Here’s a short version of my later on longer version.
On Monday, August 10th, I was at home enjoying a few days of holidays. My brother and brother-in-law were staying with me for a few days and we had arranged to visit out mom in the Lodge that day. It was a good visit and we scheduled another one for the next day. We then went to the beach.
It was windy. Really windy. I am not a windologist but it was crazy windy. Things were blowing down the streets and trees were having a hard time. We gave up at the beach. The sand was blowing in our faces, giving us unwanted dermabrasion.
We went home and sat outside. My brother checked his facebook feed and saw a post about a fire. We looked to the west and yes, there is was, a big plume of smoke. Naturally, we were curious so we jumped in the vehicle and sped off to investigate. It wasn’t long before we realized that was dumb and turned around. The fire wasn’t that far away. That was at approximately 4:00 p.m.
We notified my sons, who were home at their apartment and then we all went to my house to watch the smoke and keep up with facebook posts. Facebook is the way our little town communicates.
The first post by the municipality stated that the fire was not a threat. We sat and watched. The second post a couple of hours later said to be on alert. What!! I packed my little suitcase and waited. Evening came. The smoke looked like it was not as bad. The helicopters were on scene and then the water bombers.
Then I was notified that the Lodge had evacuated mom and all residents to Kenora, three hours away. What?!!
Then the post from the municipality stated to evacuate that night if possible. What?!! I’m not sure what time I saw this but we all packed up in about 15 minutes and were out the door. (We had parked our vehicles on the front street). We left at about 10:03 p.m.
Everything happened so quickly. What do you pack when you leave in a hurry? What are those important things? Well, we took my Dad. He is still in my closet at home, waiting to be laid to rest, when mom leaves this world.
Out on the street, people were getting in vehicles or waiting for rides. We noticed a man with his thumb out and asked him where he was going. He had no clue where to go or what to do as he had just moved to town. We told him to get in. Off we went and joined a line of a thousand other vehicles leaving town in the dark on our one road out of town.
What a relief to be heading down the highway. We had decided we would go to my brother’s cottage six hours away; just drive all night. It didn’t work out that way. We were told to register in the next town. People were diverted into the town to register which caused a bottle neck of vehicles. What normally takes 45 minutes to get to, took three hours. Yes, we were in a line for three hours. Wondering how close the fire was. By the time we reached Ear Falls, it was 1:00 a.m. We were exhausted. We pulled into the beachfront park and slept in our vehicles. Happy to be alive.
I believe it was during our first summer at the fish camp that mom’s younger brother worked with Dad, fishing. And it was that summer that Dad and Uncle Larry built us a tree house.
It was simple, just a floor built between three trees with a railing around it and a ladder. It was set in the large poplar trees on the outskirts of the back yard and near the old garbage dump.
It was cool, our own tree fort. But it was also a little scary at times if you were there alone. We spent many hours there over the years playing with friends and cousins.
Our little dog could not climb the ladder but always wanted to be with us so we attempted to pull him up in a box. He didn’t like that and jumped out. In the end he mostly stayed on the ground as our protector.
I liked to sit in the tree fort and sing, imagining I was Julie Andrews. Rain drops on Roses and whiskers on kittens, light copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favourite things.
It was probably the most exciting thing that could have happened to us as kids. We didn’t understand the purpose or the commitment it involved. To us, my brother, Billy and me, it meant spending summers camping, having fun and freedom. To my father it meant being self-employed, not having to punch a time card every day or answer to someone else. Something he really wanted. To my mother, however, it meant isolation, hard work and loneliness. At least that’s how I see it looking back. She got the sharp end of the stick.
Her life wasn’t easy. It never had been easy, from her birth on an island outside a small reservation to her life with her husband in a small urban northwestern Ontario town. Our house was situated at the end of our street and was not connected to the town water and sewer system. Mom had to carry water in buckets from a well down the street or use the awful well water from one of the wells that Dad had dug in our back yard. It took him three attempts before he found water. A large rain barrel sat near the front door where rain water was collected. That water was used for bathing and hair washing. We got to have a bath once a week. During the winter months, mom collected snow and melted it for our baths.
Dad, who had been born on a farm in Saskatchewan, worked at one of the gold mines in the area most of the time. He preferred the outdoors to the underground though, and so had many jobs during the course of his working years as prospector out in the middle of nowhere deep in the wilderness. He would sometimes be gone for months cutting lines or staking claims for himself or for others who hired him.
Then one day came the announcement, “I’ve bought the Fish Camp. I’m going to try fishing.”
“You don’t even know how to set a net,” mom said.
“I’ll learn. We’re going this weekend to see the island.”
And for the next six summers that’s where we spent our summers while Dad fished the lake.
I loved the stories my dad told me about his childhood. It was hard times during the Depression for farmers and his father enlisted in the army at the age of about 42 to provide for their family. He was away for four years and my dad, Ian, had to help out as much as he could.
The wind in the poplars, that’s what it was, just the wind in the poplars. He must keep telling himself that. Morning would come, it always does, and he would see that all that surrounded him were fields of yellow and the large old poplars.
Lower, he laid himself in the old truck, resting his head on his jacket. He closed his eyes to shut off his racing mind. It was a warm night and he would have liked to open the window but he dared not. If there was someone out there, he felt a little more protected with the windows shut and the doors locked. It was a false security but it worked somewhat.
Be a man, he told himself. You’re old enough to work now, past thirteen and getting to fourteen. Old enough to make some real money and help out at home. Lucky to be hired, to have work.
He thought of his father and felt a lump form there in his throat. Dad had been gone for over a year now serving this country. What was the name of the place where he had been sent? Ian tried to focus on his father so far away from the family on the other side of the country.
It was 1943 and the war had changed everything for Ian and his family. They’d had to leave their farm outside the little town of Mervin, where Ian was born, and move to the larger town of Maidstone. Ian’s father, David Tetlock, enlisted in the army. He was considered too old to be sent over seas so he was sent to the East Coast to the military base there where he served as a cook at times or in the warehouse for medical supplies.
Money was scarce, times difficult and Ian wanted to be a help to his mom. He usually knew no fear, which had always gotten him in predicaments in the past, but this predicament was different. For the first time, Ian felt fear.
What are you doing here? The wind seemed to breathe through the leaves. Ian’s heart was about to punch its way out of his chest. The wind whistled as it blew warnings through the leaves of the tall, stern poplars. Be careful, on your guard. Don’t close your eyes or fall asleep.
He couldn’t remember the name. What was the name? They just received a letter from him, a while back. Ian could see his sister’s face smiling as she read the letter out loud. Oh yeah, Halifax, that was the name. His dad was in Halifax.
Ian’s heart returned to a more normal thud, thud. Soon the sun would be up and he could finish the job; the reason he had come to this empty, lonely, creepy place to begin with. He had been honoured when Mr. Beren asked him to come and swath his fields. Mr. Beren was a member of the richest family in Maidstone and he trusted Ian to do the job, so Ian was not going to let him down. He was almost fourteen years old now and had driven himself over here in dad’s old truck. Well really, it was a car that had been made into a truck, but it was faster than bringing the horse.
Ian had proudly told his mother of his job and packed himself some food before venturing over the Beren’s farm, some fifty miles away. First, he had to cross through the large sheep ranch and then the cattle ranch. That in itself had been an experience for the young lad. There were hundreds of cattle on that ranch that were left on their own for the summer. Instead of a fence to keep them where the rancher wanted them, a moat that was five feet deep was dug to surround the perimeter of the ranch. The cattle dared not cross this deep and scary crevice. At certain points there were makeshift bridges that allowed vehicles to cross but these too looked formidable to the leery cattle with big brown eyes.
Ian had crossed the bridges easily, marveling at the simplicity of the moat system. It seemed to work well. There were no fences for the rancher to mend and the cattle seemed safe and happy.
When he arrived at the large, old house, it was late afternoon. The sun was heading on its way down over the west side of the top floor, casting an eerie shadow across the front driveway. The tractor and swather were parked in the field ready and waiting to begin the yearly job of swathing the wheat. It would then be left in nice neat rows to lay and dry while awaiting the combine.
The big two-story house made of poplar logs was supposed to be empty. Ian was positive that he was told that. No one from the family had been over to the house for months. Since the old man died, the house stood there, alone and lonely, crying out for company to fill its rooms once more. Occasionally the sons came and stayed there when they had work to do on the farm, but they all had homes and farms of their own elsewhere.
Ian remembered the old man. He had been quite a formidable person who commanded respect by the way he walked and talked. He was remembered by all in the community for the wealth he had accumulated and the properties he had developed. Even during the hard times of the depression when many people were lining up for food or government assistance, the Berens family was prospering.
The chills on the back of Ian’s neck crept up higher to make the hairs on his head tickle. He sat up in the truck and looked over at the house. He could see no movement.
When he had entered the house earlier, there had been a cup and a plate on the table. Why? Who had left them there? He took a deep intake of breath as he recalled his mother’s concerns a few days before as she related the news she’d heard of an inmate escaping from the nearby penitentiary.
There was a crazy person running around somewhere, desperate, probably hungry. He might be anywhere. Maybe he had hidden there in the Beren’s house, leaving the dirty dishes on the table. Maybe he was still there. Ian’s heart beat wildly in his chest. He lay lower in the old truck. The wind still whispered through the leaves. Look out, look out, it said to him.
Suddenly he sat up straight, his body aching and stiff. He had fallen asleep and been dreaming about a large, bald man holding a large, shiny knife.
He heard voices outside and strained to hear what was being said off in the distance to the left of the clearing where he lay in his dad’s old truck. Was it the crazy escaped murderer and his partner? Were they coming his way? Should he run? Should he drive away? Should he hide? The sound of his heart pounded in his ear drums. He crouched low and closed his eyes and said a prayer.
“Hey Ian, wake up,” the voice of a man called out as someone banged on the window by his head.
He recognized the voice of Judge Beren, the son of the old man Beren. Ian sat up smiling sheepishly and opened the squeaky door. Judge Beren and his brother-in-law, Fred Matheson, stood there with confused looks on their faces.
“What are you doing sleeping out here?”
“I, uh, fell asleep.”
“Well, you could have slept in the house, you know.”
“Yeah, I worked as late as I could swathing and then just zonked out here. It’s okay. Had a good sleep.”
“All right. You ready for another day’s work? We can try to get it finished today.”
“Sure am. Let’s get it done,” Ian said as he hopped out of the truck and joined the two men walking back toward the yard where the tractor was parked.
Ian looked up at the large, log house. Was that his imagination or did he just see a shadow in the window? Ian shook his head and ran to catch up to the two older men. The sooner he could get away from this place, the happier he’d be.
I said to my millennial son the other day, “I can’t believe my children have to live through a pandemic; I never thought that would happen when I had my babies.” His response, “Yes and there will probably be more,” was surprising to me. He was very realistic about it. I am freaked out about it. He is taking it in stride, but knows that this could happen again. His thoughts and comments actually made me feel better. Me, the mother, who knows everything.
I was talking to my mom on the phone the other day as I try to talk to her often these days. She is in a long-term care home and I am not allowed to visit. She is 88 years old and has dementia. I phone her as much as possible so that she doesn’t forget me. I tell her on every call, “there is a bad flu going around and so I can’t visit today but I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Her response yesterday was, “Oh don’t worry, I’m not a baby.” And then she went on to tell me about the experience she went through as a young person with tuberculosis. Half of her community of Pikangikum, Ontario died from TB, including her brother and his baby and numerous aunts and uncles. Mom, herself, spent almost two years in a sanitarium because of it.
It’s all about perspective.
I am trying to follow safety guidelines and go on living my life. I’ve had to stop reading, watching media on Covid because it became too much for me. For now, I enjoy going home from work through our fence gate, looking at our small front garden and then going out the back door and jumping into the lake to cool off. We have been in a heat wave for the past couple of weeks. Most days have had heat warnings. Not complaining and I’m lucky that I live by the lake. We do not have air conditioning, just a couple of fans going.
This is a story I wrote many, many years ago about Red Lake’s forest fire evacuation in 1980. This hot weather is bringing back those memories! Some names were changed but the events are true! Another scary time in my life.
It was hot outside; that kind of sticky, wet, hot that made your clothes cling to your body. It didn’t matter what you tried, you just couldn’t cool off. The humidity combined with the smoke from the nearby forest fire caused the air to feel like you were trapped in a moist, heavy blanket with a very unique and distinct odour.
Kathy hadn’t experienced this before; it was strange and creepy. The sun above was a thick blur of orange in a hazy sky.
Every spring and summer there was a threat of forest fires. This was just part of living at the end of Highway 105 in Northwestern Ontario. Driving down 105 would normally be an enjoyable, scenic trip on a curving road flanked on both sides by a mixture of coniferous and deciduous trees, lush and green. This spring, however, a large forest fire was making its way up the only road that led into and out of the little town. Members of the community were holding their breath, crossing their fingers, and performing any other ritual they thought might help, but in the end, relying on the weary fire fighters to keep the fire-breathing dragon at bay.
Two days previously, there had been ash raining down from the sky; nasty on white jeans. Apparently there was also a volcano erupting thousands of miles away in the States and the smoke and ash were coming this way as well. Just what they needed. Maybe it was the end of the world. This was it, Armageddon, like the Bible said. Soon there would be plagues and locusts.
That’s what the two young girls laughed about as they strolled down the sidewalk towards the downtown area on that hot May afternoon. The two best friends chatted about the fire and wondered out loud how close it would actually get.
“We should phone the police and ask them about the situation,” Kathy stated. “I mean we are responsible for looking after the Smith’s cats and what are we supposed to do if the town is evacuated?”
“We won’t be evacuated,” Dale replied trying to sound convincing. “They’ll get it under control. But it is getting smoky and my asthma is acting up. My parents want to fly out and go stay at Gramma’s house in Manitoba.”
“Oh, what about the stupid cats?”
“Phil and Margaret should be home day after tomorrow. We wouldn’t be leaving until tomorrow anyway.”
“You’re lucky. You get to go to your gramma’s. We would probably go camp on an island. My dad would never leave,” Kathy sighed as the girls rounded the corner and headed up the driveway to the Smith’s apartment building.
The apartment was silent as they entered. They were not greeted at the door by the two small furry creatures that usually came to rub themselves around the legs of the girls, purring happily.
“I guess they must be out in the yard,” Dale said looking at the open window. “What do we do now?”
“I’m going to phone the police station to find out the fire situation,” Kathy decided as she reached for the phone and began to dial. 727-2418.
“Hello,” said a familiar voice at the other end of the receiver.
“Dad?? I dialed the police station, I’m pretty sure. I’m going to try again, this is weird. Bye”
“Hello,” her dad repeated into the phone again the second time she dialed.
“Wow, this is strange, I’m dialing the O.P.P. number and it’s ringing at our house. Guess we’ll have to walk down to the station and ask them our questions.”
The girls left some fresh water and food for the cats and locked the door behind them as they left. The living room window was still cranked open a crack for the cats to come and go as the Smiths had instructed them to leave it. They slowly walked back towards the downtown area, where the police station was located. The temperature was almost unbearable and they were happy to reach the building which was air conditioned.
“If the town is ordered to evacuate, all pets will be left behind and probably safer outside of the house. If you leave the window open for them, that should be okay,” Sheila, the clerk told the girls. She was very busy as the phone lines were ringing constantly.
“Let’s go home, I’m feeling nervous,” Kathy whispered as they reached the sidewalk once again.
“Yes, I agree and the smoke is getting thicker,” Dale replied.
Just as they reached the Lakeview restaurant next to the station, where both girls worked part-time, the door opened and they were greeted by Mr. Johnson, their boss. He was handing out melting popsicles from the freezer and gave them each one. He told them the hydro had gone off and he was closing the restaurant. This just added to the girls’ worry and they hurried home as quickly as their feet would take them. The little town had an eerie, unfamiliar feeling in the air as people were closing their stores and trying to find out any information they could as to the status of the fire.
Back at home, Kathy paced the floor, the queasy, churning pit of her stomach growing as the minutes ticked by. She had already packed her little blue suitcase with some clothes, her jewelry, make-up and diary; everything important to the sixteen year old. The announcer on the radio reported that everyone should have one bag packed with their essentials ready, in case of evacuation by air. As of yet, Kathy’s father had not shown any indication of leaving. He was as cool as a cucumber, which infuriated Kathy, who was sure they were all going to burn here in this town while everyone else left for safety.
“Dad, don’t you think we should get ready to go?” she asked for the third time.
“Oh no, we don’t have to leave town, we have a boat if we need one,” her dad was replying when suddenly outside they heard a loud siren and then a voice over a loud speaker from a vehicle driving slowly down the street.
“This is an evacuation order! Pack one bag of belongings per person, secure your home and go to Cochenour dock where you will be taken to McKenzie Island. This is a mandatory evacuation!”
The vehicle continued down the street bellowing instructions for residents.
“Oh my God, Dad, we have to leave! The fire is coming!”
“Calm down Kathy,” her dad ordered, “I guess we will pack and get ready to leave before they throw us out of here.”
At last there was movement. She ran to her room and searched through the pile of clothes on the bed for the camera that she knew was there somewhere in the mess. Good, there was film in it. She tucked it into her purse and went out to the kitchen where her parents were taking stuff out to the old station wagon. Her younger brother, Billy, was also packing up a few of his belongings. The dog, Bruno, was pacing back and forth, nervously. He knew something was up.
Within the hour they were at the dock where her father’s little skiff was tied for the summer. Kathy felt like she was in some kind of sci-fi movie. Cars were lined up on the road going out of town to the appointed dock. What were people without vehicles doing? It was at least 15 kms to the McKenzie Island dock. There must be buses provided for the people, she decided. Wow, what chaos. People and cars were everywhere!
They climbed into their boat and began slowly steering out into the smoke-filled bay. They were soon among many boats making their way out of Howey Bay. Kathy looked back to shore at the little town that she loved, that was now covered in a haze and filled with frightened people. What was happening to the Smith’s cats, Junior and Fluffy? Would they be okay? Where was Dale and her family? Kathy picked up Bruno, and held him tight as they crawled farther and farther from her home town.
When they reached the middle of Howey Bay, she continued to look back at the ominous billows of smoke beyond the town. What would they do if their home burned? What if the town burned? Hey, there would be no school. That would be a bonus. But, they would just find another place to send everyone to school. It would be inconvenient. Friends might get separated. The town better not burn. That school better not burn.
Her father steered the boat out of the bay and they headed off across the big stretch of lake to the Fish Camp. They would stay there, Dad said, and see what happens. Kathy had spent the previous six summers at the Fish Camp which was on Fisherman’s Island when her dad commercially fished for white fish each summer. He had just sold the business but still had access to the property. Even though they did not have a lot of food packed, they brought everything that was possible to bring. Dad said they would catch fish.
Shortly after they arrived at the Fish Camp dock and were unloading the boat, another boat rounded the corner of the island, coming their way.
“It’s Uncle Tommy,” Billy said, looking towards the red and white power boat that was not pulling up to the dock. Inside the boat sat, Uncle Tommy, Auntie Mary and their family. The cousins were here.
Together the two families would camp out and watch the flames at night, praying their homes didn’t burn.
(Kathy would be put on one of the last Hercules leaving town with her Aunt Mary, cousins Debbie and baby Jenny. Her brother, parents, Uncle Tom and cousins Leslie and Tommy would stay at the Fish Camp. As soon as possible the Tetlocks returned to town and fed the dogs in the neighbourhood.)
I was looking for something or other and came across my old journals. There’s a lot of them. I’ve always kept a journal since my sister gave me my first diary when I was twelve years old. I was hooked. These days my blog is my journal. But I still like to write poetry in cursive writing, so, yes I still have notebooks around at all times.
Anyways,I started reading through a journal that I started just after Ryan was born. I was a single mom and really struggling with life. I was 20 years old when I had Ryan.
Reading my entries brought me right back to that time thirty five years ago. I was a high school drop out. I had to get help from welfare for the first year of his life. I was emotionally not mature to say the least. My sister offered to adopt Ryan!
But I didn’t give up. I was fortunate to get accepted into a course called Secretarial Arts and was paid to go to school and received subsidy for day care. It was a struggle but things slowly got better and Ryan grew and I grew up too. Still not totally grown up.
Do I need to keep this journal? There are definitely things in there I don’t want anyone else to see. I always pour out my heart and all my thoughts no matter how bizarre they are. I think it’s time to let this one go. I will keep my happy memories of Ryan. I will let the sad ones drift away.
I awoke from my dream because I was crying. Then sobbing. And I couldn’t stop. The pain came and kept coming. I felt it. Everything that I had kept inside. Pretending. Pretending it’s all okay. When it’s not okay. Everything has changed. Change is scary. Unknowns are scary. The future is unknown. That’s scary. My role in life has changed. That is scary. I am floundering. What is my role now? I can’t be there for my mom. That’s scary. She needs me. And I am not there. I don’t have any control over the situation. Not having control is scary.
God forced me to let it out. To let it all out. It was a dream. I was at my parents’ house, the house where I grew up. I was outside the house in the yard and I could see mom through the window. Sitting where she always sat. I went into the house and there were toys on the floor and voices in the living room. A good happy sound. I went into the living room. My brother was there at the age he is now. My dad was there wearing his blue jacket; (he’s been gone for five years now). All four of my children. They were younger. I’m sure Ryan was there but I didn’t see him. (Ryan’s been gone for almost 14 years now). Mom said, “Kathy! You’re going to be okay.” And I started to cry.
I dreamed there was a terrible virus that was killing people all over the world and there was no cure. And everyone was afraid. People were all wearing masks and scurrying in and out of stores in a panic to get food. The toilet paper aisles were empty! Travel was not allowed unless it was for work or medical. Hair salons were closed and people were cutting their own hair! People were not allowed to congregate in groups so churches were empty. The streets were quiet.
I wasn’t allowed to see mom at the Lodge because the virus prayed on the elderly. Mom was lonely and I cried.
I worried about my family members and talked to God about them I asked God to keep them safe. I felt like I had no control over the things happening all around me.
I want a good dream. I want this strange dream to end.