Housecleaning Memories

This post will be a sort of guest post from Granma Ladybug.

Recently she has assisted me with our Fall Housecleaning.  She has been reluctant to do so, not because of the labor, or the allergies, but because of the need to divest ourselves of many things which bring back strong memories.

Some years ago, when she was downsized out of a job, she took advantage of a government grant to return to school and upgrade her computer and English skills.  To assess incoming students’ language abilities, the English teacher asked them to write a one-page essay.  She recently came upon a file with hers, along with some other submissions.

The prompt was, “Write about something which strongly affected you, hopefully pleasantly.”  Her mother died when she was only three, and she was raised by a succession of older sisters and an evil sister-in-law.  When we engaged, my mother took her in like her own.  Read how this affected her.

A SUNDAY AFTERNOON DRIVE DOWN THE
SOUTH SHORE OF LAKE HURON

“Welcome to Bruce County!”  This is a sign that, over the years has come to mean a homecoming to me.  Unfortunately, this spring my mother-in-law had a stroke that affected her short-term memory, and she had to be placed in a nursing home.

Every trip home means visiting my father-in-law, who still manages to live at home, and fitting in three visits with Mom over the weekend.  This trip home, my husband and I decided to take Mom out for a Sunday afternoon drive.

After getting Mom settled in the car, our first stop was The Chip Shop, for French fries which we could enjoy during the drive.  Our journey took us down the main street to Lake Huron, and a view of Chantry Island.  We then travelled along Huron Street, taking a right onto Adelaide Street, down to Lake Street, left on Lake Street past the tennis courts, and another right to Beach Street.

Lighthouse

 

 

 

 

At the end of Beach Street is Chantry Park, where the Long Dock was.  You can still see the rocks which made up the dock, stretching far out into the water.  We then continued down Front Street, which turns into Harmer Street, then becomes Harmer Road, paralleling Lake Huron.

Lighthouse II

 

 

 

 

 

The road winds along the shoreline, curving to accommodate Mirimachi Bay, where a lower water level reveals mud flats with pools of murky water that house bulrushes, and other aquatic life.  We pulled over to the side of the road and watched two sailboats rounding Chantry Island, the sailing conditions being absolutely perfect.

mini-railroad

 

 

 

 

As we continued down the shore road, the brightly shining sun made the calm water sparkle with diamonds….almost too brilliant for the eyes.  On we meandered, past the miniature gauge railroad tracks in the lakefront park, past Port Elgin’s marina, up to the main street and to the Tim Horton’s, to pick up Timbits for Mom and her roommate, Christina Eagles.

Returning Mom to the nursing home was very difficult for Mom and us; however, Christina was glad to see Mom, as she has become very attached to her, and is frightened to be left alone for too long.  We brought out the Timbits, which are Christina’s favorite treat, and had a small party to celebrate the end of an enjoyable day.

While it was pleasant to take Mom out for the day, it brought to mind past years when Sunday meant putting on a roast and loading the car with grandparents, parents and children, to take a tour of the Bruce Peninsula.  We have, in past years, gone to the flea market at Mar, seen the spring and fall colors at Lion’s Head, and investigated many, many garage sales that dot the countryside during the fine summer weather.

Outings that were taken by the Smith family include a litany of small town names such as Chesley, Tara, Allenford, Wingham, Oliphant etc.  These were memories in the making, something to bring out later, and to let the remembering heal the hurt that adverse changes can bring.  To make pleasant memories is a very important detail.

This was the bitter-sweet last time we were all able to enjoy such a get-together.  Mom remained in good physical condition, almost until her death from a virulent case of flu when she was 92.  Soon after this day though, the mental light in her eyes faded, and there was almost no spark of who she’d been.

While we may be forced to jettison some of our physical things, we hold our memories dearly.  They remain almost as bright and strong as the days they were created.  They take no room to store and, not only can we pull them out and enjoy them at any time, but we can share them with others.   😀

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Getting A Real Education

When I was going to school, I never thought about the teachers.  That is, I never thought about where they had come from, or just how they ended up where they were.  In public school, grades 1 to 8, they just were.  Some were nicer. Some were more inspiring, but generally, they just were, a necessary evil.  As I proceeded through high school, I started to wonder about some of the idiosyncrasies.  It wasn’t till I became more adult, that I could look back on those who had helped mold me, and understand what had molded them.

When each class graduates from a teachers’ college, the ones at the top of the class get to pick where they will teach.  It might be in a big city, with a bigger pay, or their home town, or where a husband or wife already has a job.  The ones at the bottom of the list wind up in increasingly remote, undesirable locations.  My high school wasn’t exactly the restaurant at the end of the universe, there was another 100 Kilometers to the top of the Bruce Peninsula, but we got some “interesting” instructors.

Because of the size of the school, most teachers had to teach more than one subject.  Sometimes the juxtaposition was laughable.  The same single male teacher who taught Chemistry, Physics, Botany and Zoology, had to teach boys’ Phys-ed.  Called Chick, or Chicky, but never to his face, he was five foot three, and was never seen without a suit and tie.  He taught me what little gymnastics I could absorb.  The high-bar that the jocks could just reach up and grab, he had to jump for, but where they couldn’t get on it, he wound himself up like a little monkey.  It was fascinating, watching him whirl around, with his rule-violating street-shoes going one way, and his tie streaming in another.  When he wasn’t busy teaching, he was busy drinking and going to dance-halls to try to pick up the same teenage girls he had just taught in class.

Another of our male teachers had to teach English to grades nine and ten, and Mathematics to eleven and twelve.  He had a speech impediment, and it was all we could do, not to laugh when he talked about turdy-tree and a turd.  I don’t know how much of his own English education he slept through.  He taught us the story of the Daedalus and Icarus, who made wings and escaped by flying away, only, he pronounced them Duh-lawd-us and Iraq-us.  I told him one time, that his humor was very intrinsic, and the English teacher smiled and thanked me.

He used to sit on the right corner of his desk, cross his legs and swing the top one in and out, and invariably kick over the waste-basket.  Clang, clang, clang.  He’d pick up the mess, put the pail right back where it had been, cross his legs, and kick it over again.  I sat at the back of his class.  One day, he was droning on, and I picked a spot on the ceiling and stared at it.  Took a minute or two, but suddenly he asked me a question.  Without a second’s hesitation, I gave him the right answer, never taking my eyes off the spot.  Now he had to wander back, while lecturing, and stare up where I was looking, making the whole class wonder what in Hell was up there.

One year, the theme for the senior prom was Carousel, a soft pretty idea.  The movie, based on the play, had been released a few years earlier.  On a bulletin board across from the office, the notice went up.  Just as the Principal walked by, I loudly exclaimed, “Oh look, the theme for the prom is carousal”, an apt name, meaning mobile Bacchanalia.  Sure enough, the Principal’s morning’s announcements included one about the upcoming carousal.  Only about half the students *got it*, but my work had been done.  I wasn’t a shit-disturber in school, really I wasn’t.

The shop teacher was like every shop teacher, only, maybe a little more.  He was five-foot four….in any direction.  He was a little pig of a man, but I kinda liked him, even if a lot of the guys didn’t.  His vocabulary included phrases like, “It was darker than the inside of a pig’s ass”, and, in referring to the embarrassment he had inflicted on some poor student, “He turned as red as ten bottles of ketchup.”  I don’t know why he thought ten bottles, or even two, would be any redder than one.

He owned the standard shop-coat and, judging from the food stains on it, it was older than any of us.  He liked to put it on at the beginning of the first class, stuff his hands in the pockets like Napoleon, playing with himself, and strut around self-importantly.  One of the students was a farm-boy whose parents raised ducks.  He brought in two duck-eggs, half-filled the pockets with sawdust from the circular saw, dropped an egg in each pocket, and tapped them with a hammer.  Try not to laugh, go ahead, just try not to.

In the winter, he liked to hang the shop-coat on a peg right above the hot air register.  That way it was nice and warm to put on in the morning.  We had the last shop class of the week.  He wandered over and hung the coat up, and one devious classmate held his attention while his conspirator friend put a piece of Limburger cheese in each pocket.  Perhaps one of them was the humiliated kid with the ketchup, or maybe they were just little assholes.  We were told that the stench, Monday morning, was impressive.  The windows were open to the winter, all day.  He went without Old Faithful for a day, and came in the next day with a new coat.

I learned to be an educated, responsible, mature adult from these role-models, I assure you I did!

I Didn’t Come to New York City

Today, I’d like to take you for a trip with my Mom and Dad which I didn’t even go on.  Actually, it’s a couple of trips, but who’s counting?  Dad received a small disability pension from the government.  It wasn’t much, but it made the difference between being stuck in a small town, and affording to take the occasional road trip.

One summer, he and Mom decided that they would drive west to Yellowstone Park.  They drove out through the States, then went north and returned by the Trans-Canada Highway.  I moved a hundred miles away from home for employment.  My brother moved here for a while.  He even tried the big city of Toronto, but he was a small-town boy at heart.  He moved back to Hicksville, (not the one where Billy Joel was born and raised) got a job and a wife.  Dad asked them if they would like to come along.

My brother likes driving.  He currently has a job delivering for an auto-parts/hardware store.  He puts in about a hundred kilometers a day.  His part-time weekend gig is driving limousines.  At the time of this tale, he would volunteer to drive from the base of the Bruce Peninsula, all the way to St. Paul, Minnesota, to pick up parts needed urgently at his firm.  A day out, stay the night in a motel, and the next day back.  He made that run at least three times.  He also would drive 2 hours to Toronto, pick up freight at the airport, and drive 2 hours home.  He has probably driven every mile of I-75, from the top of Michigan, to Miami.  Not all in the same day, although I went with him twice and shared the driving.  We got on at Detroit, and 24 hours later, we were just east of Tampa.  He’s put on a lot of miles, and been a lot of places, but culturally, he’s never left home.

The two couples pulled in to some little roadside diner, somewhere near Yellowstone, for lunch.  My brother, being the culinary daredevil he is, ordered a hamburger.  He knows about fish and chips.  Our town had a “chip wagon”, which served French fries.  With his hamburger, he asked for an order of chips.  He bitched for months about the waitress, who went behind the counter and poured an opened foil bag of chips onto his plate, beside the burger.  That’s not what I f*#^in’ wanted, but I ate the *#@% things.

The next year, by themselves, Mom and Dad drove out to British Columbia.  In B.C., the province licences pulp and paper companies to cut trees.  In return, they must provide and maintain camping sites.  They do this by cutting a swath of trees down and leveling a road, in a loop.  Every hundred yards or so, they hack out a square spot, and level it.  Water and washrooms can be a mile away.  Not exactly cheek by jowl with the nearest neighbor, but, at least the college kids don’t keep you awake with rap music all night.

Dad backed the little camper-trailer into position, parked the car and got the trailer unfolded and set up.  Dad is the grasshopper to Mom’s ant, in this Aesop’s pairing.  He does no more than he absolutely has to and wants to wander and socialize.  Mom was hauling out the cooler, the camp stove, the food and drink, the dishes and the cooking utensils.  She turned around, and he was missing.  Where’s he gone to now, and when will he be back?  He returned about a half an hour later.  Apparently he had walked back to the nearest campsite, to talk to the folks there.  As they drove in, he had noticed that they had Ontario plates.  The color scheme was the same as B.C. plates, but with a different arrangement of letters and numbers.  The conversation went something like this.

Where you from?

Ontario.

Yeah.  I noticed that by the plates.  Where in Ontario?

Southern Ontario.  (This guy wasn’t giving anything away.)

There’s a lot of Southern Ontario, where exactly?

A town called Wiarton, at the bottom of the Bruce Peninsula.

Now Dad’s excited.  I’m from Wiarton.  Well, says the guy, I’m actually from a little village called Red Bay, a few miles west.  Dad says, yeah, I know the place, me too.  Well actually I was born at home, in a cabin, a couple of miles out.  Dad says, yeah, me too!  Back then, it was unusual for women to go all the way to town to have a baby at the hospital.  Everybody had relatives or neighbors or a local midwife.

It turned out that the two men had been born in glorified logging cabins, on the same, still unpaved county road, about a half a mile, and two years apart.  Dad was the older of the two.  They knew each other’s relatives and friends, but had never met.  I find the coincidence of meeting, three thousand miles from home, and almost seventy years later, just awe-inspiring, all because of Dad’s eagle eye.  Then again, we have my son’s story about seeing a flipped coin wind up on edge.  The song says, I didn’t come to New York City, to meet a guy from my home town, but Dad was always pleased to have run into a neighbor that far from home.