… 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? (TO INFINITY…AND BEYOND! 💥 ) 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. 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 10 minute walk to work at I wrote about here: A Simple East-Coast Life) and so 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 grabbed 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 stalk: 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.
When we first moved to Halifax, I lost a second-trimester pregnancy, Leo’s little brother, and it was heartbreaking: The Loss of Dane (age 35) 💔 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.
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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 take the toy away from another child, 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 Buzz Lightyear.’ Dean nodded and held up Leo’s old 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.
When my son, Leo was two, I became pregnant for the third time. We had had an early miscarriage before Leo came along in 1999. It was during the early weeks of this pregnancy that we decided to move to the East coast. My husband, Dean found us a furnished two bedroom sublet with a garden and a patio and which accepted pets — we had two big dogs, at the time. Our new digs had a gas fireplace, two floors, two sunflower-upholstered love-seats, laundry just down the hall and an underground parking space. The apartment was just around the corner from the Public Gardens in Halifax and we thought we had died and gone to heaven. While Dean would be at work down at Purdy’s Wharf (the two tallest, newest buildings on the Halifax harbour), Leo and I would be hanging out in the Public Gardens which are truly a beautiful place: green lawns; winding pebbly pathways; ducks, geese and swans in the ponds; a band-stand; a canteen with ice-cream stand — paradise!
If we weren’t in Public Gardens though, we might be out with our Realtor who was trying to find us a house. It was a hell of a market. A sellers market where everything was selling out from under us, even as we were walking through a house.
Dad and my step-mom, Wendy, came to visit for a week. They took the train from Ontario, getting into Union Station where we easily picked them up. The best memory of that trip was our day in Peggy’s Cove. The five of us, with jackets, water-bottles, sunhats and wallets piled into our wagon, along with 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.
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.
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, my 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.
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.
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. 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?
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 and 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.
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 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 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, 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 also walked 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. 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 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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Now the sun’s gone to hell and
The moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line in your palm
We are fools to make war
On our brothers in arms
We’ve all lost someone who we are sure is a mistake of nature to have died. A friend, a relative or, a celebrity: John Candy. Robin Williams. Princess Diana. Why? Why would they die early? They who never hurt anyone, but, who only did good things and helped people or who made people laugh. Why were they taken from us? It just is not fair.
Uncle Ted was that person for us. Ted was married to my husband, Dean’s eldest sister Lanna. They got married in the seventies and built their bungalow from scratch on a dead-end street in a small city in Newfoundland. They had three children and raised them with the utmost care and attention. There are now 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 PLAYSwith you? asked an incredulous Kevin.
‘Like, anything you want?’
‘Yeah. Anything I want, answered a dreamy Leo.’
‘Wow!’ said Kevin.
Some other wonderful things that Ted would do. He would shovel driveways and mow the grass of 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 decaf tea and then right back at it. There were scores of examples of Ted’s kindnesses, acts of forgiveness and incredible selflessness. We’ve heard the saying What would Jesus do?
What would TED do?
In military college, there were four cadets tragically killed. Over reading break, four of them went off to fly a Cessna. One of them already having his pilot’s licence. We never saw them again. It was a very small school. We all knew each other. We knew each other sometimes better than we wanted to know each other. We were struck dumb with the news of our missing classmates. We lived in this big old four-story building which was just like a Residence Dorm. Someone hooked up a major sound system outside the dorm and we all went to the windows of the south side of the building and held lighted candles while one cadet blasted Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits. Everyone was wailing. It was a powerful display of our misery for the loss of our classmates. I remember feeling completely helpless and very angry. Again, the question of why? Now that I am a mom, I could not fathom how any parent could survive a call about the death of their child. Imagine receiving that call, having raised your child and sent he or she off to college. Tragic.
When Mom was in her mid-fifties, she began, slowly, to lose her mind. Mom had always had a memory that would put anyone to shame. She could remember all the details. Who was born where, what time and how long each labour was. Birthdays of relatives and friends. The location of each pin in our house. Phone numbers and important details of her seven children’s lives. I remember calling home from 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
The summer I was 19 was the first summer that my eldest sister Eva owned the camp. I had just graduated from high school and would be attending University in the fall. My best friend Flo was already studying Nursing. Both of us needed a full-time job and had asked at July’s Diner if we could work there. With a yes from July’s, we promptly began to plan.
We moved to the camp with my little brother Luke and with Eva’s middle child Jake, who was four, we started the opening clean up, just as Mom had taught me. Start systematically at cabin number one and spend a whole day on each cabin. In past years with Mom, we would work until noon then Mom would have Job build a small fire in the outdoor fire-pit of the cabin we were working on. Job was good at that. Mom would make soup and fried bologna or wieners over the fire. After eating and much to our enjoyment, she would pop popcorn in lard over the fire. We would just love those days with Mom…
It was hard, dirty work and there was a lot to do: clean, dust, paint, move things, wipe down cupboards, count dishes and cutlery, ensure pots and pans were there, affix curtains, paint and tidy…it was endless. One time, Flo reached up into a corner shelf and pulled out a stiff dead mouse by the tail, holding it horizontally while I squealed, having been startled by the oddity of it, so stiff and straight. Flo just chuckled at my antics. At the end of each full day, we all went out to July’s for a feed of fish and chips or something akin. Little Jake was an angel who was constantly helpful and pleasant and a joy to have with us.
Early the following week, working on number nine, we decided it needed a lick of paint. It was a bright, warm sunny day. Perfect for working on our tans at the same time and Luke had taken little Jake out fishing for the afternoon. We had the boom box playing full tilt: BORN in the USA and SUMMER OF SIXTY NINE and JOURNEYtapes. I should mention here that Flo was a tireless worker. She would never stop and it was a pleasure and a joy to have her by my side for the summer, and she is still my oldest best friend today. So, we got up on the long ladder and once up there, feeling the sun on our backs, decided it would be perfect for topless painting. All was fine and good and we were working and singing, tanning and laughing. Suddenly, between songs we heard the rumble of an approaching tractor. ANGUS BRECKNER!!!! Oh my god. The very cute farm-boy of similar age to us, Angus was coming to cut the hay today. You never saw us scramble so fast down those ladders to find our t-shirts, screaming all the way.
The season began and we slipped into a routine. A johnny cake breakfast with Eva and the three boys who would kneel on their chairs, their blond heads forming steps on one side of the table. Next, chores which usually consisted of garbage pick up plus other light maintenance or cleaning jobs. After chores there was time for swimming and a bit of sun-bathing and then it was time for work at the diner in town. Sometimes we would bike to town but often we would get a ride from a friend, Angus or his buddy, or we would walk the two miles along the side of the highway.
Come the weekend there would often be various camp-fires or pit parties to attend. We also had friends of the male persuasion who would sometimes accompany us to Deer Hurst in Huntsville where we would dance and enjoy the house band being silly and celebrating our youthfulness. The best song came out that year: N-N-N-N-Nineteen, Nineteen. It was like it was written for us.
Another time we went out with our red-head friend Marvin. There were a few of us in his little jeep. We were driving pell mell along yet another dark, dirt, hilly, twisty turny country road for the sheer joy of the drive. Flo and I were squealing and ooohing with each directional change. Suddenly, Marvin slowed the jeep and driving close to the right side of the road, started to accelerate while turning sharply to the left. The jeep leaned over on two tires, EEEEEEK! It hesitated, as if deciding what to do, then over it went into the ditch, landing on its right side. There were a few expletives uttered at that point then Marvin said rather calmly and clearly in his deep voice: get out before she blows. Oh Jesus did we scramble to get out. The last person climbed out and let the door slam. It slammed on my right thumb. Marvin ran back and opened the door so I could escape. Whew. That was a close one. The jeep did not blow.
During other summers, from time to time a high school friend would come up and stay at the camp. When Sue (a boy named Sue, just like in the Johnny Cash song), arrived with his family, I was quite happy to see him. I enjoyed his company and we had had many good times together. As my sister Amy would say: he was a good head. (That’s a compliment).
One night we had heard about a campfire out off the Cane Road. Amy was at the camp with her car and, always generous, allowed us to use it. In we piled. There was Sue, Karrie from across the lake, a friend named Faye from the narrows, and myself. However, after a bit, I was a tad worried about Sue who was drinking large amounts of rye, thanks to Doug, the host, and he was getting quite drunk. We finally got him into the car after pulling him out of the ditch and started down the gravel, country road toward the camp. Suddenly, without much warning, except to ask that the window be rolled down, which it wasn’t, Sue got sick all over Faye. He had projectile vomited such that there was vomit on the car wall and window with a silhouette of Faye where her head and body had received it rather than the wall. We should have seen it coming. I pulled over and quickly asked Karrie to open the rear door. Sue tumbled out head first and landed in the ditch for the second time. He was moaning, groaning and puking. He waved at us saying just leave me here, just leave me here. Ya, no. I would not be leaving Sue there in some ditch on some god-forsaken, dark, forest-edged road. I yelled at him to get sick once more then to climb into the car.
The next morning I was cleaning number one cabin when I heard some commotion by the men’s outhouse. There was Sue. His large teenage male body was standing, slightly stooped, in the open door of the outhouse, his back to me. He was holding a Pocket Fisherman (for a split second my mind reeled back to the time, years prior, when I had wanted so badly to use Eva’s husband Peter’s Pocket Fisherman and he so generously indulged me. Next, I promptly raised my right arm to cast the line and then somehow dropped it into an unfamiliar dark lake and just watched it sink. Frozen in horror at what I had just done. Peter had very graciously just waved it away, neither one of us wanting to go in after it.)
Anyway, Sue was holding the Pocket Fisherman the line of which was down the hole. He appeared to be fishing something out of the shitter. This was going to be interesting. I asked him what he was up to. Sue turned and his face was green. His front teeth were missing. He hesitated and seemed to argue with himself for a split second but, finally admitted that he was fishing his partial denture out of the shitter. It had fallen out when he was sick…..
Later, Amy and I saw him with his teeth in place. He told us he had boiled his denture for three hours. Poor Sue. That was a rough turn of events because after fishing his denture out of the poop, and then sterilizing it, he then had to go clean up Amy’s car which we had closed the night before and left in the sun. Not pretty.
The summer went on with canoeing, swimming, jumping off the rocks into the lake, exploring, campfires, chores and fun. Then we met Len, the son of a hockey great who had a cottage near the camp and to call it a cottage was a vast understatement. It was massive with double doors leading into a great room with a double staircase heading up to a landing then splitting in two, heading in opposite directions around a upper story landing with several bedroom doors visible from below. There was no electricity and the whole place was made of weathered wood, but was new and in perfect repair. I could not stop looking at everything. Up at the top of the wall there were a few posters of the hockey legend, taken in his day.
Len had all the toys and a boathouse and a boat, skis and all the gear. The top of the boathouse was a games room with pool table, table tennis, shuffle board, darts and a cooler full of pop. The boathouse had a balcony from which we would jump or dive into the lake below. It was teenager heaven. He would invite us over sometimes to water ski. We would have a ball! Mysteriously, whenever I told Dad I was going to hang out with Len, he would jump up off the couch and offer me a ride. I think he would have been quite happy if I had gotten serious with the son of a hockey legend. Imagine.
In the 60s my parents buy a piece of lake-front property north of the Muskokas in Ontario, Canada where we move to every summer to live bare-foot at the lake: fishing, swimming, sunning and doing chores each day…
In 1960, the year Mark was a born, my parents with my paternal grand-parents, bought a 21-acre piece of lake-side property north of Huntsville, Ontario. The Camp, as we came fondly to call it, has ten cabins, each on private, wooded lots, most with their own water frontage and docks, on beautifully picturesque forested property beside the soft mineral waters of Eight-mile Lake. The lake is part of a very long and historic river system. The camp is still up and running but is now owned and operated (since the mid 80s) by my eldest sister, Eva and her family.
The Camp was an integral part of my childhood and it was instrumental in my becoming an outdoor, nature and wildlife enthusiast. You see, as soon as the school year finished, Mom and Dad would have us packed up in the huge boat they called a car and we would move, lock, stock and barrel, up to the camp for the two months of the summer holidays. We never returned to the city during the summer. The City, in the summer, was a place where the less fortunate had to live.
Driving to the camp was always an undertaking. There would often be five or six of us in one car at a time for two hours straight. Once we were in, it was the lake or bust. Dad didn’t dare stop for anything. He had already gassed-up the boat and if one of us had to pee, it would be at the side of the highway, no kidding. That two-hour drive seemed to last forever, such was my happiness and eagerness to get there. Once we would pass Gravenhurst, we would be into The Rocks where the Canadian Shield would start to show its lumpy head. The Rocks was the first milestone that proved we were making progress. The Rocks we would say to each other and grin and point, then poke at each other in anticipation of all the fun the summer would surely hold for us.
The lake was the best place in the world to be in the summer and oh, how we pitied, for once, our neighbours, The MacNeils who only got to go on a short summer holiday somewhere closer to Walden. One or two of the MacNeils would usually come to visit at the lake and stay for about a week. Never the whole family though.
Once at the lake, life became a little simpler and a lot more basic. We would shed our shoes and heavier clothing and run around for hours at a time in shorts, tee shirts or just bathing suits. I can remember days filled with hours of swimming, canoeing, running back and forth to the trampoline, playing outdoor games and having the time of my life. All of us became expert swimmers, canoeists, fishers and water-skiers thanks to the black, soft water of Eight-mile Lake. I was swimming by the time I was three. I would spend hours in the water and became such a great underwater swimmer that people would often think I had drowned because I could hold my breath and swim underwater for so long.
The Camp had a built-in source of friends every summer. Nine of the cabins would be rented out to various families who had usually made bookings for them in the winter months. The campsites would also be filled up with people on vacation from the hotter, muggier climes of southern Ontario and of the northern United States. The odd time we would have customers from somewhere exotic like Germany or France. We would make friends one summer and then see these same people and their families return for several summers to follow. Together, my friends and I would explore the camp and surrounding area. We would swim, trampoline, canoe to town, walk to town, go for a hike, go fishing, go bull-frog catching, play hide-and-go-seek and have amazing sing-songs around the camp fire and under the vast starry sky at night. We were constantly on the go. We had a lot of good times. On rainy days we would play board games and spin-the-bottle above the work-shed that we called The Shop. Dad didn’t like us to have friends into The Office where he was trying to conduct business. (There were many fights about keeping The Office – our house where we ate and slept – professional and quiet. It was very difficult to keep it so serene especially with the screen door always slamming on the way out.) Slam it! Dad would sarcastically yell from his inevitably prone position on the couch, with the newspaper. Conducting business was exhausting work. Meanwhile, Mom had already probably cut three huge grassy cabin lots, cleaned and dug four grimy, foul outhouses and had nothing but an open-face sandwich, a cup of black coffee and a gingersnap for lunch.
Saturdays were the worst days of the week at the camp. Saturdays were turnover days. All of our friends would be leaving and because we had so many chores on Saturday, we often didn’t even get a chance to say our good-byes. From the crack of dawn, we would be tasked with cleaning the cottages, picking up the garbage, cutting the grass, painting and making repairs. Of course, we had many of these same tasks on a daily basis but on Saturday we had a new element involved: time constraint. We had to have it all done before the new customers would begin to arrive and would be expecting their cabin or site to be absolutely sublime. When I was little, I would work closely with Amy, Eva or my mom on cabin cleaning. I would marvel at how quickly and efficiently they could complete a task. I would wish and wish that I was older and more capable, and I would try very hard to keep up with these experts but, I was a child and had the attention span of a child so I would find myself wishing I were swimming instead. Mom knew my love of the water and so would give me a task that would take me down to the dock. I would be given a large blackened kettle to scrub with sand or told to sweep off the dock! A few years later though, I was in charge of cleaning some cabins on my own, or with Luke as my assistant. Wanting to do the very best job, we drew up a list of the various tasks that would have to be completed in each cabin. It went something like this:
Make the beds. Wipe the bedroom furniture down. Sweep out the bedrooms. Clean and sanitize the fridge. Remove any left food and bait. Organize the cupboards. Blacken the wood stove and empty the ashes. Sweep down the cobwebs. Clean and sanitize the sink
Clean out the outhouse and drop ashes down the hole. Sweep and mop the floor. Sweep the porch. Sweep the dock. Tidy up the outdoor firehole.
Dad was very proud of this list that we drew up and he would show it to some of his friends and they would all have a chuckle over it – especially the sweep down the cobwebs line. Even now, when I sometimes help Eva with the cleaning, I mentally run over this list as I lovingly go about the task of cleaning those rustic, very special but ancient cabins.
Dad had a few nicknames that were given to him by the older boys: Cheapskate, Tightwad, Lard-ass, Oaf, Ogre, Moose and Minnie. Moose and Minnie were the ones that stuck although, on occasion, when Job was mad about something, and he was often mad about something, he would refer to Dad as that cheap tightwad or that Lard-ass or something akin to that. Nicknames were big in our family. From the second my Dad laid eyes on me he nicknamed me. I had all this black hair and my skin was a little brownish in colour. I was not cute. I became known as Petite Laid, meaning little ugly and later this was shortened to just Titty. I can still feel the humiliation, as a young girl, perhaps just starting to develop, Eva would holler across the aisles of Woolworth’s, Titty, come over and take a look at this. Just the other day, when on the phone, long-distance with Eva, she slipped and called me Titty. Oh my God, where did that come from? she asked. We just had a chuckle over it. Now, a couple of decades later, I think it is a cute nickname. Back then, we all had a nickname, except for Eva. Amy was Doobie and Big Sweets. Matt was Feebert and then just Feeb and then Feb. Mark started out as Goobie-Goo and then got Bert. Job got Bert as well. I got Titty and then Ditch. Luke got Bert then Bertrum Brothers then Buttox. Mom was Big Bubbles. She used to leave the kettle on until there were lots of big bubbles and Dad used to goad her about that calling it a waste of energy.
Raising a family of seven kids, on a teacher’s salary, means that frugality is necessary. One day, at the lake, Job climbs out of bed and down the ladder from the loft. He decides to cook up some breakfast before starting on his morning chores. Noting that Dad is on the riding-mower out front, he decides to take some extra time and savour the peace of being alone in the office. He can just about taste the crispy bacon and eggs he will make.
Job pulls a pound of bacon out to the fridge, takes one look at the generic brand, and is so disgusted by how fatty it is that he flies out the screen door and whips the pound of bacon at Dad on the riding mower. The pound of bacon hits Dad on the back of the head while Job yells, Minnie you’re such cheapskate!
Dad would try very hard to stick around The Office most of the day. He liked to be there to collect the mail and to answer the phone and to sell a bit of ice and worms or gasoline to the customers. Of course whoever paid in cash made him very happy. Dad had a perpetual role of twentys in his pocket and would often get one of us, especially me, because I was honest, to count it for him.
Anyway, during the warm afternoons while the Northern Canadian sun danced on the large south-facing windows of the office, and the house flies buzzed angrily on the fly-catchers, Dad could invariably be found snoozing on the couch with his newspaper on his chest. Dad had bought a couple of massive, partially rusted deep freezers second-hand and they lined the north-facing exterior walls of the office with ICE printed on front and each sporting a Yale pad lock. Dad would tediously freeze huge blocks of ice in discarded fridge crisper bins. He’d then put the bin up on its edge on the kitchen table and it would begin to thaw and drip on the kitchen floor and then finally, it would yawn and tumble out. Dad would most often be there to stop the block from smashing on the floor. Here we go kids, another couple of blocks of ice to sell. Make sure to tell the customers that we sell ice down here at the office.
Mom would just watch this process and tisk, tisk at the water she would later be seen mopping up. That Man. She would mutter under her breath. Dad would then, almost lovingly, wrap the blocks in old newspaper and sell them to the customers for a buck or two, as inflation dictated. Dad seemed to enjoy the process of making and selling ice and could be seen smiling dreamily as he slid the beef-laden freezer baskets out of the way and lay another completed block in its bed in the bottom of the massive freezer.
One afternoon, while Dad was snoozing on his back on the couch, a slim, curly dark-haired, handsome seventeen-year-old Mark decided to have a steak dinner. At that point in time, Mark was on the outs with Dad and was staying in one of the unrented, less popular cabins. Mark or Job and even Matt were often on the outs with Dad. Usually it was over a lack of respect. Personally, I don’t think there was much respect flowing in either direction in these relationships. Mark sauntered up the office screen door, to verify what he suspected would be the scene at that point in the afternoon. He then whipped out a screwdriver and proceeded to work the screws out of the latches on one of the freezers. He was successful. He opened the freezer. Squeak, the old hinges complained loudly. Oh Shit! Sure enough, Dad had heard his freezer door opening when it had been locked. He was up and he was mad and he was coming out of the screen door. Mark had already snatched a couple of steaks and was running through the trailer park up into the camp and yelling, I got some! I got some! Dad never saw those steaks again. Dad didn’t like to run and especially didn’t like to make a scene in front of the trailer park.
The trailer park was located beside the office on the way up to the rest of the cabins and other wooded camping sites. There was one older couple who used to always take the first site and were, therefore, closest to the office. The Pattersons were excellent fishers and liked to be close to the office dock where their boat and motor was tied. Every time we would have an argument or a kafuffle in the office, which was usually a couple of times a day, Dad would say: Keep it down, The Pattersons will hear. One of these fights got pretty bad one day. Fights were about money, nick-names, laziness, poor grammar and lack of respect. This time the fight involved Mark and got extra bad and very loud. Lots of harsh words were screamed in each direction and, of course, Dad said: Shut up! The Pattersons will hear. At that point Mark flew out the front screen door, slammed it loudly, jumped off the porch, ran down past the shop and right past The Patterson’s tent-trailer and screamed, at the top of his lungs, FUCK THE PATTERSONS! A few years later Mr. Patterson died of a heart attack while seated in his lawn chair. He had been looking out at the lake. His ashes were scattered over his favourite fishing hole.
Every summer all nine of us would move to the lake where we had a ten-cabin campground. We would have daily paid chores then run barefoot, swimming, boating, fishing and playing. It was idyllic…almost always.
I bet I was the only ten-year-old kid who knew that the address of The Toronto Star was 1 Yonge Street, Toronto. I knew this piece of completely useless information because at the tender age of five years old, I had a paper route – The Toronto Star. I exaggerate slightly. The route was actually my older brother’s but, I had been given the responsibility of delivering a single paper to one out-of-the-way customer: Mrs. Wilson– about ten doors north of our house. I got paid a hefty 5 cents per week for such a tough job. It was much to my embarrassment though, when the phone would ring while all nine of us were all ensconced at the supper table and Mom would look at me and say, Morgan, did you deliver your paper? Invariably I had forgotten. I would have been too busy at play to think of it. I had to then drop my fork and run off with Mrs. Wilson’s paper. As the years went by I was given more and more papers to deliver and customers to collect from and one day I found that the whole route was mine – handed down from Matt to Mark to Job and finally, to me.
The Saturday Star was so heavy that, in order for me to be able to deliver all the papers from one load, I had to lug the bag to the top of our front, concrete stoop. I would sit on the third step and back into the head-sling of the loaded paper bag and then, leaning way over until my nose was almost touching the ground, I would stagger forward and allow the full weight of the bag to sit on my back. I often wondered how badly I could injure my neck if I were to just fall the wrong way or, if I were to stumble, out-of-control onto the street, would the car that hit me be damaged by the sack of papers on my back or would I just simply be crushed beneath them?
Most of my paper route, thankfully, was in The Apartments, an eight-story apartment building, just down the hill from us. When I was still quite little, I wasn’t able to reach the buttons for the seventh and eighth floors on the elevator’s button panel. Alas, I had the ultimate solution. I would lumber into the elevator and somehow drop my paper bag off my head, without wrenching my wee neck, and stand on the full paper bag in order to reach the button for the top floor. I would then deliver the papers on the descending floors, using the heavy bag to hold the elevator door open as I progressed. When the bag was no longer heavy enough to hold the elevator door open, I would carry the bag, deliver the papers and then take the flight of stairs down to the next floor. The whole process was quite an art. I may have been the most efficient little papergirl there was.
My career as an earner started then. I was a papergirl until I was 15. I started to baby-sit at the age of 12. I worked as a bus-girl at The Crock & Block Restaurant at the age of 15 while living with my sister Eva. I then had various waitressing jobs: Lafayette, O’Toole’s, Silky’s, and July’s Restaurant for five summers until joining the army at 19 (see post I’m In The Army Now). Dad did not believe in giving us an allowance. We had to earn everything we ever got. As a Player you learned the value of a dollar at a young age and, you never forgot it.
It was at Silky’s in Walden that I experienced working for the most dysfunctional couple of crazy people I have ever encountered. I hated working there because of it and dreaded each shift. Tom, the chief cook and owner would SCREAM at his wife, Darlene all the live long day: BUTTER RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF THE BREAD FOR FUCK SAKES! RIGHT TO THE FUCKIN EDGE!!! AND GET IT OUT HOT!!! YOU BLOODY STUPID BITCH. Oh Lord did I detest that place. The tension should have been on the menu because it was the most abundant item they produced. I just now googled the place. It is still open. Unbelievable. The food was good though.
Why work there? I was in grade 12 and needed a job. My sister Amy had helped me get the job through a friend of a friend and I was ever so grateful. Amy always had so many connections made through her work as a hairstylist. By this time, Mom was living in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic boyfriend and working as a server for minimum wage at cafeteria-style restaurant in Woolworth downtown. I would go visit her and she would look so tired. So worn out. Oh god. It would break my heart. This was her reality after raising seven children and keeping a wonderful home for us for 26 years. She did not come out of the divorce well. I could not ask her for a penny. She worked so hard and made so little.
At that time, my younger brother and I had a bedroom each in the basement of our bungalow and Dad was upstairs. I had been getting a couple of shifts per week at O’Toole’s Roadhouse Restaurant, but, it went bankrupt and it wasn’t long before I was without money. One particular day, having spent my savings, I had to ask Dad for money for necessities: menstrual pads.
He turned my down. He would not give me five bucks for pads. I was seething. I hated him.
I was forced to use cotton t-shirts cut into rags. Nice. God I hated him. It was incredible how much I hated him. I feel that hatred even now, decades later. And not giving me money, when he had plenty of money, for necessities, was just one of his many faults. The others were worse. Like when he would come barging into my room, even though my door was closed, and catch me half-dressed or naked but with the old sorry, sorry. I didn’t know you were dressing. Or he would forcibly hold me down and lick my face with his very wet, warm tongue – his bad breath washing over me as I would struggle — I just want to give my daughter a little kiss. Or, he would comment on my developing body you’re getting rather hippy, Morgan, you better watch it, you don’t want to get fat. Or, he would routinely reach out and touch my bum as I would be walking past him and then exclaim yippee in a falsetto voice. Then there were the many times his robe would mysteriously open and there would be hairy, wrinkled genitals for all to see. Oh god. I would be mortified when he would inevitably do this with teenaged Flo and Sally visiting. Show us his penis, by accident, of course, and then giggle about it as he snuck away back to his fart-stinking room. With all that I have read, learned and experienced in life regarding body image (see The Body Positive post) and now as a parent, here is one truism: never comment on a child’s body except to say how lucky we are to have one that does so much for us. Our body is truly a marvel which should be loved, respected, adorned, nourished, cleaned, clothed and loved some more.
So, my relationship with Dad was love / hate for sure. At times I would love him for his silliness and his zest for life and enthusiasm about certain topics: sport, recreation, small business, celebration. Dad loved to laugh. He would often have us all in stitches at the supper table, recounting his Skollard Hall days in a falsetto voice. He liked that falsetto voice. I do truly think he was doing his best to father us the best way he could, considering the factors at play in his upbringing and his generation and with the added factor of the Catholic guilt monitoring all that he did. Another factor in the break down of his marriage was mental illness.
Mom had been a classic Bipolar 1. When she was pregnant or nursing, which was a lot of the time until she was 42 and weened Luke, she did not have symptoms of mental illness. But, then it hit and it hit hard. She was hospitalised with full on psychosis several times in the seventies. I remember waking up around age six and walking around looking for mom. No one would tell me that she had been taken to the hospital: 5C – the psyche ward. She was there for weeks. We would go visit her and it was like she was a different person. She was in a fog. It was heart wrenching. I missed her so bad. I just wanted my mommy back. I would cry myself to sleep missing her so much. She would sometimes be smoking when we visited. I couldn’t believe my eyes. (Back then you could smoke in parts of the hospital. Yep. Unbelievable, right?)
In the summer, at the lake, Mom would become more and more manic. Her manic energy was put to good use with cleaning and maintaining the ten cabins of the camp that we moved to every summer. Lock, stock and barrel, all nine of us would move two hours North to the camp and live on the lake all summer – running the tourist resort – as it used to be known. It was truly beautiful there: 21 forested acres, half-mile of lake frontage, only 2 miles from a village for supplies, ten antique, rustic cabins on private lots with tall trees, most cabins on the water with their own dock and a sandy beach.For many years we even had a diving tower and trampoline over the water. Dad’s idea. Dad being a teacher, had envisioned the need for a business and an escape from the city. (We would have killed each other staying in the city all summer. No doubt about it.) It was pure genius and is one of those things I loved about my Dad. He had these great ideas at times. We enjoyed idyllic summers – running around barefoot, swimming, boating, water-skiing, canoeing and socializing with all the campers. Yes, we had work and chores, but, we were paid for them and it was just a couple of hours a day. Our summers at the camp were the envy of my friends. In fact, many of my friends would come to the camp, either to stay with us in the office or as paying guests and stay in a cabin or tent.
So, Mom would become manic and work, work, work. I remember waking up early to find her bed empty. She would already be out there working. Dad was much more sedentary. He would do all of the business-end of things: letters, bills, payments, promotions. All this to say, that mom’s mental illness was raging on, unchecked for several years. From reading I have done, because I too am bipolar 1 (read: Locked Up in DC), the more episodes there are the more easily an episode will occur. The brain makes these pathways that become easier and easier to follow and so sanity slips further and further away. So, to be fair, it could not have been easy dealing with this major impediment. When Mom finally went on lithium, and stayed on lithium, things were so much better. She was stable. Stable is good.
I wasn’t the first in my family to work at July’s Restaurant up at the Lake. My older sister Eva had worked there a decade prior to me. Eva would sometime recount one of her most embarrassing moments while working there. This man would come into the restaurant almost daily. He would take a seat beside the coffee maker in the kitchen in the mid-afternoon when it wasn’t too busy. He would just sit and chat up the kitchen staff and the servers as they would come and go from the kitchen. So, Eva walks into the kitchen this one day and slaps Buddy on the back and asks him how the heck he is doing today. That would have been all fine except that when she slapped him on the back his toupee went flying off his head and landed a few feet away on the kitchen floor.
You could have heard a mosquito tapping on the window. After a split second hesitation and with a very red face, Eva quickly grabbed the toupee off the floor. Put it back on Buddy’s head. Smoothed it out. Told him: ‘You have very nice hair.’ Then, turned on her heel to walk out.