Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lost and Found

There is no worse feeling in the world than that which overtakes you when you lose track, even temporarily, of one of your children. I didn’t really understand my mother’s near hysterical reaction the year I was in kindergarten and I took my younger brother, Tom, to school with me one afternoon so that he could play on the swings in the yard. She didn’t notice him leaving the house with me and it never once occurred to me that I should mention my idea to her before setting out. It seemed like such a good idea…at least until we got home.

Once I had children of my own I had opportunity to discover first-hand what that reaction was all about. We always wanted our children to grow into strong, independent adults with a keen sense of adventure and a desire to see what might lie around the next corner. We just didn’t anticipate that the seeds of those very qualities would begin bearing fruit at such an early age. Daniel was not quite three years old when I left him playing in the sandbox in our yard while I brought his baby brother into the house to place him in his crib for a nap. We lived on a farm and the house was set quite a distance from the road so I thought him safe enough for the few minutes I would be gone. I was wrong. When I returned his trucks lay abandoned in the sand and there was no sign of him.

I searched everywhere I could think of, getting more frantic by the minute until the only place I hadn’t looked was out at the highway. I broke into a stumbling run, my pulse pounding loud in my ears and my voice cracking as I shouted his name. The ditch stretched empty in both directions and I didn’t know what to do. I was having a melt down every bit as hysterical as my own mother’s had been all those years ago. Just then a car pulled out of the driveway of the neighboring farm where my husband was working and cruised to a stop in front of me. The woman driving was a stranger to me but she could see what a state I was in and she rolled the window down to ask if I was looking for a little boy.

“He’s at the barn next door,” she explained. “He was looking for his Dad.”

Daniel had walked all the way to the next farm along the ATV trail that my husband, Bev, used to go to work. He’d ridden along it with his Dad a few times and he knew exactly where he was going. Bev had been trying to reach me on the phone. Those moments when I didn’t know what had become of my son were the most terrifying that I have ever endured. Once I could breath normally again, I offered up a silent apology to my mother for what she’d endured that long ago afternoon when Tom had gone missing. Bev was very sympathetic. He knew I was upset but he didn’t really know what I’d been feeling until a similar thing happened to him a few years later

Once again it was our first-born who disappeared. I was out for the evening and Bev was putting the younger two children to bed. Daniel, as the eldest, was allowed to play for a few extra minutes but when Bev came back downstairs he couldn’t find him. At first he wasn’t too alarmed. He searched the house but there was no sign of him so he thought he must have gone back out to the yard. By the time he’d searched the yard and both barns he was beginning to feel frantic. He burst back into the silent kitchen thinking he might have come in while he was looking elsewhere. He hurried from room to room calling out Daniel’s name but there was no response. He’d been searching for at least 20 minutes, the longest minutes he’d ever experienced. Where could he have gone? He was getting desperate and was beginning to wonder if he should call the police when a muffled giggle brought him up short. Two strides brought Bev to the kitchen table which was pushed back against the wall to save space when it was not in use. He flipped up the tablecloth and bent to peer into the face of one little boy curled up on the seat of the chair on the opposite side of the table.

“What are you doing?” he demanded, his voice trembling with a mixture of frustration and relief. “Why didn’t you answer me when I called?”

Daniel crawled out, his tentative smile filled with childish innocence. “I was playing hide and seek,” he explained.

He’d managed to stay hidden the entire time that Bev searched and who knows how long it would have taken to find him if he hadn’t given himself away in the end. To be fair, no one had ever told him that you can’t play hide and seek unless everyone actually knows you are playing. No doubt he didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. At least no harm was done. Daniel grew up into the strong and independent adult we hoped he would become and we….we managed to survive the journey.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stand Up and Stand Out

I once had a saleswoman try to help me pick out earrings that would fit with my personal style. I’ve never thought of myself as having a particular style but she was quick to disabuse me of that notion. Apparently everyone has a personal style whether they realize it or not. There are those whose style is “classic” while others could be labeled “flamboyant”. Some might be termed “dramatic” and some simply “eclectic”. It didn’t take her long to come to the conclusion that my style was what she termed as “natural”. Perhaps the fact that I rarely bother to wear make-up was a dead give-away. In any case, she was probably right in her assessment. No one would ever liken me to a bird of paradise. I like to keep things simple and my preference has always been to avoid a lot of attention….no wild and crazy hairstyles, chunky jewelry, or multi-colored nails for me.

My aversion to standing out in a crowd stems back to my early teens and those years when I first began to be conscious of what other people thought of me. Some people might glory in being different from the majority of their peers but I wasn’t one of them. I just wanted to blend in. There is something to be said for the advocates of school uniforms. We didn’t have uniforms in my High School but there was a dress code back when I started into Grade 9. Pants were not allowed except on rare designated “Wear What You Want Days”. I remember pulling a pair of pants on under my skirt to keep from freezing as we waited for the bus in the sub-zero temperatures of midwinter in Northern Ontario. I could slip them off once I reached my locker. Eventually the intrepid members of our student counsel lobbied successfully to have the outdated dress code rescinded and every day became a Wear What You Want Day. Of course in order to wear what I wanted I had to get it past my parents and that was a problem of a different sort.

My parents had very definite opinions about clothes. They wanted me to wear a dress to the very first High School dance I ever attended. It took me forever to convince them that if I did I would most certainly be the only girl there wearing one. Jeans, which would have been the garment of choice for the youth of that day, were absolutely out of the question. As far as my parents were concerned, jeans were what you wore to work in the garden. They believed absolutely that I would be laughed at if I showed up at the dance wearing jeans. My mother went out and bought me a brand new outfit….a white blouse with ruffles at collar and cuffs and a pair of corduroy pants in a lovely gold color. Horrors! I wanted to go badly enough that I actually wore the outfit and prayed no one would really notice it in the darkened gymnasium. I’m thankful to say that once my parents heard that everyone else had indeed been wearing jeans, they shook their heads in baffled incomprehension, conceded that I might have been right after all and agreed to let me make my own choices from that point on.

That didn’t mean I would never again be the focus of all eyes. Sometimes stuff just happens. We still wore dresses or skirts to school from time to time. I was wearing a navy blue skirt on the day I was asked to come up to the front of the room to write on the blackboard during French class. As soon as I stood up and began to make my way forward I noticed a few muffled giggles behind me. I immediately checked to make sure that my slip hadn’t somehow migrated downward to dangle below my hemline. It was a wardrobe malfunction not unheard of in those days. Everything seemed in order so I proceeded to the front and began the task assigned to me. It wasn’t easy because what had begun as one or two giggles was fast escalating to become the chuckles and snorts of an entire roomful of people trying desperately to restrain their laughter. I was mortified. I couldn’t imagine what on earth they were laughing at. I scrambled to finish the sentence I was supposed to write so that I could hurry back to the comparative safety of my desk, my chin up and my entire face burning with embarrassment. My friend, Annie, who was seated in the desk directly behind mine was laughing so hard there were tears leaking from the corners of her eyes.

“What’s so funny?” I demanded in a furious undertone.

She leaned forward to whisper haltingly in my ear. Apparently she had been resting her foot against the back of my chair earlier. There was a space between the chair back and the seat…just enough that when I rose to walk to the front of the class my navy blue skirt was no longer plain and simple. It was adorned with a perfect and very distinct footprint positioned exactly in the middle of my butt. I couldn’t have stood out more if I’d tried.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I Think I Can

My Dad was a great believer in willpower. He always insisted that once he decided he was going to do something there was nothing on earth that could stop him. In the course of a lifetime I’ve learned not to underestimate the importance of that kind of steely determination. It can mean the difference between success and failure when the odds are stacked against you.

I suppose I may have inherited a tiny bit of my Dad’s stubborn will. At least it shows up occasionally when I tackle jobs that are manifestly too big for me. That was the case when I decided not to wait for help in moving some furniture to an upstairs bedroom in our farmhouse. I managed to tip the dressers, minus their drawers, onto their polished tops and so was able to slide them along on the wall to wall carpet without much difficulty. Even the stairs which were also carpeted posed no great obstacle as I pushed each piece up to the second floor.

I kept at it until only the wardrobe was left to move. It stood at least a foot taller than I was and looked massive. It did occur to me that I was being a tad foolish but I was determined to finish the job. I’d just have to be smart about it. I wrestled the wardrobe to the foot of the stairs moving first one side and then the other a few inches at a time. Once there I very carefully tipped it onto its side so that it rested against the stairs with its top reaching halfway to the upper landing. I got my shoulder under the bottom of it and somehow managed to straighten my legs and start it moving. It was even heavier than I’d imagined but by then I was committed. I couldn’t figure out how to extricate myself without the effort ending in disaster so I struggled onward with every muscle vibrating with the strain. I was two thirds of the way up when I lost my balance for a moment and the force of gravity took over. I ended up slipping with the monstrous weight of the wardrobe bearing down on me and I lost several inches before I managed to stop my downward slide. I froze, paralyzed by the vision of me lying crumpled at the bottom of the stairs, the wardrobe splintered to kindling on top of me. If ever there was a need for a healthy dose of my Dad’s willpower it was in that moment. It was keep pushing or perish so I tapped into reserves I didn’t know I had and resumed my slow upward progress. I did manage it in the end but you can bet that my husband, Bev, had words for me when he got home and discovered what I’d done. What was I thinking indeed?

They say that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree and I must say that my daughter, Lauren, has also been known to tackle obstacles with that same disregard for what other people might see as her limitations. She’s never been very big and some might even think her fragile. They would be mistaken in that. What she lacks in muscle she makes up for in the strength of her will and her indomitable spirit. Back when she was thirteen or so she and Bev went on a father and daughter canoe trip with another Dad who had twin girls the same age. The trip involved a 300 meter portage and she was determined to pull her weight when they reached that point. The men shouldered the canoes and moved off along the trail leaving the girls with the packs. They planned to come back for anything the girls couldn’t carry. That probably should have included the pack that Lauren decided to take. It looked as though it weighed more than she did and that might not have been a stretch. She wore size 0 in those days. It wasn’t easy but she somehow managed to get it hoisted onto her back and once she settled her shoulders into the harness and got her balance she lost no time in marching off after the others who’d gone ahead.

The trail was a bit rough in places. There was even a low section built up with logs like an old corduroy road. That was where she came to grief. One slip and her feet shot out from under her landing her squarely on her back. Luckily the pack broke her fall. Then again, maybe not so luckily. Once she caught her breath she discovered that she couldn’t get up with the heavy pack anchoring her to the earth. With her arms and legs in the air she felt much like a turtle that has been flipped onto its back. No matter how hard she struggled she just couldn’t get herself turned over. She was just about to try extricating herself from the harness when another canoeist happened along and, seeing her dilemma, reached down to grab the top of the pack where it protruded above her head. With one heave he lifted the heavy pack with Lauren still strapped in and set her back on her feet. Undaunted, she offered him a slightly red-faced thank you before resuming her trek. She managed the rest of the trail without incident and I have no doubt that given the chance, she might have tried carrying the canoe as well. I wasn’t surprised at all when I heard the story. There’s a little of my Dad in all of us.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Reluctant Soldier

My Grandpa Landry spent a short time in the army when he was drafted in May of 1918. He never did end up going overseas to fight because the war ended a few short months later. He received his discharge and he and my grandmother settled back into life on a farm in the Noelville area and began to raise a family. He hoped that his own sons would never be faced with the prospect of fighting a war but that hope was in vain.

My Dad travelled to Toronto in March of 1945 to enlist in the Canadian Infantry Corps during the final months of World War II. He had no way of knowing that the war would end that very year. He was 20 years old.

He was sent to Quebec for basic training and his stories of life on the base there left us all with the impression that he hated every minute of it. He never felt that he fit in with the rest of the men. Being raised in Ontario meant that he spoke French with an accent that set him apart and he was nearly a head taller than every other man there. The rest of the recruits thought of him as some sort of country bumpkin and he got into a number of fights before they learned to leave him strictly alone.

Not all of the fights had to do with him and his difficulty fitting in. His roommate was probably one of the shortest men there and the two of them looked like a very oddly matched pair when they went into town together. Having my Dad at his side gave the fellow a boldness he never would have shown otherwise and that meant trouble. I suppose he figured no one would mess with him as long as there was a chance my Dad would step in to back him up. They were in a bar one night and Dad was minding his own business but his roommate was a little drunk and got pretty mouthy with a couple of other soldiers. They eyed Dad warily and left without making a fuss. Eventually, his roommate decided to head back to the barracks even though my Dad wasn’t ready to leave yet. He set out on his own and that turned out to be a big mistake. One of the men he had insulted earlier was waiting for him there and when my Dad finally arrived it was to find his roommate severely beaten and in the process of being throttled by a very determined attacker. It looked like murder was being done and Dad jumped in without even thinking about it. The fight was over quickly with his roommate’s assailant ending up in the hospital with a broken jaw and Dad wishing for a different roommate. He wasn’t expecting to have to fight his way through the whole regiment before ever facing the enemy.

Dad’s one great fear was that his superiors would find out that he was a crack shot with a rifle and decide to make him into a sniper. He could handle the idea of a face to face fight but he couldn’t bear the thought of being asked to shoot a man from hiding. He just didn’t think he could do it. He had been hunting since childhood but he decided he’d better keep that bit of information to himself. He pretended to be clumsy in cleaning and handling his gun in the hopes that his awkwardness would convince his officers that he had little experience with firearms. He took special care to miss when it came to target practice even though it would have been a simple matter to hit the mark every time. Putting on such an act was a strain for a man who hated dishonesty as much as my Dad did, but he felt he had no choice. News that the war was over came as a welcome relief.

He wanted desperately to be transferred back to Ontario and even dreamed of just walking away and disappearing into the forest one day. He knew that if he chose to do it they would never find him. His sense of duty won out in the end. He remained where he was until the order for his transfer was issued at last and he returned to Ontario thinking of home. He was discharged to return to civilian life when the army was demobilized in May of 1946, just before his 22nd birthday. He’d been a soldier for 14 months and even though he never saw a battlefield the experience left him absolutely convinced that he wasn’t cut out for army life. He could hardly wait to get back to the farm.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Unwanted Guests

We finally installed our second garage door opener this past Christmas and what a luxury it is not to have to get out of the car to open or close the door manually every time we go out. We did it the old fashioned way for years and I admit that there were times when we just left it open to save ourselves the inconvenience. That was before we discovered that the open door was a tempting invitation to the local wildlife to come in out of the cold.

We’d had an occasional bird find its way in but that wasn’t entirely unexpected. I was considerably more unnerved the morning I stepped through the connecting door into the garage to be confronted with evidence that something much larger than a bird had been inadvertently locked in overnight. There were muddy tracks all over the hood of our car and my husband, Bev’s workbench was adorned with a pile of droppings that had certainly not come from any bird. A closer examination of the paw prints on the car confirmed that our intruder was undoubtedly a raccoon. I took a quick look around, half expecting the beast to jump out at me from some darkened corner. I didn’t see anything but that didn’t prevent me from scurrying back into the house where I reported my findings to Bev and left the whole thing in his capable hands.

An hour later he came in still armed with a flashlight to announce that it was indeed a raccoon and that he’d discovered its hiding place. Apparently there was a small opening near the rafters in the garage that led to a narrow space between the roof and the ceiling of the adjoining front porch. The coon was making itself at home in the farthest corner of that space and Bev said it looked to be the size of a small Volkswagen in the feeble glow of his light. He went out to the porch and stood gazing speculatively at the ceiling for a few moments.

“It’s probably going to want to stay right there till dark,” he mused. “I just don’t want it to decide to take up permanent residence.”

He opened the garage door to provide an escape route and then proceeded to try to drive our unwanted guest out of its secure bolt hole. He put a thick padded glove on the end of a broom handle and used it to pound relentlessly on the ceiling at the point where he judged the raccoon to be resting. There was some slight scuffling but none of it was moving in the direction of freedom. When it was obvious that a new tactic was needed, Bev abandoned the broom and went to fetch a portable radio. He set it up directly below the spot where the coon lay and tuned it to the most abrasive music he could find before cranking the volume up to an unbearable level.

“At least it won’t get the idea that this is a good place to sleep,” Bev announced, his smile grim.

I nodded mutely and went to look for earplugs. In the meantime, Bev went back out to the garage to rig up a makeshift trap. He took an extra large plastic garbage can and secured it to the edge of the workbench so it couldn’t be tipped over. It was deep and the sides were smooth and offered no purchase for climbing. He placed an open can of sardines in the bottom of the can thinking that the raccoon wouldn’t be able to resist the odorous treat and would end up jumping down after it only to discover it impossible to climb out again. He positioned a few empty soup cans on the workbench so that he would hear the raccoon’s approach and then retreated into the house to wait.

It was late in the day when we heard the rattle and crash of a soup can rolling to the concrete floor and knew that our hungry visitor had been lured from its hiding place to investigate the tantalizing scent of sardines that had been wafting around the garage all day. Apparently raccoons are not as stupid as we’d hoped. Not even sardines could tempt it into that garbage can once it learned that the can wouldn’t tip over. By the time Bev got out there the coon was gone.

“Waste of a perfectly good can of sardines,” he muttered as he inspected the scattered soup cans and the empty trap.

He was able to find fresh tracks leading outside and he wasted no time in locking everything up so that there would be no returning. The hole leading to the space above the porch ceiling got sealed up that very night and the next day he borrowed a proper live trap to set up just outside the garage. The raccoon was eventually caught trying to find a way back inside and we were able to get rid of it at last.

That whole experience made it clear that leaving the garage door open for the sake of convenience was a choice with consequences. We were just going to have to bite the bullet and get out of the car to open and close it every time we went out…or maybe not. I probably owe that raccoon a debt of gratitude because that was when the idea to invest in a garage door opener was born.