August 21, 2004…
On this date ten years ago, my world split in two.
It was the summer I was sick with mononucleosis that I wondered where on earth I had gotten. I had been suffering from fever and terrible headaches for a couple of weeks and had convinced myself that the doctor was going to tell me I had brain cancer. When she told me I had mononucleosis I was dumbfounded. How do you get mono when you’re in a monogamous relationship? At 51 years old?
It was also the summer I took my youngest son to Newfoundland for two weeks in an attempt to reconnect with family and to have some peace. I had always prayed for peace in my life, but homeschooling our three boys, and my husband’s chiropractic clinic in the house made sure I never had it.
But that was all before August 21.
You know how sometimes things happen in your life that, had you known the dark days that were to follow, you would never have permitted them to happen? Not that I really had any control over what happened in August 2004, but I often wondered that if I could go back in time and change things, would I do it? Today I think not.
I remember that day as if it were yesterday. My husband and older sons were to go with some friends for a day of paintball, leaving my youngest son and I home alone. My husband was acting strangely that morning, like he had something on his mind that he was afraid of. He finally said he didn’t feel well and that maybe the boys should go on to paintball without him. He said he had to talk to me about something.
Something that could change our lives forever.
So when the boys left the house my husband said he wanted to talk in his office. I thought that sounded official, so I decided that whatever it was that he had on his mind, I would be dressed, complete with makeup to hear it.
And then came the bomb.
Nothing could have prepared me for it. He told me that he had been seeing an old girlfriend from high school, and that he wanted to spend time with her to see whether or not he would stay with me or go with her. He told me all his thoughts and finished by crying in my arms. I thought of my mononucleosis…
Hello? We had been married for 21 years. We were a right wing, fundamentalist, homeschooling Christian family. I was a submitted and fearful woman who was afraid to express an opinion, who thought that everything outside her kitchen window was evil.
How did that ever happen to us?
How ever would I manage on my own? With three bewildered children.
And so began a very dark night of my life. Those of you who have gone through a divorce know very well that there is a lifetime in those ‘dark night ‘ years. I was so ashamed that this had happened to me at the age of 51.
I had to relearn how to be in this world, how to stand up for myself and fight for my children and myself.
I did it!
Looking back now, 10 years later, it’s difficult to imagine that from the ashes of my broken marriage could rise anything beautiful and of value. I remember during those dry years, thinking that I would figuratively bury my old self and never think of ‘that person’ again. But a wise person pointed out to me that who I am today is a result of all my experiences, including what I lived during the past ten years. The fire that I went through made me a much more compassionate, tolerant and loving woman.
I accomplished much.
I bought a house and sold it.
I married a man who loves me just the way I am and does not try to change me.
I wrote a book and had it published.
I got a job for the first time in 24 years. I learned to speak French fluently.
And I became somewhat of an expert on growing and using lavender.
But most of all I learned that I am a loveable person in my own right; that I don’t have to be anything more than myself for people to like me.
And I learned to love and accept myself.
After some time I was able to say “Thank you” for my divorce. I could not have imagined being grateful that I am divorced, but I am very grateful. If going through that kind of ‘refiner’s fire’ was able to change me into who I am today, then I am happy.
And so, being that today is the anniversary of my personal D-Day, I will celebrate my ten years of freedom. I will also celebrate that God’s grace has been with me all the time, and even more so now that I have understood and experienced what Grace actually is. I have this frame hanging in my office as a reminder.
Put on your Easter bonnet; with all the frills upon it…do you remember that song? Probably not, unless you were born before 1965. When I was young, I always got a new hat and dress to wear to church on Easter Sunday. The hat was usually a wide brimmed one with flowers on the band and wide ribbon streamers flowing down the back. Sometimes there was an elastic than went under the chin so the hat wouldn’t blow off in those strong Newfoundland gusts of wind.
We didn’t do egg hunts back then; the ‘Easter Bunny’ would come during the night and leave a little gift and some chocolate under the bed. So on Easter morning the first place we used to go was under the bed to see what we got. Skipping ropes, marbles, jacks (if you know what jacks are, then you’re almost as old as me), and other springtime things could be found, as well as a chocolate bunny. This would be followed by egg cracking contests where we each took a dyed hard boiled egg and cracked it against another person’s egg. The one with the egg that didn’t crack was the winner!
When my children were young there were a few different traditions. On Easter morning they had Easter baskets at the table with a spring gift which could have been a T shirt, bathing suit, bike pump or a baseball hat, along with a solid chocolate bunny. They never got to eat the bunnies because later on we melted them down with a little cream for a chocolate fondue. Then they would go on the hunt and fill their baskets with chocolate and cream eggs which had been hidden all around the house. Sometimes we found Easter eggs in December!
The Easter meal was usually ham or turkey with chocolate fondue for dessert. A high point of the day was when the children watched their chocolate bunnies sink lower and lower in the pot as they melted down for the fondue. Then I would put a huge platter on the table filled with strawberries, bananas, pineapple chunks, pears, oranges and apples which we dipped in the chocolate. Wonderful memories!
This year we had company for supper last evening; today we’re going to an Easter buffet at a friend’s place, and tomorrow will be the big family Easter meal with 12 in attendance. And there will be a little egg hunt for my grandchildren! Happy Easter everyone
In 1973 I was a student at St FX, albeit not a very good student. I was more interested in having a good time than concentrating on my courses. Parties, pranks and other fun were priorities on my agenda and there was just no time to give to the more serious reason for being there. I was like someone cut loose for the first time. And that is how it came to pass that I had to take some summer courses at UPEI, to make up for the ones I had flunked at X. I had a good friend named Marilyn, from Charlottetown who, with her parents’ permission, invited me to stay at their home for the summer while I took two courses. Truth be told, I wasn’t much better at UPEI that I was at X.
I took two courses that summer, but I still had to work to get some money for the fall session back at X. I managed to find a little job keeping house for a woman who was recovering from surgery. Every morning I walked to her house and tidied up, made beds, washed dishes, vacuumed and did whatever else was needed. That only took a couple of hours and I was left with lots of time to go to my classes and do the required reading.
I was a smoker back then and I continued to smoke for the next ten years, but I got my start at St FX, with Marilyn. That summer we didn’t have much money for smokes, and besides, if her parents knew that she smoked they would have hit the roof. Her father was a dentist and could really preach on the evils of smoking and how it could yellow your teeth and give you halitosis. Her stepmother spent her days keeping a spotless house and talking in a high-pitched baby voice to their elderly and very sick dog, mostly oblivious to much else.
One afternoon Marilyn and I were at loose ends as to what we could do for the rest of the day. We were sitting in her aqua colored bedroom where the twin beds, positioned at right angles to each other, were piled high with stuffed animals. It was a hot July day where you could look out the window and see the heat rising from the pavement below. The cicadas were buzzing and Roberta Flack droned out Killing Me Softly With His Song on the radio while we both craved for a cigarette. But we didn’t have any.
“I’d kill for a puff right now”, I said.
“We can’t just go and buy some; your parents will kill us.”
“I know, and it’s been so long since we had a smoke. But there is something I have…”
Marilyn went over to a door in her bedroom that led to an attic space. I hadn’t even realized that the door was there, so much it blended in with the wall color. She pulled the door open, reached in and took out a paper grocery bag. I was intrigued.
“This is my butt bag,” she said.
And sure enough, the bag had hundreds of cigarette butts along with a few packs of matches in it. There was even some tin foil for a makeshift ashtray. She explained that any evening her parents had company, she would get up early the next morning and, under the guise of being a helpful daughter, clean up the living room, empty the ashtrays into the butt bag and then hide it in the attic. That way she would always have a stash.
We dove in and picked out the longest butts, lit up and took deep hauls on them and then we blew the smoke out the window so as to not leave a smell in the room. Those butts were so stale and dirty I still have a hard time to picture myself smoking them and actually enjoying it. I guess the thrill of doing something illicit was so exciting that it just didn’t matter.
I don’t know whether or not Marilyn’s parents ever found out about the butt bag, but every time now that I hear Roberta Flack, or Jim Croce singing Bad Leroy Brown, I am transported back to that little house in Charlottetown, my friend Marilyn, the summer of 1973, and the butt bag.
Ahhh…such an extraordinary feeling to see my name and story in an actual published book! Christmas Chaos has been launched, so I am no longer a writer wannabe; I am a writer! I’m sharing my story with you here – it’s a true story that actually happened in St Eustache some years ago. Enjoy!!
Tante Denise Cooked Her Goose
I remember Christmases growing up in Newfoundland. They were pretty much the same from one year to the next, and it seemed the only thing that changed were the gifts and the fact that we were all getting older. But the day always unfurled the same way: kids get up first, empty the stockings, wait for Dad and Mom to get up, unwrap the presents and eat all day long. These events all led up to the main event: The Turkey Dinner. And what a dinner it was! Turkey, stuffing, mountains of potatoes drowning in gravy, sweet cranberry sauce, peas, beets and carrots were the standard fare. All this was the precursor to dessert, which was brought into a dimly lit dining room where Dad solemnly lit the brandy soaked Christmas pudding.
When I found myself living in Quebec, and with a family of my own, I continued the tradition of my parents so my children could enjoy the same routine. That is, I continued to cook a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings every year. I did this until 1990 when I decided to break with tradition and cook a goose for Christmas dinner instead. How hard could it be? And didn’t a goose resemble a turkey? Weren’t they both fowl?
That year we were having a houseful of people for Christmas. My husband’s parents were coming, as well as his single cousin, Pierre. Not to be left out, Tante Denise was coming with a friend all the way from France. I so wanted to impress them all by cooking a goose.
The only problem with cooking a goose for Christmas dinner was that I had no idea how to do it. Wasn’t there something about a goose’s layer of fat that had to be considered? I asked around for advice.
“Pas de probleme!” Tante Denise said. She knew exactly what to do. All I had to do was buy the bird, and she would take care of the rest. I bought the biggest goose at Loblaws. It must have been close to twenty pounds.
Christmas Eve dawned to a beautiful sunny day and the arrival of all our guests. The goose was thawed and ready for whatever Tante Denise had in store. She opened her sack and took out, of all things, pitted prunes! That was not all. She had brought a tub of liver pate. The idea was to stuff the prunes with the liver pate, and then to stuff the goose with the prunes. I thought it must have been some exotic French recipe straight from Provence. Anyway, we stuffed the prunes, and then we stuffed the goose. It was ready.
After opening gifts and eating a hearty Christmas brunch the next morning, we all settled in to the serious task of preparing Christmas dinner. The scene could have come straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting: Christmas music playing, happy children, hungry adults, snowman in the yard, beautiful decorations and a table that was so well laid, we could have been receiving royalty. The potatoes were peeled and in the pot. The peas, beets and carrots were ready to go. In fact, everything appeared to be ready except for one thing: the stuffed goose. It was still sitting on the counter. Not my department, I thought. But still, I had to ask.
Tante Denise said in a very nonchalant voice, “Oh don’t worry, you just put the goose in the oven at four hundred degrees for about twenty minutes.”
Say what?! I couldn’t imagine.
At the appointed time, the goose went into a disposable aluminum roasting pan that I had left over from Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner. Then it was put into the four hundred degree oven. After some time had elapsed, I opened the oven door just to sneak a peek. Oh no! All the fat had melted off the goose and seeped through an invisible hole in the aluminum pan. In fact, the fat at the bottom of my oven was smoking in a fashion that told me it was just minutes away from igniting. We turned off the oven. Someone took out the goose and found a new pan. We waited for the oven to cool down so we could clean up the grease. Much, much later, the goose went back into the oven. We were starving, and the vegetables were getting cold.
When Tante Denise said the goose was done, we took it out of the hot oven. I mean, she knew how to do this, didn’t she? I obediently removed the liver pate-stuffed prunes from the smoking cavity of the bird and doubtfully piled them into a serving bowl. Tante Denise carved the goose, and we all waited with bated breath and rumbling stomachs.
“La piece de resistance!” Tante Denise said, as she brought the platter to the table.
“It looks a little dry,” said my oldest son.
“Where’s the gravy?” asked Pierre.
The others said nothing. They just piled their plates with a little of everything that was on the table. While Tante Denise looked around expectantly, waiting for compliments, they started eating. We sampled the goose. It was a little hard to cut. We chewed and chewed, but that goose was about as tough as boot leather, and it would not go down without copious amounts of wine. Finally, admitting defeat, Tante Denise conceded that it was a little tough, and so we were relieved of the obligation to eat it.
Thank goodness there were a lot of prunes!
The Christmas of 1990 went down in our family’s history as the one when we ate liver pate-stuffed prunes and mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner. The story gets told every year, and with each retelling, it gets better and better. But we have never let Tante Denise forget the Christmas she cooked her goose.
I hate parking garages. I have always hated them and never wanted to use them, danged mazes that they are. I remember in 2006 driving from Montreal through New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington DC without mishap, only to get lost in a parking garage in Myrtle Beach. I just couldn’t find my way out, and it was a long time before Aaron let me live that one down.
However, that was nothing compared to what happened more recently. Being a middle aged single mom, I had no other way to meet men than to frequent internet dating sites. I did this for a few years, and met many memorable men, all at a restaurant called Scores in St Eustache, Quebec. Enter Roger aka Regor, as he was known on the Christian Cafe. He drove all the way from Detroit, Michigan in a great big black Cadillac just to meet me. That car was so big you could play house in it, and I was a little embarrassed to be seen in it, if the truth be known.
We went to visit downtown Montreal in that BBC (big black caddy), and when we arrived at Old Montreal to take in the sights, there was nowhere to park except in, you guessed it: a parking garage. I don’t know about you, but I find that the space for turning in those parking garages leaves a little to be desired, and this one was no exception. As Murphy’s Law would dictate, we had to park on the fifth floor. The car was too big to make the turns to go up to the next level, so Roger Dear had to make ten three point turns to get to the top. I was dying. At the top, there was a machine where you get a ticket, and on returning, you pay there at the machine, take your receipt and stick it in the machine at the ground level in order to get out.
Ok, we made it to the top, and then went on to enjoy the sights of Old Montreal at -30 degrees Celsius. I just wanted to go home. Well, finally it was time to go home and we found ourselves once again on the fifth floor of the parking garage, where Roger paid at the little machine, took his receipt, and then we proceeded to do ten more three point turns to get to the bottom.
At the bottom, it was a simple matter of putting the cardboard receipt in the slot and the big arm would go up, letting us out. Roger could not get the paper receipt in the slot and I kept telling him that he should have had a card to put there. But he didn’t. After many tries, he went back up to the fifth floor to see if the correct receipt was there. It was not. Then he tried walking in to the garage to get another receipt. Well Roger was not as big as his BBC so there was no receipt coming from there. I tried to lift the big arm up to no avail. We called the French operator on the little intercom, and all she could tell us was to put the receipt in the slot. We called Maintenance to see if they could help us. Only if there was a problem with the system, they said. It was getting late and the temperature was dropping. Imagine, to be a prisoner in a parking garage, of all places! Finally in desperation I asked Roger whether or not he thought I should call 911. He said I should indeed.
Wow! My first call to 911!! I explained the problem to the kind lady on the phone. She had one question for me.
“Can you walk out of the parking garage?”
“Well, I can’t send the police if you are able to walk out.”
I asked her if it would make a difference if I called the police myself.
“Maam, we ARE the police.”
“Well what if I call CAA?”
” Just a minute, I’ll see.”
And while she was gone to “see”, Roger Dear found the missing card….in his pocket, right where he had put it. I quickly hung up on the kind lady, Roger Dear put the right card in the right slot; the big metal arm went up, and we made a dash out of that parking garage. Thank God there were not other cars behind us being delayed and worse, witnessing our predicament. It has been said that the primary difference between intelligence and stupidity is that there are limits to intelligence. I concur.
Emergency waiting rooms are such strange places, and when you have the privilege of spending any amount of time in one, you will see what I mean. Two weeks ago when I cut my foot I spent ten hours just sitting there with not much to do but to observe the people and at times to chat with them.It was like a slice of humanity taken at a certain point in time from what they were doing when disaster struck.
There is a sort of group mentality that takes over in a waiting room, as if all of us waiting there didn’t have a life outside of this waiting room and our individual afflictions. As the hours wore on, from 7PM to 5:30 AM the next morning, the ambulance coming and going with various Friday night accidents, we all sat there, waiting for our turn to see the doctor.
Since none of us exchanged names or any other personal information, my friend and I referred to each person according to their ailment. Since I had injured my foot, I was “the foot”.
What a conglomeration of people! There was a man with a fish hook stuck in his neck, right next to the jugular vein. He said that he and his dad had gone fishing and his dad landed the biggest fish – him! Since the hook was so situated, he had to have it removed surgically. He was “the neck”.
Then there was a woman who had fallen over the stairs, pizza in hand, children waiting hungrily for dinner. The pizza ended up on the wall and she ended up at the emergency with a swollen knee. She was “the knee”.
A woman came in with a knife puncture wound to her hand. She had been slicing into an avocado when the knife slipped and almost went through her hand. She really didn’t see why she had to be there with such a small cut. But it was deep. She was “the hand”.
Across from me there was a very young woman with an ice pack on her head. Her boyfriend was with her throughout the night. I can only imagine why she had an ice pack on her head. She looked a little out of it, and I called her “the head”.
There was a nun in a burgundy and off white habit, and some sort of head covering. I am supposing that she was a nun. No one would willingly dress like that. There was nothing evidently wrong with her, although something could have been covered by her apparel. Probably she had something abdominal, internal, or a woman’s problem. She was “the nun”.
An elderly man came in with his son around the same time I did. After a few hours his son left and so he was left there to wait it out alone. When he was finally seen at 4AM, he had to call a cab from the direct line phone right there in the emergency waiting room. His parting words were, “I hope the taxi doesn’t take as long to come as the doctor did”. He was “the old man”.
A young man was lying across three chairs, his eyes extremely irritated. He kept wiping them with a tissue, and blowing his nose. He was “the eyes”.
So there we were,the foot, the knee, the neck, the nun, the old man, the hand, the eyes,and the head, eight of us, waiting, waiting. I will probably never see any of those people again, but just for a few hours we were together in a small hospital waiting room in St Eustache in the wee hours of May 23, 2009.