Near Death Experiences

As I stand alone at the window
In search for what I cannot see
I wonder to what might show
Some of you or all about me.

This poem is a guest submission to my blog.  It was written by an old high school friend who, almost nine years ago, had a freak, totally sober accident with a patio door that, when it broke, nearly severed his arm.  He almost bled to death in front of his family.  How completely scary that at any moment, anything could happen to any of us.  Al explained to me that he had to learn to write with his other hand.  He said the body is an amazing machine.  Don’t I know it, Al.  Our bodies do so much for us and walk us on this Earth.  Al said he didn’t start writing poetry because of the accident, but, that his poetry became much deeper and intuitive because of it. Here’s his poem.

A Poem By:   Allan Edward (Po Po) Kinsella

 S E A R C H I N G – H I D I N G  B E H I N D  O F  M Y S E L F

As I stand all alone at the window

In search for what I cannot see

I wonder to what might show

Some of you or all about me.

I often will hide what I’m thinking

Or disguise it with something else

When in reality it is simple

I’m hiding behind of myself.

The sun and the moon I do turn too

For answers I simply can’t find

The thoughts and tears of a lifetime

Once left in a time way behind.

I realize the answers not out there

Not found in the moments gone by

To find them I need to stop searching

And look in the mirror inside.

AL
Al in high school

So, lately, I was looking through some old yearbooks and came across this adorable picture of Al. An old friend from high school in a place three provinces away.  I always liked Al.  Everyone likes Al.  Such an easy going, nice person.  Because I reached out to him, due to this picture, he is now going to bring out his poetry to be read by others.

You GO Al!

Leave a comment about your near death experience (or one from someone close to you).  Did it change you?  Did you learn something?  Tell me…I love it!

RMC, Comox and Borden Oh My ~ Army Part 3 💂🏻‍♂️

Leaving Roads in second year finds me flailing until Logistics Training a year later.
It was worth it…

Come the summer of ’87, after first year at Royal Roads Military College, it was time to take French courses at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ontario. RMC is set on several areas with significant lake frontage and several huge piers on Lake Ontario. That summer was a lot of fun. Being in the city of Kingston was exciting and the summer sun would see us laying out on the big docks on campus and running and jumping off the piers and swimming in Lake Ontario.

That was the summer my friend and I met a couple of guys while driving on the 401 to Toronto. Communications were done not by cell phone, which were almost nonexistent, but at high-speed via black sharpies and large note pads. Writing greetings and then holding them up to the window for the fellas in the nearby car to read. We ended up asking them, by note, to meet us in downtown Toronto at Mr. Green Jeans restaurant in the Toronto Eaton’s Centre. They made it! And, we had a chatty dinner with them: Doug and J.R.. Afterward, we went to the Hard Rock Café until my bus was ready to depart for Walden.

J.R. and I ended up seeing each other all summer, but, alas, then it was time for me to go back to Victoria, BC. Interestingly, he was a southern lad and an Infantry lieutenant in the US Army and was stationed across the border from Kingston in Fort Drum near Watertown, NY.  I’ll never forget the fun of how we met.  So random.  So different.

Second year began at Royal Roads Military College (RRMC). But, my heart was not in it. I didn’t enjoy the academics. Most of my Profs were mind-numbingly boring or struggled with the English language, even my English prof.  (To be fair, I did really like my Chemistry and History profs). It was not how I wanted to spend my time. I asked to be entered into the program allowing a cadet to go straight into a career posting. I got it, but it was not until the following year. I was told I would become an Army Logistics Officer and that training would begin in October 1988 in Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden, Ontario.

Okay great, but, what would happen to me for the year???

For several months I was put to work in the Castle. Hatley Castle at RRMC. Severely boring work, just managing paper and simple tasks. I had to do quite a bit of photocopying and would inevitably run into this same civilian woman who had been working there for decades. She would coldly ask me every time I saw her: ‘So….you’re still here are ya?’

Hmmm. Thanks.  I would not speak for fear of crying.  It was so mean.  Her cold and judgmental attitude. It’s not like I wasn’t already feeling like a fish out of water.  I would just nod and smile, not daring to open my mouth.

Mt Washington

In the winter, the best thing to happen was that I was sent on a week-long ski trip to Mount Washington with several others working in the castle as well as some members from CFB Esquimalt.  Classified as ‘Adventure Training’ so all expenses covered.  After unpacking our gear in our quarters, a bunch of us went out to a pub and shared jugs of beer and danced and danced and danced.  It was going to be a good week.  And it was.  I was so needing that week away and outlet in exercise and fresh air with a fun group.  The skiing was incredible with tons of fresh white stuff and ‘The Black Chair’ pub at the end of the day where we would gather to share snacks and beer and just shoot the shit.

CFB ComoxAfter a couple months, I was sent to CFB Comox, BC, up island, for administration support at the Air Traffic Control Tower. That was interesting. Ironically, the best thing about it was learning how to use a new word processor called Word Perfect. That came in handy later.

One time, at the mess (which is like a pub but only for Officers), I was fortunate enough to be in the company of the highly skilled Snowbird Team still dressed in their flight suits.  We shared a few drinks, played darts and made jokes.  One joke that I made was about my colourful vest.  That it looked rather like I had ‘killed’ my couch.  The beer helped make that one funny.  They laughed, just to be nice.

snowbirds

I began playing on a slow pitch team and met some good folks. One of them was Stevie. Steve was a lumberjack up in Tofino. He was also an avid mountain biker. He and his buddy and I would go on mountain biking day trips to Denman and Hornby Islands. Challenging trails but extremely fun too. Stevie taught me all about mountain biking. I entered a 75 k race over a hill on a logging road. It was a sweaty experience and my ass was sore for days.

Suddenly, it was time to go East for training in logistics.

biking

I bought a new little car: a 1988 Chevrolet Sprint, 3 cylinder. I began the journey across Canada, stopping each night in a flea-bitten crap motel advertising colour tv, my ass sore and my eyes glazed over from the miles and miles of the day. It took me six days to arrive in London, Ontario at my eldest sister Eva’s house. I scared the living be-jesus out of her walking into the house unannounced and finding her concentrating on something with her back to me. She was so happy to see me, jumping up and down, screaming, crying and hugging me. No kidding. We Players take our greetings seriously. She wanted to know how long I could stay. I told her about heading to Borden for a course the next day. I could stay only one night. It was a nice time and we caught up on all the news.  I saw her again on various weekends and usually with a friend.

It was a couple of hours drive to Base Borden where I started my clearing in process: getting the key to my barrack room mainly. Classes started the very next morning for the Basic Logistics Officers Course.

The first person I met on the course is now my husband.

I walked into the training building out of the rain on that chill October morning and shrugged out of my army issue trench coat.  With my right hand, I reached up to hang it on a hook, one of many along the corridor.  Just as I did so, my gaze shifted left and my eyes met those of a new classmate.  He smiled and said, ‘Hi’.

I saw stars.  I literally saw stars.

I was instantly in love with this very good looking dark haired, green-eyed man who was grinning handsomely and looking down at me as his left hand reached to hang his coat.

I floated into class.

Later we had an English grammar test and He achieved a perfect score. I knew then that it was Him.

The one!

He was gorgeous, sweet, gentle and intelligent. When I saw him kick a soccer ball, I swooned. It was poetry in motion.  I began to pray…

Next:  Army Part 4

All photos except this tank are from google images.

Leave a comment…or, I’ll hunt you down!!

My Flute Playing Friend (age 17) 🎼

‘The greatest gift in life is friendship, and I have received it.’

~Hubert H. Humphrey

via Daily Prompt: Trill

When I was a teen, I played flute in the church choir.  My close friend, Harris, was a loyal church-goer and she asked me to join her.  We would play duets, or she would play solo and I would be able to turn the pages for her.  She was much more talented than I but, nevertheless, if we were both there, of course we would be trying to make each other laugh the whole time. Some of the hymns we loved were: Be Not Afraid and Like a Sunflower.  A song that still floats through my mind today when I am in the garden with my sunflowers.sunflower

Sometimes, while sitting in the choir area of the church beside Harris, way over to the left side of the altar, my mind would flit back to when I was a little girl in the choir of the Saturday Evening Folk Masses of the 1970s.  My eldest sister Eva, with her amazing soprano voice, her leadership and enthusiasm for music, would lead the whole congregation through folk songs like: Here We Are; and Kumbaya and Jesus is a Soul Man.  She would be right up front of the pews.  Her long, straight hair flicking from side to side as she would stride around motioning to the congregation to sing louder and stronger, tapping her tambourine on her leg.  The guitars strumming wildly.  Pride would be welling up through my little body as I sat in awe of my teenage sister.  Those folk masses were powerfully spiritual and I will never forget them.  Sadly, almost half a century later, my beloved sister Eva, for some unknown neurological reason, completely lost her hearing and consequently a god given talent – her ability to sing soprano.  It was a bitter pill to swallow for all of us who love her but, My God, especially for her.  Thankfully, a few years later, Eva was fitted with a Cochlear Implant but, she will tell you, it is not the same as hearing with your own ears and her ability to sing has been diminished almost completely.  Eva has told me that her voice no longer sounds like her own.  Tragic!

I digress….

One of the musical moves with a flute is a trill.  It is rapid alternation between two notes. I learned that in music class. Because of music class, in which we were seated beside each other, and because Harris was not the typical 19-year old, we become friends even though she was two years my senior.  We hit it off instantly and had so many fun times and laughs together.  On a daily basis we would find something to laugh about and double over with the hilarity of it. Like the name I have chosen for her in this story.  We were standing by her locker in the East wing of North High School when she told me about a classmate who called her ‘Harris’ by mistake.  From then on, she was ‘Harris’.  We would giggle every time it was said.  She had this wonderful sense of humour, and still does, I am sure.

She too was from a large family – I’m fairly certain her family wasn’t any where near as crazy as mine, though.  At the time we were friends, I was living down the basement of our bungalow with my Dad, with the upstairs rented out to strangers.  My Mom had moved into an apartment with my little brother, Luke, and her alcoholic boy-friend, Earl-the-Pearl.  I hated my home life with a great deal of passion.  I would arrive at the house with a sense of dread upon entering.  Ok, that is just wrong.  It was a messed-up way to live.  Consequently, Harris, and her wonderfully stable family were very important to me.  I spent a lot of time with her and them that year.  At one point I even dated her younger brother and we would all three hang out and sometimes their younger brother, Peer too, playing charades and the new game: Trivial Pursuit, which they were good at.  Really good.

We did some very fun things together.  One time, we canoed down a river near Walden.  Her Dad dropped us off and picked us up at the other end hours later – something my Dad would not dream of doing.  If it wasn’t about hockey, forget it.  That canoe trip was a very special time for me.  I loved that day with Harris and and her brother Fred.  They had a way of making me feel like a special person to them.  They knew how to treat me like a good friend.  I cherished them.

The school put on the musical Anything Goes that year and Harris and I were chorus members and dancers together.  We had an absolute blast with this.  During part of the dance, I had to pick her up and swing her from one of my hips to the other.  Try doing that without cracking up a few times. That musical turned out fantastically.  I remember my Dad was very skeptical about it.  He said I was wasting too much time on it.  Well, he came to opening night, sat in the front row and laughed his head off.  His booming laughter spurned others on and so the whole house was dying with laughter the whole night.  My Dad and I share the love of laughter, for sure.

gunnel

Harris and Fred came up to the camp that summer.  They showed me how to gunnel-bob.  Two of us standing on the gunnels, or the ends, of the canoe and then taking turns bending knees to make the canoe move down, then up in the water until one of you falls in.  Oh my.  That was so fun!  We had a party in number eight cabin and although harmless, it got a bit loud.  Dad kicked Harris and Fred out of the camp the next day.  I was furious and sorely, blackly disappointed, not to mention embarrassed.  To this day, I really think Dad may have just simply been jealous of my friendship with these wonderful people.

The following year, Harris went away to University and although I would see her from time to time, it just never was the same.  I was progressing into a more and more dysfunctional evolution of myself.  I see now, that it wasn’t my fault.  I was a teen-child and I wasn’t supported.  Rather I was controlled and criticized and worse.

I will never forget the year that Harris and I were inseparable friends.  She was a god-send.

(All photos courtesy of google images)

Leave a comment!  I love ’em.  ~M

on hill

My Mil Col Experience (age 20) ~ Army Part 2 💂🏻‍♂️

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.

D.H. Lawrence

The word came down that after Basic Training, I would be going to Royal Roads Military College outside of Victoria, BC. I was told that the first month, or, ‘Recruit Term’ would be very difficult, but, that I should stay positive and it would pass quickly.  ‘Difficult’ was a gross understatement: Recruit Term was hell on earth. I cried myself to sleep every night.

RRMCA typical day of Recruit Term began with pounding rock music at 5:30 am. The wake-up song for our flight was April Wine’s What a Night. What a Night starts with a fire alarm bell mounted on a cymbal stand being rang at a fast pace. It truly was the perfect harsh sound to get the heart racing and the panic started for the drills of the day. We had until the end of the song to be up, dressed, to the bathroom, bed made and ‘layout’ ready for inspection. Everything in the room had to be prepared to specific, exacting standards. For instance, our uniform shirts had to be folded to exactly 25 x 30 cm, ironed and TAPED into our top drawer. Socks had to be rolled into a tight little ball, in a specific manner that we were shown and TAPED into the drawer. Same with pants. Boots and leather gators had to be polished and spit-shone to a high-gloss. We had three uniforms in our closet which had to have all buttons done and all lint removed and hanging exactly two inches apart with all sleeves perfectly positioned. The problem was, there was absolutely no free-time to do these things. So, we did them in the middle of the night and we were all quite sleep deprived already from basic training.

After morning inspection, we were run, that is: we ran over to the next building to the mess hall for breakfast where we would try to choke down some food but we were constantly being screamed at and ‘steadied up’ by our superiors.

‘RECRUIT, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT TO USE YOUR LEFT HAND TO EAT YOUR TOAST??! STEADY UP WHEN I ADDRESS YOU.’

At this point, with his face millimeters from mine, and he breathing terribly hard, hot breath, I would have to sit at attention with arms straight down my sides and with tight fists say, ‘YES MR MAYLOR. NO MR MAYLOR. I WILL DO BETTER MR MAYLOR’…suffice to say, with all of the interruptions and the stress of being inspected so closely by our superior cadets, it was nearly impossible to eat. After a couple of weeks of Recruit Term, my uniform pants were falling down as I ran.  Due to my past with anorexia, this would normally feel fine.  But, running with your pants falling off and senior cadets screaming at you, well, this was not so fine.

After breakfast there would be hours of panic drills where we were made to complete some task and then stand for inspection. It may be to lay out our stripped rifle with all parts displayed, by the end of the song. It may be to put on our dress uniform and then stand for inspection by the end of the song…remembering that our rooms and beds, trunks, cupboards, sink, desks and dresser had to be completely perfect, inside and out, not just our person. There was a lot of insults and yelling:

‘RECRUIT, YOU ARE A COMPLETE BAG.’

RECRUIT, YOU ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT TO THE CANADIAN ARMED FORCES. RECRUIT – GET DOWN AND GIVE ME 25 PUSH UPS ON YOUR KNUCKLES.’

It went on for hours. There would be another run over to the next building for lunch and a parade muster before lunch where we would have to stand in completely straight lines and have our uniform looking sharp – which was impossible after the previous activities. We would all be sweating and salt-stained, shirt tails hanging out, pants drooping, laces untied, baret atilt on our heads, and females’ hair buns falling out. So more yelling and insults.

‘YOU PEOPLE ARE A MESS, A COMPLETE MESS.

YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES.

MARK TIME’!!!!

This is where we would march in place with knees as high as our waist, sweating profusely. Next, into the beautiful mess hall with white linen, silver, crystal and table service.  Now, try to eat while being examined and corrected by the Senior Cadets.  Not likely.

After lunch, we would be taken, you guessed it, running, sometimes with rifles (called a rifle-run), for an hour or so in the woods of the College grounds. The woods were absolutely peaceful and beautiful.  A temperate rain forest.  But sweat was dripping down my face and fear was in my heart.   Our physical fitness instructor was Mr Snellwood. He was a kinder soul and once, at the beginning of Recruit Term, he sat us all down in the woods and tried to reassure us that we would all pass recruit term, as long as we stayed diligent and showed that we were working hard. I was sitting there thinking about the three more weeks that had to be endured and a tear escaped, rolling down my cheek. I thought he was sweet and kind, but, I also had serious doubts about whether I would pass or could ‘keep up’ with this system.

rainforest

We were allowed a two-minute shower after running and then we were back at the panic drills. Every now and then, something not-so-hard was offered. Like: Chapel visit, uniform fitting, tour of the incredible Japanese Gardens, or of the boat shed, or of Hatley Castle and then there were mini lectures like: etiquette in mess hall.  This was instruction on how to use all of the various cutlery and glasses that were part of a mess dinner function. As Officers, we would be attending these nice dinners several times per year, and we needed to know how to sit properly at a formal table and how to use the formal dining setting.

One time, they got us all out of bed at first light. We were blind-folded and we were taken out into the back woods. This was the Escape and Evasion exercise. Our superior cadets were talking in bad Russian accents and we were to pretend that we had been captured by enemy forces. In the woods, they had us get down on our bellies and they told us that we would be set free and that there would be a prize for the first recruit to make it back to barracks without being re-captured. They left and we, the captured, all got up and removed the blind folds. We started wandering around. I gathered with a couple of friends and we began to walk through the rainforest. We had no idea which way to go and it was a large area, acres and acres of woodland. After walking through the forest for a couple of hours, we came upon a huge blackberry patch just completely laden with huge, shining, juicy blackberries. We fell on it and started to gorge ourselves. I must have had blackberry juice all over my face. The berries were better than delicious. They were scrumptious. And no one to ‘steady us up’….we thought.

All of a sudden: RECRUITS HALT. HANDS UP. TURN AROUND! We were re-captured and would not be winning any prize today. The berries were worth it though.

blackberries

After supper, we were given two-hours of study time, or time to do some tasks that they wanted us to do. One evening they told us to write an essay about our former lives so that our section commanders could get to know us better. I started off with the COSSA Basketball tournament that my Dad was coaching when I came along and then into the camp details and high school sportiness. I had heard our section commander say he was originally from Huntsville, Ontario which is just south of the where the camp is. So, I made sure to mention Huntsville. Later that evening, we gathered with our sister flight and some of the essays were read aloud. Mine was picked. I read it aloud and when I came to Huntsville, I looked up at Mr Maylor. He grinned at me. I had made a connection. Now I was a little more hopeful that I would make it through this hell month.  Mr. Maylor was a behemoth: well over six feet tall with huge shoulders and muscles.  This guy would strap the largest weights possible to his body then with veins bulging in biceps and face of stone, pump off chin-ups.  Many chin-ups.  I just had to be on his good side, I figured.

At bed time we had another routine to endure. We had to do 100 sit-ups in the hallway by pinning our toes under the heater and with knees bent and fingers laced behind the head, pump them off. There was a catch. We had to do 100 sit-ups, take a shower AND brush our teeth by the end of our ‘goodnight’ song: Stairway to Heaven (8 minutes).  Consequently, I did not wash my hair for 30 days. I kept it tightly braided and would wash just my bangs. There was one shower and two girl recruits on our flight. The two of us showered together. Writing this thirty years later, it seems bazaar that we would shower together. But we did. We just did.

On the final day of Recruit Term, we had the obstacle course and all recruits had to pass this final test. The Obstacle Course was a 5 km course through the woods with obstacles the whole way. Most of the obstacles involved dunking the head fully under into mud to say, get under a barrier or to jump over a barrier only to land fully in mud. There was a rope wall to climb with a fall into a muddy pond; balance-beam fast crossing of a mud river with a necessary dismount into…you guessed it…MUD. I looked up at one obstacle to see a boy from my street back in Barrie (he had actually been my boyfriend but was now dating Sally, my good friend since kindergarten.  They are still together three decades later).  Anyway, that guy was yelling at me, ‘GO! YOU CAN DO THIS MARTHA VALIQUETTE!’ – he kindly was not using the word recruit to cheer me on. I remember thinking in my exhausted haze that that was very kind of him.

The final obstacle, when knackered and with mud in every orifice, was to swim across a deep, lily-pad covered pond in combat boots. This was an individual test. Ironically, we were not allowed to help each other on any part of the obstacle course. Ironic because up until that moment it was ALL team work: ‘RECRUITS – STAY TOGETHER — YOU’RE ONLY AS STRONG AS YOU’RE WEAKEST LINK’, they would scream at us.  I recall thinking, when I got to the pond, this will be a piece of cake. This was due to all the swimming in my childhood and even in lily-pad covered ponds. Thank goodness I passed it. Afterwards I showered for 30 minutes but still had mud in my ears. I ended up passing Recruit Term toward the top of my flight.  No idea how.

We then had a big celebration down at the cadet mess that was called, Decks. We had a big supper and lots of drinks. We had been told to dress up in nice civilian clothes or, ‘civvies’. Now we females were visually checked out by the senior cadets. As a young woman with certain healthy curves, long dark wavy hair, green eyes, straight, white teeth and full lips with a good fashion sense –I wore a blue knit, V-neck dress with a wide belt synched tightly around my tiny waist and leather pumps – I turned some heads at this celebration. (I was not beautiful, nor was I pretty, but, I was certainly attractive and the ratio of women to men was 1:8, so good odds that I would turn some heads). What a difference a shower, clean hair, some lipstick and civvies can make. It was a fun night. I should mention that I have not often shrank from having a fun time at parties.

The academic year began with classes, assignments, essays, exams and social experiences. The difference, at Military College is that almost every weekend was jam packed with military or varsity sport requirements in the form of parade and parade practice and athletic events and competitions. The schedule was brutal and cadets get very close, due to it.  One weekend we lost four cadets.  We were shattered.

cowichanOne long weekend, a friend – Cindy and I, decided to get off campus and away from it all. We had been more or less locked up for months and ready to just wear our jeans and hit the open road for a wee adventure.  With a back pack each, we hitch-hiked a couple hours up island to Lake Cowichan where we had booked a cabin for two nights. Our first ride got us most of the way there.  Then, we were stuck for a bit on some country road with the sun going down over the next hill.

‘This is nothing,’ I thought. ‘We’ve just passed through hell and found some freedom.  Nothin’ is getting me down now.’

On that note, a red pick-up pulled over to offer us a lift.  The man inside was more than a little scary looking with wild eyes and even wilder hair.  Cindy and I looked at each other, shrugged, and hopped in.  He turned out to be a decent fellow and he dropped us at our rented cabin.

Next: what should we do with our free evening?  We had heard tell of a dance in a countryside hall nearby.  We gussied ourselves up and with blue jeans and jean jackets and big hair (this was 1986 after all), off we went…only to find five or six of our classmate cadets already there.  Not sure how that happened exactly but it was sure to be fun. When you work hard, it only seems natural to also play hard.  That is what we did.  We basically started dancing and didn’t stop for hours.  At one point during Rock Lobster, we were all down on the hard-wood floor doing the worm.  Yes, just like it sounds. Squirming.  Full-body contact with the floor.  It was hilarious.  Likely one of the most fun nights of my entire life due to its spontaneity, timing, serendipity and remote location and laughter. We ended up meeting a couple of local fellows that night and took them back to our cabin.

Next Army Part 3

Please leave a comment…I LOVE ’em.

All photos are courtesy of google images.

The King of Korea 🇰🇷

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.

Pond Skating 5

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.

skating with king of korea

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.

dark highway

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 in Virginia 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.

Bedtime Story

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.

IMG_1094

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?king-sejong

My brother Jobe 🧡

Climbing out of his crib before he could walk, here is the story of my brother Job.

baby red headMy brother Jobe who was number five in the family line-up was a pure handful from the moment he was born.  He was a cuter-than-cute red-headed, freckled-face boy who even as a baby was making headlines around the bridge table as Mom would tell the other mothers how Job had climbed out of his crib already.  This was before he could walk.  It began there.

A couple of years later, when all was quiet and perhaps Mom was baking something in the small kitchen in the Willows (our crowded townhouse on the Main St of Walden, Ontario, ( Let the Games Begin 🏀 ), little industrious Job climbed up on the stylish chrome and Formica table in the dining room eager to touch the glass chandelier. In that same dining room sat our beautiful upright piano that Mom had stylishly mac-tacked with orange and purple-petaled flowers (It was the 70s, Man).  chandelierAnyway, before he could stop himself, and with little pink tongue clamped to the right side of his mouth, he systematically dismantled the whole intricate chandelier, but not a piece of glass would touch the floor.  Four year-old Job had very carefully clutched each glass piece in his little hands and put each one down on the table top he was standing on… in exact order of its place aloft.  He took a three-dimensional glass chandelier and made it one-dimensional.  All Mom had to do later was carefully hook it all back up.  She was fascinated by his ability to do this, and so were we.

One time, at the camp where all row boatnine of us moved for the summer months to be on the lake and running a tourist camp, when the lake was whipped up with white caps due to an off-shore wind, Jobe thought it would be interesting to push the twenty or so aluminum boats and canoes out into the water to watch the wind take them across the lake.  Imagine the spectacle that was.  A fleet of unmanned water craft afloat in a line across a choppy eight-mile lake.  Little Jobe was fascinated, jumping up and down, clapping and laughing devilishly and pointing a chubby finger at what he had done.  Mom and Dad and our four older siblings scrambled to get the boats back, some swimming out to them, some using a motorized boat to get them.  Who would think of doing such a thing…JOBE! Corporal punishment ensued.  (Corporal punishment was quite popular back then.)

In later years, Jobe would usually be the one getting into trouble and doing more and more high-risk things.  He would dive off the top of the diving tower and off Echo Rock and the Locks — these were all very high dives and more than a little dangerous.  Jobe was the only one of the seven of us to master the back-flip-and-a-half on the trampoline. Water-Skier - Version 3 And when it came to water-skiing, he was quite impressive – slalom-skiing beautifully and even starting from the dock or the water on one-ski, which took a great deal of strength, balance and coordination.  His physicality was confident and true.  He was physically gifted. Mr Laset attested to this fact when I called him last winter to casually affirm my Elementary school memories when forty years ago he had been our beloved coach.  In gymnastics, Job would fly off the spring board, catching tons of air before his hands met the leather box-horse and with high hips he would execute a beautiful hand spring.  trouble riverAt the lake, Jobe would even ski down the Trouble River a twisty-turny, black-watered mysterious river that we all thought of as bottomless due to scary stories that we would tell by the camp fire.

Some of Jobe’s escapades required funding that he just didn’t have, nor could he easily earn.  Luckily, he had worked out a solution for his shortfall.  But first, you need to know the layout of the cottage that we called ‘The Office’, because the layout was key.  The Office had two bedrooms on the main level.  In one room was Mom and Dad’s twin beds (stylish at the time, no idea why) and a crib where Luke would sleep when he was a baby.  The neighbouring room had a double-bed where I and one or both of my sisters would sleep, and then above us, up a rickety ladder in the hallway, was ‘the loft’ where the three boys would usually sleep: Matt, Mark and Jobe.  The sides of the loft were open, such that those up there could look down through the rafters into the two bedrooms below.  Privacy?  I think not.  In fact, now that I am writing this, I remember a game in which we would reach way over on the rafters and then swing down over the beds below and drop down with a squeal, landing on the soft mattress, or anyone who happened to still be in bed.  (This was a forbidden activity, so only done when the adults were out of the office.)

So…Jobe’s funding…right.  Well, the ceiling was open into the loft, and when Dad would be inevitably taking a nap on a warm summer afternoon or on a rainy day, or on any day really, Jobe would spy Dad’s seldom-washed polyester double-knits hanging on the hook by the bedroom door.  red head boy nrStealthily, hazel eyes rolling this way and that, with a fishing rod, and pink tongue stuck out just so, he would hook said pants and reel them up, ever so quietly, stealing glances down at Dad who was crashed out on the twin bed.  The pants would seemingly float up into the loft where he then would quickly reach his small sure hand into the right front pocket and take out the roll of cash from Dad’s polyester double-knits.  (Every summer, Dad would busily sell various items to campers: ice, worms, fuel – all for cash. Cash being cash, it was untraceable, so Jobe would help himself to a twenty or two (a small fortune back then) and he would be set for his next escapade.  Of course, his hazel eyes keenly watching Dad, face slightly flushed, he would then expertly reel the double-knits back down to the hanging place in Dad’s room, ensuring that any noise he made at all was made when the loudest cycle of the snore was emerging from Dad.  With the money, Jobe and I would sometimes go horse-back riding which back then was $5 per hour! Or, Jobe would buy gas to put in the Budd family’s motor boat tank for ever more water skiing.  We did get paid for chores at the camp, but not nearly enough for all that Jobe wanted to do.

boy with pipeOne of the chores at the camp was the daily picking up of garbage using the big red wheel-barrow.  We had to wheel over the gravel roads around the 21 acres to each of the campsites and to the nine cabins and ask at the door for their garbage.  Then, to the upper or lower field, often rolling over a large rock and accidentally dumping the whole mound due to its precariousness in the wheel barrow.  With gloves on (in theory). we had to then sort it: burn the burnables in a huge 40-gallon barrel and pitch the cans, jars and bottles into the old open trailer that Dad would take to the dump every few weeks.  Sorting people’s garbage was really gross and more than a little dangerous; so was burning it, especially in a field of dry-as-bone hay.  We were burning garbage in a huge barrel at tender ages.  I would have been seven or eight and Jobe would have been ten or eleven.  I have no idea how we didn’t all have 3rd degree burns or didn’t lose an eye because something would inevitably smash or blow up.  Of course Job LIKED it when something smashed or blew up.  He would often HELP it to smash or blow up and then he would exclaim, ‘Morgan did you SEE THAT?!’ or ‘WATCH THIS!!’…BANG…  It terrified me.  I was often cowering and inching away as Job had his maniacal fun.  A side note: Jobe NEVER smashed beer bottles.  They were refundable and provided yet another nice little stream of income.

boys swimmingJobe’s temper was also famous.  He would often be a happy-go-lucky youngster, looking for fun and loving to laugh.  But, often, he was treated meanly by our father…he wasn’t the quiet, obedient academic-type that Dad wanted in a son, I guess.  None of his sons were showing signs of being university types (at this point, Luke was too little to show the signs of his future studiousness).  Dad could be downright mean with biting sarcasm and cruel comments. He would say things like, “Jobe, you could have been a good hockey player, but, then you got hard to handle.” Dad would also be quite physical, grabbing an arm, pulling hair or an ear to propel one of his children in the direction of his choosing.  One Christmas, Dad wrapped up a used dictionary and put it under the tree for Jobe.  On the inside cover he had written: Have a read of this once in awhile.  You might learn something. From Dad.

I believe this treatment didn’t help Jobe to find his way very well. His temper would flare more and more as he got closer and closer to his teenage years.  Perhaps he would be building something with hammer and nails, claw-hammer-wood-handle and if he missed that nail, there was a very good chance the hammer would end up in the lake and hopefully your noggin’ wasn’t in its flight path.

* * *

After Jobe got out of juvie, he went to live with our eldest sister Eva and her husband, Peter for a year due to he and Dad having serious personality conflicts. (A few years later, I would take a turn at living with Eva and Peter Not-So-Sweet Sixteen 🙏 )  While living there, we forever have the funny story of Jobe’s attempt at reeling a box of beer up to his upstairs bedroom (a two-four!).  Unfortunately, he was caught due to its visibility when passing the main floor window.  Peter looked up to see a box of Labatt’s Blue floating by and thought he had better investigate.  He found Jobe leaning out his bedroom window, just about to haul in his case of beer.  Peter put the kibosh to the beer party 17-year old Job was planning on having in his bedroom.  Good try though.

Nowadays, Jobe is a farmer out in B.C..  We definitely do not see enough of his big smile, good heart or jovial laugh but, we will always have these memories to cherish, laugh and wonder at.  He certainly made memories, did my brother Jobe.

boy with grin

(all images are courtesy of google images)

He Grows Up 💕

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” —Mark Twain.

pregnant in N Carolina
Leo-In-Belly at the Outer Banks, NC. A fun weekend with Nancy and Family.

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??  

Already?

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??!”

hiking on Wolfville trails, from our door

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.

Cape Split nap
Napping at Cape Split, NS

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!

(Photos by the author)

Fun and Foibles at the Camp 🎣

Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever, And if I had the choice, Yeah, I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life
~Bryan Adams
Summer of ’69

The summer I was 19 was the first summer that my eldest sister Eva owned the camp. I had just graduated from high school and would be attending University in the fall.  My best friend Kelly was already studying Nursing.  Both of us needed a full-time job and had asked at June’s Diner if we could work there.  With a yes from June, we promptly began to plan.

We moved to the camp with my little brother Luke and with Eva’s middle child Jake, who was a tender four years of age.  We promptly started the opening clean up, just as Mom had taught me.  Start systematically at cabin number one and spend a whole day on each cabin.  In past years with Mom, we would work until noon then Mom would have Jobe build a small fire in the outdoor fire-pit of the cabin we were working on.  Jobe was good at that.  Mom would make soup and fried bologna or wieners over the fire.  After eating and much to our enjoyment, she would pop popcorn in lard over the fire.  We would just love those days with Mom…

popcorn

I digress.

It was hard, dirty work and there was a lot to do: clean, dust, paint, move things, wipe down cupboards, count dishes and cutlery, ensure pots and pans were there, affix curtains, paint and tidy…it was endless.  One time, Kel reached up into a corner shelf and pulled out a stiff dead mouse by the tail, holding it horizontally while I squealed, having been startled by the oddity of it, so stiff and straight.  Kel just chuckled at my antics.  At the end of each full day, we all went out to June’s for a feed of fish and chips or something akin.  Little Jake was an angel who was constantly helpful and pleasant and a joy to have with us.

cabin

Early the following week, working on number nine, we decided it needed a lick of paint. It was a bright, warm sunny day. Perfect for working on our tans at the same time and Luke had taken little Jake out fishing for the afternoon.  We had the boom box playing full tilt: BORN in the USA and SUMMER OF SIXTY NINE and JOURNEY tapes.  I should mention here that Kelly was a tireless worker.  She would never stop and it was a pleasure and a joy to have her by my side for the summer, and she is still my oldest best friend today.  So, we got up on the long ladder and once up there, feeling the sun on our backs, decided it would be perfect for topless painting.  All was fine and good and we were working and singing, tanning and laughing.

Suddenly, between songs we heard the rumble of an approaching tractor. ANGUS BRECKNER!!!! Oh my god.  The very cute farm-boy of similar age to us, was coming to cut the hay today.  You never saw us scramble so fast down those ladders to find our t-shirts, screaming all the way.man on tractor

The season began and we slipped into a routine. A johnny cake breakfast with Eva and the three boys who would kneel on their chairs, their blond heads forming steps on one side of the table. Next, chores which usually consisted of garbage pick up plus other light maintenance or cleaning jobs. After chores there was time for swimming and a bit of sun-bathing and then it was time for work at the diner in town.  Sometimes we would bike to town but often we would get a ride from a friend, Angus or his buddy, or we would walk the two miles along the side of the highway.highway

Come the weekend there would often be various camp-fires or pit parties to attend.  We also had friends of the male persuasion who would sometimes accompany us to Deer Hurst in Huntsville where we would dance and enjoy the house band being silly and celebrating our youthfulness.  The best song came out that year: N-N-N-N-Nineteen, Nineteen.  It was like it was written for us.

Another time we went out with our red-head friend Marvin.  There were a few of us in his little jeep.  We were driving pell mell along yet another dark, dirt, hilly, twisty turny country road for the sheer joy of the drive.  Kel and I were squealing and ooohing with each directional change.  Suddenly, Marvin slowed the jeep and driving close to the right side of the road, started to accelerate while turning sharply to the left.  The jeep leaned over on two tires, EEEEEEK!  It hesitated, as if deciding what to do, then over it went into the ditch, landing on its right side. There were a few expletives uttered at that point then Marvin said rather calmly and clearly in his deep voice: get out before she blows.  Oh Jesus did we scramble to get out.  The last person climbed out and let the door slam.  It slammed on my right thumb.  Marvin ran back and opened the door so I could escape. Whew.  That was a close one.  The jeep did not blow.

During other summers, from time to time a high school friend would come up and stay at the camp. When Sue (a boy named Sue, just like in the Johnny Cash song), arrived with his family, I was quite happy to see him. I enjoyed his company and we had had many good times together.  As my sister Amy would say: he was a good head. (That’s a compliment).

One night we had heard about a campfire out off the Cane Road.  Amy was at the camp with her car and, always generous, allowed us to use it.  In we piled.  There was Sue, Karrie from across the lake, a friend named Faye from the narrows, and myself. However, after a bit, I was a tad worried about Sue who was drinking large amounts of rye, thanks to Doug, the host, and he was getting quite drunk.  We finally got him into the car after pulling him out of the ditch and started down the gravel, country road toward the camp.  Suddenly, without much warning, except to ask that the window be rolled down, which it wasn’t, Sue got sick all over Faye.  He had projectile vomited such that there was vomit on the car wall and window with a silhouette of Faye where her head and body had received it rather than the wall.  We should have seen it coming.  I pulled over and quickly asked Karrie to open the rear door.  Sue tumbled out head first and landed in the ditch for the second time.  He was moaning, groaning and puking.  He waved at us saying just leave me here, just leave me here. Ya, no.  I would not be leaving Sue there in some ditch on some god-forsaken, dark, forest-edged road. I yelled at him to get sick once more then to climb into the car.

The next morning I was cleaning number one cabin when I heard some commotion by the men’s outhouse.  There was Sue.  His large teenage male body was standing, slightly stooped, in the open door of the outhouse, his back to me.  He was holding a Pocket Fisherman (for a split second my mind reeled back to the time, years prior, when I had wanted so badly to use Eva’s husband Peter’s Pocket Fisherman and he so generously indulged me.  Next, I promptly raised my right arm to cast the line and then somehow dropped it into an unfamiliar dark lake and just watched it sink.  Frozen in horror at what I had just done.  Peter had very graciously just waved it away, neither one of us wanting to go in after it.)

Anyway, Sue was holding the Pocket Fisherman the line of which was down the hole.  He appeared to be fishing something out of the shitter.  This was going to be interesting.  I asked him what he was up to. Sue turned and his face was green.  His front teeth were missing.  He hesitated and seemed to argue with himself for a split second but, finally admitted that he was fishing his partial denture out of the shitter.  It had fallen out when he was sick…..

outhouse

Later, Amy and I saw him with his teeth in place.  He told us he had boiled his denture for three hours. Poor Sue. That was a rough turn of events because after fishing his denture out of the poop, and then sterilizing it, he then had to go clean up Amy’s car which we had closed the night before and left in the sun. Not pretty.

The summer went on with canoeing, swimming, jumping off the rocks into the lake, exploring, campfires, chores and fun. Then we met Len, the son of a hockey great who had a cottage near the camp and to call it a cottage was a vast understatement. It was massive with double doors leading into a great room with a double staircase heading up to a landing then splitting in two, heading in opposite directions around a upper story landing with several bedroom doors visible from below.  There was no electricity and the whole place was made of weathered wood, but was new and in perfect repair.  I could not stop looking at everything.  Up at the top of the wall there were a few posters of the hockey legend, taken in his day.

Len had all the toys and a boathouse and a boat, skis and all the gear.  The top of the boathouse was a games room with pool table, table tennis, shuffle board, darts and a cooler full of pop.  The boathouse had a balcony from which we would jump or dive into the lake below.  It was teenager heaven.  He would invite us over sometimes to water ski. We would have a ball! Mysteriously, whenever I told Dad I was going to hang out with Len, he would jump up off the couch and offer me a ride.  I think he would have been quite happy if I had gotten serious with the son of a hockey legend.  Imagine.

dock

I’m In the Army Now … 🔫(age 19) Army Part 1

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.

D.H. Lawrence

After a great summer of fun and foibles at the camp, I went to Waterloo University for part of first term when I was told by my father that he would not be helping with the expense. He had always told me that I would be the only one of seven to go to University and that he would pay my way. Well, he was wrong on both parts of that sentence. My little brother Luke finished with a degree or two, with no financial help. I made it to University but was left high and dry when he refused to help with the fees. I even called my Grandfather, whom everyone knew to be well-off and with whom I had always had a strong relationship. He flat-out refused me saying that all his money was ‘tied up’ in certificates. So there I was, nineteen at a huge University, two hours from home, with their accounts receivable people hounding me to make a payment. I had worked the previous summers and had plowed every penny of my savings into the first payment for residence and for my books. I had no money left. I tried to find a job but that too fell flat, as jobs were not meant for first-years. Thinking very, very hard about my current options, and not wanting to just walk away without a plan for my next move, I sat down to contemplate…then an idea struck…THE ARMY.

Pte BRecruiters had come to my high school the previous year with posters and glossy pictures of the kind of life you could have in the army. (It was just like that scene in the 1980 comedy Private Benjamin when Goldie Hawn looks at the glossy pictures of what she thinks of as military yachts and she is SOLD on joining the US Navy.)  I had been told, after an aptitude test result years before, that I would do well in uniform. Hmmm. That caused pause for reflection. I pulled out the phone book for the city of Kitchener-Waterloo and found out the location of the recruiting centre. I put on some nice clothes and smoothed my curls into a braid, hopped on the city bus and made my way there. I walked in to find a young man in uniform sitting behind the desk. He asked me all about my high school life and extra-curricular activities. When he heard that I was active and sporty and had good marks, he told me that I was, in his words: Officer Material.

‘Wonderful,’ I said. ‘What next?’ He told me to come back with a thousand word essay about why I wanted to get in the forces. He said there would be an aptitude test when I returned. I went back to residence on a mission. From there, I wrote the essay, took and passed the test and checked out of Waterloo University.

Waterloo u

The week I arrived back in Barrie, I moved in with my Mom and her alcoholic, ex-navy boy-friend, Earl.  We would call him Earl-the-Pearl. I had no bedroom. I slept on the couch. I found two jobs serving tables. One at a five-star restaurant and the other at a bar on the opposite end of town. Living in this way brought me down. It was a tough winter. All my high school friends were away at Uni except Flo who was at the Georgian College. Thankfully I had a good steady job to go to every day.  My boss at the five-star was a womanizing prick from North Africa, who would lean in to talk to me just a little too closely, and constantly comment on the breasts of female customers.  Creepy.  CHEFAt least I had a steady gig and it got me up and out and talking to people and making a bit of money every day. The chef at the five-star restaurant taught me one or two things about the joy of good food.  He was extreme in his thinking and very sharp in his opinions.  He always had a hot lunch set aside for me.

In April, at the restaurant, just after lunch when it was quiet, the landline phone behind the bar rang.  A voice told me, ‘You have been accepted to the Regular Officer Training Program of the Canadian Armed Forces.  You will need to swear in downtown Toronto.  We will mail your instructions to you.  Do you understand?’

Holy shit.  I got in!  My mind began to race…what will this entail???

Earl-the-Pearl let me use his red pickup to drive down to the recruiting centre.  On the way down the multi-lane highway something terrifying happened.  On a dirty-weather day with all kinds of slush and dirt on the highway, I ran out of windshield wash.  My windshield suddenly became dark brown and opaque.  I couldn’t see a thing and I was in the middle lane.  I rolled the windows down and while praying, white-knuckling and sweating, moved over to the shoulder.  Sweaty and breathing heavy I realized that I had just escaped a very bad situation.  I sat with my hood up and waited for a few minutes, thinking.  Just then, a good Samaritan came along and filled my reservoir with windshield wash then helped me clean my windshield with a handful of snow.  I vowed to one day be as kind as this man.  I made it to the ceremony on time and met some folks who are still my friends today, thirty plus years later.

Next was Basic Training which would begin in June and last for six weeks. At that point, I didn’t know where I would be sent, after basic, but had been informed that the Canadian Forces would be sending me to University and that I would also receive a salary while at school. So they would feed, dress, house and educate me, as well as pay me.  Geesh.  That sounded promising!

Basic Training took place in Chilliwack, BC at the Officer Candidate School. The six weeks went by in a blur of early morning running, push ups, inspections, weapons training, map and compass training and combat field training: marksmanship, marching with rucksack and the beginnings of how to issue Orders, amoung many other things like: combat first-aid, introduction to code and de-coding, bed-making with sharp corners, folding shirts into an exact square, sock-rolling, knot-tying and more. I found it fascinating, most of the time, and did well on this training, passing in the top third of my platoon: Nine Platoon – DOGS OF WAR!!!

Next: Army Part 2