Across the river into the mountains where memories live

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A few days ago, after she finished work, my girlfriend invited me out for a drive into the mountains of Quebec, so I suggested taking a tour of my childhood.

For a lot of reasons, like I don’t have a drivers licence, I haven’t been able to get back there in a long time. The closest I’ve come over the past twenty years has been tagging along with my grandfather on his visits to his farm.

He has been renting it out to the same family since the late-80′s, but every other month my grandfather likes to visit his friends in the area, and walk some of the fence line he built. Basically I’d be there to make sure he got back okay.

He has slowed down on the visits over the past few years. A lot of the men he’d visit have passed on. He only gets up there once or twice a year now. And I’m not part of the trip anymore.

It’s a beautiful part of the country. I think the only reason it’s not part of a tourist plan is the roads are half as wide as they should be, they haven’t been repaired since the mid-50′s, some of the hills could be mistaken for walls, and coming back you’d be riding the brake the whole way.

But, in my opinion, facing death at every corner would just add to the tourist charm.

The farms are patches of brown hay in valleys of lush forest. You’ll be driving, surrounded by thick green forest, when one side just falls away and you’re staring at 800 acres of mountainside farmland. The farm houses and their outbuildings are all taken care of.

Every community has a brilliant white, one room church built close to the road.

Once we actually got up and into the mountains I started pointing out all of the farms my grandfather would stop at on our way back from church. My brother and I were always under strict orders to be as quiet as possible while my grandfather and the home owner talked about cattle, gossip and hockey.

The first girl I can remember having a crush on spent her summers with her grandparents just one property away from my grandfather’s farm. When we were all about eight to twelve-years old she and one of her friends used to walk over and the four of us would play together.

I was crushed when I found out she wasn’t interested in me. But intrigued when I found out she had been bringing her friend because her friend had a crush on me.

My time at the farm was a love-hate relationship. I loved working with my grandfather, baling hay, following him around his workshop, driving the tractor or truck through the fields, feeding the cows.

But I hated being stuck with my grandmother, weeding her huge vegetable garden, or being relegated to a corner of the house to play quietly, and the punishments if I couldn’t.

I hated going to the French Catholic church with my grandfather, because I didn’t speak French, but I loved stopping for a hotdog or ice cream on the way home. I hated visiting his friends on the way back because it meant sitting still for thirty minutes per visit, but I always liked the pie the wives offered us.

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The next place I asked my girlfriend to stop was at the river where my mother took us swimming. It’s a fast river, so we always had to stick to the shore. The girl I had a crush on, her mother had a small cottage along the river, so having the opportunity to see her in a bathing suit was always a highlight.

With or without my crush we’d spend entire afternoons in or beside the river. We weren’t there a lot, and it’s possible my attraction to the river was somewhat based on being away from the farm, but I can’t think of many other places I’d rather be at any given time.

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When I was seventeen my mother became engaged. Her fiancé, Doug, had already been an important person in my life for close to two years. He had a home on a large property on the river I used to swim in, but above the falls.

After they had dated for a while we’d spend alternate weekends at his place. I don’t remember there being much for a teenager without a licence to do, they tried to get me involved in their Scrabble marathons. But I sucked at Scrabble. Still do.

Doug was the first father figure, or father substitute in my life. He’d ask for my help doing odd jobs around his property, and once he found out I knew nothing about engines — despite having an engineer for a grandfather, and a master mechanic for an uncle — he tried teaching me about the parts.

Anyway. He was important to me. And he died of an aneurysm near his heart, in October of 1987. He was thirty-seven years old.

I was a pallbearer at his funeral. I remember the cemetery was small, and it was raining a little so some cars needed to be pushed out. I remember, as we were leaving, some of his close friends and his brother were replacing their shoes with work boots and picking up shovels.

I went back and helped a little. That was the last day I saw his grave. There was no stone yet, so it was just a hole with a pile of dirt beside it.

So I asked my girlfriend to stop at the cemetery. It was built into the eastern part of a large hill, so the older graves are down a steep hill. Our son had a great time trying to walk the downward slope. He’d speed up, lose control and finally plant himself into the ground. Over and over again. The kid doesn’t quit.

Finding his grave was a shock to me. Someone had planted wild flowers around the base of the black stone, and there were nylon flowers attached to the top.

I had wanted to visit his stone for twenty-four years, and it was just as emotional as I thought it’d be. I held my son close to the stone and he hit it a few times.

The view from the cemetery was incredible, a few valleys, a few mountains, some fields dotted with sheep, a tiny white chapel, a small community carved into a distant mountain.

We raced our son back up the hill, and then we left.

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We took another road to leave the mountains. It’s the one my girlfriend and her family use to get to their cottage. So she shared some of her memories with me.

Getting into the mountains, on the road we took, is like driving in a game of Snakes & Ladders. The road we took to get out is one of those “extreme roller coasters” engineers need ten years, lasers and several mainframe computers to design.

By the time we made it back to the main road our son had let us know it was time to go straight home.

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...thanks.

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About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression in 1989, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. I have a 4-year old son, I'm helping to raise my 8-year old step-son, I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm not sure if I still have a book deal.
This entry was posted in Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Father, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Mental Health and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Across the river into the mountains where memories live

  1. Pingback: Early childhood in Goes, – a memory! « We dream of things that never were and say: "Why not?"

  2. Lydia says:

    That’s a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Gabriel... says:

    Thanks Lydia, I was starting to get lonely here.

  4. Rain says:

    I feel like I made the drive with you. Thanks for sharing so much love and memory.

  5. Wendy S. says:

    A lot of beautiful and melancholy memories…thank you for taking us on a tour of your childhood.

  6. Gabriel... says:

    Thanks Wendy… I probably should have gone a bit further with my memory of Doug’s death, but thought if I did keep going I’d have to write another 1000 words and I didn’t have the time. His death was the last straw, kind of the last depression-break in my life, and was when I started living with the symptoms of full blown manic depression.

    I quit high school three months later, and moved 3,000km from home. When I came back I tried high school again, was diagnosed with manic depression, quit high school and was admitted into the psych ward of the Ottawa General.

    Very pivotal moment in my life… and one of the reasons getting to see his grave again meant so much to me.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  7. Kerry says:

    Beautiful. I just got back to Nova Scotia from our trip to Ottawa through Quebec and I have tons of similar memories. I don’t drive but Papa Pan will always oblige and head down the old roads for me before and after [Small City]. As I was reading about your first crush I thought of my best friend who was everyone’s first crush …L.B…and her mom’s cottage on the river…we have a wood cookstove and every time I fire it up I think of her grandmother’s kitchen.

    • Gabriel... says:

      …okay. This could be weird. My first crush’s initials were L.B, her mother had a cottage on the river, her grandmother had a kitchen worth living in, and cooked with a wood stove. If your L.B’s grandmother was named Hilda then there’s a very real possibility you and I have square danced together.

      I love the old roads around here. A friend of mine took me through a bunch of them a few years ago. Mostly horse and buggy trails that haven’t been used in decades. Somehow he knew the exact route from my village to another one twenty miles away without touching asphalt along the way.

      Thanks for the comment Kerry…

  8. Kerry says:

    OMG Gabriel!!!! We must have! She bought the property next door to her grandparents and lved there until she divorced amicably, she’s just outside Papineauville now :-). Hilda still makes great cakes too.

    • Gabriel... says:

      …oh. my. god. Kerry, you and I are practically family. I haven’t seen LB since, maybe, 1991 — I think I was still crushing even then — but I do get updates from my mother and grandparents. Hilda practically raised my uncle. My grandfather’s farm is right next door… kind of, it’s the next farm over, so maybe a five mile walk or bike ride. Which is, not coincidentally, how far I’d walk or bike to see if LB was at her grandmother’s.

      Hilda’s stove was magic. Every Sunday we’d show up after church and she’d have fresh bread, and butter straight from the churn, and Cecil would be watching Maple Leaf Wrestling. Every time he saw me he’d tell me I should get into wrestling.

      Holy crap.

  9. Kerry says:

    tiny tiny world this internet. I lived with LB’s mom when I moved back to Ottawa – was living with her when she died. You know I’m Zoom’s little sister right? CRAZY. I fell madly in love with LB the first time I met her. my 8th birhday, she opened all my presents and came and told me what I got. I was smitten. I let her pick out the boy I lost my virginity with, and was there when she lost hers. She told him to go home and we sat up all night watching movies and eating ice cream. I adore her and her grandma.

    • Gabriel... says:

      I (kind of) knew you were related to Zoom, but not the rank. It just makes things that much weirder. If you want to keep the thread alive, as long as we keep place names out of this, I think it’d be okay to use first names.

      The last time I saw Janice was almost a year after I first moved to Ottawa (1991-ish), my brain was a mega-mess. I was living in a rooming house up the street from her, close to the UofO. Somehow she invited me over, we talked, and handed me $40 as I was walking out the door. I think I remember Leanne being there as well. My inability to repay Janice (shame) kept me from going back. And then it was too late.

      When we escaped from my father, way back in 1978-ish, there really wasn’t a plan other than take a train to Ottawa. Somehow we ended up at Janice’s home — I think mom just cold-called her around midnight. I can remember them talking all night… I can also remember falling to sleep in Leanne’s (sp) room.

      Too much. So… as a child I meet Leanne and her family, thirty years later I get to know Zoom, which leads me to you… Zoom’s little sister and Leanne’s best friend. Crazy.

      I’m going to have to get back into the mountains to introduce Hilda and Victor to each other.

  10. Kerry says:

    Yes you do!!!!!

    Janice was, and is, incredibly special and important to me. She was one of a few adults I told about being sexually abused and she stood up for me again and again. Her death was a huge blow for me, Leanne too (as you can imagine!) and Leanne and I kind of drifted apart for quite some time both in our separate wells of grief. My oldest son was a baby then and we were going to go with them shopping that day but I didn’t have any documentation for my son at the border.

    Janice had really wanted me to report my abuser but I wasn’t ready. My guilt about not doing it while she was alive transferred to my relationship with Leanne. I feel like Janice is there supporting me in the police stations and courtrooms now that I have reported. Leanne and I were sporadically in touch from 93 to 09 (usually when we were in crisis, depressed or scared, and needed that deep connection to pull us together.) We now email fairly regularly. I’m hoping to see her at the end of august. .

  11. zoom says:

    That’s wild! What a weird series of connections. So Kerry, did you have a crush on Gabriel back then? And Gabriel, did you continue going out there after our family bought the cottage from LB’s family?

    • Gabriel... says:

      You bought Janice’s cottage? This is insane. The only reason for us to be up that far on the river was Janice and Leanne. I don’t remember going up further than my grandfather’s farm / Hilda’s farm after the late… 80′s? In 1984-ish my grandfather built a cottage on a lake another two hours east and north of Hilda’s, so that’s where we spent most of our mountain time.

      The last time I remember being at their cottage Janice’s boyfriend, at the time, was also there. I think I remember my mom not being impressed by him.

      Actually, I just remembered, I was at Janice’s funeral. I remember there was a member of a political party there, someone Janice worked with, and I got really angry at him because when he shook my hand he seemed to be politicking. He wasn’t of course, he just didn’t know anyone there.

      I don’t remember Kerry’s name from back then, but my mind is a sieve. I don’t have many photos of myself, or others, from back then, but if I can find one I’ll post it.

      Too much.

  12. Kerry says:

    Zoom we didn’t buy Janice’s cottage. Its on the edge of the river and Brian (who moved to Toronto) built Leanne the craziest treehouse there. It was incredibly high up! I doubt Brian was the boyfriend your mom disliked. I’m willing to bet that unlikeable guy is the one who tried to attack Leanne with a knife or scissors and cut Janice’s hand really badly when she stopped him.

    I was at Janice’s funeral – sitting upfront with my baby in a green sling. I looked terrible I’d had my wisdom teeth just out and had black eyes,and green bruised chipmunk cheeks.

    i didn’t spend a lot of time there until 1983-87, and before that it was always during the school year.

  13. zoom says:

    It wasn’t Janice’s cottage on the river that they bought, but one owned by Janice’s family. Mom said it had been in Janice’s family for a long time, and that she and Orley had been at the cottage several times as guests of Janice before they ever bought it. Also, I thought Janice’s hand was cut by a student? (Apparently she took him to court – Mom said Janice perjured herself in court.) Maybe it was cut twice? Or maybe the student was dating Leeann?

  14. Kerry says:

    No the student made death threats, the hand was a totally idfferent incident, earlier..

    • Gabriel... says:

      It’s just nuts that you two know all about this stuff… I found two photos of me from back in the day, one was taken at Janice’s cottage when I was 14ish, the other at camp in 1986. I’ll email them to you, Kerry, so maybe we can figure out if we’ve met…

  15. zoom says:

    Oh yeah, I think you’re right Kerry. The student made death threats, but someone else cut her hand.
    I think it might have been Janice’s brother that Mom and O bought the cottage from.

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