Louise Penny's Latest

Louise Penny's Latest

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Chapter three, Jacqueline D'arce's stunning memoir.





A child steps out  

Jackie continues with her memoir, a mix of present and past, light and dark told with a courageous honesty. For those who want to read the previous chapter, type Reserve Champion in the search box upper left hand corner. The last sentence of chapter three ends "And so passed my years seven, eight and nine," a sentence that struck me in the heart .  I hope you enjoy this chapter as much as I did.


New Working Title:  A Fetching and Courageous Memoir by an Eloquent Woman

(Title created by Charles Wilkins, author Little Ship of Fools, et al)

A Memoir

by

Jacqueline D’arce

Chapter Three


I lost Chapter Three. I was doing some editing on it, hit a key and the whole chapter disappeared. Panicking, I tried everything. Could not get it back. After much kafluffle I found the Geek Squad at Best Buy. Got my delivery service to take the computer to them and waited, while entreating the Universe to please, please, bring Chapter Three back. I was trying to remember it and could think only of one scene. I was terrified I would not be able to remember the rest. Texted Charley Wilkins and he texted me back to start writing down everything I could remember about the chapter. Then I called filmmaker Kelly Saxberg who is quite knowledgeable about Mac’s and she got back to me with this advice. I could remember it. She once lost the entire first chapter of her Master’s Theses and it was never recovered, so she re-wrote from scratch and she said the re-write was better than the original.

Late in the afternoon my phone rang. It was Best Buy. I crossed my fingers, prayed, and answered. The Geek Squad had Chapter Three!  What geniuses!  Now I have to figure out a reliable backup system.

One night I lay on the chesterfield unable to sleep. I had a terrible toothache and I was bawling with the pain, calling for my mother. I was seven—It was quite different from six, more adult, less childish. Mother confided in me even more and I listened, troubled. It was often about money and how we didn’t have enough and also about my father. It was always—“Your father this…your father that...” followed by a complaint. I had no response. I had a complaint of my own.

“Without Bill, you kids wouldn’t have a decent Christmas and it’s a good thing Maw and Pop have the store so we always have enough to eat. And Maw sews so you always have nice clothes”—I yearned for store-bought clothes like the rest of the kids—“but without her, we’d be lost!”

 Christmas was a magical time at 544 Wiley. UncaBill made Christmas. In November, he took which ever kids were independently mobile and headed into the bush. We all tromped along in the snow behind him. As we walked we examined various trees for their candidacy as our Christmas tree. It was spruce versus balsam. Canada Jays flew up and away at our passage. Black and white Chickadees cried: “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee” as they hopped through the cedar. Bluejays complained from the treetops. Crows, black on the white snow, squawked and balanced on bare flimsy branches.

We’d note one or two trees but would carry on to be sure we picked the absolute right one. Finally we’d fix on just one. But before a single blow of the axe struck, we all circled around it to make sure it had at least three good sides. (A “bad” side would be shoved up against the wall.)  When everyone agreed this was “it,” UncaBill attacked with the axe with a mighty “whack!”  When the tree fell we cheered. Then the bigger kids helped UncaBill drag it back to the car where he tied it on the roof. Back at 544 it was placed in the front porch to thaw out and dry off before coming into the house. Meanwhile there was lots to do.

Gram made fruitcakes, dark and light. We kids gathered around Gram and our big blue kitchen bowl anxious to get in on the lickings. Besides the bowl, the table was crowded with candied cherries, orange and lemon rind, currants, gold and brown raisins, dates, almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts. When baked, the cakes were wrapped in cheese cloth and tin foil and stored to age.

UncaBill strung a garland across the archway between the living and dining rooms and painstakingly hung tinsel, which he carefully smoothed out, one strand at a time. This tinsel was saved from years before. Nothing was wasted. Gram, Grampa, UncaBill and Mother had come through the Great Depression and frugality was paramount:  They still thought it was the Depression.

About a month before Christmas UncaBill brought the tree inside and set it upright in a bucket of coal. He filled it with water so the tree could drink and needles wouldn’t fall. Most years it was positioned in front of the living room picture window so the lights showed outside. The next big chore was untangling the strands of lights and replacing burnt-out bulbs—one bad bulb and the whole string wouldn’t work. I found this process to be tedious and the least fun thing about Christmas. But gamely I did my bit without complaint.

So the lights went up, followed by red, green, blue, gold and silver bulbs, silver and gold garland and more tinsel, again, placed lovingly one strand at a time. The balls were all different with different designs. They were stored wrapped in tissue paper, so rediscovering them each year brought back fond memories of previous years. Finally everything was up and everyone stood back to evaluate the beauty of this particular tree. It was almost always decided that this tree was the prettiest of all.

Presents began to appear beneath the tree and we all anxiously read out which one went to which child.

There was also always a platter of Mandarin oranges and a big bowl of nuts that we cracked and ate. UncaBill was not politically correct:  He called Brazil nuts “nigger toes.”  No one corrected him or even seemed to think this was appalling. I felt uneasy whenever he said it, yet not quite understanding why.

It was hard to get to sleep Christmas Eve. We put out milk, cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer. In the morning there was proof of Santa:  the cookies had bites taken out of them, the milk was half gone and the carrots were chewed.

After a lot of shouting: “Go to sleep!” we all finally succumbed, only to wake at five a.m. We were sent back to bed. We were allowed up at six, so then, we gathered around the tree. Presents from Santa were never wrapped but they always came with a note from him addressed to each child. The notes exhorted us to be good and mind our parents. Gram got us new clothes and Auntie Dell, a card with quarters scotch-taped inside. Big presents always came from UncaBill. Presents from Santa were small and simple, usually a colouring book or a toy truck. UncaBill got us rocking horses, big trucks and a favourite of mine and Jeffrey’s: farm sets.

Sometimes we went to church, sometimes not. Grampa always went to the Catholic church.

In the kitchen “the bird” was prepared. Father made stuffing and so did Gram. They competed over who was making the best. The kitchen was bright and fragrant with thyme, sage and onion. Rusty sat in the middle of the kitchen, alert to scraps.

“Gotcha beat, this year, Ida!”  crowed Father, mixing his concoction with his bare hands.

“Certainly not, Jack!  You’re using too much onion!” rejoined Gram.

“Just wait and see. They’ll gobble all of mine up!  You never use enough sage,” said Father. And on and on.

Later, while eating, we kids were asked to judge which stuffing was best. We never had a clear answer. They tasted the same.

The stuffing was pushed inside the bird, always a big 22-pounder—or more. One year, Gram found a 28-pounder. She was thrilled over this discovery. The stuffed bird was placed in the oven. Mother, as usual, took some time and did her face and hair—pictures would be taken and she always wanted to look her best. She spruced us kids up so we looked good for the photos. Then she set about making pumpkin and mincemeat pies. When I was seven I was started on peeling potatoes and carrots. “Leave some potato, Jackie,” Gram said. “Thinly slice off the peel. That’s it…and take your time. Get it right.”  Then Mother made a big cabbage salad and I finished up the potatoes and carrots.

One year there was a huge wooden box addressed to “Ma.”  Gram was greatly excited as UncaBill pried open the box with big grin on his face. The lid came off and Gram stepped up and lifted a tissue-wrapped object. She began to smile as she unwrapped…a plate! Then another and another and another. It was twelve-piece set of china from UncaBill. Immediately, Gram cleaned them and put them on the table.

Everyone pitched in and gathered up all the torn Christmas wrappings, restoring the house to its Christmas shininess.

The bird was basted every half hour. Father and Gram kept up a good natured, competitive banter about the superiority of their stuffing. Gram made a suet pudding with dried fruits and two different sauces, one a creamy white sauce, the other a hard sauce, mainly made of butter and confectioner’s sugar. Meanwhile Father fixed Gram a drink of rye and ginger ale. She sipped at it and her cheeks turned red.

Potatoes were mashed with milk and butter. Black olives—my favourite—gherkins, bread and butter pickles and dill pickles were set out, along with pickled beets that Gram had canned the summer before.

Gram started giggling a lot. Everyone teased that she was tipsy.

Grampa returned from church. He saw Gram with her drink and he began to rail against the evils of strong drink. The adults continued to sip their rye and ginger. No one paid any attention to him. Finally he yelled, “Well, I’m going to go up and stand in the closet while all this drinking is going on.”  Then he stomped from the kitchen, up the stairs and disappeared, we supposed, into a closet. In reality, drinking was never a big issue at our house. Father bought one bottle of rye and one of rum and there would always be some left once Christmas and New Year’s was over. One year UncaBill bought a bottle of Crème de Menthe and drank half of it. He passed out on the chesterfield and was the butt of jokes for months. He wasn’t a very sophisticated drinker.

Friends and relatives stopped by and were served rye whiskey and ginger ale, rum and pepsi, while others had tea, Christmas cake and Christmas cookies that I helped make. After a bit Mother made sure we all looked our best and Father took us out to visit relatives. We went to see Auntie Dell and her handsome husband, Uncle Ted. Her daughter, cousin Maisie and her son, Gord, were there. I was delighted to see my cousin Ritchie, who was about my age. Ritchie grew up to be tall, dark and movie star handsome. He changed his name to “Ric,” which I never could get used to. He started an auto parts business and became, family legend says, a millionaire. Jeffrey played with his younger sister, Vin, a petite blonde girl. And she got famous for having tuberculosis while she was an infant. The whole family, including us—the Montgomery-Cryderman clan—had to have TB skin tests. I remember getting the injection in the forearm and watching the patch left there to see if it turned red, indicating TB. We were all found to be negative.

In time, Vin recovered with no after effects. Ritchie and Vin were the children of Dora, a rail-thin brunette and Gord, who, like UncaBill, walked with a limp. Something had happened with his hip when he was a child. He was a good country-western singer and had actually cut a record. Maisie, I adored. She always called me “chicken,” as in “Whatcha doin’ chicken?”  She had a good job at an insurance agency and was always very well dressed, her hair perfectly coiffed, her nails painted a bright red. She smoked and often had a drink in hand, rye in clinking ice. I stared at her, memorizing her perfection of turnout. She was famous for being able to type over a hundred words per minute. She was also infamous for being married three times, but her last marriage, to Percy Tully “took.”  They were together for decades until his death. Mother told me that Maisie bought all my shoes from infancy until I was three years old. She never had children of her own. When I wanted to get away from it all I went to Auntie’s, but after she had her stroke, I went to Maisie’s to drink tea and talk and talk, then spent the night, awakening renewed. I miss Maisie.



At Auntie’s we were served Christmas cake, shortbread cookies, sugar cookies and date bars.

After the visit to Auntie’s we went to Uncle Roy and Aunt Lizzie’s house. Uncle Roy was Gram’s younger brother. He was the one who got the pony. Aunt Lizzie was from Scotland and we always got her to say “girdle:”  “Gair-dell.”  They had two daughters, Joyce and Elizabeth, both of whom babysat us on occasion. Joyce was famous for two things. Princess Elizabeth, on a royal visit to Canada, was ranged with a group of Girl Guides and Boy Scouts in the Fort William Gardens. The princess strolled along the ranks of Girl Guides then stopped and chatted with Joyce!

The second thing was, she took a vacation trip to Bermuda, so far away. We marvelled at her audacity. Then she did the unthinkable—she married an Italian. Bigotry was rampant in Fort William and the recent influx of Italian immigrants were a target. His name was Danny Ventrudo and he had to work to gain any approval. Poor Danny. He must have adored lovely blonde Joyce. His family owned a successful grocery store, so they lived well. Danny bought an apartment building and they lived in one of the apartments. Then he got multiple schlerosis and soon was in a wheelchair. The family grew very affectionate and supportive of him and rallied round Joyce when he died. Joyce never remarried.

At Uncle Roy’s we were served Christmas cake, shortbread cookies, sugar cookies and date bars.

Then we drove home in time for dinner.

We sat down, Grampa said grace and we dove in. Father and Gram served. Father carved the turkey, asking each in turn whether they wanted white or dark meat. He always asked Grampa if he wanted the Pope’s nose. While Grampa got flustered, we all laughed. It took a few years before I figured out what the Pope’s nose was. Bowls were passed around the table. Little kids were helped by bigger kids. We all ate to stupefaction, and fell asleep wherever we could find a spot. For the next hour we napped. After that dishes were washed and dried and the kitchen and living room tidied again. Then we played with our gifts until bedtime, blowing bubbles to amuse the youngest and getting the slinky toy to “walk” downstairs. (A slinky toy arrived every Christmas.)  Jeffrey and I quite seriously arranged the pieces of our farm sets, building little corrals out of white plastic fencing. There never were enough horses, but we made do with cows and pigs. And that was the magical Christmas at 544 Wiley.

Father worked at a Ford Motor Dealership as a “bodyman.”  (He always stoutly defended the superiority of Ford cars, while UncaBill defended Chevrolets.)

The bodyman title meant he repaired the bodies of cars that had been dented in accidents, but it connoted something shameful to me. Every year in class there came a day when the teacher asked each of us what our fathers did for a living. When it came to my turn I cringed and blushed.

“A bodyman,” I quietly answered. The teacher repeated it loudly as if she didn’t understand and I had to say it again with everyone staring at me.

“What’s that?” she demanded.

“He fixes cars.” There was a silence. And thankfully she moved on to the next person.

Around this time Mother got a stay-at-home job for a photographer. All photos back then were black and white. If you wanted coloured pictures, you had them coloured by someone with artistic skill. She went weekly to Fryer’s Studio downtown on May Street and picked up a batch of photos, along with little tubs of special paint. Then she sat at the dining room table and coloured the pictures. It was very delicate work. This was one time she had to wear her hated glasses. She thought she looked ugly in them. She loved the movie How to Marry a Millionaire, because in it Marilyn Monroe was nearly blind and had thick glasses which she seldom wore, even though she often bumped into walls. That was Mother—no glasses, bumping into walls. I watched, fascinated while she painstakingly coloured tiny lips red. Once she got out her old black and white wedding pictures. She coloured her wedding dress blue and I asked her why it wasn’t white like other brides’ gowns. She gave me some unsatisfying answer and wouldn’t listen to my questions anymore. Years later I found the answer, in my birth certificate. Mother and Father were married just seven months before I was born. She had committed that great sin:  She got pregnant before she married. I felt sorry for her. I imagined Gram and the Catholic church forced her to wear the unvirtuous blue to advertise her shame.


Jackie's mother

Again, Mother rested her work-reddened hands on her swelling belly. She dropped her voice to a whisper and after reminding me of our poverty, one day she said: “And I haven’t told your Grandmother that I’m going to have another baby. In February.”

We all knew that. Did she think we couldn’t see? But when I heard her whisper it for the first time my reaction was mixed. On the one hand, I felt a vague fear. This baby would need food and clothes too. It would be Another Mouth to Feed. Where would we get the money to care for it? Then I felt excitement:  I desperately wanted it to be a redheaded baby girl and I wanted it to be born on my birthday, February 24th. It would be my special baby. I’d help take care of it and I hoped Mother would name her “Willow” after a little native girl in my colouring book named “Singing Willow.”  I thought the name Willow was just beautiful, as of course, this baby would be.

One night when I was seven, I wept loudly on the chesterfield in the dark. Mother appeared. She scooped me up yelling: “I am not getting any sleep!”  She was furious. “Your father can take care of you for a change. Let him deal with the problem!”

I went rigid with terror. She was carrying me toward the pantry-bedroom off the kitchen—toward my father.

“No! No! Mother!  Please don’t. Please don’t put me in bed with him. Please, no, Mother!”  I cried. I kicked and pushed against her, but she held me tight.

“Shut up!  I’ve had it! Your father can do his bit. He never helps out with you kids. So Jackie, be quiet.”

I struggled to get away from her but she only determinedly marched toward the kitchen.

All too quickly, we reached the bedroom. She yelled at my father: “Jack! Wake up. Take care of your daughter. She has a toothache. I’m going to get some sleep.”

And she dumped me on the bed and pulled the covers over me. By now my crying had subsided to sobs. The toothache throbbed on. I was filled with dread about what might come next. The little cloud over my head thundered and shot out strobes of lightning. A torrential rain of fear deluged me.

When my mother left, the bedroom was silent. I got very still, afraid even to breathe, quiet as prey. I was terrified to do anything that might call attention to my presence. Nothing happened at first. But I lay there. Tense, hunched up in a fetal position as close to the edge of the bed as I could get, far away from him, while my tooth throbbed on.

He didn’t say a word, but his breathing changed. In a minute or two I felt his hand on my leg. He pushed my nightie up then moved close to me. I was rigid. Paralyzed. He got very close, his body up against mine. I went numb. Then I felt something hard between my legs touching my private parts. He rubbed against me for long, long time. I held my breath. If I didn’t move, didn’t breathe, it wasn’t happening. I didn’t feel anything. Then he groaned and something wet poured onto me. He moved away. I took a breath. Then he climbed over me out of the bed. I heard his footsteps walk away. Soon he returned and climbed back over me into the bed. Again I went rigid. I felt a cold, wet, abrasive washcloth shove up between my legs. He was cleaning the wet stuff off me. Why did the washcloth have to be ice cold? Then he moved away.

I didn’t sleep for the rest of the night and I was afraid to cry with my tooth. That’s all I remember.

This thing with Dr.Naqi really has me going. I have not heard from the clinic so I am assuming I have not been selected. I wonder if it is because under “List all Medications” I put morphine and oxycodone. Maybe they don’t want patients on narcotics. Or maybe it just takes them a while to make up their minds. Meanwhile I see Dr. Naqi as my only hope. I try mentally to convince her that prescribing pain medications for me is the best way to treat me. That staying with something that has worked extremely well for eight years is much better than trying something that failed to work eight years ago. Tylonel and physio just don’t stop the pain. And it’s insanity—doing the same thing over again expecting a different result—according to Einstein.
With the pain medications I lead a happy life despite tragedy. Even though I have lost my mobility the past eight years have been some of the happiest years of my life. The little dark cloud has pretty much dissipated. (Only because I have done decades of work on myself:  Therapy, the Twelve Steps and A Course in Miracles. Dozens of self-help books. From these I learned about the power of acceptance. I now accept things exactly as they are, without any desire to change them. It is one key, for me, to happiness.)

Right now, with some pain medications still available, these days would be the happiest of my life I were I not obsessing over Dr. Naqi. I hate to see them come to an end only to be replaced with agonizing pain—day in, day out. I cannot take it. It is living death. A terrible way to spend my remaining years.

One spring UncaBill found a baby robin abandoned on the sidewalk. Cradling it in his enormous hands, he brought it inside. It excited all of us kids. He got a cardboard box, cut it down until it was about six inches deep, then he filled it with soil. This was something he, myself and Jeffrey came up with as a possible feeding solution. After feeding the nestling—a gaping mouth attached to a clutch of messy feathers balanced on stick legs—eyedroppers of, I think, Carnation milk and pablum, we tucked it into a cuddle of blankets and, after dark, went out on a mission. We, UncaBill, me, Jeffrey and Tracy went to Vickers Street park and searched for night crawlers: giant worms that emerged only at night on the lawns of the park. Fishermen coveted them. UncaBill carried the flashlight. Bent over, we snuck over the grass seeking worms. Once spotted in the light of the flashlight, the worm tried to slither back underground, but UncaBill was quick. He caught them. I tried, but they were so slippery, I couldn’t keep a hold of them. After collecting for a while we went home and directly to the back shed. There we transferred the worms to the baby robin’s box of dirt. They all quickly crawled under the dirt. Next, we woke up the baby bird and placed it on the box of worms. The baby bird carefully inspected the dirt it was standing on. Then it began to peck and dig at the dirt. We watched anxiously, praying for the bird to figure it out. Then it caught the head or tail of a worm. The worm tried to escape into the dirt, but the wee bird braced itself and leaning back, pulled mightily. We cheered, but softly, so as not to distract it. The bird began swallowing the worm—gigantic in size compared to itself. It pulled and swallowed and pulled and swallowed and then it had to pause, panting, for a rest. The worm started crawling out of the bird’s mouth. It was creepy to see. But we all toughed it out and watched. We had to make sure this was going to work. After a protracted, mighty struggle, the robin won. It ate all of the enormous worm. We had no worries. Baby could handle things.

It grew fast and soon had a red breast. It was a happy little creature and it hopped off its’ worm box onto our hands and ran up our arms to perch on our shoulders. Then baby bird was no longer a baby. It was an adult bird. He/she began to fly!  It flew all over the shed. Time to release it into the wild. Fortuitously at the Hydro Electric station where UncaBill worked, an enormous flock of robins had congregated. We travelled there, me holding the bird in my lap. We got out and walked to the fenced area of mysterious electrical towers, cables and transformers. This was where the birds were. And were they ever!  UncaBill took our bird from me and cupping it in his hands moved his arms up and down and counted: “One, two, three,” and he raised his hands and threw the bird into the air. Baby Robin flew right over to the other birds. We strained to watch, but Baby disappeared into the flock. No telling which one was him. Or her. They all looked identical. Baby bird was gone. With bittersweet feelings—happy he was alive and free, sad to be missing him, silently, we trudged back to the car and drove home to 544.

During Second Grade I got to be an Eskimo and later, had my first real ride on a horse with a saddle and bridle. We were studying Eskimos. Nobody said “Inuit:” Political correctness had yet to arrive. First, we painted a mural—four feet high, eight feet long—depicting Eskimo life. I did all the drawing while others helped paint in the colours. It was snow, igloos, people, sleds and dogs and it covered more than half the blackboard.

Next, we built an igloo, life-size, with lots of help from the teacher. Her boyfriend also came in to help. We covered a chicken-wire framework with cotton batten. The igloo had a little tunnel-like entrance that we could crawl into. We put on a play and I got the part of the mother Eskimo. The most exciting thing was our young teacher brought her dog to school to act as our sled dog. He was a gorgeous white Samoyed with a very pink tongue and he wagged his tail through all the proceedings.

My reading got quite good and I joined the public library just down the street from Grampa’s store. I began to search out books on horses. There was one author I particularly liked who wrote several books about a horse named Blaze. What was outstanding about these books were the excellent pencil illustrations. I studied these drawings and used them to improve my horse art.

One day UncaBill succumbed to Jeffrey and my frequent pleadings to go horseback riding. He took us out to a stable that rented horses. Gramma came along too, as well as Father with his new 3D camera.

A stable hand brought out a tall brown pony saddled up western style. I was struck dumb. The big moment had arrived and I was paralyzed. Fear engulfed me. I stood, while the adults urged me to get on. They couldn’t understand my fear and I couldn’t either. After all, I had ridden big Jim for years with no fear. Why now—with everyone staring? Then Gram broke from the semi-circle of watching adults. She marched up to the pony, picked up the reins and putting her foot in the stirrup, swung aboard as lithely as a girl. This, despite she was wearing a dress and a corset. Father snapped a picture. She sat as tall and proud as I felt on big Jim. She clucked to the horse and cantered him in a circle. After a bit, she reined up expertly in front of me and said, “See, Jackie? Nothing to it. Come on now, a granddaughter of mine has got to be a good rider.”  So I got on and walked and trotted and when my confidence was up ventured a canter, something not possible on Jim. Jeffrey had no qualms. Fearlessly, she scrambled on and rode without hardly bouncing.

Around this time I began to question the teachings of the church. I found a book in the library about Homo Sapiens and the evolution of mankind. Well! You mean the Adam and Eve story isn’t true? What else had I been taught that wasn’t true? What about dinosaurs? There were no dinosaurs in the Bible. Yet, today, scientists found huge bones, pretty concrete evidence of the existence of dinosaurs. I tried to question Mother but she brushed me off. So I went after Gram. After all, she was the one who went to church all the time. (Mother seldom went.)  Gram said, “Where did you get a book like that?”
“The library.”

“Well, you can’t believe everything you read, Jackie. Trust our minister. Listen to what he says. He will tell you the truth. Haven’t you got some housework to do? Go on now. I’m busy.” Forlorn, unenlightened, I got on.   

Then I told Tom about this library book. He perked right up. “Oh! Yes! Evolution!”   Charles Darwin wrote about it in The Origin of Species. I have a copy here. You can borrow it.”

I read as much as I could understand in The Origin of Species. This was earth shaking stuff!  I was bursting to talk about it. I went to UncaBill and babbled about evolution. He listened. Then he went to the library and got some books on evolution for himself to read. It was great! After school, we talked and talked about Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals. This information proved the Bible wasn’t true. What was I supposed to believe?

I went to bed each night and in the dark, tried to imagine infinity. I talked with Jeffrey about all this and even though she was almost four years younger than me, still, she understood a lot of it. I asked her to imagine it with me. We held hands across the beds and settled in to imagine endlessness. Silently, I thought of the night sky, all the billions of stars that went on, and on, according to science, forever. I pretended I was travelling through black space, rushing past stars, rushing, rushing, then—nothing. My mind just stopped. It would not keep on forever. I had to start it up again and resume imagining. Past stars, past stars, then whoom—halt. I didn’t talk to many adults about this, just Tom and UncaBill. I knew the church wouldn’t like it. So I squirmed through sermons that I believed weren’t true, but kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want any trouble or punishment. And, anyway, part of me still believed in God. I believed Jesus was a real person who walked the earth thousands of years ago, but he was deprived of scientific knowledge. Much of what he said was good. So I would keep the good.

Gram grew up on a homestead, a hundred and sixty acres, about thirty miles from town. Her father died of diabetes when he was just thirty-four leaving behind his wife Jane and three children: my Gram, Ida May, my Auntie, Idella and my Uncle, Roy. Jane was a nurse and she stayed in town to work. The children moved out to the farm to live with their grandparents, George Montgomery and his wife—I forget her name. The grandparents were firmly rooted in the Victorian era so Gram was raised with Victorian values. Never sit in a chair vacated recently by a member of the opposite sex, because you would still feel the warmth from his/her bottom. Tables and people had limbs not legs. Legs were uncouth and too sexy to mention. The word “sex” or “sexy” was never uttered.  

The farm was mostly rock. Spring plowing meant turning up many rocks all of which had to be picked up and tossed aside. Every year there was a new crop of rocks. Some were used to build rock fences. In winter, Great-Grampa Newberry worked for the railroad, splitting rails for five dollars a day.

Gramma was horse crazy. From a very early age she asked for a pony. Just like me. And year after year she was disappointed. The excuse was they were too poor to afford one. Then one year for his birthday they got a pony—but for little Roy, the favoured boy. Ida was bitterly disappointed. Roy didn’t even like horses, but he rode the pony to school while the two girls walked. Roy even had a little saddle. It sat for years in the loft of the garage at 544 Wiley. A shaft of sunlight from a window in the end wall poured onto the saddle as though it was a religious artifact. Which, to me, it was. I climbed up the ladder to the loft and mounted the saddle where it rested on a wooden sawhorse, and imagined the wonderful pony beneath me.

In her frustration, Gramma rode the family workhorse and when she was old enough, pushed the plow behind him. I think his name was Nick. She rode all over the countryside and even jumped the rock fences on Nick, bareback. I have a photo of her on Nick, sitting as though on a side saddle, just her high-heeled, laced-up boots showing beneath the hem of her long skirt. She sits, back straight, hands firmly holding reins, facing the camera, as if she were aboard a thoroughbred. Years later I wrote an article about her and Nick and submitted it and the photo to Equus, an international horse magazine and they published it. My Auntie Dell always said, “Your Gram would rather plow behind a horse than wash a dish.”  I guess, me too.

When my grandparents married after a courtship that included Grampa taking Gramma for long buggy rides, they moved to Fort William. Gram got a job at a laundry and Grampa delivered bread for Parnell’s bakery. He drove one of their striking grey horses which pulled the red Parnell’s delivery wagon on his bread route. When my grandparents grew more prosperous they purchased their own horse, Dexter. Gramma loved Dexter. There is a picture of him harnessed to a buggy. Quite fine-boned, he was a red roan with an auburn mane and tail. In the stable out back (now the garage) I remember Gram showing me the timber in the ceiling that Dexter chewed. Another sacred artifact of former joyous horsey days.

One day Gram came home from shopping and found Dexter gone. Instead, a car was parked in the garage. Grampa had sold Dexter and bought an automobile. Gram was devastated. But when her grief subsided some days later she agreed to a driving lesson. She got into the car behind the steering wheel, Grampa next to her. As per his instruction, she started the car and put it into reverse. A little too fast they backed from the garage. Gram didn’t see the pigeon and she ran over it, killing it. She stopped the car, got out and refused to drive ever again. She wasn’t going to drive around killing things.

My medications are working quite well and my pain is minimal, not enough to stop me writing. I hope so much Dr. Naqi will renew my medication prescription and not cut me off—I really want to finish this book. I write all the time, while I’m watching TV or petting James Bond, my mind recalls events to put into the book. Without the pain medication, I cannot function at all. I’m just a body filled with hurt. Not only can’t I write, I can’t watch TV (a big part of my life, I watch Netflix all the time,) I can’t even carry on a conversation. I am the living dead without my pain pills. They mean Life.

During this year Chapples Department Store entered my life again. They were holding a big fashion show and somehow I got picked to be a model. I was a slim little girl with long red hair in ringlets, blue eyes and very clear white skin. Mother maintained the ringlets—she was a hairdresser and worked at a hair salon for several years before she married at age twenty-four. Every morning our neighbour Ethel Perrons came over and sat in the middle of the kitchen while Mother did her hair. Gram sat at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and the three women laughed and talked while Ethel handed hairpins up to my mother. Her hair was pure white and looked like white cotton candy poufed around her head when Mother finished it.

(Many years later, my sister Jennifer got a blue Standard Poodle. She named her Ethel and Ethel turned out to be a remarkable dog of keen intelligence and sensitivity with a great sense of humour. Example. Ethel was raiding the kitchen countertops. Jennifer put several opened mousetraps on the counters. Then she scooted outside and standing on tiptoe, peered in through a window that looked into the kitchen, so she wouldn’t miss any of the action. She had to stand down from tiptoes to rest her legs. When they were rested she rose up again, only to come eyeball to eyeball with Ethel, staring inquiringly out the window at her.)

Mother took me down to Chapple’s and I was fitted in several dresses. I remember standing in a dressing room in a blue dress with smocking across the bodice while Mother and two ladies from the fashion department scrutinized me. The ladies complimented Mother on what a pretty daughter she had. No one said a word to me; they talked over my head. Regally, Mother accepted the praise. I expected nothing different. You do things for others, not yourself. Church taught that.

I had to twirl around then stand still, shoulders squared, back straight, head up. It was easy. Then came the big day. I walked out onto a stage and down a raised ramp. Music played. The stage and ramp were brightly lit, while the areas around the ramp were in darkness. I wasn’t too nervous. I walked to the end of the ramp and looked down at dozens of women’s faces staring up at me, twirled a couple of times, paused and walked back, remembering to hold my head high. I did this for three dresses. There was applause. That was my entire career as a fashion model.

And so passed my years seven, eight and nine







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