THEIR TWO CHILDREN:
Sabrina Anne Schroeder
I was born close to two months premature, but there would be no knowing it by looking at me now (shall we say that I have filled out some?). My mother was a War Bride from England and my father was a recently demobbed Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who had spent most of WWII as a navigator in Egypt flying runs over the Mediterranean and Italy. Their life was hard, for reasons that I won’t go into here, but I lived the life of most children - acutely aware of certain details of their shared life and woefully ignorant of others. As my father once said, “We are all the heroes in our own story.” I have no intention of making an exception to that.
When I was first born, we lived in the home of my Aunt Dorothy, and her husband Len and with my grandmother, Jane Edgar Brown. According to Dorothy, my parents bought a house on Commercial Drive soon after I was born. With a $1,000 down payment, and even though it was a real dump, our little family of three now had had its very own front room, a bedroom and a kitchen. Within a year or so, my parents couldn't meet the mortgage payments (gambling and drink played a role in this) and they then moved to West Vancouver, first to Fulton Street where there were lots of fruit trees (Dad bought dozens of canning jars – I can still remember the pink applesauce from those trees) and then we moved down to Esquimalt where one of my first memories is of lying beneath lilac bushes in spring and inhaling their heady scent.
These were hard years for my mother. Diapers were hard for them to come by, so flour sacks were used instead. Rogers Flour - the same brand I buy today. Each night, my mother would rinse them out in the bathtub and ring them out by hand. And this was a woman who had come from a home with servants – a cook, a gardener and such. Not that it was all drudgery in those days. My father was a great party animal and my mother enjoyed the open Canadian hospitality, the impetuosity of it a welcome change from the more buttoned down household which she had grown up in.
Our family was Anglican, so in due course I was baptized at St. Francis-in-the-Wood, West Vancouver on 24 October 1948. My godparents included my uncle, Thomas J. BROWN, and my Aunt Patricia TUTTON (standing in for my grandmother, Annie ODDIE). Since Pat had come all the way from England for this event, it must have meant a lot to my parents. My other godmother was Katherine “Kate” L. WATSON – my grandmother’s close friend. A ring which I still wear today was given by Kate to my grandmother. It sports the BROWN family crest & motto on it: Suivez la Raison.
The last church ceremony where I was front and center - as befits the hero in this story - was at my own confirmation. At the moment that the bishop put his hand on my head – and this was in the city of Metz, France – there was a general power failure in the city. Seeing as this is my story, however, the important part was that I had to feel my way back to my seat in the dark. Perhaps this is all part of my conflicted relationship with things churchly (as opposed to things spiritual).
From here we went on the move. When Dad’s stint at the Royal Bank and at his brother’s electrical store didn’t work out, he rejoined the military in 1951. The lot of military families is the life of nomads. We moved virtually every year. When Dad first went on training at Summerset, PEI, Mum and Brian and I lived in a motel that used to be at the Northeast end of the Lions Gate bridge. My brother Brian and I built our first really big snowman there, with a real carrot for its nose. After some weeks of this, we moved into a basement suite at Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Len’s.
Dad’s first post-war military posting was to Winnipeg, Manitoba. We arrived in time for the Red River to overflow and I remember the never-ending mud. It was also my first memory of lying (and being caught at it). In our household, chewing gum was verboten for children and (quite naturally) so was stealing. Regrettably, I had been seen not only stealing gum, but also chewing it. I am not quite sure which was worse. I was five years old. How was I to know that the neighbour downstairs worked at the store? My mother did nothing more about this infraction than string the empty gum wrapper up and leave it dangling from the light fixture over the dining room table. For a week. I have been pathologically honest ever since. It drives my husband nuts.
From here, we moved to North Bay Ontario, Longueuil Quebec, St. Bruno Quebec, Lytham St. Anne’s England, Grostenquin France, Metz France and then back to St. Bruno, Quebec. By the time I graduated from High School, I had attended twelve different schools. Somewhere along the way, I must have caught something of an education. One can only hope.
Two months after graduating from Lemoyne D'Iberville High School, I headed west. Way West. Vancouver to be precise, where for two years I worked as a clerk in a bank to save money for university and took courses at night school - everything from English to Classical Greek. Go figure.
My university years were probably like most people's - lots of work, lots of drink, lots of fun and once more with feeling, lots of work. Once I graduated, I was hired by the New Westminster YMCA-YWCA and was made Director of Youth Programming Services (or some such - I forget the exact title). From there, I went to the Vancouver YWCA where I had quite possibly the best job of my life. I was young and energetic and was appointed Director of Camping and Environmental Education programs at the YWCA site on Saltspring Island. The camp ran year round with adults and school groups in the winter and children in the summer. We were way ahead of the curve when it came to living lightly on the planet - it was only the 70s, for goodness sakes.
In the mid-seventies, Andreas SCHROEDER and I decamped for a year in Toronto (this after balancing living in two homes - his on a mountain top in Mission, mine in a duplex in Kitsilano, Vancouver). Once again, I did another YWCA stint, this time as Director of Housing and Camping Services for Toronto. We squirreled away our coin and when we came back to Mission, we designed and built a four story circular tower added on to our modest home in the bush.
A couple of years after adding the tower, our first daughter was born and I was stunned to find out how deeply in love one can be with your newborn child. As I write, this daughter - Sabrina - is now 23 years old, a graduate of UVICs music program, a composer and working with the extremely mentally challenged. Three years later, our second daughter was born and she is loved no less than the first. Thank goodness.
It was the depth of that bond (for which I nor anyone can ever take credit) which sustained us in the years to come. Our second daughter - Vanessa - had been born with Cornelia DeLange Syndrome (CDLS). We were told she had a 50/50 chance of living more than a couple of years and if she did, she would then be profoundly retarded and quite possibly autistic. Not so. She is now 20 years old, working part-time at Canadian Tire and taking courses in computer related subjects at Capilano College up here on the Sunshine Coast. Within the year, she will be living in her own home, a kilometer away from us.
During the years when I was needed so hugely as a mother, I managed to squeeze in a few other things. For my sins, I did a few stints on Mission's City Council, chaired the Fraser Valley Regional Growth Strategy, the Library Board, the Water Board and such. In some instances, it was impossible to get done what I wanted to get done but in other instances, it was gloriously easy ( see: Japanese Community in Mission) It was however, when I was appointed Back-up on the Sewer Board, that I knew it was time to get out (joke!). Actually, it was the time spent on the Growth Strategy which convinced me that it was time for a move. There was no way that the airshed of the lower Fraser Valley was going to get anything but worse and good lungs are not my forte.
On impulse, Andreas and I snooped around the Sunshine Coast, got lucky and snapped up a property on the ocean with a house and cottage. The owners needed to dump it fast, so the price was right. Not our usual kind of financial luck, believe me.
Also, in those early mothering years, I tried my hand at writing. My first published book, Some Become Flowers: Living With Dying at Home won a few awards and encouraged me to commit more of the same.Since then, I have written a novel, God is a Gun, a children's story (as yet untitled) and am researching with the hopes of writing a non-fiction piece most likely to be titled A Silver Bowl.
Anyway, enough already. How about I stop before I bore you tears. Like any life, mine has had its ups and its downs. There's lots of stuff I never have quite figured out or got quite right, but in balance, well, what the hell. Not too shabby.
And a bit on Andreas Schroeder - much more is on his web site:
Andreas Schroeder is the author of 23 books, including works of fiction,
non-fiction, translation and poetry. His memoir Shaking it Rough was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award in 1976; his documentary
novel Dutship Glory was shortlisted for the Sealbooks First
Novel Award in 1986. In 1990 he won the Canadian Association of Journalists’
Award for Best Investigative Journalism. His writings have been anthologized
in 38 anthologies, 68 literary magazines, and almost all of Canada’s
general-interest national magazines. Some of his other works include The Late Man (short stories),Toccata in ‘D’ (docu-novella),
File of Uncertainties (poetry),The Eleventh Commandment(translations)
and The Mennonites: A History of their Lives in Canada. He currently
teaches graduate courses in Creative Writing at UBC.
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