Sunday, September 21, 2014

Aunt Doris and Uncle Gordon

Many years ago, on a previous blog, I wrote a poem for my Great Aunt Doris, who had Alzheimer's. She and my Great Uncle Gordon were very special people in my life, and I learned a lot from both of
Aunt Doris. Photo from the Albert County
Funeral Home's website.
them. Aunt Doris passed away in April of 2008, and Uncle Gordon left us just two weeks ago. Rather than making this a sad post, I'm going to reflect on some fond memories I have of them. There are a lot.

I was lucky to have loving grandparents growing up, but I also had some very special great aunts and uncles. Aunt Doris, my Nana's younger sister, would visit with Uncle Gordon to stay in the cabin in our lower lot--a cabin Aunt Doris's parents used to rent out to tourists many years prior. Due to the frequency of their visits, and the time we would spend together, they became like a third set of grandparents to me. Their care and love was so strong.

They were also very generous with their time. They never had any children of their own, thus having no grandchildren, so they always treated me like the granddaughter they didn't have. They took me on drives in the park, and, with my parents, we would all go on hikes together to enjoy the natural beauty of Fundy National Park. They told me that when they were visiting, I could come over anytime. Once, I took this entirely too literally. I was invited to come and see them for breakfast one morning. I combined the two offers and decided to show up to visit for breakfast--at seven AM.

A much older picture of Uncle
I was still in my pyjamas and I was excited. I went down to the lower lot and knocked on the cabin door. Uncle Gordon greeted me in his own pyjamas, his hair dishevelled--obviously they hadn't been expecting me so early. But he didn't turn me away. He greeted me with his booming "hello!" and welcomed me indoors, and I had breakfast with him and Aunt Doris.

Aunt Doris made these beautiful little shortbread cookies, and she would feed them to me with milk every time I visited them. These shortbreads were always topped with colourful rainbow sprinkles, and I would dip them in the milk to let the colours run. We would eat them together while playing dominos. She was a fantastic cook, and I would join them for suppers and lunches on a regular basis, as well. Both of them were very patient with me. When I couldn't figure out how to tie my shoes, Uncle Gordon, knowing I learned things a little differently than other kids, showed me the "bunny ears" method. To this day, I still use that method.

I'll end this with a poem I wrote in the years that Aunt Doris's Alzheimer's got to the point she didn't recognise most of us. I've edited it recently.

A decorated tin filled with
White shortbread cookies topped by
Round rainbow sprinkles that make the
Milk turn colour 

Sits on the
Kitchen table.
A fold-out table made of tin with
Sturdy aluminum legs and the scene of a
Forest brook in autumn, surrounded by sepia foliage and
The glimpse of a deer is set up before the
Couch, with a
Small box of dominoes spilled over: a
Game to be played.
I can't quite tie my
Shoes yet, but he helps me.
Two bunny ears. Tuck under. Pull. Now it's a

An overstuffed yellow armchair sits by the
Dusty screen door, and beyond that, the
Porch, where the
June bugs used to collect at night and buzz in our ears.
Strawberries grow here too, hidden in the
Tufts of grass.
She has me gather them in a
Porcelain dish. I pick them and
She washes them for me.
We eat them together.

This is what I remember, and though
You cannot, I will keep remembering
For both of us.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I'm glad I took a break from university.

Throughout high school and university, I was always a bit of a laissez-faire student. Didn't pass that math test? Meh, there's always another--final mark be damned. Slept through my 8:30 AM class because I was up all night gaming? Wouldn't be the first time. I was that one cringe-worthy student that no one wanted to be paired up with for a project--unless, of course, it was one of the rare projects I was actually interested in doing.

I graduated high school and made a beeline for Université de Moncton in 2004, not really knowing what to expect. I stumbled through a few years of skipping classes, dropping out of classes and, occasionally, failing classes. It may not be a time I'm proud of, but it was an immensely important learning experience for me. I'm the type of person who, sometimes, has to learn the hard way.

In 2007, I finally finished my required English courses, minus one. Since I was an English major, this took all the fun out of university. Suddenly, I had to take a number of required courses that weren't at all related to English. This was my own fault. I didn't pace myself over the years, and I got all the fun courses out of the way early because of that. That fall, I failed a linguistics class, resulting in a panic attack--something I'd never really experienced before.

I went back to university in the winter, and I wasn't looking forward to it. I signed up for a full course load of five. Within the first few weeks, I had dropped two courses that gave me so much anxiety I couldn't stand to even attend class. One of them--oddly enough a drama class--had me breaking out in hives. Another class I took, a three-hour long ethics class with a lot of homework, forced us to read our answers out in front of the class. I left half-way through the class one day, tears rolling down my cheeks at the mere thought of it.

I also had enrolled in one English class, and it was one that I had failed in the past--the only English class I've ever failed, and my very last requirement for my major. When I got my midterm back and saw that, despite my best efforts, I had failed it, I lost myself. I handed the exam back and ran from the administration building to the arts building, right up to my mother's office. She saw the look on my face and I'm sure she must have known what was coming next. "I'm leaving university," I blurted between my sobs. "I can't do this anymore". She looked at me for a long moment, then nodded, and said "okay". I went to my doctor in the days that followed and asked him to write me a note so I could get out of university without suffering failures in all of my enrolled courses.

I didn't really know what I was going to do. Brad and I were living together at the time, and I hated our apartment. I would be going back home for the summer in a few short months, so I couldn't get a job. I visited my Nana in the hospital; I drew; I sewed; I wrote. When summer came, I went back home to work at the general store. I told people I was taking a break from university, and they advised me not to take too long a break. Some people told me I'd never go back. But my closest friends, my mom and dad, and Brad, all knew better. They were always supportive.

Brad and I moved to Moncton permanently in late summer, 2008. We got a new apartment--coincidentally on Alma Street--and got a cat. I spent the next five years working a few different jobs: waitressing at a Tex-Mex restaurant (I lasted four months), being a barista at a Second Cup kiosk in the mall (a year and nine months), and going from regular employee to assistant manager to store manager at DAVIDsTEA (three whole years).

While managing DAVIDsTEA, in winter of 2012, I found out that I could take the English course I had failed previously, and I decided to get it done. I went back and shocked myself by achieving an A overall in the course. I wasn't just pleased, I was ecstatic. I had overcome a hurdle that had been in my way for years. I wouldn't take another university course for a year and a half, but it was an event that put the option of going back to university back on my radar.

In the summer of 2013, I enrolled for an evening course for the coming fall. The course was with a prof I had in my second year and really liked. I started to realise that I was getting a little too close to the ten year mark. I was 27--inching ever closer to thirty--and wasn't really sure where my life was going. My job was taking up most of my time, and while I liked it, it wasn't what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life. It was time to make a decision, and my choices were: 1. to spend the next few years taking one or two evening courses while continuing to work full time, 2. to let my credits expire and never finish my degree, or 3. to take a leave from my full-time job and go back to school. Option 3 ended up being the one I wanted the most, but after looking into it, I discovered that it wasn't an option for me at all: my workplace would only provide one month of study leave, but I really wanted to finish things off. If option 3 was really what I wanted, I would have to step down from my position, and drop to part-time. So, with that big risk in place, I did, and I went back to school full-time in January 2014.

Was it easy? Absolutely not. I worked so hard from January to April that there wasn't much in my life that wasn't school-related, except my part-time job. I re-took the ethics course that I had dropped five years before, and while it was still a stressful course, I found that I got far more out of it the second time around than I had the first time. When the winter semester was done, I felt so much relief. That was the last time I would ever have to take a full-time semester. I had two intersession courses lined up--one spring and one summer--but they would be nothing compared to the insanity the winter brought.

Near the end of the winter semester, I attended the Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference--something I probably wouldn't have even considered doing when I was in university before. I was more of a shut-in during my previous years, and I wouldn't even spend time with people on campus. This semester, I was hanging out in the English Department's Reading Room, making friends and studying with others.

In May, during my spring course, I discovered I was pregnant. At first, I was terrified! What if I didn't get my degree finished on time? Then, after calculating my due date, I discovered that the timing was actually perfect. My exams for my two fall courses would end in December, and the baby is due in January. This fall, I am taking my two final classes while pregnant, and so far it's not a whole lot different.

Do I recommend breaks for everyone? Absolutely not. Some people really don't go back--which is fine, too, as long as that's what you want. I'll always be glad for that five years away from university, though, and I will never regret it. I learned so much during that time, and it prepared me for going back. In a big way, I actually feel that those five years away from university were for me to figure out why I wanted to finish my degree, and to give me the skills I needed to complete it. When February 2015 arrives, I will have a baby in one hand, and a completed bachelor's degree in the other. I always have done things a little differently, so I guess with university I have just taken a bit of a detour on the way. My life story isn't linear, but I like it that way.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Crystal Palace closed yesterday.

Crystal Palace was a magical indoor amusement park that I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy while growing up. It was a place I went to with family and young friends: a place for March Breaks and birthday parties. I had my first actual date with a boy in grade 6 at Crystal Palace, too--we went on a bunch of rides, won a purple plush bulldog and saw a movie together, back in the days that the theatre and park were connected. The connection was only removed in the last few years, and I remember experiencing a wave of nostalgia every time I would leave the movie theatre, met by the sounds of excited children screaming on the roller coaster.  I'll always have fond memories of getting my face painted and riding on the giant swing set to be propelled through the air across the park. I felt like I was flying. And, of course, I'll always remember challenging friends to the Laser Runner laser tag game.

One last shot of the Crystal Palace sign.
Animaritime, a convention I've been staffing at off and on since 2008, took place in the convention centre in Crystal Palace for their 2007 event. That year, I played mini-golf while dressed like a comic book character, made some incredible friends, and got to experience the ridiculous fun of being at a convention in an indoor amusement park. It was a perfect location, but sadly the convention centre wasn't big enough to house the growing convention.

Recently, my husband Brad and I stopped in at Chapters to browse around.  We decided we'd take a walk through Crystal Palace. We have a little one on the way, after all, and we talked about how much we were looking forward to bringing the child there when he or she is old enough. A few weeks later, we heard the sad news that Crystal Palace would be closing at the end of the day on September 1st, so this was never going to happen. We decided we would bring the baby there anyway--so to speak--before the place closed, for one last night of fun and fond memories.

So, the night of Friday, August 29th, we went. We spent the evening playing games and trying to win a prize for the little one, since I couldn't go on any rides. We had discovered the day before that we are to have a little girl, and we were going to try and win her a stuffed dragon. At one point in the night, as we took a break between games, a young girl came up to us and handed us several tickets, saying "you can have these". I looked at her parents, who were with her, and asked if she was sure she wouldn't rather have them for herself. She insisted, and her mother smiled at me and said "we know you're trying to win something for your baby". Brad and I accepted the tickets gratefully, and noticed that they included a slip for over 300 tickets. I tried keep myself together as I put the slip with our other winnings, and the two of us took a break to grab a snack at Pretzelmaker. As we sat with our snack, we watched a a young boy and his father riding the Jumpin' Star together. The look of joy on the little boy's face was unmistakable. A lot of people are going to miss this place, I thought.

We went to cash in our tickets at the end of the night, and the man behind the counter informed us that they would be honouring all tickets in double from Saturday until the park's closure on Monday evening. We decided to come back the following morning, get a few more tickets, and get our baby girl an even better prize--prolonging our goodbye just a little longer. Before we left, a janitor stopped to chat with us, asking us if either of us remembered the bumper boats from the nineties. Since I did, he brought out a little bag and gave me one of the admission tickets, which hadn't been used in years. It had the old logo on it and everything.

Our spoils of the day: a blue squishy kitty, a yellow Furby-like
creature, a plastic purple flute, a Red Wings hat keychain, and
a small glow-in-the-dark ring.
We spent Saturday morning throwing skee balls up ramps, hitting inanimate objects with hammers, and shooting a few basketball hoops until we had enough tickets for the dragon. As I waited in line, though, the last dragon was claimed by another prize-goer. The lines were so long that weekend that this wasn't a surprise, so instead we walked away with a plush cat dressed in blue, as well as a few other smaller prizes that we'll be able to give our little girl through the various stages of her life.

As one does, we took one last look at the park before we left. I watched the beautiful swing set, which had been my favourite ride growing up, and thought to myself that our little girl would grow up in a Moncton with no Crystal Palace. Maybe this seems like unnecessary sentimentality, but we were far from the only ones to come and say goodbye. On Monday afternoon, a group of our friends went to have one last hurrah with the rides and games. They then showed up at our doorstep with their own present for our baby: they had pooled all their tickets together to get her an adorable plush panda. This is another special final memory for the park--one I wasn't even present for.

I'm frustrated that yet more local businesses are being cleared out to make room for big box retailers. Perhaps the numbers of attendees have dwindled over the years for Crystal Palace, but the fact remains that over 150 people are losing their jobs, and a place full of fond memories is going to close down after almost 25 years of business. Crystal Palace was one of the Greater Moncton Area's biggest tourist attractions. Change is usually good, but the change from a family-friendly venue to an enormous hunting and fishing shop is going to take some getting used to. I remain hopeful, as Magic Mountain has stated that they will expand their park to make room for some of the rides, and may open a smaller-scale indoor facility. At the very least, it will be a fun place to go in the summer, but it won't be the same, and it may not be year-round. At least the memories will remain.