Month: May 2010

Hey, you drank my pet

It is funny how some memories stick with you. One thing I will never forget, and one that still makes me laugh is the time my mom ended up drinking my newest pet. Gotcha now I bet. You seen the headline, the opening line, how could you not read a story that tells you about someone’s mother drinking their pet?

This all happened one very hot afternoon, sometime in the seventies.  Mom had recently purchased the latest in appliances, the wringer washer. Do you remember the wringer washer? With it’s two wheels that were meant for wringing out clothes, but somehow managed to crack fingers of curious little boys? Thankfully, I was not one of those boys, but I bet after I caused mom to drink my pet, she would have received some satisfaction in seeing me at least almost crack my fingers…Naw, my mom is not like that, she probably forgave me soon after I stopped crying, and then laughing.

Anyway, back to the story, which actually happened. I was in Grade three at the time, and attending the Annex school. The Annex school was a school quite unlike anything I had ever experienced. The school, which was built by the Americans while they occupied our town for a while back in the fifties, was later signed over to the town, and used as a temporary school for both Catholic and Anglican students while their perspective buildings were being repaired and updated. Behind the school ran a small stream, that was filled with tiny fishes. These fishes were known as pinfish. The water in this stream was anything but drinkable, probably due to the fact that the stream was slow moving and filled with green algae.

This was the last day of school for the year. A hot, sunny day where it was way too warm to wear a coat, and one that caused me to run to the stream just before class, and soak my feet. While at the stream, I noticed an unusually large number of pinfish in the stream, and it gave me an idea. Using an old Seven-Up can I had found, I gathered as many pinfish as I could, along with a generous supply of green slime for them to eat. I filled the can with the warm water that flowed in the stream, and brought the can into the school. I carefully placed the can in my locker, making sure not to spill any of the water. When school was out, I anxiously carried my can of fish home with me on the bus, bragging to my friends about my new summer project, which was to build my own aquarium.

With the sound of water jiggling in the can, I found that I really needed to pee, so when the school bus finally reached my stop, I anxiously ran into the house to use the bathroom. When I got into the house, I noticed my mom washing clothes with her new washer. She looked very warm and tired, but I did not have time to talk. I ran to the bathroom, leaving my can of fish on the counter next to my mom.

I was just beginning to find relief when I heard it. It was perhaps the loudest scream I ever heard, followed by the loudest episode of vomiting I ever heard. My mom yelled that she was going to kill me. Imagine a mom saying that to her son. What kind of mom did I have? When I went into the kitchen, I seen what she was screaming about.

There she was, leaning over a pail in the porch, sick as a dog. I asked her what happened, and at the same time, I picked up my can of fish. The can seemed a whole lot lighter, and I was completely surprised to discover that all the fish were gone. My mom said that she was so warm and thirsty, that when she seen my can of pop, she thought she would take a drink. I bet you can figure out the rest. If not, imagine a very tired person, exhausted from the heat, and suddenly discovering what could have been a refreshing drink of Seven-Up. Imagine her taking a big gulp of the soft drink, only to discover that what she drank was green slimy, warm water and a healthy supply of tiny fish that were probably dead from sitting in the hot can all day. Imagine how sick she was.

At the tender and innocent age of seven, I did not realize any of this. What I did realize was that my plans of building an aquarium were all but ruined. I also realized that I would never get a chance to see my new pets swimming in that aquarium. What I did not realize was that screaming at my mom for drinking my fish was not the smartest thing for a kid to do, and if that wasn’t enough, for some reason, I soon found myself laughing at the whole thing. Not a great tactic to then try to apologize, all the time laughing while doing so.

I don’t think mom ever got over this. It is some 40 years afterward, and she still gets angry when I bring it up.  I believe part of the problem is that I cannot talk about this incident without laughing, especially when she still gets sick talking about it.

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Stand back or I will kiss you, or The war against school bullying

Being the youngest kid in high school was as much of a nightmare as anything I can think of. I remember on one occasion, this girl used to tease me. I think I was fourteen or so at the time, and the girl, Susan, I will call her, was quite developed for a girl of sixteen, and she used this gift well. On one occasion, she sat on my lap and started teasing me. Being as shy as I was, you can imagine the color of my face, as I could feel my cheeks get warmer by the moment. Anyway, to make a long story short, she teased me and I got embarrassed. The worst part was that other students seemed to enjoy this teasing, as they pointed their fingers at me and laughed every time she did this. There was also a lot of name calling involved, and this experience had such a negative effect on my school work. I did not want to go to school at all.

This went on every day, until one of the guys in class got fed up with it. Now, I am not sure whether he got fed up with her teasing and embarrassing me, or if he got fed up with all the attention she was paying to me, and not him; but either way, he gave me advice that I would never forget. This kid told me that the next time she approached me with this behavior; I should jump on her and begin to return the teasing to her, give her a dose of her own medicine so to speak. I doubted that I could ever do this, but given the fact that she embarrassed me every day at school, I had to try something.

It was Monday morning, and just before math class, Susan walked into the crowded classroom. I remember sitting in front of the class, sweating and waiting anxiously for this moment to be over, and almost wishing that I did not have to do it, but sure enough, she strolled right up the aisles of desks that were lined up in the tiny classroom, and proceeded to sit on my lap. Just before she managed to attempt a fake kiss on my lips I took action. Right in front of everyone in the class, including a very surprised teacher, I did it. Holding my skinny arms tightly around her, I pushed until the two of us were on the floor, me on top, and I planted a good one right on her lips. This was the first time I ever kissed a girl, and it was quite obvious. I still remember the horror in her eyes as I ‘smooched’ her on the lips. I was surprised how long the teacher allowed this to go on, and how long Susan laid there allowing me to kiss her. I believe she was in shock. There it was, the hottest girl in school being kissed by the biggest geek in school.  In the next few minutes of what seemed like forever, I managed to learn to stand up for myself, against what I did not realize was a case of bullying. The teacher soon managed to pull me and my suction cup lips away from the frightened girl, and we returned to our seats. Right after this, the teacher proceeded to give a class discussion on bullying, and he made me the center of the topic, stating that bullying can come from either sex, and that it can be quite difficult to deal with. He also said that he did not choose to punish me for my wild behavior because in a way, I was dealing with bullying, by standing up for myself. She never teased me again. I never got too many kisses in school again either, but it was worth it.

I learned a big lesson that week, and that is to stand up for yourself whenever necessary. I also learned another lesson, and that was that bullying can come in many forms, from any sex, and in any location. I learned that bullying of any kind is extremely painful, and that dealing with bullying is sometimes a difficult thing to do.

I never thought that I would use this lesson again in my life, but a few years ago, I had a chance to pass this information on to a fellow who truly needed it. I had been attending a training program at a local college.  To protect the innocent, we shall refer to this individual as Paul.Paul came from a small island off the coast of the province, and it was obvious that he lacked the social skills of the others in the class. He was just 19, and despite the fact that he stood over six feet tall and he looked like a grown man, he ended up dealing with virtually the same issue I dealt with way back in grade school.

There was this girl, who we shall call Lisa, who teased him terribly each day he was in class. She would sit on his lap and blow him kisses, or talk dirty to him while he was trying to listen to the instructor. I often witnessed her do things that were well within the ranges of sexual assault, and she did them without reservations or respect. He would just sit there, red in the face, reaching out for anyone to help him. Too embarrassed to talk to an instructor, he tried to withstand the teasing, but in the end, I worried that he might do something drastic. We live in a strange world. If the situation were reversed, and a male student was doing these acts to a female student, she would have no problem reporting the issue, but when it is the other way around, it seems like society does not look at the situation in the same way.

When I really thought about it, Paul was experiencing the same situation as I was, despite the fact that he is 19, and I was only 14. With this, I proceeded to talk to him about it. At first, he told me to mind my own business and leave him alone, but I responded by telling him how I seen the situation. I explained to him that I once dealt with the same situation, and that I had to take action. Paul said that he often thought about telling the instructor, but that he felt that would be childish and someone might laugh. I went on to tell him that being a victim of sexual assault is not funny or childish, and that he needed to do something about it. Paul asked me what he should do.

I instructed Paul to take action, and that is what he did one Friday morning in the Human Services class. Paul sat patiently in his desk as Lisa entered the class. She was chatting to some other girls, and they were all laughing and p0inting to Paul. I could see his face redden, as he sat there, but just like a cat, he pounced upon Lisa, trapping her to the floor. He wasted no time in planting one right on her lips, and in minutes, she squirmed out from under him and began yelling to the instructor. “He tried to rape me!” she shouted, but the instructor paid no attention. At that moment, her friends were laughing and giggling again, but this time, their attention was aimed at her, and soon, the whole class were clapping their hands for Paul, who had managed to overcome this painful abuse and bullying. She never teased him again. I don’t think she teased anybody again. In fact, just a short while after this happened, she apologized to Paul, and they became good friends.

Forgiveness (Revised)

Forgiveness is a strange concept. The old saying, ‘Forgive and forget’ is a very difficult one for me.  Our church preaches things like “Turn the other cheek”, and “Love your neighbor”, but I believe that dealing with the incident first may be the only way to truly forgive and forget. I have not dealt with the incident yet, and it occurred over 40 years ago. I doubt that I will ever forgive or forget.

Mom called the other day to tell me that our former neighbor has recently been diagnosed with stomach cancer. I believe she was surprised by my lack of compassion. I have always been a compassionate person, but for some reason, I could not reach deep enough to forgive this person. My mom pleaded with me to try and find a positive thing to say about this person, but for once in my life, I could not find even the smallest bit of praise for her. “Hope her family manages to deal with it” I said, knowing that even this small bit of compassion may be enough to rest my mom’s mind.

The woman in question lived next door to me when I was growing up. She was married to a very cowardly man who seen lots but said little. He worked as a mechanic and an auto painter, in a small garage that he built alongside their home. For the sake of the family, I will say that her name is Rose, and his name is Peter.  Rose and Peter lived in a small bungalow that was about 3 minutes up the road from my house. As a kid, I played with most of their 7 children, as at least 4 of them were in my age range.

If I ever considered myself poor, they were poorer. Poorer in a way that they would walk up and down the aisles of the school bus chanting “Any crusts, any buns, anything you didn’t finish in your lunch can?” I still wake up at night hearing the children’s pleads for hunger. If an experience like that isn’t something to tarnish a small child, what is?

Jake was the oldest of the seven, and also the hungriest. He would literally beg the other children for any type of food item, from a dried out molasses bun to the crusts of sandwiches the other kids chose not to eat. And when he found food, he was like a hungry wolf on a piece of meat, eating it quickly in fear that someone would take it from him. I once seen him beat up kids for their food, and it didn’t matter their size. Hell, he was used to taking a beating; he could easily handle anything the big kids could muster to throw at him. I remember on one account, Jake traded a rusted out dinky for a tin of Vienna sausages. He told the boy that he could hold it until he finished eating the food, then it had to be returned so that he could use it to trade for more food.

The beatings; the almost daily beatings seem to stand out in my head even more than the begging for food. These children, all seven of them were physically and emotionally abused at the hands of their very cruel mother. Most of the beatings took place right in front of whoever was at the house at the time, which, unfortunately, was me. I can clearly see her make the child in question stand in front of her, and proceed to slap him or her across the face until they cried. One this occasion, Jake shed a tear after the third slap. When tears started to roll across his tiny face, his mother hit him over and over, until he managed to hold back the tears. Most of those beatings occurred because the kids did not hear her yell at them for any particular reason or because she had been having a bad day and wanted to punish someone.

One time, Rose beat Stephen because he was outside with me, feasting on Sour Tongues. These small and very sour plants grew low to the ground, and were thought to cause worms in children. Despite the fears to get worms, we ate them anyway. My parents would warn me of the dangers of having worms, such as stomach aches, sickness, and maybe a trip to the doctor, but my friends parents, they had a different approach. Rose chose to beat it into the heads of the kids with the back of her hand, or to take away one of the few food items the children had to eat.

Meals for my friends consisted of the same diet every day. For dinner, they were each permitted one slice of bakery bread, with one smudge of butter. For supper, the kids always ate white beans, cooked in salty water. This was the meal every day of their lives. There were other food in the cupboards, such as sausages, cookies, and other mouth watering items, but the kids were not permitted to eat this food, as it was for the mother. The kids did not touch Rose’s food; they were afraid of the consequences.

Another incident saw this family adopt a dog. Rose took a liking to a small gray dog who I will call Tramp. Tramp was a cute little thing, but none of the children were allowed to play with him. Instead, Rose spent days nurturing and playing with the puppy. As a pup, Tramp was always given more food than the kids. When they were given their ration of one scoop of white beans, the remainder of the food was not distributed evenly to the hungry children, instead, Rose gave it all to Tramp. Tramp was spoiled until he was no  longer a puppy, and until Rose no longer found him cute. Once the pup grew older, he was tied on to the power pole outside the yard, often going days without food. During this time, the children were not allowed to feed the dog, and were not allowed to give the dog water on hot days. Rose said that food was too valuable to give to a stupid dog. As expected, the dog could not go on like this, and one very hot summer day, Tramp died from starvation. Rose lied next to the tiny dog, and cried. This action confused the entire community, but looking back on this now, I realize that this woman must have been dealing with a very serious mental health issue. I know that she has never received any help for this problem.

Clothing for this family consisted of hand me downs from other families. Their mother, Rose, used the small amount of earnings Peter made to go to her nightly entertainment, Bingo. Rose did not miss a bingo game for anything. Her children did without so that her gambling habit could be fed. Rose had her bingo games, Peter had his snowmobiles.

Peter raced snowmobiles for enjoyment. Despite the children virtually starving to death, Peter always made sure that he had the latest sled parked next to the old cement step at the side of the house. On weekends, Peter would take his sled to all the races, and when he was lucky, he would bring home the small tin trophies that he was awarded for being the best racer in his class. People called him brave and fearless. People who did not know him called him those things. The ones who knew what he was really like called him many different names.

Peter was a very lazy husband to Rose. Often leaving her with all seven children, he would venture out for his leisure time, leaving her to carry water and wood to the house. Peter was so lazy, that rather than go into the forest to cut firewood, he chose to burn the walls of his home, and even the wood siding. The house looked like a shack. My dad constantly offered to assist Peter with cutting firewood, but he refused, saying that he did not like this type of work. It seemed that neither Peter nor Rose were willing to sacrifice anything for their children.

When the kids received beatings from their mother, they would turn to their father for help, but he was such a coward, he would turn his back to his kids, and allow them to undergo whatever cruelty Rose had planned. In my mind, he was no better than she, because if he wanted to help, he could have taken them away from all the cruelty and violence. Peter chose to ignore the punishments. I remember on one occasion, Stephen pleaded with his father to help him, but he ended up getting beat even worst for asking for help. I remember seeing Peter turn his head as Rose beat the child senseless and left him lying on the ground.

On day, while Rose was still pregnant with Mike, my parents offered to take Patricia, who was the baby at the time. Rose had to go into the hospital due to complications with her pregnancy, and she had nobody who would volunteer to take the smallest child. When mom and dad arrived home with the little girl, they noticed that she needed changing. The time of the day was 4 o’clock, and it was apparent that the little baby had been wearing this soaked wet diaper all day. Removing the diaper proved a challenge, as most of the skin around the diaper came off with it. Her skin was badly burned, but mom managed to care for her. They had Patricia for almost three weeks, and mom found it very difficult to give the baby back, knowing that she would be subjected to the neglect as soon as she was under her mother’s care once again.

I believe the most difficult part of this experience, and the part that has affected me the most, was the fact that Rose put me in the middle of most beatings. I can still see her standing over Jake, pounding his face over and over, and repeatedly asking why he could not be a good child, like I was. I felt so guilty for this. On occasion, I even thought of trying to be a not so good child, because then, she would have nobody to compare their behavior, and then maybe she would stop beating them.

One of my aunts, Aunt Laurie, I will call her, felt compassion for the kids. Her husband had recently passed away, and her home was in need of repairs. Jake offered to help her out, in exchange for food. Every day, Jake was at the door, bright and early, waiting for a bit of food to tide him through the day. Aunt Laurie treated Jake very well, rewarding his hard work with fine cooking. On one occasion, Aunt Laurie tells of a time in which she found out that Jake’s birthday was coming up. For this day, she chose to make a big chocolate cake for his payment. Aunt Laurie still remembers the moment that she went into the kitchen to get a knife, to cut the cake. Upon returning, she was surprised to discover that Jake had eaten the entire cake in just minutes. She knew that those kids were starving, but back then, there weren’t services like Child Youth and Family Services, and even if there was, it took a very bad situation before kids were removed from their families.

The kids remained with their parents until they were old enough to leave. Stephen was one child who left but was clearly not ready. At fifteen, Stephen was a child with a great deal of hurt building up inside. He was very rebellious, and always said that if he had seen something he that he had wanted, he would take it. One day, Stephen noticed a can of Maple Leaf sausages in the cupboard where his mom kept her treats. Starving, he took the can of meat and proceeded to eat. When Rose came into the room, she caught him eating her food. She slapped the bottom of the metal can, almost cutting his face, and proceeded to kick him out of the house. I don’t remember where he went to live, but I do know that now, some 40 years later, he has spent most of his life behind bars.

Of the seven children, I personally know that most of them have children, and that none of these children have ever met their grandparents. I would guess that this is the kid’s way of protecting their children from their cruel mother and cowardly father.

The last time I seen Rose, she was in a line up at the local supermarket. I remember biting my tongue, trying my best to be polite, and not tell her what I thought of her. She had the nerve to look at me and complain how, after all she has done for her kids, that none of them will let her spend any time with her grand-kids. My tongue still hurts from that day.

A while back, I heard that Peter, the father, had been diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. Now, Rose has Stomach cancer. Getting back to the opening paragraph, the one about the old sayings, there is another saying that I believe is fitting in this story, “What goes around, comes around”.

My Royce Union Bike

photo courtesy of retro.net. Story courtesy of the many adventures I had as a kid riding this bike
photo courtesy of retro.net. Story courtesy of the many adventures I had as a kid riding this bike

It’s funny how certain things stick in a person’s mind. I will never forget the first bicycle I ever had. My parents bought it for me, and when I close my eyes, I can still see the  black metallic seat, with it’s gold glitter sealed under a coating of clear plastic. The frame of the bike was yellow, and it had ‘banana’ handlebars. The wheels were a full 20″, which made me feel real big when I rode it. The brand name of the bike was “Royce Union”, and it had a gold emblem on the handlebar stem. The bike was a single speed, and resembled the BMX bikes of today. This bike wasn’t one of those ‘cheapies’ that people bought from Canadian Tire, partially due to the fact that we didn’t have a Canadian Tire back then.

I was so proud of my bike, and like every kid, I bragged a bit when me and my friends gathered to talk bikes. There was a bully who lived up the road from me (Timmy from another post) who joked that I rode a bike called a ‘Royal Onion’, but despite all the other kids’ laughter, I didn’t let it bother me.

I had some adventures on that old bike. Some were great, some scary. On one occasion, my brother, who was a short little kid, wanted to ride with me. We ‘invented’ a new way to ride in which I would pedal and he, while sitting in front of me, would steer the bike. This technique worked great on pave roads, as we synchronized our talents and managed to out ride, out steer, and out  maneuver most other riders in our community. Did I mention that it was not so great on gravel? We didn’t test this until a weekend where my parents planned to go camping. My brother asked if we could bring the bike, as it would keep the both of us busy and allow my parents to do other things. They agreed, and Dad packed the bike in the trunk of the car.

All was well until we took the bike out. I noticed a small hill leading up to the campsite, so we decided to try our bike technique on this hill. Just like any other day, I began pedaling as fast as I could, while my brother steered the Royce Union around the rocks. All was going well until my brother got distracted by something or other, think it may have been a wasp, and boom! The Royce Union bike, complete with it’s custom yellow paint and beautiful black metallic seat took to the air, and so did the both of us. I somehow managed to land on a nice soft spot of grass, but my little brother, he wasn’t so lucky. I watched, almost is slow motion, as he tumbled and twirled through the air, landing right on his head…on a rock. Almost immediately, a huge purple bump appeared on his head, and his little arm ended up with a terrible scrape, that bled almost immediately after he landed. He just lay there for a second, a second that seemed like an eternity.

There, now I done it, I killed my little brother. The little guy who ate my books, claimed my teddy bears, and wrecked my favorite toys was dead. Thankfully, at 11 years old, my time estimates were way off, because almost as quick as he landed, he was on his feet, screaming and bawling and yelling to mom and dad. If anyone ever had any doubts about my parents’ hearing, they were proved wrong today, because somehow, they heard my little brother’s screams, and came running to his rescue.

Besides being pretty, the Royce Union was tough. Despite my brother’s bump, which went away much quicker than my three weeks of being grounded; the little bike survived without a scratch. For each day of the grounding, I spent at least a few hours polishing my bike, getting her ready for the next adventure. An adventure without my brother steering of course. After that experience, he got his very own bike, but it wasn’t a Royce Union, I think it was a banana bike from the Hudson’s Bay.

I gave my bike all the modifications I could afford. Like every kid, I put the custom parts where they would look real cool. I found some old electrical wire in a car wreck, and carefully wrapped every other spoke from bottom to top, each set of spokes a different color, until the wheels looked like rainbows when I rode it. Then, I found some of those cool twist ties in the garbage bags, the ones where you threaded one end through the other, and attached them to each of the two front forks, so that when I rode fast, it gave a ‘clickity clack’ sound. I also  made streamers from the plastic bags the bread came in, and attached them to the ends of each handlebar, and used vaseline to coat the tires and make them shine. What a proud feeling, riding my shiny yellow Royce Union bike up and down the road, my friends in tow with their custom bikes.

I don’t know what happened to that bike, for some reason, I can remember each adventure, each bump, each scrape I received while riding the bike, but I cannot remember where it ended up.

The other day, I did research on the brand name. It appears that the bike is now a collector’s item. Imagine that, me actually owning a collector’s item. Apparently, collectors are paying big bucks for those old bikes, and they are looking for the bikes in any condition. I wish they could have seen mine, with its shiny yellow paint and the black metallic seat with the gold sparkles.

Doing Without in the Land of Plenty

Money is a funny thing. the people who have been raised without money don’t seem to worry about it, but for the people who are used to having the stuff, it becomes a major concern. My fiance and myself are two very different people when it comes to money. She was raised in an environment where money was always there. She never wanted for anything, and her parents, business owners, always had plenty of the stuff. Her dad ran a soft drink distributing business, which took him away from his family for long periods of time. She often speaks of times when she was a little girl, and all she wanted was some attention from her dad. This attention was diverted of course, to the business. She said that her dad sat up for long hours at night, worrying where the next dollar would come from to run the business. When the business flourished, the family did quite well, purchasing such conveniences as motor homes, new cars and trucks, and the latest in household appliances and electronics. They also did a fair bit of traveling, mostly in the RV. She recalls a time in her childhood where her parents were considered the upper class in the small island community in which they lived.

She also spoke of the bad times, when the business failed, her dad forced to lay off his employees and sell the things he bought. She tells of her parents worry, and how their young lives were sacrificed for the business, and how her dad aged so quickly, mostly from the stress put upon him by the business and his struggle for success. She tells of how her parents worried about losing the very home in which they had raised the family, and about how they had to leave the province, and work in a world that they were not used to.  She explains that despite the fact that her parents have been married for over 25 years, they now live  and work in the camps in Alberta, residing in separate camps, sleeping and living their lives apart. She goes on to say how they come home every other month, with more money than they ever dreamed, but how they are even more unhappy and worried than ever before.

It’s funny how this works. For the first few years of this lifestyle, everything looked pretty positive for her parents. They bought a new motor home, the finest in the land. They bought new vehicles, five in total, and they even bought a new car for her. On weekends, they would entertain friends, either in the newly renovated home, or in the gigantic motor home they recently purchased. Lavish parties with all the liquor you could imagine, and the finest foods laid on the counters, free for the taking for the chosen few that were invited to the party. Conversations arose concerning money and success and happiness, with their friends envying their success. And then it came crashing down, at least for a short time. With layoffs in the oil fields, thanks to a country-wide recession and lower oil prices, her parents began to worry once more. Her mother was laid off from her job, a job that she worked many hours to achieve,  often stepping on the toes of others, giving people living in desperate conditions their layoff notices, working to please managers and bosses that she hadn’t even met. She got her layoff too, but not in person like honorable companies do. She was at home when it happened. They had just returned home from an RV trip to a nearby park. They had partied it up, fired up the BBQ, cooked the fine steaks and meats that most people could not afford, and they looked for a rest before heading back to the camps. Her mother decided to check her email, and there it was. What a way to let one of the most loyal employees go. No job when you return. No use coming back, we replaced you with your subordinate. The person you took under your wing, trained, explained the goings on, warned of the things not to do. The person who now did the same job you did each and every day, but for less money, now has your old job. You have become expendable, an expense rather than an asset for the company. Its nothing personal, it’s just business. Suck it up, This is Alberta. Things will get better.

Things got better, in time, but not right away. Not until plans to sell the RV, the cars and trucks, the expensive furniture and up-to date electronics. You see, these things are never really yours. It is like renting the stuff until things go bad, then selling them at a much lower price than you originally paid for them.

She managed to get another job, some six months or more after losing her previous position. She moved to another camp, this time the one with her husband, and now they work, but not with the courage and inspiration they once had. This is due, mostly, because they discovered that nothing is forever when money is concerned. They discovered that you could go to sleep with everything, and wake with nothing. “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched”, “Don’t put the cart before the horse”. People learn, mostly at great expense.

I grew up in a very different world than my fiance. In fact, we are from two different universes when it comes to money. I think that is why we look at things so differently. She worries about not having enough money to go clothes shopping. She stays awake for long hours at night, thinking about how she is going to put money into a savings account, so that people will not judge her as being poor.

I on the other hand, sleep sound while she ponders away. As long as my bills are paid, we have food, and enough gas in the car to travel to and from work, I am fine. I guess I got this way from living many years without even change jingling in my pockets. Of course, I come about this honestly.

Mom used to tell me stories of her dad, who worked on hard jobs like the Newfoundland railroad and the building of the highway. She said that her dad used to carry felt tins in his pockets so that the jingle gave the illusion that he had money. That’s how badly he wanted money.Not riches to splurge on the finer things, but money to give his family the things they so badly needed. Instead of doing without, they learned to make the best of the things they had.

Mom grew up in a small farming community on the west coast of the province. Her nearest neighbor lived several miles away, so her siblings were her best friends. Mom tells me of times like Christmas, where they received but an apple or an orange, sometimes a few grapes in a stocking, and no gifts. She remembers how they treasured the little things,  mostly due to the fact that they were so poor. Toys consisted of recycled items from around the house or the barn, such as a wheel from a cart, that they chased through the fields that surrounded their tiny home.

My dad grew up under similar circumstances, so when they met, they had already lived their lives without money, so why would this be any different? Mom and Dad struggled, like most did during the early 60’s in Newfoundland. When they got married, Dad and his father built a small three room house, complete with an outhouse. Running water was a convenience not known by any of the residents in our tiny community, so Dad carried water from the river that ran  some three miles from the back of the house. The house consisted of a kitchen and two bedrooms, with a small area sectioned off to be used as the bathroom when the weather was too cold to go outside. In the kitchen, was a wood stove that served as an oven as well, and since there was no running water, the cabinets simply consisted of a counter top where a basin could be placed, and a small storage area underneath.  On the table, there was always a kerosene lamp, because in addition to the lack of running water, we didn’t have electricity either. There was always a huge selection of comic books and novels to read, because without electricity, television was just a dream.

Dad picked up a job driving cab. At the time, the Americans had an Air Force base in our town, so there was always a high demand for taxis. Dad made so little that all he could afford was a few cans of tomato soup and maybe some crackers. They ate a lot of soup and crackers back then, Mom says that she hates tomato soup, and this is why.

I was the first-born, so I got all the ‘good stuff’. I remember one Christmas, I got a metal spin top, the one with the wooden handle on top. To operate this toy, you had to push the handle down very hard, and the big top would spin across the floor. This toy provided many hours of amusement for both me and my parents. Most kids would laugh at this, but when you have so little, you learn to appreciate the things you are given. I also had access to all the comic books I could read. My dad taught himself to read using those comics. He especially enjoyed the ‘Classics Illustrated’, a series of comics devoted to classics such as “Treasure Island” and “The Three Musketeers”. Mom also read western novels to dad in the evenings. This was our entertainment, similar to watching TV, but much better.

I remember how excited we were when we got running water. My grandfather had a little stream flowing through one of his hay fields, so he and his sons got together and built a dam. The next step was to dig trenches throughout the entire community, which consisted of over 15 homes. Pipe was laid in those trenches, and eventually, water flowed through the tiny community.

Dad had been lucky enough to get a job as janitor with a new company that came into town. With this new money, he was able to purchase everything required to build a bathroom in the house. He also bought a kitchen sink and a tap. Most people would laugh at this, but when he installed the toilet, I was not sure how to sit on it. I still remember mounting the thing like one would ride a motor cycle, sitting on the seat and facing the flush box. I wondered how others used this wonderful thing, did they get bored staring at the wall behind the toilet, or did they use the base of the toilet as a counter to read their comics like I did.

Mom especially enjoyed the new kitchen sink. She said that cooking became so much easier with the convenience of running water. Washing clothes was also much easier, for both mom and dad. I can still see mom crouched over the galvanized wash tub, scrubbing our precious clothes over the old washboard, this time with the convenience of running water. We had it made.

Before mom got married to dad, she taught school. Back then, if you had anything higher than grade 10, you could be a teacher. Mom joked that dad was the stubbornest student she ever taught, and that he used to hide his books under the school and run home without any homework. I guess that is why he dropped out of school in grade 8.

Seeing how we lacked many of the conveniences most had, Mom made up for it by teaching me school at home. Before I was to begin school in the nearby town, Mom made sure that I could read, write, and do my arithmetic. When I started school with my friends, I was quickly moved to a higher grade than most kids, because I already knew what they were teaching the kids. I could read as well as any grade two, even in kindergarten, and math was a breeze as well. Because of this, I was moved from kindergarten to grade two in one year. I was glad, because school was boring for me, having to listen to other kids get stuck on simple words, when I could correctly pronounce and even spell those words with ease.

1970 was a year that brought many changes in our household. The first new convenience was the coming of electricity to our community. Each day, me and my friends would gather and watch anxiously as the workers planted the large poles into the ground, and how they strung wires from one pole to another. We were excited to see the many things that would come from this new convenience. Dad was working at another job now, and he managed to buy a television. This was the coolest thing I ever seen, and I can still recall it in my mind. A small rectangular box, what we would call a 12″ tv, was brought into the house by my parents, who proudly purchased this after saving their money for several years.  When dad turned the TV on,  we watched anxiously as the CBC test pattern filled the screen. An image consisting of 7 columns, all different hues of either black, grey or white stood before us, and we watched in anticipation as the first broadcast for the day was about to happen. We were entertained by the National Anthem of Canada, with images of our soldiers, the queen, and other important figures we had never seen, graced the screen. Soon, we were entertained by the likes of Bonanza, Gunsmoke, I Spy, and of course, Star Trek; programs that both amazed and addicted us to the world of television.

1970 was also the year my brother came into this world. Since I was born, I was alone, and only child, but now, I got to be a big brother. Mom explains now that between the time I was born, and my brother’s birth, she had 4 miscarriages, but did not give up hope in having a family. Two sisters followed, each three years apart from my brother.

Things changed when my brother came into the world. He ate my storybooks, claimed my teddy bears, and wrecked my toys; but I couldn’t have been more happy with it all. I guess that is what happens when you have so little, you appreciate everything you are given, even a drooling, attention-getting, keep you up late, little brother. I still remember holding him in my arms, so proud. Still proud to this day. He has gone on to great things, further than I will ever go, even so, I am not envious, just proud and grateful for all the things I have been given in my life.

The seventies were especially good to me and my family. With a new paper mill starting up in the area, our community flourished greatly. The wood surrounding the community was said to have been the richest supply of pulpwood in the province, and this new industry brought jobs to each and every resident in the community. Dad got a job at the mill, doing labor work that made his hands blister and bleed, but that also gave him money to buy the things he always wanted. Soon, he had redone the house, adding new rooms and a nice deck in front. He also bought a nice car. It was a Ford Cortina, and import from England. The little car was the nicest color of sky blue, and he washed and cared for the car like it was gold. On Sundays, we would travel over the often bumpy road, and out around the peninsula, me and my little brother in the back, playing games like “buggy free punch” and other games that drove my parents crazy.

I believe it may have been the new car that got mom started on a project. Her project was to write the premier of the province, and ask for the road in our community to be paved. Of course, small communities like ours didn’t deserve all the government money, so they turned her down. With the coming of the paper mill, large pulp trucks drove through our small community, and with the badly graded gravel roads, dust was a common thing, and something that filled our lungs as the day went on. Mom organized everyone in the community to block the road, stopping traffic from the huge pulp trucks that brought newly cut timber to the paper mill. This action got the attention of everyone. CBC news, our newspapers, our radio, and of course, of the paper mill.

Community members were horrified at the sight of several police cars, as they were gathered and brought to the local court-house like common criminals. I remember mom asking a neighbor to stay with us kids, and how we worried that we would never see our parents again. It worked though, in no time, we saw trucks and other equipment arrive in our community, and many workers digging and running large machines on our little road, and we seen the new pavement cover our once bumpy road. I remember running on the pavement, barefoot, until the soles of my feet turned black, and how mom scolded me for doing this, warning me that my feet would blister and hurt if I continued. Soon, the probation that community members were given was over, and the community could enjoy the new pavement.

Mom later wrote the government asking that they build a detour for the mill trucks, so that the trucks no longer travel through our community. I guess my mom gained a reputation with these government officials, as they were quick to begin work on the detour. She later used this newly acquired power to obtain mailboxes for community members, and to bring telephone service to our homes as well.  It is amazing what a strong drive to do what is needed can do.

Still in the seventies, two more siblings were added to the family. Just three years after the birth of my brother, mom gave birth to the first sister. My brother and I loved our little sister, often teasing her until she either bit us, or until mom scolded us or sent us to our rooms. Three years after that, another sister. My brother and I worried that if this continued, we guys would be outnumbered, and seeing how sisters always got their own way, or screamed too loud when you teased them, this would not be a good thing. Mom stopped having children then.

Us four kids and Mom and Dad had quite a life. We didn’t worry about money, it seemed that we always had enough. Dad never ever had a new car, we lived in the same house all our lives, and if we went camping, it was not in an RV, but in a family tent my dad bought and we all treasured.

The lessons that I learned through growing up in this atmosphere taught me well. I have managed to acquire a beautiful home, a car that I can depend on, and guess what? I have running water, electricity, a TV, a bathroom with a toilet that flushes, and a bathtub. Who could ask for any more?

Makin’ Hay

“I hate the rain”, I used to say, and Grap would tell me that rain was important, and that we should welcome a bit of it every now and then. “But if it rains, we can’t work the hay”, I would say, and again, he, being such a positive man (and maybe somewhat of a poet), would reply “Then we can work another day”, “The rain helps the hay grow”.  He was always right about the rain, because soon after we had a few days of rain, we would be rewarded with days of sunny, hot weather. This is when the work started.

Grap had hundreds of acres of land, in which he grew hay to be harvested by his livestock, or where he planted fruit and vegetables. As a kid, I would carefully maneuver my little yellow ‘Banana bike’  in and around the potholes and up the gravel road to my Grandfathers house. It seemed that no matter how early I got there, he would already be hard at work in his fields.

Grap, as I affectionately called him, worked many jobs, and farmer was his favorite one of them. Grap owned about 10 head of cattle, and a barn filled with pigs, hens, and sheep, several cats, and a team of huskies that pulled his dogsled in winter. Out back, he had a little stable where he kept Bess, a beautiful horse that was his pride and joy.

I remember Grap telling me to be careful when walking in the cow pasture, as the soil was very wet, and of course, because there were many ‘cow patties’ waiting for me to fall into. How many times did I rush home to change my pants after accidentally falling into one of those stinky patties of cow poop, only to have mom scold me for not being careful when around the barn?

Back in the day, many people used superstitions to predict and determine the weather.Grap was no different. He believed that if you mentioned how nice the weather was, it would surely rain the next day. He also forbid the opening of any umbrellas in the house, and avoided listening to any weather forecasts that may have been broadcast on the old radio that he kept on his kitchen table. He did not depend on forecasts, but rather, he chose to study the signs of nature, and then determine what the weather was going to be like. Grap was usually right when he predicted a sunny day. He used things like the amount of dew that fell in the evening. He used to say that if we had a heavy dew around 8 or so, the next day would be clear. He also believed that if the sun went down red, the next morning would be sunny. Other signs he used included keeping track of his sore legs and back. When the weather was about to get damp, he would say he was as stiff as a board, but if it was going to be sunny and warm, he was ‘as spry as a chicken’.  I guess back then, watching signs was the only way they could prepare for the next day.

On the day when I finally arrived at the farm, after going home twice to change my very soiled by cow poop pants, and getting a bite to eat with my grandmother, I arrived in a very dry patch of hay field where my grandfather was working. I watched as Grap carefully and lovingly turned over the large piles of hay, allowing the hot sun to dry the hay just right. Grap took great care in everything he done, and it showed in his cattle, who were always healthy and gave the tastiest milk.  When all the pre-cut hay had been turned over and dried, he asked me to help load the hay to the back of the old cart. The cart was attached to the finest mare in the land, his beloved Bess. Bess was a horse that he had bought five years ago, and he treated her with kindness and respect. He said that if you treated your animals well, they repaid you with hard work and love.

Loading the hay to the cart was my favorite part of making hay. I remember being impressed with the strength of my grandfather, because at only a little over 5 feet tall, He had very large arms, filled with muscle gained from years of hard work on and off the fields. I can still see him effortlessly lift huge forkfulls of hay, when I could barely lift a small bit of straw on the end of the fork. When the days got hot, me and Grap would walk over to the little stream than ran through his fields. We would drink water from our hands and watch the tiny pinfish swim down the rushing water, and into the small pools that lay just before the stream bent into a larger river.

When the cart wall filled, Grap would hoist me to the top of the hay stack, and he and I would ride all the way across the field to the loft of the barn, were we would both work to load the dry hay into the barn. When we finished, we would return to the fields. Grap would always allow me to visit the strawberry garden while he cut more hay, saying how dangerous it was for little boys to be around these sharp hand scythes. Even though I loved eating the fresh strawberries from the garden, I would still watch Grap cut hay. He made large circular thrusts with the scythe, cutting the tall hay that would eventually serve as food for the cattle, and for Bess, who waited patiently for the next load of hay to be loaded on the cart. Often, he and I would spend long days out in the fields, and he would tell me stories about when he was a boy.

Grap told me stories about the long days he spent out in the fields, some days with my dad and my uncles, and how they watched him cut hay, how they ate fresh strawberries, and how they rode to and from his barn on top the huge stacks of hay that he cut, just like he and I were doing that day.

Grap is gone now, 4 years ago to be exact, and the hay fields that once served as his livelihood and my enjoyment still remain around the old house where my grandmother lives out her final days. The barn still stands, but just barely, the roof collapsing and the once strong timbers falling from years of use. The little stream still runs through the fields, but the pinfish are but a memory, a species of fish that once swam our waters, but are now endangered.  The hay in these fields grows wild now, long strands of straw that will never again feed cattle, will never be cut for the horses, or will never again provide memories for the next generation of kids that grow up around the old farm.

‘Leafs’ Blowing in the Wind

With Playoff season upon us, I am completely amazed to see so many Toronto Maple Leaf fans popping up. There are more Leaf (or “Laff” fans as I usually refer to them as) around than there are during the regular season, where the team can actually be seen ‘playing’ hockey. Despite the fact that the leafs have been ousted from the playoffs since 1967, the fans of this team of non-winners keep crawling out of the woodwork.

The funny thing is, that during the playoffs, instead of standing behind their team when it matters most  (the golf finals), Leaf fans are watching the habs play, and booing every time they win a series, or even score a goal, for that matter.

Leaf fans come in all sorts of sizes and ages. These non-fans can range from the very young to the old and old at heart, and they faithfully still believe a Stanley Cup is within their range, even though it has been over 40 years since they brought home Lord Stanley. Armed with a worn out set of golf clubs, Leaf players continue to disappoint the faithful fans year after year.

In this province, hockey rivalry is stronger than politics, and fans are born, not made. Back in the day, a Newfoundland hockey fan cheered for either one of the Original Six, but mostly for one of three teams: Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, or the Toronto Maple Leafs; but never for more than one team. It was sacrilege for a Hab fan to cheer for the Leafs or Bruins, and vice-versa, and anyone caught doing so was hailed a ‘non-fan’ and a disgrace to his team.

Hockey is still a very touchy topic here in the province, and I have seen many a fist fight break out because someone mentioned how the habs had a better team than the leafs did. Wearing your team colors also inspired many fights. Never go to a Leaf fan’s home to watch a game if you choose to wear the red and blue, or else, you guessed it, a major argument or even a violent confrontation could erupt.

During this year’s playoffs, the problem seems even worst than other years. What is the reason for so many leaf fans to be tuning in to hab’s games, cheering for the opposing teams, and jeering and heckling the wins that the habs have handed to their opponents? Could it be that for once, fans actually believed that the leafs could have gone all the way this year? I can’t believe that to be true. I thing it has something to do with the fact that the team who is surprising everyone would not have made the playoffs if the leafs had beaten them in the last game they played. That’s right, the Leafs were the ones who were behind it all. A 3-3 tie gave the habs the one point they needed to enter the post season, and to everyone’s surprise, the little 8th place team is beating teams who finished high in the season’s standings. I see envy in leaf fans’ faces.

Oh well, maybe next year. The Leafs claim that they are rebuilding, and that everyone should watch out for them next year.  For this year, Leaf fans will have to continue listening to jokes like :
What do you call 25 men watching a habs game? The Toronto Maple Leafs!!