New Life

‘Been down one time
Been down two times
I’m never going back again’
~Fleetwood Mac

This is a guest submission by one of my oldest friends, with a pseudonym of Layla.  Layla and I met at St Mary’s School in Barrie, Canada when we were tiny and became close because we had so much fun together AND we walked the same way to school every morning. (I’ve heard it said that young friendships have a lot to do with geography). All these decades later, we are still friends.  She still cracks me up as much as she did back then.  Back when we used to put Mark’s stereo on in the rec room with Fleetwood Mac blaring and do cartwheels and walk-overs in the dark.

Once Layla, with her reddish hair very similar to my brother Jobe, was accepted into our family, she was a regular at our family meals and was around our house most days.  I also spent a lot of time playing at her house, often the two of us alone, because her Grandmother would be at work at the hospital where she pulled twelve-hour shifts. I remember watching a ten-year old Layla cooking up a pound of bacon or ground beef to eat for supper without any other foods on the plate.  I remember that was really different because Mom would always have us build a balanced meal on our plate: protein, vegetables, starch. 

Layla had this really odd baby-sitter, Shirley, who kept her kidney stones in a small jar on her dresser.  We would sneak into her room to point and peer at them.  ‘Ewwww, gross!’ we would whisper to each other with freckled, scrunched up faces.  We were barely tall enough for our eyes to clear the top of the highboy dresser.  One time Shirley caught us and tried to smack Layla.  We were too fast for her though as we used our guile to get away from Shirley who walked with a cane.  (But seriously, why keep them on your dresser?)

There was a group of us at times: Kelly, Paul Aikins (R.I.P.), Layla and I were often together cooking up mischief.  One time, we decided to light ‘strike anywhere’ matches in a closet in Layla’s rental flat in an old Victorian on Bayfield Street.  When her grandmother found out, she called my parents and I was punished.  I got the belt to my behind from my Dad due to the seriousness of the infraction.  It never happened again.  Another time we were in trouble with Sister Mary Catherine.  Layla received ‘the Strap’ for it.  I am certain that woman was a witch.  She was horribly mean.

When my older sister Amy became a hairstylist after attending the Barrie School of Hairdressing, I can clearly remember the time she gave Layla a ‘pageboy’ haircut.  It was the same haircut made famous by Dorothy Hamill the 1976 Olympic skating champion.  The haircut took place in our basement bathroom of our Peel Street house.  The large bathroom with the bright blue melamine counter-top opposite the sink.  Layla perched there on a stool, me watching from the edge of the tub while Amy snipped.  Twenty year-old Amy was beautiful with long blond hair and baby-blue eyes.  Her slender fingers were entwined in Layla’s extra thick strawberry blond locks as she cooed softly to Layla to help her relax.  Layla had a very sensitive scalp.  Layla became the talk of the grade 5 class with that hair cut, it suited her so well.  It was so very ‘IN’.

When Layla moved away, I missed her badly.  We would write letters back and forth and she did come to the camp once.  Then there was my trip to the Badlands where we re-connected.  Layla has been to my home in Nova Scotia twice and I will see her in Calgary soon.  Can’t wait!!!!                               

Here is her story of strength in finding a New Life. (She says it was God, but, I would argue that it was ALL HER!)

                                                                ********

Layla writes:

I was born into a Catholic family in North Bay, Ontario, baptized as a baby and attended the Catholic Church and school from birth to sixth grade. My earliest memories are of living with my Grandma and Grandpa. It didn’t occur to me to question it- that was all I knew.  But for a loving Grandmother, I would have grown up with strangers.  

My next significant memory is of moving to Barrie, Ontario with Grandma Bea – as her marriage of 25 years was ending.  She worked hard to support us.  At that time everyone in my class lived with their Mom and Dad.  The 30 of us moved up through the grades together.  We all attended St. Mary’s Church and school.  

My Grandma kept an orderly and safe home for us. She kept me in tap, jazz, and baton classes after school.  I also did gymnastics at school.  Downtime at home was spent playing outside with the other neighbourhood children.

My Mom showed up when I was 7 years old and wanted to reclaim me.  I had no idea who my Mom was, and neither Grandma or I were prepared to be apart from one another.

Through a series of events, and several more years past, it was decided that I would go and live with my Mother in British Columbia. This was just before I entered 7th grade. 

My safe predictable world came crashing down. My Mother lived very differently, so I soon found myself appalled and alienated.  Coming home after school to groups of people drinking and drugging was completely foreign and quite scary to me.  The mood swings the adults displayed were also new to me.  

I deeply regretted moving to BC I was small and lean at the time, and also got to learn what it was to be the new kid, get bullied, and have to fist fight to get past the gang to get home.  I hated my life.

Sometime during that year, Mother’s boyfriend threw us out during the night in a rage. We landed at a shelter and eventually moved to another home with another school- and another gang of bullies to deal with.  

I did okay at first in 8th grade.  I loved biology and participating in the gymnastics club. At some point though, with more chaos and confusion at home, I couldn’t cope anymore. I switched to another school that was a specialized alternate learning environment. I did okay there for awhile and then we moved again to another city.  Same scenario happened all over again…. I was completely done.

I dropped out of school and spiraled downward for many years.  My teenage years were an unstable mess.  By 15 I was done with life. Attempted suicide… failed.  Somehow I carried on- working, going to night school, and partying. 

By 19 I had to sober up and find a way to live with a new purpose. I was solidly entrenched in unhealthy living patterns.  By this time many friends had died due to the lifestyle- intentionally or otherwise.  Through all of this, I was starting to wake up a bit and notice some things that scared me.  God was drawing me…

Thankfully I had a good friend who had cleaned up a couple of years ahead of me.  She took me under her wing and walked me through the daily beginning steps of sobriety. For awhile, an AA women’s group was a lifeline for me.  

At some point in my new sobriety, I began to question the meaning of life.  A very clear turning point happened when I was in my downtown, Nelson BC apartment. Looking up and down the street, I began to think about the people coming and going.  What was the point of it all?  How did it start?  Where would it end?  

Thus began a new quest to satisfy these queries.  Nelson was a New Age hot bed with plenty of options to consider. Initially I returned to visit the local Catholic Church- only to be faced with a sexual advancement from a married man who attended there. I left and continued my quest.  I looked into a multitude of things that people seemed satisfied with and engaged in.  Gestalt therapy, Wicca, Mormonism, and others.  They all seemed interesting, but I was always left with a sense that there had to be more.  Something that was IT!

I had a friend at college who was sparkly eyed and always kind and friendly with me. She attended the local Evangelical Free Church.  So I asked her if they did any fun stuff.  I attended a campfire night by the river with the College and Career group.  I found them to be funny, interesting and had good music that I hadn’t heard before. The group also had a bible study at my friend’s house.  I went to check this out.  At the first one, they spoke of the fruits of the Spirit.  I knew I wanted those things.  Love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. WOW!  I was very interested.

I finished my office administration training. I did my practicum and volunteered in local offices as I was unable to find work. The town was economically shutting down.  I had a student loan and the collectors were calling. So I moved to Calgary in 1990 to get some work and pay off my student loan so that I could go home again to Nelson, BC.

My Grandma had already moved to Calgary, so I stayed with her while I worked and saved.  We loved being reunited and savoured our time together.  

I am now celebrating 30 years of living in Alberta.  We make our plans, but God orders our steps.  This was not my plan. 

I got work right away.  Not long after moving to Calgary, I was invited to Grace Baptist College and Career.  Through this group I was introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and was told that I needed to be born again.  I really didn’t know what to make of this.  

As I considered the information, I felt like no matter where I went, I was being shown very clearly that there was good and evil. I needed to make a choice.  The fence sitting was not going to be permitted much longer.  At a crossroads, I called out to God. However, I was still unconvinced if He was real or not. Was I going to dive in- or walk away?  I earnestly asked God, if He was there, to show me clearly.  I opened my bible at a random place and my eyes landed on Proverbs 23:18. “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” I prayed then and trusted the blood of Christ to wash away all my sin and to make me new in Christ. Thus began my journey as a Christian…

Not long after this, a lovely senior lady from church came over to my Grandmother’s place to teach me the scriptural basics and disciple me.   

As the years went on, trials and growth opportunities were abundant.  I journeyed through legalism, deep marital pain, divorce, isolating from believers, failure….but God.

I began to learn, at a heart level, verses like Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You.  Because he trusts in You.” Also, Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And Philippians 4:19 “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Despite all the pain, the unfaithfulness, the confusion- God has continued to win my heart.  With so many distractions in this world, singing praises has always guarded my heart and has become an essential way for me to set my mind on Him.  Being in fellowship with like-minded Believers, who lovingly point each other back to truth, has also been a huge blessing and lifeline for me.  

By the grace of God I can now say- I belong to Jesus- heart, soul, mind and strength. Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Doggin’ It!

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.

can hat marti

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).

Slip Slidin’ Away

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
~Paul Simon

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, 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, 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.  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.

A year has passed and not many days have ended that I haven’t thought of this 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.

Little Eva’s Big Trip

Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say
~unknown

When my eldest sister Eva was three years old, my Dad told her to sit behind the Conductor when he put her on a 9-hour train north to Smooth Rock Falls, alone.  It routed through Union Station in downtown Toronto.

‘Sit behind the Conductor,’ he said.  ‘You will be fine,’ he said.  Little Eva screamed, ‘No Daddy, No Daddy!’ reaching with her little chubby arms for the person who was supposed to protect her.

She was three and she had just been torn from the tight grasp of her baby sister Amy, just 10 months her junior, who was holding onto her for dear life.  Both baby girls, one blond, one brunette, were crying with red cheeks. All I can think now… is that it must’ve been a completely different world back then. With so many very large families of seven children plus, perhaps this was how parents coped?

She was being sent to stay with Gramma and Grampa because baby brother had come along and with baby Amy too, one just needed to go.  Gramma and Grampa didn’t drive.  They never even owned a car.  So, on the train went Little Eva.

In wintry Smooth Rock Falls, Eva remembers days of nothing happening.  No toys.  No interaction with other children or adults and an unfamiliar scent (which she can now identify as mothballs) in their home coupled with the smell from The Mill.  It all made her feel terribly homesick.  She was left completely to her own devices.  The house was chilly, smelly and dark.  Gramma was quiet and busy.  Grampa was at work most of the time.  The Grandfather clock ticked incessantly.

The lunch whistle would blow at the Mill and a quiet Grampa would walk home to sit at the Arbourite and chrome table where his lunch awaited him.  A steaming bowl of home-made soup and a large sandwich on fresh-baked bread.  It was eaten without a word of thanks while Gramma watched, hands wringing in her cotton apron beneath her large, matronly bosom.  The next whistle would bring him home for supper with a nearly perfect replay of lunch time.  Quiet.  Expected.  Ungrateful.  Gramma had her job: keeping house.  Grampa had his – The Mill Wright – keeping Mill.

When Eva related this troubling story to me recently, my mind wheeled back a dozen years.  My son Leo and I had gone to a neighbourhood wedding for Leo’s babysitter’s Mom and step-father who were getting married.  As we approached the large house on a beautiful sunny and warm afternoon, I was feeling a wee bit worried that there would be no one there to talk to and that I would stick out like a sore thumb.  Leo ran over to the candy bar in glee.  I lifted the full skirt of my simple grey silk dress as I descended to the deck of the pool in my pumps.  Being extra careful so as to NOT make a splash of an entrance!  All of the guests stood in small groups, mingling.  An older man approached and welcomed me, shaking my hand gently.

‘Welcome to the wedding of Mack and Mary,’ he said, extending a large hand and a big smile.  ‘I am Mack’s father, Paul Bouvier. How do you know them?’ he asked.

I responded and then asked where he had come from for the wedding.  ‘Arnprior, Ontario,’ was his reply.

‘Oh,’ I said with a smile enjoying that I had something in common with this friendly stranger.  ‘My Grandfather was from Arnprior.’ Grampa used to tell me of his boyhood in Arnprior.  He had a crab-apple tree outside his upstairs bedroom window and he would eat them from the tree when they were ripe (bleck!!).  He would go downtown to the grocers and he and his pals would press their noses to the glass  looking at the bananas.  The grocer would shoo them away saying, ‘Sonny-boy, sonny-boy, get away from the glass and let the sun shine on the bananes!’  Grampa was raised in the depression era when certain luxury foods were scarce.

Anyway, Mr. Bouvier asked me who my grandfather was.  I told him.

His smile widened and his eyes danced as he exclaimed, ‘I worked for your Grandfather at the Mill.  He was a Mill Wright.  And your Dad!  Your Dad was a great hockey player!’

We just looked at each other smiling and nodding.  Small world. Why did the stars align allowing this conversation to take place decades later, provinces away, in my new neighbourhood…?

When Eva was seventeen, she began to have extreme anxiety attacks and had no ability to concentrate on her school work.  She had been the top student at her Junior High School, on many teams, in many clubs, leader of the folk choir at Saint Mary’s Church, known and loved by all.

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!

I digress….

But, getting back to when she was seventeen… when she walked in through the front door of her new, very large high school, her vision would tunnel and it was impossible to function.  She told Mom about her troubles, which were obvious because she was crying a lot.  Mom took her to the hospital where she was treated cruelly and isolated from all family members.  Eva escaped from the hospital and when she told Mom of the cruel methods at the hospital, Mom was furious and went there to complain and to tell them off.

Next, Eva was sent to Florida to be with Memere and Pepere, the idea being that the sunshine would be good for her.  But, similar to Smooth Rock, the lack of interaction with friends and the anxiety had her feeling very badly.  She went home to Barrie and was then taken to the Psych Hospital in Penetanguishene.  By hook or by crook, she managed to get well enough to leave that place and then a couple years later to marry and then raise three incredible young men who had her full time and were cherished and loved dearly. Today they have children of their own who are cherished and loved and trust me, would never dream of putting a toddler on a train, alone.

 

Dear Reader,  what do you think of this story…can you believe it is true?

(The photo was taken by Eva in Wolfville, NS in 2017)

 

Yo Universe! Thanks Again (1988-2018)

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 cool it is…

The most profound instance of this was the meeting of my husband.  At age 22, I had just driven solo across Canada 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.  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 god

Dean kicking a soccer ball in Costa Rica, 2019 – he’s still got it!

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 26 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 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 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.  Just this week at a friend’s house.  She gives me a random book to read saying I will love it.  The next night at book club, finding out that that very book is the one we shall read next.

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.  ‘Whomsoever signs up the most folks for a loyalty card shall win 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.  A month later I walked home with that new IPOD, feeling like it was a million bucks.  Thank you Universe.

At a high school basketball game, I paid for a 50 / 50 ticket and again that whole body feeling enveloped me.  An hour later I was called up to collect $90.  I know it was just 90 bucks but, what the hell.  My friend Layla is ALWAYS winning contests.  Me, not so much.  But, it’s that feeling of potential good fortune that I love.

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 there 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 $60 ++ 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 Paradise 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 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.  It seems she had forgotten her bicycle after 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, right?), comes back, 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.

Said realization led me to the epiphany of the damages of self-loathing due to the pressures on mostly woman to achieve today’s body aesthetic.  That whole body feeling happened when I reached out to find help and it came in the form of a podcast called Life Unrestricted.  Thank you Universe.

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.

universe

(Pictures found in google images…thank you!)

 

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

The Surprising Shiatsu Massage Miracle Worker Guy (1997)

While walking with my bestie the other day, I recalled this 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.’

Pause.

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.

High School Out Trip (1984)

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.

loon

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!)

 

My Skin Hurt (1996-2016)

Contentment: the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things just as they are; peace of mind

A few years ago now and for decades before that, I had this awful phenomenon that would happen to me.  My skin would hurt if I perceived that I had eaten too much or not exercised enough in a given day.  I would have this feeling overwhelm me, born of guilt at not fulfilling my compulsion to perpetually under-eat (and I LOVE food)  and / or to not exercise every day, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, hunger pains and sore muscles.

I have stopped the madness over the past three years, spawned by the need to take medication which causes weight-gain and, have slowly begun to just be okay with looking like a normal 50-something menopausal woman.  I have come to the sad realization that it doesn’t matter so much what your Earth Suit looks like, if you don’t let it matter.  It is the ‘not letting it matter’ that is the tricky bit, especially if your brain is wired for approval like mine. ‘Sad realization’ because of all the time, preoccupation and wasted potential due to being ignorant to the reality that how your body ‘looks’ doesn’t matter nearly as much as we think, in this Western world. And, as another friend told me her mom would say, ‘dear, your body size is the least interesting thing about you.’

How about we make these things more important than the shape and size of our body:  enthusiasm, zest for life, helpfulness, kindness, compassion.  How about we stop telling little girls that they are so pretty and focus on how kind they are?

Over the past three years, I have been so much happier, it is profound.  (Okay, I have had moments of uncertainty, but they were fleeting, comparatively).

I was walking with a friend the other night whom I hadn’t seen in ages, and this post was imagined.  Due to my Earth Suit looking a lot plumper these days (which I am totally fine with), she asked, ‘So, are you still doing a lot of yoga, M?’  I chuckled in my head at this.  It is inevitable, this question.  Just like last week at the physio, he goes, ‘so, any thyroid issues these days?’  ha ha!  No, actually.  Just eating like a grown-ass woman, as one of my fave podcasters says: Summer Innanen. Of course, I didn’t say that, I just said, ‘um, nope’.  To my friend I tried to gently express the shite I have been through.  Knowing her to be a dieter and she having already poked fun at her ‘fat’ (of which she has none, oh friggin geez).  I explained that yoga had been a dozen year obsession which was all about ego and not really about zen at all.  It was a compulsion when it should have been a path to peace.  It was the opposite, and it made me skinny and very muscular.  (See for yourself: https://youtu.be/9lSU9I-ZPbk ).  Oh excuse me: lean.  The new word for skinny.  It also made me cra-cra.

I have had a new thing happen for the very positive, of late.  I have had all this energy and yearning to be athletic again (like I was as a girl).  So, I have taken up tennis lessons and just loving the feel of my body as I strive to hit that effing ball.  (It’s amazing how much I just want to hit that effing little ball.)  And, with a tennis court right behind my house, well, I’m set!  Pun intended.

The other day, out of the blue, I had a yearning to go for a bike ride.  I was able to adjust my son’s bike to handle my shortness and off I went.  It was fabulous.  I tried frisbee-throwing, swing dance and archery at the #tryitinwolfville initiative. I just have this energy and wish to move my body and it has nothing to do with being fit.  It’s just about joy this time, folks.  And, on the other end of things, sometimes I’m just tired and I take a nap in the middle of the day.  Lucky as I am to be able to do that.  Yo Universe, thanks againLife just keeps getting better as I strive to be like that little girl in the image above.  Not a care in the world and certainly no thoughts of dieting, restriction or gym time, just free to be me.

Any comments would be welcome, as always and I love to hear from you!

(The picture is of my little brother and I when we were kids at the camp.  Taken by our eldest sis.)

Newfoundland! Yes, B’y (2019)

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.IMG_0580 (3)

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.The Rooms Cafe

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.

Pint with Michael Crummey

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 IMG_0550 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

IMG_0457foundations 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.

IMG_0643Day 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.

mv with sea stacksDay 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 PassageIMG_0606 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.

IMG_0649 (2)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.

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All photos by Martha Valiquette

I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together… (1965-2019)

‘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’
~Carol Burnett

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

paul 3
Paul Aikins age 16 and Martha Valiquette age 15, St Joe’s talent night

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.

paul year book2 (2)

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.