It was probably about 12 years ago that my sister called to ask if Ivaan and I would come up to Sault Ste-Marie for a week to stay at their house with their sons while she and Joe went house-hunting 1000 kilometres away.
Ivaan already used a wheelchair most of the time but he could walk short distances. There are no short distances in Sault Ste-Marie, but that's another story. The first leg of our journey was by train to Sudbury. Then we went by bus to Sault Ste. Marie. Ivaan loved this part. Sitting in the front seats on the right hand side, the entire vista of Northern Ontario opened up before his eyes. "It's like big screen TV" he marvelled. (We never had television, so this was purely hypothetical).
Lesley and Joe met us at the bus depot, left us with the car and the kids, and they headed off to find a house to buy in Kingston.
On the way up to the Sault, Ivaan worried aloud that the nephews might not cope well with the disruption of having an aunt and uncle in the house instead of Mum and Dad. He decided that the way to ensure this didn't happen was to pull out all the stops to ensure the week was given over to total enjoyment. (And he hoped the nephews would have a good time, too.)
We had barely arrived in the door when Uncle Ivaan asked, "What things would you like to do this week that probably wouldn't happen if Mum and Dad were here instead of us?" Fireworks! said Angus, 13. Going to the fair after school! chimed in six year old Ivor. Eating french fries off the chip truck outside Canadian Tire! volunteered Angus. Tim Hortons Boston Creme doughnuts after violin lessons, added Ivor. Dairy Queen for breakfast, said Angus hopefully. Riding to the school bus stop in the wheelchair! threw in Ivor.
Next morning, it was surprisingly easy to get Ivor ready for school. In fact, he was standing by the wheelchair 15 minutes before the school bus was due to arrive. "They'll think I'm a little disabled kid!" he mused enthusiastically, as I pushed him down the long driveway to the school bus stop.
Remembering how young kids love to be hugged and kissed by their aunties in front of their classmates (not much), I said to him in French as the school bus pulled up, "On peut serrer la main" (we can shake hands). Imagine my surprise when Ivor leapt out of the wheelchair, bounded up the steps of the school bus, and vigorously shook the hand of Jane, the school bus driver.
We picked the kids up from school and headed straight for the fair. Ferris wheels, candy floss and carnival games are best enjoyed on an empty stomach.
Next day, it was french fries in the Canadian Tire parking lot. Then we went to Dairy Queen to pick up breakfast for the following morning. Violin lessons took slightly longer than normal, as they included a trip to Tim Hortons for a Boston Creme doughnut before returning to school.
The night before Mum and Dad got home, we told the McKechnies, who lived next door, that we were planning a fireworks display. Concerned, they mentioned some grouchy neighbours a few doors away and the very real chance that the grouchy neighbours would call the police. We said we thought we'd take a chance anyway. So that night, the McKechnies held their own fireworks display in solidarity with ours, just in case the cops showed up. They didn't.
When it was time to meet Mum and Dad at the airport and to head back to Toronto with Ivaan and the wheelchair, we found a sign taped to the front door of the house, written in Ivor's distinctive handwriting:
THE PEOPLE WHO USED TO LIVE HERE HAVE MOVED, it read. PLEASE GO AWAY.
We took that as a sign that he didn't mind having to put up with his uncle and aunt for an entire week.
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