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

‘I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say, So Long’
~Carol Burnett

Just to have a laugh or sing a song…. the poignant words of the ditty by the eighty-something Carol Burnett whom Paul adored. He said they both had a slight palsy in the side of their faces making their smiles a little crooked. He connected with her and so, once a week, we would sprawl on the Aikins’ wall-to-wall cream-coloured broadloom in front of their floor-model, mahogany encased TV in their living-room (the Aikins had cable!) enraptured by Carol Burnett And Friends. Jinx, their moody Siamese cat would sleep on top of the TV for its warmth, tail flicking even in her sleep.

Well folks, something horrible has happened.  We have lost this amazing person.  He is gone.  Never to return except to live on in our memories.

Paul was five years old when we met, and I, four.  We moved into the red brick bungalow next door.  They lived in the brick mansion next to us.  There were eleven kids in the Aikins family.  We were seven kids.  The sheer numbers of kids (and the lack of hand held devices and video games, ie: none) made for hilarious adventures and play times between the two homes.

We each had at least one member of the Aikins family to play with who was our age.  We walked to school together.  We played outdoors and in for hours together.  It’s hard to believe that none of us ended up married to each other.  I always believed Paul and I would be wed. Not to be.

Paul was one of those friends who was just simply THERE for me. I cannot recall a single argument with him. We discussed all manner of topics.  I confided in him regarding my tough relationship with my dad. Consequently Paul would never address dad as Mister the way dad would have liked him to. This would irk dad every time. We would snicker about it later.

We competed in Miss Cuthbert’s typing class together at St Joe’s, typing as fast as we could in rhythm to Martha and the Muffins’ Echo Beach.  Paul won.  We did gymnastics

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

and music recitals together. Projects and fund-raisers.  We decorated for dances and chaired meetings.  I’ll never forget the amazingly fun times we managed to have with very little money but very large imaginations and unstop-ability.  We would lip-synch to our fave tunes, throwing ourselves whole-heartedly into it and making each other double in two with laughter.  Little did we know then that Paul would become this incredibly beloved teacher at Etobicoke School for the Arts.

For several years of our friendship, Paul would come by greyhound bus up to the camp on Lake Cecebe to hang with me there for a week or two.  We would canoe, trampoline, clean cottages, paint docks and picnic tables together.  It didn’t really matter what we were doing, we would just make it fun.  My little brother emailed lately to remind me of this time that Paul and I were playing piano together in the office and he was imitating someone.  Ricky rolled on the floor over that one, he recalls. Ricky also reminded me that Paul could imitate dad perfectly, especially the corny face Dad would put on when he was ushering mass at St Mary’s.

I remember the first time I felt that I had lost Paul.  It was when they moved from next door to a few streets away on Eugenia Street.  The second time I lost Paul was when I moved away for a year when my parents were in the midst of a horrible divorce.  I missed him so badly that year.  My buddy was too far away for my liking.  It was a tough year because of this.  He came to London by bus to visit once and we had a blast.

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I remember one time he was hired to feed the cats at the convent on the corner of Berczy and Eugenia St in Barrie and I went with him to the massive, empty, dark gothic-style mysterious house with crucifixes affixed on nearly every wall.  Well, of course we proceeded to hide behind doors and jump out at each other and to scare each other with a well placed ‘boo!’ several times so that we were frazzled nerves by the time we finished the chore.

Paul was a ball of positive and artistic fun and a fantastic old friend of mine. I will miss him dearly and am so sorry for the loss of this incredible person. I am sorry for his Mother and five brothers and four sisters and his adoring nieces and nephews. I am sorry for Fred, his partner of twenty plus years and how he must be reeling at the sudden and unexpected loss of Paul. I am sorry for his students and for all those whom he will not get the chance to teach. There are simply no words. I know though, that his inspiration will live on in the memories of all those who loved him.

Paul Aikins was an incredible light that shone for 54 years.  I will miss him dearly.  Rest in Peace dear Paul.  Your work is done here but your legacy will live on powerfully and forever, for you have made a difference.

 

Amy Goes West

Amy waited all day in Gas Town for the money transfer to come through, seeing sights that made her head spin.  Men dressed as women. Gay lovers. Protests of every sort. The needle and the damage done.

When my sister Amy was almost 19, her friend convinced her to secretly hitch-hike out to Vancouver from southern Ontario, a trip of over 4000 kms one way.

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The young ladies stitched ‘VAN’ patches to their back packs and with straightened hair and bell bottoms, off they went: flower children off to find themselves.  (The prior year, my brother Matt had gone west with a buddy, hopping on and off rail cars.  It was a trendy thing to do then, to head West and to always ‘hit the ground running!’)

They were lucky to get rides in transport trucks with very attentive and caring knights of the highway who fed them and took them the extra mile to their destination.  They also took them on little side trips to Banff Springs Hotel and to the Okanagan Valley.  The gentlemen put the girls up in a hotel room of their own for two nights…sheer luxury and after four days they were dropped off in Vancouver at a hostel which the men paid for, for a night.  So generous!

The next day, the young women went to see Donna’s uncle in Port Alberni.  He gave them money to stay in a hostel for a further week so they could visit Wreck beach, Gas town and Stanley Park.

The friends walked all over the city seeing various vendors, musicians with tambourines and hippies everywhere as well as trans folks. Amy and Donna didn’t have a clue as to what they were seeing sometimes.

At Stanley Park in Vancouver, the sight there was not the best. The park was strewn with tons of garbage and many youth were strung out and laying around on the grass.  Some folks were meditating or in some sort of drug-induced trance. Everyone was friendly but, it wasn’t anything like what Amy and Donna expected.

At the hostel which was nice and clean and more wholesome, there was a kitchen with folks baking bread.  The meals there were mostly stews and bread.  Sitting in a circle at the hostel, everyone would share stories about where they came from.  There were many minstrel musicians and artists there with a general attitude of living on love, not working and being cool.

Walking through Vancouver one morning, seventeen-year old Donna saw a dance studio with a dancer in the window.  This dancer became her husband and they are still together today, going on to open a water-bed franchise and doing well on the water-bed trend of the eighties.  Remember that?  (Amy reminded me that she had two water beds in her apartment in the eighties where I lived while waiting to get into the army.  My husband Dean installed a waterbed in his residence room at university!)

In Gas town there were many people sitting on the sidewalk and shooting up and doing all manner of weirdness, almost like a mini Woodstock.  They seemed to be doing anything they wanted without a thought for the law.  Long hair, headbands, bare-chest, jeans, cut-off shorts, macrame belts with beaded tail a hanging down the thigh.

Georgie‘ girls would walk by in peasant blouses, long, flowing skirts and hair, floppy hat, beads, bracelets and anklets and Jesus sandals, patched and needle-pointed bell-bottom jeans and no makeup.  No bra.  Some wore moccasins and everyone had a backpack which identified them with sewn-on patches of their home town and of different places they had been. No cell phones. No email. No video games. No social media and no effing selfies. Just patches, music and spoken word. Imagine.

At the white-sand, nude Wreck Beach Amy recognized John from home who was sunbathing nude, stretched out on the fine, warm sand. Amy told him to throw a towel on if he wanted them to speak to him.

Soon the money ran out and Amy needed to get home.  From the ‘free’ phone at the Trans Union office, she called Mom and Dad and begged for airfare, mentioning that she didn’t even have money for food.  Back then, a student could fly across country for under a hundred dollars.

‘Our blond daughter is coming back from finding herself!  Wailed Dad to Mom.

Amy waited all day in Gas Town for the money transfer to come through, seeing sights that made her head spin.  Men dressed as women. Gay lovers. Protests of every sort. The needle and the damage done.

Back home to reality and work at A&W.  Dad and Mom had let Amy, Matt and Mark have the house that summer while they were at the lake for the summer.  Bad move as there were parties galore and the house was getting more and more weathered due to them.  In the seventies when the baby boomers were teens, there were just so many of them about that they took over every aspect of life.  They walked around in packs.  It’s hard to believe now in 2019, that they were ever that young.  The baby boomers are now aging and their vast numbers are taking over the assisted-living homes, seniors resorts and most of Florida. Stores are stocking more and more seniors’ needs: reading glasses, purple shampoo, compression hose, knee-braces, Epsom salts, sore muscle balm, soup and the like.

Anyhoo,  at home, Amy kept an eye-ball peeled for Donna’s dad who was the police chief. She thought she would be killed if he saw her as he was sure to blame Amy for the loss of his daughter to Vancouver…man.

Daisy

(Eva Player – daisy pic – and Google images..thanks again )

Barefoot Summers

Summers in the 70s lived by the soles of our feet, lakeside

My family had this amazing situation: the seven of us (my brothers and sisters and I) plus our parents.  We would leave the city behind for the two months of the summer and move two hours car ride north to the lake.  At the lake, we would shed our footwear and mostly run around bare foot.  It was incredible.  We were fleet of foot.  We would run through the tender green hay in the early summer which would be blond and tall by the late summer.

When I ponder that aspect of my childhood, I remember the immense sense of fortune at having this place as a retreat every summer and, when not doing morning chores, the sense of freedom and connection with nature that we all shared.

Most days, I would live in my bathing suit…no sunscreen, EVER – we didn’t even know what that was.  No hat, no sunglasses, no shirt, and as stated, no shoes.

Our lakeside acres had patches of earth that I knew to always be damp and mossy.  Patches that were warm and dry.  Tough prickly grass in the big fields.  Slimy slippery rocks like the ones on the path by cabin #1.  Annoyingly painful gravel of the camp roads which would pry an ‘ouch!’ and a hobble out of me every time.  The thick green moist grass outside of Grampa’s kitchen window where the sink water drained. The wet grainy sand of the beach as I would wade in for a swim, digging my toes in and enjoying the sensation.  The soft tufts of maiden grass that grew in the yard up by the porch of #2 cabin.  The baked planks of the redwood-painted docks.  The bottom of the canoe as we would catch frogs in the cove and the sensation of gliding over water that I felt through the fiberglass.

I knew these things because I detected them with the soles of my feet time and again as I would nimbly move over our twenty lakeside acres all summer.  Once, riding on the shoulders of my eldest sister’s future husband Peter, he remarked that I had leather-bottom feet. I shrugged.  It was my normal.

I was betrayed by them a few times, my bare feet: I knew the agony of a piercing by a hawthorn, stepped on absentmindedly, chubby arms crossed across my round belly, shivering from swimming for hours, as I made my small way past the tool shed.  I cried and bawled unabashedly with the pain, like little children do, and neighbours took me to have it removed by a doctor, such was my carrying on with it. (Mom and Dad were in town so the Pattersons came to my rescue – read a funny account of my brother Mark and the Pattersons in this story: The Camp).

Another betrayal of my barefoot days is in this story: Barefoot Heathens in which my Father forbids the ‘going to town’ barefoot.  We had been discouraged from ruining our school shoes which would be passed down from older siblings until they were worn and gone.

My brother Jobe and I would race through the tall hay in the lower field arriving at the frog pond slowly, lest we scare the frogs away.  We would creep the edges and wade carefully to grab an unsuspecting frog by its tiny waist just above its powerful legs.  Now and then, our bare feet would betray us and one of us would slip down the slick clay bank of the frog pond and into its stagnant waters, the stink and slime on our skin.  Once, we found ourselves a baby snapping turtle in that pond.  Just the once.  We held it like an Oreo cookie while it stretched its neck, beak and clawed feet doing its best to injure us while we ooohed and ahhed at how tiny and cute it was.  Then carefully letting it dive back into its swampy home, as we did with all the little pond frogs we caught.  (This wasn’t what we would do with the big, meaty bullfrogs we would catch in the cove though.  Those guys became breakfast and a crisp dollar bill from the Pattersons for helping to quiet the cove where their tent trailer sat.  The dozens of bullfrogs would ‘ribbit’ their love songs loudly all night long.)

These days, decades later, I find myself in my fifties and marvel at how we were back then.  Mostly carefree.  Mostly enjoying the simple things in life.  We wouldn’t use a telephone all summer.  Now we can’t be without one for a minute, carrying it on our person like it is a lifeline.

We would actually write letters on paper, stuffed into carefully addressed and licked 8 cent stamps on the envelopes, to friends in the city.  S.W.A.K. loudly printed on the back flap: ‘Sealed With A Kiss’.  If we were lucky, we would receive a hand-written letter from them a couple of weeks later, delivered by the mail truck guy into the big old aluminum mail box at the top of the gravel road.  Its red flag up and encouraging us to come. Scurrying barefoot to check the mailbox each day until finally it was there: a letter for me!  Savouring its every word and studying the envelope for clues as to when it was mailed from the city.  The impossibility of receiving news from two hundred miles away.

Times sure have changed as I am about to post this story and knowing that it can be read world wide, in the blink of an eye.  I am ever so glad to have made those simple but priceless memories at the lake, and through the soles of my leather-bottom feet.

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(photo courtesy of google images and the last one was taken by my hubby)

My Bad Little Girl Summer

A bite of scorched popcorn brings to mind the taste of Du Maurier cigarettes smoked the summer I was 8 years old, over four decades ago…

The other day I was biting into scorched popcorn and there it was.  The forgotten taste of Du Maurier and all the memories of my ‘bad little girl’ summer when I tried my best to keep up with two of my older brothers and all of their mischievous adventures.  That was the summer I learned how to lie to Mom and Dad and to be devious.  I was normally a very well behaved child, so this new-found deviousness was a somewhat bitter pill of guilt and subsequent worry.

I was eight years old when my brother Mark taught me how to smoke.  He preferred Du Maurier which, at the time, were 75 cents a pack. He even gave me the confidence to buy them. I was to tell the store owner that they were for my Uncle.  Things being the way they were then, this actually worked.  Never mind that I was a little girl and that I was apparently sent to buy cigarettes by a loved uncle.

Back then, we would run through the field of long blond hay and go up to the abandoned barn next to our lake-side property where we spent every summer.  There was an ancient hemp rope tied way up in the loft of the barn rafters.  We would swing on that rope and then let go with abandon and tumble into the very dry hay below, our woops mostly held in due to the danger of being found out and sound carrying so well anywhere near the lake.  Going into the barn was trespassing.  We were forbidden by Dad to go there, but, we went there almost every day anyway.  It was fabulously fun and exciting.

Later that summer, a large family arrived to rent #2 cabin for three weeks and we all became friends.  Mark thought Maureen was quite something.  She was very friendly and kind to me even though she was a teenager.  When I told her that Mark liked her, she blushed and lowered her dark lashes and head of shiny hair.  We were swimming at the time and so carried on with our game of back flips in the water.  After that though, suddenly our simple swinging on the hemp rope turned into heated games of ‘spin the bottle’ and ‘strip poker’.

Maureen’s Dad had a pick-up truck and he would take a dozen of us into town to get ice-cream.  Clutching a shiny quarter each, we would stand in the back of the pick-up, the little ones holding tight to the teens while the pick-up would bounce over the camp roads and then onto the highway to Maggie River, two miles away.  Racing down the pretty country road, over the Trouble River bridge, bugs hitting us full tilt, eyes squinted while our hair parted crazily in the whistling wind.  No shoes, no shirt, no hat, no sunglasses, no sunscreen, no cellphone.  It was a carefree time.

At night we would have huge campfires with s’mores (graham crackers, chocolate and browned marshmallows) or we would boil corn and roast wieners on sticks or pop some popcorn, drinking spring water (fetched from the artesian spring down the road) directly from a huge thermos on the picnic table, bending and turning our heads to allow the cool water to splash right into our mouths.  No bottled water.  It wasn’t invented yet.  We would sing all the old songs and there would always be a couple of guitars.  The children would sit on blankets near the fire and the adults would be on the chairs or a stump of wood with a stubby of Molsen Golden. Many times I fell asleep by the campfire and one of my older brothers or sisters would wake me when it was time to go.

We would look up at the night sky to see a gazillion stars twinkling and then a lonesome loon would call on the lake.  In the field the fireflies would flash, lighting our way to our beds. The copious crickets singing us to sleep. It was magical.

On rainy days we would play card games in one of the cabins or, sometimes we would play large games of Monopoly for hours or Rummoli and Euchre.  No screens.  Not a single one there in cottage country, not in 1974.

Other nights we would go around and gather all the kids, a couple of dozen all hailing from different cabins of large families.  Then we would start a game of ‘sardines’.  One kid would run and hide somewhere in the forest of the 20 lake-side acres.  Then we would run around and try to find the hiding person.  We would squish in with him or her, thus: sardines.  Often I would play this game in bare-feet.  My feet were very tough from the weeks of running shoe-less.

Behind all of the fun, that summer, was my guilt at now being a ‘smoker’ with a two-smoke per week habit.  I felt sick about it and just wanted to quit. Thankfully I found quitting a pretty easy task.  I just stopped.  My brother Mark however went on to smoke cigarettes for several decades.  Thankfully he has now joined the ranks of non-smokers.

I don’t blame my brothers for dragging me into their mischief back then.  Again, all this stuff had to happen to get me where I am today, in a happy life with a wonderful, albeit, small, family.  It’s just that sometimes I think back on these things and can barely believe we lived that way.  I haven’t exaggerated it either.  Today we live so differently.  Our controlled, safety-concerned, washed and dried lives of today where we now have to teach our children how to play outside.

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Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Also Hurt Me…
Sticks and Stones Break only Skin while Words are Ghosts that Haunt Me. Pain from Words has Left Its Scar on Mind and Heart that’s Tender. Cuts and Bruises now have healed, it’s words that I Remember.

Recently, two of my brothers became aware of my writings.  I had never actually invited them to read my stories because I didn’t think they would be interested in the least.  Their reaction to the news that I was blogging about my life, including when I was a child and also including very honest descriptions of our father’s behaviour during and after the divorce, was emphatically bitter.  To clarify, they were upset toward me, not toward Dad.  Toward me.  Wait, I was the one who was abused.

No one was there to protect me.  No one.  My little brother Luke was there, but he is almost three and a half years younger than me.

I am doing my best to therapeutically write about this part of my past.

Lately, I was on the phone with my best friend from childhood, Kelly.  Ever honest, she reminded me that she was there too.  She said, ‘Marn, I remember arriving at your house to find your dad walking around in his boxer shorts with the no-button fly wide open.  And, the thing is,’ she said, ‘He didn’t then go and put on his robe.  He just stayed walking around in his open-fly boxers.  It was disgusting.’

She continued with, ‘When Mark was manic (bipolar) he dry-humped me on the bed while I screamed for him to stop.’  Kelly would have been 16 and my brother Mark would have been 21 at the time.  Unfortunately, I think I was pounding on his back to stop.  I had no idea how to react to this behaviour.  It was outrageous.

Last night, over our supper, I was again drawn back into the memories of the past.  I told my husband of twenty-five years, Dean, about times when I would witness my dad being truly mean and abusive to my siblings.  Telling them these hurtful messages:

‘You’ll never amount to anything.’

‘Be a man.’

‘You’re weak.’

‘Get some backbone.’

‘It’s a good thing you’re beautiful.’

I clearly recall a time when I was in the army and had a month off over Christmas.  I went to visit Dad, my step-mother, Wen, and Luke who were living in a small border city  then.  At that time, Dad and Wen were the owner / operators of a 9-room motel. (The same motel that was the excuse for him not helping me with my University fees when I was at Waterloo and then consequently decided to join the army.)

At the time, 17-year old Luke was working as a server, trying to figure out what he would be doing for school and for the future.  He could have used some gentle, fatherly guidance.  He did not get that there.  What he received was verbal and emotional abuse and aloofness.  When I saw him on that visit, he seemed to be in a bit of a slump.  He talked little.  At meals he slouched over his plate with a rounded back, barely lifting his face from his food.  It was heartbreaking.  Where was my witty, intelligent little brother who could make me laugh at any moment?  Dad was so mean to him and Dad wouldn’t stop.  He just wouldn’t stop.  Every word was a put down.  An insult.

I remember Dad taking us to a tacky, cheap diner for a very inexpensive meal.  I was into my new army career and doing well.  I was on top of the world.  I had passed all the difficult training, won a great posting to Germany and had my own platoon.  I was best friends with Dean and looking forward to romance with him.  I knew he would be mine soon. ‘Just a matter of time,’ I would tell myself.  At this diner, I was dressed in nice clothes: my new suede skirt, leather pumps and freshly pressed blouse, earrings and soft makeup…all dolled up, because it was important to be all dolled up around Dad.  He had a sharp, critical eye and an acid tongue.

So, we’re sitting in a booth having a nice little chat about my service in the army.  In the back of my mind I suspected that there would be a dig coming soon.  And so it did.  Dad says, ‘Martha, that mole under your nose, why don’t you get it removed?’

WTF Dad.  That mole under my nose??? So, this is what you’re going to talk about at this time?  The mole under my nose???  My face turned dark red.  I was furious with him.  I should have known though.  I should have known.  There was always a dig.  And I ask myself, what must have been done to him, for him to behave that way?

I remember this one Christmas when Dad gave my brother Jobe a second-hand dictionary.  He actually wrapped up a used dictionary, but, before he did, he inscribed it:

To Jobe:

Read this daily and you just might make something of yourself.

From Dad.

How was that supposed to make a ten-year-old feel?

I have striven my whole adult life as a wife, parent, sister and friend, to watch the words that come out of my mouth…that they should not hurt, scrape or strike but that my words should make others feel fine, helped, free or loved, happy or better.  I have made mistakes in my youth, before I understood that insulting was not the best way to behave, as well, and in the heat of the moment, that I know.  But, at least I am aware of the effect my words can have.  We all have that power.

Amazing power to do harm or good with our words.

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(Pictures come from google images.  Thank you.)

Let the Games Begin ~ part 3

When the cat’s away, the mice shall play

Continued from Let The Games Begin Part 1 and Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Photos and courtesy of Eva Player and google images)

 

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Martha Valiquette and sister walking on Blue Beach, Nova Scotia 2016

Let the Games Begin ~ part 2

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

Continued from Let the Games Begin Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I HAD NO BREAKFAST,

A LOUSY LUNCH,

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

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

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

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

charlie brown

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

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

Continued at Let The Games Begin Part 3

Barefoot Heathens

A sunny day and a barefoot walk with my big brother turns into a horrible memory…and a new fantasy ending

Many long sunny days during our summers at the lake, we would walk the two miles to the nearby town of Magnetawan, population 300 souls, just for something different to do.  Sometimes I would be with a friend staying in the camp.  Other times I would be with a brother, or two.  On this particular day, I was with my older brother, closest to me in age: Jobe.

We were walking along on that hot summer day in the 70s.  We each had a dollar to spend in town and we were feeling rather rich.  We were discussing what we could do with that money. Would it be spent on fries and a pop at July’s or a vachon, black balls and chocolate milk at Jake’s General Store?  July’s and Jake’s shared side-by-side real estate in the village of Mag and each backed onto a grassy patch which sloped down to Ahmic Lake which was really Mag River extended after the locks system.

Both July’s and Jake’s were tired, dusty and faded.  Their respective owners, July and Jake, had since thrown up their hands to the bygone dreams of business greatness.  (A few decades later, both buildings would burn to the ground in an unsolved tragedy that would rock the core of the wee village, one which still wondered at the loss by fire of their once proud Marina.)

The Tuck Stop didn’t mind.  Even Seniors were ordering take-out these days and pulling up a bench seat at a red wooden picnic table in order to enjoy their chicken fingers and fries with a cold coke sipped by straw.  For Jobe and I, our favourite was the foot-long hot dog.  We just could not believe that a hot dog could be that long.  We marveled at it each time it arrived in front of us.  It was especially good when washed down with a thick sweet chocolate milk-shake.

So, on this particular day, with nary a water bottle nor a hat and never ‘sunscreen’ (what was that?) Jobe said, ‘hey Morg, let’s walk the whole way to town up on the rocks!’ Jobe loved a physical challenge.  I guess I did too.  Up we scrambled onto the hot, dark rocks which had been cut to form the roadway.  We carried on walking, sometimes skipping from one outcrop to the next.  Jobe was way ahead of me, as usual.  He was faster, more daring and more physically efficient in every way.

road and rockAs I walked along the rocks, a bothersome horsefly bobbed around my head, crashing into my tanned forehead every few steps.  Looking up to see Jobe’s red head bobbing up and down ahead of me, I suddenly realized that there was a warm sensation coming from the bottom of my right foot.  ‘What the…?’  I reached down and my hand came back to me covered in blood.  The tears burst from my eyes as I screamed for Jobe.

With wild, frightened green eyes Jobe arrived by my side and knew instantly that I had trod on a piece of broken glass.  He found the piece a second later.  It was a nasty jagged stalagmite of broken beer-bottle glass and it was covered in my blood.  Jobe half carried me for about ten minutes to the closest cottage where he pounded on the door and asked for help.

The nice lady who came to the door took me to her pure white porcelain tub and quite tenderly washed my gash of blood.  She soothed me with sweet mutterings while she ensured there was no glass left inside the wound.  I was silently crying and worried. Next she sat me down on a kitchen chair and expertly bandaged my foot with a gauze.  She used a lot of gauze.  A whole roll.  She knew exactly what she was doing.  Then she drove us back to the camp and made sure Dad received us before she left.  Dad had a quick conversation with her, thanked her profusely and got the details of the unfortunate occurrence.

Dad closed the door of the office and turned around to stare us down with the look of thunder on his face.  He was not happy.

Martha, why didn’t you have shoes on while walking to town?  FROM NOW ON, YOU WILL ALWAYS WEAR SHOES WHEN WALKING TO TOWN.  IS THAT CLEAR?! he bellowed.  ‘THAT WOMAN IS A COMPETITOR OF OURS.  DID YOU TWO KNOW THAT?’

We both shook our heads vehemently, but, we DID know that.  He was always talking about our competitors.  How many campers they had compared to us, and so on, endlessly.

campground

‘NOW SHE THINKS WE ARE BAREFOOT HEATHENS!’ he yelled.  ‘SHE’LL SPREAD IT ALL OVER THE LAKE THAT WE CAN’T EVEN AFFORD SHOES!’  He was livid. His face was purple.

At this point, Jobe escaped out the screen door and all I heard was the wap! as it hit the frame – his red noggin’ bouncing up and down as he diminished down the trail to the shop then hard right passed the Patterson’s tent trailer and gone up into the camp, likely to find Mom and our baby brother Luke and tell them the story.

Next, Dad grabbed my skinny arm roughly with his huge hand.  I was just seven years old and tiny and he was a behemoth.  And Mad.  He spanked me hard several times with his open hand which hit my bare legs and stung very badly.  It hurt a lot and I quietly bawled and bawled, but what hurt even worse was the betrayal I felt.  He was the guy who was supposed to protect me.  I didn’t think it was fair to receive a beating when I was already injured but, I didn’t say a word.  That would have been certain death.

He told me to get in the car and off we went to the medical clinic in Burks Falls, 20 miles away.  I needed stitches and a tetanus shot.  So much for a vachon and coke.

This day was horrible and getting worse by the minute.  The aftermath of the cut foot was ten days of no swimming.  Was I miserable?!  I always wore my shoes to town after that one.  Probably didn’t need the beating because the no swimming was punishment enough.

Usually natural consequences work best, I find.

But, what I am still confused about when I remember this, even though it happened to me decades ago, is just how much Dad over-reacted, in a bad way, to my cut foot.  Perhaps he was having an awful day and this was just one more hassle to deal with.

But, it was me.

His good little girl.

I was hurt and scared and needed a hug.  I can’t imagine beating my child who came home to me with a cut foot. It’s like kicking someone when they’re down.

So,

I am gonna re-write the last bit…

…Dad closed the door of the office and turned around to look at Jobe and I with a soft worried look on his face.  He gathered both of our small bodies to his chest with his big strong arms.  He kissed our curly heads, mine dark, Jobe’s ginger.  He told us not to worry.  He was going to fix all this.

‘Get in the car you two.  First it’s stitches for Mart, then it’s ice-cream.’

We smiled at our Dad who was always so good to us and fixed all our mistakes, or tried to anyway.  In town, we picked out a sweet thank you card for the lady who helped me and after ice-cream we brought it to her door to thank her in person.

Even though I couldn’t swim for ten days, Dad took me fishing and we had so much fun.

fishing with Dad

If you have any comments, I would love to read them.

~Mmv

Early Morning Mass

Please allow me to introduce myself.
I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been around for a long, long year,
Stole many a man’s soul and faith.
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ,
Had his moment of doubt and pain.
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate…

~Rolling Stones – Sympathy for The Devil

I remember the days of girlhood when I could run forever, jump high, skip rope, swim the lake and turn cartwheels. I was this little girl with black curly hair, green eyes, a few freckles and a quick smile.  I was full of energy, giggles and good ideas.  I knew the rules and I almost always followed them.  I went to church on Sundays and sang all the hymns, firmly clasping hands with my neighbours at the peace of Christ.  I was the good girl.

CROSSSo, when my new parish priest made an announcement inviting girls to be altar servers, I was so happy.  I really wanted to be an altar server.  I wanted to ring the bell, on the altar, during mass with the whole congregation watching, like I had watched the boys do so many times.

Training ensued with Father 0’Malley. There were ten of us and we needed to be taught what was what. How to wear the robe. How to prepare the altar. When to ring the bell. He was very strict and he taught us to be exact. Serious. Precise.

Then the day came for my debut as an altar server. It went well. I had been to hundreds of masses. I kinda had a sense of how it all worked, by then. I was on the schedule and looked forward to being the sole server during a week of early morning masses. I would ride my bike the mile to church, leaving home after breakfast at 7 am, making sure my school bag had my basketball uniform and shoes for practice after school. At 7 am the world wouldn’t even be awake yet. It was a fresh perspective. Funnily enough, it made me feel a little homesick. I shook it off an almost foreboding feeling and soldiered on.girl on bike on road

Arriving at the church, I took a moment to notice the beautifully groomed grounds leading to the large polished oak door to the sacristy. The church was ultra modern, brick and wood with a non-steeple. Curved walk ways and parking lot surrounded by green, groomed lawns, shaded by tall mature hardwoods. I parked my bike – no helmets back then.  I had tucked my pant leg into my socks to  safeguard it from the chain.  I righted this and as I did so, felt butterflies a flutter in my belly.

candle-flames

Opening the door I sniffed the familiar church scent of burning candles mixed with a slight residue of incense.  On my left was a wall of smooth oak paneling. Or so it seemed. I found the hidden handle and pulled.  Reluctantly, and with a sucking sound, the massive closet door opened and into it I put my school bag and jacket. As I closed the door, Father O’Malley appeared and somewhat startled me.  He wore a big creepy smile as he approached, saying, ‘Good morning, Martha!’  He wrapped his large arm around my small shoulders, his man hand landing on my budding chest. In slow motion and with an out-of-body awareness, I witnessed and felt his large hand squeeze my young breast.  Then both hands took my shoulders and he propelled me to the next cupboard which held my gown and hastened me to prepare for mass, perhaps not wanting me to dwell on what had just happened.

snow_GIRL

Later that day, as soon as I could get Mom alone, which wasn’t easy with so many siblings, I told her about it, not wanting to go back the next morning.  She said, ‘Oh Mart, you must be mistaken.  Father O’Malley is a priest.  A priest would never do that.’ Then she encouraged me to be a good girl and go back the next day.

GIRL SILOUETTE IN SKY

Every morning was a repeat performance by Father O’Malley: the smiley greeting, the man-hand grope, the hastening to mass. Years later, I began to wonder if he had orchestrated girl altar servers – the first in the history of the parish – so that he would have his pick of girls to fondle.

As soon as I could get away with it, I quit altar serving and eventually, I quit Catholicism. Any organization with forced celibacy is going to be a problem for someone.

alone little girl walking in rain on railway

 

All pics in this post found on google images.  Thank you!

Mr. Laset and the Huronia Games🥈

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

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

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

‘How is my best point guard doing today?’

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

Now my story about the Huronia Games…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

No one noticed my big smile or my big medal.

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

Forest

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

Amy’s Men ♥️

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

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

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

Ike

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

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

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

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

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

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

(R.I.P. Ike.  He passed in 2019.)

DICK TOE-SHIT

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

BUZZ

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

BLAIN ROBERTS

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

PHIL

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

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

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

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

Ooookay.  Stepford Wives much?

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

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

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

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

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

Bayswater Beach
The gorgeous Hirtle’s Beach, Nova Scotia

 

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

OTHERS

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

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

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

Amy nods.

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

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

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT me to be?’

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

****

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

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

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT him to be?’

Total Guy Magnet.

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

~Remember to leave a comment below.  I love your comments!~

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 July’s Restaurant for five summers until joining the army at 19. Dad did not believe in giving us an allowance.  We had to earn everything we ever got.

It was at Fancy’s in Barrie that I experienced working for the most dysfunctional couple of crazy people I have ever encountered.  I hated working there because of it and dreaded each shift.  Tom, the chief cook and owner would SCREAM at his wife, Darlene all the live long day:  BUTTER RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF THE BREAD FOR FUCK SAKES! RIGHT TO THE FUCKIN’ EDGE!!! AND GET IT OUT HOT!!! YOU BLOODY STUPID BITCH.  Oh Lord did I detest that place.  The tension should have been on the menu because it was the most abundant item they produced. I just now googled the place.  It is still open.  Unbelievable.  The food was good fairly good though, unfortunately.

Why work there?  I was in grade 12 and needed a job.  My sister Amy had helped me get the job through a friend of a friend and I was ever so grateful.  Amy always had so many connections made through her work as a hairstylist. By this time, Mom was living in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic boyfriend and working as a server for minimum wage at cafeteria-style restaurant in Woolworth downtown.  I would go visit her and she would look so tired.  So worn out.  Oh god.  It would break my heart. This was her reality after raising seven children and keeping a wonderful home for us for 26 years.  She did not come out of the divorce nor the annulment well. I could not ask her for a penny.  She worked so hard and made so little.

At that time, my younger brother and I had a bedroom each in the basement of our bungalow and Dad was upstairs. I had been getting a couple of shifts per week at O’Toole’s Roadhouse Restaurant, but, it went bankrupt and it wasn’t long before I was without money.  One particular day, having spent my savings, I had to ask Dad for money for necessities: menstrual pads.

He turned my down.  He would not give me five bucks for pads.  I was seething.  I hated him.

I was forced to use cotton t-shirts cut into rags.  Nice.  God I hated him.  It was incredible how much I hated him.  I feel that hatred even now, decades later.  And not giving me money, when he had plenty of money, for necessities, was just one of his many faults.  The others were worse. Like when he would come barging into my room, even though my door was closed, and catch me half-dressed or naked but with the old sorry, sorry.  I didn’t know you were dressing.  Or he would forcibly hold me down and lick my face with his very wet, gross, warm tongue – his bad breath washing over me as I would struggle — I just want to give my daughter a little kiss.  Or, he would comment on my developing body you’re getting rather hippy, Martha, you better watch it, you don’t want to get fat.  Or, he would routinely reach out and touch my bum as I would be walking past him and then exclaim yippee in a falsetto voice.  Then there were the many times his robe would mysteriously open and there would be hairy, wrinkled member for all to see.  Oh god.  I would be mortified when he would inevitably do this with teen-aged Kelly and Sally visiting.  Show us his penis, by accident, of course, and then giggle about it as he would sneak away back to his fart-stinking room.

With all that I have read, learned and experienced in life regarding body image (see The Body Positive 🙃) and now as a parent, here is one truism: never comment on a child’s body except to say how lucky we are to have one that does so much for us.  Our body is truly a marvel which should be loved, respected, adorned, nourished, cleaned, clothed and loved some more.

So, my relationship with Dad was love / hate for sure.  At times I would love him for his silliness and his zest for life and enthusiasm about certain topics: sport, recreation, small business, celebration.  Dad loved to laugh.  He would often have us all in stitches at the supper table, recounting his Skollard Hall days in a falsetto voice.  He liked that falsetto voice.  I do truly think he was doing his best to father us the best way he could, considering the factors at play in his upbringing and his generation and with the added factor of the Catholic guilt monitoring all that he did.  Another factor in the break down of his marriage was mental illness.

Mom had been a classic Bipolar 1 (Definition: A person with bipolar 1 will experience a full manic episode usually leading to psychosis).  When she was pregnant or nursing, which was a lot of the time until she was 42 and weened Luke, she did not have symptoms of mental illness.  But, then it hit and it hit hard.  She was hospitalized with full on psychosis several times in the seventies.  I remember waking up around age six and walking around looking for mom.  No one would tell me that she had been taken to the hospital: 5C – the psyche ward. (Who would know then that in thirty years time, I would have my first big struggle with mental illness: Locked Up in D.C. 🔐 )   She was there for weeks.  We would go visit her and it was like she was a different person.  She was in a fog.  It was heart wrenching.  I missed her so badly. I just wanted my mommy back.  I would cry myself to sleep missing her so much. She would sometimes be smoking when we visited.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  (Back then you could smoke in parts of the hospital.)

In the summer, at the lake, Mom would become more and more manic.  Her manic energy was put to good use with cleaning and maintaining the ten cabins of The Camp ⛺️that we moved to every summer.  Lock, stock and barrel, all nine of us would move two hours North to the camp and live on the lake all summer – running the tourist resort – as it used to be known.  It was truly beautiful there: 21 forested acres, half-mile of lake frontage, only 2 miles from a village for supplies, ten antique, rustic cabins on private lots with tall trees, most cabins on the water with their own dock and a sandy beach.

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 July’s Restaurant up at the Lake.  My older sister Eva had worked there a decade prior to me.  Eva would sometime recount one of her most embarrassing moments while working there.  This man would come into the restaurant almost daily.  He would take a seat beside the coffee maker in the kitchen in the mid-afternoon when it wasn’t too busy.  He would just sit and chat up the kitchen staff and the servers as they would come and go from the kitchen.  So, Eva walks into the kitchen this one day and slaps Buddy on the back and asks him how the heck he is doing today.  That would have been all fine except that when she slapped him on the back his toupee went flying off his head and landed a few feet away on the kitchen floor.

Silence.

You could have heard a mosquito outside the window.  After a split second hesitation and with a very red face, Eva quickly grabbed the toupee off the floor.  Put it back on Buddy’s head.  Smoothed it out.  Told him: ‘You have very nice hair.’ Then, turned on her heel into the dining room.

A & W Days

Four of my siblings work at the same fast food place. There are some bumps in the road but also a happy ending…

Part-time jobs were an absolute necessity in the my family. We each had one, early in life, and a paper route.  There never seemed to be enough money to go around…at one point in the 70s, my eldest brother Matt was the manager of the A&W fast food joint in Barrie, Canada. He would have been 17 at the time. While in that position, he managed to hire three of our siblings: Eva age 19, Amy 18 and Mark 14 (Mark lied about his age). So, four of us were working there and those were the days of delivery to the car window by waitresses in uniform. The tray would hang off the window and would be filled with the order of those in the car: root beer, burgers, fries, that kind of thing.

One time, Matt was working with Mark and with a friend, who is now deceased due to drugs, Byron Hedgeman. Hedgeman had been cleaning the stainless steel counters with a mixture of bleach and water when a bus pulled up and there was a massive order placed. Everyone was working madly to fill the order. Sadly, the javex and water combination got wiped up in a rather cavalier way. Then, Matt slid a burger to Hedgeman who put it in the bun and the burger must have gone through the javex. The next day a man came into the front of the A&W and this man’s face was green. He had ‘bags under bags under bags’ beneath his eyes (My brother Matt tells this story and his huge sausage fingers come up to form the semi-circle under each of his eyes indicating just how sick and tired the customer appeared to be — whenever Matt does this we roll laughing because of his sausages and because of the unfortunate look on his face).

The man then tells Matt that he was deathly sick, throwing up all night, after eating the burger from A&W. Matt looks at Hedgeman and they are sure of what must have happened to this man’s burger. The javex! Matt offers the guy a couple of coupons for free burgers. The man looks at Matt and says: are you kidding? I will NEVER eat in this effing place again!! 

One very good thing came of the A&W days…Matt met June and they have been happily married since June was 19 and Matt was 20. They have two adult children and four, grandchildren.

A little while after meeting and falling in love with June, it became apparent that Dad did not approve of the relationship. Matt would spend hours talking to June on the phone. He had a basement bedroom in our family bungalow on Pearl Street in Barrie. Matt was serious about his phone calling so he got himself his own extension phone, a trick we all thought was quite outstanding because at the time, teens NEVER had their own phone.

In his day, Dad had been a very skilled hockey player and that was before the players wore helmets.  His nose was broken a handful of times and was nearly flattened to his face because of it.  Dad lived for hockey and he had an ambition to produce another serious player from one of his four sons. To that end, Dad and Mom would make us a back-yard rink every winter and Dad would force the boys to take a hundred shots a day. Of course there would always be broken kitchen windows and neighbours’ windows too, sometimes. Almost all of us could skate, holding a chair, before we could walk.  Luke was quite little but he managed to memorize hockey stats and NHL teams and rosters.  It was impressive. How’s that for true Canadians, eh? So, Matt had been doing well with his hockey. Dad bought him a new pair of CCM Super Tacks skates.

SUPERTACKS

These would have been very expensive on a teacher’s salary who has seven children. Whenever these skates were spoken of, a hush would fall over the room. They were absolutely the ticket to the NHL. They were the very best skates to own back then.

Dad, not approving of Matt and June’s relationship, sat Matt down one day and said he wanted him to move out. Matt was 17. Matt asked why. Dad said Matt was a bad influence on the other children. He then took back the skates. Matt asked why he would do that. Dad said he knew Matt wasn’t seriously into hockey if he was going to take up with a girl. Matt said it was crazy to take them back but, Dad did anyway. He took them back and put them in a well-known hiding place: under the head of his bed. Matt found them a few days later and took them back.

So Matt and June found a small apartment in a really old house in downtown Barrie. They paid $70 per month rent and Matt was making that much in one week at A&W. Matt could see that he would be needing to do something more lucrative in order to live a more comfortable life. While living in that first apartment, Matt had a pair of leather shoes, just one pair. He would wear them to work. Soon, the sole started to come unattached from one of the shoes. Always a quick problem solver, Matt found a thumb tack to hold his shoe together so he could still wear them to work. One day, he couldn’t find this all-important tack for his shoe. He was running around with his shoe sole flapping yelling,  ‘June, help me find my tack!! I’m gonna be late!’  He finally found the tack and got off to work just in time.

Matt went on to get his papers in Electrical Contracting. He worked for decades in downtown Toronto and all over the city in commercial Electricity making a very good living. He worked hard and he always had lots of work. June managed the business office and, in so doing, had the flexibility to be home to raise their two children. Sam was a honeymoon baby and ended up playing in the show (yes, the NHL – Dad got his wish but one generation removed). Sam now does commentating and consulting. Sally is a restaurateur and city counselor for her city. All this wonderful success happened due to the A&W days.

And here they are now. Such a wonderful couple who are the best of friends.

Pigs CAN Fly

A road-trip with my big sister comes to a hilarious, um, outcome.

My two big sisters were Irish twins — born ten months apart.  They had the most awesome bedrooms down the basement of our little red-brick bungalow in Barrie.  Their faux wood paneled walls and wall-to-wall carpeted bedrooms were not only super cool and trendy, but they were adjoined so that if you wanted to go into Eva’s room, you had to first walk through Amy’s.  Eva had a single bed in her room with an afghan on it that she crocheted herself.  She was (and still is) very creative and multi-talented – always making something, or writing a poem, baking, painting a paint-by-number or organizing a get-together.  Eva’s zest for life is contagious.  People flock to Eva, wanting to be apart of her exciting and enthusiastic life.

Eva also had throw cushions on the bed with hand-stitched whimsical hippos, frogs and turtles.  Her room was so interesting that I would love to just sit and look at everything and wonder at how she must have made it.  Eva was twelve years my senior, my God-mother and I adored her.  I was so lucky.

Amy’s room sported a double bed and a walk-in closet that had its very own light and light switch.  As a little girl I would imagine it to be my play house and I would wish I was big enough to wear some of Amy’s great clothes.  Amy is a very gentle soul. She has many friends and many we call Amy’s Men.  She listens well and can empathize with just about everyone she meets.  She hears her clients all day while she expertly works on their hair and makes them feel good about themselves.  People love Amy from the moment they meet her and look into her beautiful blue, kind eyes.  She is one of those soft-spoken, nice people that everyone wants to associate with. Amy 11 years older than I and I also adored her, she was the most beautiful woman, on the inside and out, that I knew and I was very proud to be her little sister.  Amy and Eva pretty much raised me from the time I was a tiny.

One night when I was seven years old, I was curled up beside Amy who was reading her homework assignment to me aloud. She was attending the Barrie School of Hairdressing at the time.  I shared Amy’s double bed with her. Eva walked in, all excited, and announced that she was going to Windsor to attend Mark’s graduation from Law School.  Mark was a school friend of hers who lived down the hill and who just loved Eva.  He wanted her as a girlfriend but, unfortunately, Eva really never could muster up those kinds of feelings for him.  Eva however, still really liked him as a friend and was looking forward to the adventure of going down to Windsor to attend his grad.  We would, of course, stay with our relatives and not at his apartment (which he shared with some other guy).  I guess I was a type of chaperone for this mission and would keep Eva, my big sister that I was in awe of, company while she drove.

We started out early in the day in Eva’s new, green, 1974 Maverick –“The Mav”.  The plan was that we would pull off the highway about once every hour so that Eva wouldn’t be too tired by the time we got there.  It’s about a 6-hour road trip to Windsor and sure enough we pulled off for a break each hour.  Eva would buy us a treat and we would sometimes gas up the Mav and then we would be on the road again.  The trip took us on multi-lane, fast 400-series highways all the way to Windsor which is situated on the border with The States.  We sung all kinds of great tunes.  Eva is a talented singer and loves to entertain.  We sang Band On the Run, Country Roads, Out on a Date, Maggie May and more.  My big sister Eve was so much fun!  I could hardly believe the adventure I was having and how lucky I was (compared to my four brothers and Amy who had to stay at home).

We arrived in good time and I was amazed at the absolutely largest bridge I had ever laid eyes on.  Eva said that was the bridge to The States and that it was a mile long.

Holy Cow! I thought.

We found Mark’s apartment and he and his roomie welcomed us in with open arms.  There was lots of smiling and some cute flirting going on.  Eva was an expert joker and loved to wittingly poke fun.  Mark would get all shy, blush, wave his hand and say,

Oh Eva!

He opened the fridge to offer us a refreshment.  Eva politely declined but, I couldn’t help but notice that all of their food, even the peanut butter was in there.  Yuck! Cold peanut butter, I thought.  We were big peanut butter eaters in our household.  Mom would buy peanut butter by the gallon bucket and it would be gone in a week.  We would usually find a butter knife in the emptying bucket.  One of us had just left it in there.

We NEVER put peanut butter in the fridge!

I had to ask.  I was so curious.  Why do you have all that food in the fridge?  It turned out that their apartment, which was actually in a really old huge brick house, probably out of the Victorian era, had bugs – cock roaches.  Keeping food in the fridge deterred these pests.

Suddenly I had to use the toilet.

Eva said she would come in with me to freshen up while I used the toilet.  As we walked into the bathroom I noticed that the bathtub was different from our late 70s model in our brick bungalow at home.  This tub had feet.  Everything looked different and old, but really neat at the same time.  Eva explained antiques to me as she applied some blush, mascara, then some blue eye-shadow and a bit of pinkish lipstick.  I can remember feeling like I was learning a lot on this trip.

I did a poop, wiped, and hopped off the toilet, yanking up my jeans and turning to look at it.  There, in the bowl, was the biggest, fattest poop I had ever produced, or seen produced, in my young life.  It was huge and it curled all the way around the toilet bowl!  I was pointing at it and saying:

Wow, Eva, take a look at this!

When I noticed the look of utter horror on my big sister’s face.

Flush it, Martha! she ordered, before it stinks up this place really bad!

I reached over and pulled on the ancient flushing lever.  I couldn’t figure out why my oldest sister wasn’t as amazed by what I had produced as I was.  The massive, man-poop was going to be gone in an instant so I watched it closely as it was going to disappear down the hole.  Around and around and around it went but…

it…

did…

not…

go…

down.

Instead it proceeded to float up higher to the rim of the bowl.  Geez! I was amazed at its size and bulk.

Eva hadn’t been watching.  She had been brushing her long, dazzling hair.

Look Eva, it’s not going down.  I said.  I wasn’t the least bit disturbed by this.

Oh NO Martha, she said in dismay as she pushed her shiny, straight brown hair behind her ears, They’re gonna think I did that! indicating with her head nod my big prize poop.

 So?

Oh never mind, you’re too young to understand.  We’ve got to do something before they wonder what the heck is going on in here!

Eva looked frantically around the bathroom until her eyes fell on a scoop beside the toilet that had been fashioned out of an old bleach bottle.

The rest of it happened pretty quickly.

She opened the window.

She grabbed the scoop.

She fished out the huge poop coil and,

she tossed it straight out the window!!!!

When I looked out to see where it landed, there it was: a large brown lump, below the window, on a small roof, about ten feet away from my wide-eyed wondering face.

Eva simply closed the window and the curtain, took one last glance in the mirror and quickly washed her hands. She then plastered a somewhat nervous looking smile on her face, took my hand and opened the bathroom door.

Years later, after recounting this story to my best girl friend Kelly, she was doubled over laughing then stood straight up and while smiling widely said,

Who says pigs can’t fly?

We both laughed some more.

*********************

When in Australia in 1994, I told this story to a group of women with whom I was working at a tomato and garlic farm.  (At the time, Dean and I were doing our best to make money in order to be able to continue our travels to Nepal and India.)  We were standing in a circle around a huge wooden crate of fresh picked garlic and we were cleaning it of it’s extra layers and roots.  It was mind-numbingly boring work, but better in the barn doing this work than out under the scorching sun.  Anyway, I asked the ladies if they wanted to hear a story.  Of course they did and said, ‘Ah mate. Let’s hear it!’.  A few minutes later they were bent over double laughing at this story.  Some manager came over to ask if everyone was okay.  They all waved at him that we were fine, breathless with hilarity. I was quite pleased that they found it that funny.  Anyway, I will never forget relating this story to those ladies in the Ozzie barn.