Dad was coaching in a huge high-school basketball game (COSSA) the night I was born in March of ’66, in Oshawa, Canada, the sixth of seven children. Dad was a gym and French teacher hailing from a tiny northern company town. He was a successful hockey player who would have had a career in the National Hockey League (the NHL) but, alas, there wasn’t much prestige in it back in the 50s and he chose to be a family man instead.
My mother’s brother, Uncle Richard, and my dad were close friends and playing for the Barrie Colts’ Junior ‘A’ hockey team.
Uncle Richard was from a neighbouring company town. Periodically they would go home together. Both my mother and her sister Do vied for the attentions of my father who was quite the charming young man and who had a very good fashion sense. They met and started dating. Mom was Dad’s biggest fan. She loved to cheer for him at his games. It wasn’t long before they were married and my oldest sister, Eva was born.
Mom was a sporty good-looking intelligent your woman who was bilingual with French and English and who had graduated highschool and secretarial school. Mom also had an infectious, hearty laugh. She could play anything she tried, including complex bridge games as she was naturally skilled and was also musically inclined playing piano even into her senior years after, sadly becoming non-verbal due to Pick’s disease. Here is a picture of her in her prime at the ski hills. The jewelry she wore is indicative of her upper-middle class upbringing. Her parents owned a shopping mall in a northern Ontario town and were quite successful with one of the first ever supermarkets where patrons wondered the store on their own with a pushcart to find there wares. Prior to that the goods were kept behind the counter and a patron would stand and ask for what they needed.
Below is a picture of my maternal grandparents known to us as only Memere and Pepere. They almost always drove a Cadillac which had the little pull down armrest which became my seat whenever we drove to town from the camp. We would go for Memere’s favourite: fish and chips. Memere would arrive at the camp with her expensive luggage and a cube-shaped case full of cosmetics. She liked to have cocoa and buttered toast for breakfast. She was slightly stand-offish and this fascinated me. She would speak with mom in French and the conversation would memorize little me. I remember being in the canoe with Mom and Memere and going from #6 to the office on Lake Cecebe. They chit-chatted en francais the whole way. There was much to be talked about!
But it was hockey that brought my parents together and hockey would always play a big part of our childhood lives. There was the skating rink every winter in the back yard and there were the mandatory shots on net that Jobe, Mark and Matt would have to take before being allowed back indoors. I can remember screaming in agony as my bright red toes thawed out after peeling off my too-tight, hand-me-down skates.
Then there were the times when my three big brothers would play hockey and would get me to play too. One time Matt said to Mark that he would check me. I didn’t realize until minutes later that checking someone involved a good deal of pain. After that I never forgot it and still have flash backs when I watch professionals being rammed up against the boards. Those childhood games usually ended with one or all of us bawling.
My earliest memories are of us living in a rented townhouse on Main Street West in Barrie. Luke wasn’t born yet, so I would have been younger than three and a half and would have been the youngest of six then. The townhouse complex was called The Willows and ours had two floors, three bedrooms and one bathroom. Part of the time we were there, Mom and Dad slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room, while Amy and I slept in a double bed in one room, Eva had her own tiny room and the three boys were in the large second bedroom. In another configuration Eva was behind a screen in our parents’ room, Amy and I were in the tiny room and the three boys were in the big room. The bathroom was busy a lot of the time, with so many family members.
It was then that Amy and I used to have fun sneaking around after the lights were out. Actually, it was Amy who would challenge me to sneak downstairs, past the living room where Mom and Dad were reading or watching TV, to steal an orange out of the crisper. I had no concept of the danger I was in if I were to be caught. Food was strictly doled out in our house of many mouths to feed. Besides that, I was supposed to have been fast asleep by then.
When I would come back, Amy would be wide-eyed and relieved sitting on the bed waiting for me. She loved to roll the orange around and get it all soft and juicy. Then she would take a bight of the peel from one end and we would squeeze all the juice out into our mouths until the orange was nothing but pulp. The best part was next: she would then split it open and we would sink our faces into the pulp until every last bit of the orange was devoured, and only the white and peel remained. I loved sharing a room with my fourteen-year-old sister whom I affectionately called, Amy-Wee-Wee.
Going to bed was full of adventure and good-night stories and Amy would talk about how she was going to be a singer and guitar player when she got older. She would often sing me a song in her beautifully soft, soothing voice. She loved to sing, In the Ghetto by Elvis and or Billy Don’t Be a Hero by Paper Lace.
Mary Hat was Amy’s best girl-friend and she used to come over to our house quite a bit. I would sit and listen and watch as they discussed boys and hair styles and length of mini-skirts. Often, when Amy wasn’t watching, I would steal her nail-scissors, go out into the hallway, take a lock of my hair and snip it off just for the thrill of the snip and then to hold the lock in my wee hand. I did this so often that one day, Amy noticed that my hair was much longer on one side than on the other and I had to confess to cutting it myself. I was scolded, but gently.
Amy was so sweet to me and spoiled me rotten. We are now past middle age and we are still close siblings and friends with multiple calls, texts, messages per week as we sadly live provinces apart in our big beautiful land of Canada.