My Big Incredible Family

I am the sixth of seven children: molded, formed, nudged, inspired and influenced by these unique remarkable people. They are my sisters, brothers and parents and they are in my stories, even if not mentioned, they are there.

My, my, my but times have changed because when I was little, there were mostly big families!  I knew families and have friends today who hailed from families even larger than seven kids…eleven, thirteen, fifteen children!  Almost unheard of in today’s world. 

My earliest stories are about the times in my family when the Catholic church reigned. Birth control was shunned and every sperm was sacred. (Monty Python’s song). Consequence: Many children were born. In my family, Mom stayed home and worked non stop to make it all possible, “holding down the fort” and doing three-parts of the work (as my Mother-In-Law would say) while Dad escaped to teach, in his clean suit, starched shirt, tie and hat, cleanly shaven and with Old Spice splashed on.

At the end of the day, Dad would come home to a hot, home-cooked dinner on the table followed by homemade, from scratch daily dessert and his newspaper during clean up. 

My parents married in the 1950s and had seven children (all born in different towns from Burk’s Falls, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan. (All of us were born between 1954 and 1969.) Imagine having seven children and moving and setting up and adapting to seven different homes plus moving to the lake every summer!  As my eldest brother points out, there was always at least one full-sized piano to move, level and accommodate too, not to mention at least one pet. 

Big families equal many many happenings. We all interacted, not always happily, with lots of singing and story telling and had tons of fun but often not.  At the drop of a dime there were tumbling fights or screaming debates at any moment as resources were vied for and negotiated.

These incredibly diverse personalities that made up my family churned out a plethora of hilarious, and not so hilarious times. Countless memories that informed our lives. For my stories about my big family, click on the Those Were The Days! category and enjoy.

Leave a comment about your growing-up years…I LOVE your comments!

Left to right standing: Amy (1955), Mom (1930-2001), Eva (1954), Jobe (1964), Mark (1960), Dad (1929-2008), Luke (1969, in arms), Me (1966, I’m the little one at the front with one bent knee). Sitting: Matt (1956); This photo was taken at the lake in about 1971.

Mr. Laset and the Huronia Games

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.
Forest E. Witcraft
Teacher, Scholar

Mr. Laset was the quintessential good coach: kind, unselfish, knowledgeable and competitive when necessary.  He coached me throughout elementary school for cross country running, gymnastics, volleyball, basketball and track. We had practices after school every day of the week.  He was consistently present and consistently good to me. Over the decades I have thought of Mr. Laset many times and, every time it has been with fond memories.  Kelly would say, ‘Marn, give him a call and tell him thank you.’  I didn’t really think he would remember me.

But, I searched for him and found a phone number and gave him a call…forty years later from three provinces away.  I said, ‘this is M_______, I am trying to find Lee Laset.’ His response:

‘How is my best point guard doing today?’

See, he said exactly the right thing! We had a wonderful chat on the phone.  His memory is fabulous and we laughed about the old days of the 70s.  I thanked him again and again for all of the time and encouragement he gave me way back then.

Now my story about the Huronia Games…

When I was 10 years old, I was on the gymnastics team for St. Mary’s School. We would practise everyday after school and all day on Saturday during the gymnastics season. Mr. Laset prepared routines for the floor, finding music to suit the routine and then we would memorize and practice until we knew it cold.  The routine for the balance beam and vault didn’t have music but all three apparatus had mandatory moves and lengths of routine.

There was a big meet coming downtown Barrie at Central High School. The day of the meet arrived. I caught a ride downtown with my teammate, Cassie, and her Mom. There were a lot of people there. Hundreds. The place was crawling with parents and gymnasts and coaches. Moms were fussing over their daughters’ hair. Dads were looking at schedules with their sons, a large arm encircling their small shoulders.

Gymnasts were warming up. When I stepped on the huge technical floor mat I was immediately impressed with its give.  It seemed like I could bounce higher, split better, balance longer. I was in love with that mat.  I watched some of the more talented gymnasts who belonged to clubs and wished I could one day be like them.

It came time for me to do my balance beam routine.  I nailed the mount which required a lot of upper body strength, something I naturally had. I bounced off of the small spring board, placing both hands on the beam and then, with hips high, brought both feet into a wide straddle on either side of my body, but not touching the beam.  I balanced that way for a few seconds and then placed my feet on the beam. From the wide straddle I made my way into the splits, held it with arms raised, fingers poised, then swung my back leg forward into a pike fold, then into the required back roll.  From there, I gracefully transitioned into standing and went through the rest of my routine, conducting the required moves: standing balance with one foot held in my hand above my head; 360 degree spin and front roll and with various dance and rhythmic arm moves, made my way to the culminating move: the dismount.  Mine was a front pike hand spring off the end of the beam.  I did it and I stuck it.  Arms up, arched back, chin high, head back. My teammates clapped and there were a couple of smiling, pretty moms I didn’t know who made me feel special.  I walked off to find Mr. Laset who was working with some of my other teammates. Mr. Laset was spread thin watching over all of us.

Next up was the vault.  Our score was the best out of three moves.  I did a pike head-stand over, hand-stand over and high straddle over.  I stuck all three pretty well and felt good about it.  Mr. Laset patted me on the back and told me I had done well.  So far so good.

After eating my brown-bag lunch, I checked the schedule and saw that it was almost time for me to do my floor routine.  Again, I went to the mat for  a warm-up and, again, I was impressed by the springy-ness of it.  My music came on as I took my place on the mat.  I

Gymnastics-Meet-2-682x454
This is what my big move would have looked like

knew this routine cold so it was no problem to do it to the very best of my ability. The one toughest move was a hand-stand which was to be held for a few seconds and then a quarter turn down into the splits.  I had practiced this move umpteen times in our basement rec-room.  My friend Layla and I would put on music and dance and do gymnastics: cartwheels, hand springs, handstands, splits, rolls and often we would do this in the dark.  Lucky we didn’t kick each other in the head.

Anyway, in my routine, I was wondering if I was ever going to actually be able to hold the handstand for five seconds. Guess what.  I DID IT!  Oh my, was I happy and very proud. After the splits, I turned forward and ended my routine with my elbows on the mat, my legs in a wide straddle, my dark, curly pony tailed head in my hands and a big smile on my face.

I would like to say the crowds went wild, but, no.  There were very few spectators for me.

A little while later, we were rounded up and told that the closing ceremonies would be held and that we should quietly sit in our team.  I sat down beside Cassie.  She had had a good day and had completed all of her tough moves.  She put her arm around me and told me that she had heard that I did REALLY well.  I looked at her with a question on my face.  How did she know that?  She had been on the other side of the gym all day.  She told me that her mom had seen my points.  She said: ‘Martha, you’re in the medals’.

“WHAT???!  What does THAT mean?’ I asked her frantically.  ‘What do I need to do?’

‘You just need to go up there when they call your name’.  Cassie said calmly.  She was ultra experienced at this.

A couple of minutes later, I was called to the podium and a SILVER medal was placed around my neck.  Holy cow!! I felt like a million bucks.  Holy cow!! Mr. Laset patted my back and told me he was very proud of me.  I had not expected this at all.  I was shocked!

The meet was finished and it was time to go home with my silver medal.  I imagined my family picking me up and hugging me wildly upon seeing it hanging around my neck.  I imagined a celebratory supper of my favourite foods and my favourite dessert.

What actually happened was rather underwhelming and, as I write this now as a Mom, I feel quite sad for my ten-year old self who was somewhat neglected as a girl, at times. Nevertheless, I got out of the car and skipped up the driveway.  Jumped up the front steps and bounced into the front door, my heavy silver medal swinging on my small chest, my curly pony tail flicking happily.

But…

No one noticed my big smile or my big medal.

Mom and Dad were arguing in their room with the door closed and my three brothers were off in all corners of the house.  My three eldest siblings would have moved out by then.  No one asked about my big day. No one picked me up and hugged me wildly to celebrate my success.  There was no celebration meal and no fun dessert.  I had this great big family, but no one was there for me that day.  No one watched me compete. No one watched me receive the silver medal.  I was left wondering if it mattered.  Did I matter? ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’

Forest

One thing for sure is that this circle of neglect is broken.  My husband Dean and I have one son, Leo.  We have watched all of his sporting events and Dean has coached many of his soccer teams.   My parents were very likely doing the best they could with what they had in their tank.  I am ever thankful for people in my life who were there for me when my parents couldn’t be.  One such person was Mr. Laset. Speaking to him earlier today after forty years, made my year.  The gift of his calm, smooth voice knowing and remembering me and chit chatting about our sports days in the mid-70s will be cherished. When he said, ‘How is my best point guard doing?’  Those words were golden. He was important in the life of a child. That child was me.

Let the Games Begin ~ part 3

When the cat’s away, the mice shall play

Continued from Let The Games Begin Part 1 and Part 2

Mom and Dad would sometimes go to Florida at Christmas or March Break and would leave us at home with one of the eldest sibs in charge.  One year, my oldest brother Matt was left in charge. He and his new teen-age wife, June took care of we younger ones.  Let’s just say that there were a few parties down the basement and sometimes we had really bad tasting spaghetti sauce, a la June.  One time, June tried to pass off tomato soup as spaghetti sauce.  It was so bad that not even Sammy, our faithful leftover and liver-eating dog, would eat it.  Years later we broke it to her that it was awful.  By then she had become a good cook though, or as her son would say:  Mom’s a good cooker now, eh Dad?

The later years that Mom and Dad went to Florida saw us being taken care of by my second oldest brother, Mark.  It got a little scarier then because Mark had some sketchy friends like Byron Hedgeman and Minty.  Minty seemed fine, if a little dopey, but, Hedgeman just plain scared me.  I think he was continuously high or, in the pursuit of being high.

One time, when I was about eight years old or so, Hedgeman and I were playing a friendly game of checkers in the living room.  Hedgeman was getting very upset because I kept using my kings to jump all his checkers.

He began to ask me about my knowledge of Woodstock.  He had me there.  I had not one idea of what he spoke, and innocently told him that.

woodstock

Hedgeman was irate. How could I not know about Woodstock?

He then proceeded to educate me about it. I was eight. He told me of mass crowds of hippies who traveled for miles and miles to this place called Woodstock for the concert and drugged-out weekend-long bash of history.  He told me of people being so stoned on acid, L.S.D. and mushrooms that they had no idea what they were doing.  He told me of scores of hippies wondering around in the nude with caked-on mud as their only clothes – the farmer’s field had turned to pure mud.

Then he and Mark started to recount all the stories they had ever heard about it.  Mark talked about the bad acid and how there was an announcement made that the brown acid was bad and no one should do it, Man.  I was more than just a little scared after being party to this conversation which Mark and Hedgeman were reveling in the telling of.  I was eight.  I may have mentioned that.

One time Hedgeman actually passed-out underneath Amy’s bed, down the basement.  Mom and Dad were in Cancun but returned a day earlier than planned in order to surprise us.  Matt and June, then married and June pregnant, were asleep in my parents’ bed.  Dad walked in and looked through the house for all of us.  He told Mom that he could smell burning rope coming from downstairs.

He walked into Amy’s basement room.  She was fast asleep.  However, he quickly noticed that there was a pair of Kodiak work boots sticking out from under her bed.  He pulled on them and out slid Hedgeman.  It wasn’t a pretty scene. Hedgeman somehow took off out of the house and down Pearl hill.  Dad called the police and told them,

There’s a hoodlum running down Pearl Street and he’s so stoned he’s stunned!”

One time, Mark and Jobe had a very rowdy party and when they started doing hot knives (smoking hash off of hot knives heated on the stove elements) I called Olive Quinn, one of my Mom’s best friends, and begged her to come and get Luke and I.  It was after midnight but Van Halen’s Running with the Devil was still pounding, at top volume, throughout the house.  The bass on the stereo was turned up to the maximum.

Olive came to fetch us and take us to her house where we stayed in the basement because her husband was a very scary individual and a known bully, even though he was this prominent Catholic and a professional.  The next day, Olive delivered us back to Pearl Street.  I marveled that our six-foot fence that usually surrounded our back yard was now lying down of the grass.

At those times I wished very badly that Mom and Dad had not gone to Florida for Christmas or Spring Break.  At those times I also learned to truly appreciate our normally safe, religious and ordered home.  I don’t think my parents ever had a clue about the types of activities that went down while they were away. Chock it up to the 70s.

Decades later, while telling these stories to my best friend and husband, Dean, he looked me in the eye, took my hand and told me that I had been neglected as a child.

I’ll never forget the dawning realization that yes, that was exactly why some tales of my childhood made me feel so uneasy. Dean and I would NEVER have left our son in situations like that.  Anything could have happened with those weird wired young men who were Mark’s pals back then and who roamed freely through our home while Mom and Dad were away.  Luke and I were lucky to escape with just the psychological scars of being neglected as young children.

To be clear, there were a lot of psychological scars in my family.  It may be one of the main reasons we are all so close as siblings.  We counted on each other to get through tough times.  We cried, we sang and we laughed.  We laughed a lot.

Anyway, Luke and I were sworn to secrecy by Mark and Jobe lest we die by some tortuous death if we told on them.  Years later we would learn, disturbingly, that Hedgeman had died at Walden’s Royal Victoria Hospital, of AIDS.

 

(Photos and courtesy of Eva and google images)

 

img_7050
MMV and sister walking on Blue Beach, Nova Scotia 2016

Let the Games Begin ~ part 2

I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?
~Cat Stevens

We moved into our six-bedroom red brick bungalow in Barrie, Canada on Hallowe’en day of 1970.  An auspicious day.  I was four years old and extremely excited!  Our next door neighbours, The MacNeil’s, were a big family of eleven and Paul Aikins ‘MacNeil’ was five years old — a built-in buddy right next door.  And buddies we were.  Within seconds of arriving Paul and I were fast friends and could be seen chasing each other around the outside of our new brick bungalow.  I was gonna like it in this house.

From that moment, Paul and I spent almost every waking minute together.  We played house and school and hide-and-go-seek.  Often, because of the sheer number of kids between our two households, we would have huge games of Red Rover and British Bulldog, or 500-Up in the MacNeils’ huge back yard.  One time, the MacNeils got a new game of Croquet.  We played it non-stop for days.  It was so exciting being neighbours with the MacNeils.  We had such amazing fun together.

In the winter we would go sliding on the MacNeils’ very own sliding hill at the back of their house.  It was a perfectly steep hill which led into the parking lot of an eight-story apartment building that we imaginatively called: ‘the apartments’.  Sometimes there would be twenty or more kids out there in the dark, with just the reflection off the snow and a few parking lot lamps to light the path.  At other times it would be just Ben, my younger brother, Luke, and Ben’s two younger siblings.

The MacNeils lived in a mansion.  They had something like ten bedrooms, four bathrooms and a huge recreation room upstairs at the end of the house where parents never ventured.  Their dining room had the longest table in it that I had ever seen.  We would often do our homework at one small part of that table.  I would marvel at how neatly Paul did his assignments.  I aspired to be just like him.

There was also a piano in there.  We both took lessons but Ben went a lot farther than I, achieving levels of local celebrity status on piano. Ben’s older brother Noah was an idol of mine.  He always had the most incredible ideas about what we should all do together.  He would make up elaborate games or he would teach us how to be artistic.

Sometimes we would get to play hide-and-go-seek in their house on the second floor and sometimes, when Mrs McNeil wasn’t aware, even in the Attic.  There were secret hiding places and cupboards everywhere.  Paul’s room had a secret room inside his closet.  We spent hours in there.  Their house was so much fun!  During one game, we looked high and low for teen-aged Ethan who would have been the same age as my brother Mark.  No matter what we did, he was nowhere to be found.  Finally, we checked the cupboards that ran along the top of the twelve foot walls in the rec-room.  There he was.  I could never understand how he had managed to get up there.  I was impressed.  Playing with the MacNeils was so much fun!  We would never want to go home at the end of the evening, when it was time.  We would hear Dr. McNeil shout:  ‘It’s time for your friends to go home!”  We would quietly make our way home, back to our boring little bungalow next door.

The MacNeils had a cupboard in their kitchen that was stuffed full of cookies and sugary cereals.  At our house, we had gingersnaps, and that was on a good day, and then only two each and they were never just sitting in the cupboard.  They were hidden.  The cereal choices at our place were simple: puffed wheat, puffed rice or shredded wheat.  Sometimes, if we were good, we got plain Cheerios or Shreddies.

After some of my older brothers and sisters moved out on their own though, the choices got better and they almost always included Shreddies and Cheerios and then CornFlakes! I can still conjure up the feeling of extreme privilege that came along with that cereal. We also got real milk then too. 2%. Prior to that it was skim milk mixed from dry powder (blek!) which later became powdered skim mixed with 2% milk.  When it was just Luke and I at home, Dad started buying homogenized full fat milk. It was like drinking ice-cream.  That was sheer luxury after the watered down and often involuntarily gag-producing taste of powdered skim.  When Eva, Amy and Matt came back home for a supper meal, on occasion, they would comment on how spoiled we were now that we were being fed the higher quality groceries.

Mom bought groceries on a tight budget.  We had simple but good meals.  Things like sausages and tomato sauce, scalloped potatoes, shake-and-bake (the odd time), spaghetti and meat balls on Sunday night, Pate Chinois (pronounced pot-tay sheen-wa), which was my favourite meal) and we always had a green salad with supper, and then after all the plates were nearly licked clean, we were permitted dessert.  Sometimes Dad would still be hungry and would finish off our meals for us.  Other times he would angrily and loudly tell us to Eat Up!

About twice per month, we would have left-overs or home-made soup–basically a huge pot of soup made from everything left in the fridge before the new grocery order was bought.   We fondly referred to it as home-made poop because when you’re a kid, you don’t tend to like things to eat that aren’t completely decipherable.  All we could decipher out of Mom’s soup was a pea here and there and perhaps a piece of carrot.  The rest was left to the imagination.  One time I absolutely refused to eat it and found myself still staring at it, while it congealed and turned cold, at around 7 o’clock that night.

Supper had always started at 5:30 SHARP as soon as Dad walked in the door and sat down at the table, sometimes pounding the table with his fists – an indication of his hunger.

We tried to keep things calm at the supper table. Mom would bounce up and down from her chair getting this and that and, ‘Mom, while you’re up, can you grab me a glass of water?’

Sometimes Dad would tell stories about Schollard Hall and put on his falsetto voice imitating one of his teachers.  We would all laugh.  Usually our meals were not calm though, someone would spill a glass of milk.  Then Dad would pound the table and shaking his head and shout:

I HAD NO BREAKFAST,

A LOUSY LUNCH,

AND NOW I CAN’T EVEN EAT MY SON-OF-A-BITCH-OF-A DINNER!

The MacNeils had their groceries DELIVERED from IGA on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes I would witness the arrival of the grocery truck backing up to the MacNeils kitchen door.  I had never seen so many boxes of great food in my life.  They even had a freezer full of fudgsicles and they didn’t even have to ask before having one.

In our house the groceries were pretty strictly rationed out.  Cookies and other goodies were hidden away in special places that only Mom could find.  Sometimes she’s hide something so well that even she couldn’t find it!

At Christmas time we had special food in the house.  We always got a crate of tangerines.  They were the really sweet ones all individually wrapped in purple tissue paper.  Mom would keep the carton under the couch.  She was pretty generous with them compared to other stuff.  We would also have a pound of real butter.  Mom would buy two pounds, one for shortbread cookies and the other for us to have with turkey dinner.  Wow it was good compared to the bright yellow margarine that came wrapped in waxed paper.

charlie brown

Christmas was great when Mom and Dad didn’t go to Florida.  Mom always bought us a huge jigsaw puzzle to work on as a family under the Christmas tree.  I’ll always remember how much I enjoyed that.  We would also sing Christmas carols and play all kinds of board games during the holidays.  Of course, most of the time, during the day, we would be outside in the snow or on the rink in the back yard.  Often the door was locked and we were forced to stay outside and make our own fun for two hours or so.

There were always so many kids roaming around, it was easy to find something fun to do — climbing the snowbanks, rolling or sliding down hills, making a snowman or a snow-cave.  In all those years though, I can not remember one adult being outside with us to play.  We were completely unsupervised and it was only if we were bleeding or on fire that we would venture home to Mom who would take us in her arms and help us with our troubles.

Amy’s Men

Her hair is Harlow gold
Her lips are sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She got Bette Davis eyes
She’ll turn the music on you
You won’t have to think twice
She’s pure as New York snow
She got Bette Davis eyes
…Kim Carnes

My beautiful sister Amy…where do I begin.  She was always a guy-magnet with her long blond hair and huge, kind, blue eyes.  She has an aquiline nose and peaches and cream, skin but even with those attributes, it is her character that the guys fall for in a big way. She is sweet-natured, generous, thoughtful, fun, kind and hard-working.  A guy gets a whiff of that, and game over.  Trust me, I have witnessed this phenomenon my whole life.

Amy was born second in the family line-up.  She was born ten months after Eva, in 1955. She is eleven years my senior and a very close sibling and friend to me.  I could tell Amy absolutely anything and she would nod in a kind and understanding way and with non-judgement would do her best to see my reasons why.  And then, she would join me.

Ike

One of the first men I can remember who LOVED Amy was Ike whom she met thru the A&W in Walden. They were quite young when they met and it was the days of free love, peace, drugs and bell-bottom jeans.  Amy and Ike spent every waking minute together, that they could get away with.  It wasn’t long before Amy found herself in the ‘baby’ way. Of course our parents did what any good Catholic parents would do.

They hastily and by cover of night, sent Amy off to Toronto to live with the Nuns.

For months we barely saw or heard from Amy.  Suddenly she had been ripped from my life and because I was just a little girl (I was six), it really really hurt.  Amy came back once to visit and I remember my older siblings behaving strangely.  Of course they didn’t want me to notice her baby-belly because how would they explain it to me.  We all lived in such a tight-lipped manner back then.  I can still remember this wonderful black velvet, embroidered, baby-doll blouse she wore on that visit and how pretty and rested she looked.  Her cheeks were a healthy pink, her hair was lustrous and thick.  A couple of months later and she was back with us, as if nothing ever happened.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I learned the truth.  One night, Mom and Dad had friends over and Dad had too much to drink.  I had been sleeping in my bedroom down the hall  from the living room but had awoken upon hearing Dad’s voice raised in anger.  He was talking about how his blond daughter (whom I knew must be Amy) had had a baby with ‘a club foot’, ‘out of wedlock’ and had given her up for adoption.  My little brain began to spin.  I was an Aunt, but not an Aunt.  Where was my baby niece?  I did not sleep that night and at the crack of dawn, pounced on my siblings for answers.

Poor Ike, a few years later, lost a leg in a motorcycle accident.  Their daughter grew up, married and had a child.  They all found each other after thirty years, but, alas there were many challenges in the relationship between Amy and her daughter, Kassie. Kassie was raised with different values.  She had serious health issues, addictions and, of course, mobility issues.  She had a wonderful sense of humour but she was needy and was always asking, inappropriately for a hand-out from her biological mom, Amy.  Now, in the way of money, Amy survived and did okay because she worked bloody hard as a hair-stylist and a single-mom to Josh, who was still in middle-school at that time.  She routinely pulled twelve hour days, eating poorly and barely sitting down.  No matter how kind and generous Amy was, it wasn’t long before, with sinking heart, she realized that her daughter was a user.  Amy suffered with guilt and self-doubt but, she finally told Kassie that there would be no more hand-outs.  Kassie was rarely seen again for about fifteen years.

She is now back in Amy’s life and is no longer the free-loader.  One ironic thing about this story that niggles me in the back of my mind is this.  If Kassie were to stand beside her biological father, Ike, you would see a remarkable family resemblance. She was her father’s daughter.  AND, they both have just one leg.

(R.I.P. Ike.  He passed in 2019.)

DICK TOE-SHIT

Next up was a guy Amy actually married.  Dick was a quiet and haunted seasonal mason. In the off-season, he was basically a full-time stoner.  It wasn’t long before we got wind that Toe-shit was physically abusing Amy.  Our oldest and second brothers, Matt and Mark went to their flat and moved Amy out of there and brought her home.  Toe-shit was an asshole.

BUZZ

Buzz was this short, dark-haired, crooked smiled cowboy who was a farrier (horse-shoer) by trade.  He suffered from short-man’s syndrome.  Buzz knew it ALL, and then some. Name a topic and then just sit back and listen to him spout the bull-shit.  It was incredible.  He would come up to the camp with Amy and wear this teeny little noodle-bender Speedo bathing suit and yes, he would hope that you glanced down to check out his stuff.  He was quite proud of his manhood.  WhatEVER.  Bottom line was that the guy was completely bad news.  As soon as the family met him, we wanted Amy out. He was a user and he was verbally and emotionally abusive.  We are still not sure what Amy saw in the Buzz-ard.

BLAIN ROBERTS

Blain was a car salesman.  Tall, blond and a real talker.  He had a Great Dane named Thor (compensating for something?) and fidelity issues.  Enough said.

PHIL

Phil was from the village on Eight Mile Lake.  He was constantly in bare feet with a smoke between his teeth, of which a couple were missing.  Phil was a nice enough guy and we all liked him but, he was completely passive aggressive.  Everything had to be done his way. He was also without a driver’s licence and often without work and therefore a bit of a drain on the finances, especially considering that welders can make big money any day of the week.

Amy came out to visit me for two weeks in August 2013 when Phil was still living with her and we had one wonderful vacation together. It started with a weekend yoga, herbology and belly-dancing retreat entitled:

The Juicy Goddess Retreat at Windhorse Farm  done by two of my friends, Daisy and Lucy.

The retreat was such a great time.  We did lovely yoga led by the highly skilled teacher, Daisy.  We ate wonderfully prepared, catered meals that the caterer continuously told us proudly were ‘vegan’.  I would then say, that’s nice, but no need to go through the trouble because we aren’t vegan.  The next meal though, she would announce the same message again: I hope you enjoy this meal.  It’s vegan.  I was left wondering if I had imagined the previous conversation. So I told her again: that’s lovely but, please don’t trouble yourself, we aren’t vegan.  When she announced it a third time, I took a look at her face to see if she was joking.  She stared back at me rather vacantly and smiled.

Ooookay.  Stepford Wives much?

Yoga retreat
We hiked all over the property of Windhorse Farm and were given a herbology talk by my lovely friend, Lucy.  The weather was hodancer on the fallen treet and dry.  It was an incredible day and we learned all manner of wonderful tidbits from Lucy. Next, we put on belly-dancing costumes and makeup, had white wine, and were given a lesson.  We then walked through the peaceful lush forest of the farm and did yoga moves on fallen logs taking photos and such.

The next item on the agenda popped up out of nowhere.  Lucy had mentioned to us that she had a tooth that was bugging her and that probably just needed to be filed down a bit so that it would stop irritating her cheek.

Amy says: ‘Marti can do it!’ And, with that vote of confidence, so I did.  I put my reading classes on, and in belly-dancing attire, filed down Lucy’s problem tooth. The pictures were hilarious. I asked Amy later why she nominated me for such a task. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘because you were in the ARMY.  You can do anything.’ Ooookay.  Just checking. (The other day, my teenage son said something similar. I was asking him to show us how to download a free movie.  He says, ‘come on Mom.  You were in the ARMY, you should be able to download a movie.  Geesh.’)

Leaving Windhorse farm, I took Amy to Hirtle’s Beach.  I wanted her to experience the vast, white sand beaches of Nova Scotia.  We got out of the car and barefoot, took the

boardwalk Hirtle'sboardwalk over the dune to the beach. Amy gasped at the sight of Hirtle’s.  So vast, so empty, so perfect.  Arm in arm we walked the beach and Amy told me then the sad tale that she and Phil were not going to last.  Up until that point, I had thought Phil was the ‘one’.  Amy had not told me her struggles with Phil.  She told me then, on Hirtle’s.  I will never forget that exchange.  Sadly, Amy told me that she thought she would end up alone in her old age.  Fat chance of that, I thought.

Bayswater Beach
The gorgeous Hirtle’s Beach, Nova Scotia

Upon leaving for a Cuban vacation, our second brother, Mark told Phil to be moved out by the time he and Amy got back, or he would move him out himself.

OTHERS

At my best-friend Kelly’s wedding to the asshole she finally just got rid of twelve damaging years, but two beautiful sons later, comes this proposition.  I had just finished saying my speech about Kelly.  It had gone over well. I was especially glad to see Kelly’s Dad, a retired cop, laughing so hard he had pushed himself away from the table and bowing down between his knees.  He found the story about ‘get out before she blows’ (from the post Fun and Foibles at the Camp) quite hilarious and the fact that he never had heard about it, was also funny.

Anyhoo, I was pleased to be done. I walked to the back of the room and there was Amy speaking to Kelly’s mom who then turns to me and says, ‘Martha, your sister Amy is a remarkably beautiful woman’.  Like I didn’t know this?  She carried on to another group of folks and Amy and I then chatted and laughed and were anticipating a great evening of dancing.  Then, over walks Kelly’s brother Sam and begins a friendly conversation with Amy and I.  The next thing you know we are all chuckling and enjoying ourselves with recalling fond family memories.  Sam had been our youngest brother, Luke’s best friend. During the course of the conversation, it came out that Amy was now single.

Sam leans in, ‘So, Amy, you’re single now?’

Amy nods.

Sam inches a bit closer, turning his body slightly toward Amy.  His eyes riveted on her face.

Picking up on the body language, Amy cocks her pretty head to the side, blond hair cascading, smiles and asks, ‘So, Sam, how OLD are you…..?’

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT me to be?’

We laughed uproariously, bent over double at his sweet attempt to entice Amy.

****

Just the other day, I was on the phone with Sue, the guy (yes, Sue is a guy) from the post Fun and Foibles at the Camp (18).  We were talking about all the members of my family that he had met over the years and especially at the camp.  It wasn’t long before Sue asks, (and I wasn’t one bit surprised) ‘So, what is Amy doing these days?  Is she single?  Tell her I said hi.  I always thought she was so nice and pretty, even though she made me clean up her car after I got sick in it.’

At the next opportunity, I told Amy that Sue had asked after her and was saying he was interested.  Amy says, ‘Oh that’s sweet, he was always such a good head.  How OLD is he, Martha…?’

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT him to be?’

Total Guy Magnet.

(Credit for the feature image at the top goes to my other big sister…the ever talented, Eva Player)

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Theory of Loss

Now the sun’s gone to hell and
The moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line in your palm
We are fools to make war
On our brothers in arms
~Dire Straits

We’ve all lost someone who we are sure is a mistake of nature to have died. A friend, a relative or, a celebrity: John Candy. Robin Williams. Princess Diana. Why? Why would they die early? They who never hurt anyone, but, who only did good things and helped people or who made people laugh. Why were they taken from us?  It just is not fair.

Uncle Ted was that person for us. Ted was married to my husband, Dean’s eldest sister.  They got married in the seventies and built their bungalow from scratch on a dead-end street in a small city in Newfoundland.  They had three children and raised them with the utmost care and attention.  There are now several grand-children who will never be held, played with or read to by Poppy Ted.

When I met Ted, I knew instantly that he was one of those truly good people.  With his clear, gentle eyes and sweet smile. Always helpful. Always offering quiet advice.  Always chuckling at my lame jokes. Always taking Leo and going off for a good play, running around outside playing shoot ’em up games, flying Buzz around, or reading books or squished up into Leo’s play cubby building Lego.  I would sometimes forget how much time had gone by.  Leo would be so well amused, there was no need for mommy.  One time, on a day we were expecting Ted and Lanna to arrive anytime, I over heard a conversation between two six-year olds: Leo and his buddy, Kevin from next door. Kevin was asking would Leo be able to play after lunch.

Leo’s response: Can’t. Uncle Ted is coming.  

Kevin: ‘So? Do you want to play?’

‘Oh no, I’ll be playing with Uncle Ted.’

‘He PLAYS with you?  asked an incredulous Kevin. 

‘Yep.’

‘Like, anything you want?’

‘Yeah. Anything I want,’ answered a dreamy Leo.

‘Wow!’ said Kevin. 

Some other wonderful things that Ted would do. He would shovel driveways and mow the grass of the elderly in his neighbourhood.  He may be out there for hours after a snow fall – come in for a bite to eat and a cup of decaf tea and then right back at it.  There were scores of examples of Ted’s kindnesses, acts of forgiveness and incredible selflessness.  We’ve heard the saying What would Jesus do?

What would TED do?

***

In military college, there were four cadets tragically killed.  Over reading break, four of them went off to fly a Cessna.  One of them already having his pilot’s license.  We never saw them again.  It was a very small school.  We all knew each other.  We knew each other sometimes better than we wanted to know each other.  We were struck dumb with the news of our missing classmates.  We lived in this big old four-story building which was just like a Residence Dorm.  Someone hooked up a major sound system outside the dorm and we all went to the windows of the south side of the building and held lighted candles while one cadet blasted Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits.

Everyone was wailing. Tears streaming down faces.

It was a powerful display of our misery for the loss of our classmates.  I remember feeling completely helpless and very angry.  Again, the question of why?  Now that I am a mom, I could not fathom how any parent could survive a call about the death of their child. Imagine receiving that call, having raised your child and sent he or she off to college. Tragic.

***

When Mom was in her mid-fifties, she began, slowly, to lose her mind. Mom had always had a memory that would put anyone to shame.  She could remember all the details. Who was born where, what time and how long each labour was.  Birthdays of relatives and friends.  The location of each pin in our house.  Phone numbers and important details of her seven children’s lives.  I remember calling home from Comox when I was posted out there and the dawning realization that Mom was losing her memory.  She just could not answer my questions the way she would normally.  She was almost stuttering and saying things like: I must be nertz!  Mom did lose her memory.  It didn’t go overnight though.  It went slowly over the next fifteen or so years, until she was just a shell of herself.  Sarah McLachlan sings a song called Mary.  One time it was playing on the radio around the time that mom was getting more and more ill. Hearing it and the lyrics:

Mary walks
Down to the water’s edge
And there she hangs her head
To find herself faded
A shadow of what she once was

had me weeping and moaning at the early loss of such a great person. Another time, Dean and I were watching a movie in our basement apartment on a rainy day the months before we moved to the Arctic. There was a scene of an older woman in a nursing home who resembled mom in her looks, as well as in her dementia.

I began to cry.

I laid back on our bed and pulled my knees up toward my chest and rolled on my spine side to side. The sobbing came from deep in my centre with loud heaving moans that I could not stop. It was primordial. The feeling of loss was profound.  I would have been embarrassed by this raw show of emotion but then I realized that I was grieving for the loss of my mom before she was even dead. That awful fucking disease had taken her long before her time. I missed her very badly.  Mom was a good person.  Everyone who knew her knew it.  At her funeral, Mark sang his song that had grown men weeping with tears streaming down their faces.

Our special mother through all those years.  Who gave us hugs and dried our tears.  To help us out in every way.  Always knowing just what to say.

A harder worker you could not find.  Heart of gold and open mind. Thinking of others before herself.  Even when she was ill of health.

But when Mom had the time to spare.  Her special talents she would share.  She swam the lake with graceful strokes.  And sang us all the songs she wrote.

She would go on a painting spree.  Paint the rocks white at number three.  Paint the porch at number one.  While singing her song, Please Mister Sun.

A gourmet meal was made from scratch.  Pickerel, pike or small-mouth bass. Homemade soup and sugar pie.  Crumbled fruit of any kind.

Even with the crosses she had to bear.  Her strength and hope were always there.  To get us through another day.  In our hearts she’ll always stay.

So thank you Mom from all of us.  For the care and love you gave so much.  You truly are our guiding light.  That will shine forever day and night.

We know you’ve finally been released.  And now you’ll always rest in peace.  AS you look down at us from heaven.  Farewell for now, your loving seven.                                                                                                                                                              Copyright Dec 2001

track
Photo by Eva, my sister

Theory of loss?  Could it be that it is not the event that is meant to teach us a lesson, but in the reaction to the event and in the love that is shown in support of the grieving? *  In fact my sister Eva reminded me of it because I had been tearfully telling her about the tragic loss of a lovely 22 year old young man here in my neighbourhood.  I was asking, ‘Why?  Why should such a wonderful young person die?’  Eva reminded me.  Perhaps it is just that simple.

* I just saw this idea portrayed in a television program called ‘Call the Midwife’.