DeAnn Louise Daigle AWW 12/12/09
There were trunks in the attic at Uncle Eddie and Aunt Eva’s house. They were treasure trunks for sure. We pulled out of them old dresses, long ones, short ones, shawls and hats, gloves and shoes. Who did these belong to? How did they wind up in this house? Why were they moved here? Who valued them enough to make that move? I question this now, but not then. That attic was a wonder. It offered rich fare for our imaginations.
My cousins Rita and William and sometimes my friend Norma would come along. And Joyce too and how could I forget, my cousin Roland, who was my secret and dearest love. We were all in the same age range with only a few years separating us or even a few months. Rita, Norma, and I were only months apart; Roland and Joyce a year older and William a couple of years younger than Rita, the baby of my Uncle and Aunt’s eight children.
Bernard’s comic book collection was up there too – in the glorious attic – and we sometimes took out the scary ones and Rita and William and I would huddle together in a corner with a flash light when it was raining, and we read them and became scared and thrilled. We heard creaking sounds from the house, and sometimes the cat spooked us and we nearly jumped out of our skins.
How old were we? Six … seven … eight … nine? It seems that attic offered us hours of sheer entertainment almost at any time of year.
It was also in part an unfinished space. Between the attic beams where the floor ended, there was only thick brown paper, and if we accidentally stepped there we might come through the living room ceiling, so we had to be very careful when walking those beams, and we were strongly encouraged not to, that we should not fall or put a foot down on that paper part.
The admonishment was scary and added to the thrill, because, of course, the boys walked the beams all the time. The boys also – the older ones – jumped the railroad cars, when they were parked on the tracks and not moving. The temptation to do so was just too great. We’d see them from the screen porch at my house. They dared one another, ran and jumped from one car to the other – like in the Westerns we watched. The boys loved playing cowboy and Indians. That had to be the favorite game of the day until one of them acquired a basketball hoop and it was anchored to a large tree in front of his house. Then, making baskets quickly displaced playing cowboy and Indians.
We girls, however, never tired of hauling out the treasures from the old trunks and dressing up like grown-ups pretending to attend parties, funerals and weddings.
I took to playing priest one day and used a roll of Necco Wafers in their pastel roundness as communion hosts. I’m amazed now as I was then that I could so influence Rita and William to kneel down and receive the wafers as if they were actually receiving Holy Communion.
I was also fascinated that I could convince Rita to eat the mush I made with Ritz Crackers, water, salt and pepper – telling her it was the pabulum, she as the baby, would eat from me as the mother. She ate it. And this never ceased to amaze me. I would never have eaten it myself.
I’m sixty years old and I can remember it all as if it were yesterday. Circumstances pulled us away from one another when we were still young. And these memories are for the most part the only ties that bind us now. As adults we rarely see one another.
Joyce, dear, dear Joyce; she was so excited when I was assigned to Eagle Lake. She braved a blizzard to come out to see me the evening of the day I arrived. I opened the door on that blustery January night – and there she was stepping in out of the howling wind, snow-covered just from her walk from the car to the house. We hadn’t seen each other in how many years? Oh my, maybe fifteen – since high school, at least, when my parents and I moved away. But she threw her arms around me and kissed me and hugged me. We kept in touch after that evening and even after I moved back to Portland. She was one of the few of my childhood friends, who never moved out of Soldier Pond.
Joyce married one of those ruffian boys, whose dad was a potato farmer. He and his brothers inherited the father’s farm, had worked with their dad on the farm from the time they could walk. She and Carl married right after high school. They had two boys. Her life was surrounded by men, she would say. And she relished my visits whenever I came up north to see relatives.
“I rarely get to sit down at a table with a good woman friend,” she said to me on one occasion. She lived with such passion – even when we were children, she had intense energy and love of life. It seemed cruel that fate would have her die at forty. I just didn’t want to believe the news of her death. But, I saw how she lived, smoking cigarettes, and eating junk – that day at the kitchen table. She was blond, blue-eyed and buzzed on caffeine, which she didn’t need.
She had always been pretty, and I couldn’t understand a lot of what was happening to her. She worked hard, she lived that way too. She was always interested in me and wanted to know what I was doing. Yet, part of me so much admired her, that she had a husband and two children. I was a woman, married to an institution that claimed we women in community were married to God. What did that mean? I would never have children. But I’d never really given up hope that maybe one day I’d meet a man and we’d love each other. Even when I wasn’t suppose to hope for that.
I wish Joyce and I could have talked more. I wish she hadn’t died so young. She had been so very brave. She had sought out her real mom, been profoundly disappointed when she found her, but gained a loving grandfather from that experience. She had loved her adoptive parents, but she was compelled to know her own history. In her thirties, she embarked on the venture; she had done it; she had had to know. I so admired her for that. She’d written me a long detailed letter with the account of her search. It was written on lined yellow notebook paper; page after page of her adventure, her pain and disappointment and her acceptance and ultimate triumph. She would never know her real father.
Interesting how life unfolds. I didn’t know then, that I would embark upon a similar search a few decades later. I would never get to share my story with her.
This having to know is such a compelling and tenacious demon for some of us. Some questions, however, will never be answered to our satisfaction. Making our peace with that state of affairs is also imperative. And the demon never goes away.