Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


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A random flash of childhood memories

I can’t be more than five or six. Johnny Drake and his sister, and maybe some other kids from the bottom of the hill, came to ask if we wanted to go swimming at Clark’s Pond, or was it Shoal Pond? I knew I wasn’t allowed to go because there weren’t any adults. They were a couple of years older, but still not old enough. I loved swimming, though, so I went. Now I’m hiding, still wet, under my bed in my favourite swimsuit, black on the bottom and white with black alphabet letters scattered around on top. I can hear them calling for me. I know I’ll be in trouble when they find me.

***Click***

I’m maybe 10. I’m sitting in my favourite tree, on my favourite branch. Often I climb trees with my brothers, but today I’m by myself. I like it up here alone.

***Click***

I’m eight. I’m in my white communion dress and veil. My Aunt Tess gives me a gift, which I take in my white-gloved hands. It’s a pretty white rosary and a prayer book.

***Click***

I’m 12. It’s recess, or maybe before school starts. The older boys are picking on Jerry again. They are so mean. They are in a circle and throwing him back and forth between them, laughing. It’s not funny. It’s horrible. There are so many kids around, older mostly because we are in grade 7 and the school goes up to grade 12, but nobody does anything. I watch and then, unable to bear it anymore, I scream, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” They stop. Everyone stops. I don’t normally speak. I’m usually very quiet so this is not normal to them. Or to me. Then one of the boys, Chickie, comes over to me, puts his hand around my collar and roughly pushes back against the cement wall behind me. “You’re lucky your father’s the principal here.” Words come out, but I don’t know what I say. He glares and I’m afraid, but I do my best to try not to look it. After what seems like an eternity, he lets me go and walks away. Jerry is nowhere to be seen.

***Click***

I’m about 11. It’s winter and the school is out for a sledding day on the hill to the north of the field by the school. Charlene and I are on a red Crazy Carpet. Is it mine or is it hers? She’s on the back and the toes of my boots are stuck through the handle. The cold air whips my face as we careen down the hill, gaining air from snow-covered bumps and laughing as only children can, even when we land hard.

***Click***

I was seven. It was Boxing Day. The phone rang early. It was still dark. My Mom was crying. There was a fire in the Goulds, in the Home where Aunt Normie, her youngest sister, lived. She didn’t make it. None of them did. My Mom was sad a lot after that.

***Click***

I was six. We are on our way back from the Goulds to St. Lawrence. We stop in to see Aunt Normie on our way. She gives the wettest, sloppiest kisses, and she laughs and smiles a lot so, even though I complain about the kisses, I don’t mind. She’s a grown up, but she’s more fun that regular grown ups.

***Click***

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***Click***

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So glad I said yes

In 2007 I decided to move from Calgary, Alberta back to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. I sold most of my things and shipped a bunch of what I wanted to keep. The rest was packed into the hatch and back seat of my cute little blue Chevrolet Optra, whom I had named Angel.

When I told my Dad that I was going to be driving across the continent, he threw out the idea of flying up to Calgary to drive back with me.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you that my initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. Well, to Dad I was all “Yeah, that would be great!!” but inside there was a bit of a battle. On the one hand, it would have been nice. But, on the other…

In case you aren’t aware, that trip is over 6,000 km. That’s a long haul. The most time Dad and I had spent together, just the two of us, before then was probably…hmmm… I don’t really know. When I was around 8 he took me with him for about a week when he had to travel for work. I (maybe we?) stayed with one of his sisters so it was really only the travel time that we had together. The drive was about 5 hours, so both ways that was about 10 hours we had for just the two of us. Since I was 8 at the time, I doubt there was much scintillating conversation whereby we learned a lot from each other. Other than that, for the rest of my life, it was maybe only an hour here or there when we spent time alone together.

So the first concern I had was: What on this little green planet are we going to talk about for six thousand kilometres??? That wasn’t a huge concern – both Dad and I have been blessed with the gift of gab, so it wasn’t too likely there would be many moments of silence, certainly not at the beginning. But what about the rest of the trip?

My next and bigger concern was the fact that Dad was a smoker. I mean a chimney. Two packs a day, easy. It was not uncommon for him to light his next cigarette off the one he was just finishing up. Assuming he slept for 8 hours a day, that left 16 hours for smoking. At 20 cigarettes per pack, that is 40 cigarettes per day. 40 cigarettes divided by 16 hours is 2.5 cigarettes per hour. Dad wasn’t a whip-out-the-cigarette-and-have-it-gone-in-two-deep-inhales kinda guy. He enjoyed his cigarettes. But I’m not sure how long each one lasted with him. I knew, though, that it was a while.

Since there would be no smoking in my car, I had visions of having to stop for 10 minutes every half hour the whole way across. We’d either never get there or I’d pitch him into the middle of one of the plentiful endless prairie fields or into one of the Great Lakes along the way. Neither was a very good option.

As such, when he said he would let me know for sure later on, the “I just wanna get home” part of me hoped he’d decide not to come. Of course, there was the other part of me that told me I was selfish and this would be a great chance to spend some time together – my first time as an adult to really get to know him.

I didn’t know which side I wanted to win.

When he still hadn’t made up his mind about two weeks before I was due to leave, I thought I was in the clear. It would be too expensive to get a last-minute flight in August so that would be that. Fair enough.

Then he called a few days later and said he was coming. D’oh. OK…time to switch gears!

In my next post I’ll tell you more about the trip itself. It really was amazing.

But that’s not what’s important for today. The important part for today is that in October 2008 my Dad passed away from lung cancer. I had no idea when we set off from Calgary on August 24, 2007 that this would be the one and only trip Dad and I would ever take, that it would become an absolutely treasured memory.

I’m so glad that I didn’t try to dissuade him. I’m so glad that he decided to come. I often look at the pictures from that trip and feel so very grateful and blessed to have had that time with him. I absolutely cannot imagine a version of my life where I didn’t.

If you have any such opportunities to spend time with people you love, take advantage of them. Enjoy them in the moment and cherish them when they are just memories.

Note: Dad didn’t actually request to stop that often. In fact, there were very few stops just so he could have a cigarette. Most were for potty breaks, gas or for meals. Here are a couple of our break stops.

Dad and Lobby having a snack in Moose Jaw

A quick stop in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The stuffed lobster belonged to a colleague. I kidnapped him so I could take pictures of him along the way.

Dad sipping a cool beverage in New York State

Papa enjoying a sodie pop in upstate New York.

Cape Breton Dad

A smoke break on Cape Breton Island. Beauty of a day!!