“Other” – Chapter 1

hp_scanDS_712116372747“So….if you could just complete this questionnaire that would be wonderful. Just check off the boxes that apply – don’t forget to tell me what “other” means”.

I get a bit excited because “other” could mean a three-breasted cousin or a late night trip across the US border while being hidden in a trunk. “Other” could mean an inheritance that was forfeited for love or even a hidden addiction that was secretly overcome at a foreign treatment centre. “Other” could mean that my older sister hadn’t been “premature” after all or the reason why Auntie Sharon smelled like peppermints…..Peppermint Schnappes!

This is my imaginary conversation with my parents. A questionnaire that might root out some crazy in the family; sprinkle a little weirdness on the family tree; put a little fun in the dysfunction.

Why? Why would I need to do this?

My childhood has been too normal. You can’t write a book without conflict….right? This is what I have believed for years and perhaps it has been the one thing that has stood in my way.

It is my excuse.

My normal has been my albatross. I have actually felt some twisted jealousy towards those who have stories of personal or familial struggle. I think, “at least they have something to write about”.

Yes…..that does make me selfish.

I was born in the small town of Fairview, Alberta on a cold (I am assuming) December day in 1964. I was small, but not dangerously small. My mom had smoked during the pregnancy, which is a surefire way to keep the baby weight down. Don’t judge my mom….it was 1964 and everyone smoked. Even the doctor smoked DURING your prenatal consultation. Speaking of the doctor…..our family doctor and the one who delivered me and my sisters was supposedly murdered by a colleague many years later. Allegedly chopped up and tossed in the trunk – transported to an unknown location, body never to be found. (FYI….that would qualify as “other” on the questionnaire)

But, this isn’t about Dr. Snider, it is about me. The second born daughter, born 15 months after my sister Jessie. Not quite Irish Twins, but close. When I was young I told people we were 1 year apart because she was my idol, my confidante and my best friend. As I got older and more vain, I told people we were 2 years apart. This wasn’t a lie because for three months (October – December) we WERE technically 2 years apart.

Jessie and I had the run of the roost until 1969 when my sister June was born. If you are noticing a trend with the names, you are correct. I tell people, “we were the Duggar’s before the Duggar’s (with less kids)”. Jessie, Judy, and June and if that wasn’t enough, it was Jessie Louise, Judy Laine and June Lois.

From left: June, Jaki, Jessie, Judy
From left: June, Jaki, Jessie, Judy

Jaki Lin came along in 1973. Born dangerously prematurely at 26 weeks I had no clue that mom was even pregnant. Jaki was so strong! Only 2 pounds, she clung to life and was able to come home 3 months later. This was 1973 folks…..things like this didn’t happen. Babies born that small and premature didn’t survive. I remember mom coming into the house with Jaki bundled in her arms and Jaki making this weird noise. I was so excited!!!! We were getting a cat!

It is important to point out that Jaki was a perfect little thing and suffered very few aftereffects of being so premature. So……she had to take Kindergarten twice….no big deal. She just needed a little more time and has now caught up to the rest of us.

We were the Stanley girls. Four girls with names that began with “J” and middle names that began with “L”.

My father, surrounded by an excessive amount of estrogen, chose to work in the oil patch where he would be gone for days and weeks at a time. Farming during the spring and summer and hauling water for the oilfield industry in the winter became the cycle of our lives.

Work, work, work.

Left to our own devices for weeks on end, we grew extremely close to our mother.

This was my childhood. Filled with playing in the canola swaths, riding our bikes into town and straying miles away from home on a sunny afternoon with no worries, no concerns.

In 1977 at 8:30 a.m. – our lives changed.

My father: a smoker, an over-achiever and type A personality, suffered a massive coronary at 39 years of age. While mom drove us to school one morning after we missed the bus, Dad collapsed onto the floor with a crushing pain in his chest.

Mom returned home to find Dad lying on the floor with wee 3 year-old Jaki sitting beside him.

We were miles away from any hospital. 60 miles of gravel road aka “washboard” pavement separated us from the nearest medical centre.

They might as well send the coroner because there was no way….no way to make it in time.

This wasn’t going to end well.

Except that it did.

Something amazing happened.

Dad was a private pilot and we owned our own small Cessna 172. Owning an aircraft wasn’t a rare occurrence in our community. I can recall at least 3 families who owned private planes. Thankfully, a runway on our property was always kept in perfect condition for those last minute flights to get parts for the combine or perhaps just a fun ride in the evening. This time it was to save Dad’s life – his Type A Personality trait was going to save his life!

A call was made to our community health nurse (normally on call for immunizations only) and an air ambulance from Peace River was dispatched. The twin-engine aircraft landed on our private airstrip and taxied to the back door of our home where Dad was quickly loaded for transport to Fairview – the same hospital where we had been born.

For his 75th birthday, we treated Dad to a flight in a plane very much like the one he owned on the farm
For his 75th birthday, we treated Dad to a flight in a plane very much like the one he owned on the farm

Dad coded in the air.

Compressions were started.

He survived…. but our lives were changed forever.

After he recovered and had surgery, we moved away from Worsley.

We left the farm and left our friends and moved away only to become very small fish in a very large pond.

No plane. No farm. I wasn’t the fastest or the smartest. No cousins in every classroom. No one knew me or worse…..no one knew “of” me.

Thus began my journey to create an identity in a world that I had only read about. Vancouver Island? I was a farm girl who had only gone to 3 movies in her lifetime. I dressed for comfort and not for style. The neighbour did my hair for goodness sake!

My dad had almost died, our farm was gone and I was separated from my friends.

This was going to be great!

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