if it's all the same with you i will start in the very beginning.
'up north' is what we called our farm in northern alberta where my sisters and i lived when we were small. i have 3 sisters. one older, two younger. we are each seperated by 2 years. the farm was many acres of land that my dad had decided to buy and rent out to actual farmers in hope of making a profit.
after meeting in the lobby of a bank somewhere in northern california, mom who was fresh out of university and had never been kissed...tells the story like this 'he was just standing right there in the middle of the lobby like he owned the fucking place...his long fabric pants and white cotten shirt....long hair and big beard. beads and amulets hanging from his neck, feather's and powders in his sachets, smelling of incense' her very first hippie! her original travel companion, her 2nd cousin who was at the time into eating acid and having orgee's was deserted for what she remember's being 'a safer choice' they all sort of blended in with each other as i'm told people did in the 60's and continued onto their destination. Mexico.
they returned home after months of travelling in the van unofficially married on a beach somewhere. ringing the doorbell of his mother's westside Vancouver apartment she supposedly whispered through the door before opening it 'oh thank goodness your not brown dear'
they made it to northern alberta and started building our house over the next few years. during the build we lived in a canvas tent in the yard which we called the 'indian tent'. it had a picture of a very beautiful indian man hung above the wash basin. a 2x4 framed bed frame with matresses thrown up high like a gypsy camp. oil lamps, cotton robes, floodlights, old rocking chair, firepit, lots of blankets, generator, tanks of gasoline.
i liked how the indian tent smelled like oil and canvas. mom dipped us into the lake to clean us, if we came up with leeches on our skin mom had the salt ready. a few years later we got a white sink like the kind you find in garages. we played with nature and each other. we used the outhouse if it wasn't -40 below and went into a little metal pot beside our bed if it was. i remember being so free to roam. mudpits and vegetable gardens and skating on the pond. cats everywhere and the endless forrest and tree's and sky. poking at birds nests and listening the the wind. the old abandoned school bus we played in parked on the land and the swinging fence and stray dogs. the fireplace and ratty wintercoats and the rusty swingset. my sister in a potato box coming home from the hospital. mom slicing meat and cheese at picnics with her small hunting knife. the moose in the yard at winter time. sometimes a bear, then we had to run in quick.
dad flew helicopters for a living and in his spare time transported hash and god knows what else around the northern territories in them. he would be gone for long periods and when he landed his chopper in the backyard we'd run down to the dock excited and holler 'how many bags of money did you bring dad?' i remember him bringing home what he was usually paid in, furs. fox, polar bears, grizzly, seal, mink.
when your little you don't understand the big picture. you just know that your dad is home and has brought something that you've never seen before. something very special with eyes and teeth looking at you. my dad had an untouchable feeling to him. he was kind of exciting and kind of scary all at once. he'd put the polar bear skin over his shoulders, chase us around on all fours growling. show us the bullet hole but claim a natural death. i'd pee my beds for nights afterwards thinking about being eaten alive. 'where did the living animal go from underneath the fur?' 'did it hurt for it's fur to be taken off?'
mom made us memorize our phone number. 494 2203. i will never forget it. she said if she fell off something up high and couldn't move or an animal got her or she got shot we needed to call the hospital then the neighbours. dad was barely home and mom had to maintain everything herself. she shot beavers out of the pond, kept the woodstove warm, chopped wood, shovelled snow, set snares/animal traps, baked bread. eventually after on and off help from dad over years of being left to raise her 4 babies without running water/electricity she had what the doctor told her was an 'overdue nervous breakdown' and was hospitalized for severe depression. a menonite girl named sarah came to help. i remember she had the longest hair i'd ever seen and proudly told us that she had never once cut it. it touched all the way down to her bum. we'd twirl it in our fingers and pretend it was reigns and she was our horsey. if we could we'd peek up inside her long skirt just to see. she played dad's music and laughed with us a lot. she stayed a long time and lived in the spare room. one time we went to a dinner at her house and i remember she had 14 siblings. it was like an entire town was her family. and they all were kind and happy like her. mom cried a lot and sarah played with us.
eventually we packed all of our things inside the old school bus and found seats thats still had buckles. we grabbed as many cats as we could find, our muddy feet and snacks mom had thrown in beside us. i remember feeling extremely sad and anxious to go and leave everything we had ever know behind. who would live at our farm? what would happen to our fort? would thedogs be ok? dad pulled the bus full of our entire lives out of the long front lane in 1988 and started to drive his emotionally distant wife and 4 little girls with tangles in their hair and dirty feet south, to a place called Canmore. dad had a job flying athletes and equipment for the 1988 winter olympics.