Fort Myers Memories (age 16) 🌴

When I was 16, 17 and 18 Dad and his new wife Wendy took my little brother, Luke and I, to Florida with them for Christmas break (our older five siblings were all moved out by then). Except for the first year, we drove down, all 2500 km in Dad’s Mercury Zephyr. Yes, there used to be a car called a Zephyr.  Dad had a skin-tone coloured one.  It was super sexy.  Not.

skin tine zephyrThe first year, however, Dad put Luke and I on a Greyhound bus for the forty hour trip. We had to change buses at 2 o’clock in the morning in Detroit, Michigan which is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the US of A.  Let’s face it,  Grey Hound bus stations are not usually located in the nicest parts of town.  I was  16 and Luke was 13. Dad’s best advice was to use my scarf to tie my purse tight to my body. Luke and I found a seat on the molded plastic chairs and linked arms with eye-balls peeled. We were terrified.  Since I am writing this today, I guess we survived the Detroit Bus Station, twice, actually.  We were there on the way home too.

Ever organized, we packed this little cooler with things like hard-boiled eggs, fruit, cheese, bread so that we didn’t have to spend much on restaurant stops.  All we wanted to do was get off that bus as much as possible and stretch our legs.  A long Greyhound ride gets rather ripe, especially after eating one too many hard-boiled eggs.  By the time we arrived at Valdosta, Georgia, we were overjoyed to see Palm trees, finally.

Valdosta

When we finally arrived in Fort Myers, we were picked up by our eldest brothers wife, June’s Mother, who’s name is also June (rest in peace), driving a huge caddy and telling us in a thick Southern accent that she would adopt while in Florida for the winter, how very dANgerous it was here: ‘Nevah take out your wallet in pahblic’, she advised. ‘Almost ahveryone has a GUUN so just be caheful’ and then she accelerated to get across a lane of traffic and screamed: ‘HANG ON!!’  June Senior was quite a character.  She took us in and fed us (I remember one meal in particular was turkey necks — I had never had a meal of turkey necks before) and made sure we had everything we needed for the couple of days before Dad and Wen arrived and we would move into the motel that Dad had booked from afar.

FortMyersBeachFlorida3Luke and I spent many hours on the beach and walking around the town of Fort Myers. We didn’t have much spending money so we would usually have an ice-cream and maybe some fries around lunch time.When we would walk all the way back the couple miles to where we were staying with Dad and Wen.  By that time, we were wiped. We had swam, sunbathed, played frisbee plus the walk to and from the beach. Luke would carry his boom box on his shoulder and play music for us all the way.

Sometimes we would eat supper all together or we would go to a very good value All-U-Can-Eat Buffet which are prevalent in Florida.  The odd time Dad would say, you kids are on your own, we are going out for supper without you.  After supper, Dad would get us into the car and we would drive through the well-to-do neighbourhoods looking at the Christmas lights.  It was so strange to see this without snow.  Sometimes Dad would take us to some random high school gym to watch basketball.  There seemed to always be a basketball game on somewhere and both Luke and I were big fans of the game.

One day, we met this family on the beach.  The Bates’.  There was a boy my age, a girl one year older and they were from Indiana. We hung out.  They were really nice and we loved their accent and they liked ours.  They arranged for Luke and I to go out for supper with them at a Mexican restaurant.  We had never eaten Mexican food and we were so eager to give it a try.  That was a fun night.  Especially trying hot sauces and pico de gallo for the first time. The virgin lime margarita was spectacular too.  Sour, sweet and salty all at once.  I still love margaritas today. We ended up staying over at their house, which was actually their relatives house, in Fort Myers, for the night.  Luke and I slept on the couches in the den.  I was astounded by their generosity.  In fact, I have been astounded at the generosity of Americans again and again when I lived there over the decades. The Bates’ were good people and they liked us.  It was a nice feeling.  We kept in touch and saw them the next years too.

lovers-key-state-parkWendy found this beach park for us to go explore.  No one was there and it was gorgeous.  We walked along the sand and found wee little treasures while a very relaxed Dad slept on a towel on the beach.  Luke and I jokingly calling him a beached whale, when we were out of earshot.  After a good snore, he awoke and sat up with sand all over the side of his face and pine needles in his hair.  Oh my, we chuckled.  Perhaps he did these things on purpose to get a reaction.  I’m still not sure about that.

That pure white-sand crescent-shaped beach was just spectacular and I have always enjoyed, for some reason, the places where few people go, but which are incredible.  I have also enjoyed the wondering.  The wondering why they are not there.

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When it was time to head North, I dreaded it.  Going back to the cold, dark North after all this sun, sea and sand.  The only cool thing would be showing off our sun-kissed tan skin to all of our pasty white friends.

Those trips to Florida were bittersweet.  In one sense it was amazing to be with my little brother, Luke and be on an adventure together down to Florida, especially for three years in a row, making it almost a tradition. Luke and I were very close. In another sense it was tough to be trapped with our parents in a car for several days on a road trip.  The travail of teenagers, perhaps?

In the car, Luke and I would be in the back seat finding any reason to laugh hysterically at Dad.  Dad had these habits that drove us wild with hilarity.  Every so often, he would reach up to daintily scratch his balding scalp with just his middle sausage-shaped finger.  Next he would be asking Wendy if she wanted to split a black coffee.  He would pull into a gas station, struggle into his down coat, and pay a quarter for the gut-rot coffee on offer.  With a big smile on his face he would come back to the Zephyr with a single styrofoam coffee cup which was barely visible in his large hand.  Wendy would hold it.  Dad would pull out and get back onto the highway and only then would he take off his huge coat.  Every time, while driving and with the three of us helping to get his coat off, narrowly missing oncoming traffic.  Another time, we were at some diner in a tiny little town, for some lunch.  Dad asked the server a question about her hometown, the very town she had lived in her whole life.  The server answers but her answer is not what Dad was expecting.  Much to the embarrassment of Luke and I, and as we would have liked to slide off our chairs and hide under the table, Dad says, ‘Honey baby,’ waving his thumb at himself and Wendy,  ‘We’re both teachers.  You must have your facts mixed up.  That can’t be right.’  Ooookay.  There was one thing about Dad.  He was not boring and he enjoyed both a good argument and a good adventure, as long as he didn’t have to walk too far.  Rest in Peace, Dad.

barrie spirit catcher

Namaste, Nepal (age 30) 🙏

We trekked for about thirty days in the Himalayas doing the Annapurna Circuit, in an unconventional manner, which will come to light as the story unfolds.  To get to the starting point of the trek, we bought a ticket for the bus.  Not lucky enough to grab a seat each on the inside of the bus, Dean and I, with our hired guide, Naba, were seated on the roof of the bus.  This trek was sure to be interesting, if we could get there in one piece. That bus, that we were on top of, was not driving a straight, smooth roadway. Picture the opposite: a twisty-turny, gravel, crumbling donkey track along the side of a mountain with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet if the bus driver was to make a wrong turn, or get too close to the eroding edge.  Not to worry — the horn worked well and seemed to be the sole means of defensive driving techniques employed.

Nepal bus
(statis panoramio)  Those are people on top of the bus, just like we were.

We had flown into Kathmandu late and were immediately wooed by several touts wanting us to take his taxi.  We picked one, told him our destination: the Kathmandu Guesthouse and agreed on a price.  We fell asleep and in the morning made our way to their breakfast room and ordered our first lassi of the trip which is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and fruit.  The server was a sweet and most attentive Nepali man who put his palms together and bowed his head at us, ‘Namaste’. Dean said to me afterward that he was an example of ‘service without servitude’.  When we returned to the Guest House after a walk all over Kathmandu and through the fascinating market, the sight we saw was like something out of an old fashioned orphanage.  All of the staff of the Guesthouse were in the main lobby.  They were fast asleep, lying on straw mats and wrapped in wool blankets like toasty sausage rolls on a baking sheet.  If one rolled over, so would they all.

The next evening, we attended a slide show for a river rafting expedition that we thought was too expensive for our budget. This cool group of Westerners with several Nepalese had started a river rafting group which charged $200 US for a five-day expedition on the Kali Gandaki River.  After eating several bowls of incredibly delicious, tallow-popped pop-corn and drinking a few of their complimentary rum drinks each, it seemed that we suddenly had enough money to go on this expedition.  It was a great decision as we had a blast.  We met several other fun and adventurous travelers on the trip too.

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The Kali Gandaki from above.  Translation: Black River. (google images)
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An example of the white water we encountered.  There was lots of calm, drifting too. (google images)

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This is a group of children we met on the beach who were running and tumbling together.  Suddenly, there was a whistle from their mom and off they ran, full tilt UP the mountain.  So fit.

Next we went trekking: the Annapurna Circuit hike.  Here I am on top of the bus enroute to the starting point of the big trek.  From on top of the bus, I asked hubby to buy me a pop (Canadian speak for soda) from a place advertising GOOD FOODING AND LODGING. I liked that sign, although I was feeling rather queasy by that time.Scan10053

The trek was, of course, amazing.  We did about 20 k per day, depending on weather and best stopping places and Tea Houses, which were known to our guide, Naba.  We saw incredible beauty all around us.

Scan10064 The trail was often quite rough and sometimes included donkey trains — which were tricky because you had to be sure to get to the inside of the donkey train.  They could easily bump you off the trail.  That would be bad.

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Our guide, Naba, on the inside track of a passing donkey train.

We would see tiny women carrying huge loads of wood on their backs.  We even saw a porter carrying an injured person in a chair strapped to his back.  Heading to the hospital many tens of kilometers away.

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After a week or so, we got into the snow at elevation.  This came with the obvious challenges due to the cold and wet and the need to be very careful about stepping properly so as not to slip off the trail or anything.  Being Canadian, we are naturally pretty good about understanding the slipperiness of snow, but we were meeting other travelers from non-snow countries, particularly Ozzies and South Americans who were having trouble with it.

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We finally made it to Thorung Phedi which sits at a cool 4,538 meters above sea level.  This was the jumping off point for the Thorong La Pass with an elevation of 5,416 meters. There was a large group waiting for a clearing in the weather so as to safely set out for the pass.  This was February  – so, lots of snow.  As a group gathered in the smokey dining hall with large tin cans full of smoking coals to warm us under the tables, we decided to leave at 4 a.m. after a breakfast at 3 a.m.  There were about a dozen of us: a couple of Swedes, an American, a Japanese girl, a couple of Ozzies, a couple of New Zealanders and a Chinese guy, plus us two Canadians.

With headlamps blazing on some heads, we started up the mountain.  Step, breath, step, breath.  It was slow and steady.  Would we ever get there?  After a couple of hours, my hands were frozen. Our guide gave me his mittens which were toasty warm.  He just smiled at me gently.  He had done this pass many, many times.

We finally made it to a little shack which was at 5,000 meters.  The weather worsened. The wind blew colder and stronger.  Then ice-pellet snow began to pelt us like tiny sharp knives.  We could tell that our attempt at the pass was not going to work today.  Even if we could make it over, there was no way we were going to drag these other folks with us, and besides, that, there was six more hours down the other side, before the next village. The American woman with her state-of-the-art Arctic hiking gear and porter went on into the storm, but we turned back and headed down.  A week later we met up with some of the folks from the snowy pass attempt.  They told us they were waiting on us to decide about whether they would attempt the pass that day or not.  ‘Why us?’ we asked. ‘Because you’re Canadian.’ they said.  ‘You know snow and weather.  If you weren’t going, neither were we.’

So we trekked down to the bottom, re-grouped in Pokhara for a couple of days and then went back up the other side for another ten days.  I celebrated my thirtieth birthday in Tatopani.  Dean arranged for the baking of a cake for me.  I was very surprised and pleased.

thorong-la-pass-trekking-map

After trekking, we decided to head to the Royal Chitwan National Park for a week at sea level and with warmth and sunshine, plus the odd elephant or two.

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We met this hilarious traveler who behaved just like Jerry Seinfeld and knew all the funny lines too.  So, of course we spent time with him, walking about and telling stories, laughing and being silly.

A comment on the people of Nepal. We have yet to meet a nicer culture, although Cuban would be close.  The Nepalese are cheerful, gentle, kind, strong and thoughtful.  It was an honour to spend time in their exceptionally beautiful country.

Next up….India.

160K in Holland (age 23) 🇳🇱

Forty K per day for four days over the rolling hills and through the city streets of Netherlands, in 1989 I did the International Nijmegen Marches with a military team…

In the summer of 1989, while posted in Lahr, Germany, I was asked to join a marching team as the token female, to head to Holland for the four-day International Nijmegen Marches, which is the largest multi-day marching event in the world.  It has happened every year since 1916 to promote sport and fitness.  Military participants walk forty kilometers per day for four days in a row, in formation of 20-soldier teams.  Almost fifty thousand marchers now walk this walk every year.

At the time, I was a transportation platoon commander in Supply and Transport Company in 4 Service Battalion in the Canadian Army.  To put it simply, I had a platoon of 30 soldiers who drove MAN 10-ton trucks10 ton Man which would carry supplies: ammunition, water, rations, various items, and spare parts needed by both forward fighting troops and other support units within the Brigade. During peace time, we conducted training operations such as weapons use, field exercises and fitness competitions to improve morale, esprit-de-corps and to prepare for future deployments. As the Platoon Commander, I routinely conducted all manner of administrative duties, personnel evaluations and reports, test and inspection readiness, subordinate training, orders groups, equipment maintenance checks, and many other duties in accordance with my rank and position.   In a field unit, staying physically fit is one of the requirements of the job. Five days per week, we did physical training first thing at 7:30 am.  Joining the Nijmegen March team covered the fitness requirement and provided an adventure and a trip to another country, all expenses paid.

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This is an example of marching in formation.  And of course our wonderful flag proudly displayed.

A month prior to the event, the march training began.  In combat boots and combat uniform, we would form up, two by two in lines and walk for eight to sixteen K out through the German countryside, along farmers fields, river-side pathways and over trails through small woods.  Back then, in ’89, there were no ‘devices’ to listen to, other than the odd Walkman, which almost no one had anyway, and nothing like spotify or itunes or podcasts to listen to. Marching in formation was a little bit like torture.  The back of one head to stare at and exacting ‘left right’ pace to maintain for the whole two to three hours.  Thankfully, there were a few songs we would sing for a while. One soldier knew all the words to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’. You can get anything that you want at Alice’s Restaurant…(by Arlo Guthrie).  It was only slightly annoying to listen to it after about the second time, but, well, what could be done?  ‘Just take one more step. Now, one more step,’ became my mental litany. Most of the time, I was extremely bored and under-challenged by this walking.  Not only that, I couldn’t easily ‘talk it up’ with the soldier beside me because of the need to maintain a professional ‘distance’.  Sometimes being a female officer could be both isolating and awkward.  It was tough to stay positive and pleasant but that became another litany.  Stay positive and pleasant.  Just one more step. Stay positive and pleasant. I chalked this training up to good discipline.  One could never get enough discipline.  Am I right?

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We went to Nijmegen by bus.  It took about six hours, due North, and when we arrived, there was already a tent city erected by the forward party and we were assigned to our tents and to our cots, within the tents.  We were to begin Day 1 at 06:00 the next morning. The route for the four days formed somewhat of a clover leaf out and around the city of Nijmegen.  The route wound its way through the Dutch countryside with its green pastures, cows grazing, chickens running, fences diminishing into the distance.

formation march

One time, a civilian marcher was playing the bagpipes and low and behold all the cows in the field got curious and began to trot toward the fence to more closely see the man. Thankfully, at the fence, the cows stopped and then just stood and stared, chewing their cud, looking bemused and fluttering their long eyelashes at the bagpiper.  Could it be that these ladies thought the bagpiper was a well-hung bull ready to service them?  One will never know.

At ten K, twenty K and thirty K marks, we would come upon our unit’s flag and see our kitchen trucks, first aid station, water stations and porta-potties in a field.  We were well taken care of.  There would be a menu of foods or snacks and drinks for us, including huge schnitzel sandwiches.  I don’t think I ever went hungry, not once, while in the Canadian Forces.  We would sit on the grass with our plate and drink and rest for twenty minutes before beginning again.  One doctor attached to our unit even organized a child’s swimming pool with ice for us to soak our poor feet at the end of the day.

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While resting, we could also inspect our feet for the dreaded blisters.  I am pleased to report, I didn’t get a single blister.  Fortunately, a friend had told me of the wonders of moleskin and how to wrap it over the heel in such a manner as to provide fool-proof protection against blisters.  Secondly, Vaseline on and in-between the toes.  I now pass this on to anyone I know going on a long walk.  My friend Mary recently went for a big hike in Ireland.  Her feet were fine due to the moleskin application.  Blisters are nothing to sneeze at in a long, multiple day march, hike or walk.  Good feet are crucial to the success and comfort of the walk.  Bad feet can be debilitating and very painful especially if they also become infected.  Game over.  On training at CFB Borden called Environmental Specialty Land, which I did just after Nijmegen, our final test of the course was to complete a night march from Stayner, Ontario to the back gate of the Base, about 30 K with packs and rifles.  We started at 11:00 pm and we walked all night. Our friend Andy carried a huge boom box up on his shoulders and had it cranked and playing ‘FINAL COUNTDOWN’ by Europe, the whole way.  Song finishes.  Rewind.  Song begins again.  We were all very sleep deprived because we had been in and out of the field for weeks, up all night sometimes on missions, patrols and then duties and classes during the day and with no real time to recuperate.  Myself, I was literally falling asleep as I walked, while carrying my rifle at the ready.  There was this line that they would shout whenever someone was in danger of hitting the deck due to exhaustion: ‘SOLDIER! MAKE SURE YOU HIT THAT DECK BEFORE THAT WEAPON DOES!!!’  Kinda sums it all up, doesn’t it? Anyway, the Captain of this officer training course was Airborne – an elite group of Infantry. His feet turned to hamburger during this march. He had to get in the first aid truck and be driven to base.  Embaaarassing.  It wouldn’t have been so bad but he had bragged about what a great and fit soldier he was. Of course, HE didn’t know the secret of the moleskin. Myself, Dean and Nee sure did, and anyone else who cared to be prepared.  I had just finished the Nijmegen marches a couple of months prior, so I was fully aware.

I digress.

Back in Nijmegen, by the time we walked into the camp at the end of the forty K march, we were done.  I would soak my feet in ice water for ten minutes, show the good doc the mysterious lump on the top of my foot which may or may not have been a stress fracture, he said.  Having eaten at all the stops during the march, I certainly didn’t need more food, so I simply made my way to my tent, tucked my combat boots under my camp cot and fell fast asleep until the next early morning.

 

Nijmegen Marches
I like this picture I found of a female soldier fast asleep on her arm.  There was no staying awake during rest breaks.  The need to sleep just took over.

 

We Canadians are very much loved in Holland because our troops liberated the Dutch from the Germans in World War II in 1944.  So, anytime we would come across large Dutch civilian marching groups, they would holler and cheer and sometimes sing a song for the Canadians.  Weren’t we proud to receive these accolades.  We would all smile and wave bashfully and then take one more step.  Just one more.

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Everyday there would be at least one city to march through. There would be a lot to see and invariably young children would run along side our team for a bit.  We would give out those tiny Canada flag pins and then receive a sweet smile, sometimes with missing front teeth.  A few times, a tiny warm hand would slip into mine and we would walk together for a few minutes.  Priceless memory.

While marching, there would often be other Canadian teams from other units unrelated to ours, except that they were also Canadian and also posted in Germany.  For instance, there was an Armored Team, an Infantry Team, a Signals Team and the like.  I remember that I so enjoyed when the French Canadian Teams would be near us.  They would invariably be singing their old regimental songs which I found to be incredibly moving and haunting.  They would often pass us singing these songs in their deep rich voices. Bereted, dark-haired head tilted to the ground.  Arms swinging.  Boots hitting the ground in perfect synchronicity. It was mesmerizing.  One song they sang which is about the building of the dam across the Manicouagan River in Quebec, was especially sorrowful. If I try hard, I can still hear their deep voices singing this incredible song by Georges Dor. It is a song of longing and boredom and homesickness.

After the last day, there was a huge party in which a lot of Heineken were quaffed and then, the next morning, we boarded the bus back to Southern Germany.

Nowadays, there are so many folks wanting to participate in the Nijmegen Marches that they have set a limit of forty seven thousand marchers per year.  Doing this march was an honour and is a fond memory.

nijmegen finish(All photos courtesy of google images — I would have loved to have some of my own photos but I didn’t own a camera back then and there were no smart phones either.)

Taking Summer Seriously (age 50) ☀️

Last summer an idea struck.  How about I take summer seriously?  How about I make a concerted effort to get out on our beautiful Nova Scotia beaches on as many nice days as possible.  I own my own business and can work flexible hours, so in keeping with the tides, I could arrange my work to allow for beach walks on nice days.  Why in keeping with the tides?  Well, in this part of Nova Scotia, at high tide, there is often no beach to walk on.  Also, there is a danger of being trapped down the beach should the tide be coming back in.  It happens to unsuspecting folks every year.  Best to walk the beach knowing what the tides are doing.  Rainy days would be for catching up on office work. So, no waiting for weekends. I would take summer seriously.  I just wanted to eat those beaches up.  The second half of this was that I wanted a friend or two or a family member or two to accompany me on each said beach walk.  I started asking around and several of my friends sounded interested.

Nova Scotia (23)First up was Blomidon Beach at low tide, once with my friend Lisa, then Jessie (and dogs) and then again with Victoria. Victoria was home for the summer holiday and as eager to walk the beaches as I.  That worked!  Blomidon Beach is a red, flat beach with red sheer cliffs hemming it in.   There are often tiny little avalanches of red stones coming down off those cliffs.  All along the top of the cliffs there are nesting holes for the swifts that make their homes there.

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.

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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.

IMG_4710At the water’s edge, it was astoundingly beautiful, the patterns in the rock, the ripple of the waves, the call of the gulls and before that, the emerald green moss on the tiny, perpetually trickling runoff waterfall.  We savoured it all and it was magical.  Returning to the parking lot, we sat at the hexagonal picnic table and each ate a Valley apple and drank fresh water from our water bottles.  So simple.  So good.  The day had been perfect. We had taken summer seriously.

IMG_4730Next it was Blue Beach with Rachel and Simon.  I picked them up and off we drove on another very pretty day.  Blue Beach is located between Avonport and Hantsport on the Minas Basin. It wasn’t a far ride for us.  We parked and started the wee jaunt down the dirt road to the beach.  Every time I walk down that dirt track, my mind is aflutter with memories of the previous walks on that beach.  The time my step-sister was visiting with her family and her palpable anticipation of this fossil-riddled beach.  She normally walks with a cane.  Not that day.  She was just too excited and the adrenaline was rampant.  She was almost skipping. Then, while she and hubby examined fossils, I spent time with their two children and Leo.  Skipping stones and doing handstands, running and tumbling, chasing and being chased and getting wet with furry, joyful Lady.  A great memory.  Leo idolized his big cousins and it was sweet to watch.

So, as it emerged, we could see the distinctly blue tinge of the rock and sand which forms this incredible beach.  We all walked slowly and methodically, heads bowed to the rocky beach surface to notice its treasures, to bend and point and remark, three heads came together peering at marvels on the ocean floor.  It was magical.  At some point, hunger called us back to the car and away we swept to a close-by coffee shop for a snack and a drink.

betty 2Betty and I did Medford Beach together, parking in the cul-de-sac and walking down the grassy slope, across the tiny bridge and carefully stepping down the eroded small cliff, onto the red sand, beside the fresh run-off stream. The dogs were with us and into it full tilt.  The chance to run free, smelling all the smells and swimming willy-nilly made their tails wag furiously happily.  Following their lead, we kicked off our footwear, sinking our feet into the cool red sand.  Then we walked and walked and talked and talked solving all of the problems of the world.

Betty on beach

Later that summer, Leo and Dean and I went down to the Kejimkujik Seaside Adjunct for a hike on one gorgeous day.  It was about a ten-km hike, partially over the windswept hills and then down along a boardwalk and onto a rocky beach.  As we approached the beach, we could see what looked like structures sticking up all over it.  Turned out, to be many many inukshuks. They were everywhere and they lent a surreal quality to the remarkably pretty beach. Leo immediately began to take photos of them and then to build one himself.

inukshuks

From the rocky beach, we walked on a windy woodland trail and then out onto an incredible white-sand beach where we spent some time contemplating a swim.  Make no bones about it, the water was, as always, freezing.  Dean managed to submerge for a split second then rushed out to the warmth of the sand.  It had been a lovely day and finished on a spectacular beach.

keji 2

In was a fantastic summer mission which also included Evangeline, Hirtles, Avonport, Crescent, Margartsville, Aylesford, Kingsport beaches, all with their various qualities ranging from fine white sand to pebble to rocky, red sand, blue sand, golden sand. Near, far, remote, popular, unheard of, it was a grand summer full of wonder, family and friendship.  No better kind.

Amy’s Men 💘

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

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

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

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

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

Ike

One of the first men I can remember who LOVED Amy was Ike whom she met thru the A&W in Walden. (See post A 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.

DICK TOE-SHIT

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

BUZZ

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

BLAIN ROBERTS

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

PHIL

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

Amy came out to visit me for two weeks in August 2013 when Phil was still living with her and we had one wonderful vacation together. It started with a weekend yoga, herbology and belly-dancing retreat entitled: The Juicy Goddess Retreat at Windhorse Farm  done by two of my friends, Daisy and Lucy.  The retreat was such a great time.  We did lovely yoga led by 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?

Yoga retreat

We also walked all over the property of Windhorse Farm and were given a herbology talk by my lovely friend, Lucy.  The weather was hodancer on the fallen treet and dry.  It was an incredible day and we learned all manner of wonderful tidbits from Lucy. Next, we put on belly-dancing costumes and makeup, had white wine, and were given a lesson.  We then walked through the peaceful lush forest of the farm and did yoga moves on fallen logs taking photos and such.

The next item on the agenda popped up out of nowhere.  Lucy had mentioned to us that she had a tooth that was bugging her and that probably just needed to be filed down a bit so that it would stop irritating her cheek.  Amy says: ‘Morgan can do it!’ And, with that vote of confidence, so I did.  I put my reading classes on, and in belly-dancing attire, filed down Lucy’s problem tooth. The pictures were hilarious. I asked Amy later why she nominated me for such a task.  ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘because you were in the ARMY.  You can do anything.’ Ooookay.  Just checking. (The other day, my teenage son said something similar. I was asking him to show us how to download a free movie.  He says, ‘come on Mom.  You were in the ARMY, you should be able to download a movie.  Geesh.’)

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

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

Bayswater Beach
The gorgeous Hirtle’s Beach, Nova Scotia

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

OTHERS

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

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

Amy nods.

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

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT me to be?’

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

****

Just the other day, I was on the phone with Sue, the guy from the post Fun and Foibles at the Camp 🎣 (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…?’

Pause.

‘……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)

~Remember to leave a comment below.  I love your comments!~

Let the Games Begin 🏀

Thunder only happens when it’s raining. Players only love you when they’re playing.
~Fleetwood Mac – Dreams 1977

How It All Began

Dad was coaching in a huge high-school basketball game the night I was born in March of ’66, in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, the sixth of seven children (eight, if Abby had lived.  She was a stillborn baby between Matt and Mark). Dad was a Physical Education and French teacher hailing from a tiny little northern company town.  He was a successful hockey player who would have probably made it into the NHL but, after making it into the Majors, he gave it all up because it wasn’t as prestigious to play hockey back then and education and family life took over. puck

My mother’s brother, Uncle Reid, and my dad were close friends and playing for the Walden Colts’ Junior ‘A’ hockey team in the 50s.  Uncle Reid was from a neighbouring little company town.  Periodically they would go home together.  Both my mother and her sister, Do, vied for the attentions of my father who was quite the charming young man and who had a very good fashion sense.  They met and started dating and it wasn’t long before they were married and my oldest sister, Eva was born.

just married

Hockey would always play a big part of our lives.  There was the skating rink every winter in the back yard and there were the mandatory shots on net that Job, Mark and Matt would have to take before being allowed back indoors.  I can remember screaming in agony as my bright red toes thawed out after peeling off my too-tight, hand-me-down skates.  Then there were the times when my three big brothers would play hockey and would get me to play too.  One time Matt said to Mark that he would check me.  I didn’t realize until minutes later that checking someone involved a good deal of pain.  After that I never forgot it and still have flash backs when I watch professionals being rammed up against the boards.  Those games usually ended with one or all of us bawling.

hockey

 

The Willows

My earliest memories are of us living in a rented town house on Main Street West in Walden.  Luke wasn’t born yet, so I would have been younger than three and a half and would have been the youngest of six then.  The town house complex was called The Willows and ours had two floors and three bedrooms.  Part of the time we were there, Mom and Dad slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room, while Amy and I slept in a double bed in one room, Eva had her own room and the three boys were in the large second bedroom.  In another configuration Eva was behind a screen in our parents’ room, Amy and I were in the tiny room and the three boys were in the big room.  There was one bathroom and it was busy a lot of the time, with so many family members.

It was then that Amy and I used to have fun sneaking around after the lights were out.  Actually, it was Amy who would challenge me to sneak downstairs, past the living room where Mom and Dad were reading or watching TV, to steal an (gasp!) orange out of the crisper.  I had no concept of the danger I was in if I were to be caught.  Food was strictly doled out in our house of many mouths to feed. Besides that, I was supposed to have been fast asleep by then.  When I would come back, Amy would be wide-eyed and relieved sitting on the bed waiting for me.  She loved to roll the orange around and toss it at the wall to get it all juicy.  Then she would take a bight of the peel from one end and we would squeeze all the juice out into our mouths until the orange was nothing but pulp.  The best part was next:  she would then split it open and we would sink our faces into the pulp until every last bit of the orange was devoured, and only the white and peel remained.  I loved sharing a room with my fourteen-year-old sister whom I affectionately called, Amy-Wee-Wee.  Going to bed was full of adventure and good-night stories and Amy would talk about how she was going to be a singer and guitar player when she got older.  She would often sing me a song in her beautifully soft, soothing voice.  She loved to sing, In the Ghetto by Elvis and another song that went, if I were a carpenter and you were a nail or something like that.  Amy taught me to be quite conscientious of putting my dolls to bed.  They would be laid at the foot of the bed and each one covered with a makeshift blanket.  Then we would tuck each one in a give a kiss to each miniature cheek.

Mary Hat was Amy’s best girl-friend and she used to come over to our house quite a bit.  I would sit and listen and watch as they discussed boys and hair styles and length of mini-skirts.  Often, when Amy wasn’t watching, I would steal her nail-scissors, go out into the hallway, take a lock of my hair and snip it off.  I did this so often that one day, Amy noticed that my hair was much longer on one side than on the other and I had to confess to cutting it myself.  I was scolded, but, not very badly.  Amy was so sweet to me and spoiled me rotten.

The MacNeils

We moved into our six-bedroom red brick bungalow in Walden, Ontario on Hallowe’en day of 1970.  An auspicious day.  I was four years old and extremely excited!  Our next door neighbours, The MacNeils, were a big family of eleven and Ben MacNeil was five years old — a built-in buddy right next door.  And buddies we were.  Within seconds of arriving Ben and I were fast friends and could be seen chasing each other around the outside of our new brick bungalow.  I was gonna like it in this house.  Ben and I spent almost every waking minute together.  We played house and school and hide-and-go-seek.  Often, because of the sheer number of kids between our two households, we would have huge games of Red Rover and British Bulldog, or 500-Up in the MacNeils’ huge back yard.  One time, the MacNeils got a new game of Croquet.  We played it non-stop for weeks.  In the winter we would go sliding on the MacNeils’ very own sliding hill at the back of their house.  It was a perfectly steep hill which led into the parking lot of an eight story apartment building that we called, imaginatively: the apartments.  Sometimes there would be twenty or more kids out there in the dark, with just the reflection off the snow and a few parking lot lamps to light the path.  At other times it would be just Ben, my younger brother, Luke, and Ben’s two younger siblings.  We always had lots of fun and thrills.  Afterward we usually had hot-chocolate at our house, the kind made with milk, and Mom would put a marshmallow in it.  Pure bliss.

The MacNeils lived in a mansion of a home.  They had something like ten bedrooms, four bathrooms and a huge recreation room upstairs at the end of the house where parents never ventured.  Their dining room had the longest table in it that I had ever seen.  We would often do our homework at that table.  I would marvel at how neatly Ben did his assignments.  I aspired to be just like him.  There was also a piano in there.  We both took lessons but Ben went a lot farther than I, achieving levels of local celebrity status on piano. Ben’s older brother Noah was an idol of mine.  He always had the most incredible ideas about what we should all do together.  He would make up elaborate games or he would teach us how to be artistic.  Sometimes we would get to play hide-and-go-seek in their house on the second floor and sometimes, when Mrs. MacNeil wasn’t aware, even in the Attic.  There were secret hiding places and cupboards everywhere.  Ben’s room had a secret room inside his closet.  We spent hours in there.  Their house was so much fun!  During one game, we looked high and low for teen aged Ethan who would have been the same age as my brother Mark.  No matter what we did, he was nowhere to be found.  Finally, we checked the cupboards that ran along the top of the twelve foot walls in the rec-room.  There he was.  I could never understand how he had managed to get up there.  I was impressed.  Playing with the MacNeils was so much fun!  We would never want to go home at the end of the evening, when it was time.  We would hear Dr. MacNeil shout:  it’s time for the Players to go home.  We would quietly make our way home, back to our boring little bungalow next door.

The MacNeils had a cupboard in their kitchen that was stuffed full of cookies and sugary cereals.  At our house, we had gingersnaps, and that was on a good day, and then only two each and they were never just sitting in the cupboard.  They were hidden.  The cereal choices at our place were simple: puffed wheat, puffed rice or Shredded Wheat.  Sometimes, if we were good, we got plain Cheerios or Shreddies.  After some of my older brothers and sisters moved out on their own though, the choices got better and they almost always included Shreddies and Cheerios and then Corn Flakes! I can still conjure up the feeling of extreme privilege that came along with that cereal. We also got real milk then too. 2 %. Prior to that it was skim milk mixed from dry powder which later became powdered skim mixed with 2% milk.  When it was just Luke and I at home, Dad started buying homogenized full fat milk. It was like drinking ice-cream.  That was sheer luxury after the watered down and often involuntarily gag-producing taste of powdered skim.  When Eva, Amy and Matt came back home for a supper meal, on occasion, they would comment on how spoiled we were now that we were being fed the higher quality groceries.

Mom bought groceries on a tight budget.  We had simple but good meals.  Things like sausages and tomato sauce, scalloped potatoes, shake-and-bake (the odd time), spaghetti and meat balls on Sunday night, Pate Chinois (pronounced pot-tay sheen-wa), which was my favourite meal) and we always had a green salad with supper, and then after all the plates were nearly licked clean, we were permitted dessert.  Sometimes Dad would still be hungry and would finish off our meals for us.  Other times he would angrily and loudly tell us to Eat Up!   At least once per week, we would have left-overs or home-made soup–basically a huge pot of soup made from everything left in the fridge before the new grocery order was bought.   We fondly referred to it as home-made poop because when you’re a kid, you don’t tend to like things to eat that aren’t completely decipherable.  All we could decipher out of Mom’s soup was a pea here and there and perhaps a piece of carrot.  The rest was left to the imagination.  One time I absolutely refused to eat it and found myself still staring at it, while it congealed and turned cold, at around 8 o’clock that night.  (Supper had always started at 5:30 SHARP as soon as Dad walked in the door and sat down at the table.)  We tried to keep things calm at the supper table. Mom would bounce up and down from her chair getting this and that and, Mom, while you’re up, can you grab me a glass of water? Sometimes Dad would tell stories about Schollard Hall and put on his falsetto voice imitating one of his teachers.  We would all laugh.  Usually our meals were not calm though, someone would spill a glass of milk.  Then Dad would pound the table and shaking his head and shout:  I HAD NO BREAKFAST, A LOUSY LUNCH AND NOW I CAN’T EVEN EAT MY SON-OF-A-BITCH-OF-A SUPPER!

The MacNeils had their groceries DELIVERED from IGA on a Saturday afternoon.  (It wasn’t until some years later, when I was living alone with Dad and doing the grocery shopping, that I found out that anyone, not just the MacNeils, could have their groceries delivered from IGA).  Sometimes I would witness the arrival of the grocery truck backing up to the MacNeils kitchen door.  I had never seen so many boxes of great food in my life.  They even had a freezer full of popsicles and fudgsicles and they didn’t even have to ask before having one.  In our house the groceries were pretty strictly rationed out.  Cookies and other goodies were hidden away in special places that only Mom could find.  Sometimes she’s hide something so well that even she couldn’t find it!  Then we’d really get upset to think of the best food being lost in the house somewhere.  Mom would say something like, I must be NERTS!.  I now understand that Mom likely mostly pretended that she didn’t know where it was, just to get us to stop salivating over it.

At Christmas time we had special food in the house.  We always got a crate of tangerines.  They were the really sweet ones all individually wrapped in purple tissue paper.  Mom would keep the carton under the couch.  She was pretty generous with them compared to other stuff.  We would also have a pound of real butter.  Mom would buy two pounds, one for shortbread cookies and the other for us to have with turkey dinner.  Wow it was good compared to the bright yellowish margarine that came wrapped in waxed paper and could have blocked the arteries of a racehorse.  Christmas was great when Mom and Dad didn’t go to Florida.  Mom always bought us a huge jigsaw puzzle to work on as a family under the Christmas tree.  I’ll always remember how much I enjoyed that.  We would also sing Christmas carols and play all kinds of board games during the holidays.  Of course, most of the time, during the day, we would be outside in the snow or on the rink in the back yard.  Mom and Dad would sometimes go to Florida at Christmas or March Break and would leave us at home with one of the eldest in charge.  One year, Matt was left in charge. He and his new teen-age wife, June took care of we younger ones.  Let’s just say that there were a few parties down the basement and sometimes we had really bad tasting spaghetti sauce, a la June.  One time, June tried to pass off tomato soup as spaghetti sauce.  It was so bad that not even Sammy, our faithful leftover and liver-eating dog, would eat it.  I’ll never forget it because I ate most of it so that I wouldn’t hurt her feelings.  Years later we broke it to her that it was awful.  By then she had become a good cook though, or as her son would say:  Mom’s a good cooker now, eh Dad?

Hedgeman

The later years that Mom and Dad went to Florida saw us being taken care of by Mark.  It got a little scarier then because Mark had some not-so-straight-laced friends like Byron Hedgeman and Minty.  Byron Hedgeman scared me.  I think he was continuously high on something or other.  One time, when I was about eight years old or so Byron Hedgeman and I were playing a friendly game of checkers in the living room.  Hedgeman was getting very upset because I kept using my kings to jump all his checkers.  He began to ask me about my knowledge of Woodstock.  I had not one idea of what he was talking about and innocently told him that.  Hedgeman was irate.  How could I not know about Woodstock?  He then proceeded to educate me about it. I was eight. He told me of mass crowds of hippies who traveled for miles and miles to this place called Woodstock for the concert and drugged-out weekend-long bash of history.  He told me of people being so stoned on acid, L.S.D. and mushrooms that they had no idea what they were doing.  He told me of scores of hippies wondering around in the nude with caked-on mud as their only clothes – the farmer’s field had turned to pure mud.  Then he and Mark started to recount all the stories they had ever heard about it.  Mark talked about the bad acid and how there was an announcement made that the brown acid was bad and no one should do it, man.  I was more than just a little scared after being party to this conversation which Mark and Hedgeman were reveling in the telling of.  I was eight.  I may have mentioned that.

One time Byron Hedgeman actually passed-out underneath Amy’s bed, down the basement.  Mom and Dad were in Cancun but returned a day early than planned in order to surprise us.  Matt and June were asleep in my parents’ bed.  My Dad walked in and looked through the house for all of us.  He told Mom that he could smell burning rope coming from downstairs.  He walked into Amy’s basement room.  She was fast asleep.  However, he quickly noticed that there was a pair of Kodiak work boots sticking out from under her bed.  He pulled on them and out slid Hedgeman.  It wasn’t a pretty scene. Hedgeman somehow took off out of the house and down the hill.  Dad called the police and told them, There’s a hoodlum running down Pearl Street and he’s so stoned he’s stunned!

One time, Mark and Job had a very rowdy party and when they started doing hot knives (smoking hash off of hot knives heated on the stove elements) I called Olive Quinn, one of my Mom’s best friends, and begged her to come and get Luke and I.  It was after midnight but Van Halen’s Running with the Devil was still pounding, at top volume, throughout the house.  The bass on the stereo was turned up to the maximum. She came to fetch us and take us to her house.  The next day, Olive delivered us back to Pearl Street.  I marveled that our six-foot fence that usually surrounded our back yard was now lying down of the grass.  At those times I wished very badly that Mom and Dad had not gone to Florida for Christmas or Spring Break.  At those times I also learned to truly appreciate our safe, religious and strict home.  I don’t think my parents ever had a clue about the types of activities that went down while they were away. Chock it up to the 70s.  Luke and I were sworn to secrecy lest we die by some tortuous death if we told on them.  Years later we would learn, quite disturbingly, that Byron Hedgeman had died at Walden’s Royal Victoria Hospital, of AIDS.

 

 

img_7050

Bringing Home the Bacon 🥓

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.Jaden and frogFor 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.

Marti-fish.bmp (2)
Morgan’s first fish, age 3.

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.

Silence.

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.