Cape Breton Day 4

Today was a day of seeing people not places. In the morning I met up with one of the few friends I had during my last 10 years or so of living in Sydney – a guy I drank with, played lps with & kept in touch with too. He picked me up in his car & we did a bit of driving around Coxheath & Westmount.

Crossed back to the city & ended up at the Starbucks (yes, Sydney is a city with only 1 Starbucks!) where we talked some about present day health concerns & memories of the bars of yesteryear – the names of which I’d forgotten (was that suppressed?). One was The Shingle – a narrow stairway up & also one in back. Just hearing the name brought back memories of stumbling down those back stairs into the parking lot.

Another was The Venetian Gardens part of which jutted out over the harbour – an one time that watery underside was used for rum running. It had a bit of history as a ‘night club’ where big bands once played such at Duke Ellington. I hear local, almost famous Matt Minglewood, Sam Moon there. Near by was a real waterfront bar called The Helm, it was too butch for to ever have been in 🙂 The posh hotel The Isle Royal had a sophisticated basement cocktail lounge ‘The Celeigh Room.’ Too adult swanky for the boozy times I preferred. It did have a whiff of queer about it.

After that I popped in on my niece the master horror writer Betty Rocksteady where we talked about writing, plotting, character & also some about my growing up & surviving the toxic masculinity of the times. I walked from her place to my sister’s on Royal Ave. Took pics on the way. One of the milkshake with the flags of all the provinces sticking out of it.


Finalized Fortress visit plans. Ordered another memory – a pizza from Napoli Pizzeria. Napoli was possibly the first pizzeria that opened in Sydney. I remember the excitement that Sydney was prosperous enough for the latest food craze. We felt the same way when KFC finally opened in Sydney. It is still in the same family. The pizza itself is just as good as I recall. In fact I’m ending now to have another piece 🙂


Sydney Academy 1

After graduating from Woodill the next step up the educational ladder was Sydney Academy – the big boys school. Senior High grades 10 – 11- 12. This was a was a relief mainly because although there were hills they weren’t as steep as the ones down Royal Ave. The walk was much shorter.

One building I remember is the dry cleaners, Snow White Laundry, which was directly across the street from the front entrance. It had a wall painting of, of all things, Disney’s Snow White & some of the dwarves. Looking out the windows facing Terrace St it was the one thing one always saw. The wall painting eventually went – maybe Disney copyright lawyers threatened to sur.

The main entrance doors were for teachers & visitors. We students entered around the side where the parking lot was. No lining up by classes. We had homerooms & moved from class to class, as opposed to the teachers moving from room to room. At Colby & Ashby we remained in one classroom the whole semester. Woodill may have been the same one room but I can’t recall. 

The building was larger than Woodill’s. Some students being bussed in. It was Sydney’s main public senior high – there was a Catholic equivalent – which was the school’s main sports rival. The school had a huge gym, a major phys-ed program that included basketball, volley ball, gymnastics. It did have a hockey team as well but that was a separate entity for boys who qualified for the team.

The school had science labs, woodworking & metal workshops & probably ones for domestic sciences as well. Lots of extra-curricular activities like Jr. Red Cross, Drama club etc. There was a cafeteria on the basement level, which is where the lockers rooms & showers for the gym were. Sock hops were held in this area too.

The social context was totally different from Woodill with the mix of students from across the city. It wasn’t particularly diverse though. Sydney did have a large black population but they were ‘confined’ to the Whitney Pier area – which, I think, had its own senior high. 

Coming next week: troubling locker room memories

Square Root

I wished him dead

every time I sat in his class

I wished he were dead   buried

not someone I had to face every day


I would only have to glance up at him

writing formulas on the black board

the drone of his voice 

and wish him dead


he would always call on me

to read out what he had written

I picture his brain exploding

bloody cosines gush from his nose

all over his spotless white shirt


I wanted a sharp steel edge 

on my protractor

to cut out his heart

save the class from algebra trig calculus

his stories of sailing

how he figured directions 

with his slide rule


die die die

so we can figure out the angle

to bury you so your rotting corpse

will slump into your penny loafers

bones a jumble of secants 

and underpants


the formula on the board

meant nothing to me

it could have been written in flame

blah blah squared 

equals something degrees


my feet burning by the time I sat down

he would pat me on the shoulder

say   you seem to be catching on

when I was really catching on fire

his abacus belt buckle at eye level


I’d stare at the rubble on my page

hope his hand would stay a bit longer

hope some of his knowledge could rub off

what was the angle of the dangle 

behind that zipper


if he were to die I wouldn’t have to wonder

about where to look 

when he stood so close


I leave the class

can’t remember a formula or anything

all I could see was that glint of belt buckle

and that wouldn’t be on the exam

every Tuesday 2019

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton

August 8: Highland Arts Theatre: 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? 


Shaw Festival – Sex (Mae West)

Stratford Festival – Little Shop Of Horrors


Stratford Festival – The Crucible


The Secret Handshake Gallery – feature – date TBA

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C. 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s – sweet, eh? 

Cape Breton Day 3

Sadly the threatened thunderstorms didn’t full their predicted potential so we experiences another day of clear blue skies for driving & poking around shops. A storm would have made for some dramatic photos. My sister & I got underway around 10:30. One stop was at a Tim Ho’s – with the infamous Lick-A-Chick across the road (the chicken crossed to get licked then deep fried). Possibly one of the most photographed spots on the island.

I was meeting a friend from Toronto, now living in NS, who as going to be in Baddeck with some friends of his from the UK so there was some texting to confirms times & such. There was lots of time for us to kill so my sister stopped at a few look-off spots. We arrived in Baddeck at least an hour before the gang.

Baddeck exists for tourists & boaters. There is a local handicraft industry that built up over the years of ceramics ($95 for a soup bowl!!), photographs, things painted on things etc. It reminded me of Niagara-on-the-Lake only the quaint here is real & not theatrical.

The gang finally arrived & we had lunch at Three Doors Down. Basic food nicely prepared but if I never eat another French Fry I’ll be happy.  Lots of chit-chat about their touring around & hotel bookings issues. My friend & I didn’t get a chance to talk though, such is life, big hugs & some photos & we headed our separate ways.

Drove back via North Sydney, which figures large in my Coal Dusters novel, so I was happy to see some of the area, in particular the waterfront. The ferry to Newfoundland departs from here. The Heritage Museum was closed though so we make another run out there so I go in get more research done for the next draft of the novel. 

A full day 🙂


Cape Breton Day 2

I slept quite well my first night. My Travelodge room is very quiet for which I am grateful. Sticking sort of to my morning routine of readings. mediations, checking email & such. By then I was ready to make the biggest decision of the day – what to wear 🙂 I was ready for action by 10 a.m.

I double checked the location of the recovery meeting  at 11. I know the city well enough to find it but wanted to see if there was a shorter way of getting there. It was about a 35 minute walk. I knew I was in the right place when I cars pulling into a parking lot & people hanging around smoking 🙂 A very full house for a topic discussion.

I met up with my sister after the meeting & we went to Kay’s Kosy Korner for lunch. Friendly waitresses lead to talk about the history of Kay’s, which opened in 1952. I used to go there in my teens for their fries & gravy. Not much of the original remains though.

After that we went to the Open Hearth Park – that replaced the industrial waste of the Steel Plant. Parts had been taken over by this weeks Pride celebration. The parade ended up here. So it was a sea of rainbow everything, even ice cream. Drag Queens & pony rides 🙂 I did buy a tee-shirt. Over the past few years Pride has gotten bigger here in Sydney – it is a week of bar events. One non-bar event is a living library where members of the community will share their survival stories at, of all place, the regional library.

After an half-an-hour we ended up back at the Boardwalk so I could see what shops were open. There’s a dozen or so there but now they only open if there a cruise ships docking. Local don’t buy enough handmade (in China) souvenirs. Of course another ice cream was had. 

Spent an hour or so at our Royal Ave house. My sister telling be about changes & how she longs to shed much of the belongings of the past. It is like living in a 2nd hand store. But some for hat is there is worth treasuring. One object was a massive dictionary that was sold a section at a time over many weeks at Sobeys. I remember it from growing up. 

On the way back to the hotel we took a spin through Membertou, the Mi’kmaq reservation. Lots of smoke shops 🙂 Cigarettes clearly big business. It is now a part of the local community – as a child I remember it being off-limits & one rarely saw the natives in town. No they have two-spirit celebrations & Medicine Walks that includes making your own dream catcher (that way you can be sure it wasn’t made in Taiwan).

Another full day of walking, taking pictures & sharing some great family memories with my sister.


Cape Breton Day 1

The most difficult part of the trip is over 🙂 getting up at 3:15 a.m. to be at the airport for 6 for my flight scheduled to leave at 7:40. Everything at the Pearson went without a major hitch – my suitcase was under the limit, the flight only delay half-an-hour. Reading kept me interested.

My sister was waiting when I arrived around 11:40. We stopped at Forest Haven to visit our parents graves & to see some of the sites. We dropped my luggage off at the hotel & continued along King St. to Walmart & he’d lunch at the Retro Diner. Good burger, decent fries that hit the spot. 

After that up to the old homestead for a dishes etc for me use at the hotel. Pulled down my mother silver set, which my sister hasn’t seen for years. I remember it so clearly, the silver work on the handles always impressed me & seeing & handling it again brought back memories. I think it was a wedding gift to my mother form my father so it goes back to the early 50’s for sure.

Did some shopping at, of all places, Shoppers & Sobey’s, to take care of breakfast & before bed snack needs. Room ready at the Travelodge & I was impressed. large, airy, a couch! Sent my sister on her way so I could unpack, relax, get on line. Went for a walk at 6:30 to check out the Boardwalk. Sun was merciless. Had an ice cream & back to hotel by 8:30. Ready for bed & to see what Saturday brings. Maybe I’ll take in a meeting or maybe they Pride Parade.

Offenbach Orff

I had an lp to cd transfer of Jacques Offenbach’s  Overtures that I finally replaced with an mp3 download. It leads off an over 7 hour collection of music. I enjoy the Overtures but have refrained from his operettas, some of which I did see in my teens. My musical knowledge isn’t all the extensive so I’m not if all the overtures are for actual operas or merely suites. Pleasant & melodious.

I did see Carl Orff’s Orpheus once & have added that to this cd. Not as rhythmic as his Trionfi, which contains the choral warhorse Carmina Burana – if you think you don’t know it trust me you’ve heard sections of this choral work in hundreds of movies. I have this complete on a stand-alone cd. Great choral work.

I’ve also included mp3s of Richard Strauss’s orchestral suites from Don Juan, Macbeth, Tod und Verklärung. Emotional, almost suffocating and great for writing break-up scenes. Suites from actual operas. 

To lighten things up I added the Vivaldi String Orchestra’s The Four Seasons. I heard this in our car driving to Stratford one year & the engineering was stunning & the playing was so energetic I had to have yet another recording of the Season. It made sense to me to include Moe Koffman’s Four Seasons – this is an excellent jazz interpretation that everyone should have.

Finally because of the ‘plucky’ work by the Vivaldi String Orchestra I added the Taka Koto Ensemble which includes their variations on the Seasons plus new & traditional Japanese music for the koto. Another piece of music worth searching out if you haven’t heard it. 


The first rake after winter was one of my favourite days of the year. Even with some snow still here and there, the true warmth of spring had began to seep into the ground. Crocus tips were showing and soon flowers would be popping up. Without the tips I probably wouldn’t have remembered where I planted the bulbs in the fall.

The rake loosened the snow crushed grass and I could see some hints of the first green of lawn at the roots. The smell of stale earth was welcome.

‘How’s it coming?’ Bill from next door asked from his front walk.

‘Good. I guess. I just hope those squirrels don’t go on the same rampage they did last year. Still haven’t found way to keep them at bay.’

‘Fresh garlic?’

‘Only works for vampire squirrels.’

He laughed and went into his house. 

I had a dirty black-brown pile of leaves and twigs. Next task was to bag that mound to make space for the next mound. Wasn’t too bad. I’d put the chicken wire back down over the major beds. That had been the most effective deterrent that I had found. Even kept the birds from seeds. 

The afternoon sun felt good. Once I was done in the front yard I would go to the back. It was always more of a challenge. First to get the banks of snow along the shadow side of the fence – I’d dig them out into the sun. Distribute that wet more evenly as well or I’d have a swamp by the composter.

I’d only given the back a quick glance but even there I saw the welcome signs of growth. Plants couldn’t wait, could they? Once the temperature was right, they were so eager to wake up.

Funny, for me when the temperature was right I just wanted to curl up and sleep a little longer. 

Ah well, that’s the way of the world. First I’d see the front yard looked tidy and then that backyard morass.

Seed catalogues flipped open in my mind to all the wonderful things I could plant, things that I had tried but which never really looked like the photos. I guess I needed to be a camera man and not a gardener to get the garden I dreamed of.

‘Phone for you, Dave.’ My partner Dan poked his head out the front door. ‘Sounds important.’

That much I figured, as he usually would just let me putter and take a message.

‘Keep your eye on that pile.’ I said as I went to the house. Last year someone had walked off with my rake when I was inside, so now we joked about anything left out front.

‘What about the squirrels?’

‘If anyone wants to steal them, they are welcome to them.’

every Tuesday 2019

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton

August 8: Highland Arts Theatre: 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? 


Shaw Festival – Sex (Mae West)

Stratford Festival – Little Shop Of Horrors


Stratford Festival – The Crucible


The Secret Handshake Gallery – feature – date TBA

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C. 

Hey! You can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s – sweet, eh?

August 2019 Sneak Peek

First the July recap of my on line life 🙂 My fan base continues expanded slowly but surely. WordPress followers are up to 337, Twitter at 217, & Tumblr is at 234. As you can see my popularity in India remains quite high as it leads the list of countries I get hits from. My WP hits topped 40 many days with a several of 60 hit days! The school memory posts have been fun to work on – finding pictures of the schools, making google maps shows me how much those neighbourhoods have changed.

Coal Dusters continues to grow as I get nearer the end with 119,000 words posted so far, still about 20,000 words to go. Into the final stretch. The mine has closed, Lillian has gotten married, the guys hav been caught in a compromising position. What remains? Keep reading to find out what the thrilling conclusion will be. 

My one Stratford excursion was to see  ‘Nathan the Wise’ which I throughly enjoyed: Our Father Issues Next show is Mae West’s Sex at the Shaw Festival. I’m looking forward to seeing an unexpurgated production of her play. Her film scripts were heavily censored & even then were bawdy to the extreme – “Is that gun that in your pocket? Or are you just happy to see me.” – I think that’s one of the few jokes about an erection I’ve heard in any movie.

I finally broke down & got myself prescription sunglasses. When I’m out walking I’ve been fine seeing shapes. I can see well enough to take photos but with my trip to Cape Breton pending I wanted to be able to see everything clearly. Now I see everything clearly. “Oh! That isn’t a gun in your pocket.”

Also bought some Final Touch stainless steel ice cubes at IQ Living! No more watered down ice coffee for me 🙂 Best part is that the cubes sink to the bottom of the glass so the drink cools from the bottom up.

August brings my long await trip to the east coast back to my home town of Sydney. Packing has started by picking clothes to wear – I wish one could teleport luggage – though maybe having a house fly merged with my jean’s fly insult such a pretty picture.

I have several things lined up – all very touristy mind you – a trip to Baddeck to meet friends who moved to NS a few years ago, a trip to the Fortress of Louisbourg to experience the life in the 1700’s (that’ll bring back lots of memories of unwashed, sweaty soldiers). Taking in at least one Highland Arts Theatre production, visiting some local museums, taking lots of photos. Printed out a list of the 12th step meetings which isn’t nearly as extensive as Toronto’s but there is one a day, should I choose to get to them.



I’ll be taking a media break of sorts – no TV or podcasts for ten days. Limited internet too but I will try to keep up my WP regular posts as well checking in about my excursions. I have all my music, Dusters posts done for the next two weeks.

The rest of August will be spent recovering from the Cape.

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? 

Dad’s Pockets

For the summer I’m looking at my Brown Betty chapbook. All the pieces dealt with growing up in Cape Breton.

Dad’s Pockets

as a kid
I would go through the pockets
of my Dad’s suit coats sport jackets
as they hung in the closet
I would find quarters 

which I’d take sometimes 

fifty-cent pieces which I’d leave 


I’d slip the over-sized jackets
off their hangers 

wear them 

in the dark of the closet 

in the smell of his things
his shoes miles too big for me 

trying to steal into adulthood 


I’d skulk out
from my secret foray
a little daring thief sneaky guilty
fearful of being found out 

when he’d miss the pocket change
I’d be confronted
say too quick I don’t know 

what he meant 

blurt out I didn’t do that
which he never believed 

if only I’d hung those coats back 

the right way 

he’d let me go with warning
that I never heeded
I’d be back there in a week or so 

go through those pockets 

try on those sport jackets

grow much too slow into adulthood 

much too quick into guilt

The upstairs bedrooms in our family home had sizeable walk-in closets in each room. I wish I had that much closet space now. My closet here is so small that if I buy a new short or hoodie I have to get rid of one to make room for it 🙂 The closets had sliding doors. There was a time I wished they made the Enterprise door opening sound.

My Dad was a salesman with a nice collection of sports coats, suits & shoes. Nothing overly colourful mind you, all very sensible & well made, even if off-the-rack. He balanced dressing ‘well enough to get your customers respect’ with dressing so well ‘your customers think you are taking them for a ride.’ The piece accurately describes what sometimes happened – me going through the pockets.

In fact I was a bit of a snoop & would got through various cupboards to see what I might find. Once I found a little black, hard plastic box with lids. One had a Monday to Sunday calendar with golden screws glues on to each day, two on Saturday. I didn’t get the joke then. Another box held a reclining female nude with salt & pepper shakers for boobs. Only one hole in each. A plaque said ‘you never know what you’re going to get.’


I did get caught & learned not to take all the loose change 🙂 I did try on his jackets & shoes. When I was old enough for the jackets to fit me I sure wasn’t willing to wear them. My taste is clothes never meshed with his. Though when I visited home after his death I did pick out two of his leather jackets that fit me & still wear them occasionally. There was no loose change in the pockets.


previous Brown Betty posts:

Man With A Past 1

When I Was A Young Boy

Home (not of the brave)


Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? 

Chapter LVII – Lillian Faces The Future

Coal Dusters: Book 1 is now available as as PDF – this covers the first 35 chapters – 65540 words – send $1.99 to

Coal Dusters – Chapter LVII



The Future

Lillian turned Steve’s face back to hers. The weight of his head was heavy in her hands.

“He’s lost consciousness.” Lillian looked up to Dr. Drummond. “All that blood he’s lost has made him weak. He’ll be alright now, won’t he Dr. Drummond?”

She leaned to kiss Steven again. “My husband! I didn’t realize how proud I would be to say those words, Steve. My husband.”

“I think he should rest now.” Dr. Drummond gently removed her hands from around Steven’s head. “You need some rest too.” He helped her stand. “It has been an ordeal for both of you.” He took her out of the infirmary.

“Yes. Yes.” She held her hand up to look at the wedding ring. “Married. I’m actually married.”

She glanced back and saw the orderly pull the sheet over Steven’s face. “No! He’s not …”

She couldn’t stand. Dr. Drummond signalled to one of the nurses to help lead Lillian out of the infirmary. 

The nurse helped Lillian sit on one of the benches in the wash area. 

“Would you like some water? I could get you a cup of tea, if you’d like, Miss McTavish.” 

“It’s Mrs. O’Dowell now.” Lillian replied savouring the words. “Mrs. Steven O’Dowell.”

“I’ll be back in a bit with a nice cup of tea for you Mrs. O’Dowell.” The nurse left.

Restless Lillian walked aimlessly around the wash house. She stepped out and went toward the main gate. The cramped feeling of walls and roofs was suffocating her. She wanted to be able to breathe deeply without the smell of coal in the air.

Her steps took her up the road that lead away from the colliery. One rather side she saw dark shuttered houses. Some had light flickering in various rooms. People with homes. At least homes for now until he company made the move.

How many of them had lost husbands fathers to the mines? A second story curtain flashed white in the dark. She saw the white sheet being pulled up over Steven’s face. Was he actually dead?

She felt the ring on her finger. Yes, they had been married. She felt his head in her hands. His face smudged with coal dust and blood. His eyes so full of love for her. 

She stopped and began to weep. She couldn’t stop her sobs and she let herself give out a howl of grief, anger and fear. Wiping her face on her shawl she stopped  at the steps to St. Agatha’s. She found the key where it was hidden in a nook under a window sill and let herself in.

Her eyes quickly adjusted to the dark.  A few steps to her to the votive rack. She found a candle and lit it before genuflecting and going into the church. 

The air was still and clean. It was silent.

She knelt, took out her rosary and prayed aloud.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

After each amen she moved to the next bead sometimes visualizing Steven transcending out his pains. At other times she reaffirmed her trust that Mary would be lead her to do what was right for her. after the last prayer was said she remained still for a few moments before slowly standing.

Dizzy she sat on the pew. She turned so she could lay flat and stretched her legs out, pushing her back against the firm wood of the bench. How many parishioners has sat here over the years. She fell asleep.


She woke with the sun streaming through the windows. Straightening out her skirts she left the church, locked the door and put the key back in its nook. She went to the manse and went in though the back door.

While she started a fire in the stove to make herself a cup of tea she wondered if her uncle was back. All she knew was that he had been summoned by the Bishop. Perhaps he had been reassigned a new parish with this sure to be closed thanks to the strike and now the disaster. She caught her breath. Steven was a victim of that disaster too. What would become of her?

Everything was where it had always been in the kitchen. There were some biscuits in the back pantry but little else. So her Uncle had not yet returned.

After going to the mine infirmary to see Steven’s body to convince herself that he was in fact dead she collected the the marriage licence and other papers he had had in his coat pocket. She kept the blood- stained ribbon he used to tie their wedding rings around his neck. 

Back at the O’Dowell house she gave the  envelope to Clara to open.

Clara sat and quickly went through the papers. 

“I think the most pertinent, to you, at this time are these two letters.”

Lillian took the two single page letters. The first was from the American Consulate in Ottawa. It affirmed that Lillian Patrinella McTavish was alive. There was no legal record of her death registered with the authorities. The other was a letter from her father saying that he had been misinformed of her death by his brother and that he regrets any distress this may have caused his daughter.

“Lillian, I have seen these documents already.” Clara said. “Steven used his Federal connections to make sure that his marriage to you would be … legitimate. They were to be his gift to you after the ceremony. Which I guess in a way they are.”

Clara patted her eyes with her handkerchief.

The next few weeks moved so quickly Lillian often longed for the cool silence of the manse that morning which seemed like another world. After the funeral she remained unsure of her position in the O’Dowell household.

As she went down the stairs she could hear a babble of female voices coming from the living room. This was the day the Women’s Association for Catholic African Missionaries met at the O’Dowell house. After attending two of the meetings, solely to please Clara, she didn’t feel at ease with these women. All of whom were ten or more years older than her. They talked more about their neighbours than the plight of the African Missionaries.

Lillian ducked into the kitchen.

“You’re looking better to day Miss Lillian.” Aileen said.

“I wasn’t aware I wasn’t looking well?” Lillian joked. “Can I help with anything?”

“No, Miss. You join the others I can tend to this.” Aileen was pouring water into the tea pot.

“I’ll take that in Aileen. You can set a spell.” Lillian took the tea tray and went into the living room. “Good afternoon ladies.”

“Ah Lillian,” said Mrs. Donaldson. “We were talking about you and your future.”

“You are thinking I’d make a good missionary to Africa?” Lillian poured tea into their proffered cups.

“Oh dear no!” said Mrs. Murphy. “Rather we were discussing how happy we’ve been to have you here in our midst.”

“And how much they’d hate to see you leave.” Clara said.

“Yes!” came in a chorus from several of the ladies.

“What we offer to propose,” said Mrs. Murphy, “is that you teach our daughters proper etiquette.”

“The Sisters at the school are good for educating them,” said Mrs. Murphy, “but that doesn’t prepare them for being in society at large.”

Lillian looked at them. She wanted scream, ‘Look at me! Look at the society my fine upbringing has brought me to. You want your daughters to be cast aside the way we would a piece of furniture that has lost its use because it has some insignificant damage!’

“I’m sincerely flattered.” Lillian took a deep breath as she considered her reply. “I’m sure you mean well but …”

“Hear our offer first Lillian.” Mrs. Murphy said. “I’ve talked this over already with Mrs. Prentis and Mrs. Donaldson.”

Those two ladies nodded their heads.

“This came a pleasant surprise to me too Lillian,” Clara said. “I had no idea that you had made such an impression.”

“How could she not. Being at Steven’s side …” Mrs. Murphy paused to hold back her emotions. “during his campaign we all saw what a refine and practicable person you were. Even then it occurred to me that I would love to have daughter exactly like you.”

“Again I am flattered. But what exactly is it you want me to teach?”

“How to comport yourself.” Mrs. Donaldson said. “Too many of these young Catholic girls are becoming …. too modern. They talk about getting a job, not raising a family.”

“That’s right. It’s one thing to want to be a clerk at O’Dowell’s but to want to learn short-hand and typing and work in an office.” Said Mrs. Murphy. “That’s a step too far. That might be fine for Protestant girls but well … you know the morals of that sort.”

“I understand your concerns ladies but fail to see how I can impart anything to them of that nature. There are no books to fall back on. I might instruct them in needlepoint but that isn’t going to strengthen their morals as you imply.”

“But your example …” Mrs. Murphy started.

“No, ladies I don’t see what I can do.” Lillian shrugged.

“She is right.” Clara said smiling. “After all the way Lillian comports herself was learned in her own home. Right Lillian?”

“Yes, Clara.” she again resisted the temptation to lecture these women. “ It is probably more advantageous for your daughters to learn practical things that they can use in the world. Needlepoint and how to set a proper table won’t take you as far as short-hand. In fact, I’m sorry I never got the opportunity to learn it myself. Do you want your daughters to be so dependant on a husband that she can’t fend for herself in the world.” Lillian sighed deeply.

“We were looking for ways to be helpful to you.” Mrs. Murphy said taking Lillian by the hand and patting it. 

“I know that Mrs. Murphy.” She leaned and kissed Mrs. Murphy on the cheek. “I’m not that helpless. The Lord has made clear my path thus far and He will continue to do so. I don’t need a crystal ball to be sure of that.”

“Shall you be wanting another pot of tea?” Aileen came into the living room.

“No, Aileen.” Clara said. “The meeting is about to adjourn.”

“I’ll help clear these things away Aileen.” Lillian busied herself with the cup and saucers to avoid any further conversations with the women.

She knew her first step would be get out of the reach of these well-meaning women. Perhaps though it might be wise to heed them after all her own plans had so far not worked out as expected. Each solution had produced yet another trial for her to face. 

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Ashby/Woodill Days

Ashby School only went up to Grade 7. Next stop was 8 and 9 was Woodill Jr. High, which was near the bottom of Royal Avenue. I already knew where it was from my time at Colby School, which was at the very bottom of Royal Ave. Royal Ave was flat until it got to Terrace Street where it started to slope then dip steeply down to Woodill on Hillview Street. The school was named after a Supervisor of Schools. It was not, as I had thought at one time, because there used to be woods on them there hills.

The building was a standard late-50’s two-story box with windows, unlike Colby or Ashby which were buildings that went back the 20’s. As the Sydney population decreased & schools were amalgamated it became a community centre in late 90’s & due severe flood damage it was torn down in 2017.

My memories are more of the walk to school than my class or students. No teacher names come back to me. The principle was know as Skully – because he was thin with a skull like head (gasp). There was lining up before class in mornings after recess & again the the afternoon. Boys on one side, girls on the other. This was where I got my only school yard nickname – Army Ant – because my last name was Armstrong & I was small. I vaguely remember there was a hockey team.

It was here that I got my first pair of glasses. I blamed my inability to learn on not seeing clearly so I was tested & in fact I wasn’t lying but trust me glasses did little to improve my attention issues. It also here that I ended up missing a few weeks, or more, due to appendicitis. Severe pains going up stairs were the tip off.

I remained a middling student. I tried to conform to being just one of the guys & did manage to fit socially but was never Mr. Popular, rarely fist picked for baseball. The only sport I remember is the hockey team. The school didn’t have a gym. The final year there they school held a dance for us juniors on our way to be seniors. It was torture.

I remember so little I suspect that if I have any repressed memories they are from my time at Woodill. I don’t even remember really being bullied there. Most of that was nearing to home by some troubled Catholic guys in the neighbourhood. It is only in hindsight that I see how troubled they were. Hurt kids hurt kids.

At home I was becoming more responsible for looking after my brother & sisters in the mornings before I went to class. The walk to the school was all down hill but that uphill walk home for lunch & after school was sometimes a killer. Slippery in the winter, with little protection for the wind I never did grow hair on my legs.

While Enjoying A Grape Popsicle

‘it’s the sookie

the gutless wonder – get him’

three pairs of feet rushed me

Dave Parsons, his brother Stinky

and kid sister Mag

with a bruise on her arm

Dave a year older than me

Vic in my class at school

at 12 I knew what helpless meant

there was no way out

sometimes they were suddenly there

shoving and pushing me

‘yah yellow crybaby’

Dave had me in a head lock

handed my Popsicle to Mag

‘can’t even fight a girl’

he pushed me at Mag

she hit me in the face

‘go on – you useless gutless wonder’

she hit me again

I tried to stop her third smack

the others piled on me

‘hit her would you – we’ll teach you’

kicking shoving me to the ground

I tried to stop crying

‘sookie baby you tell

and we’ll say you did that bruise to Mag’


looking back

I can place these kids

in small town unhappy drunken homes 

where Dave learned 

words like ‘gutless wonder’

booze-hound Dad working mother

older brothers in and out of jail

acting out as they were acted upon 

abuse that I didn’t experience in my home

which doesn’t change the fact 

I didn’t know how to protect myself 

I believed that I was gutless 

my useless word against theirs


Dave broke an arm rolling a stolen car

Stinky got busted for dealing

Mag had her first kid at 16

I suppose they suffered for their actions

yet even as I put them 

in this sociological context

I still wish I had the power then

to beat them

weeping for me to quit it

as I eat my grape Popsicle

and piss 

on their bruised 



every Tuesday 2019

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton

August 8: Highland Arts Theatre: 

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Shaw Festival – Sex (Mae West)

Stratford Festival – Little Shop Of Horrors


Stratford Festival – The Crucible


The Secret Handshake Gallery – feature – date TBA

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C. 

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