Impressions of “Six Feet Under”

Source: Impressions of “Six Feet Under”

About Trustcake

About Trustcake.

Aletha

For three years, I lived with my parents and younger brother and sister on a concession road outside of Aylmer, now called “College Line.” As I am nostalgic from time to time, I walked that road a few summers back, accompanied by one of my daughters. The pines along the long lane of our former landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Fuller, were gone. Their apple orchard, where I’d spent many happy hours, was razed and replaced by a field. The shabby little red insul-bricked house we’d rented had been sided white, and was occupied by a Mennonite family. Their children followed us happily up the lane and couldn’t speak a word of English. The lilac bush cluster I’d made forts in was still there, and so was the old barn. Even the little cold house, half-buried in the ground, was still standing. Mr. Fuller used to go in during the winter and get apples for my brother and I. They stayed fresh in there all year long.
Further up the road stood the Bradts’ yellow-bricked farmhouse, flanked by the pretty white house Mr. Bradt’s parents had occupied when I knew the family in the 1960’s. We swung out from the road and ventured around the back way towards the house. I knew that Aletha and Ron still lived there. I hoped that I might be able to exchange a hello with Mrs. Bradt.
Aletha Bradt was my second mom for those three years when we lived on that concession. There is no better way to describe it. That relationship wasn’t unique to me. Any kid that walked up her lane became part of her family. It wasn’t like I was special. Everyone was special. Now, it wasn’t like Aletha was some sweet, fluttering fairy-godmother type, spreading glitter and rainbows wherever she went. She was tough and she was loud and she meant business. Any kid in her house toed the line, or they were firmly reminded of “the board of education” she kept hanging in plain view on the kitchen wall. I think it was an old bread board. She used it for paddling and did not discriminate by last names. That was just a technicality. My younger brother, I believe, had some education administered to his back end by Aletha on one occasion. Aletha had four children of her own. They were well-fed, well-worked, and well-loved. It wasn’t that doe-eyed, sweet and tender kind of love. It was tough love, but it was real and it was tangible. I know, because I felt it. I spent a lot of time at the Bradts’ house. Aletha never opened her door and sighed, “This isn’t a good time” or “My kids can’t play with you right now.” That isn’t to say she might not push a broom into your hand, or send you out to the garden to pick a row of beans. I spent many an hour with a feather duster in the Bradts’ house. I didn’t mind. It was part and parcel of being a part of Aletha’s family. Being an honorary Bradt also meant a bowl full of mashed potatoes, corn and hotdogs all slathered in ketchup at the noon meal and all the butter tarts you wanted. (Aletha’s butter tarts! Never in my life will I expect to taste a butter tart to match hers). It meant free access to her kids’ toy room at the back of the house. It was well-stocked and always shared. It meant that I went with Aletha and her kids to Vacation Bible School at her church. It meant that I piled into her old green station wagon with her kids for picnics and swimming lessons and trips to Port Bruce for a day at the beach.
Aletha was forthright, and at times, formidable, but I never stammered in her presence or feared an unexpected flare of anger or annoyance. What you saw was what you got. She was a steadfast and predictable, and she took you exactly as you were. She was a warrior in her kitchen, a wizard of the stove, sink and freezer. She was always baking or canning. There were more freezers in her house than I could count.
On that walk a few summers back, as we came up from the back towards the house, I saw that old green station wagon, sagging in the long grass, amongst all the other old hulks and wrecks. Ron was a farmer and old things had their uses. He hadn’t gotten rid of anything. As we came up towards the back of the house, I noticed the garage floor was filled with frolicking kittens. Aletha had always had litters of kittens bounding around in that garage. The back wall, I noticed, was flanked by freezers. And then, Aletha came out of the house and through the garage to see what we were up to.
Even though we had occasionally run into each other over the years, I was not sure that she would recognize me. I’d turned fifty at that point in time and I didn’t look too much like the six-year-old kid she’d fed almost every day. Aletha gave me the once-over with those frank eyes of hers and we had a good chin-wag with the kittens spilling around our feet. Like no time had passed at all.
She apologized for not inviting us in. Ron had been in poor health and was recovering from surgery. She was proud to tell me that she was close to eighty. Still canning, cooking, baking. I didn’t doubt that there was a plastic container stuffed with butter tarts on her counter as we spoke. I shared many of my memories with her, of those times spent in her kitchen and on her farm. Without getting mushy about it, I think I managed to convey to her how special my memories of those times were. I think she understood that I was thanking her.
That was the last time I saw her. My mom called this evening to let me know that Aletha passed away yesterday. I’ve thought of her so often over the years. It’s good to think of her now. I’ll always remember her. I think Aletha and her kitchen have made appearances in a few of my stories over the years. I didn’t realize it at the time. Aletha is a part of me.

Fire Drills, Computer Glitches and Plumbing Woes, Oh, My!

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*names have been changed!

I had plans to meet some friends for dinner this afternoon after school. I was the first one there so I ordered a Passion Fruit Martini and downed it. I don’t drink often, but I know when I need one, and today was one of those days.

Amazing what kind of havoc a simple thing like a fire drill can wreak. They did warn us in advance a few days ago, but I, being the age I am, promptly forgot, and we had about two minutes to prep the kids before the thing went off. Off we went in our line, out the coat room door, Abner and Horace still holding toys because there was no time to wrestle them out of their hands. The class did quite well, but the drill ended at the recess bell, and my poor line got bombarded by the big kids who’d long since gone back into the school and then poured out the doors and barreled out to the equipment for their recess. By the time my charges were settled in their chairs to eat, we were ten minutes behind schedule. I had them on my own a few minutes later (the fire drill erased ten minutes of my twenty minute break) for Quiet Time. Some glitch in the system rendered my smart board computer unusable all day, so there was no calm-down show available for the children to enjoy while they relaxed on the carpet. I got them settled as well as I could with some gentle music, but a lot of the kids were still eating, due to the late start of their lunch. There was still quite a mess from centre time (we had to abandon tidy-up for the fire alarm). Then, the plumbing system went down. Our classroom, the one backing up to ours, and the staff washroom toilets–all not flushing. We got tidied up for outdoor play, got all the kids into their outside shoes and helped them pack their backpacks, finally got out there, and then it started to rain, so we had to herd them all back in. Horace had one crying jag/tantrum after the next, and by the time his mother was there to pick him up, I had to carry him out the door, wailing, because he refused to go out. Finally, all the kids were gone except for Abner. I took him to the office ten minutes later, as his mother had still not materialized, where I left him screaming at the top of his lungs because the dinosaur book he’d read there once was nowhere to be seen. My thought was that the office needed to hear one of his “scream-like-it’s-a-murder-in-progress” rages and get a little taste of what we go through numerous times in the course of a typical day.
I’m wishing I had the ingredients for another one of those martinis, but the sad news is, I don’t. There is one piece of good news. No one filled their drawers today, which was fortunate, due to the state of the plumbing in our little corner of Paradise.

Eight Days East: Halifax

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After a grueling drive of almost six hours from Louisbourg, we arrived in Halifax for the last three days of our trip. We checked into an old hotel on Barrington Street called “The Waverley.” Our room was at the very top, under the roof. No elevator. Really old Victorian furniture, chandeliers in the lobby, and portraits on the walls of long-forgotten people, whose eyes followed us as we climbed the stairs. I thought for sure the place was haunted, but I didn’t glimpse any ghosts during our stay. Our room had sloped ceilings, old wallpaper, and a large, dark wardrobe, as well as a bed with a tall, creepy headboard. I really liked “The Waverley.” We had a nice meal at a nearby pub that first evening, and retired for the night.

The next morning, the four of us walked down to the boardwalk. I literally mean “down,” as the streets were very hilly and steep, leading down to the harbour. I was enthralled with the harbour. I loved the pretty sailboats moored at the docks. I loved the massive ocean liner further out in the harbour, its deep, resonating horn as it headed out to sea. I loved all the stores and the restaurants lining the boardwalk, the fountain where little children played with happy squeals. I loved the fresh, salty breeze coming off the water. The boardwalk was just a happy, relaxed place to be.

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I was very keen to see Pier 21, as my mother and her family had arrived there in 1950, fresh off the boat from Holland. My mom was only seven years old at the time. We visited the museum there, but there was little information they could give us, as there are privacy rules for immigrants arriving after 1935. Mom has lots of info any way. Really, it was great just to see the place and have a little taste of my history and the beginnings of my family in Canada. Dad came in 1949 with his family, but they landed further up in Quebec.

By this time, our daughter and her boyfriend were en route to Halifax themselves. They had procured a place for six weeks so that my daughter’s boyfriend could continue his research on wind turbines for his PhD. When I plugged their new address into my phone, Siri showed me that it was a two-minute walk from the hotel to their front door. We went and took pictures of the outside to send them, as they had rented the place sight unseen.

That night, we had dinner at “The Five Fishermen.” In its former life, the restaurant had been a mortuary. There were many ghost sightings at this place over the years, all documented in their pamphlet. When the Titanic sank in 1912, some of the recovered bodies were brought into Halifax. Even in death, the class structure was quite apparent. The wealthiest corpses were brought to the site of “The Five Fishermen.” We ate dinner under the same roof where John Jacob Astor had been laid out until his family came to gather his remains.

That night, we visited briefly with my daughter and her boyfriend, who had finally arrived after their fifteen-hour drive (compared to a two-hour flight, wowsers…)

The next day, sufficiently recovered from the hours of driving we’d endured after Louisbourg, we headed out to Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg. I was excited to see the rugged beauty of Peggy’s Cove, but when we arrived there, I realized that there were hundreds of others who equally shared my enthusiasm. The famous rocks of Peggy’s Cove were swarming with people; the place was like a gigantic ant hill. The parking lot was crammed with tour buses, an endless flow of people streaming into the village, climbing up towards the pretty red and white lighthouse. It would have been an awesome place to sit, perched on the rocks and looking out over the ocean, sketching the little houses and docks and overturned boats and piles of rope…I realized as I looked around that I’d seen some of these views before. My Oma loved to make landscapes of places like Peggy’s Cove, and she must’ve copied some of her oils from pictures she’d seen of the place. It was terribly selfish of me to wish I could have Peggy’s Cove to myself. It’s one of those world-famous views (like Stonehenge, also plagued with multitudes of tourists) that lose all their ambiance when people invade.

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Lunenburg was also lovely and picture-esque, and without all the hoards of people. The streets were extremely hilly; in fact, there were times when I could have used a ski lift to get up them. The houses with their various colours and rainbow trims were a pleasure for the eyes. I think my favourite meal of the trip was the seafood au gratin we had down by the water in a nice little restaurant. We also visited a textile art gallery of works by Laurie Swim. Her pieces were so beautiful; I almost wept, just looking at them. My sister-in-law has a passion for fabric art, and after this visit, I got that.

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The four of us took my daughter and her boyfriend out for dinner at The Docks (an enormous restaurant off the boardwalk) on that last night. I had my first oyster, and I have to say, it was a better experience than the lobster one! After that, we walked up to this truly ancient and creepy cemetery down the road from the hotel, and walked around in there, trying to decipher the faded letters on the blackened stones. There were graves in there that were more than 300 years old.

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Later that night, I crept off with my daughter and her boyfriend and we wandered the boardwalk in the darkness and fog, listening to the creepy foghorn moaning across the water, climbing down to a wobbly dock and putting our toes in the Atlantic. We took pictures under the Pier 21 sign for my mom’s scrapbook. I really loved that experience.

The next day, it was time to head home. First, however, I had a chance to explore the grounds of Dalhousie as we set about finding some EastCoast Lifestyle shirts to bring home for my son. Hot commodity, according to my daughter. A really beautiful campus, with its unique brown-stoned buildings.

Now, we are back in Ontario, and I’m getting texts from my daughter about foggy nights on the boardwalk and endless seafood…

What I saw of the east coast was ruggedly beautiful and captivating; my experience there was nothing but wonderful, and the people are as friendly as they are often reputed to be. I would go back in a heartbeat. I think I’d even have a nice (free) couch to sleep on…

Eight Days East: Louisbourg

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Although the town of Louisbourg wasn’t too alluring, the fortress nearby certainly afforded a lot of colour to the place. We bought our tickets and a bus took us up into the fortress area.

I am no history expert, but this is the bare bones of Louisbourg’s story…

It was built by the French in the beginnings of Canada’s times, one of two fortresses built to hold France’s claim to the new land (the other was in Quebec). Louisbourg was not a fort with just a military function, but a fortress town that housed an entire community of families and businessmen, as well as all the military components. It was taken by the British twice. Although the fortress had strong protection from attack by sea, it was vulnerable to land attacks, and this is how the British won it, both times. By the time the 1960’s came along, the place was rubble and foundations, but the central part of the fortress was painstakingly rebuilt over the next two decades on the original foundations and became a national park. The staff there dress in the period costume of 1744 and “live” that time period. The houses are furnished, the gardens are planted in original formations, authentic dances and songs are performed in the streets. Establishments welcoming the wealthy have signs with print painted on them, and the peasants’ establishments have only the benefit of a symbol, as those poor people did not know how to read. My husband’s brother and his wife gravitated to the fancier establishment for lunch, but my husband and I thought we would sample the peasant life, and we headed into the lowbrow tavern for a midday meal. Serving girls in long, heavy dresses and with their apron tops pinned to their blouses directed us to rough tables, where strangers crowded in together. We were given large cloths to tie around our necks. The heavy spoons we were given were to serve us for the entire meal. We had vegetable soup in metal bowls, and shared a plate of bread baked on the fortress’s premises and hunks of white cheese. Our apple juice was served in heavy metal cups. We chatted with the couple across the table from us. They were from Victoria, a young couple with a veterinary clinic. (These brief opportunities to connect to other people are really the highlight of traveling, for me). We were really happy to have had this authentic experience at the fortress.

Interesting fact: The French living in the fortress at the time did not consume tomatoes. None grow there in the gardens. The reason for this is that they were considered poisonous. It was actually the pewter dishes reacting with the acidity of the tomatoes that made the people sicken and die of lead poisoning.

While in the fortress, we saw a musket and canon-firing demonstration, complete with soldiers marching to the fife and drum. The boom of the canon firing was absolutely massive; I could feel it echoing in my chest cavity, and everyone jumped. We toured the soldier’s barracks and the governor’s apartments, all furnished to the last detail, looking as though its occupants had just left the room for a few minutes. A lady and gentleman in the street were having a conversation about being sold unsalted cod, and the lady didn’t know what she was possibly going to do with all that fresh fish before it started to rot. The man turned to us and tried to enlist our help in procuring some salt for them. A lady in a kitchen showed us all the fancy gadgetry of the time, including a kind of clock-works system that turned the spit over a fireplace. She explained that the lady of the house didn’t like living there, and hightailed it back to France. Her husband followed her there from time to time, but at times of war, he had to stay at the fortress. When I nodded and said, “Yes, I guess he’d be stuck here,” she puffed up and roared, “I beg your pardon!?” It was quite hilarious when she warned the other occupants of the house that “this lady is a little evil.”

We found time near the end of our visit to walk the paths back to the ocean-front. As we walked, we were able to see the stone foundations of some of the other buildings that had not been rebuilt in the reconstruction–a convent and a monastery, just pits and rock and long grasses growing inside. Only a fraction of the fortress had been restored, and it must have cost an unbelievable amount to do even that, considering the attention to historical detail and the incredible accuracy.

It would have taken a good two days to tour every aspect of the fortress, so I feel like we had just a taste. This walk through history was well-worth taking. So many story possibilities there…I can’t let myself think about it; I have too many on the back burner already.

Eight Days East: Into Cape Breton

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When we left Prince Edward Island, via the ferry this time, we stopped in Pictou, Nova Scotia, for the night. We stayed in a very charming bed and breakfast establishment called “The Evening Sail.” We had an upper room (named “Jacob’s Dory”) beneath sloping ceilings, decorated charmingly in a nautical theme to the last detail. If we’d planned to stay a few days, we would have used the completely outfitted kitchen. It was one of those places where you could imagine just moving in and staying for a long time. Since we were on our way to the next adventure, we went to a nearby camping lodge for a meal, and then climbed up to our room under the eaves to enjoy a good sleep. The next morning, many travellers met in the common dining area to enjoy a great breakfast and some pleasant conversation. The baked goods were delectable, and we were all given ziplock bags to fill and take along with us for later. That was such a lovely touch.

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From Pictou, we headed to the Canso Causeway to get over into Cape Breton for the next phase of our journey. Cape Breton was a veritable feast for the eyes…the Highlands, trailing down from the Appalachians, rose high and green above us, and below them, pristine stretches of lakes and rivers and an inland fjord, all edged with hills of vast pine forests. We stopped in Baddeck for lunch, and then set out in search of the Uisage Ban Falls hiking trail. After some back-road driving, we located our destination, and set off into the woods. It was a bit of a tricky hike, as the trail was rocky and filled with roots. I must have tripped a hundred times, all of them without the humiliation of a fall. A ways in, we found a couple in there, searching for their dog, who had become separated from them. I wonder still if they ever found him. The hike to the falls took about an hour and a half. The falls were beautiful, water cutting through the rock in two levels, spilling into a pool surrounded by boulders and rock at the bottom. My husband took a pounding shower under the last level of spilling water, and then we all went back down the trail to the entrance again. We spent the remainder of the afternoon driving the Cabot Trail, enjoying the panoramic views and the rugged beauty of Cape Breton. In the evening, we arrived in Louisbourg and had a great meal at a little seafood place before retiring for the evening. Our B & B was not nearly as charming as the one in Pictou, but it was adequate and clean. We were quite excited at the prospect of visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg the following morning before our final long stretch back to Halifax.

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