You Decorated My Life or Things My Mother Taught Me

The sap is running alert: As the holidays near, even those of us with hearts two sizes too small find pockets of warmth that sustain and help us with evolution.

Prior to the advent of so much instant communication, my mother was a letter writer extraordinaire. I recall how she and her out of town friends and relatives wrote back and forth religiously, catching each other up on the latest gossip, sorrows and joys.

Mom always said you have to send mail to get mail and she was right. There isn’t much I like better than finding a personal letter in my mailbox busy trying to break up the fight between all my bills.

Stemming from her avid letter writing, we got a ton of Christmas cards every year and Mom’s ingenuity on how to display them was put to the test. She hit on the idea one year of decorating the wall facing the entryway of the house with them and taped them all up.

Like a puzzle, first the ‘end pieces’ went up to form the outline and then the centre was filled in. She turned the cards into a Christmas tree that was pretty spectacular and became an annual tradition.

(I’ll save my memories of my Dad’s uncanny ability to find the worst tree in the forest and trudge home with it for another time.)

Looking at the beautiful snowy photos MellowLee posted on her blog (Vancouver never gets snow does it?) and reading comments made by Barbara* about snowflakes reminded me of something else my mother turned into a minor art form. Paper snowflakes.

From one year to the next, salvaged wrapping paper made a return engagement around the second week of December. Mom used it not only to wrap presents again but to cut out the most unusual and beautiful paper snowflakes which she then hung by thread from the living room ceiling.

I always pronounced them to look corny but I secretly loved them. Nobody else in my neighborhood had an indoor snowfall like this for the holidays and I think they may have been poorer for it.

My mistrust of winter can now resume although there is always a chance of intermittent happiness amid the drifts.

*check out Barbara's fantastic review of a play called The Dazzle. And vote for her blog!


And Now Your Feature Presentation

My favourite funny Jewess Katie Schwartz posted a movie meme that I enjoyed so I've taken it and modified it slightly.

1. Popcorn or candy? It starts out with popcorn and then I lose interest and switch over to candy. It's usually not until I leave the theatre that I realize my pants are covered in 'topping'.

2. Name a movie you've been meaning to see forever. The Passion of Joan of Arc. I have it, I just haven't gotten to it. Making out with cookies takes up a lot of my time and some things just give way.

3. You are given the power to recall one Oscar. Who loses theirs and to whom? Julia Roberts has to personally hand over the one she got for Erin Brockovich to Ellen Burstyn for Requiem For A Dream. I liked both films but there's no question about who gave the better performance.

4. Steal one costume from a movie for your wardrobe. The costume from Batman Begins – that comes with the body right?

5. Your favorite film franchise is....Lord of the Rings. The way they doled it out was franchise like. Did I just cheat?

6. Invite five living movie people over for dinner. Who are they? Why'd you invite them? What do you feed them?

First of all, before any successful dinner party, I think there should be a little mix and a mingle...

i) Hey, Darren Aronofsky! Come on in! Although I wasn 't a big fan of it, here's some Pi for you. Tell me a little about what it was like to work with Hubert Selby Jr. and adapt his brilliant novel into your fantastic film Requiem For A Dream. And what’s up with your new one, The Fountain?

If he started getting too intense, I’d introduce him to

ii)John Cameron Mitchell – sitting there eating his licorice drops and jelly roll. Hey John, Hansel needs some sugar in his bowl, heh heh. Tell us all about the pressures of following up your huge indie Hedwig success like and sell us on the idea of seeing Shortbus.

When the talk about sex starts to get boring (it eventually will), I’d have to turn and say, Have you met…

iii)Catherine O’Hara? – She’s just waiting for the mac and cheese to finish baking. We’d laugh and talk about how weird the business is and how I simultaneously believe she should be film’s most successful comedienne ever but am glad she’s not because then she’d be all weird and wouldn’t come to my parties anymore.

It would be hard tearing myself away but how can you be rude and not say hello to…

iv)George Clooney – He’s the only other person on earth aside from your humble host who looks that great in a tux. Still got that silly pig at the villa George? Cancel the chops, George’ll just share Catherine’s mac and cheese. He’s so down to earth.

Just as we were all getting really comfortable and relaxed, in walks...

v)Bjork! She never shows up! Quick - order some Fjallagrasamjólk! I always seem to run out of Icelandic Moss Soup at the wrong time. What’s that dear? You want to recreate the death scene from Dancer in the Dark again? Surely you must have another party trick or two up your sleeve? Why don’t you tell us all about your upcoming projects (and try not to scare the other guests)?

When I reflect back on that night and realize that I forgot to invite the adorable Amy Sedaris, I’ll be inconsolable until she calls and invites me to one of her shindigs proving once and for all, she’s the bigger man and the better hostess.

7. What is the appropriate punishment for people who answer cellphones in the movie theater? No more anytime minutes ever.

8. Choose a male and a female bodyguard from a film: Neo from The Matrix; The Bride from Kill Bill

9. What's the scariest thing you've ever seen in a movie? The spiderwalk that Regan does in The Exorcist (an extra scene that was added to recent dvd releases)

10. Your favorite genre (excluding "comedy" and "drama") is....documentary especially if it deals with music.

11. You are given the power to greenlight movies at a major studio for one year. How do you wield this power? I would give directors, writers and performers with experimental ideas the budgets to help them realize their vision. Could it be any worse than the thousands of cookie cutter projects that get the go ahead all the time?

12. If Jesus were to submit a synopsis of a documentary about life in America since 9/11, what would his p.o.v. be? I think he’d start with a ‘What I Was Doing That Day’ segment and then go straight into a Paradise Lost and Regained thing.

13. Down in front all you troublemakers - I'd really like to see every damned one of you do this quiz and post it on your blog. If you don't, I'm calling an usher like the ones we used to have when I was a kid - no fucking around, big flashlight, not afraid to use it.

'C' Is Also For Cookie

Did you know that one tin of shortbread cookies with chocolate covered almonds baked in provides enough fuel to sustain a full day cleaning frenzy? Well I'm here to tell you that it does and it's cheaper than my old standby - crack! My house is now completely Christmas ready, as long as Christmas is tomorrow or the next day. I'm a part time slob so things tend to degenerate quickly around here.

Back to important things - these magical cookies I speak of are sold by the local Lions Club and so by eating them, I'm assuredly saving lives and contributing to the sustainability of their organization. The way I figure it is that if I order and eat just a few dozen more tins, they're sure to launch a special project in my honour - Save the Dales! and I'll end up the star of a prime time made for tv movie. Should I play myself or is that too bold?

I have to go now and hoover up any stray crumbs and make some important decisions.

Celebrity Sex

I've been reading with interest all the brushes with celebrity that Old Lady and Coaster Punchman seem to have had. I've had lots of sightings but I tend to not want to interact with my celebrities unless it's for sex. If I could just get them to stop calling me the next day. Ugh.

In a tenuously related way, twice removed sort of situation, I offer this pale tidbit. Next Wednesday, I'm going to see the musical Chicago which is in town for a limited run. I've seen the film but not the play. Did you know that Chicago was actually played by Toronto? Every day I pass the building they used as the jailhouse as the train rolls by the historic Distillery district. In a not so historic move, the building is now being converted into condominiums. Progress?

Back to the celebrity bit, the husband of a woman I work with was Richard Gere's stand in on that movie. When I learned this, I asked about 100 questions and learned that Mr. Gere was very nice and gave her husband a leather jacket at the end of filming as a thank you. She told me that they always get invited to wrap parties for films he works on but they never go. I would! And then I'd name drop for years.

In related news, there is a lady at work who was the stand in for Ricki Lake on a film several years back. I can't say who things worked out better for in that case.


Friday Random Ten - Live from The Confessional Edition

1. The Ballad of Lucy Jordan - Marianne Faithfull
2. Only You - Portishead
3. Cellphone's Dead - Beck
4. The Weight - The Band
5. Honey Molasses - Jill Scott
6. Pilgrimage - R.E.M.
7. Walk on the Wild Side - Lou Reed
8. Eye of Fatima (Pt. 1) - Camper Van Beethoven
9. El Tango de Roxanne - Moulin Rouge Stdtrk
10.Haoulou - Cheb Mami

This Friday Random Ten is a multitasking son of a gun. Not only is it magically delicious but it may make me seem cooler than I actually am. It also gives me the strength to answer a question Tenacious S put to me a little while ago in the comments section of this post.

Every time a list like this presents itself, I report proudly on it and feel safe in the knowledge that my credibility is intact. Dear readers, it is time for me to admit that for every Archer Prewitt, XTC or Etta James tune there is propping me up, there's a *gasp* Olivia Newton John, Sade or Jim Reeves song threatening its way into the mix. Wash me clean oh Lord. For penance, I am listening to Sunshine Day by The Brady Bunch 10 times.

Ah music, it does so many things doesn't it? Lifts you up, punctuates a moment like nothing else, makes you laugh, cry and move. I love you, I honestly love you.


You're Everything I Hoped For

I just wanted to thank all you zany Americans. I know it’s your Thanksgiving and you’re busy not killing family right now and getting ready for the shopping thing tomorrow but I appreciate you all taking time out to think of little old me.

Somehow you crashed the computer systems that make it possible for me to do my job. Sure they’re working on fixing it, but so far you’ve bought me enough time to have breakfast, go to the bank, have a coffee and a tea, fraternize with the uncleansed masses and think about blog posts!

I love each and every one of you! Take that you smelly Canadians! What have you done for me lately?



On my walk home this dark evening, I was listening to the Herbie Hancock song Stitched Up.

As I neared home, I noticed there were Christmas lights strung up in the windows of the house next door.

I've variously described the lady who lives there with her bleached blonde hair as a pole dancer or hooker.

As I thought to myself, nice job on the lights hooker lady, John Mayer sang into my ear Girls like that don't sleep alone. Maybe he's smarter than he looks?


Oh Happy Day

To my American friends -- may the only fight at your house this Thanksgiving be over the wishbone.

Failing that, go rent Home For The Holidays and suffer and laugh along.

Facts and Figures

If Grant Miller and Echo Tremaine can post their real life photos on their blogs, then why can't I?

I know that as soon as I hit the Publish Post button, I'll regret it.

My regret will lie not with the fact that you will know me as more than the Bee your dreams are made of but on the fact that while these photographs are indeed of me, I have never looked this good in real life.

These are the photos of my 2 most recent passports taken by a master craftsman. He didn't have much to work with but he did something right.

Figure 1 - 2000
Figure 2 - 2005
Figure 3 - 2006

5 Gross Things

With a little bolstering from the posts of Coaster Punchman, Old Lady and Pink Fluffy Slippers, may I present, a game of tag involving 5 Gross Things.

1. I had an accident at school while in Grade 2. Although this post is called number 1, my accident was not. What's that smell?

2. My friend's sister married a farmer a few towns away. One day my friend invited me over there to play, we were probably 12 years old at the time. We watched silently as they put a rope around a cow's neck, put the rope through a metal loop on the ground between the barn doors, attached the rope to a tractor, drove the tractor until the cow's head was down at the loop on the ground and then put a bullet between its eyes. Then they hoisted it up in the middle of the barn, slashed its throat and we watched the blood drain. Then they peeled it. And we went back to playing.

3. At the monastery where my sister the Sister lives, there is a child Saint encased in wax resting in a glass tomb with some of his bones exposed and a little vial of his blood. That creeps me out still. Bury the little fellow already.

4. I loved going to the Saturday matinees at the local moviehouse as a youngster. One film that frightened the hell out of me was called Island of Terror. In it, strange creatures with multiplied by splitting in two. When they did this, there would be a gelatinous mess which looked like it had long noodles in it. That evening when I went home, my mother was just putting chicken noodle soup on the table. I didn't throw up but I couldn't go near chicken noodle soup for years after. I have a copy of the movie but have never watched it.

5. In Grade 10, I was reunited with someone at our brand new high school that I hadn't seen since my early school days. We were standing there talking before class and she stuck her finger in the still soft and sticky putty on the window. Then she said: Remind you of anything Dale? Like that time in Grade 2? I almost hemmoraged on the spot but kept my cool and convinced her that she had a faulty memory and it must have been someone else.

Anyone else care to play? I dare you. No, I double dare you.


Music Tames The Savage Beast/Breast/Heart

In my grand tradition of reading something on one blog and listening to my brain springboard, I give you a question for the ages as supplied by Justacoolcat in this post. What is it that you hear first thing in the morning when you wake up?

What I many times hear is the sound of the cd spinning up to play when the alarm's about to go off. I have a pathological fear of being late and most mornings, I'm awake before it tells me to be.

When I've had the good fortune to sleep through the night without interruption, what I hear is the Eurythmics song Savage. Nobody sings it like Annie:
Words of power are killing me
While the sun displays its teeth.
All mockery is laughing
All violence is cheap.

The Kids Aren't Alright

Today there were statistics on the news screen in the elevator about the food bank and how of the thousands of people who must use their services daily, 38% of them are children. I was horrified. Why aren't these kids out working?!

In The Early Morning Rain ... Slight Return

I got in most of my Random Ten music shuffling on the rainy ride to work.

  1. Dixie Dynamite – Freddy Jones Band

  2. Gatekeeper – Feist

  3. Please Please Please – Shout Out Louds

  4. Danube Incident – Lalo Schifrin

  5. Easy Money – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

  6. Every Humble Knee Must Bow – Nashville Bluegrass Band

  7. Por Dignidad – Omara Portuondo

  8. Twilight Zone – Golden Earring

  9. On The Mend – Foo Fighters

  10. Don’t You Know – Della Reese


It's An Honour Just To Be...

My friend Tanya Espanya nominated me for one of these under the category of Best Blog which was very sweet of her:

Canadian Blog Awards

I forgot about it (because I'm rude and insensitive) until Barbara mentioned it.

You can do your bloggy duty and vote for Barbara by clicking on the maple leaf above and looking for her under Best Group Blog for The Stroumboulopouli.

The life is the red wagon, you pull for me, I pull for you.


You've Been Served

Every day after I get my coffee on the way to work, I go to the corner to cross the street and walk by a grate that has a person or two huddled under blankets on it asleep.

I feel bad for them and wish I didn't pretend they weren't there sometimes and at the same time, feel lucky that I'm not homeless or mentally ill.

This morning, someone was asleep on the grate under a load of blankets. As I neared the corner, a girl showed up and started trying to shake the person awake asking Breakfast? Do you want breakfast? Hello!! Community Outreach, do you want some breakfast? Hello! Hello! Breakfast! The person wasn't answering and so she went back to her outreach van.

I'm not sure if I was more upset that this person gets their breakfast delivered or that the worker was so aggressive about trying to serve it.

Dear Community Outreach,

If you ever bring me breakfast in bed, just a warning, I can be a bit of a bear so please, don't shake me awake or yell at me while you do it. Just leave the food and keep moving. That would be grate great. Thanks.




Purple Reign

It's easy to look back on some films and just make fun of them for sport. Times and styles change, we grow up, the acting's bad, there are lots of easy outs.

When Beth wrote her tribute to Prince's Purple Rain album, I thought it was time that I finally get around to the dvd I'd picked up some time ago of the film.

I've always been a sort of sidelines fan when it comes to Prince. I've liked the singles but pretty much avoided the drama, the costumes and the machinery. When he changed his name to that symbol, I was sure he'd sealed his fate.

Of course, that was not the case at all. He went right on write great songs for himself and other artists and he's still making music today that sounds great.

Seeing the film 20 odd years after it debuted makes for some fun viewing but I'm acutely aware that it makes no sense to try and tear apart the man's talent. Along with his songwriting, stunning guitar work and showmanship, possibly the biggest testament to Prince's ability is immortalized for all time -- he got everyone in the film to sport the same fucking hairdo he had whether they should have or not. Now that's power.

Marjorie Would Be Proud Of Me

Although I eat healthy every day (according to me), I thought it was about time I sat down and thought about thinking about how I'd become a monster.

As I sat there snacking and immobile, I considered a few points, not the Weight Watchers kind, but points just the same. I'm no professional but my logic made sense to me and therefore is probably worthwhile. Some of my findings include:

Salad - a very effective Feta cheese delivery system. The divine taste of Feta proves the existence of a higher power and is therefore safe to eat every day.

Potato chips - too obvious: It says Zero Trans Fats right on the bag and therefore is good for you. Enjoy with or without a side salad.

Coca-Cola - no skull and crossbones on the label anywhere means this sweet and tasty drink is perfect for any time.

As I was feeling a bit peckish, that's about as far as my research went. In conclusion, I cannot blame my diet and therefore pronounce genetics the culprit. Since there's nothing I can do about that, I'm considering branching out and trying some new foods. Anyone for a hot fudge sandwich?


Apply Liberally

Yesterday at work, I had to attend a meeting with my work group between 2 and 4 p.m. Who schedules a meeting on a Friday afternoon? The company president's assistant, that's who. I agreed to attend, just as though I had a choice.

The purpose of the meeting was to get feedback on a project we've been working on. Usually, I like nothing more than talking about how important I am to the daily running of the world but the fly in the ointment is that el presidente recently announced his retirement. So I'm thinking we're all going to have to sit there for 2 hours and waste our best googly eyes on a guy who couldn't care less? Better bring your Secret Service agents with you buddy.

Because I'm a horrible judge of everything, he turned out to be pretty in tune with things and very candid about some of the problems our company faces and the issues surrounding our project. Sure you can afford to be candid when you're on the way out but he seemed really interested in ensuring the initiatives we're working on get the recognition they deserve. Then he went and asked questions that made it clear he was sitting there listening. The nerve! When you spend half your time trying to read between the buzzwords, it's refreshing to hear someone just speak English.

So at the end of the meeting when he asked if there were any questions or comments, I asked him if he could stick around and help me fill out my application for his job. He laughed pretty hard and said he'd be happy to. I was glad he laughed. And so was my boss.


Random Acts of Friday

As with every Friday, the shuffle button reigns supreme, sometimes to disatrous results but this week? Not so bad:

1. Fela Kuti - Lover
2. Curly Locks - Sinead O'Connor
3. Vietnamese Baby - New York Dolls
4. Modern Love - David Bowie
5. Hard To Beat - Hard Fi
6. Velouria - Pixies
7. Within You - Ray LaMontagne
8. 5 1/2 Minute Hallway - Poe
9. Black Water - Doobie Brothers
10.Rock and Roll All Nite - Toad The Wet Sprocket


Ball of Confusion

Remember the good old days? The days of the Little Miss Sunshine Contest? Ahh.

Lovely blogger Melinda June recently posted her late entry with explanation. Go see it and praise her like I do.

Her entry brought me back to some other good old days. It may have been the stripes on her brother's shirt that did it.

After I came back from my kidnapping stint in foster care, my mother's friend knitted me a sweater using the ends of many old skeins of yarn. The result was a sweater only Helen Keller could have appreciated. There were so many colours and beginnings and ends that none of it made any sense.

My mother called it my coat of many colours, not after the Dolly Parton song because that would be crass but after the biblical story of Joseph later to become a crowd pleasing musical starring Donny Osmond.

My saving grace is knowing that at the age of 6 1/2, you have very little say in what you get to wear and probably less concern about it. I think I may have even enjoyed wearing it. I don't recall ever seeing a photo of me in it but if I should scare one up, you'll be the second to know.

I wouldn't be caught dead in anything like it now. Unless of course, it cost hundreds of dollars and I'd seen it in the pages of Vanity Fair.


From The Flemish Files

I promise to stop mentioning my cold and what it's doing to my voice, eventually.

Today at work, someone told me I had my 1-800- voice on. A couple of other people said that my voice sounded really sexy. All I could do was smile and cough in response.

As I was getting ready to leave for the day though, someone said my favourite thing. I was putting on my coat and someone asked if it was new. I said that it was in my best sexy 1-800 voice, asked if they liked it as I showed it off and then promptly began coughing.

Someone else stepped in and asked, Dale, do you always have to be so phlegmboyant?

The Revolutionary Costume For Today

I didn't really say much about the audience at the Opera now that I've had time to read my earlier post. For shame.

The horseshoe shape of the new joint allows for much better people watching opportunities than there were at the old barn. For instance, in the row ahead of me were a fun husband and wife team. She had some pretty badly frosted hair (you should see the cake!) and her best Mom jeans on while he had on a wrinkled denim shirt and khakis.

Mom turned around before the show and said to Dad while looking directly at me oh look, their row is raised up a little, that's what we need because you're so short. He swiveled his head around and giggled heyyyy, I resemble that remark! and they both laughed like it was the first time they'd gone through this routine. One artful arch of my left eyebrow ended the possibility of inter-row friendship. They went back to their programs, I went back to my perusing.

Sure there were lots of interestingly attached hairpieces and limbs on display but on the whole, I give the crowd points for trying. As soon as the lights went down, as always, about 1/3 of the blue haireds nodded off. Once some of them start forgetting to wake up, there's going to be some prime real estate opening up in the house.

My friend Deborah looked quite amazing in a long silvery skirt and a sort of gauzy blouse with an antique crystal necklace completing the look. She said the skirt was from Holt Renfrew and worth a fortune but she'd gotten a deal on it for $10 at Goodwill. Nice work garbage picker.

As for me? Well, I always make an effort. I looked dashing in my black shorts with the stripe down the side, think tuxedo shorts if tuxedos came with shorts, my Rock Me Amadeus ringer tee and of course, my good roller skates.

Next up: A Day At The Races.


Tales From The Site Meter

I'm getting a lot of hits for this: Another winter in a summer town
and it's making me think that the producers of Grey Gardens may want to put a hit on me if they ever read it.

Here she is: Yasamin miss 2006 - next stop Playboy.

"my vitriol" november - It's not only in November anymore.

Piazza del Popola churches - seems like only 2004 that I was writing about 2002, ah. And my friends just got back again from Italy. Whatever.

what does nessun dorma mean? - ask Luciano.

what does "no flies on you"mean? - something to do with zipperless pants?


Falling In Love Again

Last night was my introduction to our new opera house and in between bouts of hacking and coughing freely today, I'm still excited about the experience.

There are seats for 2000 but it seems even more intimate than that. The sightlines are amazing, the acoustics finely tuned, the seats comfortable and what's this? Legroom?! There may well be things that mean more but to a 6 foot tall galoot, legroom is right up there. With only 14 rows between me and the orchestra pit, everything was perfect.

Ladies, you'll be pleased to know that there are double the washroom facilities for women in the building. There were complimentary cough drops at all of the bars on each level and also plent of space to roam about, mingle and generally see and be seen.

Mozart's Così fan tutte was on offer and it was a fitting start to what hopefully is a brilliant season. Apart from a few curtain glitches that the performers managed to work to their advantage in this farcical piece, everything else was perfect. The singing was excellent on all accounts and every performer could be heard along with rather than in competition with the music as often seemed to be the case at the old venue. What a treat.

I overheard people say that parts of the performance were too slapsticky. Please, it's a comedy! Play along folks, it can't all be high art.

When I wasn't laughing at the antics of the cast, particularly Shannon Mercer as Despina and Kristina Szabo as Dorabella, I was wiping away the tears at Michael Colvin's beautiful tenor. I'm not sure of the name of his solo in Act 1 but it was such a pure and moving sound that I forgot to check the surtitles, it had to have been about love.

Even as I suffered with the worst cold ever visited upon a mortal, like the good patron I am, I waited until applause to cough, only sneezed once and refrained fully from the urge to spit on all those who dared to wear jeans to the big show. Who says I'm not charitable? Rawther.

Voices Carry

Today, just for fun, my cold has been treating me by having me alternate sounding like Peter Brady when his voice changed and Lauren Bacall shilling for Fancy Feast. Just thought you should know.


Walk Out To Winter

This is what happens when you let your iPod engage in unprotected shuffling on a Friday:

  1. Metallica – Enter Sandman

  2. Andrews Sisters – Mr. Sandman

  3. Einsturzende Neubaten – Total Eclipse of the Sun

  4. Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse of the Heart

  5. Nine Inch Nails – Head Like A Hole

  6. Traditional – Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes

  7. Buzzcocks – Orgasm Addict

  8. Tool – Jerk Off

  9. Jayne County – Fuck Off

  10. Julie Andrews – A Few of my Favorite Things

And now my real list:

  1. Neil Young – When God Made Me

  2. Garbage – Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)

  3. Sarah McLachlan – Witness (Live)

  4. Guadalcanal Diary – Cattle Prod

  5. Beck – Cellphone’s Dead

  6. Keren Ann – Sailor and Widow

  7. Metallica – Enter Sandman

  8. Sound Providers – Dope Transmission

  9. Kate Bush – Kite

  10. Tricky – Wonder Woman


Evil Dead The Musical

It's a little off the Halloween deadline but this show sounds like a whole lotta fun. Why didn't I hear about this when it was busy being born here? I'm so involved in city life. An interesting article about it.

I'm so mad I could kill someone.
I'll have to settle for this for now I think.


Strangers With Chips

Something unexpected happened the year I turned 5. My parents gave me away. To strangers.

My mother had always suffered from what she called bad nerves and in 1969, she took her nerves to bed and brought my 2 year old sister along for company. Every time Mom took a pill, sis got a candy and I got more jealous.

My older sisters did what they could to keep the house running while my Dad worked as far around the dial as he could to keep us in food and hand-me-downs.

Friends of my parents suggested that their daughter and her new husband take one of us kids off their hands for a while to ease the strain of having 9 kids to clothe and feed. Somehow my parents agreed to this modest proposal and my adventures began.

Tricking me into a new life proved to be fairly simple. I was asked if I wanted to go for a drive in a car. Even though we were a little white trash and didn’t have a car of our own, I must have looked skeptical. They sweetened the deal with the promise of a big bag of potato chips. Now they were talking: the possibility of a treat I didn't have to share was more than I could resist. I was in the back seat of that car faster than a dog who doesn't yet know that sometimes, you end up at the vet's.

By the time I'd stuffed my small frame with chips, the novelty of a genuine car ride had worn off and I was ready for home. When I asked when we'd be going back, I got a smile in response and the answer that I'd be coming to live with them for a while and we were all going to have a great time. I got quiet and stayed that way for about the next 7 or 8 years. My car ride ended up taking a couple of days and landed me about 1000 miles away and in a town smaller even than the one I’d come from.

The isolated community consisted of a dotting of homes and stores, a small school, a church, and an Indian reservation nearby. Major food supplies were ordered from a catalogue and flown in every couple of months. I was enrolled in kindergarten at the school one of my guardians taught at.

The few other students in my class were native Indians and we regarded each other with wary interest. There were few words we had in common and so, we communicated mostly through suspicious looks and gestures.

When I excelled at such activities as putting together the 2 piece wooden puzzle of grapes and bananas, I was quickly promoted into Grade 1. Although still a stranger in a strange land, there were a few other kids there who could speak English.

After school, I came home alone, let myself in, did my homework and basically spent a lot of time waiting. When the surrogate parents got home and made dinner, it was then my job to do the dishes by standing on a chair. Months dragged by this way and my routine felt hopeless. I missed my family and cried myself to sleep many nights.

When Christmas rolled around and I was told I’d be going home, I was excited but worried that it might be a trick. The trip home took a couple of days and finally, I was dropped back into the chaos of my family. They weren’t where I left them but in a new house which was fun to explore; I'd never seen bunkbeds before and this place had them built right into the walls. I cried here too but with relief at being back.

As the rhythm of big family life started keeping time again in my body, they showed up again. My mother was still sick it seemed. I cried and begged not to be taken away again but I was loaded back in the car just the same and driven off again.

The next 3 months were spent in constant upset between crying, worrying and illness. At one point, I developed a case of croup so bad that I had to be airlifted to a larger city with a real hospital and an oxygen tent was my home for several days. When I was better, it was back to cold routine. I never seemed able to get warm.

My feelings of despair went on and on and as my crying jags increased in frequency and duration, my guardians just seemed puzzled. Eventually, they took me to see the local priest to see if he could offer any suggestions on my behaviour. He was a kindly old gentleman who I'd met once before when they ran a movie, my first, in the church basement. The film was Pinocchio and I was amazed by it, a small moment of joy.

Father spoke with the three of us in his large office and then asked to speak with me alone. He offered me a flat round butterscotch candy and then another and spoke to me in soothing tones. He asked me a question about whether I missed my family and had his answer in the half second it took for a pain cry to escape me. He comforted and consoled me and gave me more candy. He called my custodians back in and had me wait in the next room. When we got home, they barely spoke to me but I knew something had shifted.

A couple of days went by and it was close to Easter I recall. I was told that I should go over to my teacher's place and say good-bye because I'd be leaving school early and going home to my family. I raced over there and knocked on her door. She had papers for me to take to my school back home and wished me luck.

As though to erase any unhappy memories, there was a little party for me and the friends of my keepers came bearing gifts for me and chatted me up about my upcoming trip back. A bunch of new toys were proffered and packed into a large box.

The day finally came but this time, my journey home was a little different. I was put on a train, alone and met in Toronto by one of my aunts and I stayed overnight with her. She put me back on the train the following morning where in Montreal I was met by a family friend who made sure that I got on the correct train for the last leg of the journey home.

I made it back finally, in several pieces, but happy.

Most of my siblings don't remember a lot of the events around that time or claim not to and don’t like me to bring it up so I don’t anymore.

As an adult, I finally got up the nerve to ask my parents what the hell they were thinking. They could only apologize and say that they weren’t thinking clearly and didn’t realize that it would affect me so much.

At first I directed most of my anger at my mother and then decided that it was misplaced and held my father responsible for a time. I thought that I had more or less forgiven both of them and put it to rest until about the time of my parents’ 50th anniversary celebration.

You may recall that I’ve mentioned my mother to have little or no tact. Our whole family and extended family gathered from far flung corners for the big anniversary and my sisters who were in charge of putting together a special photo album, at the last minute asked me to do the honours.

I threw together a large and quite lovely scrapbook filled with photographs, funny family stories and so on. In the middle of one afternoon gathering at my parents’ place, the book was being passed around and generally praised. I did do a rather fine job on it.

Someone was laughing over a particular group of anecdotes I’d included and my mother turned to me in front of the 25 or so people gathered and loudly asked: Why didn’t you put in the story about the time we gave you away Dale? She laughed although thankfully nobody else did. The room immediately went silent as it would have to do and all eyes focused on me.

I calmly answered Because that wasn’t really a happy memory for me and the crowd resumed their chatter and my mother went on mingling.

I’d like to think that I grew up a lot in that moment, the moment when I didn’t kill my mother in front of a room full of witnesses.