I Remember You

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My Dad died today.

Well, actually my Dad died on this date 38 years ago, September 19, 1975. Four days after my 23rd birthday. He had just turned 50 years old three and a half months earlier.

Some years I weep my way through his birthday on June 2nd; some years it’s September 19th that causes me the greatest pain. Others, it is near Christmas, his favourite time of year. But mostly, I just miss him.

I don’t think of him everyday anymore, but when I do I most often think of him with joy, and love….not tears.

There wasn’t much left unsaid between us when he passed. We were close…buds. We talked…a lot. When I left home, we wrote letters….I still have them. One of my few real treasures. We talked about vehicles; music; boys; family ;God; life in general….and death.

My father was raised Catholic. He was excommunicated when he left and later divorced his first wife. He did his best to and tried raise their son on his own, but eventually, doing what was best, he left the child with my grandparents to raise. Years later, after marrying my mother, he joined her church. He was never a very religious man but he was spiritual and thought and talked about religion often. In my own exploration of various religions, he was the one that supported me, I remember discussing Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and other faiths with him and asking him what he thought of them. I have never forgotten his answer. He told me that he believed religions were like the spokes on a wheel and God was the hub. We were all trying to get to the hub, we were just all taking different paths on our own journey.  He encouraged me to find my own answers and seek my own truth , but I think he was secretly happy when I didn’t become Catholic. He didn’t have much use for the church that had abandoned him and his young son.

My father, Richard (Dick) Thompson, me, and my sister Corinne. Circa 1956/57
My father, Richard (Dick) Thompson, me, and my sister Corinne. Circa 1956/57

I was a tomboy growing up, and I think, subconsciously, it was so that I could do ‘guy’ stuff with my Dad. He taught me how to shoot a shotgun so that it didn’t take out my shoulder or knock me off my feet. Odd, because I don’t remember him hunting other than one time. Perhaps that once was enough. He made me a bow and arrow once and taught me how to use it…not with much accuracy, but I could hit the target.

The first time I ever hitch hiked was with my Dad. The car broke down, so we hitch hiked home. My mother was not amused.

My father was extremely musical….his whole family was. Dad never read a note of music, but he played just about every musical  instrument you can think of…all by ear. I have vivid memories of Saturday nights at our house when my parents’ friends would come over and they would play and sing the night away. Dad played several types of guitars, the accordion, a mean harmonica, organ, piano and I remember there being a violin (fiddle) and a banjo in our house, but I don’t remember him playing either although I am sure he did. How he made us giggle when he’d play a tune on a washboard, or a comb with waxed paper over it! He loved to sing and had a beautiful baritone voice. Unfortunately, I never inherited any of his musical prowess.

Dad had a keen sense of right and wrong. The lectures we would get before Hallowe’en night! ‘Don’t you dare touch any fishing gear, or anything a man earns his living with’…he’d admonish days before, knowing the 12 foot high road blocks we’d be building in the middle of the street. He was a man who was both tough and fair and somehow he managed to balance both deftly, with his family and with others.

His sense of humour was infectious….and once he got you laughing it was hard to stop.

Like many of his generation, Dad only had a grade 8 education, leaving school early to either help support their families or join the armed forces. He did both, and again like many young men, he lied about his age to join the army as a teenager. He never saw any active duty overseas during the war, but he was still a hero in my eyes as I looked, many years later, through the photos of a handsome young man in his uniform.

Richard Thompson
Richard Thompson

The man was brilliant, and hard work was his creed. If you couldn’t pay cash, you didn’t need it. That applied to cars, clothes, furniture. I was 14 when we got our first refrigerator!

Dad fished; dug clams; did odd carpentry jobs; ran boats to the US Eastern Seaboard; and he tended lighthouses as a relief keeper until he finally got a job as the main keeper. He converted an old fish shop into a garage, complete with a service pit (which flooded on high tides). There, the ever present cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, he changed the oil, fixed the brakes, cleaned the carburetors, and did all manner of other repairs on vehicles for people in the community. My father served as a Village Commissioner and volunteer Fire Chief.

He loved to dance and taught me the Round Waltz, the Charleston, Polka and many others. I taught him the Twist, the Mashed Potato and the Monkey.

This man with so little schooling taught me so much in our short lives together. Most of my cuss words are his legacy, but so too is my style of parenting and the unconditional  love I have for my children; my  joy of the Christmas season; my contentment being in nature; my work ethic; my sense of service and of giving back. He taught me that all I had to do was look around…there would always be someone that would have more, and many more that would have less: especially if I knew what really was important.

My Dad died today….or so it seems. But his spirit lives on in the faces and hearts of us, my sisters and I; his girls. No tears today Dad….just a long walk in the park with my memories.  

How Many Rolls of TP DO You use in a Year?

In hindsight it was fun, exciting, new. While I lived it, meh….not so much.

Being married to a mountie (A member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and being posted (AKA, transferred) from one small northern settlement to another was anything but dull.

We arrived in the Beaufort Delta town of Inuvik on August 3rd. On August 18th, it snowed…and I cried. It seemed the harder I cried, the more it snowed. I had been tricked. Promised a life of adventure…living where few had ever had the opportunity. Seeing the vastness of our great country and all the opportunities that the Canadian north held for me; for us. All I saw was snow.

A few weeks after we arrived, the Canadian base…and the Canex… closed. Canex,  for those who don’t know,  is a outlet for retail stores and services for members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP members have had access to those services.

Prior to closing the base, they had offered for the RCMP members to put in a ‘barge’ order from a grocery supply wholesaler in Edmonton, but rather than ship the order up the MacKenzie River by barge the next summer, they would actually fly it in on a Hercules aircraft within three weeks, prior to the final shutdown.

This seemed like a great plan given that shopping locally was extremely expensive (think $18 for a two litre jug of milk and about $13 for a 5 lb bag of potatoes) Problem was, there was one catalogue that we got for six hours per family. This ‘catalogue’ was a four inch thick photo copied listing of words and prices…no photos; not very good descriptions and vague specific information on many products. A “Box” of walnuts turned out to be a ten pound box of bulk walnuts…not packages. Oh dear…this was going to be a challenge.

Not only placing the order was a challenge. We had just driven across Canada, outfitted ourselves in northern winter garb and two preteens in school clothes and supplies. Where would we get the money for this food order that was supposed to last a year?!

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After my amazing children offered to count the squares of TP they used on each ‘go’,  (I graciously declined the offer) we had a rough calculation of how much we’d need for a year, along with boxed scalloped potatoes, canned fruit (the Franklin Expedition sprang to mind during that particular computation) , popping corn, yeast and other baking supplies. WHEW!!! What an exercise! All we could do was hope I actually knew how many packages of spaghetti I would cook in the coming months. Our order would be supplemented with fresh produce from The Bay store….not the one you are probably familiar with…the locally run grocery/drygood/build supply store Hudson’s Bay Trading Company.

Fortunately the housing we were supplied with had a storage room on the second floor specifically for the purpose of ‘barge’ orders…a walk in larder of sorts.

Off to the bank we went and took out a loan…yes a bank loan for food….for $3000. A HUGE amount of money for us now, but in 1986 that was a car! Crazy! I had surely fallen through the looking glass and my name was Alice. I couldn’t believe we were borrowing money for groceries!

Soon after, the mighty Herc engines roared overhead and the plane landed with our orders which were then transferred to an aircraft hanger.  I had already volunteered to help sort everything. Our orders were all mixed together on pallets, and needed to be sorted by family using lists they supplied that we checked against the manifest.

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I remember driving home in our Toyota Landcruiser with our $3,000 worth of groceries in the back. I felt sick to my stomach. I thought for sure we’d at least need a cube van to transport it all….but no…..it all fit in our little truck.

We did okay that first year, although by the time June arrived I was sick of popcorn and my family never wanted to see another fruit jumble cookie again. (I had ordered vast amounts of dried fruit for Christmas baking that lasted well into Canada Day weekend).  We didn’t get rickets…or tin poisoning… from the canned fruit, and those walnuts? I traded about half with other wives that had too many chocolate chips or baking beans.

Oh, and the TP? We made out just fine and never did have to use the Sears catalogue. 😉

The Dark Months Cometh

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Autumn always makes me melancholy. I find I miss those I care about more this time I year; I tend to be more pessimistic than I normally am; my energy level plummets; and my social skills go into hibernation.

Unlike many people in the Northern Hemisphere, Autumn is not my favourite season. I am a spring gal. Heck, years ago when it was the ‘in’ thing to “have your colours done”, even the consultant said I was a spring gal.

Sure,  there are things I enjoy about fall. Living in the land of the midnight sun doesn’t provide much ambience on a summer’s evening. There is something ethereal about lanterns casting their glow across the footpath; candle light wafting across the faces of friends at a dinner table; the dance of a campfire flame. For any of those things to exist, you need darkness …and fall.

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One of my favourite times of day is dusk, when you walk by homes just as darkness descends. The soft light casting shadows from windows onto the lawns and gardens outside. It’s that warm, homey….melancholy feeling that wraps me in a warm embrace as I see families gather back together after a day spent apart.

I enjoy the  ‘comfort foods’ of autumn like homemade stews and soups.

But, it’s the smell of the earth…that decaying, rotted smell; the trees shedding their leaves, standing stripped naked against the storms to come. It’s getting up in the dark….difficult for a morning person. It’s the shortening of the days; it’s the weight of heavier clothes; it’s wearing socks and coats again. It’s the lethargic feeling that I can’t shake. It’s the attraction…and the fear…of aloneness that I crave.

I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D. for short. I was diagnosed just over 20 years ago. There are varying degrees…mine is severe. S.A.D. is a type of clinically defined depression that occurs at certain times of year, mainly during winter. It can be brought on by grey cloudy days, or in my case, months of very short daylight hours and long hours of darkness. Treatments vary and can include prescription drugs and light therapy. I opt for the latter.

I struggle every day just to function. It is all I can do to pull myself out of bed, shower and brush my teeth. I would prefer to sit in a vegetative state until the warmth of the spring sun brings my body, and my spirit, back to life. I literally have to talk myself through each day.

All of this doesn’t explain my dislike of fall, as I didn’t always suffer from S.A.D. Perhaps, it is, for me, the season of death. I lost my Father in the fall. My first husband died in the fall. A dear friend, my Maid of Honour, was murdered in the fall. For me, it is the season of loss; of unplanned endings. Of great pain.  It means the darkness is coming and I never know what form that darkness will take.

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I will myself through it because as surely as I breathe, I know that spring is only six months away. It gives me strength …and hope.