Tag Archives: Point Grey

On mothers, imperfection and love

It is Mother’s Day and I’ve been very blessed with a son who not only took me to lunch but to an art gallery then dinner! Can you imagine doing all that for your mom? I know. But it isn’t all bliss on the parenting front. In fact, being a mother means your worst self will be scrutinized and commented on for as long as you are alive. Your children, in all their innocent and not so innocent honesty, will bring you face to face with your shortcomings like no one else.

Recently my son said he felt like I didn’t teach him enough tasks and that I was annoyingly positive. Well, there you are. But as I ruminated on my failings at 3 am, I thought of my own mother and her imperfections and how they now endear me to her even more. Where once I was a critical 20 something I am not a not-so-smug 40 something who can, with empathy and love, look back on some of situations I was in with my mom and hold them close as cherished memories instead of damning her for being, well, human. To that end, I wrote a poem about a time when, in today’s politically correct world, my mom would have been seen as lax or worse, negligent. But I see it very differently. I my son will too some day.

Imperfect Mother

It is the imperfections of my mother

I hold dearest—

The time for instance when turning off of

West 16th near UBC in her red Beetle the

door beside me swung open and since it was the seventies

I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt

and I went with the door, grasping the handle to

avoid the road rushing below me.

I looked back at my mother who

while still turning with her left hand lunged across to snatch my

flimsy t-shirt with her right and pulled me back into the car.

It was a one shot deal but she managed it. The door banged shut as

she completed the sharp turn and we kept on driving as though

I hadn’t just about fell out of the car and onto the road.


A block later a small eruption of laughter burst

From my mother. It made me clap my hands together

In gleeful loopy agreement of what I wasn’t sure but

The sun was streaming through oak leaves as we drove

Creating a beautiful pattern on my mother and I kicked my legs

Out from the edge of the sticky car seat to the radio played


Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city


I could say my mother was negligent

I could get maudlin, drink myself silly

Recount her imperfections that had caused

My life to zig zag like a silverfish on the run


But then I remember how she didn’t pull over

And fuss and fawn and make a big deal of

My near death fall and how years later this

Would give me courage when real death

And real heartbreak would pull me pull me down


And I would swim up to the surface, clapping my hands

Ecstatic for life’s small moments of survival.


*Song lyric from Summer in the City by Lovin Spoonful, 1966.



Filed under Memoir

Books, Bras and Coming of Age

I am working on a digital story series called Summer Reads with some writers (many famous, lucky me) and I’ve asked them to write a memory piece on a book that changed their lives one summer. Then I’m going to film them reading from it. So it will be a sweet little interactive experience when I’m done with it. But my interaction designer and story partner said, ‘just send me exactly what one of the pieces will look like‘ as she is prone to do (being precise and logical).  I always forget that she isn’t wired into the pictures that appear in my head. So to that end, I wrote one myself. Enjoy.


I was eleven years old when I read Judy Blume’s ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.’ It was a book my friends had read before me so I was pretty late to the Blume party and often felt self-conscious at sleepovers when quotes from the book were read out loud with a display of tween pride mixed with a nuanced air of a just blooming (no pun intended) awareness of sex.

But my house wasn’t the kind of house where you’d ever find Judy Blume. No, in my house you might find Steinbeck or Lord of the Rings or Farley Mowat or more commonly, technical manuals on how to make your own kayak, weld, or build a boat engine. Owning a Judy Blume novel would have landed me in some serious trouble in my household and so on my bike I went to the Kitsilano library. I slid the Blume between books on Ancient Egypt (I was after all doing a book report on Sphinxes) and some innocent looking P.D. James mystery books for my mom.

Nothing happened when they scanned the book. No alarms, no ‘Are you old enough for this material young lady?’ from the librarian. I was scot-free and peeled out of there on my scuffed up second-hand Raleigh straight to the beach with my literary contraband. That day under a willow tree at Jericho, I saw my own world, a secret world hidden from my parents and my nine brothers, unfold like a mirror where I could see mood for mood, experience by experience, a character just like me, even with the same name, the same internal struggles and worries and physical doubts I was having that I couldn’t share with anyone in my world.

My father had just died from a long illness and I was adrift in a home with no rules or structure or even a parent. My mom had essentially checked out. When I did get my period that year it was alone in a bathroom with no supplies and no one to tell me what to do and it was terrifying. Judy Blume’s Margaret became my surrogate sister and Judy my surrogate mother. As I flipped the pages hungrily, with french-fry and vinegar-soaked fingers staining each page, I half expected a flock of priests to descend on me from my local Catholic church and rip the book from my pre-adolescent hands but no one busted me and I read the entire book in one uninterrupted day at the beach.

That night at Sharon Bideshi’s sleepover I quoted effortlessly from the book, skimmed scented grape gloss across my lips and posed in my faded hand-me-down Queen t-shirt, and admitted I’d bought a bra by myself that didn’t quite fit. Then we all mimicked the book’s now-famous mantra and exercise ‘we must, we must, we must increase our bust‘ and I peed my pants a little laughing so hard. I’d unhinged myself from my family, the church, and perhaps even childhood. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was but it was a better place that included boys, bras and makeup. And still a little bit of God for good measure.


Filed under Memoir, Non-fiction

The Danger of a Metronome

When I was little, I had to take piano lessons with Sister Margaret. Sister Margaret was our music teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help on West 10th avenue in Point Grey. Sister Margaret was terribly old. I used to go to lessons in the convent where she lived, just a few blocks up from our house on Crown and 11th. I remember I would be incapable of studying the hard Conservatory lessons and would divert her attention by making up elaborate stories and punctuating them with dramatic notes on the piano.

At first she tried to reel me in by putting the metronome on. As soon as the sharp, precise, demanding tone of the metronome began I sat listlessly on the bench, slumped over, but checked out. To Sister Margaret’s credit, she noticed the effect and stopped the metronome at once. Instead, she embraced my stories and even ignored the Conservatory lessons entirely. (My poor mom, she’d hoped I would follow in her footsteps and be a great pianist.) Most of my stories began with a deep rumbling of bass notes. Usually paired with a storm, a boat, a maiden followed by a heartless family and then a hero would enter. Standard 6-year-old drama stuff.

Sister Margaret delighted in my hour-long story sessions but as the day of the big recital got closer we both guiltily realized that I had little prepared for a performance. She chose an easy one for me which was Bach’s ‘Air’. I had to work hard to memorize it and it was my first experience of  ‘cramming’ for something. It would, of course, become something familiar to me as I got older.

On the day of the recital, I played my little piece but twice forgot where I was to go next and the air around me was devoid of Bach’s light, lilting notes, as I remembered words instead of musical notes and the lines between the bars and the plot made for a fumbled and awkward performance.

Yet, at the end of the year Sister Margaret threw a party at the convent for all her students and she gave me a beautiful Beethoven sculpture, finely wrought in wood, that had always and forever been on her piano. I could feel the sharp stares of her good students furrowing their brows at my fraudulent profile as I accepted her gift in front of everyone. We had an understanding. I think it was that, out of all the students, I was the only who came with the specific purpose to entertain her. And that purity of purpose meant something to her. I think anyway. I was always deeply grateful for her understanding I wasn’t the metronome type. It gave rise to a life of storytelling.

To this day, I can see a metronome type coming towards me at a hundred paces. I used to always think those types were right and I was wrong but as I get older, I am standing up for myself a little more and telling them to put their metronomes away and just listen. Listen to the story for a moment. It really does have its own, fabulous, transformative rhythm.

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Filed under Memoir

The Patterns of Life

The other day I was in a thrift store and stumbled across an old collection of dress patterns. It brought me back to the days when my mother and I would drive down to Gold’s Fabrics at Arbutus and 12th in Vancouver. My mother could sew and knit and despite trying to teach me numerous times, I resisted and instead suggested I just be her model. My mother was quite an accomplished  seamstress and spent countless hours at the sewing machine creating outfits for me, and sometimes my sister, various household items like curtains, and repairing the clothes of her large family in order to save money. The dresses she made for me, despite my creative direction however, never turned out the way I wanted.  I never had the heart to say I didn’t like it as she beamed up at me from cutting a thread off the hem of the finished dress. But I knew in my heart that was how it would always be because of our trips to Gold’s Fabrics.

We would walk in and to the right of the heavy glass doors were row upon row of drawers of patterns organized by designer. At the front were Simplicity, McCall’s, and Butterick, and other what I considered ‘average’ patterns that my mother liked to frequent. At the back were the more expensive patterns; this is where I skidaddled to in my hand-me down clothes and dusty flip-flops I may or may not have inherited from my brother.

I dove into those drawers and pulled out each package, turning it gently over in my hands, looking carefully at the evening dresses, the styling of hair and makeup of each illustration and lost myself in Vogue’s chic style. Sometimes my mother would come around and poke her nose over my shoulder and make her usual tsking sound and sometimes, if I pointed out how she could, if she tried, easily fashion a gown for me, she would start walking away saying with a small shake of her head, “oh no, no, no” as though I had just asked her to drive me in a convertible to the moon.


I realized I was up against a mountain that wouldn’t move. There was no swaying my mother over to my haute couture world. She was seeking simple, cheap, easy-to-make and I was hoping for Chanel. Sometimes I would try to persuade her to jazz it up with creative buttons or ribbon or coloured zippers which could be found for miles in the centre of the warehouse-size store. She would laugh as though my request was absurd and sometimes I found my foot coming down hard on the linoleum floor in my frustration. This would make her tsk again and say, “Margaret, you have champagne tastes on a beer budget I’m afraid.” This was always her go-to phrase when she felt I was reaching too far. As in a fuchsia zipper or rhinestone button.

Maybe it was because my mom grew up on a farm and lived through the Depression. Maybe because, despite living in Point Grey in a big house, she never had much money. Or maybe she was a simple woman who was content with what she had in life, something I am only now in my forties seeing the value of:  life as it is rather than life as I imagine it in my head.

But just to be clear, I’ll never be a Simplicity woman. I’ll always be Vogue.
vogue mermaid gown pattern


Filed under Memoir

Real rock gods play with heart

Recently, I’ve been reading a memoir by the Wilson sisters from the band Heart and reminiscing about the past. A friend (and fan) gave it to me because we shared a deep love of the band when we were young. It perfectly captures the era of rock in the 70’s and the struggles the Wilson sisters had in breaking into a male-dominated business.

When I think of growing up and the music that played in my home, it was not the music of my friend’s homes. I would go to a sleepover and see a full size poster of Sean Cassidy on my friends wall or Abba and it felt like an alternate universe to me. Who were these people? The Guess Who, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Nazareth, Deep Purple, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Aerosmith and later AC/DC–these were the bands that were played in my house. Big, snarling, theatrical, posturing, operatic: bass lines that changed your heartbeat if you got too close to the speakers, anthems that made you feel riotous and rebellious and bonded with everyone else who listened to them. I remember we had a little dance at the end of the year in my elementary music class and I stood beside the record player, looking at the selection without recognizing much of it. A boy put on Bee Gee’s and I looked up and started laughing. I asked him if he was serious, did he really like this group? I wanted him to say no, because I’d liked him, but he said yes and that was the end of that crush.

It was around this time that Dreamboat Annie came out. The moment I saw two women on the cover, then heard Magic Man, with Ann booting down the door of male rock in suede boots, I was hooked. As far as most of us assumed, they were Canadian. Of course they weren’t; they just dominated the Vancouver music scene and had recorded the album at Mushroom Studios on West 4th Avenue which had put Mushroom and Heart both on the map.

The songs of Dreamboat Annie had poetry in them and moments of soft, melodic voices and twelve string guitars that allowed my young self to escape into the world of the Wilson sisters, whose talent soon got noticed by the world and the album went platinum. Ann for me, was a new kind of woman I’d never seen before. In songs like Kick It Out and Barracuda there was a swagger and toughness that until that point, had largely been the domain of the rock gods who were all men–Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey–but Ann’s vocal range and power just exploded and gave us young female fans a new hero.

I would skip out of my all girl’s private school and go to my friend’s house, who had two older sisters, one of whom was a Heart junkie. Her room was like a shrine to them and I was ecstatic to find it was all Heart, all the time in that basement on west 8th avenue in Point Grey. There would be many late nights where the record needle would be gently picked up and put back to a bar or an octave or a word Ann would sing and we’d talk about it with grave respect. In those days, Ann and Nancy often did radio interviews to promote their albums and we’d lie there listening to the interview like we were hearing from the oracle of cool. I will never forget my first Heart concert at the Pacific Coliseum when Ann somehow managed to sing louder, harder, faster than the records ever hinted at. My 13-year-old mind was never the same.

A few years later, my brother started singing in our basement with a few friends. I was a little jealous because I’d hoped to be like Ann and start my own band but it turned out that while I could hold some notes, and had a little power, I lost my pitch along the way. He, however, was pitch perfect. Our lives soon centered around jamming in the basement. It was all rock, as loud as possible, played through rented amps from Long and McQuade. And as the amps got bigger and bigger, so did the sound. Sometimes I’d be walking up my street and hear the guitar, kajung kajung then the bass, thud thud thud and the drums thwack thwack wailing away and high above coming into the fray would be my brother’s voice, howling some Lynrd Skynrd song.

His band evolved and got better and better and I started to hang out at real gigs which no matter the pay, were always packed full of all the same faces that had hung out and jammed in our cold, dirty little basement space. There were other kids from our neighbourhood that were also in bands and they started playing around town and getting some attention from the local press and appearing at the famed Town Pump. The place had been a restaurant and for some reason I remember that they had windows with stuffed animals in them. I swear there was one of a mountain lion. But then it evolved into the hub of live music in Vancouver.  I was underage for a long time at the Town Pump. I became expert at wrangling my name onto the guest list so I wasn’t harassed for ID. Being on the guest list usually meant free beer and backstage access which helped as I had no money in those days. My brother’s band, The Pasties, had a strong following in Vancouver and for a short while, it looked like Geffen Records was going to back them and then it all kind of fell apart. But I never stopped being a fan. Pasties gigs were always ridiculously fun because it was like our basement transplanted to a club where everyone knew each other yet somehow now my brother was being paid for singing and large flats of beer were being sent backstage. Being small, I had to stay clear of what was now called the Mosh Pit. I was once accidentally knocked into the air and across the floor at the Commodore Ballroom and bailed into a table. It didn’t help I was in 6 inch heels but I stood up, brushed myself off, and watched from the sidelines, as close to the Marshall stacks as I could.

My mom at this time was in her late 60’s and given the choice, would have preferred to sip a G & T, listen to the CBC, and read a good mystery novel but here we were, coming in at all hours of the night, playing thundering rock downstairs, or sitting in large wayward groups on our roof in the summer sun, looking out over Vancouver and acting as if we owned it. My  dear mom accepted everyone that walked through the door. I’d come up from the basement sometimes to find someone having a beer with her, talking loudly over the guitars and drums and my brother’s sprawling vocals, having a meaningful conversation and I would just shake my head and wonder why they were hanging out with her. Many years later, I still have people tell me how much her acceptance of them meant to them. I didn’t see it then, but I think her non-judgmental, open door philosophy probably was one they didn’t experience at home.

I had gone to university and returned to Vancouver and got a job working at the Arts Club theatre. The job lent itself to attending late night music gigs because I wouldn’t have to get up until noon or later for work. But something was changing in the scene, and it seemed everywhere I looked friends and friends of friends were nodding off as we stood watching a band and many OD’ed or worse, had died. I hadn’t been around hard drugs before and had no clue why all these people were so sleepy suddenly? I was truly ignorant of what was happening.

I was a huge fan of the band Tank Hog at this time and  who, from the second they started playing, would graft your pulse to theirs and you wouldn’t come down from the excitement of their sets until very late in an after hours bar. They saw a fair bit of success but the internal strife (and drugs) didn’t help their situation. Still, I think of them as some of the most talented musicians I ever met and had the pleasure of seeing live.

Nirvana became the new Zeppelin and grunge music came in to the Vancouver music scene in a big way. Being so close to Seattle, there was a lot of influence on our culture and my fashion shifted to dresses from thrift stores, Doc Martens that never left my feet and jet black hair cut in a Louise Brooks style bob. Then, through a bizarre series of events, I won a Green Card in the annual lottery the US holds and moved away from Vancouver. I never really went back to the music scene after several years away and lost touch with the music scene and my friends in it. Fast forward many years later and I am returned to my hometown where I’m now seeing some of those old familiar faces play around town (including my own brother Alan Doyle) and it’s kind of great to see some of those talented musicians not only survived the 90’s but are still going strong as musicians who just love to play for the sheer joy of making music.

Oh, in case you never heard of the band Heart, check out out this early recording (nevermind the terrible quality), just imagine yourself back in the era when rock gods were real.


Filed under Memoir

Rockstar Nanny

For those of you who are regular readers, you’ll know I grew up in a family of 13. Second generation breeding eventually happened and there was born lashings of limbs and faces and screaming babies; it seemed that children were endlessly thrown onto your hip mid-hallway or some sweaty hot little body was crawling into your bed or asking you to play at some ungodly hour and since I was now an Aunt I had to act like one whatever that meant.

No one really ‘watched’ after children in our house. You were sort of shunned if you were high maintenance. In fact, as the smallest, and a girl, I always felt lucky to have survived the day. It often felt like a race and I loved the manic pace of it with all the near misses of botched explosions, bikes tearing off of jumps, torturous tickling, pranks, thievery, flailing fists, falling out of trees, and so much more on any given day that the phrase ‘rough and tumble’ simply sounded like laundry softener in comparison to our activities.

My mother alone had a pretty strict schedule, an army-like precision that formed itself around laundry and cooking while our days were spent out of doors, wild and free and game for whatever came our way. I was always determined to follow the group despite my small stature and heard many a time from the front of the pack ahead of me “if you die, we’re not stopping” but I was not dissuaded. I just peddled harder and faster.

So when I was 15 and my friend asked if I wanted to babysit for this fancy pants music agency kingpin guy (that’s how he was described to me) I thought, babysit? My god, who wants to babysit? No one was ever ‘babysat’ in our family. You were left in the care of the mob. Besides, the idea of a clammy screaming baby in the middle of summer was not my idea of fun. It was all I could do to find a moment’s peace and quiet in my own house, why would I want to hold some other family’s baby?

Do me a favour? begged my brother’s friend, David Gray. I argued that it was beneath me to babysit; I was in theatre. At the time, I was volunteering for a Pirates of Penzance musical as an assistant stage manager so felt haughty and  theatrically superior; I likely resembled a strange stage version of Norma Desmond to the people in my life. But David was working as a clerk in an upper crust men’s clothing store in Kerrisdale and this was one of his important clients so I relented.

That is how I ended up becoming a nanny. This family also lived near Point Grey where I was raised but they were very different from my family. Not only were they a small family, they were not Catholic. As in, they were Jewish. I’d never met a Jewish family before then. But I didn’t know they were Jewish for many months and the first Christmas I knew them I brought over a Christmas cactus that was in full bloom. I knocked on the door and the mother said, oh, that’s lovely but we’re Jewish. I felt like a total fool but their wizened old grandma said that the Irish were a lost Jewish race anyway and so I was forgiven all my gentile shortcomings and taken into their fold.

I also learned how to negotiate from the first night I babysat.  The dad (the mogul) made me defend why I should be paid. I got a little ticked, I mean, wasn’t he just supposed to pay me an hourly wage? Nope. He didn’t believe in that. What did I do that I should be paid for? Exactly? So I had to negotiate, every time I babysat. For six years. One time I refused to look after the children as I needed a day off and was at my friend’s hiding out poolside when I heard the crunch of tires outside the fence on the gravel drive. The dad popped his head over the fence. I barked from the hot diving board where I was tanning  I’m not babysitting for love or money. I’m not. I won’t. 

He negotiated me into a babysitting but it cost him large. At 16 I was making 60 bucks an hour. Not bad for an afternoon’s nap time with babies.

I became a staple in their house. I loved being there because not only was there always great food (my first time seeing Häagen-Dazs in real life), deeply soft carpets, couches you never wanted to stand up from, Much Music blasting out of widescreen TV’s, but the dad was always-always-making deals on the phone. His business was pretty glamorous because it was the music industry and it wasn’t uncommon for me to chat on the phone with some well-known names. One musician in particular was invaluable to me when I couldn’t figure out the various clickers for the large screen TV’s. I would play on the floor quietly with the toddler and cock my ear to the pitching going on in the corner. I would smile as I could hear the familiar twists and turns of his sales technique and I learned an MBA’s worth of business intelligence from listening to him. I never tired of hearing him regale me with his stories. He’d crawled his way to the top, having never even graduated high school. He’d not been born rich but he’d make it to the big league. I admired him for his tenacity, humour and ability to see right through people in a moment’s exchange. He missed nothing.

There were always lot of galas and parties and I’d love sitting at the bottom of the stairs and look up at them in their tux and gown and watch as they stepped into the waiting limo. At the end of the night, maybe 2 am or so, I’d get to be driven home by the driver. Richard was one I remember well. One night I said, hey I don’t want to be driven home, can you take me to Club Soda? (the dad owned the nightclub so I knew I’d get in). I was 17 by this time but the rest of my friends had all turned 19 and I was forever lying about my age and trying to catch up. Nothing really new for me as the youngest.

Richard the driver lowered the window and said, are you sure? I said, oh yeah, just meeting up with my brother, no big deal. There was a long pause as he drove through the quiet streets then he turned right, towards the Granville St. bridge and I was screaming for joy on the inside. For years no one had ever seen me quietly being dropped off by stretch limos but for once I would be. I took my heels out of my backpack, tucked my sensible nanny shoes back in it and prepared to strike a pose.

It was a great moment to come up to that block long lineup that night, with Richard camping up the driver routine and opening the door as I stepped onto the sidewalk. The bouncer unclipped the rope and I  walked right in. Heady stuff for an underaged girl but for that brief moment I felt pretty rock star-ish.

I was a nanny for the first little girl from the time she was a small infant and held the second daughter the day she was born but as life would have it, I decided to pursue a Directing degree after my first year of college (which my nanny job paid for thank you very much). I had to say goodbye to my surrogate family. I loved the older daughter like my own having essentially been a third parent for her first 5 years and her wails and tears and my wails and tears on my last day holding her in my arms nearly kept me from leaving.

I learned so much with those children and that family. While watching the movie The Help the other day with my son he said, “Wow, I can’t believe people treated their help that way back then.” I said, “it’s not that far off the way some of the nannies were treated when I was in that world.”

It was true. Sometimes, as I’d be sitting in some mansion or other with a group of nannies, most of whom were Filipino, and the mothers would talk about us like we weren’t there. It shocked me but rolled off the backs of those young nannies, most of whom were thankful for the work. I felt a little sick they just took it like it was an ordinary part of their day.

One day we were in Shaughnessy at a birthday party and someone motioned to me and said, ‘where you’d get her?’ to the mother I worked for. She stood back and said, “I didn’t ‘get‘ her anywhere. Margaret is our friend and a part of our family.” And with that we left the party. A brave thing for her to do and I admired her for it.

For a job I never wanted, I gained a lifetime of lessons and memories. I’ve never regretted saying yes to holding that sweaty little baby and looking after her all those years. She was a handful but I loved her spirit and hope in some small way I made an impression on her life She certainly did on mine.


Filed under Non-fiction

Highway to Hell, Erno Lazlo, and girls, girls, girls

When I was 13 my mother banished me to an all-girls school. It was in poshy, snobby Shaughnessey in Vancouver and there were three things wrong with it: there were no boys, and it was poshy and snobby. Around this time, I was tagging along with my older brother who in my mind, hung out with the cool people: public school kids. One of his friends who’d been in his class since Grade 1 at our school, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, was a tall, lanky, blonde with an easy laugh and a fearless attitude. How I ended up at her house one day without my brother I’ll never know, but I was on the inside of one of the public school kids home’s and I wasn’t leaving. Here was another world entirely. Both she and my brother had gone ahead of me to Lord Byng High School where, it seemed to my 13-year-old mind, that everything, absolutely everything of importance in Point Grey took place and I was missing it all.

I stood stiffly in her kitchen in my Little Flower Academy outfit, my bangs drooping into my eyes, which were unblinking and contained a stunned stare as she just rang up a pizza order without asking her mother. I thought, “where will she get the money? doesn’t she need permission?” I watched as she sauntered over to her mother’s purse and pulled out a 20 dollar bill, then motioned for me to come downstairs with her. We ate pizza and talked about boys and listened to Heart’s Dog and Butterfly and I tried to sit as though I wasn’t in a short kilt that was cutting off my circulation.

I knew in that moment it was a tribe I desperately wanted to belong to.

I started to go to her house after school, not stopping at my bus stop, but continuing up West 10th Avenue to Trimble St. then over to West 8th Avenue where her family of three sisters and parents lived across from Trimble Park. I was starstruck with the whole family and the middle sister would often take me out for slow cruising in her mother’s vintage Thunderbird. Sitting in my monogrammed, maroon sweater and collared shirt, I wondered if I didn’t somehow de-value her cool factor? But she didn’t seem bothered by it and I felt like a movie star.

The Bolger’s house was everything mine was not: full of perfume, and bras, and makeup, and heels, with the sounds of Heart and Fleetwood Mac ringing through every floor of the house. The mother wore beautiful clothes, and had coiffed hair, and seemed like one of ‘us’. The father was the fulcrum, the balanced calm in the storm of estrogen. I marveled at his calm. I knew none of this crazy ‘female’ behaviour would be tolerated in my mostly male household. The high tolerance for expression gave me a kind of freedom I’d never known and I tossed off my school-girl uniform and donned dramatic makeup and curled my hair and slipped on Candy high heels and Andre Michel jeans that were so tight you didn’t bother trying to sit down in them.

My mother, I am quite sure, was heartbroken at my transformation. But I was so hell-bent on the glamour of it all my heartless teenage self gave not a care to what my family thought. Mrs. Bolger’s bathroom had Erno Lazlo in it. Mine had grease smears and leftover shaving bits and Irish Spring.

One afternoon, the youngest daughter and I  skipped out of school and collectively decided that drinking Apricot Brandy would be a good idea. Highway to Hell from ACDC had just come out and we had it rattling the windows, playing air guitar and singing at the top of our lungs:

Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothing I would rather do
Going down, party time
My friends are gonna be there too
I’m on the highway to hell
No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody’s gonna slow me down

It was an anthem that called me to stand on the small ledge by the kitchen with a see-through to the living room and leap through the air playing my air guitar in a hair tossing, legs extended fit of rock-god tribute.  I landed on the couch and went right through the rattan, splintering the middle supports. Of course, it just made my best friend fall to the floor laughing.

In this family, I was not seen as strange or unusual or eccentric. If anything, I was often too serious and contemplative;  it was a good balance with the youngest daughter, my closest confidante throughout my teen years, who in her unpredictable way brought wild, and nearly always inappropriate laughter into my life for many happy years. It also gave me siblings in a way I had never experienced.  Since my older sister, nearly a decade older,  had moved out of our house at a fairly young age and I had only one brother I had grown up close to, having three sisters and two parents extra gave me a feeling of security in a world that often was terrifying to navigate alone at fifteen with an aging mother and no father.

I wince a little now to remember Mr. Bolger, in a rare and unforgettable moment of anger, yelling at me at 3 am to “Call your mother right now Margaret” after I had sauntered in after some forged ID situation at Club Soda in a White Russian haze. In his moment of anger however, I realized that these parents did see me as part of their fold and it gave some order to the often chaotic life we led as teens by the poolside with our carefree, entitled, kind of attitude that life would always be as it was during those seeming endless Vancouver summers.

Recently, as I tried to find a place to live in Vancouver after nearly 15 years of being away from my hometown, I was remembering our lives then as I drove through town, how we grew up in Point Grey just expecting we would always live there, with a short walk down to Jericho Beach, driving down Point Grey Road in the Thunderbird, making pan-fried hot dogs in our bikinis, eating Chinese at Varsity Grill , hosting  parties that spilled into the street, and singing the entire Fleetwood Mac collection until dawn.

We  never thought that our worlds would not resemble our childhood’s in any way as we grew older;  the reality was–is–that we would not even be able to rent within 10 km of our childhood homes on West 11th and West 8th Avenue.

The Vancouver we grew up may no longer exist but Jericho is still there, and English Bay, and West 11th (though so much character has been torn down it’s a wonder I recognize it) but more importantly, the faces that I knew are still there and I am comforted that this, at least, has not been affected by an inflated real estate market. Stories are made and lived by people, afterall, and I am happy to be going home to re-visit old ones and create many new ones in the city I will always call my home.


Filed under Memoir