RUNNING AWAY – just not very far.

Just what are the thoughts that invade a 10 year old’s mind to lure him into running away? There are probably a number of them, but I am going to go with adventure and maybe a chance to escape. Funny how the adults in this saga did not view it in the same light, as you will soon see.

I can’t remember if there was any great plotting or scheming that proceeded this adventure, it just seemed to grow. Sometimes a simple plan is the best; or is it?

My small village in the Eastern Townships of Quebec had a number of things that allowed it to stand out as different from others in the area. There was the usual collection of homes scattered over a rolling topography and a river that wound it’s way through the lower side. And it was this river that acted as a source of power for our two sawmills. Other than a post office/gas station, general store and several churches, there was no other claim to fame. But I digress. Not many places to run to, or from. But for a ten year old boy, an only child, that fact didn’t really play into it. The assignment I was given was pretty straight forward. Go to Albert and Doris’s general store and get a box of cereal. Across the river, past the Catholic church, and next to Whiteman’s farm. Fifteen minutes out and fifteen back. Oh, and buy yourself a pop – orange crush, 7 cents. As I said, simple and straight forward. Any similarities between what was expected and what went down…

As you will soon see, the way back bore no similarities to the getting there. Rather than going up the hill past the Catholic church, it was possible to cut through Whiteman’s farm behind the church. This was where the plan started to take shape. Also behind the church was an old and unused gravel pit which gave one access to high ground. Climbing up the side of the pit through the tall grass I soon found myself at the top and on the edge of the pit. Laying down in the grass I had a commanding view of the lower end of town, but could not be seen. I was lord of the hill! Invincible and in charge.

Now what to do. Remember, this plan was not well thought out. Even to this day, 62 years later, I do not know what possessed me to do this. In the child/parent dynamic, this is not a smart thing for a 10 year old to do. Not if you wanted to maintain your fine standing on the family totem pole. And now that I am in a position to think about it, maybe therein lies the driving force to my ill conceived adventure. So, what dark emotions/fears were rumbling away in my subconscious that thrust me into the dark side?

I feel at this point in my story, I must touch on the make-up of my dysfunctional family. Aside from me, there were four others in the family all from my maternal side. My Grandmother, whom I adored; her husband, who I hardly knew, as he was away a lot; their son, my uncle, who tried to be my father figure, but did not really get there, at least in my mind; and finally my Mother.

Divorced 3 years after I was born, not a new man in her life, and generally very distrustful of males, the victim of a number of illnesses, always feeling that she never received her fair quota of affection and fairness, she grew into an angry, forceful and bitter women. I guess in my eyes this inhibited her from contributing to a stable, loving, close and fair family dynamic. She also, was away a lot, working in Montreal. In short, my Grandmother became my mentor, hero and protector.The woman in my life that I would run to, to mend all of my ills. The disciplinarian in the family was, by default, my Mother. Her instruments for meting out punishment when I was “bad” were a hand, belt or a switch.

Knowing this fact was not lost on me as I lay concealed in the tall grass. As it was I was past the point of no return as far as my allotted time was concerned. And yet I did not try to make up for lost time and rush home. Was I, at the tender age of ten starting to rebel; to stage a challenge knowing full well what the outcome would be? Would my Grandmother protect me?

I think I layed there for a while longer content in my relatively secure position. I do remember seeing my uncle driving up the road but thought little of it. From my vantage point I could see traffic in all directions, and noticed that he drove over to the general store, came right back out and headed back to the house, only to come right out and started to drive slowly up the road, stopping at several homes along the way. I think I figured at this time that my jig was up.Sneaking home undetected was going to required some planning on my part.

The road was the easy way, but I would have been to easily discovered. My other option was through the fields and across the river. As it was the middle of summer, the river was at it’s lowest point of the season and there were enough rocks above water to allow me to leap from one to the other to access the other side. Simple enough, but even simple plans have a way of becoming unraveled. Those rocks were my undoing. They were there alright; wet, slippery and not evenly spaced. To make a short story even shorter, I got wet. And oh, that box of cereal, let’s just say that I hope the fish liked Rice Crispees. The rest of the treck home was uneventful until I tried to sneak in through the shed entrance.

My uncle was still out looking for me so my Mother and Grandmother were my welcoming committee.  In my home there existed a pecking order for meting out discipline. When my Mother was home, all others took a back seat. My Mother was never one to use words to justify situations like I found myself in now. Punishment was arrived at without any preamble or discussion on my part, even if I felt the level of discipline did not necessarily fit the crime. Plea bargaining was not an option. The instrument of punishment was arrived at quickly and without allowing for any discussion or defence – a switch. And to add a level of pain, I had to cut it from the nearest alder bush.

Usually a hand or belt was all that was needed, but this was a crime of the highest order in my Mother’s mind. In my own I knew that I would be punished at the extreme level. I knew that even as I ventured fourth. Was I taunting her or just testing my own mettle? Analysing her choice of weapons was not on my mind at that moment. Would I now as a father do the same to any of my children? No. My Mother had over the years since her divorce turned into a bitter and angry person. Looking back now, I really believe she hated herself for that, and by beating me she was possibly purging herself of some of that pain.

The welts on my back did of course heal and fade; The memory, not as easily justified. Many years later I was able to forgive, but I have never forgotten. Did the punishment fit the crime? The answer to that I will leave up to you, dear reader.

 

Adventure

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My Three Moms

In keeping with Mother’s Day being just around the corner, I thought I would write about three ladies, whom I grew to admire,  all for different reasons, and who have played a large part in my life.

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My Grandmother, on my Mother’s side was born  in 1893 in Lutes Mountain, New Brunswick. In my very early years, in a small village in Québec, I remember her as a kind and gentle lady. I guess you could describe her as the family matriarch. She pretty much ran the house. She looked after the farm animals, did just about all the cooking and baking, as the others were away at work all day or all week. She was always my ‘at home Mom’ while my Mother was in Montreal working.

She was always there when I “hurt” myself, with a quick fix and a sympathetic hug. But when I misbehaved, she would just scold me and threaten to tell my Mother when she got home, but by then she would forget, or did she really? Our entertainment  was the radio, piano or playing cards. It seemed the only game she new was cribbage, and I was always the elected opponent; and I always lost! When not in the barn, she kept herself busy in the kitchen, either cooking, baking or canning. Is it possible that maybe this is where my love for the magic that comes from the kitchen started?

At that time in my life she was really my first ‘mom’. I suspect she played a bigger role in my life than I was to ever realize. She passed away in 1959 of a heart attack. I regret not getting to know her better as I grew into my later teenage years. Why do these thoughts always seem to come too late? She was a warm, gentle and  caring person. She won me over. I think it was her smile.

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The second lady in my life, and maybe I should have considered her my first, was my Mother. Born in 1917 in Montreal, first of three children. She had a great work ethic, as shown by her grades, her drive and ambition. Her family was not well off as she entered the workforce at the end of the depression, but determination and tenacity paid off.  Divorced very early on in her marriage, due to the fact my Father was running around, she unfortunately developed a very bitter and condemning attitude towards males in general. The telling outcome of this is it also turned her into a overbearing and critical person.

As I matured, and got to understand her better, appreciating her take on life, I got to recognize and maybe feel some of the turmoil my Mom was dealing with.  But that burden did not slow her down. She was a hard worker, no job or task was beneath her. Her drive was to be respected. Despite her bouts of anger and impatience, she still had a softer side. As she moved into her senior years, I could see her mellowing, but just a little bit!

I feel that we became a lot closer  when she had to enter a retirement home, and a lot of the responsibility of looking after her fell to me. It was during this period that I realized just how helpless she had become,  how little could be done about it, and how inadequate  it made me feel.  But never the less, she soldiered on. In her last few years she no longer knew who I was; had to wear diapers, and her food was rendered to mush. Life had brought her full cycle. My visits were very painful. Mercifully, she passed away in her 90th year, battling to the end. Despite the demons that she had to live with, I have to admire her for her strength, determination and a ‘get out of my way I have a job to do with no guff from anybody’ approach. I wonder how much of all that has rubbed off on me.

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The third lady of influence is my mother -in-law. Though her oldest daughter and I are no longer together, I cannot dismiss the impression she has had on me. The daughter of an Irish immigrant, she loved conversation, especially the telling of stories. They were always the highlight of our visits with her. She raised ten children, three girls, seven boys in a small two bedroom house. She was always eager for company.

And what a wonderful sense of humour. Very seldom down, and always wanting to do something during a visit, generally a trip to her favourite restaurant. I am always impressed by her kindness and generosity, and regard to me as if I were one of her sons. Over the years I developed an utmost admiration and respect for this lady. She too endured hardship in her life, but at 92 she harbours no ill feelings towards anyone. Always ready with a smile and a hug. There are a lot of, lets just say, not so great mother-in-laws out there, but I feel that I have been blessed with mine. A true emerald of the Isle.

Three ladies, three stories, three different memories,  all garnering my
Admiration. On May 8th, take the time to honor your Mom, if not in person, then in memory.