My Attic Bedroom

Van Morrison was crooning on the radio as we drove along the highway from Halifax to our Big Valley. The scenery was breathtaking and was nearly undisturbed by other motorists. We were in our little cocoon of a car and enjoying a gorgeous drive. Why then did my belly feel sick and dread? I was coming to the realization that this feeling and this music was linked to a bad memory. I told Dean that Van Morrison was incredible – an incredible icon of a musician and lyricist but I really did not like Van Morrison.

Why? he asked.

His music reminds me of an asshole I encountered when I was nineteen.

Do you want to tell me about it? You don’t have to, if you don’t want to, said Dean, being sensitive and sweet and kind, as was his usual.

I said, well, I’m into it now. May as well…

My story began and I can’t believe I had never told him this one. We have been married for thirty years!

When Mom and Dad got divorced, Dad and his new wife bought a motel in Niagara Falls. He was therefore unable to help me with my University fees at Waterloo U. I left school and headed back to Barrie but not before applying to get into the Canadian Armed Forces. For a while I stayed with my Mom (and her drunk of a boyfriend) in her tiny apartment but, this wasn’t ideal. Since I had found a full-time job at LaFayette Restaurant, I decided I had enough money to get a place of my own.

I found a room for rent in a house just down the street. It was walking distance to my job. The room was large and bright and had a shared kitchen and bath. The owners were a young Asian couple. There was only one downfall of the room – it was an attic bedroom with an open staircase leading up to it but there was no door – neither at the bottom of the stairs nor at the top. I wasn’t super bothered by this because the house was quiet and the couple was very sweet.

For a few weeks it was fine but then another boarder moved in. Cue the ominous music. His name was Charlie. He was small, skinny, unattractive and he did not smell good. His mannerisms were awkward and he was opinionated and outspoken with a strange cackling laugh. He was instantly overly familiar with me as his eyes travelled the length of my healthy, curvaceous body and my long dark wavey hair. A few days later he would remark that I really needed to lose a few pounds. Yes, back in the 80s some men used to openly make remarks like that. They would police women and try to ‘keep them in line’ with hurtful, personal remarks. What a fucking jerk.

The next thing that happened was I was watching tv in the living room when he came and sat down too close to me. Yuck, I thought. There was only one ottoman and he put his feet up and made sure to caress my feet with his, by accident. Ew. I moved away and shortly thereafter, I went up to my room. I could hear that he had switched to playing guitar and was belting out some, you guessed it: Van Morrison. He would play his guitar and sing Van Morrison every chance he got. I think he thought it was cool and that he would attract me. All that happened was it made me hate a great musician.

Late that night the worst happened. I was asleep in my bed, up in my attic bedroom. Suddenly I became aware that someone was in bed next to me. Uninvited! When my eyes opened and landed on his sneering but hopeful face on the pillow next to mine I nearly lost my mind. I jumped out of bed. My body involuntarily shuttered as I did a little dance to get his cooties off of me and simultaneously thanked the lord that I was wearing pyjamas. I screamed at him to GET THE FUCK OUT!!! Perplexingly, he seemed surprised.

I called the police and this bastard somehow convinced the cops that I was the problem because my bedroom had no door. I mean, what was I asking for without a door on my bedroom? What could you expect of a red-blooded male? The misogynistic pig cop actually went along with this pervert’s thinking but not before he questioned me in such a way that shamed me instead of the pervert. The perv stood there watching this procedure in which the cop actually asked me how many sexual partners I had had. What the fuck?

I was in shock and had a pronounced sinking feeling of hopelessness. Now I would have to move again. I had basically no money and no help from parents or anything. Moving again was daunting.

For some strange reason, probably to help make me like him, which it did not, the asshole had given me a set of glass, nested, lidded mixing bowls the previous week, which he said he had found. (Whatever!) Before I left the house with my bags packed, he asked for the mixing bowls back. To borrow a phrase from my hero the fictional character of Ruth Langmore on the hit tv show Ozark, that’s the calibre of fuck-nugget I was dealing with.

I am still troubled by this all these decades later. But if I could go back and do one thing differently, I wish I had walked up to the pervert to return the mixing bowls, smashed them on the floor and then taken his shoulders and kneed him in the balls- really hard.

I still can not handle the music of Van Morrison. What a shame.

A Can Of Worms

Memories, like wriggling worms, are unearthed regarding my time serving in the Canadian Armed Forces

I joined up in 1986.  The inspecting officer would stand very close to address me while I stood at attention and did not move, not even my eyes should shift from a fixed gaze while his nose nearly grazed my neck to catch my scent.  Nor, I knew, should I demonstrate my revulsion if I wanted to be successful.  This was in Chilliwack, Canada on Basic Training for the Canadian Armed Forces. Later I overheard him bragging about inspecting me with my puffed out chest when standing at attention. Oh brother. So began the boys-will-be-boys attitude of my time in the Canadian Armed Forces. It now angers me to realize the wrongs and subtleties of the situation.  It has taken a long time for them to unearth. I was tainted by my upbringing in a tough male environment with an overbearingly masculine father and four brothers (plus two much older sisters).

The memories of the worst transgressions had been suppressed for three decades. I have pried open the can of worms containing all of the ridiculous double standards, innuendo, gaslighting, sexual misconduct, male toxicity and worse.

The worms wriggle and remind me of another offence which had been buried. Like the time the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Comox Accommodations Officer, a senior Captain, used his master key to enter my locked room at midnight while I was in my bed in Officers’ quarters. The head of that worm poked up randomly today. I had completely forgotten how furious and freaked out I was and how I screamed at him to just get the fuck out! I felt unsafe and exposed. There was no chain on the door. I had forgotten how I didn’t sleep for several nights after that.  Tossing and turning and hoping he would not return with his master key.  Creep!

Then there’s the time that a classmate of mine in the woods near Royal Roads Military College near Victoria, well, I thought he was a friend of mine – we had just been in the same platoon on basic training and shared many intense wins together. We both had a couple of drinks and we were joking around, bantering, sitting close to each other on a fallen log in the rain forest, just out of the circle of the campfire party that was happening for first years. Before I knew what was going on he pinned me down on my back. Kissing me brutally.  He easily overpowered me.  He was so strong! I was telling him to stop but, like a predator on prey, he didn’t. Afterwards when we both realized that he had just raped me, our friendship was over and things were quite awkward. It was shortly thereafter that I saw a photograph of myself on one of the main bulletin boards for the wing.  In the photo I was fully clothed but someone had drawn a big red circle around my pelvic area with an angry SLUT! and an arrow pointing to said pelvis. Everyone looked at this bulletin board every day several times, including the ones in charge (this was the 1980s when bulletin boards were an important tool for the passage of key information). When I saw the image of myself there like that I wept. I was enraged, humiliated, saddened and completely frustrated with how unfair things were.  HE WAS THE SLUT!  HE WAS THE PROBLEM! People actually thought it was my fault.

Another new memory unearthed itself which I will slot in here as it came to the surface of my mind months after I originally posted this.  It involved a senior cadet at Royal Roads Military College orchestrating a hotel-room drunk in Victoria, B.C. (about 40 minutes taxi ride from the college) for conventionally attractive first year female cadets.  He and his couple of fellow seniors got us completely inebriated by plying us with liquor shots through drinking games coupled with the pressure for us to follow orders.  I recently remembered him raping me while I was passed out, then awoke then passed out again.  A shocking memory which surfaced just the other day, some 35 years after the fact.  Why not report him? Because I would have been ridiculed by the whole wing.  I went to the hotel room party.  It was my fault, consent given for intercourse or no.

I thank the stars that I had gone on the pill just prior to leaving for basic. (I remember the thought process all too well. It would be dangerous to NOT be on the pill if even just one man couldn’t control himself and his ejaculations of baby-making sperm around me).  Whereas it could be the guy ‘getting off’ (a primordial physical release) but it could mean a great deal more to me: Pregnancy. The end of a short career. The horror of abortion? The facing of major life decisions on my own forced upon me by his need to ‘get off’ or to ‘put me in my place’.  I took those pills in order to not be accidentally impregnated by some too eager prick.

To add insult to injury, two years after the hotel-room drunk / rape, this same ginger-headed now new lieutenant was the directing staff (DS) on an important army course called Environmental Specialty Land in Borden, Ontario.  I don’t really know where I went in my head in order to function around him, especially when I had to receive orders from him and later be debriefed by him in a tent, alone. We were completed sleep-deprived, maybe that saved me.  I remember finding any reason to laugh and with my now husband in my same section coupled with another hilarious Cape Bretoner, I guess I just soldiered on.  I was desperate to pass this training in order to be promoted.  I had nothing to go home to.  I needed this and despite the assholes abusing me, I was good at army life excelling at most requirements of the course.

But, for decades I have wondered why I didn’t end up finishing my degree at mil col. There was the big question mark in my mind’s eye whenever I thought of leaving the school early. Finally, in my fifty-fifth year, I have the answer.  At the age of 20  I was raped, humiliated and blamed.  My identify was stolen.  My innocence lost.  I would forever mistrust 99 percent of men, sleep as light as a feather or not at all, and lose almost full interest in sexual intimacy for decades.  Thanks assholes.  Thanks a hell of a lot.

***

For three years I was in a field unit in Germany.  Field unit meaning that we were quite actively practicing for war and for the resupply required. This took our unit out, away from garrison on exercise a couple of times per year. We also would attend something called a gun camp where we would practice shooting and other field exercises. In Valdehon, France, I was in my private barrack room one day fetching something needed when I realized somebody was standing behind me in my open doorway. His eyes were boring into the back of my figure — even in baggy combats, there were curves to lust after, and maybe a rogue curl had escaped from my braid, oh my! This guy was a colleague of mine. On base, we worked side-by-side on several operations.  Now he had wild eyes while he looked at me and I realized something was quite wrong. He closed in on me. In full daylight while the rest of the unit was on the ranges, he backed me into a corner with a sick grin on his face. I was disgusted as a cold finger of fear traced down my spine. I would not be raped again. He told me he was there to pleasure me.  He said he knew I wanted it.  He told me that I smelled good as I put both hands on his chest and pushed him away with all my strength. I told him not to bother me with that type of thing again or he would be in trouble. I knew though, in my head, that if I were to raise a stink about his behaviour it would just bite me in the ass and he would brag and swagger and nothing would happen. I didn’t want to jeopardize my standing as a woman in this unit who was holding her own.

Just another day for a female junior officer in a field unit.

***

On one of our field exercises I was in my platoon’s headquarters truck when one of my sergeants walked in and locked the door behind him. He grabbed my arm. I could smell cigarettes and sour alcohol on his breath. He was sweating. He was known to be a heavy drinker but was loved by the unit for his ability to happily handle extreme physical challenges.  We had marched the four day x 40 km Nijmegen marches on the same team.  I thought we were allies.  But, no.  He told me he would now have what he wanted from me. My body stiffened and I bore my eyes into his. Between clenched teeth I told him if he tried anything on me I would fucking kill him. His face froze. I could literally see the wheels spinning in his warped mind.  He stopped. He went away. Just another day for a female junior officer in a field unit.

Not all of the men I encountered were like this. After all, I married the man that I met on the first day of logistics training at Canadian Forces Base Borden. He is the love of my life and we have been married 30 years. He knows all of these details and he gently helps me through them. I am a very blessed person but even so, I have suffered. I believe that I suppressed, buried and downplayed these memories. I hadn’t been sure of the details but I just knew that it had happened.  When the class-action law suit about sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces came to me I found myself nearly catatonic with the sudden validity of the shit that went down for me when I served.  Suddenly, some of the particularities in my life made sense.  My extreme spidey-senses towards creeps, for one.  Not sleeping well was unfortunately another and the list goes on: I startle easy, I avoid any chance of being alone with a man, I watch men to see if I can trust them, I have a hard time getting intimate and I still don’t have that University degree, so underemployment has haunted me for decades.

As a woman in the Canadian Armed Forces, on a daily basis I received unwanted attention from male subordinates, colleagues and seniors. Just last night I remembered a female senior Captain ‘trapping’ me at her apartment one night.  Me brainwashed to follow orders from my superiors, couldn’t leave.  Her telling me I just HAD to stay at her place, sleep in her musty, smelly bed because of the weather or some other stupid reason.  She inched closer and closer to me on her dusty, creaky couch.  Leering, smiling weirdly and breathing heavier than necessary.  Oh my fucking god.  I was gonna lose it that night.  I am still not sure if she touched me.  I just simply have not unearthed that memory yet. There is a blank there.

There were cat-calls, lewd comments, leering, innuendo. Comments about my appearance as a matter of course and not just ‘you look nice’.  Detailed picking apart of my body’s shape and size, ‘looking pretty pear-shaped there’ one guy would say. My hair, my face and whether I was smiling or bitchy that day were all discussed and pointed out. While talking to my husband (who had been my peer in the military) about this with regard to his routine experience in the military, comparatively speaking, he stated that he had none of that. He was free to do his work and more easily received accolades.  The men I worked with in the military had no troubles like mine.

Many men in the military with me at the time would be shocked with regard to my physical strength. I worked hard, (my mother’s daughter). I stayed strong, always pulling my own weight and doing the things that people said women couldn’t do like very long marches in combat attire, chin-ups and push-ups and maintaining a positive outlook even while in the shit, like digging ditches or sleep deprived. I did this because I knew that it would help me to be “respected”. I was terrified of failure.  I had no support at home in Barrie.  I would have to go back to find a crap job on a bottom rung if I failed.  It was the fear of that that kept me motivated and with blinders on. But even while pumping-off up to seven chin-ups, bar set so physically high, I needed a strong-arm male boost with large hands encircling my small waist, just to reach it; even then, I could hear men commenting on the shape of my ass. 

cropped-capt-mmv.jpg

Yo Universe! Thanks Again

You can’t always get what you want but, if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need*

I was just telling a new friend of mine about how many times it has happened to me, in my life, that the Universe has basically provided me exactly what I need…I mean, what I need has just dropped into my lap.  Pretty cool.  This post is about a few of those instances and how they happened and just how weird and wonderful it is…

The most profound instance of this was the meeting of my husband.  At age 22, I had just driven solo across Canada for six days from Comox, BC to Borden, Ontario to join the Basic Army Logistics Officers’ Course. Day one, October 1988, I arrive at the school hallway with its long line of hooks under a very long hat shelf to hang up my army Issue gabardine rain coat and to shelf my beret.  It was a wet and cool day.  I was trepidatious.  I didn’t know a soul on this course.  There were about sixty other young officers from all over Canada.  So, I am hanging up my coat facing left when a tall, dark and handsome green-eyed young officer hangs his coat beside mine. Catching my eye, he says a simple, “Hi” with a cute grin.  I completely melted and saw stars right then and there.  A feeling enveloped my being.  I knew that this guy, whatever his name was, would be very important to me.  Then he scored a perfect 100 on the opening placement exam and I gulped.  He was intelligent and gorgeous.  When I saw him kick a soccer ball and I realized that he was also athletic, oh my, I swooned.

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 29 years.  Thank you Universe!

But what is amazing about this story is all the shit that had to go down before we actually met on that day at Logistics school, hanging up our coats.  You see, I had been at Waterloo University when my summer job money ran out and no one was able to help me.  I fetched about for a way to attend higher education (I am completely downplaying this snippet – I flailed around!) I wanted to qualify for a good career.  My mind came to the idea of joining the army and the many and in-depths steps that had to occur to get in and then take, tolerate and pass the brutal training…then the nightmare of military college…then a short posting to Comox…then the six DAY solo drive to Ontario then hanging up my coat beside my life-mate, enduring months of training and then a posting over-seas…together.  Jeezus.

So, many other much less spectacular things have happened too.

Needing a sleeping cot for my visiting family…verbalize this need to my hubby, (the same cute guy from Logistics school) while driving on a country road.  Thirty seconds later, my eye catches something on the side of the road.  It’s a perfectly fine sleeping cot frame and mattress. We pull over and put it in the back of the car.  Thank you Universe.

A competition is announced at Paddy’s Pub where I worked for a couple of years upon moving to Wolfville.  ‘Whoever signs up the most folks for a loyalty card wins an IPOD.’  Those words were said and I knew in my being that I would win that IPOD.  It was the latest technology.  Friends were digitally storing their music and photos on them.  My son had been pestering for one. A month later I walked home with that new IPOD, feeling like it was a million bucks.  Thank you Universe.

I fell in love with our little bungalow while walking to the first day of school with Leo.  The feeling enveloped me again.  I knew that one day, we would live there.  Eight years later, after the previous owner had raised his family, we did.  It is quite the story, but, we are happy as clams with its ample open space, closeness to trails and proximity to everything we need.

For over a decade, I practiced yoga by attending group classes, eating up as much mat time among community members as I could get.  Sometimes this got expensive as I was paying over $80 ++ per week on yoga classes.  When my new office was directly above a yoga studio again I felt the Universe providing for me.

I began to toy with the idea of becoming a yoga teacher.  My friend Melanie had gone to the Bahamas to study at the Ashram on an Island.  Over a glass of wine and a hot tub soak after yoga at Daisy’s house, she told us of her experience being immersed in yoga.  Not once did I think ‘hey, I could do something like that.’ My search for a teacher training continued.  I tried out a lot of scenarios that would fit my family’s lifestyle.  One day, late in the afternoon, Melanie showed up at my office with her bike helmet under her arm.  It seems she had forgotten her bicycle after yoga class.  She asked me what I was up to.  I told her I was on the hunt for a good, affordable yoga teacher training.  She said, ‘Why don’t you just go to the same Ashram I went to in the Bahamas?’

There is was again…Melanie forgot her bike after class (who forgets a bike while walking with their helmet tucked under their arm?), comes back, sees me, recommends this place to me.  The full-body feeling is there…this adventure will happen.  And so it did, twice, in fact!  The story is at this link.  Alas, I didn’t end up maintaining the teaching aspect of my yoga practice.  But, studying yoga in depth was incredible.  I learned that yoga is a lot of things, the least of which is attaining a yoga body and doing poses on a mat.

Last one for ya…

At a wedding for my niece up in Ontario.  Dean, Leo and I have just driven for two days to Hunstville.  We prepare for an amazing wedding by two foodies where everything is over-the-top wonderful.  We dress and take the bus to the Summit building.  Suddenly I feel my head begin to pound with a headache and a bit of nausea.  If I don’t get an extra strength something soon, I will have to bow out of the festivities and I really did not want to do that!  You see, I adore dancing and socializing and being with my big fun family.  So, I began to quietly but frantically ask around.  There’s no jumping in a car to get to a drugstore.  Remember, we had taken a bus to a remote area.  No one could help me.  Then my eyes fell on my sister.  I whispered to her that my head was aching and asked if she might have a pill.  She was carrying a tiny little black clutch purse. She opened the purse. There was nothing in there. Nada. Except one little red pill! An extra-strength pain-killer.  She plucked it out of her clutch purse and happily handed it to me with as much surprise on her expressive face as was on mine.  What possessed her to put one pill in a purse and carry it to the wedding?

There was that feeling again.  Thank you Universe.

Remember to take a moment and leave a comment.  Comments are awesome!

*Songwriters: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
You Can’t Always Get What You Want lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc

High School Out Trip

A survival trip in the 80s has me realizing my nature and that I am at home in it

In Grade 12, there was this out trip that we all participated in.  It was a several day canoe and portage adventure trip up in Killarney National Park and it was meant to be a fun, team-building, learning experience.  It was also somewhat of a survival experience and, for me, a challenge to remain positive and friendly no matter what the weather was doing.

The preparatory meetings began.  ‘All grade 12s going on the Out Trip with Mrs Ducky, report to classroom 105 for a planning meeting’.  All of us gathered from the four corners of the school.  We found a seat and glanced around.  The atmosphere in the room was palpable with hormones, comparisons and expectation of fun to come.  Mrs Ducky ensured that each of the forty or so of us made contributions to the planning.  What needs to be packed.  How to pack it (in plastic bags just in case it rains).  What to expect (an arduous journey) and the timings and itinerary for the trip, including car pooling and who would be in each canoe.

When we finally got up to Killarney National Park, we were ready for the adventure ahead.  We piled into our crafts and were told to stick together, lest we get lost.  Mrs Ducky and Mr Watson should remain within site, they told us.  It was huge water surrounded by vast wilderness and craggy rocks and with many inexperienced canoeists, anything could happen.

Poor Sue (the same guy from ‘Fun and Foibles At The Camp‘ went in the drink just off shore.) He was with a couple of classmates who didn’t know how to balance the canoe while trying to switch places.  Over they went. Sue’s sleeping bag remained wet for the whole trip.  Gotta ask yourself, ‘What happened to the plastic bag for it, Sue?’  Years later Sue joined the Army.  He learned a ton about survival and staying dry then.

Anyway, the trip was magical.  We canoed, we raced, we sang, we splashed and we teased each other.  Sue even demonstrated gunnel-bobbing just off shore of one of our sites.  At times it rained horribly and at times the sun peaked out to shine on the motley, rag tag crew that we were.  We had several portages that we would tell each other was, ‘only five football fields long’ – helping mentally to push through it and get ‘er done.

One day, while making lunch for the group, Mrs Ducky squealed at Mike to stop eating the bread rolls.  He looked up with cheeks stuffed full like a chipmunk and pointing a sausage-shaped finger at his chest tried to say, “Who me?”  Those in ear-shot giggled at this even though it would mean we would be short for supper.  The food was strictly rationed and Mike was this lumbering, big guy with fuzzy black hair and so funny.

At another site that lent itself to bathing, a few of us actually went for a swim and washed our hair.  I was one of them, being so used to this kind of thing at the camp all my life.  The water was so pure and clean and felt like silk as I dove in.  The water in the lakes up there in Northern Ontario parks was so pure in those days (1985) that for drinking water, we were all instructed to bring a melmac or metal mug on a carabiner that should be hooked to our waistband.  With it, we would simply scoop water out of the lake and drink it down as we paddled, or at any time on the trip.  No bottled water.  No tanks of water.  No filter, pump or drops. Just lake water.  No one got sick.

A few of my classmates were quite miserable on this trip and I felt badly for them.  They didn’t have the experience in nature that I had been so fortunate to have.  They didn’t want to squat in the woods or to walk barefoot into the water or sleep with camp-fire smoked hair.  It was a foreign place, nature.  They were home-sick.

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!)

 

A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance ~ part 5

We were spending all kinds of time together, working and exploring parts of Europe but, it wasn’t turning into romance. So… I did something about it.

So we began our careers together as young platoon commanders and it was busy – the learning curve was vast and challenging and not without sweat and tears.  We attended daily meetings and orders groups.  We went to gun-camps and field exercises together.  We did physical fitness tests; challenges like rappelling off the jump tower (where my friend Dan, with his ultra confidence in me and enthusiastic persistence locked eyes with me until I took the step to certain death and / or broken legs) and out of a helicopter (ditto); and long marches.  We had TGIF gatherings and formal Mess dinners together and soon we started hanging out as friends.  We would drive to neighbouring countries, cities, towns and villages.  We would check out various restaurants and go for hikes or to a soccer match.  We would find English movies to watch in various Movie houses.  One of our favourite places to go was Strasbourg, France.  It was so beautiful and medieval. We also loved going to the baths at Baden-Baden.

baths

We would stay at the baths for a few hours and walk on the crooked cobble-stone lane ways until we found a little bistro. Famished from the baths.

At Christmas time, feeling that I had just finally settled in, I thought I may not go home back over the pond.  I would just stay and catch up on work and have a quiet time, solo.  My apartment phone rang.  When I answered it my eldest brother Matt’s unmistakable voice asked my why I wouldn’t be coming home.  In his deep, slow drawl he said, ‘Marnie, I almost died a few months ago.  I’ve just re-learned how to walk.  You really need to come home.  We’re going to have a big Family Christmas party.  You can stay with us.  Come home, okay?’

My biggest brother had had a near fatal car accident outside of town up at the lake.  He was driving his new convertible and somehow it flipped, throwing him a distance.  He landed on his head and was knocked out for days.  When he came to, he couldn’t speak properly and he couldn’t walk.  He and June persevered, as they would, being who they are – tough and hardworking.  They pulled through.  June ran the business while Matt did physio and recouped mentally.  He would later tell hilarious stories about his time in the hospital.  How he would jumble his words and meaning and sayings.  Of course, all the nurses loved him.  He made everyone laugh.

So, of course I went home and I enjoyed every minute of the catching up and the hyper-ness of being with all the personalities of my big, wonderful family.  Silently observing as we all fell into our various roles: the little sister (that was me), the big brother, the joker, the musician entertainer, the nurturer, the best friend to all…we all had a place in the woven fabric of our big family.

***

Out on a field exercise once we had to do the Junior Officer Challenge.  It was twenty-four hours and 75 km with eighteen mini-competition posts along the way.  Fifty Junior Officers started out.  We nick-named it the Okey-Dokey Challenge.  The other female officers and many of the male officers dropped out — mostly due to wicked blisters and injuries.  Dean and I did the whole thing together.  I was the only woman to finish.  The picture here is of us at the last ‘competition’ – wine tasting.  Dean and I were seated on a bench, side by side.  Luckily, I got to do it again the following year but, not Dean.  He had been posted to CFB Baden as the Quarter Master of 3RCR.  So, that year, I did most of it with a former RRMC milcol colleague, Scott Spinner (not his real name), also from Barrie.

All this time we were spending together though, didn’t turn into romance for Dean and I.  Then I found out that my Dean had a girl-friend back home in Newfoundland. Geez. What would I do about that?  I was in love with him.

Then it hit me: make him jealous.

That is what I did.

I started dating gorgeous specimens whom I would meet around base or at the Officers’ Mess.  Each hunk I met and dated, I made sure to introduce to Dean: Pete, Greg, Chris, Fraser – all nice guys.  Dean would prickle slightly when I would bring a new guy to him to meet.  This went on for about eighteen months.

One Friday, I had made a date with Fraser — a gorgeous, sweet-natured, blue-eyed, muscled helicopter pilot and I was to meet him later at the Mess.  Mid-morning, I was in my office when in walks Dean and sits down.  He then did something he had never done before.  He asked me to go to a soccer banquet with him later that evening.  Bristling, I asked him if this was a date.  ‘Yes’, he said.

What?! I was so mad. ‘You asshole!’

He looked at me with shock of his face.  I asked him if he thought I had nothing going on on a Friday night.  I told him about my date with Fraser and that no, I couldn’t go to his silly banquet.  I was seething.

Later I was with Fraser all I was doing was talking about Dean and how much he angered me.  How could he really expect me to be just available to him, just like that.  I went on and on.  Fraser looked at me and gently but firmly said: ‘Marti, go to the banquet.  Don’t worry about me.  Just go.’

Off I went.  The banquet was in a restaurant just up the street from my apartment.  After the banquet, Dean and I walked the cobble-stone street to my apartment, arm-in-arm.

We have been together ever since.

Switzerland-John.bmp
This is in Switzerland on a hike just after we started dating exclusively

That was 1990.  It is now 2022 and we are about to celebrate 30 years married. I am the luckiest girl in the world.

strassbourg

After we started dating, we began to go away on weekend or week-long trips.  We went skiing in the Swiss Alps, staying at a chalet.  The Alps were beyond belief.  We would ride various lifts up to the peak, spend a couple hours skiing up there, then ski down to a chalet for lunch and a beer – the scenery from the chalet was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  Spectacular.  After refreshments, we would ski for a couple more hours in the middle of the alps and then ski down to the base where we would find the lodge and end our day.  It was blissful.

swiss alps skiing

Another trip found us in the Austrian Alps on Officer Adventure Training. (Well subsidized!)  The Austrian Alps were also spectacular.  This time we were staying in a quaint village that looked like something from a painting or a Christmas card.  So picturesque with its crooked, old stone buildings, shutters, balconies, cobble stones, wrought iron and of course, the layer of pure white snow on every surface and not a flat roof in sight.

austria
Another trip we went on together was to Corfu, Greece.  We had two weeks at an all-inclusive resort and we had an amazing trip.  The trip ended with the two of us exchanging identical rings on a hill in an olive grove.  We were now engaged to be married.  Oh happy day!

corfu

In Greece, we met an older couple named Mary and David from Scotland.  They made the mistake of inviting us to their home to visit some day.  Well, we went.  We flew into London on a military air craft.  We saw Les Miserables, a Tottenham soccer match and we walked and explored parts of London.  We went to Harrods and stayed in a B & B.  Then we took a bus north to Glasgow. Mary and David handed us a shot of whiskey as we arrived at their house.  For the next couple of days, they toured us around the countryside to see ruins of Castles, Inverary Village,

Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom

boutiques and tea shops.  In one shop, I bought a lavender coloured kilt of fine wool that I later wore to be married in.  Dean bought a fine deer-stocker hat. We went to the pictures one night and then it was over.  We headed back to London and flew back to Germany.  One regret is that we did not get over to Ireland.

Capt MMV
My little brother took this picture of me in my dress tans.  Taken outside my apartment in Lahr-Schwartzwald, Germany 1990

Somewhere in there, my younger brother Luke came to Germany and stayed in my apartment with me for a number of months, sleeping on my roll-away cot.  I look back on that time with regret because I feel that I didn’t spend enough quality time with him while he was there.  My attentions were focused elsewhere and I was sometimes rather stressed with pressures at work, which came out in tetchiness with him.  Luke was able to pick up a serving job and use my bike to get to the Caserne where the cafe was. One nice time we had was to head down to the Bondensee in Switzerland where we had a bit of time together by the water.  I was doing my dive licence at that time and needed to conduct a deep dive.  Because the visibility at depth was about nil, it was fairly intense and I had to talk to myself the whole time to stay calm.  After getting my SCUBA licence, I never dove again.  It just wasn’t something that I liked doing, after all.  While I was deployed on exercise for several weeks, Luke went home to Canada.  I missed him bitterly after he was gone.  He had met a very sweet lady who herself was ready to head home and I thought they would be together forever, but, alas, one never knows.

bodesea

It was about this stage in our young relationship that Dean and I started to discuss the idea of getting out of the army.  We would make our own way out on civvie street.  We had no real idea what we would do for jobs, but, we knew for certain that we did not want to be ‘in’ any longer.

We were honourably discharged from the Canadian Forces in March of 92 and moved in with Dean’s parents into their 800 square foot house in Newfoundland.  A few months later we started another adventure…travelling all over Canada and into Alaska in our 1976 VW Van named ‘Betsy’ that we brought home from Germany.

RMC, Comox and Borden, Oh My ~ part 3

Leaving Roads in second year finds me flailing until Logistics Training a year later.
It was worth it…

Come the summer of ’87, after first year at Royal Roads Military College, it was time to take French courses at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ontario. RMC is set on several areas with significant lake frontage and several huge piers on Lake Ontario. That summer was a lot of fun. Being in the city of Kingston was exciting and the summer sun would see us laying out on the big docks on campus and running and jumping off the piers and swimming in Lake Ontario.

That was the summer my friend and I met a couple of guys while driving on the 401 to Toronto. Communications were done not by cell phone, which were almost nonexistent, but at high-speed via black sharpies and large note pads. Writing greetings and then holding them up to the window for the fellas in the nearby car to read. We ended up asking them, by note, to meet us at Mr. Green Jeans restaurant in the Toronto Eaton’s Centre. They made it! And, we had a chatty dinner with them: Doug and J.R.. Afterward, we went to the Hard Rock Café until my bus was ready to depart for Barrie.

J.R. and I ended up seeing each other all summer, but, alas, then it was time for me to go back to RRMC near Victoria, BC. Interestingly, he was a southern lad and an Infantry lieutenant in the US Army and was stationed across the border from Kingston in Fort Drum near Watertown, NY.  I’ll never forget the fun of how we met.  So random.  So different.

Second year began at Royal Roads Military College (RRMC). But, my heart was not in it. I didn’t enjoy the academics. Most of my Profs were mind-numbingly boring or struggled with the English language, even my English prof.  (To be fair, I did really like my Chemistry and History profs). It was not how I wanted to spend my time. I asked to be entered into the program allowing a cadet to go straight into a career posting. I got it, but it was not until the following year. I was told I would become an Army Logistics Officer and that training would begin in October 1988 in Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden, Ontario.

Okay great, but, what would happen to me for the year???

For several months I was put to work in the Castle. Hatley Castle at RRMC. Severely boring work, just managing paper and simple tasks. I had to do quite a bit of photocopying and would inevitably run into this same civilian woman who had been working there for decades. She would coldly ask me every time I saw her: ‘So….you’re still here are ya?’

Hmmm. Thanks.  I would not speak for fear of crying.  It was so mean.  Her cold and judgmental attitude. It’s not like I wasn’t already feeling like a fish out of water.  I would just nod and smile, not daring to open my mouth.

cableway in mountains covered with snow
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

In the winter, the best thing to happen was that I was sent on a week-long ski trip to Mount Washington with several others working in the castle as well as some members from CFB Esquimalt.  Classified as ‘Adventure Training’ so all expenses covered.  After unpacking our gear in our quarters, a bunch of us went out to a pub and shared jugs of beer and danced and danced and danced.  It was going to be a good week.  And it was.  I was so needing that week away and outlet in exercise and fresh air with a fun group.  The skiing was incredible with tons of fresh white stuff and ‘The Black Chair’ pub at the end of the day where we would gather to share snacks and beer and just shoot the shit.

CFB ComoxAfter a couple months, I was sent to CFB Comox, BC, up island, for administration support at the Air Traffic Control Tower. That was interesting. Ironically, the best thing about it was learning how to use a new word processor called Word Perfect. That came in handy later.

One time, at the mess (which is like a pub but only for Officers), I was fortunate enough to be in the company of the highly skilled Snowbird Team still dressed in their flight suits.  We shared a few drinks, played darts and made jokes.  One joke that I made was about my colourful vest.  That it looked rather like I had ‘killed’ my couch.  The beer helped make that one funny.  They laughed, just to be nice.

jet fighters on an air show
Photo by Andre Mouton on Pexels.com

I began playing on a slow pitch team and met some good folks. One of them was Stevie. Steve was a lumberjack up in Tofino. He was also an avid mountain biker. He and his buddy and I would go on mountain biking day trips to Denman and Hornby Islands. Challenging trails but extremely fun too. Stevie taught me all about mountain biking. I entered a 75 k race over a hill on a logging road. It was a sweaty experience and my ass was sore for days.

man sitting beside bicycle
Photo by Du00f3 Castle on Pexels.com

Suddenly, it was time to go East for training in logistics.

I bought a new little car: a 1988 Chevrolet Sprint, 3 cylinder. I began the journey across Canada, stopping each night in a flea-bitten crap motel advertising colour tv, my ass sore and my eyes glazed over from the miles and miles of the day.

It took me to arrive in London, Ontario at my eldest sister Eva’s house. I scared the living be-jesus out of her walking into the house unannounced and finding her concentrating on something with her back to me. She was so happy to see me, jumping up and down, screaming, crying and hugging me. No kidding. We take our greetings seriously. She wanted to know how long I could stay. I told her about heading to Borden for a course the next day. I could stay only one night. It was a nice time and we caught up on all the news.  I saw her again on various weekends and usually with a friend.

It was a couple of hours drive to Base Borden where I started my clearing in process: getting the key to my barrack room mainly. Classes started the very next morning for the Basic Logistics Officers Course.

The first person I met on the course is now my husband.

I walked into the training building out of the rain on that chill October morning and shrugged out of my army issue trench coat.  With my right hand, I reached up to hang it on a hook, one of many along the corridor.  Just as I did so, my gaze shifted left and my eyes met those of a new classmate.  He smiled and said, ‘Hi’.

I saw stars.  I literally saw stars.

I was instantly in love with this very good looking dark haired, green-eyed man who was grinning handsomely and looking down at me as his left hand reached to hang his coat.

I floated into class.

Later we had an English grammar test and He achieved a perfect score. I knew then that it was Him.

The one!

He was gorgeous, sweet, gentle and intelligent. When I saw him kick a soccer ball, I swooned. It was poetry in motion.  I began to pray…

Next:  Army Part 4

My Flute Playing Friend

‘The greatest gift in life is friendship, and I have received it.’

~Hubert H. Humphrey

via Daily Prompt: Trill

When I was a teen, I played flute in the church choir.  My close friend, Harris, was a loyal church-goer and she asked me to join her.  We would play duets, or she would play solo and I would be able to turn the pages for her.  She was much more talented than I but, nevertheless, if we were both there, of course we would be trying to make each other laugh the whole time. Some of the hymns we loved were: Be Not Afraid and Like a Sunflower.  A song that still floats through my mind today when I am in the garden with my sunflowers.sunflower

Sometimes, while sitting in the choir area of the church beside Harris, way over to the left side of the altar, my mind would flit back to when I was a little girl in the choir of the Saturday Evening Folk Masses of the 1970s.  My eldest sister Eva, with her amazing soprano voice, her leadership and enthusiasm for music, would lead the whole congregation through folk songs like: Here We Are; and Kumbaya and Jesus is a Soul Man.  She would be right up front of the pews.  Her long, straight hair flicking from side to side as she would stride around motioning to the congregation to sing louder and stronger, tapping her tambourine on her leg.  The guitars strumming wildly.  Pride would be welling up through my little body as I sat in awe of my teenage sister.  Those folk masses were powerfully spiritual and I will never forget them.  Sadly, almost half a century later, my beloved sister Eva, for some unknown neurological reason, completely lost her hearing and consequently a god given talent – her ability to sing soprano.  It was a bitter pill to swallow for all of us who love her but, My God, especially for her.  Thankfully, a few years later, Eva was fitted with a Cochlear Implant but, she will tell you, it is not the same as hearing with your own ears and her ability to sing has been diminished almost completely.  Eva has told me that her voice no longer sounds like her own.  Tragic!

I digress….

One of the musical moves with a flute is a trill.  It is rapid alternation between two notes. I learned that in music class. Because of music class, in which we were seated beside each other, and because Harris was not the typical 19-year old, we become friends even though she was two years my senior.  We hit it off instantly and had so many fun times and laughs together.  On a daily basis we would find something to laugh about and double over with the hilarity of it. Like the name I have chosen for her in this story.  We were standing by her locker in the East wing of North High School when she told me about a classmate who called her ‘Harris’ by mistake.  From then on, she was ‘Harris’.  We would giggle every time it was said.  She had this wonderful sense of humour, and still does, I am sure.

She too was from a large family – I’m fairly certain her family wasn’t any where near as crazy as mine, though.  At the time we were friends, I was living down the basement of our bungalow with my Dad, with the upstairs rented out to strangers.  My Mom had moved into an apartment with my little brother, Luke, and her alcoholic boy-friend, Earl-the-Pearl.  I hated my home life with a great deal of passion.  I would arrive at the house with a sense of dread upon entering.  Ok, that is just wrong.  It was a messed-up way to live.  Consequently, Harris, and her wonderfully stable family were very important to me.  I spent a lot of time with her and them that year.  At one point I even dated her younger brother and we would all three hang out and sometimes their younger brother, Peer too, playing charades and the new game: Trivial Pursuit, which they were good at.  Really good.

We did some very fun things together.  One time, we canoed down a river near Walden.  Her Dad dropped us off and picked us up at the other end hours later – something my Dad would not dream of doing.  If it wasn’t about hockey, forget it.  That canoe trip was a very special time for me.  I loved that day with Harris and and her brother Fred.  They had a way of making me feel like a special person to them.  They knew how to treat me like a good friend.  I cherished them.

The school put on the musical Anything Goes that year and Harris and I were chorus members and dancers together.  We had an absolute blast with this.  During part of the dance, I had to pick her up and swing her from one of my hips to the other.  Try doing that without cracking up a few times. That musical turned out fantastically.  I remember my Dad was very skeptical about it.  He said I was wasting too much time on it.  Well, he came to opening night, sat in the front row and laughed his head off.  His booming laughter spurned others on and so the whole house was dying with laughter the whole night.  My Dad and I share the love of laughter, for sure.

gunnel

Harris and Fred came up to the camp that summer.  They showed me how to gunnel-bob.  Two of us standing on the gunnels, or the ends, of the canoe and then taking turns bending knees to make the canoe move down, then up in the water until one of you falls in.  Oh my.  That was so fun!  We had a party in number eight cabin and although harmless, it got a bit loud.  Dad kicked Harris and Fred out of the camp the next day.  I was furious and sorely, blackly disappointed, not to mention embarrassed.  To this day, I really think Dad may have just simply been jealous of my friendship with these wonderful people.

The following year, Harris went away to University and although I would see her from time to time, it just never was the same.  I was progressing into a more and more dysfunctional evolution of myself.  I see now, that it wasn’t my fault.  I was a teen-child and I wasn’t supported.  Rather I was controlled and criticized and worse.

I will never forget the year that Harris and I were inseparable friends.  She was a god-send.

(All photos courtesy of google images)

Leave a comment!  I love ’em.  ~M

on hill

My Mil Col Experience ~ Army, part 2

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

D.H. Lawrence

The word came down that after Basic Training, I would be going to Royal Roads Military College outside of Victoria, BC. I was told that the first month, or, ‘Recruit Term’ would be very difficult, but, that I should stay positive and it would pass quickly.  ‘Difficult’ was a gross understatement: Recruit Term was hell on earth. I cried myself to sleep every night. And please note: it wasn’t until a few years after writing this account that I remembered the other aspects of milcol.  I wrote about that in ‘A Can of Worms’.

RRMCA typical day of Recruit Term began with pounding rock music at 5:30 am. The wake-up song for our flight was April Wine’s What a Night. What a Night starts with a fire alarm bell mounted on a cymbal stand being rang at a fast pace. It truly was the perfect harsh sound to get the heart racing and the panic started for the drills of the day. We had until the end of the song to be up, dressed, to the bathroom, bed made and ‘layout’ ready for inspection. Everything in the room had to be prepared to specific, exacting standards. For instance, our uniform shirts had to be folded to exactly 25 x 30 cm, ironed and TAPED into our top drawer. Socks had to be rolled into a tight little ball, in a specific manner that we were shown and TAPED into the drawer. Same with pants. Boots and leather gators had to be polished and spit-shone to a high-gloss. We had three uniforms in our closet which had to have all buttons done and all lint removed and hanging exactly two inches apart with all sleeves perfectly positioned. The problem was, there was absolutely no free-time to do these things. So, we did them in the middle of the night and we were all quite sleep deprived already from basic training.

After morning inspection, we were run, that is: we ran over to the next building to the mess hall for breakfast where we would try to choke down some food but we were constantly being screamed at and ‘steadied up’ by our superiors.

‘RECRUIT, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT TO USE YOUR LEFT HAND TO EAT YOUR TOAST??! STEADY UP WHEN I ADDRESS YOU.’

At this point, with his face millimeters from mine, and he breathing terribly hard, hot breath, I would have to sit at attention with arms straight down my sides and with tight fists say, ‘YES MR SMITH. NO MR SMITH. I WILL DO BETTER MR SMITH’…suffice to say, with all of the interruptions and the stress of being inspected so closely by our superior cadets, it was nearly impossible to eat. After a couple of weeks of Recruit Term, my uniform pants were falling down as I ran.  Running with your pants falling down and senior cadets screaming at you, well, this was not so fine.

After breakfast there would be hours of panic drills where we were made to complete some task and then stand for inspection. It may be to lay out our stripped rifle with all parts displayed, by the end of the song. It may be to put on our dress uniform and then stand for inspection by the end of the song…remembering that our rooms and beds, trunks, cupboards, sink, desks and dresser had to be completely perfect, inside and out, not just our person. There was a lot of insults and yelling:

‘RECRUIT, YOU ARE A COMPLETE BAG.’

RECRUIT, YOU ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT TO THE CANADIAN ARMED FORCES. RECRUIT – GET DOWN AND GIVE ME 25 PUSH UPS ON YOUR KNUCKLES.’

It went on for hours. There would be another run over to the next building for lunch and a parade muster before lunch where we would have to stand in completely straight lines and have our uniform looking sharp – which was impossible after the previous activities. We would all be sweating and salt-stained, shirt tails hanging out, pants drooping, laces untied, baret atilt on our heads, and females’ hair buns falling out. So more yelling and insults.

‘YOU PEOPLE ARE A MESS, A COMPLETE MESS.

YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES.

MARK TIME’!!!!

This is where we would march in place with knees as high as our waist, sweating profusely. Next, into the beautiful mess hall with white linen, silver, crystal and table service.  Now, try to eat while being examined and corrected by the Senior Cadets.  Not likely.

After lunch, we would be taken, you guessed it, running, sometimes with rifles (called a rifle-run), for an hour or so in the woods of the College grounds. The woods were absolutely peaceful and beautiful.  A temperate rain forest.  But sweat was dripping down my face and fear was in my heart.  Our physical fitness instructor was Mr Snellwood. He was a kinder soul and once, at the beginning of Recruit Term, he sat us all down in the woods and tried to reassure us that we would all pass recruit term, as long as we stayed diligent and showed that we were working hard. I was sitting there thinking about the three more weeks that had to be endured and a tear escaped, rolling down my cheek. I thought he was sweet and kind, but, I also had serious doubts about whether I would pass or could ‘keep up’ with this system.

rainforest

We were allowed a two-minute shower after running and then we were back at the panic drills. Every now and then, something not-so-hard was offered. Like: Chapel visit, uniform fitting, tour of the incredible Japanese Gardens, or of the boat shed, or of Hatley Castle and then there were mini lectures like: etiquette in mess hall.  This was instruction on how to use all of the various cutlery and glasses that were part of a mess dinner function. As Officers, we would be attending these nice dinners several times per year, and we needed to know how to sit properly at a formal table and how to use the formal dining setting.

One time, they got us all out of bed at first light. We were blind-folded and we were taken out into the back woods. This was the Escape and Evasion exercise. Our superior cadets were talking in bad Russian accents and we were to pretend that we had been captured by enemy forces. In the woods, they had us get down on our bellies and they told us that we would be set free and that there would be a prize for the first recruit to make it back to barracks without being re-captured. They left and we, the captured, all got up and removed the blind folds. We started wandering around. I gathered with a couple of flight-mates and we began to walk through the rainforest. We had no idea which way to go and it was a large area, acres and acres of woodland. After walking through the forest for a couple of hours, we came upon a huge blackberry patch just completely laden with huge, shining, juicy blackberries. We fell on it and started to gorge ourselves. I must have had blackberry juice all over my face. The berries were better than delicious. And no one to ‘steady us up’….we thought.

All of a sudden: RECRUITS HALT. HANDS UP. TURN AROUND! We were re-captured and would not be winning any prize today. The berries were worth it though.

blackberries

After supper, we were given two-hours of study time, or time to do some tasks that they wanted us to do. One evening they told us to write an essay about our former lives so that our section commanders could get to know us better. I started off with the COSSA Basketball tournament that my Dad was coaching when I came along and then into the camp details and high school sportiness. I had heard our section commander say he was originally from Huntsville, Ontario which is just south of where the camp is. So, I made sure to mention Huntsville. Later that evening, we gathered with our sister flight and some of the essays were read aloud. Mine was picked. I read it aloud and when I came to Huntsville, I looked up at Mr. Smith. He grinned at me. I had made a connection. Now I was a little more hopeful that I would make it through this hell month.  Mr. Smith was a behemoth in my memories. Well over six feet tall with huge shoulders and muscles.  This guy would strap the largest weights possible to his body then with veins bulging in biceps and face of stone, pump off chin-ups.  Many chin-ups.  Geez. At this point I couldn’t even do one chin-up.

At bed time we had another routine to endure. We had to do 100 sit-ups in the hallway, wearing vinyl raincoats (because we were half dressed underneath and noone had a robe) by pinning our toes under the heater and with knees bent and fingers laced behind the head, pump them off. There was a catch. We had to do 100 sit-ups, take a shower AND brush our teeth by the end of our ‘goodnight’ song: Stairway to Heaven (8 minutes).  Consequently, I did not wash my hair for 30 days. I kept it tightly braided and would wash just my bangs. There was one shower and two girl recruits on our flight. The two of us showered together while brushing out teeth. Writing this thirty years later, it seems bazaar that we would shower together. But we did. We just did. And, to call it a shower was a stretch.  We had a bit of water for about 30 seconds and then RAN back to our bunks.

On the final day of Recruit Term, we had the obstacle course and all recruits had to pass this final test. The Obstacle Course was a 5 km course through the woods with obstacles the whole way. Most of the obstacles involved dunking the head fully under into mud to say, get under a barrier or to jump over a barrier only to land fully in mud. There was a rope wall to climb with a fall into a muddy pond; balance-beamed crossing of a mud river with a necessary dismount into…you guessed it…MUD. I looked up at one obstacle to see a boy from my street back in Barrie (he had actually been a serious boyfriend for a while).  Anyway, that guy was yelling at me, ‘GO! YOU CAN DO THIS MARTHA VALIQUETTE’– he kindly was not using the word recruit to cheer me on. I remember thinking in my exhausted haze that that was very kind of him. My exhausted mind flitted back for a brief second to Barrie North High-school gym where we both had attended and where he cheered me on through many a tight basketball and volleyball game.  We had both been jocks in school.

The final obstacle, when knackered and with mud in every orifice, was to swim across a deep, weedy, lily-pad covered pond in combat boots. This was an individual test. Ironically, we were not allowed to help each other on any part of the obstacle course. Ironic because up until that moment it was ALL team work: ‘RECRUITS – STAY TOGETHER — YOU’RE ONLY AS STRONG AS YOU’RE WEAKEST LINK’, they would scream at us.  I recall thinking, when I got to the pond, this will be a piece of cake. This was due to all the swimming in my childhood and even in lily-pad covered ponds. Thank goodness I passed it. Afterwards I showered for 30 minutes but still had mud in my ears. I ended up passing Recruit Term toward the top of my flight.  No idea how.

We then had a big celebration down at the cadet mess called Decks. We had a big supper and lots of drinks. We had been told to dress up in nice civilian clothes or, ‘civvies’. Now we females were visually checked out by the senior cadets. As a young woman with certain healthy curves, long dark wavy hair, green eyes, nice smile, I was accustomed to turning some heads. For this celebration I wore a blue knit, V-neck dress with a wide belt synched tightly around my tiny waist and leather pumps – and yes, I turned some heads. (I was not beautiful, nor was I pretty, but, I was certainly attractive and the ratio of women to men was 1:8, so easily done). What a difference a shower, clean hair, some lipstick and civvies can make. It was a fun night with dancing and hilarity.  We were so glad to be finished with Recruit Term!

The academic year began with classes, assignments, essays, exams and social experiences. The difference, at Military College is that almost every weekend was jam packed with compulsorily attended military or varsity sport requirements in the form of parade and parade practice and athletic events and competitions. The schedule was brutal and cadets get very close, due to it.  One weekend we lost four cadets.  We were shattered. (I wrote about that in ‘A Theory of Loss).

cowichanOne long weekend, the following year, a friend – Cindy and I, decided to get off campus and away from it all. We had been more or less locked up and scrutinized for months and ready to just wear our jeans and hit the open road for a wee adventure.  With a back pack each, we hitch-hiked a couple hours up island to Lake Cowichan where we had booked a cabin for two nights. Our first ride got us most of the way there.  Then, we were stuck for a bit on some country road with the sun going down over the next hill.

‘This is nothing,’ I thought. ‘We’ve just passed through hell and found some freedom.  Nothin’ is getting me down now.’

On that note, a red pick-up pulled over to offer us a lift.  The man inside was more than a little scary looking with wild eyes and crazy hair. Cindy and I looked at each other, shrugged, and hopped in.  He turned out to be a decent fellow and he dropped us at our rented cabin.

Next: what should we do with our free evening?  We had heard tell of a dance in a countryside hall nearby.  We gussied ourselves up and with blue jeans and jean jackets and big hair (this was 1986 after all), off we went…only to find five or six of our classmate cadets already there.  Not sure how that happened exactly but it was sure to be fun. When you work hard, it only seems natural to also play hard.  That is what we did. We basically started dancing and didn’t stop for hours.  At one point during Rock Lobster, we were all down on the hard-wood floor doing the worm.  Yes, just like it sounds. Squirming.  Full-body contact with the floor.  It was hilarious.  Likely one of the most fun nights of my entire life due to its spontaneity, timing, serendipity and remote location and laughter. We ended up meeting a couple of sweet-natured local fellows that night and took them back to our cabin, giggling all the way.

Next Army Part 3

(All photos are courtesy of google images.)

Fort Myers Memories

Three Christmases bring three road trips down to Fort Myers beach in the 1980s with Dad and Win. Oh dear.

When 16 to 18, Dad and his new wife Wendy took my little brother, Luke and I, to Florida with them for Christmas break (our older five siblings were all moved out by then). Except for the first year, we drove down, all 2500 km in Dad’s Mercury Zephyr. Yes, there used to be a car called a Zephyr.  Dad had a skin-tone coloured one.  It was super sexy. Not.

skin tine zephyrThe first year, however, Dad put Luke and I on a Greyhound bus for the forty hour trip. We had to change buses at 2 o’clock in the morning in Detroit, Michigan which is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the US of A.  Let’s face it,  Grey Hound bus stations are not usually located in the nicest parts of town.  I was  16 and Luke was 13. Dad’s best advice was to use my scarf to tie my purse tight to my body. Luke and I found a seat on the dingy molded plastic chairs and linked arms with eye-balls peeled. We were terrified. Since I am writing this today, I guess we survived the Detroit Bus Station, twice, actually.  We were there on the way home too.

Ever organized, we packed this little cooler with things like hard-boiled eggs, fruit, cheese, bread so that we didn’t have to spend much on restaurant stops.  All we wanted to do was get off that bus as much as possible and stretch our legs.  A long Greyhound ride gets rather ripe, especially after eating one too many hard-boiled eggs.  By the time we arrived at Valdosta, Georgia, we were overjoyed to see Palm trees, finally.

Valdosta

When we finally arrived in Fort Myers, we were picked up by our eldest brothers wife, June’s Mother, who’s name is also June (rest in peace), driving a huge caddy and telling us in a thick Southern accent that she would adopt while in Florida for the winter, how very dANgerous it was here: ‘Nevah take out your wallet in pahblic’, she advised. ‘Almost ahveryone has a GUUN so just be caheful’ and then she accelerated to get across a lane of traffic and screamed: ‘HANG ON!!’  June Senior was quite a character.  She took us in and fed us (I remember one meal in particular was turkey necks — I had never had a meal of turkey necks before) and made sure we had everything we needed for the couple of days before Dad and Wen arrived and we would move into the motel that Dad had booked from afar.

FortMyersBeachFlorida3Luke and I spent many hours on the beach and walking around the town of Fort Myers. We didn’t have much spending money so we would usually have an ice-cream and maybe some fries around lunch time. Then we would walk all the way back the couple miles to where we were staying with Dad and Wen.  By that time, we were wiped. We had swam, sunbathed, played frisbee plus the walk to and from the beach. Luke would carry his boom box on his shoulder and play music for us all the way.

Sometimes we would eat supper all together or we would go to a very good value All-U-Can-Eat Buffet which are prevalent in Florida.  The odd time Dad would say, you kids are on your own, we are going out for supper without you.  After supper, Dad would get us into the car and we would drive through the well-to-do neighbourhoods looking at the Christmas lights.  It was so strange to see this without snow.  Sometimes Dad would take us to some random high school gym to watch basketball.  There seemed to always be a basketball game on somewhere and both Luke and I were big fans of the game.  Luke could even spin a basketball for a significant length of time on his finger, then bounce it off his knee and back to his finger.  In basketball practice with Mr. Laset, ball-handling drills had been highly encouraged.  Luke and I would often play hours of 21 in our driveway and when sitting watching a television program, we would often be holding and spinning the ball.

One day, we met this family on the beach.  The Bates’.  There was a boy my age, a girl one year older and they were from Indiana. We hung out.  They were really nice and we loved their accent and they liked ours.  They arranged for Luke and I to go out for supper with them at a Mexican restaurant.  We had never eaten Mexican food and we were so eager to give it a try.  That was a fun night.  Especially trying hot sauces and pico de gallo for the first time. The virgin lime margarita was spectacular too.  Sour, sweet and salty all at once.  I still love margaritas today. We ended up staying over at their house, which was actually their relatives house, in Fort Myers, for the night.  Luke and I slept on the couches in the den.  I was astounded by their generosity.  In fact, I have been astounded at the generosity of Americans again and again when I lived there over the decades. The Bates’ were good people and they liked us.  It was a nice feeling.  We kept in touch and saw them the next years too.

lovers-key-state-parkWendy found this beach park for us to go explore.  No one was there and it was gorgeous.  We walked along the sand and found wee little treasures while a very relaxed Dad slept on a towel on the beach.  Luke and I jokingly calling him a beached whale, when we were out of earshot.  After a good snore, he awoke and sat up with sand all over the side of his face and pine needles in his hair.  Oh my, we chuckled.  Perhaps he did these things on purpose to get a reaction.  I’m still not sure about that.

That pure white-sand crescent-shaped beach was just spectacular and I have always enjoyed, for some reason, the places where few people go, but which are incredible.  I have also enjoyed the wondering.  The wondering why they are not there.

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When it was time to head North, I dreaded it.  Going back to the cold, dark North after all this sun, sea and sand.  The only cool thing would be showing off our sun-kissed tan skin to all of our pasty white friends.

Those trips to Florida were bittersweet.  In one sense it was amazing to be with my little brother, Luke and be on an adventure together down to Florida, especially for three years in a row, making it almost a tradition. Luke and I were very close. In another sense it was tough to be trapped with our parents in a car for several days on a road trip.  The travail of teenagers, perhaps?

In the car, Luke and I would be in the back seat finding any reason to laugh hysterically at Dad.  Dad had these habits that drove us wild with hilarity.  Every so often, he would reach up to daintily scratch his balding pate with just his middle sausage-shaped finger.  Next he would be asking Wendy if she wanted to split a black coffee.  He would pull into a gas station, struggle into his huge down coat, and pay a quarter for the gut-rot coffee on offer.  With a big smile on his face he would come back to the Zephyr with a single styrofoam coffee cup which was barely visible in his large hand.  Wendy would hold it.

Dad would pull out and get back onto the highway and only then would he take off his huge coat.  Every time, while driving and with the three of us helping to get his coat off, narrowly missing oncoming traffic.  Another time, we were at some diner in a tiny little town, for some lunch.  Dad asked the server a question about her hometown, the very town she had lived in her whole life.  The server answers but her answer is not what Dad was expecting.  Much to the embarrassment of Luke and I, and as we would have liked to slide off our chairs and hide under the table, Dad says, ‘Honey baby,’ waving his thumb at himself and Wendy,  ‘We’re both teachers.  You must be mixed up.  That can’t be right.

Ooookay.

There was one thing about Dad.  He was not boring and he enjoyed both a good argument and a good adventure, as long as he didn’t have to walk too far.

Rest in Peace, Dad. And you too, Wen.

160K in Holland

Forty K per day for four days over the rolling hills and through the city streets of Netherlands, in 1989 I did the International Nijmegen Marches with a military team…

In the summer of 1989, while posted in Lahr, Germany, I was asked to join a marching team as the token female, to head to Holland for the four-day International Nijmegen Marches, which is the largest multi-day marching event in the world.  It has happened every year since 1916 to promote sport and fitness.  Military participants walk forty kilometers per day for four days in a row, in formation of 20-soldier teams.  Almost fifty thousand marchers now walk this walk every year.

At the time, I was a transportation platoon commander in Supply and Transport Company in 4 Service Battalion in the Canadian Army.  To put it simply, I had a platoon of 30 soldiers who drove MAN 10-ton trucks (like these bad boys below)

10 ton Man

which would carry supplies: ammunition, water, rations, various items, and spare parts needed by both forward fighting troops and other support units within the Brigade. During peace time, we conducted training operations such as weapons use, field exercises and fitness competitions to improve morale, esprit-de-corps and to prepare for future deployments.

As the Platoon Commander, I routinely conducted all manner of administrative duties, personnel evaluations and reports, test and inspection readiness, subordinate training, orders groups, equipment maintenance checks, and many other duties in accordance with my rank and position.  In a field unit, staying physically fit is one of the requirements of the job. Five days per week, we did physical training first thing at 7:30 am.  Joining the Nijmegen March team covered the fitness requirement and provided an adventure and a trip to another country, all expenses paid.

formation
This is an example of marching in formation.  And of course our wonderful flag proudly displayed.

A month prior to the event, the march training began.  In combat boots and combat uniform, we would form up, two by two in lines and walk for eight to sixteen K out through the German countryside, along farmers fields, river-side pathways and over trails through small woods.  Back then, in ’89, there were no ‘devices’ to listen to, other than the odd Walkman, which almost no one had anyway, and nothing like spotify or itunes or podcasts to listen to. Marching in formation was a little bit like torture.  The back of one head to stare at and exacting ‘left right’ pace to maintain for the whole two to three hours.  Thankfully, there were a few songs we would sing for a while. One soldier knew all the words to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’. You can get anything that you want at Alice’s Restaurant…(by Arlo Guthrie).  It was only slightly annoying to listen to it after about the second time, but, well, what could be done?  ‘Just take one more step. Now, one more step,’ became my mental litany. Most of the time, I was extremely bored and under-challenged by this walking.  Not only that, I couldn’t easily ‘talk it up’ with the soldier beside me because of the need to maintain a professional ‘distance’.  Sometimes being a female officer could be both isolating and awkward.  It was tough to stay positive and pleasant but that became another litany.  Stay positive and pleasant.  Just one more step. Stay positive and pleasant. I chalked this training up to good discipline.  One could never get enough discipline.  Am I right?

nijmegen marches

We went to Nijmegen by bus.  It took about six hours, due North, and when we arrived, there was already a tent city erected by the forward party and we were assigned to our tents and to our cots, within the tents.  We were to begin Day 1 at 06:00 the next morning. The route for the four days formed somewhat of a clover leaf out and around the city of Nijmegen.  The route wound its way through the Dutch countryside with its green pastures, cows grazing, chickens running, fences diminishing into the distance.

formation march

One time, a civilian marcher was playing the bagpipes and low and behold all the cows in the field got curious and began to trot toward the fence to more closely see the man. Thankfully, at the fence, the cows stopped and then just stood and stared, chewing their cud, looking bemused and fluttering their long eyelashes at the bagpiper.  Could it be that these ladies thought the bagpiper was a well-hung bull ready to service them?  One will never know.

At ten K, twenty K and thirty K marks, we would come upon our unit’s flag and see our kitchen trucks, first aid station, water stations and porta-potties in a field.  We were well taken care of.  There would be a menu of foods or snacks and drinks for us, including huge schnitzel sandwiches.  I don’t think I ever went hungry, not once, while in the Canadian Forces.  We would sit on the grass with our plate and drink and rest for twenty minutes before beginning again.  One doctor attached to our unit even organized a child’s swimming pool with ice for us to soak our poor feet at the end of the day.

rest stop

While resting, we could also inspect our feet for the dreaded blisters.  I am pleased to report, I didn’t get a single blister.  Fortunately, a friend had told me of the wonders of moleskin and how to wrap it over the heel in such a manner as to provide fool-proof protection against blisters.  Secondly, Vaseline on and in-between the toes.  I now pass this on to anyone I know going on a long walk.  Blisters are nothing to sneeze at in a long, multiple day march,hike or walk.  Good feet are crucial to the success and comfort of the walk.  Bad feet can be debilitating and very painful especially if they also become infected.  Game over.  On training at CFB Borden called Environmental Specialty Land, which I did just after Nijmegen, our final test of the course was to complete a night march from Stayner, Ontario to the back gate of the Base, about 30 K with packs and rifles.  We started at 11:00 pm and we walked all night. Our friend Andy carried a huge boom box up on his shoulders and had it cranked and playing ‘FINAL COUNTDOWN’ by Europe, the whole way.  Song finishes.  Rewind.  Song begins again.  We were all very sleep deprived because we had been in and out of the field for weeks, up all night sometimes on missions, patrols and then duties and classes during the day and with no real time to recuperate.  Myself, I was literally falling asleep as I walked, while carrying my rifle at the ready.  There was this line that they would shout whenever someone was in danger of hitting the deck due to exhaustion: ‘SOLDIER! MAKE SURE YOU HIT THAT DECK BEFORE THAT WEAPON DOES!!!’  Kinda sums it all up, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the Captain of this officer training course was Airborne – an elite group of Infantry. His feet turned to hamburger during this march. He had to get in the first aid truck and be driven to base.  Embaaarassing.  It wouldn’t have been so bad but he had bragged about what a great and fit soldier he was. Of course, HE didn’t know the secret of the moleskin. Myself, Dean and Nee sure did, and anyone else who cared to be prepared.  I had just finished the Nijmegen marches a couple of months prior, so I was fully aware.

I digress.

Back in Nijmegen, by the time we walked into the camp at the end of the forty K march, we were done.  I would soak my feet in ice water for ten minutes, show the good doc the mysterious lump on the top of my foot which may or may not have been a stress fracture, he said.  Having eaten at all the stops during the march, I certainly didn’t need more food, so I simply made my way to my tent, tucked my combat boots under my camp cot and fell fast into a heavy sleep until the next early morning.

Nijmegen Marches

I like this picture I found of a female soldier fast asleep on her arm.  There was no staying awake during rest breaks.  The need to sleep just took over.

We Canadians are very much loved in Holland because our troops liberated the Dutch from the Germans in World War II in 1944.  So, anytime we would come across large Dutch civilian marching groups, they would holler and cheer and sometimes sing a song for the Canadians.  Weren’t we proud to receive these accolades.  We would all smile and wave bashfully and then take one more step.  Just one more.

nijmegen march backs

Everyday there would be at least one city to march through. There would be a lot to see and invariably young children would run along side our team for a bit.  We would give out those tiny Canada flag pins and then receive a sweet smile, sometimes with missing front teeth.  A few times, a tiny warm hand would slip into mine and we would walk together for a few minutes.  Priceless memory.

While marching, there would often be other Canadian teams from other units unrelated to ours, except that they were also Canadian and also posted in Germany.  For instance, there was an Armored Team, an Infantry Team, a Signals Team and the like.  I remember that I so enjoyed when the French Canadian Teams would be near us.  They would invariably be singing their old regimental songs which I found to be incredibly moving and haunting.  They would often pass us singing these songs in their deep rich voices. Sharp beret with dark-haired head tilted to the ground.  Arms swinging.  Boots hitting the trail in perfect synchronicity. It was mesmerizing.  One song they sang which is about the building of the dam across the Manicouagan River in Quebec, was especially sorrowful. If I try hard, I can still hear their deep voices singing this incredible song by Georges Dor. It is a song of longing, boredom and homesickness.

After the last day, there was a huge party in which a lot of Heineken were quaffed and then, the next morning, we boarded the bus back to Southern Germany.

Nowadays, there are so many folks wanting to participate in the Nijmegen Marches that they have set a limit of forty-seven thousand marchers per year.  Doing this march was an honour and is a fond memory.

nijmegen finish(All photos courtesy of google images — I would have loved to have some of my own photos but I didn’t own a camera back then and there were no smart phones either.)

Fun and Foibles at the Camp

Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever, And if I had the choice, Yeah, I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life
~Bryan Adams
Summer of ’69

The summer I was 19 was the first summer that my eldest sister Eva owned the camp. I had just graduated from high school and would be attending University in the fall.  My best friend Kelly was already studying Nursing.  Both of us needed a full-time job and had asked at June’s Diner if we could work there. With a yes from June, we promptly began to plan.

We moved to the camp with my little brother Luke and with Eva’s middle child Jake, who was a tender four years of age.  We promptly started the opening clean up, just as Mom had taught.  Start systematically at cabin number one and spend a whole day on each cabin.  In past years with Mom, we would work until noon then Mom would have Jobe build a small fire in the outdoor fire-pit of the cabin we were working on.  Jobe was good at that.  Mom would make soup and fried bologna or wieners over the fire.  After eating and much to our enjoyment, she would pop popcorn in lard over the fire.  We would just love those days with Mom…

popcorn

I digress.

It was hard, dirty work and there was a lot to do: clean, dust, paint, move things, wipe down cupboards, count dishes and cutlery, ensure pots and pans were there, affix curtains, paint and tidy…it was endless.  One time, Kel reached up into a corner shelf and pulled out a stiff dead mouse by the tail, holding it horizontally while I squealed, having been startled by the oddity of it, so stiff and straight.  Kel just chuckled at my antics.  At the end of each full day, we all went out to June’s for a feed of fish and chips or something akin.  Little Jake was an angel who was constantly helpful and pleasant and a joy to have with us.

Early the following week, working on number nine, we decided it needed a lick of paint. It was a bright, warm sunny day. Perfect for working on our tans at the same time and Luke had taken little Jake out fishing for the afternoon. We had the boom box playing full tilt: BORN in the USA and SUMMER OF SIXTY NINE and JOURNEY tapes.  I should mention here that Kelly was a tireless worker.  She would never stop and it was a pleasure and a joy to have her by my side for the summer, and she is still my oldest best friend today.  So, we got up on the long ladder and once up there, feeling the sun on our backs, decided it would be perfect for topless painting.  All was fine and good and we were working and singing, tanning and laughing.

Suddenly, between songs we heard the rumble of an approaching tractor. ANGUS BRECKNER!!!! Oh my god.  The very cute farm-boy of similar age to us, was coming to cut the hay today.  You never saw us scramble so fast down those ladders to find our t-shirts, screaming all the way.man on tractor

The season began and we slipped into a routine. A johnny cake breakfast with Eva and the three boys who would kneel on their chairs, their blond heads forming steps on one side of the table. Next, chores which usually consisted of garbage pick up plus other light maintenance or cleaning jobs. After chores there was time for swimming and a bit of sun-bathing and then it was time for work at the diner in town. Sometimes we would bike to town but often we would get a ride from a friend, Angus or his buddy, or we would walk the two miles along the side of the highway.highway

Come the weekend there would often be various camp-fires or pit parties to attend.  We also had friends of the male persuasion who would sometimes accompany us to Deer Hurst in Huntsville where we would dance and enjoy the house band being silly and celebrating our youthfulness.  The best song came out that year: N-N-N-N-Nineteen, Nineteen.  It was like it was written for us.

Another time we went out with our red-head friend Marvin.  There were a few of us in his little jeep.  We were driving pell mell along yet another dark, dirt, hilly, twisty turny country road for the sheer joy of the drive.  Kel and I were squealing and ooohing with each directional change. Suddenly, Marvin slowed the jeep and driving close to the right side of the road, started to accelerate while turning sharply to the left. The jeep leaned over on two tires, EEEEEEK!  It hesitated, as if deciding what to do, then over it went into the ditch, landing on its right side. There were a few expletives uttered at that point then Marvin said rather calmly and clearly in his deep voice: get out before she blows.  Oh Jesus did we scramble to get out.  The last person climbed out and let the door slam.  It slammed on my right thumb.  Marvin ran back and opened the door so I could escape. Whew.  That was a close one.  The jeep did not blow.

During other summers, from time to time a high school friend would come up and stay at the camp. When Sue (a boy named Sue, just like in the Johnny Cash song), arrived with his family, I was quite happy to see him. I enjoyed his company and we had had many good times together.  As my sister Amy would say: he was a good head. (That’s a compliment).

One night we had heard about a campfire out off the Cane Road.  Amy was at the camp with her car and, always generous, allowed us to use it.  In we piled. There was Sue, Karrie from across the lake, a friend named Faye from the narrows, and myself. However, after a bit, I was a tad worried about Sue who was drinking large amounts of rye, thanks to Doug, the host, and he was getting quite drunk.  We finally got him into the car after pulling him out of the ditch and started down the gravel, country road toward the camp.  Suddenly, without much warning, except to ask that the window be rolled down, which it wasn’t, Sue got sick all over Faye.  He had projectiled such that there was vomit on the car wall and window with a silhouette of Faye where her head and body had received it rather than the wall.  We should have seen it coming.  I pulled over and quickly asked Karrie to open the rear door.  Sue tumbled out head first and landed in the ditch for the second time.  He was moaning, groaning and puking. He waved at us saying just leave me here, just leave me here. Ya, no.  I would not be leaving Sue there in some ditch on some god-forsaken, dark, forest-edged road. I yelled at him to get sick once more then to climb into the car.

The next morning I was cleaning number one cabin when I heard some commotion by the men’s outhouse.  There was Sue.  His large teenage male body was standing, slightly stooped, in the open door of the outhouse, his back to me.  He was holding a Pocket Fisherman (for a split second my mind ‘reeled’ back to the time, years prior, when I had wanted so badly to use Eva’s husband Peter’s Pocket Fisherman and he so generously indulged me.  Next, I promptly raised my right arm to cast the line and then somehow dropped it into an unfamiliar dark lake and just watched it sink.  Frozen in horror at what I had just done.  Peter had very graciously just waved it away, neither one of us wanting to go in after it.)

Anyway, Sue was holding the Pocket Fisherman the line of which was down the hole.  He appeared to be fishing something out of the shitter.  This was going to be interesting.  I asked him what he was up to. Sue turned and his face was green.  His front teeth were missing.  He hesitated and seemed to argue with himself for a split second but, finally admitted that he was fishing his partial denture out of the shitter.  It had fallen out when he was sick…..

outhouse

Later, Amy and I saw him with his teeth in place.  He told us he had boiled his denture for three hours. Poor Sue. That was a rough turn of events because after fishing his denture out of the poop, and then sterilizing it, he then had to go clean up Amy’s car which we had closed the night before and left in the sun. Not pretty.

The summer went on with canoeing, swimming, jumping off the rocks into the lake, exploring, campfires, chores and fun. Then we met Len, the son of a the late hockey great, a former Captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had a cottage near the camp and to call it a cottage was a vast understatement. It was massive with double doors leading into a great room with a double staircase heading up to a landing then splitting in two, heading in opposite directions around a upper story landing with several bedroom doors visible from below.  There was no electricity and the whole place was made of weathered wood, but was new and in perfect repair.  I could not stop looking at everything.  Up at the top of the wall, hanging from the open rafters were huge  posters of the hockey legend, taken in his day.

Len had all the toys and a boathouse and a boat, skis and all the gear.  The top of the boathouse was a games room with pool table, table tennis, shuffle board, darts and a cooler full of pop.  The boathouse had a balcony from which we would jump or dive into the lake below.  It was teenager heaven.  He would invite us over sometimes to water ski. We would have a ball! Mysteriously, whenever I told Dad I was going to hang out with Len, he would jump up off the couch and offer me a ride.  I think he would have been quite happy if I had gotten serious with the son of a hockey legend.  Imagine.

Can U Canoe? 🛶

I started canoeing when I was tiny. A brother and I would go out on the lake to catch bullfrogs and to explore the lily pads around the cove. We would often harvest a few lilies for Mom who would float them in a bowl of water on the table…

Last night I had a dream about canoeing at dusk on Lake Cecebe in Ontario’s cottage country. (The Camp ⛺️)   I was over by number four cabin and the dark, soft familiar waters were choppy. I was solo. Suddenly I realized there was a lot of water coming into my canoe and it tipped over. I was in the drink.  In real life, I have never capsized a canoe, not even while standing and lunging and reaching to catch bullfrogs as a child, never once did the canoe overturn. But in my dream last night, it did.  The current became unusually strong and, still holding on to the overturned canoe, I was carried way down the narrows and into  big part of the lake by Echo Rock.  I was not afraid.  Suddenly, I was overcome with a feeling of foreboding….but…then, I woke up.

canoe paddleI have many fond memories of canoeing on Cecebe. Like the  late summer of 1983 when my little brother Luke would canoe into ‘Mag’ to pick me up from my shift at June’s Diner.  He would slowly and quietly walk up from the dock, having tied the canoe there, to the diner to get me.  I would be in my simple cotton uniform holdng a carton of to-go food.  I would follow him down to the dock and take up my place in the bow and eat, famished, while Luke would paddle and tell me about his day and usually about his struggles with Dad.

After I would finish eating, we would sing for the rest of the trip. We would sing.  The echo of our combined voices off the water was entrancing: Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad by Meatloaf:

Baby we can talk all night, but that ain’t getting us nowhere, I told you everything I possibly can, there’s nothing left inside of here.  And maybe you can cry all night, but that’ll never change the way that I feel.  The snow is really piling up outside.  I wish you wouldn’t make me leave here…

Yep, we would sing that uplifting song.  For some reason we knew all the words and, of course, various Bob Seger tunes and the odd Bob Dylan tune.  

Mom wasn’t at the lake that year.  Dad and Mom had split up.  We missed her very badly.  Her light always shone so bright at the lake.  It was her favourite place on earth.  When Mom passed away in 2001, we sprinkled her ashes in the upper field of the camp, under a pine tree.  Eva, Amy, Mark and I took turns saying a few words and Mark sang a song that he wrote for mom. It was simple but sweet.  Rest in Peace, Mom.  We miss you.

Mom loved to canoe the lake.  She would gather us up and we would make a canoe convoy out around the point beyond number six cabin in order to see the sunset.

IMG_5870

We would laugh and tease and splash each other all the way.  On the way back we would sing various camp songs and Mom’s favorite: Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles.  As kids, we loved to go see the sunset on the lake.  It was a big event.  And Mom was with us, which made it extra special.

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By my eldest sister Eva.  These are flowers from the weedy part of the cove.

When my friend Ben MacNeil would visit (my neighbour from the city, see post: Let the Games Begin 🏀), we would go out in the canoe every day and usually we would canoe across the lake and then over to town.   Sometimes we would take a fishing rod each and some worms and tie-up near the footings of the lighthouse and try for perch, sunfish and bass. Squealing with delight when we would catch a fish, pulling it into the canoe to be taken home where mom would clean it and add it to the other catches to be eating for breakfast the next day.  She would  roll each piece of fish in flour and salt and pepper and fry them in the big cast-iron pan with lots of lard.  There would be a stack of fish and frogs on the table for breakfast —the most important meal of the day!  Mom would say and then after grace, we would begin, with gusto.  I have to wonder about the current trend toward veganism — there was nothing so natural and better than availing ourselves of the fruits of the lake for our morning meal and that flour and lard made everything extra delicious. Not to mention, we would have had to BUY vegetables.  We didn’t have to buy our lake bounty. There were no children as fit as us as we bent to our chores, swam, tumbled and canoed the summer days away.

heron close

On calm days  we would be beckoned by the still waters of Cecebe to adventure out for a day in the canoe. Luke and I, or Jobe and I, or Mark and I would head down the mysterious Distress River and follow all of its twists and turns seeing blue herons take flight as we rounded a corner or a beaver flapping its tail on the calm black bottomless water. The Distress was always so quiet and calm. There were stories about it and beliefs about the water because it was so black. People would say that it was bottomless. None of us wanted to swim in it,  but mom would, no problem. Sometimes, just every now and then, Jobe would water ski down the Distress –  My brother Jobe 🧡. He  loved the challenge of it but, it did scare him, although he would never admit it.  I remember being proud of Jobe.  He was so courageous.

If you get a chance to canoe, give it a try and then you can say that U CAN CANOE!!!

GIRL ON BRIDGE

This post features pictures by myself, my husband and my eldest sister Eva. The header shot is from google images.

Make Work Your Favorite

‘Make work your favorite, that’s your new favorite, okay? Work is your new favorite.’
~Elf, The Movie

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 June’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 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, and feeling crampy due to menses I had to ask Dad for money for necessities: menstrual pads. He said no. He would not give me five bucks for pads.

I was forced to use cotton t-shirts cut into rags.  Nice.  Not giving me money for necessities, when he had plenty of money, 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, M, 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 his hairy privates for all to see.  Oh god.  I would be mortified when he would inevitably do this with teen-aged Kelly and Sally visiting.  Accidentally show us his privates, 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 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 strained 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).  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.

Jaden and frog

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.

Marti-fish.bmp (2)
Martha’s first fish, age 3.

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 ABOARDCrazy 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 June’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.

…Crickets…

Eva swooped to grab the toupee off the floor and deposited it directly onto Buddy’s bald pate.  She smoothed it out with both hands and then told him sincerely but with a red face: ‘You have very nice hair.’ She then escaped into the dining room.

A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance, part 4

…it is the belief that there are no coincidences but that rather, everything in life has a pattern and that a coincidence is simply the moment that the pattern becomes briefly visible. 
~Anthony Horowitz

During our training at CFB Borden, Ontario in logistics and field army tactics called Environmental Specialty Land, almost all of my ninety or so classmates were officially asking for a posting to Germany following successful completion of their training.  Germany was considered one of the best postings for a young officer.  Living in Europe had its pluses: travel, good food, amazing souvenirs, clocks, chocolate, schnapps and furniture, it also came with an overseas allowance, separation allowance, if applicable and, it was more prestigious – there was even a medal out of it: the NATO Service Medal.

This seems unbelievable now, but, unlike almost all of my colleagues, I did not ask for a posting to Germany.  When interviewed, I told my career manager to send me anywhere.  I am 22 with no strings and I have no wishes in particular.  In my head, it would be a new adventure wherever I was sent.  I was excited to really start my career and, it was a big wide world out there.  Location wasn’t a big worry to me (although I would be sad to be sent away from Dean but, knew that that was inevitable).

I’ll never forget the day of the decisions for our postings.  I kept seeing classmates exit the interview office with red-rimmed eyes, like they had been crying.  Others were quiet and sullen.  Others were frantically calling their spouses from the pay phones (there were no cell phones in 1989) and arguing loudly or discussing quietly.  Finally, it was my turn to go in.  I had no idea that what she was about to say to me would shape my future: bring me my true love, and a wonderful son.

My career manager remarked about my comments about send me anywhere.  ‘Hmm,’ she said, ‘you’re doing well on your training.  I like your attitude.  How about Germany?  Would you like to go to Germany?’ My answer was simple: ‘Sure’, I said with a shrug.  I was truly feeling like this was just another one of my adventures in life.  I was feeling fortunate but trepidatious.  It dawned on me that I shouldn’t walk out of that office and announce it to my classmates.  I put a button on it and walked out looking down, like everyone else.

Then began the screening process for Germany.  There were a few steps.  The Canadian Forces wanted to ensure that healthy soldiers were sent overseas.  Mine was easy.  Good health. Good teeth. No family.  No spouse.  My no-strings life was likely the reason I was to be sent there.  Much cheaper for them. I was still very much secretly in love with my Newfoundlander classmate, Dean, the first person I met on training in Borden, Ontario but it was one-sided.  Me toward him, not both ways – not even close.  In fact, I walked around love-sick and could barely speak whenever he was about.  It was crazy.  I had never before been so affected by a prospective date.

So, I kept it on the low-down about my posting to Germany.  So many others had so wanted to go there, I thought they would hate me if they found out I got it.  Our training continued and I said nothing.  One day, that I will never forget as long as I live, I was sitting in the common room of our barracks spit-polishing my boots.  There were a few classmates in there too, chit-chatting.  Walter says to Randy: ‘did you hear that Dean is going to Germany?’

My head came up. I dropped my boot. Oh my god.

OH…MY…GOD! It was meant to be.

It would only be a matter of time.  I knew this in my soul.  This was another one of those pivotal times in my life when it seemed that the fates took over and steered my life in a certain direction.  I was just going with it.  I have since come across something in a novel by Anthony Horowitz…it is the belief that there are no coincidences but that rather, everything in life has a pattern and that a coincidence is simply the moment that the pattern becomes briefly visible. With the way that my entire being was vibrating with joy at the news of being sent to Germany at the same time as my secret love…surely this was the pattern being briefly visible.

A few months later, I arrived in Germany and moved into my barrack room.  It was a short walk to the Black Forest Officer’s Mess – one of the most beautiful messes in the Canadian Forces due to its German architecture, interior design and beautiful, impeccably kept  surroundings – forest and lush grounds.  Canadian Forces Officers were treated well.  I was in the common room, meeting up with some of the other folks who were in the same barracks.  Hearing the tapping of cleats on the floor, I looked up and saw Dean walking toward me…

Be still my heart.

He was in his soccer gear and covered head to toe and long strong, legs, in mud.  He was so athletic, fit, boyish, gorgeous and delicious looking.  I was tongue tied.  With stars dancing in my eyes, I asked him what he was doing there.  He told me he had heard I was arriving today and he thought he would come and meet me.  Yikes.  I was so in love.  I was shocked that he was there for me.  I remember feeling quite surprised but pleased that he was there…for me.  (I found out later that he was ‘tasked’ by our Company 2i/c to meet me and ensure that I got settled in and shown around. Oh well.)

The next day Dean picked me up and we went to meet our new Commanding Officer.  I was given command of ‘A’ platoon in Supply and Transportation Company of 4 Service Battalion.  Dean had Supply Platoon, same company.  So, we would be working closely together on a day to day basis.  I got that same warm feeling of anticipation.  There were so many other units that we could have each been sent to, separately, but here we were side-by-side.  Coincidence?  The pattern was showing.

Again, it was being reinforced that we would be together.

….Continued — A Posting To Germany and a Lifelong Romance (part 5)

Sweet Sixteen

1981 was the year my Mom morphed into a love-sick teenager right before my cringing eyes.  My parents were in the midst of a break up but the first step was for them to have a trial separation while still both living in our bungalow. Mom had the basement and Dad had the upstairs.  They shared the kitchen.  I remember Mom writing her name on her row of eggs on the inside of the fridge door and Dad inevitably eating some of them and the arguing that ensued.

Before long, Mom started dating an alcoholic she met at the Legion.  Good choice.  I loathed the way she behaved in those months.  She started wearing really tight clothing and tons of makeup.  She was going out to the Legion many times a week.  It infuriated and sickened me.  My fifteen-year-old self was ashamed of the person I had basically worshiped prior to that.  I think Mom was rebelling and bingeing on that aspect of life because she had been depraved of proper affection and love by Dad for years.  It was just sad.

I used to make phone calls to my eldest sister, Eva, who was married, and tell her my woes.  I would tell her how Mom and Dad were always fighting and bickering.  Soon, she invited me to live with her and her family, three-hours away in London. Later that year I would come back to visit and by then, Mom had gotten a place: a 1.5-bedroom apartment above the Knights of Columbus Hall up by St Mary’s School.

My little brother Luke was living with her and while there, slipped into a shadow of his former self.  He continuously watched television and became very quiet and sullen.  It would break my heart to see what my little brother had become in this dysfunctional arrangement.  I blamed myself for decades afterward, that I had abandoned him there.  Finally a wise therapist told me to let that go.  I was just a child myself at the time.  It was not my fault. The other adults should have been there to help us through it, she explained softly while I wept, in her chair.

Anyway, living with my eldest sister and her family, I realized that every family  has their problems and pressures.  Sometimes I would wake up at night and hear them arguing with each other about money.  Taking in a teen isn’t without cost.

I knew that I needed to chip in. I picked up many babysitting gigs and even braided the hair of a few ladies on the street. For a couple years, French braids were at quite trendy and, I could braid.  Layla, my red-headed friend who had moved away had taught me.  I would charge up to twenty bucks for a braid and that was quite a lot at that time. The ladies would gladly pay me because their long hair, also trendy at that time, would be up and out of their way for days in a good braid and, they could go out on the town with hubby and be in style.

Ever the entrepreneur, when I had a free night, especially on a weekend, I would call some parents and let them know I was free. Nine times out of ten they would call back and hire me to babysit for the night.  I didn’t buy groceries or anything with my money, but, at least I didn’t need to ask for any spending money. I also paid for my driving school with that money.  I was very eager to learn how to drive and I firmly believed in learning correctly. Interestingly, I later became a Transportation Officer in the Army and then a Driving School owner.

Eva took me down to enroll in the Catholic Central (CCH) for grade ten.  I would take the bus every day.  The bus stop was only a minute away.  The problem was, going to CCH was going to be a huge change.  I had been going to St. Joe’s in Barrie with its 163 students.  2000 students went to CCH in London.  It was huge.  I was completely lost there.  I had been a total jock at St. Joe’s.  On every team.  Excelling at almost all my subjects.  Known by all.

At CCH it was a different story.  I didn’t make the basketball team.  I just could not believe it.  I went to the coach and begged my way onto the team.  She told me I would likely ride the bench all season.  I said, ‘I don’t care.  Please let me play.  I will not survive here without basketball.’

Basketball practice was every morning at 7:30. I had to take the city bus for 45 minutes to downtown then run five blocks to CCH, then run for an hour of practice.  Normally that would be no problem, because I had been super fit.

However, at that time, I had become pretty much anorexic.  I was living on about 800 calories or less per day: a tiny breakfast of half a pita with 1 precise tablespoon of peanut butter and exactly 8 oz of skim milk that I mixed from powder into a plastic cup each morning (blech!!!); an apple for lunch and the smallest dinner I could get away with. Eva was watching and I would try not to upset her.  I didn’t want her to know my secret.

I was growing and I was expending a lot of calories for basketball.  I was extremely emaciated and lacked any muscle tone and had very little strength.  I really don’t know how I physically carried my frame around for the day. The human body is an amazing machine.

The anorexia started innocently enough.  Eva had started going to Weight Watchers to lose the baby weight from her second pregnancy.  Her first born was now two.  She asked me if I would like to eat the same way as her.  We could do it together.  But, I did not need to lose any weight.  My body was an average size and quite muscular.  But, I was open to trying this new thing with my sister whom I looked up to so much.

I loved doing things with Eva.  We had a lot of fun together and did a whole lot of laughing together.  But, as I started restricting and losing weight and then going back to Barrie for a visit, my friends made quite a big deal about how great I looked.  I thought I should lose even more.  I have very strong willpower when I draw on it, so restricting even more was possible.

It wasn’t at all fun, but, by this time it had become a bit of a weird addiction and a secret project which somehow gave me comfort — ridiculous, I know.  I was riddled with fear.  Worried that if I ate as much as I wanted, I would get very fat very fast. I was ashamed of myself for being so self-centered.

One day, I was out with Eva running errands.  I was walking up to this storefront window.  I was watching the reflection of this skeletal figure walking up to the window in her baggy jeans and I was looking to see who it was.  I did not recognize myself.  I was that skeletal form but, when looking at my reflection, I saw a fatter body.  Dysmorphia is what they call this phenomena.

When laying down in my bed at night, my bones were pressing through my skin and it would hurt.  It was quite hard to get comfortable.  There was a pull chain above my bed to turn out the light.  I had to will myself to raise my arm to reach the chain to turn out the light.

I continued this way for the year – holding out even though Eva would scream at me to Martha please eat!!!!.  By the end of it, I was about 80 pounds and was getting sick a lot, always freezing cold, no period, short of breath, thinning hair, bad breath, coated tongue and of course, always starving and suppressing it.  Anorexia is hell.  It truly is. Do not go there.

From my research now, I have learned that Anorexia Nervosa is a mental illness.  I would have several more battles with mental illness in the future, but not for nearly two decades.

I had strep throat over and over that year.  My immune system was shot.  Going to see Eva’s doctor, a European with blunt speech, asked me if I was losing this much weight on purpose.  I remember liking how he worded that question. I opened up to him and told him the truth.  Right away he organized a counselor to come and see me at home a couple of times per week.  The counselor was wonderful.  I really liked her.  She explained to me that I needed to put more fuel into my body.  I had been complaining about not having any energy (do ya think?). I liked how gently she explained these simple matters to me.  She helped me to stop the behaviour.

However, I was terrified of opening the flood gates of eating.  I thought I would never be able to stop once I started.  I was starving but I was afraid to eat.  So, then the bulimia started.  I would open the flood gates.  I would eat thousands of calories in cookies, chips, cake, baked goods and then I would take a large dose of laxatives. Chocolate X-lax was my purging tool because I was unable to make myself vomit.

By the middle of the night, my guts would be gurgling. But, it would do the trick.  Everything would be voided explosively into the toilet.  Sometimes it was quite embarrassing, depending on where I was when the void wanted to begin and, it was never funny like the time in Virginia with my friend Nancy when I was large with pregnancy and drank way too much prune juice.

The Bulimia went on for about another year or so and by then I was living back in Barrie and attending grade eleven.  For years, I would go through times of wanting to lose weight again and so would start to restrict, but, it always led to bingeing and purging again.

Joining the Army put a stop to it for a while because I simply had no time or energy to devote to body size. Joining the Army put me smack dab into Survival Mode…

Be good to you. ☮️

 

This is me in grade 11 on the Barrie North Collegiate team – looking a little more back to size.

I’m In the Army Now…

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.       ~D.H. Lawrence

                                   ***

After my nineteenth consecutive great summer at The Camp (much more on that later), I went to Waterloo University for part of first term when I was told by my Father that he would not be helping with the expense. He had always told me that I would be the only one of seven to go to university and that he would pay my way. Well, he was wrong on both parts of that sentence. My little brother Luke finished with a degree or two, with no financial help. I made it to university but was left high and dry when he refused to help with the fees.  In desperation, I even called my Grandfather, whom everyone knew to be well-off and with whom I had always had a strong relationship. He flat-out refused me, saying that all his money was ‘tied up’ in certificates.  There was no where else to turn.

So there I was, nineteen, at a large and serious school of higher education, two hours from home, with their very persistent accounts receivable people hounding me to make a payment. I had worked the previous summers and had plowed every penny of my savings into the first payment for residence, tuition and books. I had nearly no money left. I tried to find a job but that too fell flat, as campus jobs were not meant for first-years and the Waterloo campus was a distance from downtown, which meant money was needed to get there. Why not just apply for student loans you may be asking?  I DID apply and got refused because my Father made too much money.

Thinking very, very hard about my options, and not wanting to just walk away without a plan for my next move, I sat down to contemplate…then an idea struck…THE ARMY!

Recruiters had come to my high school the previous year with posters and glossy pictures of the kind of life you could have in the army. (It was just like that scene in the 1980 comedy Private Benjamin when Goldie Hawn looks at the glossy pictures of what she thinks of as military yachts and she is SOLD on joining the US Navy.)  I had been told, after an aptitude test years before, that I would do well in uniform. Hmmm. That caused pause for reflection. I pulled out the phone book for the city of Kitchener-Waterloo and found out the location of the recruiting centre. I put on some nice clothes and smoothed my curls into a braid, hopped on the city bus and made my way there. I walked in to find a young man in uniform sitting behind the desk. He asked me all about my high school life and extra-curricular activities. When he heard that I was active and sporty and had good marks, he told me that I was, in his words: Officer Material.

‘Wonderful,’ I said. ‘What next?’ He told me to come back with a thousand-word essay about why I wanted to join the Forces. He said there would be an aptitude test when I returned and a medical which was more of a formality.

I went back to residence on a mission. From there, I penned the required essay in my spiral notebook while sitting in the autumn sun outside my residence, friends asking why I wasn’t attending my kinesiology classes and me indicating a mysterious new ambition that I would tell them about ‘later’.  I then took and passed the aptitude test and the medical.  I scored high on the medical except for one little thing, the doc told me.  He began telling me I couldn’t get into the forces because of it.  The tears had already erupted as I felt my new focus beginning to blur. ‘You have nearly flat feet’ he said, matter of factly. (I think he didn’t really think I wanted to get in, or something. Maybe I was doing this as a joke or for someone else, like an overbearing parent?)

“Excuse me, Doctor Numbnuts but, did you just say nearly flat?  So, NOT flat then, right?” (Today it is the norm to say a word twice if wanting to emphasize it, as in flat flat and I was going to write it like that but then realized, we didn’t say it like that in 1985.) He got it.  He checked the box and I grabbed the form before he changed his mind.  I then promptly withdrew from Waterloo University – all my hard earned few thousand dollars vanished into nothing at because the big business of universities certainly did not give a refund. A friend that I had made at the camp (again, more on this later) gave me a ride home to Barrie.

The week I arrived back in Barrie, I moved in with my Mom and her alcoholic, ex-navy boyfriend, Earl. We called him Earl-the-Pearl. He was a nice enough man when sober but a binge drinker, so unstable, away for a few days at a time when on a bender and ultimately not a great choice for my mom. In my Mom’s flat I had no bedroom. I slept on the couch in her one-bedroom tiny apartment which was in an old Victorian. Mom’s place was accessed by a steep dark oak stairway above the Knights of Columbus Hall which was across the street from St Mary’s school which I had attended for nine years and from which had received Top Academic Girl some five years previous.

I found two jobs serving tables almost immediately. One full-time at a five-star restaurant called LaFayette and the other part-time at a bar on the opposite end of town. Sleeping on the couch, looking out to my old elementary school, sweet hard-working mom, binge-drinking Earl-the-Pearl. Living in this way brought me down. A few times I would buy a big bag of chips and eat the whole thing while laying on the couch reading Stephen King novels.  I disgusted myself but that’s where I was. It was a tough winter. My group of high school friends were away at school except my best girl-friend Kelly who was at Georgian College for nursing and had very little time for me and my pity party.

Thankfully I had a good steady job to go to every day.  My boss at the five-star was a womanizing prick from North Africa who would lean in to talk to me just a little too closely, and constantly comment on the breasts of female customers. At least I had a steady gig and it got me up and out and talking to people and making a bit of money every day. The chef at the five-star restaurant taught me one or two things about the joy of good food. He was extreme in his thinking and very sharp and loud in his opinions.  He always had a hot lunch set aside for me.

Then, in April, at the restaurant, just after lunch when it was quiet, the phone behind the bar rang.  The voice on the other end told me, ‘You have been accepted into the Regular Officer Training Program of the Canadian Armed Forces.  You will need to swear in downtown Toronto.  We will mail your instructions to you. Do you understand?’

I nodded my head while saying quite simply, ‘Yes, I understand’. Holy shit. I got in!  My mind began to race…what will this entail???

Earl-the-Pearl let me use his red pickup to drive down to the recruiting centre.  On the way down the multi-lane Highway 400, something terrifying happened.  On a dirty-weather day with all kinds of slush and dirt on the highway, I ran out of windshield wash. My windshield suddenly became dark brown and opaque. I couldn’t see a thing and I was in the middle lane.  I rolled the windows down and while praying, white-knuckling and sweating, moved over to the shoulder.  Breathing heavily, I realized that I had just escaped a very bad situation.  I sat with the hood up and waited for a few minutes, thinking.  Just then, a good Samaritan came along and filled my reservoir with windshield wash fluid after helping me clean my windshield with a handful of snow. I vowed to one day be as kind as this man.  I made it to the ceremony on time and met some folks who are still my friends today, thirty plus years later.

Basic Training was to begin in June and last for six weeks. If I passed Basic, the Forces would send me to university and I would receive a salary while at school. So they would feed, dress, house and educate me, as well as pay me. Geesh. That sounded promising!

Basic Training took place in Chilliwack, British Columbia on Canada’s west coast at the Officer Candidate School. The six weeks was a blur of early morning running, push ups, inspections, weapons training, map and compass training and combat field training. There was also marksmanship, and the beginnings of how to issue Orders, among many other things like military indoctrination through the Queens Regulations and Orders and SOPs – Standard Operating Procedures.  Sleep deprivation (I recall five of us getting into a cab to head out to dinner and all of us falling fast asleep in the cab, the cab driver shaking us awake upon arrival at our destination) was ever present.  We learned how to work hard and play harder the army way (drink your face off with all the other cadets as soon as training ended at the week’s end – drinking in the mess hall was highly encouraged for esprit du corps or for good morale).  There was combat first-aid – using that field dressing which was duct-taped to your ruck shoulder strap by SOP!.  There was also introduction to code and de-coding, tight bed-making with sharp corners, folding shirts into an exact square and taping them into your layout drawer (never to be touched), precision sock-rolling, knot-tying and long marches in single file in combat gear with rifle at the ready and full rucksack, never really knowing when it would end and never daring to question or complain.

One exercise saw us climbing a huge steep cliff face out in the rather beautiful forested training area. We were told we would be rappelling down the face of the rock and had received the lecture to teach us how to do it. Most of my course mates were absolutely fine with this task and were even eager to go. There I sat, petrified, wishing and praying that I would not actually have to do it. This is the img_6351picture taken just before we started to take turns getting on the rope to drop a few hundred meters down the mountain. Thanks to my fear of heights, my bowels were basically turning to fluid as I sat there waiting. When my name was called, I staggered over to the cliff’s edge trying not to peer down down down that rock face.  I had my rope Swiss seat with steel carabiner hook on and somehow willed my shaking hands to hook onto the rope. Even now, I feel a bit sick thinking of how scared I was.  I searched the eyes of the Sergeant telling me to ‘get the fuck on the rope Cadet’ but then with a quieter, ‘you can do this’ (which today would have been ‘you GOT this’). I shook my head subtly but I did the friggin’ rappel anyway and I did not scream dropping down. I was frozen stiff. I’m surprised I didn’t smash into the wall and hurt myself because I sure as heck didn’t have my legs at a ninety in order to bound off the rock. At the bottom I kissed the ground and vowed to NEVER do that again. Some of my mates were heading up the cliff face for another turn. Oh sweet Jesus.  That was a difficult moment and it may have been the single most challenging item on my course for me.. (A few years later I forced myself to rappel again – oh, but that’s another story.)

One piss-off moment on training that I will forever think of as completely humiliating and border-line sexually offensive was the day of the swim test.  We had all been issued a little green somewhat see-through Speedo bathing suit and make no mistake, the supply techs made sure our suits were a couple of sizes too small.  My suit was so far up my butt it hurt and looked pornographic in my eyes when I caught my reflection in the changeroom mirror. Shit! I did not want to go out on the pool deck where sixty young men and a few Sergeants were all waiting for us half dozen girls to parade out.  They were pretending not to be staring at the door, but trust me, they were.  These green Speedos left NOTHING to the imagination. The guys looked bad too, in their noodle-benders but the difference was, they just didn’t care. I wished I could just not care like them. After the swim test (which was easy for me), they then sat us all down on the pool deck and one by one we were called up to do chin ups. Again, complete mortification at reaching up to the high overhead chin-up bar while my bathing suit ran even further up my nether regions, and my nipples stood at attention. There were upwards of one hundred and forty eye-balls studying every move. My anger was hot and my face red but I got it over with and went to change.

Basic Training in the heat of the summer of 1986 was tough. We were at times digging ditches and unrolling and installing lethally sharp razor wire, wearing way too much clothing plus protective leather gloves, with slung rifle, helmet on our heads and wool socks in combat boots. These simulated war-time tasks would take place while the sun beamed down over Cultus Lake, where civilians swam and water-skied within sight and ear shot, their laughter bouncing off the lake and mocking us. Meanwhile, we sweated, chafed, thirsted and laboured with slung rifle hitting the back of our steel pot helmet every time we bent to retrieve something. 

We were yelled at more than anyone would believe with phraseology such as, ‘CADET, IF YOU DON’T MAKE THAT KNOT TIGHTER PEOPLE WILL DIE!!!!!’

‘CADET, STRAP THAT STEEL POT  (ie helmet) ON YOUR HEAD AND ROLL DOWN YOUR SLEEVES (in this 95 degree weather) OR PEOPLE WILL DIE!!!!’

‘CADET WHERE THE HELL ARE YOUR CANADIAN ARMED FORCES ISSUED WOOL SOCKS?!  WE DO NOT WEAR COTTON SOCKS IN THIS ARMY OR PEOPLE WILL DIE!!!!’

‘CADET MOVE WITH A SENSE OF URGENCY AT ALL TIMES OR PEOPLE WILL DIE!!!!’

Fortunately, coming from where I came from (one tough, out-doorsy and quite masculine family), I found basic training mostly fascinating, img_5418 as I was thankfully not one of the underdogs who was picked on incessantly by the Sergeants. I actually did well on this training, as I decided early that I would find something to laugh about daily to keep me positive and achieving. With this, I passed in the top third of my platoon: Nine Platoon – DOGS OF WAR!!!  Next step, university paid for by the your tax dollars and endorsed by the Canadian Armed Forces…