Mom and Dad would sometimes go to Florida at Christmas or March Break and would leave us at home with one of the eldest sibs in charge. One year, my oldest brother Matt was left in charge. He and his new teen-age wife, June took care of we younger ones. Let’s just say that there were a few parties down the basement and sometimes we had really bad tasting spaghetti sauce, a la June. One time, June tried to pass off tomato soup as spaghetti sauce. It was so bad that not even Sammy, our faithful leftover and liver-eating dog, would eat it. I’ll never forget it because I ate most of it so that I wouldn’t hurt her feelings. Years later we broke it to her that it was awful. By then she had become a good cook though, or as her son would say: Mom’s a good cooker now, eh Dad?
The later years that Mom and Dad went to Florida saw us being taken care of by my second oldest brother, Mark. It got a little scarier then because Mark had some sketchy friends like Byron Hedgeman and Minty. Minty seemed fine, if a little dopey, but, Hedgeman just plain scared me. I think he was continuously high or, in the pursuit of being high.
One time, when I was about eight years old or so, Hedgeman and I were playing a friendly game of checkers in the living room. Hedgeman was getting very upset because I kept using my kings to jump all his checkers.
He began to ask me about my knowledge of Woodstock. He had me there. I had not one idea of what he spoke, and innocently told him that.
Hedgeman was irate.
How could I not know about Woodstock?
He then proceeded to educate me about it. I was eight. He told me of mass crowds of hippies who traveled for miles and miles to this place called Woodstock for the concert and drugged-out weekend-long bash of history. He told me of people being so stoned on acid, L.S.D. and mushrooms that they had no idea what they were doing. He told me of scores of hippies wondering around in the nude with caked-on mud as their only clothes – the farmer’s field had turned to pure mud.
Then he and Mark started to recount all the stories they had ever heard about it. Mark talked about the bad acid and how there was an announcement made that the brown acid was bad and no one should do it, Man. I was more than just a little scared after being party to this conversation which Mark and Hedgeman were reveling in the telling of. I was eight. I may have mentioned that.
One time Hedgeman actually passed-out underneath Amy’s bed, down the basement. Mom and Dad were in Cancun but returned a day earlier than planned in order to surprise us. Matt and June, then married and June pregnant, were asleep in my parents’ bed. Dad walked in and looked through the house for all of us. He told Mom that he could smell burning rope coming from downstairs.
He walked into Amy’s basement room. She was fast asleep. However, he quickly noticed that there was a pair of Kodiak work boots sticking out from under her bed. He pulled on them and out slid Hedgeman. It wasn’t a pretty scene. Hedgeman somehow took off out of the house and down Pearl hill. Dad called the police and told them, “There’s a hoodlum running down Pearl Street and he’s so stoned he’s stunned!”
One time, Mark and Job had a very rowdy party and when they started doing hot knives (smoking hash off of hot knives heated on the stove elements) I called Olive Quinn, one of my Mom’s best friends, and begged her to come and get Luke and I. It was after midnight but Van Halen’s Running with the Devil was still pounding, at top volume, throughout the house. The bass on the stereo was turned up to the maximum.
Olive came to fetch us and take us to her house where we stayed in the basement because her husband was a very scary individual and a known bully, even though he was this prominent Catholicand a professional. The next day, Olive delivered us back to Pearl Street. I marveled that our six-foot fence that usually surrounded our back yard was now lying fully down of the grass.
At those times I wished very badly that Mom and Dad had not gone to Florida for Christmas or Spring Break. At those times I also learned to truly appreciate our normally safe, religious and ordered home. I don’t think my parents ever had a clue about the types of activities that went down while they were away. Chock it up to the 70s.
Decades later, while telling these stories to my best friend and husband, Dean, he looked me in the eye, took my hand and told me that I had been neglected as a child.
I’ll never forget the dawning realization that yes, that was exactly why some tales of my childhood made me feel so uneasy. Dean and I would NEVER have left our son in situations like that. Anything could have happened with those weird wired young men who were Mark’s pals back then and who roamed freely through our home while Mom and Dad were away. Luke and I were lucky to escape with just the psychological scars of being neglected as young children.
To be clear, there were a lot of psychological scars in my family. It may be one of the main reasons we are all so close as siblings. We counted on each other to get through tough times. We cried, we sang and we laughed. We laughed a lot.
Anyway, Luke and I were sworn to secrecy by Mark and Job lest we die by some tortuous death if we told on them. Years later we would learn, disturbingly, that Hedgeman had died at Walden’s Royal Victoria Hospital, of AIDS.
(Photos and courtesy of Eva Player and google images)
We moved into our six-bedroom red brick bungalow in Walden, Ontario on Hallowe’en day of 1970. An auspicious day. I was four years old and extremely excited! Our next door neighbours, The MacNeils, were a big family of eleven and Ben McNeil was five years old — a built-in buddy right next door. And buddies we were. Within seconds of arriving Ben and I were fast friends and could be seen chasing each other around the outside of our new brick bungalow. I was gonna like it in this house.
From that moment, Ben and I spent almost every waking minute together. We played house and school and hide-and-go-seek. Often, because of the sheer number of kids between our two households, we would have huge games of Red Rover and British Bulldog, or 500-Up in the MacNeils’ huge back yard. One time, the MacNeils got a new game of Croquet. We played it non-stop for days.
In the winter we would go sliding on the MacNeils’ very own sliding hill at the back of their house. It was a perfectly steep hill which led into the parking lot of an eight-story apartment building that we imaginatively called: ‘the apartments’. Sometimes there would be twenty or more kids out there in the dark, with just the reflection off the snow and a few parking lot lamps to light the path. At other times it would be just Ben, my younger brother, Luke, and Ben’s two younger siblings.
We always had lots of fun and thrills. Afterward we usually had hot-chocolate at our house, the kind made with milk, and Mom would put a marshmallow in it. Pure bliss.
The MacNeils lived in a mansion of a home. They had something like ten bedrooms, four bathrooms and a huge recreation room upstairs at the end of the house where parents never ventured. Their dining room had the longest table in it that I had ever seen. We would often do our homework at that table. I would marvel at how neatly Ben did his assignments. I aspired to be just like him.
There was also a piano in there. We both took lessons but Ben went a lot farther than I, achieving levels of local celebrity status on piano. Ben’s older brother Noah was an idol of mine. He always had the most incredible ideas about what we should all do together. He would make up elaborate games or he would teach us how to be artistic.
Sometimes we would get to play hide-and-go-seek in their house on the second floor and sometimes, when Mrs McNeil wasn’t aware, even in the Attic. There were secret hiding places and cupboards everywhere. Ben’s room had a secret room inside his closet. We spent hours in there. Their house was so much fun! During one game, we looked high and low for teen-aged Ethan who would have been the same age as my brother Mark. No matter what we did, he was nowhere to be found. Finally, we checked the cupboards that ran along the top of the twelve foot walls in the rec-room. There he was. I could never understand how he had managed to get up there. I was impressed. Playing with the MacNeils was so much fun! We would never want to go home at the end of the evening, when it was time. We would hear Dr. McNeil shout: ‘It’s time for the Players to go home!” We would quietly make our way home, back to our boring little bungalow next door.
The MacNeils had a cupboard in their kitchen that was stuffed full of cookies and sugary cereals. At our house, we had gingersnaps, and that was on a good day, and then only two each and they were never just sitting in the cupboard. They were hidden. The cereal choices at our place were simple: puffed wheat, puffed rice or shredded wheat. Sometimes, if we were good, we got plain Cheerios or Shreddies.
After some of my older brothers and sisters moved out on their own though, the choices got better and they almost always included Shreddies and Cheerios and then CornFlakes! I can still conjure up the feeling of extreme privilege that came along with that cereal. We also got real milk then too. 2%. Prior to that it was skim milk mixed from dry powder (blek!) which later became powdered skim mixed with 2% milk. When it was just Luke and I at home, Dad started buying homogenized full fat milk. It was like drinking ice-cream. That was sheer luxury after the watered down and often involuntarily gag-producing taste of powdered skim. When Eva, Amy and Matt came back home for a supper meal, on occasion, they would comment on how spoiled we were now that we were being fed the higher quality groceries.
Mom bought groceries on a tight budget. We had simple but good meals. Things like sausages and tomato sauce, scalloped potatoes, shake-and-bake (the odd time), spaghetti and meat balls on Sunday night, Pate Chinois (pronounced pot-tay sheen-wa), which was my favourite meal) and we always had a green salad with supper, and then after all the plates were nearly licked clean, we were permitted dessert. Sometimes Dad would still be hungry and would finish off our meals for us. Other times he would angrily and loudly tell us to Eat Up!
At least once per week, we would have left-overs or home-made soup–basically a huge pot of soup made from everything left in the fridge before the new grocery order was bought. We fondly referred to it as home-made poop because when you’re a kid, you don’t tend to like things to eat that aren’t completely decipherable. All we could decipher out of Mom’s soup was a pea here and there and perhaps a piece of carrot. The rest was left to the imagination. One time I absolutely refused to eat it and found myself still staring at it, while it congealed and turned cold, at around 8 o’clock that night.
Supper had always started at 5:30 SHARP as soon as Dad walked in the door and sat down at the table, sometimes pounding the table with his fists – an indication of his hunger.
We tried to keep things calm at the supper table. Mom would bounce up and down from her chair getting this and that and, ‘Mom, while you’re up, can you grab me a glass of water?’
Sometimes Dad would tell stories about Schollard Hall and put on his falsetto voice imitating one of his teachers. We would all laugh. Usually our meals were not calm though, someone would spill a glass of milk. Then Dad would pound the table and shaking his head and shout:
I HAD NO BREAKFAST, A LOUSY LUNCH AND NOW I CAN’T EVEN EAT MY SON-OF-A-BITCH-OF-A DINNER!
The MacNeils had their groceries DELIVERED from IGA on a Saturday afternoon. (It wasn’t until some years later, when I was living alone with Dad and doing the grocery shopping, that I found out that anyone, not just the MacNeils, could have their groceries delivered from IGA). Sometimes I would witness the arrival of the grocery truck backing up to the MacNeils kitchen door. I had never seen so many boxes of great food in my life. They even had a freezer full of popsicles and fudgsicles and they didn’t even have to ask before having one.
In our house the groceries were pretty strictly rationed out. Cookies and other goodies were hidden away in special places that only Mom could find. Sometimes she’s hide something so well that even she couldn’t find it! Then we’d really get upset to think of the best food being lost in the house somewhere. Mom would say something like, I must be nertz! I now understand that Mom likely pretended that she didn’t know where it was, just to get us to stop.
At Christmas time we had special food in the house. We always got a crate of tangerines. They were the really sweet ones all individually wrapped in purple tissue paper. Mom would keep the carton under the couch. She was pretty generous with them compared to other stuff. We would also have a pound of real butter. Mom would buy two pounds, one for shortbread cookies and the other for us to have with turkey dinner. Wow it was good compared to the bright yellowish margarine that came wrapped in waxed paper and could have blocked the arteries of a racehorse.
Christmas was great when Mom and Dad didn’t go to Florida. Mom always bought us a huge jigsaw puzzle to work on as a family under the Christmas tree. I’ll always remember how much I enjoyed that. We would also sing Christmas carols and play all kinds of board games during the holidays. Of course, most of the time, during the day, we would be outside in the snow or on the rink in the back yard. Often the door was locked and we were forced to stay outside and make our own fun for two hours or so.
There were always so many kids roaming around, it was easy to find something fun to do — climbing the snowbanks, rolling or sliding down hills, making a snowman or a snowcave. In all those years though, I can not remember one adult being outside with us to play. We were completely unsupervised and it was only if we were bleeding that we would venture home to Mom who would take us in her arms and help us with our troubles.
Many long sunny days during our summers at the lake, we would walk the two miles to the nearby town of Maggie River, population 300 souls, just for something different to do. Sometimes I would be with a friend staying in the camp. Other times I would be with a brother, or two. On this particular day, I was with my older brother, closest to me in age: Job.
We were walking along on that hot summer day in the 70s. We each had a dollar to spend in town and we were feeling rather rich. We were discussing what we could do with that money. Would it be spent on fries and a pop at July’s or a vachon, black balls and chocolate milk at Jake’s General Store? July’s and Jake’s shared side-by-side real estate in the village of Maggie River and each backed onto a grassy patch which sloped down to Almond River, which was really Maggie River extended after the locks system.
Both July’s and Jake’s were tired, dusty and faded. Their respective owners, July and Jake, had since thrown up their hands to the bygone dreams of business greatness. (A few decades later, both buildings would burn to the ground in an unsolved tragedy that would rock the core of the wee village, one which still wondered at the loss by fire of their once proud Marina.)
The Tuck Stop didn’t mind. Even Seniors were ordering take-out these days and pulling up a bench seat at a red wooden picnic table in order to enjoy their chicken fingers and fries with a cold coke sipped by straw. For Job and I, our favourite was the foot-long hot dog. We just could not believe that a hot dog could be that long. We marveled at it each time it arrived in front of us. It was especially good when washed down with a thick sweet chocolate milk-shake.
So, on this particular day, with nary a water bottle nor a hat and never ‘sunscreen’ (what was that?) Job said, ‘hey Morg, lets walk the whole way to town up on the rocks!’ Job loved a physical challenge. I guess I did too. Up we scrambled onto the hot, dark rocks which had been cut to form the roadway. We carried on walking, sometimes skipping from one outcrop to the next. Job was way ahead of me, as usual. He was faster, more daring and more physically efficient in every way.
As I walked along the rocks, a bothersome horsefly bobbed around my head, crashing into my tanned forehead every few steps. Looking up to see Job’s red head bobbing up and down ahead of me, I suddenly realized that there was a warm sensation coming from the bottom of my right foot. ‘What the…?’ I reached down and my hand came back to me covered in blood. The tears burst from my eyes as I screamed for Job.
With wild, frightened green eyes Job arrived by my side and knew instantly that I had trod on a piece of broken glass. He found the piece a second later. It was a nasty jagged stalagmite of broken beer-bottle glass and it was covered in my blood. Job half carried me for about ten minutes to the closest cottage where he pounded on the door and asked for help.
The nice lady who came to the door took me to her pure white porcelain tub and quite tenderly washed my gash of blood. She soothed me with sweet mutterings while she ensured there was no glass left inside the wound. I was silently crying and worried. Next she sat me down on a kitchen chair and expertly bandaged my foot with a gauze. She used a lot of gauze. A whole roll. She knew exactly what she was doing. Then she drove us back to the camp and made sure Dad received us before she left. Dad had a quick conversation with her, thanked her profusely and got the details of the unfortunate occurrence.
Dad closed the door of the office and turned around to stare us down with the look of thunder on his face. He was not happy.
‘Morgan, why didn’t you have shoes on while walking to town? FROM NOW ON, YOU WILL ALWAYS WEAR SHOES WHEN WALKING TO TOWN. IS THAT CLEAR?! he bellowed. ‘THAT WOMAN IS A COMPETITOR OF OURS. DID YOU TWO KNOW THAT?’
We both shook our heads vehemently, but, we DID know that. He was always talking about our competitors. How many campers they had compared to us, and so on, endlessly.
‘NOW SHE THINKS WE ARE BAREFOOT HEATHENS!’ he yelled. ‘SHE’LL SPREAD IT ALL OVER THE LAKE THAT WE CAN’T EVEN AFFORD SHOES!’ He was livid. His face was purple.
At this point, Job escaped out the screen door and all I heard was the wap! as it hit the frame – his red noggin’ bouncing up and down as he diminished down the trail to the shop then hard right passed the Patterson’s tent trailer and gone up into the camp, likely to find Mom and our baby brother Luke and tell them the story.
Next, Dad grabbed my skinny arm roughly with his huge hand. I was just seven years old and tiny and he was a behemoth. And Mad. He spanked me hard several times with his open hand which hit my bare legs and stung very badly. It hurt a lot and I quietly bawled and bawled, but what hurt even worse was the betrayal I felt. He was the guy who was supposed to protect me. I didn’t think it was fair to receive a beating when I was already injured but, I didn’t say a word. That would have been certain death.
He told me to get in the car and off we went to the medical clinic in Rex Falls, 20 miles away. I needed stitches and a tetanus shot. So much for a vachon and coke.
This day was horrible and getting worse by the minute. The aftermath of the cut foot was ten days of no swimming. Was I miserable?! I always wore my shoes to town after that one. Probably didn’t need the beating because the no swimming was punishment enough.
Usually natural consequences work best, I find.
But, what I am still confused about when I remember this, even though it happened to me decades ago, is just how much Dad over-reacted, in a bad way, to my cut foot. Perhaps he was having an awful day and this was just one more hassle to deal with.
But, it was me.
His good little girl.
I was hurt and scared and needed a hug. I can’t imagine beating my child who came home to me with a cut foot. It’s like kicking someone when they’re down. Who does that?
I am gonna re-write the last bit…bear with me…
…Dad closed the door of the office and turned around to look at Job and I with a soft but worried look on his face. He gathered both of our small bodies to his chest with his big strong arms. He kissed our curly heads, mine dark, Job’s ginger. He told us not to worry. He was going to fix all this.
‘Get in the car you two. First it’s stitches for Morg, then it’s ice-cream.’
We smiled at our Dad who was always so good to us and fixed all our mistakes, or tried to anyway. In town, we picked out a sweet thank you card for the lady who helped me and after ice-cream we brought it to her door to thank her in person.
Even though I couldn’t swim for ten days, Dad took me fishing and we had so much fun.
If you have any comments, I would love to read them.
With our 18-year old son, Leo, having just finished up his first term of University, and his buddy, Reid, we decided to take a 12-day trip to Cuba…a non-resort trip…not exactly as strenuous as a ‘back-packing’ trip, per se, but a non-resort moving around trip none the less. And, all in all, it was a fine adventure to finish off 2017 in a unique fashion. Dean and I were also celebrating 25 years married and we wanted to do something special for the occasion.
We arrived in Havana in mid-December and made a bee-line first to the cadeca to change money, then to the tienda for a cold one each. We had arranged a driver to take us to our place in Vedado, a trendy area of the city but, he was familiar with ‘Cuba Time’ and had no trouble just chilling until the four of us quenched our thirst after a long, rather sparse flight. Don’t get me going but what the devil has happened to flights theses days?…I had told the boys of the days of unlimited free boozy drinks on flights and a full hot meal preceded by a warm towel for your face, neck and hands, blankets and pillows and head-sets handed to each traveler. What the heck happened??? Now we couldn’t even check a bag for free. The four of us went with carry-on only and had had our sun-screen confiscated at security. Let’s just read that line again…our sun-screen was confiscated at security. Why? Well, it seems since 9 – 11, sun-screen in any family-size container, is a security breech.
Our driver happily helped us into his vintage car and off we rolled to our apartment. Along the way, in a combination of broken English, Spanglish, gesture and sound effects, he told us about the area and his family. It seemed that he was a nearly pro ping-ponger with four babies (who were now adults) and then we rolled passed the Mental Health Hospital and he put two bent fingers to his right temple and made a creaking sound while moving his fingers back and forth and rolling his eyes. Ooookay. Meanwhile, in his back seat sits me with Bipolar1. I didn’t let on.
Our apartment was ideal and in good proximity to a landmark that we all wanted to check out. The Nacional Hotel. It seemed fitting to have our first mojito of the trip there.
The bartender happened to be our landlord, so he treated us to a Cubata cocktail as well and a couple of fine cigars for the lads. His protege was quite a nice-looking guy, very photogenic, and he was fine with me snapping his picture.
From there, we walked along the sea wall and marveled at the warm air.
It was getting dark and would soon be time to find a place to eat. We asked a young person who seemed to know some English. He told us to try Bicky’s and he drew us a little map. We walked the darkened streets with nary a flat sidewalk and several random ankle-busting holes as well as piles of dog doo and other garbage. We found it, though. Its neon-lighted sign beckoning like a lighthouse over choppy seas. It was an Italian place and we were seated on the balcony. The place was packed and we got the last table. When my food arrived, it didn’t look like much: penne pasta in a cream sauce. Oh my. It was fabulous. All of us were happy with our food, but mine was outstanding. I could barely speak due to my tongue being in love with the taste. A nice omen of our meals to come.
The next morning, the Senorita arrived to cook us breakfast and we had fun trying to understand each other. She had not a word of English and would just raise the volume of her Spanish to make us understand. Luckily, my previous study on duolingo and our old phrase book which we had used in Central America when Leo was four helped. As well, I employed a healthy and hilarious amount of gesture which I was comfortable with since learning conversational American Sign Language when Leo was a baby. I taught her how to do eggs ‘over-easy’ using my hand as the spatula in my gesticulating. We had wonderful foods for breakfast: fresh tropical fruit, coffee, toast, eggs, freshly made tropical juices. Wonderful.
Off we went to walk to the book store which was a couple of miles away in a quiet part of the city. We walked past many pastel-coloured stucco homes, newly painted with groomed yards and straight fences, often directly beside a very old, grey and crumbling crooked house. It was odd and interesting. When we got to Cuba Libro the bookstore, we were amazed at the wonderful books as well as other offerings there: cookies, coffee and a clean bathroom. It is owned by an expat and has a lively community following with various clubs meeting there and tours too. The lovely server told us how to get a car to take us to Old Havana and so next we were climbing into a red 51 Chevy with clear vinyl covered leather seats. It was mint.
Because we so enjoyed this man, with no English but a lovely manner, we negotiated with him for the 4.5 hour ride to Trinidad de Cuba for the next morning. Then we walked around seeing the sights of Old Havana and drinking in the ancient feel of the place.
It was commonplace to hear and see vendors yelling and selling their wares which ranged from brooms (which I REALLY wanted – joking) to lettuce (which I also REALLY wanted) to baked crackers and pastries, even home-made ice-cream and shaved meat sandwiches were being sold but the sandwich maker was without gloves and my Western sensibilities would not allow us to avail of them. I was quite intrigued with the cart of lettuce, and other veggies. It looked so good and yummy.
Our ride to Trinidad (well, Boca actually which is just south of Trinidad) was uneventful except for many bumps due to the non-existent shocks on the 51 Chevy. There were very few vehicles on the highway but we would see horse and buggy from time to time, many sugar-cane fields and not a single fast-food place like there are along our highways. We stopped about half-way for a bano break and the boys had a quick sandwich. When we arrived, the taxi-driver asked at several doors to find us a place to stay. We wanted two rooms with their own bathrooms. We found them and we met an east-coaster named Erika who was quite eager to get to know us and to talk a blue streak. While the Senora of the Casa made us a roast chicken lunch, we went swimming in the bay across from our rooms. Erika came along and continued to ask intriguing questions and I found myself filling her in on our previous travels because she was very interested.
After a fine lunch, we grabbed a taxi to the big beach, Playa Ancon, and had a very sweet time throwing frisbee,
walking down the beach and when Senor came along to ask if we wanted a drink, I sprung for mojitos for all (perhaps a wee bit extravagant but, sometimes that’s just the way it goes).
When the sun began to go down we grabbed the last taxi for the 10k back to La Boca and sat on the front porch. Next, there was a bit of a sing-song, as it turned out that Erika could sing beautifully with a rich voice and was very talented on guitar. She had won an East Coast Music Award and such. http://erikakulnys.com/
Later, all the young folk went off to the Salsa House in Trinidad for a wild time. We heard them getting in a few hours later and it sounded like they were going to have some stories for us in the morning. Which they did…along the lines of how much rum one can drink before feeling rather sick…and such. And, they enjoyed dancing their legs off!
We spent the days either on the beach at Playa Ancon,
or walking around Trinidad
or hiking in the hills and swimming in small pools near the water falls.
Leo jumped in from a high ledge and it was really cool. I should comment that the second hike was very hard. Walking way down, down, down to get to this pool and waterfall and then up, up, UP to get back to the top where our loyal taxi-driver waited. My heart nearly burst. I couldn’t remember a more challenging hike, even when we trekked for 30 days in Nepal…I had been a lot younger then. That could account for it, I guess. One very good aspect though was that Dean surprised me with a lovely ring for our 25th anniversary, as we sat watching the boys by the waterfall. Doesn’t get any better than that, in my world.
We also ate a lot of really good food in many different establishments. Our Trinidad host, Rebeca, was so sweet to us too. She made us an elaborate breakfast each morning which included tropical fruit and juices, fresh-baked pie and pastries, omelettes, coffee with hot milk and chocolate. She would hug and kiss us regularly, in keeping with her affectionate culture and because we would smile and she could see that we were content. One morning she had Reid in a tight squeeze to her ample breasts. He surfaced saying he thought that was called ‘a motorboat’. We laughed. We breakfasted on her upper terrace and she went up and down the stairs at least a dozen times for us and not allowing us to help. Her granddaughter stole my heart and I gave her little gifts. To return the favour to us, Rebeca gave us a flask of Havana Club and a bottle of red wine. These would have cost her a heck of a lot and were very generous gifts.
In Trinidad, the boys went to the Iberostar Hotel a few times in order to avail themselves of wifi. It wasn’t free but nor was it too expensive. There was also a pool table there which they were able to use a few times. They would also have a cappuccino or a beer while they got their fill of social media and connecting with loved ones back home.
In the blink of an eye, it was time to head back to Havana to prepare for our journey home to Canada. Rebeca’s son would take us back to the big city. Without a word of English, we made our way with him. He was quite a good driver. He charged us a very fair rate for the trip. No English but a lovely persona and a big, quick smile. If you ever go to Trinidad de Cuba and need a place to stay, have the taxi take you to Casa Rebeca on Cienfuegos. Highly recommend!
Back in Havana, we found rooms in Centro, just outside of Old Havana. The landlady was a hurdle and it was apparent that she was a money grabbing opportunist behind her big fake smile. Can’t have the good ones every time, I guess. We walked the streets and looked at art, tasted various beers, Dean got a hair cut, and we tried a variety of restaurants and then it was time to grab a taxi to the airport.
My son and his shipmates walked down the plank and aboard the ship as the Indigenous girl sang a sweet sad song of good-bye. As she beat her skin drum the tears streamed down my face. ‘Come home to us’, I prayed.
Here is the story of my son’s crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on a Tall Ship, The Gulden Leeuw (as pictured above. Photo courtesy of Google Images). My husband, Dean, and I were ever so proud that Leo was selected to go on the ship, but I was also terrified of the whole idea. Anything could happen while crossing the North Atlantic — it was not to be trifled with. I was having out-of-body experiences as I imagined some of the more horrible possibilities, but, strangely, I was also very eager for him to be out there and experiencing it. ‘He will be fine,’ I was told. ‘That ship crosses the Atlantic all the time.’ They said. ‘The Captain will ensure that all is well.’ Meanwhile, my eyebrows moved higher and ever higher up my forehead. It sounds like I am foreshadowing that something bad would happen. Well, there was one big storm in which Leo told us about working in the galley with smashing dishes and flying carrots (yes, carrots), but other than some foggy days and cool temperatures, all went smoothly on the Golden Love, which is how I renamed the ship in my mind.
The morning they cast off, they smudged all present with smoking sage. A well-loved Mi’kmaq Chief approached me and with both hands holding the smudging bowl, kindly offered me the cleansing smoke. I reached out hungrily and pulled it over me. ‘This will help keep him safe, right?’ I thought. Blessings were bestowed by several Chiefs and Elders and best wishes were wished. We were asked to go around the crowd and ensure that every one of the 45 participants were given a hug by someone so that they understood how much we love and cherish them. It was unbelievably touching. But, I continued to check in with myself that this was my son who we were sending off. This was my only, cherished son who was about to sail away ACROSS THE NORTH ATLANTIC. Was I crazy??! Seems that way.
The time came for Leo and his shipmates to walk down the plank and to board the ship. An Indigenous girl sang a hauntingly sweet sad song of good-bye. As she beat her skin drum the tears streamed down my face. ‘Come home to us’, I prayed.
So, here is Leo’s story in a paper for school regarding types of tourism and, in it, he captures the magnitude of the adventure that he successfully undertook. My first guest-writer:
This summer I was involved in a travel project entitled Msit No’Kmaq: All My Relations. It was a travel experience that I applied for in which 45 aboriginal youth sailed across the Atlantic on a tall ship, while being involved in a rigorous sail training program. This crossing took place because of the vessel’s participation in a tall ship race, in which 11 ships race from Halifax to France. A laid-back vacation this was not, as it more closely resembled a work placement at sea, and it involved some of the hardest manual labour to which I have been exposed. I am certainly not complaining, as it was clearly the best and most rewarding trip I have been on.
The goal of the project was to transform the rag tag group of trainees into a somewhat coherent crew, and this was accomplished by putting us to work during daily “watches,” where that segment of the group would be responsible for running the ship. I absolutely loved it. I can admit that hard manual labour has never really appealed to me, and my work ethic when tackling work like that is not ideal. However, the work on the ship was certainly an exception. Although it is hard work, it is so rewarding in the way that you can immediately see the difference your hard work has made towards the betterment of the vessel or the race. In particular, I loved climbing aloft. While once again hard work, the excitement of being so high above everything really augments any feelings of boredom or longing for leisure into something closer to fulfilment and completeness. You look down to see the ship charging through the wake some 100+ feet below you as you hang on for dear life while tightly wrapping the t’gallant in gaskets. The intense heeling of the ship interrupted with violent shaking as she smashes through waves ensures that relaxation is never achieved. But relaxation is not the goal while aloft, even if your aching muscles scream that your bunk is more comfortable. The adrenaline is ever present, even when completing such a mundane task as furling a sail.
Although deep internal reflection sessions while staring into nothingness were never accomplished by me, I learned a great deal about myself during this crossing, and I think some personal development did indeed take place. The nature of living on a tall ship is conducive to reflective thought, the kind that makes you question the path you’ve set for yourself in life. Sailing is one of those pure pursuits. One of those passions that is enticing and exciting in its infancy, amazing and beautiful in its mastery. I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed both ends of the spectrum of sailing while on this voyage. You have the trainees, young men and woman who are taking a leap of faith and trying something completely outside their comfort zone. The beginning of our journey as sailors was raw and unkempt. We threw ourselves into the work and hoped something good would come from it, and of course it did. We kept that ship moving in the right direction, and kept our minds on the right path. We became more and more knowledgeable, skilled, and eager. The thirst for adventure propelled us to reach new heights (literally). On the other hand, there was the crew and captain. Experienced sailors, but many not so experienced at dealing with youth. Experienced or not, they were incredible. The patience, excitement for seeing us learn and grow, the humour, and the deft skill at motivation was beyond anything we could have hoped for. They really made the experience as fantastic as it was. All those pieces fit into the puzzle that made me question what I want out of life. I can say with some certainty that the most important thing I learned about myself is that I want to sail again. I want to be around the incredible and genuine characters that sailing attracts, and I aspire to someday be one of those characters myself.
As this was a trip for indigenous people, there were some cross-cultural difficulties that came up between crew and trainees. There were some instances when crew accidentally said something offensive or derogatory, but I was very impressed by the common understanding of everyone onboard. People were not quick to judge each other, and understood that the vast cultural differences between many people onboard were likely to result in some uncomfortable moments. It was all handled very maturely. There were also cultural differences among the trainees. Some, like me, didn’t really grow up ensconced in their native culture, and many did. I really learned that I haven’t grown up with my indigenous culture nearly as much as I’d like. That was something largely outside of my control, but it still stings. Being a part of this project has really made me appreciate the rich history that I share with these amazing people, while also helping me fill many of the gaps in my knowledge that are present because of my upbringing. I feel proud to be a part of such an incredible people, whose population has had such a rough go. It prides me to see that so many Indigenous young people are so successful.
The destinations we toured were Falmouth and Alderney, UK, plus Le Havre, France and Paris. I can say with near complete certainty that Alderney is the best place I have ever been. If I was asked to sum it up in one word it would be “authentic.” The people, the geography, the history, even the other tourists there were a breath of fresh air. It is a small island in the English Channel, just off France. With a population of only 2,000, the island has a distinct small-town feel. I have never observed a more impressive group of tourists than I saw on the island of Alderney. Because it lacks a major airport of any kind, most people who come to Alderney are sailboat owners. The demographic who sails their own boat through the English Channel are a completely different type of people than a crowd fresh off a cruise ship, or even a passenger plane. I can recount with great fondness interactions with locals and other tourists and remember always enjoying the conversation. Real, genuine people.
I think this relates to some concepts especially the allocentric/psychocentric disparity, as well as respecting the wishes of locals and tourism. Alderney is pushing for higher levels of tourism, and I have to wonder if the locals will be happy if many more people start flooding the gates. The laid-back atmosphere may be lost, which is part of the reason I loved it so much. I can also speak to the presence of attractions as well as hidden gems, and I can say with certainty that I experienced them both.
Of all the travelling I have done, this trip made me feel the least like a conventional tourist. I think that was due to our rather interesting story and mode of transportation, and the immediate excitement and intrigue locals showed when they learned we had just sailed the Atlantic. That feeling of respect was new, and responsible for a completely different travel experience. A generalization I can make from that experience is that the way you arrive to a new spot is somewhat responsible for the way you feel about your time there. I saw many different demographics of tourists during my time abroad, and I can say that the more allocentric crowd really appeals to me over the psychocentric. There just seems to be a greater feeling of authenticity, a feeling that I strive to exhibit myself.
My baby, the one who arrived in a maelstrom back in 1999, well, he is now a tall young man. Intelligent, kind, fun-loving, adventurous, athletic and handsome. (But, this is his mother writing. What else would I say?)
He is finished high-school and getting set to go off on a huge adventure and then to University. I have five weeks left with him before he departs. My heart is breaking and I am tearful, scared and joyful all at the same time. I never thought I would be this way, but, then again, I never thought I would be in a straitjacket in D.C. either. That’s life, right?! It sneaks up on you and BAM!
Your son, your only, is leaving for University.
But, what about that big adventure you ask? Leo applied and was picked to be one of forty-five youth to assist as crew on a tall ship from Halifax to France. Yes, that’s right. Across the Atlantic. Thankfully, there is a professional crew as well and they will be teaching the youth the ropes, literally. They will do duties: watch, galley, cleaning and maintenance duties. I am sure there will be lots of time for fun too. They will dock in Le Havre in Normandy France and spend five days in France before flying home to Canada at the end of August.
About ten days later, Leo will leave our house for University.
What happened to the days of Buzz Lightyear? Or the days of hiking, just me and small him and the dogs in the parks, on the beaches, up the hills? The days where every playground became a wealth of potential fun and that he would point at and cry hopefully, “Can I play in the playground, Mom?” and inevitably exclaim: “Mom, I’m having SO fun!!”
The holding of my hand. His, so small and soft and warm. The moments of insecurity when he was a toddler and would wrap himself around one or both of my legs as I stood in conversation with someone. The morning greeting, “It’s morning time, Mom!” The sleepy, cuddly story-times, sweaty fevers, rosy-cheeked kisses and all the stuff we learned together. The tears are streaming as I ask, “Where did the time go? and WHY does this hurt so bad??!”
Oh dear, did I spend enough time with him? Did I do enough for him? Did I help to shape a good young man? Will he find his way? Will he find a love? Will he miss me?
He wrote his last exam of high-school today and had arranged with two good buddies to go camping in New Brunswick at Fundy National Park. Both my husband Dean and I were home for lunch (we come home every day for lunch due to our Simple East-Coast Life) and so we witnessed the flurry of activity in getting ready for the big out-trip.
Leo was walking back and forth to his room grabbing all that he could imagine needing for the trip. Meanwhile, I set up a sandwich-building smorgasbord on the kitchen island with large slices of buttered Italian bread, sliced cheese and tomato, ham, bologna, bacon, mustard, mayo, and lettuce fresh and green from the garden. While Leo ran around, I invited the two buds to build their sandwiches and dig in. I wouldn’t want to see them on their way without a good lunch.
The curious thing happened. While Leo ran around, his two friends and I had a nice little visit in the kitchen. Mainly talking about some hiking memories that Dean and I made at Fundy National Park while going Across Canada in Betsy (age 26) 🇨🇦 and then about their plans for the fall. Leo came out to the kitchen and snagged the last two slices of bacon for his sandwich, which I then volunteered to build for him, as I could see he wasn’t even close to being packed and ready yet.
Just then, we realized that Leo’s phone was vibrating on the corner cupboard. Leo looked at it, then reached for it. From where I stood, I noticed that his hand was slightly shaking as he reached for his phone. My heart caught in my chest to see that hand, the very one I knew so well and had held time and again…shaking. Looking at the display, he said, “Dad, this is the call about the summer job.” When he looked up, there was a nervous strain on his face that instantly caused an anxious reaction within me. You see, Leo is a very laid-back kinda guy as is evidenced here.
Almost nothing phases him. But, I had to remind myself to take stock: he just wrote an exam, the last of his high-school career; a couple of nights ago, he found out he was selected for the Tall Ship experience to cross the Atlantic; there was a summer job being negotiated; friends were waiting for him for a couple day out-trip; Prom in a few days; he would be leaving for University in late August and he hadn’t even eaten lunch yet. So, perhaps a slight tremor of the hand and bit of a strain on the face is understandable. Regardless, the reaction within me was hard to deny. All I wanted to do was make it better. Take away his strain and nerves. Jeepers. I’m gonna need to chill.
Prom was fantastic and the prom parade went off without a ‘hitch’ and is featured in this little video:
…I am really hoping that the ‘loss’ of Leo to the great wide world (although surely tough on me) will be wonderful. That we shall see him spread his wings and soar through life, having adventures, doing good and following his dreams….TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!
My son, Leo’s favourite toy of all time was Buzz Lightyear, the action figure who emerged from the 1995 block buster movie Toy Story. He wanted the action figure very badly. We would make special trips to the toy store just to look at them and imagine owning one. The weird thing was that we had more than enough money to buy one but, at the time, I just didn’t think it would be good for Leo to have everything he wanted. The Buzz Lightyear action figures were retailing for about $75 plus tax, at the time. I thought that it would be too much to just go ahead and buy him one. Don’t worry, Leo didn’t want for much. He had a lot of toys and his own room with a double bed, a hand-made quilt with a space theme from two of his Aunts in Newfoundland, and, he had me all to himself as I was a full-time stay-home mom for his first five years. He was much loved. I just didn’t want to spoil him. There’s a fine line.
One day, Auntie Bonnie came to visit and we decided to head to Kitchener for the day and go thrift shopping at Value Village and then have lunch. Thrift shopping is so much fun. The thrill of the hunt for something of great value at a low, low price.
We were wheeling our way around the store. Leo was getting a ride in the cart and as I say, we were just getting warmed up when…low and behold, on a shelf with many other toys…there was…
NONE OTHER THAN…
CAN YOU GUESS???
BUZZ LIGHTYEAR!!! The one and only. And the exact size of the ones he had seen at the toy store.
Suddenly, everything slowed waaaaaay down. There were a few other people in the same aisle. If you can believe it, there was a boy closing in on the same area where we were. The boy was looking at Buzz. My hand was reaching. His hand was reaching. I didn’t want to muscle a toy away from someone much, much smaller than I, but then…
the boy reached for the frisbee instead. Whew!
My hand grasped the cool hard plastic of the toy’s mid-section. I held him up. He was perfect, except that someone else had loved him quite well before. It was obvious. Because he was missing a boot.
Leo didn’t care. He grasped Buzz and hugged him tight. ‘My own Buzz, Mommy?’ he asked. ‘Yes, sweetheart, your own Buzz.’ He was one happy little gaffer that day.
Buzz did not leave Leo’s chubby fingers for days. It was as if he was glued there. If someone asked about the missing boot, he simply explained that Buzz had lost a boot on a dangerous space mission and then he would hold Buzz tight and sail him over his head with a sonic whooshing sound, ‘To infinity and beyond!’
One day, Leo was running in our house on the ceramic tile and took a spill. There went Buzz, flying across the room and smashing on the tile. When Leo retrieved him, he was missing an arm.
I did a bit of research and found out that the Disney Thinkway Toy Company had an office located in Markham, Ontario which was just around the corner form Dean’s office at IBM. I called the company and explained that we needed some repairs done on a very much loved Buzz Lightyear toy. They said to simply bring it in and leave it with them for about ten days. They would see what they could do. We explained to Leo that Buzz had to go in for repairs. After awhile, Leo understood and said goodbye to Buzz.
The next day, just before they closed, Dean walked into the Disney Thinkway office with the old Buzz. The man behind the counter said, ‘You must be the people who called about repairs to an older Buzz Lightyear.’ Dean nodded and held up Leo’s Buzz. The man nodded knowingly, seeing the missing boot and missing arm. He then said, ‘I told my boss about your wife’s call and how your son loves Buzz so much,’…the man then reached under the counter and handed a shiny brand new Buzz to Dean. No charge, as long as they could have the old toy to study. Dean gladly surrendered old Buzz.
Leo awoke in the morning with the shiny new Buzz beside him. You never saw such a happy youngster. Not wanting to run with Buzz anymore, he shuffled into our room and sang out, ‘it’s morning time Mom and guess what? Buzz is all fixed up!’
Last summer an idea struck. How about I take summer seriously? How about I make a concerted effort to get out on our beautiful Nova Scotia beaches on as many nice days as possible. I own my own business and can work flexible hours, so in keeping with the tides, I could arrange my work to allow for beach walks on nice days. Why in keeping with the tides? Well, in this part of Nova Scotia, at high tide, there is often no beach to walk on. Also, there is a danger of being trapped down the beach should the tide be coming back in. It happens to unsuspecting folks every year. Best to walk the beach knowing what the tides are doing. Rainy days would be for catching up on office work. So, no waiting for weekends. I would take summer seriously. I just wanted to eat those beaches up. The second half of this was that I wanted a friend or two or a family member or two to accompany me on each said beach walk. I started asking around and several of my friends sounded interested.
First up was Blomidon Beach at low tide, once with my friend Lisa, then Jessie (and dogs) and then again with Victoria. Victoria was home for the summer holiday and as eager to walk the beaches as I. That worked! Blomidon Beach is a red, flat beach with red sheer cliffs hemming it in. There are often tiny little avalanches of red stones coming down off those cliffs. All along the top of the cliffs there are nesting holes for the swifts that make their homes there.
Next up was Scott’s Bay with Victoria. It was perfect. As we rolled along on the highway above Scott’s Bay, we each gasped at the beauty of the scene that emerged on approach to the big hill leading down into the village. The Big Blue, I like to call it. And, I can not visit Scott’s Bay without recalling fondly a novel I thoroughly enjoyed which is set in historic Scott’s Bay by local best-selling author Ami McKay. The Birth House is about the age-old struggle of women to be in control of their own bodies. Imagine. I would look at the houses and flapping colourful clotheslines and imagine the characters from that novel. Their tough but incredibly rich lives…all of it happening right there.
The tide was way out. Victoria parked the car and walked over the small bridge onto the pebbles of Scott’s Bay beach on the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world. We walked out and off to the left, stopping to remove our footwear and talking and relating while we stepped into the cool grey mud of Scott’s Bay at low tide. The floor of the ocean. Part of the time the grey mud was quite soft and deep. The temperature was perfect. The sun was high. It was warm but not hot and it was ideal. We walked and walked, the only two souls on the vast, shimmering beach:
Shiny Happy People Laughing.
Afterward we had lunch on the patio of ‘The Haze’ Diner which is located close to the beach, on the highway approaching Scott’s Bay. It was a good day. Homeward bound we stopped at Stirlings Farm Market for something to cook up for supper. Feeling refreshed, kissed by the sun, salt, wind and sand, we had taken summer seriously.
The next trip out was with my friends Mary and Victoria and over to Penny Beach at Avonport. Another perfect weather day and off we went, walking way down the beach, marveling and exclaiming at the beauty all around us. There was so much to see, to examine, to show each other and to talk about. I told them about the time, years prior, that Daisy and I had been on this beach, eating a picnic lunch with our three boys when we saw a group approaching us. They hadn’t even seen us, they were looking at the rock, the shale, the pebbles, the eagles, the shore birds. I told them that I was curious about what they were doing. Turns out it was a famous scientist and his students and they had come a great long way to see this beach. He said it was world famous to geologists. That it was once an inland sea and would have had a plethora of very large creatures and dinosaurs on it. The boys were quite impressed. I was just so thankful to have had the opportunity to glimpse them in action.
Anyway, within no time we realized that three hours had slipped by. On Mary’s suggestion, which surprised me because I think of her as quite fastidious, we walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, knowing that the trip back would be through sticky mud. In Nova Scotia, when one says they walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, that can be a LOOOOONG way — like a mile sometimes. No kidding.
Another benefit of walking on beaches with friends is that sometimes surprising qualities and details about them (and me) emerge. In my experience it has always been a positive and our friendship grows deeper as we admire the beauty, sometimes sharing stories and anecdotes and sometimes just walking silently bathing in the salty breeze, sometimes bending to help the other wash the tenacious mud from their feet or the troubles from their hearts.
At the water’s edge, it was astoundingly beautiful, the patterns in the rock, the ripple of the waves, the call of the gulls and before that, the emerald green moss on the tiny, perpetually trickling runoff waterfall. We savoured it all and it was magical. Returning to the parking lot, we sat at the hexagonal picnic table and each ate a Valley apple and drank fresh water from our water bottles. So simple. So good. The day had been perfect. We had taken summer seriously.
Next it was Blue Beach with Rachel and Simon. I picked them up and off we drove on another very pretty day. Blue Beach is located between Avonport and Hantsport on the Minas Basin. It wasn’t a far ride for us. We parked and started the wee jaunt down the dirt road to the beach. Every time I walk down that dirt track, my mind is aflutter with memories of the previous walks on that beach. The time my step-sister was visiting with her family and her palpable anticipation of this fossil-riddled beach. She normally walks with a cane. Not that day. She was just too excited and the adrenaline was rampant. She was almost skipping. Then, while she and hubby examined fossils, I spent time with their two children and Leo. Skipping stones and doing handstands, running and tumbling, chasing and being chased and getting wet with furry, joyful Lady. A great memory. Leo idolized his big cousins and it was sweet to watch.
So, as it emerged, we could see the distinctly blue tinge of the rock and sand which forms this incredible beach. We all walked slowly and methodically, heads bowed to the rocky beach surface to notice its treasures, to bend and point and remark, three heads came together peering at marvels on the ocean floor. It was magical. At some point, hunger called us back to the car and away we swept to a close-by coffee shop for a snack and a drink.
Betty and I did Medford Beach together, parking in the cul-de-sac and walking down the grassy slope, across the tiny bridge and carefully stepping down the eroded small cliff, onto the red sand, beside the fresh run-off stream. The dogs were with us and into it full tilt. The chance to run free, smelling all the smells and swimming willy-nilly made their tails wag furiously happily. Following their lead, we kicked off our footwear, sinking our feet into the cool red sand. Then we walked and walked and talked and talked solving all of the problems of the world.
Later that summer, Leo and Dean and I went down to the Kejimkujik Seaside Adjunct for a hike on one gorgeous day. It was about a ten-km hike, partially over the windswept hills and then down along a boardwalk and onto a rocky beach. As we approached the beach, we could see what looked like structures sticking up all over it. Turned out, to be many many inukshuks. They were everywhere and they lent a surreal quality to the remarkably pretty beach. Leo immediately began to take photos of them and then to build one himself.
From the rocky beach, we walked on a windy woodland trail and then out onto an incredible white-sand beach where we spent some time contemplating a swim. Make no bones about it, the water was, as always, freezing. Dean managed to submerge for a split second then rushed out to the warmth of the sand. It had been a lovely day and finished on a spectacular beach.
In was a fantastic summer mission which also included Evangeline, Hirtles, Avonport, Crescent, Margartsville, Aylesford, Kingsport beaches, all with their various qualities ranging from fine white sand to pebble to rocky, red sand, blue sand, golden sand. Near, far, remote, popular, unheard of, it was a grand summer full of wonder, family and friendship. No better kind.
A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.
Forest E. Witcraft
Mr. Laset was the quintessential good coach: kind, unselfish, knowledgeable and competitive when necessary. He coached me throughout elementary school for cross country running, gymnastics, volleyball, basketball and track. We had practices after school every day of the week. He was consistently present and consistently good to me. Over the decades I have thought of Mr. Laset many times and, every time it has been with fond memories. 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 a lot of upper body strength, something I naturally had. I bounced off of the small spring board, placing both hands on the beam and then, with hips high, brought both feet into a wide straddle on either side of my body, but not touching the beam. I balanced that way for a few seconds and then placed my feet on the beam. From the wide straddle I made my way into the splits, held it with arms raised, fingers poised, then swung my back leg forward into a pike fold, then into the required back roll. From there, I gracefully transitioned into standing and went through the rest of my routine, conducting the required moves: standing balance with one foot held in my hand above my head; 360 degree spin and front roll and with various dance and rhythmic arm moves, made my way to the culminating move: the dismount. Mine was a front pike hand spring off the end of the beam. I did it and I stuck it. Arms up, arched back, chin high, head back. My teammates clapped and there were a couple of smiling, pretty moms I didn’t know who made me feel special. I walked off to find Mr. Laset who was working with some of my other teammates. Mr. Laset was spread thin watching over all of us.
Next up was the vault. Our score was the best out of three moves. I did a pike head-stand over, hand-stand over and high straddle over. I stuck all three pretty well and felt good about it. Mr. Laset patted me on the back and told me I had done well. So far so good.
After eating my brown-bag lunch, I checked the schedule and saw that it was almost time for me to do my floor routine. Again, I went to the mat for a warm-up and, again, I was impressed by the springy-ness of it. My music came on as I took my place on the mat. I
knew this routine cold so it was no problem to do it to the very best of my ability. The one toughest move was a hand-stand which was to be held for 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.
No one noticed my big smile or my big medal.
Mom and Dad were arguing in their room with the door closed and my three brothers were off in all corners of the house. My three eldest siblings would have moved out by then. No one asked about my big day. No one picked me up and hugged me wildly to celebrate my success. There was no celebration meal and no fun dessert. I had this great big family, but no one was there for me that day. No one watched me compete. No one watched me receive the silver medal. I was left wondering if it mattered. Did I matter? ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’
One thing for sure is that this circle of neglect is broken. My husband Dean and I have one son, Leo. We have watched all of his sporting events and Dean has coached many of his soccer teams. My parents were very likely doing the best they could with what they had in their tank. I am ever thankful for people in my life who were there for me when my parents couldn’t be. One such person was Mr. Laset. Speaking to him earlier today after forty years, made my year. The gift of his calm, smooth voice knowing and remembering me and chit chatting about our sports days in the mid-70s will be cherished. When he said, ‘How is my best point guard doing?’ Those words were golden. He was important in the life of a child. That child was me.
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
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. 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.
One of the first men I can remember who LOVED Amy was Ike whom she met thru the A&W in Walden. 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.
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 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 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 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 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 the highly skilled teacher, Daisy. We 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?
We hiked all over the property of Windhorse Farm and were given a herbology talk by my lovely friend, Lucy. The weather was hot 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 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.
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 and bowing down between his knees. 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?’
Sam inches a bit closer, turning his body slightly toward Amy. His eyes riveted on her face.
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…..?’
‘……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 (yes, Sue is a guy) from the post Fun and Foibles at the Camp 🎣 (18). 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…?’
‘……How old do you WANT him to be?’
Total Guy Magnet.
(Credit for the feature image at the top goes to my other big sister…the ever talented, Eva Player)
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