New Life

‘Been down one time
Been down two times
I’m never going back again’
~Fleetwood Mac

This is a guest submission by one of my oldest friends, with a pseudonym of Layla.  Layla and I met at St Mary’s School in Barrie, Canada when we were tiny and became close because we had so much fun together AND we walked the same way to school every morning. (I’ve heard it said that young friendships have a lot to do with geography). All these decades later, we are still friends.  She still cracks me up as much as she did back then.  Back when we used to put Mark’s stereo on in the rec room with Fleetwood Mac blaring and do cartwheels and walk-overs in the dark.

Once Layla, with her reddish hair very similar to my brother Jobe, was accepted into our family, she was a regular at our family meals and was around our house most days.  I also spent a lot of time playing at her house, often the two of us alone, because her Grandmother would be at work at the hospital where she pulled twelve-hour shifts. I remember watching a ten-year old Layla cooking up a pound of bacon or ground beef to eat for supper without any other foods on the plate.  I remember that was really different because Mom would always have us build a balanced meal on our plate: protein, vegetables, starch. 

Layla had this really odd baby-sitter, Shirley, who kept her kidney stones in a small jar on her dresser.  We would sneak into her room to point and peer at them.  ‘Ewwww, gross!’ we would whisper to each other with freckled, scrunched up faces.  We were barely tall enough for our eyes to clear the top of the highboy dresser.  One time Shirley caught us and tried to smack Layla.  We were too fast for her though as we used our guile to get away from Shirley who walked with a cane.  (But seriously, why keep them on your dresser?)

There was a group of us at times: Kelly, Paul Aikins (R.I.P.), Layla and I were often together cooking up mischief.  One time, we decided to light ‘strike anywhere’ matches in a closet in Layla’s rental flat in an old Victorian on Bayfield Street.  When her grandmother found out, she called my parents and I was punished.  I got the belt to my behind from my Dad due to the seriousness of the infraction.  It never happened again.  Another time we were in trouble with Sister Mary Catherine.  Layla received ‘the Strap’ for it.  I am certain that woman was a witch.  She was horribly mean.

When my older sister Amy became a hairstylist after attending the Barrie School of Hairdressing, I can clearly remember the time she gave Layla a ‘pageboy’ haircut.  It was the same haircut made famous by Dorothy Hamill the 1976 Olympic skating champion.  The haircut took place in our basement bathroom of our Peel Street house.  The large bathroom with the bright blue melamine counter-top opposite the sink.  Layla perched there on a stool, me watching from the edge of the tub while Amy snipped.  Twenty year-old Amy was beautiful with long blond hair and baby-blue eyes.  Her slender fingers were entwined in Layla’s extra thick strawberry blond locks as she cooed softly to Layla to help her relax.  Layla had a very sensitive scalp.  Layla became the talk of the grade 5 class with that hair cut, it suited her so well.  It was so very ‘IN’.

When Layla moved away, I missed her badly.  We would write letters back and forth and she did come to the camp once.  Then there was my trip to the Badlands where we re-connected.  Layla has been to my home in Nova Scotia twice and I will see her in Calgary soon.  Can’t wait!!!!                               

Here is her story of strength in finding a New Life. (She says it was God, but, I would argue that it was ALL HER!)

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Layla writes:

I was born into a Catholic family in North Bay, Ontario, baptized as a baby and attended the Catholic Church and school from birth to sixth grade. My earliest memories are of living with my Grandma and Grandpa. It didn’t occur to me to question it- that was all I knew.  But for a loving Grandmother, I would have grown up with strangers.  

My next significant memory is of moving to Barrie, Ontario with Grandma Bea – as her marriage of 25 years was ending.  She worked hard to support us.  At that time everyone in my class lived with their Mom and Dad.  The 30 of us moved up through the grades together.  We all attended St. Mary’s Church and school.  

My Grandma kept an orderly and safe home for us. She kept me in tap, jazz, and baton classes after school.  I also did gymnastics at school.  Downtime at home was spent playing outside with the other neighbourhood children.

My Mom showed up when I was 7 years old and wanted to reclaim me.  I had no idea who my Mom was, and neither Grandma or I were prepared to be apart from one another.

Through a series of events, and several more years past, it was decided that I would go and live with my Mother in British Columbia. This was just before I entered 7th grade. 

My safe predictable world came crashing down. My Mother lived very differently, so I soon found myself appalled and alienated.  Coming home after school to groups of people drinking and drugging was completely foreign and quite scary to me.  The mood swings the adults displayed were also new to me.  

I deeply regretted moving to BC I was small and lean at the time, and also got to learn what it was to be the new kid, get bullied, and have to fist fight to get past the gang to get home.  I hated my life.

Sometime during that year, Mother’s boyfriend threw us out during the night in a rage. We landed at a shelter and eventually moved to another home with another school- and another gang of bullies to deal with.  

I did okay at first in 8th grade.  I loved biology and participating in the gymnastics club. At some point though, with more chaos and confusion at home, I couldn’t cope anymore. I switched to another school that was a specialized alternate learning environment. I did okay there for awhile and then we moved again to another city.  Same scenario happened all over again…. I was completely done.

I dropped out of school and spiraled downward for many years.  My teenage years were an unstable mess.  By 15 I was done with life. Attempted suicide… failed.  Somehow I carried on- working, going to night school, and partying. 

By 19 I had to sober up and find a way to live with a new purpose. I was solidly entrenched in unhealthy living patterns.  By this time many friends had died due to the lifestyle- intentionally or otherwise.  Through all of this, I was starting to wake up a bit and notice some things that scared me.  God was drawing me…

Thankfully I had a good friend who had cleaned up a couple of years ahead of me.  She took me under her wing and walked me through the daily beginning steps of sobriety. For awhile, an AA women’s group was a lifeline for me.  

At some point in my new sobriety, I began to question the meaning of life.  A very clear turning point happened when I was in my downtown, Nelson BC apartment. Looking up and down the street, I began to think about the people coming and going.  What was the point of it all?  How did it start?  Where would it end?  

Thus began a new quest to satisfy these queries.  Nelson was a New Age hot bed with plenty of options to consider. Initially I returned to visit the local Catholic Church- only to be faced with a sexual advancement from a married man who attended there. I left and continued my quest.  I looked into a multitude of things that people seemed satisfied with and engaged in.  Gestalt therapy, Wicca, Mormonism, and others.  They all seemed interesting, but I was always left with a sense that there had to be more.  Something that was IT!

I had a friend at college who was sparkly eyed and always kind and friendly with me. She attended the local Evangelical Free Church.  So I asked her if they did any fun stuff.  I attended a campfire night by the river with the College and Career group.  I found them to be funny, interesting and had good music that I hadn’t heard before. The group also had a bible study at my friend’s house.  I went to check this out.  At the first one, they spoke of the fruits of the Spirit.  I knew I wanted those things.  Love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. WOW!  I was very interested.

I finished my office administration training. I did my practicum and volunteered in local offices as I was unable to find work. The town was economically shutting down.  I had a student loan and the collectors were calling. So I moved to Calgary in 1990 to get some work and pay off my student loan so that I could go home again to Nelson, BC.

My Grandma had already moved to Calgary, so I stayed with her while I worked and saved.  We loved being reunited and savoured our time together.  

I am now celebrating 30 years of living in Alberta.  We make our plans, but God orders our steps.  This was not my plan. 

I got work right away.  Not long after moving to Calgary, I was invited to Grace Baptist College and Career.  Through this group I was introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and was told that I needed to be born again.  I really didn’t know what to make of this.  

As I considered the information, I felt like no matter where I went, I was being shown very clearly that there was good and evil. I needed to make a choice.  The fence sitting was not going to be permitted much longer.  At a crossroads, I called out to God. However, I was still unconvinced if He was real or not. Was I going to dive in- or walk away?  I earnestly asked God, if He was there, to show me clearly.  I opened my bible at a random place and my eyes landed on Proverbs 23:18. “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” I prayed then and trusted the blood of Christ to wash away all my sin and to make me new in Christ. Thus began my journey as a Christian…

Not long after this, a lovely senior lady from church came over to my Grandmother’s place to teach me the scriptural basics and disciple me.   

As the years went on, trials and growth opportunities were abundant.  I journeyed through legalism, deep marital pain, divorce, isolating from believers, failure….but God.

I began to learn, at a heart level, verses like Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You.  Because he trusts in You.” Also, Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And Philippians 4:19 “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Despite all the pain, the unfaithfulness, the confusion- God has continued to win my heart.  With so many distractions in this world, singing praises has always guarded my heart and has become an essential way for me to set my mind on Him.  Being in fellowship with like-minded Believers, who lovingly point each other back to truth, has also been a huge blessing and lifeline for me.  

By the grace of God I can now say- I belong to Jesus- heart, soul, mind and strength. Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Let the Games Begin ~ part 3

When the cat’s away, the mice shall play

Continued from Let The Games Begin Part 1 and Part 2

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

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

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

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

woodstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Photos and courtesy of Eva Player and google images)

 

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