Tag Archives: big family memories

The Salvagers

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Yvonnes Musings

imagesMy father, a major restorer of order and tidiness to all things within his reach, had done an amazing thing for a man with his character traits. He had taken something built by someone else’s hands and torn it down. One day it stood as a testament to the hard work of the many hands that had made it, and the next day it was a scattered heap, lying across the ground.

The enormous elevated barrel— the water tower next to the CNR tracks, in nearby Strathroy, was where steam locomotives had filled their tanks with water for generations. It was no longer necessary when diesel engines took over. The tower was up for grabs, and our dad’s bid won. After careful planning and consultation with his Uncle Fred, a lifelong railroad man with many skills himself, the measurements were all worked out, and the distance of the fall was calculated…

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The Girls In Yellow Dresses

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Janice and Kathy (on right)

Janice and Kathy (on right)

There is nothing better than having baby sisters. I was blessed with three of them, Jeannie,  Kathy, and Janice. I also have another treasured sister, Marsha, who is almost a year older than me as well as three younger brothers, Keith, Jim, and Don.

I wanted to write a little here about a sweet memory of my two  youngest sisters,Kathy and Janice, after I found this picture of them in their matching yellow flower girl dresses. These were the little girls who were born after I’d finally grown up enough to be able to help with baby care, which happens very young in large families.

Disposable diapers weren’t commonly used in the  50’s or early 60’s,  so changing diapers involved using those very large diaper pins which could really inflict a painful injury if not handled deftly. Our Mom was of the two-pin school of thought— one on either side, rather than just one in the front. This involved twice the risk of injury, but by placing a couple of fingers inside the diaper, between the pin and the baby, the sharp pin would always hit your fingers first, rather than the baby’s torso if you were clumsy. It ensured a very speedy learning process. Of course, Mom didn’t just hand us a baby and say “Go to it!” She knew that Marsha and I had already learned to be extra cautious, by pinning diapers on our own baby dolls first.

Baby bottles, in those years, were limited to those simple glass bottles with the measurements stamped into them and rubber nipples attached with plastic rings. There were no high-tech bottles containing plastic bag inserts or special tube and valve systems then, to avoid the baby sucking in a lot of air if fed improperly. So even under the best circumstances, much more frequent burping was necessary.

While it might be much easier for a five year-old today, to properly bottle feed a baby sibling for his or her busy mother, back then we quickly learned the more complicated method in a big hurry. Our reasons were selfish. If we didn’t hold the bottle up high enough the baby would suck in and swallow air. If she swallowed air she would need to be burped a lot more often. If she wasn’t burped often enough she would scream a lot. If she screamed a lot, nobody would be having any fun! So each of us girls, in turn, learned to be little mothers to somebody younger, as the new babies came along.

The two pretty  little flower girls, in their flouncy yellow dresses, were like tiny princesses that day at our cousin Donna Lynne’s wedding. As a concession to agreeing to do the “very grown up job” of serving coffee and tea to the wedding guests, Marsha and I were each finally allowed to wear our first pair of nylon stockings. On the same day, Kathy and Janice were wearing their very last pair of fancy ruffled baby bloomers, under their bouncy crinolines.

Kathy and Janice at Donna Lynne and Reg Smith's wedding

Kathy and Janice at Donna Lynne and Reg Smith’s wedding

Marsha and I were probably as proud of them as Mom was that day. We too, felt a maternal pride in their angelic appearance and sweet conduct—and of our role in teaching them to hold their bouquets just so, and to step ever so lightly down the aisle in time to the music —neither too fast nor too slow— and to not pull off their fancy head bands because they were “Too scratchy!” or yank off their little white gloves because they were “Too tight!”

Yes, Janice Mary and Katherine Marie, I for one was very proud of both of  you on that day— just as much as I was when each of you joined me in the role of real motherhood a few decades later.

And now that you are both grandmothers… I find it almost impossible to believe, because in some ways you will always be my babies too!

My Christmas Collage (Part Three)

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Today I hope to complete the collage of Christmas memories that I have been working on for the last two posts. The stories that I have linked together and layered somewhat, one on top of the other, have so far had a common theme—disappointment. For that reason I imagine my collage in shades of blue. However, because I am a person who in no way lives my life in sombre tones. Trust me— there will be a splash of brightness there for all to see before I finish my creation.

Marsha,me,Keith, Jeannie, and cousins Dennis and Cindy.

Marsha,me,Keith, Jeannie, and cousins Dennis and Cindy

Buttons and Bows   Christmas is that time of year when people like to dress up in their gifts of Christmas finery— new ties, new sweaters, or fancy outfits bought for concerts or parties. It’s a time when people seem to want to give everyone the impression that all is right with the world— their particular piece of the world anyway. At our house when I was growing up there was one Christmas that is most memorable in that respect.

My father had recently bought the family farm from his father and we had traded houses with my grandparents. A brand new wood⁄ oil combination furnace had been installed to replace the ancient monstrosity in the basement, with its octopus arms of dangerous decrepit ductwork. Mom and Dad had been furiously painting and wallpapering for weeks so that the house could put on its best face too. It would finally be free of the sooty handprints and the coating of dust and ashes on every surface that the removal of the old furnace had caused.

We older girls had slept in pin curls all night in order to look our very best that day and we had put on our fancy dresses modelled after Snow White’s. Just before his side of the family arrived, Dad stoked the furnace up as high as he could with wood from our elm tree that had died a few years before. The house was warm and toasty as the heat from the giant turkey still roasting in the oven escaped from the kitchen and combined with that pumping out of the registers. But almost immediately we moved on from being warm to being hot.

Mom asked Dad to please hurry and open up some windows.That was how Dad discovered that every one of the windows was hopelessly jammed! Not a single one could be opened— they all had been painted shut! Even keeping the front, back, and side doors open to let in cold air was not enough for relief! Dad’s first big fire might as easily have been an enormous burning yule log!  We all began to perspire like Swedes in a sauna and soon our hair was as damp and limp as dirty dish rags. Within an hour of the relatives’ arrival, all the kids— cousins included, were stripped down to undershirts and shorts or slips. That year in particular there was no joy at all to be found in our buttons and bows.

Mistletoe, Ah Mistletoe   It was late December and I had a sweetheart. His Name was Rolly Rollason. He was a carefree adventurous fellow—never to be held back by the weather. He would arrive for Friday or Saturday night dates or visits, regardless of ice, snow, or freezing rain. One particular Saturday night, much later than my snoring parents would have approved of, we said our goodbyes and he went out to his car. I sneaked up the stairs past my parents’ room and went straight to bed.

Little did I know that down in the driveway the sub zero temperatures had done their work. Rolly could not get his car door lock to open. It had completely frozen up. Disturbing the sleeping household for something to thaw it out with was out of the question, so he got down on his knees and tried to warm up the lock by blowing into it. Perhaps fatigued by the lateness of the hour or in shifting positions to relieve the stony coldness in his knees, he faltered forward. Instantly his moist lips bonded with the sub-zero metal! With much courage he eventually freed himself! The next day he returned for Sunday dinner. From that day on, (perhaps due to my lack of discretion in releasing that information) the family jokingly has referred to Rolly as “Hot Lips Rollason”. Alas, that year, I was to find no  joy under the mistletoe.

fall and santa's farm market 041

The Christmas Tree    A few Christmases later, Rolly and I were a married couple with a mischievous crawling toddler underfoot. He was obsessed with plugs and cords and all things shiny and bright. We expressed our fears that he might electrocute himself or break an ornament and cut himself if we were to put a tree up. It was our brother-in-law Bob, who suggested an innovative solution. Why not put the tree inside the playpen? It was a practical manly solution, not aesthetically beautiful, but in fear for our baby Steven’s well being I agreed to it—as long as the tree was tall and skinny enough. When the task was completed we thought the tall skinny tree looked just fine— kind of like an exhibit in a Christmas tree museum, but it would do. We sat and enjoyed the lights and shiny ornaments for an hour or two after we completed the decorating and then headed off to bed.

The next morning when we entered the living room we were floored! In the heat of our little house the branches had dropped and the tall skinny tree had grown in girth by at least 50%! The tree was now jammed up against the outside perimeters and overflowing at the top like a  matronly primadonna with only enough money to buy confining undergarments for her lower half. Above that point it was wild abandon—a disproportionate abundance of the blinged-up top-most regions! The only advantage was that as the week wore on and the needles fell, most of those on the bottom half stayed inside the playpen. The tree was so tightly wedged in that it had to be removed with a saw and pruning shears. Another manly solution! We had sat around the spectacle we kept on display for a full ten days with a cup of cocoa or two from time to time but in truth that year there was no lasting  joy to be found in having a Christmas tree.

The Nativity Scene   A very vivid memory for me is of the nativity scene that was always placed under our Christmas tree every year when I was growing up. There was a roughly constructed wooden stable with a handful or two of straw strewn about. The figures were all made of painted plaster of Paris and some were a bit chipped from being played with by so many small hands. The baby Jesus wasn’t though— probably because we had always handled that figure with special reverence. Or perhaps it was because we felt no need to move the baby from the manger to anywhere else at all. He was at the centre of the scene—the most important one there, and that was where he ought to be. Another thing I can remember about the baby Jesus figure is that it was out of proportion to everything else. He was much larger than a baby would be in relation to the adult figures around him.

Perhaps the plaster of Paris mold was too tricky to use if the figure had been manufactured smaller, or perhaps the original sculptor who formed the first cast understood and wanted to demonstrate an essential truth. This is the truth that would eventually become real in my own life too. The real Jesus is greater than all and truly can and should dominate the entire scene in our lives.

And when he is there where he ought to be, we will have the ability to experience true joy no matter how difficult the circumstances of our lives or the unexpected things that happen.

Christmas joy really can be found and that is the brightness at the centre of my Christmas collage. That one true light who came and dwelt among us. And to think it all began in a straw strewn stable!

My Collage Of Christmas (Part 2)

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08710_all_dec-03-starYesterday I promised to continue on with my Christmas collage, an assortment of colourful Christmas remembrances that have somewhat bluer shades than all the rest. While growing up in the 50’s and 60’s on a South Western Ontario farm, our family eventually expanded to five girls, and three boys in all. I also had the most loving and caring parents any child could ever have been blessed with, so I really have far more memories of every bright and happy colour imaginable, than I do blue ones. But those which I have chosen for this written collage of sorts, are those which have embedded themselves more deeply— perhaps because of the darker shades of disappoint in those fleeting moments collected together here.

Stars

From the moment that my mother first guided my tiny pencil-clenching fist over a piece of scrap paper, causing me to leave a squiggly drawing of a five-pointed star behind, I have loved stars. Whether it is myself I first remember or one of the later toddlers in the family sitting on Mummy’s lap and going through those zigzagging motions until they had learned it, I am unsure. It was certainly me once, and as my mother took great enjoyment in teaching us to draw and write and play little games with pencil and paper, it was an oft-repeated scene. Soon each little one learned to draw perfect stars—sometimes with great abandon on freshly papered walls and newly painted woodwork (which of course was far less appreciated!)

My first fancy doll arrived one Christmas from my Godmother, my Aunt Catherine who lived far away in Pittsburgh. This doll was a dark-haired princess who wore a royal blue gown encrusted with tiny silver sequin stars all over it— not just the satin top, but all over the wide flowing skirt made of matching blue see-through fabric, as light as a wedding veil and draped over the satin underskirt. My little brother Keith who was called Butchy at the time, still slept in a crib in the same room as my sister Marsha and I, but he had learned to climb out of it and would soon need a big boy bed. The day after Christmas I found my princess doll in my baby brother’s crib. He had escaped during nap time and kidnapped my doll. Then he had climbed back into his crib again. When I went to wake him up from his nap, I found him laying there in his soft little footed sleeper with his pudgy face all covered in slobber and stars. He had chewed every single one of them off my princess’s dress with his tiny baby teeth. Her gown was now a chewed on sopping wet rag! I was so angry I balled my eyes out. I eventually forgave my baby brother of course. He was so wonderful and cute and only a baby after all, but that particular Christmas I felt no joy at all in tinselly Christmas stars.

Christmas Pudding

My first Christmas pudding experience happened at the end of a long ago Christmas dinner that my mother had put on for the extended family on my father’s Scottish⁄ English side. We had now traded our small white house for our grandparents’ much larger brick farmhouse. Anyway, there was the usual feast with all the long-awaited festive dishes that Mom had prepared. Just as an aside—there is a reason they call stuffing “stuffing”, particularly after third helpings!

Just when we were all sitting around on our last gasps, as overstuffed as Grandma’s parlour settee, out from the kitchen my Aunt Irene paraded the steaming pudding.I had never seen one of these things before and was not the least bit impressed. What was it anyway? It looked like someone had taken a big mixing bowl full of our dog Judy’s food and tipped it upside down on a cake plate. “It’s a Christmas pudding and Mom says we have to eat it!” the whispered message quickly passed mouth- to- ear around the part of the table my siblings and I had laid claim to. In an effort to keep the peace with her difficult Scottish mother-in-law my mom was determined that we children must do our family duty. “Why do we have to eat it?” “Because Mom said so!”… “Or else!” Marsha whispered back. Aunt Irene, my Dad’s sister then took a big silver spoon and began scooping gargantuan mounds of bloated cooked raisins, mushy carrot bits, and dark currants all mixed up together in a cakey goop that smelled like our dad’s Old Spice shaving lotion, into cereal bowls. Because we didn’t own any fruit nappies. On top of each serving she poured a ladle full of what looked like gravy although we knew it couldn’t be. Could it? That would be even more ridiculous. “It’s Scottish tradition. It’s bad luck not to eat it all.”  Aunt Betty, Dad’s other sister said.  Our mother couldn’t bear to see the terrified look in our eyes, I think, so she began clearing the table ( In reality it was probably just a ruse to escape eating any of it herself— especially after Aunt Irene said she liked to use “lots of suet in the recipe to keep it moist.”)

Thinking that Mom apparently had abandoned us to our own devices we were hopeful that Keith would come up with a plan. He had always been very good at sneaking unwanted bread crusts outside to the dog in his pockets…Maybe if we could just find enough paper napkins…

My mother had not factored in one very crucial thing. Some of her kids might actually like this stuff enough to eat it all up (especially the rum sauce), and on top of all the huge portions of their favourite things that her kids had already gorged themselves on… well the consequences just might not be too pretty…

Ever since that day when my siblings and I have sung the carol We Wish You a Merry Christmas, when we get to the second verse we usually sing “Oh bring us a pity pudding!” instead of “a figgy pudding.” The last time that we sang it that way my son–in-law Phil turned to me and said “You know it’s actually a “figgy pudding”, not a “pity pudding” don’t you?” All I could say was “You had to be there!” On that day and for all Christmases that followed thereafter, I have certainly gained no luck from, and definitely felt no joy whatsoever in the consumption of Christmas pudding.

Well, another tale or two is told and I have not yet finished my Christmas collage, so I’ll be back with more tomorrow.

Until then, enjoy your rum sauce if you must, but in my opinion anyway “Hold the pudding!”

My Collage of Christmas

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Mom's sister Aunt Wilma, Janice, Kathy,Donny and Jimmy the youngest four of us eight kids

Mom’s sister Aunt Wilma, Janice, Kathy,Donny and Jimmy the youngest four of us eight kids

Some people may have memories as neatly organized or carefully catalogued as the treasures of the Smithsonian Institute but those individuals are few and far between. That would be something akin to the real Rain man, Kim Peek, who by the time of his death in 2009 had memorized word for word twelve thousand books— including the Bible, and the Book of Mormon. His memory was truly astounding especially to those like me who struggle to remember where we put the car keys.

My memories are like that huge messy stack of art work that every kindergarten kid brings home at the end of the year— my best stuff, colourful and full of emotion, but leaning a bit towards abstract most of the time. Today I’ve decided to put together a few of the bluer pieces that I’ve pulled out from the stack to make a kind of story collage.

Christmas Turkey

I was four years old and our family was still living in our first little white house. Dad had not yet taken over the family farm from his father and he was for the moment out of work. The turkey was a little smaller than Mummy was used to preparing. She had put it into the oven the night before Christmas, but far too early. When it finished roasting —in the middle of the night— she asked Daddy to put it out on the porch to cool. He snitched a piece of the delicious golden brown skin first and pronounced it absolutely “Delicious!” He then placed it just outside the kitchen door on the porch to cool in the snow, and immediately crawled back into bed and was soon fast asleep.
When out on the porch there arose such a clatter,

He sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

When what to his wondering eyes should appear,

But our bird heading south, on that night cold and clear.

Bobbing up and down and weaving back and forth, it was on its way to someone else’s family dinner! Another mother was obviously struggling hard to keep her family fed too, and as Daddy threw on the porch light he saw her. A wily red Mama fox was trotting off across the new fallen snow with our beautiful golden brown turkey clenched tightly in her happy grinning mouth— leaving behind for us only a pan full of drippings! The next day we ate a meat loaf festively garnished with green and red olive slices. That year Christmas joy was not to be found around a golden brown turkey—at least not at our house.

Christmas Gifts

I remember the Christmas that every kid wanted Silly Putty, the latest fad promoted in TV ads— a little plastic egg full of “the most incredibly flexible fun-filled substance known to man!” At this particular Christmas, Mom had warned each of us older kids quietly beforehand that Santa could bring us only one gift, so we should try to be sure of what we wanted. I remember anticipating the fun that I would have when I was the owner of such an amazing thing as Silly Putty. You could even use it to make copies of the colour comics!

Imagine that! I would be able to copy Little Lulu and then stretch her out to be tall and skinny, or I could make Veronica fat if I stretched her side to side. Betty would like that, I thought, and Veronica surely deserved it. I could hardly wait! A day or two after the initial bulletin that Santa was bringing one gift and one gift only, an even more shocking dispatch was issued. Santa might be all out of Silly Putty after packing the orders for kids who got their Christmas letters to him first! What? How was it my fault that we were fresh out of letter writing paper when Mom had told us to get our letters written? It sure would have been an insult to Santa to write it out on a piece of scratchy toilet paper, wouldn’t it? Mom suggested that maybe I should try to think of something else I wanted, but I persisted in my request. I was a little sceptical about the whole Santa business by that point anyway and I felt that Mom and Dad were likely the more direct route to me acquiring my desperately coveted treasure, so I persisted in my obstinacy at each new suggestion by my mother that I pick something else.

Imagine the thrill I felt on that long ago Christmas morning as I tore open my bow bedecked Christmas package and found my heart’s desire. It was as if the goose had truly laid a golden egg! I twisted the two halves of the egg open and pried out the glop of peachy beige goop inside. Actually goop is entirely the wrong word. When I opened up the egg container what was inside was somehow hopelessly hard and solid! It could not be softened! It could not be rolled! It could not even be flattened into any kind of image-copying tool for Veronica or Betty. How could I ever hope to give that vain Veronica the anatomical alteration I felt she deserved for constantly stealing the limelight from Betty? It was not actually a “Come uppance” I had planned for her but more aptly a “Come downance”. But what a bust! The Silly Putty was more like Pity Putty!  Instead of there being soft moldable stretchable comic-copying fun inside, it all broke up into a handful of dry chunky bits when it was stretched apart! They wouldn’t stick back together into any kind of shape no matter how hard I tried.

My present was a dud! But knowing that Mom and Dad had probably been searching far and wide to find it— which might have been Mom’s reason for trying to get me to suggest another gift idea in my Santa letter— I was too humiliated to even complain. I pictured them both exhausted, finally finding it in the last place they went to, after a long hard day of searching. Maybe it was in some dusty old country store where the silly putty had sat in some basement storeroom, crushed at the bottom of a pile, stacked up against the old coal furnace or something. That’s about as logical an explanation as I could come up with on my own to explain the Silly Putty’s failure to deliver as promised. So it was just a socks and underwear Christmas for me that year— the mundane stuff  from Mom and Dad that Santa was obviously too proud to carry around in his sleigh— and I was just going to have to be content with that.

Amid all the hubbub and excitement of Christmas day in the midst of a very large family there was so much going on that my parents thankfully never even noticed that I wasn’t playing with my gift that morning. And when things quieted down there were siblings’ gifts to share in the enjoyment of, so it wasn’t in any way a terrible Christmas. It was just that Christmas joy was not to be found in a gift meant especially for me that year.

Of course it takes more than just two colourful memories to make a Christmas collage and I do have plenty more of them to assemble shortly— twinkling stars, Christmas pudding, fancy buttons and bows, mistletoe kisses, Christmas trees and more. Tomorrow is another day and I will be adding more for you then. Meanwhile,why not try assembling a Christmas memory collage of your own? I’d love to hear about it too.

Sweet sugarplum dreams tonight,

Love Yvonne

A Creative Bent or Just Plain Warped?

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DocImage000000481All the siblings in my family are a creative lot. There are story tellers whose verbal skills in amusing us over and over again with the same tales we’ve heard a hundred times before are such that they will gather a captive audience in two minutes flat if word passes around room to room, or front yard to back yard, that they are at it again. Keith and Jim are famous for this. They are truly able to see the humour in the situation, whether it is Keith’s ladder flying off the roof of his truck in the middle of the 401, or Jim getting snagged by his undies in a pre-dawn fall off his deck, while holding a running chainsaw. (Supposedly there were these annoying tree branches rubbing up against the bedroom window…)

There is nothing I love more than a long phone call from Keith, on his occasional quiet Saturday mornings, to tell me what crazy escapades he has been up to in his house-renovating, barn-painting, overly busy life. Keith is also a really great writer whose reflections on life on his face book page are poignant and publisher ready, despite his protests to the contrary.

My youngest brother, Don, is more serious than either of his brothers, but he is a very prolific journaler. His very small hand-written script, tightly travelling in a regimented way across stacks of note-book pages, reminded me of what I had seen of soldiers’ war-time letters, on precious air mail paper, in military museums. Those pages at the end of Don’s kitchen counter one particular day, when Rolly and I had travelled to Sarnia to pick him up, sorely tempted me to read them, while he was busy gathering his things together. But I would not invade his privacy in that way.

Don is fighting a battle of his own on a daily basis as he continues his struggle with Multiple Sclerosis, which he has had since he was 25. Often, on the rides to or from his home, he will reminisce with us about childhood days, or tell us stories of the experiences he remembers from working on a Great Lake freighter, or reflect poignantly on his personal joy in life. Being a decade younger than I am, he had a totally different perspective on things while growing up, and it is fun to hear his take on things. I am determined to have him share some of his writings with me at his discretion some day if he is willing. I’m sure I would be blessed, but not surprised.

My older sister Marsha is a very well-respected retired teacher. She has the gift of being able to explain things to small children in simple ways that enable them to learn new things very quickly— such things as how to tell which shoe to put on which foot. “Just put your shoes together so that they make a boat. If the front part of your shoes where your toes go are close together and look like a boat then they will be on the right feet when you put them on.” I just would never have thought of that, but a kid certainly gets it. Marsha is also a gifted photographer. When she comes back from any trip she has taken, with her photos all clearly captioned and the interesting facts about her destinations highlighted, whether it be a jaunt down a local side road in autumn, or a trip to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, you feel almost as if you have been there with her. The most difficult journey she has taken to date, has been a journey through grief following the loss of her husband John, whom we all loved dearly and miss more than I can adequately express.

Jeannie, likewise, has been on the same type of journey, in the loss of her husband Steve, but she has travelled a little further along. Living in Vancouver for many years, she has always been the family’s most prolific letter writer. She is someone who can even make a cup of tea and a tangerine sound so amazing in the written account of an afternoon break that I would almost swear off Diet Coke and chocolate for life to join her in such delightfully fulfilling repose. I said “almost”. The reality of the situation is that her enthralling way of being able to capture the steaming essence of green tea, and citrus excitement, seems almost supernaturally inspired. But just as the spell is broken in a darkened movie theatre as soon as the credits stop rolling up the screen and the lights go on, and you know you are never going to be anything like that gold-medal-winning-marathon-runner for world peace, it’s the same. Tea is only tea, and a tangerine is no better than a close second to a Toblerone bar any day in my books!  (Love you Jeannie, but that’s why you are the string bean and I am not!)

My sister Kathy is another of the family’s story tellers. Yes, I realize that my constantly referring to my parent’s, and siblings, their spouses and all of our children as “The Family” does sound a little like a tribute to the movie The Godfather but it just can’t be helped. We have a history together, and moments too close to the extremes of emotions for them not to have affected us in a way that bound us together as an enduring unit. Besides that, our mother for some unknown reason, being “supposedly” of German descent could always makes one mean spaghetti sauce.…( Sorry Mom)

Now—back to Kathy. Kathy would never have to take a back seat to anyone when it comes to story telling. But judging from the many pratfalls, and every other kind of falls, that seem to have been thrown into her path, on a more or less daily basis, according to her hilarious accounts, she likely fell into a back seat on more than one occasion (And only in a good way of course— The driver of the Fair Queen parade’s car suddenly slamming on the brakes, or a wobbly highheel tripping her up while entering a Taxi, and the like). Fate seems to have thrown Kathy into a Dorothy-like heel clicking life. This hopeful heel clicking can be heard as she hurries down city sidewalks from one to another of the establishments of clients of her and her husband Jody’s printing business. In her stylish pumps and matching suits, Dorothy–like, she faces some very strange situations— like unknowingly parking her brand new car beside a spray-paint application to a nearby building’s exterior on a windy day, or ending up in an Ontario whirlpool rather than a Kansas whirlwind when she toppled into a hot tub at a pool- side party. All very story-worthy material, given the right delivery…. and delivery, with perfect timing is what Kathy is good at.

Janice is the one who keeps everyone smiling, with her jokes and her stories, and her reflections on days gone by. She somehow seems able to find the bright side of things in her observations on modern farming, both the catastrophic and the mundane that occur in the cycle that she and Al her husband experience in large acreage cash crop farming, near the farm where we all grew up. Good days, bad days and all days in between, Janice is able to patiently smile, add another plate or three to the dinner table, at a moment’s notice, and still keep up a running dialogue of humorous remarks and exchanges.

She is the youngest of the girls in our family, and was a silent observer to most of the goings-on of her older sisters, as we behaved in ways that swung wildly at times between the valiant and the violent, in our loving but hot-tempered exchanges with one another. She tells stories about all of us at times, but they are always gilded carefully around the edges with a beautiful application of love. “Remember that hair-cut you gave me Vonnie, where you kept on cutting the bangs higher and higher because you couldn’t get them even? In the end I looked like a boy. And you thought you could really cut hair! Oh well you really tried…” Only when I  teased her about the end result and how much she actually did look like a boy did she let slip with what she really felt. She snuggled in closer to me on the couch, threw an arm around me in a close hug and whispered loudly in my ear “You Jerk!”

The truth will tell. And then again, maybe it won’t!

Brain Protector Failure At 7:00 A.M.

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Marsha, and Donny in a baby hat, being dressed for outside. Our Mom was a firm believer in the”hats in cold weather / health connection.

It is 7:00 in the morning and already I am the cause of an hysterical six year-old’s screaming! “Ohhh! Nooo! Her brains are gonna fall out! Her brains are gonna fall out! That thing is on my toe! Aaaaah! That thing is on my toe!  Aaaaaaaah!”

As he crab walks backwards at lightening speed, the red, green, and gold anodized aluminum cups and several of the pastel- coloured melmac plates go flying ! As he scoots his butt across the huge arborite table top of the kitchen table that my Dad had made for us his frantic foot- kicking frenzy continues, in a fruitless attempt to fling off the offensive item! It is snagged like an errant mousetrap on the toe of his nylon sock! His screaming seems to indicate that it is just as painful too, although I know that it can not be.

Meantime, I am doubled over in laughter , and tears begin to stream down my face. Donny somehow construes my contorted features and inability to speak as an empathetic   pain reaction to what he has done, and begins sobbing. Still, I am so totally overcome with laughter at the ridiculousness of the moment, that I am too incapacitated to relieve his distress. My mother puts an end to my little brother’s anguish when she grabs him up from the middle of the table and gives me a quick slap to the back of the head. In truth I really deserve it.I had previously told my little brother that the pink and silver thing  on the roof of my mouth, with the little silver hooks attached to it holding the elastic band in place over my front teeth, was there to keep my brains from falling out.

In those days, in the rural  Caradoc Township, there weren’t any people in our circle of acquaintances wearing any kind of dental appliance. Our old dentist was attempting to straighten my teeth by having me turn a tiny screw in something called a palate expander. As the dental appliance widened, my mouth was supposed to widen also—in theory anyway— so that the teeth might have room to straighten out. All this was a great mystery to Donny. Especially, since I hadn’t told him the truth in the first place. Story telling was what I enjoyed doing most with the little ones in our family. How was I to know that they would actually believed that so much of what I told them was the truth?

That morning was just like so many others in our family when I was growing up. A lot needed to be done in order to get eight kids out the door on time to meet one or other of the two big yellow school buses which stopped at the end of the driveway. Our mother had to delegate. While she stirred oatmeal porridge, and fried up eggs, either “dippy” or scrambled, no other options, someone would butter the toast as it popped out of the big four slice toaster. Someone else would be making sandwiches for lunches. A couple of us older girls would help get the younger kids dressed. The younger girls each learned to dress themselves  fairly early (and undress themselves too.) When Norma Jean (Jeannie) first started school she tried to avoid going at all, by stripping to her underwear and hiding under the bed just before the bus came.

Jimmy and Donny usually counted on our help getting dressed. In the dining room next to the kitchen was a long chestnut buffet which once had been my Grandma  Mum’s. In it a less practical mother than mine, or one with a lot less children, would have kept a chest of antique silverware and fancy table linens in one drawer, as well as a set of matching crystal and perhaps even a set of Nippon plates in the other. This was not at all reasonable to a mother like mine, who seemed quite happy with her melmac dishes and aluminum cups, and an extra set of glasses for company. Nevertheless, Dad’s china wear intervention one  Christmas a few years later improved our family’s status immensely  in our own eyes. Whenever we set the dining room table for Sunday dinner guests, with those  red- rose patterned dishes with gold trim, which we kept stacked in the matching china cabinet, we felt positively wealthy! Nobody would ever suspect that the buffet was not completely filled with a bounty of equally beautiful pieces!

The buffet was, in fact, full of underpants and other equally unglamorous items. The two massive drawers held Jimmy and Donny’s socks, underwear, pants and shirts. The two little “cubbies” at either end, where the shelves had been removed, held all the “nighties” of the youngest four. Due to some language blip of my German Grandma, my Mom learned to call all nightwear “nighties”, leading to a few very un-macho embarrassments for the boys when they did likewise when they were older .

The dining room was the place nearest to the laundry room, through which clothing was always moving back and forth anyway. It was also a place where a pajama clad boy could be speedily dressed in school clothes by an older sister, or a towel- clad freshly bathed boy could be brought, to be helped into pajamas again before bed. Then his bath towel could be hung on a line in the laundry room or out on the clothes line if it was still clean, or put into the dirty laundry basket if it wasn’t. Efficiency was what my mother ran her household on— a lot like high-test gas. We had that too, but usually only after having chili for supper.

And now for the rest of the story… (I’ll bet you read that in your Paul Harvey voice didn’t you?)

Why was the retainer, stuck on the poor kid’s toe anyway? In all likelihood, Marsha was doing her homework at the dining room table that morning, because she hadn’t finished it the night before. She was quite a perfectionist and a night owl too, but when it got late Mom probably told her to go to bed. Mom and Dad always stayed up until after the 11 o’clock news, but until Marsha turned out the light in the dining room  it wouldn’t be dark enough for them to get to sleep if they opened the door. When they opened the door they could at least get a nice cross breeze going between their downstairs bedroom and dining room windows on a hot summer night.

Probably on that morning I was causing too much commotion teasing Donny in the dining room for Marsha to concentrate, so he and I moved into the kitchen. Then he climbed up onto the edge of the kitchen table and stuck his foot out at me to help him get his socks on.( Super Nanny wouldn’t have liked that much— a five-year old who couldn’t put  his own socks on, Donny, but let’s assume that the socks were just a little too small.) So, who could resist tickling those little bare toes that were so soft and cute and vulnerable, the toes of the most ticklish boy in the world? And who could blame the little boy for kicking his big sister right in her aching mouth and yanking out her “Brain Protector”? And who could blame her for having told him that it was a Brain Protector in the first place?

Obviously, with a creative brain like that, it would only make sense that it should be protected from any possible loss of contents. And obviously, considering the nightmare- inducing trauma that she had inflicted upon a little boy’s psyche, the Brain Protector had failed to do its job at some earlier point. What else could possibly explain her total lack of judgement?

Wow! After all these years I can finally unburden myself of that heavy load of guilt! Just look what a little creative writing can do!