Got Culture?

Culture Days, an end of September cross Canada celebration, is a wild weekend party and an endurance test that I have failed. I’m down with the flu, but Crystal Kolt has to be feeling even tougher. She spends the whole weekend running through the streets of Flin Flon shouting, ‘You’ve got culture! You’ve got culture! You’ve got…. Well. You get the idea. She’s like Oprah with the car giveaway, only she does this with five thousand people plus. I can’t list all the events because there was 120 of them, but every year she manages to persuade people to host yet another one. Be a mime! Wear a costume and parade down Main Street while telling stories! The only person who can match her energy is her husband Mark, who travels from venue to venue, toting his piano and sound equipment, his jaw set like a hero in an action movie.

I spent Friday morning at Culture’s Kool for Kids. And the kids really do think it’s cool. After recovering, I went to the Hooter at 5 for for some live entertainment. I haven’t been there since my twenties so I had a gin and tonic with sister Linda, to celebrate. We sat in front of a big wooden bench with an owl on it, carved by local musician and artist, Wayne Deans. There were a number of talented performers, and my youngest sang a couple songs while I tried not to pee my pants out of sheer nervousness. She sold it. (Insert motherly pride here.)

I never miss the Talking Books event at our local library. Basically, the librarian clears the counter with one arm and starts loading on the wine and cheese with the other. Like every other year, the speakers tucked in various corners of the library were fascinating. Pat Bruderer carries on the ancient tradition of Birch bark biting with pieces so lovely and thin, you can see through them. When I asked if she could bite the bark and watch TV  at the same time, she said no. Then she paused. ‘Yeah. I probably could. The design work happens inside your brain.’ By this point my friend Kate was pulling me away while mumbling things like, ‘She can’t help it.’

Our new dentist, Tarun Babiani, sings and dances, sometimes combining the two to the delight of his patients, and is one of the loveliest people to ever move to this northern town. He’s from Dubai, but he likes the cold. Yes, it’s true. Long time Flin Flonner Randy Whitbread is a fantastic photographer whose Northern Lights series makes you feel like God took the picture.  Kristy Janvier has traveled the world as a Disney princess and a dancer. There were other speakers, and everyone had a large audience of cheese and cracker munching listeners.

I missed the three drummers jamming at the Rotary Wheel and a ton of other events on Friday.  But I could feel a tickle at the back of my throat and wanted to pace myself. Ha! Saturday morning started with all kinds of events at the Rotary Wheel, first with a blessing, some hoop dancing, Aboriginal crafts for kids, and an appearance by our Community choir. We sang the Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’ while Crystal urged others to conduct us. I couldn’t see so I made a lot of mistakes in spite of our local optometrist and fellow singer holding my book for me.

Have you noticed a theme here, people? It’s hard to move to Flin Flon and not join the choir, or Ham Sandwich, or any artistic and sometimes athletic endeavors that flourish in this town. I like to approach new people like a spy seeking new contacts.

“Can you sing? ‘
‘A little,’ the newcomer replies, looking puzzled. Slightly fearful.
Okay, you’re in.’ Unfortunately, some people now run in the other direction when they see me coming.

A singing group called Borealis put on an event at a church which featured a children’s choir. The kid’s sound was tight and their expressions hilarious. But Borealis blew me away. As I drove home, I had a dream. (The kind where your eyes are open because, you know– you’re driving.)

I dreamt that Borealis was going to follow me home, live in my house, and interpret my every mood with a song. I can just see them huddled in the upstairs hallway, all twenty-five of them holding whispered conversations.

Tim: ‘Is she feeling nostalgic?’ (Wearing his most interesting and enthusiastic expression. Everyone in choir knows what I mean.)
Penny: I think that’s her pissed off face. Let’s sooth her with that song about the woods.
Angela: I know she really appreciates the sopranos, (I do!) so let’s sing something high.’
Susan: Oh, for heaven’s sake. We’re not living at your house!’ (She’s my sister, so she gets to be a little testy.)
I would love having Borealis on call at all times. I can picture its members reading this, hastily packing their bags and leaving town.

The Wild Things outdoor market at Creekside park was a hit. The day was beautiful, the trees glorious shades of orange and yellow. I spent way too much money buying art, pottery and several food items. I could take out Andre the Giant with my pail of honey. My daughter Mari and her friend, Andi, had a vintage clothing tent where they sold things like old trunks (from our messy garage! Yaaay!) and 70’s disco dresses. They worked like dogs before the show but it was worth it.

Saturday afternoon, I went to Raphael’s zany play, Waiting for Trudeau. I felt like I’d dropped acid and then fallen down a rabbit hole, which may account for all the giggling. For anyone who remembers the seventies, it was reminiscent of Firesign Theater.

I worked behind the bar at Wild Rice Night. Here’s the thing about all 24 entertainers and the musicians. They were racing through the Culture Days weekend like their hair was on fire. Most of them had more than one gig and by Sunday, were lurching around like zombies. We take our artists for granted. It’s because they never let us down.

I saw many of them at the heart of our Culture Day’s weekend, the Dance Down Main Street. Kristy Janvier taught us the moves to Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tanya Tagac’s latest tune, You Got to Run. We followed  the children and the Flin Flon Bomber’s down the street, and I have to give those boys credit for their moves. I was directly behind them and they kept me on track. By the time the dance ended, I was done in.

Sadly, I missed the Tiff movie, Maudie, which everyone’s been raving about, and Mark’s playing at Norva with Tarun singing and Kristy Janvier performing interpretive dance. I was already feeling feverish, but I have no regrets. Culture Days is an experience not to be missed. I’m going to steal some photos from my friend Noelle, a  fantastic photographer, and post them here. Please share your best memories of the weekend, friends. And here’s the song.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing, crowd and outdoor

Image may contain: 2 people, child and outdoor

Break Down

While traveling through Asia in a converted army truck with a group of zany folks from around the world, we were almost through Turkey when we broke down in a small Kurdish village called Yuksekova. The guidebook we used said not to stop there. Not for lunch, not for tea. It’s larger now, and more cosmopolitan, but back then it was a scary place to spend seven days.

We pitched our tents in a circle around the truck to avoid having any of our gear stolen. Clarence and I thought we were prepared. No. In our summer sleeping bags and thin rain jackets, we froze as the temperature went below zero Celsius every night. I’ve never been so cold, and I’m from northern Manitoba.

We actually invited another couple to sleep in our tent, for the shared body heat. Clarence and I put his sleeping bag over mine and squeezed into that small rectangle together. Our tent cot collapsed, of course. But it was actually warmer on the ground. To this day I’m an inveterate night time pee-er, so of course, around 2 or 3 AM, I’d have to go outside the tent. All the villagers were sleeping, but the packs of wild dogs that roamed the countryside were not. They would circle the village, growling and barking. Clarence would come outside with me and count down. “They’re about fifty feet away. Forty, thirty…hurry up. They’re almost here…hurry!”

Do you know how hard it is to pee under that kind of time restraint? I remember diving into the tent with the dogs snapping at our heels. We’d laugh out of sheer terror, then try to go back to sleep. It was so cold! When traveling, it was nothing for us to get up at 4:30, shiver as the cooking crew of the day made breakfast and then squeeze together in the back of the truck, our laundry hanging above our heads.

Meanwhile, in Yuksekova, every day a crowd would gather at the wall behind our truck for their favorite entertainment: Us. At first, the people seemed fairly benign. The kids would jeer and the old men cat call, but we weren’t too worried. All the women on our truck were wearing scarves so as not to offend the locals. But it soon became apparent that we could not walk around freely. We had designated bathroom breaks where the guys from our truck would encircle us as we walked over to the local outdoor biffy. This was a shack with a set of footprints on the cement that you crouched over and did your business. Unfortunately, many people had poor aim, so you had to watch where you stepped. While we walked inside our circle of men, the people of the village would throw things at us. It was very discouraging.

There was a fellow we took to calling Omar, (he reminded us of the actor, Omar Sharif) who would ride up on a big white horse and stare at us with a very intense look in his eyes. It was the children that were the most annoying, and through sheer boredom, our behavior became quite childish as we started hollering things like, ‘The Kurds are turds!’ Etc. On behalf of myself and my husband, I would like to apologize to the Kurdish people. They’re a brave lot and none of us were at our finest that week.

It’s weird when someone perceives you to be something you are not. All the women on our truck were thought to be hired prostitutes, because what self respecting woman would travel around like this? I’m careful with how I think about people from other cultures, now, because I know what it feels like to be misunderstood. That’s the great thing about travel. You think about Canada, and feel so deeply grateful. Hot water. Peace. Acceptance. No wonder refugees want to live here.

Anyway, one evening after supper, except for the guys who went to phone the British Embassy and the other guys who were scouring the country side for truck parts, the rest of us were sitting in the truck feeling very sorry for ourselves. Suddenly, all the men from the village showed up and started to rock the vehicle from side to side. Clarence was there with us and I remember standing in the middle, clutching him and crying, ‘We’re going to die in Yuksekova! Oh my God!’ I’m sure that was another instance where my mother was praying. Eventually they tired of scaring the crap out of us and went on their way. We tried bribing the village police with whisky, etc, but aside from accepting our gifts, they weren’t really all that much help.

On what I remember as our last night there, some local teachers from a nearby boarding school came and offered to host us for the night. We were thrilled! We folded up our sleeping bags and brought everything we owned so it wouldn’t be stolen. Clarence and I were offered a ride which we gratefully accepted. My husband got in the front with the driver, and I was ushered into the middle of the back seat. Two teachers sat with me, one on each side. I felt completely safe and comfortable until they attacked me. They were literally ripping my clothes off and Clarence had to shout at them and tell them that I belonged to him. He didn’t bother saying I was his wife, because they’d never have believed it. But they stopped. I kept thinking, these guys are teachers!

Culturally, we might have been from Mars. When members of the Iranian army drove into the village to take us across the border (a tale that needs its own post) I remember how courteous they were. They were all young, like us, and seemed happy to meet us. The Shah was about to be kicked out, and the country was going to change, but that day was wonderful.

Turkey is a beautiful country and Istanbul was very modern at the time. Women often wore no head covering at all. We went to Turkish baths where stone lion heads gushed water and where we reclined on a large marble dais in the center and were washed by women wearing loin cloths. It was very biblical.

When we went to another small town and asked if they had baths for women, they said yes! Very excitedly. We arrived at the baths (wearing our bathing suits, just in case) and every man in town was there, lining the walls and awaiting our arrival. Our guys stood in a circle behind us and held up their towels so we could have a semi private wash. Good times.

Other highlights from Turkey:

Clarence jumping into Peter’s arms in Lake Van when he saw an octopus in the water. The beauty of it was how gracefully Peter caught him.

A hail storm that delivered hail the size of hardball’s and sent us into hiding with pots over our heads.

Our friend and fellow traveler, Lynn Olson, being chased down the beach by an old man brandishing a burning piece of wood (He wants to kill me! she said. No one has ever screamed that loud, since,) because we didn’t know all the driftwood was his.

Turkish bazaars, (lovely!) Turkish Delight (yuck!) Fantastic scenery and an unforgettable experience. No breakdown will ever be as memorable. So, dear friends who are gathering for another reunion, here’s to great memories. I’ll write some more, soon. And here’s a couple photos.


Total Eclipse of the Heart

A month ago, my husband had a heart attack. It was completely unexpected and taught me something I didn’t know about myself. (Yes, I’ve made this all about me.) I realized that when life takes a dystopian turn, I don’t panic. I just become very stupid. Uhhhhhhhhhh, is what goes through my head. Or something like it.

I remember calling for an ambulance, clearing a path for the paramedics through our garage, and trying to calm my husband who was busy barking out orders. Stressful situations bring out the sergeant in him, the strict kind. Think Lou Gossett Jr. in ‘An Officer and A Gentleman.’ While he bellowed from the basement sofa, I was being prompted by the 911 operator to ask him questions. ‘Are you clammy? Where is the pain? How is your breathing?’ Meanwhile, he’s trying to grab the phone and holler, ‘Just send the damned ambulance!’ They were already on their way, but try telling that to Lou Gossett Jr.

We got to the hospital and the questions continued. ‘How bad is your pain from a scale of one to ten, with one being the weakest and ten the strongest?’ The air turned so blue, I thought about opening some windows. They asked this every five minutes. When he realized it was protocol, he settled down.

Meanwhile, the doctor in emergency  asked me about my husband’s medication. Proudly, I opened my purse. While they were loading Clarence into the ambulance, I’d calmly walked around and packed up the necessary items. So when I unzipped the top, I was dismayed to find only the creature comforts I’d brought for myself: my kindle and some dark chocolate. ‘I always carry these in case of an emergency,’ I said. ‘You know, in case I’m waiting and I get bored or hungry.’ Dear reader, do you ever listen to yourself and think, I’m a total asshole? It was that kind of moment. Fortunately, they had his medication info in the system.

On the air ambulance to Winnipeg, my husband discussed politics with the nurse the whole way. Finally, about fifteen minutes out, the guy turned to me and said, ‘I’ll give him some fentanyl just to shut him up.’ We exchanged a look of understanding and I went back to reading my kindle. You see? Always bring one with you! I may have secretly nibbled on some chocolate as well.

It took a while for them to put in the stents and by the time he was settled in bed, it was late. Clarence was was positively cheerful at that point. I left with my sister, Jennifer, part of my wonderful built in support system, aka The Hanson Family. It was the next morning that was an eye opener.

I got there late because I felt like I was moving through molasses. You know the feeling when you can’t seem to speed up, even though you’re in a hurry? Then, I couldn’t find the right parking lot. I had a panicked feeling in my chest, and when I walked into his room and saw that he was in a world of pain, I completely lost it. As it turned out, that wasn’t a bad thing. Standing in the hallway crying to a nurse didn’t hurt. They got an anesthetist to come up with a pain plan that worked very well.

But that morning I faced the realization that my husband might die. The thought of living without him blocked out every other good thing in my life. It was a total eclipse of the heart. My heart, not his. I’ve faced this before, as he continues scaring the crap out of me with all his health related shenanigans.

I’m a little bit like him when I’m stressed. “What’s next,’ I asked him, ‘leprosy?’ I guess I sounded a little testy because I got a few strange looks from the nurse. It reminded me of Clarence’s auntie Gladys when her husband stopped breathing one night. They didn’t know about sleep apnea, back then, but she walloped him one and said, ‘You’re not dying and leaving me with this mess, you son of a bitch.’ Which is the Krysowaty way of saying, ‘I love you.’

All is well at the moment. We’ve battened down the hatches, we’re gearing up for winter, and praying for all this damn smoke from forest fires to go away. Things could have been worse. He might have had his heart attack in Houston during all the flooding. As we sat in my sister’s comfortable house, I remember feeling so grateful for it, and for her.  In life there will always be chocolate, but also aggravation. Those small and big moments that make up everyone’s story. If we’re lucky, we’ll experience things that are so awesome, they should be accompanied by a carload of screaming cheerleaders.

And the dark times, those moments of total eclipse where the world is dark and we’re uncertain about what will happen next? We all have them. The days when life hands us lemons and we cannot bring ourselves to make lemonade. We let those suckers rot on the shelf because doing the necessary work feels like rolling a boulder uphill. But. We can live our lives in small moments. In pockets of joy that spring up constantly, if only we choose to notice them. To paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, “Always say yes to the present moment. Always dwell in the now.” So if you see me standing somewhere with a goofy look on my face, know that I’m there. And I’m willing to share my chocolate.

Two Shots of Happy

When Clarence and I were traveling through Asia with Encounter Overland, we camped in a field in Turkey across from the Greek island of Lesbos. We were new to the group, maybe a week in, and as we set up our tents and built a campfire, someone brought out a bottle of Turkish vodka.

Another someone found a package of tang and we started mixing drinks. It was on this particular night that my friends Lorna, Lynn, Peta and I started singing together. We were promptly dubbed the Lesbos sisters, and continued annoying the whole group for the next three months.

But on that night we were in fine form. As we drank our way through the bottle, we gradually ran out of tang. ‘It’s so smooth!’ we said. ‘You don’t even need mix!’ Some of the more sensible campers went to bed, but the Lesbos sisters remained behind, serenading anyone who happened to be in the area.

To quote the bible, there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Like the sheepherders of old, they were drawn in by some angels singing; ie: the Lesbos Sisters. I can’t remember exactly when they joined us, but I have a pretty good idea why.

Folks,when I was twenty-four, there were some things about the world that I didn’t understand yet.

1. I have a meagre capacity for drinking alcohol.
2. I would miss these singing sisters for the rest of my life.
3. Drinking straight vodka makes you blind for a day.
4. Shepherds who want to show you their sheep are just like guys who invite you over to see their etchings. Or, in the case of my husband, their aquarium.

Fortunately, my sisters were watching out for me. I think it was Peta who dragged me back from the edge of a field and out of the clutches of some eager shepherds. And I’m sure that back in Flin Flon, my mother was sitting up in bed, crying, “Save her, God! She’s a bit of an idiot!” Apparently both she and Clarence’s mother wore out their knees with all the praying over our eight month vacation.

The next day, the others in the group got very tired of hearing me whine, ‘I’m blind! I can’t see!’ I’m almost positive there was some serious mockery going on right in front of my face. And who could blame them? For one thing, we drank all the tang. And I’m fairly sure the vodka was meant for bribing border guards and not for gilding the throats of our girl’s group.

Folks from that trip are having another reunion in England this fall, and I’m grieved we won’t be there. But expect more stories to come your way, my intrepid, beloved friends. They’re my way of saying that I miss you all.

And now, a photo of the Lesbos sisters follows this very appropriate song.


Lesbos sisers

Game of Thrones

Our upstairs bathroom toilet has been breaking my spirit for over a year now. Nothing ever flushed on the first try, or even the second. No problem if the contents were yellow, because we’re kind of mellow people, anyway. But when it’s brown…well. It’s a big faker, that toilet. Lots of swirling, then nothing. ‘Just kidding,’ it would sneer. You’d stand there, finger on the flapper, and feel your life slipping by.

We had to remember to tell our guests about it. Otherwise we’d end up standing outside the bathroom door saying things like, ‘Don’t be alarmed, but…” Yeah. Once, I was at a gas station washroom with a long lineup of people waiting outside the door. The toilet would not flush. I took the lid off the tank and tried fiddling with things. Nothing. Finally, I had to leave and naturally, I blamed the person who went before me. ‘Some people,’ I said while scurrying to my car.

Our toilet needed constant scrubbing. My rubber gloves and environmentally friendly cleaner had a permanent place on top of the sink since there was no point in putting them away. And I had to run in there every time someone dropped by and give it a going over.

Finally, my wish came true and we ordered a new one. I decided I wanted a super deluxe toilet with two environmentally friendly flushing buttons and the sucking action of an inverted tornado. We were going over budget, skipping the American Standard for a different kind whose name I don’t know because we accidentally threw out all the packaging. It started with a C.

Enter the super flow all in one toilet with a lid that floats down to touch the seat with a gentle caress. It has a wide neck that can swallow a T shirt with no problem. My only concern was how high the thing looked in the picture. We measured me from the knee down and discovered that my feet would touch the ground with about an inch to spare. We ordered it and waited semi-patiently for it to arrive. It took a while.

The day it came, I crooned like a Disney princess dancing in a meadow with a back up chorus of mice. Once the singing was done, it was time for installation. Afterward, I stood back and admired it. Compared to our old toilet, it looked like the Starship Enterprise, but with a different theme song. Randy Bachman’s ‘Taking Care of Business,’ fit nicely.

After the toilet glue had set, I sat down to see how it felt. It was different. The bowl was a big oval, and the beautiful seat that lowers in a timely but majestic fashion was a little thicker than normal. The result? Only my toes could touch the floor.

Well. I loved the new toilet, but for comfort’s sake, I’d have to read my magazines somewhere else. And how could I possibly do that? Everyone knows that time in the bathroom does not count as sloughing off. It’s a human need. Plus, we have a furnace register right beside the toilet. Since I like to keep the thermometer low to save money, the bathroom is our cozy winter retreat. Our Florida mini-vacation.

I didn’t want to complain about it, so I told my husband, in a very chipper fashion, “I’ll just have to get used to it!” As the first week passed, we became even more enamored with its strong flushing ability. And it’s pristine-ness. Apparently, it came with its own maid who washed it at night while we’re asleep.

But part of me mourned my years as a bathroom magazine reader. All the tips from Writer’s Digest, the mood boosts from Oprah. The informative articles from Macleans and strange fiction from the Walrus. Our weekly newspaper, the Reminder, so I’m up to date, locally. Could this affect my mental well being? Would I become like a Trump supporter, ill informed and full of doo doo?

Then, something magical happened. I sat down one day, accidentally slid to the back of the oval, and immediately felt the change. The back was lower than the front! My whole foot could touch the floor! I shouted out in joy to my husband who never answered because he hates it when I try talking to him from another room. (For some reason, I never seem to learn this particular lesson.)

Now, my life is better than ever. I’ll have the warm furnace air in the winter, the conditioned air in summer. At hand, my vast library of magazines and a throne worthy of a queen. My only problem now is leaving the room. Fortunately, Clarence has started using our other bathroom downstairs. It’s small and cluttered with paintings, a sword and a number of large seashells. But since he was the decorator, he’s fine with it.

FYI: If you ring our doorbell and don’t get an answer, we may indeed be home. Chances are, we’re catching up on the news, or reading the latest book reviews and the goings on about town. One of us may decide to cut things short and rush to get the door. But my guess is, you’ll have to come back later.

California Girls

When I was seventeen, my sisters Linda, Susan and I traveled to California for the month of August. The furthest we’d been from home was Jasper, Alberta, since our usual family vacation meant going away to the farm. I know. That sounds like a euphemism for being killed. But we truly loved the farm.

Once we’d conned my aunt and uncle into inviting us to stay, we began our journey. A long car trip took us to Saskatoon where we caught the train. We were supposed to ride it all the way to Vancouver, but there was a fire in our dining car. CN flew us to Vancouver, then put us up in a sleeper car for the night. Except for the earache I had on the plane and the six hour wait in Edmonton, it was all an adventure. Then the real excitement began.

We hopped a greyhound bus for the long journey down to San Jose, California, where my uncle Marvin would meet us. We almost got sent back at the border because Susan and I were underage. Fortunately, my sister Linda had a letter from my mother with parental consent plus advice about not talking to strangers. Oh, the irony. There wasn’t a hobo, sleazebag or potential serial killer that we didn’t chat up over the next few days.

We didn’t sit together, not that I can remember. And the places where we had to switch buses were always interesting. Teenage girls can always find someone to entertain them. Nowadays, parents would have nervous breakdowns worrying about three girls on their own. My parents probably thought, ‘Three down, four to go.’ Just kidding.

When we got to San Jose, my uncle was waiting for us in a pink Cadillac convertible. Our sense of sophistication ratcheted upward, though we probably looked like young hookers driving off with a pimp. But the car top was down, our hair was blowing in the wind, and Linda got to sit in front, like always.

They lived in a distant suburb of San Jose, and man, was it classy. My uncle was a doctor and they had a beautiful house with an Olympic sized pool. That was nothing. We soon met rich folks who had indoor AND outdoor pools. At the time, Flin Flon had nothing like it. We had to take our swimming lessons at Phantom Lake or Denare Beach. The cute life guards partially made up for it, but this! We were in heaven.

Yes, there was some culture shock. Yogurt hadn’t reached Flin Flon yet. We were still eating basic meat and potato meals with regular vegetables like carrots, and breakfast cereal like corn flakes. People in these neighborhoods had pet goats so they could make their own yogurt. This makes it sound like a farm community, but it wasn’t. Everyone had acreages and did whatever they wanted. Hippies were still in fashion. These were wealthy, pretentious hippies, except for my fabulous aunt and uncle who were part of the dressy cocktail crowd.Think Mad Men, the later years.

Picture three teenage girls from Flin Flon, Manitoba, visiting California for the first time. My oldest sister, Linda, was a beautiful nineteen year old. Long blond hair, long soon to be tanned legs. Susan and I were just inching our way out of the dorky stage, which wasn’t helped by our behavior. My aunt and uncle had invited their friend’s teenagers over for us to meet, but we were too busy shooting each other off the diving board in a serious game of cops and robbers. Susan also complicated things by using what can only be described as a Eurotrash accent for the whole vacation. It was so annoying, and Linda and I were constantly telling new people that she was faking.

My aunt was thirty-six at the time and drop dead gorgeous. She was the first person to tell me that name calling my sisters wasn’t nice. My parents had done their best, but I’m sure having seven children left them wishing we were using weapons instead of words. Just kidding. Anyway, thank you, Auntie Joanie, for your kindness. She and Marvin took us to fabulous restaurants, she let us wear her clothes and wigs, and took us shopping. The beach was amazing, and I got to see my first anorexic person. Coming from such a large family, none of us could imagine a person voluntarily giving up food.

From the visiting teenagers, I learned that we had terrible wardrobes. That the children’s section at Flin Flon’s Robinson’s store wasn’t cool. (Susan and I were small for our age.) By the time we left, we had a growing suspicion of just how out of it we were. Many people I attended high school with could have filled me in, but I’m not sure I was ready to hear it, then. Though Debbie St. Goddard did take me aside in the Hapnot school washroom and tell me to try wearing my glasses under my sideburns instead of over. “You have a nice face,’ she said kindly. ‘Now, doesn’t this look better?’ Honestly, where did she learn this stuff? I’m still puzzled about it.

One afternoon during our California vacation, I met a thirteen year old who looked like an eighteen year old Ann Margaret. Her makeup and hair were immaculate. Seventeen!’ she kept saying to me. ‘You can’t be!’ “This is how a seventeen year old looks where I come from,” I lied. Later, I got introduced to my uncle’s liquor cabinet and got drunk for the first time and broke a glass in the shower. Why, I’m not certain. My sisters covered up for me, and I’m only able to tell this story because my mother is dead. Susan and I drove our sister Linda crazy. She might have looked the part of the sophisticated teenager, but her idea of risky behavior meant staying up all night to finish her book. Our immature shenanigans did not interest her at all. We couldn’t even tempt her into a game of cops and robbers.

For the trip back to Vancouver, my uncle decided to fly us in his small plane. We had one too many people, so Linda flew commercial. When we arrived at my aunt’s friend’s house, I couldn’t get over how other people lived. It was such a beautiful place, and the mom stayed home with the kids and had her own sitting room that her children couldn’t enter without knocking first. I hoped my mother wouldn’t find out how the other half lived, because we simply didn’t have the space for that kind of entitlement.

While in Vancouver, we went to the horse races and sat in the la di da section. (Not sure of the official name.) We all had to dress up, and my uncle bought us champagne. I even got to bet on a horse, but I didn’t win. Apparently you’re supposed to study the racing book to help figure out your odds.

While there, we met more teenagers with beautiful houses who simply ignored us. By this point, I didn’t blame them. ‘I know,’ I wanted to say. ‘We’re working on it.’ One night the three of us went down to the P&E fairgrounds. We had a blast and flirted with three teenage carnies who had the audacity to show up at our place the next morning with little stuffed animals for us to take home. Susan and Linda were gracious, but I stayed up in my room, horrified. After all, I had a boyfriend at home who wouldn’t leave for university for a couple of weeks. That demands a certain standard of behavior, right?

Returning home must have been dull compared to weeks of sun, fun and new experiences. I promptly bought a Beach Boy’s album and fake remembered my life as a surfer girl, or possibly someone whose name was Wendy. I’d brought home a new pair of crushed strawberry velvet hipster jeans, a fabulous sweater that I shrank in the wash the following week, a very cool hat that Susan and I shared, and a black unitard that we all fought over for the next few years.

I also remember:

Watching cable TV for the first time.
The almost instant change from day to night compared to the long twilight of the north.
The movie, Love Story, on the largest screen I’ve seen yet, and the copious tears that followed.
Floating around the pool on large Styrofoam chairs with drink holders. (Explains burglarizing the liquor cabinet.)

My auntie Joanie is still alive, and Jennifer has brought her back to Winnipeg with her. When I see her, I’m going to give her the biggest hug and thank her for putting up with us. She was a saint, but a very fun one. In honour of our trip and all of our memories, here’s a video of the Beach Boys. My aunt looked just like the girl in the polka dot bikini, but blonde.

The Vasectomy Song

After our third baby was born, my husband made the nerve wracking decision to have a vasectomy. Having been through childbirth three times, I had to hide my lip curl at his anxiety. ‘Try passing a bowling ball,’ I wanted to say. Okay, did say.

His only request was that I accompany him for the procedure. The doctor agreed, but said if I felt light headed, I should leave the room. Seriously, I thought. I’ve been to the pain Olympics, my friend. This is a day at the fair.

When we got to the hospital, I was handed a gown much like the one my husband was wearing. Only difference, he was lying on a table looking extremely vulnerable. Awww, I thought. Poor guy. He looks apprehensive. I really did feel bad, having morphed from wife mode into mommy mode.

His doctor was a good one, but without the city experience of a thousand previous customers. My Winnipeg brother in law bragged that when he had his vasectomy, it was done in fifteen minutes at his doctor’s office, and he obligingly held the family jewels himself.

As per my job description, I stood by Clarence’s side and held his hand. The doctor injected some freezing and then we stood around like we were waiting for drinks. When the doctor finally got started, it wasn’t long before I realized that the freezing hadn’t completely taken hold. I think it was the way Clarence’s eyes rolled back in his head whenever there was a tug on the merchandise.

With my husband, no occasion can proceed normally so, before long, he began loudly whistling television theme songs. Judy Betteridge, the nurse, gave him a startled look. I thought to myself, let the crazy games begin. Clarence wanted us to play, ‘Guess the Correct Show.’

“Quick, which one is it?” he gasped. Fortunately, I knew his full repertoire. “Ghost Squad, 1963,” I said hurriedly, in case our nurse beat me. He moved rapidly from song to song while Judy and I began shouting out wild guesses. “Gunsmoke! Bonanza! Gilligan’s Island! Surfside Six! The Barney Miller Show! And so on. Mostly older themes.

Meanwhile, unaware they’d booked appointments on the same day, one of his many brothers-in-law was nervously waiting outside the room for his own vasectomy. ‘Who’s the nut whistling in there?” he asked. “That’s your brother in law, Clarence,” they said. “Ah,” he replied, needing no other explanation.

While all of this was going on, I was indeed growing a little queasy. The doctor had pulled something like a telephone cord out of Clarence’s private parts, saying, “What do you think? Cut about this much?” He held his fingers a half inch apart. “I have no idea,” I said, gripping the table and ready to faint. My gown was lightly spattered with blood and I truly wanted to leave the room. Don’t get me wrong…this was still a walk in the park compared to childbirth. But I wasn’t prepared for the reality of it.

In the end, it turned out that the theme songs benefited me as much as him. We laughed, we held hands, and when it was all done, he was fine. At home, we applied the glove of love (rubber glove filled with crushed ice gently resting on the affected area) and watched television, possibly gearing up for the next theme song occasion. Our neighbor, Rick Hall, made up a song about the whole experience and recorded it for us. I can’t find my copy, but it’s nice that the occasion was marked in such a special way. I hope Rick still has a copy, but since I can’t paste his tune here, I’ll add the one that Clarence whistled first. If, dear reader, you’re a guy with your own vasectomy memories, please feel free to join in.