Family Lines

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Tag: Sackville

Our beagle girl

Me, Ali and Kola in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, 2009.

Me, Ali and Kola in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, 2009.

When we spotted two beagles on the side of the dusty Nova Scotia road, we thought they had escaped from someone’s cottage. When we saw them a couple days later, we knew they were strays. It would be a couple of weeks before the dogs were captured and given a home with my parents. That was 14 years ago and this past Friday, we said goodbye to the brown and white member of our family.

Ali McBeagle Storry was just six months old when we found her, along with her mommy. I brought mom, Madeleine, to live with me in Sackville, N.B. Ali stayed with my parents and went from a skinny little frightened girl to a mostly-confident lady in a couple of years. Madeleine died several years ago after being hit by a car. Ali was a connection to my own beagle, as long as I had her, I also had my dog.

For a small dog, Ali’s bark was enormous. It was deep and powerful and if you were standing on the other side of the door from her, you’d think she was a Great Dane. Her bark was worse than her bite. I don’t think she ever growled, let alone bit at anyone or anything. She even let Tomas, her cat-nephew, bat her around the ears from time-to-time.

Waiting for steak crumbs, Aug. 2017.

Waiting for steak crumbs, Aug. 2017.

Despite being in a loving home, with lots of food, a comfy bed right beside a warm woodstove,  pats and belly rubs, Ali never got over the abuse she must have suffered as a puppy. She didn’t like men at first and was wary about my dad (he eventually became one of her favourite people). She hated going outside in case she never got back inside. She never missed an opportunity to eat. (That’s almost all dogs, though.)

She loved going for walks. We’d walk in all seasons to the lake, to the bridge over the canal, to the pond. In winter, she wore fancy sweaters or jackets over her own shiny coat. In summer, no matter how hot it was, she never ever wanted to go in the water to cool down. In August, I was in Nova Scotia. The last night there, Ali and I sauntered up the long driveway and got a couple of metres up the dirt road until she wanted to turn around. That’s when I knew it was the last time I would see her at home.

Chillaxing by the warm woodstove.

Chillaxing by the warm woodstove.

Before I left, I gave her lots of kisses and belly rubs and told her I loved her. My family will all miss Ali, also known as Micky, Micky B, Baby Girl, Beagles, Beagies, Old Lady Baby and many more nicknames, Just because she’s a dog doesn’t mean the loss doesn’t hurt us any less. She was part of the fabric of our lives for many years.

It’s going to be hard to go home and not have her greeting me at the door, barking so loudly it hurts my ears. It’ll be hard talking to my parents on the phone and not hearing the clack of Ali’s nails on the hardwood floor or the roar of a snore erupting intermittently from the tiny girl sleeping by the stove. My parents have an empty house but our hearts are filled with love and memories of our beagle girl.

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.

A crisp spring

Calgary city view.

A spring afternoon in Calgary, March 21, 2014.

It’s supposed to be spring right now but it’s not. Definitely not. Winter is hugging us tight and is not going to let us go. Usually during chilly February evenings I like to warm up with a bowl full of apple crisp. Right out of the oven. It’s a great way to sweeten dark winter nights and with the snow still flying in March, I think it’s apple crisp time. Despite my terrible cooking and baking skills, it’s one thing I can make.

My mother made supper for the family on week nights when I was growing up in Nova Scotia. The five of us would sit at the table around 6:30 p.m. or 7, after my dad got home from work, to eat our meal. Sometimes we had baked sole, sometimes haddock, sometimes Shepard’s pie and sometimes chicken. We always got dessert.

My favourite treat wasn’t chocolate cake or ice cream or pudding – it was apple crisp. Even when it was piping hot I’d be shoveling into my mouth. Even though it scorched my tongue. Through the burning I’d taste sweet Annapolis Valley fruit, baked into a soft compote. The crisp was also a little bit crunchy – from the topping of oatmeal and butter and brown sugar. Mmmm. Delicious. There’s nothing better when the snow is falling outside and the wind is trying to get in the front door.

Supper table.

My family’s supper, lunch and breakfast table.

The recipe came from my mother’s 4H cookbook from where she grew up – Burris, Ontario. Now it’s been a family recipe for almost 40 years now. My mum taught me to make apple crisp when I was younger. No easy feat as I just don’t like being in the kitchen.

Peeling the apples was fine and my dog, Jasper, would wait for the trimmings. He would gobble them up and want more. I loved the crisp’s topping so much that I told myself when I lived on my own I would make a whole bowl of it and eat it all myself. (I’ve lived on my own for a while but haven’t indulged in a pound or two of topping in one sitting.)

I have prepared the dessert so often that I don’t even need to look at the instructions anymore. It’s often the dish I take to potlucks or serve at dinner parties and it’s surprising no one is sick of it yet. Unless they don’t have the heart to tell me.

It doesn’t matter where I’ve made the apple crisp – from The Gambia, West Africa to Sackville, New Brunswick to Fort Smith, Northwest Territories to Revelstoke, British Columbia, every time the aroma hits me I’m reminded of home, winter nights and my family.

Apple crisp (from memory)

  •  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degree C).
  • Peel and slice about 6 medium sized apples
  • Place the sliced apples in a 9×13 inch pan.
  • Spread 1 tablespoon of white sugar over the sliced apples

Topping

  • Combine 3 cups of oats, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of flour, pinch of salt, ¾ cup of melt butter and mix.
  • Crumble evenly over the apple mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about ½ hour to 45 minutes

Anchorage House ghost

Anchorage House.

Mount Allison University’s Anchorage House – where Mrs. Bennett still roams the halls.

Anchorage House is a beautiful old mansion sitting like a grand gentleman on the Mount Allison University campus. The old man has a white beard, white hair, wears a black top hat on and is rather stout. He looks distinguished in the daylight, inviting enough to come in for a cup of coffee or a snifter of brandy. But looks can be deceiving and he can be quite the different sort in times of quiet, especially in the fall when the shadows of autumn grow to collect secrets.

I worked in Anchorage House for a few years. My office was on the second floor of the three storey building and it was a beaut. Hardwood floors and panelling, high ceilings and crown mouldings, windows with a view of tall elm trees and student life passing by. It was a cozy place to do business in fall. Usually.

Anchorage House was built in 1892 by a Sackville, N.B. lawyer and then sold to a doctor in 1906. In 1933 the home was bought by retired Mariner Captain Ronald V. Bennett, brother to the 1930s Canadian prime minister Viscount Richard Bedford Bennett. My office was once the bedroom of the captain’s wife.

It would have been a nice spot for a bedroom as it looked out to the landing, where the first floor stairs met the second floor. Mrs. Bennett could see whoever it was climbing up the staircase and probably watched her children nightly, ensuring they went to bed on time.

The story goes though, that her two sons died fighting in the Second World War. Their mother was distraught at the loss, often climbing the stairs to visit their empty rooms. It was said she did this even after her death many years later. I know this is true, I’ve heard her.

Yes, but Anchorage House was an office building, you say. There must have been lots of people coming and going, up and down those staircases. But not as many as you would think. One autumn lunch hour I was alone in the house. All alone. No one downstairs, no one on the second floor (except me) and no one on the third floor. There was no one else there.

My desk faced out the door with a direct view of the landing. Everyone using the stairs had to pass my office. Up and down and down and up. Even when I was busy with my work I could see all the different shapes of people treading on the steps and passing me by. Except one day.

One, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor.

I looked up from my computer to see if someone needed my help, as I was the only one there. But there was no one there. Oh, OK. My mistake.

Back to work.

Again, one, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor. I look up. No one there.

That’s weird. Maybe I’m hearing things. Maybe I’m tired. Maybe the old gentleman house is stretching his bones? There must be a reason for this. I walked to the landing and looked down the stairs. Nothing. No one.

Hmmmm. Do I let myself be scared? I don’t have to, as a co-worker rushed in the front door and up the stairs to her office, her office that’s straight across from mine. I didn’t tell her what I’d been noticing. I didn’t want her to think I was a silly goose.

One, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor. I looked up. And nobody.

This happened a couple more times until my co-worker came into my officer and asked me if I was experiencing what she was experiencing –  hearing footsteps but not seeing anybody.

“Oh yes,” I said. “It’s kind of freaking me out.”

“Me too,” she admitted.

Then one, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. There! We were hearing it together. Tiptoeing out into the landing we looked down the staircase. It was a student, my friend Pete, climbing the stairs. He looked up at us expectantly and we started laughing.

I asked him if he had been here earlier and he said no, it was his first visit.

It wasn’t the grieving mother’s first visit and I doubt that day was her last. After that I made sure when I was working evenings to turn on all the lights although it made leaving torturous. I had a million switches to shut off before I left, each light I turned off brought me closer to the darkness. But good old Anchorage and Mrs. Bennett left me alone.

 

 

Surprise, you’re in a triathlon

Tour of Alberta.

The inaugural Tour of Alberta finished in Calgary on Sunday, Sept. 8. The speed of the cyclists created a strong wind. Amazing. Click here for a video of the finish.

The Tour of Alberta, a professional bicycle race, ended in downtown Calgary two weekends ago. My husband and I were at the finish line when the cyclists sped to the finish – and blew us away. Literally. The athletes were pedalling so strong and fast the peloton created a stiff breeze. What amazing and powerful riders, there’s no way I could even imagine keeping their pace. It reminded me of a time I got stuck among triathletes competing in Sackville, N.B.

While living in Sackville I did a lot of sports but combining three and doing them in a row was not on my radar at that time. I was happy to swim and bike and run at different times on different days. That was good enough for me.

After being in the small university town for three years, I was moving on to other prospects. I was packing up my belongings at the end of August, ready to move out of a five bedroom townhouse that I shared with four Mount Allison University students. I had already taken apart my bicycle so it could be easily loaded into the moving van (my parents’ SUV).

A friend called me and reminded me I had left some bowls at her place after a potluck. She lived about five kilometres away in Middle Sackville, an idyllic spot. The way to her home was a meandering road that passed by green fields and towering elm trees and offered a lovely view of the Tantramar marsh. A nice drive, but I didn’t have a car. Nor did I have a working bike.

One of my roommates had a bicycle. She was petite, about 5’2”, about to go into her fourth year. She had brought her bike to school for first year but hardly ridden it. I asked her if I could borrow it for about an hour and she said sure. Then told me it was actually a child’s bike that was given to her as a present one birthday or Christmas. Oh, no wonder it looked small.

But the tires were pumped full of air and the brakes worked. I hopped on the bike and started for Middle Sackville. Riding the tiny thing was a bit uncomfortable – my knees were almost hitting my ears when I pedalled. To hang on to the handle bars I had to hunch over, way over. I looked ridiculous and felt like an idiot. I couldn’t go fast either because my feet barely fit the kiddy pedals.

“Oh well,” I told myself. “No one will see me if I go the back route.”

The back route was a trail, an old railway track that went almost all the way to my friend’s place. So that’s the path I took.  A ways into my trip a cyclist whizzed by me. Then another, and then some more and then there were people on the side of the path cheering. For me?

No, I had somehow managed to insert myself into the middle of a triathlon. Here I was on a child’s bike all scrunched up and looking like a fool while all these athletes, kitted out with the latest and greatest and best bikes, flew past me. I was embarrassed and wanted to shout at the cyclists and cheering crowd that this wasn’t my bike. I usually ride faster than this. Please don’t think I’m actually a competitor.

I said nothing and continued my slow and contorted journey for another 10 minutes before the racers turned off onto another trail. At my friend’s house I collected my bowls and made sure I took the road back into town. If the triathletes were running I hoped I would be at least be a little faster than them.

 

What goes wear in hockey?

Arena.

Not a great hockey shot but shows the inside of the Fort Smith Centennial Arena.

This past May the arena in Fort Smith, N.T. was damaged by fire. As in any small town the rink is the hub of the community and the blaze left a hole in the village. However, recently Smith won a TSN contest valued at $25,000 that’ll help rebuild the Centennial Arena – a place that froze my ears while I learned to play hockey.

When I was getting ready to move to the Northwest Territories from Sackville, N.B. my sister, who lives in a northwestern Ontario town, told me I would be playing hockey. I said I probably wouldn’t be since I didn’t have any equipment. Besides, there would be other things to do.

I arrived in Smith in the fall and there were lots of things to do. Hiking and biking and movie nights at the Northern Life Museum. But in late October the only thing the women in town could talk about was hockey. They were so excited to lace up their skates and hit the ice and be part of the Fort Smith Fury, as the team was named.

“Are you going to sign up?” I was asked. A lot.

“I don’t think so,” I would respond. “No equipment.”

“Don’t let that stand in your way,” they answered. “I know Sandra has a pair of skates for sale and Shari has a helmet. The team has some extra stuff like shin pads, elbow pads and chest pads. I’m sure someone has socks and a jersey you can borrow.”

And they did.

That first night of practice I was nervous. Not because I didn’t know how to play: my family cleaned off the pond near us every winter for shinny, so I knew how to play hockey. I was nervous because I didn’t know how to put on any equipment, except for the skates. With my chin up I took all “my” fifth-hand equipment and sat down in the locker room full of women I didn’t know.

I soon got to know them as they patiently explained what went where. As they filtered out onto the ice it left just me and Laura in the change room. Then I realized my pants didn’t have a string or a belt to hold them up.

“No problem,” said Laura. She wound hockey tape around my waist and it did the trick. I put on my “vintage” jersey and I looked like a real hockey player. I took to the ice that night feeling the part even though I definitely was not a CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) superstar.

I played hockey for three years in the Smith arena. Loved every

Hockey player.

Me – the hockey player.

minute of it. I especially loved skating in that rink. It’s beautiful. The wooden beams and the ceiling made me feel like I was in a cathedral. When the fire hit I was extremely sad. But thanks to TSN’s Kraft Celebration Tour contest, people will fill the Centennial Arena again.

Sidenote

TSN was broadcasting from Fort Smith last Friday. Smith, with its population of 2,600, beat out Whitehorse — a city 10 times the size — for the Kraft Celebration Tour prize. Now that’s community spirit.

Missing Silver Lake

Achorage House.

Me in front of Anchorage House on the Mount Allison University campus. I used to work in the historical home in Sackville, N.B.

There’s not much heat to escape in Calgary this summer…unlike the rest of Canada. It seems as if Alberta is stuck in a hole of terrible weather with a few nice days thrown into the pit now and again. Today I’m yearning for the warm summers of Sackville, N.B.

I worked at Mount Allison University for a few years starting in 2003. Mount A is located in beautiful Sackville, a town made up of quaint gardens and pretty homes. On campus there are many historical buildings and my office was in one such place, Anchorage House. It was a lovely old house to work in with original fixtures and high ceilings and a grand wooden staircase going up three floors.

There is one down side to working in the magnificent home where a shipping magnate once lived. Because of the property’s age it didn’t have air conditioning. When summer struck, the building would heat up quickly and no matter how wide the windows were thrown open, the legendary mighty Sackville winds never cooled off the rooms one bit. As well, because the town is surrounded by the Tantramar Marsh, the humidity rises along with the temperatures.

I did find a way around the swelter: a noon-hour swim in Silver Lake, a sandy pond not far away from the middle of town. Every work day I changed into my bathing suit and hopped on my bike to make the 10-minute pedal to the water. Making sure not to get my hair wet (I still had to look professional when I went back to work), I would paddle about for a bit until I felt I was OK to cycle back. Returning to the office I could get through the rest of the sticky afternoon feeling refreshed.

One day I got to the beach and there were two boys probably around the ages of 12, standing on the beach.

Silver Lake Beach.

Silver Lake beach and Lillas Fawcett Park in Sackville, N.B. A great place to swim – when there’s no poop.

“Are you the lifeguard, miss?” they asked.

“No, sorry,” I replied.

“There’s poop in the water,” they said and pointed in the piece of crap’s direction.

“Oh, gross,” I said. “I’m not the lifeguard.”

“Well you should see it. It’s a big log floating around. Are you sure you’re not the lifeguard?”

“Pretty sure. But thanks for telling me about the, um, excrement. Hope the lifeguard shows up soon.”

I did not go look at the turd sailing on the lake. Nor did I go for a swim that day. But at least the boys called me miss and not ma’am.

Families include furry folk too

Family Christmas with Madeleine, me and Jai.

Family Christmas with Madeleine, me and Jai.

It’s Family Day in Alberta and B.C. and a few other places in Canada. Many of you have the day off to hopefully go on some outdoor adventures or do something else cool with your clan. But it doesn’t just have to be with human family – there’s also our non-human kin.

Two of my friends recently said goodbye to their pets. One woman told me most people didn’t understand why she was so upset. It was only a cat. She could get another one. To those of us who are pet people, we understand. Pets are family.

Our cats and dogs and rabbits and iguanas and hedgehogs and snakes are part of our lives. They are our fuzzy sisters and brothers, our most consistent furry roommates and our cuddling confidants (maybe not the hedgehog or snake). They make us laugh, they make us angry, they mostly make us happy and they never ask for anything other than a pat on the belly.

When I lived in Sackville, New Brunswick 12 years ago, I had a three bedroom apartment. I did have two roommates – my cat and dog. Jai, my tiny grey kitty, came from Calgary. A farmer brought in the little girl with a club foot to be put down because the other barn cats had been beating her up. My cousin, a veterinarian in training, saw the sweetness in Jai and so I ended up with her.

Madeleine was a beagle I found along with her puppy, Ali. They had been running up and down the Nova Scotia dirt roads leading to where I grew up. My parents took Ali and I got her mama.

Madeleine had some problems, probably because she had been abused, but she wasn’t mean or nasty. She was shy, didn’t like men and I couldn’t trust her off leash. I also couldn’t trust her to be around food. If anything was in her reach it was gone. To be gobbled down in a few bites.

Jai and Madeleine didn’t like each other at first. But eventually they began to play with each other. Jai loved being chased and even though she had a club foot she was quick. Madeleine would jump around trying to catch her. They were never best friends but they were sisters.

Every Saturday morning Jai would watch the apartment while Madeleine and I went to the Farmers’ Market. It was held in the Bridge Street Café, a coffee shop downtown that was about a 10 minute jaunt away. Madeleine loved to go for walks and she would sniffsniffsniff all over the place. She was never happy when I tied her up near the café to wait for me when I went to buy my treats. She would howl and howl and people in the market would ask:

“Whose dog is that? What a loud and horrible sound.”

I would pretend I didn’t hear them. I knew Madeleine only had a few minutes longer before I came to rescue her. I only went to one booth anyway. The one that sold the almond croissants.

The baker was German and lived in Baie Verte – about a 20 minute drive from Sackville. He had the best baked goods ever and my favourite was the marzipan filled pastry. Mmmmm. I haven’t had anything like it since. The baker put the croissant in a brown paper bag, folded the top over once and handed it to me. I stuck it in my handbag and went to pick up my beagle.

Our walk home was quicker than our walk to the market since my mouth was watering thinking about the marzipan I was going to eat. Jai greeted us once we got down the stairs and into the apartment. I took off my shoes and then Madeleine’s leash and set my handbag down on the living room floor. There was no way my beagle could get into my purse without unbuttoning the top and then having to unfold the paper bag. My treat was safe while I ran around the corner to the kitchen to make tea.

Filling the kettle with water took no longer than 10 seconds. When I came back Madeleine was smacking her lips. Like she had eaten something. Strange. My handbag was where I had left it and it was still closed. My croissant was safe. She hadn’t ate it.

I picked up my purse, opened it and pulled out the brown paper bag with the tasty delight in it. Except my arm swung back wildly because the bag was lighter than I had expected. It was not heavy with the sweet crusts of an almond pastry. It was as light as air.

The bag was empty.

Somehow Madeleine had undone the button on my purse, unfolded the paper bag, ate the croissant, folded the bag up exactly as the Baie Verte baker had, done up the button on my handbag and ate my treat – all under 10 seconds. How did she do it? Jai probably knew but never told. It was a family secret.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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