Memoir Monday – Remembering My Dad


In the photo album there is a picture of my mom and dad and me standing on a hill in front of the cottage.  I was probably about two years old.  I look at the picture and feel Dad’s hand holding mine, yet I don’t really remember much from when I was that young.

Dad, Mom & Me

I remember going with him on insurance calls.  One recollection was of a boy/man who I think was celebrating his 21st birthday.  He had a very large head and a body so tiny that he lay on a pillow on the kitchen table. Today I’m still not sure if this is true or it was a dream.

I remember sitting on Dad’s knee in the big overstuffed chair in the living room while he read to me from my storybooks or a “comic” book.

When I was a little older Dad would come home from a week of deer hunting sporting a rough unshaven face and playfully give me a whisker rub.  One time that I remember, he brought a deer home and had it hanging in the garage.  I remember scolding him about that.

I remember having lipped him one morning before going to school and receiving a spanking that left me sobbing. Only once.

I remember laughter.

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I remember him driving me to parties and always being available to pick me up after if I needed a ride home.

I remember him giving me my first driving lesson and afterwards suggesting that I take Driver’s Ed at school.  I remember him being proud of me when I passed and the examiner told him I was a “good little driver”.

I remember going fishing with him for rock bass and perch at our cottage on the St. Lawrence River; and waking up to the smell of  fish frying for breakfast, Dad having been out early to catch pike.

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I remember boat trips to Alexandria Bay to buy Tootsie Rolls and Poppycock. I remember him teaching how to drive and dock our boat, and later allowed me to take my friends out myself.

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I remember how he came to my rescue when a friend and I were stranded with a broken down car in Belleville; and when I’d had enough of Toronto and wanted to move back home; and when the wedding rings didn’t fit and he took me to the Consumers Distributors store to exchange them, only to learn it was too late to get them resized in time for the wedding. The next evening he took me to his favourite jewellery store to buy replacements. I wonder what he would have thought when Brian and I broke up.

I remember him always being there for me if I asked, but not interfering if I didn’t.

I remember his confusion, the sadness of moving him into a nursing home; stopping in on my way home from work to see how he was and finding that he didn’t speak but took hold of my hand and walked me through the halls.  I remember his no longer having control over his bodily functions or understanding of social ones.  I remember taking him to the doctor when he broke his finger, and visiting him in the hospital when he broke his hip, and crying at his bedside because I knew from his vacant stare that he didn’t know who I was or why he was there.

And finally I remember getting the call when we were in Vancouver for my niece’s wedding, the call that informed us that the father who had mentally left us five years earlier had now left us physically as well. He was 82.

I don’t go to the cemetery to pay my respects; I don’t put memorials in the newspaper.  But I do remember and miss him.

 

I don’t remember saying “I love you, Dad” nor do I remember him telling me that he loved me, but I knew that he did and I hope he knew that I did.

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Memoir Monday – Delivering Newspapers


I wonder how many people get a newspaper delivered to their door these days? I know there are some, but they are usually delivered by car. Are there “paperboys” (or girls) anymore? It’s been a long time since I’ve noticed any.

When I was a kid, every neighbourhood had a paperboy. I don’t think it was something girls did back then, but I remember helping out a couple of times:

I was outside on the verandah of our white clapboard house, wearing my brand-new, brown sandals, when my brother, who was nine years older, picked up his bag of newspapers and asked if I wanted to help him deliver them.

newspaperbag

“Yes!” I cried with delight and ran down the steps.

I didn’t notice that the sky was becoming a little dark, but my mother did.

“Change your shoes, Judy.  It’s going to rain and you’ll get your sandals wet!”

Too late! I was already headed down the street chasing my brother.

Robert handed me a newspaper and told me on which doorstep to place it, while he did the same on the other side of the street.

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It wasn’t a big route and we were finished in about half an hour. But before we made it home, the clouds opened with a burst of rain that was soon pelting down on us and swirling in huge puddles on the street and sidewalks. I splashed home as fast as my little legs would carry me, but much to my mother’s chagrin, my new sandals were now soggy, and I got a tongue lashing. I don’t remember how the sandals fared after they dried out, but I suspect that they stayed together and I wore them until they no longer fit me.

I remember another time when I was walking home from somewhere, older then, when another paper boy stopped to ask me if I could deliver a paper for him on my way by a particular house. Being shy and unquestioning, I took the paper and knocked on the door, but no one answered. I must have been told to deliver it directly because I remember that I didn’t know what to do with it. I vaguely recall taking it home and asked my dad.  He told me that the boy shouldn’t have given it to me, but he made sure it got delivered.

Memoir Monday – A Story About Online Dating


While looking through some of my early writing, trying to find something for Memoir Monday, I found this short piece that I thought you might like. I have many more about this topic I could share, if there is enough interest.

Smart, Smarting, Smarter

A few years ago, with a need to fill a void left by the passing of my life partner, I stepped out of my comfort zone and joined the game of online dating.  It’s an addictive pastime that brings with it the desperate urge to turn on the computer to check e-mail messages the minute you walk through the door, no matter how tired you are or how stressful a day it’s been.

On one such day, a month or so after my initiation, I received a message from “Wayne”, in Sarnia.  I lived in Kingston at the time, a four or five-hour drive away.  The geographical distance between us gave me a moment’s hesitation, but being a curious sort who’d rather not close a door without first investigating what’s behind it, I responded.  He asked me to add him to my messaging contact list, and I obliged. From then on, every time I logged onto my computer, there was Wayne, looking for me!  If I wasn’t online, he sent me e-mail.  For a full week, fingers flew across the keyboards several times a day in an exchange of lengthy chats and e-mails.  Excitement began to build.  We compared all of our likes and dislikes, our visions and desires for a future relationship, our personal values. I wasn’t ready to throw caution to the wind just yet, but if he was being truthful, there seemed to be emerging a strong foundation for further development.  He revealed that he’d been married twice before and shared his story of how both wives had taken advantage of his generous nature.  I sympathized with him, but also recognized a possible red flag.  He was quick to dismiss my concerns about the geographical distance between us.  Distance could be overcome and worth the effort if it meant finding your soul mate; we could meet in Toronto since he was there twice a month on business; he could meet me at the bus station if I didn’t want to drive.  By the end of the week Wayne was certain that he was ready to meet me, and the sooner the better it seemed.  I was convinced to give it a try.  We talked about possible dates.

Then the penny dropped.

Wayne’s profile included a picture; mine did not.  Although I’ve been told that I’m an attractive woman, I’m not very photogenic. I had already discovered that sharing my not-very-flattering images too early could bring the “dating” to an abrupt end.   However, Wayne kept urging me to send him a picture, since I knew what he looked like while he had only my written description. I finally gave in.   Not happy with any photos in my file, I chose one randomly, attached it to an   e-mail, and hit SEND.  Almost immediately I had a stinging response.

“Thanks for the picture.  Unfortunately it didn’t give me that I want to meet her kind of feeling.  Good luck in your search”.

Ouch!

This ouch would have sent me spiraling into depression and self-doubt a few months ago, but now, after shaking off the shock, I chuckled to myself and added him to my growing list of “jerks”. If I’d judged him solely on his photo, I never would have responded to his first message.

I was finally beginning to see how fickle some men could be.  Obviously I was better off without this one and I was thankful that I hadn’t wasted a trip to Toronto.

Memoir Monday – Brockville Miss Teen Centennial Queen


Walking  stiffly down the runway, (which was really the dock at St. Lawrence Park) I was feeling very self-conscious in my green-striped swimsuit and high-heeled shoes, my hair piled high in curls on the top of my head.  My sash fell off my shoulder, but I couldn’t move my hands  to slide it back into place.  I just kept walking towards the judges’ table.  I looked at the one familiar face there, that of Norm, a friend of my sister.  I gave a feeble smile.  He smiled back.  I don’t remember making my way back up the ramp, nor what happened next.  When was the judging done?  What did we do while we waited?  Obviously we changed into our dresses at some point, and must have done the walk again. I don’t remember any of it. I know that I eventually joined the line of other contestants, all anxiously waiting on the runway in front of the judges for the names of the winners to be called – Miss Congeniality, Fourth Runner-up, Third Runner-up, Second Runner-up, First Runner-up, and finally Miss Teen Centennial.

It was the summer of 1967, Canada’s Centennial year.  I was a very shy seventeen year- old, greatly lacking in self-confidence.  What was I doing here?  The pageant was sponsored by the local Kinsmen Club, and my neighbour was scouting for contestants.  He approached me once and I was flattered, but declined. The second time, I agreed without thinking about what was involved.  I guess even then I knew that I had to push myself to move out of my comfort zone.

My sponsor was to be one of the local pharmacies.  We were required to make appointments to have our pictures taken by the local newspaper, and to have our hair done for free at one of the beauty salons.  I needed a new dress and swimsuit and shoes.  My older sister was recruited by my mother to take me shopping. Why would she not want to take me herself?

We had a fun time doing the stores, looking for bargains. We came home with the modest green and navy striped one-piece swimsuit, a simple, form-fitting shift-style dress in a satiny tapestry of pastel colours, and a pair of white (I think) high-heeled shoes.

Why are there no pictures?

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I made my hair appointment. I took myself down to the newspaper office for the photo shoot and interview. A few days later, I got a request to go back. She told me the pictures didn’t turn out very well. When the newspaper arrived with my picture and bio I was very devastated. The picture was terrible! My eyes seemed to bug out from my face. Could it have been better than the first one?! I think Mom might have kept that, but I insisted it be destroyed.

One evening all the contestants had to meet at the park to go through the stage plan. My boyfriend at the time walked me over and proudly assured me that I would be a winner.

On the morning of the pageant, I got my thick, brown hair piled onto the top of my head. The stylist was quite chatty and he commented that only one of the contestants had failed to make a hair appointment. He figured she wouldn’t have a chance. The whole contest was based on looks. I spent the afternoon sitting in the sun at the cottage, working on a tan.

There was a lot of chatter and excitement in the change room before the pageant. Someone didn’t have gloves; someone loaned her extra pair. We fussed with our hair and makeup and offered each other encouragement. We draped our white satin sashes over our shoulders. We admired each other, and silently assessed our own chances. We were asked to fill out a secret vote for Miss Congeniality, and then it was time to line up for our walk.

“Miss Congeniality goes to Miss …” The girl who shared her gloves.

“Fourth Runner-Up, Miss…”

“Third Runner-Up, Miss …” I think this was my distant cousin, Paula, who I thought was most likely my stiffest competition. My excitement began to build. Maybe I could be a winner after all.

“First Runner-Up, Miss …” My heart was pounding.

“Miss Teen Centennial Queen, …” The winner was the girl who didn’t get her hair done; the one who appeared in her everyday plain brown swimsuit, and flat shoes; the one who didn’t fret about how she looked.

Maybe they weren’t judging only on looks. Maybe self-confidence played a role too.

As we walked past the spectators, back to retrieve our belongings from the dressing room, I heard a few comments that helped lift my spirits.

“You should have won!”

But I didn’t and I moved on. I had never before considered myself to be a Beauty Queen anyway, but it was exciting to think about for a short time.

Many years later, when I met Norm again at my niece’s wedding, he apologized to me.

“I really thought you should win, but I couldn’t convince the other judges.”

I smiled. “Thanks, Norm. That’s alright.”

Memoir Monday – The Princess


I was dragging along the aisles of the grocery store, holding Daddy’s hand while my mother consulted her shopping list and piled items from the shelves into the metal shopping cart. As any ten-year-old girl would be, I was bored and anxious to get home to dinner. Then the line of items along a shelf high above the groceries caught my attention. There sat toys! There were big trucks and toy drums, building blocks and dolls. Dolls! That’s when I saw her and my eyes popped! There she stood, taller than all of the others, that princess doll.  Her shoulder-length hair was a dark blond and set in a Paige-boy style. The sparkling “silver” tiara on her head completed the royal look presented by the dark blue satin gown, trimmed with white lace. Her blue eyes shone from her perfect rosy face. All I could do was stop and stare. I knew I had to have her.

But, although Mom and Dad looked toward where I was pointing, they didn’t seem to share my excitement and my pleas to buy her went unheeded. It was just a few weeks before Christmas and Mom’s thoughts were on getting the Christmas baking ingredients and the week’s meal supplies. They may have told me too that they couldn’t afford to buy her then. Or possibly they’d suggested I put her on my list to Santa. I’m sure I dreamed about her that night.

The weeks passed and soon it was Christmas morning.  I wasn’t allowed to go downstairs until the rest of my family was up. Since my three siblings were teenagers who’d rather sleep longer, I had to be content with dumping out the contents of my stocking that hung on my bedroom door knob. When I was finally allowed to creep down the steep stairs to the living room, my eyes lit up in disbelief. There in front of the Christmas tree stood my princess! That was all I needed. I ran to examine her. She was even more beautiful up close than she’d been up on that shelf.  I looked at the little pearl earrings on her earlobes, and the triple strand pearl choker necklace around her neck. Her nicely shaped feet fit perfectly into the silver plastic high-heeled slippers. That was the best Christmas ever!

I didn’t play much with that doll. I was almost getting to an age that I was more interested in playing games and reading books and playing outdoors than playing with dolls.  But I loved to look at her where she sat on my bed. She held that spot as I grew up, married and had daughters of my own. My father-in-law, an antique dealer, once offered me $100 for her, but I turned him down. A number of years later, when her dress had faded to a dull purple and the elastic of her necklace had rotted and broken, like my marriage, and I needed the cash, I made her a new dress and regretfully sold her on eBay for far less.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any pictures of her.

Memoir Monday – Remembering Days of Lily-of-the-Valley, Pea Pods and Coal


If, like many bloggers, you have been journaling for a very long time, do you ever wish you could have started much earlier? Like when you were a child?

I’ve been trying to work on my Memoirs. I’d like to start at the beginning, but all I have are old, black and white photographs to spur my memory of those times. Sometimes it’s a long reach back. It’s hard to remember the details, and the pictures often don’t show what I need.

This week two things have brought back some memories of my childhood home – the Lily-of-the-Valley that are coming up nicely in our flower beds here at the condo, and the news from the US that the President is determined to bring back coal production.

A very young me in front of our family home

A very young me in front of our family home

This is the only picture I can find that shows anything of the two-story white clapboard,  house with  black trim, where I grew up. In the background behind me, you can see part of a long verandah. It stretched across three-quarters of one side of the house and around the corner to the front door.

The verandah brought a few memories together.

The Lily-of-the-Valley

In a flower bed that bordered the side length of the verandah, my mother had planted Lily-of-the-Valley. One summer day when they were in full bloom, a bored young me thought it would be fun to climb up onto the verandah railing and jump off to the ground. I don’t know if I was unaware of the work Mom had put into planting the garden, or if I thought I could jump over it.

Lily-of-the-Valley

Lily-of-the-Valley

As I climbed up for the second time, my mother tore through the side door.

“Judy! Get down off of there!”

“But I just want to jump!” I replied.

Needless to say, she was not impressed, especially when she saw the flatten patch of  the green and white perennials.

Pea Pods

Mom picked up a large wooden basket full of green peas still in the pods, and a bowl of from the cupboard.

“Come with me. You can help me shell these peas,” she said, as she nudged me out to the verandah.

We sat side-by-side in the wooden porch chairs, the basket between us, the bowl in her lap and she showed me how to snap open the pod and carefully scrape the peas into the bowl. I don’t remember how long we sat there; I don’t remember any conversation, although being an inquisitive child I’m sure I had lots of questions for her.

Funny, I never liked cooked peas when I was a kid, but I swear I can hear her scolding me for eating more of these peas than I was putting into the bowl!

The Coal

At the front of the house, a heavy trap door in the wooden verandah floor provided access into the basement. I remember a day when a big truck arrived, and a man removed a section of the verandah railing, opened the trap door and set up a chute from the back of the truck to inside the door. I saw him shoveling chunks of black coal onto the chute. I watched it slide down through a cloud of black dust, and disappear below the floor, until my mother hauled me back indoors, out of harms way.

When the delivery man had finished his job, replacing the verandah panel and closing the trap door, I was outside again, watching my mother scrubbing the blackened walls and floor of the verandah with a mop and large bucket of soapy water.

Once winter winds began to howl, my dad would shovel the coal from the basement bin into the coal-fired furnace to provide his family with warmth through the long, cold winter.

Looking Back – Our first Cross-country trip to British Columbia, through the US


Because we’ve not been traveling since our return from Arizona more than a month ago, I thought it would be fun to revisit our very first cross country trip to British Columbia in 2006. I did do a little blogging about it at the time, on a site that no longer exists. The only purpose of my blogging then was to keep family and friends informed of our progress.

That trip was quite different from the ones we have taken since. Our first “motor home” was an old (1973 I think) high top Chevy camper van. It had a fold-down table with bench seats that could be converted, with great difficulty, into a narrow “double” bed at night, and a small kitchen with overhead cupboards that I hit my head on every time I prepared a meal. There was a two burner propane stove and a finicky mini-fridge. We removed the port-a-potty and used that room for clothing storage. There was no shower; no bathroom sink; no furnace. We had to depend upon public restrooms and campgrounds for personal care and laundry, but we ate many meals in that little camper.

How the Adventure Began

The purpose of our trip was to attend the graduation of my one daughter from the Kootenay School of Arts in Nelson, and the wedding of my second daughter, in Vancouver. We pulled a trailer containing our Yamaha Venture motorcycle to use for transportation once we reached British Columbia.

We left Peterborough at 8:15 in the morning on April 13th and headed west, then north towards Elliot Lake, where we would spend our first night with friends, in the comfort of their apartment. By 11:00 it was time for a pit stop. We saw a sign for gas off to our right.  Thinking we’d use the washroom there, we took the exit.  This is what we found!

It seemed the operating gas station was many kilometers further, so we decided to continue down the highway. A few kilometers outside Parry Sound, we found an information center with washrooms and picnic tables.  After a 45 min. break, we were on the road again.

In Espanola we filled up the gas tank at 106.9 per litre, for a grand total of $104.01 Yikes! That’s why the next day we would cross the border into the US.

By 4:00 we were in Elliot Lake.

The next morning we crossed into Michigan at Sault St. Marie and drove until 9:00 pm (Wisconsin time, 10:00 our time).  We had planned to stop earlier but were unable to find a campground that was open.  We thought we had it planned out with the KOA sites, but it turned out the ones they had listed were 30 or 40 miles away from the highway we’d chosen!  Private ones weren’t open yet.  There weren’t any convenience centres along the way either. When my bladder was about to burst, we finally found a motel and campground in Brule Wisconsin.  The campground wasn’t actually open yet, but they let us park and use the electricity for only $10.  The showers and washrooms were closed, so we had to make do with what we had in the camper.  I sure was wishing we’d kept that port-a-potty! The temperature plummeted during the night and I vowed to purchase an electric heater before the next night arrived.

Highlights of the Next Few Days

April 15 – Easter Sunday, we spent on the road. The weather warmed up, so we postponed getting a heater. We parked for the night at the KOA in Bismark, North Dakota, where we indulged in hot showers before leaving the next morning.

April 16 – We took some time to take pictures of these huge metal sculptures along the highway in North Dakota, and visited Painted Canyon and the Badlands.

We were at the KOA in Billings, Montana by night fall. Later in the evening a thunder and rain storm blew through. It rained all night; the temperature dropped 10 degrees and the Weatherman predicted up to 14 inches of snow the next day!

April 17 – We left camp at 9:00 am. By 10:00 we were driving up the mountains in a blizzard, with no snow tires!

Fortunately, it didn’t last too long, but changed to rain off and on most of the day.  The van really struggled going up the hills. By the final fill up for the day Jim realized that the gas octane he’d been buying was way lower than ours at home.  When he used a higher octane at that fill, it made a world of difference.

After spending a couple of hours in a Walmart debating with an employee about an exchange or refund for a defective camera that Jim had purchased a few months ago, and looking for a heater (they had none), we set out again. We’d thought we’d make it to Nelson that day, but it wasn’t looking good.

We weren’t back on the road long before Jim thought there was a problem with the transmission.  He stopped at a gas station to check it and put in some transmission fluid.  Then it wouldn’t even start!  He checked the batteries and didn’t think it was that.  He thought it was the starter. He spent a half hour taking things apart to get at it and still couldn’t get it fixed.  He finally decided he needed a new starter.  Luckily there was an RV repair center right across the road so he walked over.  The guy came over with his big service truck and boosted the battery.  It was dead, but they discovered that the alternator belt was loose as well, which caused the battery to not charge.  The cost was nominal. I breathed a sigh of relief. We finally got back on our way and stopped at 7:00 pm for the night at the KOA in Missoula, Montana.

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Apr 18 – At 4:00 pm our van was parked outside my daughter’s apartment in Nelson, BC where it would stay for the next thirteen days while we attended the family events and travelled around BC on the bike.

It would be May 11th before our 10,000 kilometer trip would end, upon our arrival home.

Looking back now, I wonder how we survived nearly a month in such tight quarters without any major conflicts! Of course a year later we did another month-long trip to Canada’s East Coast, that time on the motorcycle all the way and tenting most of the time.