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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!’
We adopted a tabby kitten from a friend in Polar River, NWT. She was a tiny cat, but she was mighty. We named her Sahtu after the region by that name in the Arctic, but, perhaps we should have called her SAW-TOOTH, as one of my nephews would call her.
We were living in Inuvik then and in the midnight sun of the summer, insects grow freakishly large. Sahtu learned to hunt by catching the massive dragonflies in mid-flight. She would jump up and grab them in her two front paws. Then… she would eat them, turning her sweet head to one side and crunch as she used her chewing teeth to devour her catch.
The first night she was with us, she slept on the fridge. She was tiny and she had never seen two big dogs before. Within a matter of days, however, she was completely in charge of the dogs. We had an old couch that the three of them would share. Sahtu would put her two dainty paws on Delta
or on Grizzly and she would knead their abdomens. She would sometimes receive a nice big lick but never a growl. The odd time, not wanting her attentions, Delta or Grizz would quietly get up and vacate the couch to her. The dogs just loved her. They were ten times bigger, and could kill her with one powerful shake, or one lazy bite, but they were mush in her green-eyed gaze.
We moved to Toronto after that, all five of us, and had this great three-story brick house at Birchmount and The Danforth. I am fond of saying that we were in the North Beaches, but those who know Toronto, know we were actually in Scarborough. There was a large, leafy shotgun fenced-in yard that the dogs would run the length of to chase their nemeses: SQUIRRELS, barking all the way. Never, of course, catching them. They should have recruited tiny Sahtu. She could catch anything. When Dean was studying and inevitably scrunching waste paper into balls, Sahtu would come a-running, the first time was out of curiosity at this new sound, the scrunching sound. Then Dean tossed the ball of paper high into the air and Sahtu executed a four foot high jump and twist to catch that ball of paper. After that, it became a game to her and a marvel to see. She had one lithe, muscular little body.
We had a little window over the kitchen sink that we would leave open for her to come and go. She was a happy little cat. We would put a bowl of food in a cupboard and we quickly taught her how to open the cupboard door. In she would go to eat in peace. Her food remained safe from the dogs.
The next year we moved to Virginia. Sahtu would come walking and hiking with us sometimes. My friend Nancy and her girls found it quite remarkable. We would be hiking through the woods and Sahtu would be following behind. We had a little bell on her which helped us keep track of her. Her cool feline presence added to the experience of hiking in the woods.
This one time, after we moved back from Virginia, to Milton, Ontario, we were living in an apartment out on highway 25 in the countryside. Going away for a few days, with our little guy, Leo and the two dogs, we decided to leave Sahtu with the young guy who lived in the apartment beneath us. We told him that if he left the low door window open, Sahtu could come and go and to simply keep her food and water full. After our weekend away, we returned to find what looked like blood and guts everywhere in the large front entryway and on the walls up to about four feet high. We found Buddy and asked what had happened, fearing the worst.
Eyes bulging out of his head to emphasis his words, he goes, ‘Man, that cat of yours is some kind of mean and cruel hunter.’
‘What do ya mean? Little Sahtu?’ we asked, in harmony.
Still with the overly wide eyes, Buddy says, ‘Well, she may be tiny but she’s a force to be reckoned with! She caught a rabbit, bigger than her, and she jumped through the door window with it in her jaws! When I came out here it was half dead jumping around trying to escape her and it was bleeding EVERYWHERE. I had to get my hockey stick to kill it and put it out of it’s misery’. I am quite certain that Buddy had no idea what he was getting into upon agreeing to ‘watch’ Sahtu.
Another time, after we moved into our new house, we needed to have some electrical work done. My eldest brother Matt came over to do the work. Downstairs we had this huge basement which had a workroom at one end, which was unfinished with an open ceiling and a utility room at the other end, which also was unfinished with an open ceiling. From time to time, we would notice little Sahtu going up into the space between the ceiling and the main floor. She would often start in one end and come out the other, having done her rounds, looking at us as if to say, ‘Okay, my duty is done. Everyone can rest easy now.’
So, when Matt was having trouble telling a complex funny story while also pulling wire from the workroom to the utility room, he was getting frustrated because the wire just wouldn’t go through. His story came to a halt. I said, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe Sahtu can pull the wire.’ So Dean ran to get her little metal bowl full of kibble and added a bit of fresh and fragrant roast beef. I tied a light-weight piece of cord onto her collar. We then put her up to the opening in the workroom ceiling and…in she went. Quickly, quickly, Dean, Matt and I then clambered through the rec room to the other open-ceiling room where we shook her food bowl, making the distinct sound that she knew and loved — we often shook her food bowl to entice her to come inside the house. Within a couple of moments guess who’s green eyes we could see coming? Little Sahtu. Matt was very impressed and for a few moments we tossed around the idea of putting little Sahtu on the payroll and hiring her out to pull wire at other jobs.
Another testament to her hunting prowess was the time our old Army friend, Nee asked if we could bring her along to his cottage in Haliburton because it had become infested with mice. ‘Absolutely!’ We arrived at the cottage, in tandem with Nee. Just as he was unlocking the cottage door, I said, ‘Let’s put Little Sahtu inside first and see what happens.’
‘Really?’ Nee asked, skeptical. ‘Okay.’
We opened the door a crack and put Little Sahtu inside.
A split second later she came out with a wriggling mouse in her jaws and..she ATE it, head first. All but the tail and the gizzard. Such a delicate little thing. All night long she battled the infestation in that cottage. There were minor crashes and thumps and bumps as she became the scourge of the Haliburton mice.
A few years later, we sadly lost our Little Sahtu. We aren’t absolutely sure, and we never found her body or any other evidence, but there was a massive bald eagle scoping her out as she herself hunted in a field.
The circle of life sucks sometimes.
We miss her.
(Cat photos courtesy of google images)
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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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It was 1997 and we were living just North of the North Beaches of Toronto. Yes, okay, we were actually in Scarberia, but, whatEVER. We were there because Dean was attending a school called iti: Information Technology Institute, downtown Toronto.
With my two older sisters and Mom just a couple of hours drive away, and me without a job, I would travel down there each week or so to visit them and their families as well as to go see Mom. Mom was in a nursing home suffering with Pick’s Disease (basically, the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s) and was almost completely non-verbal by that time. She was, however, in fine physical condition, a fact that played with our minds. She could walk for ten miles, no problem, yet, she didn’t know us and she couldn’t speak. It was hard.
Mom loved chocolate milkshakes. I would pick one up and while she worked away on it silently, I would drive to a park so we could go for a walk. Those times were very sweet but heart-breaking at the same time.
In those days, we were all reading Deepak Chopra: QUANTUM HEALING; THE SEVEN
SPIRITUAL LAWS OF SUCCESS; AGELESS BODY, TIMELESS MIND; and PERFECT HEALTH. Eva, Amy and I would discuss the concepts at length and do our very best to incorporate the thinking into our lives. So, when it became known that Deepak Chopra would be speaking at a nearby venue, we were overjoyed and quite excited about the idea of attending his talk. We got tickets and eagerly awaited the big day.
Now a days, good ole Deepak is friends with OPRAH. Oprah lost ME at the line….“Inside every overweight woman is a woman who she knows she can be.” Okay, you can fuck right off right now, Oprah. Bah bye. So….I’m useless unless I’m thin? Oh man. You are messed up lady, or, you are just in it for the money, which is even more messed up. Oprah has been on more diets than can be counted on both hands and feet. When is she going to GET that diets don’t work and stop being so fat-phobic? Oh wait. Partnering with Weight Watchers (because her 3.9 billion dollar net worth is NOT enough, I guess) means that she knows diets don’t work. It’s part of their bushiness plan. Lifetime membership. Enough said.
On the day of the Deepak talk, I drove the couple of hours to Eva’s house and arrived at her door to find her in the middle of finishing off a second batch of her world famous (okay, not WORLD famous, but potentially…) home-made buttertarts. They were little individual pastry cups filled with a gooey mixture of butter, raisins and brown sugar. Mom had taught Eva how to bake when Eva was a girl. Mom had been an amazing baker and could whip up a pie or a fruit crumble, a cake or a batch of cookies pretty quickly, from scratch. Let’s not forget Mom’s sugar pie. Neighbours would lean in and whisper to each other about it, their knees weakening as they spoke. It was mouthwatering and the stuff of dreams.
I asked Eva why she wasn’t ready and she explained that there was a death in the family of a friend. She needed to drop off some buttertarts to the grieving family after the talk. Could I take a tray in my van and she would pick up our other sister Amy and meet at the venue. Okay, sure, I said. I took the tray of precious buttertarts. That was my first mistake. I laid them on the passenger seat. That was my second mistake. Backing out of her driveway, I headed down to the talk. It was about half an hour away. The buttery sweet smell in my van was overwhelmingly mouthwatering. My stomach began to grumble. I salivated a little as I looked at the tray of buttertarts. Oh my they were beautiful little items. The aroma of the fresh baked, still warm buttertarts was torture. Breakfast had been hours ago.
Playing the radio, I tried to distract myself by singing loud and off key to all the radio songs like Tanya Tucker’s:
Delta Dawn what’s that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by? And did I hear you say he was ameetin’ you here today To take you to his mansion in the sky She’s forty one and her daddy still calls her baby All the folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy ‘Cause she walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand Lookin’ for a mysterious dark-haired man….
It wasn’t helping. Now there was drool spilling out of the corner of my mouth. I pulled up to the parking lot attendant window and was permitted into the lot. I then reached over and grabbed a buttertart, and,
Oh my god it was good. It was DELICIOUS!!! My eyes rolled back into my head. The pastry was flaking all over my lips and down my chin. But wait, was that Deepak CHOPRA getting out of his car right there???!!! Holy shit. It WAS Deepak. I swiped at my mouth. I stopped the van, and while chewing furiously, rolled down the window. Deepak Chopra was walking over to me because I was waving at him with both arms like an idiot. He probably thought I was choking and that he would have to save me. He is an M.D. after all. My mouth bulged with buttertart. My lips could barely contain the delicious crumbs. The dark and mysterious Deepak was at my car door but I still could not speak due to the god-damned delicious buttertart that I was still masticating furiously.
I did the only thing I could do.
I opened my car door.
Climbed out and threw my arms around Deepak Chopra, getting a whiff of his spicey, exotic cologne. Then…moving slightly back from him, I looked into his deep, piercing, intelligent yet peacefully dark eyes as my crumb-coated lips somehow met his.
He was obviously accustomed to women throwing themselves at him. He wasn’t the least bit flustered.
At this point, the remainder of the buttertart was in my cheek and I was able to say something completely asinine:
Oh my god, I LOVE your work, Deepak!! You are an amazing writer!! You are doing wonderful things! You have helped me so much! If I wasn’t happily married…
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Okay, okay. Calm yourself.
His hands motioned me into relaxation and I nodded and smiled at him with crumbs falling out of my mouth. Attractive? Not. I moved my car to a spot and berated myself for making such a fool of myself.
His talk was riveting. He stood at the edge of the stage and for two hours spoke about his books and his theories on life and health. I was really glad, by then, that I had eaten a second buttertart after kissing Deepak Chopra on the lips.
At eight months pregnant, my friend Nancy asked me if wanted to go on a road trip with her to her hometown of Virginia Beach from Leesburg, some four and a half hours away. It was summertime, her two girls were out of school and she wanted to take them down to see their grandparents. We piled into her SUV with snacks and a cooler of drinks, including my ever present bottle of prune juice. You see, at that time, I had been told that one of the keys to a healthy pregnancy was to ensure a daily movement…of… well, the bowels. Always a sucker for health tips, I grasped onto said tip and sure enough, I would have a glass of cool prune juice every morning of my 270 day pregnancy term (I haven’t touched it again, since). Keeping that in mind, when I awoke on the second day of our trip and being out of routine, forgot to take my beloved prune juice, I was more than a little worried by mid-morning when nothing had, as of yet, moved.
Nancy was a nurse. She understood my worry. She asked her youngest daughter, Kerry, to bring me a glass of prune juice. We were seated on the patio, just taking a break after a stroll around the neighbourhood. Out comes eight-year old Kerry with quite a large glass of prune juice. Where I would normally have about four ounces, this was more like ten. Feeling rather touched to be served, I graciously accepted Kerry’s offering and, what the hell, drank it down, hearing Mom’s voice in my head: Waste not, want not, Morgan.
Not long thereafter, Nancy offered to take all of us for a walk on Virginia Beach, about 20 minutes away. We again all got into her vehicle and off we went. Nancy was pointing things out all the way with a look of nostalgia on her face: there was her old school; her old shopping area; her old hangout; her old favorite fast-food joint; her friend’s house. I could feel the vibes of her memories and could almost see a youthful Nancy running along beside us as we slowly toured the neighourhood.
Onto the highway next and up the ramp and over the bridge. Suddenly, my bowels started to feel odd. I must be imaging it, I thought. Everything is fine. Everything is fine, I thought. Next, out seeped a silent but deadly one with the automatic instantaneous human reactions: windows rolled down; four noses into the clean wind; worried eyes; hands over mouths. Sorry, sorry. I seem to be having a reaction to something. I told Nancy and the girls.
My guts churned and roiled and tiny stink-bomb expulsions continued. A few miles later I was bent in two holding my very pregnant middle. Which was difficult in itself. It was like bending over at basketball.
Oh my god Nancy, I have take a dump right now!!!
Nancy told me to hang in there and to let her know when it was a true emergency. She clearly did not understand. My pants would be soiled in a matter of minutes if I didn’t get out of the vehicle and onto a toilet. All I could see out the windows though, was a guard rail and what looked to be a fairly seedy area of the city.
This is truly an emergency, Nancy. I see an Arby’s. Can we go in there?
By this time I wasn’t talking very clearly because I had every part of my anatomy CLENCHED.
Nancy said, Morgan, that’s a really bad part of town. Are you sure?
Yes, Nancy. Hurry!
Nancy pulled in and out I got, walking funny into the Arby’s due to my full-body CLENCH coupled with my huge baby belly. I found the Lady’s room which was just inside the door. In I went and closed and latched the door. Maternity pants down and onto the cool toilet seat. What happened next was not pretty. A bomb went off into that toilet bowl. At that point, the couple of other ladies who had been in the bathroom, made a hasty departure with an OH MY GOD, just outside the door. I can hear you. I thought. Whatever, I had to get this out.
I was on the toilet for a few more minutes and was feeling a whole heck of a lot better. Washing well then waddling out of the Arby’s, there was Nancy with wild eyes, her driver’s window cracked open pushing coins out to a Rastafarian-looking guy who was obviously quite down on his luck. Jenny unlocked my door and I hopped in and off we went to the beach as if nothing had ever happened.
When we first moved to our sweet little tidal town in Nova Scotia, it was before itunes and netflix. For entertainment, we would go downtown to rent videos and DVDs from a little place called L&S Video. L&S had an amazing collection and going there to pick out a video was a bit of a social experience because the four people who worked there, including the owner, were engaging, knowledgeable and pretty hilariously entertaining.
So, one Friday evening I found myself at L&S looking at options for Dean and I to watch after little Leo was in bed. It was a Friday evening so many folks, strangers, friends and acquaintances were coming and going and I was just having a fun ole time engaging with quite a few people — all of us in good moods due to it being Friday night and with the whole weekend ahead of us.
Nick was working that night and he was en forme . We were talking and bantering back and forth about various movies. I would say something profound like: you know the movie with that guy? And he would say: oh ya, TROY. Then I would be like: exactly. Nick was amazing. He knew all the movies, plot lines, actors. It was as if he worked in a video store or something.
At some early point in the hour that I spent that evening at L&S, I was squatting down looking at a low shelf of vids and reaching into my pocket, proceeded to put on my lip balm. My lips had been pretty chapped and my favourite lip balm: Burt’s Bees, just felt so nice to slather on. Somewhat absentmindedly, I ensured that it was on real good. I put it all along the top of my lips and lip edge and all along the bottom of my lips and lip edge not staying within the lines at all. Then I did it again, just to be sure. My lips tingled. The peppermint in Burt’s Bees actually caused lip-tingling. I loved it.
I stood up with my selection: I, Robot. (I LOVE Will Smith). I didn’t actually exit the store as of yet though. There were so many friends to talk to and banter with. As I was talking and visiting with them though, I got the feeling that something was slightly wrong. I was getting some looks and double takes. Hmm. Strange. Maybe it was because I was looking super hot that night. I was wearing my new jacket and my hair. Well, it was a good hair day. That must be it. So, I stayed a bit longer. It was busy in there. I was on fire!
At the check out, Nick had a wee smirk on his face. I thanked him for all of his expertise, yet again and wished him a great night.
Off I drove home. Pulling into the driveway, I smoothed my good hair in the rear-view mirror.
THERE WAS BLACK GUNK ALL OVER and AROUND MY LIPS. Much like bad makeup on a sad clown. Reaching into my pocket for my beloved Burt’s Bees, I realized my mistake. I had used my black-tinted Burt’s Bees Lip Balm instead of the clear one. Anger rose within while my face reddened and I scrubbed the black lip balm off while my mind clicked through the dozens of townsfolk I had encountered with my very badly done sad clown lips. Still sitting in the car, I grabbed my cell phone and called Nick at L&S Video.
Why the hell didn’t you tell me???? I shouted at him.
When Dean and I were honourably released from the military in 1992, (see post A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance 🥂) we brought back a 1976 VW Van with us from Germany and called her “Betsy’. Like the one in the picture above (from google images) but our Betsy was dark green. We knew that travelling would be part of our lives, having already seen a lot of Europe and enjoying the experience of embracing other cultures and locals but, before seeing the rest of the wide world, we wanted to experience our huge, beautiful country first. We would travel every Province and each Territory with the mandate of seeing at least one National Park in each of them.
We spent the spring with Dean’s parents in Newfoundland, which was sweet, as it gave us some quality time with truly wonderful and good people. To be in the vicinity of my father-in-law when he laughed was magical. He was like an elf with a sweet spirit and kind nature. When he would laugh, his shoulders would come up and his body would shake while his laughing smile took over his whole face. One couldn’t help but be drawn in. Dean’s mom was an incredibly strong, kind and thoughtful matriarch. She worked tirelessly and subtly for her family (which was ever expanding with more and more grand-children), supporting them with Sunday Jigg’s dinners, knitted and crocheted sweaters, table cloths, toques, mitts, socks, home-made pies, jams, chow and beets, baby-sitting and advice. Neither of them was given to showy acts of affection like hugs or spoken I love yous, but their love was obvious and ever present and seen in the way they looked at you, asked if you had had enough to eat or in the manner they would engage in conversation or try to help with a concern. Dean’s parents were the best kind of folks and it was my absolute pleasure to meet and live with them that spring. I could see why my Dean was such a wonderful young man.
We had spent hours getting Betsy ready for the trip. We wanted to be completely self-sufficient. We had tons of storage space in her. Under the seat in the back we neatly stored many containers of dried foods: a variety of beans, rice, lentils, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, dehydrated vegetables, coffee, hot chocolate and sauces. In the front top area we stored two dozen gallon jugs of water. There was also a coleman stove, fuel, pots, plates, utensils, knives and a cutting board. We packed her with our clothes, laundry soap, wash basin, books, candle lantern, down duvet, pillows, maps, hiking gear and more. We were kitted out AND we had several bottles of preserves as well as home-made wine and Bailey’s thanks to our sister-in-law’s suggestion. (We would have never thought of that. Ever.)
We had already seen lots of Newfoundland and had hiked several hikes at Gros Morne and Blow Me Down so off we went to the ferry and arrived in Cape Breton and pointed Betsy up the Cabot Trail. Its a highway trail that travels the edge of cliff for a few hundred kms with breath-taking scenery of the big blue below.
I have to say, the drive was terrifying. I would lean way over toward Dean as he was driving, away from the certain death of driving off that cliff.
Next was P.E.I. where we camped on a red sand beach and, in the pouring rain went to a pub in Charlottetown to celebrate our anniversary. A big indulgence, since we were on a very tight budget but which was quite lovely due to the rain and our special occasion.
On to New Brunswick where we stayed at Fundy National Park and walked on the ocean floor, marveling at the huge high tides, not knowing that a decade and a bit later we would be living in a tidal town just across the water (see post: A Simple East-Coast Life ) Next was Quebec where we visited La Maurice National Park and where we had picked up an old friend and her two pre-school boys to travel and camp with us for a couple of days. That was eye-opening. The boys never stopped and consequentially, nor did their Mom. We had been enjoying such decadence, doing whatever we pleased. Now learning that, as a parent, it’s not all about you. Who knew? It was a valuable lesson to behold. At another park in Quebec we did an overnight canoe trip which was very scenic and physically challenging during the portages but, horrible in the torrential rain for hours.
In Ontario, of course there were many visits to make to family members and friends residing there. It was lovely to be greeted, questioned and welcomed and to bathe and launder our clothes was nice too. In Ontario we visited Point Pelee National Park with it’s long boardwalk that traverses some wet lands on the way to the sandy beach of Lake Erie. It is the southern most tip of Canada.
From there we heading North and wow, Ontario is a big province. We headed up to muskeg country and then across the top of Lake Superior. We stopped in an unmanned provincial campground and met a couple of wonderful travelers. A Dutch guy biking across Canada and a 65 year old Retired Naval Captain who was traveling and sleeping in his station wagon: John Shaughnessy. We cooked up a simple pasta meal and invited them to join us at our picnic table. It was a lovely evening of travel talk. When we offered more food to the Dutch guy, he accepted. John Shaughnessy would say: No, no. You go right ahead. Good answer, right?Another thing we liked about John Shaughnessy is how he would greet new people. It could be Joe Gas Pump Man, he would stick out his hand and say: Hello. John Shaughnessy. How are you? It was fascinating comparing military stories with him. We had just gotten out of the Army and this was a retired US Naval Captain. That is four gold stripes to our two. To us, that was something. He was bright, adventurous, charming and intelligent. We would see him several more times over the next few months, partly because we encouraged him to travel our way. We all got along famously.
In Manitoba we visited Riding Mountain National Park and in Saskatchewan – Grasslands National Park. One night, in Saskatchewan, we pulled over at the edge of a vast farmer’s field. There wasn’t a soul or a vehicle around. We could see for hours, so we knew that for sure. We decided to camp there for the night and so, popped up the top of Betsy. We used to call the top of Betsy upstairs, as in, I’m going upstairs to bed. Watching the sun set in the West, we thought we had it all: each other; a wonderful adventure; good health; good humour (most of the time); and just when we thought that list was complete, we looked over to the other horizon to see the moon rising in the East. Such a big beautiful sky in the prairies. That was the first time I had ever seen both orbs in the sky.
In Alberta we
visited Elk Island National Park and it was here that we encountered a very large bison in the woods. We had been simply hiking along quietly, on a hot, twisty trail through woods of young saplings. Suddenly, looking up, we saw a huge snorting shape quietly staring at us and a bit beyond him, his harem lying on the ground. We retreated, rather hastily and then breathed a sigh of relief.
From there we headed north into to the bottom of North West Territories, stopping at Fort Simpson where, with John Shaughnessy, flew into Nahanni National Park in a tiny Cessna aircraft, puking all the way. No kidding. The updrafts of warm air batted us around crazily. Thank goodness for the airsick bag. The scenery was gorgeous but I, for one, was way too nauseous to enjoy it. Once on the ground we hiked into the falls. Spectacular and quite noisy. I immediately dunked my head in the freezing cold water, aiding the departure of the nausea. I should say here that John Shaughnessy sure as heck did not get sick.
Next we meandered our way to Alaska and decided upon a truly physically challenging adventure: hiking the the Chilkoot Trail at Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park starting in Skagway, Alaska and ending three to five days later in the ghost town of Bennett, BC. It is the trail that had been used in the 1890s by the Goldrush crowd heading over White Pass to find their fortunes in gold. John Shaughnessy bid us farewell, as it was not part of his plan to do such a hike. We would miss him. The hike was challenging for sure. The photo is of the prospectors in the late 1800s who were risking life and limb in the hopes of finding gold. When I look at that angle they are hiking at, carrying huge loads, in ancient gear, I think: hopeful desperation. Many died horrible deaths due to harsh conditions, starvation, tooth decay, frostbite and many other unpleasant issues. The line formed by the ant-sized black dots in the photo are heading up over the pass after having gone through The Scales. At The Scales their amount of supplies were weighed and assessed. They had to have one ton of goods per person!! They had to have certain survival items, like a tent, frying pan and so many pounds of flour, sugar etc before being allowed over the pass. Dean and I had a back pack each. We were good. Three days later, Dean and I walked into the final camp ground of the hike. It had been a physical test but it also had been eye candy and interesting to traverse the same path as those old fortune seekers. We also met Michelle and Mike from Oz, whom we visited a couple of years later. (See post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)).
From British Columbia to Kluane National Park in the Yukon and then to Banff, Alberta where we enjoyed the hub-bub of that city. It was in Banff that we were pulled over by the police which was puzzling because we had done nothing wrong. The Mountie leaned into Betsy and asked: Are you Dean Joyce? Dean’s face fell. If a cop in Alberta knew your name, that couldn’t be good. You need to call home as soon as possible. Finding a pay phone and making the call, we were informed of the sad and tragic news that Dean’s father had suffered a massive heart attack. We flew to Newfoundland the next day. After quite a battle, Dean’s father rallied and lived another ten wonderful years.
The summer I was 19 was the first summer that my eldest sister Eva owned the camp. I had just graduated from high school and would be attending University in the fall. My best friend 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.
We arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1994 and kicked around the city for a few days, staying with friends we had met on the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska. But, wanting to experience the true outback, we decided to take the historical Gahn train to the centre.
So, onto the train we got, bound for Alice Springs. On the train, I had some sort of sudden mucous problem and water poured from my nose and eyes. Dean cracked open a smuggled-in bottle of red and after a few sips the mucous stopped flowing. We don’t usually go too far without a nice bottle of red.
The next day, we stepped off the train into a brick wall of heat. Just imagine walking into an oven. Now add about 30 degrees and you have the heat that is Alice Springs. We found a hostel where we rented a small trailer, and spent some time slowly walking around and seeing the sights. There were many aborigines about and we saw a few homes with living room furniture out in the yard where people would sit. One evening we decided to go to a movie and serendipitous, the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert was opening. It had been filmed in Alice and starred Guy Pierce.
Next we decided to hitch-hike to the coast. Some 2776 km away and most of it through arid Australia. We had no idea that arid Australia is deadly. We simply could not fathom it, coming from Canada. Arid Australia is brutally hot, sometimes 50 degrees Celsius and has very few water sources and very little traffic. There are biting ants and other insects, kangaroos, venomous snakes and spiders and the odd dingo about. In Oz, when you see a spider or a snake, you have to assume it is venomous because most are.
We were very lucky, once again. One of the first drivers to see us hitching pulled over. It was an 77 year old man named Lockey. He helped us put our huge packs in his small toyota van. Dean took a seat in the front and I climbed into the single rear seat in the back and immediately became a river of sweat. No air conditioning except the two front windows which were perpetually down and circulating very warm air. It took us five days to travel through the Outback to the east coast. We camped each night in the free campsites that Australia nicely provides so that folks don’t parish in the outback. Lockey drove slowly, necessarily. The scenery was mostly desert-type scrub and four foot high phalic shaped ant hills formed from red sand. Now and then we would see a troop of kangaroos. And the odd bloated dead cow carcass. We were told that the cattle ranches are so vast that there is no way the farmers could fence them, so sometimes cows would get killed by road trains. Oookay.
We would stop in the mid-afternoon for a bite to eat, usually after getting gas. These little gas stations were remote but had everything you could possibly want AND a huge cage of cockatiels and parrots. We would order a sandwich or a burger and a beer. Invariably, the sandwich would arrive with not only sliced beet (yes beet) on it but sometimes grated carrot and a sunny-side up egg sitting on top too. Huh? Where are we??!
Arriving in Bundaberg, Lockey offered for us to stay with him for a few days. We all got along so well and Lockey was a very funny man. He was always making sounds like errrrrk when he opened the fridge door or zzzzzip when he did up his jacket zipper. Lockey had several geckos that were friendly and lived with him informally in his house trailer. They were so cute and made little chirping sounds that Lockey would imitate perfectly. Lockey told us he did 100 push ups per day to stay fit. He had been a Air Navigator in the war. That’s saying something. Lockey’s house trailer was in a trailer park with many other residents. There was a common washing room and shower house close by in one direction and the short trail to the beach in the other direction. We were offered the back of his station wagon to sleep on a foam mattress.
One day we decided to do some laundry. It was dusk as we walked to the wash house. Suddenly there was loud cackling from the tree top above us, almost like an old married couple cackling at a funny tv show. Looking up we shivered to see two flying fox, yes FOX bats that can fly!!! having a gander back at us and cackling over it. Holy shit! Where ARE we??
The next day Dean went for a nice long morning run before the sun became too hot. He was down a dirt road a few miles from Lockey’s place when he realized that he was being watched by an six foot tall kangaroo. He stopped dead in his tracks and with heart racing, tried to figure out what to do. He could not read the roo who was now lazily scratching his chest, licking his lips and staring at Dean. We had been warned to not corner a roo because they will quite easily lean back on their tail and kick you into next week. Dean lowered his eyes and smoothly backed away from the giant roo. Next he ran to the toilets as fast as he could.
Lockey was a retired motor mechanic and we were in need of a car. We decided that trying to get around Australia, which is huge and mostly empty in the centre, we would need a car. Lockey helped us find a very sensible white Toyota Corona. The next day we drove it to a large shopping mall and went inside to watch a movie. Coming out, we were dismayed to find my day pack missing from the rear floor. My passport was in that day pack so, now this was a problem if I ever wanted to get home to Canada.
We drove to a bank of payphones by the side of the road. Is was dusk… Dean was on the phone with the Canadian Consulate when suddenly the sky darkened with some very large entity moving over us. We cowered and looked up to see a sight that will be etched in my brain forever…HUNDREDS of flying foxes moving as in a herd overhead. Holy shit! Where ARE we???! We were informed later that the flying foxes were heading to the fruit orchards. They eat fruit all night. They are fruitatarians. I am not sure if that is a technical term. I am just happy they don’t drink blood or anything.
After we visited the consulate and retrieved my passport, that the kind thief must have sent in we continued with making plans for our next stop. We liked the idea of heading up to Bowen to work on a farm for a bit. Off we went after many many thanks to our host Lockey.
We arrived in Bowen and found a trailer to rent in a park by the sea. Oh my, it was pretty. We only found out later that there was no swimming in the sea due to the box jellyfish, the most deadly creatures in the world. It was box jelly season. Where ARE we??!
We visited a few different farms and had a day here and a day there picking tomatoes, rock melons (cantaloupe), capsicums (green peppers). It was hard bloody work out in the elements.
There were acres and acres of low growing fruit and not one single real shade tree. The water in my precious water bottle was HOT. I thought I was pretty tough but, nowhere near as tough as those career pickers. To say the sun was brutal is a serious understatement. One day, I laid under our car for shade during break. The Oz sun is the very reason why we decided to not live there. It’s just too oppressive. We were finally offered a position working in the barn. It was hard work too, but so much more civilized for we Northern, white-skinned types from cold Canada. It was in the barn that we met the couple who had just returned from India. They told us of the exotic country and amazing food and how they speak English and also how inexpensive it was to travel there compared to Western countries like Oz. We wanted to go there!
We worked in the tomato farm barn for a couple of months and put almost every penny away to save for our tickets to and adventures in India. The only things we would buy were the Ozzie meat pies (omg the BEST thing ever — and they are square just so you remember where you are while eating them. We even discussed importing them to Canada. So good.) We would also buy beer and, okay, groceries. The farmer we worked for would often send us all home with a wonderfully fresh watermelon. We would devour half of it and put the other out for the parrots. Within moments, several brightly coloured parrots would be perched on the watermelon and eating it. Near our trailer, there was an abandoned lot with a mango tree just begging to be picked. We would gather a whole bag of ripe ones and the gorge on them. More delicious than words!
After leaving Bowen, Queensland, we hightailed it to Caines then said, why the hell did we do that? It was horrible with brutal humidity levels up there. From there we went south and climbed Mount Kosciusko and camped for a night at the top. It is only about 2200 m high, (Everest is 8800 m by comparison). We also went to the spectacular Great Barrier Reef for a day and then spent a couple of days in Sydney.
We managed to sell our car for the same amount we bought it for. Score. The sale was touch and go for a bit though because on our way to motor vehicles with our buyer, much to my horror, steam began to come out of the front dash vents. What the??? I was sitting in the back and began to surreptitiously pound Dean’s left arm. He didn’t see what I was seeing. Nor did our buyer. And then the steam stopped and it was all fine. Heart attack!
When we finally went to purchase our flight tickets to India, because of Chinese New Year, we could not fly into India. We could only fly into Nepal. We shrugged: when a couple of billion people celebrate Chinese New Year, it can cause jam ups in the airlines. So, we flew into Nepal and it was one of the best things we ever did. As the Dalai Lama says: remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
We arrived in Kathmandu on Chinese New Year of 1995…but…
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.