Remembering Matt (1966-2003)

Wilson L. Matthew Jan 14, 1966 – Dec 1, 2003
brother, uncle, teacher and friend
Nothing loved is ever lost and he was loved so much

After reading the previous post by Al Kinsella about the loss of his father, Eric commented about the power of the poem Al had written.  I took the opportunity to then ask Eric if he had a story for my blog and here is what he offered.  It is a story about a mutual friend who lost his life suddenly and way too early.
A guest submission by Eric van Wesenbeeck:
Writing this was a way of dealing with the grief of a lost friend, who left us way too early in life…

 

A while ago, I was invited to a surprise birthday party for Jim’s mother. Jim O is an old high school friend whom I still keep in touch with. In fact, we were neighbours for a few years when our kids where just young and even now we live in the same town. A mutual friend of ours, Matt, planned to come up to Barrie for the weekend to join the Saturday evening festivities. Matt lived in Bradford where he worked at his dream job as a high school English/Drama teacher. We saw Matt a few times a year when he would come to Barrie to visit friends and I looked forward to seeing him again, soon.

He first came to our house for dinner with me, my wife, Chris and our three kids. As always, Matt brought his old guitar with him and entertained the kids (okay, all of us) with a few of the hundreds of songs he had filed away in that jukebox brain of his. Afterwards, we headed off, guitar in hand, to Jim’s parents’ house for the party. On the way, Matt and I chewed the fat, toasting our common interest in music and pop culture, savouring the latest gossip of our many mutual old high school friends and digesting hearty servings of what life had recently dished up for the two of us. Matt had just broken up with his latest girlfriend and, although he hid it well, I could tell he was heartbroken. Matt had had a few serious relationships but unfortunately for him, none had worked out in the long term. I figured the evening’s party may be a convenient distraction for Matt on what may have otherwise been a cold, lonely November Saturday night.

We had great time at this Irish birthday party and a happy surprise it was for Jim’s mother! Her friends and relatives from Ireland, New York City and next door joined in to celebrate. The Irish beer and whiskey flowed and it wasn’t long before the atmosphere in the rec-room had transformed to that of an Irish pub with card games, darts, billiards, laughter and song. Ah yes, song. One of Jim’s aunts sang a few haunting Irish folk songs that mesmerized the gathering. Of course, Matt had brought in his guitar and it wasn’t long before he had many of us singing along as he pounded out the chords on his trusty Gibson six-string. As he wound down his “set”, Matt called me over to help him sing the next song, “I’m One” by the Who. Going back over twenty years to grade eleven, the love of music was something that closely bonded Matt and me. The only difference was that he could play and sing it – I could most definitely NOT. Consequently, I awkwardly stumbled through the verses and then enthusiastically helped Matt belt out the chorus in my tone-deaf voice. We had a great time.

Later that evening, as the revelry wound down, Matt drove me back home. Before leaving to crash for the night at Jim’s house, Matt stood in my driveway with me and we chatted for a long time. Matt was usually up-beat and lighthearted and rarely exposed his darker corners but that night he was particularly reflective and nostalgic and it seemed, just a little melancholy. Chronic health problems had caused him several setbacks in life, back as far as I could remember. He divulged to me a drug habit that he had only recently wrestled into control. He lamented that yet another relationship had failed. He felt that he was missing out on a certain part of life as he watched his friends get married and raise families of their own. Matt loved kids and I think he longed to be a father. I felt bad for Matt and tried to comfort him with my words. I reminded him of all the kids at school who loved him – he was an extremely popular teacher because of his gift for connecting with the students with whom he was so involved. I reminded him of all his siblings and the many nieces and nephews who looked up to “Uncle Matt”. I (regretfully) suppressed an urge to reach out and give him a hug. It was getting late, so Matt, feeling a little comforted, hopped in the car and drove across town to Jim’s house.

As Matt drove away and I made my way to bed, the tune “I’m One” kept playing in my head. I hadn’t listened to that album in years and Matt’s rendition of it had rekindled the flame I carried for this old “favorite band”. The next day, I pulled my “Quadrophenia” CD out of the dusty archives and threw it in my car for future listening.

Two weeks later, on a Monday morning while at work, I got a call from Jim. Jim somberly announced to me that our friend Matt had passed away. I sat in silence, stunned. Jim explained that Matt had gone to the hospital by himself on the weekend, not feeling well. He must have been feeling awful because with all his past health problems Matt had spend too much time in hospitals and now hated going there. He wouldn’t go unless he really wasn’t well. He passed away two nights later with congestive heart failure. Just like that, Matt was gone. I was shaken and had to leave work to clear my head. I got in the car and drove to the lakeshore and stared silently out onto the foreboding gray waters. I thought about Matt. About the conversation we had only two weeks ago. About the years we had spent together in school. About the music, friends, parties, camaraderie and life we had shared. I remembered him singing recently at the party. I loaded the CD I had left in the car and listened to “I’m One”. I listened to the track again and again. Suddenly, the lyrics spoke to me with such clarity. Matt had sung them so passionately and now I knew why. This angst ridden song of a misfit trying so hard to fit in somewhere and be “someone”, reflected perfectly what Matt was feeling. Matt felt he was only “one” and he wanted so badly to be more than that…

matt grave

It’s seems to me, that Matt never realized that he had, in fact, become more than that. There were over 400 people at his visitation, funeral and interment. Standing room only. Many were students, who felt like they had lost a big brother. Through his classroom enthusiasm and antics, his passionate dramatic creations and his rousing participation in floor hockey, Matt had so closely touched so many students. Matt was awarded, posthumously, an award for teaching excellence. A student achievement award was created and named in his honour.

I won’t easily forget Matt. I visit his grave occasionally and take a few moments to recognize all the good things in my life, even if, at that moment, things may seem kind of bleak. I remind myself to enjoy each day to the fullest because each one is precious and a chance to leave a positive impression on those I meet. In the end, we are all just “one” and that’s really not so bad, is it?

~Submission and photo by Eric van Wesenbeeck…thank you)

__________________________________

For me, Matt was one of those school friends that I met in kindergarten in 1971 and besides grade 10, we spent our all of our school days together right up until grade 13.  Matt and I served on the student’s council at St Mary’s together, we hung out in groups on weekends and we played ball on the paved (yes, paved) yard at recess, after school and sometimes on weekends.  Matt loved ball.  He knew all the calls the hand signs the lingo.  He could be very dramatic and it was contagious.  We lived a couple of streets away from each other and attended the same masses at St Mary’s church.  Losing Matt felt like a blow to my stomach and a dark inner pain that just wouldn’t stop.  Dean, Leo and I were in Honduras on Roatan when I received the email from Flo that Matt had died. ‘WHAT??’ I exclaimed and my fist flew to my mouth with the shock of the news.  When you are school friends for so many years, back when people just did not move away, you really got to know someone and it is profound how much they feel like a part of you.  How well they knew and understood you.  They would just have to.  Matt used to call me ‘Marth’ and he was the only one who would.  I’ll never forget him.  He was a good friend and will always be missed.  Go well Matt.  Rest in Peace.

 

I’m One
Every year is the same
And I feel it again
I’m a loser, no chance to win
Leaves start fallin’
Come down is callin’
Loneliness starts sinking in
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
Where do you get
Those blue, blue jeans
Faded, patched secret so tight?
Where do you get
That walk oh so lean?
Your shoes and your shirt’s all just right
I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I got a Gibson
Without a case
But I can’t get that even tanned look on my face
Ill fitting clothes
And I blend in the crowd
Fingers so clumsy
Voice too loud
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I’m the one
I’m the one
Songwriters: Peter Den

 

While Sitting At Your Grave

Though things we knew not how
When it was clear and loud
I hope you’re watching now
I hope we do you proud….
~Allen Kinsella

Guest writer Al Kinsella…

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago on a Nov 6th. Today would have been my father’s birthday. It would always require a visit to the cemetery where I do a ton of thinking. Well it’s that day again today – he has been gone for 6 years now and here is a poem I wrote in 2015 while sitting at his grave.

 

I thought of you today

I know you’re no longer here

Had so much left to say

I say in thoughts and tears

 

The more I think things different

The more they just don’t change

I find I’m more and more like you

is it funny or is it strange?

 

Though things we knew not how

When it was clear and loud

I hope you’re watching now

I hope we do you proud

 

Not a day goes by I don’t realize

You would never not bother

I think of you daily to my surprise

Happy Birthday Dad my Father

 

Although on this special day

when you are not here to celebrate

Watch over us and pray

And make our worlds illuminate!

 

 

 

*****

Photo by me (not Al)

Fire on the Rifle Range (1990)

Again I realized that there are some of us who need to lead but, there are more of us who just want to follow

In my early twenties, I was posted to Lahr, Germany.  Initially I was a transportation platoon commander in Supply and Transport Company in 4 Service Battalion in the Canadian Army.  To put it simply, I had a platoon of 30 soldiers who drove MAN 10-ton trucks (these bad boys, as seen below)

10 ton Man

which would carry supplies: ammunition, water, rations, various needed items, and spare parts for forward fighting troops and other support units within the Brigade. During peace time, we conducted training operations such as weapons use, field exercises and fitness competitions to improve morale, esprit-de-corps and to prepare for future deployments. As the Platoon Commander, I routinely conducted all manner of administrative duties, personnel evaluations and reports, test and inspection readiness, subordinate training, orders groups, equipment maintenance checks, and many other duties in accordance with my rank and position.

For the weapons aspect, a couple of times per year, we would all dispatch by military road move (huge convoys of jeeps, light and heavy trucks, trailers, kitchen trucks and the like) to a Gun Camp in Valdahon, France for two weeks of training on the shooting ranges.

While there, we were assigned to a room and a cot in one part of the camp.  The other two-thirds of the place was inhabited by French and German units.  We shared the mess hall with them and as such, had opportunities to observe them.  Our uniforms kept us together as a unit but apart from them. It was interesting to consistently see and remember this all this time later, that the Germans were the physically largest of us all.  The French were the smallest and we, the Canadians, were right in the middle. The female soldiers were almost always the smallest of all and there were only a few dozen women there in total, myself included.

As an illustration of one aspect of being a female officer, while there, one of my colleagues, a fellow officer no less, decided he would make a move on me.  I hadn’t yet started to date Dean (the guy I was completely in love with but hadn’t been able to solidify a relationship with…yet) so this guy figured he could go for it.  He cornered me in my barrack room and started to physically block me from leaving.  He had this creepy, predatorial look on his face.  It dawned on me that I was alone in this huge old building with him.  I was going to have to get defensive if he tried anything.  So, with two hands on his chest, I pushed him back roughly and told him I was NOT interested.  He seemed surprised.  He didn’t bother me again, but, can you image thinking that that tactic would work?

So back to the story at hand…

this one day, I was on the rifle range with a couple dozen soldiers.  I used to really enjoy shooting on the range.  The controlled breathing.  The focus.  The single-mindedness of it.  There was nothing but the trigger and the target.  Nothing.  I would take position.  Take preliminary aim.  Exhale slowly.  Hold it.  Confirm aim.  Squeeze the trigger.  Check.  Repeat.  Writing this in my fifties, I am there again.

There was a master corporal who was in command of this particular range, of which there were many in this training area.  Technically I outranked him but on shooting ranges, the ranking soldier is the one in command of the range and wore an arm band indicating this.  He had done a specialized course to be qualified to command the range.  This guy was a know-it-all, loud mouth with an attitude from Cape Breton, as was apparent by his accent.  I have always found the Cape Breton lilt to be endearing.  Not on this guy.

prone shooting
These are US troops shooting on a small arms range in prone position, just to give an idea of what it looks like. (I didn’t have a camera back in 1990, sorry)

Anyways, we were there shooting our C7 semi-automatic assault rifles and I, my Browning 9 mm pistol as well, and enjoying a hot, very dry day.  It was so bright that it was actually hard to see our targets and the holes we made in them, from where we lay in a line in prone position.  Then Master Corporal Attitude says he’s going to get out the tracer rounds in order to be able to see our target shooting better.

It’s too dry for tracer! I thought, with alarm.

Tracer is a training round that has a small, burning, highly visible pyrotechnic flame coming out of its back end.  It is like shooting lit matches down the range.  The kind of matches that don’t extinguish easily.

Alas, I didn’t say anything to dispute the idea and then someone shot tracer and started a field fire almost instantly.

Next thing we know the whole Battalion is out chaotically fighting fires in acres and acres of dry-as-tinder hay.  We worked for hours, burning and blackening ourselves, ruining uniforms and boots and breathing a lot of smoke.  Water trucks eventually showed up but the village was ill equipped for such a huge fire.  I recall a water tank truck with a little garden hose type attachment spitting out drops of water.  Grampa Dalton would have said, ‘Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job‘.  He was usually referring to a trick in the nightly card games of Euchre but, that’s what I thought when I saw that water truck. Finally, proper fire trucks arrived from a city and we were stood-down.  We ate, drank a few beers, showered and hit the rack (army-speak for bed).

I pondered the hours of fighting the field fire and the exact moment I found my command voice.  When I would see a soldier not knowing what to do, or not moving fast enough to help, I would loudly encourage him or her to

‘MOVE IT’!

‘COME OVER HERE’!

‘TAKE THIS RUG TO THAT PATCH OF FIRE, SOLDIER’!

And… they responded to me.  Little ole new-to-the-Battalion me.  It was invigorating and felt right, like I was falling into step.  Again I realized that there are some of us who need to lead but, there are more of us who just want to follow.

As far as I know, nothing was ever investigated about the use of tracer rounds on a hot and dry day in Valdahon, France in 1990.

I often wondered though if the fire would have happened had I just opened my mouth.

(Pictures found on google images.  Thank you.)

*******

The following is a comment from Col Gordon Grant, from his perspective at the top:

This training event caused considerable angst for the leadership. There are three incidents I vividly remember. First, I was the Second in Command of the Battalion. The Commanding Officer was away for the day so I was the acting Commanding Officer. The Commandant of the French Camp invited me to lunch. We enjoyed a good meal and engaging conversation. Suddenly, the door flew open and a French captain ran in and whispered something to the Commandant. The captain wore a pained expression and I knew it was bad news for someone. The Commandant dabbed his mouth with his napkin, smiled and said, “Apparently, your Canadian soldiers are attempting to burn my camp down.”

I left the luncheon and returned to the field. The wind carried the fire to several locations and we actually faced three separate fires – the battalion divided into three groups and built fire-breaks to slow the advance. I overheard on the radio that one of our corporals was down with smoke inhalation and the medics declared her dead. A Sergeant Traclet refused to accept her loss and he worked on her for 20 minutes and successfully resuscitated her.

The fires were spreading toward the Camp’s ammunition depot. The danger radius of potential explosions included the civilian hamlet just outside the camp. We now had to prepare to evacuate the local population. The officers and soldiers were outstanding. With only shovels to combat the fires they faced a 30-foot wall of flames, stopped the fire’s advance, and saved both the ammunition depot and the hamlet.

That night the Commanding Officer authorized free beer. I remember coming into the building where 500 soldiers were streaked with soot as they drank and tried to outdo each other with war stories. It reminded me of a scene from the movie Gremlins. The fire went down in Battalion history as a huge morale booster – but it came ever so close to being a catastrophe.

Ode To The Joy Of A Parents’ Love ♥️

A poem by my eldest sister about the simple recipe of loving, guiding and nurturing a child…

parents with child on beach

Cradled warm

Soothing care

Guiding hand

Nudging gently

Show me a child adored

And I’ll show you

Peace in the world

Happiness in our homes

A positive definition of self

Everyone will want some

Yes, it’s a simple recipe!

~by Eva Player

(Images found on google images.  Thank you.)

Barefoot Summers (1966-1985)

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.

IMG_1753 (1)

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

My Bad Little Girl Summer (1974)

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…

When I was eight years old 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.

The other day, forty-four years later, 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.

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.

Campfire-and-Lake

The Badlands & A New Biz (2006)

Overnight my job is lost due to a fire…it wasn’t long before we struck upon a viable business idea one that is still operating today

After Paddy’s had the fire and I was instantly out of a full-time job, I painted most of the rooms in our house and felt the freedom of deciding what to do with my days.  Every day, after walking my son, Leo, to school, the day would stretch out with all kinds of possibility.

It wasn’t long before Dean and I were kicking around the idea of starting up our own business.  We had noticed the need for a driving school in town, and one thing led to another, and before long we were up and running.  This was ironic due to me having been a Transportation Logistics Officer in the Army.  I had taken courses in military driving, off-roading, convoying, forward delivery points in the field and had even helped set up a heavy trucking school in Germany, teaching the Service Battalion soldiers how to drive the HLVW , (Heavy Logistics Vehicle Wheeled).  These bad boys, as seen below (creds to the guy who signed the pic).

HLVW

I also had all the office-related knowledge: payroll, payables / receivables, customer service and the like.  Dean would be an instructor: he loved to drive and he was both laid-back and had great reflexes.

Just prior to opening doors of our new driving school in June of 2006, while awaiting a few details to solidify, we realized we still had two flights to anywhere in Canada due to cancelled trips of earlier that year.  Dean and I brainstormed over where to go and we finally settled on Calgary with the idea that I would take Leo to The Bad Lands and to see the Dinosaur museum.  I had my old and dear friend, Layla out there and could possibly stay with her for a few days in High River.

Off we flew and rented a car at the Calgary Airport, driving to High River and seeing Layla was amazing.  It had been decades.  We smiled and hugged, and I said, ‘we look the same, just weathered.’ Now, she was married with three boys.  Leo, who was close to seven, was so excited about three instant new buddies.  We walked to meet them after school and Leo was instantly enjoying his new mates as Layla and I got re-acquainted.

I began to notice that Layla was a bit distant.  She didn’t meet my eyes fully.  She didn’t have all of her normal energy.  She was tired and she was keeping me somewhat at arm’s length. We went up in her sons’ tree house and saw a robin staring us down from her house’s rooftop.  We put words in its mouth and then laughed and laughed because we had both been thinking the same thing: ‘Get the fuck out!’  That’s what it was saying to us. ‘Get the fuck out!’  There she was.  Her old self had surfaced briefly.

Later that evening I had the pleasure of meeting her husband.  I immediately sensed that this guy was off.  It was all about him.  She was in a bad marriage and it was all about him.  I felt bad.  (Thankfully, it ended a few years later and now she is rid of him.  They had met in a religious cult which Layla was in for a few years, because of him).

The next day, Leo and I hit the road out to the Bad Lands and finally getting there, were astounded at the beauty of them.  The striations of colour in the sand-stone were incredibly artistic.  We took a walk.

Later we went to the Royal Tyrell Museum which was literally out of this world.  We couldn’t do it justice though as Leo was feeling a bit sick from being in the car.  In the town of Drumheller, Leo climbed up the inside of the steel T-Rex and he was giggling to the whole way.

Later we went to a pool which was the nicest and biggest and funnest pool we had ever been to.  There was a huge foam floating climbing structure to jump off and ropes to swing from and slides to go down.  This must be Alberta, I thought.  At the time, it was very wealthy compared to Nova Scotia.

That night we stayed in a hotel with a Jacuzzi in our room (the clerk, seeing Leo, gave us a free upgrade – he was the cutest!).  We put bathing suits on, got in the tub with the new movie ‘ELF’ on the big screen tv.  We giggled and giggled and this is a fond memory for me because Leo had been feeling some nausea.  He was better and that was a good thing.  I loved to hear him laugh.

The next day we were back at Layla’s, staying in a house of an absent in-law of hers and I made a simple supper for them all to come and enjoy.  I looked out the window to see all four boys on one bike.  Leo was having the time of his life!

We went for a hike in the mountains and had a picnic lunch.  The mountains were spectacular!  The gray jays were everywhere.  We visited a friend of Layla’s with a trampoline and once again, Leo was out there and all the children were laughing and having fun on the trampoline while Layla, Beth and I visited and had coffee. Later Layla made us pate chinoispate chinois and it was delicious (earlier, I had reminded her that it was my favourite childhood meal that mom would make.  I would get home, famished from gymnastics or basketball practise and sit down to Pate.  Scrumptious!)

We then played foosball and watched a doc.  Foosball was a scream, because I was screaming and because I was screaming, so was Layla who also kept looking at me to see if I was for real.  Yep.  I get into it a bit much.

The next day, we walked down by the river and all through the little downtown.  We had lunch at a wonderful diner.

Layla told me she had received a call that her Gramma was on her deathbed in North Bay.  Layla would accompany us to Toronto where she would rent a car and head north.  Sitting on the flight, during the safety briefing, Layla made a face in response to a curt instruction from the flight attendant.  Oh my god, I nearly peed.  She can make me laugh like that and it is just so stupid and funny that there is no rhyme or reason to it.  Layla wasn’t able to rent a car because it was her husband’s credit card (and he wouldn’t allow it).  She took a bus and made it to her Gramma who died just after seeing Layla. She had made it to say good-bye.

Upon returning to Nova Scotia, we began the driving school and it is still running today, twelve years later.  It has been great undertaking with three or four employees whom we generally have a great time with.  Driving instructors tend to be folks retired from other professions.  We have had a retired school principal, a retired teacher, a retired scientist, an ex-airline worker and a retired engineer.  They have taught me a lot over the years and I appreciate them immensely.

I also truly appreciate my old childhood friends.  They are the ones who know you.  Where you came from.  How you were raised.  What you are made of.  Your values.  A genuinely good friend is one you can just pick up with from where you left off.  Even decades later.  I have several of these people in my life and I appreciate them with all my heart.

The Case of the Shit-Breath (2018)

A Magnum P.E.I Mystery

Lady Jane was our black shepherd mixed-breed dog that we rescued when she was ten-months old thanks to an ad that Dean saw on Kijiji (which is like ‘Craig’s List’).  He fell in love with her picture instantly and asked me could we go see her.  By then, our two big Northern dogs had passed away, each in their thirteenth year and buried in our back yard with collars hanging from an overhanging limb.  They had been good dogs but, sadly, their day was done.

Normally I would have jumped at getting a new dog but at that time, I was feeling pretty over-worked with the house, the yard, the business and the various students we would take in for months at a time.

I would hear other moms saying that the dog care always came down to them.  That’s how I perceived it.  It was me who worried about them.  Me who made sure they were walked, or who got after Leo or Dean to walk them.  They had been a lot of work that I felt relieved to be rid of.  However, the look on Dean’s face after seeing the picture of that black tapered snout and high, pointy ears.  Well, I could not disappoint. (That’s how he used to look at me, I realized).  I told him I would go see the dog but, ‘no promises,’ I said.

Lady Jane on hike
Go?  Let’s Go.  D’wanna Go?

She was gorgeous.  Dean couldn’t stop patting her and saying sweet nothings in her direction.  I said we needed to give it a tiny bit of thought.  What I actually wanted was Dean to promise to take a more active interest in her.

So the sales pitch began by Dean: ‘I promise I’ll do it ALL for this one!’ he pleaded.

Next we went to the Farmer’s Market and met up with a friend from across town.  Dean told Wayne all about the dog we had just looked at.  Wayne wondered what there was to think about.  I chimed in that having a dog again could be rather inconvenient.  Wayne says, without skipping a beat:

‘The best things in life are inconvenient.’

We looked at him.  We nodded.  We turned and went to get our new dog.  That was nine years ago.

Lady Jane, 2 years old
Lady Jane, 2 years old

Besides running off several times as an adolescent, sometimes being nasty when meeting other dogs while on leash, and an awful patch of killing chickens that nearly cost me a dear friend, she has been the best dog ever.  She has never been sick.  She rarely makes a mess.  She doesn’t steal food.  She doesn’t chew and she doesn’t over bark.  Get this: she bites her nails.  We have NEVER cut her nails, and they are fine.  Of an evening, we will hear her surreptitiously biting them while laying on her mat.

But lately…there had been this mystery of the shit-breath that we could not figure out.  And when I say shit-breath, well, that’s an understatement.  I would have to roll all the windows down if it happened while out in the car and spray lavender water at her.  And it would seemingly come from nowhere.

I decided to take a good look in her mouth.  Perhaps it was an abscess?  What I thought I saw in there, and it wasn’t easy to keep Lady’s jaws wide open, was a broken top molar-type tooth at the back.

Off to the vet we go and wow, were we impressed with this vet who was as high-energy as a boarder collie.  She got right down on the floor with Lady and really checked her out well, while asking us various questions.  She told us that Lady was in fabulous shape.  Great teeth.  Good pulse.  Good eyes – no cataracts.  She asked us what we fed her.  Our answer: kibble and plenty of table scraps like meat, potato, cheese, carrots.  Fresh water with a bit of organic apple cider vinegar (which instantly pretty much cured some piddling that was occurring after a run).  She asked about vaccinations.  We don’t do them, we said.  We do get her seasonal tick and flea treatment though.  (The thought of a dog being crazed by itchiness saddens me).

Then she asked about when the shit-breath occurs, because at that moment, it wasn’t there.  We said it’s odd.  It just happens seemingly out of the blue and lasts for a few hours.

‘Ahh’, she said.

‘Ahh?’  we asked.

‘Has she ever had trouble with blocked anal glands?’

‘Yes.  We would sometimes see her scooting.’  And I knew from reading James Herriot in my teens, that scooting was a sign of blocked anal glands and that what would come next would be REALLY gross.  And, by the way, what the hell are anal glands good for?

The vet took a look (with gloves on) and sure enough.  Blocked anal glands.  She explained that Lady would be licking at them to release the blockage.  At this point we almost hurled, but, held it together while the Vet squeezed them for a few minutes to drain them…I’m almost sick as I write this.  Just a sec…

Mounds of grey gunk came out on her paper towel.  She showed it to me while I turned green.

‘Lady should be fine now.’

Lady?  I’m pretty sure she meant we.  We should be fine now.

Mystery solved.

I know I'm pretty. Ho Hum
Don’t hate me for being beautiful

Feelin’ Fine (2018)

‘ So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key’ *

In mid 2016 I started on Lithium Bicarbonate (again!) for my mental illness: Bipolar 1.  If you have read my previous posts on body image and on mental illness, you will know by now that I was struggling against succumbing to meds due to the strong suspicion that taking them would cause a large weight gain.

Well, it has done just that. My body now is the stuff of my previous life’s nightmares.  So, why is this post entitled Feelin’ Fine? Confused yet?

Well, I have changed folks.

It started when I hit rock bottom in May 2016.  I had extreme anxiety for days and a panic attack that rocked my world and I was sure I was about to die.  I could barely let go of my husband Dean’s hand.  All I could do to feel better was walk, and poor Dean, suffering with a broken toe, walked with me, holding my hand. (Ya, I know. I have the best husband in the world.)  If you had seen me then you would not recognize me.  I was barely able to look up.  I was debilitated.  The cortisol buildup in my low back was like a knife jabbing me.  Every thought spun out a new list of worries that multiplied.  I clutched Dean’s hand and he guided me gently along through the days.  I did simple tasks like pealing potatoes and hanging laundry.  That’s about all I could do without making copious, confusing lists and notes.

This was the point that I finally succumbed to medication.

Since then, I decided that it is far better to have a clear mind and psyche than it is to be small and trim.

img_1594
By my amazing sister Eva*

 

This has not been an instantaneous transformation.  It has taken hours and hours of concerted effort and two years of time going by to change my thinking.  I am doing this by reading books, blogs, articles, scientific studies and by listening to podcasts on this very topic…non-diet, body-neutral, non-fat phobic, Health at Every Size, Intuitive Eating by podcasters like Christy Harrison on Food Psych; Meret Boxler on Life Unrestricted; Chris Sandel on Real Health Radio; Summer Innanen on Fearless Rebelle Radio.  These people have helped me immeasurably.  As has my husband of twenty-six years.  He is truly my best, most supportive friend.

It hasn’t been exactly easy to transform my thinking one hundred and eighty degrees.  From a very disordered existence of constant striving to maintain a small, lean body where in almost every waking moment over the last 35 years, I was aware, concerned, worried about eating less and moving more (it was a full-time job to maintain the energy deficit that then felt normal).  I mean, I was eating low-fat while trekking in the Himalayas while simultaneously battling a bowel parasite for jeezus sakes.

Scan10100

I have become more peaceful by NOT doing anything to try to stay small.  I eat when hungry, whatever I want.  I drink when thirsty.  I move when it strikes my fancy to do so.  No schedule.  No goals.  No competitive work-out sessions.  No marathon-type activity in the off-ing to compulsively train for.  No $60 ++ per week of yoga classes, plus thousands of dollars for months of yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas (which in retrospect I now realize that I had done not to achieve Zen but mostly to achieve small-ness.  It was like going to a Fat Farm for me.  Okay, a Zen Fat Farm, if you will).

dancer on the fallen tree

I look back on my previous life and shake my head.  But it is all part of my path.

And, who cares if I am not small in size.  I am still ME.

My being is still here.  My me-ness.

You know me?  That person who loves an adventure;

a good doubling-over belly laugh;

a deep talk solving the problems of the world, including what to do with your hair;

a great beach walk or rainy-day stroll;

a carefree dance around the living room or in a random cafe to some good eighties tunes,

a pint and a good cry????

That person is still here and that person is doing okay.  She’s just in a bigger, softer body and she is doing much, much better on the inside, and, thankfully, not doing those annoying hand-stands every five minutes.

prospect-handstand

One last one for the memory bank.  My son took this in Prospect, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The next time I asked him to take a picture of me doing a hand-stand was on the Keji Seaside beach, he goes, ‘Mom, that ship has sailed, don’t you think?’

Right on Buddy.  Gotta love kids.

+++++++

I would love your comments…

(The sunflower pic is from Google Images, all the rest are mine, Martha Valiquette, except the amazing Dragonfly which is by my eldest sister.)

*Excerpt from Already Gone (Eagles) Songwriters: Jack Tempchin / Robert Arnold Strandlund

Trying Something New ? (2004)

A Friday night visit to the video store ends in mortifaction…

I originally posted this a year ago but am re-posting because this story takes place in my wee town’s video store.  Said video store has since been closed and re-opened under a new name by one of the original, amazingly talented employees.  It then moved twice and now, several years later, it is about to close for good.  It seems there is no longer a market for videos and DVDs, no matter the incredible collection.  I was saddened to read this story in our local paper and then to hear the owner speaking on CBC Radio about her ideas and aspirations for the future.  So, this re-post is a tribute to our closing video store.

***

When we first moved to our sweet little tidal town in Nova Scotia, it was before itunes  and netflix.  For entertainment, we would go downtown to rent videos and DVDs from a little place called L&S Video.  L&S had an amazing collection and going there to pick out a video was a bit of a social experience because the four people who worked there, including the owner, were engaging, knowledgeable and pretty hilariously entertaining.

video-store

So, one Friday evening I found myself at L&S looking at options for Dean and I to watch after little Leo was in bed.  It was a Friday evening so many folks, strangers, friends and acquaintances were coming and going and I was just having a fun ole time engaging with quite a few people — all of us in good moods due to it being Friday night and with the whole weekend ahead of us.

Nick was working that night and he was en forme .  We were talking and bantering back and forth about various movies.  I would say something profound like: you know the movie with that guy?  And he would say: oh ya, TROY. Then I would be like: exactly.  Nick was amazing.  He knew all the movies, plot lines, and actors.

At some early point in the better-part-of-an hour that I spent that evening at L&S, I was squatting down looking at a low shelf of vids and reaching into my pocket, proceeded to put on my lip balm.  My lips had been pretty dry and my favourite lip balm: Burt’s Bees, just felt so nice to slather on.  Somewhat absentmindedly, I ensured that it was on real good.  I put it all along the top of my lips and lip edge and all along the bottom of my lips and lip edge not staying within the lines at all. Then I did it again, just to be sure.  My lips tingled. The peppermint in Burt’s Bees actually caused lip-tingling.  I loved it.

I stood up with my selection: I, Robot.  (I LOVE Will Smith).  I didn’t actually exit the store as of yet though.  There were so many friends to talk to and banter with.  As I was talking and visiting with them though, I got the feeling that something was slightly wrong.  I was getting some looks and double takes.  Hmm.  Strange.  Maybe it was because I was looking super hot that night.  I was wearing my new jacket and my hair.  Well, it was a good hair day.  That must be it.  So, I stayed a bit longer.  It was busy in there.  I was on fire!

At the check out, Nick had a wee smirk on his face.  As he looked at me, then down at my selections, then to the computer, then back at me.  I had the feeling he was suppressing a giggle.  I thanked him for all of his expertise, yet again and wished him a great night.

Off I drove home.  Pulling into the driveway, I smoothed my good hair in the rear-view mirror.

AND

THEN

I

SAW

MY

LIPS

THERE WAS BLACK GUNK ALL OVER and AROUND MY LIPS.  Much like bad makeup on a sad clown. Reaching into my pocket for my beloved Burt’s Bees, I realized my mistake.  I had used my dark brown-tinted Burt’s Bees Lip Balm instead of the clear one.

Anger rose within while my face reddened and I scrubbed the dark lip balm off while my mind clicked through the dozens of townsfolk I had encountered with my very badly done sad clown lips.  Still sitting in the car, I grabbed my cell phone and called Nick at L&S Video.

‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me????’ I shouted at him.

Pause, muffled chuckling.

‘I thought you were trying something new,’ he said.

EXTREME MORTIFICATION ensued.

twirl

(Credit for this photo goes to the ever talented T.M.B. Renaissance Axe Woman )

Sticks and Stones (1970 & on)

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.

I find myself deeply disappointed in them.  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.

on hill

(Pictures come from google images.  Thank you.)

The Loss of Dane, Part 2 (2001)

Lightning crashes a new mother cries
Her placenta falls to the floor
The angel opens her eyes
The confusion sets in
Before the doctor can even close the door
~Live

Continued from The Loss of Dane, Part 1

Warning…this part is graphic…

 

The hours of the day ticked by and the pains grew worse and worse.  I called my doctor who was to go away on holidays but she luckily was able to arrange for an ultrasound for me immediately.  It looked normal.  I was told that this might just be Braxton Hicks — or practice contractions that prepare the womb to deliver in the future.  I had had experienced them with Leo’s pregnancy.  I knew that this was NOT that.

I soaked in the tub and tried to find comfort laying on my side. It was a hard night, with little sleep, the pain coming in waves.  At one point, my sister Amy called from three provinces to the west and her sweet voice took my mind off my troubles.

The next day, I found blood on my underwear.

“DEAN!’ I screamed.

“WE NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL !!”

The pains became worse and worse.  We had Leo taken care of by Everet and Tina, friends whom we had known for years. Everet, Dean and I had been in the army together.  We knew each other very well.

I did not want our little Leo to see me in this kind of pain.

Then the nurses said that the Radiologist would give me an ultrasound, himself. Unusual. I lay down on the bed and he put the goop on my belly.  When the picture came up, it looked different.  Dane was alive and there was a heart beat but there was no water in my uterus.  There was no amniotic fluid.  How could Dane be alive?  I had been in so much pain, my brain was messed up.

It would not conclude that which it should be concluding.

Nor did the Radiologist then tell me that which he should have told me.  Thinking back to the exhausted state I was in with very little sleep over the past two days, I remember that I glanced at his face and he just looked at me, then away.  He didn’t explain anything.  (Later, he apologized for that).

I was wheeled back to another room off the emergency room.  On my way past the waiting room, I saw Wally, Everet and Dean with heads together, whispering.  Wally’s arrival made four of us that had been in the army together a decade earlier.  Through the haze of pain and exhaustion, I was touched that they were here for this. Here for us.

I would get through this and we would all be fine and well.  Dane would be okay.  All these people were here to support us.

Dane would be fine. Right?

The pain continued.  The nurses were good to me.  One nurse kept getting warm towels and swabbing down my back, as my johnny coat was open and allowed it.  It felt like heaven. At some point, in a tortured voice I told them I felt like I had to poop. They helped me to squat up on the bed and they put a metal pan under my bottom.  I pushed. I pushed again.  One more time…

 

Then,

I

looked

down.

Dear God,

there were tubes or something hanging out of my vagina.

“What’s that?” I asked, perplexed.  My red, sweaty face a question.

A nurse rushed over and gently tugged on the tubes as she attempted to soothe me with, ‘It’s going to be okay dear.  It’s going to be okay.”

Something of size came out.

It was not tubes.

It was Dane.

It was not tubes.

It was my perfectly formed tiny dead baby, Dane.

I held him in my hand.  He fit the length of it perfectly.

Little eyes never to open.

Tiny hands never to hold.

I stroked his little bluish body and wished him well in heaven while tears blurred my vision streaming down my face.

I cried, “My heart is breaking. Ohhhh No No No.  My heart is breaking.”

I laid back on the bed and hands on my heart, wept bitterly, for the loss of my little Angel Dane.  And having lost him, I knew for sure that I couldn’t try to do this again.  Upon telling Dean this, we both readily decided that Leo would be our only and we would count ourselves lucky and blessed to have him.

What I felt later was this overwhelming sense of failure.  I had failed to give his little body a fertile place to grow.  I had failed to be a good woman.  A good mom.  I was a failure at making a baby (which was stupid since my body had already made Leo).

But, thankfully, time heals and now, over a decade later, I have a different view of this.  I feel that my body was doing what it needed to do.  There must have been a good reason that my body did not allow Dane to thrive, or that Dane’s body didn’t allow him to thrive. Especially in these last years, I have learned and concluded that my body is an amazing organism that should be trusted, revered and respected.

It is doing it’s best to keep me alive, comfortable and well.

I think of Dane often and wonder what our lives would have looked like with him in it, growing up as Leo’s little brother, as our youngest son.

I wonder about the lesson in this loss.

Why did it happen?  What is it meant to teach us?  The value of life?  Gratitude for our blessings? I’m not sure, really.  But, I am sure of this:

I love that little soul

that was in that little body

that I held in my womb

and then in my hand.

I wish for him to be forever at peace.

 

highway

 

Please consider leaving a message and telling of your loss.

(Thanks Google images and creative commons licence for the pics).

Let the Games Begin ~ Part 3 (1976)

When the cat’s away, the mice shall play

Continued from Let The Games Begin Part 1 and Part 2

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

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

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

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

woodstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, Luke and I were sworn to secrecy by Mark and 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)

 

img_7050
Martha Valiquette and sister walking on Blue Beach, Nova Scotia 2016

Let the Games Begin ~ Part 2 (1970)

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

Final Frontier Running (1995)

‘Nobody puts Baby in the Corner’
~Johnny, Dirty Dancing

While living above the Arctic Circle in the town of Inuvik for a couple of years in the 90s, I got into running.  Yes, running above the Arctic Circle folks.  No corner.  No Baby.  (Not that I’m Baby or anything.)

Dean and I were living in a huge apartment above a Skidoo store (what else would it be?) and we were both working full time: Dean as a Director at the local college and myself as Manager of the medical clinic.  We were out to work by 8:30 each morning, walked home for lunch, and then finished at 6 every evening.  There was very little physical exertion in our days of mostly sitting.

Soon, new friends Mitsy and Byron moved to town and they were into running in a big way.  The way they talked about it, it got me intrigued to possibly start again.  I hadn’t run for a few years.

My first time out, I ran for ten minutes only.  I gradually increased my time.  Before long, I was running 10Ks, except during the very darkest winter months.  The month of December was basically twenty-four hour darkness.  Hibernation or vacation time.

Our first Christmas up there, we flew down to Vancouver and rented a car.  We went to visit my brothers Job and Mark in Sooke, took a peek at Royal Roads Military College (yep, the peacocks were still there, and still distinctly smelly and noisy), tried to have a plate of nachos at the Six Mile Pub (‘Sorry we don’t do them during supper anymore’  I nearly cried at this) and then drove all the way down to Los Angeles over the next two days.  There, we stayed in a small hotel in Hollywood.  So, from the quiet dirt roads of Inuvik to a dozen lanes of traffic on a jammed freeway. Extreme.

We walked around Rodeo Drive, saw the stars in the sidewalk, did some window shopping and from there drove through the desert to Palm Springs.  Circling back through Ojai, we stayed a night with our runner friends Mitsy and Byron.  We had a fun supper with them and marveled at the citrus trees in the backyard, and then we were off north.  First to San Francisco, then to a little town just north of there where we enjoyed walking on the beach in December.  Next, off north again to Vancouver where we stayed in a nice room for New Year’s Eve.  We walked around downtown a bit, then back to our room to watch an in-house movie while lying in a very comfortable bed, feeling like a million bucks.  We then flew back to Inuvik where reality struck hard.  Vacation over.

Inuvik/ Tuk Iceroad
Canadian Geographic

To exercise the dogs, we would get on our snowmobile and drive on the ice-road toward Tuktoyaktuk.  Every year, to facilitate travel and transport of goods from Inuvik and points south, the 150 kms to Tuk, the Territory would build an ‘ice-road’ on the frozen MacKenzie River.  In the most basic sense, it was the plowing of snow to build guard rails and delineate the pure ice roadway.  The scary thing about the ice-road, which was completely dramatic and beautiful, was that if you ever got into a spin out there, it would be a toss up as to which way you had been driving.  It looked exactly alike on both sides of the road – stunted, drunken trees so it was just a guess unless you were smart and traveled with a compass.  Anyway, the dogs would run, full tilt, beside our skidoo for a few kms and back.  They loved it.  Happy lolling tongues the whole way.

Soon enough, there began to be a bit of daylight and then a full twelve hours by March, we would be out running almost daily.  Granted, it was still cold, and it would take about ten minutes to get dressed for the run with layers and layers of athletic Lycra and polypropylene and wool toque and neoprene balaclava, wool mitts and socks, then trail runners.  We would always figure one layer on our legs for each ten degrees below zero and then one extra layer up top.

Next, a drink of water and slathering of exposed skin with Vaseline, leash the dogs and hook them to the coupler and off we’d go.  There were almost no music-playing  devices back then, so, the only real sound would be the funny random noises of the huge ravens, sometimes clucking, gurgling, popping or cawing, depending on their mood or message to be conveyed, and there was our own breathing and foot falls, of course.

raven in flight

We would often do a loop around Inuvik that was about 10K.  It would go along the back road and then a right turn and a gradual hill and we would be on this spectacular ring road.  It was the final frontier, – so, running along it, one could imagine no one else existed at all.  Look left and there were literally millions of acres of wilderness with those black, stunted trees growing every which way and half drunkenly falling down.  PINGOThese were the final trees before the tree line, after which there would be a stark switch to tundra and pingos (dome-shaped mounds consisting of a layer of soil over a large core of ice).  Snow or frost was on every surface, every spruce needle, every power line wire.  It was spectacular and we had it to ourselves until a right turn onto Main Street and back to our apartment.

These days, I don’t run anymore due to sore knees, just a lot of walking.  But, it was a great pass-time while living above the Arctic Circle and I will always fondly remember those days and the final frontier feel.

Focus Kids. It’s Only Tuesday! (2012)

Play is the work of childhood.
~Mr. Rogers

This is a quick little story which is set at our humble home on a quaint street in our wee tidal town.  We have lived here since August 2010.  Shortly thereafter, due to the stress and strain of a kitchen renovation which may have but then didn’t include asbestos poisoning, I landed in the hospital.  The stuff of nightmares.  And, to think, we had said to each other, Dean and I, ‘let’s not start any renos until we have owned our home for at least two years.’  Ha!  We lasted four months such was the atrocious state of our new-to-us home. (Every time I see the previous owner, I strangle him in my imagination).

So, our new reality found us painting our kitchen ceiling on Christmas Eve (which is also our anniversary); having had our kitchen gutted, rewired and replumbed; having re-painted and re-positioned cabinets, having had new appliances and fresh drywall, not to mention a shiny new double sink and formica counter-tops, flooring and windows. There is a lot involved in kitchen renos.  Trust me! And ours had the added bonus of a psychotic break for me.  Lovely.

Anyhoo, after we all recovered from that, come spring we were laughin’.

That was the year that St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday and this being a small University town, with nearly as many students as full-time residents, well, when the students decide to get out and make some noise… we all hear about it.  Don’t get me wrong, we love our students.  My comment here is that the day was an incredible early Spring day.  It was twenty-two degrees Celsius on March 17th (~72 F).  Unheard of.  And, it was St. Patty’s Day.  So, many folk were just OUTSIDE and havin’ a ball.

I will never forget that day because I spent the whole day out in the garden, raking, picking up sticks, splitting off lilies, vinca-vine and ferns.  Just any excuse to be outside.  Any Canadian can relate, I am sure.  And the whole time I was out there, I could here the ruckus happening downtown.  I had no desire to join in or to even see it, but, it was hilarious and just one of the many oddities about being Canadian.  When Spring springs, we CELEBRATE it, baby, and we GET OUTSIDE.  It was so nice, we were able to plant our gardens a month early and therefore had huge growth.

So, a few weeks later, my raised garden boxes with tall sunflowers, scarlet runners, tomatoes, kale and asparagus bed were doing very well.  It was the best, warmest Spring in a loooong time.

One of the unique features of our property is that the town tennis courts are right on the edge of our back yard.  Also, we are sandwiched between two parks, one with pitches.  So, that means a constant stream of frisbee, soccer and tennis players.  Also, students of tennis, including young kids taking tennis lessons with a hired tennis coach.  So, when I am out in the back yard, gardening or hanging a load of clothes, there is almost always banter and pock-pock, pock-pock sounds going on, not to mention the highly annoying and obnoxious exertion grunt (which drives me WILD.  Don’t they know we can HEAR them?  What the hell people? Shut up and hit the ball.)

For a few seasons in a row, the tennis coach was this big young guy with a wild head of curly red hair: Conrad.  He was very patient with his young students and consistently gave good clear instruction, over and over again followed by ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘great’, kinds of adverbs.  It was a pleasure to be weeding the garden and to overhear his patient, deep voice working with his young charges.  There is nothing like the sounds of children playing actively to bring a contented smile to my face.

It was this one weekday in mid-summer that I will never forget.  I was bent over my garden boxes just quietly working away.  I could hear the young tennis students running around on the hot court, whapping the balls around and asking for a drink about every thirty seconds, it was so hot!

Then Conrad’s voice in this slow, understated yet exasperated deep tone booms:

‘Come on kids FOCUS! It’s only Tuesday!’

Oh my god.  I was silently laughing so hard I almost inhaled top soil.  I looked over my right shoulder to see a few of the kids looking up at Conrad with a quizzical squint on their freckled faces.

‘Who cares if it’s Tuesday?? We’re playin‘ here.’ they seemed to be thinking.

Exactly, I thought.

(Thanks to Google images for the picture.)

Sublime: Perfect. Without Blemish (1996)

Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it. ~Dalai Lama

After exiting the Arctic , where we lived for three years, give or take, I applied for a job from an ad in the Globe & Mail Newspaper.  A recruiting firm was looking to hire a House Manager for a wealthy family; let’s call them The Roses in Toronto’s Rosedale.  Eagerly, I applied for the position thinking that I had the attributes mentioned in the ad.

I made the cut.

At the end of the first interview with Braun the hiring manager, I asked him why they picked me out of the three hundred applicants.  He said they liked both my creative leaf-art at the bottom of my resume as well as my military experience.  Both sides of the brain.

Braun had spent the better part of a dozen years working for the Beaten Family and he knew the kind of person that would do well in this job.  Detail-oriented, strong work ethic, well-spoken, able to foresee disasters and their solutions, appreciative of wealth but not themselves wealthy and, let’s not forget, approval-seeking.  Yep.  I had all of those qualities.

After the second interview with the agency, I was told I would next be going to the offices of Mr Rose to be interviewed by him.  I made sure to have a sturdy note pad, and a good pen.  I donned my navy blazer, blouse and skirt.  For the first time I was missing my military uniform which made wardrobe decisions so easy.  In my mind, I was a Captain heading to a meeting with a General.  Just putting it into perspective.

It went well.  I could tell Mr Rose was happy with my confident eye-contact, my note-taking and my questions.  My seriousness but also my quick smile.  I even managed to negotiate my salary up to the next notch, which I could tell both amused and impressed him.

He told me that the next step would be to visit with his family.  Meet them, tour the houses and property.  Get an idea of the scope of the job.

I had been told they were a Jewish family.  Knowing nothing about the Jewish faith, I sought the opinion of a Jewish acquaintance.  He said my visit would be during one of the Jewish holidays – Rosh Hashanah.  I was nervous about being the House Manager for a family with a completely unfamiliar faith to the one I had known growing up.  I was bound to make mistakes, even subtle ones, just because I had no idea.

At the time, I was reading a book by Deepak Chopra.  In this book, he advised to always show up with a small gift when going to someone’s house.  Wise advise, I thought.  I picked up a small box of chocolates and made sure they were kosher.  I donned my conservative atire and grabbed my sturdy note pad and reliable pen.

I drove into their estate in my 3-cylinder shit box I called ‘Puny’.  The same one I had bought before leaving Comox in 1988.

The house was modern and grand.  I knocked on the door and smiled gently as I was met by Mrs Rose.  I passed her the little box of chocolates and made nicey-nice while she showed me the huge kitchen and writing nook where she wrote her cookbooks.  Then Mr Rose took me to the other house which backed onto theirs.

His 4000 square foot Man Cave.

The door opened to a dining room with a chandelier bigger than me and a table which sat twenty-two.  Enough said. The place was perfect.  A lot of brown and beige tones with the odd hint of deep burgundy.  Very mannish.  He told me, and this was important, ‘I want this place to always be absolutely sublime‘.

K, I didn’t even know what sublime meant back then.

The first thing I did upon getting back to Scarberia (North Beaches really but, whatever) was look it up.

Sublime: Perfect, without blemish.

I was sweating.

I knew I could do this job, but, did I WANT to?  It sounded like a lot of bullshit to me.  My mind imagined my days on that property.  Worried about every little thing.  I was completely stressed just thinking about it.  When Dean and I had traveled to Australia, we had seen the movie: The Remains of The Day.  Was I meant to be a glorified Butler / House Keeper; a combination of both Anthony Hopkins’ and Emma Tompsins’ characters? Was I to walk around with a feather duster and white gloves?

Then, the call came.  Braun the Hiring Manager was dressing me down for bringing a box of chocolates to the interview at their home.  He told me it was inappropriate.  Mr Rose had mentioned it and said it was like I was trying to ‘butter’ them up to hire me.  Geez.  This guy was a freak.  I wasn’t even hired and he was already disappointed in me.

phone boothI remained silent when Braun stopped speaking.  I was in a phone booth in the village of Maggie River on Eight Mile Lake, near The Camp in Cottage Country of Ontario.  It was a gorgeous early summer day.  I looked at the shiny water near the locks.  I looked at the nodding heads of the wild flowers growing in every possible crack or fissure.

Sublime: Perfect. Without Blemish.

flower

I took a deep breath and told Braun that I was no longer interested in the position.  I said, ‘If Mr Rose is that worried about a proffered tiny box of chocolates, I don’t think I can work for him.  I don’t want to work for people like that.  Sorry.’

Braun was speechless.  He had invested a lot of time in me.  He would have to start over.

‘You mean, you don’t want to work for The Rose Family?  At that salary?  Maybe I can get you more money, M.’

‘Sorry, Braun.  I can’t do it.  It’s not for me.’

I walked away from that phone booth feeling a massive weight lift off my shoulders.  I felt like I had dodged a bullet.  Next, I went for a swim in the shiny waters of Eight Mile Lake.

Sublime: Perfect. Without Blemish.

clip

(All pictures come from Google Images.  Thank you!)

A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance, ~ Part 5, 1989 and on

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

Continued from A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance (Army Part 4)

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

baths

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

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

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

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

***

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

okey-dokey-1990

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

Then it hit me: make him jealous.

That is what I did.

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

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

I was so mad.

I called him an asshole.

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

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

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

We have been together ever since.

That was 1990.  It is now 2018 and we just celebrated 25 years married while on a trip to Cuba. I am the luckiest girl in the world.

strassbourg

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

swiss alps skiing

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

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

corfu

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

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

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

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

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

bodesea

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

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

(Please note, all photos, except the one of us drinking wine in combats, are from google images and my thanks to those who took the pictures!)

My Small-Steak Freak-Out (2016)

Let me ask you something, in all the years that you have…undressed in front of a gentleman has he ever asked you to leave?… No? It’s because he doesn’t care! He’s in a room with a naked girl, he just won the lottery. I am so tired of… waking up… and recalling every single thing I ate the day before, counting every calorie I consumed so I know just how much self loathing to take into the shower. I’m going for it…. I’m just through with the guilt. So.. I’m going to finish this pizza, and then… tomorrow we are going to go… buy ourselves some bigger jeans.
~ Elizabeth Gilbert

For most of my life, I have been completely messed up with regard to body-image and worth regarding its size.  It is a sad story when considering just the amount of time, thought, energy and tears that I have expended with regard to this.  I will reference an earlier post that I have written on this topic: BoPo Revisited.

Since January 2017, I have been working and trying and hoping to get this monkey off my back and to just really be okay with my still strong, newly soft body, more lustrous hair, clear skin and more peaceful attitude.  I strive to go about my day without judgement and with forgiveness toward my past and to just be chill with regard to food and exercise rules of the past.

I’m getting there folks.

Some days I barely think about my past.  Where as before, I would be worried about every food choice; doing way too much exercise and giving myself way too many imaginary pats on the back for that plus food restriction.

Just now, as I was walking to my office and I had this funny (scary) memory of a freak-out that came from nowhere.  The preparation of a meal used to be a major production (ie: in my mind).  My thoughts around ‘did I deserve’ this meal would run rampant.  Had I done enough exercise to allow for a big meal or should I just eat a salad while my family ate the well-rounded meal, that I made.  This was a daily, useless ordeal with many pitfalls.  I’m exhausted just remembering it.

So, this one day, I’m cooking up steaks — a real treat.  There were two large ones and a small-ish one.  I fried them in our cast-iron pan with garlic and herbs.  They smelled heavenly.  Meanwhile, Dean mashed the potatoes and Leo set the table to include steak-knives, salad and red wine.

steak

 

I placed each juicy steak on a plate to rest, thinking, of course, I would have the small one…

but,

when I turned around I was both confused and horrified to see that Dean had taken the small one.  Then, a completely inappropriate reaction erupted from myself.

‘Dean, the small one is for ME!!! Why on earth would YOU take the SMALL one??!’ I shrieked at him.

He looked at me. Looked at his plate. Looked at me.

‘I thought I would leave a large one for you, M, since you’re the one cooking them.’

My face was red.  My mind was confused.  Didn’t he GET that I didn’t DESERVE to eat a large one?

Leo weighs in.

‘Mom. Chill. We usually have too much anyway.  Dad will not starve.’

But, you see, I wasn’t worried about Dean starving.  I was worried about ME eating more than I should.  More than I deserved.  Fuck.  Messed up.

Thankfully, this little freak-out episode was close to the time of my epiphany away from disordered eating and over-exercising.  Praise Jesus.

Barefoot Heathens (1973)

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

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