Denial, Acceptance, Reality

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Photo by William Warby on Unsplash

I have been reading a book written by a doctor who worked with the notorious Dr. Mengele during the Holocaust, in Auschwitz.

Auschwitz – A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklos Nyiszle and Richard Seaver

Information about the Holocaust:

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-holocaust

In the forward to the book, Bruno Bettelheim presents a suggestion, that the idea of the death camps was so horrendous that no one, either those victims, Jewish, gypsies, physically or mentally handicapped, aged or ill, gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or those on the ”outside” – those who lived in close proximity to the crematorium within the country, consciously recognized what would be their fate/the fate of the prisoners confined there.

No one could accept the horrors of the reality.

And since the Holocaust, since World War Two ended, there have been the denialists. They claim that ”six million didn’t die” as though numbers are what matter, when it is the loss of lives and the horrible way they were allowed to die that matters.

There have been claims that it never happened.

When I was eleven, in Alberta, Canada, an old man showed me the tattoo on his arm – and told me that he was in a camp.

That memory stayed with me through the years.

I know that our new way of life – of Covid – 19 – has affected all of us, some more than others.

The denialists frighten me. Despite the most knowledgeable experts in the medical and scientific communities around the world telling us what must be done to curb this disaster and loss of life, there are people who refuse to accept the reality.

Their death wish is strong, and they no longer seek life.

”According to Freud, the death-drive manifests in the psyche as a tendency toward self-destruction, or more precisely the elimination of tension, which can also be turned outwards, whereby it becomes aggression.”

https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095704767

And so we have, on social media, in the group protests, and the violence towards store clerks who try to enforce the store policies of mask wearing, self destructive behaviour on the part of those who refuse to accept the reality – the threat to our lives – that Covid 19 represents.

Instead, it is easy to deny the reality.

”Covid is just a flu”

”Nobody has died except for a few old people”

”It’s the government (pick your country). They’re trying to take away our rights and freedoms”

”It’s my right to not wear a mask”

Misplaced anger, aggression and fear.

Let’s face the reality.

A child died just today, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Under the age of ten.

Do we still want to deny that Covid is dangerous?

That we – all of us – are vulnerable?

The Covid denialists remind me of those who have denied the Holocaust all these years.

The same refusal to accept the reality that horrible things can happen. That we can all be vulnerable to sickness and to death.

That’s right. It isn’t just the ”old” that die from Covid. Not to mention that the medical community now has identified a long term and lingering effect on the health of those who do survive. We still don’t know what will happen to those people. What will be their condition in a few months, or years?

Let’s live – not in fear, as some of the anti-masker denialists say – but in hope – let us wear our masks, to protect others – let us wash our hands, because we know basic science – and let us care even more about others, not just about ourselves.

Maybe, just maybe, that is something we can all take away from this time.

Let us begin to see ourselves as part of the community, part of our locality, part of our state or province, part of our country! Part of the world.

Maybe this is the one time in history that we can all make a difference and save someone else.

Let’s try.

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.

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!

One Fine Day

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Now, I am fully aware that the title of the blog this week is also the name of an absolutely favorite song of mine by the Chiffons, from 1963. Okay, so I was ten years old. But I liked the song as soon as I first heard it.

I’ve chosen this title because I had a good day.

Do you have those too? Days where nothing much happens, and everything is pretty well settled, and you just glide along? No worries, no rushing out the door, no arguments or any sort of discord?

I love days like that. Sometimes they are hard to find. When they do occur, treasure them, because you don’t know when one will happen again.

Those New Year’s Resolutions….

I have exercised. I have eaten healthier and got some cross stitch done, although there was more time spent organizing and preparing projects, than actual stitching.  And started a fresh do over of my family tree, this time with full annotations and citations as one is supposed to do. (I had no idea when I started that this was a thing.)

So….New Year’s resolutions, while not 100% accomplished, are moving along at a good pace.

How about you? Any resolutions that were just too difficult or impossible? Any that you have been able to stick with so far?

Okay, so I am going to admit that this blog is the first thing I’ve written, if you don’t count personal emails, since the beginning of the year.

I think that for next week, I will plan the start of a new short story.

 

As Life Goes On….

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Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

I have been busy again this past week, with phone calls to be made and arrangements for switching accounts to my name.

I gathered all of my late husband’s clothing together, folded them neatly and packed them. Then my son and I took them all to the Salvation Army.

I didn’t cry.

Someone, I hope, will find the warm shirts, the pants and socks to be of use. Someone, I like to think, that needs them and can’t afford to buy new.

This is now me, a new widow, learning to be single again.

I love the photo above of the northern lights. Have you been lucky enough to see them for yourself? If not, it is truly a spectacular sight. I have been fortunate to see them many times.

The lights appear often during bitter cold nights, when it is too cold to venture outside, but somehow I always do go out. There is something about the sky that draws me to it and I don’t mind the cold.

My bit of wisdom for this week.

Be sure to have an up to date will, a power of attorney and a personal directive. This is important to help those left behind.

 

My Absence

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I have not posted in some time. The reason is that my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer which had spread to his spine, bones and blood. He passed away on August 11th.

I have many things to do for a bit, and will return to posting when I am ready.

Please give your loved ones a hug and mend any fences that may exist. Life is short.

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

The Heavy Foots – Conclusion

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Mr. Heavyfoot busied himself with the telescope until the doorbell rang. It was the police officer who had been there the last time.
Mrs. Heavyfoot noted the frown on the police officer’s face as she entered the room.
“I need to speak to your husband,” she said.
Mrs. Heavyfoot said, “He’s just out on the balcony. I’ll get him.”
“No, that’s fine. I’ll come to him.” Having said that, the officer strode across the room and stepped onto the balcony.
Mr. Heavyfoot was caught.
The officer told him, “There have been complaints of your invading the neighbors’ privacy, with your telescope.”
“Oh, my,” said Mr. Heavyfoot. There wasn’t much else for him to say.
Mrs. Heavyfoot listened and watched these goings on, with a sad heart. She was disappointed in her husband and she felt a fool for not noticing his behavior.
The officer read him his rights, and handcuffed him. He was taken away, much to the consternation of his wife.
He was home again by the next day. He had to pay a fine, and was prohibited from spying on the neighbors.
As Mrs. Heavyfoot confronted him about his snooping, she sobbed and refused to let him comfort her.
“You are the cause of my upset,” was all she would say to him.
Mr. Heavyfoot hung his head and apologized, but it didn’t help.
“I want us to go home. Back to the homestead,” she said. After the visit from the neighbors Mrs. Heavyfoot had felt out of place and she realized now that her true home was in the bush. Her heart belonged to the wild.

Mr. Heavyfoot was already walking towards the balcony, where the telescope was, and he said over his shoulder, “No, I want to stay here.”
Mrs. Heavyfoot picked up the heavy lamp that sat on the coffee table. She struck Mr. Heavyfoot with its base.
He dropped to the floor. She hit him again, and then once more, just because she could.
Having done that, she muttered over his body, “You won’t be looking at that woman again.”
There were blood spatters on her hands and on her shirt. She wiped her fingerprints from the lamp, and cleaned herself up.
She packed her things. She took the telescope as an afterthought. She took a cab to the service station where the tractor was stored. She settled up with Ernie Watts and piled her belongings in the wagon. She drove to town and picked up some supplies. The town gossip, Alex Handle, was in the store. He asked where Mr. Heavyfoot was and Mrs. Heavyfoot told him that her husband had stayed in the city.
“So you’re back and he’s not?”
“Looks that way,” said Mrs. Heavyfoot shortly. Then she went out to the tractor and drove to the homestead.
She would be happy, she thought, without her spying spouse. And best of all, she could stomp around the old wooden shack as much as she wished, with no one to complain. That was freedom. That was joy.

Of course, she was the prime suspect in the death of Mr. Heavyfoot. and the local sheriff arrived to question her soon after she got home. He was a kindly old man, and he didn’t care to delve too deeply into her actions prior to coming back to the homestead. He wrote a report, suggesting that Mr. Heavyfoot was dead due to an altercation with some unknown person, and that was that. In the city, the police had other matters to attend to, since there was a gang war going on. That took precedence over the death of Mr. Heavyfoot.
Mrs. Heavyfoot sold the apartment to a couple who planned to rent it out through AirBnB. She got a nice tidy sum that would supply her needs for a very long while.
And so, Mrs. Heavyfoot got away with it. At night, she would sometimes go outside, bundled in her coat and look up at the stars. For here, unlike in the city, she could see them. She rather liked the telescope for star gazing.
Mr. Enders, from the next homestead over, had been coming for dinner for a time, and he helped her with some of the heavy work. She thought that he might be husband material. On the whole, her life was good.

The End