All posts by Judy Kucharuk

My Father’s Daughters

A work of fiction – releasing chapter by chapter. Scroll down to find discover the most recently added chapter.

MY FATHER’S DAUGHTERS

CHAPTER 1 Grace

The Ford Taurus lumbered along the Forestry road, the last pass of the grader had created a washboard effect and my back was killing me. I had abandoned my navy heels to the passenger seat and was now driving in bare feet, my expertly manicured toes looked out of place against the pedals of the Taurus. Had I known that I was going to have to go out to the lake following the funeral, I would have rented an SUV at the tiny kiosk in the airport.

The pickings were slim at the rental car company. The young girl who greeted me at the kiosk had obviously been midway through a construction project in the moments before her shift. There was sawdust clinging to curly red hair and her worn jeans were dirty where the denim had dragged in the mud. Her friendly smile was infectious and I couldn’t help but ask her what on earth she was doing before her shift.

“Oh! We were building a dog-house and I lost track of time. If I didn’t live so close I wouldn’t have heard the plane coming in and you would have been out of luck!” she said with a wink.

I handed her my credit card and requested the silver Acura that I had spied out the sliding airport doors.

“Sorry sweetie, the Acura is reserved already, but I have a Ford Taurus that is just as nice – we had it cleaned professionally yesterday so it has that new car smell!”.

Clearly, the artificially acquired ‘new car smell’ had worked as a selling feature for previous customers. My tired brain was starving for a bath and a soft bed so I just shrugged, “Sure. The Taurus will be fine”.

Keys in one hand and my hard-sided Tumi suitcase in the other, I made my way out the airport doors into the fresh air. The pavement was uneven and I could imagine my Tumi crying real tears in distress as it was dragged to the parking lot where my grey ‘professionally cleaned’ Ford Taurus sat waiting.

Driving the short distance from the airport to the hotel, I admired the freshly swathed canola fields on either side of the highway. I could smell the harvest air and I was reminded of how magical the Peace Country could be in September. The contrast of the lapis blue sky against the sun-tanned hue of the fields could only be truly appreciated by the eye, not the camera nor the paintbrush.

“If the people at work could see me now!” I laughed. It’s true. My colleagues at my firm were city born and raised therefore had no concept of small town life. They would feel awkward and out of place and probably offend someone with a condescending comment or an errant eye roll.

“You are going to Dawsons Creek?” asked my secretary when I had requested she make my travel arrangements. Her name was Sophia – pencil thin and with a penchant for expensive shoes. This day she was wearing juniper coloured Ferragamo boots with mirror heels that retailed for $6000.00. I never asked how she could afford to feed her shoe habit but we all knew that she had a sugar daddy from one of the high rises nearby. Calgary was full of rich men who had a compulsion to spend their money on expensive things. I don’t judge – we all have our secrets and if pretending was what it took to keep Sophia and her ferocious talent as my gate-keeper on my side of the office, then pretend I shall.

“No Sophia, not Dawsons Creek like the show. Book me a flight to Dawson Creek please”. For my entire life outsiders have queried about the unusual name of my small home-town; I had to remind them that there no was Joey, Dawson or Pacey in my high-school.

A short time later she strutted into my office with my itinerary. “You fly from Calgary to Vancouver and then change aircraft and fly to Dawson Creek” Giggling, she added, “Do you know how small the plane is from Vancouver to Dawson Creek? No business class this time!”

Sophia had managed to book me a flight to Dawson Creek for Thursday, which meant I had one night to get my shit together before the funeral on Friday.

“You are a spoiled brat!” my sister had screamed at me over the telephone a mere week earlier when she had called to discuss funeral arrangements.

“I am a spoiled brat because I don’t want to stay at the house?” My decision to stay at a hotel instead of our family home had rubbed her the wrong way. The truth was, I was afraid to stay at the house. I was scared that the emotions that I had managed to contain over the past few weeks would bubble over and overpower me. I needed to keep it together and that meant staying in a hotel by myself with a fully stocked mini-bar.

The Holiday Inn Express was a new hotel so I was practically guaranteed that there were no bed bugs or lingering cigarette smell on the bedding. My heels clicked on the floor of the lobby as I neared the front desk but the noise wasn’t enough to get the attention of the clerk as her eyes were glued on her computer screen just below the counter.

“Ahem” I tried to politely get her attention.

The blonde head popped up quickly, clearly startled by the sound.

“Oh my God! Grace?”


CHAPTER 2 Krista

“Damnit!” The ice cream had fallen onto the crotch of my jeans and now was soaking into the cloth seat of the mini-van.

I managed to press the button to unroll the window and I tossed the empty cone out onto the highway, quickly followed by the chunk of melting ice cream that I managed to scoop from between my legs.

A horn blasted at me from behind and through my vantage of my rear view mirror, I could see the driver wildly gesturing and mouthing the words, “stupid bitch”.

Laughing and perhaps more than a little intimidated, I reached out the open window and gave him the middle finger before stomping on the gas to get as far away from him as I could. The V8 engine screamed with excitement and I surged ahead down the highway.

The ice cream had been purchased on a whim as I had passed the Husky station on my way out of town. “I wonder if they have Maple Walnut”, I mused, finally deciding to check it out for myself. It’s not often that I found myself alone and able to get away with stopping for ice cream. My twins would be outraged, “Momma! We not allowed to eat in the car”.

They didn’t have my favourite, but they did have a fresh tub of vanilla and sometimes you can’t argue with good ol’ fashioned, plain-Jane vanilla ice cream.

“A cup or a cone?” I could see the clerk’s forearm tense as she jabbed the metal scoop into the bucket and pulled out a massive chunk of ice cream.

“Cone please!” I responded, quickly adding, “I am driving”.

She proceeded to complete my order by ramming the large chunk onto the opening of the cone and I wanted desperately to tell her, “First you fill the bottom part of the cone and press it down. Then, once the bottom is filled, you can add the ice cream on top”. Everyone knows that the ice cream that fills the bottom part of the cone acts like a glue for the ice cream on top!

I hadn’t said a word when she passed the massive cone across the glass case to my outstretched hand and now I was paying the price.

It was typical of me. I could think of a hundred times where I wished I had the courage to speak up. The swim coach who told me to, “suck it up Krista” when I was scared of the deep end and I nearly drowned. The daycare provider who insisted that I bring the twins even though another child had chicken pox and that; “it was better for them to get it while they were really little”. Three weeks later I spent the better part of ten days with both of them in the hospital.

My inner voice was wise, but for some reason I was unable to share it when it really mattered.

I stared at the sign ahead on the right, “Tippy Lake 10 km” and was hit with a wave of realization. Slowing the mini-van, I signaled to turn off the highway.

Today is the day. Today I am going to confront my demons and if it gets me emotionally excommunicated from the family then so be it!

Flipping down the visor mirror I see myself: cropped brown hair fluffed haphazardly early that morning using dry shampoo and wide-set green eyes hidden behind cheap dollar store sunglasses.

Reciting one of my favourite movie lines, I speak to the reflection, “You is smart. You is kind. You is important”.

You is all of those Krista. Now if only I could summon the courage to remember that when the time came.


CHAPTER 3 Caroline

“Can we hurry this along please?” My patience was wearing thin and I knew that I was going to be the last one to arrive at the cabin.

“Our apologies Caroline, bear with us for just a couple of more minutes?” The Funeral Director smiled at me with that waxy, practiced smile that I had grown accustomed to seeing over the past week. Why do all Funeral Directors remind me of Lurch from the Adam’s Family?

I was weary of this place: the somber music looping on what I assumed was a Spotify playlist, the lack of colour on the concrete walls, the high-backed chairs. It was all too much and it took everything I had left in me to politely wait while Lurch printed out the funeral invoice.

As per usual, it had been left up to me to settle with the funeral home. “The glamorous life of the Executor just never ends!” Krista had reminded me of this when I had mentioned that I was going to be late to the cabin.

I had wanted to throat punch her when she said that to me, but of course I didn’t do anything of the kind. I had just smiled at my younger sister as she prepared to leave with husband and twins in tow.

Her children were monsters and had screamed throughout the service. During the power-point presentation, one of them had escaped his seat and toddled up the aisle yelling, “I haffa poop!” to anyone who would listen. Finally his father looked up from his cell phone long enough to notice and he took the twins out into the lunchroom for the remainder of the program.

“Caroline! Caroline?” Realizing that Lurch was speaking, I tried to snap out of the fog of exhaustion that had begun to consume me.

Paperwork signed, cheque written, urn in hand, I was now free to leave this ghastly place.

Using my left hip to push the heavy door, I exited the building and welcomed the warm September sunshine.

Freedom!

I was done.

It was over.

Time to move on with my life.

What life would it be? Where do I begin? Can I really start over at my age?

Placing the urn on the passenger seat, I carefully wrapped the seatbelt across it, securing it in place.

This day could not end any faster. My hands shook as I reached into my purse to find my cigarettes. I had promised Dad I would quit, but even he would not begrudge me a cigarette today of all days.

The wind made it difficult to light the white dart, but my habit was a powerful motivator and in moments I was enjoying the first hit of nicotine. My body relaxed and I leaned against the car and smoked – the tension of the past week seeping from every pore.

My brief repose was interrupted with the thought that I’d better get moving: Daylight was fading and the narrow road to the lake could be unforgiving when the poplar jungle woke with wandering deer and moose who tend to get confused in the glare of oncoming bright headlights.

Smashing the butt onto the ground, I gave it a final tap with my heel to ensure that I wasn’t going to drive away being responsible for a grass fire erupting in my wake.

As I fastened myself safely in the car and heard the engine roar to life, I glanced over at the urn and resisted the urge to caress the metal exterior.

“You comfortable Dad?”

It was over.

He was gone.

I was free.


CHAPTER 4 Jennifer

The deadbolt reacted reluctantly as I inserted the shiny new key. Shifting the heavy bag I was cradling over to one arm, I managed to wiggle the key slightly until it finally gave way with an audible ‘click’.

The cabin smelled musty, like a basement in an old home. After depositing the groceries on the old pine kitchen table, it took me a short time to open every window to encourage the cleansing breeze from the lake to wash the unwelcome scent from the 800 square foot structure.

The windows were sparkling clean and the porch appeared to have been recently swept clean of dead leaves and pine needles. I was thankful that I had engaged the services of a caretaker to watch over the place while I was away. Mr. Stevens from two cabins over had extended his daily walkabout over to this lot and obviously had been doing some tidying up in anticipation of my arrival. When I had initially broached the subject of needing a caretaker, the widower had told me, “Sure I will take a looksee over at your place. No problem at all! You don’t even have to pay me unless you can pay me with fresh baking”.

The ingredients in the grocery bag were purchased in anticipation of making a pumpkin pie for Mr. Stevens. I had to buy a frozen pastry shell, but the rest would be handmade, albeit from a can of pumpkin.

The autumn summer sun was bright and warm and having the oven on only added to the heat inside the cabin. “No need to babysit the pie for the next 50 minutes!” I grabbed a cold beer and my cell phone and headed out onto the front porch.

A few months ago, when Hugh and I had come out to the cabin one last time, he had explained that the cell service was spotty even on a good day and convinced me to purchase a booster. I had taken his advice and had attached one to the roof of the cabin. It had made a remarkable difference to my signal and I had shared the password with the neighbours on both sides. I had also told Mr. Stevens about the booster, but he wasn’t interested. “You kids always need to have your damn phones! Why not just enjoy your time out here?”.

Today I was thankful for my booster because it gave me an opportunity to go online and read some of the comments on Hugh’s obituary notice.

“You will be missed”

“Much love to Krista, Grace and Caroline”

“So sorry to hear of Hugh’s passing”

Using my thumb, I brushed downward on the phone screen until I could see the photo at the top of the page. Tapping lightly, Hugh’s smiling face filled the screen. His almond shaped brown eyes with a tiny upward slant at each corner – exactly like mine.

I still could not believe that he was gone. The bitterness began to swell inside – a hot sensation that radiated out to my shoulders.

Was it only two days ago that I had glanced up from my counter and looked directly into a mirror? Except this reflection was dressed in a fancy suit and high heels, glossy hair gathered into a bun at the nape of her long neck.

My Reitman’s dress slacks and bright green blouse seemed frumpy in comparison and I shifted awkwardly.

“Oh my God. Grace?”

It was out of my mouth before I could think. Typical of me, open mouth – insert foot. My friends used to say, “Jennifer! It is like you have Tourette syndrome or something. Do you ever think before you speak?”

For a moment, Grace’s immaculately groomed eyebrows reacted in surprise and then settled back in perfect position. The reaction would not have been noticed by anyone else except another family member – one who shared the same facial expressions.

“Jennifer! I didn’t know you worked here”.

Her soft voice was calm and measured and I couldn’t help but be a little envious of her composure.

“I haven’t been here long, but I really enjoy the people. You get to meet so many tourists and workers – I love chatting with everyone”. My nervous verbal diarrhea was out of control and I needed to grip the counter to steady myself. “Sorry….I am sure you probably just want to check in right?”

Retrieving her black American Express card from her very expensive looking leather handbag, Grace slid it across the granite counter top towards me. “Sophia, my Assistant, should have made a reservation for me a few days ago. It is probably under Barret, Jenkins and Pope”.

I quickly located her reservation and swiped her card for incidental charges.

“Just initial and write down the make and model of your car. You have a car right? You didn’t take a cab from the airport?”

“Yes, a grey Ford Taurus, but I don’t know the plate number. Is that necessary?”

I assured her that it was fine with just the make and model and she quickly initialed the reservation form with a large, fancy, sweeping letter G that looked like professional calligraphy. I passed her the key card in the tiny envelope and giggled nervously, “The mini-bar is full!”

Grace’s face lit up with a big smile and she let out an unexpected snort, “Thank GOD!”

The sound of her heels reverberated throughout the lobby as she made her way to the bank of elevators.

No sooner had the shiny, silver doors closed than I realized that I had been holding my breath for the past few moments. My head was swimming, my legs were like Jell-O and out of fear that I was going to pass out onto the tile floor, I poured myself into the high-back chair. Then I had wept.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Rearing up from my Adirondack chair I realized that I had dozed off and what was that smell! Was it the pie burning?

Racing into the kitchen, I grabbed the faded, worn potholders from the hook on the front of the cabinet and opened the oven door. Smoke poured out and I could see that my unfortunate pie had become cremated with the intense heat.

The irony was not lost on me. Grabbing the tin pie plate I lifted the abomination from the oven rack and tossed it onto the wooden cutting board. Near tears, I said aloud, “Shit! Now what am I going to give Mr. Stevens?”

A laugh came from behind. I turned and saw Caroline leaning against the doorjamb, “I wouldn’t worry about it. The rest of us can’t bake either”.


CHAPTER 5 SHIFT

Caroline’s blonde hair hung in a single braid that dangled over her shoulder, and her faded jeans were tucked into mid-calf leather boots. She had obviously changed enroute. “Can you take this? It is surprisingly heavy!” Caroline offered the urn to me.

Taking it from her outstretched arms I transferred the urn to the kitchen table. She was right! The urn was incredibly heavy considering Hugh had been so slight and frail near the end.

“I can’t believe you made it out here so quickly. I figured Grace and Krista would make it out here first. Didn’t you stay behind to wrap up things at the Funeral Home?” I asked.

Caroline had dropped her backpack on the couch and was searching in the fridge for a beer, her voice muffled by the barrier of the open fridge door, “Actually I saw Krista’s mini van in a lineup with about four other vehicles stopped for a rig move. I don’t know what Grace is driving, but she probably was in the line up too. I took one look, turned around and went the back way”. Caroline twisted the metal cap off of her beer and flopped down on the couch. With her hair like that and no make up, she looked about 5 years old.

“You should be happy I made it out here before they did!” she smiled at me with that lopsided smile that I had fallen in love with so many years before. “It’s not everyday that your father disappears from your life forever and your mother suddenly reappears!”

She was right on both counts. I was nervous about how this afternoon was going to play out. In the weeks before his death Hugh had requested that his ashes be spread in Tippy Lake and he insisted that I be there with the girls.

Only Caroline knew that I had moved back to town. Krista had no clue; she was so wrapped up in her life and barely had spent any time with her father after he became bed-ridden. The twins took every ounce of her energy and she had rarely spent any longer than an hour at his bedside.

Grace had been surprised when she had seen me at the hotel, no doubt too shocked to say anything of substance. I knew that it had affected her because housekeeping had made a joke that the, “mini-bar in room 314 had been emptied”.

Grace. Her name was appropriate. She was always the perfect combination of poise and grace. Her persona carried over into the courtroom where she was known for her calm when under fire. Ten months younger than Caroline, Grace had been a surprise pregnancy and from the moment she was born, she had somehow sensed that her mother was struggling. She slept through the night at four weeks of age and walked at nine months. She was reading by the time she was three and Hugh boasted that she had advanced through to graduation with the purpose of a ‘natural born leader’. It wasn’t surprising that she pursued law at the University of Calgary. Apparently, when she had been called to the Bar, the judge had spent an unheard of twenty full minutes extolling her virtues before formally recognizing that she was now a full-fledged lawyer with one of the most dynamic firms in Calgary.

Only Caroline knew that I had officially moved back at the behest of Hugh who had written me an email explaining that he was dying and that, “The girls will need you. I need you”.

Yes. He had sent me an email to tell me he was dying.

I had received the notification while sitting on a beach in Tofino. The ‘ding’ had interrupted my train of thought and the poem that I was drafting was suddenly lost somewhere in my subconscious mind.

I amused myself with the thought that, “perhaps it was a literary agent responding to my last query letter” so I quickly grabbed my old iPhone and scrolled through my messages.

The sender was hugh72@hotmail.com and the subject line was simply, “Hello beautiful”.

I had smiled when I saw the senders address. Most of us had abandoned our Hotmail accounts years ago and created a more professional address, but not Hugh.

“Why do I need to change it?” he would say when I had tried to convince him to create a business email address.

“Because it sounds like someone who is still in high school and not a man who owns a large construction company! We are not children anymore!”

“Jennifer, I don’t need anything fancy. My clients don’t care and I don’t care”.

He was right. His clients loved his buttoned down-home approach to business and tolerated his idiosyncrasies. For instance, Hugh insisted on spending an entire afternoon walking a proposed site before drawing up plans for the luxurious log homes for which he was known. “A log home needs to blend in to the surroundings. If that means I have to move the site by a few feet or a few yards then so be it!”

His clients rarely pushed back and were always thrilled at the outcome of the build.

His client list was the envy of many and his reputation was unchallenged.

We had married six months before high school graduation. My baby bump was in full display as I crossed the stage to retrieve my diploma. Hugh had helped me manage the stairs and then followed to receive his own. I was 16 and Hugh was 17.

Caroline was born a week later and I was in love from the moment I saw her beautiful face.

I tried my best. Caroline was extremely fussy and difficult to soothe. She was also sickly, developing pneumonia at two months of age, spending a week in the hospital intensive care unit.

It was about that time that I discovered that I was pregnant again.

The next seven and half months were a blur. I had severe morning sickness that never quite went away and was exhausted every moment of every day. I was terrified that Caroline would get sick again and there were some nights where I sat beside her crib and watched her sleep, counting every breathe.

By the time wee Grace came into the world, I was like an old sponge – I couldn’t bounce back.

During this time of our lives Hugh was working 18-hour days trying to get Cameron Log Homes on a solid footing. His father had been helping him in the beginning, but had recently cut the strings and now Hugh was handling the entire business.

We rarely argued. We rarely raised our voices. We were both too exhausted to fight about anything.

I had decided that I didn’t want any more children. I had pleaded to Hugh to get a vasectomy, but there never seemed to be a perfect time for him to go in for the procedure. “When am I supposed to get that done? I can’t be laid up for any length of time!” He was full of excuses.

The next year passed without incident and, as toddlers, the girls had become inseparable. The closeness in age created a bond not unlike the bond that twin’s experience. They had even developed their own obscure language that neither Hugh nor I could understand.

When I discovered that I was pregnant again, I cried. My family doctor had sat there on the stool beside the examination table handing me tissues as the tears had poured down my face.

“I want to have an abortion. I can’t do this again!” I pleaded to Hugh that evening as we sat in his work truck in our driveway. The old truck was dusty and dirty, but was the only place where we could find that was private, away from the chaos of our lives. The girls were sleeping inside the house and I held the baby monitor on my lap.

“It’s YOUR fault!” I had screamed at him, my face mere inches from his.

“All you had to do was get the damn vasectomy! That is ALL you had to do!” I was out of my mind with anger and fear.

I made the appointment and the following week I checked in at the hospital for my 6:00 a.m. pre-op discussion, which would then be followed by the procedure. I had lied to Hugh’s mother days before when I had asked if the girls could spend the night so that Hugh and I could go on a date. She was more than happy to have Caroline and Grace stay over and thrilled to hear that Hugh and I were finding time to spend with one another.

“The girls and I will make cookies and decorate them. It will be fun! You two go out and enjoy yourselves” Vicki had winked at me when she said this and I was engulfed with a feeling of guilt.

“Liar, Liar, pants on fire!” played in a loop in my brain.

The pre-op paperwork was lengthy. “How many pregnancies have you carried to term? When was your last period? Have you had a previous abortion?”

I signed my name to the consent form and placed the clipboard and pen on the bedside table.

I slipped off my clothing and donned the faded light blue gown provided and waited.

“Mrs. Cameron?”

“Jennifer?”

I turned my head to see a nurse entering the room.

“I am so sorry Mrs. Cameron. We have had an emergency come in and our gynecologist has had to cancel all of her appointments today. We can re-schedule you for tomorrow?” She was now leaning against the edge of my bed.

Tears bubbled up and I was overcome with emotion. Was it relief?

I left the hospital without rescheduling. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back.

The next six months were the longest I had ever experienced. Summer turned to fall and then winter settled in with the harshness befitting of a Northern British Columbian winter. It was one of these nights when the temperature had plummeted to -40 that Krista made her way into the world. Six pounds, twelve ounces and a cry that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

I left three weeks later.

CHAPTER 6 GONE

I am not proud of how I left. The guilt was overwhelming, but the feeling of freedom was intoxicating and clouded my judgment like an illegal narcotic.

I had kissed Hugh goodbye as he left for work and then had fed the girls their favourite breakfast of ‘awffles’ and sausages. Krista had been up most of the night and was now settled into a long morning sleep.

Vicki had been surprised when I had called so early, but said yes when I asked if she could come over and sit with the girls while I went out to a doctor’s appointment.

“They are all yours!” I kissed Vicki on her cheek when she crossed the threshold into the kitchen. Her attention was already on Caroline and Grace as they came running into her arms.

“Okey Dokey Jennifer! See you in a little bit!” and then she laughed as Caroline pulled off her toque and ran screaming towards the living room. “Chase me gamma, chase me!”.

I turned one last time and saw my girls, both smiling and giggling as they played with Vicki. I felt nothing.

I was in Chetwynd when they called the first time. Ignoring the shrill ring of my cell phone, I continued on Hwy 97 heading southwest towards Prince George.

An hour later I passed the highway intersection at the Mackenzie junction and my phone erupted with notifications of missed calls.

I slowed and steered into a roadside pullout. I checked my messages.

“Jennifer, it’s Vicki! Where are you? Call me back please!”

“Jenn…what’s up? Mom called and said that you had asked her to stay with the girls so you could go to an appointment but you never came back! Where are you? What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Hello Jennifer, it’s Susan from Dr. Martell’s office calling. Did you have an appointment with us this morning? Your husband called and wanted to know if we had seen you today. Is everything all right? Call me when you get this and we can schedule you to spend a few minutes with the Doctor. It’s understandable if you are feeling a bit stressed. Having three wee ones under the age of four is certainly a handful. Let’s get you in to the see the Doc”.

“Jennifer! Call me! If you don’t call me I am going to call the police. Whatever is going on, whatever it is…Jenn….we can get through it together. Please call me”.

Sobbing and blinded with tears, I began to wail. Banging my hands against the steering wheel over and over again, I screamed like an animal caught in a painful trap.

I sat at that roadside pullout for hours; chain-smoking between bouts of crying. I paced outside, the frigid air barely registering a reaction with my bare skin. I had left with little more than the clothing on my back and my purse.

The snow had now begun to fall. Large flakes settling on the car windshield until it was covered and I felt buried in a white blanket.

I had emptied of tears and the heartbreak had been replaced with resolve. I picked up my phone and made the call.

I told Hugh that I wasn’t coming home; that I needed some time away. I had no clue where I was going or how long it was going to take, but I needed him to understand that I had to leave or I would die.

Hugh was frantic with worry, “Are you going to hurt yourself?”

I reassured him that I was not going to hurt myself, that I couldn’t feel worse than I did already. Why would I kill myself if I already felt dead?

“I don’t understand you Jenn, but I love you and I want you to be happy. The girls need you….I need you. Take some time, but Jenn…..come back to us okay?”

I clicked the phone off without responding and started the car. Pulling back out onto the highway I began to accelerate towards…..freedom?

Chapter 7 DESTINATION

The first night was a blur. I drove for hours, stopping only once when exhaustion snuck up on me and played tricks with my eyesight. Fearing that I would inadvertently drive off the road and pitch over the bank into the Fraser River, I stopped at Hell’s Gate, reclined my car seat and slept for two solid hours. I fit in perfectly parked alongside a large transport truck; both of us with our vehicles idling to combat the winter chill.

I had no real plans of where I was headed. The comfort I received from simply driving away, every kilometer taking me further and further away from the life I had begun to despise, was like an elixir.

Hugh had left multiple voice mail messages.

He wanted to know if I was okay.

“Are you okay Jenn?”

“Where are you?”

“I put money in your account. I don’t want you sleeping in your car”.

My responses where short, and left during the wee hours when I knew it would go straight to voice mail.

“I am okay Hugh. I am headed to the Island”

I knew Hugh was struggling with my sudden departure. It’s not every day that your young wife leaves you with three small children and a business to run. The fact that he hadn’t had me arrested and placed in a psychiatric facility on a 72-hour hold was something that I never fully understood but was eternally grateful.

If I hadn’t celebrated my 20thbirthday last month I could probably have been reported as a teen runaway!

Years later Hugh told me that the first few weeks following my departure were terrifying and that if it weren’t for his mother helping him with the girls, he would have totally lost his mind.

“Mom moved in with us and stayed with the girls and Dad came back to help with the business. Thank God they were close by”.

Yes, thank God they were close and able to step into the shoes that I could no longer fill: Those shoes had become painfully tight and constricting and I could walk no further.

I arrived in Tofino on a rainy February afternoon. The winding road that took me to the western shore of Vancouver Island was slick and black and there were times I had to fight to keep my car on the pavement. The giant fir and cedar trees created a canopy overtop the roadway and the light barely pierced through the dense over-story.

I could smell the salty air and could imagine the ocean looming nearer on the horizon.

As the road began to level out and the tree line retreated, I caught a glistening of silver in the distance. The exhaustion and stress of the previous two days finally caught up with me; silent tears of relief slid down my cheeks and soaked the front of my shirt.

I signaled right, turning towards Tofino.

There was a method to my madness.

Hugh and I had spent the summer between grade eleven and twelve working in the small west coast village located at the tip of the peninsula. My Uncle Sam owned a fishing charter business and was more than happy to have a couple of grunts working for him that summer. We were called ‘Grunts’ because we did grunt-work: cleaning the boat, cutting up the bait, and repairing the crab traps. Hugh and I were the first ones on the boat at 5:00 a.m. and the last ones off the boat as the sun was setting. It was the best time of my life!

We rarely had a break from a charter, but when we did, we took advantage of our vacation paradise in the Clayquot Sound. Many nights were spent on Long Beach with nothing but the crackling of a fire and the sound of the waves crashing on the endless shoreline to entertain.

It was on that beach that Hugh had said, “I love you” for the first time. We had been making patterns in the soft sand with piece of driftwood and Hugh had drawn a heart with our initials HC + JD and then proceeded to express his feelings.

“I love you Jenn! You and me are the perfect pair!” he had yelled over he din of the waves. His face was tanned and ruddy from the hours on the boat and his shoulders had grown wider and more muscular over the past few weeks. He was only a teenager, but in that moment, he was a man declaring his love.

My heart skipped a beat.

“I love you too!”

We returned home at the end of August; deeply tanned with our hair bleached almost white from the sun. Our relationship reflected the intimacy that we had experienced all summer and my parents became concerned.

“Come September, you and Hugh need to focus less on each other and more on your schoolwork. It’s your graduation year!”

One rare night when Hugh was occupied elsewhere and I was at home, I overheard Mom and Dad arguing.

“Did your stupid brother supervise them at all when they were working for him? They come home looking like the kids from the Blue Lagoon and can’t keep their hands off one another!”

Mom was worried that I would end up pregnant and told me as much.

“The more time you and Hugh spend together, the higher likelihood that you two are going to do something stupid with lasting consequences”.

Her words were an omen.

My parents were killed in a car accident returning from a Halloween party. Side-swiped by a drunk driver, their car was catapulted over the highway median into oncoming traffic where it was torn apart by a semi truck traveling 120 kilometres per hour.

Hugh’s parents, Vicki and Bruce, stepped in and became my surrogate family. They guided me through all of the funeral arrangements and insisted that I move in with them until Uncle Sam could take over as my guardian and settle the estate.

A week after the accident it was Vicki who discovered my positive pregnancy test but it was Uncle Sam who insisted that Hugh and I get married and stay in Dawson Creek because, “It would be easier for everyone”.

The main street of Tofino was whisper quiet that February afternoon when I arrived. The tourists were gone, seasonal shops were shuttered for the winter and the only signs of life were the handful of locals entering a small grocery store.

I drove to the waterfront and parked in front of a squat, yellow building with the sign, “Davidson Charters” hanging slightly askew over the padlocked door.

Keys in hand, I opened the car door and made my way to the sun-bleached building.

I was home.

CHAPTER 8 – PAIN

“It’s not everyday that your father disappears from your life forever and your mother suddenly reappears!”

Caroline was smiling when she made the declaration but we both knew she was correct on all fronts.

The stomach acid that had contributed to the bitterness in my mouth now filled the back of my throat. Holding my hand tight across my lips to contain the bile, I ran into the tiny bathroom and vomited violently into the toilet.

I splashed my face with water, and looked up into the mirror where I caught my reflection.

Honey blonde hair was slicked back into a pony-tail, and my mascara-less blue eyes were rimmed with red. Tiny blotches had appeared on my cheeks and the front of my cotton t-shirt was damp. All my life people have remarked on how youthful I appeared, but in that moment I looked every bit my 46 years of age.

“Here! Take this and rinse your mouth”, Caroline handed me a glass of water, which I gratefully accepted with shaky hands.

“Honestly, we knew that this was going to be a gong show. I can’t believe that Dad insisted on this little family get together taking place right after the funeral!”

“Your father thought it would be best”.

Caroline snorted, “Yeah, like ripping off a Bandaid best!”

At that moment, a car door slammed and our eyes met in silent panic. A second door slammed and seconds later I heard a woman’s voice speaking loudly “Jesus Christ Grace! A Ford Taurus? Isn’t that a little below your pay grade?”

Another female voice responded, “THAT coming from someone driving a mini-van? You certainly have become a soccer mom! Hey! how the Hell did Caroline beat us out here?”

We could hear footsteps as they made their way over the flagstone walkway that led to the cabin door.

The door swung open, banging on the wall with the force. Grace and Krista were here.

Both women saw Caroline first and as their eyes adjusted to the fading mid-day light, they focused on me.

“What the FUCK is SHE doing here?” Grace directed her venom at Caroline and I could see her stiffen in response.

“Mom?” Krista’s quiet voice was in stark contrast to that of her sister.

“I knew it! I knew when I saw you at the hotel that you were up to something. Are you here for Dad’s money? You come back to play house again until you get tired of it and leave?”

Grace was on fire, her litigator skills out in full force. Caroline had moved closer to me, her body language both protective and empathetic.

“Mom? Is that really you?” Krista’s voice became louder and she had stepped nearer and examined my face like a mother examines the face of a newborn baby.

“Yes Krista – it’s me”

I opened my arms to embrace her and found myself falling backwards onto the floor.

Grace had interrupted the moment by grabbing my shoulders and pushing me out of the way. I had lost my footing on the rag rug and tumbled hard onto my right shoulder.

“For Christ sakes Grace! What are you trying to do….kill her?” Krista moved quickly to where I landed and assisted me into a standing position.

“This is bullshit! I don’t need this crap. I’m leaving!”

Grace headed out the opened door and unceremoniously tripped on the flagstone path, her high heels no match for the uneven ground.

She was quite a sight: her hair had escaped from the expertly wrapped bun at the nape of her neck and now flowed wildly about her shoulders. Her navy suit was dirty where it had contacted the ground, and the hemline appeared to be unraveling slightly.

“Oh my God! Grace?” All three of us ran towards her, but I got there first.

“Don’t touch me! Don’t you DARE touch me or so help me God I will scream!

CHAPTER 9 – FOOTSTEPS

“Hello Beautiful”

My heart skipped a beat as I read the greeting. Hugh was a hopeless romantic and throughout the years had never given up the hope that we would once again become a family. He had never remarried and from what he told me, he hadn’t dated much throughout the years. I am certain that it wasn’t for lack of opportunity – Hugh was good-looking, successful, kind and big-hearted. He was also a pushover, always helping anyone who reached out for assistance regardless of the circumstances. These qualities made him easy prey and I always wondered how he had managed to stay single.

Hugh refused to divorce me and insisted on monthly phone calls to ‘chat’. These chats invariably lasted for at least an hour as he filled me in on the girls and their busy lives. In the beginning, these conversations ended the same, with both of us crying and Hugh pleading “Please come back home”.

As the years wore on, our relationship changed to one of deep friendship, each using the other as confidante and sounding board. When Hugh was approached by a construction conglomerate to sell the business for a price well above expectations, he called me for advice. When I was struggling to make the decision to purchase another charter boat, Hugh was the first person I called to brainstorm outcomes.

Emails were also exchanged regularly with pictures of the girls at important milestones: First day of school, birthday parties, prom and graduations. I had printed out each picture and they were posted in my tiny loft apartment above Davidson Charter’s, covering an entire wall. Some of the funnier pictures made their way to the boat and guests would always ask me who they were. “They are my nieces”, I would tell them, terrified of the judgment if I were to tell the truth.

No one in Tofino knew that I was married or had children. They all knew me as Sam Davidson’s niece – a former fishing grunt who had suddenly appeared after Sam’s death and was determined to take over the business.

I had assumed that Uncle Sam was a selfish prick when he had insisted that I remain in Dawson Creek after mom and dad died. I didn’t know that he had received a devastating lung cancer diagnosis and that his condition was terminal. I had been so angry with him for abandoning me and forcing me to get married. “I hate you! Dad trusted you!”

Six months later he passed away. The legal document containing the titles to the Davidson Charter business assets arrived one morning addressed to “Jenny Davidson-Cameron” and I sobbed as I read the handwritten note paper-clipped to the documents.

Dear Jenny, 

I hope that you will forgive me, 

Love Uncle Sam

It had been a difficult transition after I arrived that February afternoon. The boat was in dry-dock for the winter and the office was in disarray. Sam had abandoned any semblance of a filing system and every available surface was covered with paper.

I lost myself in organizing the business and the hard work was cathartic. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend 10 hours a day downstairs in the office and then spend another 3 or 4 in the loft above, painting and scrubbing until it gleamed.

By the time April arrived, I was done – Davidson Charters was ready and I lost myself in my work. Daily charters kept my days filled and my new writing hobby filled my evenings.

I had surprised myself when I penned my first poem. I had no sense of structure or form, but felt compelled to write something. The Vancouver Island sunset was the perfect muse and it was as if I had opened the floodgates of my emotional being and the words had poured out into my notebook.

Be my love
Let me go
My heart a sponge
Heavy with warm tears
Every pulse
Sadness seeps

Since that day I had filled dozens of notebooks with poetry and stories – looking forward to the end of each charter season when I could lose myself completely in my writing.

After years of keeping the contents of the many notebooks to myself, on a whim I had submitted some of my poetry to the Malahat Review for consideration. The first piece wasn’t accepted, but with it came encouragement to resubmit. I kept on trying until they accepted not one, but two pieces simultaneously!

The acceptance emboldened me to admit that, “Hey – I AM a writer!” and I joined a local Tofino Writer’s group and had not looked back. My writing wasn’t making me millions of dollars, but that didn’t matter – I loved what I was doing.

The day that I received Hugh’s email, I was working on a submission for a local anthology titled, “Footsteps” and was struggling. The notification of the incoming email was a welcome diversion.

Hello Beautiful
I need you to come home.
I am really sick. It’s bad
The girls will need you. I need you.
Hugh

I cancelled my charters and drove to Dawson Creek where I met Hugh at the cabin on a crisp spring morning.

The cabin looked the same and I was flooded with the memory of the day that we had completed the roof and had celebrated by drinking warm champagne. Caroline and Grace had been in the playpen strategically placed underneath a leafy poplar tree to protect them from the hot summer sun and giggled when Hugh and I had toasted our success and proceeded to dance without music.

We had carefully chosen each log for the cabin. Hours spent peeling and scraping to unveil the beauty of the hardwood contained within. Hugh had sketched the plans on a cream-coloured napkin and had packed it around with him, referring to it regularly to ensure he was staying true to his dream.

I wondered if the framed napkin still hung on the wall where I had placed it so many years before?

We embraced and I was struck by the familiar scent of his hair, the familiar feeling of his body. He whispered, “It’s in my brain”.

Bugs, Beds and Bags – Oh My!

“They were everywhere! In our beds, our bedding, our clothing….even in the furniture. After months of fighting the little bastards, we finally gave up – abandoned everything and moved away”.

THIS is the conversation that I replay in my mind every, single time I open the door to a hotel room. It is the horror story told by a friend who traveled overseas and brought home a suitcase inhabited by bed bugs.

It doesn’t matter if I am staying in a 5 star hotel with dedicated Butler service – the same scenario plays itself out during my stay. Kind of takes the fun out of travel.

Bed Bugs! The thought of a female bed bug, belly filled with eggs, hitching a ride on my clothing or suitcase and setting up shop in my own home is terrifying.

I am Canadian and we are, for the most part, generally very welcoming to immigrants. I am not welcoming to pregnant, single mothers who climb into my suitcase with the intention of crossing the border and making their home in MY home.

I cross the threshold into my hotel room and look for the luggage rack for my suitcase. I usually set the rack in the bathroom and place my luggage, elevated, in that wee room for the duration of my stay. My rationale for using the bathroom as my temporary closet is that there is no carpet in that room, therefore it was less likely that an errant bug would find its way into my suitcase. If I found that the bathroom was carpeted? I would run out screaming.

Strangely, there were no luggage racks in my hotel room, so my suitcase is placed directly on the tile floor of the bathroom. It is a small powder room and the large suitcase now becomes a tripping hazard but hey…..sacrifices are sometimes necessary for the greater good.

I mused aloud, “Should I leave a note for the cleaning staff? They are going to wonder why my suitcase is in on the bathroom floor”.

Nah…..they have no doubt seen plenty of crazy and my eccentricity will barely register The suitcase will stay on the floor and no note will be necessary.

I immediately grab my magnifying glass and strong LED light and use them to inspect the mattress – checking for black specks. Whew! There are no black specks to be seen and I exhale with relief.

I still need to take precautions because those stealthy little bastards could be anywhere. I have brought plastic bags from home for my soiled laundry but am kicking myself for not investing in the ones with a seal. What good is a plastic bag if the tiny, blood-sucking fuckers can crawl out?

I remind myself that I haven’t seen any evidence of bed bugs so anything that I do from this point forward is unnecessarily prophylactic – basically overkill. The lack of sealed plastic bags is not a deal breaker…..carry on.

I spend the next three days ensuring that I do not mix clean and dirty – that I do not throw anything onto the bed or the couch, increasing my chances of contamination.

This exercise seemed to be so logical while I was at the hotel, but as I write about it I realize that I am a wee bit bat-shit crazy. Who does this? Who is so paranoid about bed bugs that they basically operate a Hazmat operation out of their hotel room?

I arrive home, satisfied that I have taken every precaution to avert bed bug disaster. As I enter my own home, my suitcase is left on the outside deck in the cold in the hopes that any cling-ons will die of hypothermia.

I remove my clothing on the spot and take both it AND my bagged, soiled clothing  from my suitcase and immediately toss into the washing machine on hot. I have a feeling that my sweater won’t survive the high heat, but there are sacrifices needed for the greater good and honestly it was from Old Navy so….not that expensive. I then hop into the shower, physically washing away all evidence of travel, psychologically ridding myself of the invisible bugs.

I walk into the living room in my robe, my wet hair tied up on a towel, and only now am I able to sit and chat with my husband about my trip.

“Hey sweetie…..the Erma conference was a blast!”

 

Don’t Blink!

On average, human beings blink approximately 15,000 times per day. Each blink lasts between 300 and 400 milliseconds (1000 milliseconds equals 1 second). Which means that we spend approximately 5,250 seconds or over 1 HOUR each and every day blinking. Do you ever wonder what you miss?

As writers, we love to spend our days wide-eyed……constantly watching for those ‘missed’ moments – the moments that last a mere blink of the eye.

What does this mean? Well….other than an incessant need for eye-drops, it means that we are inspired by those ‘moments’.

An intake of breathe by a bride, seconds before she walks down the aisle.

The partially hidden eye-roll from a pre-teen during an argument with their sibling.

The flicker of embarrassment you notice on the face of your teenage daughter after she stumbles wearing her first pair of heels

While others have moved past the moment, writer’s remain, watching……observing.

We wonder if the bride to be is nervous, afraid, or suffering from indecision. We wonder if she suddenly realized that she really needed to pee (or worse) and isn’t certain if she can make it through the ceremony. Thoughts of, “Why did we choose to eat spicy Indian food at our rehearsal dinner” run through her head as she makes her way down the aisle. Damn! That storyline writes itself!

A writer will endeavor to create a story around the eye-roll, conjuring up a scenario where the pre-teen grows up to be a serial killer aka Dexter.

The flicker of embarrassment following the stumble in the high heels? That becomes a part of a bigger story, perhaps leading to a screenplay for a coming of age movie like Ladybird. Our character ‘Joanne’ refuses to wear shoes for the rest of her life because of that one instance and eventually she runs for the Presidency and wins and now there is a President called Shoeless Joanne.

We notice things. We stash them away in our subconsciousness to be retrieved at a later date or we drop everything and rush to a computer and begin writing.

I am so excited to become an Erma Bombeck Workshop Freshman. I have loved Erma since I was a child and to be surrounded by so many other individuals who share the passion for laughter is…well….it’s mind blowing!

The fact that in one week’s time I will be sitting alongside so many like-minded individuals is truly a dream come true. Knowing that you all are so observant will be unnerving – which reminds me to pack extra floss because y’all will definitely notice the errant piece of spinach in my teeth.

Writers…..well, we try to make the ordinary EXTRAORDINARY. Humour writers make the ordinary extraordinary and FUNNY.

See you soon! If you see me staring, unblinking, don’t worry…..I am not a creeper (at least I have never been charged). It is only because I don’t want to miss a thing!

Judy

PS: Can I bring my cape? I hear some people are bringing tiara’s…..

Yes…..I own a cape

The Hands of Time….

Do you ever look at your hands and think, “Did I do hard time at a prison picking rocks?”

I caught a glimpse of my hands while taking a selfie in front of a mirror. I normally don’t pay much attention to my hands but when I saw them reflected back to me in the mirror……my pudgy, tiny, wrinkly hands dwarfed by the huge Samsung phone, I thought, “Damn girl!!!! Your hands are Ugggggly!”

The selfie I was taking was to document my journey to brighter, whiter teeth. I had purchased a teeth-whitening kit and was excited about my new smile in “one to two weeks of using the product as recommended”.

My brain said, “Guuuurrrrl, your teeth ain’t the issue here….your ugly ass hands are!”

I shouldn’t be surprised at my revelation. I have been taking my hands for granted all my life. When I was barely out of the womb, I began chewing my fingernails. No…..I didn’t just nibble my nails, I gorged upon them as if they were a food group. As a child I would sit in front of the television, twirling my little baton in my right hand and have my entire left hand in my mouth, ravaging my fingernails. People would say, “Do you know how many germs are on your hands and fingernails?” and I would respond by biting the corner of my cuticle, pulling it off and chewing it – I sounded like one of the zombies in the walking dead as I feasted on my flesh.

Disgusting…..right?

My fingernails bled, my cuticles bled, and my nail beds began to shrink down in size.

That’s when I realized that I was bendy enough to pick at my toenails: ten extra digits in my buffet of nails. I couldn’t chew them, but I could pick at them until I had a corner free and peel it back. Sometimes it didn’t let go willingly, sometimes I would have to tug and twist until the crescent of toenail finally let go. I am certain that if it had a voice it would be saying, “Noooooooooooooooo!”.

There was no toenail that was exempt from this picking practice. In fact, my baby toe no longer even grows a nail which weird’s the heck out of the technicians at pedicure salons. They gently lift my foot out of the warm, soapy water and towel dry it in preparation for the pedicure and then begin to examine my toes. The last time I was at a salon getting a pedicure, the technician didn’t speak English so I had to imagine what she was saying to her counterpart as she examined my toes. There was the shocked look, followed by the worried look and then she would look at me as if to say, “WTF?”. I would shrug my shoulders, no longer embarrassed about my feet and continue to flip through the magazine I had in my lap. Then she would call over her boss and they would have a conversation about my toes in a language that I could not understand; the conversation punctuated by laughter and pointing. Finally she would say to me, “Nail polish today?” worried that she would have to paint the empty nail bed of my baby toe. Not unlike the scene from the famous Anjelah Johnson ‘Nail Salon’ comedy performance, only my technician didn’t ask me if I wanted “Crystal Gel”. Remember the dude from Silence of the Lambs who made a coat out of human skin? I wonder if he could recreate fingernails?

I would respond with, “No….no nail polish needed…..because obviously” and she would visibly relax saying “I will give you an extra massage because you don’t need polish”. Then she would begin carving and scraping my heels, followed by dousing them in some acid that would magically remove my calluses. The massage was followed by the warm wax and I would leave the salon ¼ inch shorter.

But I digress……we were talking about my gnarly, nasty hands that are reminiscent of a old prisoner who picked rocks every day.

My father would try desperately to entice me to quit chewing my fingernails. He would vacillate between, “I wish you would quit biting your fingernails” to, “Judy! It’s a dirty, filthy habit!”. He offered me large sums of money to quit chewing my nails and when that didn’t work, he conspired with my Uncle. They created a slurry out of grass and clay and told me it was “chicken shit” and dunked my hands into it hoping that it would keep me from chewing my nails. I remember clearly when I defiantly plunged my hand into the mixture and then went to the bathroom to scrub them clean. I would not be ‘scared straight’ by anything! (Also…I knew deep down that it wasn’t chicken shit).

I continued to chew and pick at my nails – finding solace in the mind numbing practice.

Which brings me to today and the fact that my hands are ugly and my fingernails are half the size of the nail bed. My ten digits are my best friends and always there for me when I need to stress chew. Could I give that up? It is a relationship based on supply and demand – one that has worked for 53 years.

If I stopped today, my expectations of the outcome would need to be lowered. I have one fingernail (my favourite one – my ‘treat’ nail) that is so badly damaged that it would probably grow into a bizarre looking like a coke snortingesque talon. The rest of them might come back, but even so, they would be attached to hands that look like they picked rocks for a living.

Regrets…..I have only a few, but my hands are one of them. Is it too late to turn back time? Is it too late in my life to begin caring for my hands (and feet?).

I don’t want to lose all of the memories that are triggered by the sight of my hands. Those same hands cared for babies, changed diapers, made cookies, gestured wildly while telling a story, held the hands of someone dying, wiped the tears from a face, and yes….actually did pick a few rocks.

The skin on my hands is reminiscent of my grandmother’s hands – soft and crepey in that patch of skin between the thumb and the next finger. Sure….the fingers are little nubbin’s but my kids have known nothing else in their lives. The fact that I have very little fingernail has kept me from being asked to remove slivers or peel tape off of a window. The lack of fingernail also makes it impossible to pick up a dime off of a tiled floor. Ying and Yang.

I guess taking the selfie in that mirror prompted an even deeper reflection……

A Room with a View

Here it is
And here it goes
What it means
No One knows
I wish I did
I wish I could
I wish I had
I think I should
Life is fleeting
Love is blind
You is special
You is kind
Dark to light
And light to dark
The sun comes up
A new day starts
I wish I may
I wish I might
Live each day
From morn to night
With passion and purpose
And wonder and joy
Not overthinking
Our brain redeploy
To a place of peace & quiet
A room with a view
A space without stress
A place we once knew
A mind of a child
Simple, honest and clear
No worries no hang-ups
A smile so sincere
A heart that is full
Of laughter and life
Hugged by a world
That does not struggle with strife
This is my wish
This is my dream
This is my purpose
This is my scheme
Let’s do it together
Let’s go all in!
We have only one life
It’s time to begin

Copyright 2018 by Judy Kucharuk

Eileen Kucharuk Sept 25, 1927 – Feb 1, 2018

She stood at the bow of the Aquitania – one of the 43,000 war brides who arrived by ship to Pier 21 in Halifax after World War II. The crossing could not have been easy with the unpredictable Atlantic during the cold month of January 1947. I imagine her standing there, her petite frame struggling to stand against the wind, dressed in her long skirt and jacket, lively red hair tucked neatly under her cap. She would have been excited about the new adventure that waited, but wary of this new world of which she had only heard stories.

Can you imagine leaving your Father and sisters behind as you traveled alone at 19 years of age across the Atlantic? I liken her at that age to a colt that could not be tamed, struggling against the reins of status quo, willing to give everything she knew up for the man she loved.

The Halifax port loomed larger and larger and finally the big ship docked. As she disembarked from the steel giant, she lightly stepped onto the cold Canadian soil with very fashionable, yet impractical footwear – her open toed shoes.

The trip via train from Halifax to Spirit River would have been long and exhausting. I can imagine as she laid her head against the cold glass of the train window, watching the foreign landscape speed by, she would have reflected on her life.

Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales September 25th, 1927, Eileen was the youngest of 10 children. Her mother, Elizabeth, passed away when she was only three years old, leaving Eileen in the care of her widowed father and older siblings. This is where her strength began to develop out of necessity; coupled with her red hair and welsh/Irish heritage – Eileen grew strong and resourceful.

I spoke at Jack’s funeral about their first meeting in a restaurant. I wondered if he spied her across the crowded room and noticed her twinkling, laughing eyes and lovely red hair. A petite sprite, with an almost uncontainable zest for life.

There is a quote that I recently read that speaks to her nature and it is, “There’s only one place I want to go and it’s to all the places I’ve never been.” That was Eileen – always looking forward to the next thing, the next step.

When her train arrived in Spirit River, she stepped off the train with those open toed shoes into what would have seemed like a frozen wasteland.

Many of us would have wanted to get back on that train and head home to Britain and the familiarity of family. In fact, many did just that – they turned around and went home.

But no….Eileen was committed to this adventure and although part of her might have been wary, her free spirit would have been enthusiastically embracing it!

After living for a time with a family in Spirit River, Eileen and Jack made their home on the farm. There were no cobblestone streets like London, but there were also no air raid sirens or buildings in rubble. She left that behind for the wide Peace Country skies.

I can’t imagine how both exciting AND challenging this time would have been, coupled with wee Jacqueline being born in November of 1947. As we recall, Eileen lost her own mother 17 years previous, so she had no one to guide her through this emotional and exhausting time of her life.

Both Eileen and Jack worked very hard. The land that had been provided to Jack upon his return from WW2 by the Canadian government was completely tree covered and needed to be broken in order to grow both a crop and a garden. It was a stressful time in their lives as they made both a home for themselves and developed a livelihood.

Life went on and with that came their second child Linda in the warm, summer sun of June of 1953. Their family was growing.

In 1958, the Kucharuk’s moved to the big city of Dawson Creek and settled into the Blue Bird Motel as they searched for more permanent accommodation. This did not mean that they abandoned the farm – no, far from it. They continued to farm the land and every summer were spent there, tending to the crops and garden.

After their short stay at the Blue Bird Motel, they moved into a rental home not far from where they built the existing home in 1961. During that time, they welcomed Bob or “Bobby” as his parents and siblings affectionately referred to him.

Jacquie, Lindy and Bobby – the family was complete.

Eileen flourished in her new home, finally able to tend to a flower garden once again which no doubt reminded her of her beloved England.

While Jack worked away from home, Eileen immersed herself in the goings on of the community. In fact, from 1957 onward, Eileen worked for Elections Canada in various positions of authority. In her time with Elections Canada she was a part of every Prime Minister elected from John Diefenbaker to Justin Trudeau. From the 18th Prime Minister of Canada to the 29th Prime Minister – Eileen was a part of the process.

Her unwavering community service and her intense desire to continually improve herself was known by those who knew her well. Perhaps it was because she was a proud immigrant to Canada or perhaps it was because she needed constant change and personal fulfillment – whatever the case, the list of organizations that she contributed to is endless.

Two projects that I recall clearly were the fundraising campaign for the DC Hospital CT Scanner and the paving of the road in front of their home. While different in scope, both were projects where Eileen could leverage her negotiating skills.

Have you ever negotiated with Eileen? Well…..let’s just say that she came out on top most of the time. As publicity manager for the CT campaign, Eileen cajoled Jack into participating as well, which was no small feat! When she became determined that she was “no longer going to live with a dirt road in front of her home!”, she petitioned her neighbours and led the charge for fresh asphalt – that red haired English rose was in full bloom!

We say that it was because she was a Libran that Eileen was devoted to fairness and equality for her fellow human beings. She would stanchly defend the underdog and speak up for those who could not or would not speak up for themselves. As someone surrounded by Librans, I do believe that it is true. I am looking at you Bob, Michele, Amy, and Jessie.

Eileen was a career woman – she worked for many years at the Hudson’s Bay as well as she was a ticket agent for Pacific Western or PWA. Airline work seems to run in the family with Jacqueline, Linda, Brian and myself all working for airlines.

Working at the airport no doubt fed her desire to travel and both she and Jack did a lot of traveling over the years: They went overseas, stuck their toes in the sand of Hawaii and Mexico and traveled to Eastern Canada. I see that same desire in her children and her grandchildren as they travel frequently to all corners of the world.

We all agree that without the passion of Eileen and her incredible desire to better herself and her surroundings that Jack might have been content to stay home and tend his garden. She pushed him gently (and sometimes not so gently) out of his comfort zone and the reluctance he felt most often gave way to pure enjoyment once he arrived at his destination.

Food was a big part of Eileen’s life – not only was she a great cook, but she loved great food! She had an incredible palette and could pin point even the most minor of gastronomic errors. One time while camping, I was making her some hot chocolate before bed. I was tired and therefore I microwaved the water and mixed in the coco. Handing it to her she took a sip and made a wee face.

She then asked, “Did you boil the water?” and I was caught red handed! So I lied and said, “Of course I boiled the water…..just the way you like it”.

Jacqueline’s discovered a love of cooking from her mother and her ability to make satisfying, nutritious comfort food. Linda’s love of fruitcake and subsequent recipe tweaking was a result of being introduced to the heavy, fruity dessert by Eileen. Linda went on to make up her own recipe, complete with ‘raisins that make me feel funny mummy’ – as poor Brian was sneaking rum soaked raisins from the kitchen.

Bob shares Eileen’s red hair and her temperament and has the same fierce sense of fairness. He too fights for the underdog.

After Jack’s passing 6 years ago, Eileen could have given up…..but she didn’t. Her incredible strength allowed her to rebuild her life as her own person and she blossomed. Her companion and dear friend John was someone who helped her thrive and live her final years so fulfilled. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you John.

Last night as we visited with Pastor Cory, he said something that really struck home. He spoke about living a life with passion instead of perfection. That is exactly what Mom, Eileen, Grandma, Grandma K and Great Grandma did in her 90 years – she lived her life with a passion for life and a wicked sense of humour. A life of perfection would have been boring – can’t we all agree?

Eileen passed away in her own home, with her children at her side in the wee hours of February 1st. She leaves behind her children Jacqueline and husband Lorne, Linda, Bob and his wife Judy. Grandchildren Deris, Michele and her husband Greg, Brian and his wife Krista, Jennifer and husband Bob, Amy and husband Ian, Matthew and wife Samantha. Greatgrandhildren Charlie, Carter & Bennet, Dylan and Isla.

Eileen is predeceased by her husband Jack and her 8 sisters and one brother.

The family would like to thank each and every one of you who touched Eileen’s life and for coming here to support us today. Thank you to Jaki Stanley for the lovely movie presentation and the cozy crocheted blanket that she dropped by the house for Eileen – we are in your debt.

In closing I would like to read a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye.

Mother, you were just a girl,
So many years ago.
You had your loves and had your dreams,
You watched us come and go.

You watched us make the same mistakes,
That you had made before,
But that just made you hold us tight,
And love us all the more.

We haven’t always thought about
The things that you have seen.
To us you’ve just been ‘Mother’,
No thought of who you’ve been.

But we remember now in love,
Your life from start to end,
And we’re just glad we knew you,
As Mother, and as Friend.

We will miss you, Love Judy

Stupid Elf on the Stupid Shelf

Stupid Elf…….

Nothing gives me more pleasure than knowing that in 4 or 5 years, on this very day, Amy will be on the phone with me b$tching about the Elf on the Shelf!

Both of my kids: Amy and Matthew were very evolved children…one could say they were ‘ahead of their time’  Elf on the Shelf had not been invented yet when they were young and admittedly, neither child REALLY believed in Santa Claus. But……they did believe in a stupid elf and they would make a bed for it out of a matchbox and leave a letter for him/her.

Thankfully they dropped that Elf like a bad habit and I was never forced to prop it up on weird places overnight like parents do now.

I am thankful because I would probably forget to do the Elf thing at night and the kids would wake up and the Elf would be in the same spot and ask, “What happened to the Elf?” and I would be forced to make up a story about how the Elf had experienced a wee cough so a shot of Nyquil had been administered the night before and then the Elf had a bad reaction that rendered him/her unconscious and unable to move. After a few times of that occurring, the kids would lament about our family getting, “a sick Elf” and why do other kids have such fun elves. Then I would guilt them back and tell them that, “all Elves deserve to make a living and that our Elf was doing the best he/she could while suffering from poor health and we should be more generous of spirit, etc.”

Christmas miracle would have been achieved……

Sometimes I feel like the ‘Girl on the Train’

Sometime when I am out on my deck, I feel like the ‘Girl on the Train’ with my neighbours Dawn and Ralph. Of course I have never been married to Ralph and they don’t live in my old house or anything like the book/movie and….so far I haven’t witnessed a murder (watch yourself Ralph). But everything else is the same….well except I am not on a train, I am on the deck…but the point is I can see them through their dining room window and I make up stories about their day.

Today for example, Ralph is wearing both his hat and his jacket in the house, so I called Dawn and said, “Is Ralph cold? He is wearing his jacket in the house.”

I am a bit of a creeper I guess, but I have been watching the Dawn and Ralph show for so many years, I feel like I know them really well (I actually do know them really well even without the creepy watching them through their window).

We are really fortunate having such wonderful neighbours. Dawn Johnston and Ralph on one side and Kim and Julian and kidlets on the other.

The Skin family got a dog recently….”Pickle” is his name and now I get to watch the kids play with their new dog and live vicariously through them (RIP Ozzie and Riley) as they love their new puppy.

Their children are ahhhhhmazing kids and we love seeing them play in the park across from our house. I even had a wee tear when their oldest moved out, I was gonna miss him!

I also can determine how many kids are getting into their vehicle by the sounds of the SUV door’s slamming. One time, we heard so many doors shutting, Bob and I turned to one another and said, “Exactly how many kids is Kim driving to school today?” Yes…..Bob and I are creepy people like that – with nothing better to do than make assumptions based on sound.

We have become THOSE neighbours.

I wonder what they think about us? They probably don’t have the time to creep on us like we creep on them. Is it creeping if they know we are doing it though? I guess we will see after this post and Julian goes out and builds a higher fence and Dawn and Ralph close their blinds (please don’t….this is the best part of my day!)

Neighbours are more than people who live next door – neighbours become like family. We watch out for one another, we care about one another and we watch each other’s families grow. We consider both neighbours dear friends and would be there for them in an instant as they would be for us.

Note: Kim, Julian and Family have a fairly large tree that blocks most of my view, so no ‘Girl on the Train’ looky-loo happening there – no worries about that Kim.

Ladybug, Ladybug

Yesterday my Mom told me that she had seen a ladybug in the kitchen and had picked it up and placed it in a plant.

This morning at 6:30 a.m. that same ladybug (I am assuming it’s the same one because…..winter and all) was crawling outside her bedroom door. I picked it up and carried it into the kitchen where I had my glasses so I could take a look at it because at that point I was thinking, “Is this a tick?”. That would be me….pick up something thinking it is a ladybug only to find that it was an engorged tick and then get bitten and infected with Lyme disease or ebola or whatever else ticks pass along. Anyhoo……

I go into the kitchen, put on my glasses and see that it was indeed a ladybug and then I promptly dropped it. It survived the fall and crawled away. (I watched it until it crawled away to live its very best life because the alternative would be crawling under the stove to die).

I knew that ladybugs were special, so I googled them this morning and this is what google said, “Ladybugs bring good luck, are a symbol of protection ‘A talisman for safety and protection against all harm’, are a symbol of love, a symbol of self reliance and they even have a religious significance!

THANK GOODNESS I didn’t kill it when I dropped it! And I feel a bit better knowing that the ladybug is crawling around my parents home keeping them safe and protecting them.

Ambulance, Paramedics, Fire Department…oh my!

(Originally posted in the Alaska Highway News and the Dawson Creek Mirror in my column ‘From the Desk of the Green-eyed girl’

What happens when you lose trust in something you believed to be rock solid? Something that you never questioned, that you never stopped for one minute to wonder about.

How do you go on? How do you move forward? How do you continue with your life now that you have a seed of doubt permanently planted into your psyche?

Our family recently were saturated in a downpour of seeds of doubt and left us questioning. Let me explain.

On Nov. 19, I received a call from one of my sisters that my mother had fallen down the stairs and she was hurt. Dad had called the ambulance and they were on their way. I said, “Holy crap (or something not as pretty),” and that I would meet them at the hospital. That call came to me at around 12:30 p.m.

I arrived at the hospital and began waiting for the ambulance. It shouldn’t take long: they live in Dawson Creek proper and nothing is more than 10 minutes away, even with rush hour. I’m thinking a half hour or so to get mom stabilized and transported to the hospital.

A half hour passed, so I anxiously called my sister and asked, “What is going on?”

Because mom was lying at the bottom of the stairs, the two Paramedics apparently needed  the assistance of a second ambulance to help extricate and load her for transport. They had contacted Kamloops dispatch and one should be arriving shortly.

More than an hour had now passed and still no second ambulance. My 75-year-old mother had now been lying with a suspected femoral fracture at the bottom of the basement steps for an hour and 15 minutes. Thankfully, the Paramedics had been able to stabilize her and get pain meds into her—but still no sign of the additional ambulance.

I texted my sister: “Why not call the fire department to assist? What’s going on?”

At this point, someone must have made the call to find out where the missing ambulance was, and were advised that the call for the second ambulance had been inadvertently dropped—meaning that the request didn’t make it from the phone to the computer. No second ambulance was coming.

Thank goodness for the Dawson Creek Fire Department, because now they were dispatched and were on the scene in minutes. They helped lift and load mom into the ambulance and she was on her way to the hospital, 90 minutes after the incident occurred. It was 2 p.m.

But 90 minutes—90 minutes for my mom to lay on the bottom of the basement steps, 90 minutes for my father to wring his hands with anxiety about his wife of 50-plus years in pain and unable to do anything.

I heard the ambulance arrive at the hospital and my mother being brought inside. My sisters had driven my father down in their car and were coming into the hospital at the same time. He immediately went to check on mom and to be there by her side.

The next moment we heard screaming and I realized it was my mother and sister. I ran to the back to see my father had collapsed, my mother watching on from the gurney. Medical professionals are swarming the area, rapidly responding to the now changing emergent medical situation. In between the “stay with us, dad,” and the “Mom, its going to be okay,” we realized dad might have had a stroke or a heart episode. I truly believed it was brought on by the stress of the situation.

At this point, I need to say our medical team at the Dawson Creek hospital were amazing and our entire family is very grateful to have such a committed group of professionals at our local hospital. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.

Meanwhile, they were stabilizing Dad, trying to determine what happened, and he and mom were lying side by side in the emergency ward. All my sisters and I are there by their bedside and the scene resembled one of those Kardashian Family Christmas card photoshoots.

As the hours wore on, my dad regained his speech and strength, and after having a CT it was determined he had probably suffered something called a TIA. Mom, on the other hand had suffered a femoral fracture/hip fracture, and was scheduled for surgery the following day. She was moved upstairs onto the ward to await surgery and dad was kept for observation in emergency.

Quite a day, right? Our lives were changing in a blink of the eye and we were powerless to do anything to stop the train wreck.

BC Ambulance, we have lost trust in a system that we felt was working. We were under the impression it was working because we had not tested it before. I’m certain hundreds of calls happen where the dispatch is seamless but, in our case, it wasn’t and that terrified us.

I spoke with Kamloops dispatch and they did admit a ball was dropped and a mistake occurred. They were very empathetic and took responsibility, and gave us the contact information to follow up with an independent investigation.

We all realize a system reliant on human beings will, at some point, have a human error. We just never consider we will bear witness to the error.

Where do we go from here? How do we go about our lives with that reoccurring thought, “what happens next time?”