Sunday, June 28, 2009

Larry and Goo

Larry and Goo

I remember the day my brother got sick very vividly. When I went to the hospital to see him, I cried but my mother told me not to. This was the beginning of an emotional shut down. I saw no one in my family cry, so I stuffed my feelings whenever I could, from here on in.

The doctors told my parents my brother would benefit from country life so we moved to a small village in Southern Ontario called, Caledon. It was picture perfect, the opposite of our lives.

Dad was gone most of the time, working on the road he was a driver examiner now. Drinking more heavily, much of which I think he tried to hide. I was afraid of him when he was hungover. But life went on and there were a lot of wonderful things about this little place.

We lived in the Church manse, a big old country house, with fireplaces in just about every room, they were boarded over. The country church was across the street. My mother she played the organ every Sunday and I attended Sunday school faithfully for a whole year. There was a horse across the street too, which I would like to have been friendly with but he was a biter, not friendly, so I left him alone.

Betty, my very best friend, we'd raid Gary and Lou's garden . My brother and me, always called them Larry and Goo. I mistakenly called them that one day, so we just liked those names better because it made us laugh. They were two bachelor brothers, that lived together and they had the most wonderful garden. You didn't want to get caught raiding their garden because they'd be furious. All we wanted were a few cucumbers boys, give us a break! We'd sit by the hour eating cucumbers with our paring knives and salt shaker. That was the life. We'd hang out down at the feed mill, sitting on bags of grain and watch the older kids smoke. The smell of that grain was so sweet. You could pick gooseberries by the bucket. We hang out down by the creek. I took piano lessons with Mrs Bean.

I did some crazy things, having too much time on my hands alone. One day, I shaved my eyebrow off. My mother wasn't impressed. I thought maybe if I put a band aid over the spot where my eyebrow was, she wouldn't notice. No, I thought I'd better put two band aids on both spots. I bravely came downstairs, with no band aids, ready to face the music. I knew I had to tell her I'd shaved my eyebrow off. After I calmly announced to her what I did, I ran upstairs throwing myself onto my bed, whaling my head off, pleading that she not tell my father. She threatened to if I didn't shut up. I shut up.

Another time I stuck my finger into the holes above an old hand pump out in our yard. My dad told me we'd have to have the fire department to get that off or I'd be dragging a pump around from my hand, for the rest of my life.

Life can be sweet when you enjoy the simple things, even the things that get you into trouble. That's the way it is when you're a kid, getting pleasure from the simple things. I don't ever want to loose that ability.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Great White North

When my husband died, I made the decision to head to the North, in 1982, after being convinced by my longest and dearest childhood friend, that is closer to me than a sister, who was already living there, that this was the place for me.

Being an artist and a musician, she assured me, Yellowknife was full of creative types and I would fit right in. I thought that sounded like a good reason to leave my Nova Scotia roots. In retrospect I know now, I was taking the geographical cure, running from my grief, my broken heart and I was broken in every way. I convinced myself I had a very logical reason to go North. I told my mother I wanted to snag myself a Mountie, and make a big fist wad of money. In disapproval, she exclaimed my name out loud and shook her head in disbelief. I sensed she was right, but I was determined to prove her wrong, that I wasn't as crazy as a bag of hammers.
So with 300 bucks in my pocket, the trip in and of itself was an adventure, and one etched forever in my memory. I boarded a train from my hometown to Edmonton, where I spent a few days with a friend before taking the bus two days later, headed for the Mackenzie highway.
At midnight, I stepped onto the bus with a degree of trepidation and as the miles, upon miles passed, the number of passengers dwindled to four, myself included.

We arrived at the ice bridge, a supposed frozen body of water, unknown to me, the day before it was to close on April 28th.
The bus driver kept sticking his head out the window, and I didn't know why, just thinking this was odd. I was also looking out the windows, and I saw small trees that marked the way to follow along the ice bridge. Of course I did not know this and assumed we were driving over a frozen marsh. I had not made the geographical change in my Nova Scotian mind.

The driver then proceeded to get out, and off the bus, removed our luggage from the lower compartment to the passenger level, because he was obviously concerned that our bags were going to get wet. This was the reason he had been was craning his neck out the window of course, watching the water level on the ice.

When I realized just what was happening, all I could do was think of my mother and what she was going to think if I ended up on the bottom of Great Slave Lake. We were actually on the Mackenzie River; all the same to me then, wet and very cold. I quickly started to say my Hail Mary's, very seriously, as my heart pounded and raced. I reflected back to what a fellow I met on the train had said. He told me someone usually goes through the ice bridge every now and again in their vehicle, when the ice starts breaking up.
He had been very kind to me on the train, offering to lend me his guitar to play, if I wanted to perform anywhere. It was a beautiful Ovation.

I took him up on this offer after getting my first job, two days upon my arrival at Yellowknife, at the Polar Bear Lounge and Bowling Alley. The man that hired me, ran the establishment and was one of many Northern characters. I told him I had just blown in from Nova Scotia and did he need a singer? He immediately invited me into his office for a cup of coffee and informed me he knew people in Yellowknife, that where from my home town. He immediately hired me without ever hearing me sing or play my guitar. I am certain he gave me the gig because I was Nova Scotian. Yellowknife is full of Maritimers.

People in the North have a very adventurous and generous spirit and love to see others the same, free and wild. Well, I wasn't as free as I thought, but I sure was wild to say the least in those days and I was just getting started, as soon as I got off that God forsaken bus! Once we arrived onto dry land it was pitch dark, and our bus had developed a serious mechanical problem. The relay coil under the dash went. Lights, heater and the phone no longer functioned, they were all dead.

We spent some of the night on the bus and the rest in community center, that was in a remote village, Rae Edzo, still many hours away from Yellowknife. We would have to wait and for daylight and get the bus repaired.
Hypothermia and sleep deprivation were all playing with my thinking, but I had started to seriously question my decision; wondering what the heck I was doing, and where in God's name was I going?

On the road we made a pit stop and I got to a phone to call my friend who was supposed to be meeting me with her husband. I gathered the place we were in was a bar/restaurant and the characters there looked very unfriendly and foreboding. I said to my friend in desperate relief, after hearing her voice, on the other end of the phone, I had no idea where I was. I looked around and then asked one of the customers in the bar, where I was. Someone mumbled something. They all may as well have been aliens, and me a stranger in a strange land; this could just as easily have been a bad "B" movie where the stranger always gets killed off, and that would be me.

My grand arrival finally came 24 hours late, when I stepped off that bus monster machine, at 7:30 a.m., my good friends waiting for me, with a welcoming roast beef dinner and a cold beer at their home. Man I'll tell you that was the best breakfast I'll ever have in a lifetime.
Suddenly I felt like my good friend and I were the counterparts of Bob and Doug and Mackenzie. We were real hosers! Kooroo cuckoo koo roo cuckoo, we both sang as loud as we could at the top of our lungs that joyful day, I landed in the Great White North. Hey and we're still hosers. Take Off eh!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Life's Humbling Moments

In 1980, I went to Toronto, to study Mime, Comedia del Arte, which is the basis of street theater, using half mask. It was a two year course, condensed into one year. There were only nine students. We spent four hours a day, practicing and performing acrobatics, juggling, improvisation, yoga, and doing mime.
It could be a very grueling routine, not so much because of the physical demands, but due to our teacher. He had a rather autocratic and tyrannical personality. In retrospect now, he put me in mind of the Soup Nazi, on Seinfeld . He was the Mime Nazi.
Fortunately, this was balanced somewhat, with the humor, and kindness of our teacher's great assistant, who would often lighten and defuse the mood.
One occasion arose in class, the day we learned an acrobatic trip trick. The technique was to simply hook one foot behind the opposite leg, while walking forward, which gave the illusion of tripping.

My turn had come to demonstrate my mastery over the skill, while the rest of my eight classmates watched in silence, being careful not to disturb my concentration. This was the usual routine in class for all of us.
This acrobatic trick was straight forward, I thought. I did not anticipate any problem.
When you are in such close physical proximity with people, everyday, doing these kinds of activities, certain expected, or unexpected factors, come into play.
I proceeded to carry out the exercise, walking ahead, hooking my left foot around my right. My perfected technique was a flawless execution. Consecutively, it had been punctuated with the impeccable timing, of one of those completely unexpected factors, a noise...flatulence...commonly and by some, affectionately, known as as fart.
I could not believe I had done this in front of a room of strangers, who I barely knew,and whom I wasn't going to be able to avoid seeing in the near future, every day.
The whole class broke out into uproarious hysterical laughter, especially after the assistant teacher loudly commented, that I, was now going to demonstrate how to trip and spontaneously fart at the same time.

I swallowed my pride and sucked up a heaping helping of humility and just started laughing. After all, this is why I was there, to learn how to be a fool.

Along with many lessons during my life, I have learned these three very important things, that I try to apply to my daily walk.

1. Always have a good sense of humor, develop and practice it as a lifestyle.
2. Understand and practice humility.
3. Love and accept your own humanity, in turn being compassionate toward others.

These things may not be important to anyone else, but me. They continue to help me to be happy in life.

I once read in a life changing book, The Spirituality of Imperfection, this life changing bit of powerful information.

The common root word in humor, humility, and humanity is humus, which means worm poo...yes worm shit. It was said, by the writer of the book, that these three were essential to living life fully alive.
I have come to believe this as being a great truth. It has helped me immeasurably and continues to do so.

I am reminded as well, of what a dear friend once said to me. " Don't sweat the petty things, and don't pet the sweaty things". If I do this, it helps me to remind myself to have humor, acceptance of people places and things, especially acceptance of myself and to remember, I am a human being, not perfect and can't expect others to be either.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Growing Up

I have sweet memories of growing up in Toronto, and in other parts of Ontario. I have troubled ones too. It was an adventure much of the time lots to explore I seemed fearless then. Jumping off box cars, roaming' the neighborhood. Lots of friends from different cultures. We rented a house from an Italian family in Toronto. We had plums and peaches out back and crickets would climb up the kitchen sink in the morning's because they'd had made wine in the basement, that's why they were there. That's what I was told. Too many bees, too many crickets. I hate bugs.

My very best friend was Josie Stevens, about 13 kids in the family. I thought I wanted her brother as my boyfriend when I was about 6 or 7, but I just wanted him to buy me the 3 cent ring at the corner store. I loved that cheap jewelry, still do. I'm like a crow that loves shiny things.

My brother got sick with MS there. He was 16 I was 6. Life was full of hospital then.

I was born in small town Nova Scotia, full of characters and history. Two sides of the tracks there. Rich, poor, black and white. We were white lower middle class. Father moved the family to T.O when I was six months old. He had been a cop. Got fired for drinking on the job. So he took the geographical cure down the road, I suppose. We'd do the usual trek to Nova Scotia every summer. Dad would drive continuous; mum would feed us copious amounts of sandwiches peanut butter and jam, bologna, and sandwich spread. God I got sick of them! Dad would always get lost going through Quebec, try to get directions from a cop, who would refuse to speak English, which would send dad into a rage, he'd curse, swear calling them names I won't repeat. .

Summer's were comfort to me cool and hot days spent at the shore living in the ocean. We'd stay at my aunt and uncle's cottage sometimes, more sandwiches! My aunt she never was one to make anything real good to eat, but she sure did love to eat. Like all Maritimers.

My father's brother and wife they had a store. I loved visiting them. Uncle Ed would give me lots of candy.

My grandmother's house, was always the same, everything in it's place always the same. Every morning she'd ask the same thing, "what are you going to have this morning, an egg?"

Grand dad had a swing he'd made for me in his garage that had that smell old wooden garages have. I love that smell. I would spend hours on that swing watching the bugs and bees. When I was in the house, I'd get all my grandmother's nic nacs down and play with them by the hour.I spent a lot of time alone, amusing myself, using my imagination. I guess I'm still doing that.

Poor grand dad he was deaf as a nit. He'd never put his hearing aid in. I quickly figured out why, my grandmother nagged him constant.

She caught him one day giving home brew to the mailman out the basement window. She flew into the mailman with a broom. Grand dad never did that again. At least if he did, granny never knew. She had quite the temper. Granny was brought up a die hard Baptist, her father was a tyrant and everything was evil, even school. Thank God grand dad had a love of learning, though he wasn't educated. He had two sisters that were teachers. Both my grandparents on my mother's side were from English and Scottish families. Farmer's, hard working people, very musical. Grand dad's people had a love and thirst for knowledge and learning. They were a kind, egalitarian, Christian family.

Never knew much about dad's family. The men were hard workers, miners, fighters, drinkers, from the old country. I met the matriarch of our family in Minto New Brunswick, my great aunt. She spoke seven languages and was Cheqoslovakian. She was a character, she would translate for the coal company and the miners, who spoke no English. I met her when she was 92. She lived in a little house with her animals that she loved. I remember going through Minto on our way to Nova Scotia in the summers and thinking, is that where my family lived? Then, there were tar paper shacks, literally. It was a depressing looking place. I was sure grateful to meet my great aunt. She told me about my father's grandfather and grandmother. Great grandfather was from Danzig (Gdansk) and my great grandmother was from Auchan. She was very good with her hands doing very fine handy work.

I would love to visit these places some day. It's important to know our roots and about our family I believe, as it helps us to understand who we are and why, even the stuff we'd rather not know about, even some of the relatives we'd rather not know we are related to.