Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Jackie D'Acre's Memoir Chapter Four

Copyright 2018 Jacqueline D’Acre

 The fourth chapter of this stunning memoir opens with the birth of a sister for little Jackie. Once again we follow the child through the happy times and the terrible. For all the D'Acre fans who I know have been waiting for the next chapter, here it is. If you want to read from the beginning, use the search box at the top left and search by chapter by chapter. The blog saves one chapter at a time. Further help with this is noted in the side bar on the right side of the page. Just scroll down for the instructions. Joan

Jacqueline D’Acre’s Memoir

Chapter Four

It must have been three a.m. the day after my eighth birthday, 1951, when Father cracked open the bedroom door and whispered:
            “Jackie. Are you awake?”
            “Yes,” I whispered back. “Did she have it?”
            I held my breath, praying my wish would come true. “What is it?”
            “A girl.”
            Hurrah! That’s wish number one. “What colour hair does she have?”
            “She’s a redhead.”
            “Hurrah!” I yelled.
            “Shush,” whispered Father. “You’ll wake the whole house up.”
            “Sorry. Thank you, Father. Good night.” Now LEAVE the bedroom. He did and I turned over and pulled the covers up to my chin. Mother had done very well. Now if only I could get her to name my little sister, born the day after me, “Willow.”
            In a week Mother came home with the baby. She let me hold her. I admired her red hair, her blue eyes with long blonde eyelashes and her rosebud lips. She had the prettiest lips of any child in the family. Willow yawned and waved her tiny fists.
            “Can we name her Willow?”
            Mother frowned down at me. “I don’t know, Jackie. You know, something I realized in the hospital while I was being pampered like the Queen of England”—she always raved about the luxuriousness of her hospital stays, one entire week of breakfast in bed—“all the children have names that begin with ‘J’. Maybe we should keep that up. I am thinking ‘Jennifer.’ ‘Jennifer June,’ after me. What do you think?”
            I pretended to ponder. I waited a decent length of time then said as thoughtfully as I could muster, “Hummm. Jennifer…June.” I met Mother’s teal blue eyes, made prettier by black mascara, and held the gaze. “Why not ‘Jennifer June Willow’?” I saw that Jennifer June Willow had Mother’s fair opalescent complexion. Beautiful.
            There was a long, long pause.
            “Okay. Jennifer June Willow.”
            I grinned.

My afternoon caregiver, Vickie, has just arrived and I have hardly written a thing. I hate to stop, but if I don’t I’ll miss talking with her and she is wonderful to talk to. She has been my caregiver for over six years and knows me intimately. She helped me get through many deaths.
            I may only have twelve days to live. That’s when I see my doctor and find out if I can convince her to renew my prescriptions for morphine and percocet. Without them, life is hell. I am in constant severe pain from my back. I have tried every other mode of pain release and nothing but the morphine and percocet work. Although, I have heard good things about medical marijuana. But my doctor, so far, hasn’t suggested it. I wonder why? I know she prescribes it for other patients. I am curious to see if she brings it up on this upcoming appointment.
 My back problem started forty years ago so I have had plenty of time to experiment with pain management. I want to finish writing this book—it took me ten years to work up the courage to write it and now that I’ve started I don’t want to leave it unfinished. I consider what it would be like to go through withdrawal along with the chronic back pain and it terrifies me. I rehearse what I’ll say to Dr. Naqi during my appointment to convince her that my need is valid and means nothing less than a decent quality of life for me. It means everything: I finish the book, I watch Netflix, I laugh and talk with Vickie and Christi and my other caregivers and nurses. I enjoy my Meals on Wheels, I pet my cat, James Bond. In other words, everything. I pray to the Universe I will be successful. I am too shaky to continue writing for today.

It is two days later since I wrote that last paragraph. I now will no longer insist that opiates are the only way to go. Instead, I will ask for any pain relief medication she suggests that will work as effectively as the opiates. See if she brings up medical marijuana. She once acted as if I didn’t deserve pain killers because I wasn’t losing weight. If she doesn’t suggest it I will suspect she is punishing me for my weight.

In Grade Three I remember missing weeks and weeks of school. I kept getting bronchitis. I had a horrible cough, especially in the night. And I was afraid to cough for fear Mother would put me back in bed with Father. I tried so hard not to cough, but I just couldn’t help it. Mother came and rubbed Vicks Vaporub on my chest and tied an old black sock of Grampa’s around my throat —as if that would help. Dr. Brown was a frequent visitor, and we quickly learned I was allergic to sulpha drugs. Instead I took liquid penicillin. It was pink and Mother spooned it into me. The taste was disgusting. Also, I had cravings. Once it was for tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes. I remember crying out, begging for a tomato, but I suppose they were out of season. I never got any.
When I missed school in the third grade, I missed learning the multiplication tables. I never got caught up and for the rest of my life I was miserable at simple arithmetic because I just didn’t know how to multiply. Still don’t. As a consequence, I was terrible at algebra. It was not that I didn’t grasp the concepts—I did. I just made silly multiplication errors and got wrong answers. Thank God calculators were invented, but too late to do me any good in school.

Around this time I began to play with girls: Janice, Marlene and Beth. We made mud pies in Marlene’s backyard and put on plays in Beth’s garage. Once a new girl came onto Wiley street for a short time, visiting relatives, so we played with her. One day she invited us to play in her Aunt’s back shed. Innocently we followed her into the shed and she told us amazing, unbelievable things about male and female organs. That the man put his “thing” into the woman. This girl picked up a stick, lifted Marlene’s skirt and thrust the stick at her genitals. I was surprised at this information, because my father had never put his thing inside me. Marlene just stood there as we all did transfixed by this information and demonstration. I did not like it. I couldn’t wait to get out of that shed. Eventually we filed out, the girl left and we never talked about it, ever.
One day a new boy showed up. He introduced himself as Georgie Guay and said he was here for the summer to visit his grandmother, Mrs. Clinton, two doors down from ours. (Mrs. Clinton had a caragana hedge and it was home to many ladybugs. I spent long minutes catching a ladybug and letting it trundle over my bare arm, watching it flex its orange and black dotted wings.)
Georgie and I hit it off instantly. We got jars and went round collecting bugs. We had a bumblebee and a big beetle in a jar together and watched them, to see if they would fight. To our disappointment, they didn’t. Gramma saw this jar and said, “Jackie, let that poor bumblebee go.” Reluctantly, I did. Today, I’m appalled at what bloodthirsty little savages we were.
The worst thing we ever did concerned Jeffrey. She was forever following us around wanting to play with us and we didn’t want her. We chased her away even though Mother said, “Jackie, let your sister play with you.”
We were in the Clinton’s back shed, a small room off the kitchen, where we often played. There was a swing in it which we enjoyed. One time we wanted to go somewhere but Jeffrey was in the way. So we put her on the swing and told her we had captured her so she had to be tied up. She went along, innocently delighted that we seemed to be playing with her. We lashed her firmly into the swing. There was a picture of a tiger’s snarling head on a work bench. After telling her the tiger would get her, we propped it so she could see it. We gave the swing a few pushes then made a hasty escape, leaving her tied to the swing. As we walked away we could hear her screams, but that didn’t stop us.
Well, we got to playing outside and completely forgot about her. A couple of hours must have passed when suddenly Georgie’s aunt appeared. She was angry.
“Georgie! Did you tie Jeffrey in that swing?”
Georgie nodded.
“That was a terrible thing to do, Georgie! She was crying her eyes out. I only found her because I heard her crying. You are punished, Georgie. No more play for the rest of this day. And you, Jackie. Go home. Your mother is waiting for you.”

So I went home and Jeffrey was there, her face still red from crying. I felt terrible. We had never meant to leave her tied up for so long. Mother spanked me. I felt I deserved it. I’ve felt guilty about this all my life. My poor little sister. And all she wanted was to play with us and we tortured her like that. I wonder if this is one of the reasons Jeffrey goes for long stretches of time—like thirty years— without speaking to me. Once I asked her about it and she said she had no memory of it. Even that did not assuage my guilt.
Three years later, when I was eleven, Georgie and I had what maybe was a kind of a date. He asked me to go to the movies with him. The way he asked felt different. I fussed about my appearance, wishing I had a hairstyle other than French braids. Mother said I had a dentist appointment so the two of us walked to the dentist’s and Georgie waited while I had a tooth filled. I emerged with my jaw swollen and numb. So much for my appearance. We went to the Odeon, across the street from the Royal theatre and the movie was unforgettable. The Creature from the Black Lagoon. We sat without touching and watched, rapt. Then we quietly walked home. My first date.
One summer’s end Georgie left and never returned. We each had stamp collections and one of our pastimes was to sit in Mrs. Clinton’s screened-in front verandah at a table and stick stamps into our big stamp books. I had one prized stamp that my father had found and given to me. It was a Queen Victoria stamp, pale red in colour with the stern Queen pictured in profile. I believe it had some value. I didn’t fool with my stamp collection for quite some time after Georgie left. One day I opened my book and leafed through it. At Queen Victoria’s page there was a blank spot where the stamp had been. My Queen was missing! I got a bad feeling. Georgie had stolen it.

People knew neighbours back then like I don’t think they do now. The Clinton’s were Irish Catholics, like Grampa. Often, on Fridays, Mrs. Clinton dropped by at suppertime and peered at Grampa’s dinner plate.
“Pork chops, Fred?” she’d exclaim.
Gram stopped in the middle of the kitchen floor, teapot in hand. Grampa stared at his desecrated plate and sputtered. Friday back then was a fast day for Catholics which meant they could not have meat. Only fish was allowed.
“Why aren’t you eating fish, Fred! What will Father Murphy think!”
“Uh–uh,” mumbled Grampa, face red. Gram’s face was grim. She looked as though she wanted to wallop Mrs. Clinton over the head with the teapot. She hated Grampa’s Catholicism and pounced on every chance she got to undermine it. She knew it was Friday. Grampa, innocently, had forgotten. She always sabotaged his Friday fast. Grampa never caught on. (Father often said, “Your Grandfather doesn’t have the brains to pound sand.”)
Finally she spoke. “Fred will eat fish next Friday, Mrs. Clinton. Now if you don’t mind we’d like to finish our dinner.”
Mrs. Clinton sailed out, (her work was done) head high as a priest of the Spanish Inquisition.
The other Clinton story involved her son, who went to the Catholic school, of course. This story was always told by my UncaBill, who although dragged to St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral along with Mother every Sunday, did not go to Catholic school. Instead he and Mother went to public school, Drew Street, the one I attended. (There had been a long, bitter battle over this. Grampa insisting on the Catholic school and Gram, the public.) What she did to win is a mystery. Anyway, young Clinton decided that he would go to church every day after school and pray to pass his exams. This took the place of studying. Here, UncaBill broke into raucous laughter. “Of course the idiot failed!”
My friends, Janice and Marlene, were both Italian and quite Catholic. Janice was an Italian beauty, a little like Sophia Loren, while Marlene had delicate features framed by her Italian father’s dark hair and her Irish mother’s freckled fair skin.
We had to interrupt our play each week so they could go to confession. Loathe to abandon their company and halt the playing completely, I tagged along while they walked to church in the bright summer heat, the smell of cut grass in the air. I sat on the front steps while they disappeared into the church’s dim depths. I was a little jealous of this mysterious activity, Protestants had nothing like it. But as we walked they invented sins to tell so they’d have something to say to the priest. So how valid was it?

I had one other friend during those long summer days. Her name was Agnes and she lived directly across the street from 544. She was a pear-shaped girl with a head perched directly on her shoulders. Her hair was dark and worn in a long braid. She had slightly bulging eyes and pendulous lips. I didn’t care what she looked like. I loved her and loved playing ball with her. We stood in front of my house under the Manitoba Maple tree, bouncing our balls, chanting a rhyme. One I remember is “A sailor went to sea to see what he could see and all that he could see was the deep blue sea.” At each “sea” or “see” we crossed a leg over the bouncing ball. I would burst into the house after these sessions babbling about how great Agnes was. Mother regarded me coldly. She never responded when I spoke of Agnes and I couldn’t understand why till years later. Agnes had Down’s Syndrome or was what they then called a “Mongolian Idiot.” I also found out that Agnes was not my age, rather she was in her thirties. She died a few years later, drowned in the bathtub. I was profoundly sad. I went to her house when I heard and talked with her mother, telling her how much I missed Agnes. We broke down and cried together. Ever since then I have loved Down’s Syndrome people. I get excited when I spot one and delight in their accomplishments, which are many. Many people assumed that this was what my daughter Catherine was. They were wrong.

I continued to walk to the end of Wiley Street in the morning to ride Jim, the milkhorse, down the street. One day, when the milkman helped me down, he asked, “Would you like to have a ride in the wagon?”
            “Sure! Thank you!”
He climbed into the wagon and I climbed in after him. I sat next to him on the built-in bench. There was a slot in the upper part of the front of the wagon, through which the reins fed. The milkman did nothing but sit down, and Jim walked on. Then Jim stopped. There was a delivery to be made. I sat and waited while the milkman delivered the milk. Soon he was back in the wagon and Jim was moving. The milkman clucked to Jim and shook the reins. Jim broke into a trot. Milk bottles clanked in the back of the wagon. I was bounced up and down.
Jim turned the corner onto Ogden Street. The milkman urged him to go faster. Jim totted briskly on. Soon he was turning the corner onto Prince Arthur Boulevard, where the milkman reached across me and slid the wagon door shut. Instantly, I got scared. Oh, no! not him, too! He put his hand on my bare leg, just below the hem of my dress.  I jumped up. I grabbed the side of the wagon for balance and struggled to open the door. The man pleaded with me to stay, he wouldn’t hurt me, sure, sure, sure. The door jerked open. The wagon was moving quite fast. Too fast to jump out safely. I yelled “Whoa!” and Jim stopped suddenly. I leapt from the wagon and ran for home. I felt deeply ashamed. I didn’t tell anyone and I never rode the milkhorse down the street again. I missed big Jim.

When I was eight I decided I wanted a garden. We did not have a garden. All the other people on the block had gardens. I knew, I frequently played in the back lane, so I got to know all those backyards, with their different plants, dogs and chickens.
            I gave it some thought. It would have to be a little garden because I would be the only one caring for it. I pestered other family members for aid, but they were indifferent. I wanted to grow something big, something spectacular. After an intensive study of the seeds rack at the corner store, I settled on sunflowers—tall, big, bright, and also, pumpkins. Again, big and beautiful. Maybe I could grow one big enough to enter into the agricultural contest at the Lakehead Exhibition. If I couldn’t show horses, pumpkins might just do.
I decided to plant along the fence line between us and our new immigrant, Ukranian neighbours. They would probably welcome the greater privacy, since the sunflowers would be taller than the high wood fence they built completely around the house, as soon as they moved in.
They didn’t want Gram’s welcome cookies! They shaved their son’s head and the whole neighbourhood teased him and called him ‘skinhead.’ I felt sorry for that little boy. He didn’t understand English very well and probably didn’t even know what ‘skinhead’ meant. This immigrant family was outcast by their own choice: The neighbourhood was insulted. Years later, one morning, Gram was out in the sunny backyard and she heard a voice. She looked everywhere but at the neighbour’s. The voice continued, saying “Hello, hello.” It was coming from the neighbours. Gram turned and walked to the fence. Mrs. Ukranian was there. She had a plate of cookies. Gram said, “Hello! Nice to meet you.” “For you,” said the Ukranian lady. Gram smiled, said “Thank you,” and took the cookies. From then on we always greeted each other and baked goods not infrequently passed across the fenceline.)

One night while I was in the bath, Mother came into the room to wash my hair. She knelt down by the side of the tub and applied shampoo. She began massaging my scalp and she said, “Jackie. I think it’s time you knew where babies come from.”
            I know where babies come from. Your belly.
            “When you grow your pumpkins you will find there are male and female flowers. You can tell the females from the males because the female pumpkin flower has a miniature pumpkin at its base.” My head wobbled around as she vigorously massaged my head. I kept my hands to my eyes to keep the shampoo out. “The female flower must be fertilized by the male flower before a pumpkin can grow, just like babies. You will have to do that with your pumpkins.” She dumped a pot full of water over my head as a rinse. I gasped and rubbed water from my eyes. The bath water had turned pink: I was still a redhead. I wondered: What colour was my hair, really? “You will have to go out in the early morning and inspect your pumpkins. When you find a female, you’ll pick a male flower and you’ll rub its stamen against the stamen of the female flower, and the female will be fertilized. It will become a pumpkin.” Another dump of water. “There now!” She sat back and handed me a towel. “You know where babies come from.”
No, I don’t! Something inside Mother had to be fertilized by pollen from Father to start a baby? Really? That was hard to believe. Maybe I would understand more when I got older.
            I went to work. I had to dig up the soil alongside the fence line. The ground was hard and matted with grass. I pushed the point of the shovel into the ground. It wouldn’t penetrate, so I stood on the shovel and hopped up and down as if on a pogo stick. Slowly the shovel entered the ground. Rusty sat in the yard and watched me with interest. Occasionally he would be distracted by birds that had the temerity to land in our yard, which he was obliged to chase away. After the pesky birds were dispersed, he returned to his position near me, then sat and resumed watching. The soil eventually yielded to my efforts and I sewed my pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Then it was a wait. Every morning before breakfast I ran outside to see if anything had grown overnight. For many mornings, there was nothing. One glorious morning there were two parallel rows of tiny green plants all along the fence line. I was thrilled. My garden was growing.
            After a while, the huge, green pumpkin plants started blooming. I checked for male and female flowers. I found some females and I fertilized them with a stamen from a male flower.  The blossom fell off the female flower and its tiny bulb of a pumpkin began to grow. I pinched any other smaller pumpkins from the same plant: If a plant had to support only one pumpkin, that pumpkin would grow larger.
            One day, one particular pumpkin stood out. It was enormous! I got Jeffrey’s help and we grunted and groaned and loaded it onto a wagon. Jeffrey walked alongside the pumpkin, helping it balance in the wagon. I pulled the wagon to the corner store. With more grunting, Jeffrey and I managed to heft the pumpkin up into the store. The store lady helped us get it up onto the scale. Sixty-three pounds! I wanted to enter it into the fair at the Lakehead Exhibition, but I needed adult help for that and none was forthcoming.
            For a while Mother struggled to scrape seeds from pumpkins and cook them. Baked, boiled, mashed. Lunch and supper. Everyone got sick of pumpkin. No one was keen to see me repeat my gardening success.

Over the next couple of years, Tracy and Jennifer (June Willow) grew. Tracy took a special shine to cute little Jennifer and protectively followed her everywhere. He couldn’t say “Jennifer,” so he called her “Tu.” Soon the whole family was calling her “Tu,” then “Tu-tu” and sometimes, “Tootsie.” There is a picture of the two of them, each resplendent in royal blue sailor outfits, made by Gram, of course. (At the same time Gram sewed organza church dresses for me and for Jeffrey. Mine was a light green and Jeffrey’s was mauve.)
In the photo, Jennifer’s red hair is in ringlets and Tracy’s strawberry hair is slicked back. Two little redheads. Around this time Mother started calling Tracy: “Lover Boy.” This made me uneasy. There was something off about it. No one liked it, but no one knew what to do about it. We knew she was extraordinarily proud of having produced a boy-child.

One summer morning there was a thumping at the front door. We all rushed to see what it was. A man stood there. Mother opened the verandah door and said, “Yes? May I help you?”
The man said, “You can help if you have a little redheaded girl.”
“I do. What’s wrong?”
“She’s fine, ma’am. But I can’t drive down the road. She’s sitting in the middle of it and there’s a dog there that won’t let me near her. He’s pretty vicious.”
“Oh, that’s Rusty. He’s just guarding her. Okay, I’m on my way.”
We trooped outside and down the street to Ogden. Yep, there was Tu-Tu sitting in the middle of the road, near the intersection of Ogden and Wiley. Rusty was sitting beside her growling.
Mother called, “Jennifer. Come here.” Rusty started to wag his tail. He stood up and walked up to mother. She petted him. “Good dog, Rusty. Jennifer’s safe. Let’s go home.”

Around this time I began hearing ‘just be yourself’ fairly frequently. Whenever I mentioned I was scared to get up in front of the class and make a presentation—for example, one was on Eohippus: The Evolution of Horses. I had written a history of the horse and drawn pictures depicting each stage of its evolution. I was supposed to get up in front of the class and present this material. I told Mother I was nervous. She said, “Just be yourself.” So did Gram and UncaBill. I turned to Tom for support and HE said: “Just be yourself!” I wanted to scream in frustration. What is my ‘self?’ How can I be it, if I don’t know what it is? I sensed this was said to placate me when the adult really didn’t have an answer. Father always said “Why didn’t you get a hundred?” about any of my test scores. So I wasn’t very smart. That was one thing I learned about myself. My hair was the wrong colour and it had to be dyed. It was wrong to be too interested in art, writing and reading (Jackie! Have you got your nose in a book again?!) so I was wrong. I gave this a great deal of thought. What did I want to be? After many nights of deliberation, I decided I wanted to be a great artist and a great horse rider. Don’t be “myself,” be the self I want to be. Then maybe I would become that.
            Easier said than done.

James Bond is on my collar bone, his head half blocking the computer screen. He’s chewing on my Lifeline button and the tab on my robe’s zipper. And purring. It is very difficult to write, but I don’t want to push him away, because this affection is new and I want it to grow. I eased the computer out from under him and prepared to watch Mother’s favourite TV show: Are You Being Served?  It is hilarious. British. All the jokes have a sexual innuendo. The last show I watched had one of the salesmen sing “Chanson d’Amour” with the rest of the cast performing backup: “Rat-te-te-tah-te-dah!” At the end of the show the salesman with the voice came out dressed in tight red satin pants and shirt. He sang with a glorious voice, provocatively swaying his hips. This was a great turn-on. That part of me—a part it took years to develop—now that I’ve got it, never gets old!

UncaBill made winters exciting at 544. He built a big snow slide in the back yard. It was propped against the deck, with snow steps leading up to the high slide. Walk up, slide down the length of the backyard then do it all over again. Neighbourhood kids came to slide. At the base of the slide he flooded the yard with water to create a small skating rink. It was best for tiny children because it was so small.

The next big things in my life were: Moving out to the farm and starting high school.

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