Taking Summer Seriously (age 50)

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.

Nova Scotia (23)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 swifts that make their homes there.

IMG_5042Next 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.

IMG_4717

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 a 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.

IMG_4710At 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.

IMG_4730Next 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 2Betty 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.

Betty on beach

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.

inukshuks

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.

keji 2

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.

Little Saw-Tooth 🐾

‘I’m your friend, Okay. And as your friend, I gotta be honest with you. I don’t care about you or your problems.’

~Chloe the Cat
The Secret Life of Pets

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.tabby and dragonfly

Delta

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 recGrizzlyeive 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 lazy 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 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 mean and cruel 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.

tabbyAnother 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.  Just as he 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.  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.

The circle of life sucks sometimes.

We miss her.

(Cat photos courtesy of google images)

 

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North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) 🙏

In 1993 we spent a year in a Northern Community. We had many good times but, there were at least three tragedies while we were there…

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 hair was way down his back and pure ringlets.  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. 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.

Anyway, 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  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 be chained outside?’  And, of course questions directed at me like: ‘Is there a baby in your belly? Where are your children?’ 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 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.

dempster highwayOne 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.

Click.

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.

The Loss of Dane (age 35) 💔

Like a baby, stillborn,
like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
and by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.

Leonard Cohen
Bird on a Wire

When 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.  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!

Public GardensIf 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 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 allowed 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’.

‘I’ll be 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.

Peggy's cove village

The next day we hung out around the apartment and Public Gardens and the next day was full-on SUN so off 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.  Dad and Leo enjoyed the 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.

Bayswater Beach

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 a peanut in my belly, slowly, slowly getting bigger and stronger.  Hearing the 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.  ‘Ah oh’, I thought.  ‘Can’t be.”  The hours of the day ticked by and the pains grew worse and worse.  I called my doctor who was to go away on holidays but she luckily was able to arrange for an ultrasound for me, immediately.  It looked normal.  I was told that this might just be Braxton Hicks — the kind of contractions that are indications that the womb is getting ready to deliver in the future.

I soaked in the tub and tried to find comfort laying on my side. It was a hard night, with little sleep, the pain coming in waves.  At one point, my sister Amy called and her sweet voice took my mind off my troubles.  The next day, I found blood on my underwear. “DEAN,’ I screamed. “WE NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL”.  The pains became worse and worse.  We had Leo taken care of by Everet and Tina, friends who we knew for years. Everet, Dean and I had been in the army together, and had done a lot of our army field training in the same section of a Platoon.  Therefore, we knew each other very well.  I did not want Leo to see me in this kind of pain.

Then the nurses said that the Radiologist would give me an ultrasound, himself. Unusual. I lay down on the bed and he put the goop on my belly.  When the picture came up, it looked different.  Dane was alive and there was a heart beat but there was no water in my uterus.  There was no amniotic fluid.  How could Dane be alive?  I had been in so much pain, by brain was messed up and it would not conclude that which it should be concluding.  The Radiologist did not then tell me that which he should have told me. (He later apologized to me for that).

I was wheeled back to another room off the emergency room.  On my way past the waiting room, I saw Wally, Everet and Dean with heads together, whispering.  Wally’s arrival made four of us that had been in the army together the better part of a decade earlier.  Through the haze of pain, I was touched that they were here for this.  I would get through this and we would all be fine and well.  Dane would be okay.  All these people were here to support us.  Dane would be fine. Right?

The pain continued.  The nurses were good to me.  One nurse kept getting warm towels and swabbing down my back.  It felt like heaven.  At some point, in a tortured voice I told them I felt like I had to poop.  They helped me to squat up on the bed and they put a metal pan under my bottom.  I pushed.  I pushed again.  One more time.

Then….

I …. looked ….. down.

Dear God there were tubes or something hanging out of my vagina.  “What’s that?” I asked, perplexed.

A nurse rushed over and gently tugged on the tubes as she attempted to soothe me with, ‘It’s going to be okay dear.  It’s going to be okay.”

Something came out.

It wasn’t tubes.

It was Dane.

It wasn’t tubes.

It was my perfectly formed tiny dead baby, Dane.

I held him in my hand.  He fit the length of my hand perfectly.  Little eyes never to open. Tiny hands never to hold.  I stroked his little bluish body and wished him well in heaven while tears blurred my vision and streamed down my face.

I cried, “My heart is breaking.  Ohhhh No No No.  My heart is breaking.”

I laid back on the bed and hands on my heart, wept bitterly, for the loss of my little Angel Dane.  And having lost him, I knew for sure that I couldn’t try to do this again.  Upon telling Dean this, we both readily decided that Leo would be our only and we would count ourselves lucky and blessed to have him.

What I felt later was this overwhelming sense of failure.  I had failed to give his little body a fertile place to grow.  I had failed to be a good mom.  I was a failure at making a baby.

But, thankfully, time heals and now, over a decade later, I have a different view of this.  I feel that my body was doing what it needed to do.  There must have been a good reason that my body did not allow Dane to thrive, or that Dane’s body didn’t allow him to thrive. Especially in these last few months, I have learned and concluded that my body is an amazing organism that should be trusted, revered and respected.  It is doing it’s best to keep me alive, comfortable and well.

I think of Dane often and wonder what our lives would have looked like with him in it, growing up as Leo’s little brother, as our youngest son.  I wonder about the lesson in this loss.  Why did it happen?  What is it meant to teach us?  The value of life?  Gratitude for our blessings?  I’m not sure, really.  But, I am sure of this: I love that little soul that was in that little body that I held in my womb and then in my hand.  I wish for him to be forever at peace.

Mr. Laset and the Walden Games 🥈 (age 10)

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

Mr. Laset was the quintessential good coach: kind, unselfish, knowledgeable and competitive when necessary.  He coached me throughout elementary school for cross country running, gymnastics, volleyball, basketball and track. We had practices after school every day of the week.  He was consistently present and consistently good to me. Over the decades I have thought of Mr. Laset many times and, every time it has been with fond memories.  On that note, I just searched for him and found a phone number and gave him a call…forty years later from three provinces away.  I said, ‘this is Morgan Player, 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 Walden Games…

When I was 10 years old, I was on the gymnastics team for the 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 Walden 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

beam mount
This is an example of my mount

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

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

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

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

knew this routine cold so it was no problem to do it to the very best of my ability. The one toughest move was a hand-stand which was to be held for five 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: ‘Morgan, 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 chest, my curly pony tail flicking happily.

But…

No one noticed my big smile or my big medal.

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

Forest

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

Amy’s Men 💘

Her hair is Harlow gold
Her lips are sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She got Bette Davis eyes
She’ll turn the music on you
You won’t have to think twice
She’s pure as New York snow
She got Bette Davis eyes
…Kim Carnes

My beautiful sister Amy…where do I begin.  She was always a guy-magnet with her long blond hair and huge, kind, blue eyes.  She has an aquiline nose and peaches and cream, skin but even with those attributes, it is her character that the guys fall for in a big way. She is sweet-natured, generous, thoughtful, fun, kind and hard-working.  A guy gets a whiff of that, and game over.  They can’t get Amy out of their minds.  Trust me, I have witnessed this phenomenon my whole life.

Amy was born second in the Player family line-up.  She was born ten months after Eva, in 1955. She is eleven years my senior and a very close sibling and friend to me.  I could tell Amy absolutely anything and she would nod in a kind and understanding way and with non-judgement would do her best to see my reasons why.  And then, she would join me.  Here’s an example of our conversations:

Me:  Amy, I burned all my clothes and have been walking around naked all over town.

Amy: Oh, that must be very liberating, Morgan.  Can I join you?

Ike

One of the first men I can remember who LOVED Amy was Ike whom she met thru the A&W in Walden. (See post A&W Days).  They were quite young when they met and it was the days of free love, peace, drugs and bell-bottom jeans.  Amy and Ike spent every waking minute together, that they could get away with.  It wasn’t long before Amy found herself in the ‘baby’ way.  Of course our parents did what any good Catholic parents would do. They hastily and by cover of night, sent Amy off to Toronto to live with the Nuns.  For months we barely saw or heard from Amy.  Suddenly she had been ripped from my life and because I was just a little girl (I was six), it really really hurt.  Amy came back once to visit and I remember my older siblings behaving strangely.  Of course they didn’t want me to notice her baby-belly because how would they explain it to me.  We all lived in such a tight-lipped manner back then.  I can still remember this wonderful black velvet, embroidered, baby-doll blouse she wore on that visit and how pretty and rested she looked.  Her cheeks were a healthy pink, her hair was lustrous and thick.  A couple of months later and she was back with us, as if nothing ever happened.  It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I learned the truth.  One night, Mom and Dad had friends over and Dad had too much to drink.  I had been sleeping in my bedroom down the hall  from the living room but had awoken upon hearing Dad’s voice raised in anger.  He was talking about how his blond daughter (whom I knew must be Amy) had had a baby with ‘a club foot’, ‘out of wedlock’ and had given her up for adoption.  My little brain began to spin.  I was an Aunt, but not an Aunt.  Where was my baby niece?  I did not sleep that night and at the crack of dawn, pounced on my siblings for answers.

Poor Ike, a few years later, lost a leg in a motorcycle accident.  Their daughter grew up, married and had a child.  They all found each other after thirty years, but, alas there were many challenges in the relationship between Amy and her daughter, Kassie. Kassie was raised with different values.  She had serious health issues, addictions and, of course, mobility issues.  She had a wonderful sense of humour but she was needy and was always asking, inappropriately for a hand-out from her biological mom, Amy.  Now, in the way of money, Amy survived and did okay because she worked bloody hard as a hair-stylist and a single-mom to Josh, who was still in middle-school at that time.  She routinely pulled twelve hour days, eating poorly and barely sitting down.  No matter how kind and generous Amy was, it wasn’t long before, with sinking heart, she realized that her daughter was a user.  Amy suffered with guilt and self-doubt but, she finally told Kassie that there would be no more hand-outs.  Kassie was rarely seen again for about fifteen years.  She is now back in Amy’s life and is no longer the free-loader.  One ironic thing about this story that niggles me in the back of my mind is this.  If Kassie were to stand beside her biological father, Ike, you would see a remarkable family resemblance. She was her father’s daughter.  AND, they both have just one leg.

DICK TOE-SHIT

Next up was a guy Amy actually married.  Dick was a quiet and haunted seasonal mason. In the off-season, he was basically a full-time stoner.  It wasn’t long before we got wind that Toe-shit was physically abusing Amy.  Our oldest and second brothers, Matt and Mark went to their flat and moved Amy out of there and brought her home.  Toe-shit was an asshole.

BUZZ

Buzz was this short, dark-haired, crooked smiled cowboy who was a farrier (horse-shoer) by trade.  He suffered from short-man’s syndrome.  Buzz knew it ALL, and then some. Name a topic and then just sit back and listen to him spout the bull-shit.  It was incredible.  He would come up to the camp with Amy and wear this teeny little noodle-bender Speedo bathing suit and yes, he would hope that you glanced down to check out his stuff.  He was quite proud of his manhood.  WhatEVER.  Bottom line was that the guy was completely bad news.  As soon as the Player family met him, we hated him and wanted Amy out.  He was a user and he was verbally and emotionally abusive.  We are still not sure what Amy saw in the Buzz-ard.

BLAIN ROBERTS

Blain was a car salesman.  Tall, blond and a real talker.  He had a Great Dane named Thor (compensating for something?) and fidelity issues.  Enough said.

PHIL

Phil was from the village on Eight Mile Lake.  He was constantly in bare feet with a smoke between his teeth, of which a couple were missing.  Phil was a nice enough guy and we all liked him but, he was completely passive aggressive.  Everything had to be done his way. He was also without a driver’s licence and often without work and therefore a bit of a drain on the finances, especially considering that welders can make big money any day of the week.

Amy came out to visit me for two weeks in August 2013 when Phil was still living with her and we had one wonderful vacation together. It started with a weekend yoga, herbology and belly-dancing retreat entitled: The Juicy Goddess Retreat at Windhorse Farm  done by two of my friends, Daisy and Lucy.  The retreat was such a great time.  We did lovely yoga led by Daisy, ate wonderfully prepared, catered meals that the caterer continuously told us proudly were ‘vegan’.  I would then say, that’s nice, but no need to go through the trouble because we aren’t vegan.  The next meal though, she would announce the same message again: I hope you enjoy this meal.  It’s vegan.  I was left wondering if I had imagined the previous conversation. So I told her again: that’s lovely but, please don’t trouble yourself, we aren’t vegan.  When she announced it a third time, I took a look at her face to see if she was joking.  She stared back at me rather vacantly and smiled. Ooookay.  Stepford Wives much?

Yoga retreat

We also walked all over the property of Windhorse Farm and were given a herbology talk by my lovely friend, Lucy.  The weather was hodancer on the fallen treet and dry.  It was an incredible day and we learned all manner of wonderful tidbits from Lucy. Next, we put on belly-dancing costumes and makeup, had white wine, and were given a lesson.  We then walked through the peaceful lush forest of the farm and did yoga moves on fallen logs taking photos and such.
The next item on the agenda popped up out of nowhere.  Lucy had mentioned to us that she had a tooth that was bugging her and that probably just needed to be filed down a bit so that it would stop irritating her cheek.  Amy says: Morgan can do it! And, with that vote of confidence, so I did.  I put my reading classes on, and in belly-dancing attire, filed down Lucy’s problem tooth. The pictures were hilarious. I asked Amy later why she nominated me for such a task.  Oh, she said, because you were in the ARMY.  You can do anything. Ooookay.  Just checking. (The other day, my teenage son said something similar. I was asking him to show us how to download a free movie.  He says, come on Mom.  You were in the ARMY, you should be able to download a movie.  Geesh.)

Leaving Windhorse farm, I took Amy to Hirtle’s Beach.  I wanted her to experience the vast, white sand beaches of Nova Scotia.  We got out of the car and barefoot, took the

boardwalk Hirtle'sboardwalk over the dune to the beach. Amy gasped at the sight of Hirtle’s.  So vast, so empty, so perfect.  Arm in arm we walked the beach and Amy told me then the sad tale that she and Phil were not going to last.  Up until that point, I had thought Phil was the ‘one’.  Amy had not told me her struggles with Phil.  She told me then, on Hirtle’s.  I will never forget that exchange.  Sadly, Amy told me that she thought she would end up alone in her old age.  Fat chance of that, I thought.

Upon leaving for a Cuban vacation, our second brother, Mark told Phil to be moved out by the time he and Amy got back, or he would move him out himself.

OTHERS

At my best-friend Flo’s wedding to the asshole she finally just got rid of twelve damaging years, but two beautiful sons later, comes this proposition.  I had just finished saying my speech about Flo.  It had gone over well. I was especially glad to see Flo’s Dad, a retired cop, laughing so hard he had pushed himself away from the table.  He found the story about ‘get out before she blows’ (from the post Fun and Foibles at the Camp) quite hilarious and the fact that he never had heard about it, was also funny.  Anyhoo, I was pleased to be done. I walked to the back of the room and there was Amy speaking to Flo’s mom who then turns to me and says, ‘Morgan, your sister Amy is a remarkably beautiful woman’.  Like I didn’t know this?  She carried on to another group of folks and Amy and I then chatted and laughed and were anticipating a great evening of dancing.  Then, over walks Flo’s brother Sam and begins a friendly conversation with Amy and I.  The next thing you know we are all chuckling and enjoying ourselves with recalling fond family memories.  Sam had been our youngest brother, Luke’s best friend.  During the course of the conversation, it came out that Amy was now single.

Sam leans in, ‘So, Amy, you’re single now?’

Amy nods.

Sam inches a bit closer, turning his body slightly toward Amy.  His eyes riveted on Amy.

Picking up on the body language, Amy cocks her pretty head to the side, blond hair cascading, smiles and asks, ‘So, Sam, how old are you…..?’

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT me to be?’

We laughed uproariously, bent over double at his sweet attempt to entice Amy.

****

Just the other day, I was on the phone with Sue, the guy from the post Fun and Foibles at the camp.  We were talking about all the members of my family that he had met over the years and especially at the camp.  It wasn’t long before Sue asks, (and I wasn’t one bit surprised) ‘So, what is Amy doing these days?  Is she single?  Tell her I said hi.  I always thought she was so nice and pretty, even though she made me clean up her car after I got sick in it.’

At the next opportunity, I told Amy that Sue had asked after her and was saying he was interested.  Amy says, ‘Oh that’s sweet, he was always such a good head.  How old is he, Morgan…?’

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT him to be?’

Total Guy Magnet.

A Buttertart and a Kiss 😘 (31)

A hastily eaten homemade buttertart leads to an unexpected ‘meeting’ 👄

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.

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 DeepakSPIRITUAL 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. Oprah lost ME at the line….“Inside every overweight woman is a woman who she knows she can be.”  Okay, you can fuck right off right now, Oprah. Bah bye.  So….I’m useless unless I’m thin? Oh man.  You are messed up lady, or, you are just in it for the money, which is even more messed up.  Oprah has been on more diets than can be counted on both hands and feet. When is she going to GET that diets don’t work and stop being so fat-phobic?  Oh wait.  Partnering with Weight Watchers (because her 3.9 billion dollar net worth is NOT enough, I guess) means that she knows diets don’t work.  It’s part of their bushiness plan.  Lifetime membership. Enough said.

***

I digress.

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.

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 van 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 van 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:

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,

put

the

whole

thing

into

my

mouth

Oh my god it was good.  It was DELICIOUS!!!  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 van, 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.

His response:

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?  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.

 

Ashram Rant (age 47 & 48) 🕉

I did the 500 hour yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas in two one-month stints separated by a year. I am still confused about my time there.

I arrived in the Bahamas and caught the wee boat over to Paradise Island but only after a tall cold Kalik from a little place on the dock.  I was heading into my second turn at thirty days of certain austerity.  Surely I could have one last beer?  This was five hundred hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training or ATTC at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. (I had completed the 200 hour teacher training course or TTC the previous year).

ashram beach
Paradise Island Beach facing West.  Beach Platform is visible on left.

The Sivananda Yoga Retreat is situated on five slowly eroding acres on the tiny Paradise Island which is just a couple of minutes across the water from Nassau.  The ashram enjoys two waterfronts, the South side facing Nassau and the North side facing the Atlantic.  Over to the East is the huge resort of Atlantis and to the West, a few private properties.

ashram beach 2
This is the view facing West.  The tops of the Atlantis Resort are visible.

There were about three hundred people at the ashram for the two months I was there (Dec 2013 and Jan 2015) and the whole place was run by about six monks, a dozen disciples, a few dozen volunteers, guest instructors and local staff who were mainly cleaning staff.  The volunteers did an amazing job when one considered all of the work involved in running a business of that size.

yoga at ashram
Advertisement for Yoga Teacher Training.  This is the Beach Platform which we did NOT use.

So for the yoga teacher training we had a tough schedule:

  • 4:30 wake up
  • 5:00 Pranayama (advanced breathing techniques)
  • 6:00 Meditation
  • 6:30 Chanting (or once per week meditative beach walk and chanting)
  • 7:00 Inspirational Speaker
  • 8:00 Anatomy
  • 9:00 Asana Practise (Yoga)
  • 10:00 – 12:00 Brunch* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine)
  • 11:00 Karma Yoga (chores, like dish washing, garbage collection, temple preparation, meal preparation)
  • 12:00 Raja Yoga Study or Sanskrit
  • 2:00 Vedanta and Bhagavad Gita teachings
  • 4:00 Asana Practise (Yoga and how to teach)
  • 6:00 Dinner* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine, no alcohol)
  • 7:00 Homework
  • 8:00 Meditation
  • 8:30 Chanting
  • 9:00 Inspirational Speaker
  • 10:00 Lights out (often, the speaker went late and so lights out was really more like 10:30)

When I showed my teenage son, Leo, the schedule his one remark was: that advanced breathing techniques must have been tough, eh Mom?  Actually, the morning pranayama was likely my favorite thing, as well as learning to read and write Sanskrit.  Yoga asana was also very enjoyable but, the vedanta teaching and raja yoga were barely tolerable.  A lot of it was very hard for me to grasp as I am more of a concrete person.  Anatomy was interesting but, did I really need to study exclusively the Central Nervous System to be a yoga teacher??!  How about a few hours on say, the spine?

We were up at 4:30 for the full thirty days (The previous year, for 200-hour teacher training, we awoke at 5:30 and did not have pranayama practice).  On Friday’s we were given a few hours off in the middle of the day.  It was my time to walk way down the beach and then to do laundry, shower and a concentrated effort at home-work.

STUDYING IN THE GARDEN
Studying in the garden

Pranayama practice took place in the dark on a deck by the bay.  The water lapping at the deck footings and the breeze off the bay lent the experience a surreal quality.  We lined up our mats along the edges of the dark platform and sat cross-legged, facing in, forming a large u-shape.  Our teacher stood at the opening of the U and guided us through the seven types of pranayama for an hour.  It was completely rhythmical and meditative bringing a

dock-at-sivananda-retreat
The is the Bay platform where we had Pranayama at 5:00 am

deep sense of relaxation, wellness and calm.  The only trouble was, at the end of the hour we were hastily dismissed and had to tear off, silently, to the temple for morning satsang.

Satsang started with thirty minutes of silent meditation, sitting cross-legged on the large garden platform which had been transformed into a temporary temple due to the large numbers at the ashram (a couple of dozen yogis sat in chairs due to various injuries.  I myself sat in a chair due to my army-worn knees which would pain badly after about 20 minutes of cross-legged sitting.  How I envied the knees of the younger yogis).  Chanting took up after meditation and was wonderful especially when it came to twice daily Jaya Ganesha which was fun and musical and small instruments were passed around to make it even more so: bells, tambourines, small bongos and shakers. Now, all of this was taking place before breakfast, so again, there was this lazy kinda of dream-like quality to it.

The inspirational speaker was usually fairly boring and I got the feeling that they really enjoyed hearing themselves speak.  The swami who spoke for two solid hours per night for several nights in a row about the Bhagavad gita had us nearly crying in boredom. It was literally painful to be that tired and to have to try to listen to her monotonic voice. She did not check in once with her audience.  It was astounding.  A few times over the two months I was there, there was actually a very interesting talk regarding something that I cared to listen to.  Otherwise, I would usually just zone out and slip back into that meditative state.  The best speaker for me was the one about sleep and the importance of dreaming as well as the one about sound healing.  At the end of the sound healing talk, we were asked to close our eyes while several helpers floated around with tuning forks humming and waved them over and around our heads to encourage the healing of whatever may be ailing us, physically, spiritually or emotionally.  It was a mystical experience.

meditation-garden-e1492796503741.jpg
Garden Platform as Temple due to high numbers at the ashram

The ashram experience was riddled with dichotomous occurrences.  I will attempt to explain here:

  • Compostable Waste: a huge amount of food waste was hauled away daily.  Two or three huge barrels of wasted food.  Why not compost it or at least ask those at the ashram to take less food.  How about stopping the use of trays.  People take more food than necessary if given a tray.  Apparently they tried composting the food waste but it caused a rat problem so they stopped.  So, at least ask people to take less.  I saw people loading up their trays and then throwing a third of the food away. Another reason for loading up was the two meals a day routine. People were VERY hungry come brunch at 10 and supper at 6.  Food waste has always been a sore point for me, raised the way we were.  Mom taught us to not waste precious food. So, simply get rid of trays.  Fill a plate, then come back for more, if necessary.  One of the inspirational speakers did a talk about wasted food.  But, nothing changed.  It was weird.  Hire a speaker, all sit and listen, nodding, ask questions, applaud…then….do NOTHING differently.
  • Plastic Bottles of Water on the temple.  This confused me every time I looked at it. There was fresh water available at a filtered tap for everyone in the ashram and it was located just a few steps from the temple.  There were temple workers who kept everything perfect in the temple.  How much effort would it have been to fill a nice refillable glass bottle or jug and glass for the temple?  To watch the volunteers off-loading cases and cases of water in plastic bottles for the monks in the temple was just ridiculous. This could be improved easily and help save our plastic-choked oceans.  THIS ASHRAM IS ON AN ISLAND FOR GOD’S SAKE.
  • High-fructose Corn Syrup Products like Skippy peanut butter and crap jam was being served to us in the meal hall at brunch.  That’s fine and good but let me get this straight, we were not allowed to have (gasp) eggs, mushrooms, onions or garlic BECAUSE WE WERE ON A SATVIC (clean) DIET, BUT HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP is ALLOWED????!!!  I’m sorry.  That was such bull-shit!  One of my classmate yogis stood up and informed us of this because he had been helping to offload the supplies.  We would not have known about the poor quality peanut butter and jam because it was dispensed daily into huge bowls.  The brands and ingredients were hidden from us.  This just seems like a pure business decision.  These products were obviously cheaper than the better quality more pure equivalents like the peanut-only peanut butter and the fruit-only jam.  My beef here is that if you’re going to spout a SATVIC (clean / yogi) diet.  Make it ALL satvic.  Don’t demonize harmless God-given, Earth grown mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggs.
  • Beach platform  there were several large platforms around the ashram but the best and most coveted platform was the beach one.  It is ironic that the marketing photo of the Yoga Teacher Training Class in yellow and white uniforms above was taken on the beach platform BECAUSE FOR THIRTY DAYS OF TWICE DAILY CLASSES, WE DID NOT ONCE HAVE YOGA ON THE BEACH PLATFORM FOR OUR CLASS OF ATTC students even when we repeatedly requested it.  Our classes took place in the forest or on the Bay platforms.  The beach platform was ALWAYS saved for yoga classes for guests, not for paying Yoga Teacher Training students.  Hmmm. That was a piss-off because when I decided to do Sivananda Teacher Training, I saw the marketing photos and wanted my classes on the Beach platform, just like the photo.  It is lovely to do yoga while looking out to the horizon over the sea.  And, by the way, the fee for our month-long program was not inexpensive.  We too, albeit yoga teacher training students, were paying customers.
  • Light Pollution at Night lighting around the ashram should be on timers and / or on motion detectors.  There were many lights left on all over the ashram, all night long and for those in tents, it must have been impossible to sleep.  In my bunk, I used a dark cloth to form a curtain to block the light.  But here’s the thing.  One of our inspirational speakers spoke about the menace of light at night and how it can interrupts sleep cycles, hormonal release and production especially of melatonin. Again, nothing was done.

So, after twenty-nine days of our strict schedule, we were given a three hour written exam on the final day.  I had studied hard for my exam, in every spare moment allotted. And you may be getting it that there is a lot more to yoga than just stretching and contorting. In fact, there are volumes and volumes of ancient teachings on yoga. From my text: Yoga is the process of uniting the individual soul with the Universal Soul.  Yoga is also the state in which the activities of the mind are restrained.  In a nutshell yoga is really about quieting the mind (chitta-vritti-nirodhah) for meditation in order to one day become fully realized but, only after ages of study (jalna yoga) and devotion (bahkti yoga) asana practice (raja yoga) as well as karma yoga (selfless service).  I was never a scholar, so  some of the material, like: What are the six orthodox heads of the Sanskrit literature? or What is the Sakshi Bhav method of Vedantic meditation? came down to straight memorization.

After morning pranayama on the Bay Platform, we were offered a light breakfast with an open lunch time promised after our exam.  I wrote my heart out and was somewhat pleased with myself that I was the second person finished.  I re-read it and re-read it again then handed it in and walked over to the kitchen.  The first guy finished immediately started asking me about my experience on the exam.  He asked me: Morgan, what did you think of the anatomy questions? I stopped eating, my food mid-way down my throat.

Oh my god.  I didn’t have an anatomy section!!! OH MY GOD.  I somehow FORGOT to do the anatomy section.  But wait, I had re-read the exam and re-read it again.  There was NO anatomy section on my exam.

So, reader, you may be wondering why I was panicking so much over this.  Well, I had worked really hard for thirty days of austerity and spirituality.  I did not want to finish this with the PARTICIPANT Certificate.  I wanted the full 500 hour Yoga Certificate. Yoga Acharya.  Call me crazy, but I wanted to finish with the full designation, and, it wasn’t my fault that a page of my exam was left out.

I ran to find the teacher of anatomy and report this error.  There was no way I was going to just keep quiet about it.  Better to tell them.  I found Isaiah in one of the nearby buildings and with pale face and furiously beating heart, told him what had happened. He said, okay, stay around here.  I will speak to Swami B about it and let you know what he says.  Four hours later, he still had not told me what was going on.  My hands were visibly shaking now.  I read in the central garden and I helped in the kitchen.  Finally my Asana teacher found me and told me, All is well Morgan.  I was there when Swami B marked your exam, he said it was very strong. You can go now.  All is well.

OM
This is the symbol OM.  It is said that Om is the first sound of the Universe. It is the sound of creation.

So, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went for a long walk way down the beach and into and around the Atlantis Resort, which, by the way, was like walking around Mars in it’s opulence.  I looked at the price tag on a simple summer dress in the boutique: $5000 U.S. I looked down at my simple skirt and cotton blouse. No comment.

When I came back to the ashram, I helped again in the kitchen and then one of the younger disciples came up behind me and said, Are you Morgan? You need to go see Isaiah, he was looking for you earlier.

What the hell.  Oh my god. This wasn’t over yet at all. My heart started to race.  It had been a long, stressful day.

I found Isaiah and he told me he would test me orally on Anatomy.  I was to meet him in the south garden at 7 pm.

I was basically a basket case by this time.  I looked over my notes but my eyes were blurry and my pulse was all over the map.  From my learning about the Central Nervous System, the very topic I was to be tested on, I knew that I was having a stress response. And, that is pretty much all I knew. Ironic. Consequently, the oral test did not go well.  I could barely remember my name let alone the parts of the cell, nerve and brain. In fact, I had one nerve left and it was frazzled.

Finally, the oral test was done and I was free to go to my room and prepare for graduation.  First, I asked Isaiah if I had passed.  He said he wasn’t allowed to tell me. Wonderful. You may be getting a feel for just how torn I was about this place by now.

ashram grad
Graduation Ceremony

As it turns out, I passed and Isaiah apologized to me.  He said that the mistake was theirs and that I should not have had to be tested on Anatomy.  Thanks a pant load, Isaiah.

Now I couldn’t wait to get home to wintery Nova Scotia and just chill and have my own time to do what I liked. It’s funny, I went away to a yoga retreat to do something that most people would think of as relaxing.  A month at a tropical beach-side ashram (I swam twice in the month I was there) to learn something I was already pretty good at.  Most of the time I was there, though, I was stressed, and I wasn’t the only one.  My roommates complained about the scheduling a lot.  They were not getting enough sleep and they were very over tired. People were always falling asleep during Satsang and lectures.  During yoga classes (asanas) several yogi classmates would lay in sivasana (corpse pose – laying flat on their backs on their mats) for the whole class, sleeping.  Every part of the day had Attendance takers for arrival and dismissal of the section of the day.  Too many lates or abscesses and the disciple in charge of discipline would speak to you.  One could even be sent home for too little discipline.  The first time I was at the ashram, in December 2013, a young woman had taken to walking around the ashram during part of the Satsangs because the Hindu teaching confused her as she was of a different faith.  She was sent home.

Uniforms were to be worn for most parts of the day, as seen in the photo: white pants and yellow t-shirt.  We had two uniforms and only a couple of machines for laundry to share amoung 300 people.  A slight problem for getting laundry done.

Before arrival at the ashram, I had asked for a Doctor’s note about my mental illness.  I was worried about sleep deprivation and its effects.  Sleeping from 10:00 – 4:30 was just not enough sleep for me.  My doctor insisted that I get at least seven hours per night or eight if possible.  So, I had a get out of jail free card for the final speaker at Satsang every night.  BONUS.  My roommates understood and I was honest with them about how bad it could get if I had an episode but, it was hard on them because of the perceived favourtism I had arranged for myself.  At this time, I was managing my bipolar disorder with lifestyle.  I was not on meds (which I know now was a very large risk and, with Bipolar 1, was actually stupid).  So, one day, early in the month of the second time I was there, January 2015, one of the disciples confronted me on my leaving of Satsang at 9:00 every night.  He asked me if it was truly necessary.  I asked him if he wanted me to contradict my doctor’s instructions.  That shut him up.  I left Satsang at 9:00 every night.

ASHRAM PATH

So, yes, I was happy to have completed the 500 hour advanced yoga teacher training course but, I am really not sure if I could recommend it to anyone. It would be best to go into it knowing all the seeming weirdnesses.  One more thing, it was slightly cult-ish. What do I mean by that?  Well, it seemed that with all the strict rules around little sleep and with feeling hungry all the time and then attending teachings twice per day as well as the chanting and such, I would worry that some poor souls would be pulled a little too far into the vortex of Sivananda.  I personally met and spoke to several full-time, somewhat tight-lipped and therefore mysterious volunteers (karma yogis) who DO NOT GET PAID to stay there and perform their trade or profession (like marketing and videography) for months and years at a time.  Ooookay. You gotta ask yourself, where are the revenues going?  It is definitely NOT going into salaries or peanut-only peanut butter or fruit-only jam or washing machines.

IMG_1998

***

But, even with all the inconsistencies of this ashram, I will always love yoga and will always have it in my life.  I will always invite people to join in yoga because it is a wonderful practice which brings calm, wellness and peace.

On that note, here below is a pumpkin person exploring dancer pose in order to bring you a smile…Namaste.

pumpkin head

Theory of Loss 🖤

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

….Dire Straits

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 a couple of grand-children and more on the way 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 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 PLAYS with you?  asked an incredulous Kevin. 

Yep.

Like, anything you want?

Yeah. Anything I want, answered a dreamy Leo.

Wow. 

Some other wonderful things that Ted would do. He would shovel driveways and mow the grass of all the elderly neighbours 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 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 pilots 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 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 someone 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 children’s lives.  I remember calling home from BC 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 McLahlan 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?  I don’t have one.  Do you?

Prune Juice & Pregnancy (age 33) 😳

Hey now, you’re an all-star, get your game on, go play
Hey now, you’re a rock star, get the show on, get paid….
~Smash Mouth.

At eight months pregnant, my friend Nancy asked me if wanted to go on a road trip with her to her hometown of Virginia Beach from Leesburg, some four and a half hours away. It was summertime, her two girls were out of school and she wanted to take them down to see their grandparents.  We piled into her SUV with snacks and a cooler of drinks, including my ever present bottle of prune juice.  You see, at that time, I had been told that one of the keys to a healthy pregnancy was to ensure a daily movement…of… well, the bowels.  Always a sucker for health tips, I grasped onto said tip and sure enough, I would have a glass of cool prune juice every morning of my 270 day pregnancy term (I haven’t touched it again, since).  Keeping that in mind, when I awoke on the second day of our trip and being out of routine, forgot to take my beloved prune juice, I was more than a little worried by mid-morning when nothing had, as of yet, moved.

Nancy was a nurse.  She understood my worry.  She asked her youngest daughter, Kerry, to bring me a glass of prune juice.  We were seated on the patio, just taking a break after a stroll around the neighbourhood.  Out comes eight-year old Kerry with quite a large glass of prune juice.  Where I would normally have about four ounces, this was more like ten.  Feeling rather touched to be served, I graciously accepted Kerry’s offering and, what the hell, drank it down, hearing Mom’s voice in my head: Waste not, want not, Morgan.

Not long thereafter, Nancy offered to take all of us for a walk on Virginia Beach, about 20 minutes away.  We again all got into her vehicle and off we went.  Nancy was pointing things out all the way with a look of nostalgia on her face: there was her old school; her old shopping area; her old hangout; her old favorite fast-food joint; her friend’s house.  I could feel the vibes of her memories and could almost see a youthful Nancy running along beside us as we slowly toured the neighourhood.

Onto the highway next and up the ramp and over the bridge.  Suddenly, my bowels started to feel odd.  I must be imaging it, I thought.  Everything is fine.  Everything is fine, I thought.  Next, out seeped a silent but deadly one with the automatic instantaneous human reactions: windows rolled down; four noses into the clean wind; worried eyes; hands over mouths.  Sorry, sorry.  I seem to be having a reaction to something. I told Nancy and the girls.

My guts churned and roiled and tiny stink-bomb expulsions continued. A few miles later I was bent in two holding my very pregnant middle.  Which was difficult in itself. It was like bending over at basketball.

Oh my god Nancy, I have take a dump right now!!!

Nancy told me to hang in there and to let her know when it was a true emergency.  She clearly did not understand.  My pants would be soiled in a matter of minutes if I didn’t get out of the vehicle and onto a toilet.  All I could see out the windows though, was a guard rail and what looked to be a fairly seedy area of the city.

This is truly an emergency, Nancy.  I see an Arby’s.  Can we go in there?

By this time I wasn’t talking very clearly because I had every part of my anatomy CLENCHED.

Nancy said, Morgan, that’s a really bad part of town.  Are you sure?

Yes, Nancy.  Hurry!

Nancy pulled in and out I got, walking funny into the Arby’s due to my full-body CLENCH coupled with my huge baby belly.  I found the Lady’s room which was just inside the door.  In I went and closed and latched the door.  Maternity pants down and onto the cool toilet seat.  What happened next was not pretty.  A bomb went off into that toilet bowl.  At that point, the couple of other ladies who had been in the bathroom, made a hasty departure with an OH MY GOD, just outside the door.  I can hear you. I thought. Whatever, I had to get this out.

I was on the toilet for a few more minutes and was feeling a whole heck of a lot better. Washing well then waddling out of the Arby’s, there was Nancy with wild eyes, her driver’s window cracked open pushing coins out to a Rastafarian-looking guy who was obviously quite down on his luck.  Jenny unlocked my door and I hopped in and off we went to the beach as if nothing had ever happened.