The sounds that live in us


What is it about sounds that seep into our soul? And, why is it that the sounds of night lodge most deeply and forever in our psyche?

Saskatchewan: The cramping solitude and loneliness of the Canadian prairies captured in the mournful tones of the train whistle—reverberations that carry for miles across the hard packed snow, sounds that haunt me still; that cause an ache in my heart for all the things lost. An ache that brings tears to my eyes all these years later.

Alberta: The squeal of crotch rockets roaring down the boulevard near our house—I shivered then and shiver again now as I cannot shake the image of bodies sprawled on the tarmac seeping blood onto the road and bikes, marooned some yards away, reclining on their sides, wheels spinning crazily, denying any connection to their riders.

Mali: The crowing of roosters—not just at dawn. Roosters crow whenever they damn well please and they please to crow all night long. Donkeys don’t sleep at night either. Instead, they bray on the other side of the mud brick wall sending us jumping a few feet into the air each time we hear the grating and drawn out love song of their heehaws. Heartbroken and heartbreaking commentaries on life.

Mexico: More roosters—these ones crowing day and night. And which clown thought it would be funny to set my cell ringtone to “rooster?” Add the whine and squeal of a semi’s brakes as the drivers realize they really should slow down for the red lights of the town. And, from time to time, the sound of metal crunching against metal followed by the wail of sirens.

British Columbia: The mournful tones of cruise ship and ferry fog horns and we’ve come full circle. Not trains, but once again, at night we hear, those drawn out echoes rolling over the water, sounds that render us vulnerable to bouts of loneliness and even despair.

Good or bad, sleep or no, could we live without the sounds that anchor us to our environment, to life?



The Good Old Days on the Prairies

snow drifts


God, my mom could tell you about prairie life—the loneliness and isolation—no neighbours for miles and miles.

And winds—always winds—blowing  the top soil away, or packing the snow into drifts sometimes as high as the house and so hard the cattle and horses could walk on them without breaking through.

And the poverty; fried potatoes and eggs three times a day all winter because that was all they had, walking nine miles to town with a dime to buy a box of corn flakes and taking the penny change home to her mother.

Wearing hand-me-downs from her aunts—flapper dresses that didn’t fit, the neckline hanging much too low on her gangly teen body. Wearing her brothers’ long johns under her dresses—long johns that bagged and sagged under those flapper dresses (imagine how lovely that looked), her legs rubbed raw from her rubber boots—the only boots she had. Using goose fat to try to cure chapped skin.

And the terrible depression that ensued from it all.

We moved to the city with its modern conveniences when I was ten. Mom was not sorry to leave those “good old days” behind.

The Travelling Dress


It’s traveled a long way—that little dress. From the shop in Melita, Manitoba where the young 16 year-old aunt bought it for her niece to the country one-room school house in Saskatchewan, where the niece wore it for her first day of school.

From there it was worn for special occasions, the hem let down as the niece grew until the dress no longer fit. The mother folded it carefully and stored it in the cedar chest where it rested for several years, moving from the country to the city, from the mother’s house to the niece’s when she married.

Then the dress, with the hem raised was worn by the granddaughter on her first day of school in Alberta, after which it was packed away in the cedar chest for who knew if there would be a great granddaughter/grandniece to wear it yet again.

And there was. In 2014, off to school the dress went (with the hem let down, for this young lady is taller than her mother and grandmother were at the same age) for yet another first day—this time in British Columbia. Where is it now? In the cedar chest of course. Perhaps it will be worn yet again in the years to come.

The dress is a brand called Curly Lox made in Canada.

How did you get hooked on reading?


“How did you get hooked on reading?” I asked a few friends and this is what they had to say.

M said:

Perhaps because I’m an only child books were ever-present friends and I immersed myself in them from an early age. My father was an avid reader and he introduced me to his library when I was young, encouraging me to read what he felt were age-appropriate selections from his collection. I now have his library integrated with my own. He favoured Canadian and British authors and anticipated new publications from favourite writers. He particularly enjoyed historical novels such as those penned by Thomas Costain and Pierre Berton, authors I could read when young and revisit later on and appreciate differently. I was always given books at Christmas and on my birthday, this still being my fervent request. The women in the book club to which I belong have eclectic tastes. Some of these women either are British or married to Brits. Because of this my horizons have been expanded to include authors I might not have readily found or gravitated to. And so my passion continues to be fueled.

And what, Darlene, sparked your passion?

I was an only child on a farm in Saskatchewan—isolated and lonely—for many years before my sisters came along. Mom and Dad were poor so I had few toys and fewer books. Little Lulu comics were a huge treat and I poured over them endlessly. (I wish I had kept them.) Once in a while Dad had a little extra money and he’d buy the big fat edition. You can imagine my delight.

Then I started school in the one-room school house and discovered books. I read all that the little book room at the back had to offer and then read them again. Moving to the city brought the miracle of the bookmobile that came to our corner. But, there was a problem. I could only take out 3 books at a time. I’d pick 6 or 8 that interested me and then agonize over which 3 to take.

Now all these years later, I still prefer books to all other forms of entertainment.

One child with no books, another surrounded by them and both become avid readers. Perhaps the need to read is within the child more than the circumstances.

And those who come to reading as adults?

A said:

A friend came to visit my husband and me when we were young newlyweds. She brought along a woman from France. Over dinner, the discussion turned to books. I hadn’t read them, but I’d seen the movies. I realized during the conversation that I missed so much by not reading. I felt my understanding was inadequate. I wanted to read, to catch up. I asked the women what to read. There was a second hand book store a block away. We went over and the French woman began pulling books off the shelves. I went home with a brown paper bag full of books, pulled out Crime and Punishment and began to read. I haven’t stopped since.

P said:

I came to reading late in life. As a child, I hated books. My mother had died; my 14 year old sister was taking care of us. My father was away a lot, and when he was home, he hid behind books, rarely interacting with us. Books, his refuge, were my nemesis.

We were poor. I had no shoes to go to school in. My mother’s family had a business—a trading post type of store. We kids played in the sandbox with the family silverware. My schooling was limited to grade five so reading, for me, was not easy. Years later, when my husband was ill, I needed an escape from the care giving. My daughter-in-law found books that were easy to read and at the same time interesting. I read one, then another and another. Now, reading is a pleasure I wouldn’t want to be without.

And you? What’s your reading story?