Sheree Fitch recited her poem, above, on the CBC Special televised vigil on Friday April 24, 2020. I found myself weeping at these words which were so completely apt and heartfelt. Thank you Sheree. Rest in Peace to the fallen.
This is a guest submission by one of my oldest friends, with a pseudonym of Layla. Layla and I met at St Mary’s School in Barrie, Canada when we were tiny and became close because we had so much fun together AND we walked the same way to school every morning. (I’ve heard it said that young friendships have a lot to do with geography). All these decades later, we are still friends. She still cracks me up as much as she did back then. Back when we used to put Mark’s stereo on in the rec room with Fleetwood Mac blaring and do cartwheels and walk-overs in the dark.
Once Layla, with her reddish hair very similar to my brother Jobe, was accepted into our family, she was a regular at our family meals and was around our house most days. I also spent a lot of time playing at her house, often the two of us alone, because her Grandmother would be at work at the hospital where she pulled twelve-hour shifts. I remember watching a ten-year old Layla cooking up a pound of bacon or ground beef to eat for supper without any other foods on the plate. I remember that was really different because Mom would always have us build a balanced meal on our plate: protein, vegetables, starch.
Layla had this really odd baby-sitter, Shirley, who kept her kidney stones in a small jar on her dresser. We would sneak into her room to point and peer at them. ‘Ewwww, gross!’ we would whisper to each other with freckled, scrunched up faces. We were barely tall enough for our eyes to clear the top of the highboy dresser. One time Shirley caught us and tried to smack Layla. We were too fast for her though as we used our guile to get away from Shirley who walked with a cane. (But seriously, why keep them on your dresser?)
There was a group of us at times: Kelly, Paul Aikins (R.I.P.), Layla and I were often together cooking up mischief. One time, we decided to light ‘strike anywhere’ matches in a closet in Layla’s rental flat in an old Victorian on Bayfield Street. When her grandmother found out, she called my parents and I was punished. I got the belt to my behind from my Dad due to the seriousness of the infraction. It never happened again. Another time we were in trouble with Sister Mary Catherine. Layla received ‘the Strap’ for it. I am certain that woman was a witch. She was horribly mean.
When my older sister Amy became a hairstylist after attending the Barrie School of Hairdressing, I can clearly remember the time she gave Layla a ‘pageboy’ haircut. It was the same haircut made famous by Dorothy Hamill the 1976 Olympic skating champion. The haircut took place in our basement bathroom of our Peel Street house. The large bathroom with the bright blue melamine counter-top opposite the sink. Layla perched there on a stool, me watching from the edge of the tub while Amy snipped. Twenty year-old Amy was beautiful with long blond hair and baby-blue eyes. Her slender fingers were entwined in Layla’s extra thick strawberry blond locks as she cooed softly to Layla to help her relax. Layla had a very sensitive scalp. Layla became the talk of the grade 5 class with that hair cut, it suited her so well. It was so very ‘IN’.
When Layla moved away, I missed her badly. We would write letters back and forth and she did come to the camp once. Then there was my trip to the Badlands where we re-connected. Layla has been to my home in Nova Scotia twice and I will see her in Calgary soon. Can’t wait!!!!
Here is her story of strength in finding a New Life. (She says it was God, but, I would argue that it was ALL HER!)
I was born into a Catholic family in North Bay, Ontario, baptized as a baby and attended the Catholic Church and school from birth to sixth grade. My earliest memories are of living with my Grandma and Grandpa. It didn’t occur to me to question it- that was all I knew. But for a loving Grandmother, I would have grown up with strangers.
My next significant memory is of moving to Barrie, Ontario with Grandma Bea – as her marriage of 25 years was ending. She worked hard to support us. At that time everyone in my class lived with their Mom and Dad. The 30 of us moved up through the grades together. We all attended St. Mary’s Church and school.
My Grandma kept an orderly and safe home for us. She kept me in tap, jazz, and baton classes after school. I also did gymnastics at school. Downtime at home was spent playing outside with the other neighbourhood children.
My Mom showed up when I was 7 years old and wanted to reclaim me. I had no idea who my Mom was, and neither Grandma or I were prepared to be apart from one another.
Through a series of events, and several more years past, it was decided that I would go and live with my Mother in British Columbia. This was just before I entered 7th grade.
My safe predictable world came crashing down. My Mother lived very differently, so I soon found myself appalled and alienated. Coming home after school to groups of people drinking and drugging was completely foreign and quite scary to me. The mood swings the adults displayed were also new to me.
I deeply regretted moving to BC I was small and lean at the time, and also got to learn what it was to be the new kid, get bullied, and have to fist fight to get past the gang to get home. I hated my life.
Sometime during that year, Mother’s boyfriend threw us out during the night in a rage. We landed at a shelter and eventually moved to another home with another school- and another gang of bullies to deal with.
I did okay at first in 8th grade. I loved biology and participating in the gymnastics club. At some point though, with more chaos and confusion at home, I couldn’t cope anymore. I switched to another school that was a specialized alternate learning environment. I did okay there for awhile and then we moved again to another city. Same scenario happened all over again…. I was completely done.
I dropped out of school and spiraled downward for many years. My teenage years were an unstable mess. By 15 I was done with life. Attempted suicide… failed. Somehow I carried on- working, going to night school, and partying.
By 19 I had to sober up and find a way to live with a new purpose. I was solidly entrenched in unhealthy living patterns. By this time many friends had died due to the lifestyle- intentionally or otherwise. Through all of this, I was starting to wake up a bit and notice some things that scared me. God was drawing me…
Thankfully I had a good friend who had cleaned up a couple of years ahead of me. She took me under her wing and walked me through the daily beginning steps of sobriety. For awhile, an AA women’s group was a lifeline for me.
At some point in my new sobriety, I began to question the meaning of life. A very clear turning point happened when I was in my downtown, Nelson BC apartment. Looking up and down the street, I began to think about the people coming and going. What was the point of it all? How did it start? Where would it end?
Thus began a new quest to satisfy these queries. Nelson was a New Age hot bed with plenty of options to consider. Initially I returned to visit the local Catholic Church- only to be faced with a sexual advancement from a married man who attended there. I left and continued my quest. I looked into a multitude of things that people seemed satisfied with and engaged in. Gestalt therapy, Wicca, Mormonism, and others. They all seemed interesting, but I was always left with a sense that there had to be more. Something that was IT!
I had a friend at college who was sparkly eyed and always kind and friendly with me. She attended the local Evangelical Free Church. So I asked her if they did any fun stuff. I attended a campfire night by the river with the College and Career group. I found them to be funny, interesting and had good music that I hadn’t heard before. The group also had a bible study at my friend’s house. I went to check this out. At the first one, they spoke of the fruits of the Spirit. I knew I wanted those things. Love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. WOW! I was very interested.
I finished my office administration training. I did my practicum and volunteered in local offices as I was unable to find work. The town was economically shutting down. I had a student loan and the collectors were calling. So I moved to Calgary in 1990 to get some work and pay off my student loan so that I could go home again to Nelson, BC.
My Grandma had already moved to Calgary, so I stayed with her while I worked and saved. We loved being reunited and savoured our time together.
I am now celebrating 30 years of living in Alberta. We make our plans, but God orders our steps. This was not my plan.
I got work right away. Not long after moving to Calgary, I was invited to Grace Baptist College and Career. Through this group I was introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and was told that I needed to be born again. I really didn’t know what to make of this.
As I considered the information, I felt like no matter where I went, I was being shown very clearly that there was good and evil. I needed to make a choice. The fence sitting was not going to be permitted much longer. At a crossroads, I called out to God. However, I was still unconvinced if He was real or not. Was I going to dive in- or walk away? I earnestly asked God, if He was there, to show me clearly. I opened my bible at a random place and my eyes landed on Proverbs 23:18. “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” I prayed then and trusted the blood of Christ to wash away all my sin and to make me new in Christ. Thus began my journey as a Christian…
Not long after this, a lovely senior lady from church came over to my Grandmother’s place to teach me the scriptural basics and disciple me.
As the years went on, trials and growth opportunities were abundant. I journeyed through legalism, deep marital pain, divorce, isolating from believers, failure….but God.
I began to learn, at a heart level, verses like Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You. Because he trusts in You.” Also, Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And Philippians 4:19 “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Despite all the pain, the unfaithfulness, the confusion- God has continued to win my heart. With so many distractions in this world, singing praises has always guarded my heart and has become an essential way for me to set my mind on Him. Being in fellowship with like-minded Believers, who lovingly point each other back to truth, has also been a huge blessing and lifeline for me.
By the grace of God I can now say- I belong to Jesus- heart, soul, mind and strength. Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
When 16 to 18, Dad and his new wife Wendy took my little brother, Luke and I, to Florida with them for Christmas break (our older five siblings were all moved out by then). Except for the first year, we drove down, all 2500 km in Dad’s Mercury Zephyr. Yes, there used to be a car called a Zephyr. Dad had a skin-tone coloured one. It was super sexy. Not.
The first year, however, Dad put Luke and I on a Greyhound bus for the forty hour trip. We had to change buses at 2 o’clock in the morning in Detroit, Michigan which is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the US of A. Let’s face it, Grey Hound bus stations are not usually located in the nicest parts of town. I was 16 and Luke was 13. Dad’s best advice was to use my scarf to tie my purse tight to my body. Luke and I found a seat on the dingy molded plastic chairs and linked arms with eye-balls peeled. We were terrified. Since I am writing this today, I guess we survived the Detroit Bus Station, twice, actually. We were there on the way home too.
Ever organized, we packed this little cooler with things like hard-boiled eggs, fruit, cheese, bread so that we didn’t have to spend much on restaurant stops. All we wanted to do was get off that bus as much as possible and stretch our legs. A long Greyhound ride gets rather ripe, especially after eating one too many hard-boiled eggs. By the time we arrived at Valdosta, Georgia, we were overjoyed to see Palm trees, finally.
When we finally arrived in Fort Myers, we were picked up by our eldest brothers wife, June’s Mother, who’s name is also June (rest in peace), driving a huge caddy and telling us in a thick Southern accent that she would adopt while in Florida for the winter, how very dANgerous it was here: ‘Nevah take out your wallet in pahblic’, she advised. ‘Almost ahveryone has a GUUN so just be caheful’ and then she accelerated to get across a lane of traffic and screamed: ‘HANG ON!!’ June Senior was quite a character. She took us in and fed us (I remember one meal in particular was turkey necks — I had never had a meal of turkey necks before) and made sure we had everything we needed for the couple of days before Dad and Wen arrived and we would move into the motel that Dad had booked from afar.
Luke and I spent many hours on the beach and walking around the town of Fort Myers. We didn’t have much spending money so we would usually have an ice-cream and maybe some fries around lunch time. Then we would walk all the way back the couple miles to where we were staying with Dad and Wen. By that time, we were wiped. We had swam, sunbathed, played frisbee plus the walk to and from the beach. Luke would carry his boom box on his shoulder and play music for us all the way.
Sometimes we would eat supper all together or we would go to a very good value All-U-Can-Eat Buffet which are prevalent in Florida. The odd time Dad would say, you kids are on your own, we are going out for supper without you. After supper, Dad would get us into the car and we would drive through the well-to-do neighbourhoods looking at the Christmas lights. It was so strange to see this without snow. Sometimes Dad would take us to some random high school gym to watch basketball. There seemed to always be a basketball game on somewhere and both Luke and I were big fans of the game. Luke could even spin a basketball for a significant length of time on his finger, then bounce it off his knee and back to his finger. In basketball practice with Mr. Laset, ball-handling drills had been highly encouraged. Luke and I would often play hours of 21 in our driveway and when sitting watching a television program, we would often be holding and spinning the ball.
One day, we met this family on the beach. The Bates’. There was a boy my age, a girl one year older and they were from Indiana. We hung out. They were really nice and we loved their accent and they liked ours. They arranged for Luke and I to go out for supper with them at a Mexican restaurant. We had never eaten Mexican food and we were so eager to give it a try. That was a fun night. Especially trying hot sauces and pico de gallo for the first time. The virgin lime margarita was spectacular too. Sour, sweet and salty all at once. I still love margaritas today. We ended up staying over at their house, which was actually their relatives house, in Fort Myers, for the night. Luke and I slept on the couches in the den. I was astounded by their generosity. In fact, I have been astounded at the generosity of Americans again and again when I lived there over the decades. The Bates’ were good people and they liked us. It was a nice feeling. We kept in touch and saw them the next years too.
Wendy found this beach park for us to go explore. No one was there and it was gorgeous. We walked along the sand and found wee little treasures while a very relaxed Dad slept on a towel on the beach. Luke and I jokingly calling him a beached whale, when we were out of earshot. After a good snore, he awoke and sat up with sand all over the side of his face and pine needles in his hair. Oh my, we chuckled. Perhaps he did these things on purpose to get a reaction. I’m still not sure about that.
That pure white-sand crescent-shaped beach was just spectacular and I have always enjoyed, for some reason, the places where few people go, but which are incredible. I have also enjoyed the wondering. The wondering why they are not there.
When it was time to head North, I dreaded it. Going back to the cold, dark North after all this sun, sea and sand. The only cool thing would be showing off our sun-kissed tan skin to all of our pasty white friends.
Those trips to Florida were bittersweet. In one sense it was amazing to be with my little brother, Luke and be on an adventure together down to Florida, especially for three years in a row, making it almost a tradition. Luke and I were very close. In another sense it was tough to be trapped with our parents in a car for several days on a road trip. The travail of teenagers, perhaps?
In the car, Luke and I would be in the back seat finding any reason to laugh hysterically at Dad. Dad had these habits that drove us wild with hilarity. Every so often, he would reach up to daintily scratch his balding pate with just his middle sausage-shaped finger. Next he would be asking Wendy if she wanted to split a black coffee. He would pull into a gas station, struggle into his huge down coat, and pay a quarter for the gut-rot coffee on offer. With a big smile on his face he would come back to the Zephyr with a single styrofoam coffee cup which was barely visible in his large hand. Wendy would hold it.
Dad would pull out and get back onto the highway and only then would he take off his huge coat. Every time, while driving and with the three of us helping to get his coat off, narrowly missing oncoming traffic. Another time, we were at some diner in a tiny little town, for some lunch. Dad asked the server a question about her hometown, the very town she had lived in her whole life. The server answers but her answer is not what Dad was expecting. Much to the embarrassment of Luke and I, and as we would have liked to slide off our chairs and hide under the table, Dad says, ‘Honey baby,’ waving his thumb at himself and Wendy, ‘We’re both teachers. You must have your facts mixed up. That can’t be right.‘
There was one thing about Dad. He was not boring and he enjoyed both a good argument and a good adventure, as long as he didn’t have to walk too far.
We trekked for about thirty days in the Himalayas doing the Annapurna Circuit, in an unconventional manner, which will come to light as the story unfolds. To get to the starting point of the trek, we bought a ticket for the bus. Not lucky enough to grab a seat each on the inside of the bus, Dean and I, with our hired guide, Naba, were seated on the roof of the bus. This trek was sure to be interesting, if we could get there in one piece. That bus, that we were on top of, was not driving a straight, smooth roadway. Picture the opposite: a twisty-turny, gravel, crumbling donkey track along the side of a mountain with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet if the bus driver was to make a wrong turn, or get too close to the eroding edge. Not to worry — the horn worked well and seemed to be the sole means of defensive driving techniques employed.
We had flown into Kathmandu late and were immediately wooed by several touts wanting us to take his taxi. We picked one, told him our destination: the Kathmandu Guesthouse and agreed on a price. We fell asleep and in the morning made our way to their breakfast room and ordered our first lassi of the trip which is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and fruit. The server was a sweet and most attentive Nepali man who put his palms together and bowed his head at us, ‘Namaste’. Dean said to me afterward that he was an example of ‘service without servitude’. When we returned to the Guest House after a walk all over Kathmandu and through the fascinating market, the sight we saw was like something out of an old fashioned orphanage. All of the staff of the Guesthouse were in the main lobby. They were fast asleep, lying on straw mats and wrapped in wool blankets like toasty sausage rolls on a baking sheet. If one rolled over, so would they all.
The next evening, we attended a slide show for a river rafting expedition that we thought was too expensive for our budget. This cool group of Westerners with several Nepalese had started a river rafting group which charged $200 US for a five-day expedition on the Kali Gandaki River. After eating several bowls of incredibly delicious, tallow-popped pop-corn and drinking a few of their complimentary rum drinks each, it seemed that we suddenly had enough money to go on this expedition. It was a great decision as we had a blast. We met several other fun and adventurous travelers on the trip too.
This is a group of children we met on the beach who were running and tumbling together. Suddenly, there was a whistle from their mom and off they ran, full tilt UP the mountain. So fit.
Next we went trekking: the Annapurna Circuit hike. Here I am on top of the bus enroute to the starting point of the big trek. From on top of the bus, I asked hubby to buy me a pop (Canadian speak for soda) from a place advertising GOOD FOODING AND LODGING. I liked that sign, although I was feeling rather queasy by that time.
The trek was, of course, amazing. We did about 20 k per day, depending on weather and best stopping places and Tea Houses, which were known to our guide, Naba. We saw incredible beauty all around us.
The trail was often quite rough and sometimes included donkey trains — which were tricky because you had to be sure to get to the inside of the donkey train. They could easily bump you off the trail. That would be bad.
We would see tiny women carrying huge loads of wood on their backs. We even saw a porter carrying an injured person in a chair strapped to his back. Heading to the hospital many tens of kilometers away.
After a week or so, we got into the snow at elevation. This came with the obvious challenges due to the cold and wet and the need to be very careful about stepping properly so as not to slip off the trail or anything. Being Canadian, we are naturally pretty good about understanding the slipperiness of snow, but we were meeting other travelers from non-snow countries, particularly Ozzies and South Americans who were having trouble with it.
We finally made it to Thorung Phedi which sits at a cool 4,538 meters above sea level. This was the jumping off point for the Thorong La Pass with an elevation of 5,416 meters. There was a large group waiting for a clearing in the weather so as to safely set out for the pass. This was February – so, lots of snow. As a group gathered in the smokey dining hall with large tin cans full of smoking coals to warm us under the tables, we decided to leave at 4 a.m. after a breakfast at 3 a.m. There were about a dozen of us: a couple of Swedes, an American, a Japanese girl, a couple of Ozzies, a couple of New Zealanders and a Chinese guy, plus us two Canadians.
With headlamps blazing on some heads, we started up the mountain. Step, breath, step, breath. It was slow and steady. Would we ever get there? After a couple of hours, my hands were frozen. Our guide gave me his mittens which were toasty warm. He just smiled at me gently. He had done this pass many, many times.
We finally made it to a little shack which was at 5,000 meters. The weather worsened. The wind blew colder and stronger. Then ice-pellet snow began to pelt us like tiny sharp knives. We could tell that our attempt at the pass was not going to work today. Even if we could make it over, there was no way we were going to drag these other folks with us, and besides, that, there was six more hours down the other side, before the next village. The American woman with her state-of-the-art Arctic hiking gear and porter went on into the storm, but we turned back and headed down. A week later we met up with some of the folks from the snowy pass attempt. They told us they were waiting on us to decide about whether they would attempt the pass that day or not. ‘Why us?’ we asked. ‘Because you’re Canadian.’ they said. ‘You know snow and weather. If you weren’t going, neither were we.’
So we trekked down to the bottom, re-grouped in Pokhara for a couple of days and then went back up the other side for another ten days. I celebrated my thirtieth birthday in Tatopani. Dean arranged for the baking of a cake for me. I was very surprised and pleased.
After trekking, we decided to head to the Royal Chitwan National Park for a week at sea level and with warmth and sunshine, plus the odd elephant or two.
We met this hilarious traveler who behaved just like Jerry Seinfeld and knew all the funny lines too. So, of course we spent time with him, walking about and telling stories, laughing and being silly.
A comment on the people of Nepal. We have yet to meet a nicer culture, although Cuban would be close. The Nepalese are cheerful, gentle, kind, strong and thoughtful. It was an honour to spend time in their exceptionally beautiful country.
Yesterday I asked my friend Victoria if she wanted to get out for a mid-afternoon walk in a nearby Watershed Nature Preserve, just a few minutes from our Nova Scotian town. She had never been there she said as I explained where it is located. She asked if it would be a tough walk because she still had a sore leg from taking a tumble over a root while walking Cape Split the weekend before. My response:
‘No, it’s just a little stroll’….
Into the woods we wandered, after taking a big swig of water. ‘Are you bringing water?’ Victoria asked. My response:
‘No, I never carry water for a short walk. I just top up now.’…
Our first stop was to look at the old Reservoir Lake, walk over the new small log bridge and then along the shore of the lake for a little bit. Then, a hard right into the woods again and it was there that I thought it would be a good idea to go on the Ravine Trail for a few minutes. There was not a soul around and the trail was quite nicely marked with bright orange tape on trees the whole way. The problem being that my phone rang and so I was not really watching as we got further and further along the trail that I had previously thought we would just be on for 5 minutes or so. I had been distracted and wasn’t really watching the way and thus missed any chance of getting off the trail and heading back to the car.
Victoria asked me if I knew this trail? My response:
‘Nope, but I can’t image it will be too hard to figure out. This park can’t be THAT big. Right?
We saw startlingly green ferns bathed in a beam of sunlight and stopped for a moment to admire them. Little creeks and small waterfalls. I was tempted to take a drink from the rushing water, but, thought better of it lest I give Victoria a heart attack. She is from a medical background. Enough said. I informed Victoria of the cool item I had seen on TED talk called the LifeStraw. That you can just use the straw to drink from even stagnant water and it is totally safe. In fact our friend Daisy and her boys had used one in Australia on a hike there. I had two LifeStraws at home. Oh well. It takes days to die of dehydration, right?
We forded a few boggy areas, stirring up many a biting bug: black flies and mosquitoes. Victoria then showed me an angry red bump on her forearm and explained that she gets a bad reaction from black fly bites. Oh wait, let me dig out my emergency bug dope for you. I thought as I reached over my shoulder for my small day pack. Nothing. Didn’t bring anything on this ‘stroll’ except my phone and a tissue…we were now approaching two hours in the woods. Victoria’s face was getting pink.
I started to imagine what we would need to do if we couldn’t find our way out of this pretty place. We would have to hunker down and try to stay warm until morning and then just walk until we would come to a road. I was loathe to get hubby Dean to come look for us, should we then all be lost in the woods. My imagination was getting the better of me. We had hours of daylight yet. For sure we would find civilization before dark. Right?
I said to Victoria: ‘It could be worse, we could have a fifty-pound pack on our backs.’
‘And an army radio,’ chimed in Victoria, ever the good sport. We both had army experience, mine Reg force, hers Reserve. An army radio is an army radio, is an army radio. We both knew that to be true.
Over another log bridge, a glimpse of a ruins of an ancient moss-covered stone bridge then squealing like school girls when a brown stick wriggled furiously away from our falling feet. Next, up a soft pine-needle trail where the path split. One way went slightly down through a nicely cut trail into a sunny meadow, the other went slightly up and into a dim tangle of woods. The upward tending trail was marked with orange tape and upon inspection of the map just now, the very map we didn’t have yesterday, it would have taken us on a incline back up to the parking lot in about 2 clicks. We chose the downward sloping pathway and walked for about another forty minutes coming out at a country road.
Looking right we saw L’Acadie Vinyards. I smiled with relief. I knew exactly where we were. I may or may not have been here before, sampling their wares… I said, ‘Okay, now we have to follow this road left and then left again on the next road and the next.’ It would have been 5 clicks more.
‘Can’t we just go in and have some wine? Couldn’t Leo come get us?’
My response: ‘Um, YES! What a fabulous idea!’ My son Leo had his licence now. He could come get us.’
Much like that old much-loved but very corny tv show we all watched as kids in which a group heads out for a ‘three-hour cruise‘ and ends up on a deserted island for years and years…we had headed out for a wee twenty minute stroll and ended up in the woods for about three hours. It all ended well. Our worst fears were not realized and we even had wine and then a cutie come pick us up and pay the bill. Gotta like that.
We had zigged when we should have zagged. Ever done that? How did it end up for you?
~Leave a comment below.~
(Thank you google and those who took them for the pictures!)
My son, Leo’s favourite toy of all time was Buzz Lightyear, the action figure who emerged from the 1995 block buster movie Toy Story. He wanted the action figure very badly. We would make special trips to the toy store just to look at them and imagine owning one. The weird thing was that we had more than enough money to buy one but, at the time, I just didn’t think it would be good for Leo to have everything he wanted. The Buzz Lightyear action figures were retailing for about $75 plus tax, at the time. I thought that it would be too much to just go ahead and buy him one. Don’t worry, Leo didn’t want for much. He had a lot of toys and his own room with a double bed, a hand-made quilt with a space theme from two of his Aunts in Newfoundland, and, he had me all to himself as I was a full-time stay-home mom for his first five years. He was much loved. I just didn’t want to spoil him. There’s a fine line.
One day, Auntie Bonnie came to visit and we decided to head to Kitchener for the day and go thrift shopping at Value Village and then have lunch. Thrift shopping is so much fun. The thrill of the hunt for something of great value at a low, low price.
We were wheeling our way around the store. Leo was getting a ride in the cart and as I say, we were just getting warmed up when…low and behold, on a shelf with many other toys…there was…
NONE OTHER THAN…
CAN YOU GUESS???
BUZZ LIGHTYEAR!!! The one and only. And the exact size of the ones he had seen at the toy store.
Suddenly, everything slowed waaaaaay down. There were a few other people in the same aisle. If you can believe it, there was a boy closing in on the same area where we were. The boy was looking at Buzz. My hand was reaching. His hand was reaching. I didn’t want to muscle a toy away from someone much, much smaller than I, but then…
the boy reached for the frisbee instead. Whew!
My hand grasped the cool hard plastic of the toy’s mid-section. I held him up. He was perfect, except that someone else had loved him quite well before. It was obvious. Because he was missing a boot.
Leo didn’t care. He grasped Buzz and hugged him tight. ‘My own Buzz, Mommy?’ he asked. ‘Yes, sweetheart, your own Buzz.’ He was one happy little gaffer that day.
Buzz did not leave Leo’s chubby fingers for days. It was as if he was glued there. If someone asked about the missing boot, he simply explained that Buzz had lost a boot on a dangerous space mission and then he would hold Buzz tight and sail him over his head with a sonic whooshing sound, ‘To infinity and beyond!’
One day, Leo was running in our house on the ceramic tile and took a spill. There went Buzz, flying across the room and smashing on the tile. When Leo retrieved him, he was missing an arm.
I did a bit of research and found out that the Disney Thinkway Toy Company had an office located in Markham, Ontario which was just around the corner form Dean’s office at IBM. I called the company and explained that we needed some repairs done on a very much loved Buzz Lightyear toy. They said to simply bring it in and leave it with them for about ten days. They would see what they could do. We explained to Leo that Buzz had to go in for repairs. After awhile, Leo understood and said goodbye to Buzz.
The next day, just before they closed, Dean walked into the Disney Thinkway office with the old Buzz. The man behind the counter said, ‘You must be the people who called about repairs to an older Buzz Lightyear.’ Dean nodded and held up Leo’s Buzz. The man nodded knowingly, seeing the missing boot and missing arm. He then said, ‘I told my boss about your wife’s call and how your son loves Buzz so much,’…the man then reached under the counter and handed a shiny brand new Buzz to Dean. No charge, as long as they could have the old toy to study. Dean gladly surrendered old Buzz.
Leo awoke in the morning with the shiny new Buzz beside him. You never saw such a happy youngster. Not wanting to run with Buzz anymore, he shuffled into our room and sang out, ‘it’s morning time Mom and guess what? Buzz is all fixed up!’
In the summer of 1989, while posted in Lahr, Germany, I was asked to join a marching team as the token female, to head to Holland for the four-day International Nijmegen Marches, which is the largest multi-day marching event in the world. It has happened every year since 1916 to promote sport and fitness. Military participants walk forty kilometers per day for four days in a row, in formation of 20-soldier teams. Almost fifty thousand marchers now walk this walk every year.
At the time, I was a transportation platoon commander in Supply and Transport Company in 4 Service Battalion in the Canadian Army. To put it simply, I had a platoon of 30 soldiers who drove MAN 10-ton trucks (like these bad boys below)
which would carry supplies: ammunition, water, rations, various items, and spare parts needed by both forward fighting troops and other support units within the Brigade. During peace time, we conducted training operations such as weapons use, field exercises and fitness competitions to improve morale, esprit-de-corps and to prepare for future deployments.
As the Platoon Commander, I routinely conducted all manner of administrative duties, personnel evaluations and reports, test and inspection readiness, subordinate training, orders groups, equipment maintenance checks, and many other duties in accordance with my rank and position. In a field unit, staying physically fit is one of the requirements of the job. Five days per week, we did physical training first thing at 7:30 am. Joining the Nijmegen March team covered the fitness requirement and provided an adventure and a trip to another country, all expenses paid.
A month prior to the event, the march training began. In combat boots and combat uniform, we would form up, two by two in lines and walk for eight to sixteen K out through the German countryside, along farmers fields, river-side pathways and over trails through small woods. Back then, in ’89, there were no ‘devices’ to listen to, other than the odd Walkman, which almost no one had anyway, and nothing like spotify or itunes or podcasts to listen to. Marching in formation was a little bit like torture. The back of one head to stare at and exacting ‘left right’ pace to maintain for the whole two to three hours. Thankfully, there were a few songs we would sing for a while. One soldier knew all the words to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’. You can get anything that you want at Alice’s Restaurant…(by Arlo Guthrie). It was only slightly annoying to listen to it after about the second time, but, well, what could be done? ‘Just take one more step. Now, one more step,’ became my mental litany. Most of the time, I was extremely bored and under-challenged by this walking. Not only that, I couldn’t easily ‘talk it up’ with the soldier beside me because of the need to maintain a professional ‘distance’. Sometimes being a female officer could be both isolating and awkward. It was tough to stay positive and pleasant but that became another litany. Stay positive and pleasant.Just one more step. Stay positive and pleasant. I chalked this training up to good discipline. One could never get enough discipline. Am I right?
We went to Nijmegen by bus. It took about six hours, due North, and when we arrived, there was already a tent city erected by the forward party and we were assigned to our tents and to our cots, within the tents. We were to begin Day 1 at 06:00 the next morning. The route for the four days formed somewhat of a clover leaf out and around the city of Nijmegen. The route wound its way through the Dutch countryside with its green pastures, cows grazing, chickens running, fences diminishing into the distance.
One time, a civilian marcher was playing the bagpipes and low and behold all the cows in the field got curious and began to trot toward the fence to more closely see the man. Thankfully, at the fence, the cows stopped and then just stood and stared, chewing their cud, looking bemused and fluttering their long eyelashes at the bagpiper. Could it be that these ladies thought the bagpiper was a well-hung bull ready to service them? One will never know.
At ten K, twenty K and thirty K marks, we would come upon our unit’s flag and see our kitchen trucks, first aid station, water stations and porta-potties in a field. We were well taken care of. There would be a menu of foods or snacks and drinks for us, including huge schnitzel sandwiches. I don’t think I ever went hungry, not once, while in the Canadian Forces. We would sit on the grass with our plate and drink and rest for twenty minutes before beginning again. One doctor attached to our unit even organized a child’s swimming pool with ice for us to soak our poor feet at the end of the day.
While resting, we could also inspect our feet for the dreaded blisters. I am pleased to report, I didn’t get a single blister. Fortunately, a friend had told me of the wonders of moleskin and how to wrap it over the heel in such a manner as to provide fool-proof protection against blisters. Secondly, Vaseline on and in-between the toes. I now pass this on to anyone I know going on a long walk. Blisters are nothing to sneeze at in a long, multiple day march,hike or walk. Good feet are crucial to the success and comfort of the walk. Bad feet can be debilitating and very painful especially if they also become infected. Game over. On training at CFB Borden called Environmental Specialty Land, which I did just after Nijmegen, our final test of the course was to complete a night march from Stayner, Ontario to the back gate of the Base, about 30 K with packs and rifles. We started at 11:00 pm and we walked all night. Our friend Andy carried a huge boom box up on his shoulders and had it cranked and playing ‘FINAL COUNTDOWN’ by Europe, the whole way. Song finishes. Rewind. Song begins again. We were all very sleep deprived because we had been in and out of the field for weeks, up all night sometimes on missions, patrols and then duties and classes during the day and with no real time to recuperate. Myself, I was literally falling asleep as I walked, while carrying my rifle at the ready. There was this line that they would shout whenever someone was in danger of hitting the deck due to exhaustion: ‘SOLDIER! MAKE SURE YOU HIT THAT DECK BEFORE THAT WEAPON DOES!!!’ Kinda sums it all up, doesn’t it?
Anyway, the Captain of this officer training course was Airborne – an elite group of Infantry. His feet turned to hamburger during this march. He had to get in the first aid truck and be driven to base. Embaaarassing. It wouldn’t have been so bad but he had bragged about what a great and fit soldier he was. Of course, HE didn’t know the secret of the moleskin. Myself, Dean and Nee sure did, and anyone else who cared to be prepared. I had just finished the Nijmegen marches a couple of months prior, so I was fully aware.
Back in Nijmegen, by the time we walked into the camp at the end of the forty K march, we were done. I would soak my feet in ice water for ten minutes, show the good doc the mysterious lump on the top of my foot which may or may not have been a stress fracture, he said. Having eaten at all the stops during the march, I certainly didn’t need more food, so I simply made my way to my tent, tucked my combat boots under my camp cot and fell fast into a heavy sleep until the next early morning.
I like this picture I found of a female soldier fast asleep on her arm. There was no staying awake during rest breaks. The need to sleep just took over.
We Canadians are very much loved in Holland because our troops liberated the Dutch from the Germans in World War II in 1944. So, anytime we would come across large Dutch civilian marching groups, they would holler and cheer and sometimes sing a song for the Canadians. Weren’t we proud to receive these accolades. We would all smile and wave bashfully and then take one more step. Just one more.
Everyday there would be at least one city to march through. There would be a lot to see and invariably young children would run along side our team for a bit. We would give out those tiny Canada flag pins and then receive a sweet smile, sometimes with missing front teeth. A few times, a tiny warm hand would slip into mine and we would walk together for a few minutes. Priceless memory.
While marching, there would often be other Canadian teams from other units unrelated to ours, except that they were also Canadian and also posted in Germany. For instance, there was an Armored Team, an Infantry Team, a Signals Team and the like. I remember that I so enjoyed when the French Canadian Teams would be near us. They would invariably be singing their old regimental songs which I found to be incredibly moving and haunting. They would often pass us singing these songs in their deep rich voices. Sharp beret with dark-haired head tilted to the ground. Arms swinging. Boots hitting the trail in perfect synchronicity. It was mesmerizing. One song they sang which is about the building of the dam across the Manicouagan River in Quebec, was especially sorrowful. If I try hard, I can still hear their deep voices singing this incredible song by Georges Dor. It is a song of longing, boredom and homesickness.
After the last day, there was a huge party in which a lot of Heineken were quaffed and then, the next morning, we boarded the bus back to Southern Germany.
Nowadays, there are so many folks wanting to participate in the Nijmegen Marches that they have set a limit of forty-seven thousand marchers per year. Doing this march was an honour and is a fond memory.
(All photos courtesy of google images — I would have loved to have some of my own photos but I didn’t own a camera back then and there were no smart phones either.)
Last summer an idea struck. How about I take summer seriously? How about I make a concerted effort to get out on our beautiful Nova Scotia beaches on as many nice days as possible. I own my own business and can work flexible hours, so in keeping with the tides, I could arrange my work to allow for beach walks on nice days. Why in keeping with the tides? Well, in this part of Nova Scotia, at high tide, there is often no beach to walk on. Also, there is a danger of being trapped down the beach should the tide be coming back in. It happens to unsuspecting folks every year. Best to walk the beach knowing what the tides are doing. Rainy days would be for catching up on office work. So, no waiting for weekends. I would take summer seriously. I just wanted to eat those beaches up. The second half of this was that I wanted a friend or two or a family member or two to accompany me on each said beach walk. I started asking around and several of my friends sounded interested.
First up was Blomidon Beach at low tide, once with my friend Lisa, then Jessie (and dogs) and then again with Victoria. Victoria was home for the summer holiday and as eager to walk the beaches as I. That worked! Blomidon Beach is a red, flat beach with red sheer cliffs hemming it in. There are often tiny little avalanches of red stones coming down off those cliffs. All along the top of the cliffs there are nesting holes for the swallows that make their homes there.
Next up was Scott’s Bay with Victoria. It was perfect. As we rolled along on the highway above Scott’s Bay, we each gasped at the beauty of the scene that emerged on approach to the big hill leading down into the village. The Big Blue, I like to call it. And, I can not visit Scott’s Bay without recalling fondly a novel I thoroughly enjoyed which is set in historic Scott’s Bay by local best-selling author Ami McKay. The Birth House is about the age-old struggle of women to be in control of their own bodies. Imagine. I would look at the houses and flapping colourful clotheslines and imagine the characters from that novel. Their tough but incredibly rich lives…all of it happening right there.
The tide was way out. Victoria parked the car and walked over the small bridge onto the pebbles of Scott’s Bay beach on the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world. We walked out and off to the left, stopping to remove our footwear and talking and relating while we stepped into the cool grey mud of Scott’s Bay at low tide. The floor of the ocean. Part of the time the grey mud was quite soft and deep. The temperature was perfect. The sun was high. It was warm but not hot and it was ideal. We walked and walked, the only two souls on the vast, shimmering beach:
Shiny Happy People Laughing.
Afterward we had lunch on the patio of ‘The Haze’ Diner which is located close to the beach, on the highway approaching Scott’s Bay. It was a good day. Homeward bound we stopped at Stirlings Farm Market for something to cook up for supper. Feeling refreshed, kissed by the sun, salt, wind and sand, we had taken summer seriously.
The next trip out was with my friends Mary and Victoria and over to Penny Beach at Avonport. Another perfect weather day and off we went, walking way down the beach, marveling and exclaiming at the beauty all around us. There was so much to see, to examine, to show each other and to talk about. I told them about the time, years prior, that Daisy and I had been on this beach, eating a picnic lunch with our three boys when we saw a group approaching us. They hadn’t even seen us, they were looking at the rock, the shale, the pebbles, the eagles, the shore birds. I told them that I was curious about what they were doing. Turns out it was a famous scientist and his students and they had come a great long way to see this beach. He said it was world famous to geologists. That it was once an inland sea and would have had a plethora of very large creatures and dinosaurs on it. The boys were quite impressed. I was just so thankful to have had the opportunity to glimpse them in action.
Anyway, within no time we realized that three hours had slipped by. On Mary’s suggestion, which surprised me because I think of her as quite fastidious, we walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, knowing that the trip back would be through sticky mud. In Nova Scotia, when one says they walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, that can be a LOOOOONG way — like a mile sometimes. No kidding.
Another benefit of walking on beaches with friends is that sometimes surprising qualities and details about them (and me) emerge. In my experience it has always been a positive and our friendship grows deeper as we admire the beauty, sometimes sharing stories and anecdotes and sometimes just walking silently bathing in the salty breeze, sometimes bending to help the other wash the tenacious mud from their feet or the troubles from their hearts.
At the water’s edge, it was astoundingly beautiful, the patterns in the rock, the ripple of the waves, the call of the gulls and before that, the emerald green moss on the tiny, perpetually trickling runoff waterfall. We savoured it all and it was magical. Returning to the parking lot, we sat at the hexagonal picnic table and each ate a Valley apple and drank fresh water from our water bottles. So simple. So good. The day had been perfect. We had taken summer seriously.
Next it was Blue Beach with Rachel and Simon. I picked them up and off we drove on another very pretty day. Blue Beach is located between Avonport and Hantsport on the Minas Basin. It wasn’t a far ride for us. We parked and started the wee jaunt down the dirt road to the beach. Every time I walk down that dirt track, my mind is aflutter with memories of the previous walks on that beach. The time my step-sister was visiting with her family and her palpable anticipation of this fossil-riddled beach. She normally walks with a cane. Not that day. She was just too excited and the adrenaline was rampant. She was almost skipping. Then, while she and hubby examined fossils, I spent time with their two children and Leo. Skipping stones and doing handstands, running and tumbling, chasing and being chased and getting wet with furry, joyful Lady. A great memory. Leo idolized his big cousins and it was sweet to watch.
So, as it emerged, we could see the distinctly blue tinge of the rock and sand which forms this incredible beach. We all walked slowly and methodically, heads bowed to the rocky beach surface to notice its treasures, to bend and point and remark, three heads came together peering at marvels on the ocean floor. It was magical. At some point, hunger called us back to the car and away we swept to a close-by coffee shop for a snack and a drink.
Betty and I did Medford Beach together, parking in the cul-de-sac and walking down the grassy slope, across the tiny bridge and carefully stepping down the eroded small cliff, onto the red sand, beside the fresh run-off stream. The dogs were with us and into it full tilt. The chance to run free, smelling all the smells and swimming willy-nilly made their tails wag furiously happily. Following their lead, we kicked off our footwear, sinking our feet into the cool red sand. Then we walked and walked and talked and talked solving all of the problems of the world.
Later that summer, Leo and Dean and I went down to the Kejimkujik Seaside Adjunct for a hike on one gorgeous day. It was about a ten-km hike, partially over the windswept hills and then down along a boardwalk and onto a rocky beach. As we approached the beach, we could see what looked like structures sticking up all over it. Turned out, to be many many inukshuks. They were everywhere and they lent a surreal quality to the remarkably pretty beach. Leo immediately began to take photos of them and then to build one himself.
From the rocky beach, we walked on a windy woodland trail and then out onto an incredible white-sand beach where we spent some time contemplating a swim. Make no bones about it, the water was, as always, freezing. Dean managed to submerge for a split second then rushed out to the warmth of the sand. It had been a lovely day and finished on a spectacular beach.
In was a fantastic summer mission which also included Evangeline, Hirtles, Avonport, Crescent, Margartsville, Aylesford, Kingsport beaches, all with their various qualities ranging from fine white sand to pebble to rocky, red sand, blue sand, golden sand. Near, far, remote, popular, unheard of, it was a grand summer full of wonder, family and friendship. No better kind.
We adopted a tabby kitten from a friend in Polar River, NWT. She was a tiny cat, but she was mighty. We named her Sahtu after the region by that name in the Arctic, but, perhaps we should have called her SAW-TOOTH, as one of my nephews would call her.
We were living in Inuvik then and in the midnight sun of the summer, insects grow freakishly large. Sahtu learned to hunt by catching the massive dragonflies in mid-flight. She would jump up and grab them in her two front paws. Then… she would eat them, turning her sweet head to one side and crunch as she used her chewing teeth to devour her catch.
The first night she was with us, she slept on the fridge. She was tiny and she had never seen two big dogs before. Within a matter of days, however, she was completely in charge of the dogs. We had an old couch that the three of them would share. Sahtu would put her two dainty paws on Delta
or on Grizzly and she would knead their abdomens. She would sometimes receive a nice big lick but never a growl. The odd time, not wanting her attentions, Delta or Grizz would quietly get up and vacate the couch to her. The dogs just loved her. They were ten times bigger, and could kill her with one powerful shake, or one absent minded bite, but they were mush in her green-eyed gaze.
We moved to Toronto after that, all five of us, and had this great three-story brick house at Birchmount and The Danforth. I am fond of saying that we were in the North Beaches, but those who know Toronto, know we were actually in Scarborough. There was a large, leafy shotgun fenced-in yard that the dogs would run the length of to chase their nemeses: SQUIRRELS, barking all the way. Never, of course, catching them. They should have recruited tiny Sahtu. She could catch anything. When Dean was studying and inevitably scrunching waste paper into balls, Sahtu would come a-running, the first time was out of curiosity at this new sound, the scrunching sound. Then Dean tossed the ball of paper high into the air and Sahtu executed a four foot high jump and twist to catch that ball of paper. After that, it became a game to her and a marvel to see. She had one lithe, muscular little body.
We had a little window over the kitchen sink that we would leave open for her to come and go. She was a happy little cat. We would put a bowl of food in a cupboard and we quickly taught her how to open the cupboard door. In she would go to eat in peace. Her food remained safe from the dogs.
The next year we moved to Virginia. Sahtu would come walking and hiking with us sometimes. My friend Nancy and her girls found it quite remarkable. We would be hiking through the woods and Sahtu would be following behind. We had a little bell on her which helped us keep track of her. Her cool feline presence added to the experience of hiking in the woods.
This one time, after we moved back from Virginia, to Milton, Ontario, we were living in an apartment out on highway 25 in the countryside. Going away for a few days, with our little guy, Leo and the two dogs, we decided to leave Sahtu with the affable young guy who lived in the apartment beneath us. We told him that if he left the low door window open, Sahtu could come and go and to simply keep her food and water full. After our weekend away, we returned to find what looked like blood and guts everywhere in the large front entryway and on the walls up to about four feet high. We found Buddy and asked what had happened, fearing the worst.
Eyes bulging out of his head to emphasis his words, he goes, ‘Man, that cat of yours is some kind of maniac hunter.’
‘What do ya mean? Little Sahtu?’ we asked, in harmony.
Still with the overly wide eyes, Buddy says, ‘Well, she may be tiny but she’s a force to be reckoned with! She caught a rabbit, bigger than her, and she jumped through the door window with it in her jaws! When I came out here it was half dead jumping around trying to escape her and it was bleeding EVERYWHERE. I had to get my hockey stick to kill it and put it out of it’s misery’. I am quite certain that Buddy had no idea what he was getting into upon agreeing to ‘watch’ Sahtu.
Another time, after we moved into our new house, we needed to have some electrical work done. My eldest brother Matt came over to do the work. Downstairs we had this huge basement which had a workroom at one end, which was unfinished with an open ceiling and a utility room at the other end, which also was unfinished with an open ceiling. From time to time, we would notice little Sahtu going up into the space between the ceiling and the main floor. She would often start in one end and come out the other, having done her rounds, looking at us as if to say, ‘Okay, my duty is done. Everyone can rest easy now.’
So, when Matt was having trouble telling a complex funny story while also pulling wire from the workroom to the utility room, he was getting frustrated because the wire just wouldn’t go through. His story came to a halt. I said, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe Sahtu can pull the wire.’ So Dean ran to get her little metal bowl full of kibble and added a bit of fresh and fragrant roast beef. I tied a light-weight piece of cord onto her collar. We then put her up to the opening in the workroom ceiling and…in she went. Quickly, quickly, Dean, Matt and I then clambered through the rec room to the other open-ceiling room where we shook her food bowl, making the distinct sound that she knew and loved — we often shook her food bowl to entice her to come inside the house. Within a couple of moments guess who’s green eyes we could see coming? Little Sahtu. Matt was very impressed and for a few moments we tossed around the idea of putting little Sahtu on the payroll and hiring her out to pull wire at other jobs.
Another testament to her hunting prowess was the time our old Army friend, Nee asked if we could bring her along to his cottage in Haliburton because it had become infested with mice. ‘Absolutely!’ We arrived at the cottage, in tandem with Nee and Pauline. Just as Nee was unlocking the cottage door, I said, ‘Let’s put Little Sahtu inside first and see what happens.’
‘Really?’ Nee asked, skeptical. ‘Okay.’
We opened the door a crack and put Little Sahtu inside.
A split second later she came out with a wriggling mouse in her jaws and..she ATE it, head first. All but the tail and the gizzard. Such a delicate little thing. Pauline stood frozen with dainty fist pressed to her mouth, horrified.
All night long she battled the infestation in that cottage. There were minor crashes and thumps and bumps as she became the scourge of the Haliburton mice.
A few years later, we sadly lost our Little Sahtu. We aren’t absolutely sure, and we never found her body or any other evidence, but there was a massive bald eagle scoping her out as she herself hunted in a field.
In early July 1993 we rolled into Polar River, just north of the sixty-sixth parallel in the North West Territories. We had been driving for several hot and dusty days on the road across Canada, from Newfoundland to Alberta and then straight North.
We passed through Whitehorse and Dawson City, Yukon and then a full day up the gravel Dempster Highway, two hours beyond the Arctic Circle.
We had driven in tandem for a week, driving ‘Betsy‘ our ’76 VW Van and our tiny Chevrolet Sprint we fondly called ‘Puny’. Unfortunately, Betsy didn’t survive the trip. Her engine blew in Whitehorse and, on a deadline to get to the job, we sold her body to a small Franco mechanic with the longest, most gorgeous ringlet hair we had ever seen. His dark ringlets reached way down his back. He saw me admiring it and said with a lop-sided grin: ‘the ladees, estee, they love my hairs, they are curly, non?’ I just wanted to touch it to verify that it was real. Of course my mind flitted back to the Francos marching in perfect formation in Nijmegen a couple of years prior, and singing their old, soulful regimental songs – making the Anglo teams look rag-tag by comparison. Such was their pride and fervor for their culture.
Anyway, while in Whitehorse, we ate at a restaurant that is still there today: Sam N Andy’s. Interestingly and coincidentally, there is a very real chance we were served by my very good friend, Daisy, who lives and works in our current Nova Scotia town. One day, decades later, Daisy and I came upon this nugget of truth while reminiscing about our Northern days.
So, Dean had accepted a one-year contract position as Recreation Director for a tiny northern community of 150 First Nations Gwich’in people and roughly ten whites living in about 25 houses. The houses were built on pilings that were anchored into the permafrost. There was a general store, an all-levels school, a gym, two churches, a health centre and a community office on a hill overlooking the confluence of two icy rivers. The setting was incredibly beautiful. It felt like the final frontier.
The first thing we did was attend a community feast. But, to call it a feast was a bit of a stretch. It was simply hot dogs, pop and chips, but, we were so pleased to finally be there and soon to be on a payroll again, after more than a year, that we were all smiles and best intentions. The local children took our hands and tugged us along.
‘How long will you be here?’ Charlie asked. They don’t mince words, I thought. They also were intrigued with our little black lab puppy, ‘Dempster’ whom we had on a bright blue leash and matching collar. Full of questions: ‘Why is he on leash? Does he bite? Why does he have a name? Do you feed him fish? Will he stay outside?’ And, of course questions directed at me like: ‘Is there a baby in your belly? (It wouldn’t be until 1998, 1999 and 2001 that a baby would be in my belly.) Where are your babies?’ These questions were telling.
At the feast, we met Allie, the daughter of the former old Chief Henry. Allie was quite articulate and confident. She told us of her recent huge adventure, trekking in Nepal. Little did we know then that we would be trekking in Nepal the following year, thanks to the seed planted by Allie at this little feast.
The Chief of Polar River, Gwen, was dysfunctional, mostly ineffective, extremely high maintenance and neurotic. She expected Dean to be at the gym facility seven days a week, twenty-four hours per day. He was hired to do a job and she wanted him working non-stop.
Poor Dean, who is overly kind, was exhausted by her neediness in a couple of weeks. The gym, thankfully, was a very nice facility, a couple of minutes walk from our apartment, and was perched on the edge of the forest which was millions of acres of wilderness. It was a state of the art building with a huge gym and fully stocked kitchen as well as Dean’s new office. Equipment galore: new, mats, rackets, nets. New cross-country skis and new canoes came later when Dean applied for and received a grant for them, as well as money to hire an instructor to come up and teach canoeing. The instructor was this funny young guy from Manitoba. He would exclaim, ‘I can’t believe I am being paid to teach the natives how to canoe’.
One of the main weekly events at the gym was the Wednesday night BINGO. Here was my husband with over seven years of higher education and a former Army Captain, calling BINGO once per week. It was comical, if a little sad. It was a big event and it came with big winnings. Hundreds of dollars were won each week. I hung out in the kitchen, offering burgers and pop for sale, the proceeds going into the gym coffers.
Dean was mandated to teach one of the local women how to run the gym facility and how to manage the budget and maintenance. This young woman had four young children and a husband who played around on her. Consequently, she wasn’t fully available. Life in Polar River was both gritty and frustrating. Like the day when one of the young kids who were always at the gym (free babysitting) told Dean, ‘I don’t have to listen to YOU, White Man’. That child was about seven years old.
The first tragic thing to happen to us that year occurred on a gorgeous evening a month after we arrived. I had been walking our lab puppy Dempster who was scampering ahead of me over the beaten-earth pathways. I was just skipping along and watching bemusedly as he chased a rodent under a house. That was the last time I saw him alive. He didn’t come out from under the house… that I knew of.
I was calling and whistling. Nothing. Then, a dirty blue pick-up drove up. A young Gwich’in man, Billy, rolled down his window and with a smoke in his mouth said, ‘Your dog’s dead’. And drove off.
I ran down to the gravel road beneath the hill where I was standing, hoping it was a cruel joke, and this is what I saw: My precious black lab puppy lying on his side with a growing pool of blood around his puppy head. I began to cry bitterly, hugging myself and bending at the waist in my grief, one hand over my mouth.
Suddenly, I was feeling overwhelmingly betrayed by this new place. How could this happen to me? How could he be so cruel? Looking back a quarter of century, I realize that I was dealing with culture shock and home-sickness, being so new in a very foreign place, albeit still in Canada.
The killing of our puppy didn’t mean much to young Billy because in his culture, they didn’t keep dogs as pets the way we do in the South. Someone went and fetched Dean and he came and wrapped his strong arms around me consoling me. Someone picked up Dempster in an old blanket and we drove down the Water Lake Road and Dean buried him while I sat in the car, still too upset to move, still in mild shock.
A few days later, on a sunny afternoon, a nice local man brought us a very cute puppy from his new litter. Our new puppy had pointy ears and muzzle. He was fuzzy black and white, wolfish looking and stunk of fish – the only kind of food he knew. We called him Delta, after the River Delta where he was born.
Dean worked away at his position and I picked up some work, just finding odd things to do that no one else would. I made pots of soup and trays of sandwiches for Band Meetings. I took people to the big town of Inuvik for shopping and medical appointments. I typed minutes to various meetings. Then I was offered a full-time position in the Community Office doing payroll, payables and receivables.
Later, I picked up the part-time position of Medical Centre Coordinator. There was this beautiful Medical Centre equipped with two examination rooms, incredible instruments and medications and a locked cupboard of narcotics. There was also a small apartment meant for a visiting doctor or nurse.
One day, I was out walking when someone ran up to me saying that little Suzy had been mauled by a dog. This was the second tragic thing to go down. I ran as fast I could to find her laying just out of reach of a big, mean Husky that was chained in the backyard of someone’s house.
She was bleeding profusely from the many open wounds in her legs. I screamed at anyone to go get Dean and to call an ambulance to come from the neighbouring larger community, Pierson, which was an hour away. I prayed, spoke calmly to her and pressed rags on her wounds until Dean rolled up in our vehicle. To this day, I do not know where her parents, friends or relatives were even though we were in the middle of town. She was eight.
We drove as fast as we could toward the Pierson Health Centre and the ambulance met us halfway. We transferred little Suzy into the ambulance and then followed it. She was put on the medical table and her ripped clothing was removed and as I watched the doctor poured hydrogen peroxide into her open wounds. She was laying on her belly repeating, ‘Owieeeee! Owieeeee!’ It occurred to me that this little girl was no stranger to pain. She received several hundred stitches to close her wounds. A year later, after returning from Nepal, I would find myself managing the medical clinic in Inuvik and working for that same doctor that stitched her wounds.
As Recreation Director, Dean had a major event to plan and carry out: the Spring Carnival which included many different competitions including snowmobile races and dogsled races. He spent days planning and coordinating this major event which would attract many visitors from out of town, and which had several thousand dollars in prize money. Very early on the day of the big event, we were still in bed sleeping when the phone rang. I picked it up: ‘Hello?’
‘Jordy’s dead’, said a voice.
Holy shit. ‘Dean!’ I screamed, ‘Get up! Jordy’s dead.’
We spent the next several hours sorting out Jordy’s body at his house. The RCMP came from Pierson and asked me all manner of lame questions. It was pretty obvious, if you had a nose, to detect how he died. The poor tortured soul smelled like a distillery mixed with a chemical waste plant. He died sitting up on his couch.
Next, we took his body by truck to the medical centre and laid it out on one of the beds. I had to stay at the medical centre until the coffin guy from Inuvik showed up. Also, two of Jordy’s female relatives came in to clean up his body in preparation for burial.
Despite the tragedy, it was an astoundingly beautiful sunny spring day and snow was melting rapidly. I was happy that Dean would have a successful carnival because of it, but the warmth wasn’t doing anything for Jordy’s body odor issue. For a while I talked to the coffin guy and his wife on the deck at the medical centre (there was no being inside with good ole Jordy). The funny thing about the entrepreneurial coffin guy was that he was an ER nurse.
When we finally left Polar River in July of 1994, we were happy to go – we had big plans to go travelling, but, we had many mixed feelings about the North. Yes, the Gwich’in of Polar River had hired us, but, did we really have any business nosing our way into a tiny First Nations community, for a year? Did we do any good at all, or did we just cause surreptitious upset, undermining and questioning of the old ways?
I really don’t know for sure but, I think that the people of Polar River could most likely run their own gym (especially now that Dean had taught his protege), their own BINGO nights, their own health centre and do their own payroll, if push came to shove. I think that maybe they had this idea that we Southerners knew more and could organize better but, we were left feeling that it would be best for them to leave our Southern ways and instead, get back to a more traditional way of life.
We had spent some time with the Old Chief Henry. He would come to our apartment door and want a cup of tea. He told us many stories of the old days and spending time on the trap line, drying fish and getting caribou for the whole community, going by dog sled over the snow. The traditional jobs that would be carried out by the women and the young men. How the children would play, tumbling and were cherished and spoiled by their Elders. Traditional feasts and celebrations. His eyes would glisten with the memories behind them. I was in awe of this man who had lead his people for over three decades. If I had a wish for the Northern Peoples it would be to go back to those ways and to embrace them once again, even if just little by little. Perhaps that is impossible, but, I’m gonna wish it anyway.
When my son, Leo was two, I became pregnant for the third time. We had had an early miscarriage before Leo came along in 1999. It was during the early weeks of this pregnancy that we decided to move to the East coast.
My husband, Dean found us a furnished two bedroom sublet with a garden and a patio and which accepted pets — we had two big dogs, at the time. Our new digs had a gas fireplace, two floors, two sunflower-upholstered love-seats, laundry just down the hall and an underground parking space. The apartment was just around the corner from the Public Gardens in Halifax and we thought we had died and gone to heaven.
While Dean would be at work down at Purdy’s Wharf (the two tallest, newest buildings on the Halifax harbour), Leo and I would be hanging out in the Public Gardens which are truly a beautiful place: green lawns; winding pebbly pathways; ducks, geese and swans in the ponds; a band-stand; a canteen with ice-cream stand — paradise!
If we weren’t in Public Gardens though, we might be out with our Realtor who was trying to find us a house. It was a hell of a market. A sellers market where everything was selling out from under us, even as we were walking through a house.
Dad and my step-mom, Wendy, came to visit for a week. They took the train from Ontario, getting into Union Station where we easily picked them up. The best memory of that trip was our day in Peggy’s Cove. The five of us, with jackets, water-bottles, sunhats and wallets piled into our wagon, along with our two big dogs, Delta and Grizzly, and away we went to the second best known landmark in Nova Scotia (the first being the Fortress at Louisburg Historical Site).
When we rolled into Peggy’s Cove, after the twisty-turny roads, we all felt a wee bit squeamish. We all wanted to just exit the car and get some fresh air and stretch the legs. I look over to the left, see a brightly painted old school house with a sign that reads: ‘FREE JAZZ CONCERT TODAY’. I say the words aloud to Dad and Wendy, it was like, well, music to their ears. Golden, simply golden. We clambered out of the wagon and made our way over the beaten-earth pathway to the Old School House. Walking in, Dad began to smile and to take Wendy’s hand. It was the music of their age. From their day. They began to dance. When the song ended, Dad said, ‘If I just had a black coffee now, I would be all set’.
‘Back in a flash,’ I said and out I flew, down the path and over to the cafe, which wasn’t far away. Peggy’s Cove is a tiny village and harbour with colourful wooden houses, flapping clotheslines, hat-wearing locals, tour buses and fishing shacks, and let’s not forget that lighthouse. Upon my return, the musicians were conversing with Dad and Wendy who both had large, wide smiles and the glassy eyes of reminiscence. They took a coffee each, thanking me, and sat back, the picture of relaxation and contentment. We hadn’t even seen the lighthouse yet. Imagine.
The next day we went to one of the best beaches on the south shore: Bayswater Beach. For once we were not fogged in but enjoyed the perfect weather. The added pleasure of this part of the visit was that my step-sister, Paulie and her family were staying in a cabin on a large beautiful lake and we arranged to meet them at the Bayswater Beach, it being the hometown area of her husband, Seth. Seth set up lawn chairs for everyone and then Dad said, ‘If I only had an ice-cream now, I would be all set’.
‘Back in a flash’. I carried back a couple of trays of soft-serve ice-cream for all of us bought from the lady in the truck selling all manner of take-out food. I marveled watching Dad and Leo who were obviously enjoying their cones the most. We had a very sweet time on the beach, Leo playing with his two big cousins in the warm stream of water that runs to the sea. The ocean, being the North Atlantic, was beyond freezing cold. Of course.
For the next couple of nights we stayed in a cabin, close to the one that Paulie and family were staying in and enjoyed hours of swimming, canoeing, story-telling and eating. It was ideal. I’ll never forget the interactions between Leo and Paulie. Especially when it came to saying I love you and goodbye. At that time Leo wasn’t speaking very much, but he was signing. And he would sign ‘I love you’ — dimpled hand held up with chubby ring finger and middle finger bent to his palm. This one day, while saying our goodbyes, he signed ‘I love you’ and then with his index finger pointing at Paulie, he signed ‘I shoot you’. When I saw this I was horrified. But Paulie, in her sweet gentle way, saw the fun in it and chuckled loudly making Leo want to do it again and again.
Then it was back to just the three of us, with now a jumbo-sized peanut in my belly, slowly, slowly getting bigger and stronger. Hearing our baby’s heartbeat and being told we were to have another boy, we were over the moon. His name would be ‘Dane’, after the great soccer player, Zidane.
Then one day, out of the blue, on the Friday morning of a long weekend, I was having tea and toast at Tina’s house, watching Leo and Jude playing and I began to get a strange sensation in my lower belly. It was the same type of feeling that would come at the beginning of a menstrual period.
A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.
Forest E. Witcraft
Mr. Laset was the quintessential good coach: kind, unselfish, knowledgeable and competitive when necessary. He coached me throughout elementary school for cross country running, gymnastics, volleyball, basketball and track. We had practices after school every day of the week. He was consistently present and consistently good to me. Over the decades I have thought of Mr. Laset many times and, every time it has been with fond memories. Kelly would say, ‘Marn, give him a call and tell him thank you.’ I didn’t really think he would remember me.
But, I searched for him and found a phone number and gave him a call…forty years later from three provinces away. I said, ‘this is Martha Valiquette, I am trying to find Lee Laset.’ His response:
‘How is my best point guard doing today?’
See, he said exactly the right thing! We had a wonderful chat on the phone. His memory is fabulous and we laughed about the old days. I thanked him again and again for all of the time and encouragement he gave me way back then.
Now my story about the Huronia Games…
When I was 10 years old, I was on the gymnastics team for St. Mary’s School. We would practise everyday after school and all day on Saturday during the gymnastics season. Mr. Laset prepared routines for the floor, finding music to suit the routine and then we would memorize and practice until we knew it cold. The routine for the balance beam and vault didn’t have music but all three apparatus had mandatory moves and lengths of routine.
There was a big meet coming downtown Barrie at Central High School. The day of the meet arrived. I caught a ride downtown with my teammate, Cassie, and her Mom. There were a lot of people there. Hundreds. The place was crawling with parents and gymnasts and coaches. Moms were fussing over their daughters’ hair. Dads were looking at schedules with their sons, a large arm encircling their small shoulders.
Gymnasts were warming up. When I stepped on the huge technical floor mat I was immediately impressed with its give. It seemed like I could bounce higher, split better, balance longer. I was in love with that mat. I watched some of the more talented gymnasts who belonged to clubs and wished I could one day be like them.
It came time for me to do my balance beam routine. I nailed the mount which required a lot of upper body strength, something I naturally had. I bounced off of the small spring board, placing both hands on the beam and then, with hips high, brought both feet into a wide straddle on either side of my body, but not touching the beam. I balanced that way for a few seconds and then placed my feet on the beam. From the wide straddle I made my way into the splits, held it with arms raised, fingers poised, then swung my back leg forward into a pike fold, then into the required back roll. From there, I gracefully transitioned into standing and went through the rest of my routine, conducting the required moves: standing balance with one foot held in my hand above my head; 360 degree spin and front roll and with various dance and rhythmic arm moves, made my way to the culminating move: the dismount. Mine was a front pike hand spring off the end of the beam. I did it and I stuck it. Arms up, arched back, chin high, head back. My teammates clapped and there were a couple of smiling, pretty moms I didn’t know who made me feel special. I walked off to find Mr. Laset who was working with some of my other teammates. Mr. Laset was spread thin watching over all of us.
Next up was the vault. Our score was the best out of three moves. I did a pike head-stand over, hand-stand over and high straddle over. I stuck all three pretty well and felt good about it. Mr. Laset patted me on the back and told me I had done well. So far so good.
After eating my brown-bag lunch, I checked the schedule and saw that it was almost time for me to do my floor routine. Again, I went to the mat for a warm-up and, again, I was impressed by the springy-ness of it. My music came on as I took my place on the mat. I
knew this routine cold so it was no problem to do it to the very best of my ability. The one toughest move was a hand-stand which was to be held for a few seconds and then a quarter turn down into the splits. I had practiced this move umpteen times in our basement rec-room. My friend Layla and I would put on music and dance and do gymnastics: cartwheels, hand springs, handstands, splits, rolls and often we would do this in the dark. Lucky we didn’t kick each other in the head.
Anyway, in my routine, I was wondering if I was ever going to actually be able to hold the handstand for five seconds. Guess what. I DID IT! Oh my, was I happy and very proud. After the splits, I turned forward and ended my routine with my elbows on the mat, my legs in a wide straddle, my dark, curly pony tailed head in my hands and a big smile on my face.
I would like to say the crowds went wild, but, no. There were very few spectators for me.
A little while later, we were rounded up and told that the closing ceremonies would be held and that we should quietly sit in our team. I sat down beside Cassie. She had had a good day and had completed all of her tough moves. She put her arm around me and told me that she had heard that I did REALLY well. I looked at her with a question on my face. How did she know that? She had been on the other side of the gym all day. She told me that her mom had seen my points. She said: ‘Martha, you’re in the medals’.
“WHAT???! What does THAT mean?’ I asked her frantically. ‘What do I need to do?’
‘You just need to go up there when they call your name’. Cassie said calmly. She was ultra experienced at this.
A couple of minutes later, I was called to the podium and a SILVER medal was placed around my neck. Holy cow!! I felt like a million bucks. Holy cow!! Mr. Laset patted my back and told me he was very proud of me. I had not expected this at all. I was shocked!
The meet was finished and it was time to go home with my silver medal. I imagined my family picking me up and hugging me wildly upon seeing it hanging around my neck. I imagined a celebratory supper of my favourite foods and my favourite dessert.
What actually happened was rather underwhelming and, as I write this now as a Mom, I feel quite sad for my ten-year old self who was somewhat neglected as a girl, at times. Nevertheless, I got out of the car and skipped up the driveway. Jumped up the front steps and bounced into the front door, my heavy silver medal swinging on my small chest, my curly pony tail flicking happily.
No one noticed my big smile or my big medal.
Mom and Dad were arguing in their room with the door closed and my three brothers were off in all corners of the house. My three eldest siblings would have moved out by then. No one asked about my big day. No one picked me up and hugged me wildly to celebrate my success. There was no celebration meal and no fun dessert. I had this great big family, but no one was there for me that day. No one watched me compete. No one watched me receive the silver medal. I was left wondering if it mattered. Did I matter? ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’
One thing for sure is that this circle of neglect is broken. My husband Dean and I have one son, Leo. We have watched all of his sporting events and Dean has coached many of his soccer teams. My parents were very likely doing the best they could with what they had in their tank. I am ever thankful for people in my life who were there for me when my parents couldn’t be. One such person was Mr. Laset. Speaking to him earlier today after forty years, made my year. The gift of his calm, smooth voice knowing and remembering me and chit chatting about our sports days in the mid-70s will be cherished. When he said, ‘How is my best point guard doing?’ Those words were golden. He was important in the life of a child. That child was me.
It was 1997 and we were living just North of the North Beaches of Toronto. Yes, okay, we were actually in Scarberia, but, whatEVER. We were there because Dean was attending a school called iti: Information Technology Institute, downtown Toronto. (We had just spent three years above theArcticCircle.)
With my two older sisters and Mom just a couple of hours drive away, and me without a job, I would travel down there each week or so to visit them and their families as well as to go see Mom. Mom was in a nursing home suffering with Pick’s Disease (basically, the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s) and was almost completely non-verbal by that time. She was, however, in fine physical condition, a fact that played with our minds. She could walk for ten miles, no problem, yet, she didn’t know us and she couldn’t speak. It was hard.
Mom loved chocolate milkshakes. I would pick one up and while she worked away on it silently, I would drive to a park so we could go for a walk. Those times were very sweet but heart-breaking at the same time.
In those days, we were all reading Deepak Chopra: QUANTUM HEALING; THE SEVEN
SPIRITUAL LAWS OF SUCCESS; AGELESS BODY, TIMELESS MIND; and PERFECT HEALTH. Eva, Amy and I would discuss the concepts at length and do our very best to incorporate the thinking into our lives. So, when it became known that Deepak Chopra would be speaking at a nearby venue, we were overjoyed and quite excited about the idea of attending his talk. We got tickets and eagerly awaited the big day.
(Now a days, good ole Deepak is friends with OPRAH and ergo, thus, therefore quite famous.)
On the day of the Deepak talk, I drove the couple of hours to Eva’s house and arrived at her door to find her in the middle of finishing off a second batch of her world famous (okay, not WORLD famous, but potentially…) home-made buttertarts. They were little individual pastry cups filled with a gooey mixture of butter, raisins and brown sugar. Mom had taught Eva how to bake when Eva was a girl. Mom had been an amazing baker and could whip up a pie or a fruit crumble, a cake or a batch of cookies pretty quickly, from scratch. Let’s not forget Mom’s sugar pie. Neighbours would lean in and whisper to each other about it, their knees weakening as they spoke. It was mouthwatering and the stuff of dreams. ￼Never under estimate the power of a French-Canadian’s sweet tooth!
I asked Eva why she wasn’t ready and she explained that there was a death in the family of a friend. She needed to drop off some buttertarts to the grieving family after the talk. Could I take a tray in my car and she would pick up our other sister Amy and meet at the venue. Okay, sure, I said. I took the tray of precious buttertarts. That was my first mistake. I laid them on the passenger seat. That was my second mistake. Backing out of her driveway, I headed down to the talk. It was about half an hour away. The buttery sweet smell in my car was overwhelmingly mouthwatering. My stomach began to grumble. I salivated a little as I looked at the tray of buttertarts. Oh my they were beautiful little items. The aroma of the fresh baked, still warm buttertarts was torture. Breakfast had been hours ago.
Playing the radio, I tried to distract myself by singing loud and off key to all the radio songs like Tanya Tucker’s remembering our family sing-songs featuring this very song:
Delta Dawn what’s that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by? And did I hear you say he was ameetin’ you here today To take you to his mansion in the sky She’s forty one and her daddy still calls her baby All the folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy ‘Cause she walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand Lookin’ for a mysterious dark-haired man….
It wasn’t helping. Now there was drool spilling out of the corner of my mouth. I pulled up to the parking lot attendant window and was permitted into the lot. I then reached over and grabbed a buttertart, and,
Oh my god it was good. It was incredible!!! My eyes rolled back into my head. The pastry was flaking all over my lips and down my chin. But wait, was that Deepak CHOPRA getting out of his car right there???!!! Holy shit. It WAS Deepak. I swiped at my mouth. I stopped the car, and while chewing furiously, rolled down the window. Deepak Chopra was walking over to me because I was waving at him with both arms like an idiot. He probably thought I was choking and that he would have to save me. He is an M.D. after all. My mouth bulged with buttertart. My lips could barely contain the delicious crumbs. The dark and mysterious Deepak was at my car door but I still could not speak due to the god-damned delicious buttertart that I was still masticating furiously.
I did the only thing I could do.
I opened my car door.
Climbed out and threw my arms around Deepak Chopra, getting a whiff of his spicey, exotic cologne. Then…moving slightly back from him, I looked into his deep, piercing, intelligent yet peacefully dark eyes as my crumb-coated lips somehow met his.
He was obviously accustomed to women throwing themselves at him. He wasn’t the least bit flustered.
At this point, the remainder of the buttertart was in my cheek and I was able to say something completely asinine:
Oh my god, I LOVE your work, Deepak!! You are an amazing writer!! You are doing wonderful things! You have helped me so much! If I wasn’t happily married…
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Okay, okay. Calm yourself.
His hands motioned me into relaxation and I nodded and smiled at him with crumbs falling out of my mouth. (Attractive? Most definitely Not!) I moved my car to a spot and berated myself for making such a fool of myself.
His talk was riveting. He stood at the edge of the stage and for two hours spoke about his books and his theories on life and health. I was really glad, by then, that I had eaten a second buttertart after kissing Deepak Chopra on the lips.
Now the sun’s gone to hell and
The moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line in your palm
We are fools to make war
On our brothers in arms
We’ve all lost someone who we are sure is a mistake of nature to have died. A friend, a relative or, a celebrity: John Candy. Robin Williams. Princess Diana. Why? Why would they die early? They who never hurt anyone, but, who only did good things and helped people or who made people laugh. Why were they taken from us? It just is not fair.
Uncle Ted was that person for us. Ted was married to my husband, Dean’s eldest sister Lanna. They got married in the seventies and built their bungalow from scratch on a dead-end street in a small city in Newfoundland. They had three children and raised them with the utmost care and attention. There are now several grand-children who will never be held, played with or read to by Poppy Ted.
When I met Ted, I knew instantly that he was one of those truly good people. With his clear, gentle eyes and sweet smile. Always helpful. Always offering quiet advice. Always chuckling at my lame jokes. Always taking Leo and going off for a good play, running around outside playing shoot ’em up games, flying Buzz around, or reading books or squished up into Leo’s play cubby building Lego. I would sometimes forget how much time had gone by. Leo would be so well amused, there was no need for mommy. One time, on a day we were expecting Ted and Lanna to arrive anytime, I over heard a conversation between two six-year olds: Leo and his buddy, Kevin from next door. Kevin was asking would Leo be able to play after lunch.
Leo’s response: Can’t. Uncle Ted is coming.
Kevin: ‘So? Do you want to play?’
‘Oh no, I’ll be playing with Uncle Ted.’
‘He PLAYSwith you? asked an incredulous Kevin.
‘Like, anything you want?’
‘Yeah. Anything I want,’ answered a dreamy Leo.
‘Wow!’ said Kevin.
Some other wonderful things that Ted would do. He would shovel driveways and mow the grass of the elderly in his neighbourhood. He may be out there for hours after a snow fall – come in for a bite to eat and a cup of decaf tea and then right back at it. There were scores of examples of Ted’s kindnesses, acts of forgiveness and incredible selflessness. We’ve heard the saying What would Jesus do?
What would TED do?
In military college, there were four cadets tragically killed. Over reading break, four of them went off to fly a Cessna. One of them already having his pilot’s licence. We never saw them again. It was a very small school. We all knew each other. We knew each other sometimes better than we wanted to know each other. We were struck dumb with the news of our missing classmates. We lived in this big old four-story building which was just like a Residence Dorm. Someone hooked up a major sound system outside the dorm and we all went to the windows of the south side of the building and held lighted candles while one cadet blasted Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits.
Everyone was wailing.
It was a powerful display of our misery for the loss of our classmates. I remember feeling completely helpless and very angry. Again, the question of why? Now that I am a mom, I could not fathom how any parent could survive a call about the death of their child. Imagine receiving that call, having raised your child and sent he or she off to college. Tragic.
When Mom was in her mid-fifties, she began, slowly, to lose her mind. Mom had always had a memory that would put anyone to shame. She could remember all the details. Who was born where, what time and how long each labour was. Birthdays of relatives and friends. The location of each pin in our house. Phone numbers and important details of her seven children’s lives. I remember calling home from Comox when I was posted out there and the dawning realization that Mom was losing her memory. She just could not answer my questions the way she would normally. She was almost stuttering and saying things like: I must be nertz! Mom did lose her memory. It didn’t go overnight though. It went slowly over the next fifteen or so years, until she was just a shell of herself. Sarah McLachlan sings a song called Mary. One time it was playing on the radio around the time that mom was getting more and more ill. Hearing it and the lyrics:
Mary walks Down to the water’s edge And there she hangs her head To find herself faded A shadow of what she once was
had me weeping and moaning at the early loss of such a great person. Another time, Dean and I were watching a movie in our basement apartment on a rainy day the months before we moved to the Arctic. There was a scene of an older woman in a nursing home who resembled mom in her looks, as well as in her dementia.
I began to cry.
I laid back on our bed and pulled my knees up toward my chest and rolled on my spine side to side. The sobbing came from deep in my centre with loud heaving moans that I could not stop. It was primordial. The feeling of loss was profound. I would have been embarrassed by this raw show of emotion but then I realized that I was grieving for the loss of my mom before she was even dead. That awful fucking disease had taken her long before her time. I missed her very badly. Mom was a good person. Everyone who knew her knew it. At her funeral, Mark sang his song that had grown men weeping with tears streaming down their faces.
Our special mother through all those years. Who gave us hugs and dried our tears. To help us out in every way. Always knowing just what to say.
A harder worker you could not find. Heart of gold and open mind. Thinking of others before herself. Even when she was ill of health.
But when Mom had the time to spare. Her special talents she would share. She swam the lake with graceful strokes. And sang us all the songs she wrote.
She would go on a painting spree. Paint the rocks white at number three. Paint the porch at number one. While singing her song, Please Mister Sun.
A gourmet meal was made from scratch. Pickerel, pike or small-mouth bass. Homemade soup and sugar pie. Crumbled fruit of any kind.
Even with the crosses she had to bear. Her strength and hope were always there. To get us through another day. In our hearts she’ll always stay.
So thank you Mom from all of us. For the care and love you gave so much. You truly are our guiding light. That will shine forever day and night.
We know you’ve finally been released. And now you’ll always rest in peace. AS you look down at us from heaven. Farewell for now, your loving seven. Copyright Dec 2001
Theory of loss? Could it be that it is not the event that is meant to teach us a lesson, but in the reaction to the event and in the love that is shown in support of the grieving? * In fact my sister Eva reminded me of it because I had been tearfully telling her about the tragic loss of a lovely 22 year old young man here in my neighbourhood. I was asking, ‘Why? Why should such a wonderful young person die?’ Eva reminded me. Perhaps it is just that simple.
* I just saw this idea portrayed in a television program called ‘Call the Midwife’.
When Dean and I were honourably released from the military in 1992, (see post A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance 🥂) we brought back a 1976 VW Van with us from Germany and called her “Betsy’. Like the one in the picture above (from google images) but our Betsy was dark green. We knew that travelling would be part of our lives, having already seen a lot of Europe and enjoying the experience of embracing other cultures and locals but, before seeing the rest of the wide world, we wanted to experience our huge, beautiful country first. We would travel every Province and each Territory with the mandate of seeing at least one National Park in each of them.
We spent the spring with Dean’s parents in Newfoundland, which was sweet, as it gave us some quality time with truly wonderful and good people.
To be in the vicinity of my father-in-law when he laughed was magical. He was like an elf with a sweet spirit and kind nature. When he would laugh, his shoulders would come up and his body would shake while his laughing smile took over his whole face. One couldn’t help but be drawn in.
Dean’s mom was an incredibly strong, kind and thoughtful matriarch. She worked tirelessly and subtly for her family (which was ever expanding with more and more grand and great grand-children), supporting them with Sunday Jigg’s dinners, knitted and crocheted sweaters, table cloths, toques, mitts, socks, home-made pies, jams, chow and beets, baby-sitting and advice.
Neither of them was given to showy acts of affection like hugs or spoken I love yous, but their love was obvious and ever present and seen in the way they looked at you, asked if you had had enough to eat or in the manner they would engage in conversation or try to help with a concern. Dean’s parents were the best kind of folks and it was my absolute pleasure to meet and live with them that spring. I could see why my Dean was such a wonderful young man.
We had spent hours getting Betsy ready for the trip. We wanted to be completely self-sufficient. We had tons of storage space in her. Under the seat in the back we neatly stored many containers of dried foods: a variety of beans, rice, lentils, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, dehydrated vegetables, coffee, hot chocolate and sauces. In the front top area we stored two dozen gallon jugs of water. There was also a coleman stove, fuel, pots, plates, utensils, knives and a cutting board. We packed her with our clothes, laundry soap, wash basin, books, candle lantern, down duvet, pillows, maps, hiking gear and more. We were kitted out AND we had several bottles of preserves as well as home-made wine and Bailey’s thanks to our sister-in-law’s suggestion. (We would have never thought of that. Ever.)
We had already seen lots of Newfoundland and had hiked several hikes at Gros Morne and Blow Me Down so off we went to the ferry and arrived in Cape Breton and pointed Betsy up the Cabot Trail. Its a highway trail that travels the edge of cliff for a few hundred kms with breath-taking scenery of the big blue below.
I have to say, the drive was terrifying. I would lean way over toward Dean as he was driving, away from the certain death of driving off that cliff.
Next was P.E.I. where we camped on a red sand beach and, in the pouring rain went to a pub in Charlottetown to celebrate our anniversary. A big indulgence, since we were on a very tight budget but which was quite lovely due to the rain and our special occasion.
On to New Brunswick where we stayed at Fundy National Park and walked on the ocean floor, marveling at the huge high tides, not knowing that a decade and a bit later we would be living in a tidal town just across the water (see post: A Simple East-Coast Life ) Next was Quebec where we visited La Maurice National Park and where we had picked up an old friend and her two pre-school boys to travel and camp with us for a couple of days. That was eye-opening. The boys never stopped and consequentially, nor did their Mom. We had been enjoying such decadence, doing whatever we pleased. Now learning that, as a parent, it’s not all about you. Who knew? It was a valuable lesson to behold.
At another park in Quebec we did an overnight canoe trip which was very scenic and physically challenging during the portages but, horrible in the torrential rain for hours.
In Ontario, of course there were many visits to make to family members and friends residing there. It was lovely to be greeted, questioned and welcomed and to bathe and launder our clothes was nice too. In Ontario we visited Point Pelee National Park with it’s long boardwalk that traverses some wet lands on the way to the sandy beach of Lake Erie. It is the southern most tip of Canada.
From there we heading North and wow, Ontario is a big province. We headed up to muskeg country and then across the top of Lake Superior. We stopped in an unmanned provincial campground and met a couple of wonderful travelers. A Dutch guy biking across Canada and a 65 year old Retired US Naval Captain who was traveling and sleeping in his station wagon: John Shaughnessy. We cooked up a simple pasta meal and invited them to join us at our picnic table. It was a lovely evening of travel talk. When we offered more food to the Dutch guy, he accepted. John Shaughnessy would say: ‘No, no. You go right ahead.’ Good answer, right?Another thing we liked about John Shaughnessy is how he would greet new people. It could be Joe Gas Pump Man, he would stick out his hand and say: ‘Hello. John Shaughnessy. How are you?’ It was fascinating comparing military stories with him. We had just gotten out of the Army and this was a retired US Naval Captain. That is four gold stripes to our two. To us, that was something. He was bright, adventurous, charming and intelligent. We would see him several more times over the next few months, partly because we encouraged him to travel our way. We all got along famously.
In Manitoba we visited Riding Mountain National Park and in Saskatchewan – Grasslands National Park. One night, in Saskatchewan, we pulled over at the edge of a vast farmer’s field. There wasn’t a soul or a vehicle around. We could see for hours, so we knew that for sure. We decided to camp there for the night and so, popped up the top of Betsy. We used to call the top of Betsy upstairs, as in, I’m going upstairs to bed. Watching the sun set in the West, we thought we had it all: each other; a wonderful adventure; good health; good humour (most of the time); and just when we thought that list was complete, we looked over to the other horizon to see the moon rising in the East. Such a big beautiful sky in the prairies. That was the first time I had ever seen both orbs in the sky.
In Alberta we
visited Elk Island National Park and it was here that we encountered a very large bison in the woods. We had been simply hiking along quietly, on a hot, twisty trail through woods of young saplings. Suddenly, looking up, we saw a huge snorting shape quietly staring at us and a bit beyond him, his harem lying on the ground. We retreated, rather hastily and then breathed a sigh of relief.
From there we headed north into to the bottom of North West Territories, stopping at Fort Simpson where, with John Shaughnessy, flew into Nahanni National Park in a tiny Cessna aircraft, puking all the way. No kidding. The updrafts of warm air batted us around crazily. Thank goodness for the airsick bag. The scenery was gorgeous but I, for one, was way too nauseous to enjoy it. Once on the ground we hiked into the falls. Spectacular and quite noisy. I immediately dunked my head in the freezing cold water, aiding the departure of the nausea. I should say here that John Shaughnessy sure as heck did not get sick.
Next we meandered our way to Alaska and decided upon a truly physically challenging adventure: hiking the the Chilkoot Trail at Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park starting in Skagway, Alaska and ending three to five days later in the ghost town of Bennett, BC. It is the trail that had been used in the 1890s by the Goldrush crowd heading over White Pass to find their fortunes in gold. John Shaughnessy bid us farewell, as it was not part of his plan to do such a hike. We would miss him. The hike was challenging for sure. The photo is of the prospectors in the late 1800s who were risking life and limb in the hopes of finding gold. When I look at that angle they are hiking at, carrying huge loads, in ancient gear, I think: hopeful desperation. Many died horrible deaths due to harsh conditions, starvation, tooth decay, frostbite and many other unpleasant issues. The line formed by the ant-sized black dots in the photo are heading up over the pass after having gone through The Scales. At The Scales their amount of supplies were weighed and assessed. They had to have one ton of goods per person!! They had to have certain survival items, like a tent, frying pan and so many pounds of flour, sugar etc before being allowed over the pass. Dean and I had a back pack each. We were good. Three days later, Dean and I walked into the final camp ground of the hike. It had been a physical test but it also had been eye candy and interesting to traverse the same path as those old fortune seekers. We also met Michelle and Mike from Oz, whom we visited a couple of years later. (See post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)).
From British Columbia to Kluane National Park in the Yukon and then to Banff, Alberta where we enjoyed the hub-bub of that city. It was in Banff that we were pulled over by the police which was puzzling because we had done nothing wrong. The Mountie leaned into Betsy and asked: ‘Are you Dean Joyce?’ Dean’s face fell. If a cop in Alberta knew your name, that couldn’t be good. ‘You need to call home as soon as possible.’
Finding a pay phone and making the call, we were informed of the sad and tragic news that Dean’s father had suffered a massive heart attack. We flew to Newfoundland the next day. After quite a battle, Dean’s father rallied and lived another ten wonderful years.
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…
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.
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 JOURNEYtapes. 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.
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.
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…..
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.