By the time I had started out in Grade One, I had what I thought was an unforgettable summer. We drove to Prince Edward Island for a two week camping trip, for starters. It was the first time I had ever visited P.E.I. It was also the first time I got to travel on a ferry boat. This was before the Confederation Bridge was built, so going by ferry was the only way for us to get to the Island at the time.
From the moment we drove away from the ferry, toward Cavendish, where the campground was, I loved P.E.I. From the red soil and paths to Rainbow Valley and Sandspit Amusement Park (I hated that rickety roller-coaster though).
But I eventually got over my fear of roller-coasters, mainly the ones with loops, although it took me until I was in my late teens before I could say they were worth riding. When I was a little kid, the only roller coasters I would agree to ride were the green caterpillars at the Campbell Summer Carnivals in Bathurst, or, the Pirate's Cave Roller Coaster at Crystal Palace (neither of which had loops).
It was a very sunny and warm day when Mom, Dad, Nany, and I went to spend the day at Rainbow Valley. It was part water amusement park, part petting zoo, and part relaxation destination. It was named after this sort of special (and fictional) place that all of Anne and Gilbert's children found to play and imagine things in Anne of Ingleside, and by the time I read that book, I was certain of it.
The famous author of the Anne of Green Gables series, the late Lucy Maud Montgomery was born and raised an Islander. But she lived much of her adult years in Toronto and died there in 1942, though she was buried somewhere on the Island.
L.M Montgomery was married to a Reverend and I'm very certain from what I've read in a biography written about her when I was older that they had at least two sons. As for the orphan Anne Shirley, I was dissapointed when I first found out that she was purely fictional. But at least I still had the books, sans Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside. Even though before I was ten, I didn't think the books themselves were interesting enough to pull me in.
The first thing I wanted to do when we had arrived at Rainbow Valley was go on the little train that went around the park for a tour. But the first thing we really ended up doing was eating our picnic lunch that Mom and Nany made. And of course, Dad wanted to take a few pictures of us. Then, we finally started on our way, but it was decided that we would go on the train later. We walked around the petting zoo and petting barns, where I made friends with a goat and kept squealing at how cute the little piglets were.
It was a good thing I had on my swimsuit and all, because Dad convinced me to go down one of those huge water slides with him, the one that twisted and turned the most. It turned out that I actually really liked it, except at the very bottom where I ended up in this splashing pool which at the time seemed really deep to me.
Let's just say that it was a good thing I had help at hand. After that, I went over to the kids pool and stayed under the giant mushroom for a while, while the water that cascaded from it fell like a waterfall, which was refreshing.
There was a grand white castle on top of a little hill there, and my Mom and Dad had talked me into going in the castle with them. I didn't need much convincing to go along. But when we were walking through the castle, something very ghostlike seemed to float out, so I got the snot scared out of the almost six-year-old me. After that, we went in our own little boats around the big duck pond, which may as well have been called Shining Waters.
As for the rest of the summer after that, when we returned to New Brunswick, we made a few other camping trips Up River to the 44 Mile camping ground. This was when we used to own a little Prowler trailer, and Mom and Nany and I would go to the hills to pick blueberries if it was August, and Nany would make us blueberry pie or blueberry cake if we picked enough, and I didn't eat a whole bunch before we got back to the trailer. I told you I loved blueberries. If we went camping in autumn, usually during the hunting season in New Brunswick, Dad would often go with his friends Clifford and Wayne, to shoot some partridges because it was a wild bird they liked to hunt, and then cook in the wilderness, and eat.
For some unfathomable reason, I used to beg to be allowed to accompany them when they went hunting, but I always had to stay around the trailer. Mom told me I was too young, and Nany told me young ladies shouldn't be doing things like hunting. And if I'm really honest with myself, I would hate to shoot an animal anyway.
In Grade One, my teacher for most classes was Mrs. Audet. I didn't like her much better than Mrs. Burke, but it wasn't for lack of trying. I have to admit that I didn't always behave the way I should have either. I still missed Miss Wood at times, but I was getting used to being where I was by then as well. Not everything about Primary Block was even that bad. Some of my very best memories came from being six.
So did some of the other greatest friends I'll ever have. I met Kayla in preschool, but we really became inseparable when I was invited to her fifth birthday party the last November. Grade One was when I met Jantina Langteine, who we used to call J.T. Jantina lived with her mom in a small two-bedroom apartment in the two-storey white building where the old Mr. Hot Dog Restauraunt also used to be, until the restauraunt closed and ended up opening as a textiles store.
That store didn't last very long either. With the economy of Bathurst ending up in a downhill slump typical of many smaller New Brunswick cities and towns nowandays, there just wasn't enough going for even the Paper Mill or the Mines to stay open forever, let alone a little sewing and fabric store like that one.
I remember the lady who worked at Mr. Hot Dog, not by name, or by any real acquaintance, but because she was always nice to me and polite to Mom when we went in for an occasional lunch treat, and of course, the food, especially the poutine was the best. I thought Mr. Hot Dog made the best poutine in Bathurst, hands down.
J.T was fun to hang around with, even though it wasn't like the friendship I shared with Kayla. But we had our good times too, like when we both watched Happily Ever After, which was supposed to be about Snow White's continuing story after she married her Prince, but instead of the evil queen (who was dead) there was an evil lord who I can't even remember anything about.
Apparently the seven dwarves had these annoying cousins with lame magic powers. There is no way it could ever compare with the old Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs film, courtesy of Disney, which doesn't even need a sequel. Oh, Dopey. I didn't like Dopey like that, ever. I just thought he was funny enough to be adorable. Seriously though, Snow White should have known better than to trust that hideous old hag (a.k.a her evil Stepmother the Queen Grimhilde in disguise) and she never should have taken a bite of that poison apple. It's a good lesson about stranger danger.
And now that it was 1994, there was the then newest animated Disney masterpiece, The Lion King. An epic, animated, easier to understand, and kid friendly version of Shakespeare's Hamlet starring what else but talking (and singing) animals in Africa.
I went to see the movie one evening with my Aunt Georgette, Uncle Harry, and David. And it became one of my top favorite animated movies forever after. And Hakuna Matata was the song that stayed stuck in my head the most. But my favorite Lion King songs were always The Circle of Life, Be Prepared, and that Can You Feel the Love Tonight reprise by Elton John.
And this came as quite a shocker to me at the time, but Scar had actually murdered a very important character. And it was done for a poor, traumatized Simba to see. Bambi's Mom suddenly paled in comparison. The final battle between Simba, the rightful king, and Scar, his evil Uncle, was epic, and I got a good laugh out of how the wise old Rafiki suddenly went full on kung fu baboon on the hyenas. That's how to use that stick! And the asante sana squash banana thing stayed stuck in my head over and over. Even though I soon began to wish it didn't.
Anyway, by my time in first grade, there were two new students in my class, one of them was Josephine Cousens-Mann, who was actually adopted from China, and we were pretty good friends for a while. I also really liked her adoptive mother, who I thought was cool, for a grown-up. Like my elementary school T.A. (teacher's aide), Yvonne Fisher, Mrs. Fisher to us.
It was Josephine's mother who gave me a pocket-sized little booklet about the Dragon of Bathurst. I had kept the booklet for years after, but I don't know what happened to it after that. It was probably thrown out. But the old bridge from downtown Bathurst to St. Peter's Ave had these ugly green arches around it. And the little book said that it was the Dragon of Bathurst. A new bridge was eventually built while the old one was demolished.
But the thing about the Dragon of Bathurst was almost like something I could have imagined. And my friends and I had made up this game that we would sometimes walk up and down St. Patrick St on a weekend night with a blanket over our heads and pretend we were a Chinese paper dragon. That was during my fairy tale and magical creatures phase, and we all had so much fun.
But even the good things must eventually come to an end.
The summer after that, Mom, Dad, Nany, and I had also travelled all the way to Perce, a small and touristy but beaitiful seaside town in Quebec. It was a pretty long drive, which meant we had to stop over somewhere else in Quebec for a night but when we finally arrived there, it was so worth it.
We did some shopping on our way at a mall way bigger than any in New Brunswick in the city of Gaspe and had lunch at a Canadian-French-Italian restauraunt where I got to eat poutine and a kid sized sundae with strawberry ice cream. At that Zellers, I had found a bright pink Sailor Moon girls' watch of the character Rini that I had wanted so badly but my parents wouldn't buy me because the stupid thing cost like five bucks plus tax (It was still cheaper than a Sailor Moon action figure or the toy Moon Wand and Moon Scepter they had bought for me on certain special occasions). And I doubt to this day that was the only reason they wouldn't let me have it.
They probably thought they were doing the best thing for me to deny me it because they were worried I might get laughed at in school for wearing it. It would have been just like me to get laughed at, I already got picked on sometimes anyway because of all the ways I just wanted to be different and already was different.
The really depressing thing is that even my parents seemed to realize how much of a dorky outcast I really was and considered it their duty to intervene into certain things for my own good. A lot of other people I would later come to know seemed to think along those same lines as well.
I still remember this one afternoon in Perce when I was at the playground in the camping park we were staying at, and there were these other kids soon showing up there too, none of which seemed to be exactly my age, some were younger, some definitely a little older.
And I don't think the majority of them really even spoke any English, mostly just French. But I still wanted to hang out with them, even as shy as I usually was, especially around new people I didn't already get to know. And I did try introducing myself to them as just Shawna, asking them to please leave it there, and I tried explaining to them that I came to Perce with some of my family all the way from Bathurst, New Brunswick, where I lived for our summer vacation.
But most of them, it seemed, either didn't understand a word of what I was saying anyway or just couldn't care less about some strange, awkward little girl like me or where in creation or Canada I came from. I came to the self-pitying conclusion a little later on that that was probably exactly what they all thought about me. And here's why:
I had actually got it into my head that maybe, if I could get around to amusing them in my own ways, that I could still manage to break whatever barrier was between all of us somehow and we would all end up as friends (however temporary that might be) when they all saw how funny I could be, or at least, how funny I thought I could be.
So I basically tried pretending I was a clown, a goofy, klutzy clown, right in front of them, who did funny little dances and pulled the most ridiculous faces, who even told some of the lamest jokes and tall tales ever. In my seven year old imagination, I thought I was wonderful, marvellous, creative. All three big words for me at the time which I absolutely loved the definitions of and still love. Nothing in the world could stop me.
Unfortunately, I was so caught up in my fantasy world of being in the spotlight of a grand, imaginary circus, that I didn't realize until much too late that not very many of the other kids seemed particularly impressed at all with me.
Most of them had actually seemed to "skiddaddle," (another big, if somewhat silly word I once loved to use), to another corner of the playground, as far away from me as they could possibly get without outright leaving the area. Only some of the smaller ones seemed to giggle at my antics, but was it even for any of the reasons I had hoped?
For my Dad, I was absolutely ridiculous.
As soon as I heard him yelling, "Shawna, GET BACK TO THE TRAILER IMMEDIATELY!" (We weren't parked out far from the playground) And that was where I went, though I had actually thought of going somewhere else or even standing firm ground exactly where I was to see how much that old killjoy would like that. Was he spying on me the whole time, or did someone with wandering eyes, sharp ears, and a big, blabbing mouth decide to report my behavior to him? I didn't know.
But I knew Dad was mad at me.
As soon as I walked into the Prowler trailer, Mom and Nany were just quietly finishing up with setting the table and cooking our evening's dinner (pan fried whitefish, mashed potatoes, and cauliflower, an incredibly bland vegetable I hated, why on earth couldn't it be buttery corn on the cob, or peas and carrots, fiddleheads, or even broccoli)? And I just knew neither of them were going to come to my defense.
My Dad, on the other hand, I swear, was purple in the face and squinty eyed, he was so livid. In just a short lived but furious five minute lecture, he managed to make at least ten things clear, about half of which a certain nasty, negative voice in my head would conclude forever after it:
1. That from now on, I would have to keep my overactive imagination to myself for the rest of our vacation or we would leave early.
2. That I had better stop making a fool of myself in front of other people or we would leave early.
3. That nobody was impressed with my behaviour that day.
4. That none of the other children were laughing WITH me, they were laughing AT me. It was impossible for that to be anything different and that was all there was to it.
5. That from now on I would have to behave more like other children and stop being ridiculous.
6. Even though he didn't actually say these words, my imagination, it seemed, was absolutely good-for-nothing to him.
7. It also seemed like certain games I came up with, if they weren't anything like ordinary playground games were also senseless and would serve no real purpose for me in the eyes of the rest of the world.
8. That I could never be an actual clown no matter how hard I tried. I was just fooling myself if I really thought so.
9. That I might not have ever been made to even be so funny. Which kind of ties in with no. 8.
And 10. Almost nobody else it seemed, could tolerate anyone who was considered too different from them. There was just no place in the real world for my apparent idiocy.
And that was when I began to cry. And I think my Dad was beginning to tell me off for that too, he began to say sternly what sounded like, "Shawna, that's enough of that whining." It was sad but true. I was blubbering like the biggest crybaby in the world.
Finally though, Mom said to my father, "all right Peter, don't stress yourself out too much over this. Your supper will get cold." And thankfully, that horrible lecture was now over.
Nany gave me some kleenex and told me to blow my nose and wash my hands in the tiny trailer bathroom before I sat down to eat. Nany also gave me pretty generous portions of the things I liked and little of the cauliflower that time. Dad also suggested that we forget what happened and take a bike ride around after and maybe we might get a few treats, which did end up cheering me up.
Perce really was a nice town and chocolate covered sponge toffee it turns out, is even better than plain sponge toffee. (I'm not talking about Cadbury Crunchie even though that's what that basically is), I'm talking about the Mondoux brand, where that candy comes in big, square pieces.
The rest of the visit to Perce, nothing else happened to bring me down. The day after that, we set out pretty early to stop at a small and charming little bakery where Nany, Mom, and Dad all grabbed a coffee and bagel each and I had a bottle of apple juice and a croissant with raspberry jam and peanut butter. It wasn't the worst thing I ever dared put in my mouth, just that peanut butter and jelly is so much better on regular sliced bread.
After that, we continued driving until we parked in a small lot and took a walk onwards up a path which brought us to a beautiful, almost secret looking place with a grotto and small waterfall, and there was a white statue of a woman from out of the Bible and what they taught us in Sunday School, who I thought was possibly Mary or it might have been St. Magdalene.
Whoever the statue was supposed to represent, I was just so happy that my Dad had thought to find this little place. He could usually be counted on to find some of the best new places to explore, although Mom knew her share of places to go that it usually turned out I loved, such as Pabineau Falls and Pabineau Lake. And there are a few memories I have to share about those places too, but those stories are for later.