The Ramada Inn that had been constructed on Exeter Road in 1972 still stood there. After the city broke ground on the Ramada’s construction site, my parents and the MacKirdies learned that the city was going to tear up and dispose of the trees in the area. The four of them were drinking at our house, as they occasionally did on the weekends, and in varied degrees of drunkenness decided to go to the new hotel site and take the trees the city planned to pull up and discard to make way for the new Ramada Inn. I never saw my mother drunk, nor Rosalia, but I did see them giggly on occasion after a wee sherry that was so small it seemed innocuous.
The MacKirdies and my parents took shovels, piled in Jemmy’s wood-paneled station wagon, and headed down to the Ramada site. Jemmy switched off his headlights as they approached the spot in darkness and once he came to a full stop the four of them rolled out of the vehicle and proceeded to dig up trees that belonged to the city. The police showed up and Jemmy ran away leaving his wife and my parents to face the police. He also left behind his shoes. He ran right out of his favoured Indian moccasins, which had become stuck in the soft earth, and sprinted home in his stocking feet. My father threw up Scotch at the feet of the officers.
When the police drove them home, Jemmy was in his kitchen, with customary tea towel draped over his right shoulder, pretending to be cooking. He acted shocked when Rosalia was escorted to the door by a young constable, as a second officer drove Jemmy’s station wagon up the MacKirdie’s laneway. No charges were laid. The four pillaging Scots were merely cautioned. Shirley and I were sent to retrieve her father’s moccasins from the Ramada Inn muck the following day.
When Jemmy and Rosalia were first married in Scotland, Jemmy used to like to go to the pub after a day of work at the Ayrshire mines. Rosalia got fed up with this behavior and eventually marched into the pub to call him out home.
“Get yer basterin’ arse hame, son!”
In those days women were not permitted in the pub except in the ladies section called the ‘snug’. I could imagine Rosalia as a young, twenty-year-old beauty, fire in her big, brown eyes, demanding her fledgling bridegroom get his basterin’ arse hame. Jemmy sheepishly slumped home, but the following Friday he tied Rosalia to their bed before he left for the pub. She wasn’t going to publicly humiliate him in front of his mates from the mine a second time.
When Shirley was born Jemmy told Rosalia that he wanted to call her Rita after an ex-girlfriend. Rosalia surely murdered him that night.
My parents shared a love of laughter and penchant for shenanigans with the MacKirdies. As a young woman in Scotland, my mother was close to six sisters who lived up the road from her house in Dalmuir, part of the Clydebank area. There were six Cannon sisters and my mother was close pals with two of the middle ones, Paulina and Caterina. When they were young women, they went to the dancing together with the Cannons’ younger, more gorgeous sister, Térèse.
“We used tae love tae take Térèse way us. Any men she didnee want we would get aff way,” my mother laughed. (‘Get off with’ meant that they would dance with Térèse’s rejects. My mother and her friends were sexually innocent).
She told me lots of stories about their high jinx together. One Valentine’s Day they sent an enormous pair of blue underpants to a man, Stewart Clarke, who worked at John Brown’s Shipyard in Clydebank. They sent with the underpants a poem:
You said if for you my love was true,
To send to you two yards of blue
I hope these two yards of blue will do.
There were two Stewart Clarkes who worked at John Brown’s though my mother and her friends had no idea there was a second one. The one they knew was a wee, skinny guy, and the other Stewart Clarke was a big, bruising hulk of a man. The big, blue underpants went to the wrong Stewart Clarke – they went to the muscleman.
“He got the underpants and the poem and wance he read it he came running oot the shipyard afta oor wee pal, Stewartie, way the big, blue knickers in his huge hauns that were the size of cats. Wee Stewartie was running as fast as his wee legs could carry him,” she roared.
She did a lot of things like that as a young woman. She could go a good laugh, my mom could. On one occasion she and the Cannon sisters came home too late to catch the last bus back to Dalmuir. They asked the milkman for a lift and distributed milk around the greater Clydebank area in exchange for safe passage home in the town milk wagon. On yet another occasion it was the paper van that she and her girlfriends came home in, covered in ink from the papers they delivered in exchange for their lift home that night. She and her mates went on holiday to the Isle of Man too. They rented a caravan. My mom was dating my dad then. His mother had just died so my mother took him with them.
“Och. I felt sorry for the poor sowel and told him he could come as well. He pitched a tent near oor site and fetched us watta’ ev’ry day.”
Rosalia MacKirdie was always running in and out of our house on Cant Crescent. When her younger sister came from England to live with Rosalia and her family, she too would run in and out of our house. Vivianna Bella did not speak with the same Ayrshire dialect with which Rosalia spoke. Vivianna spoke with an English accent since she’d been raised in Coventry rather than Ayrshire. I loved it when Rosalia and Vivianna were in our home. They were so beautiful and funny. My mother would laugh all the time when the Bella sisters occupied our kitchen.
“Have you got a soda pop, Mairéad?” Vivianna Bella asked my mother. “And none of that green shit!”
Vivianna was referring to the green pop we picked out at the Pop Shoppe, which was located in the small shopping plaza off Southdale Road, just up from our home. We were allowed to go and fill a red plastic pop case with twenty-four mini bottles of various types of soda. We always got cola, root beer, cream soda and orange pop, but we sometimes got this lime green pop that only Cissy liked. My dad and I got the wrong kind of green soda once. While at our home, Vivianna grabbed a bottle of green soda thinking it would taste like lime, but it actually tasted like mint. She spat it out.
“Err. Gawd! Like bloody mouthwash, in’t it?” she said.
Rosalia used to drink the name brand Coca-Cola and she loved a good piece and chips, which was thick, home-made French fries salted and pressed between two slices of generously buttered white bread. When she took us to the beach she always let us get French fries and coke. When my mother took us to the pool or the beach we always had to take a cooler full of food. She always packed egg salad, salmon and tuna sandwiches, fruit juices to drink, apples, orange and watermelon slices. Never appreciating the trouble that my mother went to packing us that cooler full of healthy food, I preferred the coke and chips.
I also preferred it when Rosalia snuck me to the beach on summer Sunday mornings with Shirley rather than leave me on Cant Crescent available to go to Mass with my family. I’d sleep at Shirley’s on a Saturday night and early Sunday morning we would load up Jemmy’s station wagon with floatation devices, and drive quietly away from Cant Crescent and head for the beach at Grand Bend before my parents were awake. The MacKirdies were not Catholic, of course. My mother and father would be furious that I’d missed Mass, but the MacKirdies would just laugh it off and soon my mother would be laughing too. My dad wasn’t impressed, however. He didn’t find it funny that I was missing Mass for the beach. My mom and dad started to take me to Mass on a Saturday night after a few of those escape weekends. We went to Mass at five o’clock on a Saturday night rather than wait for sunny, summer Sunday mornings to roll around. I was never allowed to miss Mass.
I continued to wonder how Rosalia managed to remain so slender. She was a smoker. Maybe that is how she managed to eat what she liked. My mother was chubby and flat-footed. Her feet were wide and misshapen. Her toe nails were always too long and she permanently had long, black, curly hairs on her toes that she never shaved. She did not shave her legs or thighs properly either, and I felt embarrassed of her long, black, curly hair sprouting from her upper thighs. My mother had a purple moon crescent birth mark on one of her fat knees, the right one. Throughout my childhood and adult life, I feared becoming fat like my mother, and it led me to become eating disordered throughout my life. I spent the first fifty years of my life starving myself and exercising obsessively. I worshipped the ideal of my own physical perfection that continued to elude me. It’s hard to be devoted to God when one is fully invested in achieving one’s own personal physical perfection. These two ideals, the idolatry of oneself and piety expressed to a sagacious deity, are mutually exclusive.
When Shirley and I played school or office, invariably we each wanted to be Shirley’s aunt, Vivianna.
“I’m Vivianna!” I’d shout.
“She’s my aunt! I get to be her!” Shirley would protest.
It was hard to argue against that. At times we would both play Vivianna, but that got confusing. It was only right that Shirley got to pretend to be her own auntie so I’d relinquish the role of her aunt to Shirley in the same way I had surrendered Paul McCartney to her.
My mother’s sister came to visit us while Vivianna was still at Rosalia’s, and the Irish aunt of the Royers, who lived two doors up from us at number 47, visited her sister’s family from Limerick. That summer there was one English rose, one Scottish lass, and one Irish colleen visiting Cant Crescent. Each young British woman was in her twenties.
My aunt was a nice person, but she was not the beauty that Shirley’s aunt was and I could not help but compare the two and feel disappointed for myself. She may have been prettier than the Royers’ Irish auntie who was very hairy and short, but not by enough to confidently declare my auntie the clear winner. My aunt had the same flat feet and sprawling hips and thighs that my mother had. She also let her long, wild hairs sprout from her bathing costume V-line in the same way my mother always did though because her hair was fairer in shade it was not as noticeable as my mother’s. Shirley’s aunt looked even more magnificent in her tiny bikinis than did her older sister in her miniature bikinis. It didn’t seem possible that two women in such close proximity to us could be that gorgeous. My auntie went out a few times with Vivianna and the Irish aunt of the Royers. I’d get up in the morning to find ashtrays and glassware that my auntie had brought home from the bars that she and the two other visiting British girls had gone to the night before.
Vivianna always had men picking her up to take her out. Shirley and I would sit on my front porch so we could get a good look at whatever guy Vivianna was dating that weekend. One came on a motorcycle and we connived to get him to take us for rides around the block on his bike while he waited for Vivianna. Vivianna always took her time getting ready for a date. She rushed for no man. On another night, a different man showed up in a yellow car that had doors that opened at the side like Batman’s Batmobile. We manipulated a ride out of him too. All of her suitors tried to win Vivianna by being nice to Shirley and me, especially Shirley since she was Vivianna’s actual niece, but Vivianna never cared for any of them. She was simply too gorgeous for any of them. In time, Vivianna went back to England and married a rich, older man that looked like the actor, Edward Woodward, who starred in the Equalizer during the ‘80s. My aunt returned to Scotland and became a nun. I don’t know what became of the Royers’ Irish auntie. She likely married and had a parcel of Irish weans.
The MacKirdies moved away when I was in Grade eight and Shirley was just starting high school. She and I had grown apart by then, but it was still hard to say good-bye to my childhood friend. They were moving to a more prestigious area of the city. Byron was only a forty-five minute bike ride from south London, and we told each other that we would keep in touch, but it wouldn’t be the same. We used to be right outside one another’s front doors. I could stay over at her place most weekends in the summer. We could jump on our bikes and tear around the subdivision together. I knew that that would all be different when she left, and I was right.