Multiplication, Sums and Tombstones


Me:   ” I remember when we were both eight or something. You were staying with us and we went and saw “101 Dalmatians” at the Birch Cliff theatre. That was my first movie. You were such a sweet little Theodore Cleaver then. I remember laughing while waiting in line. You could wiggle your ears.”

 Him:   “I still can. Want to see?   Yah, I remember that too. I stayed at your house for about a month while my dad was in the Don Jail.”

 What a surreal situation. Here I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s with my long-lost cousin. It had been decades since I had last seen him. We had 50 years of catching up to do and obviously Kirk wasn’t trying to hide the truth. All cards were on the table, exposed.

Out of the blue, Kirk had emailed me six days before. He was asking the family if anyone still had any photos or letters related to Gramma during the war years and specifically her three sons.   I had brought everything: photos, memoirs, war medals, Dad’s research on the family tree and one treasured onion skin letter. All of Gramma’s sons had served overseas. Kirk’s dad was the youngest of Gramma’s kids. My dad was in the middle and the oldest brother Kirk, who died over there, was my cousin’s namesake.

I first showed the family tree. There was a chart listing all of the names and dates stemming from Evan and Sarah Price, both born in Wales and immigrated to Canada in 1831. They had eight children. Evan died in 1857 and Sarah in 1872.

Me:     ” It’s difficult to follow because their eight kids all named their kids using the same names. There are three generations of William, Henry, James and Sarahs. You have to look at the dates of birth/deaths to tell them apart. See…. They are 1850s and those are 1880.”

 I pointed to the names laid out on the chart. Both of us were leaning in towards each other, elbows on the table. Two cold grilled cheese sandwiches sat forgotten on the table between us.  We studied the names listed on the page. I pointed to the final grouping.

Me:     “There…. that shows John married Bertha McLam and their four children: Our Uncle Kirk, Aunt Jean, my dad and yours.”

 “When did your mom die?”  Kirk asked me.   I shared. More tombstones and dates. Neither Kirk or I recall what year Gramma died.

Me:  “I do remember that your Dad would phone, out of the blue, from some place way up north, always very late at night, just wanting to talk. Dad would be tired but always patient. He’d pull up the kitchen chair to the wall phone and settle in for a long call. I could hear everything from my bedroom.”

Him:Yah, he’d also call Auntie Jean. I would lie in my bed listening, embarrassed that he was drunk and bothering people at that late hour. He was a teacher, you know.”

 Oh yes. I remember. I hated when he visited. He always seemed intent to center me out and prove how stupid I was. “Come here Cathie”. He would flag me over to the couch where he was sprawled. He didn’t even get my name right. “What is 11 times 18?” he would fire out. I would freeze. “Come on girl. You should know this stuff”. He would slur with obvious disgust in his voice.

Kirk filled me in on more of his history.

Dad was actually my teacher for a few years. In grade 4 we lived in Buckhorn. It was a two-room school house. The following year he got a position in Surgeon Falls. That is way up north. It only had a one room school. “

Kirk chuckled

Dad didn’t even make it through the whole school year when I was in grade 6. That was in Temagami. He was fired again for drinking. We lived with Gramma for a while. I was really into sports: football. I was pretty much a street kid at that point. Dad spent all of his time at the Legion.”

How sad.” I offered. “He must have been terribly lonely. A widower left with two kids. How old were you when your mom died? Do you remember her?” I asked.

No, she died when I was two; before they had dialysis machines.”

 I pause and grapple for the right words. I don’t know how to respond. We were both just two kids from Scarborough, almost the same age, sharing the same grandmother yet we had lived totally different upbringing. I felt both guilt and shame. Why hadn’t my mom and dad done more for poor Kirk?

We sat and again compared memories; major touchstones in our lives. We both started university in the same year. Back again to talking about his father. Kirk reminds me that his Dad went to Bermuda for a year. 1974 was the last time Kirk had gone “home” to see his father. He had very little to do with his dad from then on. Kirk was bitter. He had created a new life, in a new city. In his fourth year of university he had met his future wife. The rest is history so to speak. He had a good life now.

Kirk pulled out his phone and proudly started showing me pictures of his wife, his son’s commencement, and his daughter’s call to the bar and the family labradoodle.

I’m told about his recent family vacation to Hawaii. More vacations and a story involving special vacations shared just with his son. Together they have visited 17 major league stadiums and watched the teams play in their home field. Kirk talks on. I listen He has a lot to tell, a lot to prove.    Kirk certainly has done alright for himself. He has a double doctorate and has been in a prestigious executive position for many years. Business takes him around the globe. The previous night he flew in from Beijing.

We have been at the restaurant for over two hours. It is time I hit the road.

We hug one more time before going our separate ways. I’m pumped. Our meeting went so well. Kirk is a really nice guy. A happy ending. Kirk finally got the security and family love he deserved. I hope we meet again.

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Musical influences


My humblest apologies to great American composer – John Philip Sousa. Clearly his greatest musical accomplishment was stolen from him. We call it sampling today. Sixty years after the “The Stars and Stripes Forever” was written, Mitch Miller came along. He plucked up that patriotic melody, added in some fun lyrics and had all of North America singing along with Mitch. My family owned one of his albums and I was no exception.

At the precocious age of six, I was taught how to operate our treasured family’s RCA HiFi, with supervision, of course. It was quite the responsibility. With the utmost of care, I would lift the polished wooden lid, reach inside and gingerly place the stylus on the spinning vinyl. The lid was lowered again and I would have just enough time to skirt across the living room floor and get into position. With the volume cranked up every static crackle would contribute to the anticipation – announcing my show was about to start. All eyes were expected to be on me.

Pulled to the center of our living room floor was a white leather hassock footstool. This prop was literally pivotal to my whole performance.

Through the speakers came the first sounds. Tapity Tap, Tapity Tap. In strict unison, multiple snare drums would lay down the rhythm. 4,3,2,1, 4,3,2,1
Just try to resist that beat. With invisible strings the tempo immediately snapped my posture into attention. Robotically my knees would bend and lift smartly – waist high. My fat little arms would start to pump. And ….my marching would begin. 1,2,3,4 …. Round and round the hassock I would stomp. Chin held high, feet smashing the floor, hard.

Accompanying my marching was the vocals. Mitch Miller and the Gang sang along with my wails. We sang loud. Very loud.

Be kind to your web-footed friends
for that duck may be somebody’s mother

There were so many variables to my routine. Spontaneity was quite important. At any moment I could change it up and parade around the hassock in a different direction. Sometimes I used the footstool as a kind of aerobic step. March in place, step up, march on top, step down, around I go…. March march, march.  Sometimes I would speed up my steps and fly around those corners like a frantic game of musical chairs.

I must point out one serious limitation to my fun. I was not permitted to stomp on the magic floor board separating the living / dining room. This always caused the record to skip.

Gosh I loved that song. The melody was so catchy. Mitch Miller’s lyrics were brilliant. He really struck my funny bone. But it was the end of the song that was really hilarious. Every time.

I would always position my finale up on top of the footstool. I felt the extra height added to my big show stopper. I would spread my arms wide, face my audience and bellow out the final lyrics:  “Now you may think that this is the end… well it is”.

Clever eh? The surprise “well it is” cracked me up. Aside from my marching and singing abilities, I fancied myself something of a comedian. It was so much fun. Let’s do it again, and again, and again. Ok.

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For Posterity


In 2011 a life changing, monumental shift cracked wide open my world.  As a writer and a blogger I knew it would just be a matter of time before I would be ready to share my story.  Until now it has always been too raw, too emotional.  But eight years have passed and for posterity… here it is.

In the late spring of 2010 my mother’s breast cancer returned.  This time it moved quickly and within five weeks she was gone.   As I sat along side her hospital bed, little could I ever imagine that I would be diagnosed with this same deadly disease just eight months later.   In February 2011, down the rabbit hole I fell.

Surgery determined that my type of breast cancer was extremely aggressive and my  tumor was large.  I went through fifteen months of chemotherapy, and twenty-five rounds of radiation. I still continue with conjunctive medication, regular testing and follow ups with my oncologist and my surgeon.

Thankfully with the passing of years the raw terrifying details of this experience have clouded over. Now when I have a strange pain in my back or headache my first thoughts don’t immediately run to something worst. I have forgotten those waves of panic imaging my own death. I now assume that I will still be here next year.

My chemotherapy was horrible and I experienced every one of the usual side effects and more: blood clots in my legs and the roots of my teeth dying. But, would it surprise you to learn that the one most difficult aspect of the whole rotten experience was losing my hair?

Alopecia was inevitable with my type of chemo drugs.  I had been warned and I tried to be prepared. I purchased a number of bright scarves, sassy hats. My big purchase was an expensive wig very close in cut and colour to my own hair at that time. The wig manufacturer called this particular style of wig: “The Samantha” which was supposed to be a fun reference to Sex in the City. “Not!”. It looked ridiculous on me. It felt even worst.  I felt like a fraud.  I booked an appointment for Samantha and me with my hairdresser.   Oh dear. I made it tough for Rachael that day as I sat in her chair completely overcome; tears streaming down my face. She snipped and fussed trying to make my stupid wig look a little more like me.

The day I actually lost was my was peaceful and personal.  Two weeks after my first chemo treatment, Warren and I took a mid- week, day trip up to our cottage. It was late April and no one was around. The over casted sky was thick and grey and a strong wind whipped the still leafless trees. I remember this well.  Warren took the car  to run into town and I sat outside on the steps. Everything was still and quiet except for the sound of spring birds. I felt the emptiness like a vacuum. No one was around for miles.

At one-point wind tousled my hair and while smoothing in back in place I noticed several strands of hair caught between my fingers. This was the start. Combing my fingers through again and again, more hair slipped away. Loose strands floated up to be caught by the wind. I watched them lift high and disappear. There was no mess. No pile in the grass. It all just flew away into that gray morning air. Maybe the birds would use it to build their nests. This felt reassuring. In a matter of minutes, I was bald. It’s funny how cold and bare the skin on my head felt with that wind.

Everyone said that hair loss would be rough. They were quite right. It was actually harder than I had imagined and I’m a pretty confident person. It was not a vanity thing. NO. It was that my disease was visible now. Everyone, even total strangers passing me on the sidewalk could see that I was gravely ill. My odd baldness was a symbol of dead and disease. I stood out. I looked unhealthy.

The summer of 2011 was hot. I was off work. Every morning I would take Molly our Irish Wolf Hound for a long walk or when nausea, diarrhea or extreme fatigue were an issue I would sit for hours in a living room chair doing nothing. Molly was such a great companion. Dogs know. She was so loving and patient that summer.
I never ended up wearing the Samantha wig. Not once. No big surprise. When I went out in public my to-go covering was a simple beige cotton cap. Sure, you could clearly see the bare immediately above my ears but I stopped caring. The new normal. Sometimes when I could catch my reflection in a window or mirror, I couldn’t help but think of Sinead O’Connor or maybe I was more like Uncle Fester from the Addams family with my puffy steroid red face and glassy eyes. I was just glad that work colleagues couldn’t see me.

As my chemo treatments continued that summer, I eventually lost my eye lashes, eye brows, the hair inside my nose and all body hair. Ending on a positive note – I was a slippery sea lion in the shower. Imagine the time you would save if you didn’t have to blow dry and style your hair. You save a lot of money too. That part was pretty cool.

These memories feel like a life time ago. It was on a little break between chemo and the start of my radiation that Warren and I visited the County. We stayed at the Merrill Inn and accidentally discovered our current beautiful home. It was up for sale. We made our escape permanent. Desperate times require you to cease the moment. My life now is rich and I’m healthy again. (Oooo….I still hate to declare that. Am I taunting the fates? Its like saying Beetlejuice three times). But sometimes we need to be reminded of the past to truly appreciate how wonderful our lives are today. These times are a gift.

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Quiet has many moods.


The following is a beautiful, treasured paragraph taken from Katrina Kenison’s book “Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment”

 

Quiet has many moods.

When our kids are home,

their energy is palpable.

Even when they’re upstairs sleeping

I can sense them,

can feel the house filling with their presence,

expanding like a sail billowed with air.

I love the dawn stillness of a house full of sleepers,

love knowing that within these walls our entire family is contained and safe,

reunited,

our stable four-sided shape resurrected.

But those days are the exception now,

not the norm

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Stewardship


 

We didn’t hear a thing.  I was almost down to the water before I clued in. I found it unusually bright, as if a mythical giant has reached down and pinched off a corner of the horizon, letting in too much light.  The forest canopy had changed.  The space now felt too open and exposed.  My brain struggled to comprehend…. Awwww……the enormous black willow tree was gone from the sky.

I hurried forward as if there was an emergency; as if I could help.   But no.  Everything was silent now.  The November storm long gone.  Only its violent destruction remained.    What a wild battle it must have been with the howling lake winds battering that massive centenarian.  The end came with a final thundering crash.

The remains lay sprawled across the lawn.  The tree trunk slashed open revealing decayed wooded marrow.  Fanning out from this are several colossal limbs, heavy and lifeless.  There are hundreds of fractured branches and twigs scattering about.

The carnage is unbelievable. How will we ever clean this up?  I am over whelmed.  This is the third wonderful old tree to come down on the property this year.    It is an end of an era as each of these trees has been over a hundred years old.

trees

I’m puzzled over my reaction. For several days now I have felt bruised and ineffective. The same thoughts tumble around.  Change, loss, extinction.  Is this just a natural transition or is the spirit of my woodlot dying?  It will take several generations to replace these mighty trees.  Not within my future; probably not within my child’s life time.  If true be told, nothing that magnificent will ever grow there again.

tree with owls

The local arborist has been called.  One thousand dollars to cut up the truck and strategically arrange the huge stumps in a natural fashion.  This is on top of last month’s bill for three hundred dollars to shred up the old maple on our front yard.  We can’t afford to have the wood hauled away.  A local farmer has agreed to take the branches.  He is the same guy who took our maple last month.

trees2

trees4

The future – I’m going to invest some time and energy into our woodlot this spring.  It is time.  On both sides of the property the woods continue.  It is a vital link down to the water and home to many wild animals and birds. 

In preparation I have already order over a hundred sprouts: white cedar, white pine, balsam and aspen to be delivered in April.  The forest floor will need some work before the planting.  Something must be done about all of the wild prickly bramble and vines.  They will choke out any new growth if not bush hogged away.  I would like to clear away some more fallen logs before planting as well.
trees5

We are the stewardsof this property.  It is our responsibility to leave it healthy and thriving.

trees3

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Libby’s Guest Blog


And now for something a little different and hopefully not annoying 

Since Libby, our Brittany Spaniel has been such an amazing and adaptable dog on our trip, she is being rewarded with the opportunity to tell her side of the story. Here goes…..

Hi there. Libby here.  Today we are in Sudbury, Ontario. It is pouring rain outside our RV.  

I am on guard duty right now;  standing in my usual spot up on top of the dash, watching for other dogs to walk past. Then, I am required to bark until Diane and Warren are alerted and start to bark too. So busy

My impression of this trip?  Well, it has been a life changer. It is hard to imagine now but three months ago I hated to drive in the car.  I had never swam in a lake or been sailing out at sea.  I have learned to adapt. Now I just take each new day as it comes.  Every day is an adventure 

To summarize, here are the best parts and a few low points.

I hate life on a leash.  As much as I yank and pull and drag Diane down into every roadside ditch, she still insists I be tied up

I’m not too keen on boating and deep water.   I have learned to swim out of necessarily.  It is very fortunate that Diane had the foresight to put be in a ridiculous dog life preserver.  I escaped and jumped over board while we were out in the ocean picking up crab pots.  Boy, that salt water really stings my eyes! 

  
Most awkward incident on the trip: 

I had very bad diarrhea while out on our over night boat trip.  We were far from shore and it was night time.   Jeesh!   What is a dog suppose to do? Diane wanted me to release myself up on deck. Come on?   That wasn’t going to happen. So I exploded a few dozen times that night in my lower berth.  I just couldn’t help it.  We have decided to never talk about that night again. Ever! 

The good parts of this adventure:

I have met new friends. In particular there was an amazing Jack Russell on Haida Gwaii named Dawson. He was really something special. He was inspiring;  a sea dog who thrived on adventure. 

  
Haida Gwaii was the absolute best part of this amazing holiday. I loved running incrediably fast across miles and miles of empty sandy beach.   I had never felt so free or fit. It was magnificent 

  
The hunting and sniffing on this trip have been out of this world.  The variety!  It changes every day. Sometimes I detect deer and bear. The next day it can be sea life or  moose.  While in an RV park there are countless scents of other dogs and burnt marshmallows.  I’m talking quality sniffing everywhere I go.

Another part of life on the road that I love is the physical closeness of living in an RV with  Diane and Warren.  We eat, drive and sleep all together. With the exception of the three ferry rides we have never been apart for over three months.  It has been a dream come true. 

 Life on the road is the best. 

  

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Photos from Haida Gwaii


  

Our campsite is right on the waters edge. This is obviously Inside the RV looking out on the beach. You can see their orange skiff through our window. IThe tide is out.  

 
This is a photo of their large sail boat which Keith built and they use for adventure kayak mothership tours

 How stunning, right? 

Taken right from their property 

Stay tuned.  I will keep you posted,  (literally.  Ha ha)

Musings from the road

Diane

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