Tag Archives: rural life

A Special Place

24 Apr

HMMS

I grew up in the country.  All 3 of my brothers and I had the good fortune of attending a small rural school.  Now that I am in my ‘upper-mid 30’s’ I have the perspective to know what an absolute gem of a place that school was.  Our bus driver, Eugene, would burn by our house every morning in order to turn around at my grandparents garage a mile over the road.  I knew I had about 5 minutes to get my butt down to the end of the driveway.   The school is only a mile from where we grew up so the commute was short.  At the end of the school day, even that short ride felt long when you were hungry and tired because we played hard.  We had a real ‘Wildhood’ at HM MacDonald.

To give you some background info.  The school goes from grade Primary to Grade 6.   For the most part the same teachers taught myself and my siblings.  2 teachers retired after I had them (my class is legend to be the worst one in history… so we likely drove them to retire), but otherwise the teachers all stayed the same.  The classes were small.  I think one time we broke the 20 mark when a girl from British Columbia came into our class for a short time. Sierra.  I remember that ‘Come From Away’  girl clearly:  she had really long hair and it seemed so fascinating to be from Salmon’s Arm.  Her family mysteriously came and went.  There was a rumor that they left their dog in their freezer.  In grade 5 a piece was added to our school which enabled us to have more room and so they extended the school line. I remember we had a ribbon cutting celebration and different political officials came to our school for it. I graced them all with a tap dancing routine to Bobby Day’s 1956 smash hit – Rockin’ Robin.  I ‘time-stepped’ my way into our local newspaper.  I just laughed thinking of that.  When the new section opened we had a few jogging pant wearing kids from over the road join us.  Other than those few changes,  I basically had the same kids in my class all the way through.

Oh the memories.  When you have the same classmates, the same families, cousins in the school, the same teachers, the same janitor/bus driver and the same playground supervisor everything felt so secure and safe.   Of course there were the usual issues – bullying, cat fights, back talking and of course sour milk.  Literal sour milk.  We had a milk program at school and it has scarred me more than any bully did.  The milk was often on the warm side and I never liked it.  One time I complained that the milk was sour and my teacher said it wasn’t.  IT WAS.  Until this day I cannot drink milk on its own from an unknown source.  I have PSMDD – Post Sour Milk Drinking Disorder.

I know for certain that HM MacDonald helped me grow my confidence.  With confidence you can communicate better, be empathetic, be compassionate, take risks, think big and have a more positive outlook on life.  No one fell through the cracks.  We all knew each other and so it became a safe place to do public speaking, singing in the Christmas concert (or getting the golden speaking roles if we did a play) or strike out at baseball.   I could tell stories for hours about my memories from that school.  The time (when in grade 5 and 6) Allan and Brent stole the school bus and ripped around the soccer field with it.  Or when we were out past the buzzer and saw our teacher tramping across the soccer field to get us – Randy fell out of the tree he climbed and broke his pelvis.  When Amanda put a tack on the teachers desk and he sat on it.  When Bradley had gas so bad in class that our teacher sent a note home to his parents about his diet.  Or Miss Hickey (our completely bizarre music teacher) who made us study Beethoven and Bach in grade 3.   When we turned against our sweet bus driver/janitor Eugene and got a petition to have him removed from the school for smoking in the furnace room.  On a more scholastic note: Mad Math Minutes, Reach for The Top and science fairs.  Having to take the bus to Lakevale School to have enough kids to make two teams from and track and field day in town.  Hotdog days when it was your Mom’s turn to serve.  Cake walks where it didn’t matter who made the cake or what was in it – you ate it and loved it.  Participaction with Hal and Joanne.  Mass in the school gym on Wednesday mornings.  That canopy where you all run into the middle and it goes up into the air.  Fiercely competitive dodge ball.   The ‘Humping Cabin’ the boys made up in the woods behind the school.  To be clear – no humping ever happened.  The boys would make humping like motions while walking into it.  Heads Up 7-Up.  Hatching chicks every spring in our classroom.  Crazy high swings and those frigging monkey bars that everyone fell off at some point.  I could go on and on.  I am sure my brothers could add in countless memories they too have.  We all made life long friends from our days at HM MacDonald.

As like many other families who came through HM MacDonald; my siblings and I have all done well for ourselves.  When someone complimented my Dad (who is a terribly modest creature) on his children he said ‘that was largely because of their Mom not me’.  While our parents and genetics play a big part in who we become so does the community you grow up in.  I know for certain that our elementary school days greatly impacted our characters and potential.

I read this week that the school board is looking to shut down HM MacDonald. This announcement came out of the blue as it is a thriving school with full classrooms and a small operating budget.  Tears came to my eyes when I read it.  The idea of kids from our community taking long bus rides to be placed in big classes breaks my heart.   It is a special place.  There are so few special places like this left.  We need to nurture them not close them down.

Advertisements

Tell Me A Story

18 Feb

story-telling-jpg-1

Can you tell me a story? I can’t even begin to count how many times my nieces have asked me to do that.  They absorb every ounce, of every word I speak when I tell them foolish and wild tales of growing up or stories from my older family members.   When each story finishes I can be sure to hear – another one please.  They love every second of it and stare at me like I am a wonder of the world.  We all love a good story, told well.

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of entertainment.  Before we had the internet, before we had cable, before we had cellphones, before we had Ipads — people got together and told stories.  I’ve always had an insatiable interest in people and witnessing the world around me. Like some people love running or music, a great love of mine is hearing or recanting a great story.  I grew up in the country with no cable which meant one of our main forms of entertainment was going to visit relatives and neighbours in the evenings.  If my Mom was going so was I, as it meant I got to listen in on adult conversations and hear crazy stories.  I can clearly remember my Grand Uncle Emile telling the story of getting home to his fathers funeral in Cape Breton.  He was living away working as an RCMP officer and on the day he was to travel planes (from the only airline in Canada at that time) were grounded.  Instead of missing his fathers funeral RCMP officers did a convoy for him – they drove him to the edge of their districts where an officer from the next district would meet them.  Amazingly, he made it all the way from Ontario to Cape Breton in time for his fathers funeral. He told stories with such zest.  Hands going.  I was completely captivated by him.  Or what about the time when Grand Uncle Blais as a boy got a cows horn through his neck and nearly died.  Or when my Grandmere spent an entire year in a sanatorium when she had TB.  This left my Grandpere home with 9 children.   Or when myself and 5 girlfriends convinced 2 police officers to drive us to the bar and they asked for underwear as payment.  Or Grand Uncle Jerome who loved playing pranks.  He once gave my cousin Heather a hen in a box for her birthday.  When she opened the box the hen flew all around the living room.  Or when my Grand Aunt Phyllis gave away unwanted kittens for Halloween one year.  Or Grand Aunt Rita who swore her house was haunted and told creepy stories about seeing ghosts there.  Or the time when my brother Steve went through a barbed wire fence on a sled ripping his face to shreds and my likely somewhere around 300 pound grandfather nearly fainted when he brought him home to my Mom.  Or when our very drunk neighbour Freddy was lying out in the middle of the road in front of our house and my mother had to talk him through getting up and off the highway.  I watched from the hedge so that Mom wouldn’t see me – she told me to go back to the house.  Or about the time when Allan and Brent (who were in elementary school at this time) stole our school bus and did wheelies on the soccer field with it.  Or about Mrs North Grant.  An eccentric woman who lived in town, dressed like Sex and The City but wore knee high pantyhose.  Or the time when Sarah and I at 15 stole her parents car to go to a party   Or when Mom and I on our way to Australia on a stopover in L.A. took a bus tour of downtown and got stuck because that happened to be the day when Michael Jackson died.  Or when my brother Chris was able to get a dirt cheap place to live in university because the landlord asked if her mentally challenged brother could live with them.  Or the night when our dog and two cats all got hit by separate cars on the road in front of our house.  Or when we went away for March Break once leaving my brother Chris home to look after the house, a very pregnant cow and other animals – the cow got out and the police found her over the road.  They called my Grand Uncle (who is a farmer) assuming it was his cow.  Chris went to pick her up the next day.  On the way down the driveway she bawled and died, likely from exhaustion.  That was a great call to get at our hotel.  Mom and Dad only learned ‘the real story’ of what happened when my brother got married.  Coyotes were not involved, but my brother going to a party and not coming home was.  Or how we had so much snow in the winter that we used to jump off the roof of our house into the drifts.  One year Davids’ boots were not dug out until spring.  Or the times when people (sometimes complete strangers), crawled up our driveway when they went off the road in front of our house during a wild winter storm. They would stay for supper.  Or what about a cousin having her gallbladder stones in a jar in the cupboard.   I could quite literally go on and on and on.

This week one of our great storytellers Stuart MacLean died.  He had an enormous talent for connecting Canadians through his ability to tell a story. Every Sunday thousands of us across Canada tuned in to hear him recount a wildly funny or touching Dave and Morley tale, or to hear him read a listeners ‘must be true to be read’ story.  How many times have I heard a story and thought – that would be a great story for The Vinyl Café!  A few years ago I sent in a real ringer of mine and got a response saying they would like to use it on air.  Unfortunately, the right show to match my story with did not come around prior to Stuart bowing out.

Technology, rules, loss of community and paranoia from media has caused us to become kind of, well, boring.   We don’t talk to strangers.  We don’t take risks.  We don’t let our kids be independent because we fear the ‘what if’.  All the places good stories are made we don’t have anymore.  Earlier this week when I was walking home from work I came across a situation at a cross walk.  There was a man lying on the ground obviously in a lot of pain, a bus driver was talking him through the pain he was in – there was a big crowd of younger people looking but not helping (this was very close to a large university so students were coming from class).  I asked her if she had called 911 and she had already done so.  I decided I couldn’t help anymore and kept walking.  I had an awful feeling in my stomach wondering what happened to him and thought of him a few times this week. Did he get hit by a car?  Did he have a heart attack?  Fortunately, on Friday morning I saw the guy on the street near my house.  He is definitely a rougher looking guy and isn’t someone I would know.  I said ‘Excuse me, you don’t recognize me, but I saw you on the ground earlier this week and have been thinking of you ever since.’ He said ‘Oh, I fell on the ice and popped my shoulder out of place.’  I said ‘thank goodness that is all it was – glad to see you are okay.’  He stopped for a second and looked right at me and said ‘Hey, nobody seems to care about each other anymore.  Thanks so much for caring about me.’  My 10 year old niece was with me when this conversation happened.  I see a lot of myself in Cora in the way that she absorbs everything that is said around her.  She loves hearing stories and listening to adult conversations.  We got picked up in a taxi and chatted with our driver the whole way to her house.  Cora said- Aunt Emilie you will just talk to anyone.  True, and I am not going to stop.  It is in conversation and interaction with other people (not looking at our phones or watching our TVS ) where  stories and lifelong memories are created.