Friday, October 13, 2017

Chapter One

To write one's memoir is to lay open the past with all its wounds and joys. You place your life on the page. Local author, Jackie D'Arce has done just that. Here is the first chapter.

Untitled:  Jacqueline D’Arce’s Memoir


I sit in a hospital bed, the back raised up to an almost sitting position, my MacBook Air laptop on a wadded-up blanket on my generous belly. The foot of the bed is raised slightly so the swelling in my legs and feet is diminished. My bedroom is in a small apartment on the sixth floor of Spence Court, a rent-assisted building for seniors. There is a magnificent view of Mount MacKay rising one thousand feet just outside my picture window. I live with my cat James Bond who is tall and sleek and looks like he is wearing a tuxedo. He lives up to his name. He charms all the ladies and has a license to kill: mice. I am seventy-four years old and I have just finished telling a nurse who is giving me foot care, some of my life story. For the umpteenth time I heard someone say:
            “You should write a memoir.”
            So I am.

Chapter One
I was born February 24th, 1943 in Fort William, Ontario, Canada. My father, Jack Cryderman, drove my mother, June, through a blizzard at six a.m. to McKeller Hospital. Hours later she was delivered of a nine pound two-ounce baby girl with head of bright red hair—me, Jacqueline Dace Cryderman.  My parents wanted a boy so they named me after my father: “Jacqueline” being the closest girl’s name to “Jack.”
            My back is aching so I have to stop now.
            A year or so later my father left my mother and moved to British Columbia where he was born: in a stagecoach en route to the 100-Mile Inn on the Cariboo Trail.  When I was three he returned and the family made a small room off the kitchen—originally a pantry—into a bedroom for my parents. All three upstairs bedrooms were occupied by me, my grandparents Fred and Ida May Montgomery, and my uncle, Bill Montgomery.
It was a Sunday morning and the house was nearly empty, everyone having gone to church.  My mother was in the adjoining room, the kitchen, singing “You Are My Sunshine” in her lovely soprano. Bacon smell and sizzle filled the air. Sunlight poured in through the small window to the right of the bed. Daddy took my little hand and wrapped my fingers around a hard pink pole. He moved my hand up and down for quite a while. It hurt and I was afraid and my fear stopped me from calling out to my mother. Eventually he released my hand and I jumped from the bed and ran into the kitchen where I hugged my mother’s legs. She fed me breakfast: an egg, sunny side up, bacon, and toast with strawberry jam that had been canned by my grandmother.
            After that I had trouble meeting my father’s eyes. I would not sit in his lap and I always sat as far from him as I could get.
            In these first years I was given a dog: a cocker spaniel named Sammy. I have been told that we were inseparable, but I have no memory of him. He died young. I can’t remember how. The next dog was Rusty, an English cocker spaniel. English cocker spaniels are bigger than American cocker spaniels and have longer snouts. Rusty was a beautiful liver color with a small white spot on his chest. He went everywhere with me when I played outside, mostly with a neighbour boy who lived at the end of our block of Wiley street. His house had a birch tree in front of it while ours had a Manitoba maple. (Famously planted by my great-grandmother, Jane, but called “Ga” by little June and Bill.  Apparently she thrust a stick into the ground and it grew into this great tree.)
The boy’s name was Billy Rancourt.  We adored one another. I was exactly one year older than him but it made no difference.  We played Cowboys and Indians and Cops and Robbers. We climbed giant willow trees in a small park on Prince Arthur Boulevard, the street behind Wiley. We also loved playing in the back lane which bordered people’s gardens.  We raided them, stealing rhubarb, raspberries and peas. There were girls to play with on our street but I preferred Billy’s company. We hated to give up our play to go into our houses to pee so we peed together between the houses. We were matter of fact about it—there was nothing sexual in the act. Once mother caught us. She sent Billy home and right on the spot gave me a spanking. But that didn’t stop us, we carried on sneaking between the houses to pee.
Spanking is almost too cute a word for what transpired regularly. She hit as hard as she could, striking any part of my anatomy wherever her hand landed as I screamed and twisted trying to escape.  If she could grab a coat hanger or a hair brush handily she used that.  While this was transpiring Gramma stood to one side, arms folded across her chest, her mouth in a grim approving line.  
I was horse crazy. When I was three I began to rise at dawn, pull on a dress, panties and shoes and tiptoe from the house. I ran to the end of Wiley Street, only three blocks, and waited on the corner of Dease and Wiley. Soon, I heard the clippity-clop of a horse’s hooves and Jim the milkhorse turned the corner onto Wiley and stopped in front of me.  He pulled a covered yellow wagon, like a box on wheels, with the name “Kellogg’s” on it in brown. Jim was big with hairy fetlocks.  He was a chestnut, a reddish brown colour. When Jim stopped the milkman jumped from the wagon with a wire crate full of clinking milk bottles. He delivered while Jim walked down several houses and stopped. The milkman delivered milk to three or four houses then met Jim. Before Jim walked on, the milkman came to me and said, “Good morning, Jackie.  Would you like a ride?” I nodded yes and he swooped me up and carried me to Jim and plunked me on Jim’s broad back. I took hold of the hames, two small leather horns capped with brass balls, attached to the big leather collar around Jim’s shoulders. Jim’s hide was silky beneath my bare legs, the leather straps from the harness smooth.  They see-sawed under me as Jim walked.
As soon as Jim felt the milkman’s foot on the wagon step he started forward without any direction from the milkman.
I was above the world on Jim, high up and proud and strong. I rode Jim all the way down to my house before I was lifted off. I ran immediately into the house where no one noticed I had been gone and sneaked a crust of bread to feed Jim.  Once, as I stood by Jim’s side offering the crust to him, he took a step and accidentally caught the corner of my canvas shoe, pinning my foot to the road.  I tugged and tugged but could not free it.  Then I pushed against the top of his leg.
“Jim! Jim! Move! Please, please move!” I got a little panicky. Afraid I might get hurt. Then Jim took a step and freed my foot.  Gratefully I stroked his neck and patted his nose.  Then I snuck back into the house without a word to anyone.
The pain in my right buttock has let up or I couldn’t write. Vickie, one of my caregivers was just here and she rotated my mattress for me.  I lie more to the right and the right side of the mattress gets squashed down and doesn’t spring back, so I am lying on a slant. All of my considerable weight is on my right side. It hurts.  Mark, from Shoppers Home Health Care, is searching for a firmer mattress for me.
  My constant companion Rusty growled if any strange adult got too close to me. To quieten him all I had to do was press on his back and say “Shush.”
Around this same time I began to draw horses. My mother painted, dying roses on cream satin.  They were realistic and mournfully beautiful.  My father made elaborate frames for them and mother gave them away as gifts.  To see one I had to go to my Auntie Dell’s house where she had one hanging in her living room.  This same aunt had a black and white picture of three horse’s heads, manes and forelocks flying, hanging at the bottom of her stairs.  After I went to the bathroom I slowly walked down the stairs so as to lengthen the time I could gaze at the horses.
             When I was three years and nine months old my mother had another baby, my sister Jeffrey Jane Camille. All I can recall is standing by the dining room table while mother talked to Mrs. Rancourt, Billy’s mother.  My mother had just taken Jeffrey from Mrs. Rancourt’s arms and I got a good look at her as she was passed in front of me.  She had a tiny pink face and black hair which later turned blonde.  Mom put Jeffrey in a basket on the dining room table and here my memory fades until I became four.
             It was nighttime. Mom, baby Jeffrey and I were in her pantry bedroom, where a small blue crib had been squeezed into a corner.  Jeffrey was screaming, flailing about on mother’s lap.  I felt frantic for her. There was a hot plate on the floor with a pot of boiling water on it to make steam to help Jeffrey breathe.  Mother asked me to get the Vicks Vaporub from the dresser opposite the bed.  I stretched across to reach it, my head pounding from Jeffrey’s screams, my hand shaking and tripped over the hot plate. I fell, my bare arms shooting out to break my fall and landed in a tidal wave of boiling water. I slid across the linoleum floor in the water and I screamed louder than Jeffrey. 
            I remember my family holding me aloft in the kitchen—my grandparents and my father and mother.  They were struggling to avoid touching the burned parts of me while they stripped off the soggy clothes.  I kicked and waved my arms and wept loudly.
My pediatrician Dr. Brown was summoned and, after a while, he arrived.  He sat in a chair in the living room and mother placed me in his lap.  All the adults were gathered in chairs in a semi-circle around me, watching intently.  I adored Dr. Brown.  My crying diminished to sobs as I watched him hold a needle in the flame of a match.  After a wait, he injected me with a pain killer.
            I woke up later in a hospital bed.  My arms and legs were bandaged.  I no longer felt much pain. I suppose they were keeping me filled with pain killers.  The only time the pain became unbearable was when they changed the bandages.  Slowly a nurse unwrapped the bandage and the closer it got to my skin the more pain I felt.  I howled from the hurt.  Afterward, they gave me chocolate pudding.
            I don’t remember many visitors.  I guess it was hard for mother to get away since she had little Jeffrey to care for. The one thing I asked was that Jeffrey not be allowed to play with my doll.  Something that really cheered me up was a set of small ceramic animals—planters.  Each animal had something growing in it. In particular I remember the brown squirrel.  This wonderful gift was from my paternal grandmother—Florence Dace Cryderman. 
            This grandmother had had eight children, my father being the second youngest.  She was an American, born in Washington state.  She had had a university degree but she lived in the bush—in tents and log cabins with her husband, a prospector, John Thomas.  This family was my grandfather’s second one.  With his first wife he sired many children.  The total of both families was twenty-four offspring.  He was in his fifties when he met young Florence. They were at a rodeo somewhere in Alberta.  He was a competitor and she was a spectator.  Despite his age he won a bucking bronc contest; she was impressed and they ran off together.  She managed all of his mining claims while caring for her immense brood. 
            Now she lived in Fort William on Norah Street where she had a lawn and a pretty garden.  I remember helping her plant pansies.  She also hosted great roast beef, mashed potato dinners.  Once she took me to Chapples department store, the poshest store in town.  She sailed in in her hat and long coat, using a walking stick, me trotting to keep up. At the entrance way she was greeted by the manager of the store, who bowed and said, “Good day, Mrs. Cryderman.”  She nodded regally in response.  Mother told me that once she had been invited by Grandmother Cryderman to a luncheon at a restaurant with several other ladies.  At each place setting there was a white box containing an orchid corsage.
            After six weeks or so I was let out of the hospital. At home I discovered Jeffrey had destroyed my doll. After that I never played with dolls. Instead, I played with the family cat.
            He was a grey tabby named Gary. I named him after my cousin who I got to play with almost every week when my parents visited my father’s oldest brother, George and his wife Essie.
            I dressed Gary in doll’s clothes: little dresses and hats and put him in a doll carriage.  I had to hold him down with one hand, the other on the handle of the carriage.  He kept yowling and thrashing around, rocking the whole carriage from side to side trying to escape but I was grimly determined to take him for a walk. I pushed this thrashing rocking doll carriage down past three or four houses before he escaped and dashed down the sidewalk, ribbons from the hat flying, his tail sticking out from under the dress. I chased after him.  He always holed up under the front steps.  I crawled in after him as he sat there yowling in his hat and dress.  Usually my Gram would hear him and come outside.
“Stop torturing Gary, Jackie! Leave him alone.”
“Okay, Gramma. Can I take the dress off him?”
            Sputter.  “Of course take the dress off him!  Go find Billy and play with him.”
            “Okay, Gramma,” and I crept under the steps and grabbed Gary.  I wrestled with him, struggling to get the dress off over his head, him yowling the whole time.  Eventually I got it off and it stayed off until the next time I felt a maternal urge.
             Really hard to write today.  The pain is bad.  I just took a morphine and a percocet and am waiting for them to act.  But it will only do a couple of hours good: I am on the lowest dose possible which I have been on it for eight years and I think I have developed a tolerance. My doctor is out of town.  I can’t see her until next Thursday. Meanwhile I hurt.  And I can’t write.
             When I was three mother started me in dance.  She had always wanted to be a dancer so she thought she was doing me an enormous favour by signing me up for lessons.
            I started in tumbling.  I remember turning somersaults on a gym mat and doing fairly well.  I also mastered the teddy bear headstand. (Put your head flat down.  Raise your knees up and rest them on your elbows.  Voila, the teddy bear headstand.)  Then there was the back bend.  It took some trying because it was scary leaning so far backwards: I had a fear of falling on my head.  But after a while I just let go and allowed myself to fall backwards onto my hands. I felt triumphant. (Twenty years later I used the backbend to get an A in mime in an acting class.)  But I never, to my regret, conquered the cartwheel or the splits.  I could only get so far down, my crotch inches from the floor.
            Tumbling was followed by highland dancing.  It seems that every child in Fort William learned the highland fling, but I found it boring.  What excited me was the sword dance.  Cross two swords on the floor creating four squares.  Leap from square to square, toes pointed, arms arched above your head.  Avoid stepping on a sword.  Although for us children they didn’t allow real swords, instead two yardsticks were used, but I pretended they were real swords.
Another part of the room had the really exciting dancing:  tap! They clattered away while we silently twirled.  I kept sneaking looks at the tap dancers:  the lucky ones.  On the way home I begged mother to let me take tap.  Her hands tightened on the wheel and she stared hard, straight ahead.
            “Absolutely not. Tap is déclassé.”
            I subsided, mournfully slumping.  I hated Highland dancing.
            I was terrible at dance.  I never improved.  Week after week I was right where I had been the previous week.  Of course it never occurred to me that I should practice at home between dance lessons and Mother never suggested it. I was just supposed to magically improve with no effort.  Frequently she sternly lectured me about trying harder and how much she would have given to have had an opportunity like this when she was young.  I was lucky.  No, I was miserable.  Week after week I got up in front of all the mothers ranged in chairs along the wall and all the other dance children and stumbled through the routines.  The dance teacher yelled at me, embarrassing me and my mother.  I dreaded Saturdays.
            Of course Saturday was followed by Sunday and that wasn’t much better.  Sunday meant church and church meant Sunday school.  I went with my grandmother and Jeffrey to Knox United, a protestant church. (Grampa went also but to St. Patrick’s Catholic church.)   Mother stayed home to take care of the latest baby.  (John Tracy had arrived and Mother was so thrilled she all but forgot about myself and Jeffrey.  John Tracy was not only a boy but he was a redhead, mother’s favourite—by now Jeffrey’s hair was quite blonde and she was a really pretty little girl.  I had to guard her against father.)
Children went to the church service for a while then left to go down to the church basement for Sunday school.  Bible stories which were quite riveting, filled with vengeance, pestilence, baby killings, adultery, murder and floods—not to mention crucifixion—were read out in a pious monotone.  After all, these things were holy.  They must be since they were in the Bible.  No one seemed shocked at the subject matter being presented to small children.
Church wasn’t over on Sunday. There was Mission Band on Monday and Explorers on Wednesday. I hated Mission Band—can’t remember a thing about it—loved Explorers.  It lived up to its name.  We studied the cultures of foreign parts. To this day I know how to tie a sari.
 My morning nurse just left. He is a big black man with a deep voice. I had to let go of any modesty because he needs to apply ointments beneath my breasts and between my legs.  I have to spread-eagle my legs and offer a full view of my pubic area and not feel embarrassed. Or turned on. I managed both.  But I can’t help but wonder how he feels. Even though I am old and fat still, I am a woman.

1 comment:

  1. A compelling memoir, interestingly interspersed with immediate, present day observations. Wonderful details. Looking forward to reading much more.