Family Lines

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Tag: Nova Scotia (page 2 of 5)

Who we used to be, who we are

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.

Singapore

Part II of Singapore ‘16

Family_Lines_orchids

Singapore Botanical Gardens

We’re were only in Malaysia for less than 72 hours. There was a lot to see in the country but we had other plans. Friends were waiting for us in Singapore. After 12 hours of sleep, my husband and I packed up our stuff and walked to the train station to board a car to Kuala Lumpur Sentral, the main station, and then take an express train to airport.

The heat was there, as always, and rotating fans whirred above our heads on the train platform. It sounded like hundreds of bees are buzzing around. Which is what Kuala Lumpur reminds me of: a busy bee flying from brightly coloured flower to brightly coloured flower. Always on the move. Like most of its people. Always going from here to there to here. And here we are. At the airport.

Thankfully, my husband’s backpack is here too. He exchanged his passport for a security pass and was allowed to lug his baggage from arrivals to departures. We checked in to our AirAsia flight and soon, are up, up and away to Singapore.

Singapore is a place I’ve never thought about visiting until close friends moved there a couple of years ago. They told us that their new apartment had lots of room if we ever wanted to visit the city state. So about two years ago, Singapore ’16 came into focus. Jason and I added side trips to Malaysia and South Korea. Malaysia was close, bordering Singapore, so why not see it? The reasoning for South Korea was that I lived there 20 years ago and wanted to see it again.

After landing at Singapore’s airport, Changi, Jason and I got a taxi to take us to our friends’ home. Driving through the roads, I noticed how everything was in order: nothing was out of place. The lush vegetation around and along the streets was trimmed neatly. Traffic streamed at a comfortable pace. No one going too fast or too slow. There was no litter on the sidewalks. Everything was tidy. Except that heat. It was an unruly beast that smashed into me again.

The temperatures were high again in Singapore but we had a lovely respite. Our friends’ have an apartment with air conditioning and cool tile floors. There’s also an outdoor pool and refreshing gin and tonics to wind down a hot day. Our first full day on the island was our hottest. That was when the sun came out from behind thunder clouds.

We went for a morning walk to the Singapore Botanical Gardens, a 156-year-old green oasis and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The garden with its orchids and glass-still ponds is a leftover from British colonial times. Some of my Scottish relations had also lived in Singapore during this time and I wondered if they had ever been to see the flowers. Orchids bloomed everywhere I looked and were abundant as weeds.

I thought I was dealing with the high temperatures and humidity well. I felt calm, cool and collected. Until I looked into a mirror at the gift shop. There was so much sweat that it couldn’t even trickle or stream down my face. It pooled above my lips and in the hollows of my cheeks. I was a mess. Time to find a place to mop up. We hopped — or really slid sloppily — into a taxi to a hip area of town, Tiong Bahru, and had drinks with huge chunks of ice and a chocolate cupcake.

Our time in Singapore, just short of a week, was more about hanging out with friends than

View from Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

View from Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

sightseeing. We saw a lot though from the outstanding city view from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel to shopping on Orchard Road, to eating and eating and more eating. Singapore has a lot of restaurants with its own local flavours and from away. For one lunch we went to a hawker centre at a busy market. A hawker centre is like a giant food court. The different smells of things frying and cooking as well as the steam blasting out of the tiny food booths was overwhelming. There were too many choices. We ended up having one of Singapore’s national dishes, Hainanese chicken rice, (basically rice with chicken and spices) from a booth where there was a long line-up. There was a lot of choice too when it came to sit-down restaurants. We had steamed pork buns, Thai shrimp dishes and sushi. Not at all the same place. We also got to eat Tasmanian beef, mangoes, jackfruit and snake fruit. (The snake fruit didn’t bite.)

Singapore Sling.

Bad photo of a Singapore Sling. (I only had one.)

In between eating we had gin and tonics and went to Raffles for a Singapore Sling. Raffles is a renowned hotel from 1887 and named after the founder of Singapore Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. The place was a stopping point for anyone who was anyone. Now anyone and everyone can have a drink at the Long Bar (even in acid wash denim jean shortshorts. Which mortified our host.) I enjoyed a sweet Singapore Sling, a drink created at the establishment in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.

On our last day, Jason and I went to Pulau Ubin, an island off the eastern side of Singapore. Ubin is the last of the rural and traditional villages in the area. We took a bus to the ferry terminal and then hopped on a “bumboat” for the 10-minute ride out to the small hunk of land in the sea.

Bumboat driver.

Bumboat driver.

We hired two bikes in the busy village for $16 Family_Lines_bikeSingapore dollars and pedalled around the island being pummelled by sunlight. At first, we cycled along shaded paved roads and there was a cool (ish) breeze pushing the heat away from our bodies. But then I wanted to see the German Girl Shrine and we started going uphill on a sandy pathway, out from underneath the protection of the green canopy and into the scorching sun. Jason and I had some heated words while we both melted into the dirt trail trying to find the shrine. He wanted to turn around and I wanted to find the spot where a young German woman died and then became a deity. The 18 year old had lived on the island with her coffee growing family in World War I. She ran off during a British raid on the property and died. Her body was found by locals and she has since been turned into a divine being who smiles upon gamblers.

German Girl Shrine.

German Girl Shrine.

We did turn around and stumbled upon the path to the shrine. It’s filled with offerings of flowers and dolls. A stray dog met us there. He looked at me and then walked away. We followed him out and back into the tangled cover of the jungle. We left the island shortly after on another chugging boat filled with tourists like us. The sea breeze dried our sweat and calmed our tempers.

Stray dog.

Me.

Me on the boat.

Back at the ferry terminal, I spotted the word Brewery stenciled on a building. My husband is a beer geek and so we walked over to the Little Island Brewery Company, a pub and restaurant.

“Where are you from?” the Singapore server asked us.

“Calgary, Canada,” we replied.

“Oh, I went to school in Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

“I went to Acadia!” I shared proudly. Of course he had been there. It is a small world after all.

After a drink, my husband and I went to a Peranakan restaurant. Peranakans are people of mixed local and foreign ancestry. They have great food. Jason and I shared ayam buah keluak, a beef dish with some kind of nut used for flavouring. We asked our server about the nut and she said we could eat it. So I chomped down on the hard shell. Ouch.

“No, no,” she laughed. “You eat what’s in the shell.”

She told us the nuts are harvested and then buried in the ground for a period of time. Then they’re dug up and used in food. They have to turn a certain colour before they’re used, otherwise, they’re poisonous. What kind of cooking spice is this? Turns out, the nut is actually a fruit produced by the pangium edule tree. The “football” fruit contains hydrogen cyanide but when it’s fermented, it lets go of its deadly flavour. Yum!

We saw a lot in our short time in Singapore but friends were the impetus for the trip. They were why we went and it was here we reminded each other of who we used to be with stories from high school and university. It was here we told each other who we were now as we spoke about our lives today. It was here we told each other who we hoped to be in the years to come.Family_lines_flags

Almost every morning, around 6:30 a.m., I got up to do laps in the pool at my friends’ complex. Even that early, the temperature was still 27 C and the water was warm, actually too warm to do long sets, but inviting enough that I didn’t shiver when I got in. The sun was always just rising and sending tendrils of light into the sky. The only noises then were of birds and insects, calling the city to wake up. I had already started my morning and was propelling my body through the water and into a new day with new stories.

Part I

The Maritime homing beacon

Scott's Bay, Nova Scotia.

Me being silly at Scott’s Bay, Nova Scotia. (the bay is actually the Minas Basin but it’s still salt water.)

“What is it with you Maritimers?” asked a friend born and raised in Calgary. “You always want to go home.”

Home.

Home, to Maritimers, can be Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island. Three provinces with proud distinctions on their own, but together, together they are a tight-knit community unfurled on the Atlantic ocean. When we were born, somehow, a bit of that ocean must have leaked into our veins. Made us salt brothers and sisters with the sea: a life-long bond.

Today I live in Calgary. The city has grown on me like a callous forming on the palms of my hands after hard work. Life is fast-paced and the way of the West comes with cowboy boots and big trucks. I love how the land lies flat before rising into gargantuan mountains. The Rockies are a spiked forest, an insurmountable ridge that wraps its protective arms around the Calgary.

The Rockies are brown in the summer. In the fall, while leaves are changing colour, I can see the tips of the mountains slowly turn white. It’s still winter up there today while the city gets a peek at warm weather.

Other than summer and winter, the mountains never seem to change. Unlike the ocean. Which changes with our every breath and sigh. Oh to be on the water on a calm, clear morning. Flat, motionless and still. Look down and what might you see? Fish perhaps. Seaweed for sure. And you. Your reflection staring back from the depths.

When the wind finally stirs the Atlantic in the afternoon, it will smear your image on the waves. The water will bounce you on its knee and send messages to lap up against your boat. It will also rock you to sleep if you let it.

Mount Yamnuska.

View from Mount Yamnuska.

Sometimes the waves thrash instead of dance and the sea boils and froths into a fierce monster. That’s when the ocean makes you forget that it loves you. It makes you frightened and scared and fearful. Because this sea has great power — tremendous power. Enough force to take you prisoner and smother you with its affection. You are angry and it is angry and you’d better leave it alone lest you get caught up in the bitter blue. Just for now. You can return later.

Alberta is being rocked right now by tough economic times. Maritimers know all about this. That’s why we headed west in the first place, when Calgary was the land of opportunity. A lot of us are still here today despite the change in fortune. We’re staying and mucking in while the goings aren’t so good. My Maritime roots will always be tugging me eastward, towards the ocean. But for now, my home is Alberta.

Golden moment

two dogs.

Two of my family dogs: Jasper, the golden retriever grandpa, with Kola, a cute fuzzy and energetic puppy.

It was 1996 and I was going to Ryerson University. I was in the Journalism for Graduates program and I had to write a non-fiction story for my course Magazine Fundamentals. The class was taught by writer David Hayes and he asked us to write about a “golden moment.” I wrote about my family dog, Jasper. He died not soon after I wrote this piece. I’m glad to have these memories of my old friend.

He walks crookedly. And he is big and red and he loves me. It’s just me and my dog. We chase Sasquatches and bears and run away from bees. We like to go fishing and swimming and diving for rocks. We used to go on bike rides and he would follow me everywhere. But now he’s too old.

Sometimes he’s bad. He once ran away from home for a whole week. It was a very long week. I called his name and looked up and down the lake and searched the cow corn fields. The morning he dragged himself down the driveway, hurt and scared and hungry was a blue sky day. For the next few weeks he had to wear big casts on his front legs. He looked silly. He looked like he was wearing oversized sports socks.

We watch TV together. He lies on the floor and I put my head on his stomach. I can hear him breathing. I always try to match my breath to his but he is always slower.

He can’t see well anymore. He won’t go through the kitchen to get to the music room. I think the glare of the floor tile is too bright for his eyes. I put him on a mat and drag him into the next room. He thinks it’s a lot of fun. He thinks he’s surfing.

When we go cross-country skiing he messes up my trail. I break two perfectly narrow tracks in the deep snow. Perfect so I’ll be able to go faster on the way back. He gets lazy and walks right in the middle of my hard work. His feet get balls of snow tangled in the fur and so he lies down in front of my swishing skis. As he chews off the snow, I have to wait.

I saw him kill a rabbit. He was savage and he scared me. He bit the rabbit’s neck and spit on its fur and looked crazy. I tried to save the rabbit. I put it in a wood barrel but it started to convulse and scream and its eyes rolled up into its brain.

Jasper thought it was funny. I saw him laugh. I know when he laughs. His lip curls up on one side. He does this especially when I’m around and he’s happy to see me.

Jasper is all my golden moments. When I think of my dog I can see the woods we walk through, the streams we wade through, the snow we trudge through, the stars that fall, the flames that wave to the sky and my best friend.

Little snow, big snow

hill over looking a pond in winter.

Tobogganing hill over looking the pond. Twenty years ago there were fewer trees on the hill.

When there’s a snow storm in Nova Scotia, there’s a snow storm. It’s not the full-sized, plump flakes that add up: it’s the little, wee ones that fall fast and furious. They hit the ground piling up and up and up…until the bus can’t get down our dirt road. That’s when school is cancelled and my sisters and I get the day off.

With our bonus time we head outside to build forts and go tobogganing down the hill above the pond. We spend hours in the snow and I never felt cold. Just damp from the heavy, wet Maritimes winter.

When our neighbour comes over with his tractor to dig out our driveway, the snow banks grow and grow and grow. They’re mountains and they need to be climbed. One day we play badminton on top of the big hill. I’m not sure who thought this would be a good idea but we chase the shuttlecock from peak to peak. Then we wrestle to see who can stay on the snow bank the longest. We don’t call the winner “King of the Hill.” Whoever stays firmly on two feet at the summit is the winner and allowed to call the loser “Rocky Bell Bottoms.”

When the winter afternoon turns into night, I lie in the snow on my back, under a huge fir tree, and look at the stars and airplanes through the branches. The wind picks up and I shiver. Time to go in. I have homework to do that I didn’t do yesterday.

Floppy disc discovery

floppy disc.

Floppy disc driving at the Calgary Public Library.

While home for the holidays in Nova Scotia, I found a treasure trove: some old, old floppy discs. Not those round ones that look like records but the hard square ones. I brought them back to Calgary and wondered how to get the data off them. Who has a computer with a floppy disc drive anymore? The Calgary Public Library.

I went to the third floor and asked for a floppy disc drive and plugged it into a port. Then I popped the first disc into the drive and it spat and whirred like an ancient engine being turned on for the first time in 100 years. The noise was loud and I was hoping no one was going to “Shhhs” me. It is a library. You’re supposed to be quiet.

I found a lot of photos I had scanned and put on disc in 2003. I also uncovered stories and homework assignments I had written at Ryerson University in 2006. The following is a piece I wrote when I lived in residence only steps away from the core of Toronto. I had a room (that I called The Coffin because it was tiny) in a four bedroom apartment. Each unit in Pitman was designed the same way. I had three roommates (women) and we lived on a co-ed floor. Here’s a vignette from 20 years ago. (Really?)

Noise. A man’s laugh is projected from one bedroom. Haunting pagan music follows from another. The sounds mix and float out of the hallway, pooling in the living room. Sarah and De sit in a circle amidst it, making their own noises.

Sarah’s arm drags across paper. Making a swishing sound as she writes. Bright purple socks sticking out of brown cords and pushed into brown boots is Sarah. De’s making clicking sounds. She’s an interior design student and she’s crouched on the floor and tediously gluing tiny, straight sticks together to make a giant octahedron. Click. She’s gluing the sticks into triangles. Click. She’s building the complex design slowly in case it collapses. De has one leg tucked under her. It’s as if she is trying to create the same symmetry in her design. Sarah walks over to help. Swish. Her cords make a rough noise like her arm on the paper. She sits the same way as De.

Pitman Hall.

Common room at Pitman Hall.

Two shadows are thrown over De and Sarah. The white wall outlines a couple. Two people in a slow dance. The shadows move together and then apart.

Swish. John comes out of the shadows. He’s carrying a plant. “Look,” he says, “it’s real.”

He gives the plant to Maura, who has also come out of the shadows. Bang. John slams the door. Maura takes a seat beside Sarah.

The room fills up with chatter. Talking, talking and talking. The conversation is light and easy. Meringue on lemon pie. Chitchat about classes and octahedrons. Nattering about New York and Chicago. Dirty dishes.

“There is no volume to it.” De mutters to her creation.

Crack. Maura’s knees break as she bends to show De pictures. Her knees sound like octahedron sticks snapping half. But De keeps going with the glue gun. “Psst,” it says. The glue gun wants to tell a secret.

“Psst, come here.”

Rustling paper. Sarah returns her focus to her writing. Maura looks out the window. Not much talk now. A few expletives from the glue gun lady. Maybe she’ll shoot someone. Psst, psst and pssssstttt!

Then smooth silence. A few strains of music escape from the room down the hall. Phone rings. Thud. Everyone jumps up. Pattering feet. Who’s it for? The circle is broken. Everyone has left and so must I.

Manwich mistake

Sloppy Joes.

Sloppy joe / Manwich = Yuck

There’s a memory going around and around in my head. Waiting to get out…or spill out. The story is about a sloppy joe.

I was little, maybe about six years old, when I was invited to my friend’s birthday party. Her name was Suzie and she lived across the street in a white house a few homes over. She was a couple of years younger than me and I remember her in a pink dress.

I bet I was excited for the party. In that way when you’re a kid and you can eat all the goodies you want and not worry about getting a muffin top. (Though I doubt muffin top was even a word used in the mid-70s in Nova Scotia to describe wobbly stomach bits hanging over your jeans.)

My two sisters and I headed to the festivities. There were friends and games and it was lots of fun. Suzie’s mother walked around to each kid asking how many sandwiches we wanted. When it was my turn I said, “Two, please.”

Two because I didn’t know if Suzie’s mother would know I meant a whole sandwich. If I said I wanted one sandwich, she might think I just wanted half a sandwich. I wanted the whole thing. The two parts of the one sandwich.

I guess the kind of sandwich didn’t matter to me. My prospective party meal wasn’t going to be gluten-free or multi-grain or sugar-free anyway. Back then, a sandwich would have a fifty-fifty chance of being peanut butter or peanut butter and jam. On white bread.

I was sitting in an armchair when Suzie’s mother brought me my sandwich…that wasn’t. I had no idea what it was. In front of me were two buns oozing ground beef. What I didn’t know then – but I know now – is that Suzie’s mother had said “Manwich,” which is a brand name for sloppy joes.

The sloppy joes/Manwiches/whatever did not look good to me. They didn’t taste good either. And there were two of them.

My parents raised me with manners. When you are visiting someone, you eat what they give you. You eat everything they put on your plate. You leave nothing.

Whether I took big bites and gobbled it down quickly or took my time sliding the sloppy joe down my throat, I don’t know. I only know that those two Manwiches were the first two and last two of my life.

Common people

Family_Lines_peopleThere’s a theory that we’re connected to every single person in the world through six degrees of separation. That is, we all have someone in common everywhere and anywhere we go: a friend of a friend of friend of a friend… It’s a small world after all as I rediscovered during a recent trip to see a client in Burlington, Ont.

My client has a German background and we’ve been working on her stories about living in Hamburg and growing up during the Second World War. She came to Canada with her husband for work years later and her three children were born and raised in Burlington. I met my client through her daughter, who is a good friend of mine. We met in Vernon, B.C.

I went to Ontario two weeks ago to finish my client’s story. We were looking for photos to add to her memoirs and I was flipping through the pages of an old album when a picture caught my eye. I thought I recognised the people in it: a friend and her family. It was them.

I’m from Nova Scotia and met my friend playing floor hockey in Grade Six. We were opponents and my friend high-sticked me in the mouth. And I had braces. There was some blood shed on the Port Williams Elementary School gym floor and despite this, we became friends and stayed friends. I visited her in Montreal and Germany and went to her wedding in the States. She came to my wedding a few years ago. So what ties me, my friend and my client together?

Burlington, Ontario.

Burlington, Ontario.

Burlington. It’s the common denominator. My friend is of German background and when her parents lived in Burlington, they made friends with my client. When I went to Burlington, I saw the photos. It was a random discovery but a cool one. It certainly made the world feel a lot smaller.

Do you have a six degrees of separation story? Tell me about it.

Shark bait

lake.

Lumsden Dam: inviting or scary?

Family Lines is my second business. My first business was teaching swimming lessons one summer. That was in 1992 and I had a tough time finding a student job. So I made my own.

I lived near a lake, Lumsden Dam, and I was already a lifeguard and a swim instructor. All I needed were swimmers. Nowadays one would put an ad on Kijiji but I didn’t have that option. Off to the family computer I went. (We only had one in those days.) I found some clipart of a man diving in to a puddle and added some wording around him about lesson costs and who to contact: me.

Next I had to print off the posters and pin them up somewhere. But where? I lived in the country and my clients were going to be from this area. There were no shops or cafes or even a gas station nearby. That’s when my mom told me I had to hand-deliver my marketing message. These weren’t posters, they were brochures.

That’s my worst nightmare. Knock on peoples’ doors and try to sell them stuff? Only weird people do that. Me? I’m not doing that. No way. Nooooooooo way.

“Yes way.”

With my mother behind the wheel of the SUV, we drove all around the neighbourhood, which was about an 8km radius. At every house where we knew there were kids, mom would park and watch me as I knocked on doors and handed out brochures. Where she couldn’t see me, I didn’t knock on the doors. I just left my pamphlet in the mailbox.

No matter how not-so-hard I worked on my grassroots marketing, I did end up with customers. The month of July, I spent at the beach instructing kids how to float and do the front crawl and the back crawl too. It was all going swimmingly except for one guy. Seth was probably around 12 and wouldn’t venture too far out into the lake. Why? He was afraid of the sharks.

Seth was a voracious reader and of course had a read a fact book about some sharks being able to live in fresh water. It made him wary of every shadow and flicker in the deeper water. It kept him close to shore.

Seth could already swim but I needed to evaluate a particular stroke, which meant he had to go further into the lake than his knees. Even though his three buddies weren’t being attacked in the open water, a few metres away, it didn’t matter. He was staying put.

Great White shark.

Great White Shark. New Zealand. Photo credit: Sorozatgyilkos fehér cápa / http://bit.ly/1IlVun1

Then a couple days later, I was watching a show on sharks. One of the experts on the documentary made a fascinating point: He said more people in Canada and the U.S. are killed each year by pigs – six times more than by sharks worldwide. (I just googled this old piece of trivia and it’s true. Click here for the Shark Foundation.) This was perfect timing. With this information, I could get Seth to start swimming in the lake.

At Seth’s next swim lesson, I told him the good news: pigs bite more than sharks.

“Oh great,” he said. “Now I have to watch out for floating pigs too.”

Target, Zellers and Grade 7

bus.

Here comes the bus!

I walked past some Calgary seniors last Thursday lamenting the loss of Target. It sounded like they were truly upset. However, one woman asked, “What was wrong with Zellers? I miss that place.” I have to agree with her. While Target and Zellers are only two of the many retailers fading away, the Mom and Pop clothing stores that used to be open on our main streets are almost all gone. But not from some of our memories. Target’s closing caused a very buried story to resurface.

Living in rural Nova Scotia meant my two younger sisters and I had to take the bus to and from school. We waited for the bus to pick us up in all types of weather: wind, rain, sleet or snow and had to be prepared to fight these elements. Therefore, from November to March, we were dressed in snow gear.

In the fall of Grade 7 my mom took us shopping in Windsor, Nova Scotia. It was in a family-run clothing store that I met and fell in love with a matching ski jacket and pants: bright yellow and puffy with a faux-leather finish. The coat had a big late 80s asymmetrical collar and a large and shiny brass belt – that buckled in the front. Fabulous! My middle sister got the same suit in blue.

These were expensive purchases at the time and my mother told me the yellow wasn’t a “practical colour.” I guess that meant it wasn’t flattering. There was nothing she could say to turn my head from the sunshine suit. It was mine.

“Looking good!” I thought to myself when I got home and tried on my new winter gear again. The trousers were slightly flared at the bottom to fit over my boots and the jacket cinched nicely at the waist so I did not appear all one shape: blobish. I wished I didn’t have to take my snow and ice clothing off – ever. I wanted everyone to admire my spiffy duds.

Soon after getting my new gear, I was outside Wolfville Junior High School waiting for the bus to take me home. There was a crowd of country kids in the parking lot and I was the only one in a gorgeous and swanky ski suit. I was standing with my friend Angela talking about, what do you think? Boys. Then the guy I had a crush on, a townie, walked by.

Wolfville High.

Scene of the teenage humiliation.

I certainly remember his name because Angela began yelling it at the top of her lungs.

“Steve! Steve! The girl in the yellow ski suit likes you!”

When he turned around she pointed at me. Which she didn’t have to do, as I was the only one in a bright yellow, top to bottom, snowsuit. My face was bright red.

The snowbanks around the school were piled high and I wanted to dive into one and bury myself. But shame still would have found me, as my yellow snowsuit would have been a beacon to light the way. I wanted to rip off the garish trousers and throw the stupid jacket to the wind to be carried far, far, far away from me. Oh the teenage humiliation!

Angela finally shut up and Steve kept walking away. But I was left with hatred for my previously glamourous outfit. From then on I dreaded wearing it and being identified as “The girl in the yellow ski suit with the crush on Steve.”

Of course my parents weren’t going to let me buy something else and I was too big to trade suits with my sister. I just made sure every time I came and left school Steve was nowhere in sight. Even though you could see me coming from a mile away.

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.

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