Fabulous Family

Labrador and Home Again

Labrador - that big chunk of land east of Quebec,  2.5 times larger than Newfoundland with almost 8000 km of coast line (map from 1871).

Labrador – that big chunk of land east of Quebec, 2.5 times larger than Newfoundland with almost 8000 km of coast line (map from 1871).

My parents left Labrador in 2002 so that Dad could get a new set of lungs to replace the scarred pair he had from working thirty years in an iron ore mine. They moved from Labrador City, a town with a couple of traffic lights to the heart of downtown Toronto, a city of two million, expecting they’d find a match in six months and return home.

Dad never saw Labrador again.

Dad received his transplant in 2005, two and a half years after he and Mom moved to Toronto. It was incredible to see the change in him one month post-transplant; he went from wearing an oxygen mask and being pushed in a wheelchair to walking with ease without an oxygen tank in sight. Dad’s transplant team of physiotherapists, counselors, nurses and doctors were just as excited as we were to witness his progress.

Soon Dad was well enough to go home, but never to Labrador.

Labrador City’s hospital didn’t have the facilities or equipment needed to care for a post-lung transplant patient. St. John’s did, but it was still 2000 km from their home, so Mom and Dad decided to move to Ottawa because my sister and I lived here, and of course being able to see their grandsons regularly didn’t hurt either.

Unfortunately Dad’s recovery didn’t last long. It’s a tough job trying to fool your body into accepting an organ it knows has no business being there. Although Labrador was out of the question, we had lots of family within driving distance of St. John’s who we planned to visit, but Dad never recovered enough to travel again.

Dad passed away December 30, 2006 and was buried in a small cemetery just up the hill from his childhood home in Dildo, Trinity Bay.

In the summer of 2007 Mom and I left Ottawa and drove 1400 km to Labrador City. I was to start working in Afghanistan that fall and Mom wanted to decide what to do with the house before I left. I wish now that we had waited longer or decided to come back again in a year before making any decisions. But in the end Mom let it go and sold it. She said it no longer felt like her home. Looking back I think the truth was she couldn’t feel anything at that point except grief and loss.

Mom stayed in Ottawa and I left for Afghanistan.

I worked on the NATO base in  Kandahar for four years and a couple more in the Alberta oil sands before returning to Ottawa in the summer of 2013. That fall I started working again with Nasittuq (a company that spans the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Labrador), moved into an apartment with my boyfriend (a first for me) and started saving my pennies so I can build a tiny house on wheels. The plan is to drive it to Newfoundland and get to work on making a new home for all of us on the land Dad left us in Trinity Bay.

I haven’t been back in years but my dreams still take me to Labrador West. I dream of riding my bicycle on empty streets in the middle of the night; playing softball in NDA’s parking lot with its patches of cement surrounded by deep puddles from melting snow banks; driving a beat-up station wagon near my best friend’s cabin in Duley Lake when I was twelve years old; racing across Wabush Lake on a skidoo; canoeing to our cabin and skinny-dipping in Moosehead Lake as a teenager; getting lost in the halls of Labrador City Collegiate my first day in grade 7; showing up late for a final exam at LCC before being allow to graduate from grade 12. Once awake there are flashes of memories so strong that I am shocked when I realize I can no longer walk through the back door of 4 Juniper and watch CBC’s Here and Now with Mom and Dad.

Mom and Dad loved Labrador, and especially loved escaping to our cabin on Moosehead Lake.

Mom and Dad loved Labrador, and especially loved escaping to our cabin on Moosehead Lake.

I can however grow some Labrador connections here in Ottawa. I can reconnect with old classmates, former teachers and neighbours from Labrador City. I can also forge some new ones with people from Happy Valley – Goose Bay, North West River, Hopedale, Cartwright, Natuashish, Rigolet and the many places in Labrador I have yet to explore. It’s hard to believe how much our experiences differ depending on which part of Labrador we come from, despite having the smallest federal riding in all of Canada with just over 30,000 people.

The Labrador Society of Ottawa has been connecting Labradorians in the nation’s capital for more than twenty years, and it’s on the verge of collapse due to lack of members and volunteers. Today I will be attending my very first meeting and I’m hoping there will be enough of us there to keep this organization going. I expect we’ll have a lot of work ahead of us and will need some help if we’re to attract new members and create events that will engage all generations of Labradorians and friends of Labrador.

In case you're in the neighbourhood grab some grub and join us.

In case you’re in the neighbourhood grab some grub and join us.

I don’t know what will happen at the meeting today, but I do know that once the decision has been made, once we sit down to our fine potluck and reminisce with old friends or share stories of the Big Land with new ones,  I know I’ll feel closer to Labrador than I have in a long, long time. And to Dad too.


UPDATE:  We had more than enough people attend our AGM to put together a strong Executive for 2014-2015. I was elected as PR and Membership Director along with Carol Dunphy who is also from Labrador City. Our Executive is now organizing a dinner and dance for late May or early June.  I’ve got a bit of a learning curve ahead of me as I navigate through Twitter and get the Labrador Society website up and running. Stay tuned!

Poppies and Coffee: A Remembrance Day Confession

Poppies and coffee and a couple of Reid women trying to do good. Lori in Afghanistan 2008 (photo by Yannick Beauvalet) and I in Bosnia 2000 (photo by Denise Dowdy). Timmies photo by dautruong52 at www.everycup.ca.

Poppies and coffee and a couple of Reid women trying to do good. Lori in Afghanistan 2008 (photo by Yannick Beauvalet) and Me in Bosnia 2000 (photo by Denise Dowdy). Timmies photo by dautruong52 at http://www.everycup.ca.

The day before Remembrance Day I changed my profile picture to one of the last ones taken of me as a Canadian Forces soldier. The photo was snapped at Camp Black Bear in Velika Kladusa, Bosnia during the fall of 2000 and I’m wearing my very first medal as I stand in front of a painted map of Canada, positioned just so you can see Newfoundland behind me.

I posted that photo on Facebook because it was almost Remembrance Day and I was proud to have been a soldier. I also missed all my friends from those days, so I tagged everyone I could think of from my home unit in Halifax and some of the people I worked with overseas and elsewhere. Their response was fantastic! I heard back from so many friends and I checked in a few times on the morning of the 11th to say hi back and “Like” all the great posts about Remembrance Day. Although I wasn’t heading downtown for the ceremony, I knew good and well the importance of Remembrance Day and I was going to make sure I had my own meaningful moment of silence at 11 am.

And so it was at one minute before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I found myself in line at a drive-thru of Tim Hortons.

I was a Canadian Forces veteran who had the honour of serving as a cenotaph guard twice in my seven years in the Reserves and here I was at 11 am on Remembrance Day nosing my car along to order two fucking double-doubles and a breakfast sandwich.

I couldn’t believe I forgot. How do you do that? Yes, it was a busy day and my sister and I were scrambling to finish painting her basement, but my GOD – hundreds of thousands of Canadians across the country paying their respects to the men and women who sacrificed so much, and I’m in a Timmies drive-thru? Seriously?

It was too late to pull out; at least two cars were already behind me. Live 88.5 had switched to a Remembrance Day montage on the radio, Tim Hortons had stopped serving customers and I started tearing up. I get emotional about Remembrance Day anyway, but I was also feeling bad about forgetting. By the time the moment of silence descended I was openly crying. Oh good Lord, do I have to do this here? I thought about Afghanistan and Bosnia and my colleagues who witnessed the horrors of Rwanda. Finally the moment of silence lifted. And then came Willie McBride, also known as The Green Fields of France, No Man’s Land or as I apparently remember it, The Saddest Song in the World.

I have previously mentioned a few songs that still make me cry, but I had completely forgotten about Willie McBride. Let me be clear, Willie  McBride doesn’t make me cry; it makes me sob. Uncontrollably. Not just because of the haunting melody or the tragic story about the losses of war, but because I heard my cousin Lori Anna sing the same song beautifully in Afghanistan – a truly memorable event at which I was also sobbing uncontrollably because I couldn’t stop thinking of my father and the wonderful gift Lori gave our family a couple of years earlier, just ten days before Dad passed away.

I don’t know how I did it, but once the line of cars started moving and with Willie McBride still playing in the background I ordered two coffees and a breakfast sandwich. With sausage.

I wasn’t in the clear yet though – I still had to pay and make a run for it, all without making eye-contact with the cashier at the window. I did my best, but there was no disguising my wrung-out face nor the two piss-holes in the snow that were my eyes just ten minutes earlier.

I was drained when I got to Kelley’s with the loot. We sat down with Mom as I told the story amid their choruses of “Oh no!” and “Oh dear!”. Mom couldn’t remember Willie McBride so I found it on iTunes and we listened to a short, tinny version on my phone. All three of us started crying. We talked about poppies (How are you supposed to dispose of them with reverence? Is it wrong to wear them on your hat instead of over your heart?) and about Lori (Did you know she sang at Beaumont-Hamel and Vimy last week? We miss her!).

We didn’t talk about Dad and we didn’t talk about soldiers or veterans, but it was there. Unspoken but felt, pushing against our silence and our hearts. How strange it is that we do often forget something so big and so painful. And stranger still that we can almost simultaneously forget and always remember that loss.

Ceremony is important. It brings us together and can shape our individual experiences into one elemental emotion and event. Most ceremonies take place with honour guards, flags and crowds, but sometimes ceremony shows up over coffee and a breakfast  sandwich and a sad, haunting song… even alone in a car at a Tim Hortons drive-thru.

(There are many covers of Willie McBride/No Man’s Land, but the one sung by the wonderful Lori Anna Reid, is simply the best. A few others think so as well. Listen to an excerpt of Lori’s Willie McBride below.)

Willie McBride by Lori Anna Reid

De-cluttering and Colouring

I just returned to camp this evening after nine days off at home in Ottawa and I’m exhausted! I’ve never been so busy on my days off.

I had big plans on working on my blog and instead I plunged full steam ahead in de-cluttering my sister’s rec room and then helping her with painting it. Kelley has done a great job in colouring/painting her living room, kitchen, dining room and hallways so I wanted to learn more about it by helping with her basement.

I also helped out my mom in the final push of de-cluttering her bedroom and then putting up some pictures in her room and a few around the house.

These may or may not be the colours we painted Kelley’s basement.

I’ve never seen Mom so excited about her bedroom before. I should have totally done before and after shots – her room looks lovely. And over the years Mom has collected some nice pictures. Too bad we didn’t hang them sooner.

Kelley and I spent a few long days on her basement. When I left all the walls had been painted, and newly painted shelves mounted. Thank goodness Rod was there to hook up the TV and all its many peripherals. I think I would have had better luck solving a Rubik’s cube (and thirty years later I still haven’t solved that one).

I should also mention that I left Kelley’s basement in a mess. I wish I had one more day just to help put everything away and have some fun shopping for the perfect pillows. We figured the right coloured cushions would be just what we needed to pull together all the paint colours and the forest-green ratty sofa. The right cushions and a strategically placed throw can provide fantastic camouflage for an outdated and mismatched couch.

Hmmm… now that I’m looking at these colours, I see some resemblance to a certain blog theme. Oh my. I certainly didn’t do that on purpose.

Good night, and good luck with rest of the rec room Kelley!