Thursday, June 30, 2011

Endings and Beginnings

This week marks an ending of sorts.  After 65 postings I will be taking a break to work on other projects for a time.  The stories I've shared with you here on 'A Slice of Life' will be coming out in print in the book titled 'Eyes Wide Open....when life happens you want to see it coming!' which will be available in the fall.  This year of remembering and recording has given me a fresh appreciation for the life I've enjoyed and the people who have enriched it.  It's not really an end, though.  There is a whole new generation springing up around us and many more stories to live....certainly enough to keep us hopping for years to come.

Thanks to all of my readers who have shared the journey with me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It Feels Real

My Mom was just about the age that I am now the first time she had breast cancer. She had to have had the lump for some time before she finally decided to go to a doctor about it. I suppose she hoped that it would go away if she left it alone. Things might have turned out differently if she’d had some of the information available to women today along with the breast screening programs now in place to help with early detection. As it was, she went straight from the Doctor’s office to the hospital where she was hurriedly admitted. Less than 48 hours later she woke from anesthetic having had a radical mastectomy.

I won’t say she had an easy time of it. She did raise an eyebrow or two on the hospital ward when she declared that she was as good with one boob as she’d ever been with two. Cancer terrified her and she was so relieved to have it gone that her breast seemed a small price to pay. She did not grieve its loss though it would have been understandable if she had. The Doctors recommended a whole series of radiation treatments and there were very few side effects apart from a lingering shadow of fear that the cancer would return one day.  It tended to creep to the surface every time she had to go for a checkup.

Her wacky sense of humor tipped the scales in her favor over the years that followed. Laughter seemed to give her strength. In time she recovered enough from that initial surgery to be measured and fitted for a prosthesis that could be worn in a specially made bra. She was as delighted with her new “falsie” as a child on Christmas morning. The first time she tried it on she stood before the mirror in her room examining herself critically from every angle.

“You can’t even tell the difference,” she announced as she peered closely at her reflection. She gave herself a little jiggle to see how it moved and then tried a couple of quick hops. She grinned in satisfaction and came out to show off her newly restored figure to the rest of the family.

“I bet you wouldn’t be able to tell which one was which if you didn’t know,” she insisted.

In fact, much to our embarrassment, she was not averse to issuing that very challenge to anyone who asked about her surgery in the weeks that followed. More than one person would end up giving a red faced shrug before conceding that they really couldn’t tell which of her breasts was in reality a fake.

One poor fellow nearly choked on his coffee at dinner when she blithely asserted to the table at large that “It actually feels real.”

He wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly but her next words confirmed it. “Go ahead and give it a poke,” she offered with an earnest smile and a nod in his direction.

He hastily swiped a dribble of coffee from his chin and, darting a quick look in my Dad’s direction, shook his head vigorously.

“Why not?” she asked. “It’s not me you’ll be touching you know. I don’t mind.”

He glanced at his wife and then back at my Dad but got no help from either of them. They just sat there grinning at his discomfiture. Finally he reached out a tentative finger and gave the proffered breast a gentle prod.

“Not that one,” Mom snapped in tones of righteous indignation.

He jerked his hand away nearly toppling his chair in the process while my Mom broke into peals of laughter. The whole table was in an uproar.

“I’m just kidding,” she gasped. “I told you it feels real!”

“I guess you got me there,” he admitted with a grin of his own as he struggled to regain his composure.

Mom lived another twenty years. Eventually she lost her remaining breast…again to cancer. Her response was not unexpected.

“Well,” she shrugged. “Now I won’t need to bother with a bra at all. I never liked them anyway.”

There’s always a bright side if you’re willing to look for it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Runt of the Flock

Spring is the time of year for babies to be born…at least in the animal world. The woods and fields are bursting with new life. A trip to the barn yields its own reward in the sight of gangly new calves or lambs frisking in the yard whenever they’re not suckling, their tails twitching madly in their eagerness. There is something infinitely appealing about baby animals. Perhaps it is their very newness and vulnerability that pulls at our heartstrings. Whatever the reason, they can be irresistible.

That’s why I jumped at the chance for a visit to the farm where my husband, Bev, owned a quarter share in a flock of 100 angora goats back in the spring of 1980 when we were newly engaged. I met him at his apartment after work and we drove out to the farm together. The place would be just about exploding with new babies and I could hardly wait.

Angora goats are raised for their wool like sheep. The adult animals produce mohair but it is the first fleece of the young animals that produces the soft angora wool that we prize so much. The kids were even smaller than new lambs and covered in the finest silky white curls…adorable! I stood at the gate and watched, completely captivated.

“What’s wrong with that one?” I took hold of Bev’s coat sleeve and pointed to a tiny kid I’d spotted off to one side. “I think it’s limping,” I observed, my brow furrowing with concern.

“Yeah,” Bev replied. “She was born a couple of weeks before the rest and I think she was a bit premature. Then she got stepped on so one of her front legs got damaged. It’s not broken but you can see how she doesn’t put much weight on it. She doesn’t feed well and so she hasn’t been growing. The others are all bigger than her even though they were born later.”

“What’s going to happen to her?” I wondered.

He gave a shrug and shook his head. “We don’t expect her to survive,” he admitted.

I could feel myself going all maternal all of a sudden. It must have something to do with how God wired the female of the species. I just couldn’t let it go at that.

“Couldn’t we take her out of there?” I asked. “We could take her down to your parents’ farm in Markdale and give her to your little sisters as a pet.” It seemed reasonable enough.

“That’s not a bad idea,” Bev admitted. “She might do a lot better with all the attention they’d give her.”

It was a long drive to Bev’s family home and we decided to go the very next day. In the end we hashed out a plan that involved me taking the baby goat home to my apartment for the night so we could get an early start. I somehow convinced my part time farmer fiancĂ© that we ought to give her a bath. Warm water in a laundry tub, one bottle of baby shampoo and we were both up to our elbows in lather as we worked her over. I don’t know what she thought of the proceedings but the end result was worth it. Her curls felt unbelievably soft and she smelled like a Johnson and Johnson baby.

I bundled her into my car in a cardboard box and headed back into town with Bev’s promise to be there first thing in the morning. Till then I would be on my own. I made sure the coast was clear before I smuggled her up the stairs to my apartment. Once there I built a barricade to block off one corner of the kitchen, laid a sheet of plastic on the floor and tossed in the straw from her box. She didn’t seem too impressed. I discovered that a baby goat can make an incredible amount of noise when they’re upset. It sounded almost like a human baby crying and I began to worry about what my landlord would think was going on upstairs.
I thought she might be lonely for the other goats so I unscrewed the full length mirror from my bedroom door and leaned it against the wall in her corner. Perhaps if she saw her image in the mirror she could be fooled into thinking she wasn’t alone. It seemed to work for the first little while but it didn’t take long for her to set up her lament all over again.

Finally, in desperation, I put her back in the box and set it right next to my bed. If I slept with one arm dangling over the side so that my hand rested in the box with her she seemed to settle down. I guess she needed contact with something warm and alive and in the absence of her mother, my hand would do.

By morning I was convinced of the wisdom of not keeping farm animals in apartments and it was with considerable relief that I saw Bev’s truck pull up to the curb. The 5 hour trip went without incident and the girls were absolutely delighted with the surprise we brought them. The runt of the flock didn’t die after all. With all the TLC she got it wasn’t long before she began to thrive and grow. Eventually, Bev’s sisters were able to start a flock of their own with our little runt as the matriarch. Instead of survival of the fittest it was survival of the most loved.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Too Close For Comfort

Hunting larger game with my Dad was not for the faint of heart. Those were the days before modern technology simplified life. No GPS, ATV or hand held radio for him. He had only his own two feet and an uncanny sense of direction to depend on. He did occasionally take someone along with him but more often than not it was a solitary venture. He preferred to hunt alone.

He would head off on foot into the bush in Northern Ontario to look for signs of the deer or moose that he was after. Once he found tracks and knew which direction they were heading, he would take some time to study the terrain. He was quite skilled at predicting the path they were likely to take and he would set off on a route that would take him around in a wide circle to get in front of them. Then he could pick a spot that would put him downwind and in a perfect position to take a shot when the time came. Of course, all that tracking and circling meant that he often covered a lot of distance on a hunt. Anyone tagging along was taking the risk that they might find themselves trudging through 20 miles of forest and swamps before the day was done.

Dad was good at what he did so he seldom failed to bring home his prey. Once the animal was shot the real work began. If it was a deer he would shoulder the whole carcass after it was gutted and begin the long trek back to the road. If it was a moose things got a little more complicated. A moose is far too large to drag through the woods so it would have to be butchered on site. One man couldn’t hope to carry it all. Help would be needed in order to retrieve it and that meant hiking back to civilization to round up reinforcements. With a little luck there would be some relative or friend who was willing to lend a hand in exchange for a share of the meat. If no one was available he would head back on his own with a huge pack he kept for the purpose and used often. It would hold about 200 pounds and he would load it up with the choicest cuts and leave the rest for scavengers. Bushwhacking with a 200 pound pack on your back for any distance can take the stuffing out of even the strongest of men but Dad did it when he had to. It was all part of the experience.

One year he was out after deer with his 300 Savage lever action rifle. He’d been walking for some time and was caught completely by surprise when a moose rose to its feet almost directly in front of him. It was a cow and his reaction was instinctive. He lifted the rifle to his shoulder and fired before he had time to think about it. The 300 is shorter and lighter than the gun he normally would have carried to hunt moose but it was a good clean shot and she went down like a stone. He’d only taken a few steps toward her when a crashing in the brush some distance behind him brought him up short. He swung around in alarm to see a huge bull moose snorting and shaking his massive antlered head at the puny man that stood between him and the cow he’d been approaching.

When the animal charged Dad stood his ground and fired. He fired again and again until he’d used all 5 of the shots that remained in his gun after the one that brought the cow down. The big bull not only kept coming, it didn’t even slow down. I don’t know if Dad’s life flashed before his eyes in that moment but it well might have. He took a quick step back and stumbled, the now empty and useless gun dangling from one hand. He fell onto his back and lay there helpless as the moose, confused by the sudden move, skidded to a stop and stood panting over him. He was close…so close that Dad could have reached up and touched his lowered head. There was blood streaming from the broad chest where his shots had found a mark but it was obvious that with the lighter rifle he had failed to pierce anything vital. He held his breath and waited through ten long agonizing seconds before the moose turned aside and trotted off through the trees. He was lucky to be alive. As it was, he didn’t even get stepped on.

“I thought I was a goner,” he later confided. “It was a little too close for comfort.”