Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: Nova Scotia (page 2 of 5)

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.

The apple of my eye

apple orchard.

Beautiful orchard in the Annapolis Valley, N. S. Photo credit: Fudge Benedict.

It was a ham sandwich. And it was going to be delicious. I had prepared it with Yum Bakery’s Good Hearty Bread (a mix of grains and seeds), a slice of black forest ham, a piece of green, crisp lettuce and a little bit of creamy, golden butter. But I never got to enjoy my creation. Someone else ate it.

I made the sandwich to have for lunch while apple picking, part of a Horton High School band fundraiser. As a trumpet player (and not a good one) I was in a Nova Scotia orchard twisting off apples and piling them in a big wooden box. Our efforts would hopefully help pay for a trip to the U.S. East Coast.

This autumn labour would bear fruit in the spring when we took the elevator up the Empire State Building and went down to the Boston Aquarium. At the time, it was a lot of hard work. The orchard might look idyllic with its red, red apples hanging off the sturdy brown branches amidst pretty velvet green leaves but it seemed like when I picked one Northern Spy or Cortland or Red Delicious, two more took its place. The harvest was never-ending.

The Saturday was a bust too. I had to get up early for the drive out to the Annapolis Valley farm when I just wanted to sleep in for once. It was a chilly and foggy morning too and the tall wet grass soaked my sneakers and made my feet damp and cold. Two things were keeping me going, though: my fantastic sandwich and a chance to see the cute band guy.

I was new to Horton. The large high school was a catchment for smaller rural junior highs. After Grade 9 at Wolfville Junior High, my classmates and I bused it to Horton High for Grade 10. I didn’t relish the idea of going to a new place but it was a chance to meet new friends. Indeed, I was picking apples with a few recently acquired buddies whom I’m still friends with today.

apple orchard.

Those apples look delicious. Just like my sandwich. Photo credit: Fudge Benedict.

Among the unfamiliar faces (to me) was a boy who was tall and skinny with dark brown hair. I don’t remember his name or what instrument he played, only that he was a year older and I liked him. Like-liked him. I had yet to say a word to the guy and I doubt he even knew I was in the orchard but I hoped he would notice me in the romantic, bucolic setting. I was sure the valley mist made my eyes sparkle and my cheeks as rosy as the apples.

My friends and I quickly picked our first tree clean. When we moved onto the next challenge I left my coat and plastic bag — with my lunch in it — under apple-free boughs. My crush wasn’t as industrious as us. In fact, he didn’t pick anything at all. He lounged by a nearby tree, watching us until two of his buddies, one of them a girl, came to visit.

After a few hours of gathering apples my friends and I decided to have lunch. The image of my delectable sandwich enticed me to walk faster to our original tree. I couldn’t wait to have a bite and taste all the hearty ham goodness of my snack.

What’s this? The plastic bag was empty. No trace of bread or meat or even a crumb anywhere. My sandwich was gone. Gone! I wanted to cry and bit my untasty lip to fend off tears.

Then I saw my crush. He was sitting in the same place I left him with his pals. They hadn’t been working at all. Just trolling around the apple tree. An arm’s length away from my sandwich.

apples.

I might not have my sandwich but there are tons of crunchy apples to enjoy. Photo credit: Fudge Benedict.

I could never prove he was the one who ate my fine meal. I could never say it was him. I never confronted him or even asked him if he was the one who enjoyed my lunch. That was the end of my sandwich and the end of that crush.

 

 

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