Excerpt for Adalyn on the Georgian Bay by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Another time flits behind a thin veil. Some say it isn’t the past, but another dimension or place on a continuum. My connection to it is made vivid by my very real and vibrant grandmother. Her stories pull at my heart strings, strike my funny bones, and fan the embers of my rage. Right now, November 10, 2007, I am 53 years old and I am closer to my mom than I’ve ever been with anyone. But for the first 28 years of my life, I was closer to both my grandmother and my dad. My granny was somethin’ like five foot nothin’ and packed like a well-tamped musket, her powder was spunk, spirit, and courage. This story is born from her life and the events she lived through.

I have never seen someone so dedicated to her children, her people, and improving her situation; even though, sometimes I know every molecule of her soul had to be exhausted. Her well of willpower had to feel as empty as a black hole. She would tell me about her life and I would laugh so hard that I would cry and then she would tell me something that made me full of deep and broken sadness. Even though I felt all of this deeply as it was the story of the family that I love, I could also always see it unfolding before me as a movie.

These events are as true as I can re-tell them. The characters are every inch real and it all happened on Georgian Bay, but I have used no real names. Some details have been added to weave the story together. The way my grandmother spoke is authentic and it has been a source of irritation to the people that have edited this book! My grandmother’s parents were French and that was the language spoken in the home at first, so when she was young, Adalyn was bilingual. In her older years she didn't remember French too well and didn't exactly have an accent, but some words in English she would sometimes say a little differently, like “cole” for cold or “ole” for old and “ee” for he. But she spoke English well, so her pronunciation was not consistent. In one sentence, she would often say the same word two different ways. Some editors wanted me to change this and make it consistent. But I didn’t want to do that as I rely on my grandmother's voice a lot and I want her voice to be real. I became conscious of this speech pattern before she died. So I started listening for it and knew that it was this particular way. I have also listened since then to other people, myself included. Almost everyone is inconsistent; they will say something like “talking” one time and another time it will be “talkin’” or “you” and “ya.” So I was stubborn and I held out on this.

When I was writing this book, my grandmother had already passed. I was writing the stories down then so that I might make this book and I needed my mother to fill in some details for me. My mother lay with me many nights. I would hold her hand with my left and scribble with the right. She told me some of the stories and I would ask her question after question. Lying there was one of the sweetest times of my life.

Georgian Bay is a large body of water in Ontario, Canada and is the land of the Thirty Thousand Islands, literally. Below is southern Ontario, a somewhat flatter, more fertile land, but travelling northward the land is different. It is rocky with hundreds of lakes and rivers. There are hills, pine trees, cliffs, as well as small towns and cottages around the bay. My grandmother and most of my family were born in those little towns on the shores of Georgian Bay.

But for Adalyn, being born on the shores of Georgian Bay in 1909 was an entirely different way of living, even from the lives of people farther south in cities at the same time. Up there, life always seemed a step behind, and still does. Going there is like going back in time. I think that's why people vacation there. Winters are colder, longer, harder, and even the beauty is rugged. Swimming was one of the best forms of enjoyment when one had no money. In those times, people used to take a boat to get to school or go on a date because not only did they live on islands, but the schools and churches were built on islands as well.

I want to tell these stories because this is a way of life that will be gone soon and already many people have not heard about it. The stories are fascinating to me. My grandmother was intelligent, tough, fun and incredible. After listening to my grandmother speak for 46 years, I can hear her voice, phrases, and giggling laughter in my head. Her life is a rich legacy for me. She's where I come from. Her life is inside me. She lived these experiences in a land my heart is connected to, in the place where I was born.

I also want to tell these stories because I think they are important from a feminist or equalist point of view. What Adalyn went through was not right. If one works hard and goes hungry, that’s one thing. You get through it and maybe it’s no one’s fault. But many of the things that happened to my grandmother were uncalled for. They happened because of the unhealthy mental state of humans, the violence of men, inequality, and the passivity in people who allow these wrongs to go on and on and on. There is always someone to blame for oppression, violence and poverty. Some things you don’t get through, you may do the most difficult emotional work on the planet to get over them and you only do to a certain extent. These dark things lurk inside you and damage your sense of happiness. They force you to live with the knowledge that there is no justice. If I had the power, I would change the values, beliefs, and mental health of this entire planet.

At age nine, Adalyn declared that she was too old to go back to school barefoot and quit school, going right to work. Although this left her illiterate, one would never know; she was intelligent, resilient and resourceful. She could take an old coat and make a snowsuit that looked like it came from the Sears catalogue. She lived on islands so when she had a child that wouldn’t swim, she tied a rope around her and threw her in. When she had a child that couldn’t walk, she waited. She would go without food for days, but fed her children, lived through years of violence, made an escape with the clothes on her back, killed rattlesnakes, clobbered muskrats, but still wanted to dance in the rugged beauty of the rocks, the water, and the majestic white pines. You could not kill this woman’s spirit. We follow her full circle through a life of trial and tribulation until she is buried on a hill, under a tree, hummingbirds on the branches, overlooking the Georgian Bay, exactly where she’d like to be.

Adalyn, On The Georgian Bay

A True Story

Memory connects hearts across time like the roots of a tree

In a way that we feel more than see

Val-Ann Stepanchuk

IMAGE: Family Tree

IMAGE: Map of Georgian Bay

1: One Hell of a Home

Evangeline stepped out of the house, looked over at the beautiful glistening water across the road, and smelled the air. She revelled in the warmth on her face, drifting clouds, and calling gulls. She could hear the breeze in the branches. The smooth sand-coloured rocks looked warm and inviting and she wanted to put her feet into the water where the waves tickled the shore. She stood for a wistful moment.

Then, Evangeline turned and went into the quiet house, a different woman than she was two days ago. It was July 5, 1909. Adalyn, Evangeline’s first child, had been born the day before. She weighed only two and a half pounds and could be held in one hand. They had put Adalyn in a little box that used to hold boxes of matches. Then they started a fire in the wood stove and set the baby on the door of the stove. Evangeline thought her baby would cook and die if they did that. But there were no incubators up there at that time and there wasn’t enough of her to stay warm on her own. Evangeline’s friend was helping her and she had to trust her.

Evangeline thought she would have the doctor out when she had the baby, but her husband had said, “No, only whores have doctors!” She walked slowly to the sofa and lay down to rest for a moment. She was a slim and quiet woman and she fell asleep in utter exhaustion until the baby cried again. The tiny baby with such small lungs emitted a weak cry almost like a whisper of words, but Evangeline woke to feed her. Then she hurried as best she could to tidy a few things and start supper.

Sam came in the door about five thirty. He didn’t say anything, glanced at the baby in the box. He sat down in the living room until supper was on the table and then ate what he was given. Times were hard and he grumbled about his boss, “God damn, Ernie. He thinks he’s got it bad and he owns the sawmill! Should try bein’ me.”

Sam went out with some men after dinner and came home after dark. He got into bed and pulled Evangeline toward him. “I just had a baby! I’m torn and bleeding,” she whispered. “I’m not supposed to do anything with you for eight weeks.”

“Oh, for crying out loud. Eight weeks you think, eh? You think I’m waiting eight weeks?” He rolled over and went to sleep, but he didn’t wait eight weeks. Next winter, Evangeline was pregnant again. She had Stan in September.

In the next twenty years, Evangeline had eleven more children, six girls and five boys. She was a dressmaker and she made and mended clothes for her family. She would get money for this work sometimes, but only a little bit. Most people couldn’t afford to have clothes made for them. Evangeline was not a plain woman, but appeared so with her nondescript style. She wore loose dresses and tied her light brown hair back. When the light caught it just so, her hair had a touch of deep red. But she would never acknowledge that hint of colour. Her face was interesting, her nose sharp, her demeanour soft. But she never wore makeup and only rarely wore something tight around her small waist. In later years, she had a round tummy, but was still slim overall. On her wedding day, however, she had her hair piled high on her head and it suited her. She wore a lovely white blouse with lace trim and a high collar and a long skirt. She looked nice, rather regal.

Sam was a little man, a bit shorter than his wife. He wore breeches most days that were puffed out at the thighs and tied up below the knee, with long socks underneath. He was a mean man and neither his children, nor his grandchildren later, wanted to either sit on his knee or talk to him.

Some summer days, Evangeline and her children would cross the short distance to the water’s edge on Georgian Bay. The baby slept in the rusty stroller under the big white pines, while Adalyn and her mother sat on the warm rocks and dipped and splashed their toes in the water. Eventually, Evangeline took Adalyn into the water and sat with her. The next year, she held her near the surface and taught her to swim by moving her arms with cupped hands. Evangeline and Adalyn spent many peaceful afternoons this way during those first three years and walking to the small store in town to talk to her friend, Millie. Adalyn was small and had just learned to walk. Her steps were tiny and unsteady, but her mother was patient and walked slowly along with her.

Harmon’s was the small store in Victoria Harbour that Millie and her husband owned. He had a pet Mynah bird that he taught to speak and it lived in the store. The talking bird was loads of fun for the kids, so they would go there often. When Adalyn was about seven years old, she traipsed down the dusty road in the summer sun. Her girlfriends saw her as she passed and came out to join her. “Let’s go to Harmon’s,” was their plan. The girls said, “Oh yes, and we can hear the bird talk!”

The three little girls went in and stood quietly on the wide plank flooring listening to the bird chatter. Millie knew the girls had no money to spend, but she didn’t mind their presence. They were good girls. The priest came on this day too; the kids saw him coming up the steps. The priest didn’t see the girls or the bird and had never been in Harmon's before. He heard the bird. The priest cocked his head and listened. “Hello.” called the mynah. The priest stepped toward the sound and called out “Hello?” Then the bird said, “Hello. Son of a bitch. Hello. Goddamn son of a bitch!” Then the bird spied the priest and started to screech, “Go to hell! Go to hell!” The priest looked at Millie and said, “That’s quite a welcome!” The girls were laughing now, but really how could they help it? The priest walked slowly out the door and didn’t buy a thing. As the priest went down the steps, he called back, “Ah, do you need a ride to church on Sunday, Millie?”

Well, poor Millie, she was so embarrassed. She put that bird in the house for weeks, but eventually, they let him come back out again, of course. The priest never came back to the store again, though. Adalyn laughed about that for a long time and Millie was a good woman who didn’t need to go to church.

By the time Adalyn was nine, her father’s work had gradually dwindled to half time. Half the money meant half the food and all spring she had been wearing her winter shoes. They were brown suede and had lasted for two years because Adalyn grew slowly. But her toes were pushing so hard at the end, they were bent and she could no longer walk in them. She went barefoot in summer, but Evangeline knew she had to get clothes and shoes for her kids to go to school. She walked into town with two babies with their feet toward each other in the old stroller. She went to the store and put up a notice offering to do sewing and mending. She walked to the best houses and knocked on doors. She waited by the docks and approached the tourists as they came into town in their nice boats. No one needed anything made or mended and no one was buying wood from Sam; it was too early in the season. At home she cried in the afternoons.

When she was old, Adalyn would tell the story of that summer, "It was still summer, but we knew that we had to go back to school soon. Our parents always tried to buy us new shoes for school, but this year they couldn't buy me any shoes. So I was going to have to go back to school barefoot. I was too old for that. So I said I would get a job and work jus' long enough to buy a pair of shoes and then, I'd go to school.

“I started out scrubbing floors for tourists and worked ever since I was nine years old. I never went back to school. That’s why I can’t read. By that time, yes, I knew words and letters and I could read a little, but you forget after a while. I worked! I didn't read! I forgot how to read. I can sign my name and I know a few words. But I can sign a cheque eh, and I don't want to do too much of that!" she chuckled and winked her eye.

After that first summer working, when the rains came in the fall, she was lying in bed talking with Stan. She was nine and he was barely eight. There was a wicked thunder and lightning storm shaking the house. Stan's bed was made of iron. Lightning struck and the bed left the floor and the kids were seared instantly. Stan's back and Adalyn's shoulders and arms were burned. It took weeks and weeks to heal. They didn't want to wear clothes, but suffered the pain in silence. Worst of all, for Adalyn, she couldn't stand the smell of burnt flesh and couldn't get away from it. They didn’t know what kind of lightning it was or how lightning worked, only that it went through that old iron bed.


When Adalyn was about twelve years old, she came home from work around six pm. The house was quiet and only her father was there. “Come here Addy,” he called from the kitchen. He never called her that. Adalyn went to see what he wanted. “I want to see if you can do something for me in the back yard. I want the wood stacked in a different place. Let me show you.” Adalyn thought she had worked enough, but went to look. Sam turned around and put his arms around her waist.

“What are you doing?” Adalyn asked in surprise.

“Can’t a father kiss his oldest girl?”

“No. Never did before!” she answered. She pulled away from Sam, went through the house and back out the front door. She sat on the stoop and waited for someone to come home. She was confused and felt bad. Maybe her dad just wanted to kiss her, but it felt bad, it felt dangerous and sinister.

Adalyn didn’t tell her mother about this incident for a long time. She could see that her mother hardly smiled or sat down. When she did, a child would climb on her and want something. She woke early and made meagre lunches for everyone to take to school or work. Once a week or so, it was onion sandwiches; that’s all there was. Many days Evangeline would not eat until suppertime and then, only a little. She cooked and cleaned and sewed and got up with babies in the night. She hand-washed dirty diapers every day. When she went to bed, she wanted to sleep so badly, but half the time that wasn’t allowed either. Adalyn sensed that telling about Sam would be another burden on her mother’s soul. “Nothing happened anyway! So what if her father had wanted to kiss her one day? What was wrong with that?” she consoled herself.

After Adalyn and Stan, Evangeline had Martin, Mary, Henry, Florence, Ruby, Lucy, Ronald, Catherine, Daniel, Helen and Beverly. Catherine had Down’s syndrome. Behind their house was the bush. It was rugged with big rocks and went upwards into the hills and cliffs. One morning, when Adalyn was fifteen, little Lucy wandered up into the forest. This wasn’t too uncommon; they often went out there; it was their backyard and they knew the way home. Only Lucy was three and a half and she didn’t usually go alone and out there were rattlesnakes and bears. Lucy came back home and was cranky. She was messy and had a dirty face. Evangeline wiped her mouth, “Come here you. Let me clean you up.” Then she put her to bed for a while.

When Lucy woke up late in the afternoon, she cried and said her tummy hurt. They had dinner when Sam came home, but Lucy wouldn’t eat. The tiny girl lay on the couch looking quite pale. Sam asked, “What’s the matter with her?”

“She’s sick. I think we should take her to see Dr. Morgan,” Evangeline said.

“She’ll be alright. Kids get sick. Put her to bed,” Sam snapped.

Around eight o’clock, Lucy had a fever. Evangeline went into the living room where Sam was sitting. She was going to ask for a doctor again when a thought struck her. “Oh my God,” she cried out loud. “I didn’t really just wash her face, it was her mouth! I wiped her mouth and it was reddish! Lucy ate something, Sam. Bad berries in the bush today! I think she’s poisoned! You need to get the doctor for her!”

“Are you gonna pay the doctor?” Sam asked.

“We’ll work it out with him.”

“No! We won’t! I told you doctors are for whores!” he screamed.

“She’s no such thing! She’s a child!” Evangeline answered.

“Yeah, and she’ll stay that way!” he yelled and went back to the couch.

Evangeline lay beside Lucy all night. In the morning, Sam went to work, Stan went fishing while the rest sort of milled around. Catherine was an infant. Ronald came in with his tiny purple car and put it into Lucy’s hand. Lucy had always wanted to play with that car and her little fingers wrapped around the toy. “Her be better now,” he said. Lucy lay in bed and the fever turned to chills. Adalyn told her mother, “I’m going to get the doctor. I’ll pay him.” Evangeline nodded. Adalyn went to Dr. Morgan’s house, but he was not home. She ran to the store and asked everyone she saw if they knew where the doctor was. No one knew. She hurried home, but Lucy had died. “Father was right. She will stay a child won’t she?” Adalyn thought.

Lucy had the small car in her hand. Adalyn took it and gave it back to Ronnie. They dressed the tiny child in her best dress and placed her in a clean white sheet and were wrapping her up when Ronnie came into the room. They were about to shoo him away when he said, “For Lucy.” In his small hands, he had his favourite purple car and Lucy’s favourite red teddy bear. He placed the bear inside the sheet with Lucy and put his car in her hand before walking away. Somehow, he understood even though an hour before he had thought the car would make Lucy better. Though perhaps he thought it would help her feel better, not get better. And it was hers forever now.

When I heard this story, I thought about it for a long time. I thought about what my great-grandfather meant when he said that doctors were for whores. So everyone in the world who saw a doctor was a whore, men and innocent children too, I guess. This man would have infuriated me with his stupidity, dishonesty and unfairness; he was cruel. He didn’t believe this about the people who saw doctors, I don’t think, so that is why I say it is dishonest. Was he too cheap? Too poor? Did he have personal issues with doctors or women or children that we will never know? Was he brought up with this inequality? If he went to a doctor himself for a carbuncle, would he, all of a sudden, be a whore? Also, I don’t believe in whores, it is another nasty name we made up. If people are having a lot of sex, perhaps they are hurt in some way, or looking for something, or trying to find solace or love or diversion from pain. Or maybe it’s just good, they like it, and it’s none of our concern. It is not our place to judge and label. And if anyone was a whore, it was Sam. I want to say it doesn’t matter now, but he committed crimes. Saying it doesn’t matter is like saying it doesn’t matter when we ruin the lives of women and children. So we keep doing it and accepting it. But it does matter.

And the sex. The ridiculous amount of sex. Using women’s bodies with no care or regard whatsoever for the person because they were simply an object for him to use. He was my great-grandfather, but I wish he would have died first. And don’t make babies you can’t care for, emotionally or physically. Not then and not now.

2: The Escape

My grandmother was a very slight woman. I have never seen a woman so strong and resourceful in my life. When she was almost sixteen, she had already been working for seven years and she left home, but she was still just a girl really. She had met a young couple named Pamela and George Trodges who had come by car to visit family in Victoria Harbour. Even though Adalyn was young, they struck up easy conversations and soon became friends. They would share meals and Adalyn would make them laugh. The Trodges took her home with them for a visit one weekend and they went out in their long shiny wooden boat.

The next summer, the Trodges came back. They noticed Adalyn getting out of a boat and coming down the dock even though it was almost dark. “Hi, Adalyn!” they called. She looked up and looked down again. The tourist boat drove away and her friends waited at the end of the dock for her . Adalyn finally met their eyes and a slight smile came to her face. “Hello, how are you?” she asked.

“We’re good,” they answered and they hugged. “But what about you? For a minute, we thought you weren’t going to say hi.”

“Well… I didn’t want you to see me!” she exclaimed. “I’m all dirty. I look like a ragamuffin.”

“Where have you been?” they asked.

“Working. I’ve been opening their cottage for two days. I started scrubbing floors at six o’clock yesterday morning. When I was done tonight, they took me home. Long days, you know.”

“Yes, but why?”

“Well, there’s not much work right now. I take what I can get.”

“Well, we think there’s more work in Pointe au Baril.”

“I don’t live in Pointe au Baril. Anyway, I’ve got to go home to bed now.”

“Are you working tomorrow? Can we meet for lunch? Our treat?”

“Oh, tomorrow. Yes, I’ll come back to life by tomorrow.”

Well, they met up again the next day. The Trodges brought fish and chips, still a little warm, from a neighbouring town and they ate by the water on the porch. “We were thinking Adalyn. Maybe you’d like to come home with us and work in Pointe au Baril.”

“Well, there isn’t much there, is there? I only saw one store and some cottages up the bay.”

“No, there isn’t much right there, Adalyn, but there are more tourists out on the islands. You could have your own room. And we could have fun!”

“Well, how much would it cost to rent the room?” Adalyn asked.

“Nothing. It’s sitting there empty. You would never have to pay for the room. You could pay for your own food.”

Adalyn went home to think. Her mother was sitting outside with some friends. The house was busy and noisy with children. Adalyn went into the bedroom she shared with her sister. She had started to undress when Sam came into the room and closed the door. Adalyn turned around with a start. “Father, what are you doing?” He looked her in the eye and came toward her.

“I wouldn’t hurt you. I’d show you,” he said and put his hand on the swell of Adalyn’s breast.

They stared at each other for a couple of seconds. In that instant, the scene in the backyard from four years ago came back to her. Clear understanding flooded Adalyn’s mind. Her stomach shook with revulsion, loathing, and sadness. She threw his hand off and told him, “I’m your daughter and you’re a dirty old pig! And I’m telling mother.” Sam turned and left and joined the company outside.

In the morning, Adalyn made tea and sat in the kitchen with her mother. “I think you know your husband is a pig.”

“Why do you say that?”

“He wanted to touch me last night and I wouldn’t let him. I never told you, but he tried to kiss me when I was twelve. I didn’t catch on then. I didn’t get it. But I get it now!”

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