From Bad to Worse

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Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

When Chris turns seven or so, I find that Jeff often behaves in a menacing way towards him. I fear the worst – that Jeff will be an abusive parent, since his stepmother abused him. It seems that I am constantly stepping in to prevent that from happening.

Chris, at nine years old, has a temper and a short fuse.
“Just like you,” Jeff tells me.
One evening, Chris has a meltdown in the living room. Jeff walks over and grabs Chris by the ankles. He pulls him from the sofa, onto the carpeted floor. Chris continues to scream and cry. I stand up, and step between Jeff and Chris. I don’t know what Jeff is planning to do, but I have to intervene.
Chris gets up and runs to his room.
Jeff stares at me.
“What do you think you’re doing, dragging him to the floor?”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t touch him!”
“Oh yes you did!”
Jeff shakes his head. He doesn’t realize what he’s done, and that scares me.
One night, Jeff and I have a big fight. I attacked his behaviour when I was in B.C. all those years ago. The argument becomes very heated, and like Chris, I get loud and angry. Jeff reaches out and punches me in the mouth.
I run to the bathroom and see that I have a bloody lip. Not only that, but one of my front teeth, which was very crooked, has moved, so that it is straighter in my mouth. I cry. Jeff goes to bed.
I can’t go to work the next morning. My mouth is swelled. I call in sick and do so for a few days. When I return to work, I am very self conscious, afraid that someone may notice my still slightly fat lip. I try to hide the evidence with carefully placed makeup. No one says anything.

When Jeff is given the opportunity to move to Medicine Hat, to be the partsperson at a heavy truck shop, I encourage him to take the job. We can get out of Calgary and live a better life.
No longer will I “have to” work. That will alleviate some of the stress in my life.
Jeff will go on ahead, and find us a house and work Mondays to Fridays. On Friday night he will come home to Calgary for the weekend.

I will need to drive to work and home again, for a month, until we all move to Medicine Hat, so I need to get my driver’s license. I’ve had a learner’s permit for years. I have trouble learning to parallel park, and when Jeff takes me for the test, I fail only due to that.
I tell him, “I’d be very happy to agree to never try to parallel park, if they’d give me a license for everything else.”
I catch a ride to work that week from a coworker and try for my license again. This time I pass, so I can to drive to work myself. I have my stepdad come out to the garage with me, every morning, as I am afraid someone might be lurking around the building.

I thrive on the receptionist position – I love answering the phones, and being busy, typing up quotes for the various salespeople.
Friday afternoons are usually quiet. I sit at my desk in reception, and have little to do except read a book. I hear a male voice making funny comments while I sit there, and sometimes I giggle. I know this is wrong, but at the same time, it seems perfectly normal, to hear a voice, with no one about.
I continue to deteriorate mentally, but don’t recognize the symptoms.

During the week, in the evenings, I pack, for the move. Mum and my stepdad are packing too.

Jeff leaves on a Sunday night, and he has not been gone for more than perhaps, two minutes, when the phone rings.
I pick up and hear a guttural voice say something. I can’t quite make out the words, but it sound like, “Do you want to f-”?
I am shocked, and slam the phone down. It rings again the next Sunday when Jeff leaves. Again, I answered.
“Do you want to f-?”
I slam down the phone, and he calls right back. Again I hang up.
Now I am angry. I make a call the next day at work to the phone company. They tell me tap the phone receiver with a pencil, and say, “Attention, security. Please trace this call.”
It seems like a dumb idea, but sure enough, the phone rings as soon as Jeff drives away, and I do as instructed.
The caller hangs up and then phones right back.
“What was that?” he demands.
“I was told to do that by security.” I tell him. “It was a stupid idea.”
I hang up.
The next moment, my stepdad enters the room.
I tell him that I’ve had one of those calls again, for I have told mum and him about the harassment.
“That’s funny,” he says. “I didn’t hear the phone ring.”
That announcement spooks me.
Surely I’m not imagining things?

As soon as he leaves, another call comes in. I answer, and I ask the caller if he has a sister.
“Yes,” he says.
I demand to know what he would think, if someone called his sister the way he’s been calling me?
Then he asks me out! I tell him that I am “very married” and “off the market”.

I hang up and don’t get any more calls. If they ever happened at all.

I am glad when the end of the month comes and the big moving truck arrives to haul our belongings to Medicine Hat.
This will be the beginning of a better life. The obscene phone caller will not be able to harass me anymore.

July and August, 1970 excerpt from novel

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Back in Kelowna, the next afternoon, I meet someone who will change my life forever.
Jessie has gone off with some guy as usual, leaving me to sit in the park.
A tall guy approaches me and sits down on the grass near me. He shrugs off the army green backpack and sets it down.
He has brown wavy hair, short, unlike the current long hair style for men, and a mustache. He wears glasses, brown framed ones that have been taped up on the side. I love his smile the minute he introduces himself. I like his accent, which I soon learn is a Kansas drawl. He tells me his name is Brad and that he is just a country boy from Kansas, touring the country. Then he says that as soon as he saw me, he told the friend with whom he was hitch hiking “There’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
That is it. I fall in love. What a suave and debonair way to introduce himself. I am intrigued. This is the first guy to mention marriage to me. If I go with him, I am guaranteed to be safe from potential rape and murder. This guy will take good care of me, I am certain. He seems so open and happy.
Jessie comes back from one of her forays away with some guy, and I see her jealousy for the first time. She glares when I introduce Brad. She takes me aside.
“You don’t know anything about this guy. What are you thinking?”
I could point out to her that she keeps taking off with strange guys all the time, and that the last few nights have been dangerous for both of us, as we spend that time on the beach with boys we have just met, but I don’t. I tried to avoid confrontation as always.
“I’m sorry, Jessie, but I am leaving with Brad.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” she asks.
“You could find work picking fruit,” I say, and I don’t mean it in a nasty way, but that is how she takes it. She watches me and Brad leave.
As evening comes, he and I walk with some other people to an old house, where everyone in the group is going to stay. He takes my hand and I am swept away by his care and concern.

And so I lose my virginity that night. We have sex, and while I’ve read about it in books at my sister Doreen’s, it is nothing like I imagined. As we lay beside each other, I whisper, “That was my first time.”
“It was? Oh, wow.” Brad gives me a hug. He kisses me and promises right then and there that he will marry me. It is my biggest dream come true. We cuddle together in Brad’s sleeping bag and I fall asleep.
In the morning, we walk upstairs to the kitchen and Brad has coffee. I didn’t drink coffee or tea, because it is against my religion.
After that, we hike to the park. We sit with the same group of people, and talk. Brad is outgoing and talks away to some of the others. I admire his easy going manner and wish that I wasn’t so shy.
A few people panhandle on the street, and along the paths in the park. We collect enough money for cheap wine and bread and bologna. Everyone shares in the goods, although I refuse to drink the wine. The girl with the guitar starts to play and we sing along.
We meet up with a guy who sells acid (LSD) and mescaline. He is about my height, and wears an Australian bush hat. He is dressed in a denim vest and shorts. He and Brad get talking and exchange where they are from. It turns out that Duffy is from Hamilton, Ontario, which is my birth place.
We walk the streets of town, panhandling. Who should I run into but Brad – the “first” Brad? He looks at Brad and then back at me.
“Are you still interested in work?” he asks.
“No, not anymore.”
He nods and walks away.
I am not sorry. I don’t feel that I owe Brad anything. And since he too has had sex with Jessie, the thought of working for him is rather distasteful.
I am beginning to really dislike Jessie. Maybe not her, but her promiscuity.
Later in the day, we walk across the floating bridge, and up into the hills. The stars are bright above us. Someone wants to start a campfire, but they are prevented by cooler heads, as it is pointed out that not only might the cops see the fire and come to investigate, but it is too dry on the hillside for a fire. People form small groups, and talk. Brad and I are joined by a few others, and Brad chatters away while I hang back, quiet and shy. There is a discussion about the rattlesnakes that lurk in the hills, which scares me. I am too young, though, to worry about the danger. Nothing bad will happen to us.
There are falling stars, from the Perseid’s shower, which occurs every year in early August. We watch the show in awe, voices dropping off as the stars fall. Brad scores some weed, and he smokes it. He offers it to me, and I tried it, just a little. My conscience bothers me, but his urging wins out. It is kind of alright. It makes me feel relaxed. No more anxiety that night.
Long after the voices quiet and people fall asleep, Brad and I have sex. This time I really enjoy it. Brad is a thoughtful and caring lover. As I fall asleep, I wonder at my good luck in the two of us finding each other.
We spend a couple of days like this, in the park in the sunshine, music and panhandling and night time in the hills.
We meet Rob, Dustin and Gary, three guys who are from Red Deer. We comment on how small the world is, when I say I am from Lacombe.
Brad said, “I think we should move on. I’d like to see more of Canada. Will you come with me?” he asks, his head turned a bit towards me, long eyelashes half hiding his brown eyes. There are crinkles at the corners of his eyes as he grins at me, dimples prominent.
“Of course I will,” I say. Whatever else would I have chosen to do? This boy has rescued me from danger – spending the nights with strangers all alone and vulnerable – and he talks of marriage, just as I have hoped someone would. I have found my perfect man. I love his jokes and his general sense of humor. He says he loves my Canadian accent. He and I gather up my belongings, and he puts them into his large army green backpack. I leave my empty suitcase abandoned in the Kelowna park.

The morning is bright and it is already getting hot. We walk out to the highway and stick out our thumbs.
We are picked up by an older white haired man who drives a dark blue Ford pickup truck. It reads, “Handeler’s Orchard” on the cab door. He waits while we pile in and then says, as he starts to drive again, “So where are you two headed this morning?”
“As far as we can go I guess,” says Brad.
The elderly man says, “I envy you two. What a world we live in today. I’d sure have liked to just up and take off like that when I was younger. No job, no responsibilities, just the open road.”
Brad grins over at the man.
“Sure enough, that’s how it is for us.”
“Say, what kinda accent is that you’ve got?”
“I’m a country boy from Kansas, USA.”
“Kansas, eh?”
“Yup. Where the corn and wheat and sunflowers grow tall and yellow in the sunshine.”
The old man smiles.
“You a draft dodger?”
“Nope. I was honorably discharged, sir.”
The old man nods, pleased by this answer.
The truck travels smoothly along the winding paved roadway of Highway 97, running past the lake, blue as a sapphire in the hot sunshine, and past orchards and houses and small shops. There are fruit stands, some not open yet, as the main harvest would not be for a couple of weeks. At last, the man says this was as far as he can take us, and he pulls over to the shoulder of the road. He points off towards the gravel road that leads to the west and tells us, “That’s where my orchard is at. Out that way. If you two ever decide you want a job picking fruit, I’ll sure give you a chance.”
With that, he is gone up the road and we hold out our thumbs again. The next ride is in a Duster, driven by a younger guy who takes us as far as Vernon, the next largish city north of Kelowna. As Brad and I walk along the street, the sun beats down. I am thirsty. We panhandle, stopping strangers with “Excuse me, do you have any spare change?” And I, more fortunate than Brad, collect enough for a soda for each of us in short order.
This boosts my confidence! I find talking to strangers and begging is not so scary after all!
We come out of the air conditioned corner store and meet a couple of guys, in blue jeans and t-shirts, who tell us, “There’s a youth hostel over at the church on Porter Street. They offer a place to sleep and a breakfast in the mornings.”
“Hey, thanks, man,” says Brad.
We make our way to Porter Street and I admire the small church which is painted a sandstone color, with brown trim. The building attached is about the size of a modest bungalow, and a big sign on the door states that it is a shelter for transients. I can’t believe our luck.
Brad says, “This is a good place to stay. Let’s go in and see if we can get out of the hot sun.”
By this time, it is late afternoon, and the priest who runs the shelter meets us at the door. He wears a collar that indicates his calling. He has a bald head and a big smile as we enter. The room is large, with a doorway leading, we would soon learn, to a kitchen. Down the hallway are rooms for couples, and for women and men respectively.
After Brad and he chat, he takes us to the couples’ room and Brad and I set out the sleeping bag. Brad takes off his back pack and sets it beside the sleeping bag. He shifted his shoulders.
“I’m glad to be rid of that burden,” he tells me. “The weight hurts my back.”
He brings out his map of Canada, and then his US map. Unfolding them both, he points out the little town where he is from, in Kansas, and then we pour over the Canadian map, and plan our route for the next day. As it turns out, we would not leave the following day after all. But that is because we meet a nice couple that evening, and get to talking. The couple, Maxine, age fourteen, and her boyfriend Keith, twenty, have come to B.C. from Alberta. She’s run away with him and her parents don’t know where she is. Along with the rest of the people who amble in by evening, we talk and laugh and have a good time. Maxine is little, short, with long brown hair and brown eyes. Keith is tall and has black hair and his eyes are aqua blue. I have never seen anyone before or since who has such eyes as his.
When it is time for bed, Brad leads me to the couples’ room. We are off to one side, while Maxine and Keith are over on the other. Brad and I lay awake talking softly for a while, and then we make love. I fall asleep with his arms wrapped around me. I notice that Brad sleeps with his glasses on, which I think is a little strange. “I can’t see very well without them. If I keep them on, nobody can sneak up to me,” he says, the next morning when I ask him about it.
It seems an odd thing to say, but what do I know? After all, we are sharing a house with a group of strangers, so maybe Brad is more sensible about the danger than I.
While hostels originated in Europe years before, for the traveler, the youth hostels in Canada are based on the same idea, but for those hitch hikers – hippies – that have a transient lifestyle. There is a network throughout the country, and this hostel in Vernon would be the first of several where we stayed.
It is a pleasant oasis after the heat in summer or cold in winter of being on the road. There is usually some food, and while there were rarely beds, the floor provides ample room for an unrolled sleeping bag.
Brad tells me that he is going to “liberate” me. He will change my old fashioned ideas and ways and make me a free person. I don’t question this. I don’t wonder what he has in mind, or why he wants to take this job on. I don’t stop to wonder why he feels the need to change me. And do I really need changing?
The morning brings toast for breakfast, and coffee for the coffee drinkers. I don’t drink coffee. It is against Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. We leave the shelter and along with Maxine and Keith and few others, we roam the streets. We panhandle enough money to go to the little corner store near the hostel, and buy bologna and bread for sandwiches, which everyone shares. I overcome my initial misgivings about eating meat, and wolf down my share. The food is delicious.

Writing Excerpt: Arriving in Alberta: 1964

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We arrive in southern Alberta after four days on the train. We spend all the nights “sleeping” on the train seats, but learn from the man who hired mum that the sleeping car was included in the price he paid!
The rain comes down in buckets as we alight at the train station in Brooks. A little man wearing cowboy boots, hat, western shirt and jeans approaches us. After introductions are made, and we collect our baggage, we climb into the blue pickup truck the man drives and we are off. The ranch is a few miles out of town. There is a modest one bedroom house, and a shack and lean to as well as barns and corrals where a herd of horses stand. He leads us into the house and shows us the room which is ours. I am to share the double bed with mum. The rancher explains that he will sleep out in the shack. I have time to wonder where he will sleep in winter, but don’t say anything. I am still very shy.
That day, mum unpacks our things, and then she makes supper. It consists of canned yams, meat and cherry pie. We soon learn that this rancher eats only canned yams and cherry pie – for every supper. Mum and I soon grow tired of this fare.
The next day, the rancher shows me his older mare, suitable for riding for a young person with no experience. I am overjoyed. I am able to ride this horse out in the fields and can’t believe how lucky I am to have this dream become reality.
Later, I meet the rancher’s young niece. She rides a pinto horse over from her home, and we go riding together.
One day, as we canter across the field, my horse rears up and I fall off. I hurt my shoulder, and it bothers me for some time after.
One hot sunny afternoon – it seems that southern Alberta is always hot and sunny – so different from the rainy day on our arrival – I tag along with the rancher when he delivers a horse to another ranch. There are a lot of cowboys milling around when we pull up in the rancher’s truck.
These are not the “rhinestone cowboys” of Hollywood, or those Calgarians who don blue jeans during Stampede week in July. These are real cowboys. Blue jeans, cowboy boots and cowboy hats, worn, not for effect, but because of the hot sun. Weathered faces and some, like the rancher with bowed legs from growing up riding horses all their lives.
In the evenings, I read the Western Horsemen magazines to which the rancher subscribes, and there is the popular prairie weekly newspaper, The Western Producer. They have a kids’ page, and I submit a poem which they publish.
This first published work excites me. I am just eleven years old, and about to enter sixth grade. I wonder if perhaps I could be a writer? The thought has never occurred to me before. I’ve had thoughts of becoming a teacher like my big sister, but writing is something that might be even better!
Mum finds the Seventhday Adventist church and pastor in the phone book, and we attend church a few times. Members of the church invite us to Sabbath dinner a couple of times, and Mum complains to me, that there was meat on the table! SDA’s don’t eat meat, she said. I learn eventually that there were a lot of differences in beliefs between the SDA people in Ontario and in Alberta.
One Saturday morning, she tells me that we aren’t going to go to church that day. Well, we stay in the bedroom and when the minister comes to the house, he and the rancher knock on the door. Mum will not answer. I am embarrassed that we are hiding. Why is mum doing this? Still, she calls through the closed door, at last, and tells the pastor she is not going to church. From the sounds, we know that they have left the house, and I hear the minister’s car start up. We stay in that room all day, and mum doesn’t open the door until after sundown, when the Sabbath is over.
The rancher tries to ask her about this behaviour but she ignores him.
My mum contacts her sister, Lena, in Calgary and she and her boyfriend come down to bring us back to Calgary to live. Mum plans to get on welfare, as she has found the everyday work as a housekeeper is more than she could handle. The day arrives, and mum hasn’t told the rancher that she is leaving. He is quite angry. We have only lived on the ranch for the summer, and I am sure that he doesn’t believe he’s got the money he’s paid for our train tickets back yet.
Nothing will change my mum’s mind though, once she reaches a decision. We leave that afternoon, crammed into the car. First, we stay with my mum’s sister. Lena is a bit rowdy. She smokes, drinks, gambles on the horses and has a great sense of humor. She wears a lot of makeup and jewellery and she dyes her hair. She is the complete antithesis to my mother.
One evening, a young fellow arrives at Lena’s. She introduces his as one of my cousins. He is very handsome I think to myself. We all sit down and have a game of Scrabble. Mum will play this game, and let me play it despite her religious beliefs. The cousin tries to make words but is a terrible speller. When I correct him he teases me.
The game finished, Lena brings out cards and shows us how to play “Hearts”. I don’t remember if Mum allowed me to play, or if she played or not. Cards are forbidden to SDA’s.
Mum and I go downtown to apply for welfare and are given vouchers for food, and to pay for an apartment. She finds a seedy little place right in the downtown, across a river in an older part of town. The school I will attend is across that river, so everyday I have to cross the bridge to reach the school. I don’t settle in very well. By this time, I believe the constant changing of places to live and of schools has taken its toll. I don’t remember much about the class, although I do remember this. I walk home one day, to have the boy in the next apartment stop me.
“D-do you want to listen to some records?” he asks.
The poor kid! I bustle away, blurting, “No!” as I run to my door.
I tell Mum and she says that I am way too young to be around a boy. In later years, I pity that boy and tell myself that I was rude. I was embarrassed whenever I thought about my reaction. The poor kid. I probably scarred him for life. Gets up the nerve to ask a girl to listen to records, and she bolts!
From the seedy apartment, which my older sister, Doreen, calls a slum, we move to an older, two storey house that has been converted into apartments. We will live next to her, in a bright little second story apartment. She lives just next door and it should be a cozy ending to our nomadic life. That is not to be. My mum resents Doreen, as Doreen is free with her advice and guidance, which mum calls “bossiness.”
We are now in a nicer neighbourhood. The elementary school is not far off.
I settle in at the new school. For the first time in my life, there is a girl in my class who is taller than me! Freida and I become fast friends. We take turns having our lunch at her place or at mine. She is funny and kind. At recess, I am included in ball games, and I am happy. I belong, at last. I like the teacher. He is the first male teacher I’ve had, except for a short stint in the small Ontario town, with a military minded teacher who, on dismissal, commanded, “Stand, turn, forward,” as though we were soldiers. This teacher is nice.
Despite the new friendship and my happiness with this new school, I am still very shy. I leave my slip on black shoes under my desk at the end of the school day, and when class starts the next morning, I am mortified to see that my shoes are on the teacher’s desk! I cringe, when he asks, “Whose shoes?” I don’t answer. He asks again, then picks them up and holds them above the wastebasket next to his desk.
“Going, going, gone!” He waits a moment, then drops them into the trash.
I tell myself that the shoes didn’t fit right, anyway, which is true. They were a bit big. Still, I am ashamed of my paralyzing shyness.
Mum makes plans, and we are on our way, in a moving truck, to live in central Alberta, in the town where her other sister lives, as well as her dad, my grandfather. True to past behavior, she doesn’t tell my sister Doreen that we are moving. Doreen will come home after school to find us gone. It is a cold winter day with snow on the ground and a sky of pink and gray. I want to move and yet I don’t. I find my sister overbearing at times and yet I am going to miss her. I like the fact that she promised me a small allowance, and told me that I would be responsible for my saving and spending. That is all gone now. The future is unknown. How I would miss my friend Freida.

Lunch For Two

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

I make my way down the tree lined street. It is early in the season, and the leaves won’t be fully out on the maples until later in the month. The houses are crammed onto small lots in the neighborhood. Mostly postwar houses, with the odd infill standing out as though young interlopers. My destination is about halfway down the block.
I like the little house. It is red brick, with a green door and green shingles.
I ring the doorbell and wait. At last the door opens.
“Well, Judith, so you came after all.”
“Of course,” I say. “You wanted me to come to lunch, I’ve come to lunch.”
Mary steps back so that I can enter. The hallway is bright, with maple hardwood and yellow walls. She takes my jacket and hangs it on the coat rack. I remove my sensible oxfords and pad after Mary. She leads me to the dining table, already set with the rose china she loves so much. It was a wedding gift all those years ago.
She motions to one of the six oak chairs and I sit down.
“So just wait there, and I’ll bring out our meal,” she commands.
“Is there anything I can help you with?’
“No,” she calls, already in the kitchen.
She returns with a tray and sets out the contents on the table in front of me and to the left.
She sits down there, and I look over the plates and bowls.
“I made chicken soup this morning,” she says, gesturing at the bowls.
“Oh, Mary, such a lot of work!” I say as I pick up my soup spoon.
Mary waves her hand.
“Does me good, having someone to cook for,” she says.
She sobers and gazes at me, spoon halfway to her mouth.
“I still miss Albert,” she confesses.
Impulsively, I reach over and pat her free hand.
“Of course you do, and you will for a long, long time. It’s only natural.”
“It seems like just yesterday that we were getting married. The years just went so fast!”
“They do, at that,” I reply, thinking of my own losses. “But we carry on, don’t we Mary?”
“Yes, I suppose so. Here, try the biscuits I made.”
I take one, cut it in half and butter it. It is good. Mary’s cooking is always good.
Too bad that Albert didn’t appreciate her more.

The soup is hot and with lots of noodles, just the way I like it. Mary knows this. She frequently makes foods I like, and invites me to eat with her.

“So, how is the traffic around City Hall? You would have come by there on the bus today from your place.”
“Mary, it was crazy. I saw a crowd of people all carrying signs and causing general confusion.”
“Well, I guess I’m not surprised. How he got away with it for so long, I’ll never know.”
I laugh and nod my head.
“And the way the reporter dropped that scandalous behavior of his, on TV that night.
I was shocked, and I bet others were, too.”
“I still can’t figure out, how a mayor – such a prominent position and all – could hide a second wife and all that it entails, while living in Port Helena.”
“Mary, I can’t either. The man must have been a very good actor.”
“And a liar,” observes Mary, as she picks up her biscuit and takes a bite.
“I feel bad for the women. To think that he fooled them all that time!”
“At least there weren’t any children involved. Thank heavens for that!”
“Small mercies,” I say.

We finish our meal, and I help Mary, despite her protests, to clear the table.
After we load up the dishwasher, we prepare for our afternoon walk. It isn’t a long way, that we go, just enough to keep us in shape, I always tell her.

When we return, having chatted with Mary’s next door neighbour, another widow lady, who has a love of gardening, and insists that we both take some strawberry preserves before we depart, we have tea.
“Judith, I have something to tell you,” Mary says. She sets down her teacup and turns to face me, where I sit on the sofa, across from her chair.

“Sounds serious,” I say, taking a sip of my tea, which has finally cooled enough to drink.

“Well, I suppose it is. Judith, Albert was not all everyone thought he was, either.”
“No?” I won’t say anything, not yet. I must wait to hear what she has to say first.
Mary takes a deep breath, and then she says, “After Albert died, I found proof that he
cheated on me, over one summer, years ago.”
“How did you find that out?” I ask.
“Well, he had some motel receipts, hidden in his dresser, behind his socks.”
“There could be some other reason -”
“No, Judith. I recognized the dates when he paid for the room. You see, that summer, he began to act strangely, and I made notes in my journal. It was all there, when I checked the dates of the receipts. He would dress up and leave the house, claiming to be headed to Stan’s to work on that old antique car of his. But I knew better. I just didn’t say anything.”
“Why did you keep silent, if you were so sure? Why not accuse him?”
“I couldn’t. It was within months after we lost Jonas, and I was grieving still. I couldn’t face losing Albert, too.”
I sigh and get up. I walk over to Mary, and lean down and give her a hug.
“I am so sorry, Mary. It must have been hard for you. Why didn’t you talk to me?”
“Same thing. I was afraid I might lose him, that you might say something to him. You’ve always been so protective of me!”
I smile and sit back down.
“What can you do about it now?”
“Not a thing. Just try and accept it, I suppose.”
“Well, you have me if you need to talk about it more.”
“I know. I’m lucky to have such a good friend.”

I leave Mary’s shortly after her disclosure, and catch the bus home. The protestors are nowhere in sight, as the bus passes City Hall. It is getting cloudy, and I think that we are going to have rain soon. No matter. I will be home before it starts.
I walk up to my apartment and let myself in.
I kick off my shoes, and go into the bedroom. I open my jewellery cabinet and then open the little drawer along the bottom. I bring out a photo and look at it. It was taken a long time ago, in Stouffville, the next town from Port Helena.
It is a picture of a man with a mustache, dressed in a blue shirt with a corduroy jacket visible in the shot. Beside him, is a woman who is me. I always thought Albert looked especially nice in blue.
I put the picture away again.
I decide that I will order in for dinner. Pizza, I think.

 

On the Bus Again

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I live in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario. I’ve been here ever since my husband died, nearly ten years ago. I can’t say that I like to be a widow, but I do like my single hood. I suppose I’ve grown more and more independent, and yes, even set in my ways.
I take the bus into the larger city to the west about once a week. Sometimes I have a reason to travel, say, for a doctor’s appointment or to shop the sales. More often, I have no excuse to ride, except to observe, and occasionally meet people.
I enjoy studying people on the bus. I go home and write about them. Haven’t published anything yet, but who knows? It can still happen, even though I’m seventy-three and getting older by the minute, it seems.
The fellow with the pink hair band! Now that was a character. I quite liked talking with him.
Yesterday I rode the bus again. There was a young lady, about twenty, sitting in the first seat, across from the bus driver, and close to the window. She seemed to shrink against the seat, and she didn’t look out the window as I approached. She stared straight ahead,
as I settled down beside her.
She had short hair, cut at an angle on one side, so that it hid part of her face. The other side was shaved. It was black and a bright auburn on the ends. Rather pretty, I thought, and I found myself wishing, not for the first time, that I was younger, so that I, too, might
experiment with bright hair colours.
She shifted away even more, if that were possible, as I sat down.
I set my white leather purse down on the floor in front of me, and leaned back in the soft blue cushion of the seat.
The girl coughed, bringing up her arm so that she wouldn’t spread germs. I liked that. It showed that she had some manners. A rare thing these days.
As the bus lurched forward, and several people stood to be ready for the next stop, I
leaned toward the girl and said, “My name is Sonya. I haven’t seen you on this bus before.”
The girl turned to stare at me. Her wide mouth worked a bit, before she replied, “I just moved here from up north.” She had large grey eyes, an unusual smoky colour that made her hair colour choice fitting.
“Oh, then you won’t have got used to the crowds yet, then.”
“No – no not yet.”
“Do you live in  P—-?” I asked, naming the town where I live.
“Yes, I do. On Dorcas Street.”
“Oh, that is a lovely area. You must have an apartment then.” I know the town well enough to picture the shady tree lined street and the old brick houses that have been converted into apartments.
“Yes, I have a bedsit. But it’s large enough for me.”
“Of course, dear.”
We rode in companionable silence for a couple of minutes. The young lady was no longer leaning so hard into the window side.
“I might get a cat,” she said, all at once.
“Oh, that would be nice. There’s always a cat needs a home.”
“Yes, and I won’t get a kitten, but a full grown cat. Like you said, cats need a home.”
“Good for you. And what is your name, dear?”
“Michaela.”
“What a lovely name.”
“Except no one pronounces it right or spells it properly, you know.”
“I am sorry to hear that, Michaela,” I said, careful to say it right.
“And I got sick of my boyfriend back home always calling me ” Michael.””
“And no wonder. That would be less than respectful, if you didn’t wish to be called that.”
“Exactly, which is part of the reason that I moved down south. Just to get away, from him and from my family too.”
The riders who had stood up moved forward to the doors as the bus pulled up to the next stop. They left and a few more people got on. The bus pulled away from the curb.
I noticed that Michaela studied each person as they moved to find seats. She looked from under her side swept hair, head down and not looking directly at anyone.
“Are you afraid about something that happened before you left?”
She looked at me, her mouth a little “o” of surprise.
“Well, yes, I am worried that they’ll find me and make me come home.  I had to get away before something worse happened.”
This last statement piqued my interest. I realized that I must be careful how I broached this subject.
“Then things didn’t go well between the two of you?”
“Not at all. We had a big fight when I told him I needed some time away. He got mad.”
“Oh, my. I do hope it didn’t get physical.”
The bus lurched as it pulled onto the highway. It wouldn’t be long until it arrived in P—-.
She glanced at me, through her hair.
“Well, it did, sort of. I – I had to defend myself. And I did, ” she went on. The words came then, in a torrent.
“I was at  home. Mum and Dad were out in the barn, tending to the dairy cows. He came into the house, and started to argue. I ran into the kitchen, just to get away from him. And he wouldn’t stop talking to me. He yelled at me.”
She hesitated a moment.
“I hate it when people yell. I wanted him to stop. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I just wanted him to be quiet. To go away.”
I nodded, and Michaela said, “I grabbed the knife on the counter. I’d been planning to make a sandwich when he walked in.
“I tried to make him be quiet. Mum and Dad came in then, and told me I had to get away, real quick. They took care of everything, you know. “
I patted the girl’s hand where it lay, clenched in her lap.
“And so you came south,” I said.
“Yes, and I’m never going back there, ever!”
She looked at me, with those smoky grey eyes. No tears, only clarity.
“Well, this is my stop, ” I said, as the bus slowed and pulled in. “You carry on and make a life for yourself here, ” I told her.
She smiled at me then, as I picked up my purse and got to my feet.
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for listening.”
I smiled and left the bus.
As I walked down the street, I pondered the conversation.
How little we know of others and their troubles, their plans and their secrets.

Something New

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Hello there. It has been quite some time since I posted here. There have been a number of reasons why not.

The main one is that, while I intended to share a couple of chapters of my life story, it has been more difficult to write than I expected. That isn’t to say that I’ve given up on it by any means.

It is just that I need time to mull over the contents of the story. There is sex, drugs and a bit of rock and roll and in writing such, it has brought up many memories, some sweet, some good, and some that tear at my heart. With time, and thought, I plan to write it. Just not as quickly as I originally planned.

In the meantime, here is a previously published short narrative.

A friend mentioned that she would like to learn more about the lady in the passage. To begin, here is the introduction to the character and her meeting with a fellow bus passenger.

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The Bus

When he boarded the bus I had to move my feet out of the way as he pushed by me to sit in the window seat.

The first thing I noticed was the odor – a mixture of sweat, old socks and a hint of raw meat gone bad. He was too large for the seat I thought.

He wore an army fatigue shirt, unbuttoned and over a black sweater. His blue jeans, past the point of fashionable, had tears at the knees and along one side. His long greying hair, pulled back into a pony tail, was caught with a bright pink hair clip. Where had this hair clip come from?

As though reading my mind he turned from looking out the window and said, “I got it from me little sister.”

Oh, I see,” I said carefully looking around and trying not to stare at him.

He shifted in the too small seat and held out his arms in front of his body. He had big hands, with calluses and a scar on the left hand, that ran from thumb to wrist.

She died,” he said. He looked at me and his brown eyes filled with tears.

I am sorry to hear that. It must have been hard on you to lose her.”

Why did so many people feel they could unburden themselves to me? Perfect strangers often accosted me on this bus route or when I sat in the park. I supposed I was the stereotypical old lady. White hair, pink jacket and white sandals. I looked the part of a respectable senior.

Oh no. I expected it. But then I expected me Ma and me Father to die and they did too.”

He shifted in his seat to look at me straight on. I noticed there was a deep wrinkle, an old scar perhaps, running across his forehead, above his bushy grey brown eyebrows.

How had he gotten the scars? It seemed rude to ask.

As before it was as if he knew what I was thinking.

He held up his left hand and pointed at the scar with his right.

I got this when I was in a fight with my old man.” He closed his eyes for a moment then opened them and looked at me. “I got the better of him though. Last time he ever hit me.”

I waited not sure what to say.

He went on pointing now to the line on his forehead.

This here, that’s from me Mum. She fought almost as hard as me Pa did.”

He grinned at me and shook his head, his pony tail swinging back and forth.

Didn’t do her any good though. Got the same as me old man she did.”

I see. And then what happened?” I was curious and not a little frightened to hear the answer.

They came and took me away. Been nearly twenty years. They let me out a couple of years back and I’ve roamed about the streets every since. Sometimes I meet up with somebody and I tell ‘em the story. Just so they won’t forget me.” He peered at me. “You won’t will you? Forget me I mean?”

No of course not.” I shook my head and began to tremble when I saw that he was moving to stand up.

This here’s me stop. I gotta go now. Take care ma’am.”

He made a sort of salute as he pushed past me. He walked down the aisle to the exit door. I watched him leave the bus and walk down the street. I would not soon forget, oh no.

More to come….

Part Two – Story Excerpt

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Photo by Philipp Reiner on Unsplash

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This is the second chapter of my autobiography.

I must make the disclaimer that all names have been changed to protect the identities of people involved.

The facts are only as I remember them, and may not be completely accurate.

The events in this chapter occurred between 1964 and 1966.

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We arrived in southern Alberta after four days on the train. We spent all those days “sleeping” on the trains seats, but learned from the man who had hired mum that the sleeping car had been included in the price he paid! The rain came down in buckets as we alighted. A short little man wearing cowboy boots, hat and jeans approached us. After introductions were made, and we collected our baggage, we climbed into the blue pickup truck the man drove and we were off. The ranch was a few miles out of town. There was a modest one bedroom house, and a shack and lean to as well as barns and corrals where a herd of horses stood. He led us into the house and showed us the room which would be ours – I was to share the double bed with mum. The rancher explained that he would be sleeping out in the shack. I had time to wonder where he would sleep in winter, but didn’t say anything. I was still very shy.
That day, mum unpacked our things, and then she made supper. It consisted of canned yams, meat and a cherry pie. We would learn that this rancher ate only canned yams and cherry pie – for every supper. Mum would soon grow tired of this fare as would I.
The next day, the rancher showed me his older mare, suitable for riding for a young person with no experience. I was overjoyed. I was able to ride this horse out in the fields and couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have this dream become reality.
Later, I would meet the rancher’s young niece. She rode a pinto horse over from her home, and we would go riding together.
One day, as we cantered across the field, my horse reared up and I fell off. I hurt my shoulder, and it bothered me for some time after.
Sometimes I would read the Western Horsemen magazines to which the rancher subscribed, and there was the popular prairie weekly newspaper, The Western Producer. They had a kids’ page, and I submitted a poem which they published. I was so excited!

This first published work excited me. I was just eleven years old, and about to enter sixth grade. I wondered if perhaps I could be a writer? The thought had never occurred to me before. I’d had thoughts of becoming a teacher like my big sister, but writing was something that could be even better!
My mum contacted her sister, Lena, in Calgary and she and her boyfriend came down to bring us back to Calgary to live. Mum planned to get on welfare, as she had found the everyday work as a housekeeper more than she could handle. The day arrived, and mum hadn’t told the rancher that she was leaving. He was quite angry. We had only lived on the ranch for the summer, and I am sure that he didn’t believe he’d got the money he’d paid for our train tickets back yet.
Nothing would change my mum’s mind though, once she reached a decision. We left that afternoon, crammed into the car. We first went to stay with my mum’s sister. Lena was a bit rowdy. She smoked, drank, gambled on the horses and had a great sense of humor. She wore a lot of makeup and jewellery and she dyed her hair. She was the complete antithesis to my mother.

Mum soon got an apartment, a seedy little place right in the downtown, across a river from the older part of town. The school I would attend was across that river, so everyday I had to cross the bridge to reach the school. I didn’t settle in very well. By this time, I believe the constant changing of places to live and of schools had taken its toll. I don’t remember much about the class, although I do remember this. I walked home one day, to have the boy in the next apartment stop me.
“D-do you want to listen to some records?” he asked.
The poor kid! I bustled away, blurting, “No!” as I ran to my door.
I told my mum and she said that I was way too young to be around a boy. In later years, I pitied that boy and told myself that I had been rude. I was embarrassed whenever I thought about my reaction. The poor kid. I probably scarred him for life. Got up the nerve to ask a girl to listen to records, and she bolted.
From the seedy apartment, which my older sister, Doreen, called a slum, we moved to live next to her, in a bright little second story apartment. She lived just next door and it should have been a cozy ending to our nomadic life. That was not to be. My mum resented Doreen, as Doreen was free with her advice and guidance, which mum called “bossiness.”
I settled in at the new school. For the first time in my life, there was a girl in my class who was taller than me! Freida and I became fast friends. We took turns having our lunch at her place or at mine. She was funny and kind. At recess, I was included in ball games, and I was happy. I belonged, at last. I liked the teacher. He was the first male teacher I’d had, except for a short stint in the small Ontario town, with a military minded teacher who, on dismissal, had us, “Stand, turn, forward,” as though we were soldiers. This teacher was nice.
Mum made plans, and we were then on our way, in a moving truck, to live in central Alberta, in the town where her other sister lived, as well as her dad, my grandfather. True to past behavior, she didn’t tell my sister Doreen that we were moving. Doreen would have come home after school to find us gone. It was a cold winter day with snow on the ground and a sky of pink and grey. I wanted to move and yet I didn’t. I found my sister overbearing at times and yet I was going to miss her. I liked the fact that she had promised me a small allowance, and that I would be responsible for my saving and spending. That was all gone now. The future was unknown. How I would miss my friend Freida.
We arrived in the small town of Sylvan Lake and the mover took our belongings to a cabin which was made up of a large kitchen/living room and two bedrooms. It was bitterly cold. During our winter stay I would always be cold. The cabin was heated by a wood/coal cook stove. I would wake up in the mornings to a warm fire that mum had started in the stove, but the rooms were always chilled.
I started school. The building was huge. It was designed for all grade levels from kindergarten through grade twelve. It was a small town, but all the country kids were bussed there, so there was a huge student population. From the first day, I was intimidated by the sheer size of the school, and the noise in the hallways as the kids bustled about opening and closing their lockers, and retrieving books. The school secretary showed me to a classroom. I remember very little about the events in the school while I attended. I was given special workbooks to take home to work on my mathematics. The students in my class were the first to have been taught the “new” math from the early grades. I was lost, and couldn’t grasp the concepts the teacher tried to show me. I fumbled with the workbooks and it was as though I was learning some new language, but without any reference to English. I began to have stomach aches. I would tell mum that I was too sick to go to school. She let me stay at home.
We moved to a small old house. The landlady lived next door and she often came over to chat or, as mum said, to snoop. The house was cold and mum kept the living room drapes closed to try and keep the heat in.
Mum got a dog, a German shepherd that had obedience training. She soon gave it away, complaining that it cost too much to feed it. Again, I was without a pet.
A welfare worker arrived, and during her little interview with mum, she demanded to know why those curtains were shut. Mum explained, but I had the impression that the woman thought mum had some sort of mental illness. The worker told me that I must attend school. Then she left.
Mum was frightened that I would be taken away by welfare, so she insisted that I go to school, sore stomach or not.
Mum contacted the SDA minister and we began to attend church. The members had decided to start up a small church school, and mum enrolled me as soon as it opened. The other kids who attended from the countryside around the town had parents who drove them to the school, a few miles away. The parents drove in rotation. I was picked up at the end of the street, every day and dropped off at the house after classes.
The school had just a few students, and one teacher. She meant well, but she often lectured me on things like being too sensitive to what the kids said to me, and that sort of thing. There weren’t any kids my age there. I was the oldest. And the tallest yet again.I just didn’t fit in.
I noticed that these kids were no better than those at the “worldly” schools I had attended. I was disillusioned. I had really believed that I would find friends because they were the same religion as me. That was not going to happen.
I had not been to a dentist ever, and had two painful teeth. One day, as I got into the car, to ride to school, one of the kids said, “Oh, your breath, whenever you get into the car!”
I hadn’t realized how my breath smelled.
I believe the teacher contacted my sister Doreen, as the next week, Doreen came up to our place and took me to a dentist. He was an SDA. I had two infected molars, and he pulled them. It hurt so bad! I think he should have given me antibiotics first, to reduce the infection and inflammation, but he did not. I developed a fear of dentists after this ordeal. At least my breath didn’t smell bad any longer!

Part One – Story Excerpt

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“Better go on home, your mummy’s waiting!”
I turned away from the two little girls who had reached the road to their house. My hopes of making friends with these neighbor children dashed, I followed the right hand dirt road to the farm gate, where my mother stood. As I approached, she opened the gate and I passed through.
“Hi Julia. Did you have fun at school today?”
I hung my head.
“No, I hate this new school.” I pouted and mum patted my shoulder, as we walked to the old farmhouse. It was painted white, but the paint was peeling. There was an apple orchard behind the house.
Once inside, she led me to the kitchen, a dingy room with a wood cook stove along one wall, and a counter with aqua cupboards on the other. In the middle was a cracked white porcelain sink with a red metal hand pump. That’s how we got our water. The water was rusty and unappetizing. Probably not safe to drink, either, but I was only eight years old, and not aware of such things. My mother pumped the handle and filled a glass with water for me to drink.
I downed it in a couple of swallows, and set the glass on the counter.
“So how do you like your teacher?”
“She’s okay I guess.” I brightened a bit. “We played catch at recess. At lunchtime she had us all sit in a circle on the grass to eat.”
“Did she read the note I sent with you this morning?”
“Oh yes, I think so. She put it in her desk. And she sent me a note to give to you.” I set my red plaid lunch box on the old wood kitchen table and opened it. I brought a neatly folded piece of paper and handed it to mum. She opened it and read it over.
She looked up at me.
“Well, she wanted to know why I didn’t bring you to school myself this morning. I guess I better send a note back to her tomorrow and tell her that we don’t have a car so I let you ride the school bus by yourself.”

My mum bought my big brother a car with her welfare check last week, but he slept in every morning and wasn’t up in time to drive me to school. Besides, mum never ever came to any of the schools I attended. She always communicated with my teachers with a note.
My brother did take us for drives sometimes, and while it was mum who paid for the gas, he never offered to find a job. Finally, he had a breakdown, after mum told him he had to get work. He took off in the car, speeding around the apple trees, and into the hills surrounding the farmhouse. Mum and I watched. Then he returned to the house, got out of the car and yelled at mum. He stormed into the house and came out a while later with his travel bag. His jacket was slung over his shoulder.
“That’s it,” he said. “I’m getting outta here.”
Before mum could say anything, he got into the car and drove away, dust swirling behind the car as he sped down the driveway.
Mum and I moved soon after. I think that she walked to the neighbors to call the welfare officer. By the time the school week was over, she had arranged a moving truck to come and haul our things away. We moved to a small town, and the cycle continued. I was given a note on Monday morning, to bring to my new teacher at the new school.
I hated starting a new school. I was big for my age and stood out because of that. Many of the kids thought I was mentally handicapped and had failed grades, and that was why I was big. I was painfully shy, too shy to raise my hand to answer the questions the teachers would ask in class. I knew the answers, but I was afraid. I didn’t want to be noticed by anyone. At the same time, though, I longed for a friend. Someone who would play with me at recess and eat her lunch with me at noon. Instead, I spent recess time standing alone, usually leaning against the brick wall of the school, watching the kids play. If, on some rare occasion, one of the children invited me to join them, I would invariably embarrass myself. Playing ball, I was uncoordinated and clumsy. If I ran, I fell down and scraped my knees. I was awkward and didn’t fit into the height to which I had grown.
I did well in school, getting high marks. My mother was proud of me, although she often said that I should be in church school. As a Seventh-day Adventist, she was told by the minister that I belonged there instead of in a “worldly” school. When we did finally move to a small city that had an SDA school, I hated it too. On my first morning in the class room, the teacher, Miss Pangthorn, had the janitor bring in a huge “big kids” desk. She made a great deal of positioning it at the back of the class, in the first row. I felt like a giant as I sat down, and the kids all giggled. So much for attending a religious school. I learned that these kids were no better than those in the “worldly” schools. I was still friendless.
It was winter, and at noon hour, the kids tobogganed down a hill behind the school building. The teacher invited me to join her on one of these rides, and I shook my head. I didn’t want the teacher to be my friend. It would be too embarrassing to have the other kids see me with her, instead of with other kids.
December came, and mum and I were invited to a Christmas dinner at the neighbors’ house. They were also Seventh-day Adventists and mum had met them at church. At the last minute, that morning, she told me that she would not go to the dinner, but I would have to attend. I panicked. I didn’t want to sit down with a bunch of adults and eat when my mum would not have the same fare. She convinced me to go, and when I arrived, the lady took my coat and hat and hung them up. She led me to the dining room, where a family of five or six were gathered at a large dining table. She showed me where to sit and I obliged. The meal began. I would not eat. I could not force myself to pick up the fork and put food into my mouth. Despite the coaxing, I remained seated and didn’t move. My mum was home and didn’t have a good meal to look forward to. How could I eat when she did without?
It came time to open presents, and to my surprise, there was a brightly wrapped package for me! It was in red and green paper, and I carefully removed the red bow on top before I tore the paper off of the box, for it was a box, and it held a small, shiny silver lantern. There were red and white and green lights on it! It reminded me of a lamp that a railroad man might have. I wondered if my dad had sent it to me. Soon, I was sent home, with the gift.

Mum stopped going to church. I would go, at her urging, and sit by myself through the church service. I never felt comfortable doing this and would hurry back home when the services were through.

We moved again, back to the small town where I had first attended school, Port Hope. I loved the town. I liked the big old brick buildings and the hilly main street. I walked up it every day to go to school. I liked my teachers here and while I didn’t have friends at school, when summer came, there were lots of kids in the neighborhood where mum and I lived in an upstairs apartment. We children played in the sunshine, and got ice cream treats from the mom and pop store near the apartment. I would beg mum to give me a few pennies so I could buy candy. It was cheap back then. She always seemed to have a bit of change to give me, even though we were living on welfare. Sometimes, we’d go hungry as the end of the month neared. We would occasionally walk, after dark, to the supermarket a couple of blocks away and rout through the discarded food behind the store. We found all sorts of vegetables and once even a sponge cake. We would take these finds home and eat.
At the end of one month, when the welfare check didn’t arrive as expected, on a Friday, we had little to eat. After the sun set on Saturday, mum dressed me up and we walked downtown to a restaurant. We went inside, and sat down at a booth. Mum asked the waitress if we could order a meal and pay for it on Monday when her check came in. The waitress refused, and we left the restaurant and walked home. I was so hungry!

Mum would let me play outside, with the other kids, but she warned me to stay out where she could see me. She often required me to come inside, and she would remind me to stay close. A few times, the group of kids would wander down by the lake, on the beach and back up towards the train tracks and a place where grapes grew on a homeowners’ fence. The grapes were sour!
When I got home from these little excursions, mum would be angry and tell me how worried she was if I wasn’t in sight. I was told to not wander off anymore.
I longed to be “like the other kids” whose parents are far more lenient.
I was always told to come right home after school, and I didn’t dare be late or I would get into trouble. Mum was not adverse to using a switch or wooden spoon on me if she was angry and wanted me to obey her.

She had a dog, a Cocker Spaniel, when I first started school. She soon gave it away, tiring of having to care for it. This happened time and time again, with her picking a dog advertised, say, on the radio swap shop, or in the newspaper, we’d have it for just long enough for me to grow attached to it, and then she would give it away again.

My older sister, who lived in Alberta and was a teacher, was also a fine seamstress. She made dresses for me and would mail them to me, several at a time. I loved getting the new clothes. They were all in style – pinafores and dresses in bright and pretty colors. When I wore one of the dresses to school, though, the other girls made fun of the apron which matched the dress. I couldn’t understand what was wrong or why the girls didn’t like me.
I wanted so badly to have a friend. Instead, I was teased and called names.
Somehow, the kids seemed to notice that the teacher always liked me. I was accused of being “teacher’s pet” and the words hurt. I was not sure why it was so wrong to be thought well of by the teacher. But why, oh why didn’t the teachers ever notice that they showed favoritism towards me and singled me out?

One of my favorite teachers embarrassed me. She seemed to have the SDA religion and Jehovah’s Witnesses mixed up. It was quite alright for SDA children to say the pledge and sing “God Save the Queen” and “Oh Canada” as the class did, every morning. The teacher forced me to wait in the cloakroom until the little ceremony was over every day. I felt singled out, and I hated it. I wanted to belong, and not be different.

Mum said, “But you are different. You are Seventh-day Adventist, and Seventh-day Adventists are not to belong to the world, or to fit in. They must stand apart as God’s true people.”

My older sister came to stay with us one Christmas when I was about six years old. She busied herself with making some clothes for me, and this included having to try on the clothes for fittings. As I was again asked to try on a dress, I sighed and made a face. My sister slapped my face. Mum intervened but the damage was done. I didn’t feel the same way about my sister or about the dresses she made after that.

My sister sent a small amount of money every month, to help us out. Mum spent the money on furniture for the apartment. When my sister learned what she had done, she immediately stopped sending it. She was scandalized that the money meant for food had been wasted on unnecessary things.
On the other hand, I later thought that Mum longed for nice things, and that, as impractical was her spending was, she was trying to fulfill her wants, albeit in an inappropriate fashion. At the same time, we went hungry partly because of Mum’s poor spending and planning habits.

Mum listened to me, when I begged her to not make me have vaccinations. These were done by the school nurse. The kids would line up and in assembly line fashion, receive their shots. I ended up contracting mumps, red measles, chicken pox and even tonsillitis. The tonsillitis would become so bad that the doctor decided I needed a tonsillectomy. I was ten years old when I had that done. I woke from the anesthetic to find that my arms were tied down to the bed. I had, according to the nurse, insisted, “I’m going home!” over and over. When tonsil removal was first discussed I had been promised ice cream after the surgery. When I woke and was offered it, I found my throat was far too sore to want to eat anything, including ice cream. I was annoyed by the “lies” I’d been told to reassure me about the surgery.

One day, while walking home from school, one of my classmates demanded that I remove my glasses. I did so and she peered at me. “Well, at least you don’t look like your mother,” she said. She and one of her friends had seen mum and me walking home a few days previously.
I was shocked and hurried home to mum. I knew that mum had been in a runaway wagon as a child, which had broken her nose and also may have caused brain damage to some extent. I felt so bad for her, that the kids were now picking on her as well as on me.
Some days, there was nothing to eat except pancakes with a bit of sugar on them. I got faint in school one morning at recess, and the teacher had me put my head down low to try to control it. Of course, I was probably faint from hunger. In later years I would be diagnosed with hypoglycemia.

Despite our poverty, mum dressed me well. Between the clothing my sister made and the orders from the catalogue, I was nicely dressed. I remember especially, the spring of 1963 when I got a white jacket with big white buttons. It only fit for a few weeks, as I was in another growth spurt, but I loved that jacket.
I watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and I remember when John F. Kennedy was shot. It was reported at the school and I walked home to see the broadcast on television.

And as the school year ended, mum announced that we were going to move to Alberta, to be near my grandfather and aunts and my older sister. I was happy to hear that.
We would travel by train with tickets paid for by the rancher in southern Alberta, for whom my mum was going to be housekeeper.

 

Camp NaNoWriMo: Wait For Me!

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I continue to try and find some time every day to work on my Camp NaNoWriMo project. It is a rough go at times, because I have had to contend with hot summer days with no air conditioning, a family member who has been getting regular appointments for treatment, and a lot of thinking, remembering and soul searching.

This last is because I am working on writing my memoirs. There is a lot to remember, and of course, a lot that I would prefer to forget, but is going to be written, no matter how painful or difficult it may be.

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Here is the essence of my project:

“Does a friendship have to be earned, or does it just happen? Once friends, is it for life, or only until a friendship is weakened and destroyed somehow?
Can true friends hurt one another and remain friends?
Does anyone really love? Is it possible to find one person who completes another? Or is it all a wispy dream, created by romantics who never succeed but who are too dishonest to share their sad discoveries?
I was once a romantic. I gave up on that dream. I fought to hold on but it nearly caused my death. I am here. I survived. I am a cynic. I will tell you how it happened.”

***

 

The picture of the road at the top of this piece? That’s because the memoir focuses on the early 1970’s when hitch hiking was only dangerous and not deadly. Oh, how I traveled! It was an adventure.

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I began to work on this project by creating a short narrative with the most important points I wished to include. That in turn, led to more detailed paragraphs, which I am now writing.

I am using Scrivener this time around. I am not familiar with all it can do, but so far the basics are working fine.

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Bert, Martin, Lainie and Kate

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I drove into town to have a talk with Harry. I knew he had a hard time coping with life, but I didn’t think it was an excuse to mistreat his daughter.
I pulled up and parked in the driveway, behind Harry’s beat up old Chrysler. As I approached the front door, I saw that it was ajar. Strange.
I pushed the door open all the way and called out for Harry and for Lainie. I listened. There was a sound, but I couldn’t quite place it. I stepped inside and called again.
This time, there was a nearly inaudible reply. I followed the sound, and walked into the kitchen.
Martin sat on the floor, his arms around Lainie. When she looked up I saw that she had a black eye. Martin was covered in blood.
“What the -? What’s happened here? Where’s your dad, Lainie?”
Lainie raised one arm and pointed towards the cookstove, which was half hidden by the breakfast bar. I stepped around Martin and Lainie, and saw Harry.
He was lying on his back, eyes staring sightlessly up at the ceiling. His face and chest were covered in blood. There was a butcher knife sticking out of his belly.
I reached into my shirt pocket and dialed emergency.
After I made the call, I walked back to Martin and Lainie.
“It’ll be okay. The police are on the way. Don’t worry.” I wanted to reassure them both, although I knew that nothing would be okay for them.
Martin said, “Lainie was gettin’ beat up by her dad again. I walked in on it and lost my temper. I didn’t mean to kill him. I just wanted him to stop hurting her.”
I heard sirens in the distance.
I said, “Martin, nobody in this town will blame you for what happened.”
The police arrived and burst into the house. Over the next hour or more, Lainie and Martin were led away, and Harry’s body was examined as was the crime scene. I had to explain what I’d seen and heard and then I too was escorted to the police station.

***

It was several hours before I was released. The officers told me that Martin would be held in jail, and that Lainie was free to go. I offered to take her home to my place. She agreed. I had to make a stop at the house, and a police officer escorted Lainie inside so that she could get some clothes and other things. When she came out, she climbed into my truck.
“All ready to go?” I asked.
Lainie nodded. She stared straight ahead as I drove off. We arrived at my cabin and we went inside. I cooked up a meal and Lainie ate. By this time, she seemed to be coming out of the daze she’d been in.
She turned to me as she buttered a slice of bread and said, “Thank you, Bert, for helping me and Martin. I was so scared.”
“It’s okay, Lainie. Of course you were scared, but you’ll be safe now. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you need to.”
Lainie thanked me and then she volunteered that she had her job at Jensen’s and had to be at work the next day. I told her to call Mrs. Jensen and tell her what had happened. I was sure she wouldn’t expect Lainie to work.

***

Mrs. Jensen was more than sympathetic to the situation. She had, as the whole town had, already heard about the killing. She told Lainie to take the rest of the week off, and come in for work the following Monday.

Lainie asked me if I’d drive her to Mayer’s so she could talk to Kate. I thought it might be good for Lainie to see her friend.

Kate and I and Lainie had a discussion about Lainie’s future. We agreed that Lainie should move into Kate’s place and try to continue with her life without her father.

Next, I drove over to the precinct and talked to the desk sergeant. She said that Martin was charged, but not with first degree murder, since he’d been trying to protect Lainie.

***

Martin’s trial was a few months later. Both Kate and Lainie sat with me as the case proceeded. Martin’s parents both testified to Martin’s kindness and gentleness and that seemed to affect the jury. At the end, Martin was given a short sentence, due to the circumstances of Harry’s death. I think that when Lainie testified about her dad’s cruelty to her, the jury felt sorry for her and even looked on Martin as a hero.

When Martin was released from prison and came back to town, he didn’t stay around very long. His parents sent him off to college. I heard that he did well there, and found that he had a gift for computer science.

I ran into Lainie and Kate one Saturday morning, when I went into town. They were walking down the street, hand in hand, and I looked askance at them, as we stopped to chat.
Lainie giggled and Kate smiled at me.
“We’re a couple, Bert. First we were roommates but then things progressed.”
“Well, good for you both. I hope life is treating you both good?”
Lainie nodded and said, “Bert, if it hadn’t been for your help that awful day, I don’t know what I would have done. I thank you.”
“And so do I,” said Kate. The girls departed, walking on down the street.

I sighed. Martin was in college, the girls were together. Maybe it was time I found someone who would want to share my cabin. There must be some woman out there who’d like living in the country. Maybe I’d sign up on one of those dating services.

I walked into Mayer’s later that morning, shopping done, and had coffee. Mrs. Mayer convinced me to have a slice of lemon pie, and I ate, while I registered on a dating service with my cell phone.
Who knew what tomorrow might bring? Even for an old guy like me. I rubbed my chin and thought maybe I’d shave off my beard. It was time I started looking a little less like a mountain man.

The End

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Okay, so I admit I rushed through the story this week. All for a good cause though.

I wanted to have it finished up before Camp NaNoWriMo which starts again July first.

The story was created as I went along, not planned out, and the chapters show that unfortunately. But, there is something to be said for just writing without too much of a plan. Sometimes the characters take over and do what they wish to do, unruly people.

Hope that you enjoyed what was written. If I do this again, I will plan somewhat better so that the story is chronological and more time is devoted to development.

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