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.

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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.

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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.

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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……