Eulogy for Our Mother

On a cold, blustery day in late November, 1932, my grandmother gave birth to her third child…her first daughter, Connie. She would later be joined by a sister, Lorraine and two little brothers, Pete and Philip, but that was just the beginning of my mother’s story.

I’ve always thought our mother had an interesting life. As young children in the late 1930s, our mother and her two older brothers saw an airship… a durgible … fly over Brier Island on their way home from school one day. According to Mom, none of them knew what it was, but from radio broadcasts the boys knew there was a war on. I remember my mother telling me that she wasn’t afraid…just very curious. Until…with fear written across their faces, her brothers each grabbed one of her hands and yelled in unison “RUN CON!”

Countless hurricanes…like Hazel in 1954…made my mother fearful of storms, but especially electrical storms, like the one we had last night as a matter of fact. Especially after our next door neighbours’ house, Ace & Arlene McDormand’s, was hit by lightening and burnt to the ground. After that, every time there was an electrical storm, our mother would wake us from a sound, peaceful sleep in the midst of such storms and herd us into the family car to sit …on rubber tires which kept us grounded… surrounded by weak trunked willow trees along the driveway, and low slung power lines…until the storm…or at least the lightening had moved across the bay to terrorize the poor folk over at Meteghan and along the French shore.

When our father passed away, in 1975, our mother was left a young widow at 43 with a 10 year old still at home, the rest of us out on our own by then. Mom took over as lightkeeper at Northern Point, becoming one of the few female lighkeepers in Nova Scotia’s history. That was where mom, and our youngest sister Jacquie, were when, a few months later, the 1976 Groundhog Day storm hit and decimated Southwest Nova, including much of Westport’s waterfront. I realized then that my mother was stronger than I’d ever thought. When she was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer years later, I got to really see her courage up close.

We all loved our Dad, but when Mom married John, we were all very happy. For starters we were glad there was finally someone in the house that could cook! Well, to be fair, she made the best fried haddock I’ve ever eaten, and great donuts…not as good as Uncle Pete’s…but they were good. John was a blessing in our lives but especially in Mom’s. When he passed away I worried how she would manage, but she was a resilient woman from strong stock. She mentioned to my husband Ron one day how unlucky she was. He asked why and she replied, well, I’ve buried two husbands. To which my optimistic sweetheart replied…Connie…you’re the lucky one! You’re the one still here!

Our Mom was quite an animal lover, although she’d seldom admit it. The proof was in the number of cats,dogs and even rabbits we had as kids. When Ron and I were moving to the NWT the summer of 1986, we had a 7 year old Golden Retriever, named Snooki. Well Snooki hated Nova Scotia winters, so we couldn’t image that she’d ever survive an Inuvik winter! So, a dear friend of ours, who happened to be a lawyer in Digby at the time, volunteered to take Snook. She knew the dog well and their love and admiration was mutual. When I mentioned this to my mother, she lost it! As the saying goes, she went up one side of me and down the other. Who did I think I was giving that dog to a complete stranger?! Not as long as she lived and breathed! Why, she didn’t care if our friend was a lawyer or a judge! She’d go to court for custody of that dog! My mother and John got the dog. And that dog had the best life I could have ever imagined! We eventually referred to Snooki as the square dog, as they fed her so much she grew as wide as she was high. She lived until she was over 16 years old, and was greatly loved by those two people.

Mom loved playing cards…rook, canasta, and rummy were favourites. She also really enjoyed rumoli, and later skip bo…and crib….always there was crib. She never let any of us win. Ever. If we beat her, it was fair and square…or perhaps a fluke. And if we missed a right jack, or a run, she’d grab it without hesitation. Her theory was she wasn’t doing us any favours or teaching us any life lessons by letting us win…even if it was only at a game of go fish.

Our mother was fanatical about housework when we three older daughters were young. We used to hope she’d go visiting once our chores were assigned rather than hovering over us. Her four oldest grandchildren…the original four they call themselves…will tell you that they were never, ever allowed to have food in Gram’s living room! Never! Then, years later when the next six came along, Gram’s rules went out the window….cheesie stained fingers and spilled glasses of koolaid made me wonder “who are you and what have you done with my mother?!” I guess we all mellow with age.

No matter where I lived…BC, Newfoundland, Digby, the North….whenever I came back to visit, I’d walk in Mom’s door, grab her and waltz her around the kitchen singing Tennessee Waltz, or some such golden oldie. Mom would go along for a minute, then …she’d dig her heels in, drop my hand, look at me and….every single time ….utter the same words. Darn fool. You’re just like your father. Except Dad had a beautiful voice! Protests or not, I think a part of her secretly enjoyed those dances. Or at least I like to tell myself she did.

Our Mother had a strong faith, and though I saw it waiver at various times of hardship and heartbreak over the years, I don’t think it ever broke. I remember one day after her stroke, I found her crying at the kitchen table. I put my arms around her and said, Mom, what’s wrong? Through sobs she said “I don’t remember how to pray.” I got her jacket and shoes and said, come on, get dressed, we’re going to fix that right now. I drove her down to Phil and Gracie’s and took her in…her face still tear stained. I looked at Phil and said,we need your help…Mom has forgotten how to pray…and the 3 of us sat there and prayed for and with Mom until her face told me she was once again content and in peace.

A mother daughter relationship is as complex as any on earth. Connie was a lot of things to many people, daughter, sister, wife, friend, Gram, Great Grammie, Great Grammie two ferries. But to the four of us she was Mom. Like all of us she was human. She made mistakes, like we all do, but there is no doubt that she loved each and every one of us. The greatest gift…besides life…that my Mother gave me were three little sisters, now all grown…strong beautiful women in their own right. Each of us different. Each of us unique. Each of us a part of our father and our mother. Mostly, each of us, our own person. On April 15, the four of us became orphans. Which is the order of things. The circle of life as it is meant to be.

And I know that as much as our mother loved everyone of us left behind, and those who had gone before, and as one of my sisters said, Dad and John were both there to take an arm and walk her through those pearly gates, our mother would have dropped their arms once over the threshold and walked right into the waiting arms of her mother…who I believe was her greatest love of all.

In loving memory of my mother, Connie (Welch) Bisson November 24, 1932 – April 15, 2019 R.I.P. Mom

A Love Affair with my Husband

images“So you’re her.” Three words, uttered softly, but delivered with utter scorn. The hair on the back of my neck rose as I swivelled around and met the eyes of the person I had felt staring at me.

Grasping each side of the casing with a meaty hand, legs spread wide, her girth filled the door frame to my office. I swallowed. Hard. I had known this day would come eventually, but my office? Located on the second floor of the Hamlet building, other than storage, mine was the only room up there. Me, the only person.


She didn’t move. I stood…maybe that would balance things out. I had a good 4 inches on her in height. Trying to remain calm, I asked if I could help her. “No.” was her clipped reply. “I just wanted to see what I was up against.” And she turned and was gone…as quickly and silently as she had appeared.

I sat back down as I felt beads of sweat trickle down my armpits. So much for antiperspirant.

I had heard about her for years. Tough as nails; stronger than most men; a good heart; a fighter; all muscle. Those were a few of the ways my husband had described Lilly* after his many encounters with her.

They had met years prior, in another northern community. My husband, a Mountie, was working when she was brought into the RCMP Detachment cells after being arrested for starting…and ending.. a fight at the bar across the street. The two officers that lead her in were having difficulty getting Lilly into the cell. Hands grasping either side of the cell door and legs spread, feet firmly planted, she wasn’t moving. Ron ducked under her arm, stepped into the cell and said, “Come on Lilly. Come in for me.” Well…she took that as an invitation…and released her grasp and stepped quickly into the cell. Thankfully not before my husband, even quicker, ducked out and slammed the door. I think for Lilly, it was love at first sight.

Each time she was arrested, which was often, she’d ask for Ron….demanding his presence whether he was working or not. It was a challenge for the other members to get her to stop fighting them and get in the police vehicle or cell. One night while trying to arrest her without a fight, she looked at my husband and his partner and said “I’ve never hit a woman, but a man is another fucking thing.” She never swung at Ron though.

Years later when we moved to her home community, and after her dropping in to ‘meet’ me, the phone calls started. At least three nights a week, the phone would ring, I’d answer it and it would be Lilly wanting to speak with “Sarge”. Many a night “Sarge” would be out on another call. It was the busiest detachment we’d been at, and the most violent. Seven members to police a community of just over 900 people.

She had several ‘pet’ names for me, suffice it to say, none of them flattering. Midnight, 2am, 3:45am…didn’t matter. When Lilly got in the bottle, and often in a fight, she’d call “Sarge”…often just to talk. And often, after passing the phone to him, he would lay in bed and talk Lilly off whatever cliff she was on. An hour, 20 minutes…once over 2 1/2 hours, he would patiently lay there in bed talking her through her demons, all the while I laid beside him fuming at another sleepless night because of the other woman in my husband’s life.16109918764_6a0214d2c2_b

Often, as I mentioned, “Sarge” would be out on another call when Lilly phoned. I’d ask if it was an emergency, did she want me to call another ‘cop’ for her, was she in danger, had she hurt someone, had she hurt herself….and so we danced. Over the phone. Me trying to be as patient and understanding as my ‘social worker’ husband, all the while getting more and more short tempered. Lilly, getting more and more agitated and verbally abusive.

One night, after going in circles with her for what seemed like hours, and her threatening to kill herself if “Sarge” didn’t call her, in anger I shouted “DO YOU WANT ME TO LOAD THE DAMN GUN OR SHARPEN THE KNIFE?” Not my finest hour.


As the receiver slammed in my ear, I was instantly regretful…and terrified. What if Lilly DID kill herself? I would forever live with the fact that  perhaps I had somehow encouraged her. I immediately called Ron. After calming me, he went to find Lilly. And took her to jail…where she wanted to be. We both slept knowing she’d make it safely through another night. I never lost patience again with her regardless of how frustrated I became. I finally realized that Lilly, like many of the people that crossed our paths, was dealing with demons that we could never understand. A lesser person may have succumbed, but not Lilly. She fought them with every breath…and drink… she took.

Weeks before her youngest son’s wedding, Lilly had talked to Ron and told him that she was making him a promise. She was NOT going to drink at her son’s wedding. That way, she said,  she was sure she’d stay out of trouble and not ruin his big day. The best laid plans.

It was a Saturday night, about 11pm. The phone rang. It was Lilly. Ron was home but not on duty. He just said “Oh Lilly. You promised.” Not accusatory, not judgemental. Just sad. He got up, put his uniform on and left the house. I waited for him to come home. Hours later when he finally got home, he started to laugh. You know that old saying, you may as well laugh as cry? Well, this was one of those times.

The wedding had gone without a hitch, but a couple of hours into the reception, with several drinks in her…and most everyone else, Lilly’s sons got into a scrap. All three of them. With each other. Lilly reacted and jumped into the frey…cold cocking all three of her boys, including the groom! “They pissed me off and ruined the day” was her explanation to “Sarge” when he asked her why she’d done such a thing.

We both have many  Lilly stories, Ron more than me. From that very first moment, these two people, with such extremely different lives, felt a kinship, a bond of caring and respect. It had nothing to do with anything more than the fact that each had empathy for the other.

Regale_Trumpet_BurpeeA few years ago, we were saddened when we learned that Lilly passed away. Odd, but even after all the hours I spent with her on the phone over the years, I never saw her again after that one day that she stood in my office door eyeing up her competition. But her memory lives on as part of our collective family history, for in a strange and wonderful way, that’s what she became. Part of our family history. She caused us many a sleepless night, but most of all she made us laugh. Rest in peace Lilly.

* Lilly is not her real name, and it’s out of respect for her and her family that the two communities aren’t named in this post.

Heating things up

“You know, I’d be able to brag about you more if we didn’t buy our firewood already split.”

One of my ‘granddogs’, Kali, helping me gather brush after limbing trees.

It was -32C and I had just come in from changing the oil in the generator and topping up the batteries that store our solar energy. I was on my way to the control panel in our laundry room to force a bulk charge so I could test them in a few hours to see if I needed to equalize before I left for a trip to see my Mother who lives back east.

I stopped, looked at my sweetheart who had just spoken those words and started to laugh. “Nutbar” was my retort as I continued down the hall.

A few years ago, we had decided to buy our firewood for the cabin. When we checked on pricing, we found that for an extra $25, we could buy it split. It was a no brainer. And so, as we listened to people joke about ‘buying wood to take out to the woods’, we coughed up the $350 it cost for a cord of split firewood.

The first year we owned the cabin, we had to remove the old wood stove. The bottom of the firebox was so thin, hot embers would fall through onto the piece of metal it sat on. Plus, no one would insure us as it wasn’t…and couldn’t be, WETT certified. WETT stands for Wood Energy Technology Transfer, and refers to an inspection required for insurance purposes for all wood burning appliances. The inspector must be certified and will inspect your appliance to ensure it is safe to use and that it has been properly installed, generally by a licensed technician.

So, that first year, we installed a wall mounted, direct vent propane furnace. With little insulation, plexi glass windows and the propane heat, we struggled to heat the place up each Friday night and keep the place warm enough to use each weekend. We’d run our two table top propane heaters, turn on and open the oven and stay in our snow pants, parka’s and big boots until things thawed and it was warm enough for fleece jackets and flannel lined jeans! Boots generally remained on until bedtime.

Duck Fred!
Ron felling two rotten birch trees on the property. Birch tend to rot from the top down and these two posed a threat of hitting the cabin if they fell during a storm, so, down they came. Notice his full PPE! (Personal protective equipment)

The following year, deciding we needed more space, and better heat…  we closed in the screen porch and turned it into a living room. We insulated the walls and installed real windows…hand me downs from our accountant who had just replaced all the windows in her house. In addition, we installed two very heavy sets of old wooden framed patio doors that we picked up from the side of a street where they had been set out for the garbage. I just happened to be sick the day they went in so our older daughter and her Dad installed them. Years later when Ron and I removed one set, I was shocked at the weight and surprised that the two of them had managed the installation on their own!

Once we had the room closed in, we bought a new wood stove and brought it out. A beautiful stove, a Vermont Castings Defiant.

Our beautiful, efficient wood stove. We put a new one in the cabin the year we sold it, and also installed the same model in our current home. I cook on it all winter and love the ease, and lessened mess, of the top load.

Top load, fireplace screen and catalytic converter … it was perfect. And heavy. And expensive. But then we had to have it installed by the company we purchased it from…and buy the stove pipe and chimney. At the end of the process we were $5000 poorer, but kept our insurance in place.

When we bought the cabin, there were two big stacks of logs, all tarped, on the property. The spring we installed the stove, we built a couple of sawhorses and bucked up one of the piles but then realized a lot had to be split as well. Growing up using wood and an oil drip stove for heat, I knew how to split wood. I also knew that would be a far easier job in the winter, so we left it and the following winter each time we were at the cabin, we would both haul out the axes and split some of the wood. At  -20C  a light tap makes for easy splitting. The frost gets in the wood and makes it almost brittle to the fine honed edge of an ax. At 30 below it’s even faster…and you stay warm doing it!

Gathering deadfall for firewood


Once we had gone through all the wood in those piles, it was time to get our own firewood. Where we live, it is illegal to cut wood without a permit. And, even with a permit, you have to drive over an hour to get to an area designated in your permit. We did that – once. After that I checked, and found that we could gather deadfall, or cut dead standing on our lease, so that is what we did. We’d take the snow machines out in the spring and find dead felled trees along and off the many snowmobile trails. We’d get as close as we could with the machines and then often hike thigh high through snow to limb and cut up a fallen tree with the chainsaws into five and six foot lengths. Then we’d drag them back to the machines and roll them into the toboggans and pull them back to the cabin where we’d stack them and let them sit until fall when we’d start the process of once again cutting and splitting.

Eventually, we bought a small electric wood splitter that was on sale at Canadian Tire. We found it would handle up to about a 12 in log without issue, and since most of the trees we found were smaller than that, splitting wasn’t an issue. We’d set it up beside the lake so we didn’t have to pull the logs to the top of our ridge, and then we’d bring down the small generator to run the thing. We still have that same splitter all these years later. We found we never needed the big gas powered splitters that can cost nearly $2000! This little one was a tenth of that price.

Gramma wood
Our first woodsheds, filled with birch which we learned burns fast and hot, so we began to mix the hardwood with softwood which provides a longer burn and more even heat. We seldom burn hardwood anymore.

Of course, the other thing we were missing was a woodshed to store the wood once we had it split. Many people don’t bother and just let their firewood season in a pile or stack outside, but given our winters and snow, we wanted it undercover. Keeping budget in mind, and difficulty in getting things to our little cabin, we tried to recycle as much as we could. When we torn off the old rotting deck and steps, we salvaged as much of the lumber as we could, the rest we hauled to the dump. We couldn’t burn it as it had been painted with oil paint. Luckily, we had just enough 2×4 boards to frame two rudimentary woodsheds…that were just that…lean to frames. We had some old plywood scraps and a piece of corrugated metal we’d found on the side of the road, so we used all of that for the roof on each shed. The second year we had them we hung a tarp on the northeast side to help keep the snow off but those little scrap sheds served us well for almost 12 years!

The frame of our new combo generator/woodshed


In 2013, when we installed the solar system, we built a three room shed, 20 feet long by 8 feet deep. In the centre we made a generator room which we insulated and installed a double propane light for heat. It was all we needed to keep the generator warm enough to start. On either side was a 7 x 8 foot woodshed. Because of the height, we could squeeze almost 4 cords of wood into each woodshed.

Me wearing about 4 layers of clothing. My sister and I had just completed hauling 6 cord of wood up the hill and stacking it in the woodsheds. We were tired, sore, filthy and silly.

At our current home, we also installed a propane stove for shoulder seasons when a wood fire would drive you out of the house. It also provides peace of mind on days when neither of us can be home to stoke the wood stove, and ensures the house won’t freeze up if the fire goes out before we get home.

Our propane stove, at our current home, provides back up heat and comfort on chilly spring and autumn days when a wood fire would be too hot.


We have off grid friends that use wood, propane, oil, or wood pellets….or a combination. For us, propane makes the most sense as a supplementary heat source. Propane also runs our on demand hot water heater, our kitchen stove and our back up generator.  It’s really about personal preference, cost and access. With the type of winters we have in Canada’s north, the length of them, and the fact that we live off grid, having reliable heat is critical to being comfortable…and safe.

Today, we still buy our wood split, but we also continue to harvest deadfall and enjoy the warmth of a wood fire. And my sweetheart can  brag about all he does. … because it’s a lot.