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When the cat’s away, the mice shall play
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.
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)
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
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
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.
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?’
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.