Little Eva’s Big Trip

Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say
~unknown

When my eldest sister Eva was three years old, my Dad told her to sit behind the Conductor when he put her on a 9-hour train north to Smooth Rock Falls, alone.  It routed through Union Station in downtown Toronto.

‘Sit behind the Conductor,’ he said.  ‘You will be fine,’ he said.  Little Eva screamed, ‘No Daddy, No Daddy!’ reaching with her little chubby arms for the person who was supposed to protect her.

She was three and she had just been torn from the tight grasp of her baby sister Amy, just 10 months her junior, who was holding onto her for dear life.  Both baby girls, one blond, one brunette, were crying with red cheeks. All I can think now… is that it must’ve been a completely different world back then. With so many very large families of seven children plus, perhaps this was how parents coped?

She was being sent to stay with Gramma and Grampa because baby brother had come along and with baby Amy too, one just needed to go.  Gramma and Grampa didn’t drive.  They never even owned a car.  So, on the train went Little Eva.

In wintry Smooth Rock Falls, Eva remembers days of nothing happening.  No toys.  No interaction with other children or adults and an unfamiliar scent (which she can now identify as mothballs) in their home coupled with the smell from The Mill.  It all made her feel terribly homesick.  She was left completely to her own devices.  The house was chilly, smelly and dark.  Gramma was quiet and busy.  Grampa was at work most of the time.  The Grandfather clock ticked incessantly.

The lunch whistle would blow at the Mill and a quiet Grampa would walk home to sit at the Arbourite and chrome table where his lunch awaited him.  A steaming bowl of home-made soup and a large sandwich on fresh-baked bread.  It was eaten without a word of thanks while Gramma watched, hands wringing in her cotton apron beneath her large, matronly bosom.  The next whistle would bring him home for supper with a nearly perfect replay of lunch time.  Quiet.  Expected.  Ungrateful.  Gramma had her job: keeping house.  Grampa had his – The Mill Wright – keeping Mill.

When Eva related this troubling story to me recently, my mind wheeled back a dozen years.  My son Leo and I had gone to a neighbourhood wedding for Leo’s babysitter’s Mom and step-father who were getting married.  As we approached the large house on a beautiful sunny and warm afternoon, I was feeling a wee bit worried that there would be no one there to talk to and that I would stick out like a sore thumb.  Leo ran over to the candy bar in glee.  I lifted the full skirt of my simple grey silk dress as I descended to the deck of the pool in my pumps.  Being extra careful so as to NOT make a splash of an entrance!  All of the guests stood in small groups, mingling.  An older man approached and welcomed me, shaking my hand gently.

‘Welcome to the wedding of Mack and Mary,’ he said, extending a large hand and a big smile.  ‘I am Mack’s father, Paul Bouvier. How do you know them?’ he asked.

I responded and then asked where he had come from for the wedding.  ‘Arnprior, Ontario,’ was his reply.

‘Oh,’ I said with a smile enjoying that I had something in common with this friendly stranger.  ‘My Grandfather was from Arnprior.’ Grampa used to tell me of his boyhood in Arnprior.  He had a crab-apple tree outside his upstairs bedroom window and he would eat them from the tree when they were ripe (bleck!!).  He would go downtown to the grocers and he and his pals would press their noses to the glass  looking at the bananas.  The grocer would shoo them away saying, ‘Sonny-boy, sonny-boy, get away from the glass and let the sun shine on the bananes!’  Grampa was raised in the depression era when certain luxury foods were scarce.

Anyway, Mr. Bouvier asked me who my grandfather was.  I told him.

His smile widened and his eyes danced as he exclaimed, ‘I worked for your Grandfather at the Mill.  He was a Mill Wright.  And your Dad!  Your Dad was a great hockey player!’

We just looked at each other smiling and nodding.  Small world. Why did the stars align allowing this conversation to take place decades later, provinces away, in my new neighbourhood…?

When Eva was seventeen, she began to have extreme anxiety attacks and had no ability to concentrate on her school work.  She had been the top student at her Junior High School, on many teams, in many clubs, leader of the folk choir at Saint Mary’s Church, known and loved by all.

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

I digress….

But, getting back to when she was seventeen… when she walked in through the front door of her new, very large high school, her vision would tunnel and it was impossible to function.  She told Mom about her troubles, which were obvious because she was crying a lot.  Mom took her to the hospital where she was treated cruelly and isolated from all family members.  Eva escaped from the hospital and when she told Mom of the cruel methods at the hospital, Mom was furious and went there to complain and to tell them off.

Next, Eva was sent to Florida to be with Memere and Pepere, the idea being that the sunshine would be good for her.  But, similar to Smooth Rock, the lack of interaction with friends and the anxiety had her feeling very badly.  She went home to Barrie and was then taken to the Psych Hospital in Penetanguishene.  By hook or by crook, she managed to get well enough to leave that place and then a couple years later to marry and then raise three incredible young men who had her full time and were cherished and loved dearly. Today they have children of their own who are cherished and loved and trust me, would never dream of putting a toddler on a train, alone.

 

Dear Reader,  what do you think of this story…can you believe it is true?

(The photo was taken by Eva in Wolfville, NS in 2017)

 

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)

 

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

Mr. Laset and the Huronia Games (1976) 🥈

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

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

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

‘How is my best point guard doing today?’

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

Now my story about the Huronia Games…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

No one noticed my big smile or my big medal.

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

Forest

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