The first pair of boots I own are shiny, red, vinyl, Go-Go boots. I beg my mother for the red, Go-Go boots when I see them in Woolco one Saturday night after Mass.
“Oh Mom, please!!! They’re Habs red!!!” I hold the boots in my small hands. “Please, Mom!”
My dad smiles and nods to my mother indicating she should get them for me. She buys Cissy beige, vinyl Go-Go boots though she doesn’t even want them. Cissy never wears her Go-Go boots, but I wear mine out. I try to wear them to bed, especially after watching a Habs’ victory on Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada. I dance around the living-room in my red Go-Go boots each time the Montréal Canadiens put the puck in their opponent’s net. I attempt to wear my sister’s boots after my feet grow too big to fit my red boots, but beige Go-Go boots aren’t red Go-Go boots, and beige boots are certainly not Habs’ red boots.
That same year, my father drives us across the river to Detroit to see the Habs play in Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings on a Sunday afternoon. I put on my red Go-Go boots with my Royal Stewart tartan kilt and ruby red turtleneck jumper. My father holds my hand in the parking lot as I leap over puddles, my blonde hair ruffled by the subzero March breeze. We make our way inside the arena and watch our hockey heroes trounce the Detroit Red Wings in a 4-3 victory.
As I grow older, it constantly amazes me how much my father knows of the game of hockey. It is a sport he never played himself, but he has a keen eye. He can call plays and penalties before they happen on the ice, and he always knows who the three stars will be before the announcers on Hockey Night in Canada name the selection at the end of game. I bleed bleu, blanc et rouge along with my dad. We never stop cheering for the Montréal Canadiens.
In the ivory, enamel-covered prayer book I receive as a First Communion gift when I am seven years old, there is a picture of a beautiful, female, blonde angel guiding two frightened children across a broken bridge as torrents of raging water swell beneath the swinging, treacherous arch. She has wings, a halo and is dressed in a pink gown with a long cream-coloured sash. The children, a boy wearing a cap and a taller, fair-haired girl, are barefoot. The girl carries a basket as she clutches tightly to the smaller boy as if to quell his fears. The angel that hovers above them remains calm as if to say, “Fear not children. No trouble will befall you on my watch.” That page becomes tattered with the constant caressing of my small hands as I study every aspect of that floating angel.
I like to watch comedy shows like Rowan’s and Martin’s Laugh-In. I like to watch Goldie Hawn Go-Go dance. We go to Palm Sunday Mass and I gather the palms of my entire family piled at the back of the pew and hold them in front of my face.
“Veeerrrrrrry interesting but also veerrrry funny,” I say to the people standing behind us in Mass. I mimick the German soldier played by comedian Arte Johnson on Laugh-In. My dad laughs under his breath and so does my mom.
“Turn aroon and behave yerself, lassie!” my mother checks me. I look up at her and laugh through the palms I hold in front of my face.
Cissy never laughs at anything I do, just as she does not laugh this day. She constantly accuses me of doing the things I do for attention. Maybe I do. Maybe my antics are classic middle child syndrome wherein I feel forgotten and marginalized so I act the clown to gain attention, acceptance and approval from my parents. Or maybe I just like to go a good laugh, something my sisters never do.
My parents are devoted to us as small children. My dad loves to play with us. He takes us sledding in the winter or to romp in the park. My mother takes us to the library often, sometimes pulling us on a sled through the snow to get library books. I am in awe that I am allowed to get as many books as I want from the library. I can read them and return them for more books the next week. I love those library visits. I find the book The Secret Garden on one of those visits, and I love that book. It is so magical that it hurts to return it. We laugh as a young family. My mom has a great sense of humour, but often it rests on her teasing me to get a laugh. She is a hard woman. There is no softness about her. My parents do their best for us. But I am hit and grow up feeling judged, rejected, defensive and frightened of those who should love me most – my caregivers. I feel unloved and as though I am a burden. I never feel wanted, accepted or loved. I conclude that I am a really bad child just as my mother tells me that I am. I don’t remember that about myself, but I am always being screamed at or hit by my mother, and she tells me that I am bad making it clear I am a burden to her and my father, so I conclude that I must be a dreadful child.
As I sit in the pew with my classmates waiting to receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time, my communion dress slips up my leg and I see my mother’s red hand mark on my small right thigh. I annoy my mother as we are dressing for the day because I cannot find my white knee socks, and when I go to ask my mother where they were while she dresses herself she belts me on my right leg. I wear Cissy’s hand-me-down dress. My mother made it and the veil. Both are hideously ugly. She uses a sheer white material with polka dots on it, the cheapest white material she can find. Each sleeve of the dress is bound with a too-tight elastic at the wrist cutting off my circulation and making the ruffle itch each arm and leaving a red band mark on my flesh. The veil hides half of my face as it had Cissy’s before me. My best friend’s dress is crafted of beautiful Italian satin and trimmed with delicate white Irish lace.
My mother makes entertaining miserable. That is what I hate about folk coming over to our house. On the day company is to arrive, my mother screams and hollers from the moment she awakens as she cleans the house, all of us pitching in but never scrubbing, vacuuming or straightening to my mother’s satisfaction. She is full of mirth and laughter while company is there, of course. But once the visit is over, all she does is speak negatively of whoever has just left our home. My father quietly listens as he dries the dishes next to my mother.
“Pat said I am fat. She made a noise as I appeared on th’ video, ‘Bong, Bong, Bong, Bong’ as if tae say I’m fat,” she tells him after one of Pat and Dan Doan’s bi-monthly visits. I overhear her tell my father this from the hallway. As much as I hate my mother at times, I am still protective of her. I resent Pat Doan, or anyone, for commenting on my mother’s weight and hurting her in any way.
According to my mother, Pat and Dan Doan, English Protestants, don’t care for the Irish or for Catholics either. My mother constantly tells Dan that his last name ‘Doan’ is Irish. One St. Patrick’s Day my mother and father, with the help of the McAlpines, decorate Dan’s lawn with leprechauns and shamrocks. I make the leprechauns out of green and black Bristol board. I use gold hinges on the arms and legs to make them spin in the wind. My mother encourages my artistic talents and interests in these ways. She buys me charcoal pencils and huge draft pads and I copy editorial cartoons from the London Free Press onto the pages of my sketch book. I like that my mother asks me to help them pull off the St. Patrick’s Day prank against the Doans.
We laugh as a young family because both my parents did have an affinity toward merrymaking, but I feel unloved and as though I am a burden. I never feel wanted, accepted or loved.
“If ye were th’ first, ye would’ve been th’ last,” my mother tells me constantly.
I conclude that I am a really bad child. I am always being screamed at or hit by my mother, and she says things to me make it clear that I am a burden to her and my father, so I conclude that I must be a dreadful human being. I always enter my home with a perpetual knot of fear in my chest. This fear continues well into my university years. It is always something. I am always being yelled at by my mother.
“Yer walkin’ up the road like a half-shut knife!” my mother shouts at us as we enter the house.
She wants us to hold our heads high as we walk along the road but our heads sink to our chests as we approach home because we know we will be greeted by her critical tongue. I am always accused of doing something, and sometimes I have done it but often I have not. My mother lets her imagination run away with her. She regularly thinks of the worst explanations for simple occurrences that are easily explicable, and it is always I who stand accused. Once my sisters pick up on the fact that I am characterized as the problem child they blame me for things too. If they can turn my mother’s guns on me, then they might have some peace at home albeit temporarily. We also never do anything right. If we achieve ninety-nine per cent on a test my mother focuses on the one we got wrong and wants only to know if anyone in the class got one hundred percent. If someone has achieved one hundred percent then she needs to know why we couldn’t have also achieved that since clearly it was doable. I am a constant disappointment to my mother and so too are my sisters.
I write the word ‘FUCK’ on an envelope and stick it behind the radio in the kitchen where my mother stashes all of her mail. The radio moves further and further from the wall as more mail is untidily stuffed behind it. I come home from school to find a box of donuts on the kitchen countertop. I help myself to a double-chocolate glazed donut and then hear my mom scream at me from the basement.
“Angela?! Get doon here, lassie!” With nervous trepidation, I respond to my mother’s request to appear before her and descend the stairs to the basement. My parents are finishing an area in the basement as a playroom for Lil. They always fight when they work together. The screaming and yelling as they work is unbearable.
“Gae an’ get th’ envelope frae the coontertap!” my mother demands.
My heart begins to race. I know she has found the fuck envelope. I climb the stairs and find it sitting on the countertop in plain view. I look for an eraser and with shaking hands try to erase the ‘F’ and make it into an ‘S’, but the ‘F’ is still clearly visible beneath the ‘S’ I scribe overtop the offending ‘F’. I return to the basement with the envelope in my grasp. I continue to hold the chocolate donut in my other hand when I offer my mother the envelope. She doesn’t even look at it. She brings back her open palm and slaps me hard across my face. The donut flies from my hand and hits the wall, sticking there before it starts to slide slowly down the cold cement. My father never turns his head nor looks up. I see that his brow is furrowed as he continues to focus his attention on whatever it is that he is working on. He is either too disgusted to look at me or too angry to witness his wife battering his favoured child, and all because with the curious mind of an innocent seven-year-old, I write a word that I see and hear often on the school playground. Shame fills my breast and I run from my parents sobbing, seeking solace in the room I share with Lil.
I go with my father whenever I can. Cissy is a homebody and not at all athletic. She hates the outdoors. My mother and father say she has a disease called “tv-itis”, which means that she watches too much television. Lil is still small and with my mother all of the time so often it is just my dad and me alone. He coaches a boys’ soccer team by the name of the Caledonia Thistle and I go with him for his practices twice a week and then to the games on Saturday mornings. I cut up the oranges for his team the way he teaches me and put them in a white Tupperware bowl with a transparent plastic lid. My pal, Shirley MacKirdie, sometimes comes with me to my dad’s practices in the evening and chases the balls with me from the back of the goal and kicks them back into play. Sometimes she comes with us to games, but often my dad and I are up and away too early for Shirley who prefers to sleep late on a Saturday morning. Mostly then, it is just be me and my dad on those Saturday summer mornings. I’d pass out the oranges to the boys at halftime. I run for whatever my dad needs, like a bandage for an injured player or water for a parched one. I love time away with my father. He is calm and has a peaceful nature. Every dog we ever owns loves my dad. Little children are drawn to him in much the same way. He is quiet and generally soft-spoken. He is also witty in an intelligent manner. He is my hero and the champion of my young heart.
In the absence or weakness of my father, I turn to God. My parents hand me over to God’s protection on the morning of my Christening in St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church in Clydebank, Scotland on the morning of February 14th, 1965. It is that faith of my father and mother that proves be the sustaining force in my life. There is something nourishing about the legacy of a faith passed down through the generations. Without a belief in a God who loves me just as I am, I know that I never would have survived in my life.