion,” he said.
By this time, I was ready and willing to go to the hospital because, thanks to Dean and Leo I was aware of the danger of my situation. It is a fact that suicide happens to a lot of folks with mental illness.
At emerg, a friend of mine, who is also an ER Doc, told me that suicide ideation is on the laundry list of items that happen to some folks during a panic attack. Who would have thought? He set me up with a psychiatrist for the next day and she was awesome. I feel like I am in very good hands. No black gloves. No pointy fingers.
Thank you to google images for this picture.
After three years, last night I had nine hours of good sleep where I laid my head down and woke up nine hours later. Here’s how I got to this point.
So, it’s been about three years since I can remember having an effortless, good night’s sleep. Where I would lay my tired head down and just simply fall asleep and stay that way for the whole night. This post is about the journey to getting back to that simple necessity of good night’s sleep. Something I will never again take for granted.
Sawing logs? Catching flys? Funny phrases for sleep. But, sleep had lost it’s humour for me. It had eluded me and I was getting desperate. I had been told to go to bed around the same time every night. No screens in the room. Darken the room. Sleep in a separate room from spouse and pets. Fan beside the bed. No liquids after 8 pm. Lots of exercise and fresh air. Bamboo bedding. Cool room. No caffeine past noon. I have done it all. I had even duct-taped over any annoying little green LEDs – like the one on the heat pump. Still no sleep.
After three years, last night I had nine hours of good sleep where I laid my head down and woke up nine hours later. Here’s how I got to this point.
It started in my book club this past winter when a friend was saying that her aunt was seriously suffering with shingles and that we should all get vaccinated against it. Making a mental note, I called my doctor’s office for an appointment to get the prescription for the vaccine. The appointment would take place five weeks later. Ugh. Life in Nova Scotia with a shortage of doctors.
Five weeks later, I now need to wait a few more weeks because I have since had the covid vaccine and there needs to be at least four weeks between jabs.
So, two weeks ago, I called down to my local Pharmasave to make an appointment for the shingles vaccine. I was put into the following week on Wednesday which was a week ago. All this to say, it was a journey just to get to the place where I would learn the real trick.
After getting the jab, the very nice and kind pharmacist had to observe me for fifteen minutes or so to ensure that I was okay. In that time she asked these words, which will be forever in my mind as the key to unlocking the mystery…
“So, is there any other health concern that I can help you with today? (or some such phrase which gave me the opening to ask about my overwhelming, at this point, issue with not sleeping. You see, I had a sponge brain going on. I was forgetting things and misplacing things. I was putting things in the freezer that didn’t belong there – like a fresh bunch of broccoli. I was lacking energy, grumpy, and reaching for carbs and sugar to fill the void. And who knows what else was troubling me below the surface.)
So, I said back, “well, actually, yes there is something”. Trying not to cry, I said, “I haven’t been sleeping well for the past three years. I sometimes have whole nights of no sleep where I alternate between laying quietly and just keep hoping for sleep to come, and reading. I am getting desperate because I am also bipolar so sleep is very important to ward off episodes and anxiety.” I was nearly crying. She was nodding profusely and looking at me with big, kind, intelligent eyes. She professionally asked about any other meds I might be taking.
She said then, “Are you taking magnesium?”
“Yes, I’m taking the big horse pills from the bottle with the green lid.”
“I would recommend magnesium glycinate for you because…blahba-de-blah – my sponge brain couldn’t recount those words if I tried. With her vastly educated tongue, she explained why magnesium glycinate works best.
I’m thinking, “Preaching to the choir. You had me at ‘recommend'”.
I blurted out, cutting her off: “Sign me up!”
“I compound capsules of it here. Everyone here, (she waved her arm in the direction of the whole pharmacy), is taking it. I’ll make a few and you can give it a try. 200 milligram capsules and take max of 600 mg per night.”
That night I had five solid hours of sleep, up for a quick pee and then three solid hours. Each night has been progressively better and as stated, last night NINE solid hours. Thank effing jeesus.
So, this morning I wander out into my living room and sit on the bay window bench on the aqua afghan my sis made for me. I look out the window and it’s odd. For some reason I’m facing the opposite way that I normally face. I usually always look north down to the bay. This time I raised my face to the south west and there, quite aptly, was a rainbow.
In the last five years I have both gained and lost fifty pounds. Here’s how…
Five years ago I entered what is known as perimenopause and the shit basically hit the fan with regard to my body size (and sleeping – NOT). I was doing all my normal stuff, like big walks and ‘watching’ what I ate, for the most part, but the pounds were coming on anyway. I was beating myself up about weight gain, heading up to the 135 mark from my usual 130 was like never-never land to me back then. Well folks, you can then imagine what hitting the 180 mark felt like when I was weighed at a doctor’s appointment. Hell. I also felt completely bloated, toxic, hot flashes and, as stated, was not sleeping well. Many would attribute this to symptoms of perimenopause. This could go on for ten years, I was told. Holy sweet jesus.
Last summer, hubby and I went away for a week to the sweet little village of St Andrews By The Sea, New Brunswick. We had some free nights on points at the Algonquin. Dean and I, at that time, liked to raise a glass with a craft beer to quaff together. We would have a nice lunch somewhere and each have a beer. Then we would do a long, long walk and come supper time, we again would have a beer or even some wine as well. Basically, my clothes were getting tighter and needed replacing and I wasn’t sleeping. It was upon returning from this trip that I weighed 180 and I nearly died with that. I had gone from a size 4 to size 16.
I spent a lot of effort hiding my size. Certain t-shirts masked the belly rolls and were long enough to cover my bum. I thought of my new bras as ‘machinery’ and with a price tag in the triple digits in order to keep the girls supported. These pieces of fine engineering were extremely well made and were lacey and pretty but they were so uncomfortable it was unbearable. I would remove my bra as soon as possible upon getting home. Another thing that happened which is cringe-worthy and perhaps TMI, is my upper inner legs would rub together with the added weight. I can not state emphatically enough how much I hated this. I had to wear spandex shorts under dresses and skirts in order to avoid chaffing. While visiting Cuba just before the pandemic hit, I was perturbed by incessant chaffing due to the added ingredients of salt water and fine sand and had to buy diaper cream in order to combat this problem. Ok. This really spoke to me. Hellooooo. Diaper cream!!!!! Jysus!
Because of not sleeping and then feeling completely bloated and toxic while on our sweet little away trip, to New Brunswick, I shook up my routine enough and was uncomfortable enough to see that I had to make a change. I was not happy with how I looked nor how I felt.
The decision I made was to stop drinking alcohol of any sort. Almost immediately I peed out about ten pounds of water, folks. (I do have another complicating factor: I take lithium to stabilize bipolar disorder. So not only perimenopause but also lithium in the works.)
A few weeks later I had dropped another five to ten pounds and I was feeling better and better. Sleep was not nearly as elusive and I was actually having the odd night of sleeping right through to morning. What a gift.
Sometime in there I watched a TEDx talk about intermittent fasting. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6Dkt7zyImk
I had thought fasting was an extreme and nutty behaviour but, the way she explained it, it sounded perfect for me and had added health benefits. I learned that WHEN you eat is more important than WHAT you eat. I stopped eating after having a good supper meal and didn’t eat again until mid-morning the next day. Because I was having a morning coffee, I didn’t feel hungry and I was never a huge fan of breakfast anyhow.
This was key to dropping the remainder of the weight. Please understand: I DID NOT STARVE MYSELF. If ever I felt hungry, really hungry, I would eat something with high protein like a couple of eggs / a handful of nuts / peanuts / a piece of cheese / a pepperoni stick. In this way I reduced carbs. For me, reducing carbs, like bread, rice, pasta was key. Also, I would reach for an apple or a pear sometimes. Even at night I will sometimes have a crispy cold apple if I’m feeling a nagging hunger that just won’t stop.
I lost about five pounds per month, so a safe amount to lose, and am now back to 125. On me, 125 actually looks and feels good and I am happy.
Key things I did:
- eliminated alcohol;
- stopped eating at night after supper;
- when sitting for a show or movie I keep my hands busy with playing scrabble or a card game or something on my ipad. This helps me to not want snack foods while viewing;
- the majority of the time I ate only from mid-morning to mid-evening and therefore had 14 to 18 hours of fasting. That is, no food or beverages other than water after supper from 7 pm. And, black coffee in the morning. Although sometimes I would have an apple, some nuts or a small piece of cheese in the evening if my stomach was rumbling;
- walked 5 to 10 km per day;
- pretty much eliminated desserts and empty carb foods (I was not going to be that person who says no to a piece of birthday cake or to a piece of home-made pie. I just didn’t eat it often);
- cut back on carbs like bread, cereal, buns, potatoes, rice, pasta, nacho chips, wraps and would choose high-protein foods instead like sliced meats, nuts, fish;
- between meal snacks would be high protein or a piece of fruit;
- I weighed myself on the same day each week. I didn’t own a scale initially but was visiting family and they had one. Digital scales are now widely available even at your local pharmacy for under $30. Worth it. But, I recommend once per week weight measuring, same time each week wearing about the same outfit and write it down so that you can see your progress.
So many people have asked me what exactly I did to lose the weight, especially during lockdown when most people were putting a few pounds ON. Simple things. Besides this, I would take time each day to mentally thank my strong healthy body for all it does for me. If extra weight doesn’t bother you, well, then don’t do anything different. For me, it DID bother me. I felt like carrying around an extra fifty pounds was quite torturous for me. I mean, this was over FIVE years. It took 4 years of dedication to put that much weight on and it took 9 months of dedication to take it off. I am back to size 4. Size 4 feels good.
Before I began my downward journey I was eating a treat (cookie, chips, ice-cream) almost every night. I was also, as stated, drinking an alcohol drink or two almost every day. That’s a lot of excess on a 5’5″ frame. I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen. Perhaps I was in complete denial. But, in hindsight I realize that the toxicity of daily alcohol was likely what was causing the cravings for junk food.
I will never again take my trimness for granted. As I cover ground during the day, usually with my furry friend, Jack, I really pay attention to how much easier it is to move. How much easier it is to climb a hill. How much more balance I have in the winter with the trail is slippery. How much easier it is to get down on my knee to pick something up or to sit on the floor to play with my little grand-niece and grand-nephew. I give myself a nod for finding the method that truly worked for me to lose the excess weight. For me, that fifty pounds was a real thing that made my life less sweet. I’m glad it is gone.
I welcome your questions folks. Bottom line: if you want to shed weight and you’re in good health – GO FOR IT. If you want to shed weight and you have a health issue – check in with your doc first to ensure you are doing things safely. Lose the weight slowly. A few pounds per month. Be patient. Walk. Be mindful. Take good care of your Earth Suit with healthful fresh foods. It will come off.
In 1993 we spent a year in a Northern Community. We had many good and enriching times but, there were at least three tragedies while we were there…
In early July 1993 we rolled into Arctic Red River, just north of the sixty-sixth parallel in the North West Territories. We had been driving for several hot and dusty days on the road across Canada, from Newfoundland to Alberta and then straight North.
We passed through Whitehorse and Dawson City, Yukon and then a full day up the gravel Dempster Highway, two hours beyond the Arctic Circle.
We had driven in tandem for a week, driving ‘Betsy’ our ’76 VW Van and our tiny Chevrolet Sprint we fondly called ‘Puny’. Unfortunately, Betsy didn’t survive the trip. Her engine blew in Whitehorse and, on a deadline to get to the job, we sold her to a small Franco mechanic with the longest, most gorgeous ringlet hair we had ever seen. His dark ringlets reached way down his back. He saw me admiring his mane and said with a lop-sided grin: ‘the ladees, estee, they love my hairs, they are curly, non?’ I just wanted to touch it to verify that it was real. Of course my mind flitted back to the Francos marching intensely in perfect formation in Nijmegen, Holland a couple of years prior, and singing their old, soulful regimental songs – making the Anglo teams look rag-tag by comparison. Such was their pride and fervor for their culture.
Anyway, while in Whitehorse, we ate at a restaurant that is still there today: Sam N Andy’s. Interestingly and coincidentally, there is a very real chance we were served by my very good friend Daisy, who lives and works in our current Nova Scotia town. One day, decades later, Daisy and I came upon this nugget of truth while reminiscing about our mutual Northern days.
So, Dean had accepted a one-year contract position as Recreation Director for a tiny northern community of 150 First Nations Gwich’in people and roughly ten whites living in about 25 houses. The houses were built on pilings that were anchored into the permafrost. There was a general store, an all-levels school, a gym, two churches, a health centre and a community office on a hill overlooking the confluence of two icy rivers. The setting was incredibly beautiful. It felt like the final frontier.
The first thing we did was attend a community feast. But, to call it a feast was a bit of a stretch. It was simply hot dogs, pop and chips, but, we were so pleased to finally be there and soon to be on a payroll again, after more than a year, that we were all smiles and best intentions. The local children took our hands and tugged us along.
‘How long will you be here?’ Charlie asked. They don’t mince words, I thought. They also were intrigued with our little black lab puppy, ‘Dempster’ whom we had on a bright blue leash and matching collar. Full of questions: ‘Why is he on leash? Does he bite? Why does he have a name? Do you feed him fish? Will he stay outside?’ And, of course questions directed at me like: ‘Is there a baby in your belly? (It wouldn’t be until 1998, 1999 and 2001 that a baby would be in my belly, producing, just the one gaffer, Leo.) Where are your babies?’ These questions were telling.
At the feast, we met Allie, the daughter of the former old Chief Henry. Allie was quite articulate and confident. She told us of her recent huge adventure, trekking in Nepal. Little did we know then that we would be trekking in Nepal the following year, thanks to the seed planted by Allie at this little feast.
The Chief of Polar River, Gwen, was dysfunctional, mostly ineffective, extremely high maintenance and neurotic. She expected Dean to be at the gym facility seven days a week, twenty-four hours per day. He was hired to do a job and she wanted him working non-stop.
Poor Dean, who is overly kind, was exhausted by her neediness in a couple of weeks. The gym, thankfully, was a very nice facility, a couple of minutes walk from our apartment, and was perched on the edge of the forest which was millions of acres of wilderness. It was a state of the art building with a huge gym and fully stocked kitchen as well as Dean’s new office. Equipment galore: new, mats, rackets, nets. New cross-country skis and new canoes came later when Dean applied for and received a grant for them, as well as money to hire an instructor to come up and teach canoeing. The instructor was this funny, compact, young guy from Manitoba. He would exclaim, ‘I can’t believe I am being paid to teach the natives how to canoe’.
One of the main weekly events at the gym was the Wednesday night BINGO. Here was my husband with over seven years of higher education and a former Army Captain, calling BINGO once per week. It was comical, if a little sad. It was a big event and it came with big winnings. Hundreds of dollars were won each week. I hung out in the kitchen, offering burgers and pop for sale, the proceeds going into the gym coffers.
Dean was mandated to teach one of the local women how to run the gym facility and how to manage the budget and maintenance. This young woman had four young children and a husband who played around on her. Consequently, she wasn’t fully available. Life up here was both gritty and frustrating. Like the day when one of the young kids who were always at the gym (free babysitting) told Dean, ‘I don’t have to listen to YOU, White Man‘. That child was about seven years old.
The first tragic thing to happen to us that year occurred on a gorgeous evening a month after we arrived. I had been walking our lab puppy Dempster who was scampering ahead of me over the beaten-earth pathways. I was just skipping along and watching bemusedly as he chased a rodent under a house. That was the last time I saw him alive. He didn’t come out from under the house… that I knew of.
I was calling and whistling. Nothing. Then, a dusty, blue pick-up roared up. A young Gwich’in man, Billy, rolled down his window and with a smoke in his mouth said, ‘Your dog’s dead’. And drove off.
I ran down to the gravel road beneath the hill where I was standing, hoping it was a cruel joke, and this is what I saw: My precious black lab puppy lying on his side with a growing pool of blood around his puppy head. I began to cry bitterly, hugging myself and bending at the waist in my grief, one hand over my mouth.
Suddenly, I was feeling overwhelmingly betrayed by this new place. How could this happen to me? How could he be so cruel? Looking back a quarter of century, I realize that I was dealing with culture shock and home-sickness, being so new in a very foreign place, albeit still in Canada.
The killing of our puppy didn’t mean much to young Billy because in his culture, they didn’t keep dogs as pets the way we do in the South. Someone went and fetched Dean and he came and wrapped his strong arms around me consoling me. Someone picked up Dempster in an old blanket and we drove down the Water Lake Road and Dean buried him while I sat in the car, still too upset to move, still in mild shock.
A few days later, on a sunny afternoon, a nice local man brought us a very cute puppy from his new litter. Our new puppy had pointy ears and muzzle. He was fuzzy black and white, wolfish looking and stunk of fish – the only kind of food he knew. We called him Delta, after the MacKenzie River Delta where he was born.
Dean worked away at his position and I picked up some work, just finding odd things to do that no one else would. I made pots of soup and trays of sandwiches for Band Meetings. I took people to the big town of Inuvik for shopping and medical appointments. I typed minutes to various meetings. Then I was offered a full-time position in the Community Office doing payroll, payables and receivables.
Later, I picked up the part-time position of Medical Centre Coordinator. There was this beautiful Medical Centre equipped with two examination rooms, incredible instruments and medications and a locked cupboard of narcotics. There was also a small apartment meant for a visiting doctor or nurse.
One day, I was out walking when someone ran up to me saying that little Suzy had been mauled by a dog. This was the second tragic thing to go down. I ran as fast I could to find her laying just out of reach of a big, mean Husky that was chained in the backyard of someone’s house.
She was bleeding profusely from the many open wounds in her legs. I screamed at anyone to go get Dean and to call an ambulance to come from the neighbouring larger community, Fort MacPherson, which was an hour away. I prayed, spoke calmly to her and pressed rags on her wounds until Dean rolled up in our vehicle. To this day, I do not know where her parents, friends or relatives were even though we were in the middle of town. She was eight.
We drove as fast as we could toward ‘MacPhoo’s’ Health Centre and the ambulance met us halfway. We transferred little Suzy into the ambulance and then followed it. She was put on the medical table and her ripped clothing was removed and as I watched the doctor poured hydrogen peroxide into her open wounds. She was laying on her belly repeating, ‘Owieeeee! Owieeeee!’ It occurred to me that this little girl was no stranger to pain. She received several hundred stitches to close her wounds. A year later, after returning from Nepal, I would find myself managing the medical clinic in Inuvik and working for that same doctor that stitched her wounds.
As Recreation Director, Dean had a major event to plan and carry out: the Spring Carnival which included many different competitions including snowmobile races and dogsled races. He spent days planning and coordinating this major event which would attract many visitors from out of town, and which had several thousand dollars in prize money. Very early on the day of the big event, we were still in bed sleeping when the phone rang. I picked it up: ‘Hello?’
‘Gordy’s dead’, said a voice.
Holy shit. ‘Dean!’ I screamed, ‘Get up! Gordy’s dead.’
We spent the next several hours sorting out Gordy’s body at his house. The RCMP came from MacPhoo and asked me all manner of lame questions. It was pretty obvious, if you had a nose, to detect how he died. The poor tortured soul smelled like a distillery mixed with a chemical waste plant. He died sitting up on his couch.
Next, we took his body by truck to the medical centre and laid it out on one of the beds. I had to stay at the medical centre until the coffin guy from Inuvik showed up. Also, two of Gordy’s female relatives came in to clean up his body in preparation for burial.
Despite the tragedy, it was an astoundingly beautiful sunny spring day and snow was melting rapidly. I was happy that Dean would have a successful carnival because of it, but the warmth wasn’t doing anything for Gordy’s body odour issue. For a while I talked to the coffin guy and his wife on the deck at the medical centre (there was no being inside with good ole corpse Gordy). The funny thing about the entrepreneurial coffin guy was that he was an ER nurse.
When we finally left Arctic Red in July of 1994, we were happy to go – we had big plans to go travelling, but, we had many mixed feelings about the North. Yes, the Gwich’in had hired us, but, did we really have any business nosing our way into a tiny First Nations community, for a year? Did we do any good at all, or did we just cause surreptitious upset, undermining and questioning of the old ways?
I really don’t know for sure but, I think that the people there could most likely run their own gym (especially now that Dean had taught his protege), their own BINGO nights, their own health centre and do their own payroll, if push came to shove. I think that maybe they had this idea that we Southerners knew more and could organize better but, we were left feeling that it would be best for them to leave our Southern ways and instead, get back to a more traditional way of life.
We had spent some time with the Old Chief Henry. He would come to our apartment door and want a cup of tea. He told us many stories of the old days and spending time on the trap line, drying fish and getting caribou for the whole community, going by dog sled over the snow. The traditional jobs that would be carried out by the women and the young men. How the children would play, tumbling and were cherished and spoiled by their Elders. Traditional feasts and celebrations. His eyes would glisten with the memories behind them. I was in awe of this man who had lead his people for over three decades. If I had a wish for the Northern Peoples it would be to go back to those ways and to embrace them once again, even if just little by little. Perhaps that is impossible, but, I’m gonna wish it anyway.
‘I’m your friend…and as your friend I gotta be honest with you. I don’t care about you or your problems.’
~Chloe the Cat
The Secret Life of Pets
We adopted a tabby kitten from a friend in Polar River, NWT. She was a tiny cat, but she was mighty. We named her Sahtu after the region by that name in the Arctic, but, perhaps we should have called her SAW-TOOTH, as one of my nephews would call her.
We were living in Inuvik then and in the midnight sun of the summer, insects grow freakishly large. Sahtu learned to hunt by catching the massive dragonflies in mid-flight. She would jump up and grab them in her two front paws. Then… she would eat them, turning her sweet head to one side and crunch as she used her chewing teeth to devour her catch.
The first night she was with us, she slept on the fridge. She was tiny and she had never seen two big dogs before. Within a matter of days, however, she was completely in charge of the dogs. We had an old couch that the three of them would share. Sahtu would put her two dainty paws on Delta
or on Grizzly and she would knead their abdomens. She would sometimes receive a nice big lick but never a growl. The odd time, not wanting her attentions, Delta or Grizz would quietly get up and vacate the couch to her. The dogs just loved her. They were ten times bigger, and could kill her with one powerful shake, or one absent minded bite, but they were mush in her green-eyed gaze.
We moved to Toronto after that, all five of us, and had this great three-story brick house at Birchmount and The Danforth. I am fond of saying that we were in the North Beaches, but those who know Toronto, know we were actually in Scarborough. There was a large, leafy shotgun fenced-in yard that the dogs would run the length of to chase their nemeses: SQUIRRELS, barking all the way. Never, of course, catching them. They should have recruited tiny Sahtu. She could catch anything. When Dean was studying and inevitably scrunching waste paper into balls, Sahtu would come a-running, the first time was out of curiosity at this new sound, the scrunching sound. Then Dean tossed the ball of paper high into the air and Sahtu executed a four foot high jump and twist to catch that ball of paper. After that, it became a game to her and a marvel to see. She had one lithe, muscular little body.
We had a little window over the kitchen sink that we would leave open for her to come and go. She was a happy little cat. We would put a bowl of food in a cupboard and we quickly taught her how to open the cupboard door. In she would go to eat in peace. Her food remained safe from the dogs.
The next year we moved to Virginia. Sahtu would come walking and hiking with us sometimes. My friend Nancy and her girls found it quite remarkable. We would be hiking through the woods and Sahtu would be following behind. We had a little bell on her which helped us keep track of her. Her cool feline presence added to the experience of hiking in the woods.
This one time, after we moved back from Virginia, to Milton, Ontario, we were living in an apartment out on highway 25 in the countryside. Going away for a few days, with our little guy, Leo and the two dogs, we decided to leave Sahtu with the affable young guy who lived in the apartment beneath us. We told him that if he left the low door window open, Sahtu could come and go and to simply keep her food and water full. After our weekend away, we returned to find what looked like blood and guts everywhere in the large front entryway and on the walls up to about four feet high. We found Buddy and asked what had happened, fearing the worst.
Eyes bulging out of his head to emphasis his words, he goes, ‘Man, that cat of yours is some kind of maniac hunter.’
‘What do ya mean? Little Sahtu?’ we asked, in harmony.
Still with the overly wide eyes, Buddy says, ‘Well, she may be tiny but she’s a force to be reckoned with! She caught a rabbit, bigger than her, and she jumped through the door window with it in her jaws! When I came out here it was half dead jumping around trying to escape her and it was bleeding EVERYWHERE. I had to get my hockey stick to kill it and put it out of it’s misery’. I am quite certain that Buddy had no idea what he was getting into upon agreeing to ‘watch’ Sahtu.
Another time, after we moved into our new house, we needed to have some electrical work done. My eldest brother Matt came over to do the work. Downstairs we had this huge basement which had a workroom at one end, which was unfinished with an open ceiling and a utility room at the other end, which also was unfinished with an open ceiling. From time to time, we would notice little Sahtu going up into the space between the ceiling and the main floor. She would often start in one end and come out the other, having done her rounds, looking at us as if to say, ‘Okay, my duty is done. Everyone can rest easy now.’
So, when Matt was having trouble telling a complex funny story while also pulling wire from the workroom to the utility room, he was getting frustrated because the wire just wouldn’t go through. His story came to a halt. I said, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe Sahtu can pull the wire.’ So Dean ran to get her little metal bowl full of kibble and added a bit of fresh and fragrant roast beef. I tied a light-weight piece of cord onto her collar. We then put her up to the opening in the workroom ceiling and…in she went. Quickly, quickly, Dean, Matt and I then clambered through the rec room to the other open-ceiling room where we shook her food bowl, making the distinct sound that she knew and loved — we often shook her food bowl to entice her to come inside the house. Within a couple of moments guess who’s green eyes we could see coming? Little Sahtu. Matt was very impressed and for a few moments we tossed around the idea of putting little Sahtu on the payroll and hiring her out to pull wire at other jobs.
Another testament to her hunting prowess was the time our old Army friend, Nee asked if we could bring her along to his cottage in Haliburton because it had become infested with mice. ‘Absolutely!’ We arrived at the cottage, in tandem with Nee and Pauline. Just as Nee was unlocking the cottage door, I said, ‘Let’s put Little Sahtu inside first and see what happens.’
‘Really?’ Nee asked, skeptical. ‘Okay.’
We opened the door a crack and put Little Sahtu inside.
A split second later she came out with a wriggling mouse in her jaws and..she ATE it, head first. All but the tail and the gizzard. Such a delicate little thing. Pauline stood frozen with dainty fist pressed to her mouth, horrified.
All night long she battled the infestation in that cottage. There were minor crashes and thumps and bumps as she became the scourge of the Haliburton mice.
A few years later, we sadly lost our Little Sahtu. We aren’t absolutely sure, and we never found her body or any other evidence, but there was a massive bald eagle scoping her out as she herself hunted in a field.
The circle of life sucks sometimes.
We miss her.
(Cat photos courtesy of google images)
One more funny for ya…
A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.
Forest E. Witcraft
Mr. Laset was the quintessential good coach: kind, unselfish, knowledgeable and competitive when necessary. He coached me throughout elementary school for cross country running, gymnastics, volleyball, basketball and track. We had practices after school every day of the week. He was consistently present and consistently good to me. Over the decades I have thought of Mr. Laset many times and, every time it has been with fond memories. Kelly would say, ‘Marn, give him a call and tell him thank you.’ I didn’t really think he would remember me.
But, I searched for him and found a phone number and gave him a call…forty years later from three provinces away. I said, ‘this is M_______, I am trying to find Lee Laset.’ His response:
‘How is my best point guard doing today?’
See, he said exactly the right thing! We had a wonderful chat on the phone. His memory is fabulous and we laughed about the old days of the 70s. I thanked him again and again for all of the time and encouragement he gave me way back then.
Now my story about the Huronia Games…
When I was 10 years old, I was on the gymnastics team for St. Mary’s School. We would practise everyday after school and all day on Saturday during the gymnastics season. Mr. Laset prepared routines for the floor, finding music to suit the routine and then we would memorize and practice until we knew it cold. The routine for the balance beam and vault didn’t have music but all three apparatus had mandatory moves and lengths of routine.
There was a big meet coming downtown Barrie at Central High School. The day of the meet arrived. I caught a ride downtown with my teammate, Cassie, and her Mom. There were a lot of people there. Hundreds. The place was crawling with parents and gymnasts and coaches. Moms were fussing over their daughters’ hair. Dads were looking at schedules with their sons, a large arm encircling their small shoulders.
Gymnasts were warming up. When I stepped on the huge technical floor mat I was immediately impressed with its give. It seemed like I could bounce higher, split better, balance longer. I was in love with that mat. I watched some of the more talented gymnasts who belonged to clubs and wished I could one day be like them.
It came time for me to do my balance beam routine. I nailed the mount which required a lot of upper body strength, something I naturally had. I bounced off of the small spring board, placing both hands on the beam and then, with hips high, brought both feet into a wide straddle on either side of my body, but not touching the beam. I balanced that way for a few seconds and then placed my feet on the beam. From the wide straddle I made my way into the splits, held it with arms raised, fingers poised, then swung my back leg forward into a pike fold, then into the required back roll. From there, I gracefully transitioned into standing and went through the rest of my routine, conducting the required moves: standing balance with one foot held in my hand above my head; 360 degree spin and front roll and with various dance and rhythmic arm moves, made my way to the culminating move: the dismount. Mine was a front pike hand spring off the end of the beam. I did it and I stuck it. Arms up, arched back, chin high, head back. My teammates clapped and there were a couple of smiling, pretty moms I didn’t know who made me feel special. I walked off to find Mr. Laset who was working with some of my other teammates. Mr. Laset was spread thin watching over all of us.
Next up was the vault. Our score was the best out of three moves. I did a pike head-stand over, hand-stand over and high straddle over. I stuck all three pretty well and felt good about it. Mr. Laset patted me on the back and told me I had done well. So far so good.
After eating my brown-bag lunch, I checked the schedule and saw that it was almost time for me to do my floor routine. Again, I went to the mat for a warm-up and, again, I was impressed by the springy-ness of it. My music came on as I took my place on the mat. I
knew this routine cold so it was no problem to do it to the very best of my ability. The one toughest move was a hand-stand which was to be held for a few seconds and then a quarter turn down into the splits. I had practiced this move umpteen times in our basement rec-room. My friend Layla and I would put on music and dance and do gymnastics: cartwheels, hand springs, handstands, splits, rolls and often we would do this in the dark. Lucky we didn’t kick each other in the head.
Anyway, in my routine, I was wondering if I was ever going to actually be able to hold the handstand for five seconds. Guess what. I DID IT! Oh my, was I happy and very proud. After the splits, I turned forward and ended my routine with my elbows on the mat, my legs in a wide straddle, my dark, curly pony tailed head in my hands and a big smile on my face.
I would like to say the crowds went wild, but, no. There were very few spectators for me.
A little while later, we were rounded up and told that the closing ceremonies would be held and that we should quietly sit in our team. I sat down beside Cassie. She had had a good day and had completed all of her tough moves. She put her arm around me and told me that she had heard that I did REALLY well. I looked at her with a question on my face. How did she know that? She had been on the other side of the gym all day. She told me that her mom had seen my points. She said: ‘Martha, you’re in the medals’.
“WHAT???! What does THAT mean?’ I asked her frantically. ‘What do I need to do?’
‘You just need to go up there when they call your name’. Cassie said calmly. She was ultra experienced at this.
A couple of minutes later, I was called to the podium and a SILVER medal was placed around my neck. Holy cow!! I felt like a million bucks. Holy cow!! Mr. Laset patted my back and told me he was very proud of me. I had not expected this at all. I was shocked!
The meet was finished and it was time to go home with my silver medal. I imagined my family picking me up and hugging me wildly upon seeing it hanging around my neck. I imagined a celebratory supper of my favourite foods and my favourite dessert.
What actually happened was rather underwhelming and, as I write this now as a Mom, I feel quite sad for my ten-year old self who was somewhat neglected as a girl, at times. Nevertheless, I got out of the car and skipped up the driveway. Jumped up the front steps and bounced into the front door, my heavy silver medal swinging on my small chest, my curly pony tail flicking happily.
No one noticed my big smile or my big medal.
Mom and Dad were arguing in their room with the door closed and my three brothers were off in all corners of the house. My three eldest siblings would have moved out by then. No one asked about my big day. No one picked me up and hugged me wildly to celebrate my success. There was no celebration meal and no fun dessert. I had this great big family, but no one was there for me that day. No one watched me compete. No one watched me receive the silver medal. I was left wondering if it mattered. Did I matter? ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’
One thing for sure is that this circle of neglect is broken. My husband Dean and I have one son, Leo. We have watched all of his sporting events and Dean has coached many of his soccer teams. My parents were very likely doing the best they could with what they had in their tank. I am ever thankful for people in my life who were there for me when my parents couldn’t be. One such person was Mr. Laset. Speaking to him earlier today after forty years, made my year. The gift of his calm, smooth voice knowing and remembering me and chit chatting about our sports days in the mid-70s will be cherished. When he said, ‘How is my best point guard doing?’ Those words were golden. He was important in the life of a child. That child was me.
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away
And I know a father who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he had done
He came a long way just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and he headed home again
Slip slidin’ away
I was awake at 3:30 am when the sirens went by on Main Street down below our house. I had no idea to what sort of tragedy the sirens were responding.
Then I received a call at 6:30 am.
Come over right now! My closest girlfriend said.
What’s going on? I asked.
Just come over. Her voice urged.
On my way. I said.
I envisioned helping with a flood or some other household problem, like a lost dog.
I was up, dressed in the car and driven the snowy few blocks in six minutes. What’s going on? I called out in the direction up the steps from the entry. The air was thick with emotion and fear. I could almost see it hanging there.
He died. She said simply.
Who died? I screeched as I ran up the steps in my boots, snow falling off. I was glancing around for a body.
Calvin. She said.
A sound came out of me involuntarily. I grabbed her and hugged her small body fiercely. The sound was primordial. Painful. A deep keening. Her Ex, the Dad, appeared and enclosed us in his arms and we all cried together for a few seconds. In my mind’s eye I was still looking around for his body.
I asked… where is he?
He had been the first of three steps at age three, when we moved in next door. Our Leo was the second step at four and his older brother Kevin at five was the third step. Fast friends who ran all over the neighbourhood together, Calvin usually bringing up the rear, on his toes – he was a toe-walker then and so cute as he nimbly rushed to be included. Countless sleepovers, snacks, tumbling, trampolining. He would sometimes gather up his courage and ask me for a drink of water, almost like I might say no. I must have been scary to him?? In recent years, in their teens, Leo would visit and and he would later tell me how Calvin had offered him tea, or soup, or whatever was available. Leo told me how kind Calvin was.
I had watched Calvin grow into a six foot two, curly blond-haired, blue-eyed quiet young man. He loved the outdoors, experiments with pond-like aquariums, fishing. He was a fierce competitor in jujitsu and, sadly, had some other darker pastimes which I would guess were self-medicating. He struggled with anxiety, addiction and with social situations. For the past several months, he could not sleep, due to anti-depressant medication. This would be the straw that broke the camel’s back – the not sleeping. I had heard about many many attempts to get him into counselling and to a psychiatrist or even to get him to emerg. He just would not go. How does a parent force this? It’s next to impossible.
Daisy told me the whole story of the few days leading up to this disaster. We sat by the fire on her couch in the early morning hours. When the door opened and her eldest, stepped in, he collapsed against the wall crying and keening loudly in despair. I slipped unnoticed out the back door. My Blunstones leaving their distinctive print in the freshly fallen snow. Down the back deck steps and around the house to my car. I drove home in a daze. I walked in to find my husband Dean and my son Leo silent with despair. All I could manage to do was to make a pot of soup for my friend in her grief.
In the wee hours, Jonah had followed his son’s bootprints (and many obvious signs of his slipping and falling on the trail, like bad snow-angel attempts). He entered the park, slipping and cursing the hidden ice as he went. A few hundred meters in, he saw Calvin’s backpack at the base of a tree and looked up, his headlight finding the silhouette of his youngest son hanging in the tree. Jonah struggled to get him down. He was still warm. He did CPR for almost an hour, crying, praying and shouting at him to wake up but systematically counting in keeping with his advanced military training. The paramedics finally arrived having had a hard time locating them in the dark woods and slipping and falling many times due to the deceptively slick ice under the layer of snow.
Jonah called his ex-wife, The Mom, telling her not to come to the park. She went up there anyway. At the gates she was met by a cop who loved Calvin – knowing him through the dojo they shared. He avoided her eyes. Her heart sank to its deepest despair.
Where do you go when your child takes his own life? There is nothing worse than this.
Dean and I organized meals and visits to Daisy so that she wouldn’t be alone, especially at night. The outpouring of support was incredible and humbling. Thousands of dollars were raised through a single email asking for support on her behalf. Daisy couldn’t work due to grief. No income, bills and life carrying on. A full day of yoga was organized by a group of women with lunch, live music and incredible local art in a silent auction. Daisy was given therapies like massage, osteopathy and reflexology. Two cords of wood were delivered, fully paid for. The guys from the dojo arrived and stacked it in fifteen minutes, based on a simple request to them that morning. We cleaned her house, her friend washed the floor with great care. Dean shoveled the driveway. Another friend swept the chimney. We walked the dog, picked up the mail, painted a room, helped her sort through the bills. A friend baked her a cake and brought flowers. A woman knitted a special scarf to encircle her in love and comfort.
The celebration of life was at a large hall downtown. Every aspect of the day was taken care of by volunteers: planning, decorating, food, drink, crafts for little ones, boughs of evergreen, writing implements for sharing snippets of memories. Hot drinks and marshmallows outside by the fire like Calvin would have wanted. A beautifully hand-crafted wooden box to store parchment pages of written memories — the blond wood the colour of his beautiful hair, his name etched in the sliding cover. The place was packed. One friend introduced the speeches and thanked all those who helped. The owner of the dojo gave a recounting of the fierce fighting competitor that Calvin was and also of the kind teacher with a huge heart for his young charges. The gym guys shoulder-to-shoulder, sniffling, their hands folded tightly. Eyes lowered. Cheeks wet with tears.
Jonah and Daisy talked about Calvin’s life. The kind of person he was, the kind of brother and son he was. His personality and some funny memories of him. Jonah finally said that he had decided to find solace in the joy of seventeen years that they had had with Calvin. At least they had had the honour and pleasure of him for seventeen years.
Extreme grief and mourning ensued for the loss of one of our boys – the first step of three.
Two years have passed since we lost this beautiful young man. I feel that he slipped through the cracks in our mental health system. He was so loved and so well taken care of, yet he still slipped through. Can you imagine the youth who do not have attentive parents? I feel sick that I personally couldn’t DO anything to help with this nor could I stop the loss of his life. I replay my last face-to-face with him when I dropped off a huge bag of dog food because our Lady-Jane had passed. Could I not have asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about? Could I not have swallowed my pride and told him that I too suffer with mental illness? It’s so fucked up. I find that I am still quite angry about my lack of ability to help with this. To take action. To DO SOMETHING.
I know one thing for sure. The next time I detect a sadness in someone, I will ask them if they need help. I will simply ask them.
Rest In Peace dear dear boy.
“The made the weather then they stand in the rain and say, shit! It’s raining!”
~Ruby Thewes, Cold Mountain
When I was a little girl and there was that bad feeling in the house, I could feel this dread and I was scared. I was little and I was afraid. There was thunder down the hall and it was coming. Shaking the house. I would hide behind Mom’s legs. Mom was at the kitchen sink. I would squeeze between her legs and the cupboard. When she would turn to face the raging man that was my dad, I would hold on tight and wish and pray that he would go away. He would roar in a very scary voice. He would growl and yell about some thing that had gone wrong. Sometimes he would be waving a piece of paper marked with angry red ink. It was about spending too much money. My mom spending too much money. She was too soft, too stupid, he would scream.
When my son was little, he would sometimes come to stand beside me when I was doing dishes at the sink. I would be looking out at our yard and watching the birds land on the feeder. Sometimes I would be talking on the phone and he would stand there with his chubby arms around my legs. Sometimes his dimpled hand would stroke the skin behind my knee. His chubby cheek pressed against the side of my leg. My hand would float down to touch his flaxen head. Just calmly leaning on me. It was a precious little gift and I would rejoice that so much had changed in the three decades since the times in the previous paragraph. I would thank the heavens for the happy home and financial security I found myself in. I would be ever so grateful that I had a kind husband and that my little guy didn’t ever see a raging dad. We would love him and support him and show him kindness. With this we would watch him thrive and grow displaying confidence in the world around him.
These two memories came flooding back when my dog’s wet nose sniffed the back of my knee to read the information I had gathered in my outing without him. I nearly crumpled to the floor with the traumatic feelings that washed over me for that little girl from five decades ago. So unfair how so many children live with fear and anger and rage and violence with no end in sight.
A wish went up that we fix our world and that we cherish our children and that we have them because they are planned for, wanted and loved.
This lead to another question which comes from the place of hearing my father say he didn’t actually want all of us — should have stopped at three, he would say (I am number 6 of 7). Why don’t men take care to not impregnate women if those men don’t actually want children?
She said she was on the pill.
She was all over me.
She was asking for it.
I was drunk.
Birth control is against my religion.
None of these is a good excuse for the possibility of making a baby. A new tiny helpless human who needs love and care, nurturing and shelter and nutrition until grown into a young adult.
In the words of Ruby Thewes in the movie Cold Mountain: “They made the weather then they stand in the rain and say, shit – it’s raining!”
Sometimes I find it’s a shame when I get feelin’ better when I’m feelin’ no pain
Gordon Lightfoot’s song was playing while I shuffled around my kitchen trying to simplify my thoughts and push down the anxiety. God Damed Anxiety is back. It puts this tight clamp on my spine where the cortisol moves in and stirs up feelings of hopelessness, lack of confidence, uselessness. All those wonderful wonderful feelings to carry like a monkey through the days.
In 1999, in postpartum after the birth of my one child, I was flung into a psychosis which turned into a straight-jacket and a rubber room experience. Haldol and all. (Locked up in D.C.). I was then, at the age of 33, diagnosed Bipolar. I had never had any symptoms prior to that. But you see, I am Military Martha. My whole family of six siblings call me that. I am the sensible one. The rule-follower. List maker (thank’s Annie). The one who solves problems. I am definitely NOT the one who ends up in a Johnny coat running for my life out the hospital doors at -20 Celsius with my undies on show. (Crazy Train 2011)
But this is mental illness folks. It takes all that you know and turns it upside down. It makes that positive side of me disappear. It makes it nearly impossible to reach out to friends and family (unless it turns into mania and then it is impossible to NOT reach out to friends and family and just about anyone else, and even at 3 in the morning).
Even the simplest of tasks cause me to turn in circles and not know where to begin. I need adult supervision. Thanks Uncle Buck. My husband of 28 years becomes the one person who knows me so well. He takes my hand and leads me along through the cloud. He will encourage me with a simple tasks to focus on and accomplish, telling me all the other stuff can wait. It’s not going to be a problem if it all just waits, he says.
Yesterday I was trying to explain the anxiety to my sister on the phone, three provinces away. It is like I know cerebrally that the task is not important but even knowing that, I feel like I am swimming in goop and am finding it hard to keep my head above it. Couple that with the feeling of a huge alligator clamp on my lower spine and that everything I look at is somehow wrong: not good enough, out of order, messy, needs fixing…AHHH! It becomes just overwhelming.
I was explaining how some things seem to help. Letting things go until a better time, cancel, reschedule, forego, cross it off the list. Listening to up and happy music. Walking in nature. Holding hands with my husband and quietly talking and walking. Simple tasks: peeling potatoes, hanging laundry, watering the garden, weeding, sweeping the floor, scraping the paint on the house with a warm sun on my back…all seem to help, if I can get out of my own way to do them.
By Sheree Fitch, Poet and Author of Nova Scotia, Canada after the tragedy in Portapique, Nova Scotia Apr 2020
Sometimes there is no sense to things my child
Sometimes there is no answer to the questions why
Sometimes things beyond all understanding
Sometimes, people die.
When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared, suffering, confused
Even if we are not together
Together, let us cry
Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.
Sometimes the sadness takes away your breath
Sometimes the pain seems endless, deep
Sometimes you cannot find the sun
Sometimes you wish you were asleep.
When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared and confused
Even if we are not together,
Together, let us cry
Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.
Wish that I had answers, child
Wish all this wasn’t so
There are impossible things, child
I cannot bear for you to know .
When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared and confused
Even if we are not together,
Together, let us cry
Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.
Copyright: Sheree Fitch, April 2020
Sheree Fitch recited her poem, above, on the CBC Special televised vigil on Friday April 24, 2020. I found myself weeping at these words which were so completely apt and heartfelt. Thank you Sheree. Rest in Peace to the fallen.
I do not try to disappoint
Or mean to disobey
There is no reason you’d suspect
I’d go another way
For we are born to what we are
With choices we must make
I see no point in taking sides
I see no sides to take
~John McCutcheon’s Bird Dog
‘Could I possibly meet Jack,’ I said. ‘We could come on Sunday, ‘ I said.
…Jack has been with us ever since that day. He was impossible not to love.
You see, our senior girl, Lady-Jane passed away about ten months ago and her passing was heart-breaking as she became quite ill with an awful infected lump on her haunch – after never being sick a day in her life….
Well, we now have a new pup and heading, head first into another decade and a half of fur-face lovin’. This guy’s name is ‘Jack’. He is hilarious and goofy and very loving and, yes, even chill, at times.
Jack was listed on Kijiji, the same way we adopted Lady-Jane, actually. Unbeknownst to my friends, I had been perusing the Kijiji re-homing ads for several months. This time I wanted a goof-ball dog. No more of this big pointy ears and pointy wolfish snout. Lady was a fabulous girl, (as were Delta and Grizzly before her) but, almost daily she scared the bejeezus out of people and other dogs. She was just so ‘ON’ it protection wise.
Jack, on the other hand, has had Acadia U. students at my door to just pet him for a minute. Folks have said things like, ‘Thanks, I needed that!’ after running their hands through his puppy fur and, burying their face in his fur and smelling his puppy smell. Other friends have received the exuberance of a four foot high jump, so excited was Jack to meet them!
Jack is a black standard golden-doodle who was being trained to be a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) service dog. Unfortunately for the PTSD folks, he failed his trials. ‘Too bouncy’ was the verdict. So after being with the breeder in Montreal for four months, he then went to the trainer for two months in Halifax. Now he is with us in Wolfville.
We have loved him since the moment we met him. He comes to my office with me and is settling in very nicely. Here’s a picture of him on the couch (no other dogs have been allowed on the couch), splayed out in the reverse flying frog posture – letting it all hang out – throwing caution to the wind. Just so chill. I felt very pleased to see this. He is AT HOME and he knows it. He is with us for his fur-ever.
It is wonderful to have a fur-head again. He has brought much joy. One young student, while petting Jack at my office door said, ‘Dog’s are here to love us, you know’. Wow. Isn’t that the truth.
He has gone for the snip. He thought he was going to the ‘tutor’. Turns out, he was going for the ‘neuter’! He was very very tired afterward and then it was ‘the cone of shame’ for a few days. All went well and now he is back to being his goofy self, lying beside my chair awaiting his next soft hand, or treat or walk.
By the way, Jack has his own Instagram account. He’s pretty funny: @jackthewolfvilledoodle check him out!
(All photos are mine).
You can’t always get what you want but, if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need*
I was just telling a new friend of mine about how many times it has happened to me, in my life, that the Universe has basically provided me exactly what I need…I mean, what I need has just dropped into my lap. Pretty cool. This post is about a few of those instances and how they happened and just how weird and wonderful it is…
The most profound instance of this was the meeting of my husband. At age 22, I had just driven solo across Canada for six days from Comox, BC to Borden, Ontario to join the Basic Army Logistics Officers’ Course. Day one, October 1988, I arrive at the school hallway with its long line of hooks under a very long hat shelf to hang up my army Issue gabardine rain coat and to shelf my beret. It was a wet and cool day. I was trepidatious. I didn’t know a soul on this course. There were about sixty other young officers from all over Canada. So, I am hanging up my coat facing left when a tall, dark and handsome green-eyed young officer hangs his coat beside mine. Catching my eye, he says a simple, “Hi” with a cute grin. I completely melted and saw stars right then and there. A feeling enveloped my being. I knew that this guy, whatever his name was, would be very important to me. Then he scored a perfect 100 on the opening placement exam and I gulped. He was intelligent and gorgeous. When I saw him kick a soccer ball and I realized that he was also athletic, oh my, I swooned.
A year or so later, even though I did not ask to be posted to Germany (when everyone else did ask), both he and I got posted to Germany, same battalion, same company, working side by side as platoon commanders. Coincidence? I think not. We have been married for 29 years. Thank you Universe!
But what is amazing about this story is all the shit that had to go down before we actually met on that day at Logistics school, hanging up our coats. You see, I had been at Waterloo University when my summer job money ran out and no one was able to help me. I fetched about for a way to attend higher education (I am completely downplaying this snippet – I flailed around!) I wanted to qualify for a good career. My mind came to the idea of joining the army and the many and in-depths steps that had to occur to get in and then take, tolerate and pass the brutal training…then the nightmare of military college…then a short posting to Comox…then the six DAY solo drive to Ontario then hanging up my coat beside my life-mate, enduring months of training and then a posting over-seas…together. Jeezus.
So, many other much less spectacular things have happened too.
Needing a sleeping cot for my visiting family…verbalize this need to my hubby, (the same cute guy from Logistics school) while driving on a country road. Thirty seconds later, my eye catches something on the side of the road. It’s a perfectly fine sleeping cot frame and mattress. We pull over and put it in the back of the car. Thank you Universe.
A competition is announced at Paddy’s Pub where I worked for a couple of years upon moving to Wolfville. ‘Whoever signs up the most folks for a loyalty card wins an IPOD.’ Those words were said and I knew in my being that I would win that IPOD. It was the latest technology. Friends were digitally storing their music and photos on them. My son had been pestering for one. A month later I walked home with that new IPOD, feeling like it was a million bucks. Thank you Universe.
I fell in love with our little bungalow while walking to the first day of school with Leo. The feeling enveloped me again. I knew that one day, we would live there. Eight years later, after the previous owner had raised his family, we did. It is quite the story, but, we are happy as clams with its ample open space, closeness to trails and proximity to everything we need.
For over a decade, I practiced yoga by attending group classes, eating up as much mat time among community members as I could get. Sometimes this got expensive as I was paying over $80 ++ per week on yoga classes. When my new office was directly above a yoga studio again I felt the Universe providing for me.
I began to toy with the idea of becoming a yoga teacher. My friend Melanie had gone to the Bahamas to study at the Ashram on an Island. Over a glass of wine and a hot tub soak after yoga at Daisy’s house, she told us of her experience being immersed in yoga. Not once did I think ‘hey, I could do something like that.’ My search for a teacher training continued. I tried out a lot of scenarios that would fit my family’s lifestyle. One day, late in the afternoon, Melanie showed up at my office with her bike helmet under her arm. It seems she had forgotten her bicycle after yoga class. She asked me what I was up to. I told her I was on the hunt for a good, affordable yoga teacher training. She said, ‘Why don’t you just go to the same Ashram I went to in the Bahamas?’
There is was again…Melanie forgot her bike after class (who forgets a bike while walking with their helmet tucked under their arm?), comes back, sees me, recommends this place to me. The full-body feeling is there…this adventure will happen. And so it did, twice, in fact! The story is at this link. Alas, I didn’t end up maintaining the teaching aspect of my yoga practice. But, studying yoga in depth was incredible. I learned that yoga is a lot of things, the least of which is attaining a yoga body and doing poses on a mat.
Last one for ya…
At a wedding for my niece up in Ontario. Dean, Leo and I have just driven for two days to Hunstville. We prepare for an amazing wedding by two foodies where everything is over-the-top wonderful. We dress and take the bus to the Summit building. Suddenly I feel my head begin to pound with a headache and a bit of nausea. If I don’t get an extra strength something soon, I will have to bow out of the festivities and I really did not want to do that! You see, I adore dancing and socializing and being with my big fun family. So, I began to quietly but frantically ask around. There’s no jumping in a car to get to a drugstore. Remember, we had taken a bus to a remote area. No one could help me. Then my eyes fell on my sister. I whispered to her that my head was aching and asked if she might have a pill. She was carrying a tiny little black clutch purse. She opened the purse. There was nothing in there. Nada. Except one little red pill! An extra-strength pain-killer. She plucked it out of her clutch purse and happily handed it to me with as much surprise on her expressive face as was on mine. What possessed her to put one pill in a purse and carry it to the wedding?
There was that feeling again. Thank you Universe.
Remember to take a moment and leave a comment. Comments are awesome!
*Songwriters: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
You Can’t Always Get What You Want lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc
A story about a pain-in-the-neck visitor and how a miracle worker helped me through it
I awoke with an awful and mysterious pain in my neck. It was bad. About an 8.5 on the scale and it felt stiff and sore as hell. I was nauseous too.
It was 1997. Scar-beria in the North, North Beaches at Birchmount and the Danforth where Dean and I were renting a fabulous red-brick two and a half story house. It had a shot-gun back yard that Delta and Grizzly loved and would fly off the back deck to chase down squirrels to the perimeter, tales wagging and barking all the way. We had just exited the Arctic and on to a new adventure starting in the GTA. (We have moved six times since then.)
I had received a call from my Dad who was in Niagara Falls then. He wanted me to come visit regularly. He wanted to form some sort of better relationship with me now that we were relatively close by. The following words came out of my mouth, as if with a mind of their own,
‘Why not come visit me, Dad? You could see our new place and we could have a walk on the Bluffs and see all the gorgeous estates and pretty fall colours.’
Okay I will, he said. Give me some directions and I’ll come next week on Tuesday.
Tuesday has no feel, I thought, an automatic comedic reply, in my head, from a favourite TV show: Seinfeld. I’ll make you lunch, Dad.
Okay…so now what? My stomach roiled. My forehead beaded with sweat. My heart pounded. I was having a stress response and his visit was a week away. Yikes.
The following morning, I awoke with the stiff, sore neck. I searched the Beaches huge paper phone book (what’s that?) for a massage therapist who could help me. I made a bunch of calls but the only guy who was available asap was the guy mentioned in the title of this post. I went for it. Immediately. That’s how afraid I was of this pain.
I drove down there and parallel parked in front of his address. I literally was saying ouch, ouch, ouch, ahhh as I struggled to turn my head to maneuver into the spot.
I had never had a shiatsu massage so, I was really unsure of what to expect. Having spoken to the guy on the phone, he sounded so nice and sincere, I was feeling hopeful. Something had to help this pain in my neck.
When I walked into his therapy room, I saw a futon mattress on the floor covered with a perfectly white sheet. He was dressed in white also and he had this curly head of blond hair and this angelic face that he turned toward me. He had a dozen or so years on me and he remained kneeling on the futon in hero pose as he gestured for me to have a seat so we could have a chat before treatment. He positioned himself so that I didn’t have to turn or cock my head in order to look at him. The tears were already spilling down my cheeks.
Oh dear, he said. Martha, why not tell me what’s going on? When did the pain start and what’s happening in your life right now?
I told him the pain arrived out of nowhere. Woke up with it. Told him I was feeling very anxious about my Dad coming to visit and that we had a tough relationship. Then I said…
He’s a real pain in the neck.
Ahhh, he said gently. That sounds like it could be the problem. Parents can be the source of a lot of stress.
I was making ahuh sounds wanting to nod but unable to at this point. (K, while I am writing this, there is this pain creeping into my neck…sympathy pain for that younger version of myself, perhaps).
He asked me the exact plans for the visit. This guy was into concrete details, not airy-fairy. I was liking him more and more as I am a very concrete-type person. I told him that I was going to show my dad around and make lunch for him and then take him for a walk down to the Bluffs.
He asked, what sort of food does your Dad like?
I said, he likes steak and blue cheese and almost everything besides that. He likes black coffee and desserts too. He’s a good eater, I said.
Well, then how about a steak salad with blue cheese crumbled on top, said Mr Angelic Shiatsu Massage Guy.
Was this guy for real? He was truly helping me.
He said when a stressful visitor is coming, it’s a good idea to have a set plan for the visit, with an end point (have something to do on the other end that brings it to a close, in this case it would be the 2:30 rush hour GTA traffic to be avoided at all costs). Have a menu and be organized. Next, realize that you are in control of this visit and that it is on your turf and that ninety-nine percent of things we fret and worry about never actually happen. Have low expectations of your visitor so he doesn’t disappoint you again. Realize that he is him and you are you. You are an adult now, Martha. No need to let him infect you any longer.
The pain was subsiding while he gently and sincerely spoke these words to me.
He then had me lie down on my belly on the pristine white sheet and he worked on my neck, shoulders and back. He worked my arms and fingers too and moved to my feet. By the end of it I was a jellyfish on the sand. All pain was gone.
I will never forget this miracle worker who helped me through this stressful event. It was the best sixty bucks I ever spent.
So, Dad showed up on Tuesday at 11 am. (My husband Dean was downtown Toronto at iti, as he was on an intensive 9 month course). Dad was on his best behaviour. He was charming and funny and polite. He loved our house and lunch made him speechless. The steak salad with crumbled blue cheese turned out to be fabulous with garlic toast and butter tarts for dessert with black coffee. He was eating out of my hand by the end of it. (Figuratively speaking).
We waddled down the hill to the Scarborough Bluffs and walked in the park there with the dogs also on their best behaviour, for once. The whole visit was incredible. Then Dad looked at his watch and said he should hit the road back to Niagara Falls. He gave me a peck on the cheek and off he went, with a butter tart and a black coffee for the road.
One thing for sure, that pain in the neck got my attention. It made me seek help and because I really needed it, I was open to receive the help. It equipped me for future pain-in-the-neck challenges and helped me to realize that most of the things we worry about never even happen.
Most of them.
A survival trip in the 80s has me realizing my nature and that I am at home in it
In Grade 12, there was this out trip that we all participated in. It was a several day canoe and portage adventure trip up in Killarney National Park and it was meant to be a fun, team-building, learning experience. It was also somewhat of a survival experience and, for me, a challenge to remain positive and friendly no matter what the weather was doing.
The preparatory meetings began. ‘All grade 12s going on the Out Trip with Mrs Ducky, report to classroom 105 for a planning meeting’. All of us gathered from the four corners of the school. We found a seat and glanced around. The atmosphere in the room was palpable with hormones, comparisons and expectation of fun to come. Mrs Ducky ensured that each of the forty or so of us made contributions to the planning. What needs to be packed. How to pack it (in plastic bags just in case it rains). What to expect (an arduous journey) and the timings and itinerary for the trip, including car pooling and who would be in each canoe.
When we finally got up to Killarney National Park, we were ready for the adventure ahead. We piled into our crafts and were told to stick together, lest we get lost. Mrs Ducky and Mr Watson should remain within site, they told us. It was huge water surrounded by vast wilderness and craggy rocks and with many inexperienced canoeists, anything could happen.
Poor Sue (the same guy from ‘Fun and Foibles At The Camp‘ went in the drink just off shore.) He was with a couple of classmates who didn’t know how to balance the canoe while trying to switch places. Over they went. Sue’s sleeping bag remained wet for the whole trip. Gotta ask yourself, ‘What happened to the plastic bag for it, Sue?’ Years later Sue joined the Army. He learned a ton about survival and staying dry then.
Anyway, the trip was magical. We canoed, we raced, we sang, we splashed and we teased each other. Sue even demonstrated gunnel-bobbing just off shore of one of our sites. At times it rained horribly and at times the sun peaked out to shine on the motley, rag tag crew that we were. We had several portages that we would tell each other was, ‘only five football fields long’ – helping mentally to push through it and get ‘er done.
One day, while making lunch for the group, Mrs Ducky squealed at Mike to stop eating the bread rolls. He looked up with cheeks stuffed full like a chipmunk and pointing a sausage-shaped finger at his chest tried to say, “Who me?” Those in ear-shot giggled at this even though it would mean we would be short for supper. The food was strictly rationed and Mike was this lumbering, big guy with fuzzy black hair and so funny.
At another site that lent itself to bathing, a few of us actually went for a swim and washed our hair. I was one of them, being so used to this kind of thing at the camp all my life. The water was so pure and clean and felt like silk as I dove in. The water in the lakes up there in Northern Ontario parks was so pure in those days (1985) that for drinking water, we were all instructed to bring a melmac or metal mug on a carabiner that should be hooked to our waistband. With it, we would simply scoop water out of the lake and drink it down as we paddled, or at any time on the trip. No bottled water. No tanks of water. No filter, pump or drops. Just lake water. No one got sick.
A few of my classmates were quite miserable on this trip and I felt badly for them. They didn’t have the experience in nature that I had been so fortunate to have. They didn’t want to squat in the woods or to walk barefoot into the water or sleep with camp-fire smoked hair. It was a foreign place, nature. They were home-sick.
On the other hand, It was bizarre how much I enjoyed the whole experience and again reveled in the physical outdoor challenge: loving the sights especially the starry sky or a glassy-calm lake; the sounds like the lonesome, haunting call of the loon and smells of nature like of fallen pine needles under foot on a forest trail. I ate it all up and reveled in the wisdom of the team effort and of observing my classmates who may or may not be in their element. Did it bring out the best or the worst in them? Interesting to see and had me recalling that game about picking who you would want in your lifeboat.
Loving this stuff would serve well in my future. Of course I didn’t have any idea that in 22 months I would be at basic training in Chilliwack, British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast and that I would be struggling beyond belief…
(Pictures credit to google images and whomever took them – thanks folks!)
Highlights: the food! Oh my, such wonderful food. The hikes! Oh my, such gorgeous seaside scenery. The colour! Oh my, such bright and vivid colours every which way we turned. The accented lovely way of speaking! Oh my, so sweet: how ya be, me ducky?
We were on the escalator heading down to street level at the St John’s airport in early June. Excited to start our eight days in Newfoundland’s east. We had butterflies of excitement and I think we may have been holding hands, my love and I. Dean, hailing from there, was all smiles to be ‘down home’ again to the salt air and the fog, the twang and the good-naturedness of Newfoundlanders. (Pronouced: newfundLANDers)
I was casually scanning the crowd on street level. My glance fell on a dark-haired man sitting in profile to us on a bench against the wall. He was smiling, looking around wide-eyed and boyishly swinging his legs back and forth. Could it be? I was almost sure it was him but what luck would that be?! Michael Crummey, I said quietly. I nudged Dean beside me. Michael Crummey, I indicated with my chin. We both said aloud for him then: Michael Crummey! And he looked at us and smiled with recognition as we arrived at his level. He and Dean had attended Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) back in the eighties and played a bit of soccer together. We had attended Michael’s readings on his books and listened, rapt, while he read from his latest book the last time: Sweetland when he visited Wolfville’s Acadia University in the recent past. We had pints and shared stories and jokes at Paddy’s Pub. We were nearly best buds, the three of us. Well, not really, but it was certainly wonderful to see his smiling face. He was awaiting his mother and then she joined us and we were introduced. A moment later we were offered a ride to our hotel and off we went in his car while Michael told us of places not to be missed and I jotted notes on a scrap of paper in the back seat…this was sure to be a great trip and it was that for sure.
Highlights: the food! Oh my, such wonderful food. The hikes! Oh my, such gorgeous seaside scenery. The colour! Oh my, such bright and vivid colours every which way we turned. The accented lovely way of speaking! Oh my, so sweet: how ya be, me ducky?
We checked into Hotel Newfoundland and were offered all manner of treats from the lady going by with a cart from the exec lounge. Don’t want to throw it all away, she said. We loaded up, then stepped out to look at Signal Hill via the crooked little neighbourhood of Quidi Vidi. Boardwalk clutching shear cliffs and spray of salt water with a backdrop of the huge deep St John’s harbour and small icebergs off in the big blue.
Colourful ancient houses clung impossibly on the hillside of rock and steps galore! as we made our way for the next two hours. Exclaiming at the beauty all the while and sweating while climbing the flights of stairs up the rock face. I would not have wanted to be the builders of that staircase. Newfoundlander builders wouldn’t have thought twice about it, likely. I recalled my barrel-chested, cheerful brother-in-law in his good black leather jacket, hat less, stepping out into the driving, sideways freak icy rain one Christmas in Corner Brook. It’s not FIT! he turned, smiled and shrugged at us watching from the damp doorway or Dean’s eldest brother.
Next, a meal which had us enjoying the lightest, sweetest fish and chips ever and a pint of the local brew at The Duke. Simply awesome.
Day two, we walked all over the pretty and old, twisty knotted downtown and then up around the University Campus after an incredible brunch at The Rooms Museum Cafe overlooking the harbour.
We met Bill, Dean’s friend from University, at his house and then dropped everything to go take a look at Petty Harbour. The sun just happened to come out while we were there. Afterwards, we ate a wonderful steak supper with Bill, then walked back to the hotel still in the day light. Gotta love the long days of summer. We then fit in a pint with Michael Crummey and told the tales of our lives, three glasses clinked, then three heads together as we caught up on all the news at the Ship Pub. We laughed at the memories of Codco who used to hang out at The Ship Inn which was sold and so imaginatively renamed.
Day three, we picked up our rental car after a scrumptious meal at Chinched and off we went to tour the Irish Loop with a stop to hike La Manche trail, part of the East Coast Trail system and see the suspension bridge out in the ghost-town wilderness. Later that evening, we found a nice B&B and just got in the door when the rain began to pour down. The owner was a small lively man with a few good stories for us. Then we enjoyed some rest.
Day four, we ventured into Tickle Cove and did the little trail around the pond then had a dessert and tea at Maudie’s Cafe, which was sweet. Later, we found a small hotel room on Bay Roberts and walked for a ways to see the old churches, enjoying a pint overlooking the bay on the route back.
The next morning we were nearly ordered by the hotel manager to do the Shoreline Walk, which we are so glad to have done. Simply beautiful, with its old stacked rock
foundations and stone cellars from before the town was moved further into the crook of the bay. At the end of the two hour hike, we came across a diner and enjoyed touton (pronounced TOUT-on) BLTs and fish cakes, the server so talkative she forgot to take our order for several minutes. It was scrumptious. There, we overheard an exchange that we are still chuckling about. The server asked a guest how he wanted his eggs. The Newfoundlander answered: I don’t want to be any trouble but, I’ll have one scrambled and one poached. but I don’t want to be any trouble. Pause. The server stood with a look on her face, searching his for a glimmer of fun, then all erupted in laughter.
Day five, we pulled into Trinity and booked a room for two nights in a large house with many rooms all with ensuite bathrooms. It was like a hostel for adults, said Dean. We enjoyed swapping stories with some of our house mates and then had food and drink and a stroll around town, marveling again at the use of colour. Why so much colour we wondered? It was so that the seafarers could find their way home in the fog, b’y.
Day six, we did the Skerwink Hike with its sea stacks and rugged coast, ending the trail beside a pond with a resident otter who made himself known. This is my pond, he indicated with his snout held high and in our general direction. Later that evening, we found our way out to the CBC TV Miniseries site of Random Passage and were tickled to be the only folks there. I had read these books and LOVED them, a quarter of a century ago living in Corner Brook and being new to the culture. They shed a ton of light for me.
Day seven, we were back to St John’s were we met up with one of Dean’s nieces and had tea while catching up on all her news. We had walked around Quidi Vidi pond to get to her at a little cafe, but first we had met Dean’s friend Bill at The Mallard Cottage for a pint and an incredibly delicious lunch.
Day eight, we were packing up to catch our plane back to Nova Scotia. Our little tour of Newfoundand’s East coast had been amazing. Colourful, sweet, homey, rugged and beautiful. We shall return.
All photos by MMV
‘I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say, So Long’
Just to have a laugh or sing a song…. the poignant words of the ditty by the eighty-something Carol Burnett whom Paul adored. He said they both had a slight palsy in the side of their faces making their smiles a little crooked. He connected with her and so, once a week, we would sprawl on the Aikins’ wall-to-wall cream-coloured broadloom in front of their floor-model, mahogany encased TV in their living-room (the Aikins had cable!) enraptured by Carol Burnett And Friends. Jinx, their moody Siamese cat would sleep on top of the TV for its warmth, tail flicking even in her sleep.
Well folks, something horrible has happened. We have lost this amazing person. He is gone. Never to return except to live on in our memories.
Paul was five years old when we met, and I, four. We moved into the red brick bungalow next door. They lived in the brick mansion next to us. There were eleven kids in the Aikins family. We were seven kids. The sheer numbers of kids (and the lack of hand held devices and video games, ie: none) made for hilarious adventures and play times between the two homes.
We each had at least one member of the Aikins family to play with who was our age. We walked to school together. We played outdoors and in for hours together. It’s hard to believe that none of us ended up married to each other. I always believed Paul and I would be wed. Not to be.
Paul was one of those friends who was just simply THERE for me. I cannot recall a single argument with him. We discussed all manner of topics. I confided in him regarding my tough relationship with my dad. Consequently Paul would never address dad as Mister the way dad would have liked him to. This would irk dad every time. We would snicker about it later.
We competed in Miss Cuthbert’s typing class together at St Joe’s, typing as fast as we could in rhythm to Martha and the Muffins’ Echo Beach. Paul won. We did gymnastics
and music recitals together. Projects and fund-raisers. We decorated for dances and chaired meetings. I’ll never forget the amazingly fun times we managed to have with very little money but very large imaginations and unstop-ability. We would lip-synch to our fave tunes, throwing ourselves whole-heartedly into it and making each other double in two with laughter. Little did we know then that Paul would become this incredibly beloved teacher at Etobicoke School for the Arts.
For several years of our friendship, Paul would come by greyhound bus up to the camp on Lake Cecebe to hang with me there for a week or two. We would canoe, trampoline, clean cottages, paint docks and picnic tables together. It didn’t really matter what we were doing, we would just make it fun. My little brother emailed lately to remind me of this time that Paul and I were playing piano together in the office and he was imitating someone. Ricky rolled on the floor over that one, he recalls. Ricky also reminded me that Paul could imitate dad perfectly, especially the corny face Dad would put on when he was ushering mass at St Mary’s.
I remember the first time I felt that I had lost Paul. It was when they moved from next door to a few streets away on Eugenia Street. The second time I lost Paul was when I moved away for a year when my parents were in the midst of a horrible divorce. I missed him so badly that year. My buddy was too far away for my liking. It was a tough year because of this. He came to London by bus to visit once and we had a blast.
I remember one time he was hired to feed the cats at the convent on the corner of Berczy and Eugenia St in Barrie and I went with him to the massive, empty, dark gothic-style mysterious house with crucifixes affixed on nearly every wall. Well, of course we proceeded to hide behind doors and jump out at each other and to scare each other with a well placed ‘boo!’ several times so that we were frazzled nerves by the time we finished the chore.
Paul was a ball of positive and artistic fun and a fantastic old friend of mine. I will miss him dearly and am so sorry for the loss of this incredible person. I am sorry for his Mother and five brothers and four sisters and his adoring nieces and nephews. I am sorry for Fred, his partner of twenty plus years and how he must be reeling at the sudden and unexpected loss of Paul. I am sorry for his students and for all those whom he will not get the chance to teach. There are simply no words. I know though, that his inspiration will live on in the memories of all those who loved him.
Paul Aikins was an incredible light that shone for 54 years. I will miss him dearly. Rest in Peace dear Paul. Your work is done here but your legacy will live on powerfully and forever, for you have made a difference.
Today, we were in double digits with blue skies and ebbing tides….off to one of our many beaches to enjoy it. Not knowing a) that this beach belonged to a pair of nesting Peregrines and b) that this would be a truly remarkable day…
We were scurrying quickly away from the possible dive-bombing Peregrine Falcons and their surely sharp talons on a local beach near Avonport, Nova Scotia. (Peregrines are not to be trifled with, being the fastest creature on planet Earth, who can reach 320 km / hr with sharp talons and beak). My hubby of 26 years, Dean and I had been strolling on the pebbly, blue-tinged shale beach marveling at the warm day in late May and kicking around ideas for future world travel, a topic we come back to again and again it seems.
Yes, the warm day…we have had an awfully cold spring which would have me donning a toque up until, oh, yesterday. But today, we were in double digits with blue skies and ebbing tides….off to one of our many beaches to enjoy it. Not knowing a) that this beach belonged to a pair of nesting Peregrines and b) that this would be a truly remarkable day.
About thirty minutes down the beach, the shreeeeeeeeek of the Peregrine. (I have known this shreek and had heard it recently and curiously near our house in Wolfville. That mystery was about to be clarified.) It seems we were a little too close to their nest which was lodged up on a ledge in the sand-stone cliffs which towered over the beach.
A senior couple was coming down the beach in hats and rubber boots. Large camera had she, binoculars had he. Pauline and her special friend Bernard Forsythe and was it truly our fortune to meet them! Firstly warning them about the mad! mad! mad! falcons but they didn’t seem to want to turn around. They nodded knowingly about the speedy upset pair and so, with one eye-ball peeled, we stood and talked on the pretty beach for the better part of an hour.
Turns out, Bernard has been a serious naturalist and birder since the 70s featured here on CBC Television. Both he and Pauline had lost their respective mates in the last few years and had found friendship in each other through the Blomidon Naturalists Society. Bernard told us that he is 77 and still climbing trees. He has tagged more than 800 barred owls and routinely mounts owl boxes all over, to aid the owls in the nesting needs, now that old growth forests are not as prevalent as they once were. Bernard kept us highly interested in the various and many conservation activities he takes part in, mainly he says, for fun! He told us that Peregrines would have been in Wolfville due to it being on their flight path returning from the south. That’s why I would hear them sometimes. Mystery solved. I made a mental note to let my friend Daisy know this. She had wondered the same thing.
We asked Bernard if he happened to know our niece who had attended Acadia University and is now completing her masters in ornithology at York, Taylor Brown. He said…. Yes, we met one day by chance at the eye doctor. We were both bored and got to talking and then realized how much we have in common with regard to birding.
Dean and I were afraid to go back down the beach toward the nesting site but Pauline and Bernard assured us that we would be fine. If we formed a group, they said, the falcons were unlikely to attack us. I picked up a flat rock and used it as a helmet, to be extra sure. Once near to but far beneath the nest, we were able to clearly see a proud, puffed-up Momma on the nest and a serene protective Dadda on a tree just a bit further on, standing guard. Stoic. Soon, Pauline exclaimed that she could see a fuzzy chick’s head moving just above the rim of the nest. Time to leave them be, said Bernard. They need to hunt and take care of necessary falcon parenting business and shouldn’t be interrupted too much.
On our way back up the beach, we were fully captivated by the many fascinating stories that Bernie told us about his adventures in ornithology, owl banding and nesting box mounting. He would be called upon by Acadia University to take various students ‘under his wing’. One such student was studying the murder of crows who would roost on Boot Island. They would go to the island to study them together and so that Bernie could instruct the student in banding and other bird ways.
Bernard is also a wild-orchid enthusiast and counter. We would have been at the Orchid Show at the Acadia University KC Irving centre in February when my sisters were visiting. He pointed out that he studies and counts the wild ones though which he said involves a lot of hiking through the woods of Nova Scotia.
He then found us a highly interesting fossil of a fern and was bent over pointing at it as if he was in a teenager’s body. This incredibly youthful senior man has done and still does many hikes and out-trips on his various conservation missions. Now though most times with his friend Pauline by his side except when he is climbing trees. At those times, she waits on the ground. Both of them have a quick smile and a glint in their eye. They are wise, vital, active, witty and incredibly interesting. At one point, Pauline told me she wasn’t worried about the falcons dive-bombing because she was wearing blue and they don’t like blue. Aren’t you lucky I said. Why don’t they like blue? I asked. Only kidding she said. She had me going and it was funny, we belted out a good laugh about that one!
Only in The Valley.
(Peregrine picture was found on google images ~ thank you~ The other two are mine.)
Here’s another view of the area at low tide:
We are big fans of really good, local, fresh food. We aren’t fanatics about it, we just really appreciate it when it is offered and when we can get our hands on it fairly easily at a decent price.
Similar to the story about Reid’s Meats, Dabro Farm is just west a bit and is a family run farm, over the hill from our home with an honour-system market in a small barn. It is surrounded by grazing cattle, sheep, chickens, the odd goat, geese and a couple of horses and donkeys, and the ever present Gaspereau River flowing lazily on by just across the paddock.
This one day, a few months ago, needing eggs, I rolled on over to the hill to Dabro after a sweet stroll in the sun along the canal with my then old furry girl-friend Lady Jane.
Arriving at the barn, set beside the country road, I parked and walked in. The egg fridge was usually my first order of business as one grown son of mine is a true egg fan, eating two or three when he is over for breakfast.
Opening the fridge, I was shocked to find nary an egg when normally there were several dozen awaiting purchase. Now, I didn’t let it bother me too much as I had the proprietor in my contacts on my cell. We had taught his two sons how to drive years ago. My trusty cell still held his phone number. I quickly texted Shawn Davidson letting him know my predicament. Somehow I knew that Shawn would be able to help.
I’ll be right there, he texted back lickety split.
Arriving in his pick-up truck from the other barn down the road, he dismounted and said, give me a sec.
He walked into the hen house and came out about two minutes later with a warm dozen of large brown eggs in a carton held open for me to inspect. He had left his work at the other end of his farm and come to my aid instantaneously, to hand-pick just laid eggs out from under the feathered ladies in the hen house. In my mind I was shaking my noggin gently thinking only in the valley. Shawn began to apologize for not washing the eggs. I told him to stop it as I gently pulled a warm brown egg into my palm. It filled my palm completely. A double-yoker for sure. At breakfast it was confirmed. Twin yokes.
Small farms are wonderful sustainable systems which employ families and provide good food to local folks with the circle of life working in a balancing act together. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. The manure from the livestock fertilizing the crops. It reminds me of that scene in the Disney film Lion King when Mufasta explains to his son, Simba, that when he dies, his body becomes the grass. The antelope eat the grass and later, become food for the lions. Circle of life. A delicate balance. Done with respect.
So, to describe it further: this particular farm market down in Gaspereau, has a few large fridges and freezers with various butcher-paper wrapped meats, poultry and pork, steaks, chops, bacon, ham and sausage as well as eggs.
There are also various other scrumptious offerings like home-made jams, jellies, relishes and pickles. Not to mention baked goods, coffee by the cup, knitted socks, toques, mitts, candles, honey, garlic, ice-cream sandwiches which really hit the spot in the warm summer months, and a little library of novels. All of these items are sold by honour-system. There are no staff monitoring the market so, choose the goods, write them down in the little book. Insert cash into the cash box or send an etransfer. Walk out the door and be careful of the roaming, foraging happy-go-lucky chickens.
Time for breakfast!
Thank you Shawn Davidson and family of Dabro Farms. You will have noted a large contented smile on my face each time I have been in your market. Only in the Valley.
(all pictures found on google images of Dabro Farms)
Amy waited all day in Gas Town for the money transfer to come through, seeing sights that made her head spin. Men dressed as women. Gay lovers. Protests of every sort. The needle and the damage done.
When my sister Amy was almost 19, her friend convinced her to secretly hitch-hike out to Vancouver from southern Ontario, a trip of over 4000 kms one way.
The young ladies stitched ‘VAN’ patches to their back packs and with straightened hair and bell bottoms, off they went: flower children off to find themselves. (The prior year, my brother Matt had gone west with a buddy, hopping on and off rail cars. It was a trendy thing to do then, to head West and to always ‘hit the ground running!’)
They were lucky to get rides in transport trucks with very attentive and caring knights of the highway who fed them and took them the extra mile to their destination. They also took them on little side trips to Banff Springs Hotel and to the Okanagan Valley. The gentlemen put the girls up in a hotel room of their own for two nights…sheer luxury and after four days they were dropped off in Vancouver at a hostel which the men paid for, for a night. So generous!
The next day, the young women went to see Donna’s uncle in Port Alberni. He gave them money to stay in a hostel for a further week so they could visit Wreck beach, Gas town and Stanley Park.
The friends walked all over the city seeing various vendors, musicians with tambourines and hippies everywhere as well as trans folks. Amy and Donna didn’t have a clue as to what they were seeing sometimes.
At Stanley Park in Vancouver, the sight there was not the best. The park was strewn with tons of garbage and many youth were strung out and laying around on the grass. Some folks were meditating or in some sort of drug-induced trance. Everyone was friendly but, it wasn’t anything like what Amy and Donna expected.
At the hostel which was nice and clean and more wholesome, there was a kitchen with folks baking bread. The meals there were mostly stews and bread. Sitting in a circle at the hostel, everyone would share stories about where they came from. There were many minstrel musicians and artists there with a general attitude of living on love, not working and being cool.
Walking through Vancouver one morning, seventeen-year old Donna saw a dance studio with a dancer in the window. This dancer became her husband and they are still together today, going on to open a water-bed franchise and doing well on the water-bed trend of the eighties. Remember that? (Amy reminded me that she had two water beds in her apartment in the eighties where I lived while waiting to get into the army. My husband Dean installed a waterbed in his residence room at university!)
In Gas town there were many people sitting on the sidewalk and shooting up and doing all manner of weirdness, almost like a mini Woodstock. They seemed to be doing anything they wanted without a thought for the law. Long hair, headbands, bare-chest, jeans, cut-off shorts, macrame belts with beaded tail a hanging down the thigh.
‘Georgie‘ girls would walk by in peasant blouses, long, flowing skirts and hair, floppy hat, beads, bracelets and anklets and Jesus sandals, patched and needle-pointed bell-bottom jeans and no makeup. No bra. Some wore moccasins and everyone had a backpack which identified them with sewn-on patches of their home town and of different places they had been. No cell phones. No email. No video games. No social media and no effing selfies. Just patches, music and spoken word. Imagine.
At the white-sand, nude Wreck Beach Amy recognized John from home who was sunbathing nude, stretched out on the fine, warm sand. Amy told him to throw a towel on if he wanted them to speak to him.
Soon the money ran out and Amy needed to get home. From the ‘free’ phone at the Trans Union office, she called Mom and Dad and begged for airfare, mentioning that she didn’t even have money for food. Back then, a student could fly across country for under a hundred dollars.
‘Our blond daughter is coming back from finding herself! Wailed Dad to Mom.
Amy waited all day in Gas Town for the money transfer to come through, seeing sights that made her head spin. Men dressed as women. Gay lovers. Protests of every sort. The needle and the damage done.
Back home to reality and work at A&W. Dad and Mom had let Amy, Matt and Mark have the house that summer while they were at the lake for the summer. Bad move as there were parties galore and the house was getting more and more weathered due to them. In the seventies when the baby boomers were teens, there were just so many of them about that they took over every aspect of life. They walked around in packs. It’s hard to believe now in 2019, that they were ever that young. The baby boomers are now aging and their vast numbers are taking over the assisted-living homes, seniors resorts and most of Florida. Stores are stocking more and more seniors’ needs: reading glasses, purple shampoo, compression hose, knee-braces, Epsom salts, sore muscle balm, soup and the like.
Anyhoo, at home, Amy kept an eye-ball peeled for Donna’s dad who was the police chief. She thought she would be killed if he saw her as he was sure to blame Amy for the loss of his daughter to Vancouver…man.
(Eva Player – daisy pic – and Google images..thanks again )
When you see my Lady, with the twinkle in her eyes, tell it to her softly and hold her if she cries. Tell her that I love her and I will till the day I die. Tell it to her gently when you tell her that I won’t be coming home again
~ Burton Cummings
How I shall miss you my best furry girl-friend of the last decade.
Every time I pulled my coat from the cupboard to turn around and you’d be there. Tail wagging. Wet nose smelling. Long tongue lolling. Eyes asking, me too, Mom? If I told you not this time, you would turn and lay down. Disappointed but disciplined. Stoic.
Every time, without fail, the cheese came out of the fridge. From the far reaches of the house you came a trotting.
Running clothes on, Dad? Let’s go, your body said. I’m ready.
Danger in our yard? You would inform us with an important chuff or alarm bark, and make us feel safe, especially from the most feared: a cat! You were ON it! But should a friend come by, there was nary a woof. Not even if years had passed.
I see your water bowl, food bowl, your leash and collar, your tie-out rope, your bed of old blankets. All are sad reminders of your doggy-ness. Your unconditional love of us. Your pack whom you would protect, without question.
This morning I awoke and waited for your bedside greeting. Every day for ten years your nose was there nudging my hand. Your tail wagging us into a new day. Walking to my office where you would take up your spot under my desk. I would warm my feet under your furry belly. Time to go home? Up, shake, let’s go.
But the last months something was wrong. A growth grew. An infection. Blood. A smell that was full of not good. Piddly pee. Howling at the vet’s office – singing the song of your people, the Vet said. Wagging tail stopped wagging and now clamped under to hold the foreign growth on your haunch. You would sandwich yourself between my legs and the cupboard when I was chopping. You would pant and pace. You were not yourself. Oh dear. We would have to face it. You were not feeling well, dear Lady, searching our faces with those pretty brown eyes.
Those hard days are over. We have let you go. We will not forget your sweet furriness and your wonderful doggy-ness. You were love itself.
We’re here for a good time
Not a long time
So have a good time
The sun can’t shine every day…
This is a concept I just heard on CBC radio. The Reverse Bucket List is a list of times in your life that you would love to return to or that you are happy about or proud of or that taught a great lesson that you carry forward through your life. So, looking back on your life for the best, most profound or impactful moments instead of always projecting that those moments need to happen in your future. It is a method of making yourself happy for the accomplishments of your life thus far. I realized, while writing my list below, that that is mostly what I am doing by writing this blog. I’m writing my reverse bucket list!
Here’s my list (with links to the stories that correspond). No particular order except the first two are the top for a reason.
- Eloped to marry my best-friend and we are celebrating 28 years this year (2020);
- Had a son and stayed home to raise him for his first five years;
- Trekked for a month in Nepal in the Himalayas;
- Traveled by VW Van all over Canada, including the North West Territories and Yukon and into Alaska, visiting one national park in each province, territory and in Alaska;
- Hiked the 3-day Chilkoot Trail from Bennett, B.C. to Skagway, Alaska;
- Traveled and worked on a farm in Australia;
- Visited the Taj Mahal; and witnessed pilgrims bathing in the Ganges in India at dawn;
- Backpacked with our 4-year old throughout Mexico’s West Coast and Central America;
- Moved to a small Nova Scotian town without jobs and made our lives from scratch with our four-year old because we wanted him to be able to walk to school safely;
- Founded and incorporated a small education-services business for 15 years and employed three others besides myself;
- Posted a listing on AirBnb and hosted folks from all over the world;
- Started a school garden with a friend and taught children how to sow, germinate, water, grow, harvest and save seeds from scratch;
- Lived and worked in Germany for three years and visiting most countries near there;
- Lived in Virginia, USA for two years then packed a large U-Haul and drove home to Canada and we were glad to be home (sorry American friends, no offence);
- Took a gondola ride in Venice and then got somewhat lost in its ancient twisty turny laneways;
- Drove from Germany into Czechoslovakia just after the 1989 removal of the Berlin wall and witnessed a country coming alive;
- Had four big dogs (not all at once) and a cat who were cherished as part of our family, And currently have a doodle who is just too darn cute and funny!
- Snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef in Australia;
- Completed the scuba dive licence which was very difficult for me due to my claustrophobic tendencies. (I no longer dive but I love to snorkel);
- Rappelled down a cliff on basic training in 1986 in Chilliwack, B.C. (9 PLATOON DOGS OF WAR!);
- Rappelled out of a helicopter on a special training day;
- Joined a group seven-day biking trip through France and gained a very sore bottom;
- Marched in the International Nijemgen Marches in Holland in 1989. 160 km over four days;
- Skied in the Swiss and the Austrian Alps;
- Own a house out-right with my husband;
- While living in the Arctic hand-built several high-fired, clay pots and still have some of them over 25 years later;
- Taught my son to sign American sign-language before he could speak;
- Was sporty and a scholar at school, for the most part;
- Completed Advanced Yoga Teacher Training at an ashram in the Bahamas;
- Taught yoga;
- Joined a book club and read daily;
- Took several horse-archery ground training lessons and loved it;
- Mastered a hand-stand with no wall;
- Made yogurt from raw farm-fresh milk for years;
- Joined the Army and stayed in for several years, leaving honourably as a Captain*;
- Completed Recruit Term at Military College outside Victoria, B.C. and it was tough;
- Completed Off-Road driver training in the Army;
- Shot a fire-arm with fairly good accuracy, and cleaned it, stripped it and reassembled it blindfolded;
- Completed the Officer Challenge twice (only woman): 75 km trek over 24 hours with 18 mini-competitions, in combat gear, in France￼;
- Was awarded the Sword of achievement for Junior Officer of the Year while in the army;
- Besides my first language of English, I can communicate somewhat in French, German, Spanish and American Sign-language;
- Studied dance for several years as a girl and still love to dance;
- Was a gymnast in elementary school and won a silver medal in a competition for the county;
- Have traveled by jet, helicopter, ferry, ship, sail boat, canoe, kayak, stand-up paddle board, car, truck, bus (both inside and on top of!) and train, including a train across most of Canada for days and into the heart of Australia on the Gahn and in Northern India;
- Hitch-hiked successfully in Canada and Australia;
- Witnessed flying foxes by the thousands in Australia;
- Have driven back and forth across Canada (several times) including solo enroute to Logistics training in the Army in 1988;
- Have been to all Provinces of Canada and two of the territories;
- Have lived and worked north of the 66th parallel, two hours North of the Arctic Circle;
- Was ‘Screeched In’ in Newfoundland where my husband is from;
- Hiked Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland and met curious Elk while on top of its tablelands;
- Sewed some clothing and curtains with a sewing machine, self-taught then decided I wouldn’t be doing that again;
- Learned how to cut a basic haircut from my sister;
- Met a harem of Bison in a National Park in Alberta;
- Miscarried my second son, late, which was heart-breaking but which helps me to cherish given life;
- Learned how to read music and play piano and the flute a bit of guitar and banjo;
- Met, hugged and kissed Deepak Chopra before he was very famous; and
- Love nature and simple times and love to laugh and be silly;
- Have read a friend’s manuscript and helped with some edits;
- Am currently living in the 2020 / 2021 COVID-19 world pandemic 😷
These are comments from the best leader I encountered while in the Canadian Army. Colonel (retired) Gordon Grant Says:
“I have read the entire blog and will use this opportunity to make some summary comments. First, unlike your readers, I was with you for a small part of your journey. You and Dean were lieutenants under my command in Germany. I watched your personal relationship grow as well as your professional development. This gave me a reference point on which to gauge your stories. I found myself constantly comparing the lives of M and Dean as I understood them, against the reality check provided in your stories. Your blog confirmed (and reinforced) my good opinion of you both. But I had no idea that you were in constant crisis. And I am gobsmacked at the challenges you faced and overcame. You and Dean are strong, compassionate and committed partners, parents and citizens. Your travels have armed you with a mature appreciation of other cultures. You showed tremendous courage in writing this blog. You presented a frank and transparent presentation of your life. It is well written and takes us to euphoric heights and the depth of your despair. Your willingness to address the most intimate details will help others with their struggles. You are a talented writer. You combine humour with a no-holds-bared approach to describing your journey. You need to keep writing for two reasons: a. Writing is your cathartic release. It is an important coping tool in your tool box; and b. There are countless people who face similar challenges and would benefit from your shared experiences. It provides a desperately needed hope. Well done, M, well done, indeed.
(picture of view from top of Gros Morne Mountain is from google images…thank you)
One of those moments that I have come to cherish in this big valley we now call home…
I walked into Reid’s Meats one afternoon on a mission to buy some ribs to cook up a feed, a feed we have only a couple of times per year. Just every now and then I get that craving for fall-off-the-bone ribs.
I was the only soul in the place, other than the two brothers Conor, whom I always think of as the young guy with the dimples, and the older brother Michael, who is a more serious looking guy and all business (although I just called him and did get a chuckle out of him when attempting to get his email address, a long one).
Before I get further into the story, I need to give a description of the location of this meat shop. It is set in a tiny crossroads called Melanson at the base of the rolling hills of Melanson Mountain with the Gaspereau River flowing past it, about ten minutes outside of Wolfville, Nova Scotia. This shop is constantly busy cutting wild meats in a separate room all night and domestic meats all day. When we first moved here, someone told us it was the best place for fresh cuts of meat. Always on ‘the hunt’ for the best quality food, I found myself patronizing Reid’s Meats. And, you’re about to read a good example of that.
Michael Reid asks me if he can help me. I tell him I’d like some ribs. He shoots back, ‘pork or beef?’
K, I didn’t even know beef ribs were an option. I decided to stick with pork and told him so.
‘How much do you want?’
‘How ’bout six racks about this big,’ as I held up my hands measuring about half a foot between them, thinking of my large roasting pan and how much I could cram in there, knowing the left-overs would be scrumptious the next day.
‘Just a sec’ he says to me and then to Dimples, he says, ‘sharpen my knife.’
Receiving his orders from his older brother, Conor quickly and deftly started on sharpening the knife while Micheal walked into the back fridge.
A few seconds later…
a whole pig carcass, lead by Michael, came whizzing out of the fridge on a huge hook which was attached to a track in the ceiling. Michael carefully guided the carcass into place.
‘Only in the Valley,’ I’m thinking as I blinked my eyes to ensure this wasn’t a figment of my imagination. It wasn’t. Geez, I wish I had the guts to start recording this. I had been told this was fresh meat. Got that right.
What happened next is that Michael butchered that pig right in front of me while it hung on the hook. He had this food-grade chain saw and a couple of different frightfully sharp knives, thanks to little brother, that he used to expertly and efficiently carve that meat, not wasting an ounce.
In a few minutes, while I watched with my jaw hitting the floor, he was smacking those fresh ribs down on the reddish-brown paper positioned on the stainless steel counter in front of me, his eyes meeting mine seeking approval to go ahead and wrap them up. Not on a styrofoam tray with plastic wrap and absorbent pad. No, in the old-fashioned reddish butcher paper and beige tape that he moistened using a small, wheeled ceramic device with water in its tiny reservoir.
My mind reeled, for a moment, back to the endless summer days at the camp and of ‘Jake’s General Store‘ in Maggie River before the god-awful fire that burnt it to the ground. Back when we would ride to town in the back of a pickup or walk there, barefoot, with a shiny quarter in sweaty little hands. The butcher at Jake’s was as impressive and the cuts of meat were beautiful. The ground beef was ground there in front of you from beef that you chose. Then, the butcher would reach up and grab the string which was in a creaking pulley system attached to the ancient ceiling. The package of meat would be wound with this string and his black oil pencil would scratch out the price on it while my large eyes watched in fascination, my fingers gripping the edge of the glass display case, my chin not yet clearing its edge. I could almost taste the burgers that we would have for supper, cooked by Mom outside the office on the grill, perched in the very rocks which formed the foundation of the cabin. Cooked over charcoal, started with ‘strike anywheres‘ and yes, always with a wee hint of lighter fluid, lending an added ‘je-ne-sais-quois’ to the burger.
More than a few decades later and back to Reid’s Meats…
I just basically nodded profusely at the pile of freshly butchered pork ribs with a big wide smile. I was feeling so thankful to be a part of such a great community where food is so wonderfully fresh and plentiful and the skill to handle it is still so present and of such a human scale.
Thank you, Reid’s Meats for carrying on a tradition and a family-run business providing this kind of quality for four decades. This Upper Canadian come-from-away is one satisfied customer.
Coming soon: Part 2, Dabro Farms honour-system farm market
(Pictures found on google images…thank you.)
The BEST that it ever gets is having and holding your child as well as remembering the hilarious things they do and say…
Our son, Leo, came into this world in a bit of a nightmare situation back in 1999 but, regardless, he was one of the easiest children ever to raise and to love. He challenged us a bit with court-room type drama once in a while but, it seemed it was mostly for good reasons. He ended up being our only child, even though we hadn’t planned it that way, and funny, since both Dean and I come from large families.
He never once got into anything or made huge messes. Never opened the cupboard under the sink or dismantled the chandelier like his Uncle Jobe. He would ask me daily for his nap time saying, ‘Nap now, Mum’ as he put his chubby hands together by his right ear and tilted his head as if it was his pillow (the American Sign Language sign for bedtime). He would then sleep for about three hours.
So, this one crisp autumn day, we were running around on a country soccer pitch with our two big Northern dogs, Delta and Grizzly. Leo was wearing his blue hooded, hand-knitted sweater from Nanny in Newfoundland. We had this old soccer ball that Dean was eager for Leo to fall in love with, soccer being Dean’s passion.
The dogs were racing around. Leo was racing around. I was watching Leo’s every move (as was my normal then).
Suddenly, from about 50 feet away, Dean passes that soccer ball to Leo. Let me rephrase that. Dean hauled off and belted that soccer ball toward Leo. There was 2-year old toddler Leo. Watching that ball sail toward him. It became slo-mo for a sec, and then WHAP! Leo caught it right on the middle of his smooth, baby, forehead. His blond head snapped back slightly and then forward again.
I screamed, ‘YOU ASSHOLE’! At Dean for doing this to my baby. We raced to him. I picked up Leo expecting major tears.
He didn’t even cry.
Dean was mortified. He hadn’t expected the ball to fly at Leo’s forehead.
After our move to the Annapolis Valley, our Leo being about four years old then, we started off in a duplex up on Pleasant St as was told in this story: A Simple East Coast Life. So, at the time, Leo was usually getting up in the middle of the night to get a drink and to pee. He would routinely wake me up to let me know what was going on with him. This one day, I kindly explained to Leo that it would be perfectly fine if he were to get up and do his thing without disturbing me and also without tripping over the dogs where they would inevitably lay in the doorway of our bedroom (the bathroom being across the hall). The power of plain language is going to be highlighted here.
That night, middle of the night, Leo gets up and taps me on the shoulder, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to disturb you but, I am going to get a drink and go pee’. I claw myself out of a deep sleep to acknowledge my mistake (he didn’t know what ‘disturb’ meant!) While I’m at it, I remind him not to trip over the dogs.
Well, he stepped successfully over the fur-heads enroute to the bathroom. I hear him do his pee. I hear him fill the water cup, sip, then, step, step, step…
Scurry of large dogs away from the wet spill.
‘Sorry Mommy. I tripped and spilled my water.’
All this time, Dean is still snoring. Men.
First year of University, in our same town. Leo is eighteen now and in residence. One day, early on, I get a text:
‘Mom, I’m gonna need another towel asap.’
Leo was always a pretty confident guy. Always pretty sure that every need and necessity would be met. Living on his own was going to be a bit of a curve.
Leo to his dad by text, ‘hope I’m not pushing my luck with this one but could you get mom to give me some new linens for me to put on my bed?’ (Keep in mind that I have asked him to bring his linens home to wash each week. He did it once in six months.)
This year, in a house with five guy roommates:
‘mom, can I cook this frozen pizza in a microwave?’
Me: ‘no honey. In the oven.’
Leo: ‘I don’t think there is an oven.’
Me thinking, how does one not notice an oven?
‘ok so keven and I left a bunch of dishes in the dishwasher for way too long and now they’re all mouldy, what should we do?’
‘the lightbulb in my bathroom stopped working, any tips on the fix’
He had this way of hearing and observing me and drawing conclusions. Like this one day when he was four, we went to a friend’s house who had just been brushing his teeth, with the residual paste on his lips. I asked, ‘did we catch you at a bad time?’
A few days later, a canvasser comes to our front door. Leo and I go to the door together, as was our way then. We open the door to find a man with a tie and clip board but, he also had a bit of white toothpaste on the side of his mouth. Leo asks me: ‘Mommy, did we catch him at a bad time?’ It was weird, but I knew instantly why my little guy would ask that.
One final one for ya… this one day, Leo was very disappointed because he wasn’t allowed to go for a play with a friend because something else was going on. He began to cry pretty hard in disappointment. His face red. I said, ‘Buddy? Are you going to be okay?’ Leo looks at me straight on and says: ‘I’m having a hard time’. He had overheard me say this to a friend who was sad.
Make no mistake about it. Being a mom is the best thing I have ever done. The best gift I have ever received was a precious little guy to raise and love and form a family with.
Though things we knew not how
When it was clear and loud
I hope you’re watching now
I hope we do you proud….
Guest writer Al Kinsella…
Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago on a Nov 6th. Today would have been my father’s birthday. It would always require a visit to the cemetery where I do a ton of thinking. Well it’s that day again today – he has been gone for 6 years now and here is a poem I wrote in 2015 while sitting at his grave.
I thought of you today
I know you’re no longer here
Had so much left to say
I say in thoughts and tears
The more I think things different
The more they just don’t change
I find I’m more and more like you
is it funny or is it strange?
Though things we knew not how
When it was clear and loud
I hope you’re watching now
I hope we do you proud
Not a day goes by I don’t realize
You would never not bother
I think of you daily to my surprise
Happy Birthday Dad my Father
Although on this special day
when you are not here to celebrate
Watch over us and pray
And make our worlds illuminate!
Photo by me (not Al)
Again I realized that there are some of us who need to lead but, there are more of us who just want to follow
In my early twenties, I was posted to Lahr, Germany. Initially I was a transportation platoon commander in Supply and Transport Company in 4 Service Battalion in the Canadian Army. To put it simply, I had a platoon of 30 soldiers who drove MAN 10-ton trucks (these bad boys, as seen below)
which would carry supplies: ammunition, water, rations, various needed items, and spare parts for forward fighting troops and other support units within the Brigade. During peace time, we conducted training operations such as weapons use, field exercises and fitness competitions to improve morale, esprit-de-corps and to prepare for future deployments. As the Platoon Commander, I routinely conducted all manner of administrative duties, personnel evaluations and reports, test and inspection readiness, subordinate training, orders groups, equipment maintenance checks, and many other duties in accordance with my rank and position.
For the weapons aspect, a couple of times per year, we would all dispatch by military road move (huge convoys of jeeps, light and heavy trucks, trailers, kitchen trucks and the like) to a Gun Camp in Valdahon, France for two weeks of training on the shooting ranges.
While there, we were assigned to a room and a cot in one part of the camp. The other two-thirds of the place was inhabited by French and German units. We shared the mess hall with them and as such, had opportunities to observe them. Our uniforms kept us together as a unit but apart from them. It was interesting to consistently see and remember this all this time later, that the Germans were the physically largest of us all. The French were the smallest and we, the Canadians, were right in the middle. The female soldiers were almost always the smallest of all and there were only a few dozen women there in total, myself included.
As an illustration of one aspect of being a female officer, while there, one of my colleagues, a fellow officer no less, decided he would make a move on me. I hadn’t yet started to date Dean (the guy I was completely in love with but hadn’t been able to solidify a relationship with…yet) so this guy figured he could go for it. He cornered me in my barrack room and started to physically block me from leaving. He had this creepy, predatorial look on his face. It dawned on me that I was alone in this huge old building with him. I was going to have to get defensive if he tried anything. So, with two hands on his chest, I pushed him back roughly and told him I was NOT interested. He seemed surprised. He didn’t bother me again, but, can you image thinking that that tactic would work?
So back to the story at hand…
this one day, I was on the rifle range with a couple dozen soldiers. I used to really enjoy shooting on the range. The controlled breathing. The focus. The single-mindedness of it. There was nothing but the trigger and the target. Nothing. I would take position. Take preliminary aim. Exhale slowly. Hold it. Confirm aim. Squeeze the trigger. Check. Repeat. Writing this in my fifties, I am there again.
There was a master corporal who was in command of this particular range, of which there were many in this training area. Technically I outranked him but on shooting ranges, the ranking soldier is the one in command of the range and wore an arm band indicating this. He had done a specialized course to be qualified to command the range. This guy was a know-it-all, loud mouth with an attitude from Cape Breton, as was apparent by his accent. I have always found the Cape Breton lilt to be endearing. Not on this guy.
Anyways, we were there shooting our C7 semi-automatic assault rifles and I, my Browning 9 mm pistol as well, and enjoying a hot, very dry day. It was so bright that it was actually hard to see our targets and the holes we made in them, from where we lay in a line in prone position. Then Master Corporal Attitude says he’s going to get out the tracer rounds in order to be able to see our target shooting better.
It’s too dry for tracer! I thought, with alarm.
Tracer is a training round that has a small, burning, highly visible pyrotechnic flame coming out of its back end. It is like shooting lit matches down the range. The kind of matches that don’t extinguish easily.
Alas, I didn’t say anything to dispute the idea and then someone shot tracer and started a field fire almost instantly.
Next thing we know the whole Battalion is out chaotically fighting fires in acres and acres of dry-as-tinder hay. We worked for hours, burning and blackening ourselves, ruining uniforms and boots and breathing a lot of smoke. Water trucks eventually showed up but the village was ill equipped for such a huge fire. I recall a water tank truck with a little garden hose type attachment spitting out drops of water. Grampa Dalton would have said, ‘Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job‘. He was usually referring to a trick in the nightly card games of Euchre but, that’s what I thought when I saw that water truck. Finally, proper fire trucks arrived from a city and we were stood-down. We ate, drank a few beers, showered and hit the rack (army-speak for bed).
I pondered the hours of fighting the field fire and the exact moment I found my command voice. When I would see a soldier not knowing what to do, or not moving fast enough to help, I would loudly encourage him or her to
‘COME OVER HERE’!
‘TAKE THIS RUG TO THAT PATCH OF FIRE, SOLDIER’!
And… they responded to me. Little ole new-to-the-Battalion me. It was invigorating and felt right, like I was falling into step. Again I realized that there are some of us who need to lead but, there are more of us who just want to follow.
As far as I know, nothing was ever investigated about the use of tracer rounds on a hot and dry day in Valdahon, France in 1990.
I often wondered though if the fire would have happened had I just opened my mouth.
(Pictures found on google images. Thank you.)
The following is a comment from Col Gordon Grant, from his perspective at the top:
This training event caused considerable angst for the leadership. There are three incidents I vividly remember. First, I was the Second in Command of the Battalion. The Commanding Officer was away for the day so I was the acting Commanding Officer. The Commandant of the French Camp invited me to lunch. We enjoyed a good meal and engaging conversation. Suddenly, the door flew open and a French captain ran in and whispered something to the Commandant. The captain wore a pained expression and I knew it was bad news for someone. The Commandant dabbed his mouth with his napkin, smiled and said, “Apparently, your Canadian soldiers are attempting to burn my camp down.”
I left the luncheon and returned to the field. The wind carried the fire to several locations and we actually faced three separate fires – the battalion divided into three groups and built fire-breaks to slow the advance. I overheard on the radio that one of our corporals was down with smoke inhalation and the medics declared her dead. A Sergeant Traclet refused to accept her loss and he worked on her for 20 minutes and successfully resuscitated her.
The fires were spreading toward the Camp’s ammunition depot. The danger radius of potential explosions included the civilian hamlet just outside the camp. We now had to prepare to evacuate the local population. The officers and soldiers were outstanding. With only shovels to combat the fires they faced a 30-foot wall of flames, stopped the fire’s advance, and saved both the ammunition depot and the hamlet.
That night the Commanding Officer authorized free beer. I remember coming into the building where 500 soldiers were streaked with soot as they drank and tried to outdo each other with war stories. It reminded me of a scene from the movie Gremlins. The fire went down in Battalion history as a huge morale booster – but it came ever so close to being a catastrophe.
Summers in the 70s lived by the soles of our feet, lakeside
My family had this amazing situation: the seven of us (my brothers and sisters and I) plus our parents. We would leave the city behind for the two months of the summer and move two hours car ride north to the lake. At the lake, we would shed our footwear and mostly run around barefoot. It was incredible. We were fleet of foot. We would run through the tender green hay in the early summer which would be blond and tall by the late summer.
When I ponder that aspect of my childhood, I remember the immense sense of fortune at having this place as a retreat every summer and, when not doing morning chores, the sense of freedom and connection with nature that we all shared.
Most days, I would live in my bathing suit…no sunscreen (we didn’t even know what that was). No hat, no sunglasses, no shirt, and as stated, no shoes.
Our lakeside acres had patches of earth that I knew to always be damp and mossy. Patches that were warm and dry. Tough prickly grass in the big fields. Slimy slippery rocks like the ones on the path by cabin #1. Annoyingly painful gravel of the camp roads which would get an ‘ouch!’ and a hobble out of me every time. The thick green moist grass outside of Grampa’s kitchen window where the sink water drained. The wet grainy sand of the beach as I would wade in for a swim, digging my toes in and enjoying the sensation. The soft tufts of maiden grass that grew in the yard up by the porch of #2. The baked planks of the redwood-painted docks. The bottom of the canoe as we would catch frogs in the cove and the sensation of gliding over water that I felt through the fiberglass.
I knew these things because I detected them with the soles of my feet time and again as I would nimbly move over our twenty lakeside acres all summer. Once, riding on the shoulders of a family friend he remarked that I had leather-bottom feet. I shrugged. It was my normal.
I was betrayed by them a few times, my bare feet: I knew the agony of a piercing by a three inch hawthorn, stepped on absentmindedly, chubby arms crossed across my round belly, shivering from swimming for hours, as I made my small way past the tool shed we called “the shop”. I cried and bawled unabashedly with the pain, like little children do, and neighbours took me to have it removed by a doctor, such was my carrying on with it. (Mom and Dad were in town so the Pattersons came to my rescue – read a funny account of my brother Mark and the Pattersons in this story: The Camp).
Another betrayal of my barefoot days is in this story: Barefoot Heathens in which my Father forbids the ‘going to town’ barefoot. We had been discouraged from ruining our school shoes which would be passed down from older siblings until they were worn and gone.
My brother Jobe and I would race through the tall hay in the lower field arriving at the frog pond slowly, lest we scare the frogs away. We would creep the edges and wade carefully to grab an unsuspecting frog by its tiny waist just above its powerful legs. Now and then, our bare feet would betray us and one of us would slip down the slick clay bank of the frog pond and into its stagnant waters, the stink and slime on our skin. Once, we found ourselves a baby snapping turtle in that pond. Just the once. We held it like an Oreo cookie while it stretched its neck, beak and clawed feet doing its best to injure us while we ooohed and ahhed at how tiny and cute it was. Then carefully letting it dive back into its swampy home, as we did with all the little pond frogs we caught. (This wasn’t what we would do with the big, meaty bullfrogs we would catch in the cove though. Those guys became breakfast and a crisp dollar bill from the Pattersons for helping to quiet the cove where their tent trailer sat. The dozens of bullfrogs would ‘ribbit’ their love songs loudly all night long.)
These days, decades later, I find myself in my fifties and marvel at how we were back then. Mostly carefree. Mostly enjoying the simple things in life. We wouldn’t use a telephone all summer. Now we can’t be without one for a minute, carrying it on our person like it is a lifeline.
We would actually write letters on paper, stuffed into carefully addressed and licked 8 cent stamps on the envelopes, to friends in the city. S.W.A.K. loudly printed on the back flap: ‘Sealed With A Kiss’. If we were lucky, we would receive a hand-written letter from them a couple of weeks later, delivered by the mail truck guy into the big old aluminum mailbox at the top of the gravel road. Its red flag up and encouraging us to come. Scurrying barefoot to check the mailbox each day until finally it was there: a letter for me! Savouring its every word and studying, turning and even sniffing the envelope for clues as to when it was mailed from the city. The impossibility of receiving news from two hundred miles away.
Times sure have changed as I am about to post this story and knowing that it can be read worldwide, in the blink of an eye. I am ever so glad to have made those simple but priceless memories at the lake, and through the soles of my leather-bottom feet.
A bite of scorched popcorn brings to mind the taste of Du Maurier cigarettes smoked the summer I was 8 years old, over four decades ago…
The other day I was biting into scorched popcorn and there it was. The forgotten taste of Du Maurier and all the memories of my ‘bad little girl’ summer when I tried my best to keep up with two of my older brothers and all of their mischievous adventures. That was the summer I learned how to lie to Mom and Dad and to be devious. I was normally a very well behaved child, so this new-found deviousness was a somewhat bitter pill of guilt and subsequent worry.
I was eight years old when my brother Mark taught me how to smoke. He preferred Du Maurier which, at the time, were 75 cents a pack. He even gave me the confidence to buy them. I was to tell the store owner that they were for my Uncle. Things being the way they were then, this actually worked. Never mind that I was a little girl and that I was apparently sent to buy cigarettes by a loved uncle.
Back then, we would run through the field of long blond hay and go up to the abandoned barn next to our lake-side property where we spent every summer. There was an ancient hemp rope tied way up in the loft of the barn rafters. We would swing on that rope and then let go with abandon and tumble into the very dry hay below, our woops mostly held in due to the danger of being found out and sound carrying so well anywhere near the lake. Going into the barn was trespassing. We were forbidden by Dad to go there, but, we went there almost every day anyway. It was fabulously fun and exciting.
Later that summer, a large family arrived to rent #2 cabin for three weeks and we all became friends. Mark thought Maureen was quite something. She was very friendly and kind to me even though she was a teenager. When I told her that Mark liked her, she blushed and lowered her dark lashes and head of shiny hair. We were swimming at the time and so carried on with our game of back flips in the water. After that though, suddenly our simple swinging on the hemp rope turned into heated games of ‘spin the bottle’ and ‘strip poker’.
Maureen’s Dad had a pick-up truck and he would take a dozen of us into town to get ice-cream. Clutching a shiny quarter each, we would stand in the back of the pick-up, the little ones holding tight to the teens while the pick-up would bounce over the camp roads and then onto the highway to Maggie River, two miles away. Racing down the pretty country road, over the Trouble River bridge, bugs hitting us full tilt, eyes squinted while our hair parted crazily in the whistling wind. No shoes, no shirt, no hat, no sunglasses, no sunscreen, no cellphone. It was a carefree time.
At night we would have huge campfires with s’mores (graham crackers, chocolate and browned marshmallows) or we would boil corn and roast wieners on sticks or pop some popcorn, drinking spring water (fetched from the artesian spring down the road) directly from a huge thermos on the picnic table, bending and turning our heads to allow the cool water to splash right into our mouths. No bottled water. It wasn’t invented yet. We would sing all the old songs and there would always be a couple of guitars. The children would sit on blankets near the fire and the adults would be on the chairs or a stump of wood with a stubby of Molsen Golden. Many times I fell asleep by the campfire and one of my older brothers or sisters would wake me when it was time to go.
We would look up at the night sky to see a gazillion stars twinkling and then a lonesome loon would call on the lake. In the field the fireflies would flash, lighting our way to our beds. The copious crickets singing us to sleep. It was magical.
On rainy days we would play card games in one of the cabins or, sometimes we would play large games of Monopoly for hours or Rummoli and Euchre. No screens. Not a single one there in cottage country, not in 1974.
Other nights we would go around and gather all the kids, a couple of dozen all hailing from different cabins of large families. Then we would start a game of ‘sardines’. One kid would run and hide somewhere in the forest of the 20 lake-side acres. Then we would run around and try to find the hiding person. We would squish in with him or her, thus: sardines. Often I would play this game in bare-feet. My feet were very tough from the weeks of running shoe-less.
Behind all of the fun, that summer, was my guilt at now being a ‘smoker’ with a two-smoke per week habit. I felt sick about it and just wanted to quit. Thankfully I found quitting a pretty easy task. I just stopped. My brother Mark however went on to smoke cigarettes for several decades. Thankfully he has now joined the ranks of non-smokers.
I don’t blame my brothers for dragging me into their mischief back then. Again, all this stuff had to happen to get me where I am today, in a happy life with a wonderful, albeit, small, family. It’s just that sometimes I think back on these things and can barely believe we lived that way. I haven’t exaggerated it either. Today we live so differently. Our controlled, safety-concerned, washed and dried lives of today where we now have to teach our children how to play outside.
Overnight my job is lost due to a fire…it wasn’t long before we struck upon a viable business idea one that is still operating today
After Paddy’s had the fire and I was instantly out of a full-time job, I painted most of the rooms in our house and felt the freedom of deciding what to do with my days. Every day, after walking my son, Leo, to school, the day would stretch out with all kinds of possibility.
It wasn’t long before Dean and I were kicking around the idea of starting up our own business. We had noticed the need for a driving school in town, and one thing led to another, and before long we were up and running. This was ironic due to me having been a Transportation Logistics Officer in the Army. I had taken courses in military driving, off-roading, convoying, forward delivery points in the field and had even helped set up a heavy trucking school in Germany, teaching the Service Battalion soldiers how to drive the HLVW , (Heavy Logistics Vehicle Wheeled). These bad boys, as seen below (creds to the guy who signed the pic).
I also had all the office-related knowledge: payroll, payables / receivables, customer service and the like. Dean would be an instructor: he loved to drive and he was both laid-back and had great reflexes.
Just prior to opening doors of our new driving school in June of 2006, while awaiting a few details to solidify, we realized we still had two flights to anywhere in Canada due to cancelled trips of earlier that year. Dean and I brainstormed over where to go and we finally settled on Calgary with the idea that I would take Leo to The Bad Lands and to see the Dinosaur museum. I had my old and dear friend, Layla out there and could possibly stay with her for a few days in High River.
Off we flew and rented a car at the Calgary Airport, driving to High River and seeing Layla was amazing. It had been decades. We smiled and hugged, and I said, ‘we look the same, just weathered.’ Now, she was married with three boys. Leo, who was close to seven, was so excited about three instant new buddies. We walked to meet them after school and Leo was instantly enjoying his new mates as Layla and I got re-acquainted.
I began to notice that Layla was a bit distant. She didn’t meet my eyes fully. She didn’t have all of her normal energy. She was tired and she was keeping me somewhat at arm’s length. We went up in her sons’ tree house and saw a robin staring us down from her house’s rooftop. We put words in its mouth and then laughed and laughed because we had both been thinking the same thing: ‘Get the fuck out!’ That’s what it was saying to us. ‘Get the fuck out!’ There she was. Her old self had surfaced briefly.
Later that evening I had the pleasure of meeting her husband. I immediately sensed that this guy was off. It was all about him. She was in a bad marriage and it was all about him. I felt bad. (Thankfully, it ended a few years later and now she is rid of him. They had met in a religious cult which Layla was in for a few years, because of him).
The next day, Leo and I hit the road out to the Bad Lands and finally getting there, were astounded at the beauty of them. The striations of colour in the sand-stone were incredibly artistic. We took a walk.
Later we went to the Royal Tyrell Museum which was literally out of this world. We couldn’t do it justice though as Leo was feeling a bit sick from being in the car. In the town of Drumheller, Leo climbed up the inside of the steel T-Rex and he was giggling to the whole way.
Later we went to a pool which was the nicest and biggest and funnest pool we had ever been to. There was a huge foam floating climbing structure to jump off and ropes to swing from and slides to go down. This must be Alberta, I thought. At the time, it was very wealthy compared to Nova Scotia.
That night we stayed in a hotel with a Jacuzzi in our room (the clerk, seeing Leo, gave us a free upgrade – he was the cutest!). We put bathing suits on, got in the tub with the new movie ‘ELF’ on the big screen tv. We giggled and giggled and this is a fond memory for me because Leo had been feeling some nausea. He was better and that was a good thing. I loved to hear him laugh.
The next day we were back at Layla’s, staying in a house of an absent in-law of hers and I made a simple supper for them all to come and enjoy. I looked out the window to see all four boys on one bike. Leo was having the time of his life!
We went for a hike in the mountains and had a picnic lunch. The mountains were spectacular! The gray jays were everywhere. We visited a friend of Layla’s with a trampoline and once again, Leo was out there and all the children were laughing and having fun on the trampoline while Layla, Beth and I visited and had coffee. Later Layla made us pate chinois and it was delicious (earlier, I had reminded her that it was my favourite childhood meal that mom would make. I would get home, famished from gymnastics or basketball practise and sit down to Pate. Scrumptious!)
We then played foosball and watched a doc. Foosball was a scream, because I was screaming and because I was screaming, so was Layla who also kept looking at me to see if I was for real. Yep. I get into it a bit much.
The next day, we walked down by the river and all through the little downtown. We had lunch at a wonderful diner.
Layla told me she had received a call that her Gramma was on her deathbed in North Bay. Layla would accompany us to Toronto where she would rent a car and head north. Sitting on the flight, during the safety briefing, Layla made a face in response to a curt instruction from the flight attendant. Oh my god, I nearly peed. She can make me laugh like that and it is just so stupid and funny that there is no rhyme or reason to it. Layla wasn’t able to rent a car because it was her husband’s credit card (and he wouldn’t allow it). She took a bus and made it to her Gramma who died just after seeing Layla. She had made it to say good-bye.
Upon returning to Nova Scotia, we began the driving school and it is still running today, twelve years later. It has been great undertaking with three or four employees whom we generally have a great time with. Driving instructors tend to be folks retired from other professions. We have had a retired school principal, a retired teacher, a retired scientist, an ex-airline worker and a retired engineer. They have taught me a lot over the years and I appreciate them immensely.
I also truly appreciate my old childhood friends. They are the ones who know you. Where you came from. How you were raised. What you are made of. Your values. A genuinely good friend is one you can just pick up with from where you left off. Even decades later. I have several of these people in my life and I appreciate them with all my heart.
A Magnum P.E.I Mystery
Lady Jane was our black shepherd mixed-breed dog that we rescued when she was ten-months old thanks to an ad that Dean saw on Kijiji (which is like ‘Craig’s List’). He fell in love with her picture instantly and asked me could we go see her. By then, our two big Northern dogs had passed away, each in their thirteenth year and buried in our back yard with collars hanging from an overhanging limb. They had been good dogs but, sadly, their day was done.
Normally I would have jumped at getting a new dog but at that time, I was feeling pretty over-worked with the house, the yard, the business and the various students we would take in for months at a time.
I would hear other moms saying that the dog care always came down to them. That’s how I perceived it. It was me who worried about them. Me who made sure they were walked, or who got after Leo or Dean to walk them. They had been a lot of work that I felt relieved to be rid of. However, the look on Dean’s face after seeing the picture of that black tapered snout and high, pointy ears. Well, I could not disappoint. (That’s how he used to look at me, I realized). I told him I would go see the dog but, ‘no promises,’ I said.
She was gorgeous. Dean couldn’t stop patting her and saying sweet nothings in her direction. I said we needed to give it a tiny bit of thought. What I actually wanted was Dean to promise to take a more active interest in her.
So the sales pitch began by Dean: ‘I promise I’ll do it ALL for this one!’ he pleaded.
Next we went to the Farmer’s Market and met up with a friend from across town. Dean told Wayne all about the dog we had just looked at. Wayne wondered what there was to think about. I chimed in that having a dog again could be rather inconvenient. Wayne says, without skipping a beat:
‘The best things in life are inconvenient.’
We looked at him. We nodded. We turned and went to get our new dog. That was nine years ago.
Besides running off several times as an adolescent, sometimes being nasty when meeting other dogs while on leash, and an awful patch of killing chickens that nearly cost me a dear friend, she has been the best dog ever. She has never been sick. She rarely makes a mess. She doesn’t steal food. She doesn’t chew and she doesn’t over bark. Get this: she bites her nails. We have NEVER cut her nails, and they are fine. Of an evening, we will hear her surreptitiously biting them while laying on her mat.
But lately…there had been this mystery of the shit-breath that we could not figure out. And when I say shit-breath, well, that’s an understatement. I would have to roll all the windows down if it happened while out in the car and spray lavender water at her. And it would seemingly come from nowhere.
I decided to take a good look in her mouth. Perhaps it was an abscess? What I thought I saw in there, and it wasn’t easy to keep Lady’s jaws wide open, was a broken top molar-type tooth at the back.
Off to the vet we go and wow, were we impressed with this vet who was as high-energy as a boarder collie. She got right down on the floor with Lady and really checked her out well, while asking us various questions. She told us that Lady was in fabulous shape. Great teeth. Good pulse. Good eyes – no cataracts. She asked us what we fed her. Our answer: kibble and plenty of table scraps like meat, potato, cheese, carrots. Fresh water with a bit of organic apple cider vinegar (which instantly pretty much cured some piddling that was occurring after a run). She asked about vaccinations. We don’t do them, we said. We do get her seasonal tick and flea treatment though. (The thought of a dog being crazed by itchiness saddens me).
Then she asked about when the shit-breath occurs, because at that moment, it wasn’t there. We said it’s odd. It just happens seemingly out of the blue and lasts for a few hours.
‘Ahh’, she said.
‘Ahh?’ we asked.
‘Has she ever had trouble with blocked anal glands?’
‘Yes. We would sometimes see her scooting.’ And I knew from reading James Herriot in my teens, that scooting was a sign of blocked anal glands and that what would come next would be REALLY gross. And, by the way, what the hell are anal glands good for?
The vet took a look (with gloves on) and sure enough. Blocked anal glands. She explained that Lady would be licking at them to release the blockage. At this point we almost hurled, but, held it together while the Vet squeezed them for a few minutes to drain them…I’m almost sick as I write this.
Mounds of grey gunk came out on her paper towel. She showed it to me while I turned green.
‘Lady should be fine now.’
Lady? I’m pretty sure she meant we. We should be fine now.
A Friday night visit to the video store ends in mortifaction…
When we first moved to our sweet little tidal town in Nova Scotia, it was before itunes and netflix. For entertainment, we would go downtown (actually leave the house!) to rent videos and DVDs from a little place called Light & Shadow Video. L&S had an amazing collection and going there to pick out a video was a bit of a social experience because the four people who worked there, including the owner, were engaging, knowledgeable and pretty hilariously entertaining.
So, one Friday evening I found myself at L&S looking at options for Dean and I to watch after little Leo was in bed. It was a Friday evening so many folks, strangers, friends and acquaintances were coming and going and I was just having a fun ole time engaging with quite a few people — all of us in good moods due to it being Friday night and with the whole weekend ahead of us.
Nick was working that night and he was en forme. We were talking and bantering back and forth about various movies. I would say something profound like: you know the movie with that guy? And he would say: oh ya, TROY. Then I would be like: exactly. Nick was amazing. He knew all the movies, plot lines, and actors.
At some early point in the better-part-of-an hour that I spent that evening at L&S, I was squatting down looking at a low shelf of vids and reaching into my pocket, proceeded to put on my lip balm. My lips had been pretty dry and my favourite lip balm: Burt’s Bees, just felt so nice to slather on. Somewhat absentmindedly, I ensured that it was on real good. I put it all along the top of my lips and lip edge and all along the bottom of my lips and lip edge not staying within the lines at all. Then I did it again, just to be sure. My lips tingled. The peppermint in Burt’s Bees actually caused lip-tingling. I loved it.
I stood up with my selection: I, Robot. (I LOVE Will Smith). I didn’t actually exit the store as of yet though. There were so many friends to talk to and banter with. As I was talking and visiting with them though, I got the feeling that something was slightly wrong. I was getting some looks and double takes. Hmm. Strange. Maybe it was because I was looking super hot that night. I was wearing my new jacket and my hair. Well, it was a good hair day. That must be it. So, I stayed a bit longer. It was busy in there. I was on fire!
At the check out, Nick had a wee smirk on his face. As he looked at me, then down at my selections, then to the computer, then back at me. I had the feeling he was suppressing a giggle. I thanked him for all of his expertise, yet again and wished him a great night.
Off I drove home. Pulling into the driveway, I smoothed my good hair in the rear-view mirror.
THERE WAS BLACK GUNK ALL OVER and AROUND MY LIPS. Much like bad makeup on a sad clown. Reaching into my pocket for my beloved Burt’s Bees, I realized my mistake. I had used my dark brown-tinted Burt’s Bees Lip Balm instead of the clear one.
Anger rose within while my face reddened and I scrubbed the dark lip balm off while my mind clicked through the dozens of townsfolk I had encountered with my very badly done sad clown lips. Still sitting in the car, I grabbed my cell phone and called Nick at L&S Video.
‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me????’ I shouted at him.
Pause, muffled chuckling.
‘I thought you were trying something new,’ he said.
EXTREME MORTIFICATION ensued.
(Credit for the header photo goes to the ever talented T.M.B. Renaissance Axe Woman )
Update: I originally posted this a year ago but am re-posting because this story takes place in my wee town’s video store. Said video store has since been closed and re-opened under a new name by one of the original, amazingly talented employees. It then moved twice and now, several years later, it is about to close for good. It seems there is no longer a market for videos and DVDs, no matter the incredible collection. I was saddened to read this story in our local paper and then to hear the owner speaking on CBC Radio about her ideas and aspirations for the future. So, this re-post is a tribute to our closing video store.
Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Also Hurt Me…
Sticks and Stones Break only Skin while Words are Ghosts that Haunt Me. Pain from Words has Left Its Scar on Mind and Heart that’s Tender. Cuts and Bruises now have healed, it’s words that I Remember.
I had never actually invited my brothers to read my stories because I didn’t think they would be interested in the least. Their reaction to the news that I was blogging about my life, including when I was a child and also including very honest descriptions of our father’s behaviour during and after the divorce, was emphatically bitter. To clarify, they were upset toward me, not toward Dad. Toward me. Wait, I was the one who was abused, actually we ALL were.
No one was there to protect me. No one. My little brother Luke was there, but he is almost three and a half years younger than me.
I am doing my best to therapeutically write about this part of my past.
Lately, I was on the phone with my best friend from childhood, Kelly. Ever honest, she reminded me that she was there too. She said, ‘Marn, I remember arriving at your house to find your dad walking around in his boxer shorts with the no-button fly wide open. And, the thing is,’ she said, ‘He didn’t then go and put on his robe. He just stayed walking around in his open-fly boxers. It was disgusting.’
She continued with, ‘When Mark was manic (bipolar) he dry-humped me on the bed while I screamed for him to stop.’ Kelly would have been 16 and my brother Mark would have been 21 at the time. Unfortunately, I think I was pounding on his back to stop. I had no idea how to react to this behaviour. It was outrageous.
Last night, over our supper, I was again drawn back into the memories of the past. I told my husband of twenty-five years, Dean, about times when I would witness my dad being truly mean and abusive to my siblings. Telling them these hurtful messages:
‘You’ll never amount to anything.’
‘Be a man.’
‘Get some backbone.’
‘It’s a good thing you’re beautiful.’
I clearly recall a time when I was in the army and had a month off over Christmas. I went to visit Dad, my step-mother, Wen, and Luke who were living in a small border city then. At that time, Dad and Wen were the owner / operators of a 9-room motel. (The same motel that was the excuse for him not helping me with my University fees when I was at Waterloo and then consequently decided to join the army.)
At the time, 17-year old Luke was working as a server, trying to figure out what he would be doing for school and for the future. He could have used some gentle, fatherly guidance. He did not get that there. What he received was verbal and emotional abuse and aloofness. When I saw him on that visit, he seemed to be in a bit of a slump. He talked little. At meals he slouched over his plate with a rounded back, barely lifting his face from his food. It was heartbreaking. Where was my witty, intelligent little brother who could make me laugh at any moment? Dad was so mean to him and Dad wouldn’t stop. He just wouldn’t stop. Every word was a put down. An insult.
I remember Dad taking us to a tacky, cheap diner for a very inexpensive meal. I was into my new army career and doing well. I was on top of the world. I had passed all the difficult training, won a great posting to Germany and had my own platoon. I was best friends with Dean and looking forward to romance with him. I knew he would be mine soon. ‘Just a matter of time,’ I would tell myself. At this diner, I was dressed in nice clothes: my new suede skirt, leather pumps and freshly pressed blouse, earrings and soft makeup…all dolled up, because it was important to be all dolled up around Dad. He had a sharp, critical eye and an acid tongue.
So, we’re sitting in a booth having a nice little chat about my service in the army. In the back of my mind I suspected that there would be a dig coming soon. And so it did. Dad says, ‘Martha, that mole under your nose, why don’t you get it removed?’
WTF Dad. That mole under my nose??? So, this is what you’re going to talk about at this time? The mole under my nose??? My face turned dark red. I was furious with him. I should have known though. I should have known. There was always a dig. And I ask myself, what must have been done to him, for him to behave that way?
I remember this one Christmas when Dad gave my brother Jobe a second-hand dictionary. He actually wrapped up a used dictionary, but, before he did, he inscribed it:
Read this daily and you just might make something of yourself.
How was that supposed to make a ten-year-old feel?
I have striven my whole adult life as a wife, parent, sister and friend, to watch the words that come out of my mouth…that they should not hurt, scrape or strike but that my words should make others feel fine, helped, free or loved, happy or better. I have made mistakes in my youth, before I understood that insulting was not the best way to behave, as well, and in the heat of the moment, that I know. But, at least I am aware of the effect my words can have. We all have that power.
Amazing power to do harm or good with our words.
(Pictures come from google images. Thank you.)
Lightning crashes a new mother cries
Her placenta falls to the floor
The angel opens her eyes
The confusion sets in
Before the doctor can even close the door
The hours of the day ticked by and the pains grew worse and worse. I called my doctor who was to go away on holidays but she luckily was able to arrange for an ultrasound for me immediately. It looked normal. I was told that this might just be Braxton Hicks — or practice contractions that prepare the womb to deliver in the future. I had had experienced them with Leo’s pregnancy. I knew that this was NOT that.
I soaked in the tub and tried to find comfort laying on my side. It was a hard night, with little sleep, the pain coming in waves. At one point, my sister Amy called from three provinces to the west and her sweet voice took my mind off my troubles.
The next day, I found blood on my underwear.
“DEAN!’ I screamed.
“WE NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL !!”
The pains became worse and worse. We had Leo taken care of by Everet and Tina, friends whom we had known for years. Everet, Dean and I had been in the army together. We knew each other very well.
I did not want our little Leo to see me in this kind of pain.
Then the nurses said that the Radiologist would give me an ultrasound, himself. Unusual. I lay down on the bed and he put the goop on my belly. When the picture came up, it looked different. Dane was alive and there was a heart beat but there was no water in my uterus. There was no amniotic fluid. How could Dane be alive? I had been in so much pain, my brain was messed up.
It would not conclude that which it should be concluding.
Nor did the Radiologist then tell me that which he should have told me. Thinking back to the exhausted state I was in with very little sleep over the past two days, I remember that I glanced at his face and he just looked at me, then away. He didn’t explain anything. (Later, he apologized for that).
I was wheeled back to another room off the emergency room. On my way past the waiting room, I saw Wally, Everet and Dean with heads together, whispering. Wally’s arrival made four of us that had been in the army together a decade earlier. Through the haze of pain and exhaustion, I was touched that they were here for this. Here for us.
I would get through this and we would all be fine and well. Dane would be okay. All these people were here to support us.
Dane would be fine. Right?
The pain continued. The nurses were good to me. One nurse kept getting warm towels and swabbing down my back, as my johnny coat was open and allowed it. It felt like heaven. At some point, in a tortured voice I told them I felt like I had to poop. They helped me to squat up on the bed and they put a metal pan under my bottom. I pushed. I pushed again. One more time…
there were tubes or something hanging out of my vagina.
“What’s that?” I asked, perplexed. My red, sweaty face a question.
A nurse rushed over and gently tugged on the tubes as she attempted to soothe me with, ‘It’s going to be okay dear. It’s going to be okay.”
Something of size came out.
It was not tubes.
It was Dane.
It was not tubes.
It was my perfectly formed tiny dead baby, Dane.
I held him in my hand. He fit the length of it perfectly.
Little eyes never to open.
Tiny hands never to hold.
I stroked his little bluish body and wished him well in heaven while tears blurred my vision streaming down my face.
I cried, “My heart is breaking. Ohhhh No No No. My heart is breaking.”
I laid back on the bed and hands on my heart, wept bitterly, for the loss of my little Angel Dane. And having lost him, I knew for sure that I couldn’t try to do this again. Upon telling Dean this, we both readily decided that Leo would be our only and we would count ourselves lucky and blessed to have him.
What I felt later was this overwhelming sense of failure. I had failed to give his little body a fertile place to grow. I had failed to be a good woman. A good mom. I was a failure at making a baby (which was stupid since my body had already made Leo).
But, thankfully, time heals and now, over a decade later, I have a different view of this. I feel that my body was doing what it needed to do. There must have been a good reason that my body did not allow Dane to thrive, or that Dane’s body didn’t allow him to thrive. Especially in these last years, I have learned and concluded that my body is an amazing organism that should be trusted, revered and respected.
It is doing it’s best to keep me alive, comfortable and well.
I think of Dane often and wonder what our lives would have looked like with him in it, growing up as Leo’s little brother, as our youngest son.
I wonder about the lesson in this loss.
Why did it happen? What is it meant to teach us? The value of life? Gratitude for our blessings? I’m not sure, really. But, I am sure of this:
I love that little soul
that was in that little body
that I held in my womb
and then in my hand.
I wish for him to be forever at peace.
(Thanks Google images and creative commons licence for the pics).
When the cat’s away, the mice shall play
Mom and Dad would sometimes go to Florida at Christmas or March Break and would leave us at home with one of the eldest sibs in charge. One year, my oldest brother Matt was left in charge. He and his new teen-age wife, June took care of we younger ones. Let’s just say that there were a few parties down the basement and sometimes we had really bad tasting spaghetti sauce, a la June. One time, June tried to pass off tomato soup as spaghetti sauce. It was so bad that not even Sammy, our faithful leftover and liver-eating dog, would eat it. Years later we broke it to her that it was awful. By then she had become a good cook though, or as her son would say: Mom’s a good cooker now, eh Dad?
The later years that Mom and Dad went to Florida saw us being taken care of by my second oldest brother, Mark. It got a little scarier then because Mark had some sketchy friends like Byron Hedgeman and Minty. Minty seemed fine, if a little dopey, but, Hedgeman just plain scared me. I think he was continuously high or, in the pursuit of being high.
One time, when I was about eight years old or so, Hedgeman and I were playing a friendly game of checkers in the living room. Hedgeman was getting very upset because I kept using my kings to jump all his checkers.
He began to ask me about my knowledge of Woodstock. He had me there. I had not one idea of what he spoke, and innocently told him that.
Hedgeman was irate. How could I not know about Woodstock?
He then proceeded to educate me about it. I was eight. He told me of mass crowds of hippies who traveled for miles and miles to this place called Woodstock for the concert and drugged-out weekend-long bash of history. He told me of people being so stoned on acid, L.S.D. and mushrooms that they had no idea what they were doing. He told me of scores of hippies wondering around in the nude with caked-on mud as their only clothes – the farmer’s field had turned to pure mud.
Then he and Mark started to recount all the stories they had ever heard about it. Mark talked about the bad acid and how there was an announcement made that the brown acid was bad and no one should do it, Man. I was more than just a little scared after being party to this conversation which Mark and Hedgeman were reveling in the telling of. I was eight. I may have mentioned that.
One time Hedgeman actually passed-out underneath Amy’s bed, down the basement. Mom and Dad were in Cancun but returned a day earlier than planned in order to surprise us. Matt and June, then married and June pregnant, were asleep in my parents’ bed. Dad walked in and looked through the house for all of us. He told Mom that he could smell burning rope coming from downstairs.
He walked into Amy’s basement room. She was fast asleep. However, he quickly noticed that there was a pair of Kodiak work boots sticking out from under her bed. He pulled on them and out slid Hedgeman. It wasn’t a pretty scene. Hedgeman somehow took off out of the house and down Pearl hill. Dad called the police and told them,
“There’s a hoodlum running down Pearl Street and he’s so stoned he’s stunned!”
One time, Mark and Jobe had a very rowdy party and when they started doing hot knives (smoking hash off of hot knives heated on the stove elements) I called Olive Quinn, one of my Mom’s best friends, and begged her to come and get Luke and I. It was after midnight but Van Halen’s Running with the Devil was still pounding, at top volume, throughout the house. The bass on the stereo was turned up to the maximum.
Olive came to fetch us and take us to her house where we stayed in the basement because her husband was a very scary individual and a known bully, even though he was this prominent Catholic and a professional. The next day, Olive delivered us back to Pearl Street. I marveled that our six-foot fence that usually surrounded our back yard was now lying down of the grass.
At those times I wished very badly that Mom and Dad had not gone to Florida for Christmas or Spring Break. At those times I also learned to truly appreciate our normally safe, religious and ordered home. I don’t think my parents ever had a clue about the types of activities that went down while they were away. Chock it up to the 70s.
Decades later, while telling these stories to my best friend and husband, Dean, he looked me in the eye, took my hand and told me that I had been neglected as a child.
I’ll never forget the dawning realization that yes, that was exactly why some tales of my childhood made me feel so uneasy. Dean and I would NEVER have left our son in situations like that. Anything could have happened with those weird wired young men who were Mark’s pals back then and who roamed freely through our home while Mom and Dad were away. Luke and I were lucky to escape with just the psychological scars of being neglected as young children.
To be clear, there were a lot of psychological scars in my family. It may be one of the main reasons we are all so close as siblings. We counted on each other to get through tough times. We cried, we sang and we laughed. We laughed a lot.
Anyway, Luke and I were sworn to secrecy by Mark and Job lest we die by some tortuous death if we told on them. Years later we would learn, disturbingly, that Hedgeman had died at Walden’s Royal Victoria Hospital, of AIDS.
(Photos and courtesy of Eva and google images)
I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?
We moved into our six-bedroom red brick bungalow in Barrie, Canada on Hallowe’en day of 1970. An auspicious day. I was four years old and extremely excited! Our next door neighbours, The MacNeil’s, were a big family of eleven and Paul Aikins ‘MacNeil’ was five years old — a built-in buddy right next door. And buddies we were. Within seconds of arriving Paul and I were fast friends and could be seen chasing each other around the outside of our new brick bungalow. I was gonna like it in this house.
From that moment, Paul and I spent almost every waking minute together. We played house and school and hide-and-go-seek. Often, because of the sheer number of kids between our two households, we would have huge games of Red Rover and British Bulldog, or 500-Up in the MacNeils’ huge back yard. One time, the MacNeils got a new game of Croquet. We played it non-stop for days. It was so exciting being neighbours with the MacNeils. We had such amazing fun together.
In the winter we would go sliding on the MacNeils’ very own sliding hill at the back of their house. It was a perfectly steep hill which led into the parking lot of an eight-story apartment building that we imaginatively called: ‘the apartments’. Sometimes there would be twenty or more kids out there in the dark, with just the reflection off the snow and a few parking lot lamps to light the path. At other times it would be just Ben, my younger brother, Luke, and Ben’s two younger siblings.
The MacNeils lived in a mansion. They had something like ten bedrooms, four bathrooms and a huge recreation room upstairs at the end of the house where parents never ventured. Their dining room had the longest table in it that I had ever seen. We would often do our homework at one small part of that table. I would marvel at how neatly Paul did his assignments. I aspired to be just like him.
There was also a piano in there. We both took lessons but Ben went a lot farther than I, achieving levels of local celebrity status on piano. Ben’s older brother Noah was an idol of mine. He always had the most incredible ideas about what we should all do together. He would make up elaborate games or he would teach us how to be artistic.
Sometimes we would get to play hide-and-go-seek in their house on the second floor and sometimes, when Mrs McNeil wasn’t aware, even in the Attic. There were secret hiding places and cupboards everywhere. Paul’s room had a secret room inside his closet. We spent hours in there. Their house was so much fun! During one game, we looked high and low for teen-aged Ethan who would have been the same age as my brother Mark. No matter what we did, he was nowhere to be found. Finally, we checked the cupboards that ran along the top of the twelve foot walls in the rec-room. There he was. I could never understand how he had managed to get up there. I was impressed. Playing with the MacNeils was so much fun! We would never want to go home at the end of the evening, when it was time. We would hear Dr. McNeil shout: ‘It’s time for your friends to go home!” We would quietly make our way home, back to our boring little bungalow next door.
The MacNeils had a cupboard in their kitchen that was stuffed full of cookies and sugary cereals. At our house, we had gingersnaps, and that was on a good day, and then only two each and they were never just sitting in the cupboard. They were hidden. The cereal choices at our place were simple: puffed wheat, puffed rice or shredded wheat. Sometimes, if we were good, we got plain Cheerios or Shreddies.
After some of my older brothers and sisters moved out on their own though, the choices got better and they almost always included Shreddies and Cheerios and then CornFlakes! I can still conjure up the feeling of extreme privilege that came along with that cereal. We also got real milk then too. 2%. Prior to that it was skim milk mixed from dry powder (blek!) which later became powdered skim mixed with 2% milk. When it was just Luke and I at home, Dad started buying homogenized full fat milk. It was like drinking ice-cream. That was sheer luxury after the watered down and often involuntarily gag-producing taste of powdered skim. When Eva, Amy and Matt came back home for a supper meal, on occasion, they would comment on how spoiled we were now that we were being fed the higher quality groceries.
Mom bought groceries on a tight budget. We had simple but good meals. Things like sausages and tomato sauce, scalloped potatoes, shake-and-bake (the odd time), spaghetti and meat balls on Sunday night, Pate Chinois (pronounced pot-tay sheen-wa), which was my favourite meal) and we always had a green salad with supper, and then after all the plates were nearly licked clean, we were permitted dessert. Sometimes Dad would still be hungry and would finish off our meals for us. Other times he would angrily and loudly tell us to Eat Up!
About twice per month, we would have left-overs or home-made soup–basically a huge pot of soup made from everything left in the fridge before the new grocery order was bought. We fondly referred to it as home-made poop because when you’re a kid, you don’t tend to like things to eat that aren’t completely decipherable. All we could decipher out of Mom’s soup was a pea here and there and perhaps a piece of carrot. The rest was left to the imagination. One time I absolutely refused to eat it and found myself still staring at it, while it congealed and turned cold, at around 7 o’clock that night.
Supper had always started at 5:30 SHARP as soon as Dad walked in the door and sat down at the table, sometimes pounding the table with his fists – an indication of his hunger.
We tried to keep things calm at the supper table. Mom would bounce up and down from her chair getting this and that and, ‘Mom, while you’re up, can you grab me a glass of water?’
Sometimes Dad would tell stories about Schollard Hall and put on his falsetto voice imitating one of his teachers. We would all laugh. Usually our meals were not calm though, someone would spill a glass of milk. Then Dad would pound the table and shaking his head and shout:
I HAD NO BREAKFAST,
A LOUSY LUNCH,
AND NOW I CAN’T EVEN EAT MY SON-OF-A-BITCH-OF-A DINNER!
The MacNeils had their groceries DELIVERED from IGA on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes I would witness the arrival of the grocery truck backing up to the MacNeils kitchen door. I had never seen so many boxes of great food in my life. They even had a freezer full of fudgsicles and they didn’t even have to ask before having one.
In our house the groceries were pretty strictly rationed out. Cookies and other goodies were hidden away in special places that only Mom could find. Sometimes she’s hide something so well that even she couldn’t find it!
At Christmas time we had special food in the house. We always got a crate of tangerines. They were the really sweet ones all individually wrapped in purple tissue paper. Mom would keep the carton under the couch. She was pretty generous with them compared to other stuff. We would also have a pound of real butter. Mom would buy two pounds, one for shortbread cookies and the other for us to have with turkey dinner. Wow it was good compared to the bright yellow margarine that came wrapped in waxed paper.
Christmas was great when Mom and Dad didn’t go to Florida. Mom always bought us a huge jigsaw puzzle to work on as a family under the Christmas tree. I’ll always remember how much I enjoyed that. We would also sing Christmas carols and play all kinds of board games during the holidays. Of course, most of the time, during the day, we would be outside in the snow or on the rink in the back yard. Often the door was locked and we were forced to stay outside and make our own fun for two hours or so.
There were always so many kids roaming around, it was easy to find something fun to do — climbing the snowbanks, rolling or sliding down hills, making a snowman or a snow-cave. In all those years though, I can not remember one adult being outside with us to play. We were completely unsupervised and it was only if we were bleeding or on fire that we would venture home to Mom who would take us in her arms and help us with our troubles.
‘Nobody puts Baby in the Corner’
~Johnny, Dirty Dancing
While living above the Arctic Circle in the town of Inuvik for a couple of years in the 90s, I got into running. Yes, running above the Arctic Circle folks. No corner. No Baby. (Not that I’m Baby or anything.)
Dean and I were living in a huge apartment above a Skidoo store (what else would it be?) and we were both working full time: Dean as a Director at the local college and myself as Manager of the medical clinic. We were out to work by 8:30 each morning, walked home for lunch, and then finished at 6 every evening. There was very little physical exertion in our days of mostly sitting.
Soon, new friends Mitsy and Byron moved to town and they were into running in a big way. The way they talked about it, it got me intrigued to possibly start again. I hadn’t run for a few years.
My first time out, I ran for ten minutes only. I gradually increased my time. Before long, I was running 10Ks, except during the very darkest winter months. The month of December was basically twenty-four hour darkness. Hibernation or vacation time.
Our first Christmas up there, we flew down to Vancouver and rented a car. We went to visit my brothers Job and Mark in Sooke, took a peek at Royal Roads Military College (yep, the peacocks were still there, and still distinctly smelly and noisy), tried to have a plate of nachos at the Six Mile Pub (‘Sorry we don’t do them during supper anymore’ I nearly cried at this) and then drove all the way down to Los Angeles over the next two days. There, we stayed in a small hotel in Hollywood. So, from the quiet dirt roads of Inuvik to a dozen lanes of traffic on a jammed freeway. Extreme.
We walked around Rodeo Drive, saw the stars in the sidewalk, did some window shopping and from there drove through the desert to Palm Springs. Circling back through Ojai, we stayed a night with our runner friends Mitsy and Byron. We had a fun supper with them and marveled at the citrus trees in the backyard, and then we were off north. First to San Francisco, then to a little town just north of there where we enjoyed walking on the beach in December. Next, off north again to Vancouver where we stayed in a nice room for New Year’s Eve. We walked around downtown a bit, then back to our room to watch an in-house movie while lying in a very comfortable bed, feeling like a million bucks. We then flew back to Inuvik where reality struck hard. Vacation over.
To exercise the dogs, we would get on our snowmobile and drive on the ice-road toward Tuktoyaktuk. Every year, to facilitate travel and transport of goods from Inuvik and points south, the 150 kms to Tuk, the Territory would build an ‘ice-road’ on the frozen MacKenzie River. In the most basic sense, it was the plowing of snow to build guard rails and delineate the pure ice roadway. The scary thing about the ice-road, which was completely dramatic and beautiful, was that if you ever got into a spin out there, it would be a toss up as to which way you had been driving. It looked exactly alike on both sides of the road – stunted, drunken trees so it was just a guess unless you were smart and traveled with a compass. Anyway, the dogs would run, full tilt, beside our skidoo for a few kms and back. They loved it. Happy lolling tongues the whole way.
Soon enough, there began to be a bit of daylight and then a full twelve hours by March, we would be out running almost daily. Granted, it was still cold, and it would take about ten minutes to get dressed for the run with layers and layers of athletic Lycra and polypropylene and wool toque and neoprene balaclava, wool mitts and socks, then trail runners. We would always figure one layer on our legs for each ten degrees below zero and then one extra layer up top.
Next, a drink of water and slathering of exposed skin with Vaseline, leash the dogs and hook them to the coupler and off we’d go. There were almost no music-playing devices back then, so, the only real sound would be the funny random noises of the huge ravens, sometimes clucking, gurgling, popping or cawing, depending on their mood or message to be conveyed, and there was our own breathing and foot falls, of course.
We would often do a loop around Inuvik that was about 10K. It would go along the back road and then a right turn and a gradual hill and we would be on this spectacular ring road. It was the final frontier, – so, running along it, one could imagine no one else existed at all. Look left and there were literally millions of acres of wilderness with those black, stunted trees growing every which way and half drunkenly falling down. These were the final trees before the tree line, after which there would be a stark switch to tundra and pingos (dome-shaped mounds consisting of a layer of soil over a large core of ice). Snow or frost was on every surface, every spruce needle, every power line wire. It was spectacular and we had it to ourselves until a right turn onto Main Street and back to our apartment.
These days, I don’t run anymore due to sore knees, just a lot of walking. But, it was a great pass-time while living above the Arctic Circle and I will always fondly remember those days and the final frontier feel.
Play is the work of childhood.
This is a quick little story which is set at our humble home on a quaint street in our wee tidal town. We have lived here since August 2010. Shortly thereafter, due to the stress and strain of a kitchen renovation which may have but then didn’t include asbestos poisoning, I landed in the hospital. The stuff of nightmares. And, to think, we had said to each other, Dean and I, ‘let’s not start any renos until we have owned our home for at least two years.’ Ha! We lasted four months such was the atrocious state of our new-to-us home. (Every time I see the previous owner, I strangle him in my imagination).
So, our new reality found us painting our kitchen ceiling on Christmas Eve (which is also our anniversary); having had our kitchen gutted, rewired and replumbed; having re-painted and re-positioned cabinets, having had new appliances and fresh drywall, not to mention a shiny new double sink and formica counter-tops, flooring and windows. There is a lot involved in kitchen renos. Trust me! And ours had the added bonus of a psychotic break for me. Lovely.
Anyhoo, after we all recovered from that, come spring we were laughin’.
That was the year that St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday and this being a small University town, with nearly as many students as full-time residents, well, when the students decide to get out and make some noise… we all hear about it. Don’t get me wrong, we love our students. My comment here is that the day was an incredible early Spring day. It was twenty-two degrees Celsius on March 17th (~72 F). Unheard of. And, it was St. Patty’s Day. So, many folk were just OUTSIDE and havin’ a ball.
I will never forget that day because I spent the whole day out in the garden, raking, picking up sticks, splitting off lilies, vinca-vine and ferns. Just any excuse to be outside. Any Canadian can relate, I am sure. And the whole time I was out there, I could here the ruckus happening downtown. I had no desire to join in or to even see it, but, it was hilarious and just one of the many oddities about being Canadian. When Spring springs, we CELEBRATE it, baby, and we GET OUTSIDE. It was so nice, we were able to plant our gardens a month early and therefore had huge growth.
So, a few weeks later, my raised garden boxes with tall sunflowers, scarlet runners, tomatoes, kale and asparagus bed were doing very well. It was the best, warmest Spring in a loooong time.
One of the unique features of our property is that the town tennis courts are right on the edge of our back yard. Also, we are sandwiched between two parks, one with pitches. So, that means a constant stream of frisbee, soccer and tennis players. Also, students of tennis, including young kids taking tennis lessons with a hired tennis coach. So, when I am out in the back yard, gardening or hanging a load of clothes, there is almost always banter and pock-pock, pock-pock sounds going on, not to mention the highly annoying and obnoxious exertion grunt (which drives me WILD. Don’t they know we can HEAR them? What the hell people? Shut up and hit the ball.)
For a few seasons in a row, the tennis coach was this big young guy with a wild head of curly red hair: Conrad. He was very patient with his young students and consistently gave good clear instruction, over and over again followed by ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘great’, kinds of adverbs. It was a pleasure to be weeding the garden and to overhear his patient, deep voice working with his young charges. There is nothing like the sounds of children playing actively to bring a contented smile to my face.
It was this one weekday in mid-summer that I will never forget. I was bent over my garden boxes just quietly working away. I could hear the young tennis students running around on the hot court, whapping the balls around and asking for a drink about every thirty seconds, it was so hot!
Then Conrad’s voice in this slow, understated yet exasperated deep tone booms:
‘Come on kids FOCUS! It’s only Tuesday!’
Oh my god. I was silently laughing so hard I almost inhaled top soil. I looked over my right shoulder to see a few of the kids looking up at Conrad with a quizzical squint on their freckled faces.
‘Who cares if it’s Tuesday?? We’re playin‘ here.’ they seemed to be thinking.
Exactly, I thought.
(Thanks to Google images for the picture.)
Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it. ~Dalai Lama
After exiting the Arctic , where we lived for three years, give or take, I applied for a job from an ad in the Globe & Mail Newspaper. A recruiting firm was looking to hire a House Manager for a wealthy family; let’s call them The Roses in Toronto’s Rosedale. Eagerly, I applied for the position thinking that I had the attributes mentioned in the ad.
I made the cut.
At the end of the first interview with Braun the hiring manager, I asked him why they picked me out of the three hundred applicants. He said they liked both my creative leaf-art at the bottom of my resume as well as my military experience. Both sides of the brain.
Braun had spent the better part of a dozen years working for the Beaten Family and he knew the kind of person that would do well in this job. Detail-oriented, strong work ethic, well-spoken, able to foresee disasters and their solutions, appreciative of wealth but not themselves wealthy and, let’s not forget, approval-seeking. Yep. I had all of those qualities.
After the second interview with the agency, I was told I would next be going to the offices of Mr Rose to be interviewed by him. I made sure to have a sturdy note pad, and a good pen. I donned my navy blazer, blouse and skirt. For the first time I was missing my military uniform which made wardrobe decisions so easy. In my mind, I was a Captain heading to a meeting with a General. Just putting it into perspective.
It went well. I could tell Mr Rose was happy with my confident eye-contact, my note-taking and my questions. My seriousness but also my quick smile. I even managed to negotiate my salary up to the next notch, which I could tell both amused and impressed him.
He told me that the next step would be to visit with his family. Meet them, tour the houses and property. Get an idea of the scope of the job.
I had been told they were a Jewish family. Knowing nothing about the Jewish faith, I sought the opinion of a Jewish acquaintance. He said my visit would be during one of the Jewish holidays – Rosh Hashanah. I was nervous about being the House Manager for a family with a completely unfamiliar faith to the one I had known growing up. I was bound to make mistakes, even subtle ones, just because I had no idea.
At the time, I was reading a book by Deepak Chopra. In this book, he advised to always show up with a small gift when going to someone’s house. Wise advise, I thought. I picked up a small box of chocolates and made sure they were kosher. I donned my conservative atire and grabbed my sturdy note pad and reliable pen.
I drove into their estate in my 3-cylinder shit box I called ‘Puny’. The same one I had bought before leaving Comox in 1988.
The house was modern and grand. I knocked on the door and smiled gently as I was met by Mrs Rose. I passed her the little box of chocolates and made nicey-nice while she showed me the huge kitchen and writing nook where she wrote her cookbooks. Then Mr Rose took me to the other house which backed onto theirs.
His 4000 square foot Man Cave.
The door opened to a dining room with a chandelier bigger than me and a table which sat twenty-two. Enough said. The place was perfect. A lot of brown and beige tones with the odd hint of deep burgundy. Very mannish. He told me, and this was important, ‘I want this place to always be absolutely sublime‘.
K, I didn’t even know what sublime meant back then.
The first thing I did upon getting back to Scarberia (North Beaches really but, whatever) was look it up.
Sublime: Perfect, without blemish.
I was sweating.
I knew I could do this job, but, did I WANT to? It sounded like a lot of bullshit to me. My mind imagined my days on that property. Worried about every little thing. I was completely stressed just thinking about it. When Dean and I had traveled to Australia, we had seen the movie: The Remains of The Day. Was I meant to be a glorified Butler / House Keeper; a combination of both Anthony Hopkins’ and Emma Tompsins’ characters? Was I to walk around with a feather duster and white gloves?
Then, the call came. Braun the Hiring Manager was dressing me down for bringing a box of chocolates to the interview at their home. He told me it was inappropriate. Mr Rose had mentioned it and said it was like I was trying to ‘butter’ them up to hire me. Geez. This guy was a freak. I wasn’t even hired and he was already disappointed in me.
I remained silent when Braun stopped speaking. I was in a phone booth in the village of Maggie River on Eight Mile Lake, near The Camp in Cottage Country of Ontario. It was a gorgeous early summer day. I looked at the shiny water near the locks. I looked at the nodding heads of the wild flowers growing in every possible crack or fissure.
Sublime: Perfect. Without Blemish.
I took a deep breath and told Braun that I was no longer interested in the position. I said, ‘If Mr Rose is that worried about a proffered tiny box of chocolates, I don’t think I can work for him. I don’t want to work for people like that. Sorry.’
Braun was speechless. He had invested a lot of time in me. He would have to start over.
‘You mean, you don’t want to work for The Rose Family? At that salary? Maybe I can get you more money, M.’
‘Sorry, Braun. I can’t do it. It’s not for me.’
I walked away from that phone booth feeling a massive weight lift off my shoulders. I felt like I had dodged a bullet. Next, I went for a swim in the shiny waters of Eight Mile Lake.
Sublime: Perfect. Without Blemish.
(All pictures come from Google Images. Thank you!)
We were spending all kinds of time together, working and exploring parts of Europe but, it wasn’t turning into romance. So… I did something about it.
So we began our careers together as young platoon commanders and it was busy – the learning curve was vast and challenging and not without sweat and tears. We attended daily meetings and orders groups. We went to gun-camps and field exercises together. We did physical fitness tests; challenges like rappelling off the jump tower (where my friend Dan, with his ultra confidence in me and enthusiastic persistence locked eyes with me until I took the step to certain death and / or broken legs) and out of a helicopter (ditto); and long marches. We had TGIF gatherings and formal Mess dinners together and soon we started hanging out as friends. We would drive to neighbouring countries, cities, towns and villages. We would check out various restaurants and go for hikes or to a soccer match. We would find English movies to watch in various Movie houses. One of our favourite places to go was Strasbourg, France. It was so beautiful and medieval. We also loved going to the baths at Baden-Baden.
We would stay at the baths for a few hours and walk on the crooked cobble-stone lane ways until we found a little bistro. Famished from the baths.
At Christmas time, feeling that I had just finally settled in, I thought I may not go home back over the pond. I would just stay and catch up on work and have a quiet time, solo. My apartment phone rang. When I answered it my eldest brother Matt’s unmistakable voice asked my why I wouldn’t be coming home. In his deep, slow drawl he said, ‘Marnie, I almost died a few months ago. I’ve just re-learned how to walk. You really need to come home. We’re going to have a big Family Christmas party. You can stay with us. Come home, okay?’
My biggest brother had had a near fatal car accident outside of town up at the lake. He was driving his new convertible and somehow it flipped, throwing him a distance. He landed on his head and was knocked out for days. When he came to, he couldn’t speak properly and he couldn’t walk. He and June persevered, as they would, being who they are – tough and hardworking. They pulled through. June ran the business while Matt did physio and recouped mentally. He would later tell hilarious stories about his time in the hospital. How he would jumble his words and meaning and sayings. Of course, all the nurses loved him. He made everyone laugh.
So, of course I went home and I enjoyed every minute of the catching up and the hyper-ness of being with all the personalities of my big, wonderful family. Silently observing as we all fell into our various roles: the little sister (that was me), the big brother, the joker, the musician entertainer, the nurturer, the best friend to all…we all had a place in the woven fabric of our big family.
Out on a field exercise once we had to do the Junior Officer Challenge. It was twenty-four hours and 75 km with eighteen mini-competition posts along the way. Fifty Junior Officers started out. We nick-named it the Okey-Dokey Challenge. The other female officers and many of the male officers dropped out — mostly due to wicked blisters and injuries. Dean and I did the whole thing together. I was the only woman to finish. The picture here is of us at the last ‘competition’ – wine tasting. Dean and I were seated on a bench, side by side. Luckily, I got to do it again the following year but, not Dean. He had been posted to CFB Baden as the Quarter Master of 3RCR. So, that year, I did most of it with a former RRMC milcol colleague, Scott Spinner (not his real name), also from Barrie.
All this time we were spending together though, didn’t turn into romance for Dean and I. Then I found out that my Dean had a girl-friend back home in Newfoundland. Geez. What would I do about that? I was in love with him.
Then it hit me: make him jealous.
That is what I did.
I started dating gorgeous specimens whom I would meet around base or at the Officers’ Mess. Each hunk I met and dated, I made sure to introduce to Dean: Pete, Greg, Chris, Fraser – all nice guys. Dean would prickle slightly when I would bring a new guy to him to meet. This went on for about eighteen months.
One Friday, I had made a date with Fraser — a gorgeous, sweet-natured, blue-eyed, muscled helicopter pilot and I was to meet him later at the Mess. Mid-morning, I was in my office when in walks Dean and sits down. He then did something he had never done before. He asked me to go to a soccer banquet with him later that evening. Bristling, I asked him if this was a date. ‘Yes’, he said.
What?! I was so mad. ‘You asshole!’
He looked at me with shock of his face. I asked him if he thought I had nothing going on on a Friday night. I told him about my date with Fraser and that no, I couldn’t go to his silly banquet. I was seething.
Later I was with Fraser all I was doing was talking about Dean and how much he angered me. How could he really expect me to be just available to him, just like that. I went on and on. Fraser looked at me and gently but firmly said: ‘Marti, go to the banquet. Don’t worry about me. Just go.’
Off I went. The banquet was in a restaurant just up the street from my apartment. After the banquet, Dean and I walked the cobble-stone street to my apartment, arm-in-arm.
We have been together ever since.
That was 1990. It is now 2022 and we are about to celebrate 30 years married. I am the luckiest girl in the world.
After we started dating, we began to go away on weekend or week-long trips. We went skiing in the Swiss Alps, staying at a chalet. The Alps were beyond belief. We would ride various lifts up to the peak, spend a couple hours skiing up there, then ski down to a chalet for lunch and a beer – the scenery from the chalet was enough to bring tears to your eyes. Spectacular. After refreshments, we would ski for a couple more hours in the middle of the alps and then ski down to the base where we would find the lodge and end our day. It was blissful.
Another trip found us in the Austrian Alps on Officer Adventure Training. (Well subsidized!) The Austrian Alps were also spectacular. This time we were staying in a quaint village that looked like something from a painting or a Christmas card. So picturesque with its crooked, old stone buildings, shutters, balconies, cobble stones, wrought iron and of course, the layer of pure white snow on every surface and not a flat roof in sight.
Another trip we went on together was to Corfu, Greece. We had two weeks at an all-inclusive resort and we had an amazing trip. The trip ended with the two of us exchanging identical rings on a hill in an olive grove. We were now engaged to be married. Oh happy day!
In Greece, we met an older couple named Mary and David from Scotland. They made the mistake of inviting us to their home to visit some day. Well, we went. We flew into London on a military air craft. We saw Les Miserables, a Tottenham soccer match and we walked and explored parts of London. We went to Harrods and stayed in a B & B. Then we took a bus north to Glasgow. Mary and David handed us a shot of whiskey as we arrived at their house. For the next couple of days, they toured us around the countryside to see ruins of Castles, Inverary Village,
boutiques and tea shops. In one shop, I bought a lavender coloured kilt of fine wool that I later wore to be married in. Dean bought a fine deer-stocker hat. We went to the pictures one night and then it was over. We headed back to London and flew back to Germany. One regret is that we did not get over to Ireland.
Somewhere in there, my younger brother Luke came to Germany and stayed in my apartment with me for a number of months, sleeping on my roll-away cot. I look back on that time with regret because I feel that I didn’t spend enough quality time with him while he was there. My attentions were focused elsewhere and I was sometimes rather stressed with pressures at work, which came out in tetchiness with him. Luke was able to pick up a serving job and use my bike to get to the Caserne where the cafe was. One nice time we had was to head down to the Bondensee in Switzerland where we had a bit of time together by the water. I was doing my dive licence at that time and needed to conduct a deep dive. Because the visibility at depth was about nil, it was fairly intense and I had to talk to myself the whole time to stay calm. After getting my SCUBA licence, I never dove again. It just wasn’t something that I liked doing, after all. While I was deployed on exercise for several weeks, Luke went home to Canada. I missed him bitterly after he was gone. He had met a very sweet lady who herself was ready to head home and I thought they would be together forever, but, alas, one never knows.
It was about this stage in our young relationship that Dean and I started to discuss the idea of getting out of the army. We would make our own way out on civvie street. We had no real idea what we would do for jobs, but, we knew for certain that we did not want to be ‘in’ any longer.
We were honourably discharged from the Canadian Forces in March of 92 and moved in with Dean’s parents into their 800 square foot house in Newfoundland. A few months later we started another adventure…travelling all over Canada and into Alaska in our 1976 VW Van named ‘Betsy’ that we brought home from Germany.
A sunny day and a barefoot walk with my big brother turns into a horrible memory…and a new fantasy ending
Many long sunny days during our summers at the lake, we would walk the two miles to the nearby town of Magnetawan, population 300 souls, just for something different to do. Sometimes I would be with a friend staying in the camp. Other times I would be with a brother, or two. On this particular day, I was with my older brother, closest to me in age: Jobe.
We were walking along on that hot summer day in the 70s. We each had a dollar to spend in town and we were feeling rather rich. We were discussing what we could do with that money. Would it be spent on fries and a pop at July’s or a vachon, black balls and chocolate milk at Jake’s General Store? July’s and Jake’s shared side-by-side real estate in the village of Mag and each backed onto a grassy patch which sloped down to Ahmic Lake which was really Mag River extended after the locks system.
Both July’s and Jake’s were tired, dusty and faded. Their respective owners, July and Jake, had since thrown up their hands to the bygone dreams of business greatness. (A few decades later, both buildings would burn to the ground in an unsolved tragedy that would rock the core of the wee village, one which still wondered at the loss by fire of their once proud Marina.)
The Tuck Stop didn’t mind. Even Seniors were ordering take-out these days and pulling up a bench seat at a red wooden picnic table in order to enjoy their chicken fingers and fries with a cold coke sipped by straw. For Jobe and I, our favourite was the foot-long hot dog. We just could not believe that a hot dog could be that long. We marveled at it each time it arrived in front of us. It was especially good when washed down with a thick sweet chocolate milk-shake.
So, on this particular day, with nary a water bottle nor a hat and never ‘sunscreen’ (what was that?) Jobe said, ‘hey Marn, let’s walk the whole way to town up on the rocks!’ Jobe loved a physical challenge. I guess I did too. Up we scrambled onto the hot, dark rocks which had been cut to form the roadway. We carried on walking, sometimes skipping from one outcrop to the next. Jobe was way ahead of me, as usual. He was faster, more daring and more physically efficient in every way.
As I walked along the rocks, a bothersome horsefly bobbed around my head, crashing into my tanned forehead every few steps. Looking up to see Jobe’s red head bobbing up and down ahead of me, I suddenly realized that there was a warm sensation coming from the bottom of my right foot. ‘What the…?’ I reached down and my hand came back to me covered in blood. The tears burst from my eyes as I screamed for Jobe.
With wild, frightened green eyes Jobe arrived by my side and knew instantly that I had trod on a piece of broken glass. He found the piece a second later. It was a nasty jagged stalagmite of broken beer-bottle glass and it was covered in my blood. Jobe half carried me for about ten minutes to the closest cottage where he pounded on the door and asked for help.
The nice lady who came to the door took me to her pure white porcelain tub and quite tenderly washed my gash of blood. She soothed me with sweet mutterings while she ensured there was no glass left inside the wound. I was silently crying and worried. Next she sat me down on a kitchen chair and expertly bandaged my foot with a gauze. She used a lot of gauze. A whole roll. She knew exactly what she was doing. Then she drove us back to the camp and made sure Dad received us before she left. Dad had a quick conversation with her, thanked her profusely and got the details of the unfortunate occurrence.
Dad closed the door of the office and turned around to stare us down with the look of thunder on his face. He was not happy.
‘Martha, why didn’t you have shoes on while walking to town? FROM NOW ON, YOU WILL ALWAYS WEAR SHOES WHEN WALKING TO TOWN. IS THAT CLEAR?! he bellowed. ‘THAT WOMAN IS A COMPETITOR OF OURS. DID YOU TWO KNOW THAT?’
We both shook our heads vehemently, but, we DID know that. He was always talking about our competitors. How many campers they had compared to us, and so on, endlessly.
‘NOW SHE THINKS WE ARE BAREFOOT HEATHENS!’ he yelled. ‘SHE’LL SPREAD IT ALL OVER THE LAKE THAT WE CAN’T EVEN AFFORD SHOES!’ He was livid. His face was purple.
At this point, Jobe escaped out the screen door and all I heard was the wap! as it hit the frame – his red noggin’ bouncing up and down as he diminished down the trail to the shop then hard right passed the Patterson’s tent trailer and gone up into the camp, likely to find Mom and our baby brother Luke and tell them the story.
Next, Dad grabbed my skinny arm roughly with his huge hand. I was just seven years old and tiny and he was a behemoth. And Mad. He spanked me hard several times with his open hand which hit my bare legs and stung very badly. It hurt a lot and I quietly bawled and bawled, but what hurt even worse was the betrayal I felt. He was the guy who was supposed to protect me. I didn’t think it was fair to receive a beating when I was already injured but, I didn’t say a word. That would have been certain death.
He told me to get in the car and off we went to the medical clinic in Burks Falls, 20 miles away. I needed stitches and a tetanus shot. So much for a vachon and coke.
This day was horrible and getting worse by the minute. The aftermath of the cut foot was ten days of no swimming. Was I miserable?! I always wore my shoes to town after that one. Probably didn’t need the beating because the no swimming was punishment enough.
Usually natural consequences work best, I find.
But, what I am still confused about when I remember this, even though it happened to me decades ago, is just how much Dad over-reacted, in a bad way, to my cut foot. Perhaps he was having an awful day and this was just one more hassle to deal with.
But, it was me.
His good little girl.
I was hurt and scared and needed a hug. I can’t imagine beating my child who came home to me with a cut foot. It’s like kicking someone when they’re down.
I am gonna re-write the last bit…
…Dad closed the door of the office and turned around to look at Jobe and I with a soft worried look on his face. He gathered both of our small bodies to his chest with his big strong arms. He kissed our curly heads, mine dark, Jobe’s ginger. He told us not to worry. He was going to fix all this.
‘Get in the car you two. First it’s stitches for Mart, then it’s ice-cream.’
We smiled at our Dad who was always so good to us and fixed all our mistakes, or tried to anyway. In town, we picked out a sweet thank you card for the lady who helped me and after ice-cream we brought it to her door to thank her in person.
Even though I couldn’t swim for ten days, Dad took me fishing and we had so much fun.
If you have any comments, I would love to read them.
So, no, woman, no cry.
No, woman, no cry.
I say, oh, little—oh, little darlin’, don’t shed no tears.
No, woman, no cry. Eh.
My brother Mark and his wife and my sister Amy and I had tickets for a week in Cuba and I was determined to go. I was looking forward to getting out of our messed up house with it’s temporary kitchen and dust everywhere. I was determined to go. I may have mentioned that already. I figured it would do my cough good to get into the sun even though I had coughed up a bit of blood earlier that day.
When I met my sister Amy at the Toronto airport she noticed immediately that I was holding my body rigidly. Her big blue eyes searched my face as she asked me if I was okay. My green eyes began to water as I said: I have a few problems right now.
Cue the ominous music
The first two days in Cuba were fine. We walked on the beach and swam and laughed and Mark played his guitar and we all sang a whole lot but, my bronchitis was not improving.
It was worsening. I was not sleeping hardly at all due to the coughing fits I was having.
Amy, Mark and Irene went out in the evening to watch the band. I was going to stay and rest, I said. Mark was going to play a song and he was looking forward to that. Our rooms were about a five minute walk to the area on the beach where the music was to be performed. After they left, I decided to put something comfortable on and walk over and stand in the sand to just listen. By the time I walked to the walkway to the beach, tears were streaming down my face due to the beauty everywhere and how frightened I was of what lay ahead.
I knew it would be psychosis and psychosis can be a very scary and a very lonely, joyless, black place.
Someone in the band saw me crying with my feet deep in the silky cool sand likely trying to ground myself and he whispered to his band mate. Suddenly they were playing, ‘No Woman No Cry‘ by Bob Marley. I just bawled some more at how sweet they were to try and help me with their music. I realized again just how much I love Cuba.
However, I could not sleep.
I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling and then, by the third night, the visions and the outrageous thoughts started: I was the Virgin Mary. I was the one meant to save the world. There was a numerology aspect. I was born on 03-03-66. my only son Leo was born on 09-08-99. I was 33 when he was born. Mom was born in 16-06-30 and she had been 36 when I was born. My business was Incorporated on 06-06-06. So, lot’s of threes (and sixes and nines, all divisible by three). There were three in my family. Three was a special number, as a former Catholic I knew this well. The number of the Holy Trinity in Christianity. My mind churned these thoughts — twisting and turning them, over and over making me fall into insanity.
Then, I was having conversations with God. My birth family would all be saved from the coming world crisis if we gathered on a tropical island together. My pulse raced. My stomach churned with butterflies. My bowels turned to liquid. I was all keyed up and it was impossible to sleep. Mania was taking over my mind and I was familiar with it. All aboard the crazy train folks…
Things rapidly deteriorated from that point. Luckily our week was almost up. Mark and his wife began furtive preparations for home while Amy watched over me. I just wanted to walk around the resort and connect with every possible person in my vicinity. Mark and Amy were worried I wouldn’t be permitted on the flight if I was acting too manic, so Amy and I went to the medical clinic where a very kind and gentle doctor, while holding my hand, shot a huge syringe of tranquilizer into each cheek of my ass. Amy said that it was enough tranquilizer to drop a horse. But guess what, I was still manic with no tranquility in sight. I popped off the bed like the Energizer bunny. By the time we got to the airport though, I was much more calm but still no sleep. I should have been slumped over, drooling, in deep sleep.
Now, I was taking the hands of total strangers, gazing deeply into their eyes and telling them all about their lives and how to improve it. Funnily enough, people seemed to really want to hear what I was saying to them. It was bizarre. One man told me I was the most honest person he had ever spoken to. Meanwhile, my brother Mark was running around trying to keep me safe and to act normal so that the airline people would allow me to fly. I, of course, was oblivious by this point.
Next up….Crazy Train (part 3) ~ Home…ish
Leaving Roads in second year finds me flailing until Logistics Training a year later.
It was worth it…
Come the summer of ’87, after first year at Royal Roads Military College, it was time to take French courses at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ontario. RMC is set on several areas with significant lake frontage and several huge piers on Lake Ontario. That summer was a lot of fun. Being in the city of Kingston was exciting and the summer sun would see us laying out on the big docks on campus and running and jumping off the piers and swimming in Lake Ontario.
That was the summer my friend and I met a couple of guys while driving on the 401 to Toronto. Communications were done not by cell phone, which were almost nonexistent, but at high-speed via black sharpies and large note pads. Writing greetings and then holding them up to the window for the fellas in the nearby car to read. We ended up asking them, by note, to meet us at Mr. Green Jeans restaurant in the Toronto Eaton’s Centre. They made it! And, we had a chatty dinner with them: Doug and J.R.. Afterward, we went to the Hard Rock Café until my bus was ready to depart for Barrie.
J.R. and I ended up seeing each other all summer, but, alas, then it was time for me to go back to RRMC near Victoria, BC. Interestingly, he was a southern lad and an Infantry lieutenant in the US Army and was stationed across the border from Kingston in Fort Drum near Watertown, NY. I’ll never forget the fun of how we met. So random. So different.
Second year began at Royal Roads Military College (RRMC). But, my heart was not in it. I didn’t enjoy the academics. Most of my Profs were mind-numbingly boring or struggled with the English language, even my English prof. (To be fair, I did really like my Chemistry and History profs). It was not how I wanted to spend my time. I asked to be entered into the program allowing a cadet to go straight into a career posting. I got it, but it was not until the following year. I was told I would become an Army Logistics Officer and that training would begin in October 1988 in Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden, Ontario.
Okay great, but, what would happen to me for the year???
For several months I was put to work in the Castle. Hatley Castle at RRMC. Severely boring work, just managing paper and simple tasks. I had to do quite a bit of photocopying and would inevitably run into this same civilian woman who had been working there for decades. She would coldly ask me every time I saw her: ‘So….you’re still here are ya?’
Hmmm. Thanks. I would not speak for fear of crying. It was so mean. Her cold and judgmental attitude. It’s not like I wasn’t already feeling like a fish out of water. I would just nod and smile, not daring to open my mouth.
In the winter, the best thing to happen was that I was sent on a week-long ski trip to Mount Washington with several others working in the castle as well as some members from CFB Esquimalt. Classified as ‘Adventure Training’ so all expenses covered. After unpacking our gear in our quarters, a bunch of us went out to a pub and shared jugs of beer and danced and danced and danced. It was going to be a good week. And it was. I was so needing that week away and outlet in exercise and fresh air with a fun group. The skiing was incredible with tons of fresh white stuff and ‘The Black Chair’ pub at the end of the day where we would gather to share snacks and beer and just shoot the shit.
After a couple months, I was sent to CFB Comox, BC, up island, for administration support at the Air Traffic Control Tower. That was interesting. Ironically, the best thing about it was learning how to use a new word processor called Word Perfect. That came in handy later.
One time, at the mess (which is like a pub but only for Officers), I was fortunate enough to be in the company of the highly skilled Snowbird Team still dressed in their flight suits. We shared a few drinks, played darts and made jokes. One joke that I made was about my colourful vest. That it looked rather like I had ‘killed’ my couch. The beer helped make that one funny. They laughed, just to be nice.
I began playing on a slow pitch team and met some good folks. One of them was Stevie. Steve was a lumberjack up in Tofino. He was also an avid mountain biker. He and his buddy and I would go on mountain biking day trips to Denman and Hornby Islands. Challenging trails but extremely fun too. Stevie taught me all about mountain biking. I entered a 75 k race over a hill on a logging road. It was a sweaty experience and my ass was sore for days.
Suddenly, it was time to go East for training in logistics.
I bought a new little car: a 1988 Chevrolet Sprint, 3 cylinder. I began the journey across Canada, stopping each night in a flea-bitten crap motel advertising colour tv, my ass sore and my eyes glazed over from the miles and miles of the day.
It took me to arrive in London, Ontario at my eldest sister Eva’s house. I scared the living be-jesus out of her walking into the house unannounced and finding her concentrating on something with her back to me. She was so happy to see me, jumping up and down, screaming, crying and hugging me. No kidding. We take our greetings seriously. She wanted to know how long I could stay. I told her about heading to Borden for a course the next day. I could stay only one night. It was a nice time and we caught up on all the news. I saw her again on various weekends and usually with a friend.
It was a couple of hours drive to Base Borden where I started my clearing in process: getting the key to my barrack room mainly. Classes started the very next morning for the Basic Logistics Officers Course.
The first person I met on the course is now my husband.
I walked into the training building out of the rain on that chill October morning and shrugged out of my army issue trench coat. With my right hand, I reached up to hang it on a hook, one of many along the corridor. Just as I did so, my gaze shifted left and my eyes met those of a new classmate. He smiled and said, ‘Hi’.
I saw stars. I literally saw stars.
I was instantly in love with this very good looking dark haired, green-eyed man who was grinning handsomely and looking down at me as his left hand reached to hang his coat.
I floated into class.
Later we had an English grammar test and He achieved a perfect score. I knew then that it was Him.
He was gorgeous, sweet, gentle and intelligent. When I saw him kick a soccer ball, I swooned. It was poetry in motion. I began to pray…
‘The greatest gift in life is friendship, and I have received it.’
~Hubert H. Humphrey
When I was a teen, I played flute in the church choir. My close friend, Harris, was a loyal church-goer and she asked me to join her. We would play duets, or she would play solo and I would be able to turn the pages for her. She was much more talented than I but, nevertheless, if we were both there, of course we would be trying to make each other laugh the whole time. Some of the hymns we loved were: Be Not Afraid and Like a Sunflower. A song that still floats through my mind today when I am in the garden with my sunflowers.
Sometimes, while sitting in the choir area of the church beside Harris, way over to the left side of the altar, my mind would flit back to when I was a little girl in the choir of the Saturday Evening Folk Masses of the 1970s. My eldest sister Eva, with her amazing soprano voice, her leadership and enthusiasm for music, would lead the whole congregation through folk songs like: Here We Are; and Kumbaya and Jesus is a Soul Man. She would be right up front of the pews. Her long, straight hair flicking from side to side as she would stride around motioning to the congregation to sing louder and stronger, tapping her tambourine on her leg. The guitars strumming wildly. Pride would be welling up through my little body as I sat in awe of my teenage sister. Those folk masses were powerfully spiritual and I will never forget them. Sadly, almost half a century later, my beloved sister Eva, for some unknown neurological reason, completely lost her hearing and consequently a god given talent – her ability to sing soprano. It was a bitter pill to swallow for all of us who love her but, My God, especially for her. Thankfully, a few years later, Eva was fitted with a Cochlear Implant but, she will tell you, it is not the same as hearing with your own ears and her ability to sing has been diminished almost completely. Eva has told me that her voice no longer sounds like her own. Tragic!
One of the musical moves with a flute is a trill. It is rapid alternation between two notes. I learned that in music class. Because of music class, in which we were seated beside each other, and because Harris was not the typical 19-year old, we become friends even though she was two years my senior. We hit it off instantly and had so many fun times and laughs together. On a daily basis we would find something to laugh about and double over with the hilarity of it. Like the name I have chosen for her in this story. We were standing by her locker in the East wing of North High School when she told me about a classmate who called her ‘Harris’ by mistake. From then on, she was ‘Harris’. We would giggle every time it was said. She had this wonderful sense of humour, and still does, I am sure.
She too was from a large family – I’m fairly certain her family wasn’t any where near as crazy as mine, though. At the time we were friends, I was living down the basement of our bungalow with my Dad, with the upstairs rented out to strangers. My Mom had moved into an apartment with my little brother, Luke, and her alcoholic boy-friend, Earl-the-Pearl. I hated my home life with a great deal of passion. I would arrive at the house with a sense of dread upon entering. Ok, that is just wrong. It was a messed-up way to live. Consequently, Harris, and her wonderfully stable family were very important to me. I spent a lot of time with her and them that year. At one point I even dated her younger brother and we would all three hang out and sometimes their younger brother, Peer too, playing charades and the new game: Trivial Pursuit, which they were good at. Really good.
We did some very fun things together. One time, we canoed down a river near Walden. Her Dad dropped us off and picked us up at the other end hours later – something my Dad would not dream of doing. If it wasn’t about hockey, forget it. That canoe trip was a very special time for me. I loved that day with Harris and and her brother Fred. They had a way of making me feel like a special person to them. They knew how to treat me like a good friend. I cherished them.
The school put on the musical Anything Goes that year and Harris and I were chorus members and dancers together. We had an absolute blast with this. During part of the dance, I had to pick her up and swing her from one of my hips to the other. Try doing that without cracking up a few times. That musical turned out fantastically. I remember my Dad was very skeptical about it. He said I was wasting too much time on it. Well, he came to opening night, sat in the front row and laughed his head off. His booming laughter spurned others on and so the whole house was dying with laughter the whole night. My Dad and I share the love of laughter, for sure.
Harris and Fred came up to the camp that summer. They showed me how to gunnel-bob. Two of us standing on the gunnels, or the ends, of the canoe and then taking turns bending knees to make the canoe move down, then up in the water until one of you falls in. Oh my. That was so fun! We had a party in number eight cabin and although harmless, it got a bit loud. Dad kicked Harris and Fred out of the camp the next day. I was furious and sorely, blackly disappointed, not to mention embarrassed. To this day, I really think Dad may have just simply been jealous of my friendship with these wonderful people.
The following year, Harris went away to University and although I would see her from time to time, it just never was the same. I was progressing into a more and more dysfunctional evolution of myself. I see now, that it wasn’t my fault. I was a teen-child and I wasn’t supported. Rather I was controlled and criticized and worse.
I will never forget the year that Harris and I were inseparable friends. She was a god-send.
(All photos courtesy of google images)
Leave a comment! I love ’em. ~M
“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”
The word came down that after Basic Training, I would be going to Royal Roads Military College outside of Victoria, BC. I was told that the first month, or, ‘Recruit Term’ would be very difficult, but, that I should stay positive and it would pass quickly. ‘Difficult’ was a gross understatement: Recruit Term was hell on earth. I cried myself to sleep every night. And please note: it wasn’t until a few years after writing this account that I remembered the other aspects of milcol. I wrote about that in ‘A Can of Worms’.
A typical day of Recruit Term began with pounding rock music at 5:30 am. The wake-up song for our flight was April Wine’s What a Night. What a Night starts with a fire alarm bell mounted on a cymbal stand being rang at a fast pace. It truly was the perfect harsh sound to get the heart racing and the panic started for the drills of the day. We had until the end of the song to be up, dressed, to the bathroom, bed made and ‘layout’ ready for inspection. Everything in the room had to be prepared to specific, exacting standards. For instance, our uniform shirts had to be folded to exactly 25 x 30 cm, ironed and TAPED into our top drawer. Socks had to be rolled into a tight little ball, in a specific manner that we were shown and TAPED into the drawer. Same with pants. Boots and leather gators had to be polished and spit-shone to a high-gloss. We had three uniforms in our closet which had to have all buttons done and all lint removed and hanging exactly two inches apart with all sleeves perfectly positioned. The problem was, there was absolutely no free-time to do these things. So, we did them in the middle of the night and we were all quite sleep deprived already from basic training.
After morning inspection, we were run, that is: we ran over to the next building to the mess hall for breakfast where we would try to choke down some food but we were constantly being screamed at and ‘steadied up’ by our superiors.
‘RECRUIT, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT TO USE YOUR LEFT HAND TO EAT YOUR TOAST??! STEADY UP WHEN I ADDRESS YOU.’
At this point, with his face millimeters from mine, and he breathing terribly hard, hot breath, I would have to sit at attention with arms straight down my sides and with tight fists say, ‘YES MR SMITH. NO MR SMITH. I WILL DO BETTER MR SMITH’…suffice to say, with all of the interruptions and the stress of being inspected so closely by our superior cadets, it was nearly impossible to eat. After a couple of weeks of Recruit Term, my uniform pants were falling down as I ran. Running with your pants falling down and senior cadets screaming at you, well, this was not so fine.
After breakfast there would be hours of panic drills where we were made to complete some task and then stand for inspection. It may be to lay out our stripped rifle with all parts displayed, by the end of the song. It may be to put on our dress uniform and then stand for inspection by the end of the song…remembering that our rooms and beds, trunks, cupboards, sink, desks and dresser had to be completely perfect, inside and out, not just our person. There was a lot of insults and yelling:
‘RECRUIT, YOU ARE A COMPLETE BAG.’
RECRUIT, YOU ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT TO THE CANADIAN ARMED FORCES. RECRUIT – GET DOWN AND GIVE ME 25 PUSH UPS ON YOUR KNUCKLES.’
It went on for hours. There would be another run over to the next building for lunch and a parade muster before lunch where we would have to stand in completely straight lines and have our uniform looking sharp – which was impossible after the previous activities. We would all be sweating and salt-stained, shirt tails hanging out, pants drooping, laces untied, baret atilt on our heads, and females’ hair buns falling out. So more yelling and insults.
‘YOU PEOPLE ARE A MESS, A COMPLETE MESS.
YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES.
This is where we would march in place with knees as high as our waist, sweating profusely. Next, into the beautiful mess hall with white linen, silver, crystal and table service. Now, try to eat while being examined and corrected by the Senior Cadets. Not likely.
After lunch, we would be taken, you guessed it, running, sometimes with rifles (called a rifle-run), for an hour or so in the woods of the College grounds. The woods were absolutely peaceful and beautiful. A temperate rain forest. But sweat was dripping down my face and fear was in my heart. Our physical fitness instructor was Mr Snellwood. He was a kinder soul and once, at the beginning of Recruit Term, he sat us all down in the woods and tried to reassure us that we would all pass recruit term, as long as we stayed diligent and showed that we were working hard. I was sitting there thinking about the three more weeks that had to be endured and a tear escaped, rolling down my cheek. I thought he was sweet and kind, but, I also had serious doubts about whether I would pass or could ‘keep up’ with this system.
We were allowed a two-minute shower after running and then we were back at the panic drills. Every now and then, something not-so-hard was offered. Like: Chapel visit, uniform fitting, tour of the incredible Japanese Gardens, or of the boat shed, or of Hatley Castle and then there were mini lectures like: etiquette in mess hall. This was instruction on how to use all of the various cutlery and glasses that were part of a mess dinner function. As Officers, we would be attending these nice dinners several times per year, and we needed to know how to sit properly at a formal table and how to use the formal dining setting.
One time, they got us all out of bed at first light. We were blind-folded and we were taken out into the back woods. This was the Escape and Evasion exercise. Our superior cadets were talking in bad Russian accents and we were to pretend that we had been captured by enemy forces. In the woods, they had us get down on our bellies and they told us that we would be set free and that there would be a prize for the first recruit to make it back to barracks without being re-captured. They left and we, the captured, all got up and removed the blind folds. We started wandering around. I gathered with a couple of flight-mates and we began to walk through the rainforest. We had no idea which way to go and it was a large area, acres and acres of woodland. After walking through the forest for a couple of hours, we came upon a huge blackberry patch just completely laden with huge, shining, juicy blackberries. We fell on it and started to gorge ourselves. I must have had blackberry juice all over my face. The berries were better than delicious. And no one to ‘steady us up’….we thought.
All of a sudden: RECRUITS HALT. HANDS UP. TURN AROUND! We were re-captured and would not be winning any prize today. The berries were worth it though.
After supper, we were given two-hours of study time, or time to do some tasks that they wanted us to do. One evening they told us to write an essay about our former lives so that our section commanders could get to know us better. I started off with the COSSA Basketball tournament that my Dad was coaching when I came along and then into the camp details and high school sportiness. I had heard our section commander say he was originally from Huntsville, Ontario which is just south of where the camp is. So, I made sure to mention Huntsville. Later that evening, we gathered with our sister flight and some of the essays were read aloud. Mine was picked. I read it aloud and when I came to Huntsville, I looked up at Mr. Smith. He grinned at me. I had made a connection. Now I was a little more hopeful that I would make it through this hell month. Mr. Smith was a behemoth in my memories. Well over six feet tall with huge shoulders and muscles. This guy would strap the largest weights possible to his body then with veins bulging in biceps and face of stone, pump off chin-ups. Many chin-ups. Geez. At this point I couldn’t even do one chin-up.
At bed time we had another routine to endure. We had to do 100 sit-ups in the hallway, wearing vinyl raincoats (because we were half dressed underneath and noone had a robe) by pinning our toes under the heater and with knees bent and fingers laced behind the head, pump them off. There was a catch. We had to do 100 sit-ups, take a shower AND brush our teeth by the end of our ‘goodnight’ song: Stairway to Heaven (8 minutes). Consequently, I did not wash my hair for 30 days. I kept it tightly braided and would wash just my bangs. There was one shower and two girl recruits on our flight. The two of us showered together while brushing out teeth. Writing this thirty years later, it seems bazaar that we would shower together. But we did. We just did. And, to call it a shower was a stretch. We had a bit of water for about 30 seconds and then RAN back to our bunks.
On the final day of Recruit Term, we had the obstacle course and all recruits had to pass this final test. The Obstacle Course was a 5 km course through the woods with obstacles the whole way. Most of the obstacles involved dunking the head fully under into mud to say, get under a barrier or to jump over a barrier only to land fully in mud. There was a rope wall to climb with a fall into a muddy pond; balance-beamed crossing of a mud river with a necessary dismount into…you guessed it…MUD. I looked up at one obstacle to see a boy from my street back in Barrie (he had actually been a serious boyfriend for a while). Anyway, that guy was yelling at me, ‘GO! YOU CAN DO THIS MARTHA VALIQUETTE’– he kindly was not using the word recruit to cheer me on. I remember thinking in my exhausted haze that that was very kind of him. My exhausted mind flitted back for a brief second to Barrie North High-school gym where we both had attended and where he cheered me on through many a tight basketball and volleyball game. We had both been jocks in school.
The final obstacle, when knackered and with mud in every orifice, was to swim across a deep, weedy, lily-pad covered pond in combat boots. This was an individual test. Ironically, we were not allowed to help each other on any part of the obstacle course. Ironic because up until that moment it was ALL team work: ‘RECRUITS – STAY TOGETHER — YOU’RE ONLY AS STRONG AS YOU’RE WEAKEST LINK’, they would scream at us. I recall thinking, when I got to the pond, this will be a piece of cake. This was due to all the swimming in my childhood and even in lily-pad covered ponds. Thank goodness I passed it. Afterwards I showered for 30 minutes but still had mud in my ears. I ended up passing Recruit Term toward the top of my flight. No idea how.
We then had a big celebration down at the cadet mess called Decks. We had a big supper and lots of drinks. We had been told to dress up in nice civilian clothes or, ‘civvies’. Now we females were visually checked out by the senior cadets. As a young woman with certain healthy curves, long dark wavy hair, green eyes, nice smile, I was accustomed to turning some heads. For this celebration I wore a blue knit, V-neck dress with a wide belt synched tightly around my tiny waist and leather pumps – and yes, I turned some heads. (I was not beautiful, nor was I pretty, but, I was certainly attractive and the ratio of women to men was 1:8, so easily done). What a difference a shower, clean hair, some lipstick and civvies can make. It was a fun night with dancing and hilarity. We were so glad to be finished with Recruit Term!
The academic year began with classes, assignments, essays, exams and social experiences. The difference, at Military College is that almost every weekend was jam packed with compulsorily attended military or varsity sport requirements in the form of parade and parade practice and athletic events and competitions. The schedule was brutal and cadets get very close, due to it. One weekend we lost four cadets. We were shattered. (I wrote about that in ‘A Theory of Loss).
One long weekend, the following year, a friend – Cindy and I, decided to get off campus and away from it all. We had been more or less locked up and scrutinized for months and ready to just wear our jeans and hit the open road for a wee adventure. With a back pack each, we hitch-hiked a couple hours up island to Lake Cowichan where we had booked a cabin for two nights. Our first ride got us most of the way there. Then, we were stuck for a bit on some country road with the sun going down over the next hill.
‘This is nothing,’ I thought. ‘We’ve just passed through hell and found some freedom. Nothin’ is getting me down now.’
On that note, a red pick-up pulled over to offer us a lift. The man inside was more than a little scary looking with wild eyes and crazy hair. Cindy and I looked at each other, shrugged, and hopped in. He turned out to be a decent fellow and he dropped us at our rented cabin.
Next: what should we do with our free evening? We had heard tell of a dance in a countryside hall nearby. We gussied ourselves up and with blue jeans and jean jackets and big hair (this was 1986 after all), off we went…only to find five or six of our classmate cadets already there. Not sure how that happened exactly but it was sure to be fun. When you work hard, it only seems natural to also play hard. That is what we did. We basically started dancing and didn’t stop for hours. At one point during Rock Lobster, we were all down on the hard-wood floor doing the worm. Yes, just like it sounds. Squirming. Full-body contact with the floor. It was hilarious. Likely one of the most fun nights of my entire life due to its spontaneity, timing, serendipity and remote location and laughter. We ended up meeting a couple of sweet-natured local fellows that night and took them back to our cabin, giggling all the way.
(All photos are courtesy of google images.)
For a couple of years in a row, we did this thing: we took in a boy from Korea for the month of January and the next year we took in he and his little brother. Charlie and Joshua were something else (can you say, high maintenance?) and I have to say, when we finally said our goodbyes, I was wiping my brow. Many parents asked us about our Korean visitors. They could not believe that parents would send their young children half way around the world for a full month to stay with complete strangers (us). We certainly could never do that with our son Leo. The motivation, of course, was for them to learn to speak English. Worth it to them. Our motivation was to introduce Leo to other cultures and the idea of sharing his stuff (and us) with a temporary sibling or two.
At that time, Leo and Joshua were 7, Charlie was 8. From the get-go, Charlie and Leo were pretty much opposites in most areas of life. Charlie loved math and studying. Leo loved to play, draw, run and build lego. Charlie had a huge appetite, Leo not so much. Charlie was a black belt at taekwondo, and at any given moment, he would run across the room and execute a seriously high kick which would miss someone’s face (mine included) by a fraction of an inch. He was a maniac. Leo was pretty chill, usually.
The morning Charlie arrived from Korea, we had some extra time before school after Charlie’s stare-down with his oatmeal – so I told Charlie he could play with Leo in Leo’s cubby. Leo had this really cool tiny playroom off the kitchen that was actually the space over the stairs, and it was carpeted, with a light and door – almost fort-like. We painted it purple and added toys and called it his cubby. I could see him while preparing food and it was ideal for that. Anyway, Charlie said, ‘No, I must study.’ So, he sat with his University level math book and promptly fell asleep, exhausted from travel. After a few repeat performances, I took Charlie aside and told him, ‘Charlie, look, you are here in Canada for a whole month. Canadian kids play every chance they get. Why not just go ahead and play while you are here?’ Charlie took my advice. The following year though, I learned from Charlie that he had been ‘beaten’ by his mother because he had decided to play in his free time instead of studying. So, let’s just look at that: your child is away from you for a whole month, on the other side of the world, gets home and you beat him because he decided to play with other children instead of study. Oooookay.
When the children would come in from outside, after skating, snow-ball fights or running around and tumbling in the snow, Charlie would ask excitedly, ‘I put inside clothes on now?’ Of course, we would always allow this, and of course this made him very happy. He would then run and jump and almost kick someone in the face before running off to change. I imagine back home in Korea, there must have been many more demands on his time…academies of all sorts that took place at various hours of the night. Charlie had told us that he regularly got to sleep by midnight on school nights and then on Saturday and Sunday they would sleep until noon, then the fam would head out for a movie and supper and start the whole process over again Monday morning. I was commenting to a friend that Charlie could play a gazillion instruments and was a math pro and my friend said, “When did he learn to play cello? At 2 in the morning?” Something like that.
Now, we live in a tiny little town of about 4000 residents and Charlie and Joshua came from Seoul (see picture above) with a cool 29 million souls. Quite a big difference. One evening, we were heading down the highway to the indoor soccer facility. That road is dark in January and can be pretty sparse for traffic. Charlie, in the back seat, says in wonder, “Where ARE we?” He had never been on such a dark, fast road. My mind flicked back to our travels in Oz, when that was my daily litany.
One day, I took the kids to a farm so they could see hens, goats, lamas, cows, sheep and pigs and so they could hold a warm egg, just laid (seeing as Charlie was eating three eggs every morning and a litre of goats milk). Other outings were to indoor soccer, area hikes, sliding, skating, haircuts, music events and movies and restaurants but their favorite thing, by far, was bedtime when Dean would read aloud from one of Leo’s chapter books: A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park. Three boys in pjs, teeth brushed and waiting for Dean to enter the room to read. We had put a small cot for Leo in his room. Charlie and Joshua shared Leo’s big sleigh-bed that we had purchased from the Amish in Virginia when we lived there and when Leo was born. I remember thinking that Leo was doing really well with all this sharing of his stuff. I’m biased, of course, but Leo was always pretty sweet-natured about things like that, perhaps except when it came to Buzz.
Charlie really liked his food. I would be making eggs in our large cast-iron pan at the stove in the morning and I would feel a presence by my side. Suddenly a voice, ‘What are you making?’ After peeling myself off the ceiling, I would realize that it was Charlie. He was inspecting. He asked me to make his eggs a bit differently. A quasi fried-scrambled kinda thing with ketchup. We began to refer to Charlie as ‘The Inspector’. He had high standards and he wanted to maintain them. Initially, he would be eating his meal, with gusto, chopsticks flying, and he would moan, ‘more kimchi, more kimchi’. We taught him to at least look up, meet our eyes and ask for more whatever with a ‘please’ on the end. He cottoned on. We weren’t his paid help, like he had at home. He was a visitor in our home. He got it.
Charlie kept us on our toes. Joshua was just easy, a quiet shadow of his older brother. One time, I arrived at the schoolyard to pick up Leo and Charlie. Charlie was nowhere to be seen. I ran around like a madwoman looking for him, my mind whirling with how I would explain this to his mom over in Korea. Suddenly, there he was. He had been in the car of the Korean man he had met at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Geez. Thanks a pant-load, Buddy.
Charlie would head into the bathroom on any given afternoon and after a bit, we would hear the toilet flushing about five times. This always made Leo laugh. Having a chauffeur at home, Charlie and Joshua hated the walk to school. Granted, it was about a mile in snowpants and boots and we did it almost every school day, there and back. One day, we got half way and he threw himself on the snowbank and would not get up. When he didn’t get what he wanted he would say, ‘It feels me bad’. We wrote a song about him called, ‘It Feels Me Bad, Baby‘.
To say goodbye to Charlie and Joshua, we hosted a bowling party at the area bowling alley and invited some friends. It was a lot of fun. We never saw Charlie and Joshua again, nor have we ever heard from them again. From time to time, Dean and I will wonder aloud about what the boys must be doing these days. We always imagine Charlie as the King of Korea. Maybe he is?
With the goal of getting back into World Travel now that our wee one is taller than us, we start with the sweet country of Cuba…
With our 18-year old son, Leo, having just finished up his first term of University, and his buddy, Reid, we decided to take a 12-day trip to Cuba…a non-resort trip…not exactly as strenuous as a ‘back-packing’ trip, per se, but a non-resort moving around trip none the less. And, all in all, it was a fine adventure to finish off 2017 in a unique fashion. Dean and I were also celebrating 25 years married and we wanted to do something special for the occasion.
We arrived in Havana in mid-December and made a bee-line first to the cadeca to change money, then to the tienda for a cold one each. We had arranged a driver to take us to our place in Vedado, a trendy area of the city but, he was familiar with ‘Cuba Time’ and had no trouble just chilling until the four of us quenched our thirst after a long, rather sparse flight. Don’t get me going but what the devil has happened to flights theses days?…I had told the boys of the days of unlimited free boozy drinks on flights and a full hot meal preceded by a warm towel for your face, neck and hands, blankets and pillows and head-sets handed to each traveler. What the heck happened??? Now we couldn’t even check a bag for free. The four of us went with carry-on only and had had our sun-screen confiscated at security. Let’s just read that line again…our sun-screen was confiscated at security. Why? Well, it seems since 9 – 11, sun-screen in any family-size container, is a security breech.
Our driver happily helped us into his vintage car and off we rolled to our apartment. Along the way, in a combination of broken English, Spanglish, gesture and sound effects, he told us about the area and his family. It seemed that he was a nearly pro ping-ponger with four babies (who were now adults) and then we rolled passed the Mental Health Hospital and he put two bent fingers to his right temple and made a creaking sound while moving his fingers back and forth and rolling his eyes. Ooookay. Meanwhile, in his back seat sits me with Bipolar1. I didn’t let on.
Our apartment was ideal and in good proximity to a landmark that we all wanted to check out. The Nacional Hotel. It seemed fitting to have our first mojito of the trip there.
The bartender happened to be our landlord, so he treated us to a Cubata cocktail as well and a couple of fine cigars for the lads. His protege was quite a nice-looking guy, very photogenic, and he was fine with me snapping his picture.
From there, we walked along the sea wall and marveled at the warm air.
It was getting dark and would soon be time to find a place to eat. We asked a young person who seemed to know some English. He told us to try Bicky’s and he drew us a little map. We walked the darkened streets with nary a flat sidewalk and several random ankle-busting holes as well as piles of dog doo and other garbage. We found it, though. Its neon-lighted sign beckoning like a lighthouse over choppy seas. It was an Italian place and we were seated on the balcony. The place was packed and we got the last table. When my food arrived, it didn’t look like much: penne pasta in a cream sauce. Oh my. It was fabulous. All of us were happy with our food, but mine was outstanding. I could barely speak due to my tongue being in love with the taste. A nice omen of our meals to come.
The next morning, the Senorita arrived to cook us breakfast and we had fun trying to understand each other. She had not a word of English and would just raise the volume of her Spanish to make us understand. Luckily, my previous study on duolingo and our old phrase book which we had used in Central America when Leo was four helped. As well, I employed a healthy and hilarious amount of gesture which I was comfortable with since learning conversational American Sign Language when Leo was a baby. I taught her how to do eggs ‘over-easy’ using my hand as the spatula in my gesticulating. We had wonderful foods for breakfast: fresh tropical fruit, coffee, toast, eggs, freshly made tropical juices. Wonderful.
Off we went to walk to the book store which was a couple of miles away in a quiet part of the city. We walked past many pastel-coloured stucco homes, newly painted with groomed yards and straight fences, often directly beside a very old, grey and crumbling crooked house. It was odd and interesting. When we got to Cuba Libro the bookstore, we were amazed at the wonderful books as well as other offerings there: cookies, coffee and a clean bathroom. It is owned by an expat and has a lively community following with various clubs meeting there and tours too. The lovely server told us how to get a car to take us to Old Havana and so next we were climbing into a red 51 Chevy with clear vinyl covered leather seats. It was mint.
Because we so enjoyed this man, with no English but a lovely manner, we negotiated with him for the 4.5 hour ride to Trinidad de Cuba for the next morning. Then we walked around seeing the sights of Old Havana and drinking in the ancient feel of the place.
It was commonplace to hear and see vendors yelling and selling their wares which ranged from brooms (which I REALLY wanted – joking) to lettuce (which I also REALLY wanted) to baked crackers and pastries, even home-made ice-cream and shaved meat sandwiches were being sold but the sandwich maker was without gloves and my Western sensibilities would not allow us to avail of them. I was quite intrigued with the cart of lettuce, and other veggies. It looked so good and yummy.
Our ride to Trinidad (well, Boca actually which is just south of Trinidad) was uneventful except for many bumps due to the non-existent shocks on the 51 Chevy. There were very few vehicles on the highway but we would see horse and buggy from time to time, many sugar-cane fields and not a single fast-food place like there are along our highways. We stopped about half-way for a bano break and the boys had a quick sandwich. When we arrived, the taxi-driver asked at several doors to find us a place to stay. We wanted two rooms with their own bathrooms. We found them and we met an east-coaster named Erika who was quite eager to get to know us and to talk a blue streak. While the Senora of the Casa made us a roast chicken lunch, we went swimming in the bay across from our rooms. Erika came along and continued to ask intriguing questions and I found myself filling her in on our previous travels because she was very interested.
After a fine lunch, we grabbed a taxi to the big beach, Playa Ancon, and had a very sweet time throwing frisbee,
walking down the beach and when Senor came along to ask if we wanted a drink, I sprung for mojitos for all (perhaps a wee bit extravagant but, sometimes that’s just the way it goes).
When the sun began to go down we grabbed the last taxi for the 10k back to La Boca and sat on the front porch. Next, there was a bit of a sing-song, as it turned out that Erika could sing beautifully with a rich voice and was very talented on guitar. She had won an East Coast Music Award and such. http://erikakulnys.com/
Later, all the young folk went off to the Salsa House in Trinidad for a wild time. We heard them getting in a few hours later and it sounded like they were going to have some stories for us in the morning. Which they did…along the lines of how much rum one can drink before feeling rather sick…and such. And, they enjoyed dancing their legs off!
We spent the days either on the beach at Playa Ancon,
or walking around Trinidad
or hiking in the hills and swimming in small pools near the water falls.
Leo jumped in from a high ledge and it was really cool. I should comment that the second hike was very hard. Walking way down, down, down to get to this pool and waterfall and then up, up, UP to get back to the top where our loyal taxi-driver waited. My heart nearly burst. I couldn’t remember a more challenging hike, even when we trekked for 30 days in Nepal…I had been a lot younger then. That could account for it, I guess. One very good aspect though was that Dean surprised me with a lovely ring for our 25th anniversary, as we sat watching the boys by the waterfall. Doesn’t get any better than that, in my world.
We also ate a lot of really good food in many different establishments. Our Trinidad host, Rebeca, was so sweet to us too. She made us an elaborate breakfast each morning which included tropical fruit and juices, fresh-baked pie and pastries, omelettes, coffee with hot milk and chocolate. She would hug and kiss us regularly, in keeping with her affectionate culture and because we would smile and she could see that we were content. One morning she had Reid in a tight squeeze to her ample breasts. He surfaced saying he thought that was called ‘a motorboat’. We laughed. We breakfasted on her upper terrace and she went up and down the stairs at least a dozen times for us and not allowing us to help. Her granddaughter stole my heart and I gave her little gifts. To return the favour to us, Rebeca gave us a flask of Havana Club and a bottle of red wine. These would have cost her a heck of a lot and were very generous gifts.
In Trinidad, the boys went to the Iberostar Hotel a few times in order to avail themselves of wifi. It wasn’t free but nor was it too expensive. There was also a pool table there which they were able to use a few times. They would also have a cappuccino or a beer while they got their fill of social media and connecting with loved ones back home.
In the blink of an eye, it was time to head back to Havana to prepare for our journey home to Canada. Rebeca’s son would take us back to the big city. Without a word of English, we made our way with him. He was quite a good driver. He charged us a very fair rate for the trip. No English but a lovely persona and a big, quick smile. If you ever go to Trinidad de Cuba and need a place to stay, have the taxi take you to Casa Rebeca on Cienfuegos. Highly recommend!
Back in Havana, we found rooms in Centro, just outside of Old Havana. The landlady was a hurdle and it was apparent that she was a money grabbing opportunist behind her big fake smile. Can’t have the good ones every time, I guess. We walked the streets and looked at art, tasted various beers, Dean got a hair cut, and we tried a variety of restaurants and then it was time to grab a taxi to the airport.
Adios Cuba. Until next time.
Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been around for a long, long year,
Stole many a man’s soul and faith.
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ,
Had his moment of doubt and pain.
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate…
~Rolling Stones – Sympathy for The Devil
I remember the days of girlhood when I could run forever, jump high, skip rope, swim the lake and turn cartwheels. I was this little girl with black curly hair, green eyes, a few freckles and a quick smile. I was full of energy, giggles and good ideas. I knew the rules and I almost always followed them. I went to church on Sundays and sang all the hymns, firmly clasping hands with my neighbours at the peace of Christ. I was the good girl.
So, when my new parish priest made an announcement inviting girls to be altar servers, I was so happy. I really wanted to be an altar server. I wanted to ring the bell, on the altar, during mass with the whole congregation watching, like I had watched some of my brothers do so many times.
Training ensued with Father 0’Malley. There were ten of us and we needed to be taught what was what. How to wear the robe. How to prepare the altar. When to ring the bell. He was very strict and he taught us to be exact. Serious. Precise.
Then the day came for my debut as an altar server. It went well. I had been to hundreds of masses. I kinda had a sense of how it all worked, by then. I was on the schedule and looked forward to being the sole server during a week of early morning masses. I would ride my bike the mile to church, leaving home after breakfast at 7 am, making sure my school bag had my basketball uniform and shoes for practice after school. At 7 am the world wouldn’t even be awake yet. It was a fresh perspective. Funnily enough, it made me feel a little homesick. I shook it off an almost foreboding feeling and soldiered on.
Arriving at the church, I took a moment to notice the beautifully groomed grounds leading to the large polished oak door to the sacristy. The church was ultra modern, brick and wood with a non-steeple. Curved walk ways and parking lot surrounded by green, groomed lawns, shaded by tall mature hardwoods. I parked my bike. I didn’t need to lock it because my brother who regularly helped himself to my bike wouldn’t be in the vicinity so it was safe. I had tucked my pant leg into my socks to safeguard it from the chain. I righted this and as I did so, felt butterflies a flutter in my belly.
Opening the door I sniffed the familiar church scent of burning candles mixed with a slight residue of incense. On my left was a wall of smooth oak paneling. Or so it seemed. I found the hidden handle and pulled. Reluctantly, and with a sucking sound, the massive closet door opened and into it I put my school bag and jacket. As I closed the door, Father O’Malley appeared and somewhat startled me. He wore a big creepy smile as he approached, saying, ‘Good morning, Martha!’ He wrapped his large arm around my small shoulders, his hairy man hand landing on my budding chest. In slow motion and with an out-of-body awareness, I witnessed and felt his large hand squeeze my young breast. Then both hands took my shoulders and he propelled me to the next cupboard which held my gown and hastened me to prepare for mass, perhaps not wanting me to dwell on what had just happened.
Later that day, as soon as I could get Mom alone, which wasn’t easy with so many siblings, I told her about it, not wanting to go back the next morning. She said, ‘Oh Mart, you must be mistaken. Father O’Malley is a priest. A priest would never do that.’ Then she encouraged me to be a good girl and go back the next day.
Every morning was a repeat performance by Father O’Malley: the smiley greeting, the hairy man-hand grope, the hastening and physical propelling of my shoulders to mass. Years later, I began to wonder if he had orchestrated girl altar servers – the first in the history of the parish – so that he would have his pick of girls to fondle.
As soon as I could get away with it, I quit altar serving and eventually, I quit Catholicism. Any organization with forced celibacy is going to be a problem for someone.
Climbing out of his crib before he could walk, here is the story of my brother Jobe.
My brother Jobe who was number five in the family line-up was a pure handful from the moment he was born. He was a cuter-than-cute red-headed, freckled-face boy who even as a baby was making headlines around the bridge table as Mom would tell the other mothers how Job had climbed out of his crib already. This was before he could walk. It began there.
A couple of years later, when all was quiet and perhaps Mom was baking something in the small kitchen in the Willows (our crowded townhouse on the Main St of Walden, Ontario, ( Let the Games Begin 🏀 ), little industrious Job climbed up on the stylish chrome and Formica table in the dining room eager to touch the glass chandelier. In that same dining room sat our beautiful upright piano that Mom had stylishly mac-tacked with orange and purple-petaled flowers (It was the 70s, Man). Anyway, before he could stop himself, and with little pink tongue clamped to the right side of his mouth, he systematically dismantled the whole intricate chandelier, but not a piece of glass would touch the floor. Four year-old Job had very carefully clutched each glass piece in his little hands and put each one down on the table top he was standing on… in exact order of its place aloft. He took a three-dimensional glass chandelier and made it one-dimensional. All Mom had to do later was carefully hook it all back up. She was fascinated by his ability to do this, and so were we.
One time, at the camp where all nine of us moved for the summer months to be on the lake and running a tourist camp, when the lake was whipped up with white caps due to an off-shore wind, Jobe thought it would be interesting to push the twenty or so aluminum boats and canoes out into the water to watch the wind take them across the lake. Imagine the spectacle that was. A fleet of unmanned water craft afloat in a line across a choppy eight-mile lake. Little Jobe was fascinated, jumping up and down, clapping and laughing devilishly and pointing a chubby finger at what he had done. Mom and Dad and our four older siblings scrambled to get the boats back, some swimming out to them, some using a motorized boat to get them. Who would think of doing such a thing…JOBE! Corporal punishment ensued. (Corporal punishment was quite popular back then.)
In later years, Jobe would usually be the one getting into trouble and doing more and more high-risk things. He would dive off the top of the diving tower and off Echo Rock and the Locks — these were all very high dives and more than a little dangerous. Jobe was the only one of the seven of us to master the back-flip-and-a-half on the trampoline. And when it came to water-skiing, he was quite impressive – slalom-skiing beautifully and even starting from the dock or the water on one-ski, which took a great deal of strength, balance and coordination. His physicality was confident and true. He was physically gifted. Mr Laset attested to this fact when I called him last winter to casually affirm my Elementary school memories when forty years ago he had been our beloved coach. In gymnastics, Job would fly off the spring board, catching tons of air before his hands met the leather box-horse and with high hips he would execute a beautiful hand spring. At the lake, Jobe would even ski down the Trouble River a twisty-turny, black-watered mysterious river that we all thought of as bottomless due to scary stories that we would tell by the camp fire.
Some of Jobe’s escapades required funding that he just didn’t have, nor could he easily earn. Luckily, he had worked out a solution for his shortfall. But first, you need to know the layout of the cottage that we called ‘The Office’, because the layout was key. The Office had two bedrooms on the main level. In one room was Mom and Dad’s twin beds (stylish at the time, no idea why) and a crib where Luke would sleep when he was a baby. The neighbouring room had a double-bed where I and one or both of my sisters would sleep, and then above us, up a rickety ladder in the hallway, was ‘the loft’ where the three boys would usually sleep: Matt, Mark and Jobe. The sides of the loft were open, such that those up there could look down through the rafters into the two bedrooms below. Privacy? I think not. In fact, now that I am writing this, I remember a game in which we would reach way over on the rafters and then swing down over the beds below and drop down with a squeal, landing on the soft mattress, or anyone who happened to still be in bed. (This was a forbidden activity, so only done when the adults were out of the office.)
So…Jobe’s funding…right. Well, the ceiling was open into the loft, and when Dad would be inevitably taking a nap on a warm summer afternoon or on a rainy day, or on any day really, Jobe would spy Dad’s seldom-washed polyester double-knits hanging on the hook by the bedroom door. Stealthily, hazel eyes rolling this way and that, with a fishing rod, and pink tongue stuck out just so, he would hook said pants and reel them up, ever so quietly, stealing glances down at Dad who was crashed out on the twin bed. The pants would seemingly float up into the loft where he then would quickly reach his small sure hand into the right front pocket and take out the roll of cash from Dad’s polyester double-knits. (Every summer, Dad would busily sell various items to campers: ice, worms, fuel – all for cash. Cash being cash, it was untraceable, so Jobe would help himself to a twenty or two (a small fortune back then) and he would be set for his next escapade. Of course, his hazel eyes keenly watching Dad, face slightly flushed, he would then expertly reel the double-knits back down to the hanging place in Dad’s room, ensuring that any noise he made at all was made when the loudest cycle of the snore was emerging from Dad. With the money, Jobe and I would sometimes go horse-back riding which back then was $5 per hour! Or, Jobe would buy gas to put in the Budd family’s motor boat tank for ever more water skiing. We did get paid for chores at the camp, but not nearly enough for all that Jobe wanted to do.
One of the chores at the camp was the daily picking up of garbage using the big red wheel-barrow. We had to wheel over the gravel roads around the 21 acres to each of the campsites and to the nine cabins and ask at the door for their garbage. Then, to the upper or lower field, often rolling over a large rock and accidentally dumping the whole mound due to its precariousness in the wheel barrow. With gloves on (in theory). we had to then sort it: burn the burnables in a huge 40-gallon barrel and pitch the cans, jars and bottles into the old open trailer that Dad would take to the dump every few weeks. Sorting people’s garbage was really gross and more than a little dangerous; so was burning it, especially in a field of dry-as-bone hay. We were burning garbage in a huge barrel at tender ages. I would have been seven or eight and Jobe would have been ten or eleven. I have no idea how we didn’t all have 3rd degree burns or didn’t lose an eye because something would inevitably smash or blow up. Of course Job LIKED it when something smashed or blew up. He would often HELP it to smash or blow up and then he would exclaim, ‘Morgan did you SEE THAT?!’ or ‘WATCH THIS!!’…BANG… It terrified me. I was often cowering and inching away as Jobe had his maniacal fun. A side note: Jobe NEVER smashed beer bottles. They were refundable and provided yet another nice little stream of income.
Jobe’s temper was also famous. He would often be a happy-go-lucky youngster, looking for fun and loving to laugh. But, often, he was treated meanly by our father…he wasn’t the quiet, obedient academic-type that Dad wanted in a son, I guess. None of his sons were showing signs of being university types (at this point, Luke was too little to show the signs of his future studiousness). Dad could be downright mean with biting sarcasm and cruel comments. He would say things like, “Jobe, you could have been a good hockey player, but, then you got hard to handle.” Dad would also be quite physical, grabbing an arm, pulling hair or an ear to propel one of his children in the direction of his choosing. One Christmas, Dad wrapped up a used dictionary and put it under the tree for Jobe. On the inside cover he had written: Have a read of this once in awhile. You might learn something. From Dad.
I believe this treatment didn’t help Jobe to find his way very well. His temper would flare more and more as he got closer and closer to his teenage years. Perhaps he would be building something with hammer and nails, and if he missed that nail, there was a very good chance the hammer would end up in the lake and hopefully your noggin’ wasn’t in its flight path.
* * *
After Jobe got out of juvie, he went to live with our eldest sister Eva and her husband, Peter for a year due to he and Dad having serious personality conflicts. (A few years later, I would take a turn at living with Eva and Peter. While living there, we forever have the funny story of Jobe’s attempt at reeling a box of beer up to his upstairs bedroom (a two-four!). Unfortunately, he was caught due to its visibility when passing the main floor window. Peter looked up to see a box of Labatt’s Blue floating by and thought he had better investigate. He found Jobe leaning out his bedroom window, just about to haul in his case of beer. Peter put the kibosh to the beer party 17-year old Job was planning on having in his bedroom. Good try though.
Nowadays, Jobe is a farmer out in B.C.. We definitely do not see enough of his big smile, good heart or jovial laugh but, we will always have these memories to cherish, laugh and wonder at. He certainly made memories, did my brother Jobe.
(all images are courtesy of google images)
My son and his shipmates walked down the plank and aboard the ship as the Indigenous girl sang a sweet sad song of good-bye. As she beat her skin drum the tears streamed down my face. ‘Come home to us’, I prayed.
Here is the story of my son’s crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on a Tall Ship, The Gulden Leeuw (as pictured above. Photo courtesy of Google Images). My husband, Dean, and I were ever so proud that Leo was selected to go on the ship, but I was also terrified of the whole idea. Anything could happen while crossing the North Atlantic — it was not to be trifled with. I was having out-of-body experiences as I imagined some of the more horrible possibilities, but, strangely, I was also very eager for him to be out there and experiencing it. ‘He will be fine,’ I was told. ‘That ship crosses the Atlantic all the time.’ They said. ‘The Captain will ensure that all is well.’ Meanwhile, my eyebrows moved higher and ever higher up my forehead. It sounds like I am foreshadowing that something bad would happen. Well, there was one big storm in which Leo told us about working in the galley with smashing dishes and flying carrots (yes, carrots), but other than some foggy days and cool temperatures, all went smoothly on the Golden Love, which is how I renamed the ship in my mind.
The morning they cast off, they smudged all present with smoking sage. A well-loved Mi’kmaq Chief approached me and with both hands holding the smudging bowl, kindly offered me the cleansing smoke. I reached out hungrily and pulled it over me. ‘This will help keep him safe, right?’ I thought. Blessings were bestowed by several Chiefs and Elders and best wishes were wished. We were asked to go around the crowd and ensure that every one of the 45 participants were given a hug by someone so that they understood how much we love and cherish them. It was unbelievably touching. But, I continued to check in with myself that this was my son who we were sending off. This was my only, cherished son who was about to sail away ACROSS THE NORTH ATLANTIC. Was I crazy??! Seems that way.
The time came for Leo and his shipmates to walk down the plank and to board the ship. An Indigenous girl sang a hauntingly sweet sad song of good-bye. As she beat her skin drum the tears streamed down my face. ‘Come home to us’, I prayed.
So, here is Leo’s story in a paper for school regarding types of tourism and, in it, he captures the magnitude of the adventure that he successfully undertook. My first guest-writer:
This summer I was involved in a travel project entitled Msit No’Kmaq: All My Relations. It was a travel experience that I applied for in which 45 aboriginal youth sailed across the Atlantic on a tall ship, while being involved in a rigorous sail training program. This crossing took place because of the vessel’s participation in a tall ship race, in which 11 ships race from Halifax to France. A laid-back vacation this was not, as it more closely resembled a work placement at sea, and it involved some of the hardest manual labour to which I have been exposed. I am certainly not complaining, as it was clearly the best and most rewarding trip I have been on.
The goal of the project was to transform the rag tag group of trainees into a somewhat coherent crew, and this was accomplished by putting us to work during daily “watches,” where that segment of the group would be responsible for running the ship. I absolutely loved it. I can admit that hard manual labour has never really appealed to me, and my work ethic when tackling work like that is not ideal. However, the work on the ship was certainly an exception. Although it is hard work, it is so rewarding in the way that you can immediately see the difference your hard work has made towards the betterment of the vessel or the race. In particular, I loved climbing aloft. While once again hard work, the excitement of being so high above everything really augments any feelings of boredom or longing for leisure into something closer to fulfilment and completeness. You look down to see the ship charging through the wake some 100+ feet below you as you hang on for dear life while tightly wrapping the t’gallant in gaskets. The intense heeling of the ship interrupted with violent shaking as she smashes through waves ensures that relaxation is never achieved. But relaxation is not the goal while aloft, even if your aching muscles scream that your bunk is more comfortable. The adrenaline is ever present, even when completing such a mundane task as furling a sail.
Although deep internal reflection sessions while staring into nothingness were never accomplished by me, I learned a great deal about myself during this crossing, and I think some personal development did indeed take place. The nature of living on a tall ship is conducive to reflective thought, the kind that makes you question the path you’ve set for yourself in life. Sailing is one of those pure pursuits. One of those passions that is enticing and exciting in its infancy, amazing and beautiful in its mastery. I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed both ends of the spectrum of sailing while on this voyage. You have the trainees, young men and woman who are taking a leap of faith and trying something completely outside their comfort zone. The beginning of our journey as sailors was raw and unkempt. We threw ourselves into the work and hoped something good would come from it, and of course it did. We kept that ship moving in the right direction, and kept our minds on the right path. We became more and more knowledgeable, skilled, and eager. The thirst for adventure propelled us to reach new heights (literally). On the other hand, there was the crew and captain. Experienced sailors, but many not so experienced at dealing with youth. Experienced or not, they were incredible. The patience, excitement for seeing us learn and grow, the humour, and the deft skill at motivation was beyond anything we could have hoped for. They really made the experience as fantastic as it was. All those pieces fit into the puzzle that made me question what I want out of life. I can say with some certainty that the most important thing I learned about myself is that I want to sail again. I want to be around the incredible and genuine characters that sailing attracts, and I aspire to someday be one of those characters myself.
As this was a trip for indigenous people, there were some cross-cultural difficulties that came up between crew and trainees. There were some instances when crew accidentally said something offensive or derogatory, but I was very impressed by the common understanding of everyone onboard. People were not quick to judge each other, and understood that the vast cultural differences between many people onboard were likely to result in some uncomfortable moments. It was all handled very maturely. There were also cultural differences among the trainees. Some, like me, didn’t really grow up ensconced in their native culture, and many did. I really learned that I haven’t grown up with my indigenous culture nearly as much as I’d like. That was something largely outside of my control, but it still stings. Being a part of this project has really made me appreciate the rich history that I share with these amazing people, while also helping me fill many of the gaps in my knowledge that are present because of my upbringing. I feel proud to be a part of such an incredible people, whose population has had such a rough go. It prides me to see that so many Indigenous young people are so successful.
The destinations we toured were Falmouth and Alderney, UK, plus Le Havre, France and Paris. I can say with near complete certainty that Alderney is the best place I have ever been. If I was asked to sum it up in one word it would be “authentic.” The people, the geography, the history, even the other tourists there were a breath of fresh air. It is a small island in the English Channel, just off France. With a population of only 2,000, the island has a distinct small-town feel. I have never observed a more impressive group of tourists than I saw on the island of Alderney. Because it lacks a major airport of any kind, most people who come to Alderney are sailboat owners. The demographic who sails their own boat through the English Channel are a completely different type of people than a crowd fresh off a cruise ship, or even a passenger plane. I can recount with great fondness interactions with locals and other tourists and remember always enjoying the conversation. Real, genuine people.
I think this relates to some concepts especially the allocentric/psychocentric disparity, as well as respecting the wishes of locals and tourism. Alderney is pushing for higher levels of tourism, and I have to wonder if the locals will be happy if many more people start flooding the gates. The laid-back atmosphere may be lost, which is part of the reason I loved it so much. I can also speak to the presence of attractions as well as hidden gems, and I can say with certainty that I experienced them both.
Of all the travelling I have done, this trip made me feel the least like a conventional tourist. I think that was due to our rather interesting story and mode of transportation, and the immediate excitement and intrigue locals showed when they learned we had just sailed the Atlantic. That feeling of respect was new, and responsible for a completely different travel experience. A generalization I can make from that experience is that the way you arrive to a new spot is somewhat responsible for the way you feel about your time there. I saw many different demographics of tourists during my time abroad, and I can say that the more allocentric crowd really appeals to me over the psychocentric. There just seems to be a greater feeling of authenticity, a feeling that I strive to exhibit myself.
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
I have always loved these simple statements.
What do you think of them? Perhaps, leave a comment below…
(Photo taken at top of Cape Blomidon, Nova Scotia by MMV)
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” —Mark Twain.
My baby, the one who arrived in a maelstrom back in 1999, well, he is now a tall young man. Intelligent, kind, fun-loving, adventurous, athletic and handsome. (But, this is his mother writing. What else would I say?)
He is finished high-school and getting set to go off on a huge adventure and then to University. I have five weeks left with him before he departs. My heart is breaking and I am tearful, scared and joyful all at the same time. I never thought I would be this way, but, then again, I never thought I would be in a straitjacket in D.C. either. That’s life, right?! It sneaks up on you and BAM!
Your son, your only, is leaving for University.
But, what about that big adventure you ask? Leo applied and was picked to be one of forty-five youth to assist as crew on a tall ship from Halifax to France. Yes, that’s right. Across the Atlantic. Thankfully, there is a professional crew as well and they will be teaching the youth the ropes, literally. They will do duties: watch, galley, cleaning and maintenance duties. I am sure there will be lots of time for fun too. They will dock in Le Havre in Normandy France and spend five days in France before flying home to Canada at the end of August.
About ten days later, Leo will leave our house for University.
What happened to the days of Buzz Lightyear? Or the days of hiking, just me and small him and the dogs in the parks, on the beaches, up the hills? The days where every playground became a wealth of potential fun and that he would point at and cry hopefully, “Can I play in the playground, Mom?” and inevitably exclaim: “Mom, I’m having SO fun!!”
The holding of my hand. His, so small and soft and warm. The moments of insecurity when he was a toddler and would wrap himself around one or both of my legs as I stood in conversation with someone. The morning greeting, “It’s morning time, Mom!” The sleepy, cuddly story-times, sweaty fevers, rosy-cheeked kisses and all the stuff we learned together. The tears are streaming as I ask, “Where did the time go? and WHY does this hurt so bad??!”
Oh dear, did I spend enough time with him? Did I do enough for him? Did I help to shape a good young man? Will he find his way? Will he find a love? Will he miss me?
He wrote his last exam of high-school today and had arranged with two good buddies to go camping in New Brunswick at Fundy National Park. Both my husband Dean and I were home for lunch (we come home every day for lunch due to our Simple East-Coast Life) and so we witnessed the flurry of activity in getting ready for the big out-trip.
Leo was walking back and forth to his room grabbing all that he could imagine needing for the trip. Meanwhile, I set up a sandwich-building smorgasbord on the kitchen island with large slices of buttered Italian bread, sliced cheese and tomato, ham, bologna, bacon, mustard, mayo, and lettuce fresh and green from the garden. While Leo ran around, I invited the two buds to build their sandwiches and dig in. I wouldn’t want to see them on their way without a good lunch.
The curious thing happened. While Leo ran around, his two friends and I had a nice little visit in the kitchen. Mainly talking about some hiking memories that Dean and I made at Fundy National Park while going Across Canada in Betsy and then about their plans for the fall. Leo came out to the kitchen and snagged the last two slices of bacon for his sandwich, which I then volunteered to build for him, as I could see he wasn’t even close to being packed and ready yet.
Just then, we realized that Leo’s phone was vibrating on the corner cupboard. Leo looked at it, then reached for it. From where I stood, I noticed that his hand was slightly shaking as he reached for his phone. My heart caught in my chest to see that hand, the very one I knew so well and had held time and again including when he was fourteen and he reached out for my hand during a movie the two of us went to see together…shaking.
Looking at the display, he said, “Dad, this is the call about the summer job.” When he looked up, there was a nervous strain on his face that instantly caused an anxious reaction within me. You see, Leo is a very laid-back kinda guy as is evidenced here.
Almost nothing phases him. But, I had to remind myself to take stock: he just wrote an exam, the last of his high-school career; a couple of nights ago, he found out he was selected for the Tall Ship experience to cross the Atlantic; there was a summer job being negotiated; friends were waiting for him for a couple day out-trip; Prom in a few days; he would be leaving for University in late August and he hadn’t even eaten lunch yet. So, perhaps a slight tremor of the hand and bit of a strain on the face is understandable. Regardless, the reaction within me was hard to deny. All I wanted to do was make it better. Take away his strain and nerves. Jeepers. I’m gonna need to chill.
Prom was fantastic and the prom parade went off without a ‘hitch’ and is featured in this little video:
When we first moved to Halifax, we lost a second-trimester pregnancy, Leo’s little brother, and it was heartbreaking. So…I am really hoping that the ‘loss’ of Leo to the great wide world (although surely tough on me) will be wonderful. That we shall see him spread his wings and soar through life, having adventures, doing good and following his dreams….TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!
(Photos by the author)
We sat on the ancient stone steps in the early morning and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters of the Ganges.
We arrived at the holy river of Hinduism, the Ganges, in Varanasi, India at 4 in the morning. We had been on an all-night converted school bus from Nepal. (see post Namaste, Nepal (age 30) 🙏) We sat on the ancient stone steps and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters. Some of the pilgrims wore long lengths of fabric wound around their sinewy bodies. They methodically performed the rituals and prayers, their lips moving silently as they cupped water in their palms, raised them and poured it over their heads. To my husband Dean and I, at dawn in the incredibly exotic country of India, on the steps of the Ganges, it was out of this world to witness. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not.
From there, we hefted our packs onto our backs and walked up into the crushing crowds of Varanasi to find a place to stay. We had our guide book (remember, there were no cell phones or TripAdvisor back then; this was March 1996) and after about five tries and many exhausting steps, we managed to find a very inexpensive hostel that looked clean and suitable. Once there, we immediately purified some tap water in our Nalgene water bottles using our trusty iodine drops that took thirty minutes to kill off any major critters in the water. This chore would be repeated several times each day, as it was all through Nepal. Before that, in Australia (see post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)) we had drank tap water and a fair bit of beer, with no issues.
I should mention here that, although unsavoury to write about, Dean and I had picked up some kind of bowel parasite in Nepal. Likely during the trek when dousing our heads in mountain run-off streams. On a few occasions, I let a bit of water into my mouth. I’m sure Dean had too. Said parasite was doing a serious number on us physically. We were nearly emaciated. I grabbed Dean’s upper arm one day to find my fingers almost wrapping all the way round. Scary. I wasn’t sure how much longer we could backpack – that is how weak we both were getting and with bad stomach cramps. There was also the obvious need to use the toilet a lot and with considerable urgency at times.
Anyhoo, we enjoyed the city, walking around and seeing the sights. We visited markets and bought fruit and nuts from vendors.
We drank many a fine lassi (yogurt and fruit smoothie-type drink). Indians do yogurt incredibly well.
Next, it was time to go visit the majestic Taj Mahal. So, onto a bus we climbed for the eleven hour ride from Varanasi to Agra. It was on this ride that we met an Indian-American family who were visiting India as tourists. They told us many wonderful tips and tricks. One of them was to order ‘the thali’ to eat, and always to eat it with yogurt, as yogurt would cool the palette in case of too much heat or spice.
I just have to say, there was nothing more delicious and satisfying to us than this incredible meal on a stainless-steel tray. Dean and I were overjoyed every meal time to get another chance to eat another thali. We indulged in a thali each at the lunch stop enroute to the Taj. Our Indian-American family joined our table and our education of India continued. It was fascinating. Again, it dawned on me that one of the best things about world travel were the folks we met along the way.
Finally, we reached the outskirts of Agra, where we could now see the Taj in the distance.
But this is what it looked like up close:
This incredible piece of architecture was built between 1632 and 1647 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal was dedicated to Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is shrouded in mystery, optical illusions, inset gems and the deaths of its many builders. It is a fascinating place and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.
After Agra, we spent a week in New Delhi. We took the train and it was also other-worldly. There are a myriad of ticket classes you can buy, the worst being third class. We were on second class and it was dusty and dirty, but okay. The Indian train system is a marvel of efficiency and engineering. There is a network of over 65,000 km and 7,000 stations. At one point on our ride, the train came into a station where as soon as the train stopped there were scores of vendors selling their wares at the window, all yelling to announce their wares. Everything from safety pins to hankies to tea which is called ‘chai’.
“CHAI! CHAI! CHAI! cried the Chai-wallah, approaching with a large steel bucket of chai and a tray of little clay cups. We each took a cup of the sweet, spicy, milky tea through our window. It was only lukewarm, and went down fast. When we passed the cup back the chai-wallah, he smashed them on the tracks. A split second later, a lower cast man scrambled onto the tracks to collect the pieces. It was explained to us that the collector would sell those pieces back to the potter who would turn them back into little clay cups, and in turn, sell them back to the Chai-wallah.
Suddenly, Dean jumped up and said, “I’ll be right back”. He jumped off the train and, looking out the little window, I saw him over at a take-out window, buying two white boxes of food for us. He ran back and sat down. It was then that I realized I had been holding my breath. If the train had started to leave while Dean was getting the food, we may have never seen each other in India again. Such is the vast and convoluted system of Indian trains. Add that to the magnitude of a population at that time of nearly 1 billion people, and it would have been a needle in a haystack kinda situation. Remembering that we couldn’t just Facebook message each other or text, snapchat or Instagram or what have you. I’m not really sure what we would have done, had we been separated on that train.
In New Delhi, we found a lovely hostel with an internal garden where we rested up and did some reading but also our daily walks around the city streets to see the sights. One day, we walked into a luxury hotel. I shall preface this with the fact that we had just seen several lepers begging on the streets. They were also known as The Untouchables. The jewelry store in the hotel lobby was selling star rubies for thousands of dollars. The patrons of the hotel were wearing gold-threaded saris. The dichotomy of wealth was hard to comprehend.
It was getting to be time to head home to Canada, since our wee parasites were becoming more and more of an issue.
When we got back to our mother land, we had no idea what we would do for employment. And, we couldn’t wait too long because living in Canada is a heck of a lot more expensive than India and funds were dwindling. After some deliberation, we decided to head North again. This time to the bigger centre of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada. We had spent a year in the Arctic prior to traveling (see post North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) ❄️) We organized ourselves and made the cross-Canada trek in our tiny little car, the three-cylinder Chevrolet Sprint (nicknamed “Puny”) that I had bought in Comox, BC, upon acceptance into training for Army Logistics (see post I’m In the Army Now … 🔫).
Upon arrival in Inuvik, some good friends of ours put us up for a few weeks in their house, which was very generous of them. We started looking for work immediately. Within ten days, and some good luck, I had a full-time position as a Receptionist at the most northerly medical clinic in Canada, but then soon thereafter as the general manager. Dean found a job at Aurora College as the Director of Extension Programs. So, really good jobs in very short order.
The funniest thing would happen due to the parasite I still had. As the receptionist in the medical clinic, I would routinely have to lead patients to their examination room. What was happening, in this evolution of the parasite problem, was it was causing me to toot upon movement of my body of any kind. So, I’d be politely speaking to the patients as I walked them to the room and in the ‘back’ground was: toot, toot, toot like a little motor with each step I took. After being truly mortified when it first started, I later just mentally threw up my hands and gave in to the hilarity of it. There was really nothing I could do. I don’t think anyone really noticed anyway. Right?
After our first paycheck, we found an apartment.
Living in the tiny town of Inuvik (7,000 people) after travelling in India (~1 billion people) was like night and day. Dean and I were so blessed to have each other and our friendship, which was strong and had seen many adventures, hardships and blessings already. We stayed in Inuvik for two years until it was time to go South, and we found ourselves Exiting the Arctic ☃️enroute to Toronto, Canada for another chapter.
(almost all photos are courtesy of google images)
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