Louise Penny's Latest

Louise Penny's Latest

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Chapter Six. Jackie D'Acre Continues her Memoir.

Copyright Jacqueline D’Acre 2018


Hovering Above Myself
A Memoir

By
Jacqueline D’Acre

Chapter Six

Grade Six was a wonder. So grown-up. For starters we had a male teacher, Mr. Buckley, who was also the principal. We were the highest grade in the school, so we were seniors. Mr. Buckley told us colourful stories about World War I and how he fought in the trenches.
“Boys and girls. You never want to smoke. In the war, it could kill you. German snipers had a bead on our trenches at all times. Sometimes, men got tired and made deadly mistakes. Lighting a cigarette: One match, one cigarette lit, then a second off the same match, and by the time the third soldier leaned in to get a light—Bang! One dead smoker.” Nope. We wouldn’t smoke.
The class admired him intensely even though we were a little afraid of him. He was a hero.
            We studied Canadian history. Again. The most exciting part was tales of the voyageurs, hardy Scots and French Canadians who manned huge canoes. They traded with the natives in the hinterland and up and down the coast of Lake Superior where we now lived. They were part of the North West Fur Trading Company, a Canadian company established to challenge the supremacy of the mighty Hudson’s Bay Company, headed by the British. We found out that that our town, Fort William, was an outpost headquarters of the North West Fur Trading Company, frequently visited by voyageurs. One afternoon, UncaBill said to me,
 “Jackie. I have something for you.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
He handed me a package. I opened it and discovered a book, Buckskin Colonist. Fort William was in it. We were a part of Canadian history and it was as interesting, almost, as American history. They had the unbeatable Wild West and of course, Hollywood, to tell all about it. We didn’t have gunslingers, because we had the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who policed all over western Canada.
            The class had to do an assignment on Canadian history and I chose the voyageurs.  UncaBill helped me make a front and back cover from quarter-inch plywood, hinged together and stained (by me) a rich warm walnut. I also gave it three coats of shellac. I found a scrap of dark brown rabbit fur amongst Gram’s sewing things and begged her for it. She’d used it to make fur collars for the red and green overcoats she sewed for Jeffrey and me. Red for Jeffrey with her blonde hair, and green for me, the redhead. Then again, UncaBill helped me cut out the outline of a beaver, the most common fur traded, and I glued it onto the front cover. Beaver was in great demand not only in Canada and the USA, but also in Europe, for top hats.


Somehow I got my hands on good sketching paper and used it for the pages in my voyageurs class project. I drew and painted scenes of the Northwest which was right outside the window. We saw plenty of it on the long drive to UncaBill’s camp at Ignace on what was becoming the Trans-Canada Highway. At that time, part was pavement but much was dirt road. On that dirt road, busy with construction, the journey took five exhausting, hot, sweaty hours on itchy seats. We often spotted deer, moose, bears and groundhogs on the side of the road. Causes for great excitement.
 Boreal forest stretched for miles on either side of the road. One section was especially dark and gloomy and Jeffrey and I named it ‘Witchwood.’ UncaBill was fond of this title and would call out to us from the front seat: “Are we near Witchwood yet, girls?” and he made “woooooo” sounds, trying to scare us.
Between Witchwoods, normal boreal bush thrived. Poplar, silver birch, moose maple, and the usual jackpine, white pine, red pine, cedar, tamarack, balsam and spruce were the main species of trees. Clearings were boggy with creeks, beaver dams and bulrushes. Amongst the acres of bush, small lakes lapped up to the road’s shoulder. Here and there dun-coloured boulders lay randomly strewn as if casually tossed down by a careless giant—the work of glaciers. Right at the roadside, purple, pink, mauve and white lupin, white yarrow, michelmas daisies—purple-petaled with yellow centers—regular daisies, buttercups, bluebells, black-eyed Susans, orange Indian paintbrushes, wild roses, goldenrod and fireweed, grew. We hated to see goldenrod because it meant the end of summer. This landscape reminded me of boat rides in Jee-Jaa on Lake Agimak with its grey and pink granite, spruce and balsam-topped islands. The granite cliffs of the islands were grooved where, ten thousand years before, glaciers gouged out the lake and this entire landscape of the vast Precambrian Shield that stretched to Quebec and beyond.
As we bumped along we sang songs. We often stopped for a workman holding a sign that said: STOP. Waited for heavy equipment to grind out of the way and for him to show us the reverse of that sign: SLOW. We moved forward. We ate the egg salad sandwiches Mother had made and wondered: “Are we there yet?”
From the front seat: “No! Stop asking.”
Moments later, another childish voice: “I have to pee. Can we please stop?”
UncaBill stopped.
It took forever, but eventually we arrived. But more on camp later. Back to Grade Six.

It was 1953, my tenth year. Another assignment celebrated the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. We decorated the rooms and halls in preparation for this momentous day. I was proud to be a Canadian with a beautiful young queen at the head of our country. 
I was still good at art. Mr. Buckley summoned me to his desk.
“Jackie. I’d like you to paint a mural of the coronation. A long one. Eight feet. Can you do it?” 
“Of course, Mr. Buckley. I’d love to. Thank you.”
What a joy! It would have to have horses in it: Six white horses drawing the gold coronation coach. Black horses ridden by guards in red. I drew the entire mural then supervised the class in the painting of it, sort of like a giant Paint-by-Numbers canvas. In my mind’s eye, I picture it still. The white prancing horses, the gilded coach, the cheering throngs waving Union Jacks. It was hung at the main entrance.

During this time, since the incident when I was seven, my father never touched me. For a while I therefore avoided hovering above myself. When he was touching me, I couldn’t bear to be in my body. I might feel something I didn’t want to feel. Still, I couldn’t let my guard down and, there was Jeffrey, Jennifer and baby Della to watch out for. All of them beautiful girls.
Now Jeffrey and I had twin beds in the basement. When we were scared of the dark—which was every night—we held hands across the space between the beds. In the darkness before sleep came, I often heard heavy, plodding footsteps like my father’s, coming down the stairs. I told myself it was just my imagination. No one was there. Nevertheless, it seemed that the footsteps slowly, slowly moved down the length of the basement, toward my bed. My little black cloud materialized, with its terrible feelings. I squeezed Jeffrey’s hand hard and held my breath. Heavy breathing accompanied the approaching footsteps. I lay there, covers up to my chin, scared even to whisper to Jeffrey. I waited for a long while until I could believe it was nothing. I released Jeffrey’s hand and breathed.
I went through this hallucination? almost every night.
So far there were no signs of him bothering my siblings. Oddly, there were fewer spankings from Mother to me, Jeffrey and Tracy. I never saw her spank Jennifer and Della.
Mother kept me on a strict diet but I never seemed to get thinner. In fact I grew a little belly—discernable fat. It baffled Mother. Of course she didn’t know that at Grampa’s store I was so hungry I ate not only Sally Ann’s but also fudgsicles, Old Dutch barbeque potato chips, and Campbell’s Mushroom soup with cheddar and crackers. I guzzled bottles of Pepsi. Regular Pepsi. There was no such thing as ‘diet.’
I still waited on children at the store but also had graduated to waiting on adults. I served them everything except cheese—which had to be cut from a huge round with a special cheese cutter that Father made. The cheese cutter was constructed of pale blond wood. It was a varnished box with a grooved brass insert in the top. A piece of piano wire was attached at one end of the box. There was a toggle-like handle at the end of this wire. Cheese was placed on the box and the wire laid across it. Grampa pulled down, cutting through the cheese, down into the metal groove. It was tricky because placing the wire incorrectly could mean a piece of cheese that was either too small or too big and the customer might refuse it: A waste of money because a new piece would have to be cut. Grampa was so good he could call the weight exactly: “One quarter pound,” he’d say then he’d put the cheese on the scale and lift his arms ostentatiously like an orchestra conductor, thus proving he wasn’t weighing the cheese with a thumb on it. A big smile. Then he’d read the scale. “One quarter pound, exactly.”
The store was actually a cheese specialty shop. Grampa ordered giant, one-hundred-pound rounds of cheese and put them in the cheese room in the basement to age. The cheddars were Black Diamond, which was orange, and Black Watch, which was a creamy white. He turned the cheeses regularly, then covered them with cheesecloth soaked in apple cider vinegar. This aged them so they’d develop a sharp flavour. Then he’d cut them into manageable pieces and bring them upstairs to the cooler in the store. Besides the cheddars, which he was famous for, there was gorgonzola, Danish Blue, Roquefort, Swiss, wine stilton, goat cheese, limberger and others I can’t remember. Tourists from the States came every summer and placed large orders. They left their addresses in a guest book so Grampa could ship them cheese at Christmas. Once the great heavyweight champion fighter, Jack Dempsey, came in the store and stayed all afternoon, regaling us with stories of his boxing career. After that, each Christmas, he placed a big order.

After a month in the sixth grade, there never was any more talk of putting me back into the fourth grade. I felt relief. I loved Grade Six. Here I met Penny Hollingsworth, who turned out to be my first really close girlfriend. She sat in front of me and we passed notes back and forth constantly. At home, we talked on the phone every night. We couldn’t get enough of each other. I had never experienced anything like it. Such friendship. Then we made plans to go out on Friday nights. We went skating at the Fort William Gardens, roller skating in the summer, ice skating in the winter. Furtively we watched boys as we skated round and round to the organ music. If a boy simply looked in our direction we considered it significant and made it the subject of in-depth speculation. Did this mean he liked one of us? Which one? Did we know him? Was he a junior high, or, (big deal) a real high school student? Soon another boy would casually and probably innocently, glance in our direction, and we’d begin a whole new speculation. Of course, we’d analyzed all the boys in our sixth grade class long ago and had picked out the ones we considered ‘cute.’ (‘Cute’ covered every manifestation of male beauty from body builders to hockey players to boys wearing glasses.) One of the cutest was Bill Crocker who had blonde hair and was pretty tall. Penny and I strolled to the pencil sharpener every time he did. Of course we were too shy to actually speak to him.
After skating, we walked down Victoria Avenue to the Lorna Doone restaurant. It had green walls, floors, and shiny green upholstery in the booths. Chrome trimmed every non-green surface. We always got a booth and we always ordered chips and gravy from the green-clad waitress. I ordered Pepsi. We ate, drank and giggled, then dashed to Penny’s. I had to be there no later than ten o’clock, the time I was supposed to call Mother for a ride home.
After I walked to Penny’s on a Friday night, frequently I found myself alone in the living room so I sat and waited. Then:
“Hello, Jackie!”
“Hi, Mr. Hollingsworth. Are you ready to vote CCF yet?”
Big laugh. “Will you ever vote Liberal?”
“I doubt it. But it’s a long time until I get to vote.”
“You’ll be prepared.”
Our conversations usually analyzed items in the news or what we were studying in school. My father, now president of his union, had just joined the CCF, a socialist political party. We talked about socialism, then liberalism. I picked socialism because it promised free health care. Mr. Hollingsworth and I really liked each other and eagerly, we looked forward to our talks. Then Mother tooted the horn and I’d have to go. It was my first real relationship with a decent man other than our next-door neighbour, Tom Perrons. But Tom saw me as a child. Mr. Hollingsworth saw me as a young lady. And he was always a gentleman, restoring somewhat my faith in the opposite sex.

I use a delivery service extensively. They buy and pick up everything from brunch, to groceries, to an air conditioner. I am quite dependent on them. One of the delivery ladies, Nancy, said,
“You should be in a home.” I was horrified. A home!? That’s my greatest nightmare (next to not having pain medications.)
“Why?” I exclaimed.
“You’d get some care.”
“I have care! Caregivers come twice a day and so do nurses. I do just fine. In a home I’d have to give up my cat, my big screen TV, probably even my laptop—who knows if they have Wi-fi? So I’d no longer be able to write! I may as well be dead!”
She backed down. But it continued to niggle at me. What was there about me that made her think that? Was I acting senile? What?”
As each caregiver came I told them the story hoping for reassurance. They didn’t completely give it. Few believed that a person confined to a wheelchair and a bed could have contentment. One gal said, “In a home you’d get twenty-four-hour a day nursing care.”
“Why do I need nursing care that much?”
“Well, if you fell or had a heart attack…”
I reached under my robe and pulled out the cord with my Lifeline button. I held it up. “If I fall—which I have done, twice, all I do is press this button and an ambulance is here in minutes.”
“Oh.”
But no one said I was acting senile.

I read voraciously. My main interests were horses, dogs, science and mysteries. I went to the library a couple of times a week. It was just a block from Grampa’s store. One day I searched the stacks and I could not find a book I had not already read. All of the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, a series about collies (and how they are supposed to have ears that stand up but the tips bend over—even today when I see a collie I inspect its ears to see if they tip over) and the Nancy Drew mystery stories. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t imagine going without a book to read—I’d go crazy! Finally I approached the young blonde librarian behind the checkout desk.
“Hi. I’ve read every book you’ve got about horses, dogs, science and mysteries. What am I supposed to do?”
“Every book? Are you sure?”
“Yep. Every book.”
“Maybe you missed some. Look at this.” She handed me papers: Lists of horse, dog, science and mystery books. 
I wandered over to a chair and sat down. Carefully I read through the titles. Yep. I had read every book. Despondent, I went back to her and handed over the lists.
“I’ve really read every book.”
She stared hard at me. “How old are you?”
“Ten. Almost eleven.” I stared hard at her. Save me, my look implored.
“Well, there’s only one thing to do. You’ll have to go upstairs to the adult library. I’ll call up there and tell them you’re coming.”
The adult library! What wonders lay before me? I thanked the woman and headed upstairs.
I pulled open a heavy door with a brass handle and went inside. The check-in counter was much higher than in the children’s department. It came up to the level of my nose. I craned my neck back and stared up at the woman behind the counter. She was thin, old and wore gold-rimmed glasses on a chain. Her lipstick, dark red, was applied in two bows above her lipline.  She stared down at me, the overhead lights glinting off her glasses.
“You’re the little girl who’s run out of children’s books to read?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Well, let’s just see what we can find for you that’s suitable.”
Really? Why not something unsuitable? Might be more interesting.
“Follow me.” And she marched out from behind the counter and proceeded down a wide aisle past stacks of books. She turned down one corridor of books and stopped. “Horses?”
“Right. And dogs and mysteries. And science. Also, I like books on Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals.”
She reached up, pulled out a green book and handed it to me. I turned it so I could read the spine. My Friend Flicka.
“Flicka is a horse. Will that do?”
So even adults read horse books. I would have to tell Mother.
“Yes. Just great. Are there any more?”
She helped me find a few more books then guided me back toward the checkout desk. On the way she pointed out which stacks were forbidden to me. What could be in them? And how soon would I be allowed to read them? So much to look forward to! Gleefully, I clutched my adult books to my chest. My world was opening up. There was more to life than Fort William and I was going to discover it. 

Shortly after this I was summoned to the principal’s office. This struck terror in my heart. What had I done wrong? Would I get the strap? 
Mr. Buckley was standing behind his desk when I walked in. He brandished a piece of paper. In his sternest voice he said, “Jackie. Sit down.”
Shaking, I sat. He was angry. 
“Jackie. Now tell me the truth. Where did you plagiarize this from?” And he thrust the paper at me. I could see it was the English composition I’d written for our last assignment.
“Plagiarize? What does that mean?”
He shook the paper at me. He was furious. “Copy! Where did you copy this from?”
“Copy? Mr. Buckley. I didn’t copy it from anywhere. I just wrote it.”
“No child of your age could have ‘just’ written this, Jackie. It’s too good. Now, stop lying.” He banged on the desk with his fist and I jumped. I was shaking all over. Tears gathered in my eyes. I didn’t know what to do.
“I promise, Mr. Buckley. Honest. I didn’t copy it. I’m not lying. I just sat down and wrote it.”
 I started to cry. What would I do if I could no longer just write things as I thought of them?
“I’m calling your mother right now and telling her about your lie.”
“Please, call her. She’ll tell you I’m not lying.”
He picked up the phone, dialed and got Mother on the line.
“Mrs. Cryderman. Sorry to bother you, but I have some bad news. Jackie handed in a composition for English and she has obviously copied it. Now she’s lying about copying it. This is serious—what? You’re coming to the school? Now? Okay. I’ll wait for you.” He hung up the phone. “Jackie. Go back to class. I’ll call you when your mother gets here.”
Shaking, I got off the chair. Wiping at my tears, I slowly walked down empty corridors, back to the classroom.
A while later, Mother arrived. I was called into the principal’s office again. Both Mr. Buckley and Mother were standing, each on different sides of his desk.
“Jackie. Tell your mother what you did.”
“I didn’t copy it, Mother. Honest.”
“Copy what?” said Mother.
“This English composition, Mrs. Cryderman.”
He picked up the paper from his desk and held it out to her. She took it and, after rummaging through her pockets, then her purse, she found and put on her thick-lensed glasses.  She read the paper. She looked up and smiled. “This is good. Very good. But she didn’t copy it, Mr. Buckley. She wrote it last night sitting at the kitchen table. The table was completely bare. No book there she might have been copying from. I was in the kitchen with her grandmother and I watched her write this. All she had was a piece of paper and a pencil. She just wrote it all down.”
“You actually saw her writing it?  Now, Mrs. Cryderman. You wouldn’t just say that to protect your daughter, now would you?”
“Are you now suggesting that I’m lying, Mr. Buckley?”
“Well.”
“How dare you!” Mother was working up into a good rage. It was satisfying to see Mother’s fury directed at another person, and an adult at that.
“Mr. Buckley. Jackie is very smart. Did you know she is now going to the adult library because she has read all the books in the children’s library?”
“She is?”
“Yes. She is. Now she does good work and you want to discredit her. She deserves an A for this composition. I will take this to higher authorities if you don’t give her an A. An A plus.”
Mr. Buckley didn’t like it, but he backtracked. But that wasn’t the end of it. Next year in Grade Seven in Miss Loney’s class I was again accused of plagiarism. And again, in Grade Eight. These three accusations of plagiarism remind me, now, of the old joke: A man is drowning. He calls out to God to save him. A rowboat comes along and the oarsman offers to help the man. But the man says: “No! I am praying for God to help me!” So the rowboat moves on. The man cries out again for God’s help. Along comes a power boat. The boat slows and the occupant says: “Let me help you!” The man answers: “No thanks. I want God’s help.” So the powerboat moves away. The man cries out again for God’s help. Along comes a yacht. It slows and a sailor calls out to the man: “Let us help you!”
 “No, no! I want God’s help!” So the yacht moves away. The man drowns and goes to heaven. He meets God. Immediately he demands: “Why didn’t you help me?  I called and called for Your help.” God replied: “What do you want!  I sent a rowboat, a powerboat, and a yacht! You turned all of them down.”
For years I fretted over whether or not I had any talent for writing. I was in awe of great writers and didn’t dare hope I had even a smidgeon of their talent. Three times I was accused of plagiarism. It never occurred to me that my writing was so good, my talent so evident, that educators could not believe I had written my submissions. Three times they pointed out my gift, even if it was in this negative way, and each time it never occurred to me that this was the Universe’s way of telling me I had some talent. (Much later I read a story about Earnest Hemingway who was approached by a young writer. He asked Hemingway: “What is the criteria necessary to be a great writer?” Hemingway replied: “An unhappy childhood.”) Well, part of the time, I had that.
If only I had believed I had talent. I know I would have begun to write books when I was in my twenties. I guess, though, better late than never.

Here is an outline of the story I wrote in Grade Six. It’s called “The Wish.”
A girl is bullied at school. She fantasizes about having a horse, but it is out of the question. Every day after school, with her copy of Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion in her basket, she rides her bike out of town to an old deserted barn. She sits on a bale of straw in the centre of the barn. A hole in the roof admits a shaft of sunlight and it pours down onto the girl as she sits and reads. She does this day after day and each day she wishes she had a horse, a black stallion. One day she hears rustling. Frightened, she rises and cautiously inspects the stalls that line the sides of the barn. All are empty. Then she opens the last door and there stands a beautiful horse— not black, but a coppery-red colour with black legs and a black mane and tail. Her wish has come true. Here is her horse! She climbs on him and rides to town at a gallop. She passes a milk horse which gets excited and gallops off too, milk bottles falling and splashing white and frothy onto the street. But she doesn’t stop. She arrives at the school yard. Children are playing. She points the horse straight at the fence that surrounds the yard, squeezes his sides and the horse leaps over it into the schoolyard into the midst of the children. The girl spots the bullies and she rides right up to them. The horse snorts, tosses its head. They cower in fear. She yells: “Don’t ever bully me again, or I’ll ride right over you.” Not a peep out of them. Triumphant, she turns the horse and gallops back to the barn.

People don’t like you when you do well. That was a lesson I learned in Grade Six. The kids and even, adults. Mr. Buckley stopped liking me after that session in his office. So I thought I had to choose between doing what I loved doing and doing what people were comfortable with me doing—if I wanted to be liked. I guess I chose doing what I loved doing.

When I was about seven, the root cellar was made into a bedroom for Jeffrey and me. The house was bursting with children and there was no place else to go but down. Gone now the mason jars of ruby beets, golden peaches, green pickles and red strawberry jam. It was also the haunt of spiders—a creature I had a special fondness for—their delicate webs, which if you studied, contained every letter of the alphabet. They were an icon for writers. This, according to a First Nations legend I read about.
 I had always loved being sent to fetch a jar since I got to inhale the earthy smells of this room, dirt floor, dirt walls. This was before UncaBill raised the house and put in cement floors and cement block walls. In place of the pickles and peaches this new room was at the very end of the basement next to the coal bin. The cement floor was covered in grey linoleum, two walls of concrete blocks were white-washed, the wood wall between the bedroom and the coal bin was papered in grey, with trellises of pink cabbage roses. One end was open to the rest of the basement and all the horrors it held at night. It also meant we girls had absolutely no privacy and Grampa and UncaBill frequently came downstairs to add coal to the furnace, so more than once we were embarrassed to be caught undressing. We pleaded for something to be put up to shield us from male eyes, but our pleas were ignored. Surprising, since the family had such a Victorian view of morality.
One good thing was, once the household retired for the night, we could turn on the light and read as late as we wanted and nobody knew. Most mornings I went to school yawning.
Eventually, however, we had to turn out the light. Which meant a quick scurry to the centre of the room, a grab and pull of the chain dangling from the bare bulb. A mad dash across cold linoleum to the safety of bed. As soon as all was in darkness, the furnace turned into a monster. It’s great round torso sprouted fat tentacles of piping that clutched the ceiling. Ghosts hovered around the furnace. Jeffrey and I knew it was Grampa’s long white underwear, but at night in the dark, the hanging underwear looked like headless ghosts. Of course we soon had to go to the bathroom. The bathroom was two flights up: A long trek in the middle of the night through a dark, creaky house. To even attempt this we had to get past the ghosts hanging near the furnace. Not to mention the tentacles of the furnace and, oh yeah, the monster that dwelled beneath the steps.
“I really, really have to go, Jackie,” whispered Jeffrey. “But I am really, really scared.”
“Me, too,” I whispered back. We had to whisper so not to alert the ghosts and the monster. We reached across the gap between the beds and groping around in the dark, found each other’s hands. Then we scooted from our beds and raced past the pale hanging underwear to the drain at the far end of the cellar. There we hiked up our nighties and peed. 
We got the dickens for this from Gram, but we didn’t stop. We did not want to walk up the steps, through the living room, up more steps in the dark till we reached the bathroom—the only one in the house.

I am fussing about my oldest son, Shawn. (Not his real name.) I do this every day. We are estranged. He is somewhere in England working, I think, at a school, and he had a live-in girlfriend the last time we communicated. He cannot forgive me for what I did. But what, really, did I do? His father must have told him something terrible—unforgiveable—about me. Shawn won’t tell me what it is. I tried and tried to explain to him that I did not abandon him. He was kidnapped from me and taken many miles away from me. I just could not afford a lawyer to help me get him back, much as I wanted my baby back. I didn’t have wealthy parents helping me out. Heck, I didn’t have poor parents helping me out. They also, like everyone else, blamed me. My heart has been broken over this for many decades. It may never heal. Shawn, if you read this, please know that I love you.
Now I feel a strange weakness. I have felt it before. It makes it difficult to write. Is thinking about my lost son the reason for the weak feeling? Or is there something else, something physically wrong with me? I have never spoken to my doctor about this. It comes and goes. Usually I just lie quietly and wait it out. The weak feeling dissipates and I am fine once more.
 I have to stop writing now, until this unsettling feeling passes.

As I mentioned, when I was ten in 1953, I got my first Walter Farley book, The Black Stallion. It was the best horse book I had ever read. I began to fantasize each night that I had a black stallion. He would especially be my horse, not anyone else’s. I would ride him everywhere and show him at the Lakehead Exhibition horse show. It would be wonderful.
            I always ended this little fantasy with a great yearning wish: That I would someday get a black stallion.

At that same time, farther south near the small town of Paris, Ontario, a Standardbred mare gave birth to a black colt. He was a born trotter, but he wasn’t a typical Standardbred. He had a long, high-set, arched neck that he carried proudly. It was crowned by small, perky ears. His eyes were dark, intelligent and almond-shaped. As he grew, his mane, tail and forelock grew, until they were flowing and abundant.
 After ages with this fantasy, I finally let it go. There were, realistically, no black stallions in my future.

Each year a popular event was the Winter Carnival. UncaBill and Father grew beards for the beard contest and Grampa’s store was decorated to look like an old fashioned trading post. Father’s beard was a bright red (his hair was blonde), UncaBill’s beard was brown, like his hair.
First, UncaBill brought two eight by four sheets of plywood into the dining room and propped them up for me. I was to do a mural to go across the front of the store, above the big picture windows. I painted voyageurs of the North West Fur Trading Company while humming the song: ‘My Paddle, Clean and Bright/Flashing with Silver…’ I think I used just regular household paint. I drew in (what I hoped was) a majestic canoe in a three-quarter view filled with swarthy voyageurs paddling mightily. The black-green and white-birched boreal forest grew thick on the banks of the river they floated down. In the distance, spruce log uprights defined a fort—Fort William, of course. Several teepees were pitched outside the fort. It was a scene from our city’s past. 
Many years later this mural and the store decoration got me a great job.

In the summer of my tenth year we visited Auntie’s camp again at Lake Sandstone. This time UncaBill was with us and he brought his .22 rifle. At camp, he set up three of bales of straw—two bales on the bottom, one on top—then called: “Jackie. Jeffrey. Move back over there.” He pointed away from the bales. We moved. Then he lay down on the grass and urged us to join him. In great anticipation I flopped down, Jeffrey next to me.  
“I’m going to teach you girls how to shoot.”
He took aim at the straw and pulled the trigger. Pop! He hit a bale.
“Now girls,” and he brandished the rifle, barrel carefully pointed skyward, “This is a .22 rifle used mainly to hunt small game, like rabbits.”
He handed me the rifle and showed me how to hold it against my cheek and shoulder. When I was comfortable, he said: “Now squint and take aim. Okay. Squeeze the trigger.”
I squeezed. Bang! The straw was safe from my onslaught. The first few tries I was way wide of the straw bales. My bullets kept pinging off trees. But this was fun! I kept trying and finally hit a bale. Then UncaBill upped the ante. He positioned several bottles on the bales.
“Now try and hit a bottle, Jackie.”
I shot and shot, then smash! I hit a bottle. I leapt in the air and shouted like a wild woman. After that, most shots, I hit a bottle. I was beginning to understand that things that happen in your childhood affect the kind of grownup you’ll be. How would my father’s actions affect me as a grownup? I vowed not to hate men. I just had to work at it. If I practised diligently, hard things would be mastered. I was so naïve.
And many years later when once again I picked up a rifle, I was grateful to UncaBill.

Also in 1953, I came across a book about a woman in Ireland named Bridey Murphy who, it was thought, had been reincarnated. Reincarnation! What an idea: That a person died and his soul was reborn. And this would happen every time you died. Over and over and over he or she would live again! There was no mention of this at our church. You were born, you lived, you died, never to come back, but hopefully living now with a host of entertaining angels and, of course, God.
            I had heard about God since early childhood and simply accepted that if grownups said there was an entity named ‘God,’ then, there was God. Just like Santa Claus. I couldn’t see how God fit with reincarnation. I just knew the idea excited me terrifically. It meant there was life after death after life, after life. 
            Book in hand I went running through the house to find Gram. I went to Gram on these occasions because she read a lot more than Mother so I figured she would be in the best position to know. I caught up with her, in her yellow print cotton house dress, in the short hall between the kitchen and the dining room. 
“Gram! Have you read this book?”
I thrust the book toward her. She put down her basket of laundry and took it. She examined the cover, then she handed it back.   
“Bridey Murphy. Well, I skimmed through it. None of it’s true.”      
I deflated. Happiness drained away from me like a plastic child’s pool with a rip in it. I drifted away.

I had survived ten.

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