Places I’ve Called Home

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Way back in the day before color when farms were in black and white and sepia.

I almost called this list ‘Places I’ve Slept’ but thankfully saw the problems with that almost immediately.  Titles are hard.  Unless you don’t give a hoot about accuracy.  Anyway, here we go, a list of the various locations I’ve been referring to whenever I’ve said “let’s go home”.

    1. From birth to about age six I lived on a little farm in Ontario down the hill from my maternal grandparents farm, close to Lake Huron, beside a stone and cement bridge which spanned a raging creek.  I was little.  It looked raging to me.
    2. More permanent farm number two, about 8 miles from Port Elgin, the town I decided to call my hometown because I went to high school there.  This is the home I kept coming back to for most of my adult life, the place where my parents lived most of theirs.
    3. The Orchards house in Stratford where I boarded (a shared bedroom with a tiny little balcony) while attending Teachers College.
    4. A two bedroom apartment in St. Catharines shared with 3 other working girls.  I was a substitute teacher, on call to fill in anywhere in the city.  (This is when I met W at a residence party at the university) (it wasn’t all about work)
    5. The Wilkes house in St. Catharines where I boarded in a little smoke-filled bedroom while attending Brock University.  I was the one supplying the smoke,  convinced it helped me concentrate while writing boring English and Philosophy papers.
    6. A tiny little garage sized house in a backyard in Kenora, our first home as a married couple, close to one of W’s aunts who liked to feed us.
    7. Basement apartment in Dryden on Charles Street,  close to one of MY aunts who also liked to feed us.
    8. High rise apartment in Guelph where W went back to University and I worked at the campus bookstore, all in the interests of one day being able to feed ourselves.
    9. Basement apartment in Guelph for married University students.  Our daughters first home.
    10. Government house in Cambridge Bay, N.W.T.  Our sons first home.
    11. Row housing in Inuvik, N.W.T. The old ones close to the hospital, not the new ones on the other side of town.  We had utilidors and board walks.  And dust and mud and the scrawniest Christmas trees in the history of the world.
    12. Government house in Pond Inlet, N.W.T., right beside the Arctic Ocean.  The view from our front window was of the mountains on Bylot Island and random icebergs floating by or trapped in the ocean ice.
    13. Government house in Yellowknife on Bromley Drive, a paved street!  We were on our way back to civilization.
    14. And here we are, (and have been since the late 1980’s) in our very own mortgage free abode in sunny Alberta, the province my kids call home.

I’m glad we stopped our wandering ways.  I always worried that our kids would turn into little nomads with no roots.  Both of us had parents who stayed put even after we moved away and I wanted that stability for our kids too.

After all these years and all these places I still consider Ontario home and have vague dreams about one day going back there to end up somewhere close to the place I started.  I don’t know if it will ever happen, and really it doesn’t matter.  Home is just a thing you take with you wherever you go, leaving little pieces of your heart behind in every place you’ve ever been settled and happy. Nothing is forever, and we got good at packing up our memories and moving on.  I expect that skill will come in handy again one fine day.

 

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

This morning I cut my hair myself, something I’ve been messing about doing half my life it seems.  And I’ve spent the other half being upset with, happy with, or puzzled by the results of professional haircuts.  At least when I do it myself I save time, learn something, and am always delighted to use the money and time I would have spent with a hairdresser on something more fun.  And less traumatizing.

When we first moved to the Arctic with our one year old daughter my hair was long and straight.  I wore it pulled back at the neck, braided, up in a pony tail and even in pig tails sometimes.   We lived in an isolated community with few amenities, accessible only by air, and I was pregnant and bored.  There’s a deadly combination.  After weeks of conversing with a toddler because my husband was always working or away, using up all my yarn and craft supplies and watching it snow,  I decided to hack off my hair.  Hey, it passed some time.  I took off only a few inches that first time, but then my mother in law sent me the first curling iron I ever owned and the real experimenting began.

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This is me with my two babies (February 1976) after six months in Cambridge Bay and who knows how many self-inflicted hair cuts.  Once my son arrived I had much less time to be bored so the frequency of hair cuts slowed down considerably.

Fast forward to Christmas that same year when we flew to Ontario.  Our son was almost eleven months old and our daughter was two and a half.  I was long overdue for a visit to a salon.  Mothers of young children generally aren’t known for their astute sense of fashion and style, which might explain why I decided to get my hair cut in a “shag”‘ made popular by people like Jane Fonda in the movie Klute.

When I returned with my newly shorn “do” my daughter stopped in her tracks and stared at me.  Not much ever made that kid slow down, so that’s why I remember it.  I picked her up and she grabbed a little fist full of what was left of the hair at my forehead and said “MOMMY ARE YOU IN THERE?”  Yes, my daughter always spoke in caps lock.

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And yes, those are bangs. The shortest bangs in history, except maybe for the ones little kids cut by accident on themselves.  I thought you also might enjoy seeing W in a pink paper party hat, and a messy gift opening Christmas Eve.  And my classy shoes?  Don’t miss those.

The great thing about hair is it keeps on growing and after a couple of months I finally made peace with this hair cut.

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Jane Fonda, eat your heart out.

Sharing My World 29

imageDeja Vu. By some happy fluke this picture looks great on one of my yellow walls and goes well with an arrangement my sister did for me eons ago because I don’t have any talent for that kind of thing, but you can’t be good at everything, right?

What an awkward picture of mostly wall.  This is why I admire good photographers.

Share Your World 2015 Week 20

What is the most important thing that you ever learned? (I bet it’s not something you learned in school)

Nope, but I wish I could have studied all things Eckhart Tolle in school.  Then I would have known how to live in the moment without worrying about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow.  How to be fully present and love exactly what I’m doing, right here and right now.  Acceptance of what is, without futile resistance.  Knowing the calm and joyful beautiful me, and the life underneath the life situation.

What feeds your enthusiasm for life?

My family, near and far.  My writing, good and bad.  My art, wonderful or weird.  Reading.  Coffee.  Netflix.  (Well, I did leave that one for last.)

What’s your most memorable (good or bad) airplane commercial or private flight?

I wonder if I have some kind of strange comprehension problem, because when I first read that question I thought I was supposed to come up with my favourite airplane commercial.  But, it’s okay, I get it now.  There have been many memorable flights in my life so I’m going to give you a little list.

1.  My very first flight was in 1975 from Toronto to Winnipeg with my one year old daughter.  So it was her first flight too.  Kind of amazing that I had never been on an airplane before that.

2.  Our first flight into the Arctic (Cambridge Bay) where we landed in the middle of frozen white nowhere. Brrrr.

3.  Flying into Pangnirtung where the approach is between two cliffs and I swear the wing tips almost scrape them both.  Just Google images for “landing in Pangnirtung” if you think I’m kidding.

4.  Flying into Rankin Inlet in some tiny little plane in a crazy howling wind and skidding sideways on the tarmac.  Turbulence on the ground was worse than in the air.  Okay, I had a lot of Gravol before that flight, so my recollection may be a little hazy.

5.  The flight from Edmonton to Toronto (en route to Scotland) when the engines stopped making noise on our approach.  No one else in the plane appeared to be concerned about this.  So I assumed I had gone deaf.  Turned out it was plugged ears from a wicked head cold.  But it didn’t clear up until we were headed home, so I shouted at my sister for the entire two weeks.

If you were a great explorer, what would you explore?

Parallel universes in a time machine. With a couple of adventurous spirit guides. Then I would write about my most memorable experiences.  And maybe draw you some pictures.

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Its been a nice quiet uneventful lazy week with some creative spurts thrown in, and I am looking forward to more of the same.  Is that boring?  Do I look bored to you?  It was the photo of the wall that gave it away, wasn’t it.

 

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Write A Letter

Cin’s Feb Challenge Day 11:  Write a letter to a friend and mail it.

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All my life I’ve been a writer of letters – the old-fashioned, real-pen-on-real-paper kind that nobody bothers with much anymore.  I have saved random letters written to me, and written by me, and written by old dead relatives, (but don’t worry, they were still alive when they wrote them.)  My sister saved some of the letters I wrote to her when we lived in the NWT, and then she bundled them up and sent them all back to me years later.  I read them and hardly recognized myself.

Now I think it’s time to voluntarily retire myself from this practice partly because it’s becoming a lost art, but mostly because I tend to say some pretty crazy things off the top of my head.  There is no back spacing or cutting and pasting or spell checking with ink on paper.  It’s so much easier to dash off heavily revised e-mails to people and then hope they have the sense to delete them once they’re read.

Way back in the 1950’s and 60’s we were not only taught penmanship, but also proper letter writing skills in school.  I often think it would be nice if kids today learned better e-mailing and chat board and texting skills.  Including things like spelling and grammar and proof reading.  And checking to see what strange things have been auto-corrected before they hit send.

I still remember some of our great lessons in communication back in the day.  You just don’t see stuff like this anymore:

Dear Alice, How are you? I am fine.  What are you up to these days?  Nothing much is going on here…..

and so on, until one or the other of you dies from boredom.

A post card would always be some variation of these sentiments:

Dear Alice, greetings from Timbuktu, having a great time, wish you were here. 

With a lot of exclamation marks.  Never mind if you don’t really mean any of it, the important thing is to be polite and vague.

Okay, it is possible that I missed a few classes.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been watching “The Good Wife” on Netflix and if I’ve learned anything at all from this series it’s that things you are foolish enough to write down on paper can be taken out of context and used against you in a court of law, and that important pieces of police reports are always going mysteriously missing.  The same thing happens with letters.  If you make a statement on one page and explain it on the next, you had better hope that second page stays with the first.  Or future generations will be questioning your intelligence and/or sanity.

The picture above is of the pages of a letter I wrote to my sister from Cambridge Bay in January of 1976.  It states quite clearly that I have stopped wearing my wedding ring because I am thinking of having an affair.

See, you can say shit like that to your sister and she will get the joke and maybe even think it’s funny.  Because she knows you are living in a climate so dark and cold that the only reason you leave your house is for groceries and even then you think long and hard about it.  She knows you have an incredibly active little 17 month old daughter who wears you right out.  And most importantly she knows that you are eight months pregnant and therefore not in your right mind. The next page goes on to explain about puffiness and swelling in my hands and feet and having to grease my fingers to pry the ring off before it cut off my circulation.  No one looks good with a blue ring finger.

But what if that second page got lost?  Oh well, I did say I was only thinking about it.  It’s not likely that I’d send out announcements if it actually happened.

The only other vaguely interesting thing I wrote in that letter was that my daughter liked to wander into the baby’s room, grab hold of the bars on the crib and screech at the top of her lungs while shaking it as hard as she could.  I should have put a stop to this behaviour before her brother was born, but I didn’t.  So if he reads this letter he will know that my daughter and I are responsible for his disrupted sleep patterns if he has any.

See the kind of trouble you can get yourself into?  So I will not be writing a letter to a friend today or quite possibly ever again.  The notes and lists I scribble and leave all over the place will be enough to keep any hoarder descendants I might have deep in thought for a long time.

Or they could just have a big bonfire.  That would also be fine.

Twenty Five Cent Caribou

Daily Prompt:  Buffalo Nickel

Dig through your couch cushions, your purse, or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find. What were you doing that year?

I live in the land of Beaver Nickels and Sailboat Dimes.  Here is the first coin I came across this morning (and what do you know, it was in the zippered change purse of my wallet, no scrounging around on the dirty floor mats of the car for me).

1977 quarterSo what was I up to in 1977?  Well, probably my ears in toys.  My son turned one year old in February of 1977, and my daughter had her third birthday in July.  We were living in Cambridge Bay, Northwest Territories, land of bleak and frozen treeless tundra.  It’s the year we moved to Inuvik, NWT, land of bugs and mud and utilidors.

It’s the year my sister got married, and we came south that June to thaw out and delight in all things green and sunny for a couple of weeks.

We went canoeing on the Saugeen River with the soon to be newly weds and our brother and sister-in-law.  I wore long sleeves so my pasty white winter skin wouldn’t burn and look ridiculous with the peach colored bridesmaid dress.  Unfortunately my hands were the only thing that got too much sun, so they stood out rather nicely in some of the photos.  Such a silly thing to remember.

It’s the year we cut off my sons beautiful blond curls so that he looked more like a little boy and less like an angelic cherub.  We moved in to an end unit in a row house amidst a sea of similar row houses.  We let our daughter ride her tricycle on the board walk but only as far as the hospital and back.  She recounted her adventures to everyone who would listen – I rode my bike-a-dose to the hos-pi-dose!  Impressive story.

1977 was the beginning of our four-year stay in Inuvik.  It was where the kids started school, where I played baseball, drove a beat up old blue Volkswagen, went down the MacKenzie River to a real whaling camp, worked as an enumerator for a federal election, made friends and watched them move away, and then lost touch and made new ones.

In 1977 I was just busy being a wife and a mom, living with the most gawd-awful looking furniture ever issued by a government to a federal employee.  The kids did not appear to be bothered much by this at all.

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Inuvik, 1977 When you see faces like this, you know you must be doing something right.

Important Stuff

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What’s more important – where you live or what you do for a living? As soon as I decide which leg is more important to me, my right or my left, I’ll be able to answer that question. Where you live and what you do are often inextricably intertwined. One defines the other. If you’re offered your dream job on the other side of the world you will find a way to relocate to where it’s based to pursue your passion. If you cannot bear to leave the place where you grew up and your family and friends and the house you built yourself, you will find employment in that locality and be thankful for a job that pays enough to allow you to stay where you want to be.

My husband asked me once if I’d follow him to the ends of the earth. How he failed to notice that I’d already done that is a real mind boggler. We’ve lived in Cambridge Bay, Inuvik, Pond Inlet and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories where he worked as a Wildlife Officer, which proves that I was either in love or insane for those eleven years. Perhaps a little of both. But we went wherever his job took him while our kids were small. Then we had to make a choice in their best interests and we moved “south” where schools and facilities and activities and opportunities were so much better for them. And now that they’re both all satisfactorily grown up and on their own, we can go back to making more selfish choices.

It’s hard to measure and compare the importance of things when their values fluctuate. It’s not a perfect world. Every day we make compromises and concessions and trade-offs in our search for harmony and balance. And if we’re very lucky, no matter where we live or what we’re doing, we find it.

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Cambridge Bay 2

July 18

Cambridge Bay II

Life went on at about the same pace for the next few months.  Alternately hectic and lazy, mostly depending on the kids and how they were and what they needed.  W. continued to go on trips and never be around.  I depended on myself and my friends to look after my babies and keep myself sane.  My mom and dad decided to make plans for a trip all the way to Cambridge Bay from Ontario to visit us for a week in June.  At least I had that to plan for and look forward to.  I went to the drop-in for moms and tots, talked on the phone, visited, took the baby for his check ups, washed, cleaned, wiped runny noses.  I lived through teething and toilet training and roseola infantum.  I often felt overwhelmed dealing with all these things mostly on my own, with my mom so far away and trying to tell W. about it by phone.  I still had a few bouts of feeling not in control and incredibly sad, but I always made myself snap out of it.  I had two beautiful children who needed a mother who wasn’t depressed and crazy.

When the snow finally melted we were stranded once again, not being able to use the snowmobile.  Someone gave me an old stroller and I was so grateful I nearly cried.  I used it to pack the kids into and walk to the Bay for groceries.  I nursed D. through colds and sore throats, and sat up all night with K. after his first immunization needle.  W. went off to some course in Lethbridge for 2 weeks and I impressed myself no end with how well I could cope on my own.  Finally it was June and he arrived home on the same day as my parents flew in, so we all were at the airport to meet them.  I was insanely happy to see them.  They spent a lot of time with their grandchildren, and we talked and talked and talked.  The visit was over much too fast.  The day after they left W. started talking again about taking some 2 or 3 day trips and maybe going away for a month in the summer when the ice went out.   He told me he really didn’t appreciate me giving him static about leaving.  I wanted to strangle him.  I told him he might as well just leave and never come back because I was not EVER going to get used to this.  I told him he would not last two days if the roles were reversed.  That prompted him once again to try to spend more time with D. and K. but he always got frustrated and would invariably think of other things he had to do.

That summer we had some strange visitors – a couple of photographers from England and some kind of duck egg collector from Scotland.  W. invited them to stay with us.  He was also always inviting people over for meals and evenings whenever he was home.  Those were really the only times I ever learned about anything he was doing, when he talked to other people and I got to listen in.  We really didn’t tell each other much of anything anymore.  Then he went off doing some flying musk ox surveys or something wildlife related like that.  After that he flew off to Yellowknife to either attend meetings or have a vasectomy.  Maybe it was both, I don’t remember.  It’s all a blur.  Because around that time a letter came in the mail from some girl in Lethbridge.  It was addressed to W., although there was no box number, and there was her name and return address in the corner.  I had no idea who she was, but just the envelope made me sick.  So I opened it and read what she had to say.  She called him some silly nickname, talked about her family and her tan, and how everyone said hi.  Then she blathered on about hickies and presents and her sex life.  It was truly bizarre.   And it made me temporarily lose my mind.

I tried to reach W. in Yellowknife about six times, and finally left a message for him to call home.  Then I packed my suitcase with everything I could cram into it, and searched the house for my credit cards and my cheque book so that I could make flight reservations back to Ontario for myself and my kids.  I honestly could not find them anywhere, although I turned the whole house upside down and finally in frustration I called Trudy and told her the whole sordid story.  She sat down and had three drinks in a row listening to my tale of woe.  How funny was that.  I’m the one who needed a drink.  Then she came and picked us up and we went to the library.  She kept telling me to calm down and think this through and not do anything rash.  I was at the fucking library – how rash was that?  We laughed until we cried.  She said she had a hard time believing that W. would do something like that – he loved me and his kids and just didn’t seem like the type.  Deep down I thought she was right, but really, what did I know anymore?  When I got home I resumed my search for my wallet, but it was half-hearted at best.  Finally W. called, a bit frantic sounding, sure that something had happened to one of us.  I assured him that we were all just perfectly fine, as usual, no thanks to him, and could he please tell me all about his escapades in Lethbridge?

I have to give him credit if he really was guilty of anything for being completely believable in his bafflement and anxiety.  I had never known him to lie about anything before.  In fact he has always been quite brutally honest even when the truth could use some softening.   He was desperate to come up with some kind of explanation for this girl he had never heard of sending him a letter.  There were some guys from the Yukon who did a lot of bar hopping and joked that when you picked up chicks you should use somebody else’s name.  Maybe somebody used his name.   He begged me to not do anything crazy and to wait for him to get home.  Well.  Wasn’t that just becoming the story of my life.  What choice did I have, really?  When I hung up the phone I read the letter again, looking for any little clue or reference to anything that could be linked to W., but it was just such generic stupid little-girl babble that I gave up.  W. came home bearing gifts and was the most attentive and loving I’d ever seen him, begging me to believe he would never do anything to risk losing me.  I guess I could have worried about it and analyzed it all to death forever, but there was really no point.  So I accepted his explanation and we threw the letter away and never talked about it again.

So, did things get better after that?  Well, sort of.  I found my credit cards and cheque book and wallet in the bottom of D.’s toy box.  We celebrated her second birthday.  I got offered a job teaching grade six at the school right across the road from our house.  A teacher they had hired backed out at the last possible second,  and they were desperate to fill her position.  I said yes without hardly thinking about it.   W. made plans to go by boat to Bay Chimo.  I can’t remember why, but I didn’t have time to worry about it.  The school year started in mid August.  I had a babysitter who didn’t show up two days out of three, so I had to get Trudy to look after my kids.  Thank God she decided she liked doing it, and was nothing if not reliable.  Even when both of them got sick, which they did during my second week.  And then one day the RCMP showed up at my door to tell me that W. and his “guide” and a federal fisheries officer had never showed up in Bay Chimo and no one could find them.  I don’t know why I didn’t just shoot myself and be done with it all.  It took them two days of flying to finally find them, out of gas, with no drinking water, almost out of food and totally lost.  Turns out their “guide” was a kid who had never even been to Bay Chimo and just wanted to go for a boat ride.  You would think that one would have been the trip that finally cured W. of his need to travel by land and water to desolate places, and that he would start taking planes instead.  Not even close.  He went everywhere he could think of, for the most obscure reasons.  All work related.  But he did learn to use a radio and stay in contact with people daily.  I constantly got phone calls from people telling me they’d talked to him and where he was and what he was doing.  I know that was at least a step in the right direction.  Two more times he got stranded and had to be picked up by the RCMP.  Once was on a denning survey, and once on a polar bear hunt.  How boring it would have been to have a husband with a desk job.

We finally got home to Ontario for two weeks that Christmas.  Hectic but very therapeutic.  Both kids were sick with colds, but otherwise little angels.  I’m their mother, and I would know that.  When I went back teaching in January, I handed in my resignation as of May that year, and felt like a thousand pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  I won’t say I hated it, I loved the kids in my class and we had a lot of fun, but I spent so much time worrying about them and torn between them and my own babies, that I knew I had to give it up.  D. and K. were becoming little people with little personalities, and I didn’t want to miss any more of it. The principal at the school practically begged me to reconsider, and gave me such a glowing letter of recommendation that I was stunned.  I thought about it seriously while I finished out the school year, but I didn’t change my mind.

That summer we packed up our kids and went home for my sister’s wedding, and then spent three weeks at our camp.  After that we flew back to Cambridge Bay and packed up everything, and five days later moved to Inuvik.  I can’t say I was sorry to see the last of that place.  There were lots of good times, but I think all the missing husband scares probably took a few years off my life.

One of my very favourite memories of our time there is of a morning when a bunch of us got together for breakfast;   ladies only – no husbands, no boyfriends, no kids.  If I had to put names to faces and vice versa I would not be able to do it now.  All I remember is the fun we had making the best crepes I have ever tasted in my life, the decadent fillings, the real whipped cream, the delicious coffee.  But mostly it’s the laughter that has stayed with me all these years,  and how we all felt practically normal in this so very NOT normal place.