Hard Top Horrors

Posted on July 14, 2018 under Storytelling with 8 comments

We stand on guard (rails) for thee


When is the last time you sourced, prepared and served rabbit stew at a campground?

It nearly happened 20 years ago.

The other day, I wandered into Whidden’s Campground in Antigonish with my granddaughter to visit some friends who were spending a week there camping. This campground is unique as it is an oasis in the downtown core. It has majestic, old growth trees with the Brierly Brook dissecting the park. A large percentage of the occupants on any given week are locals including a number of people from town who see traveling less than a kilometre as a way of “getting away from it all.” On the far side of the river, the entire population of Louisdale is camped out for most of the summer.

My granddaughter makes friends easily so I found myself hobnobbing with some folks from Port Hawkesbury who have a large camper. How large, you say? I would estimate it at about half the length of the Canso Causeway. I haven’t seen one of these behemoths up close as my camping days are in the rear view mirror. In no way, shape or form, could you consider this form of camping as “roughing it”. It had every modern convenience possible including a unit that slides out exposing an oven, a microwave and a chef!

Most people of my generation have taken a stab at camping. When our children were young, we were crazy enough to buy a small tent, pitch it in the back yard and pretend that we were wilderness explorers. The first sleepover likely ended around midnight when excitement and mosquitoes had taken their toll.

But we were a brave lot and we moved on to greater adventures. Our children are all musical and in a fit of insanity, we agreed to take all four to Stanfest in Canso, and to tent. Canso is perched precariously on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and is subject to changeable weather. In the space of a few hours, one can experience scorching heat, oppressive humidity; thunder and lightning, torrential rain and fog. The concert venue is set up in such a way that you can experience the festival in the lap of luxury or get down and dirty. The kids pleaded to stay in the “acoustic campground.”

We acquiesced and paid dearly for this lack of judgment. The acoustic campground is designed for young people who have no intention of sleeping for three days straight. They plan to drink excessively 24/7 and entertain other campers by singing “Barrett’s Privateers” at 3:30 a.m. Every verse. Sometimes twice in a row.

The first night it rained so hard that a small river ran through our six person tent.

Like the Jefferson’s we “moved on up” and purchased a hard top camper. We kept it in our yard for a month. It took us the first three weeks to figure out how to open it and one week to eradicate the mildew and musty smell that seems endemic to hard tops. At that time, we had a driveway that circumnavigated the house. Once we got a hitch put on to the back of our Dodge Caravan, I was able to make several loops of the yard just to see how it would feel towing it. Never once did it occur to me that I would have to park it once we reached a campground.

It was a hot day, one filled with excitement and anticipation as we pulled out of Antigonish heading for a campground just west of Moncton. Why we didn’t practice at Whidden’s is one of those great mysteries, like how they get the caramel in Caramilk chocolate bars.

With several bathroom breaks, it seemed to take forever to reach our destination. By the time we arrived, everyone was just a bit agitated. We made the descent down a long hill and entered paradise. It was quickly to become hell.

The first thing I noticed was the preponderance of rabbits. They were everywhere including the middle of the road. Not knowing their collective I.Q., I took it slowly not wanting to explain the notion of carnage to my children while sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows. We picked up our pass at the registration desk and made our way to our site. While I’m quite certain that there was plenty of room to park between the campers on either side of us, the space looked infinitesimally small.

You have to back into your campsite.

That’s when I felt the first droplets of sweat form on my brow. With the kids still inside the van, I made a few feeble attempts to manoeuvre the camper into place with no luck. As world war three was about to break out, I instructed the kids to go outside and chase rabbits or go to the nearby playground. I then started to receive instructions from my wife about my parking technique. That would have been helpful but to this point, I didn’t have a technique. I was concerned about the liability costs from smashing into my neighbour’s unit. All the while, I kept a keen eye on the rabbits.

This was well before the advent of cell phones and Google. This was trial by error. There was far more error than trial. My inner thermostat began to rise as I politely suggested that my wife exit the van and guide me into the space. It was a sensible idea. In theory. I could hear her instructions but I couldn’t see her. I was getting used to the large side mirrors I had purchased for this very reason but I couldn’t get her in my sights.

I lost count but it took at least 15 tries before achieving success but it nearly cost me my marriage.

I got out of the van and before detaching the hard top, I immediately poured myself a healthy glass of Captain Morgan black rum and Pepsi. I surveyed the landscape and circled the vehicle looking for dead, four legged furry characters. Mercifully there were none.

I often look back at that experience wistfully. No, that’s a lie. It fills me with borderline rage at my incompetence. But it gives me comfort to find out that many members of the male species have had similar difficulties.

Every campground should provide a parking service to morons like me. I would have paid any amount of money to avoid the angst and the embarrassment felt that summer day so many years ago.

If hotels can have valet service, why not campgrounds. It just might save a few more marriages.



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A Perfect Role Model

Posted on May 17, 2018 under Storytelling with 36 comments

Teresa P.D. MacDonald 1925-2018


Mom was really a remarkable woman.

She was like so many of her peers who raised large families with none of the modern conveniences, available today. How they managed to do this is jaw dropping. There was always a baby in cloth diapers. Bread was rising on the radiators before anyone was awake and the first of several loads of laundry was well in hand. Getting kids out of bed and off to school was done with regimental precision, particularly the bathroom. Each child was given exactly seven minutes to do whatever was necessary.

With all of the children out of the house and fathers off to work, which was the norm in those days, the baking started in earnest. The bread was put in the oven followed by pies, cookies and cakes. How disheartening it must have been when the hordes arrived home to devour a morning’s work in seconds. This was repeated daily. The wash was done by hand. I can still see the wringer washer in the middle of the living room floor. When the laundry was done, invariably one of the smaller kids was deposited in the washer and wheeled around the room. Cheap entertainment.

They worked from dawn to dusk 365 days a year, 366 in leap years. They said the rosary, went to church, bought groceries, read books, applied bandages, and looked after us when we were sick. Super women. We will never see another generation like them again. These were legendary women.

Mom was all of this and more. After our dad died at a young age in 1977, she took her considerable organizational talents as the chief lieutenant of 39 Hillcrest Street and entered the workforce. She managed several businesses and eventually took the reins of the Antigonish Town and County Home Care, assisting area seniors in a myriad of ways. No request went unfilled and it was not uncommon for her to get a call late at night from someone in need. She’d drop everything she was doing to make sure that they received the help they needed.

She also expended some of her incredible energy volunteering. She had a soft spot for the poor and in her later years, helped out on a regular basis with the Food Bank and St.Vincent de Paul. She took her volunteering role very seriously and made sure that all of us adopted her ethos.

She taught us so much, not by words but by her actions. She never took shortcuts or the easy route. “Finish what you start,” was one of her mantras. She also taught us about the importance of punctuality. “Show up on time. It is a sign of respect.” I know when one of my brothers and sisters says to meet them at a particular time of day, you know they’ll be there.

“Say please and thank you.”

Her energy and passion for life was breathtaking. She loved new challenges and was never afraid to tackle anything. Perhaps her only regret is that she didn’t get to go zip lining or parachuting. She did, however, jump in a go kart at age 90.

She loved music. It was the first thing she likely heard when she was born and it was the last thing she heard before taking her leave late this afternoon. We gathered around her bed and sang a few of her favourites in four part harmony. Even with failing health, she could go to the piano and play all those wonderful war era songs from memory. We see the musical talents of Teresa and P.D. in our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. That is, in itself, a treasured legacy.

But most of all, she loved her children. Make no mistake, we were a handful and I’m sure there were many days that she would have traded us for a sack of potatoes.

We will miss her common sense, her steady hand, her great sense of humour and her compassion for the underdog.

Mother T, we love you and will miss you terribly. Thank you for being you. You were a force of nature.

We couldn’t have had a better role model.

“Farewell to thee but not farewell,

To all my fondest thoughts of thee,

Within my heart they still shall dwell,

And they shall cheer and comfort me.”

Anne Bronte

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Welcome Aboard

Posted on April 17, 2018 under Storytelling with 6 comments


I was born into a large Catholic family in rural Nova Scotia. It seems that just about every family was big and most in our community wore the Catholic label. In fact, such was the preponderance of Catholics in our community that we became affectionately known as “The Little Vatican”. This sobriquet remains to this day despite the fact that Antigonish has changed vastly over the years. Many faith communities exist and families are much smaller.

All Catholics have a start and finish line. We are born to die. This is not the most appetizing thing on the Catholic menu. But there are promises of greater things when our mortal remains are cast into the wind or set adrift on the ocean at Mahoney’s Beach.

I wake up from a long nap. I squint as the morning light streams through my bedroom window. I attempt to rub away sleep from my eyes. I catch something out of the corner of my eye. My eyesight is not as good as it will be. I see something above me going around in circles. I haven’t quite figured this out. I later learn that this is a mobile. Truthfully, everything is a giant mystery at this point in my life.

I recognize my mother as she gently lifts me out of my crib. She bathes me in warm water and scrubs me to within an inch of my life with bar of Sunlight soap. I sparkle like the sun. She finishes things off with a slathering of Johnson’s baby oil.

She takes me over to a change table. “Hey. What’s with the white dress?” I’m thinking as she places a well-traveled gown over my tiny frame. I distinctly remember dad doing cartwheels outside the delivery room when he heard that he had another son. So, if I am truly a future standard bearer for the MacDonald clan, then why the dress?

My mother cradles me in her arms as we get into dad’s car. It might have been a Studebaker. We drive a short distance to a large stone building with a cross on top. It is my first trip to St.Ninian’s Cathedral but it wouldn’t be my last. This cavernous building is quite scary to one so small. I remain placid amid the wails from several of my peers. I can’t quite figure out what is going on.

I soon discover the reason for the trauma as I am about to be subjected to similar treatment. Every newborn in the church will become part of an important fraternity on this day.

The priest blesses me with the sign of the cross. There are prayers and more prayers. A large candle is lit and I can smell the residue of the smoke from the extinguished match. I am lifted up and positioned over a large receptacle filled with water.

Drip. Drip. Drip. It starts with a trickle and then becomes a torrent. It sounds like a waterfall. Later in my life I will visit Niagara Falls, causing vivid flashbacks. A large man, wearing strange robes is looming over me speaking in a foreign tongue which I later learned to be Latin. He is pouring water on my head but it runs into my eyes causing extreme agitation. I am tempted to ask for a bathing cap and goggles. The situation worsens as I start to whimper and now the water enters my throat, prompting me to gag. I soon realize that being a Catholic involves pain and suffering and possibly suffocation.

Years later, I will come to understand that the events described in previous paragraphs were my baptism. I was born Roman Catholic and as such am expected to take part in several sacraments.

So, why is baptism the first step on the long journey of a Catholic? Good question and one that still puzzles me from time to time. Baptism is the sacrament that frees us from original sin. This is a bit of a head scratcher. How many times did I commit original sin (or worse) in the womb? And at the tender age of 7 days, one wouldn’t think that a wholesale cleansing would have been necessary.

And so, the first roots of guilt were planted in my subconscious.

I would learn that we are all born sinners and only a thorough dousing in a baptismal font would keep me in God’s good graces. It was explained to me that wearing something white (like a Stanfield T-shirt?) was a symbol of purity. I also discovered that christening dresses are handed down from generation to generation.

There’s a party at our home after the ceremony and I am handed around the room like the Stanley Cup. Everyone, it seems, needs to pinch my cheek which is quite annoying and also coo sweet nothings into my tiny ears. It must be an important occasion as mom is serving lobster sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

I am now a full blown member of the fraternity.

The train of life is leaving the station. Welcome aboard.

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