Grandpa’s Old Fiddle

Growing up, special occasions were marked by family get-togethers, food, and best of all, good music. The one instrument’s sound that stands out in my mind is that of the fiddle. It was the main attraction and accompanied by accordion, guitar, or harmonica. My job was keeping time with a pair of old, scratched and tea-stained spoons taken out of the kitchen drawer. Trying to keep up with the ever-increasing speed of Orange Blossom Special or other favourites, my spoons would become a blur between my lap and open hand. I always joke that I learned to play the spoons before I could eat with one. When we visited both sides of the family, my grandpas were always ready, fiddle under chin and horsehair on strings.

I was only six when Grandpa J. passed away. My understanding of what was going on at the time was summed up at the wake when, looking at the open casket, I turned to my grandma and said, “This means I don’t have a Godfather anymore, right Grandma?” After everyone had gone, the old brown fiddle with its peeling finish was tucked away in its dusty black case on the top shelf of Grandma’s bedroom closet. I don’t know how many years it stayed there, but I secretly hoped that she was saving it for when I would be old enough to have it. I dreamed of some day learning to play it.

For many years, when spending time at Grandma’s house, she would ceremoniously place her little black cassette player right in the middle of the formica-topped kitchen table. With a smile on her face, she would press the “play” button with her crooked finger and gently hush me. When the recorded sound of Grandpa’s fiddle filled the air, she would close her eyes while her body started to sway to the sound of the music. She was transported back in time. A time when her legs were much younger, her joints were not swollen, and Grandpa was still around to play “une p’tite jigue” on his old fiddle. Sometimes she’d get right into it take my hand and spin me on the linoleum floor. Refusing to join her was not an option. I’d get a soft pinch here, a harder one there, until finally I would join in with her dancing.

With all this music in the family, there were always instruments to be found in our household. There was an old accordion with knobs held in place with elastics, my dad’s favourite, as well as a shiny chrome mouthpiece. These instruments were as sacred as the chalice and holy water in St-Anthony’s Church down the street; to my dismay, they were off-limits for my siblings and me. Yet, anytime I picked up an instrument, I always managed to play a little tune by ear, without any help. Yup, I was the musical one, but I always ended up singing since I could never be trusted holding more than a couple of spoons. How I wanted a fiddle of my own.

At one point, I don’t quite remember when, I learned that my cousin B. received the old fiddle. He was my grandparents’ Godchild, as I was, and in French Canadian Catholic families, Godparents are like an extra set of parents. His mother, my Grandmother’s twin, married an Englishman and never taught her children to speak French, but the traditions remained. On our birthday and at Christmas, we could always count on an extra-special gift from your Godparents. Even when my grandmother would introduce me to her friends, I wasn’t just her granddaughter – she always added that extra bit: “This is my Goddaughter, ma p’tite fiole, Carole.” As such, I felt special and reveled in the extra attention, but I was still disappointed about the old fiddle.

Though feeling selfish, I contained my disappointment until writing these words, as I still think about the fiddle on occasion. I wonder if B. has ever dusted it off to try to play it. I want to pick up the telephone and ask him what has become of it, but I fear the answer. Does he even still have it? You see, B. has never really settled down. He’s moved back and forth between relationships like a bow moves up and down its strings. He’s been unlucky that way I guess. Who knows if, with so many moves, the fiddle hasn’t gotten lost in the shuffle. On the other hand, perhaps he keeps the fiddle close to him as somewhat of an anchor in his tumultuous life, like a fiddler’s tapping foot that pulls the eye and keeps the beat as the notes escape and bounce recklessly around the room. Maybe the tapping foot is his, thanks to Grandpa’s old fiddle.

Where Home Is

St. Marys General Hospital

St. Mary's General Hospital

The children’s unit at St. Mary’s General Hospital is like any other. The playroom has a television on a shelf near the ceiling (why up so high?) and shelves are lined with more toys than Santa can fit in his sleigh. Alone in my room, I am given a crib instead of a regular bed. The metal on the crib is painted some khaki institutional colour: green, beige, or blue. I’m not especially happy to be here, but with my recent illness, I am told that I don’t have a choice, and besides, it’s only for a little while.

My grandmother had given me a doll as a gift, which I keep with me when I go to bed. It isn’t a Barbie-type doll; its body is larger, with some of its parts made of fabric. While I play with my doll, it slips out of my hands and I’m not fast enough. The doll ends up on the floor. I look around, and no one’s in sight that can come to her rescue. I stand up in my crib, carefully swinging one leg over the rail, and placing my toe on the bottom of it. Straddling the rail, I swing my other leg over and jump down onto the floor to rescue my fallen doll. As footsteps approach, I look up to find a nurse in a starched white uniform, hands on her hips, asking what on earth I’m up to. My pulse quickens and I can’t catch my breath as I try to explain. Quickly, I climb back over the rail and drop into my bed as she warns me not to try that again, or I’ll get a spanking.

I wasn’t doing anything wrong, was I? My parents were gone home, the nurses were busy, and I was alone. All I had was my doll, and the smell of my grandmother’s face make-up on its fabric. I could still see her wrinkled hands, swollen at the joints, handing it to me. Her face, the way it creased at the eyes when she smiled at me. My doll kept me sane between the prodding and poking of sharp needles and cold stethoscopes. I finally escaped those stark grey walls to finally be surrounded by my parents and sister.

The Outhouse

The Outhouse

For a time, my family lives in a small addition that had been built on the side of my grandmother’s farmhouse. There’s a large garden next to the house sprouting peas, carrots, potatoes. There’s a huge towering tree at the back of the garden, which will later become a favourite place to build a tree house. A wooden latch held in place with a rusty nail usually keeps the old creaky door of our place shut, and inside are two beds against one wall: one for my parents, the other for my sister and me. Two chairs sit neatly tucked under a tiny wooden table on the right, and straight ahead lies a kitchen smaller than a two-piece bathroom. In fact, that’s what it would eventually become after we moved out.

The toilet consists of an outhouse by day and a grey metal pail behind a small curtain by night. One evening, I groggily get up out of bed to use our “facilities.” My mother’s shrill voice resonates in my ears: “Be careful not to spill the pail!” Before I could barely finish calling back, some imaginary force tips over the bucket I’m sitting on – along with all of its contents – onto the rough wooden floor. My body tenses as I remain squatted, frozen, with wetness oozing around my stubby feet. My knuckles turn white as I keep my rumpled nightgown wrapped around my waist, fearing that the wetness will get at it as I hear my mother’s approaching footsteps. She doesn’t chastise me, but wets a cloth to clean my feet. The smell of disinfectant permeates the air as I sink deeper under the wool covers.

Our stay in that place was like the passing of a season. I didn’t know how we ended up in our next place, a small upstairs apartment. Early memories play tricks on the mind; it’s like trying to remember dreams. One minute you’re in one place, and the next, your surroundings are transformed and can be miles away, and the details aren’t always as clear as you’d like them to be. Anyway, somehow we ended up back up north, a four-hour drive on icy roads with nothing but jack pines on either side.

The new place has long outside stairs that lead to a large mudroom. It is scattered with a rainbow of coloured plastic toys and fuzzy animals. A thin metal door opens into a gleaming white kitchenette. Another doorway connects it to a slightly bigger living room, with barely enough room for the small sofa after the Christmas tree my father got from the bush is placed in one corner. On the opposite wall rests a small stand supporting a black and white television set with long metal rabbit ears extending to the ceiling. An upholstered chair sits in a corner, its metal feet scratching the hardwood floors beneath it. Lying on my stomach in my bed, I watch my father standing in front of the small mirror of the bathroom, turning the hot water faucet on and off as he shaves off the day’s stubble.

It’s Christmas Eve, and our home is bursting at the seams. I’m supposed to be asleep in my bed, waiting for Daddy to wake me for Midnight Mass, but through the noise and chatter of everyone filing in, I hear a distinct “Ho, ho, ho” coming from somewhere outside. My eyes pop open, and I can’t get up fast enough to greet Santa. I don’t know how many people come through our door, but it feels like an eternity as the jolly laugh gets louder. Standing just inside, I wave people through like a traffic cop, hurrying them forward with my hand so that I could get a glimpse. The moment is here, and a rush comes over me as I hear, once again, the jolly laugh. I dance from one foot to the other, rubbing my hands and craning my neck as far forward as my muscles will allow.

I’m usually happy to see my uncle. This time, however, he must have wondered why my shoulders dropped at the sight of him. After wishing me a Merry Christmas, I was whisked back to bed to await Midnight Mass, and the real jolly man in red.

I slip into my flannel peejays, feeling the softness and warmth on my skin. The pink and blue flowers on a white background make me feel dizzy if I stare at them too long. Eventually, I fall asleep, and the next thing I know I’m being shaken, “Get up Hunny, it’s time for Mass.” I jump out of bed and into my favourite dress and can’t help but to peek under the tree to see if maybe, just maybe, Santa might have passed through earlier than usual. This was Christmas, and this is our home.

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These are three of my earliest memories meshed together. I took a non-fiction creative writing class last year (my very first), and this was our first assignment. It was a challenge to find a common thread to three separate memories and put it all into one piece. This was the result. What is your earliest memory?

Moving to the Yukon

“Service à la clientèle, Carole à l’appareil, comment puis-je vous aider?” This was a daily refrain for five years of my life. Sitting at my desk in my little grey cubicle, headset on my ears, computer screen in front of me, I was surrounded by about fifty other people doing somewhat the same as me. The companies changed, but the verses remained.

This time, the grey walls of the cubicles were low enough that everyone could see the cityscape that surrounded us. Looking out my window from where I sat, I could see the drab flat roof-top of the mall just down the street, the one I would go to for my daily work-out routine after work. It was the same thing, day after day, of driving forty minutes, working nine-to-five, and another forty minute drive home.

My family was impressed with how far I had come. I grew up in Timmins, a small Northern Ontario mining town. Finding employment proved difficult due to my lack of skills and education. I was a high school dropout. I tried returning on three separate occasions, each time with the same result, even though I told everyone I wanted to become a teacher someday.

Whether you were out shopping at K-Mart, eating french fries at the London Café, or simply filling up at Sunny’s Gas Bar, you could hear broken French everywhere around you. Being bilingual wasn’t a big deal in Timmins. When I moved south to the big city of Toronto, however, I quickly realized that my language skills were an asset. Demand for French speakers was high, which put me at an advantage. I managed with what I was making working in that postage stamp-sized cubicle, but there was little opportunity to move forward.

For several months now, I was seeing someone, and I admired his sense of adventure. He worked as a consultant in car dealerships helping them get back on their feet. He would live in one place after another, helping companies in dire need of his services, but it was always a temporary gig. He announced, one day, that he had received an offer to work in Whitehorse, Yukon for a year, and asked me to come along.

When I was a child, my uncle lived in Whitehorse, and when he and my aunt would visit, they always talked about the Yukon. I remember a lapel pin I received as a gift. It was the Yukon’s coat of arms, and my aunt explained every little minute detail, down to the two sharp peaks representing Yukon’s beautiful mountains.

It didn’t take me long to pack whatever belongings I could fit into my little red Corolla. I sold some larger pieces of furniture, and simply gave the rest away. My car was packed with my life. I showed up for my last day of work, luggage corseted in the back and on the rooftop, ready to leave at 5pm. To make space for a gift-basket I received from my co-workers, I had to leave behind a couple of ceramic vases in the office. They still embellish a co-worker’s little grey cubicle almost six years later.

When five o’clock rolled around, I eased out of the underground parking garage, the yellow-striped gate moving up for me one last time. I drove past the brown brick mall up the street and the smoke-mirrored office building on the right. Concrete sidewalks pushed up against concrete buildings. People walked along going about their usual business: expecting mother pushing a blue baby stroller; a couple jogging toward nowhere in particular; a man smartly dressed in a business suit, briefcase in hand.

My life, at thirty-three, was going to change forever… I hoped for the better.

It was a long drive to the Yukon. The road led from the lush greenery of Ontario, across the endless fields and skies of the prairies, and through the snow-capped mountains of British Columbia. After finally reaching Mile Zero on the Alaska Highway we still had almost another 900 to go (or 1400km).

When we finally arrived in Whitehorse and unloaded the car, tears came to my eyes. The realization that I was the furthest I could be from home without leaving the country terrified me. I couldn’t just hop in the car and visit my family after a day’s drive, it would be more like a five-day road trip, one-way.

I gradually settled into the tiny furnished basement apartment across the river. I knew that my life would be forever changed, but I didn’t know if I would regret my decision. Different scenarios and questions came to mind. The sense of adventure of moving across the country had attracted me, but what would happen if I didn’t find a job? How hard would it be to make new friends and acquaintances?

I spent the free time I had driving around the Yukon to experience its beauty, but worry started hanging around like an unwelcome visitor. Four months and thirty-four résumés later, only two interviews were granted, and I was still without a job. There was no way around it; I simply couldn’t rely on my bilingualism anymore. I eventually found work as a teller, but the pay was low and supervisors treated us like high school kids.

One afternoon, I went up to the local college to see what some of my options might be. A dark blue sign with light blue lettering hanging from the ceiling caught my attention: “Yukon Native Teacher Education Program (YNTEP)”. Would they accept someone who was simply Métis, and not a full-status Native? What about the fact that I was a high school drop-out?

I turned into the narrow hallway and entered the office holding my breath. When I found out that I could apply into the program, I was elated. Determined to get started, I enrolled with a full course load in January in anticipation of getting into the program. In the fall I was accepted and was on my way to becoming a classroom teacher.

Less than a month into the fall term, my partner announced that he was offered work in Manitoba. Knowing the kind of work he does, I knew things would eventually come to this. We tried to keep things going despite living apart, but I still had almost four years of full-time studies ahead of me. Could a long-distance relationship last that long? During a holiday visit, I inadvertently discovered the answer to that question and eventually cut the ties with him.

Post-Christmas music was still warming Main Street speakers when I started having problems with my laptop. I e-mailed a former computer instructor to enlist his help and was grateful that he accepted. A while later, upon our second meeting for more help with my computer, I planned to ask him out for coffee and dessert. He was a soft-spoken guy, very tall with soft blue eyes. He was about my age and had a good sense of humour. I wanted to get to know him better.

It was -47°C that morning. I slipped on my huge Sorel boots and bright yellow winter coat – fashion is not an option at those temperatures – and managed to get the reluctant engine to start. The first few minutes of driving felt like I was on the worse pot-holed road you can imagine, the tires being frozen square solid. Nothing was going to stop me from going to school that day. There are no electrical outlets in the student parking lot, so I reverted to letting the engine run while doing my business inside the college.

While doing a few computer techie things on my computer, I mentally replayed the question I would ask him. Before I could manage to get the words out, HE invited ME out for coffee. The coffee turned into a dinner date, a relationship, and on summer solstice of last year, we exchanged vows on a friend’s wooden deck overlooking a valley and Cowley Lake in the Yukon.

Six months later, I completed my studies in the YNTEP program.

Now I look out my window, and I see mountains in the distance, pine trees and fireweed, and salmon-coloured skies. This fall, there will be little grey desks in a room filled with students. The alphabet will line the top of one wall, and in place of a telephone, there will be a new vase with fresh flowers on the corner of my desk.

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As all Yukoners know, a common question we ask each other is, “What brought YOU here?” and “What made you stay?” So tell me.

Bears

These bear photos are for Moon & Mrs. M.:

Black Bear

Black Bear

Another Black Bear

Another Black Bear

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Mom & Baby

Mom & Baby (photo courtesy of a friend)

Bear Attack

Bear Attack

This is my dog, Smidgen, after a walk a couple of winters ago. She was frolicking in the snow, as usual, and I was trying to capture her photo. Of course, she kept leaping out of the deep snow toward me to play.

Smidgen's Head

Smidgen's Head

She finally popped her head out of the snow and was distracted long enough for me to snap this one.

My Fave

My Fave

Finally, I get a good picture. I know it’s the wrong time of year to be posting these winter photos, but it’s cold enough to warrant it.

Boobs: Unanticipated Obstacles in Course

In a previous Sea Cadet camp story, I mentioned that at 13 or 14 I was well ahead of my peers in the boob department. One camp activity that really brought that them to the forefront, shall we say, was the obstacle course. The obstacle course builds teamwork, muscles, and problem solving skills, and some problems are unanticipated, to say the least.

The course consisted of all kinds of fun, scary, and seemingly dangerous concoctions. Swinging from ropes like Tarzan, crawling on your stomach in tunnels and under barbed wire, and walking across a rope bridge. All fun, fun, fun, until I reached “the pit.”

The pit was a huge hole, about the height of 1 1/2 people. Across, there were several horizontal logs set up where you had to climb over one, under the next, and keep going over and under, then climb out of the pit with the help of your peers.

Climbing over wasn’t such a big deal, but when I had to get under the log, well, I got kinda stuck. Yup, the twins were in the way. The way I remember it, I was lying on my back, trying to push myself through with my legs, and suddenly, I couldn’t go any further. I tried going for a diagonal manoeuvre in the hopes of getting through thinking if I can get one in, then the other would have to follow.

Knees bent, pushing with my feet, and squirming under the log, I looked up and noticed my squad leader towering over the edge of the pit, watching me, with the sun’s rays glowing around him. Mortified, I felt like digging an even deeper hole to hide in for the rest of the summer.

Eventually, I did make it through to a hoopla of cheers from the girls in my squad. I’d like to say that the satisfaction of completing the course far outweighed my loss of dignity that day, but I’d have to hold my fingers crossed.

According to Wikipedia, personal embarrassment “can be caused by unwanted attention to private matters.”

Ya think?

Teenager discovers jellyfish hiding in her bathing suit.

The headline could’ve been written about me when I was at summer camp with Sea Cadets. A recent post on Boing Boing about a teen discovering a baby bat in her bra reminded me of the incident.

I was thirteen, but by the looks of my …uh…well…you know, you’d never know it. I was an early bird, so to speak. Anyway, part of our Two-Weeks-In-Training, a term that gave reason for everyone to call us TWITs, involved marine survival exercises. One involved jumping off a dock (pretend it’s a ship) to learn how to conserve body heat and energy while in the water. Little did I know, I was getting extra help from a friend.

After everything was over, off to the showers we went to get ready for lunch. As I peeled my bathing suit off to jump under the hot water, lo and behold, a jellyfish was stuck between my boobs. Lucky for me, it didn’t sting. Unfortunately for it, life ended somewhere on HMCS Quadra‘s grey cement floor of the girls’ showers.

RCSCC - Tiger 101

RCSCC - Tiger 101

Man Escapes Death by Television Set

Sword of Damocles
We’re housesitting for friends until next Wednesday. There’s no sound to be heard out here, except for the odd grunts coming from the couple of pigs, or the clucks from the chickens. The sun usually shines through the huge window panes of this two-storey log home. I truly feel refreshed after a short stint out at the A’s. Today, the rain comes and goes, the clouds chasing away the rays that are trying to pierce through the grey. To pass the time, Dave and I are sitting at the breakfast nook playing a card game.

“Sequence!” he says, lips in a semi-smile. Without a word, I throw my ten of hearts and pick up a red chip to place on the board. We were both concentrating hard, when suddenly a loud crashing sound startled us out of our game. We both looked in the direction the sound came from, Then we looked at each other, “What was that?”

“I dunno.”

I check the guest room while he noses around in the bathroom.

“I guess it must’ve come from upstairs” he says.

I trail behind Dave as we make our way up the half-logs that make up the stairs and head for the master bedroom.

“Holy Crow! It’s a good thing I wasn’t still sleeping!” The ceiling television that had been hanging in the far corner of the bedroom had tumbled onto a pile of clothes and the corner of the bed, right on the pillow where Dave’s head would’ve been had he been sleeping. The TV set surely would’ve bashed his skull in.

After helping him move the unscathed television set to the other end of the room, we head downstairs to finish our card game. It doesn’t matter who wins. We’re both grateful he escaped the Television of Damocles.

Bathroom Renos

What started as the tearing off of wallpaper, ended up with tearing down a whole wall and stripping the bathroom from everything but the tub. I should’ve known; there’s no such thing as small jobs in the bathroom. Here are some pics for the folks back home and anyone else who’s interested:

This is our lovely wallpapered bathroom before starting our renovations. Notice the linen closet next to the miniature vanity.
It all started when I was tired of staring at the peeling flowered wallpaper when nature called (see above for said wallpaper).
I was horrified to discover an even more disgusting wallpaper underneath. And worse, this wallpaper was the equivalent of MACtac on panelling. It was not possible to remove it.
Plus, we decided to get rid of the horrid linoleum. Again, removing it revealed another layer of even more crazy 70’s linoleum; and finally, rotting wood underneath near the toilet and tub.
Here’s another glimpse of the wonderful design under the flowered wallpaper. As you can see, we decided to get rid of the old vanity along with the linen closet that was next to it. This will make room for a vanity with some countertop space.
We replaced the rotten particle board with plywood at the head of the tub. Also notice the absence of the wall that separated our bathroom from the office, as well as the faucets and shower head.I have to say Dave isn’t someone who ordinarily curses. Having to re-do the plumbing for the tub about three times, however, generated curse words I didn’t know existed. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but it really was a frustrating endeavour.
Here’s the new plywood to replace rotting floor under the toilet and near the vanity’s plumbing.
During this project, we learned everything there is to know about toilet flanges.
Dave crawled under the trailer to cut the old pipe and fit in a new piece and flange. It’s elevated to match the height of the ceramic tile that will be going in.
After replacing the old green-stripped panelling with paintable hardboard, a new tub surround was installed.
Hardboard wouldn’t have been our first choice, except that anything else would have been too thick for the toilet tank to fit back there. As it was, it sat against the old panelling. Actually moving the toilet was out of the question.
Here’s a picture of the wallboard, after we painted it. The colour doesn’t really come out on this photo, but it’s a very light buttery yellow, almost white. Also notice our new lighting fixture (brushed nickel). I love it!
Here you can see our beautiful cedar on the opposite wall, along with the brushed nickel tub faucets. You can also see where our new linen closet will be. We also used hardboard above the tub surround and that ceiling area. Now we have to install our new maple vanity with undermount sink. Oh, and did I mention it is maple. After that, we install the tile to highlight our new maple vanity, and voilà! I’ll have to post a picture of the finished bathroom once it’s done.

Homemade Laundry Soap

Carole\'s Homemade Laundry Soap

Does frugality come with age? I don’t know, but I’m happy to announce that I now make my own laundry soap. There are tons of recipes on the Internet, but they’re all basically the same. The big question is whether you prefer powder or liquid.

When buying laundry soap, I always went for the liquid because the powder always left a bit of residue on my clothes, especially when using cold water. However, when making your own, the liquid soap takes a little longer to make, so I decided to test the powdered version, and if it didn’t work, I could always switch. I’m all into saving time making the stuff.

So, it took me about 10 – 15 minutes, and it works like a charm. No residue on my clothes, and the dirt is gone, gone, gone. Also, this method is cheaper, safer for the environment, and takes up less space on the shelf.

So here’s what you need:

1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda

1 bar of soap, grated – (Sunlight, Fels Naptha, or Zota – NOT body soap)
1/4 cup Oxyclean (optional)

Mix it all up. Use 1 Tbsp for small loads, 2 Tbsp for large loads.

One word of caution, I read that you should use gloves when handling the washing soda because it is caustic. I also rinse my hands after each use of the laundry soap.

All of the ingredients are near the laundry detergents at the store. For the bar of soap, most Whitehorse stores carry Sunlight. It’s sold in a package of two bars, and is usually found near the laundry soap.

Some people prefer to use baking soda instead of washing soda. They are interchangeable in your laundry, but not in your baking! Washing soda is more alkaline and is more effective than baking soda.

For your first loads after switching, the Greenpeace website recommends washing your clothes with washing soda only; this is to prevent yellowing. I didn’t do this, and I didn’t experience any problems.

Thanks to the following sites:

The Frugal Shopper
Modern Cottage
Diaper Pin
Green Home Living – a great story!

First Impressions

First Impressions

Somewhere
Between the
beginning and end
Of every moment

Someone – ought
to kiss that woman

I was sitting with a friend, enjoying a glass of wine, when an older gentleman reached over and passed me a light blue sticky note. This is what it read. How delightful!

Compare that with the other fellow.

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