Friday, December 16, 2011

Memory: Age 6 "Poison Berries"

I am 6 years old and we are at the cabin. It’s cloudy and cold, but it’s supposed to be summer. The wind is blowing off the lake and that’s why it’s cold, mom says. I have to wear a winter coat, and it’s puffy and uncomfortable. I can’t put my arms down.

Mom and dad are inside the cabin talking to the other grown-ups. I’m outside with my cousins. They are almost grown-ups too. They are lots taller than me. Sometimes they say swear words and tell me I’d better not tell anyone or they won’t let me go with them anymore. Sometimes I get to go with them for walks up the beach and they smoke cigarettes, but I’m not supposed to see that, cause they pretend to see squirrels. “Look, Krissy!” They yell and point, but I don’t see any squirrels. All I see is smoke coming out of their noses when I turn around, and they tuck the smokes under their arm. I know its smoking cause dad does it too. Sometimes he blows smoke rings, but you can’t put your finger in them cause they disappear. I won’t tell the grown-ups that my cousins smoke, because I like going for walks with them. They are funner than grown-ups cause they never make me go to bed, and they let me hear bad words, and they tell each other stories about all the things that they do that they get in trouble for and that they get away with, and they let me eat lots of ketchup chips. I like hearing about teenager things.

But right now my cousins are being boring and they’re whispering and won’t let me hear what they’re talking about, so it must be something really good. I try to hear, but they are good at whispering. Instead I pick blueberries from the bushes around the cabin. They aren’t really blueberries yet though, cause they’re still green. Do you call them green berries if they’re still green? I put one in my mouth and crunch it between my teeth. It isn’t soft like a blueberry and it tastes yucky, like grass, or when you accidentally put your sandwich down on the table that mom just sprayed with cleaner. I chew it up a little bit and make a face and spit it out on the sand, then I try it with another one and another one, but they all taste yucky.

Kenny and Mark walk over by me. They aren't very much older than me, but they are still big kids. “What’re you doin’, Krissy, b’y! You’re not supposed to eat the green ones, ya goose!” Mark says.

“I likes to. I likes to pick berries.” I say, putting more green berries in my cupped hand.

“If you pick them all now, there won’t be any to pick later when they’re supposed to turn blue.” Kenny says.

“I wants to pick them now though.” I say. I drop the few berries in my hand when I see there’s a tiny spider crawling on them.

“Hey, Kenny? Do you know how Bandit died?” Mark asks. I turn around and look curiously at them. Bandit was our uncle Pat’s big German shepherd dog. He was a pretty dog, but I was afraid of him, cause I’m afraid of dogs. I got bit two times by dogs and it hurts a lot and I cried, so I don’t like to go close to them.

“Nope.” Kenny replies.

“He ate green blueberries and it poisoned him.” Mark says.
All of a sudden I feel like the ground is wobbly and my chest is tight like when mom makes me wear party dresses. “No!” I yell at them. “blueberries aren’t poison! I eats them all the time. Nanny says only dog berries and choke cherries are bad for you!”

“that’s blueberries, not green ones.” Mark says. Kenny is smiling. I think they might be joking, but I don’t know, cause sometimes teenagers laugh at things that aren’t funny, like tying your socks together while they’re still on your feet.

I throw the green berry in my hand away into the trees and run into the cabin to find my mom and dad. I don’t tell them I ate green blueberries cause I’m afraid they will get mad at me. They told me to stay away from poison things and we put “Officer Ugg” stickers on all the things in our house that I’m not supposed to touch.

For the next few days I think that I might die at any time from the poison berries. After a while I realize that I must be okay cause I’m still alive and okay, but I don’t ever eat green blueberries ever again, I don’t even touch them, and I always make sure that my blueberries are super blue and ripe all over.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Ballad of Katie Lee OR How my Brother and I Broke my Sister's Brain

Just after my eighth birthday my parents informed my five year old brother and I that my mom was going to have a baby. Being an old pro at siblings, having already gone through the pregnancy and birth of my brother, the new baby jealousy, and just having to deal with him every day, I was excited. What was one more kid? With three we would finally outnumber the parents! Plus, this baby might be a sister!

Oh how I had longed for a sister! To not have to clip rainbow coloured Goody buckles into my brother’s too-short brush-cut, or force him to wear a headband and let me call him Sally. I was sure this baby would be a sister. The wonderful, awesome, super baby sister that I had always wanted to be my playmate! Someone who wouldn’t cry if I didn’t play dinkies and WWF Wrestlers with them.

I frantically began drawing Crayola Crayon pictures of my new sister. She would be the greatest person ever. I couldn’t wait for her to show up. We were going to have the most fun ever in the world!

When Jenna was born on the fourth of June, 1991, I was so ecstatic! The sister I had wished for was here! There were two of us now! We would be best buds and play together all the time!

Except you don’t really realize when you’re little that when a baby is born, it’s awfully small. And it can’t really play. All it can do is poop and cry and throw up on itself. Mostly a baby is just drooly and stinky. But that was okay. She might not have been exactly what I had expected, but at least she was a sister!
Not long out of toddler-hood it became apparent that Jenna wasn’t just your ordinary kid, she was something special. Now maybe it was because my parents are both the youngest in their families too, or maybe it was because she was just a sweet little darling baby angel, but everything Jenna did was adorable. Or at least my parents and all other adults thought so.

Not only was she adorable, but she was the exact opposite of my brother and I. Danny and I, we were kids that liked to play in the dirt and run around outside. I was a somewhat quiet and introverted child who liked to draw and talk to stuffed animals. My brother was loud and a talker and tended to drive both my parent insane with his non-stop chatter or if he didn’t have anything to say, sound effects.

Jenna on the other hand, was a natural born performer. By the time she was three years old she would belt out show tunes, perform one woman plays, and choreograph her own dance routines. She proclaimed that when she grew up, her chosen profession would be “Ballerina-Skater-Nurse” Anytime she acquired new clothes it was a chance to put on a New York Fashion Week style high fashion show in the middle of the living room. All this would have been fine except that she would FORCE everyone in the house to watch everything she did. Not only would she beg you to watch, but considering our parents found every movement she made so frikken’ adorable, they would goad us into watching her too.

One day my brother and I were sitting in our living room watching a particularly enthralling episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when Jenna Ruby, The Sugar Plum Fairy herself, came pliƩ-ing into the living room and arabesque-d right in front of the television screen.


MOOOOOOM! JENNA’S IN FRONT OF THE TV AGAIN!” my brother wailed, but it was all in vain. Not only would mom simply reply with an answer such as “Oh, she’s just little, and she’s so cute! Plus, TV just rots your brain anyway!” but no one tells you ahead of time that when your sister is four and you are twelve, you can’t just slug her when she’s being a turd.

We put up with her for a while hoping she would soon tire out and go find mom in the kitchen but as it turned out, mom was wrist deep in hamburger meat making a meat loaf and couldn’t clap for or provide the enthralled audience Jenna needed. We were going to have to deal with her, and she was going strong today. The new ballet lessons were obviously paying off for her, and she was going to get her tutu’s worth.

After about 10 minutes, a brilliant idea struck me.
“Hey, Danny? Do you remember Katie? She was so great.” I said in voice with just a touch of nostalgia.

My brother looked up at me like I had 10 heads. I shot him a quick look, that look that only lasts for half a second that says “GO ALONG WITH THIS.” One great thing about my brother and I is that we were such smart asses, and even though Jenna may have been the family
performer, my brother and I had definite improv skills.

“Oh, Oh yeah! Katie!” Danny agreed “She was cool.”

“Yeah!” I said “She was really awesome, just the best ever.”

You see by this time, it was not only apparent to my dancing sister that we were ignoring her, but we were now having a conversation in her presence that she was not a part of. We had piqued her interest and the dancing was slowing as she listened to us talk.

“She was the best sister ever.” I said. “Too bad she’s gone.”

“Oh yeah” Danny agreed, now grinning hugely at me. “Best sister I ever had! She was so nice and kind and she never ever danced in front of the TV.”

“Yup!” I said. “Never danced in front of the TV, and she never sang songs, and she never ever deleted our Donkey Kong games.”

“Not even once” Said Danny. By now Jenna had stopped entirely and was looking at us incredulously.

“It’s too bad what happened to her. I always liked Katie” I said.

“Yeah, too bad.” Danny agreed as we both tsk tsked and put on our most mournful looks.

“What happened to Katie?” Jenna asked; brown eyes wide and full of wonder.

“Mom and dad got mad at her cause she was always singing all the time.” Danny replied. “First they liked it, but after a while it started to drive everyone crazy.”

“Yup. At first they thought it was wonderful. But one day, they got tired of it, so they cooked her for supper and we had to eat her.”

Now maybe this wasn’t the most believable thing I could have come up with, but you have to remember that Jenna was just four years old at the time. In her world, a purple dinosaur hung out with a bunch of kids after school, Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny and the Tooth fairy were somewhere out there in the world probably enjoying latte’s together, there were monsters of unspeakable evil under the bed that could be kept away by pulling a blanket over your head, and “Ballerina-Skater-Nurse” was a viable future profession…

Of course she wasn’t going to believe it without question.

“NO!” she screamed at us “NO! THAT’S NOT TRUE! NO. NO, THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN! YOU DIDN’T HAVE ANOTHER SISTER. NO! NO YOU DIDN’T! The more “No’s” she said, the more she revealed just how unsure she really was.

“I liked Katie” my brother said “but she was even better with gravy.”

The fact that at age nine, he said this with such an utterly flat expression, no hint of a giggle, no smile, just as if he was reminiscing on a particularly delicious meal, dug the shovel in deeper.

“She was great. I miss her. She tasted a lot like chicken.” I replied. Danny nodded solemnly. We could have won Oscars.


Now see, the thing is, even though my parents thought my sister was adorable, and they rarely let us mess with her, I think they were a little intrigued by our story and as to where we might take it. I think they were a little amused by it, even though it was undoubtedly horrible.
I think they thought it was just unreal enough, that they let us have it. They let us keep our story. They didn’t shut it down by saying “No Jenna, there is no Katie, You’re brother and sister are being mean.” Once Jenna got thoroughly flustered they would stop us by simply saying “Okay guys, that’s enough.” And we’d stop talking about Katie, the cannibalized fourth Lee child, but at no time did they ever EXPRESSLY State “There is no Katie, there never was a Katie, Katie is not real” or any such statement, leaving the window of belief open just enough of a crack for us.

So on the day that we created Katie, we managed not only to horrify my little sister, but she stopped dancing in front of the TV and fled from the living room.

Katie may not have ever really lived, but in our imaginations, she was larger than life. Oh the adventures we had with Katie! Of course these stories only ever came to light when Jenna was doing something incredibly irritating while in our presence. Katie would be slipped so subtly into our conversations so as to make it seem like whatever Jenna was doing reminded us of Katie. But oh boy! Katie was a sister that anyone would have wanted. We would tell these stories just until Jenna started wailing and left the room.

You know how sometimes the stars align just right? Well that happened to us one day while visting our Nan and Pop. Nan’s brother had a little granddaughter. Blonde haired and blue eyed, who had just had her photos taken and Nan’s brother had given her a framed one that was sitting on the shelf amongst Nan’s pictures of her grandchildren. We were sitting in the dining room eating bowls of ice cream when my sister saw the new picture and said “Nan, who’s that in the picture?”

Nan looked up at the picture and smiled “Oh, that’s Katie!” she replied.

I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

Nan’s brother’s grandchild’s name was Katie, and now there was a picture of Katie sitting on my grandmother’s shelf next to the pictures of me, Danny and Jenna, and my cousins. If you could have seen the look of abject horror on my sister’s face, surely you would have picked her up and cradled her, stroked her hair and told her that her sister and brother were evil, evil children, but my brother and I, we just looked up at her and nodded ever so slightly.

And that’s how my brother and I broke my sister’s brain.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Early Memory: Age 4

It is cool and dark in the tiny room, but through her sleep blurred eyes she can see a bright blue sky through the slit in the dark blue curtains. It’s a nice day. Today she can go wading in the water to catch pin fish in her new plastic beach bucket.

Across the room her father is snoring lightly, her mother curled gently into his back, sleeping away the beer and wine of last night’s card game. Her baby brother, cheeks flushed pink, is sleeping soundly in his playpen nestled between the two beds. His arms are thrown above his head, his straw blonde hair sticking straight up at the crown of his head. His stuffed giraffe at the crook of his neck and his blue satin bound blanket kicked around his tiny pyjamaed feet.

She can hear them awake in the kitchen. A tinny old metal radio plays a commercial for the Valley mall, the CFCB call sign, then the voice of a morning dj sends out a song request and a caterwauling Newfoundland country song plays. She can hear a kettle whistle for a moment before the metallic clunk of it being set on a different burner. The acrid smell of coffee and burnt toast. She hears him curse under his breath, then the familiar sound of him scraping toast over the garbage can. She can hear their voices idly chatting to each other. The tinkling sound of a spoon in a china mug.

She blinks her sleep clouded eyes and sits up, throwing back the covers on her cot. She kicks her feet out from under the floral sheets and multi-coloured plaid sleeping bags that cradled her during the night. She stands on the mattress, bouncing on the bed for a moment, looking for her doll, notices him pinned between the bed and the wood paneled wall, and bounces down to pull him out. Her mother rolls over in her sleep, disturbed by the noise she is making. She is careful to be quieter as she slides off the mattress, her toes touching the cold linoleum floor, Albert, the doll, tucked tightly under her arm. She sucks in her little pot-belly as she slides between the worn and heavy wooden dresser and her brother’s play pen. Pauses for a moment to stand on tiptoe and peer in at him, kiss the tip of her finger and poke it into the warm pink flesh of his cheek. He doesn’t even stir, just heaves a sleep filled sigh. She reaches up to turn the glass doorknob and as she opens the door she squints into the sunshine filled living room.

“You’re up already my little dolly!” Poppy says as he chews his jam covered toast.
“Yup. I wants breakfast. Can I have tea too?” She asks, pulling out the scuffed painted chair between the two of them.

“Yis, you can have a cup of tea my love.” Nanny says as she pulls a mug out of the cupboard with a Carebear face on the side. She throws a square teabag into the bottom of it and half fills it with water from the kettle, and then cold water from a jug. She stirs it and puts the cup in front of the little girl who stands on the chair, leaning over the table to reach the sugar dish and the can of Carnation milk. Albert the doll sits propped on the edge of the table, hunched and grinning as always, at his feet.

She digs her spoon into the dish and granules of sugar spill on the green checked table cloth, she does this again, and is going for a third when Nanny says “Getouttadat! Getouttadat! Das enough now, my goodness! You’ll lose all your teeth you keeps puttin’ dat much sugar in your tea!” The little one screws up her face, but goes about pouring milk from the punctured holes in the top of the milk can. It slops over the side of the mug to pool in a ring around the cup that is so full that instead of picking it up, she lowers her head to slurp the tea from the top.

“What are you going to have for breakfast dolly?” Nanny asks. “Do you want toast like Pop, or cereal, like Nan?”

“I wants Special K, and I wants strawberries too!” She says exuberantly, hopping on the seat of the chair.

“Alright” Nan says. “But there’s no strawberries in the fridge so we’ve got to go out to the garden to get them. Don’t go jumpin’ now.” She picks the little one up underneath the arms and sets her on the floor.

The little girl skips around the table and across the living room, running her hand along the scratchy knit blankets covering the worn couches. Nan opens the screen door opening out onto the front patio deck. The morning is already warm. Sun glistens off the lake where Poppy’s little green fibreglass boat is tied to the sun-bleached wharf, bobbing on the gentle waves. Everything is so bright that it appears to be radiating its own light. The brown planks of the deck are warm, almost hot, under her bare feet. She climbs up onto the wooden bench surrounding the patio deck, her thin cotton night dress covered in dancing teddy bears catching and pulling on a knot in the wood. Flakes of old paint rub off and stick to her knees as she knees on the bench, elbows resting on the railing and chin in her hands, watching as Nan roams about the strawberry patch keeping a keen eye out for early berries.

She bends to a plant, pulls a weed alongside it and turns a few berries in her hand. Some of them are bright red on one side, but still green on the other. She pulls one and puts it in the empty yellow Eversweet margarine container she brought with her, moving about to different parts of the patch, placing her feet carefully amongst the plants so as not to step on any of them.

“Oh, I got a big one here! Bet it’ll be some good!”

“Yay!” The little one says, clapping her hands together. A robin lets out a long whistle blast call from the nearby trees and another one answers almost immediately. Her eye is caught by the rainbow coloured, flower shaped pin-wheels in the nearby flower patch, catching the light breeze and spinning amongst the lupins and tiger lillies.

“Look how many we got. We’ll be able to pick some for jam next week.” Nan says as she stands in front of her down in the garden. She holds out the butter container, half full, picks up a berry and pulls the leafy top from it and passes it to the little girl who takes it and pops it in her mouth.

The taste is sun warmed and sweet, full of sugars and juices from the early summer rains. “Let’s go cut them up and put them in your cereal now.”