“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” Gandhi
My brother has an amazing memory. He can remember climbing the white bars of his 1970’s crib and courageously leaping to his soft landing on the small toddler bed pushed up beside him in our tiny room. My “big girl bed” was covered in a period yellow blanket, probably hand-made by one of my mothers many sisters. I must have slept through the constant attacks from above because I remember only a faded square picture in an old brown photo album, the kind that had one sheet of plastic over card-stock covered in some sort of “always sticky” glue.
I remember very little about my early childhood. A few flashes of Gramma & Grandpa Baker in their “huge” house on 8th ave, 2 doors down from Center street, Christmas day with all the fixings! The boys in their brown vests, the girls matching in delicate blue flower printed homemade dresses, Gramma’s good china laid out around the solid wood table with a pungent spruce tree in the corner all decorated with colorful home-made ornaments. We felt like royalty. That was the year I got Kermit the frog, his long green arms with individual fingers and small velcro squares on the hands. My Dad loved the muppets, Statler and Waldorf who sat in the balcony to heckle and grump at all the other muppets had Dad giggling until it was a full belly laugh and we were all laughing at him.
I remember almost nothing of the tiny trailer we lived in at the old KOA trailer park. Only a few instant still moments when Mom would adorn her 2 piece bathing suit, drape our beach towels over her arm and we would carefully navigate the trail that led from our trailer to the edge of, what seemed to be, our own private beach on the shore of Burns Lake.
I remember the excitement of moving into the cedar A frame cabin on Tchesinkut Lake when I was 5 years old. Grandpa John took me down to the over grown lake edge and taught me how to skip rocks. After searching and finding the perfect flat stone, Grandpa finally convinced me to throw it in the water instead of keeping it safe in my treasure box. He taught me how to stand, leaned over ever so slightly back and to the right and twist my body forward as I threw the rock. His perfectly flat rock would bounce over the surface of the lake effortlessly, too many times to count. My goal in adulthood was 5 skips, 5 little splashes on the sky’s perfect reflection until it plunked and sunk. 2 skips were ok…but 5 was an achievement. Grandpa John would take my small hand and position the rock perfectly between my thumb and my next two fingers to hold the smooth bottom of the stone in just the right spot. He told me to let it roll off the tip of my middle digit and then again from my pointer to set it spinning. It was the spin that would make it fly! I was set! the perfect rock, the perfect body position, the perfect hold, the perfect lake, the perfect teacher on a perfect day. I concentrated on spinning the rock to make Grandpa proud of me, I drew back, swung my body to the right and threw the perfect stone into the tall purple fire-weeds on the bank behind us. Grandpa John was a serious man, he smiled his tight-lipped smile gently and showed me again, like he had all the time in the world.
I remember when Gramma & Grandpa Baker moved from 8th ave to their house on 1st and Carrol. The pink carpet matched Gramma’s pink recliner perfectly. The fire-place on the back wall was set in red brick beside the back door that opened to a perfectly manicured lawn with the biggest Saskatoon tree I had ever seen. Grandpa John had to share his office with Glenny whose small bed was in the far corner beneath the framed picture of horse-drawn carriages. Grandpa’s desk was opposite that along the wall that bordered the hallway. I would walk past the open door of his office and he would be sitting with his hands on the desk, fingers interlaced tightly and his thumbs twirling round and round each other in a meditative motion so he could think through the latest work conundrum. I remember this time vividly. Saturday morning cartoons interrupted only by Gramma’s special Mickey Mouse pancakes smothered in butter and syrup. Gramma picking me up from school and sitting at the round table in her kitchen teaching me long division the old school way, the way that made sense. The sleepovers with my best friend Susie, our perfect glass tea set in the kitchen with real juice and biscuit cookies! The Mary Kay parties for me and my friends in high-school and the evenings where she hosted the pre-dance girls group. I can hear the giggling and overwhelming chatter and remember Gramma hiding in her room with a good book.
Gramma’s house was the center of activity, fancy dinner parties for the elite in Burns Lake, in the posh part of town…it was without question “the place to be”. Life on the lake was simple. Mom had a large garden and greenhouse that we would eat from all summer long and preserve what we couldn’t eat in the fall. Our cool room was always full of potatoes and homemade jam’s and jelly’s. We spent hours on the lake catching fish and lighting up the little chef smoker to indulge ourselves for months on candied smoked trout. Fall was also the time Dad had to go hunting. It seemed like a chore to me at the time but looking back I’m sure this was Dad’s get away…alone in the woods. No one liked taking a moose to feed us through the winter. It was a necessity. There was simply not enough money. Despite this fact, I never felt truly deprived in any way. We always got new clothes before the start of the next school year. Our tree was always crammed with gifts. We always had a dog.
I remember my first Barbie doll. She was the birthday celebration doll with blond hair and a rainbow chiffon dress over a satin slip. Mom made me Barbie clothes from old Paton’s patterns on her sewing machine. I had everything! Swim suits, slippers, bathrobes and nightgowns, jeans, shirts and jackets for my Barbie. Mom had a Barbie too. She kept it tightly locked away in a blue metal trunk with moth balls. She would take it out once in a while and show me….like taking candy from a baby….she would put it back in the trunk telling me how much money this doll would be worth someday. I’m sure that Barbie is still tucked away in that trunk.
There was no Saturday morning cartoons or Mickey Mouse pancakes on the lake, but there was always cleaning for the girls and chopping wood for the boys. Sunday was our day to indulge on pancakes and listen to Abba on the 8-track, after the work was done. You wouldn’t think there was an art to dusting, but there is. Kids nowadays have no idea how to dust. They have one fancy colorful mini duster with soft chunky hairs that they swipe around the edge of the cabinet and call er’ done! If I handed them a dry toothbrush and asked them to dust they would stare blank eyed at me with their mouths open in disgust at the used toothbrush in their hand. I worked hard for Mom cause I had my eye set on a Cabbage Patch doll, everyone else already seemed to have one. No dusting meant no allowance. Plain and simple. No second place ribbons, no exceptions, no make up chores.
Gramma took me to my swimming lessons on Burns Lake. I hated the cold murky water that harbored little vampire leeches and the slimy plastic on the bottom under the sparse layer of sand that the village used to keep the weeds down. On the other hand I loved the special book they gave you with empty spots for all your swimming patches that you added like stickers in a sticker book as you moved your way from Turtles to Dolphins. Extra special was the date and signature of the instructor in your book as you moved up, like winning the Olympics. Gramma promised to take me to the drug store to pick out my Cabbage Patch after our lessons. I stood in the second aisle from the mall wall and took in the sight of the dolls all neatly in their boxes. Not one was the same…blonde and brunette yarn heads with cute dresses, blue and green eyes, dark, light and medium skin and little boys in overalls. So many choices. If my mother had been there she would choose the blonde girl with the pink dress and ribbons in her pigtails. Gramma waited patiently for me to look at them all in detail. I finally choose a bald baby girl in a plain white muumuu with white lace along the edges, white bonnet and tiny white knit booties. Gramma looked at me and asked “Are you sure you want the bald one?”. I surveyed the group again. It was my money. I worked for it. It was my choice. I said “yes”, expecting my mother’s voice to come out of my grandmother saying the one I chose was ugly but Gramma just nodded and smiled supporting my choice. The doll’s name was Celeste. She had her own birth certificate and adoption papers. To this day Celeste is with me. I have her papers, her bonnet, booties and dress. That was independence for me, individuality inside a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Life was simple on the lake, it was also hard. I learned to cherish the things I had, and work hard to earn the things I wanted. I came across a post in the buy and sell the other day selling her Cabbage Patch collection in “un-played with” condition. Gack!!! What a crime! Of course I had to have one! When I stopped by, I was VERY happy to see that the ones that were left had indeed been played with and loved. They no longer had their birth certificates or adoption papers, there was old marker on the tops of their bald heads, holes in their thumbs and missing ribbons and bows. They brought back for me a feeling of cherishment and gratitude. A feeling about a doll that I missed passing onto to my boys as I thought I would. I missed teaching them to highland dance, figure skate, braid hair and love The Little Mermaid. They didn’t like the Nancy Drew or Little House on the Prairie books. They had no use for Barbie’s or Wendy Walker. They love to cook, make slime, play basketball, snowboard, ride motorbikes and light fires. I am grateful that I always have a boy around to get the boy things done that need to get done.
The words on this page are all that is left of the feeling I get from Celeste. It doesn’t diminish it, just changes it into something I didn’t expect. A feeling that’s all mine, that can’t be shared, taught or recreated. This realization also makes me feel like it’s time to do some hard-core de-cluttering. Some Cinderella magic in turning the physical memories into words and letting go of the things I have no room for. When the words are not enough…the pictures are.