November 13, 2007
I'd suffered a near-death experience and my health that fall was such that I'd been given the choice of either going to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN--or go live with family friends moving to Tempe, AZ. Let me see, eenie-meanie-miney-moe... My mother and I hitched a ride with a couple who happened to be driving down, and I arrived at the Ney's house on October 26, 1969.
In this "Year of 17," it was the worst of times because the doctor under whose care my mother placed me before going home to Iowa, molested me. A well-known Christian man, he was also the leader of Young Life at Scottsdale High, and therefore his molestation was a double whammy--an assault on my emerging sexuality (and hence my identity), and he dragged God into it. The worst of times, yes.
Yet it was the best of times. It truly was. For I had Wayne.
I remember well the day I first found him. I suppose he'd all along been going to the little church the Neys and I attended. Skinny, seventeen, blond hair hanging in his eyes, I didn't even know he existed until we were returning from a weekend retreat with our little church group.
Truth to tell, I had a bit of a crush on Howard, and I'd wanted to drive back with him and Jodi Tune, but instead I got stuck in the backseat with Jonathon and two guys I didn't know at all, squeezed between Wayne and Ron Carlson, elbow to elbow, hip to hip, all sweaty and sticky and melting into each other like ice cream and fudge on a blistering hot day. Oh my lucky day! For two hours I was jostled between them, and they, along with Jonathon on the end, were so funny, their camaraderie so spontaneous, so clever, that the afternoon stands as alive in my mind as if the trio were with me now. I mean right now. Listening to my two teenage sons over the years banter and tease with that peculiar humor of emerging men, I felt similar pleasure. But that night in the "Year of 17" Wayne Schroeter (first and last name rhyme) came by the Ney's house in Tom Lutz's Volkswagen van to take me to church and he and I were soon so tight that everyone thought we would some day marry.
He sought me out, a gift I accepted. Yet we were not romantically inclined. I had my own sexual crisis going on, and he was smitten with Sally Taylor. Somehow, though, we loved each other. And though my heart continued to go a little pitapat over Howard, my love for Wayne soon eclipsed anything I felt for anyone else. I woke each morning to thoughts of Wayne, I went to bed each night with him in my soul.
I lived at the intersection of McClintock and Southern, right on the edge of town, cotton fields to the south and west. Between my house and Jodi Tune's was a wide swathe that would someday be a freeway. Wayne lived a mile up this swathe, and so this ribbon of baked dirt and jumping cactus became the epicenter of my world.
I remember popping across the "freeway" to Jodi's, or Jodi popping over to mine. I remember Jonathon Manlove and Wayne rat-a-tatting at my window at four a.m. on scattered Saturday mornings, so the three of us could huddle up next to each other on the freeway, me in the middle, shivering in the predawn air and hardly noticing while we watched the sun stretch and open one eye. (The picture is of me taking a picture of that window. You can hardly see it--but it's right between the last two of three side trees.)
Mostly I remember walking home from school with Wayne, sometimes with Jodi and Linda Halloway, sometimes not. We'd stroll west along McClintock, turn into Jodi's subdivision, exit onto the freeway. Usually I went on across to my house in my own subdivision and Wayne headed up the freeway to his. Frequently, though, he and I dropped off my books so the two of us could re-enter the freeway and head north to within two blocks of his place.
I always wore white flat sandals, exactly like Linda's, with an elastic strap and white daisy at the toes. In these simple shoes, nothing more than a sheet of leather and elastic, I carefully skirted the cactus. Wayne liked to kick the rocks and send them skipping ahead. The heat and the mess he made invariably gummed the dust under my feet, making the sandals a bit slippery, and the little flowers at my toes grew thick with the dust. And inevitably two blocks from his house he shooed me back, and though I always begged to see him home he was firm, and I'd only give up when his distress sent me scuttling back down the freeway feeling sorry and sad for everything we couldn't tell each other.
That was the freeway. Everything else seemed peripheral.
At McClintock High I had an easy schedule: art, music, and English. I spent my days practicing viola, violin, and clarinet, sculpturing in the lovely art courtyard, and skipping study hall to be with Wayne in his math class. Sometimes he fell asleep, and one day I sketched him zonked out at his desk, hair tumbling down around his face. I placed him in a barn, probably because barn wood was easier to draw than a classroom of students and tangle of desks.
Sometimes he met me at my locker, and we'd share a few moments before hurrying off to wherever we were supposed to be. Sometimes I met him at his, #370. At one point he gave me his locker combination. I'm not sure why, but I still have his card with the three magic numbers--25/33/3. "The combination to my heart," he teased, pulling it from his wallet and entrusting it to me.
I remember handing him notes from Karen T, for she was in love with him, and he always disappointed me by never revealing his feelings about this. He simply took the note and stuck it in a pocket. I suspected he was irritated, but too kind and too gentle to say so. And no matter how many times I told Karen that Wayne had his eye on Sally and was mustering up the courage to ask her out, it didn't sway her. Eventually I got so irritated that I refused to bother him anymore and Karen quit speaking to me for awhile.
That was school.
Weekends were less predictable. I might get a call from Wayne. Did I want to go scorpion hunting with him and his buddy Tom? Was a full moon round? Pretty soon I'd hear the purr and rattle of Tom's van bouncing into the drive. Sun going down, we were off. We usually went out Price Road, I think. Tom and Wayne playfully argued back and forth about where to stop. Eventually they'd agree and out we'd tumble. Ten o'clock at night and a 110 degrees. Nevertheless, we were covered neck to toe; only our hands were bare. From a ratty old cardboard box in the back of Tom's van we'd each grab a #10 can and a pair of tongs with the ends dabbed in fluorescent paint. Under the beam of Tom's black light, scorpions twinkled into view like stars in the sky; green glowing stars worth 25 cents a piece.
One night Tom knocked on a farm house door and asked if we could look through some hay stacks out back. "Sure, but you won't find anything," the woman said, "my kids play out there all the time." Minutes later Tom flipped on the black light and my knees buckled. Everywhere... hundreds of little glowing green scorpions. A regular party of them and you could all but hear the boomedy-boom-boom of their music. I think it was Wayne who fetched the woman to come see for herself. We got rich that night. It was picking up quarters and dropping them into buckets for an hour or more.
The scorpions we took to Dr. Stahnke at ASU where I learned years later that my friend Sandy Dengler, a fellow writer and at the time working on her masters degree in bugs, milked, as she said, "those little devils." Small world. (Sandy, in her fifties, went on to get her PhD in bugs.)
I did go rattlesnake hunting with these guys once. The way I remember this? Wayne and Tom took turns driving blind down some desert road without headlights. Suddenly they'd stop, flip on the lights, and the one not driving would leap out and snag whatever rattlesnake was lallygagging on the road and too stunned by the light to move. How they actually snagged them, I can't recall--I was having none of it. I sat in the back, babysitting their catch. And, yes, Sandy milked Tom and Wayne's rattlesnakes, too.
Our church gave focus to our lives, someplace to go, things to do. Sunday afternoons Wayne picked me up in Tom's van and took me to choir practice. He had a good voice; I did not. But I went just to be with him. Down through time and every now and then, in unguarded moments and perhaps feeling uncharacteristically content, I'd find myself singing some of those songs. "He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the wealth in every mine...;" "cotton candy clouds, so fluffy and white..." We sang mostly Bill Gather songs, about a dozen of us in a poorly air-conditioned room at the end of the church's single wing to the south. I only have to close my eyes to feel the heat of Arizona's climate, hear my friend's voice, and see his glance for he seemed to sense when I needed his smile.
Why we were so close is anybody's guess, but I have a few ideas. Given the circumstances, I most certainly needed his male companionship, the strength and safety of the nonsexual intimacy he offered. A bigger draw, though, was his endless ideas and perspectives that quickened my own. I'd never known a boy smarter than me, and I trailed along beside him like a bee after nectar.
He was a brilliant kid whose mind never stopped, a growing man whose Dad told him he was never smart enough. I guess his dad was off-the-charts and cat's-meow smart because Wayne was no dumb bunny and I have yet to find a man whose intellegence and ability to integrate ideas I admire more. I thrived on the sheer energy of his intellect, for no matter how smart I was, he could out think me, and I revelled in the challenge and found myself articulating ideas I thought peculiar only to myself, only to find he'd already thought of them and had different perspectives that enabled my own. A heady thing. And the sun, warming our skin, eavesdropped on our conversations.
He was the one, of course, who took me to the doctor, driving me from Tempe over to Scottsdale. I got through whatever was in store by going elsewhere, outside my mind, outside my body, outside the walls that hid me. I escaped by visualizing Wayne in the waiting room, slouched down in a chair, arms crossed, one knee or another jiggling up and down in patient boredom. When Dr. Mattson finally left and I was free to come back to myself, I'd pick up the pieces of what I could find and slip into the sunshine and safety of Wayne. He'd be ready with some kind of quip, joke, or jaded comment about an article he'd skimmed. I'd laugh. We'd climb into Tom's van--until the next time.
He had no idea, of course. He didn't need to. We seemed to understand each other on a level that didn't need words and, because I had no words, he became everything to me.
One day he took me to Phoenix on a job he was doing for his father. Somewhere downtown he told me he wanted to marry me. Were we in the Tom's van? Had we stopped someplace and gotten out? I have no memory; it's my calender that records the event.
This gesture was not a proposal; at the time he was finally dating Sally. That I needed him we were both very aware of, and so this suggests that the subterranean repercussions of my molestation were becoming a burden to us both. His enormous capacity for affection and sacrificial protection dominated his own emerging sense of what it means to be male.
After graduation, he went to ASU in Tempe, I to Grand Canyon College in Phoenix, a Southern Baptist School. I had a difficult time. The rules were oppressive and I missed Wayne with all the ache of arthritis on a rainy day. When I couldn't take it anymore, I'd call him. He'd borrow Tom's van and come over and get me. Girls in those days were not allowed to wear shorts on campus, and because pants were out of the question in the 120-degree temperatures, I was stuck with dresses. Our ritual was quickly established. He'd drive me over to a gas station where I 'd sneak into the bathroom, pull off my dress, and wriggle into shorts and a tank top (another no-no). Slowly--slowly but surely--I began to forget Dr. Mattson, make friends, and by spring Wayne and I saw less and less of each other.
I married the end of my second year of college. Wayne came to the wedding. I contacted him only twice after that: Once when I was going through my divorce ten years later; once when my youngest son turned 17, another sixteen years later. I'd simply gotten nostalgic for my old friend from "17." This last Christmas, though, I grew lonely for him and sent off a Christmas card.
He sent back a CD of some of his photography and we began e-mailing. Once or twice we called each other. His familiar voice and oh so familiar laugh stirred up memories of good things I'd forgotten, like the blue of his sister's pretty eyes and our church trips out to Legend City and the beastly heat of days we all spent at Big Surf, and then the flashbacks of Dr. Mattson started to haunt me with a strange sort of detachment. It was like cleaning out a closet and mundanely finding an old cast that had once fit your busted arm, an arm you'd forgotten had been broken. The cast kept falling out of the closet, so I decided it was time to go back and face not just the memories of Dr. Mattson but to also put to rest the craziness of the year between Wayne and the rest of my life, a year of confusion that led me into the darkness of a marriage without love.
Wayne's "little" sister Carol took me in and orchestrated a reunion with the minister's wife of the little church we'd gone to, as well as with one of the youth group leaders, Gwen Lavelle.
A brief detour here. When I was divorced in 1982, I phoned Wayne; I also called Jeff and Gwen. Jeff was without mercy. He made it clear I was committing an all but unforgivable sin. I wrote to Gwen; she refused to answer. Their condemnation was crushing. I was in a fragile state and for 25 years I carried a deep sense of loss. So when Rita and Carol told me she was delighted to hear I was coming down and wanted to see me, I was surprised. When they told me she wanted to join us for lunch...I was very much surprised--and I wasn't all that sure I wanted to. I had enough on my plate. But then I thought, what the heck, why not? Pile it up.
I was pretty anxious waiting for her to get to Carol's. I'd determined I wasn't going to let the loss pass without comment, but I wasn't sure how to handle it. As with Wayne, I'd never stopped loving Gwen; her condemnation was a badly healed scar. The first time I ever spoke of it was to Wayne last winter--in our first phone conversation.
To my surprise, Gwen gave me her beautiful smile, a smile I've never forgotten and which has returned to me over the years in the most unexpected moments. She came up the walk and gave me that well-remembered smile, warming my heart. She gave me a warm hug. And before I could catch my breath she gave me a warm and weepy apology. It had been bothering her for years, she said, and she was so grateful to God for giving her the opportunity to tell me she how sorry she was. "I was young, I was stupid," she said. "I followed the script. And I didn't think," she added, "that what I had to say was important."
Important? What Gwen had to say was everything. And so I, too, was grateful God had given her the opportunity--an unexpected gift.
The three of them--Rita (the preacher's wife), Gwen (newly restored to me), and Carol (Wayne's sister)--took me to lunch and then drove me over to Scottsdale to what is now a parking garage--but which had been, once upon a time in the "Year of 17," the doctor's office where I lost myself before having a chance to know me. (The picture, left to right, is me, Rita, Carol, her and Wayne's grandnephew Damion, and Gwen.)
Therapists and doctors tell us that our bodies hold memories when our minds cannot--which is why intellectually letting go isn't always restoration. As Gwen zig-zagged toward the parking garage rising out of the ashes of my past, I recognized nothing--though my body did. Panic jerked up from my gut when we rounded the corner and my throat pinched, quivered really, like something fluttering. I found it hard to breathe around the frantic internal chaos. Tears squeezed out of my eyes, then came spilling down my cheeks, tears that ran with a lot of snot.
Before arriving in Tempe, Rita and Carol had told me Dr. Mattson was dead, about fifteen years dead, but in Gwen's van, surrounded by people who knew me "then," and with tears dripping off my chin, images of a man very much alive ricocheted around in my head and heart, and my skin crawled with his touch that seemed worse than I remembered. But then the panic subsided--for I remembered Wayne. In the waiting room. Bored. Knee jiggling. Nevertheless, waiting.
He was waiting for me at Carol's. I'd not seen him for thirty-four years. Dusk was about to settle in, and in the soft light of a tired sun I slid into his hug with a silly smile, and wondered how it was that I had waited so long to come back.
We spent the evening and into the wee hours talking at two different restaurants, and then again on Monday before leaving. Perched on low stools and hunched over a toadstool of a table, eating Ethiopian food--and watching (always watching) his mouth and chin, for it was in the energy of these features I felt us seventeen again--he told me something that drop-kicked-me-Jesus down a hole into time. He'd come to see me, he said, after I married. My misery, he said, was palatable. My husband, he said, hated him. Why don't I remember this? My misery was, I know, ripe, a cesspool of disappointment and loneliness. On my wedding night my husband, after "having had his way" (me nonexistent in the act and obviously not to be considered), had drawn his finger down the sheets to make a line. "See this? Don't ever cross it, not even your little toe unless I want you." And in the midst of this bleak winter of my discontent...Wayne had come to see me?
A psychic cog must have slipped. I continued to rattle down the hole like Alice into Wonderland, only with me it was 1972, 1973. Memory morphed into something I could feel again. My nostrils flared on the danger I smelled. I struggled to jerk myself out of past into present, Wayne my conduit to 2007.
I've long known that molestation is merely the introduction to either promiscuity (an effort to normalize the behavior or born from a damaged identity) or further sexualization (boundaries gone). Neither is right or wrong; they just are. And, unfortunately, the all but inescapable reality for too many women. For me, raised in the church where boundaries are often taught to be sin ("turn the other cheek," "walk the second mile," "give the shirt off your back," "suffer in silence"), Dr. Mattson's violation blew down what barriers and common sense I had left, leaving me a sitting duck for someone like the man I married.
And he, too, brought God into it--coercing me into marriage by shoving I Corinthians 13 down my throat, pointing out that I was commanded by God to love everyone, including him; that I was commanded to forget his unkindness, forgive his cruelty, forsake my own desires to accommodate his own. I could think of no way out. Some proposal, huh? Once married, the Bible became not just a stick with which to browbeat me but a knife--forcing me to sacrifice everything that was left because the Bible made it clear my body was no longer mine. And it wasn't.
Eating Ethopian food, I stared into Wayne's sky-blue eyes, the same sky-blue eyes that smiled whenever we met on the freeway for a walk and a talk. "I was never married, Wayne," I told him, realizing for the first time the terrible loss Dr. Mattson had set into play.
"I know that." He took a breath. He did know; and it felt in that moment he was and is the only person in my life to really comprehend what this meant and means to me.
"I'm fifty-five," I told him, "and I don't know what marriage feels like. I don't know what it looks like."
"I know that."
Together we tried to remember when he came to see me. Near as we could figure, it was at the Thomas Street apartments, down by St. Joseph's hospital. That he had come meant a lot. Still, why hadn't I let him help me find my way again?
Scooping up shrimp in my "pancake" made of Egyptian teff, I pictured myself throwing my arms around his ankle, refusing to let go, him walking out that brick apartment, dragging me along behind like a ball and chain. In high school he'd have done anything for me. He still would have. "Why, why didn't I go with you?"
"Did you have a child or two by then?"
"Not at Thomas Street."
But I was trapped. Physically, psychologically, religiously...and God held the key. Wayne could not have fought God and won. The battle was mine.
It took ten years and three children for me to finally declare war. I see now that I was dead for ten years and that the seventeen years following exacted all the skill and wit and focus a person rising from the dead can muster, and then some. If I'm allowed to carry the analogy further, it was another ten years in rehab. My body, heart, and mind had worn out.
"I must be a woman of great strength," I told Wayne, "to have let you go that day without asking for help." Then I smiled. "No. I'm a woman of great stupidity. Let's talk about something happy now." I jumped right into it, what my friends all wanted to know.
"They all want to know what was wrong with you that you weren't attracted to me!" I grinned at him. "I mean, after all, your hormones were intact, it was me who was sexually damaged. And," I admitted, "my adult Self has her nose out of joint."
He laughed. "I wasn't, and am not, attracted to every girl."
And was too shy back then, he said, to speak to girls. If they said hi, he walked away.
"But you talked to me," I pointed out.
He hemmed and hawed, knee jiggling.
"Let me get this straight. You're saying I was not only unattractive romantically but I wasn't even a girl? I was just one of the guys?"
Thinking on it, that's exactly what I was. And I have to say, now that I'm thinking, it's a rare priviledge most girls never experience.
When Wayne took me to the airport a few hours later, he went as far as the security gate. Deja vous, he and me all over again, saying good-bye two blocks from his house. Only it was me walking away, he going back. But I headed on, content. Some day he'll call, deja vous, to ask if I want to go scorpian hunting. And, deja vous, I'll say yes. It's the way were. Are. Friends without definition, without structure. No angst. No ups and downs, just easy conversations, stimulating ideas, and do you want to go four-wheel driving in the desert today? Passing through security, throwing my shoes in the bin and giving up my mascara, I felt a sense of bliss reminiscent of my life with Wayne all those years ago.
At the parking garage across from Scottsdale Hospital I'd sensed a stirring of rebirth. On the plane somewhere between there and here I fell into a dreamy state, contrasting Wayne's memory of finding me in such misery to the day I first met him. What had happened to me in between?
When I wrote Taming the Dragons for HarperCollins in the mid-1990s, this was my thesis: Women can make choices to either endure or resolve their conflicts--but not until they know they can. This is the fundamental crime of victimization: it robs victims of their greatest power. And this is what had happened to me "in between." I'd been robbed. It wasn't until I was 29 that my sister Tresa gave me back what had been taken. "You can choose." And armed with choice, I'd at last declared war and begun fighting my own battles.
Next thing I knew I was crying for the girl who had been me, the girl whose right to choose had been taken before she knew it was hers. A stranger noticed and handed me his hankie. This is the gift of God, the universe, whatever name by which some have come to define as the Divine. Strangers and friends are always ours. I'd come full circle, begining again where it had all gone wrong, beginning where the worst of times had truly been the best. I'd been given the garden of friends, especially Wayne--who never knew the gift he'd been, and I flew home on the clouds restored to myself, time at last chronological, past and present no longer a parallel overlay in my mind and out of which I experienced life.
I landed to find three of my five grandchildren dressed in their jammies, their little bodies wiggling and wriggling and bouncing up and down, unable to contain their excitement. I'd been born to be their grandma, and the spectrum of time focused in Nathan's "Granny!" Jamie's sweet smile and tilt of his head, the baby's studied frown, pacificer in her mouth, as if to say, "What is all the fuss about, boys?" I was in the present.
The winter of my discontent had vanquished under the high noon of Arizona's sun and Carol, Rita, and Gwen
and the man who was, in the very worst of times, the best.
October 19, 2007
As some of you know, I was sexually molested when I was 17 by a Christian doctor. I'm now 55 and while some might say it's all "water under the bridge" and that I need to get on with my life (I am after all a grandmother), I am learning otherwise. It's water that took the bridge out.
For health reasons, my parents had put me in the care of family friends in Arizona my senior year of high school--and the minister of the church this family and I attended recommended that Mum place me under the medical supervision of a doctor who was also the Young Life leader at Scottsdale High. The man literally held my life in his hands; he was endorsed on two counts by the church; and he molested me. Not until I was 29 and coming out of a destructive marriage did I ever tell that it happened--though I could not speak of the details and still can't. At 29 I had single parenting and all its attendant difficulties on my plate, and when my youngest went off to college several years ago I had recuperation from the seventeen years of single parenting on my plate. What happened in Arizona, by necessity remained on a back burner.
Too, there was no real drive to pay much attention because I was (and am) fully aware that my molestation is nothing in contrast to what too many women and children have suffered (and suffer). And as miserable as my subsequent marriage was (once abused, you attract abusers), there are thousands of marriages far worse. To deal with my own "insignificant" psychoses has felt to me rather selfish; my limited energy seemed better spent on those who "really" suffered. Like my children. Like my neighbor. Like the stranger at a party who confides.
But then the flashbacks began two years ago, and I can no longer ignore the bubbling pot on the back burner of my life. So in two weeks I fly back to Phoenix for the first time in nearly four decades. My destination? The doctor's office in Scottsdale where I lost what feels to be 90% of myself. And then the church where I was married and lost everything else.
I have no idea what I'll learn and I'm apprehensive. I'm just sort of hoping, I guess, that seeing the buildings where it all happened will break something loose inside of me, and give me back myself. It feels a bit melodramatic, going back into time to save myself, but friends from that era have encouraged me, some rallying and coming alongside me in this uncharted venture: Carol, sister of my best friend at the time, and Rita, my former minister's wife, now eighty years old. This alone is immensely healing and serves to remind me of who I was then.
Too, last night I climbed into bed and picked up a book my friend Rachel had lent me. Rachel is actually Rita's daughter and part of the youth group in Arizona that sheltered and loved me during that year of sexual debasement. Ironically, Rachel now lives near me in the Pacific Northwest. We discovered each other last Easter and we share a love for books, ideas, and gardening. This last book she lent me proved to be about female wounding and how to be healed from the cancerous violation of our femininity. Apropos, I thought, delving in.
The authors had an interesting starting point. They went back to creation and Adam not being enough--hence Eve. She wasn't created for Adam, but to complete creation. She was the "best saved for last." Or, as my brother-in-law might say, "the heart of the watermelon and not the rind."
I'm not a big fan of Christian dogma and the church; much of my troubles stem from Christianity as it's practiced today. But I understand and appreciate cultural stories and God's transcultural communication through them, everything from Cinderella to Uncle Remus to Genesis. I was pleased to discover the authors of Captivating discuss the Hebrew word ezer--which has so lamely been translated "helpmeet" in the English Bible--and which has been used to provide divine mandate for female subservience in all its debilitating forms.
The word is used only 21 times in the Old Testament; once when referring to Eve's relationship to Adam; the other 20 times occur when speaking of God's relationship to Israel. He will be the ezer to Israel. It's a Hebrew word which is undefinable in English. The best translation is "the saving glory," or "you will die without my help," or "saving power of beauty."
John and Stasi Eldredge went on to say that the Hebrew Satan went after Eve not because she was the "weaker vessel" or the "great seducer" (both notions so prevalent in the church it makes me crazy) but because she was the saving force, the beauty and crown of creation, the now-it-is-perfect pinnacle. And that at her creation, Satan became enraged, for this had been his job before getting cast from heaven for hubris pride. Once he'd been the guardian, the beautiful, the powerful in heaven's domain! Now here was Eve?
It became imperative he crush the one who "usurped" all that he'd lost. And ever since her downfall, the Eldredges think, Satan's maintained a specific and enduring hatred of everything women are.
I'm not sure why I was blind to this very cogent observation. Many men go out of their way to stifle similar fear and jealousy by beating it out of us, using and abusing us, rendering us incapable so we can be judged incapable. They've written sexual and physical abuse into the codes of every religion, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and it permeates every culture from the cave dwellers to 2007. The misogyny of men is well documented and pervasive; and in Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge summarize this brutality chronologically and culturally.
They underscore their awful point that Satan targets women specifically by pointing out that mere men can't be this methodical. Most men are not this mean, for one thing. Nor are men who are this mean so dedicated, or smart enough to carry out such wholesale and consistent annihilation down through time. The issue of abuse against women is bigger than mere men. Abuse of women goes to the very core of evil itself.
Something here struck a chord. How many times have I felt the power of evil unleashed--sometimes in a slow, torturous crushing; sometimes in mind-boggling blows? How many times has my own mother remarked that it's as though the Biblical Lucifer blocked every good thing from my life?
The authors point out that this kind of wounding is systematic and well-thought through. Men are often used to level the hammer, it is true, but it's the message behind the hammer that is the most damaging. All forms of abuse come attached with the same destructive messages, and women everywhere know the lingo. We're worthless, unlovable, fraudulent, pariahs upon society and deserve our abuse. We're not skinny enough, thankful enough, brave enough, strong enough, worthy enough. We're too stupid, too smart, too ugly, too pretty, too passive, too aggressive. We seduce, mislead, and generate misery. These messages linger and fester and invite further abuse; and which is why, at fifty-five I'm stuck at seventeen. The messages hold me back. This is the damage I (and everyone like me) suffer from.
Last night Rita said something on the phone while we went over the arrangements for my upcoming visit. I started to cry. This confused me. Finally I confessed, "I have never cried about this, Rita."
My tears astonished me. And the fact I hadn't known until then that I had never cried over the loss of my sexuality, the very core of my identity, astonished me further.
"You've never cried?" Rita too was astonished.
I stayed up late reading Rachel's book. I awoke this morning with two thoughts in my head. One, that I really must go back and rescue myself. Two, that my doctor and the man I consequently married were more messenger than perpetrator and this took the sting out of my fear.
No, three thoughts...the third arrived after the coffee. I can shoot the messenger.
And so I go back to 1969, to try and and find who I once was. To metaphorically shoot the messengers who wounded me. And to connect with people who once helped define and sustain me as I limped into womanhood.
My question: Is the brutality of women really a battle between good and evil? Or is this a new Christian terminology for a problem a few Christians are apparently trying to acknowledge and explain? Is there another language we can use to find healing from the violation of our sexuality? And why is it that we need to?
More importantly, what about the victimization of children, girls and boys? Women aren't the only ones to suffer rampant cruelty.
Finally, can it ever be stopped? Is there no hope for myself? For my grandchildren?
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September 01, 2007
Here too in Pincher Creek is the old homestead and home of my mother's lost-and-found cousin, Doug Connelly, keeper of the Bagley artifacts, manuscripts, and family Bible. Doug's grandfather homesteaded this land and his mother, Fred's youngest daughter, married into this cozy place on the praire.
August 27, 2007
I made an immediate U-turn and headed for Bankhead, the old ghost town north of town. I was prepared to find the place overrun by the woods, but was nevertheless astonished by the relentless reclamation of nature. Early pictures of me digging around for laundry tubs and cigar cases show a stark contrast of open space next to today’s crowding trees and underbrush. I had to scrabble up stony deer paths and push through young birch trees to find the old Catholic church that I so much love. Ah! But I found it.
Content, I headed for Two Jack Lake and got myself a camping spot.
Bankhead is really only indirectly part of Fred’s life. When he was stationed in Banff—first in 1887 when Banff was created by an Act of Parliament, and then again in 1890 when he married Lucy May—he started the Bankhead Band. It was in this ghost town where Louis Trono met him as a nine-year-old kid in knickers. So I settled down with a crackling fire under the black pine, content to be “home.”
I was saddened, though, to learn the next day from the curators at the Whyte Rocky Mountain Museum that Louis had died three years ago, his wife just three weeks ago. I had to blink a few times. It was my children who first dubbed Louis my “Banff Boyfriend.” They always seemed to be amazed at how easily I picked up old men in my wanderings—men I made strong attachments to and wrote to frequently after getting home. But I hadn’t heard from Louis in awhile, and feared the worst.
The good news, the curators were quick to share however, is that Banff renamed the bandstand for him, and have a lovely plaque in front with a bit of Louis’ fascinating musical history. Fred’s name, I was not surprised to find, is there—mentioned as his mentor and teacher. How rich my life has been by looking for my grandmother. First Fred, then Uncle Dale. And then Louis. Banff feels a little lonely for me now, without my friend.
Getting new information on Fred was a little more elusive than getting the sad news on Louis. In the public library I found a huge book called I Live In A Postcard, a collection of histories on the Banff families. Fred Bagley was not listed. At the museum archives next door, they were just as surprised as I. Pictures of his funeral show a long line of friends that stretched the length of Banff Avenue, even more stepping into the cortege as they rounded the corner onto Buffalo and out to the cemetery. His hearse was accompanied by six Mounties, three on each side, with Mounties stationed along the way, each one raising an arm in salute as he passed. My uncle Dale only has black and white photos of this rather momentous event in the life of Banff, but one of the curators found some color slides for me. Goodness. The day was ablaze with autumn orange leaves and riotous red tunics!
I went straight away down to the cemetery and had a picnic supper at his grave, where he’d been interned with a Union Jack draped over his coffin, and had my supper, prepared for me by one of my mum’s many Goodfellow cousins. I’d stopped at Sylvia’s house in Salmon Arm, B.C., on my way up, and she sent me on my way with an egg salad sandwich and other goodies. I munched it all down, perched on the graves’s concrete edging, back to the tombstone, looking up at Sulphur Mt. as it plunged skyward in a blanket of trees that I was happy to see were not yet dead from Pine Beetle—a scourge that is taking out what appears to be most of B.C.’s forests. I kept thinking about the entrapment of time—a terrible inconvenience to any writer and historian. How is that I was sitting there, alive, Fred dead, and my grandchildren having their whole lives ahead of them?
My real goal was to find where Fred lived in Banff, and where the Goodfellows had their summer cabin. How far apart had they resided--not speaking to each other, my mother the bone of contention between the Montegues and Capulets of Alberta? So my second day was spent back in the archives, where Lena, one of the curators, pulled out the old tax records, heavy tombs of boring information like lot and block and assessed value. I learned that Fred never owned his house—there are no records of him ever paying taxes. The Goodfellows, however, had a home and property worth $650. Taxes ran from $6 to about $11 or $12. The old phone books were the mother lode, however. Major and Mrs. Fred Bagley lived on the corner of Elk and Beaver; which is now an apartment building. Rats. Walter and Isabella Goodfellow summered at 422 Marten Street, about 3 or 4 blocks away; it, too, is an apartment building. Rats, rats, and more rats. I had my heart set on knocking on the two doors and begging to be let in. I do find it interesting that they lived so close; and that they had also been neighbors in Calgary.
I ended my second day at Banff—a glorious sunny day with gentle breezes—researching in the public library across from a man I’d spotted at the hot springs last night. My friend Scott and I used tell each other the stories of complete strangers we’d see. So there I was last night, reveling in the hot springs, making up stories about the various people I saw. I had this guy pegged for a banker, widower, living in his head and trying to pull himself out of it. Turns out he is researching the residential schools in Canada—an online class he was taking. Shows how wrong I was.
In the morning I’m headed down to Pincher Creek to meet my mother’s “missing” cousin, Doug Connelly. Pincher Creek, BTW, is where the Mounties raised their horses, and where Old Buck was put to pasture. It’s nestled in the Rocky foothills, ranch country, and I am quite fond of the rolling countryside, caught as it is between the mountains and plains. I look forward to meeting more Bagley kin, and to learn what memories Doug may have of his grandfather.
Oh! Camping the one night at Two Jack was quite enough for my old bones. The evening was fine, but the morning? Where’s the coffee? So last night I stayed at the Banff Hostel, a grand place for little money and all the amenities. I’ll stay there tonight as well. Best yet, the old Bankhead Train Depot has been hauled out of the ghost town and sits right next door to the hostel. Now that is my cup of tea!
Bankhead Train Depot, moved to Banff in 1926,
now used by the Banff International Hostelry
as staff accomodations
August 21, 2007
So I got onto the ferry at Tswaassen for the 2-hour trip across Georgia Straight. This was my first time to Duke Point on the Island, which is up about 100 miles from my familiar turf and Victoria. I found it not so interesting.
So I got a binder of my research from the jeep below deck, hoofed it up three flights of stairs, and hunted down the cafeteria where I began re-aquainting myself with what material I had while eating very bad scrambled eggs and not very good sausage.
Dale and Penny moved out from London, Ontario, and I found their new abode on a hillside overlooking Departure Bay. Ferries go in and out all day; on clear days you can see Vancouver across the water. It's just about the nicest place to live I can imagine. But the view paled in comparison to my visit with my Bagley side. To be with Dale, going through Penny's many boxes of stuff, getting treated to the sights and fine dining, and seeing my cousin Elizabeth (who also moved out ) far outranked the view. Even if Dale was on a roll with his humor that had Penny and I rolling our eyes.
If I start with my grandchildren, Penny's research goes back eight generations to Col. James Bland, born in 1793, a retired officer in the Royal Imperial Navy, finishing out his final days on the Island of Jersey in the English Channel. Fred remembers visiting his grandfather when he was only two, being carried by his mother. The memory is vivid, he wrote, because they'd arrived in a storm, with heavy waves crashing up over the board walk. If he was two, this would have been 1860, just when the Civil War in the States was getting under full swing.
To begin, though, Fred was born in the West Indies. His father, Richard Bagley, was an Irishman who'd enlisted in the British Imperial Navy and been sent to Jamaica. Here he met Catherine Ann Bland, daughter of Col. James Bland and wealthy widow of a Dr. Gordon Baker. She defined herself as Scottish, but was born and raised in the West Indies.
Just where Fred was actually born is in dispute: My lost-and-found grandmother, Leona, insisted he was born in Kitts. Her sister Kate insisted St. Lucia. Or was it the other way around? The two of them, Penny says, used to go around and around on this. But their mother wrote down Jamaica, and so Penny and I voted to go with what his mother said. For all intents and purposes, then, Fred was born in Jamaica. Too, articles printined in Banff's Crag & Canyon list his birthplace as Jamaica and he didn't bother to dispute this--something he usually did I've come to realize.
When his parents married, it appears that Richard came into Catherine's wealth and acquired the doctor's sugar plantation--perhaps part of the much larger "Gordon" estate that comes into the story later. Fred's earliest memories were of crying and being shushed with a sugar cane, given him by a black nanny. He writes that it turned him off sugar for life.
A second picture of Catherine Ann, the widow, with her eldest daughter Nell, however, suggests to Penny that perhaps there is some black lineage in the blood line. I'm far more accepting of this. I rather enjoy the idea of perhaps being something more nutritional than WONDER bread. Perhaps, after all, there is a bit of rye or oats in me. At least whole grain!
Before Fred was two years old his father had gone through all of his wife's money and they moved back to Devon, England. This is probably when Fred visited his grandfather on the Island of Jersey.
The next ten years saw the Bagley family bouncing from town to town, Richard opening up taverns and moving on, poor Catherine always having babies every two years in a different part of the country. A daughter writes that they helped out with the work, though they were very small. Times were different then. Three-year-old children were often put to use serving beer. Five-year-olds in just about every Dickens novel I've ever read certainly knew how to scrape plates and muck out a stable! But what was all this moving around really about? Was Richard running from creditors?
The Army schooled the Kingston children up through fourteen years of age. When Fred reached the end of his schooling, he joined Kingston's Battery "A"as a bugler and enrolled in the gunnery school. But when recruitment notices from the newly formulated Mounted Police Force went up, he hightailed it down to the recruitment office, thinking he could lie about his age.
The truth of the matter was that he was running away from home. Richard was a harsh man. To punish his boys, he took them out to the gym and boxed them, then beat them with a belt. Around the girls he managed to keep his fists to himself; nonetheless, they feared the lash of his tongue. So there must have been a hard fight. Finally Dick acquiesced. "Go ahead and take the lad! He'll get over his fascination for buffalo and redskins in short order, I reckon. If nothing else, it'll make a man out of him." But on one condition. "He can only enlist for six months."
When the Force pulled out of Kingston in June, 1874, Fred's mother bid him adieu amidst the fanfare, reminded him to say his prayers each night, and gave him a watch and chain and the diary that helped us find him a hundred years later.
I'm not sure how I would have fared if I'd been adopted out. I have always been conscious of the various aspects of my personality reflected in not just my family of origin but in my extended family. Oh, I am behaving just like Auntie Vi! I might say. Or, I think I'm standing just like Grandma used to." To have the missing pieces visibilized is a rare gift.
And for this treat I owe a special thanks to Mum for spotting her grandfather in the Fort Macleod Museum, to Uncle Dale for negotiating my eventual meeting with his and Mum's mum, and to Aunt Penny for her years of research that tell me a little bit more of who I am.
Thanks et merci.
August 14, 2007
"We old ‘originals’ are prone sometimes to believe that we are neglected or ignored by a generation that ‘knew not Joseph’ and his works."
—Frederick Augustus Bagley
The family mythology surrounding my great grandfather Frederick Augustus Bagley was limited and unpleasant when I was growing up. His daughter was a missing grandmother in my life—a woman who had, it was said, abandoned my mother when she was just six weeks old. Where Leona had gone or wherever she was, no one knew and none seemed to care. And while the judgment against her wasn’t particularly harsh (her actions explained away as depression and Granny Goodfellow, after all, been quick to step in and raise baby Betty), Leona’s father, my great grandfather, came under a much harsher light. When Leona asked if she could leave her husband and come home, Frederick Augustus Bagley had said, “Yes, but leave the brat behind.”
And so while I loved and missed my missing grandmother, and grew up yearning to find her, I secretly resented my great grandfather. After all, had he been a bit more understanding of whatever the plight may have been in 1928 my mother would have never been an orphan of sorts and my missing grandmother would not have gotten lost. Who was this man who thought my mother a brat? I didn’t care. I just wanted my grandmother.
I was fourteen when my family drove into Banff, Alberta, for the first time. I was sitting in the back seat, between my two sisters. I had a straight-on view as we came in—the Rockies climbing up the sky all around me, just ahead the stone bridge and stately old hospital. I scooted forward with an exuberance new to me. In my fourteen years we’d moved a lot; any sense of home had dissipated, leaving me with a feeling of transience. But driving into Banff I recognized home. Here, I belonged. Here were roots. Here was my energy source.
Why? I didn’t know.
I didn’t know that my great grandfather had been a Mountie, that he’d been stationed here for a time, that Banff was, in fact, where he’d chosen to retire because he loved it so, that he was buried here in the little cemetery left of the bridge. I didn’t know that he’d started the Banff Springs Hotel band, or that he’d started the little band in Bankhead, the CPR ghost town just north of Banff—another magical place I wouldn’t discover until I was in my thirties. Nor did I know that my missing grandmother had at some point taught school here. I didn’t know any of these things. But obviously my DNA did. The part of me that is my great grandfather, and to a lesser extent my grandmother, was joyous to be home again.
At the time we were living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and were on our way back after spending the summer, as we usually did, at my paternal grandfather’s beach house outside Vancouver. It was with great reluctance that I said good-bye to Banff, yet…in grade four, Miss Bilby had told us stories about growing up on a farm outside Regina and it took my breath to see the prairie unfold as we dropped down out of the Rockies to meet the plains. Was it her stories that made my spirits soar? That gave me that sense of recognition and delight? Perhaps. Yet I’d heard many stories of wondrous places that didn’t, when experiencing them for myself, evoke such a keen sense of connection. We passed Dead Man’s Flat and drove right into the lapping waves of an ocean of grass that in actuality was my great grandfather’s country. I didn’t know he’d spent his life here, that he’d policed the thousands upon thousands of square miles of earth and sky so flat and far-reaching it boggled my mind. I didn’t know…yet I must have known. I was recognizing land I loved and didn’t know I missed. Perhaps this is why Miss Bilby’s stories had meant so much to me.
We pulled into Fort MacLeod in Southern Alberta. My sisters and I—thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen years old, me in the middle—were looking at the doo-dads displayed in the gift shop, trying to keep an eye on our five-year-old brother, when all of a sudden our mother, peering intently at every photograph on the wall, started to shriek: “Roy! Roy! Come quick!” She was hyperventilating, I think—but then the whole scene is probably dramatized in my mind for we were teenagers. Dad went over, I hid behind a bookcase; she was not my mother. “Look! Here’s my grandfather! It has to be him. ‘Frederick Bagley, Crack-shot of the RCMP,’” she quoted and I came out from behind the bookcase.
“Your grandfather was a Mountie?” I asked, meeting his eyes and thinking, he looks like a decent sort.
She was headed for the cash register. I tore my eyes away from this man whose bloodline I carried and quickly trundled along behind my mother, ears on high alert and wondering why I’d never been told this bit of information. He was a Mountie? I pictured of the red-tuniced men parading around on frisky horses in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.
The long and short of the ensuing conversation at the cash register was that the curator was just then reading Fred Bagley’s diary, written when he’d crossed the prairies in 1874 as a fifteen-year-old kid. One year older than myself! His diary, however, was open only to family. So why give it to the museum? I privately wondered while Mum patiently explained she was family. Didn’t matter. She still had to get permission from the estate, held in the hands of his three daughters, Kate, Leona, and Marian.
I had to sit down. How did Mum feel about this? My own heart was hammering, high on unexpected hope in the air.
She got the address of “Aunt Marian.” We drove out to her roadside farm and Dad pulled over onto the highway shoulder, and we sat for what seemed like an eternity while Mum mulled things over, hope humming all around me like bees in the sunflowers. “Let’s go on, Roy,” she finally said and the bees fell silent.
That was that. We drove away, not knowing Leona lived only a short ways away, that she’d remarried, that his name, too, was Roy. Roy Bent.
Three years later we were living in Iowa. My parents put my older sister and me on the train in Fargo, North Dakota. Linda and I were headed for Winnipeg, where an uncle would meet us and drive us out to Lloydminster, Alberta. There we’d spend a few days with our cousins, then take the train to Vancouver for another summer on the West Coast. I didn’t know, ticket in hand that hot, sultry June day in 1969 that my departure point was, in June 1874, our great grandfather’s train terminus, end of the rails. I didn’t know that the newly formulated RCMP (in civilian dress, for they’d skirted the Great Lakes by special arrangement of the American government) had disembarked here and “dumped” their baggage onto the “bald-headed prairie.” In 1969 I saw wheat and corn stretching as far as the eye could see. In 1874 our great grandfather saw acres of “ uniforms, arms, ammunition, provisions, bedding, saddles, harness, wagons, hay-rakes, ploughs and harrows.” I didn’t know that he, by special dispensation from his father and Colonel French, had been allowed to join as the force as its youngest member and bugle boy. I didn’t know that he’d rubbed the sleep out of his eyes the very next day and sounded Reveille at 4:00 a.m.; I didn’t know that he and 200 other men and sixteen officers put together 200 hundred sets of harnesses, 300 saddles, and 75 heavy wagons; I didn’t know that his “D” Troop pulled out with twenty-nine fully loaded wagons at 5:00 p.m., headed for Winnipeg; that “E” Troop followed at 7:00 p.m.; and that “F” Troop, left behind to clean up, got under way the next day—without benefit of my great-grandfather’s bugle to wake them. I didn’t now any of this. I was already in Winnipeg and it was exactly ninety-five years later.
In Lloydminster, my aunt took Linda and I to an RCMP band concert, front row seats, with our five cousins. We were all musicians. Linda was a flutist, I was a clarinetist, and my single most joy in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had been our middle school band and symphony where we were the recipients of exceptional directing and private study—an unstated requirement if we were to participate. Consequently, Slauson Junior High won numerous awards and today, when I listen to our recordings, I am astonished. I was in “high fiddle” to attend the RCMP band concert.
Two erect Mounties in dashing red jackets and gold braiding stepped out, curtains still drawn, from stage left and stage right, with five-foot long bugles that glimmered in the light. The executed a few fancy steps, faced each other across the space, snapped their horns into position and, without warning, shot the clear tenor tones of “Oh Canada” into the air with such pomp and circumstance that the short hairs along the back of my neck stood up and I was on my feet without knowing quite how it happened. The crowd was not far behind and I bit back tears. I may have lived in the States for four years, but my loyalty was Canadian and I thought at the time it was the sheer excellence of the music and being “home” that had triggered my nationalistic pride and an ecstasy that never, in fifty-five years, has ever been repeated. What I didn’t know was that my great grandfather, asleep in my DNA, recognized his work and awoke, and that it was he who propelled me to my feet in a shock of joy that can only come after a century of sleep. Frederick Augustus Bagley, bugle boy, had made the RCMP his career and it was he who’d started so many of these bands. Together, unknown to each other but one and the same that night, we listened, our hearts caught in a surreal space where time and distance blended for one magical evening in the harmony of familiar sound.
I was thirty and back living on the West Coast when I began my summer treks to Banff and the prairies. In the silence of my missing grandmother, I’d taken to finding what I could of her dad. The Whyte Museum is where I learned of his short stint in Banff, that he’d returned and retired there, and was buried. I also learned that he’d started the Banff Springs Hotel band. Now that was interesting—and some of the pieces began coming together for me. My musical interest for one, but certainly my passion for Banff.
My first trip to Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, however, gave me a start—and then made me mad. I came across a slip of paper in my missing grandmother’s handwriting. Leona had been asked by a Calgary school classroom to submit a list of Major Fred Bagley’s descendents for a 1974 mountie centennial project they were working on. She listed herself, a son and three granddaughters—Leslie, Maia, and Elizabeth. After the shock of seeing her handwriting—she was real!—I allowed the information to sink in. The first thing I noticed was that there was no mention of her first husband Leslie, my Grandpa Les. No mention of her daughter, my mother Shirley Elizabeth, whom everyone called Betty. Certainly there was no mention of us, of me. And then it hit me. The names.
Leona, for whatever reason, had separated from Leslie—yet her eldest granddaughter bore the same name. She’d supposedly abandoned her infant, Shirley Elizabeth—yet her youngest granddaughter carried the baby’s name. And, like her daughter “Betty,” Leona had married a man named Roy. Coincidence? I was beginning to suspect that our unacknowledged and unknown past struggles for recognition; that we have less choice than we think. We are compelled, and the people around us are compelled, to name the past.
This was the summer I discovered Bankhead—and, happily, Louis Trono. Intrigued by the Bankhead history ParksCanada listed in their brochure and on the various site signs posted about the old ghost town north of Banff, I asked in town if they had any further information. They let me see a short documentary and in the flickering darkness I wrote down the names of the elderly men and women being interviewed. They’d grown up as children in Bankhead, their fathers the coal miners brought in by the CPR from all over Europe.
“You want to know more about Bankhead?” Louis Trono asked when I knocked on his front door later that day, one block off Banff’s main drag. Graciously he invited me in, called for his wife, Joy, to bring us some iced tea for the day was hot. “Tomorrow might be a better day,” he said as we settled in, a lively Italian, eighty-four years old, with slicked back hair and coiled energy. “I have to leave in an hour to rehearse at the Banff Springs Hotel. We play every night.”
“Really?” I said, perking up. “My great grandfather started that band.”
Mr. Trono plunged forward in his stuffed chair. Iced tea slurped up over the glass brim, down his fingers. He didn’t notice. His eyes were on me. “You’re the Major’s granddaughter?”
I started to ramble about my lost lineage, my search of my grandmother, how I had to content myself with Fred Bagley. Mr. Trono interrupted, smile so big, leaning across the room to shake my hand again. “This is fine! This is a pleasure! Joy!” he hollered. “We have the Major’s granddaughter here!” She came running, a woman twenty or thirty years his junior. More handshakes.
“You knew my great grandfather?” I asked, the bees back in my ears and humming. “You knew him?”
“Knew him? He came out to Bankhead and started the Bankhead band. He taught me how to play the trombone. I was only in knickers. At first he said no, I couldn’t join. I was just a kid. I kept badgering him. He finally thought to shut me up by giving me his old trumpet. But I blew my lungs inside out for a week until I finally got the hang of it, showed up at the next rehearsal, and he had to let me have a shot. I’ll never forget the look on his face. He turned to the big guys and said, ‘This lad is a musician, boys. If the rest of you ever learn to play half as good as—what’s your name, Sonny?—Louis here, I should be so proud.’ But your granddad needed a trombone player—so I’ve played trombone all my life, all over the world. Did you know your granddad played at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee? He taught me well. I played for Queen Elizabeth. And I’ve been more places playing music than even your granddad, he was famous for his music, you know. I owe him life, my livelihood, every wonderful thing I’ve ever known in life. Everything. He gave me new direction in that old ghost town, I am indebted to him. And here you are…”
It was too much for the old man. He flopped back in his chair. Joy fussed and clucked. I started to make excuses, asked when I could come back. I, too, needed some time to process the surprise. “Your grandmother?” he said, pulling out of the shock. “What was her name?”
“Leona.” Bees swarmed through the room, honey in their wings.
“Joy, was it Leona?” he asked, “who taught Marco in grade two?”
Joy pulled out some old school pictures. “Yes, she taught at the little elementary school a few blocks away.” Linda, I thought, thinking of my older sister and seeing my grandmother for the very first time, would be interested in this. Linda was an elementary school teacher, and loved the second grade.
“Are you in a hurry?” Mr. Trono asked, glancing at his watch.
“No, I was going to go over and see if the Craigs would talk to me about Bankdhead.”
“Do that tomorrow. I’m taking you to rehearsal, to introduce you to the boys. They’re younger than me, they didn’t know your granddad, but they know of him. Hey, I’ll buy you supper at the hotel. We can visit, and you can stay and listen to us play for the evening.”
Over grilled trout at the Banff Springs Hotel, "Louis" told me that when Bankhead closed down in 1919 all the houses were taken into Banff or Canmore, a little town five or six miles east. “I was twelve. My family moved next door to the Major on Beaver Street and summer afternoons he had us boys over to play with his swords. He taught us how to parade. I of course continued my music lessons.”
The next day found Louis and I in Bankhead, laying out the huge maps I’d gleaned from the museum, Louis putting stones on their corners to keep the wind at bay, everything spread over what was once, he said, the curling green. He filled me in on who lived where and what they were like—and fed me details of my grandmother and great grandfather as they came to mind. He regretted not having made it his business to learn everything he could. “I was a kid,” he told me, taking me over to the old Catholic church, now a basement and stone steps rising to meet heaven. “We didn’t care about that kind of stuff, but once he passed on? I regretted knowing so little.”
Yet what Louis told me that summer and over the next several years confirmed my growing suspicion that Major Frederick Bagley, despite all reports of his grand, military bearing, could never have called my mother a brat. And if this much of the story wasn’t true?
I started to feel a sense of desperation to find my grandmother. What history begged to be told?
Unbeknownst to me, when the bees fell silent outside my great Aunt Marian’s house, my mother still heard them, and had written her aunts and mother three times for permission to have a copy of her grandfather’s diary. Three times she’d been ignored and I think it was this rejection that stung. Or perhaps these were my own feelings, and I visited them upon Mum in my growing reversal of feelings—love and admiration for Fred, less for Leona. But was this fair?
I had children of my own when Mum got a phone call. She and Dad were living in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the time. “You don’t know me,” the man on the other end of the line said, “but my name is Dale Bent.”
Mum reports that her knees weakened, and she sat down. “You are my brother,” she said.
“Yes. And I have something I think you’d like.”
And so a brother walked into Mum’s life, an uncle into mine, bearing the diary Mum had wanted so badly that she’d risked, three times, her mother’s very pointed rejection.
In the end, it was a death bed sort of confession that brought us Fred Bagley’s diary. Aunt Kate was dying. She called in her nephew, told him there were three letters, that his mother had been married before, that he had a sister, that she wanted their grandfather’s diary. Could he deliver it to her?
He could, and did. That was the good news. The bad news was that his mother—Leona—didn’t want to know anything about us. A slap in the face. This grandmother I yearned for not even interested to know if I existed? Stung, I nevertheless resolved to look at it from her point of view. What was an old woman supposed to do when past became present?
My third trip to Glenbow was with Mum. She wrote to see what artifacts they might have of her grandfather. I’d never thought to do that, and so was delighted when we were taken into the archives to see and handle a collection of his uniforms, accouterments, manuscripts, even a horse’s hoof. A Mountie’s regiment number, we learned, was always carved into his horse’s right front hoof so that if his horse ever returned to the fort unmounted the others would know who to look for. “He’s actually quite a famous horse in Mountie history,” the curator explained, telling us the story of how Fred Bagley had “stolen” the bay out from under the nose of a fellow Mountie. “Unlike other Mounties, whose horses were periodically assigned and reassigned, your grandfather managed to hang onto his, and when it was too old serve, rather than being consigned to the glue factory as was the policy, this horse,” she said, handing me the hoof, “was put out to pasture. Old Buck lived to the ripe old age of 32."
"Buck, as in Buckwheat?" one or the other of us asked.
Once-upon-a-time my younger sister had snuck a cock-a-poo puppy from Bellingham, Washington, onto the plane and taken him as gift to St. Paul, Minnesota, for our mother. Mum had called him Buckwheat—Bucky for short. I thought of the other names we shared—Leslie, Elizabeth, Roy…and now Buckwheat for our pets. How was that possible that a man in 1874 could call the horse he fell in love with the same name that his granddaughter, lost to him, would give her own pet a hundred years later? In the name of all that is rational, how is this possible? I handed Buckwheat’s hoof to Mum, K 1 carved into it, grateful for this curious knowledge.
Was it this same summer Mum and I went up to Banff, where we walked past the old train station one evening? “Granny and Granddad had a summer cabin here,” she told me. “Granny often brought me up here from Calgary on the train. Back in those days, the Banff Springs Hotel band came out to greet the trains and to play, always conducted by a kindly old man with white hair with the most regal bearing. I was fascinated by him. I’d dawdle along, staring at him over my shoulder, Granny hurrying me along with a stern ‘come along, Betty.’”
“According to Louis Trono, Mum, that would be your grandfather,” I said.
“I thought of that when you first told me about Louis.”
Did Fred Bagley ever sense his granddaughter’s eyes on him as he directed a rousing “God Save the Queen?” Did he ever catch sight of Granny Goodfellow hastening by, anxious to keep them apart? Did he even know they had a cabin a few blocks from his own?
I took my sons to Glenbow when they were twelve and fourteen to help me go through all the photographs. I was getting desperate to meet my grandmother and wanted to get my hands on a picture that could tell me more about her. We found only one of a child—which daughter was this? Conflicting reports of how many girls Fred Bagley had—anywhere from seven to the three I knew about—provided no clue. I asked for a generated photograph of this unknown child looking over her dad’s shoulder. I’d pretend it was Leona.
It was Phil—the same age I as when I first felt the call of my great grandfather—who asked the curator where his great great grandfather’s badges might be located. We’d gleaned enough information over the years to learn there were many. “Probably in someone’s musty attic or moldy basement,” the librarian offered with a grimace. “If you ever find them, let us know.”
Pincher Creek was a name that kept popping up now and then in my research. It was new country for me and I was curious. I was in talking to the curator at the little museum there when the boys came flying into the office, out of breath, exuberant. “We found them! We found them!”
Sure enough, there they were, high on the wall, pinned to velvet and encased in glass. To say he had a lot was putting it mildly. A plaque read “ON LOAN FROM THE CONNELLY FAMILY.”
“Who are they?” I asked the librarian.
“A local family.”
“Any relation to the Bagleys?”
“Cousins of some kind, I think.”
I rather liked the idea of having cousins of a sort in Pincher Creek. But it my grandmother I wanted to meet.
The spring I turned forty my desperation reached a point of near panic. I wasn’t getting any younger, neither was Leona. I called my uncle; he came up with a plan. I’d fly out to London, Ontario, where they now all lived. He’d introduce me as a family friend; in this way I could at least see her and get to know her. I had my ticket in hand when Phil, now a shocking six feet, four inches tall and skinny as a rail (shocking because no one on either side of his family for as far back as we could trace had ever stood over six feet tall), said, “Mum, if you go meet her as a friend of the family, you’ll never get to meet her as family. And isn’t that what you really want?”
Fred Bagley had been fifteen when he left home. Phil was fifteen. I stared at my son—and tore up my ticket.
I raised my children as a writer and at some point Uncle Dale took to setting out autographed copies of my Sweetbriar series, books on Seattle’s pioneer families, for his mother to find, and to read. Sometimes she asked if he knew if I’d be writing any more. “She’s your granddaughter,” he finally told her at some point, “you can ask her for yourself.” She clammed up. The fifth in the series was released in 1997. I was 45, Leona was 93. It was then that she finally said the words I longed to hear, “I think I’m ready to meet Brenda now.”
It was our common interest in history that slowly built the bridge we needed in order to cross over into each others’ lives. I stepped into a beehive of hurt.
But by grandmother was reluctant to reveal the worst. It wasn’t “nice to speak ill of the dead.” She told me instead of her father—the man we both admired. Fred Bagley, she said, stood six feet, four inches tall; and I found it ironic that it was his six-foot, four-inch great great grandson who enabled me to find her, to be speaking with her.
He was a kindly man, she said. He had a sense of humor and loved a good joke. He had many friends. He treated everyone with dignity and respect, even the prisoners he was assigned to guard. He adored his six daughters, only three of whom survived childhood and hence the confusion. They adored him. “Oh, the good times we used to have,” she said with silver in her laugh and eyes seeing back in time to where I couldn’t go. He abhorred violence, she said. He suffered none to strike them and when a nun made the mistake of taking a whip to Leona’s shins one day in school Lucy May, his wife, promptly withdrew all the girls and settled them elsewhere. The nuns begged she and Fred reconsider. They did not.
Most certainly, he did not call my mother a brat.
In fact, when she was born, he took the train from Calgary to Vancouver see her—wheeling a wicker pram. Here Mum slept for lack of cradle or crib, and when she was taken from Leona at eighteen months old (not six weeks), he did everything in his power to get her back. The Goodfellows, however, were a formidable foe. My mother it seems was the only battle Major Frederick Augustus Bagley ever fought and lost.
All this very nearly didn’t happen. Trouble was brewing in 1884 on the Northern Saskatchewan. First there was the “Poundmaker Racket” earlier that summer and soon there’d be Louis Riel’s Second Resistance. Grandfather and his men were caught up in the tension and under orders to keep an eye on Big Bear of the Plains Cree and his young war chief, Wandering Spirit. So when Big Bear and his band suddenly pulled out of Fort Battleford in the fall of 1884 and started back to Fort Pitt where they normally wintered, Grandfather and his party were ordered to go along as an escort. A hundred years later I was there, researching Big Bear’s subsequent flight from the authorities during the ensuing Resistance. I came across a hair-raising note penned by my great grandfather and my growing dislike for Big Bear’s son Iamisis (The Evil One) crawled out of my belly to leave the taste of bile in my mouth--and a very real sense of fear. Grandfather wrote:
…I had to accommodate my rate of travel to that of the Indians, who traveled very slowly; consequently this trip of 95 miles with Big Bear’s band took 11 days to complete, while I, on my return trip to Battleford with my men, took only 1½ days to cover the same distance. When I, with the Indians and escort, arrived at a point about half a mile distant from Fort Pitt, but on the South side of the North Saskatchewan River, I received dispatch from the officer commanding Fort Battleford ordering me to return at once to Battleford. After wheeling my men, horses, and wagons about, and starting them on the return trip, I met Ayimeesees (The Wicked One), Big Bear’s son, and stopped on the trail to talk to him. He seemed to be in a very excited state, and doubted my word that there was no serious news from the South, and that Louis Riel had not yet started the expected “Rebellion.” In fact, he went so far as to tell me he thought I spoke with a “forked tongue.” In plainer language that I was blank, blank liar. Following his accusation he seized my horse’s reins, and made a dash at me with a big hunting knife. As my men were by that time at least a mile away on the back track, and, as per my orders, traveling very fast, and, as I was, very foolishly, unarmed at the time, I took the only way out and knocked him down by driving my horse at him and so got away after my men. I am convinced that if he had had a firearm he would have shot me.…Big Bear, Poundmaker, Little Pine, Wandering Spirit…these were men I understood, admired even. But Iamisis? He was a bully and coward. He was selfish, unruly. He sought constantly to undermine his dad. At times I felt sorry for Big Bear, shackled as he was in his old age by such an unworthy son. And to learn that Iamisis had tried to murder my own grandfather? And thus me? I went down to the riverbank and stood looking at the ridge where I’d nearly died before I was ever conceived.
But no one died that nearly terrible day. Frederick Augustus Bagley went on to father Leona, then Mum, then me, then my own daughter and sons, and now my grandsons and granddaughter. He went on to bring the prairies music, and today one can hardly pick up a book on the settling of Canada West or the making of the Mounties without reading of him. Or thumb through an old Scarlet and Gold or R.C.M.P. Quarterly without finding his byline. Or see the Musical Ride without hearing his music. His contribution to Canadian heritage is significant; and in May 2007 Glenbow Museum built a new permanent display naming Major Frederick Augustus Bagley one of twenty-four Canadian Mavericks. Yet there is no one definitive work on him. I would like to see this rectified.
It's been said in many places that to tell the story of Fred Bagley is to tell the story of Canadian history. Confederated in 1867, the country was but six years old when he rode out as a fifteen-year-old kid to help establish law and order in an area the size of Europe. The Mounties were assigned the task of protecting the Natives north of the 49th parallel from American whiskey traders; and indirectly to warn off the covetous Americans. Fred's story is indeed Canada's--her past and present, for we are Canadian, not American. For me, though, to tell his story is a far more personal overlay of past and present. Grandfather left me the bread crumbs so I could find Leona. And by finding her, I found him.
He once wrote: "We old ‘originals’ are prone sometimes to believe that we are neglected or ignored by a generation that ‘knew not Joseph' and his works."
Yet history does indeed struggle to be told; it struggles because who we were and are is our birthright.