Monday, October 17, 2016

WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY: Legends of Sault Ste-Marie.

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:


We took that as a sign that he didn't mind having to put up with his uncle and aunt for an entire week.

CABBAGETOWN: The Stuff of Legends

Two weeks ago, I moved into the house of some close friends in the west end.  The plan was that my friend Crystal would fly out west for a week to help out in the home of one of her sisters, who had just welcomed a new baby.  She'd take her youngest child with her, leaving her husband Matt, their two older children, and me to keep the home fires burning.

We'd done a version of this last year when their own new baby arrived, and it worked really well.  But we'd never tried it for an entire week, and never with Crystal so far away.   Hard to say who was more nervous, but if the kids were nervous, it didn't show at all. In fact, those children are as
cool as cucumbers.  It's hard to imagine that a 7 and a 4 year old could cope so well with Auntie Eya at the helm instead of Mom, but they are troopers.

Crystal had left me with a schedule of the kids' activities and some very helpful suggestions:  Make their lunches the night before!  Anything remaining is their lunch boxes is an after school snack! Don't forget their piano practice!  Brush and floss twice a day!  Homework!  Everyone washes their hands as soon as we get home!  Gymnastics!  Birthday parties!  Swimming! Bedtime at 7:30!  And, best of all, stories before bedtime.

Now, it's important to note that both children were born after Ivaan left the planet.  The seven-year-old was born exactly one month later.  The four-year-old was born exactly three years later.  But Uncle Ivaan is as present in their lives as if they had known him forever.   They know what he looks like.  They know his jokes. They visit his grave and the peonies which flower at his gravesite every June are a gift from them.

So when it came to story time, I didn't even bother to bring out any books to read.  I was going to tell them stories about Uncle Ivaan and the mischief he got up to when he was their age. These stories are better told in the dark.   The story about Ivaan dropping a homemade bomb off the roof of their house.  The story about Ivaan hitching a ride on the back of the vegetable truck.  The story about what a picky eater Ivaan was....until he discovered ham sandwiches made by the mother of his friends Bo and Len.  Seriously, you could have heard a pin drop in that bedroom.  One evening, when Matt arrived home from work, he came into the children's room for a goodnight hug, in the middle of a story.  The seven-year-old was patient for a minute or two, but finally asked, "And now can Auntie Eya finish the story, Dad?"

The week passed in a blur.  The children were thrilled to see their mother and their little brother. We all pronounced the adventure a complete success.

When I arrived back at my very quiet home, I found an email informing me that Uncle Ivaan was now featured in the Remarkable Lives section of the historical website, Cabbagetown People.  I haven't shown it to the children yet, but I'm showing it to you right now.

On the last night before Crystal came home, I told the children the story of when Uncle Ivaan and Auntie Eya went to Sault Ste Marie for a week, to stay with our nephews Angus and Ivor, while my sister and brother-in-law were out of town.  It was quite a few years before the nephews told their
parents the full tale of what happened that week, but now that the truth is out, this will be the subject of my next blog post.