I do not try to disappoint
Or mean to disobey
There is no reason you’d suspect
I’d go another way
For we are born to what we are
With choices we must make
I see no point in taking sides
I see no sides to take
‘Could I possibly meet Jack,’ I said. ‘We could come on Sunday, ‘ I said.
…Jack has been with us ever since that day. He was impossible not to love.
You see, our senior girl, Lady-Jane passed away about ten months ago and her passing was heart-breaking as she became quite ill with an awful infected lump on her haunch – after never being sick a day in her life….
Well, we now have a new pup and heading, head first into another decade and a half of fur-face lovin’. This guy’s name is ‘Jack’. He is hilarious and goofy and very loving and, yes, even chill, at times.
Jack was listed on Kijiji, the same way we adopted Lady-Jane, actually. Unbeknownst to my friends, I had been perusing the Kijiji re-homing ads for several months. This time I wanted a goof-ball dog. No more of this big pointy ears and pointy wolfish snout. Lady was a fabulous girl, (as were Delta and Grizzly before her) but, almost daily she scared the bejeezus out of people and other dogs. She was just so ‘ON’ it protection wise.
Jack, on the other hand, has had Acadia U. students at my door to just pet him for a minute. Folks have said things like, ‘Thanks, I needed that!’ after running their hands through his puppy fur and, burying their face in his fur and smelling his puppy smell. Other friends have received the exuberance of a four foot high jump, so excited was Jack to meet them!
Jack is a black standard golden-doodle who was being trained to be a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) service dog. Unfortunately for the PTSD folks, he failed his trials. ‘Too bouncy’ was the verdict. So after being with the breeder in Montreal for four months, he then went to the trainer for two months in Halifax. Now he is with us in Wolfville.
We have loved him since the moment we met him. He comes to my office with me and is settling in very nicely. Here’s a picture of him on the couch (no other dogs have been allowed on the couch), splayed out in the reverse flying frog posture – letting it all hang out – throwing caution to the wind. Just so chill. I felt very pleased to see this. He is AT HOME and he knows it. He is with us for his fur-ever.
It is wonderful to have a fur-head again. He has brought much joy. One young student, while petting Jack at my office door said, ‘Dog’s are here to love us, you know’. Wow. Isn’t that the truth.
He has gone for the snip. He thought he was going to the ‘tutor’. Turns out, he was going for the ‘neuter’! He was very very tired afterward and then it was ‘the cone of shame’ for a few days. All went well and now he is back to being his goofy self, lying beside my chair awaiting his next soft hand, or treat or walk.
By the way, Jack has his own Instagram account. He’s pretty funny: @jackthewolfvilledoodle check him out!
I awoke with an awful and mysterious pain in my neck. It was bad. About an 8.5 on the scale and it felt stiff and sore as hell. I was nauseous too.
It was 1997. Scar-beria in the North, North Beaches at Birchmount and the Danforth where Dean and I were renting a fabulous red-brick two and a half story house. It had a shot-gun back yard that Delta and Grizzly loved and would fly off the back deck to chase down squirrels to the perimeter, tales wagging and barking all the way. We had just exited the Arctic and on to a new adventure starting in the GTA. (We have movedsix times since then.)
I had received a call from my Dad who was in Niagara Falls then. He wanted me to come visit regularly. He wanted to form some sort of better relationship with me now that we were relatively close by. The following words came out of my mouth, as if with a mind of their own,
‘Why not come visit me, Dad? You could see our new place and we could have a walk on the Bluffs and see all the gorgeous estates and pretty fall colours.’
Okay I will, he said. Give me some directions and I’ll come next week on Tuesday.
Tuesday has no feel, I thought, an automatic comedic reply, in my head, from a favourite TV show: Seinfeld. I’ll make you lunch, Dad.
Okay…so now what? My stomach roiled. My forehead beaded with sweat. My heart pounded. I was having a stress response and his visit was a week away. Yikes.
The following morning, I awoke with the stiff, sore neck. I searched the Beaches huge paper phone book (what’s that?) for a massage therapist who could help me. I made a bunch of calls but the only guy who was available asap was the guy mentioned in the title of this post. I went for it. Immediately. That’s how afraid I was of this pain.
I drove down there and parallel parked in front of his address. I literally was saying ouch, ouch, ouch, ahhh as I struggled to turn my head to maneuver into the spot.
I had never had a shiatsu massage so, I was really unsure of what to expect. Having spoken to the guy on the phone, he sounded so nice and sincere, I was feeling hopeful. Something had to help this pain in my neck.
When I walked into his therapy room, I saw a futon mattress on the floor covered with a perfectly white sheet. He was dressed in white also and he had this curly head of blond hair and this angelic face that he turned toward me. He had a dozen or so years on me and he remained kneeling on the futon in hero pose as he gestured for me to have a seat so we could have a chat before treatment. He positioned himself so that I didn’t have to turn or cock my head in order to look at him. The tears were already spilling down my cheeks.
Oh dear, he said. Martha, why not tell me what’s going on? When did the pain start and what’s happening in your life right now?
I told him the pain arrived out of nowhere. Woke up with it. Told him I was feeling very anxious about my Dad coming to visit and that we had a tough relationship. Then I said…
He’s a real pain in the neck.
Ahhh, he said gently. That sounds like it could be the problem. Parents can be the source of a lot of stress.
I was making ahuh sounds wanting to nod but unable to at this point. (K, while I am writing this, there is this pain creeping into my neck…sympathy pain for that younger version of myself, perhaps).
He asked me the exact plans for the visit. This guy was into concrete details, not airy-fairy. I was liking him more and more as I am a very concrete-type person. I told him that I was going to show my dad around and make lunch for him and then take him for a walk down to the Bluffs.
He asked, what sort of food does your Dad like?
I said, he likes steak and blue cheese and almost everything besides that. He likes black coffee and desserts too. He’s a good eater, I said.
Well, then how about a steak salad with blue cheese crumbled on top, said Mr Angelic Shiatsu Massage Guy.
Was this guy for real? He was truly helping me.
He said when a stressful visitor is coming, it’s a good idea to have a set plan for the visit, with an end point (have something to do on the other end that brings it to a close, in this case it would be the 2:30 rush hour GTA traffic to be avoided at all costs). Have a menu and be organized. Next, realize that you are in control of this visit and that it is on your turf and that ninety-nine percent of things we fret and worry about never actually happen. Have low expectations of your visitor so he doesn’t disappoint you again. Realize that he is him and you are you. You are an adult now, Martha. No need to let him infect you any longer.
The pain was subsiding while he gently and sincerely spoke these words to me.
He then had me lie down on my belly on the pristine white sheet and he worked on my neck, shoulders and back. He worked my arms and fingers too and moved to my feet. By the end of it I was a jellyfish on the sand. All pain was gone.
I will never forget this miracle worker who helped me through this stressful event. It was the best sixty bucks I ever spent.
So, Dad showed up on Tuesday at 11 am. (My husband Dean was downtown Toronto at iti, as he was on an intensive 9 month course). Dad was on his best behaviour. He was charming and funny and polite. He loved our house and lunch made him speechless. The steak salad with crumbled blue cheese turned out to be fabulous with garlic toast and butter tarts for dessert with black coffee. He was eating out of my hand by the end of it. (Figuratively speaking).
We waddled down the hill to the Scarborough Bluffs and walked in the park there with the dogs also on their best behaviour, for once. The whole visit was incredible. Then Dad looked at his watch and said he should hit the road back to Niagara Falls. He gave me a peck on the cheek and off he went, with a butter tart and a black coffee for the road.
One thing for sure, that pain in the neck got my attention. It made me seek help and because I really needed it, I was open to receive the help. It equipped me for future pain-in-the-neck challenges and helped me to realize that most of the things we worry about never even happen.
In Grade 12, there was this out trip that we all participated in. It was a several day canoe and portage adventure trip up in Killarney National Park and it was meant to be a fun, team-building, learning experience. It was also somewhat of a survival experience and, for me, a challenge to remain positive and friendly no matter what the weather was doing.
The preparatory meetings began. ‘All grade 12s going on the Out Trip with Mrs Ducky, report to classroom 105 for a planning meeting’. All of us gathered from the four corners of the school. We found a seat and glanced around. The atmosphere in the room was palpable with hormones, comparisons and expectation of fun to come. Mrs Ducky ensured that each of the forty or so of us made contributions to the planning. What needs to be packed. How to pack it (in plastic bags just in case it rains). What to expect (an arduous journey) and the timings and itinerary for the trip, including car pooling and who would be in each canoe.
When we finally got up to Killarney National Park, we were ready for the adventure ahead. We piled into our crafts and were told to stick together, lest we get lost. Mrs Ducky and Mr Watson should remain within site, they told us. It was huge water surrounded by vast wilderness and craggy rocks and with many inexperienced canoeists, anything could happen.
Poor Sue (the same guy from ‘Fun and Foibles At The Camp‘ went in the drink just off shore.) He was with a couple of classmates who didn’t know how to balance the canoe while trying to switch places. Over they went. Sue’s sleeping bag remained wet for the whole trip. Gotta ask yourself, ‘What happened to the plastic bag for it, Sue?’ Years later Sue joined the Army. He learned a ton about survival and staying dry then.
Anyway, the trip was magical. We canoed, we raced, we sang, we splashed and we teased each other. Sue even demonstrated gunnel-bobbing just off shore of one of our sites. At times it rained horribly and at times the sun peaked out to shine on the motley, rag tag crew that we were. We had several portages that we would tell each other was, ‘only five football fields long’ – helping mentally to push through it and get ‘er done.
One day, while making lunch for the group, Mrs Ducky squealed at Mike to stop eating the bread rolls. He looked up with cheeks stuffed full like a chipmunk and pointing a sausage-shaped finger at his chest tried to say, “Who me?” Those in ear-shot giggled at this even though it would mean we would be short for supper. The food was strictly rationed and Mike was this lumbering, big guy with fuzzy black hair and so funny.
At another site that lent itself to bathing, a few of us actually went for a swim and washed our hair. I was one of them, being so used to this kind of thing at the camp all my life. The water was so pure and clean and felt like silk as I dove in. The water in the lakes up there in Northern Ontario parks was so pure in those days (1985) that for drinking water, we were all instructed to bring a melmac or metal mug on a carabiner that should be hooked to our waistband. With it, we would simply scoop water out of the lake and drink it down as we paddled, or at any time on the trip. No bottled water. No tanks of water. No filter, pump or drops. Just lake water. No one got sick.
A few of my classmates were quite miserable on this trip and I felt badly for them. They didn’t have the experience in nature that I had been so fortunate to have. They didn’t want to squat in the woods or to walk barefoot into the water or sleep with camp-fire smoked hair. It was a foreign place, nature. They were home-sick.
On the other hand, It was bizarre how much I enjoyed the whole experience and again reveled in the physical outdoor challenge: loving the sights especially the starry sky or a glassy-calm lake; the sounds like the lonesome, haunting call of the loon and smells of nature like of fallen pine needles under foot on a forest trail. I ate it all up and reveled in the wisdom of the team effort and of observing my classmates who may or may not be in their element. Did it bring out the best or the worst in them? Interesting to see and had me recalling that game about picking who you would want in your lifeboat.
We are big fans of really good, local, fresh food. We aren’t fanatics about it, we just really appreciate it when it is offered and when we can get our hands on it fairly easily at a decent price.
Similar to the story about Reid’s Meats, Dabro Farm is just west a bit and is a family run farm, over the hill from our home with an honour-system market in a small barn. It is surrounded by grazing cattle, sheep, chickens, the odd goat, geese and a couple of horses and donkeys, and the ever present Gaspereau River flowing lazily on by just across the paddock.
This one day, a few months ago, needing eggs, I rolled on over to the hill to Dabro after a sweet stroll in the sun along the canal with my then old furry girl-friend Lady Jane.
Arriving at the barn, set beside the country road, I parked and walked in. The egg fridge was usually my first order of business as one grown son of mine is a true egg fan, eating two or three when he is over for breakfast.
Opening the fridge, I was shocked to find nary an egg when normally there were several dozen awaiting purchase. Now, I didn’t let it bother me too much as I had the proprietor in my contacts on my cell. We had taught his two sons how to drive years ago. My trusty cell still held his phone number. I quickly texted Shawn Davidson letting him know my predicament. Somehow I knew that Shawn would be able to help.
I’ll be right there, he texted back lickety split.
Arriving in his pick-up truck from the other barn down the road, he dismounted and said, give me a sec.
He walked into the hen house and came out about two minutes later with a warm dozen of large brown eggs in a carton held open for me to inspect. He had left his work at the other end of his farm and come to my aid instantaneously, to hand-pick just laid eggs out from under the feathered ladies in the hen house. In my mind I was shaking my noggin gently thinking only in the valley. Shawn began to apologize for not washing the eggs. I told him to stop it as I gently pulled a warm brown egg into my palm. It filled my palm completely. A double-yoker for sure. At breakfast it was confirmed. Twin yokes.
Small farms are wonderful sustainable systems which employ families and provide good food to local folks with the circle of life working in a balancing act together. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. The manure from the livestock fertilizing the crops. It reminds me of that scene in the Disney film Lion King when Mufasta explains to his son, Simba, that when he dies, his body becomes the grass. The antelope eat the grass and later, become food for the lions. Circle of life. A delicate balance. Done with respect.
So, to describe it further: this particular farm market down in Gaspereau, has a few large fridges and freezers with various butcher-paper wrapped meats, poultry and pork, steaks, chops, bacon, ham and sausage as well as eggs.
There are also various other scrumptious offerings like home-made jams, jellies, relishes and pickles. Not to mention baked goods, coffee by the cup, knitted socks, toques, mitts, candles, honey, garlic, ice-cream sandwiches which really hit the spot in the warm summer months, and a little library of novels. All of these items are sold by honour-system. There are no staff monitoring the market so, choose the goods, write them down in the little book. Insert cash into the cash box or send an etransfer. Walk out the door and be careful of the roaming, foraging happy-go-lucky chickens.
Time for breakfast!
Thank you Shawn Davidson and family of Dabro Farms. You will have noted a large contented smile on my face each time I have been in your market. Only in the Valley.
(all pictures found on google images of Dabro Farms)
This is a concept I just heard on CBC radio. The Reverse Bucket List is a list of times in your life that you would love to return to or that you are happy about or proud of or that taught a great lesson that you carry forward through your life. So, looking back on your life for the best, most profound or impactful moments instead of always projecting that those moments need to happen in your future. It is a method of making yourself happy for the accomplishments of your life thus far. I realized, while writing my list below, that that is mostly what I am doing by writing this blog. I’m writing my reverse bucket list!
Here’s my list (with links to the stories that correspond). No particular order except the first two are the top for a reason.
I walked into Reid’s Meats one afternoon on a mission to buy some ribs to cook up a feed, a feed we have only a couple of times per year. Just every now and then I get that craving for fall-off-the-bone ribs.
I was the only soul in the place, other than the two brothers Conor, whom I always think of as the young guy with the dimples, and the older brother Michael, who is a more serious looking guy and all business (although I just called him and did get a chuckle out of him when attempting to get his email address, a long one).
Before I get further into the story, I need to give a description of the location of this meat shop. It is set in a tiny crossroads called Melanson at the base of the rolling hills of Melanson Mountain with the Gaspereau River flowing past it, about ten minutes outside of Wolfville, Nova Scotia. This shop is constantly busy cutting wild meats in a separate room all night and domestic meats all day. When we first moved here, someone told us it was the best place for fresh cuts of meat. Always on ‘the hunt’ for the best quality food, I found myself patronizing Reid’s Meats. And, you’re about to read a good example of that.
Michael Reid asks me if he can help me. I tell him I’d like some ribs. He shoots back, ‘pork or beef?’
K, I didn’t even know beef ribs were an option. I decided to stick with pork and told him so.
‘How much do you want?’
‘How ’bout six racks about this big,’ as I held up my hands measuring about half a foot between them, thinking of my large roasting pan and how much I could cram in there, knowing the left-overs would be scrumptious the next day.
‘Just a sec’ he says to me and then to Dimples, he says, ‘sharpen my knife.’
Receiving his orders from his older brother, Conor quickly and deftly started on sharpening the knife while Micheal walked into the back fridge.
A few seconds later…
a whole pig carcass, lead by Michael, came whizzing out of the fridge on a huge hook which was attached to a track in the ceiling. Michael carefully guided the carcass into place.
‘Only in the Valley,’ I’m thinking as I blinked my eyes to ensure this wasn’t a figment of my imagination. It wasn’t. Geez, I wish I had the guts to start recording this. I had been told this was fresh meat. Got that right.
What happened next is that Michael butchered that pig right in front of me while it hung on the hook. He had this food-grade chain saw and a couple of different frightfully sharp knives, thanks to little brother, that he used to expertly and efficiently carve that meat, not wasting an ounce.
In a few minutes, while I watched with my jaw hitting the floor, he was smacking those fresh ribs down on the reddish-brown paper positioned on the stainless steel counter in front of me, his eyes meeting mine seeking approval to go ahead and wrap them up. Not on a styrofoam tray with plastic wrap and absorbent pad. No, in the old-fashioned reddish butcher paper and beige tape that he moistened using a small, wheeled ceramic device with water in its tiny reservoir.
My mind reeled, for a moment, back to the endless summer days at the camp and of ‘Jake’s General Store‘ in Maggie River before the god-awful fire that burnt it to the ground. Back when we would ride to town in the back of a pickup or walk there, barefoot, with a shiny quarter in sweaty little hands. The butcher at Jake’s was as impressive and the cuts of meat were beautiful. The ground beef was ground there in front of you from beef that you chose. Then, the butcher would reach up and grab the string which was in a creaking pulley system attached to the ancient ceiling. The package of meat would be wound with this string and his black oil pencil would scratch out the price on it while my large eyes watched in fascination, my fingers gripping the edge of the glass display case, my chin not yet clearing its edge. I could almost taste the burgers that we would have for supper, cooked by Mom outside the office on the grill, perched in the very rocks which formed the foundation of the cabin. Cooked over charcoal, started with ‘strike anywheres‘ and yes, always with a wee hint of lighter fluid, lending an added ‘je-ne-sais-quois’ to the burger.
More than a few decades later and back to Reid’s Meats…
I just basically nodded profusely at the pile of freshly butchered pork ribs with a big wide smile. I was feeling so thankful to be a part of such a great community where food is so wonderfully fresh and plentiful and the skill to handle it is still so present and of such a human scale.
Thank you, Reid’s Meats for carrying on a tradition and a family-run business providing this kind of quality for four decades. This Upper Canadian come-from-away is one satisfied customer.
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.
(photo courtesy of google images and the last one was taken by my hubby)
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
Update: Fall 2020
I have now dropped several kilos of weight and it happened by accident. I learned a valuable lesson. Alcohol and lithium do not mix. I was holding a lot of water and extra weight due to consuming a daily drink of wine or beer and sometimes a bit of a liqueur in the evenings. I decided to give up alcohol because I was waking up for hours a night and feeling quite toxic – not quite right – in my skin. It was odd. I am quite in tune with how I am feeling and it wasn’t right. I just said, enough of this. I’m gonna cut some substances out. So, out went alcohol. I then peed out about 10 pounds of water seemingly overnight. I also slept much better for the first time in years. It was an epiphany. I think I am particularly sensitive to substances. I have also moved my devices to charge outside of my bedroom, have blinds on windows, don’t read or watch exciting / heart-quickening movies or books before bed. Walk more. Finally, I eat more protein and fewer carbs which seems to make my belly settle down. I also drink much more water stopping two hours before bedtime. All these measures have helped and I feel much calmer and not so bloated.
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.
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.’
‘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:
Read this daily and you just might make something of yourself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 2020 and we are about to celebrate 28 years married. I am the luckiest girl in the world.
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.
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.
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!
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,
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.
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.
It was about this stage in our young relationship that Dean and I 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!)
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.
As 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.
‘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.
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.
If you have any comments, I would love to read them.
For a couple of years in a row, we did this thing: we took in a boy from Korea for the month of January and the next year we took in he and his little brother. Charlie and Joshua were something else (can you say, high maintenance?) and I have to say, when we finally said our goodbyes, I was wiping my brow. Many parents asked us about our Korean visitors. They could not believe that parents would send their young children half way around the world for a full month to stay with complete strangers (us). We certainly could never do that with our son Leo. The motivation, of course, was for them to learn to speak English. Worth it to them. Our motivation was to introduce Leo to other cultures and the idea of sharing his stuff (and us) with a temporary sibling or two.
At that time, Leo and Joshua were 7, Charlie was 8. From the get go, Charlie and Leo were pretty much opposites in most areas of life. Charlie loved math and studying. Leo loved to play, draw, run and build lego. Charlie had a huge appetite, Leo not so much. Charlie was a black belt at taekwondo, and at any given moment, he would run across the room and execute a seriously high kick which would miss someone’s face (mine included) by a fraction of an inch. He was a maniac. Leo was pretty chill, usually.
The morning Charlie arrived from Korea, we had some extra time before school after Charlie’s stare-down with his oatmeal – so I told Charlie he could play with Leo in Leo’s cubby. Leo had this really cool tiny playroom off the kitchen that was actually the space over the stairs, and it was carpeted, with a light and door – almost fort-like. We painted it purple and added toys and called it his cubby. I could see him while preparing food and it was ideal for that. Anyway, Charlie said, ‘No, I must study.’ So, he sat with his University level math book and promptly fell asleep, exhausted from travel. After a few repeat performances, I took Charlie aside and told him, ‘Charlie, look, you are here in Canada for a whole month. Canadian kids play every chance they get. Why not just go ahead and play while you are here?’ Charlie took my advice. The following year though, I learned from Charlie that he had been ‘beaten’ by his mother because he had decided to play in his free time instead of studying. So, let’s just look at that: your child is away from you for a whole month, on the other side of the world, gets home and you beat him because he decided to play with other children instead of study. Oooookay.
When the children would come in from outside, after skating, snow-ball fights or running around and tumbling in the snow, Charlie would ask excitedly, ‘I put inside clothes on now?’ Of course, we would always allow this, and of course this made him very happy. He would then run and jump and almost kick someone in the face before running off to change. I imagine back home in Korea, there must have been many more demands on his time…academies of all sorts that took place at various hours of the night. Charlie had told us that he regularly got to sleep by midnight on school nights and then on Saturday and Sunday they would sleep until noon, then the fam would head out for a movie and supper and start the whole process over again Monday morning. I was commenting to a friend that Charlie could play a gazillion instruments and was a math pro and my friend said, “When did he learn to play cello? At 2 in the morning?” Something like that.
Now, we live in a tiny little town of about 4000 residents and Charlie and Joshua came from Seoul (see picture above) with a cool 29 million souls. Quite a big difference. One evening, we were heading down the highway to the indoor soccer facility. That road is dark in January and can be pretty sparse for traffic. Charlie, in the back seat, says in wonder, “Where ARE we?” He had never been on such a dark, fast road. My mind flicked back to our travels in Oz, when that was my daily litany.
One day, I took the kids to a farm so they could see hens, goats, lamas, cows, sheep and pigs and so they could hold a warm egg, just laid (seeing as Charlie was eating three eggs every morning and a litre of goats milk). Other outings were to indoor soccer, area hikes, sliding, skating, haircuts, music events and movies and restaurants but their favorite thing, by far, was bedtime when Dean would read aloud from one of Leo’s chapter books: A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park. Three boys in pjs, teeth brushed and waiting for Dean to enter the room to read. We had put a small cot for Leo in his room. Charlie and Joshua shared Leo’s big sleigh-bed that we had purchased from the Amish inVirginia when we lived there and when Leo was born. I remember thinking that Leo was doing really well with all this sharing of his stuff. I’m biased, of course, but Leo was always pretty sweet-natured about things like that, perhaps except when it came to Buzz.
Charlie really liked his food. I would be making eggs in our large cast-iron pan at the stove in the morning and I would feel a presence by my side. Suddenly a voice, ‘What are you making?’ After peeling myself off the ceiling, I would realize that it was Charlie. He was inspecting. He asked me to make his eggs a bit differently. A quasi fried-scrambled kinda thing with ketchup. We began to refer to Charlie as ‘The Inspector’. He had high standards and he wanted to maintain them. Initially, he would be eating his meal, with gusto, chopsticks flying, and he would moan, ‘more kimchi, more kimchi’. We taught him to at least look up, meet our eyes and ask for more whatever with a ‘please’ on the end. He cottoned on. We weren’t his paid help, like he had at home. He was a visitor in our home. He got it.
Charlie kept us on our toes. Joshua was just easy, a quiet shadow of his older brother. One time, I arrived at the school yard to pick up Leo and Charlie. Charlie was nowhere to be seen. I ran around like a madwoman looking for him, my mind whirling with how I would explain this to his mom over in Korea. Suddenly, there he was. He had been in the car of the Korean man he had met at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Geez. Thanks a pant-load, Buddy.
Charlie would head into the bathroom on any given afternoon and after a bit, we would hear the toilet flushing about five times. This always made Leo laugh. Having a chauffeur at home, Charlie and Joshua hated the walk to school. Granted, it was about a mile in snowpants and boots and we did it almost every school day, there and back. One day, we got half way and he threw himself on the snowbank and would not get up. When he didn’t get what he wanted he would say, ‘It feels me bad’. We wrote a song about him called, ‘It Feels Me Bad, Baby‘.
To say goodbye to Charlie and Joshua, we hosted a bowling party at the area bowling alley and invited some friends. It was a lot of fun. We never saw Charlie and Joshua again, nor have we ever heard from them again. From time to time, Dean and I will wonder aloud about what the boys must be doing these days. We always imagine Charlie as the King of Korea. Maybe he is?
Please allow me to introduce myself.
I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been around for a long, long year,
Stole many a man’s soul and faith.
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ,
Had his moment of doubt and pain.
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate…
I remember the days of girlhood when I could run forever, jump high, skip rope, swim the lake and turn cartwheels. I was this little girl with black curly hair, green eyes, a few freckles and a quick smile. I was full of energy, giggles and good ideas. I knew the rules and I almost always followed them. I went to church on Sundays and sang all the hymns, firmly clasping hands with my neighbours at the peace of Christ. I was the good girl.
So, when my new parish priest made an announcement inviting girls to be altar servers, I was so happy. I really wanted to be an altar server. I wanted to ring the bell, on the altar, during mass with the whole congregation watching, like I had watched the boys do so many times.
Training ensued with Father 0’Malley. There were ten of us and we needed to be taught what was what. How to wear the robe. How to prepare the altar. When to ring the bell. He was very strict and he taught us to be exact. Serious. Precise.
Then the day came for my debut as an altar server. It went well. I had been to hundreds of masses. I kinda had a sense of how it all worked, by then. I was on the schedule and looked forward to being the sole server during a week of early morning masses. I would ride my bike the mile to church, leaving home after breakfast at 7 am, making sure my school bag had my basketball uniform and shoes for practice after school. At 7 am the world wouldn’t even be awake yet. It was a fresh perspective. Funnily enough, it made me feel a little homesick. I shook it off an almost foreboding feeling and soldiered on.
Arriving at the church, I took a moment to notice the beautifully groomed grounds leading to the large polished oak door to the sacristy. The church was ultra modern, brick and wood with a non-steeple. Curved walk ways and parking lot surrounded by green, groomed lawns, shaded by tall mature hardwoods. I parked my bike – no helmets back then. I had tucked my pant leg into my socks to safeguard it from the chain. I righted this and as I did so, felt butterflies a flutter in my belly.
Opening the door I sniffed the familiar church scent of burning candles mixed with a slight residue of incense. On my left was a wall of smooth oak paneling. Or so it seemed. I found the hidden handle and pulled. Reluctantly, and with a sucking sound, the massive closet door opened and into it I put my school bag and jacket. As I closed the door, Father O’Malley appeared and somewhat startled me. He wore a big creepy smile as he approached, saying, ‘Good morning, Martha!’ He wrapped his large arm around my small shoulders, his man hand landing on my budding chest. In slow motion and with an out-of-body awareness, I witnessed and felt his large hand squeeze my young breast. Then both hands took my shoulders and he propelled me to the next cupboard which held my gown and hastened me to prepare for mass, perhaps not wanting me to dwell on what had just happened.
Later that day, as soon as I could get Mom alone, which wasn’t easy with so many siblings, I told her about it, not wanting to go back the next morning. She said, ‘Oh Mart, you must be mistaken. Father O’Malley is a priest. A priest would never do that.’ Then she encouraged me to be a good girl and go back the next day.
Every morning was a repeat performance by Father O’Malley: the smiley greeting, the man-hand grope, the hastening to mass. Years later, I began to wonder if he had orchestrated girl altar servers – the first in the history of the parish – so that he would have his pick of girls to fondle.
As soon as I could get away with it, I quit altar serving and eventually, I quit Catholicism. Any organization with forced celibacy is going to be a problem for someone.
All pics in this post found on google images. Thank you!
My baby, the one who arrived in a maelstrom back in 1999, well, he is now a tall young man. Intelligent, kind, fun-loving, adventurous, athletic and handsome. (But, this is his mother writing. What else would I say?)
He is finished high-school and getting set to go off on a huge adventure and then to University. I have five weeks left with him before he departs. My heart is breaking and I am tearful, scared and joyful all at the same time. I never thought I would be this way, but, then again, I never thought I would be in a straitjacket in D.C. either. That’s life, right?! It sneaks up on you and BAM!
Your son, your only, is leaving for University.
But, what about that big adventure you ask? Leo applied and was picked to be one of forty-five youth to assist as crew on a tall ship from Halifax to France. Yes, that’s right. Across the Atlantic. Thankfully, there is a professional crew as well and they will be teaching the youth the ropes, literally. They will do duties: watch, galley, cleaning and maintenance duties. I am sure there will be lots of time for fun too. They will dock in Le Havre in Normandy France and spend five days in France before flying home to Canada at the end of August.
About ten days later, Leo will leave our house for University.
What happened to the days of Buzz Lightyear? Or the days of hiking, just me and small him and the dogs in the parks, on the beaches, up the hills? The days where every playground became a wealth of potential fun and that he would point at and cry hopefully, “Can I play in the playground, Mom?” and inevitably exclaim: “Mom, I’m having SO fun!!”
The holding of my hand. His, so small and soft and warm. The moments of insecurity when he was a toddler and would wrap himself around one or both of my legs as I stood in conversation with someone. The morning greeting, “It’s morning time, Mom!” The sleepy, cuddly story-times, sweaty fevers, rosy-cheeked kisses and all the stuff we learned together. The tears are streaming as I ask, “Where did the time go? and WHY does this hurt so bad??!”
Oh dear, did I spend enough time with him? Did I do enough for him? Did I help to shape a good young man? Will he find his way? Will he find a love? Will he miss me?
He wrote his last exam of high-school today and had arranged with two good buddies to go camping in New Brunswick at Fundy National Park. Both my husband Dean and I were home for lunch (we come home every day for lunch due to our Simple East-Coast Life) and so we witnessed the flurry of activity in getting ready for the big out-trip.
Leo was walking back and forth to his room grabbing all that he could imagine needing for the trip. Meanwhile, I set up a sandwich-building smorgasbord on the kitchen island with large slices of buttered Italian bread, sliced cheese and tomato, ham, bologna, bacon, mustard, mayo, and lettuce fresh and green from the garden. While Leo ran around, I invited the two buds to build their sandwiches and dig in. I wouldn’t want to see them on their way without a good lunch.
The curious thing happened. While Leo ran around, his two friends and I had a nice little visit in the kitchen. Mainly talking about some hiking memories that Dean and I made at Fundy National Park while going Across Canada in Betsy (age 26) 🇨🇦 and then about their plans for the fall. Leo came out to the kitchen and snagged the last two slices of bacon for his sandwich, which I then volunteered to build for him, as I could see he wasn’t even close to being packed and ready yet.
Just then, we realized that Leo’s phone was vibrating on the corner cupboard. Leo looked at it, then reached for it. From where I stood, I noticed that his hand was slightly shaking as he reached for his phone. My heart caught in my chest to see that hand, the very one I knew so well and had held time and again…shaking. Looking at the display, he said, “Dad, this is the call about the summer job.” When he looked up, there was a nervous strain on his face that instantly caused an anxious reaction within me. You see, Leo is a very laid-back kinda guy as is evidenced here.
Almost nothing phases him. But, I had to remind myself to take stock: he just wrote an exam, the last of his high-school career; a couple of nights ago, he found out he was selected for the Tall Ship experience to cross the Atlantic; there was a summer job being negotiated; friends were waiting for him for a couple day out-trip; Prom in a few days; he would be leaving for University in late August and he hadn’t even eaten lunch yet. So, perhaps a slight tremor of the hand and bit of a strain on the face is understandable. Regardless, the reaction within me was hard to deny. All I wanted to do was make it better. Take away his strain and nerves. Jeepers. I’m gonna need to chill.
Prom was fantastic and the prom parade went off without a ‘hitch’ and is featured in this little video:
When we first moved to Halifax, we lost a second-trimester pregnancy, Leo’s little brother, and it was heartbreaking. So…I am really hoping that the ‘loss’ of Leo to the great wide world (although surely tough on me) will be wonderful. That we shall see him spread his wings and soar through life, having adventures, doing good and following his dreams….TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!
In the 60s my parents buy a piece of lake-front property north of the Muskokas in Ontario, Canada where we move to every summer to live bare-foot at the lake: fishing, swimming, sunning and doing chores each day…
In 1960, the year Mark was a born, my parents with my paternal grand-parents, bought a 21-acre piece of lake-side property north of Huntsville, Ontario. The Camp, as we came fondly to call it, had ten cabins, each on private, wooded lots, most with their own water frontage and docks, on beautifully picturesque forested property beside the soft mineral waters of Eight-mile Lake. The lake is part of a very long and historic river system. The camp is still up and running but is now owned and operated (since the mid 80s) by my eldest sister, Eva and her family.
The Camp was an integral part of my childhood and it was instrumental in my love of the outdoors. You see, as soon as the school year finished, Mom and Dad would have us packed up in the huge boat they called a car and we would move, lock, stock and barrel, up to the camp for the two months of the summer holidays. We never returned to the city during the summer. The City, in the summer, was a place where the less fortunate had to live.
Driving to the camp was always an undertaking. There would often be five or six of us in one car at a time for two hours straight. Once we were in, it was the lake or bust. Dad didn’t dare stop for anything. He had already gassed-up the boat and if one of us had to pee, it would be at the side of the highway, no kidding. That two-hour drive seemed to last forever, such was my eagerness to get there. Once we would pass Gravenhurst, we would be into The Rocks where the Canadian Shield would start to show its lumpy head. The Rocks was the first milestone that proved we were making progress. The Rocks we would say to each other and grin and point, then poke at each other in anticipation of all the fun the summer would surely hold for us.
The lake was the best place in the world to be in the summer and oh, how we pitied, for once, our neighbours, The MacNeils who only got to go on a short summer holiday somewhere closer to Walden. One or two of the MacNeils would usually come to visit at the lake and stay for about a week. Never the whole family though.
Once at the lake, life became a little simpler and a lot more basic. We would shed our shoes and heavier clothing and run around for hours at a time in shorts, tee shirts or just bathing suits. I can remember days filled with hours of swimming, canoeing, running back and forth to the trampoline, playing outdoor games and having the time of my life. All of us became expert swimmers, canoeists, fishers and water-skiers thanks to the black, soft water of Eight-mile Lake. I was swimming by the time I was three. I would spend hours in the water and became such a great underwater swimmer that people would often think I had drowned because I could hold my breath and swim underwater for so long.
The Camp had a built-in source of friends every summer. Nine of the cabins would be rented out to various families who had usually made bookings for them in the winter months. The campsites would also be filled up with people on vacation from the hotter, muggier climes of southern Ontario and of the northern United States. The odd time we would have customers from somewhere exotic like Europe. We would make friends one summer and then see these same people and their families return for several summers to follow. Together, my friends and I would explore the camp and surrounding area. We would swim, trampoline, canoe or walk to town, go for a hike, go fishing, go bull-frog catching, play hide-and-go-seek and have amazing sing-songs around the camp fire and under the vast starry sky at night. We were constantly on the go. We had a lot of good times. On rainy days we would play board games and spin-the-bottle above the work-shed that we called The Shop. Dad didn’t like us to have friends into The Office where he was trying to conduct business. (There were many fights about keeping The Office – our house where we ate and slept – professional and quiet. It was very difficult to keep it so serene especially with the screen door always slamming on the way out.)
‘Slam it!’ Dad would sarcastically yell from his inevitably prone position on the couch, with the newspaper. Conducting business was exhausting work. Meanwhile, Mom had already probably cut three huge grassy cabin lots, cleaned and dug four grimy, foul outhouses and had nothing but an open-face sandwich, a cup of black coffee and a gingersnap for lunch. A calorie deficit was often bragged about for some reason.
Saturdays were the worst days of the week at the camp. Saturdays were turnover days. All of our friends would be leaving and because we had so many chores on Saturday, we often didn’t even get a chance to say our good-byes. From the crack of dawn, we would be tasked with cleaning the cottages, picking up the garbage, cutting the grass, painting and making repairs. Of course, we had many of these same tasks on a daily basis but on Saturday we had a new element involved: time constraint. We had to have it all done before the new customers would begin to arrive and would be expecting their cabin or site to be absolutely sublime. When I was little, I would work closely with Amy, Eva or my mom on cabin cleaning. I would marvel at how quickly and efficiently they could complete a task. I would wish and wish that I was older and more capable, and I would try very hard to keep up with these experts but, I was a child and had the attention span of a child so I would find myself wishing I were swimming instead. Mom knew my love of the water and so would give me a task that would take me down to the dock. I would be given a large blackened kettle to scrub with sand or told to sweep off the dock! A few years later though, I was in charge of cleaning some cabins on my own, or with Luke as my assistant. Wanting to do the very best job, we drew up a list of the various tasks that would have to be completed in each cabin. It went something like this:
Make the beds. Wipe the bedroom furniture down. Sweep out the bedrooms. Clean and sanitize the fridge. Remove any left food and bait. Organize the cupboards. Blacken the wood stove and empty the ashes. Sweep down the cobwebs. Clean and sanitize the sink. Clean out the outhouse and drop ashes down the hole. Sweep and mop the floor. Sweep the porch. Sweep the dock. Tidy up the outdoor fire-hole.
Dad was very proud of this list that we drew up and he would show it to some of his friends and they would all have a chuckle over it – especially the sweep down the cobwebs line. Even now, when I sometimes (actually very rarely due, sadly, to living a few provinces away) help Eva with the cleaning, I mentally run over this list as I lovingly go about the task of cleaning those rustic, very special but ancient cabins.
Dad had a few nicknames that were given to him by the older boys: Cheapskate, Tightwad, Lard-ass, Oaf, Ogre, Moose and Minnie. Moose and Minnie were the ones that stuck although, on occasion, when Job was mad about something, and he was often mad about something, he would refer to Dad as that cheap tightwad or that Lard-ass or something akin to that. Nicknames were big in our family. From the second my Dad laid eyes on me he nicknamed me. I had all this black hair and my skin was a little brownish in colour. I was not cute. I became known as Petite Laid, meaning little ugly and later this was shortened to just Titty. I can still feel the humiliation, as a young girl, perhaps just starting to develop, Eva would holler across the aisles of Woolworth’s, Titty, come over and take a look at this. Just the other day, when on the phone, long-distance with Eva, she slipped and called me Titty. Oh my God, where did that come from? she asked. We just had a chuckle over it. Now, a few of decades later, I think it is a cute nickname. Back then, we all had a nickname, except for Eva who only got one when she met her hubby who called her Tuda. Amy was Doobie and Big Sweets. Matt was Feebert and then Feb. Mark started out as Goobie-Goo and then got Bert (except for the summer he was Manic and got ‘Skeletor’ due to not eating or sleeping). Job got Bert as well. I got Titty and then Ditch. Luke got Bert then Bertrum Brothers then Buttox. Mom was Big Bubbles. She used to leave the kettle on until there were lots of big bubbles and Dad used to goad her about that calling it a waste of energy.
Raising a family of seven kids, on a teacher’s salary, means that frugality is necessary. One day, at the lake, My brother Job 🧡 climbs out of bed and down the ladder from the loft. He decides to cook up some breakfast before starting on his morning chores. Noting that Dad is on the riding-mower out front, he decides to take some extra time and savour the peace of being alone in the office. He can just about taste the crispy bacon and eggs he will make.
Job pulls a pound of bacon out to the fridge, takes one look at the generic brand, and is so disgusted by how fatty it is that he flies out the screen door and whips the pound of bacon at Dad on the riding mower. The pound of bacon hits Dad on the back of the head while Job yells, Minnie you’re such cheapskate!
Dad would try very hard to stick around The Office most of the day. He liked to be there to collect the mail and to answer the phone and to sell a bit of ice and worms or gasoline to the customers. Of course whoever paid in cash made him very happy. Dad had a perpetual role of twentys in his pocket and would often get one of us, especially me, because I was honest, to count it for him.
Anyway, during the warm afternoons while the Northern Canadian sun danced on the large south-facing windows of the office, and the house flies buzzed angrily on the fly-catchers, Dad could invariably be found snoozing on the couch with his newspaper on his chest. Dad had bought a couple of massive, partially rusted deep freezers second-hand and they lined the north-facing exterior walls of the office with ICE printed on front and each sporting a Yale pad lock. Dad would tediously freeze huge blocks of ice in discarded fridge crisper bins. He’d then put the bin up on its edge on the kitchen table and it would begin to thaw and drip on the kitchen floor and then finally, it would yawn and tumble out. Dad would most often be there to stop the block from smashing on the floor. Here we go kids, another couple of blocks of ice to sell. Make sure to tell the customers that we sell ice down here at the office.
Dad would then, almost lovingly, wrap the blocks in old newspaper and sell them to the customers for a buck or two, as inflation dictated. Dad seemed to enjoy the process of making and selling ice and could be seen smiling dreamily as he slid the beef-laden freezer baskets out of the way and lay another completed block in its bed in the bottom of the massive freezer.
One afternoon, while Dad was snoozing on his back on the couch, a slim, curly dark-haired, handsome seventeen-year-old Mark decided to have a steak dinner. At that point in time, Mark was on the outs with Dad and was staying in one of the unrented, less popular cabins. Mark or Job and even Matt were often on the outs with Dad. Usually it was over a lack of respect. Personally, I don’t think there was much respect flowing in either direction in these relationships. Mark sauntered up the office screen door, to verify what he suspected would be the scene at that point in the afternoon. He then whipped out a screwdriver and proceeded to work the screws out of the latches on one of the freezers. He was successful. He opened the freezer. Squeak, the old hinges complained loudly. Oh Shit! Sure enough, Dad had heard his freezer door opening when it had been locked. He was up and he was mad and he was coming out of the screen door. Mark had already snatched a couple of steaks and was running through the trailer park up into the camp and yelling, I got some! I got some! Dad never saw those steaks again. Dad didn’t like to run and especially didn’t like to make a scene in front of the trailer park.
The trailer park was located beside the office on the way up to the rest of the cabins and other wooded camping sites. There was one older couple who used to always take the first site and were, therefore, closest to the office. The Pattersons were excellent fishers and liked to be close to the office dock where their boat and motor was tied. Every time we would have an argument or a kafuffle in the office, which was usually a couple of times a day, Dad would say: Keep it down, The Pattersons will hear. One of these fights got pretty bad one day. Fights were about money, nick-names, laziness, poor grammar and lack of respect. This time the fight involved Mark and got extra bad and very loud. Lots of harsh words were screamed in each direction and, of course, Dad said: Shut up! The Pattersons will hear. At that point Mark flew out the front screen door, slammed it loudly, jumped off the porch, ran down past the shop and right past The Patterson’s tent-trailer and screamed, at the top of his lungs,
FUCK THE PATTERSONS!
A few years later Mr. Patterson died of a heart attack while seated in his lawn chair. He had been looking out at the lake. His ashes were scattered over his favourite fishing hole.
I bet I was the only ten-year-old kid who knew that the address of The Toronto Star was 1 Yonge Street, Toronto. I knew this piece of completely useless information because at the tender age of five years old, I had a paper route – The Toronto Star. I exaggerate slightly. The route was actually my older brother’s but, I had been given the responsibility of delivering a single paper to one out-of-the-way customer: Mrs. Wilson– about ten doors north of our house. I got paid a hefty 5 cents per week for this. It was much to my embarrassment though, when the phone would ring while all nine of us were ensconced at the supper table and Mom would look at me and say, Martha, did you deliver your paper? Invariably I had forgotten. I would have been too busy at play to think of it. I had to then drop my fork and run off with Mrs. Wilson’s paper. As the years went by I was given more and more of the route to deliver and customers to collect from and one day I found that the whole route was mine – handed down from Matt to Mark to Job and finally, to me.
The Saturday Star was so heavy that, in order for me to be able to deliver all the papers from one load, I had to lug the bag to the top of our front, concrete stoop. I would sit on the third step and back into the head-sling of the loaded paper bag and then, leaning way over until my nose was almost touching the ground, I would stagger forward and allow the full weight of the bag to sit on my back. Not a parent-figure in site to worry about me injuring my neck. I often wondered how badly off I would be if I were to just fall the wrong way? Or, if I were to stumble, out-of-control onto the street, would the car that hit me be damaged by the sack of papers on my back or would I just simply be crushed beneath them?
Most of my paper route, thankfully, was in an eight-story apartment building, just down the hill from us that we imaginatively called, ‘The Apartments’. When I was still quite little, I wasn’t able to reach the buttons for the seventh and eighth floors on the elevator’s button panel. Alas, I had the ultimate solution. I would lumber into the elevator and somehow drop my paper bag off my head, without wrenching my wee neck, and stand on the full paper bag in order to reach the button for the top floor. I would then deliver the papers on the descending floors, using the heavy bag to hold the elevator door open as I progressed. When the bag was no longer heavy enough to hold the elevator door open, I would carry the bag, deliver the papers and then take the flight of stairs down to the next floor. The whole process was quite an art.
My career as an earner started then. I was a papergirl until I was 15. I started to baby-sit at the age of 12. I worked as a bus-girl at The Crock & Block Restaurant at the age of 15 while living with my sister Eva. I then had various serving jobs: Lafayette, O’Toole’s, Silky’s, and July’s Restaurant for five summers until joining the army at 19. Dad did not believe in giving us an allowance. We had to earn everything we ever got.
It was at Fancy’s in Barrie that I experienced working for the most dysfunctional couple of crazy people I have ever encountered. I hated working there because of it and dreaded each shift. Tom, the chief cook and owner would SCREAM at his wife, Darlene all the live long day: BUTTER RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF THE BREAD FOR FUCK SAKES! RIGHT TO THE FUCKIN’ EDGE!!! AND GET IT OUT HOT!!! YOU BLOODY STUPID BITCH. Oh Lord did I detest that place. The tension should have been on the menu because it was the most abundant item they produced. I just now googled the place. It is still open. Unbelievable. The food was good fairly good though, unfortunately.
Why work there? I was in grade 12 and needed a job. My sister Amy had helped me get the job through a friend of a friend and I was ever so grateful. Amy always had so many connections made through her work as a hairstylist. By this time, Mom was living in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic boyfriend and working as a server for minimum wage at cafeteria-style restaurant in Woolworth downtown. I would go visit her and she would look so tired. So worn out. Oh god. It would break my heart. This was her reality after raising seven children and keeping a wonderful home for us for 26 years. She did not come out of the divorce nor the annulment well. I could not ask her for a penny. She worked so hard and made so little.
At that time, my younger brother and I had a bedroom each in the basement of our bungalow and Dad was upstairs. I had been getting a couple of shifts per week at O’Toole’s Roadhouse Restaurant, but, it went bankrupt and it wasn’t long before I was without money. One particular day, having spent my savings, I had to ask Dad for money for necessities: menstrual pads.
He turned my down. He would not give me five bucks for pads. I was seething. I hated him.
I was forced to use cotton t-shirts cut into rags. Nice. God I hated him. It was incredible how much I hated him. I feel that hatred even now, decades later. And not giving me money, when he had plenty of money, for necessities, was just one of his many faults. The others were worse. Like when he would come barging into my room, even though my door was closed, and catch me half-dressed or naked but with the old sorry, sorry. I didn’t know you were dressing. Or he would forcibly hold me down and lick my face with his very wet, gross, warm tongue – his bad breath washing over me as I would struggle — I just want to give my daughter a little kiss. Or, he would comment on my developing body you’re getting rather hippy, Martha, you better watch it, you don’t want to get fat. Or, he would routinely reach out and touch my bum as I would be walking past him and then exclaim yippee in a falsetto voice. Then there were the many times his robe would mysteriously open and there would be hairy, wrinkled member for all to see. Oh god. I would be mortified when he would inevitably do this with teen-aged Kelly and Sally visiting. Show us his penis, by accident, of course, and then giggle about it as he would sneak away back to his fart-stinking room.
With all that I have read, learned and experienced in life regarding body image (see The Body Positive 🙃) and now as a parent, here is one truism: never comment on a child’s body except to say how lucky we are to have one that does so much for us. Our body is truly a marvel which should be loved, respected, adorned, nourished, cleaned, clothed and loved some more.
So, my relationship with Dad was love / hate for sure. At times I would love him for his silliness and his zest for life and enthusiasm about certain topics: sport, recreation, small business, celebration. Dad loved to laugh. He would often have us all in stitches at the supper table, recounting his Skollard Hall days in a falsetto voice. He liked that falsetto voice. I do truly think he was doing his best to father us the best way he could, considering the factors at play in his upbringing and his generation and with the added factor of the Catholic guilt monitoring all that he did. Another factor in the break down of his marriage was mental illness.
Mom had been a classic Bipolar 1 (Definition: A person with bipolar 1 will experience a full manic episode usually leading to psychosis). When she was pregnant or nursing, which was a lot of the time until she was 42 and weened Luke, she did not have symptoms of mental illness. But, then it hit and it hit hard. She was hospitalized with full on psychosis several times in the seventies. I remember waking up around age six and walking around looking for mom. No one would tell me that she had been taken to the hospital: 5C – the psyche ward. (Who would know then that in thirty years time, I would have my first big struggle with mental illness: Locked Up in D.C. 🔐) She was there for weeks. We would go visit her and it was like she was a different person. She was in a fog. It was heart wrenching. I missed her so badly. I just wanted my mommy back. I would cry myself to sleep missing her so much. She would sometimes be smoking when we visited. I couldn’t believe my eyes. (Back then you could smoke in parts of the hospital.)
In the summer, at the lake, Mom would become more and more manic. Her manic energy was put to good use with cleaning and maintaining the ten cabins of The Camp ⛺️that we moved to every summer. Lock, stock and barrel, all nine of us would move two hours North to the camp and live on the lake all summer – running the tourist resort – as it used to be known. It was truly beautiful there: 21 forested acres, half-mile of lake frontage, only 2 miles from a village for supplies, ten antique, rustic cabins on private lots with tall trees, most cabins on the water with their own dock and a sandy beach.
For many years we even had a diving tower and trampoline over the water. Dad’s idea. Dad being a teacher, had envisioned the need for a business and an escape from the city. (We would have killed each other staying in the city all summer. No doubt about it.) It was pure genius and is one of those things I loved about my Dad. He had these great ideas at times. We enjoyed idyllic summers – running around barefoot, swimming, boating, water-skiing, canoeing and socializing with all the campers. Yes, we had work and chores, but, we were paid for them as a business expense and it was just a couple of hours a day. Our summers at the camp were the envy of my friends. In fact, many of my friends would come to the camp, either to stay with us in the office or as paying guests and stay in a cabin or tent.
I remember waking up early to find mom’s twin bed empty. She would already be out there working. Dad was much more sedentary. He would do all of the business-end of things: letters, bills, payments, promotions. All this to say, that mom’s mental illness was raging on, unchecked for several years. From reading I have done, because I too am bipolar 1 (Crazy Train 🚂 (part 1)…All ABOARD, Crazy Train 🚂 (part 2) ) the more episodes there are the more easily an episode will occur. The brain makes these pathways that become easier and easier to follow and so sanity slips further and further away. So, to be fair, it could not have been easy dealing with this major impediment. When Mom finally went on lithium, and stayed on lithium, things were so much better. She was stable. Stable is good.
I wasn’t the first in my family to work at July’s Restaurant up at the Lake. My older sister Eva had worked there a decade prior to me. Eva would sometime recount one of her most embarrassing moments while working there. This man would come into the restaurant almost daily. He would take a seat beside the coffee maker in the kitchen in the mid-afternoon when it wasn’t too busy. He would just sit and chat up the kitchen staff and the servers as they would come and go from the kitchen. So, Eva walks into the kitchen this one day and slaps Buddy on the back and asks him how the heck he is doing today. That would have been all fine except that when she slapped him on the back his toupee went flying off his head and landed a few feet away on the kitchen floor.
You could have heard a mosquito outside the window. After a split second hesitation and with a very red face, Eva quickly grabbed the toupee off the floor. Put it back on Buddy’s head. Smoothed it out. Told him: ‘You have very nice hair.’ Then, turned on her heel into the dining room.
I would shuffle down the hall, stooped over and drooling. Aware, but unaware. This was haldol or haloperidol – a strong anti-psychotic drug with tremendous side-effects.
As defined on-line by the Royal College of Psychiatrists: Postpartum Psychosis is a severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby. Symptoms vary and can change rapidly. They can include high mood (mania), depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions. Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency.
My pregnancy with Leo was text book: I took daily naps; walked gently with the dogs; swam; ate good food and drank lots of water; no caffeine; no alcohol. We were living in Virginia because my husband Dean had accepted a job there with a dot com start-up. His office was in Reston. We found a very sweet two-story farm house with softwood floors, a front porch with a white wooden swing and a white picket fence. Our house was in the wee village of Purcellville, about 40 minutes East of Reston. Dean would go to the office every day and I would volunteer at various places: the library, long-term care and a thrift shop in Leesburg. After volunteering, I would walk the dogs, perhaps go for a swim at the community pool, take a nap and then prepare us a nice meal for supper. It was a lovely nine months.
One day, close to the due date in early August, with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius, and with me as big as a house and quite uncomfortable, we decided to go to the county fair. While sitting at a picnic table in the shade, I felt something strange going on in my abdomen. Could this be labour? Yes. By eleven o’clock that night, the labour pains were in full force and they did not give up for hours and hours. My mid-wife and my doula arrived and my mid-wife examined me. I was at 4 cm. In fact, over the next twelve hours, I remained at 4 cm. By that time I was howling in pain with each contraction. We had wanted to have Leo at home, but that dream was quickly fading. My mid-wife told me that Leo was sunny-side up or, posterior in orientation.
The back pain was horrible. I had Dean, our doula and the mid-wife pounding on my back and hamstrings because it seemed to help deaden the back pain. Apparently, the back of Leo’s little head was pressing against my sacrum and causing all the shooting pain through my back and down my legs.
To help ease the pain, I had Dean turn on the shower with hot hot water and on hands and knees, I had it wash over me in the tub. I stayed there for a long time, praying for progress. Nothing.
Finally, I had had enough. At about four o’clock on the second day (of course we had all been up all night), I finally begged my birth team to take me to the hospital. I was screaming in pain. I was an absolute mess – red face, stringy hair, sour body odour. They reminded me that I had made them promise NOT to take me to the hospital. I screamed at them that I couldn’t do this anymore. I told them I wanted to run out the door, down the country road and lie in the ditch until the pain stopped with my death. Talk of death spurned them into action.
Dean got our small mini-van and I climbed into the back seat on hands and knees and howled like a sick wolf all the way to the hospital, my hands clutching the back of the back seat while I faced backward, rocking back and forth on my knees. There was no way I could sit down. Dean drove like a mad man. As soon as we got to the hospital room, I threw off my little sundress and labored stark naked. I could not tolerate anything touching my skin. When my Ob-Gyn arrived to examine me, I sniffed his spicy-scented exotic cologne and screamed at him to get out. Crazed by the scent, even though normally I would have loved it. I was slipping into madness. He left and came back after taking a shower. He was a sweet, gentle soul.
Finally, I had been there long enough for them to observe me and examine me. They were then able to give me an epidural. Oh bliss. The pain stopped. A feeling of well-being and contentment settled over me. My birth team: Dean, the doula and the mid-wife, all fell asleep on big comfy chairs, while I dilated. I should have been absolutely sapped and should have fallen fast asleep with the epidural. Contrarily, I was wide-awake. A foreshadowing of what was to come.
A few hours went by and when the nurse checked me, I was finally at ten centimeters. It was time to push. By 2:14 am on Monday, Aug 9, 1999 Leo arrived. He was perfect and beautiful. A seven-pound boy whom I hugged, caressed and kissed. I was so happy.
We went home early from the hospital, but shouldn’t have. It was my idea. Hospitals were bad. I was sure of it. At home, we struggled to get into a routine with the feedings and diapering of our new born. Dean and I were quite worried about making any mistakes with Leo. We were in Virginia without family to tell us what was what.
I started to become very very happy. Elated, even. I was unable to sleep and I wasn’t one bit tired. I started making phone calls to all kinds of friends and family, in the middle of the night. I had crazy ideas that didn’t seem crazy to me at the time. I clearly remember calling one of our old army friends at four in the morning. I had this idea that I wanted to gather all of our friends together to live in a tent city in our back yard. Somehow, for some reason, I would be in charge. While I write, I can not quite recall what the mission of this gathering would be – just that it was very, very important.
Dean would be fast asleep, exhausted from the ordeal of the birth and the nighttime feedings and diapering of Leo. I however, seemed to not need sleep at all and my thoughts would race all night. I began sending emails in the middle of the night. In one particular email that I sent to my younger brother, Luke, I clearly stated that I thought I must be manic. Remember, at this point in my life, I had never had mental illness but, I had witnessed it in my mother and my brother, Mark.
Next, I began writing furiously in my journal. Whatever I wrote, I was sure it was profound and would gladly show it to Dean or anyone else. I became delusional and started to have visions of myself being the Virgin Mary and Leo being baby Jesus. My friend, Nancy, came to visit and I wanted her to massage me and do my hair and my nails, as if I was a celebrity and she was my servant. When she wouldn’t comply, I screamed hysterically at her.
One of Dean’s work colleagues, Jamie, who had become our close friend down there, came to visit one night. After he took one look at my wild eyes and heard the nonsense I was spouting, he said to Dean: ‘Marti is manic.’ He explained that he had just recently been with another friend who had gone through a similar trauma. He told Dean that I would need to go to the hospital, now.
Dean’s face froze. He knew Jamie was right. My psychosis was worsening by the moment. I was turning into a screaming banshee because people weren’t doing what I wanted them to do – things that were completely ridiculous. Things that I wouldn’t normally EVER ask of anyone. Dean and Jamie took me to the local hospital and they put me in a room for the night. Of course I was very afraid of not being close to little Leo for feedings. The next day I was admitted to the psych ward of the George Washington University Hospital in D.C.. I was screaming and crying and carrying on. They put me in a straitjacket, shot me in the ass with a sedative and man-handled me into a rubber room where they threw me to the ground roughly. That might be funny in Monty Python movies, but it was dead serious for me. I felt like I had just entered the ninth circle of hell.
Hours later I was put in a private room with an ensuite bathroom. This was an old hospital and it was not pretty. The windows were covered in a thick mesh and let in very little light. There was a highway of ants at the bottom of the wall beside my bed. What had I done to deserve this? All I wanted to do was breast-feed Leo. That wasn’t going to happen, I was told. Due to all of the medication. My breast milk was no longer any good for Leo. Oh my. That was a sad pill to swallow.
My mind was abuzz with all kinds of nonsense. I thought I was in a movie and that all the other patients on the floor with me were actors. I would try to catch them out on their lines. I thought I was the Virgin Mother still and that this was a big test of my sainthood. I thought I could save people by laying my hands on them. One day, I called my sister Eva and told her I had had a miscarriage that morning. Before that phone call, Eva didn’t really think I was that ill. Now she got it. I called my old friends from Barrie whom I had grown up with. Sally was the most attentive and seriously tried to help me out of this major predicament. Kelly used medical-speak on me and it infuriated me to no end. I called Sally several times. I asked her to call my little brother and say ‘Snowball’. I told her that he would know what that meant. ‘Snowball‘ had been the code word for immediate deployment that we used in Germany in 4 Service Battalion in 1990. Sally did it and I was ever grateful.
Dean called his eldest sister and asked her to come stay for a few weeks, to help with Leo while he was dealing with me and going back and forth the hour to the hospital in D.C. every day. She was wonderful and did very well with Leo. I called my mom’s older sister too. She also came down to help. The two of them got along famously: both red-heads, both mothers, both having had careers in education. One day, the two of them, with Leo, drove to D.C. to bring Leo to me for a visit. This was huge. Two older women, from small Canadian towns, driving to the heart of a large US city with a newborn. They did it and it made me very happy. My eldest brother’s wife, June also came down for several days. We were loved and taken care of. What a blessing.
Immediately, to get my head straight, I was put on Haldol and it caused me to shuffle down the hall, stoop over and drool on myself. It is a very strong anti-psychotic with awful side-effects. I was also put on lithium. Whenever I could, I would get on the phone and call any friend or family member whose number I had in my head. I called Dean’s mom in Newfoundland and started spouting off about all of my troubles. She told me simply: ‘Just do what the doctors tell you to do and get the hell out of there. ‘ That was good advice.
I was discharged in twelve days.
(Picture below credit to pinterest. The one of me in the red dress and of my baby are mine. The dragonfly was taken by a friend of my cousin)
What do you think of this out-of-the-blue psychosis story? I would love to read your comments.
Part-time jobs were an absolute necessity in the my family. We each had one, early in life, and a paper route. There never seemed to be enough money to go around…at one point in the 70s, my eldest brother Matt was the manager of the A&W fast food joint in Barrie, Canada. He would have been 17 at the time. While in that position, he managed to hire three of our siblings: Eva age 19, Amy 18 and Mark 14 (Mark lied about his age). So, four of us were working there and those were the days of delivery to the car window by waitresses in uniform. The tray would hang off the window and would be filled with the order of those in the car: root beer, burgers, fries, that kind of thing.
One time, Matt was working with Mark and with a friend, who is now deceased due to drugs, Byron Hedgeman. Hedgeman had been cleaning the stainless steel counters with a mixture of bleach and water when a bus pulled up and there was a massive order placed. Everyone was working madly to fill the order. Sadly, the javex and water combination got wiped up in a rather cavalier way. Then, Matt slid a burger to Hedgeman who put it in the bun and the burger must have gone through the javex. The next day a man came into the front of the A&W and this man’s face was green. He had ‘bags under bags under bags’ beneath his eyes (My brother Matt tells this story and his huge sausage fingers come up to form the semi-circle under each of his eyes indicating just how sick and tired the customer appeared to be — whenever Matt does this we roll laughing because of his sausages and because of the unfortunate look on his face).
The man then tells Matt that he was deathly sick, throwing up all night, after eating the burger from A&W. Matt looks at Hedgeman and they are sure of what must have happened to this man’s burger. The javex! Matt offers the guy a couple of coupons for free burgers. The man looks at Matt and says: are you kidding? I will NEVER eat in thiseffing place again!!
One very good thing came of the A&W days…Matt met June and they have been happily married since June was 19 and Matt was 20. They have two adult children and four, grandchildren.
A little while after meeting and falling in love with June, it became apparent that Dad did not approve of the relationship. Matt would spend hours talking to June on the phone. He had a basement bedroom in our family bungalow on Pearl Street in Barrie. Matt was serious about his phone calling so he got himself his own extension phone, a trick we all thought was quite outstanding because at the time, teens NEVER had their own phone.
In his day, Dad had been a very skilled hockey player and that was before the players wore helmets. His nose was broken a handful of times and was nearly flattened to his face because of it. Dad lived for hockey and he had an ambition to produce another serious player from one of his four sons. To that end, Dad and Mom would make us a back-yard rink every winter and Dad would force the boys to take a hundred shots a day. Of course there would always be broken kitchen windows and neighbours’ windows too, sometimes. Almost all of us could skate, holding a chair, before we could walk. Luke was quite little but he managed to memorize hockey stats and NHL teams and rosters. It was impressive. How’s that for true Canadians, eh? So, Matt had been doing well with his hockey. Dad bought him a new pair of CCM Super Tacks skates.
These would have been very expensive on a teacher’s salary who has seven children. Whenever these skates were spoken of, a hush would fall over the room. They were absolutely the ticket to the NHL. They were the very best skates to own back then.
Dad, not approving of Matt and June’s relationship, sat Matt down one day and said he wanted him to move out. Matt was 17. Matt asked why. Dad said Matt was a bad influence on the other children. He then took back the skates. Matt asked why he would do that. Dad said he knew Matt wasn’t seriously into hockey if he was going to take up with a girl. Matt said it was crazy to take them back but, Dad did anyway. He took them back and put them in a well-known hiding place: under the head of his bed. Matt found them a few days later and took them back.
So Matt and June found a small apartment in a really old house in downtown Barrie. They paid $70 per month rent and Matt was making that much in one week at A&W. Matt could see that he would be needing to do something more lucrative in order to live a more comfortable life. While living in that first apartment, Matt had a pair of leather shoes, just one pair. He would wear them to work. Soon, the sole started to come unattached from one of the shoes. Always a quick problem solver, Matt found a thumb tack to hold his shoe together so he could still wear them to work. One day, he couldn’t find this all-important tack for his shoe. He was running around with his shoe sole flapping yelling, ‘June, help me find my tack!! I’m gonna be late!’ He finally found the tack and got off to work just in time.
Matt went on to get his papers in Electrical Contracting. He worked for decades in downtown Toronto and all over the city in commercial Electricity making a very good living. He worked hard and he always had lots of work. June managed the business office and, in so doing, had the flexibility to be home to raise their two children. Sam was a honeymoon baby and ended up playing in the show (yes, the NHL – Dad got his wish but one generation removed). Sam now does commentating and consulting. Sally is a restaurateur and city counselor for her city. All this wonderful success happened due to the A&W days.
And here they are now. Such a wonderful couple who are the best of friends.