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.
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.
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!”
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!
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)
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.
Recently, two of my brothers became aware of my writings. I had never actually invited them 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.
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.
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…
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 the boys 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 – no helmets back then. 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 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 man-hand grope, the hastening 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.
All pics in this post found on google images. Thank you!
I bet I was the only ten-year-old kid who knew that the address of The Toronto Star was 1 Yonge Street, Toronto. I knew this piece of completely useless information because at the tender age of five years old, I had a paper route – The Toronto Star. I exaggerate slightly. The route was actually my older brother’s but, I had been given the responsibility of delivering a single paper to one out-of-the-way customer: Mrs. Wilson– about ten doors north of our house. I got paid a hefty 5 cents per week for this. It was much to my embarrassment though, when the phone would ring while all nine of us were ensconced at the supper table and Mom would look at me and say, Martha, did you deliver your paper? Invariably I had forgotten. I would have been too busy at play to think of it. I had to then drop my fork and run off with Mrs. Wilson’s paper. As the years went by I was given more and more of the route to deliver and customers to collect from and one day I found that the whole route was mine – handed down from Matt to Mark to Job and finally, to me.
The Saturday Star was so heavy that, in order for me to be able to deliver all the papers from one load, I had to lug the bag to the top of our front, concrete stoop. I would sit on the third step and back into the head-sling of the loaded paper bag and then, leaning way over until my nose was almost touching the ground, I would stagger forward and allow the full weight of the bag to sit on my back. Not a parent-figure in site to worry about me injuring my neck. I often wondered how badly off I would be if I were to just fall the wrong way? Or, if I were to stumble, out-of-control onto the street, would the car that hit me be damaged by the sack of papers on my back or would I just simply be crushed beneath them?
Most of my paper route, thankfully, was in an eight-story apartment building, just down the hill from us that we imaginatively called, ‘The Apartments’. When I was still quite little, I wasn’t able to reach the buttons for the seventh and eighth floors on the elevator’s button panel. Alas, I had the ultimate solution. I would lumber into the elevator and somehow drop my paper bag off my head, without wrenching my wee neck, and stand on the full paper bag in order to reach the button for the top floor. I would then deliver the papers on the descending floors, using the heavy bag to hold the elevator door open as I progressed. When the bag was no longer heavy enough to hold the elevator door open, I would carry the bag, deliver the papers and then take the flight of stairs down to the next floor. The whole process was quite an art.
My career as an earner started then. I was a papergirl until I was 15. I started to baby-sit at the age of 12. I worked as a bus-girl at The Crock & Block Restaurant at the age of 15 while living with my sister Eva. I then had various serving jobs: Lafayette, O’Toole’s, Silky’s, and July’s Restaurant for five summers until joining the army at 19. Dad did not believe in giving us an allowance. We had to earn everything we ever got.
It was at Fancy’s in Barrie that I experienced working for the most dysfunctional couple of crazy people I have ever encountered. I hated working there because of it and dreaded each shift. Tom, the chief cook and owner would SCREAM at his wife, Darlene all the live long day: BUTTER RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF THE BREAD FOR FUCK SAKES! RIGHT TO THE FUCKIN’ EDGE!!! AND GET IT OUT HOT!!! YOU BLOODY STUPID BITCH. Oh Lord did I detest that place. The tension should have been on the menu because it was the most abundant item they produced. I just now googled the place. It is still open. Unbelievable. The food was good fairly good though, unfortunately.
Why work there? I was in grade 12 and needed a job. My sister Amy had helped me get the job through a friend of a friend and I was ever so grateful. Amy always had so many connections made through her work as a hairstylist. By this time, Mom was living in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic boyfriend and working as a server for minimum wage at cafeteria-style restaurant in Woolworth downtown. I would go visit her and she would look so tired. So worn out. Oh god. It would break my heart. This was her reality after raising seven children and keeping a wonderful home for us for 26 years. She did not come out of the divorce nor the annulment well. I could not ask her for a penny. She worked so hard and made so little.
At that time, my younger brother and I had a bedroom each in the basement of our bungalow and Dad was upstairs. I had been getting a couple of shifts per week at O’Toole’s Roadhouse Restaurant, but, it went bankrupt and it wasn’t long before I was without money. One particular day, having spent my savings, I had to ask Dad for money for necessities: menstrual pads.
He turned my down. He would not give me five bucks for pads. I was seething. I hated him.
I was forced to use cotton t-shirts cut into rags. Nice. God I hated him. It was incredible how much I hated him. I feel that hatred even now, decades later. And not giving me money, when he had plenty of money, for necessities, was just one of his many faults. The others were worse. Like when he would come barging into my room, even though my door was closed, and catch me half-dressed or naked but with the old sorry, sorry. I didn’t know you were dressing. Or he would forcibly hold me down and lick my face with his very wet, gross, warm tongue – his bad breath washing over me as I would struggle — I just want to give my daughter a little kiss. Or, he would comment on my developing body you’re getting rather hippy, Martha, you better watch it, you don’t want to get fat. Or, he would routinely reach out and touch my bum as I would be walking past him and then exclaim yippee in a falsetto voice. Then there were the many times his robe would mysteriously open and there would be hairy, wrinkled member for all to see. Oh god. I would be mortified when he would inevitably do this with teen-aged Kelly and Sally visiting. Show us his penis, by accident, of course, and then giggle about it as he would sneak away back to his fart-stinking room.
With all that I have read, learned and experienced in life regarding body image (see The Body Positive 🙃) and now as a parent, here is one truism: never comment on a child’s body except to say how lucky we are to have one that does so much for us. Our body is truly a marvel which should be loved, respected, adorned, nourished, cleaned, clothed and loved some more.
So, my relationship with Dad was love / hate for sure. At times I would love him for his silliness and his zest for life and enthusiasm about certain topics: sport, recreation, small business, celebration. Dad loved to laugh. He would often have us all in stitches at the supper table, recounting his Skollard Hall days in a falsetto voice. He liked that falsetto voice. I do truly think he was doing his best to father us the best way he could, considering the factors at play in his upbringing and his generation and with the added factor of the Catholic guilt monitoring all that he did. Another factor in the break down of his marriage was mental illness.
Mom had been a classic Bipolar 1 (Definition: A person with bipolar 1 will experience a full manic episode usually leading to psychosis). When she was pregnant or nursing, which was a lot of the time until she was 42 and weened Luke, she did not have symptoms of mental illness. But, then it hit and it hit hard. She was hospitalized with full on psychosis several times in the seventies. I remember waking up around age six and walking around looking for mom. No one would tell me that she had been taken to the hospital: 5C – the psyche ward. (Who would know then that in thirty years time, I would have my first big struggle with mental illness: Locked Up in D.C. 🔐) She was there for weeks. We would go visit her and it was like she was a different person. She was in a fog. It was heart wrenching. I missed her so badly. I just wanted my mommy back. I would cry myself to sleep missing her so much. She would sometimes be smoking when we visited. I couldn’t believe my eyes. (Back then you could smoke in parts of the hospital.)
In the summer, at the lake, Mom would become more and more manic. Her manic energy was put to good use with cleaning and maintaining the ten cabins of The Camp ⛺️that we moved to every summer. Lock, stock and barrel, all nine of us would move two hours North to the camp and live on the lake all summer – running the tourist resort – as it used to be known. It was truly beautiful there: 21 forested acres, half-mile of lake frontage, only 2 miles from a village for supplies, ten antique, rustic cabins on private lots with tall trees, most cabins on the water with their own dock and a sandy beach.
For many years we even had a diving tower and trampoline over the water. Dad’s idea. Dad being a teacher, had envisioned the need for a business and an escape from the city. (We would have killed each other staying in the city all summer. No doubt about it.) It was pure genius and is one of those things I loved about my Dad. He had these great ideas at times. We enjoyed idyllic summers – running around barefoot, swimming, boating, water-skiing, canoeing and socializing with all the campers. Yes, we had work and chores, but, we were paid for them as a business expense and it was just a couple of hours a day. Our summers at the camp were the envy of my friends. In fact, many of my friends would come to the camp, either to stay with us in the office or as paying guests and stay in a cabin or tent.
I remember waking up early to find mom’s twin bed empty. She would already be out there working. Dad was much more sedentary. He would do all of the business-end of things: letters, bills, payments, promotions. All this to say, that mom’s mental illness was raging on, unchecked for several years. From reading I have done, because I too am bipolar 1 (Crazy Train 🚂 (part 1)…All ABOARD, Crazy Train 🚂 (part 2) ) the more episodes there are the more easily an episode will occur. The brain makes these pathways that become easier and easier to follow and so sanity slips further and further away. So, to be fair, it could not have been easy dealing with this major impediment. When Mom finally went on lithium, and stayed on lithium, things were so much better. She was stable. Stable is good.
I wasn’t the first in my family to work at July’s Restaurant up at the Lake. My older sister Eva had worked there a decade prior to me. Eva would sometime recount one of her most embarrassing moments while working there. This man would come into the restaurant almost daily. He would take a seat beside the coffee maker in the kitchen in the mid-afternoon when it wasn’t too busy. He would just sit and chat up the kitchen staff and the servers as they would come and go from the kitchen. So, Eva walks into the kitchen this one day and slaps Buddy on the back and asks him how the heck he is doing today. That would have been all fine except that when she slapped him on the back his toupee went flying off his head and landed a few feet away on the kitchen floor.
You could have heard a mosquito outside the window. After a split second hesitation and with a very red face, Eva quickly grabbed the toupee off the floor. Put it back on Buddy’s head. Smoothed it out. Told him: ‘You have very nice hair.’ Then, turned on her heel into the dining room.