Biographical Fiction posted January 11, 2018


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Pictures can be deceiving

A Picture of Promise


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that's true, then what does this wedding picture appear to say?

My parents were wed on June 12, 1955. I think they look happy. I'm told they were in love when they married. Stan, with a rare smile, looks down on his beautiful young bride, Vi, a slight tilt to his neck, barely noticeable.

He'd driven his car off the road the night before, leaving his bachelor party intoxicated. Three days after the wedding, when he began to sober up, the pain drove him to the hospital where an X-ray revealed he had broken two vertebra in his neck. He spent the next ten weeks in a neck-brace.

Stan was lucky to have survived that crash at all. The car didn't. While he had cheated death the day before his wedding, he wasn't so lucky in September 1992. At the age of 58, three years younger than I am now, he suffered a broken rib while being jostled in a skidder crash, and it punctured his lungs. He died in a helicopter on route to the hospital. They'd been married 37 years at that time.

Vi looks young and innocent in the picture, doesn't she? Happy? Maybe she was at the time. She had certainly snagged the man of her dreams; tall, dark, and handsome, he could be a real charmer. At the time, she probably thought she had it made.

The colorless photo of the day doesn't show her crystal blue eyes, honey blonde hair, or the deep red of the roses she held. Neither does it reveal the years to come when she would think she was in hell, living in logging camps without electricity or running water, hauling water from the creek in big metal milk cans, and chopping through the ice in the wintertime. She then used that same axe to chop firewood and kindling to keep the wood stove burning, cooking hunks of whatever game Dad had shot on the cast iron stovetop. She washed clothes in a big metal tub with a scrub board for the two of them, and then, one, two, three, and finally four daughters. I'm sure she hadn't expected this to be her future when she married.

When I turned six years old in 1962 and had to start school, we moved into town and could enjoy the luxury of utilities and flush toilets for the first time. Dad stayed in the logging camp through the week and came into town for the weekends.

While we girls celebrated the upgrade to modern life, Mom embraced the freedom that living in town offered her. She would 'coffee' with neighbors most days, leaving me in charge of my three younger sisters.

From the logging camp, we had moved into Merritt in central British Columbia, a small, windy, and dusty logging town with a sawmill at each end. The smell of fresh cut lumber was always hanging on the breeze. We rented a house just one block from my school. We lived in the upstairs suite, while the basement was ready to house another family. But, it was empty the entire time we lived there.

Leona was the youngest sister, and she became my steady charge. I carried her around in a laundry basket, and she was with me wherever I went. The summer that I started school, Leona was six months old.

One afternoon during that summer, I raided the downstairs apartment for two Hudsons Bay blankets, a hammer, and nails. I nailed the blankets to the top of the washstand in the back yard to hang down as the walls for our 'fort'. I'd also found a couple of candles and some matches, I lit the candles and used the melted wax to secure the base of each to a small jar lid. These went into the fort along with us four girls, Leona in her basket as usual. Somehow, in the playing and jostling, a candle was knocked over, and the blankets ignited. Our fort was on fire.

We three older girls ran into the house and grabbed pots, filled them with water, and rushed out to throw them on the flames. Leona, still inside the fort, was not only in danger of being burned, but was also being doused with cold water, causing her to screech. The excited yelling for more water and the baby screaming, brought neighbors running. They pulled the laundry basket, and Leona, out of harms way and put the fire out by tearing the blankets down and stomping on them.

Mom, recounting the story later, said she'd heard the screaming from five doors down and said to her hostess, "I sure hope that's not my brats making all that noise." Once she'd finished her coffee, she wandered home to learn that it was in fact us. Being the oldest, I got the belt.

Her coffee visits later became beers at the bar. Eventually, after I was around 10 years old, she'd be gone for weeks at a time, partying with friends we never knew.

She always came home eventually. One particular time, she returned, not so much her choice or sense of responsibility, but the command of her mother. She left us four girls with our grandparents for two weeks during summer vacation, a yearly event. But this time, she phoned a week after the scheduled pick up date to say she'd joined a band as a singer and was going on tour. She'd be back in a month or so. She was told to "get home now, and pick up your children." She arrived in our station wagon two days later, very disgruntled and cranky. She never forgave her mother or us girls for spoiling her shot at fame and fortune.

The union that looked like bliss, captured in that wedding picture, suffocated her over the years. She felt trapped with a man she had fallen out of love with and four daughters she never wanted in the first place. She always said she knew how to have kids; she just didn't know how not to.

The picture doesn't show the angry woman she'd become or the miserable life she'd lead until the drinking finally killed her, five years after Dad was gone. In truth, her picture of promise belied a picture of despair and doom.


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