Family Lines

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Tag: Acadia University

Chipping inn

A matchbook - The only image I could find of the Colonial Inn.

The only image I could find of the Colonial Inn.

A Facebook meme went around last week asking people what restaurants they remember from childhood and if the joints are still around. I remember the usual because they were unusual in many Nova Scotia towns in the 80s. (There was no McDonald’s in New Minas in the Annapolis Valley until the mid-eighties.) The other night, another restaurant popped into my head, a place that has almost been eaten away by my brain.

The Colonial Inn was on Main Street in downtown Wolfville. It was a 10-minute walk from Wolfville Junior High, where I attended Grades 7 to 9. As a student who was bused to town every day from the countryside, I always brought my lunch: a nutritious meal prepared lovingly by my mother. However, sometimes I didn’t want my milk or apple or sandwich. Sometimes, I wanted to go to the Colonial Inn.

For two dollars, my friend Angela and I could get a hot and greasy plate of fries to share. At 14 years old, two bucks was a lot of money. It was such a treat when one of us had the cash or we each had a dollar to chip in for an oily mid-day meal. Off to downtown we went.

My parents had never specifically told me that downtown was off-limits. I was probably told to stay on the school grounds. While town students got to home for lunch, rural kids like Angela and I had nothing to do for an hour. We were allowed to eat lunch in our classrooms and then we had to go outside, rain or snow or shine. That often meant walking around Wolfville.

Wolfville is a quaint and cute university town (home of Acadia University), and the Colonial Inn wasn’t a seedy bar or a filthy diner: it was a nice brick-faced restaurant. The servers wore long mustard coloured skirts, peasant blouses and “Colonial-style” white caps. I only remember women as servers and one in particular because she used to ride the bus with me. To me, she was an adult but she would have only been at most, 18. Her name was Dora and she often brought Angela and me our one plate of fries that we split down the middle. Angela smothered her chips in ketchup while I liked mine plain.

A modern scene of downtown Wolfville.

A modern scene of downtown Wolfville.

We hoovered down our shared lunch, always aware that time was ticking away and we had to go back to class. After the last chip was gone, we’d run up the hill to school, wondering where we’d get two bucks for tomorrow’s fries.

When we moved on to Grade 10 (high school), we moved schools and communities. I didn’t go back to the Colonial Inn and one day, it wasn’t there. There was a new restaurant in its place. Angela and I had moved on too and met new friends. We’ve never lost touch though and I see her when I go home. Maybe next visit we should go get some fries.

Firsts and forgets

Dr. Conley and I in Halifax.I love seeing people’s “first day of school” photos (especially those of my niece and nephew). While I was home in Nova Scotia last week, Acadia University students were moving into residence, some for the first time.

It has been more than 20 years since I was a student at Acadia, set on changing the world. I was going to be a foreign correspondent who would fly herself (in her own plane) to troubled regions and report the news. I would spread the word about terrible atrocities and make the world understand that it needed to help right away. I would force people to wake up and start caring. Yep, that was my plan.

I was reminded of these naïve aspirations a couple of weeks ago while visiting a professor / mentor in Halifax. Dr. Marshall Conley is a globetrotting human rights expert whom I first met when I was in his introductory political science class at Acadia. He also spearheaded a youth international internship program that paired volunteers under 30 with human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as governments. In 1998, I was one of Dr. Conley’s interns.

After finishing my degree at Acadia and then the journalism program at Ryerson University in Toronto, I was sent to the African Centre for Democracy and Human Right Studies in The Gambia as a publications officer. During my recent trip back to Nova Scotia, Dr. Conley (I still can’t call him by his first name even though we’ve been friends for years) invited my husband and I to his lovely home for lunch. When we arrived, I saw he had set out a photograph of the 16 interns he had sent around the world the year I went to The Gambia.

I blinked at the picture of young adults lined up in two rows. I had always thought that I would never forget the people in my intern cohort but here I was, blanking. While I remembered their faces, I couldn’t remember many of their names. It worried me. If I let these fine details escape from my brain, how many other things am I forgetting?

Dr. Conley came over and once he said who each person was, a light bulb went on inside my head.

“Oh, yes,” my brain said. “I remember now.”

I do remember. I remember tidbits about each person too. I remember where they all went, one to Estonia, one to Paris, two to Bangladesh, two to The Gambia (one was me), etc. I remember the excitement we all had when we were about to take off to exotic and strange locations. I remember the nervousness of heading into the unknown. I also remember trying to find a mosquito net in Halifax long before Mountain Equipment Co-op was a thing. I remember booking my flight that took me from Nova Scotia, to Iceland, to London and then to Africa. (Björk was on my plane from Reykjavik to London. She wore a white butcher’s apron as a dress and flip-flops with socks. The whole ensemble looked uncomfortable.)

Miriama from theAfrican Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies.

Miriama from theAfrican Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies.

I remember thinking that this internship would lay the foundation for my career as a foreign correspondent. In Gambia, I would get experience in human rights, NGOs, politics and policy and be introduced to new ideas and ways of life. With all these tools and insight, I would jump to an exciting and fulfilling journalism career.

I did learn a lot about human rights and statecraft and met all sorts of people from all walks of life in The Gambia. I also learned how to barter (my roommate was better, though), how to find my way through sandy streets and that unripe mangos make a tasty mango crisp. All these lessons and moments added up to a truly life-changing experience. I was on my way to making my goal a reality.

Then the real world got in the way.

When I returned home from my many months aboard, I needed a job. I got one in Calgary working as a news writer for a television station. I didn’t like working in TV and three years later, I left to be a pilot. Flying my own plane was the second piece to my world reporting aspirations. However, 9/11 happened and people were afraid to fly and the demand for pilots dropped. I did get my private licence but didn’t go on any further. I got a job at Mount Allison University and somewhere throughout the years, my dreams of being the flying foreign correspondent drifted away like clouds I flew through in my Cessna.

I'm flying a Cessna over Acadia University.

I’m flying a Cessna over Acadia University.

Last week while looking at the picture of the interns, I realized I hadn’t thought about my first life goal in a long, long time. It wasn’t that I had forgotten about it, I just needed a reminder about that “first.” But that’s why it was a first, because life isn’t linear and lots of other goals came after it. I’d still like to say thanks to Dr. Conley for giving me a step up on my way to changing the world. Because we all have in some way. While attending a pan-African human rights conference in Gambia, someone said, “’If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.” (That quote has also been attributed to the Dalai Lama but I heard it attributed to an African proverb.) It’s true. We’re all making a difference.

Then to now

View of North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK).

North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK).

I recently returned from a vacation that took me to Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. It was my first time landing in Malaysia and Singapore but not South Korea. I had been an English teacher in Korea almost 20 years ago. When I was there, I wrote a bi-weekly column for a Nova Scotia newspaper about my experiences. I’m doing that again except this time, the columns are for my own blog.

South Korea

Part V of Singapore ‘16

I had been to Seoul twice when I lived in South Korea 20 years ago. I had gone with friends, both Korean and Canadian, to explore the markets and go salsa dancing at a Cuban bar. Seoul was huge at the time and I remembered walls of people coming towards me like an ancient Greek phalanx. Not so 2016. The never-ending flow of people coming at me from all angles didn’t seem to exist like it once did.

View of Seoul.

Seoul.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of people, over 10 million, in Seoul. I think I didn’t see the crowds because Jason and I used the metro (subway) to move around the city. We weren’t out and about when students were going to and from school. There were other differences I noticed about Korea from then to now. Where were all the soldiers patrolling the train and bus stations? Twenty years ago, the military was everywhere. Today I still saw soldiers in uniform but they weren’t on active duty. They were sitting on the bus going home on leave or eating in a restaurant. They weren’t on patrol.

Young women used to cover their mouths when they laughed. That isn’t happening anymore. Girls weren’t walking arm-in-arm either. The vendors who used to sell dried squid to bus passengers didn’t board the vehicle and walk up and down the aisles, hoping to grip your taste buds. Things have changed. But despite the things I found different, one thing has stayed the same: the threat of North Korea.

South Korea and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK)  have been in a ceasefire since the Korean War in the 1950s. The two countries are separated by the demilitarized zone (the DMZ), that’s only about an hour’s drive from Seoul. The DMZ acts as a buffer between South and North Korea and is the most heavily militarized border in the world. Tourists can visit the DMZ but beware; you can also be shot while seeing the sights. Jason and I decided to live on the edge and signed up for a DMZ tour.

I think it’s kind of strange to travel to a border for a peek into another country’s way of life. But North Korea is fascinating in a dark and twisted way. Nowadays you can travel to North Korea and visit places handpicked by the government but Jason and I didn’t want to give Kim Jong-un’s regime any of our money. Instead, we settled for a glimpse from the South Korean side. We went to the DMZ with Koridoor, a tour company in Seoul affiliated with the USO (United Service Organizations), an organization for U. S. military personnel. Our DMZ tour left from Camp Kim, a U.S. military base.

The tour left early in the morning and the bus was filled with tourists of all nationalities but mainly Americans from the Rotary convention. As we headed out to the demilitarized zone, we began to see the markings of a country on guard. The highway skirting the river leading to the Yellow Sea had barbed wire wrapped around the guardrails and every few metres there were covered platforms with soldiers stationed in them. In some of these little houses, I saw the soldiers hunched over their guns pointed out to the water, ready to fire at any moment.

Guard post.Seoul is so close to the DMZ, just over 56 km (35 miles). The South Korean capital is always hopping with people going to and from work and school and living life: business as usual. The people here know their world hangs in the balance. But what can you do when your neighbour is hostile and doesn’t care about human rights?

We started our tour at Camp Bonifas, a United Nations Command military post, where a U.S. army private gave us some history about the DMZ. (I thought I had a good grasp on the background but there’s a lot I didn’t know. Google it.) Going from cosmopolitan Seoul, to the strict rules of the DMZ was a big change. Private Chun (a Korean-American raised in California) told us not to point or make gestures of any kind. This is so the North Koreans can’t use it as propaganda. (Pointing is rude in Korean culture.) He also told us not to take photographs until he gave us the word. (Although this didn’t stop some people.) Then we continued on to the Joint Security Area (JSA).

Joint Security Area (JSA) sign.It’s at the JSA where the two sides face each other: South Korea on one side. North Korea on the other. We went into a building where the sides meet and I stood, technically, in North Korea for five minutes. Private Chun said sometimes North Korean soldiers will make comments and laugh at the tourists but no one bothered us that day. We could see one North Korean solider posted at a building on the other side. There was a second man who we couldn’t see because he has his gun trained on the first man in case he decides to defect and bolts for the South. Then the second man will kill him.

The JSA is surreal and fascinating. It was a solemn occasion too. There was nothing to be smiling about when the people on the North side are being governed by megalomaniacs. Many South Koreans have family in North Korea and it must be heartbreaking to be apart from them. From the JSA, we stopped at a view point of the Bridge of No Return. It was used as a prisoner exchange point but is now just a landmark. Off in the distance there looks to be a North Korean city. Except it’s just the façade of buildings. It’s the fake city of Kijong-dong and the only thing active there are loudspeakers blaring music and propaganda messages. There’s also a gargantuan flagpole erected in response to one built on the South Korean side.

North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) soldier.

North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) soldier.

Meeting room in "Truce Village" at the JSA.

Meeting room in “Truce Village” at the JSA.

South Korean (Republic of Korea or ROK) soldier.

South Korean (Republic of Korea or ROK) soldier.

Divide between south and north. I'm standing on the North Korea side.

Divide between south and north. I’m standing on the North Korea side.

Bridge of No Return.

Bridge of No Return.

There’s a lot of background and events that I’m glazing over. My story is about my experiences, not the minutiae of the history. The North Korean propaganda directed at South Koreans would be laughable if it all wasn’t so terrible. There are no limits on what the North Korean leaders have done or are doing to their people. Efforts for unification are under

way by some South Koreans. A train is ready to roll into North Korea at any time although only sightseers visit the eerie stop to nowhere today.

JSA. Looking towards North Korea side.

JSA. Looking towards North Korea side.

Over a lunch of bebimbap (rice and egg), Jason and I sat with an off-duty American soldier. He had been stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq and was in Korea for his second time. Growing up he had adopted Korean siblings and so Korea wasn’t a new experience for him. However, he had never been to the DMZ. We chatted about what we saw and his time as a solider. I asked him why I wasn’t seeing Korean soldiers posted around the country.

 

“They used to be all over the place,” I said, “even on the beach.”

“With today’s surveillance technology like CCTV (closed-circuit television), you don’t need people anymore,” replied the American solider. “You can monitor far more now with cameras and other systems.”

Train station. One of our last stops on the DMZ tour was to a tunnel known as the Third Tunnel of Aggression. North Korea dug 1,600 metres into South Korea in the late 70s. There are three other tunnels around the DMZ. Jason and I walked about 10 minutes down a sloping passageway into the darkness. There was not much to see but it was pretty terrifying to see how far the North Koreans got. It’s said the shaft’s wide enough for about 2,000 soldiers to pass into South Korea in an hour.

The tour was exhausting not because I was walking around all day. It was tiring because I was on guard all the time. I was reminding myself not to point (I also had to remind Jason. He’s a hand-talker and kept pointing to everything.) I had to remind myself not to take photos. These days with mobile phones and always having a camera for every moment, it was tough to remember not everything is a photo opp. Especially when heavily-armed soldiers are the subject.

The bus ride back to Camp Kim wasn’t as silent as I would have liked. The Rotarians were making their evening plans. Loudly. Jason and I already knew what we were doing: meeting a university friend of mine for supper. Dean and I lived in Seminary House at the same time at Acadia University. He had moved to South Korea around the same time I had. While I left after six months, he had stayed, got married and had a son.

Jason and I met Dean and his family and over fantastic Korean barbecue and grapefruit soju, we talked about life and our different paths. When I told them about the things that I noticed that were different, Dean’s wife said like every country, things change. New generations have different outlooks. They want different things. Just like in Canada.

Korean bbq.

Korean bbq – grill at your own table.

Later that evening, Dean, Jason and me headed to Itaewon, an area of Seoul. For me, it holds memories of cramped food stalls and narrow streets full of boxes of fruits, vegetables and Korean slippers. It used to have a seedy side too as it was a red light district. It was also an area known for ex-pats and that still rings true — and now it’s most known for its lively nightlife. We went to the Wolfhound, an Irish pub, and Dean was immediately surrounded by friends from all different countries. That hadn’t changed.

Jason and I got back to our hotel room after our enjoyable evening on the town. We had two and a half more days to go in the city. Over the next couple days, we saw a baseball game (Doosan Bears versus LG Twins), visited some palaces, went shopping, ate at a North Korean food stall during a Unification event and I had a business meeting at the Canadian Embassy. We packed in as many things possible while having pockets of time to relax and let the memories soak in.

Doosan Bears vs LG Twins. The teams share Jamsil Baseball Stadium so it was a home game for both teams.

Doosan Bears vs LG Twins. The teams share Jamsil Baseball Stadium so it was a home game for both teams.

Jamsil Baseball Stadium. Great atmosphere with the fans cheering and singing songs.

Jamsil Baseball Stadium. Great atmosphere with the fans cheering and singing songs.

Deoksugung Palace.

Deoksugung Palace.

Deoksugung Palace.

Deoksugung Palace.

Our first day in Malaysia seemed so far away on our last night in Korea. We had lots of photos and experiences and stories to take back to Calgary with us. While this was the end of our Singapore ’16, the trip we had been planning for a while, it signalled the beginning of something else: a life in Edmonton. Jason has a new job there. It’ll be a hard transition as Calgary has been our home for several years. We have amazing friends here and I don’t want to leave them. However, after visits with old friends, new friends, former homes and new sights, I know home is where you make it.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Time travel

Colville by Andrew Hunter / Goose Lane

Colville by Andrew Hunter / Goose Lane

Time travel boggles my mind. Yet, as a memoir writer I do it almost every day. One thing different about my continuum is physically I stay in the same place. But sometimes something happens and I’m transported, both body and mind, to a different era.

My husband gave me a book about Alex Colville for Christmas. Colville was an artist famous for his stark and muted everyday images that seem to have something hiding in them. He spent a lot of time in the Maritimes, in and around the areas I know well. He lived in Wolfville, Nova Scotia and while I was growing up near the quaint town, I used to see him and his wife, Rhoda, at church, walking down the street or in friends’ parents’ homes as supper guests. It wasn’t until I graduated high school did I understand that Colville was one of Canada’s prolific painters.

I didn’t know him but I feel like I do. My parents have a few of his prints and I have one too. When Canada Post included Colville’s Church and Horse work as part of its “Masterpieces of Canadian Art” stamp series, Colville autographed special envelopes for the Wolfville post office. I bought five of the envelopes for my family and kept one for myself. Now I have a whole book to look at, at any time.

Flipping through his photos and images many of them are scenes from places I’ve lived and even include people I know. Seeing these paintings I enter a different world. A world that existed yesterday and still exists today. There are scenes of Blomidon, a prominent landmark that sticks out like a pot handle into the Minas Basin. When you’re driving down Highway 101 into the Annapolis Valley from Halifax, you see Blomidon. Then you know you are home. Also along the same highway is Freddy Wilson: “The Waver” who stands on an overpass welcoming travellers to Kings County. Colville’s painting of Freddy is included in the book.

West Brooklyn Road, 1989 / Professor of Romance Languages, 1973

West Brooklyn Road, 1989 / Professor of Romance Languages, 1973

On the page next to Freddy is a work that many people might puzzle over. But I know it’s the Acadia University physical plant and a former professor. Once in a class that I forget now, we were told a story about that painting. But it’s an unsettling one that I won’t repeat.

Main Street Wolfville is featured by Colville. As a background to the main image of a woman and a vehicle, is the war memorial and post office and in behind these landmarks, houses where I went to parties filled with vodka and youth. Grand Pre and the dykes are caught in brush strokes too. In another painting, my friend’s sister rides a horse. And another, there’s Waterville Municipal Airport; where I got my pilot’s license. Today, the airport is in the midst of closing but Colville captured it alive and buzzing. Is one of those planes the one I flew?

Colville went to Mount Allison University and I worked there long after he left. Some of his images remain though for all to see as murals on buildings. I’m wondering if his Milk Truck piece is set in Sackville in the late 50s. I think I recognize the curve in the road.

Because of Alex Colville’s art, I have a tether to another world. I didn’t know him but I feel he knew me.

Acadia: not only about book learning

Seminary House.

Seminary House residence on the Acadia University campus – where I lived for three years.

Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia is celebrating 175 years of education and innovation. It asked for alumnus to share stories from their Acadia days to mark the anniversary. Here is my contribution that was recently published in the Acadia Bulletin (on page 48: http://bit.ly/1cSLv7b.)

I don’t remember many of my classroom lessons at Acadia. Of course, the knowledge my professors imparted during my four years shaped my mind and gave me intellectual instruction for the future. However, most of my education at Acadia was the life experience kind of learning: the stuff that takes place outside the lecture hall.

My first week at Acadia is a memory that has stayed with me over the past 20 years. Moving my things into Seminary House alongside my high school friend and about-to-be roommate, I was taking a big step. Leaving my parents’ home for a co-ed dorm where I could start being independent – along with about 90 others. As a Sem frosh I was put right into the mix of silly activities and a getting-to-know-you game where I met a lifelong friend. (I was in his wedding party this September.) From that beginning I felt like I was part of something bigger than just going to school.

Classes are small at Acadia, which makes it easy to spot those sharing your schedule. After a couple of days of lectures, one woman introduced herself to me. She said we had three classes in common, intro to political science, English and one more that I can’t remember now. Ah si, it was Spanish.

We became instant friends and joined with four more girls to become the Posse (yes, we named ourselves). We talked, danced, laughed and cried over lots of boys. As frosh we felt so grown-up. But as each year passed we realized we had been so young.

Beveridge Arts Centre.

The Beveridge Arts Centre (BAC), the largest academic building on the Acadia campus.

At the end of our fourth year we knew the lay of the land – the campus from the Beveridge Arts Centre (BAC) to Eaton House. We knew 8:30 a.m. classes were hard to attend but so were 1:30 p.m. classes on Fridays. We knew which meals at McConnell Hall were the tastiest and which were not. We knew if your crush wasn’t at the Anvil, he’d be at the Axe. We knew university was hard work but reality was going to be harder. We knew that from that first day we had built a strong base of support through friendships and knowledge. Acadia taught us that we could do anything.

Adding memories to photos

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
~Ansel Adams

I’m adding memories to my Newfoundland photos. Putting in some of the little details that can’t be seen by looking at the pictures. I’m capturing the uncaptured frozen in time.

Cabin.The orange cabin we stayed in in Bauline East. Did you know some places in Newfoundland are named twice? Portugal Cove, Portugal Cove South, Bauline, Bauline East. This didn’t just make my head spin but a Newfoundlander’s too when he tried to visit us one day. He got lost in Bauline, up the coast, instead of heading down the coast to Bauline East.

Sea  view.This was the view from the cabin. It was absolutely fantastic. The tiny cove still has a working wharf and fisher people are coming to and fro in their boats with their catch. My sister enjoyed watching them one morning and wondering what they were bringing in.

Seaside breakfast.The cove was also a nice place for breakfast. The camera is tilted from sitting on all the beach rocks. The sun was hot but the wind was not. A nice pot of tea warmed me up with the sea breeze blew by. Oh, and Hobnobs dipped in tea are delicious.

Cribbies cottage.The Cribbies, Tors Cove. We were told this is one of the most photographed cottages in Newfoundland. It’s right near the ocean and we saw seals and whales swimming and diving a short stroll away from the traditional saltbox home. The only reason I saw the sea life was because I glimpsed the sun glinting off a whale’s back.

Cape Spear. Cape Spear was windy, windy, windy and windy. Cold too. Couldn’t imagine being on watch there looking for U-boats during World War II. Lonely post. Now I have been to the western most part of Africa (when I was in Senegal) and the eastern most part of North America at Cape Spear.

Signel Hill.The view from Signal Hill was amazing. Look at that view of St. John’s narrows. My husband was using his mobile phone to tweet while at the national historical place and someone tweeted back, “Think about the message sent originally, and your message today.” Something to ponder.

  Terry Fox monument.This is the Terry Fox Mile Zero Memorial Site, the place where he dipped his foot into the Atlantic and started his Marathon of Hope. I’ve been to his monument in Thunder Bay and to the one in Victoria and now, the one in St. John’s.

Brides maid.Here I am in my bride maid’s dress. My shoulders are slumped because despite the shining sun, it was frosty and I was cold. At one point during wedding photos I wished my dress was made of fur. But pictures had to be done. I was part of my friend Neil’s wedding party. He and I go way back to the first day I moved into residence at Acadia.

A beast of the wild

Squirrel.

Yuck. A squirrel. Photo credit: http://www.flickriver.com/places/Canada/Nova+Scotia/Waverley/recent/

I’m not afraid of spiders, big or small (I’ve lived in Africa and seen both). I’m not afraid of mice or rats. I’m not afraid of snakes.

I’m afraid of squirrels.

Hate those fuzzy bastards. Why? I read a news clipping about 20 years ago that told the story of junkie squirrels in New York City’s Central Park. They were getting high off of syringes left behind by drug users. The squirrels would then run amok and attack people at random. Doesn’t that scare you?

It scared me. The vision of high squirrels stuck with me and I could never remove it from my brain.

The spring just after graduating from Acadia University in the 90s, three friends and I stepped into nature for a break before hitting the real world. Kat, Dan, Doog and I hiked to an old but sturdy log cabin in the middle of the forest near Liverpool, N.S. The spot was called Meadowbrook and used to be the site of a commune (or at least that’s the legend).

Meadowbrook was idyllic – far away from humans and traffic and computers calling us into the work force. In a clearing stood two buildings, a log barn and the tiny log home. They were both standing strong after many years of disuse. The cabin had two floors – the ground floor with enough room for a bench and a wood stove, and the top floor – a loft where we would sleep.

It was early June and the weather was treating us right The sun shone on the land and warmed it up, bringing out the scents of mud and growing grass. We lounged around for what was a perfect afternoon and in the early evening, prepared a great outdoor feast.

Sated after our big meal and a midnight bonfire, we hit the hay. We climbed into our sleeping bags in the loft and drifted off to sleep after all the fresh air.

That’s when I heard it.

Scritching and scratching above the four of us. Shining a flashlight around the room I caught the form of a…squirrel.

I reacted in a way I’m not proud of. I screamed.

Headlamps went on and put the creature in the spotlight. It was hanging above us, holding on to the bark-covered ceiling with its claws. I was still screaming.

Doog rushed to my rescue. He tried to shoo the squirrel away by waving a book at it. But since the rodent wasn’t interested in reading it scuttled away across the rafters, like one of those aliens on Alien, right over to me. I screamed louder. Doog was bouncing around the loft shouting at the squirrel, Kat laughed her head off and Dan silently took it all in.

After bounding about over our heads for several seconds, the confused squirrel halted for a moment. And then peed. The rodent urine rained down from the ceiling and onto Kat’s sleeping bag. It made her laugh harder and Doog worked harder to get the squirrel out of the loft. I ran downstairs and outside. Where there are a thousand more squirrels.

Finally, Doog managed to take care of the squirrel in the cabin, Kat stopped laughing and mopped up the squirrel pee and I returned to my bed. But I’ve never returned to Meadowbrook.

Springing back into university

Acadia University Hall.

Acadia University Hall in sunny springtime. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Spring has sprung – officially. Unofficially most days in Calgary feel like they’re struggling to understand their new seasonal identity. They haven’t shed winter yet and it’s been snowing and cold for a few days now. There was one day last week when the temperature hit 18 and we could believe warmer weather was coming. That day also reminded me of being in university and about the joys of April.

When you’re in university and the sun starts to get hotter and the snow starts to melt and the green grass starts to show – you break out the shorts. It doesn’t matter that there’s still a slight chill to the breeze, it’s time to chuck those heavy layers and put on something light. The bulky weight of winter is gone and we’re free to move about unrestricted by ice and cold and cumbersome coats and boots.

When you’re in university and it’s spring everyone is in a great mood. Smiling and laughing and telling jokes. Students walk to meal hall with uplifted spirits no matter what’s on the menu for supper. Couples hold hands while strolling around campus and stop to sit and cuddle under a tree. Others get out bicycles or inline skates or baseball mitts. Let’s go outside and enjoy the beautiful day.

Oh wait.

Exams.

I forgot about those.

The one downside to a happy spring collegiate life. That means going back inside and sitting down and ignoring the golden rays bouncing off the bare pavement. Hitting the books instead of hitting a baseball. Studying instead of strolling. Reading instead or relaxing. OK. I’ll cram for a little bit. An hour or two at most but then I’m going outside to sit with my friends in the sunshine and watch the world go by. We’re only young once.

Happy New Year’s from Germany

The view from the Freiburger Münster, a big medieval church, in Freiburg, Germany.

The view from the Freiburger Münster, a big medieval church, in Freiburg, Germany.

In 1993 I spent part of New Year’s Eve in a small mountain town near the Black Forest in Germany. The other part of the night I spent in a hospital. It was an evening to remember although not one of revelry.

I was in Germany for two weeks visiting my friend who was attending the University of Freiburg on an exchange program through Acadia University. I was in my fourth year at Acadia and feeling rather provincial so I went to visit Digger.

My flight to Europe left Halifax on Christmas Day (flights were cheaper on December 25.) The plane went from Nova Scotia to Amsterdam, where I waited in the airport for seven hours because I was afraid if I went sightseeing I would miss my connection. That flight was on to Mulhouse, France, the closet airport to Freiburg. After landing and picking up my baggage at the terminal I was given the option of entering either France or Switzerland. Oh oh. Which country did Digger say she was going to meet me?

This was before 9/11 so security was rather lax and I had no trouble walking into Switzerland. When I looked over to France, there was Digger waiting for me. I just had to walk back through to the other side.

Once we got to Germany we did a lot sightseeing around Freiburg, a beautiful town that had white Christmas lights and other elegant festive ornaments all over the streets and houses. We also climbed the many icy stone steps of the Freiburger Münster (a big medieval church) and ate lots of pretzels and Berliners, the jelly donut John F Kennedy made famous. The highlight of the week was going to be a rocking New Year’s Eve party where Klaus, Digger’s German boyfriend, would be playing with his band.

On Dec. 29 we got all dressed up and climbed in Klaus’ shaky olive green car for the ride to the party. I was excited to be going to an event with new people. Maybe some cute guys would be there too.

It was dark out during the drive so I didn’t get to see any of the German countryside. I knew we were going up and up in elevation though. In about an hour we arrived at a small community hall not unlike ones in Canada.

While Klaus set up his drum kit Digger and I got a glass of wine and some snacks. However, not even 15 minutes later Digger started to feel sick. Sick enough we had to leave the party filled with interesting looking people (cute guys) and drive straight to a hospital.

As soon as we walked into the hospital I started to feel ill too. I had drunk only one small glass of wine but it really affected me. Maybe it was the altitude but I felt like I had finished off the whole bottle.

“Excuse me,” I muttered, putting my hand over my mouth while I ran around searching for the first bathroom I could find. Man, I was not feeling well.

I threw up all over the restroom. All over it. I painted the town red but in a different way. When I emerged from the toilet I felt a lot better but Digger and Klaus were nowhere to be found

I attempted my poor German on hospital staff but no one knew what I was talking about. So what do you do when you’re half cut and lost in a foreign country? Call your parents.

“Are you drunk?” they asked.

“No?”

They advised me to sit down and stay in one spot. To wait. I followed their instructions and slumped down by the hospital door. It was an entertaining place to be.

I watched a steady stream of people come in with all sorts of injures. Cuts, scrapes, bruises – one young man was clutching his blood-covered head and moaning. Wonder what happened to him?

When midnight chimed the only way I knew it was the new year was because all the nurses and doctors came out into the hall with champagne (or sparkling juice?) and said “Happy Silvester!”

Happy New Year to you too.

I’m not sure how long after that, maybe five minutes, maybe longer, Digger and Klaus popped out of one of the rooms. She had had an allergic reaction to something but was fine now. It was 1994 and time to go home.

Secret angels before Christmas

Seminary House at Acadia University.

Seminary House in December.

November reminds me of bubble baths and angels, secrets angels that is. During three years at Acadia University I took part in the secret angel tradition that my residence organized. Right before exams the treat-filled week was a nice reminder that Christmas was coming even if we had to struggle through exams first.

Everybody in Seminary House, my dorm of three years in the nineties, was a secret angel. We were a co-ed residence so the names of both girls and boys went into the hat to be drawn one by one. Shhh, don’t tell me who you picked.

Every day for a week you did something or bought something special for your person. One year my secret angel wrote me beautiful poems for seven days, along with sending me lots of other goodies. These mini escapes were especially appreciated because many students were hitting the books, getting ready for end of the term tests. I tried to do nice things for my person too and came up with interesting study breaks.

Once I was a secret angel to a woman who liked to take baths in the old-fashioned claw foot tubs that Seminary House still had on girls fifth. (Girls fifth was on the fifth floor of Sem and reserved only for girls who didn’t want to share bathrooms with stinky Sem boys.) I poured a whole (small) bottle of heavenly bubble bath into warm water and attempted to create a Sem-blance of a spa experience. I think I purchased a new towel for her to use as well. Then I left and had someone knock on her door to tell her a bath had been drawn. Much to her delight (I hope).

Another time I sent my person on a scavenger hunt that went all over the campus and ended back up in Sem with her prize being a stuffed animal.

My third and last year in Sem I broke with custom and asked to have the name of one of my best friends, Digger. She lived off campus but was considered part of the residence. I made a spot for her on the landing by the stairs so she could collect messages from her “Smangel” – super magnificent angel.

One day her Smangel told her to knock on doors asking, “Are you the one?”

When she got to Steve’s room he said, “Yes!” Then kneeled, handed her a rose, stood up, turned on his disc player and danced her out into the hallway. She loved it.

All week long she tried to deduce the identity of Smangel.

“It’s either Matt or Neil,” she would say. Certain of her answer.

I just listened.

Digger never knew I was Smangel until the reveal at the big Sem house Christmas party. This was the wrap up to the secret angel where we received a gift from our person. When I stood up to get her gift her face was brighter than the Christmas tree.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she scolded.

 

 

 

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