Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My seven factoids

Some time ago, dp, in her blog, Food for Founder, did a "six degrees of penguination" post.  At the suggestion of one of her readers, she posted six factoids about herself that her readers would otherwise never have known about her.  It was a most entertaining post.  At the end of it, she challenged other bloggers on her simply syndicated list to do the same.  Here is mine.  It worked out to have eight rather than six factoids, but after a bit of thought, I combined two of them so here are seven facts about me that most of you most likely didn't know.

1. As a young child I was terrified of all animals.  I had forgotten that and even remember posting once that I've always been an animal lover.  Not true!  Before the age of six, I became hysterical whenever an animal approached.  I think I came by that naturally, as my mother, while not hysterical, was also very wary of animals.  One day, this little dog in the picture below followed me home from the corner store, after some people drove by, opened their car door, and pushed her out.  We lived in a village in the center of a farming community, and it was quite common for this kind of thing to happen.  I ran home screaming, and the dog followed, sitting by our front door, while my mother and I remained hostage in the house.  When my dad came home, he finally had enough of my silliness, and he decided we would keep the dog.  We named her Sparkie, and she became my best friend for the next 12 years.  She died of breast cancer when I was writing my English Composition exam in my final year of high school.  My dad buried her on our property.  In this picture, my hands are holding her possessively, as my sister, on the left, reaches out to have a little hold as well.  I really pretty much stole Sparkie from the rest of the family.  I loved her, but I'm not proud of the life we gave her.  It was a different time, and there were so many things I didn't understand.  My consolation  is that I learned a little more with each animal that I've had the honor of knowing.  

2.  I cannot whistle and I cannot roll my r's.  Oh..  and one more thing - I only learned to swim when I was almost 40 years old.  The "r" thing, while terribly annoying as a music teacher, is not important to this story, but the other two factoids are. The picture below was taken by a diver journalist in 1990.  It's very difficult to make out, but it is of a Beluga whale that I met at Ingonish Beach, in Cape Breton, N.S.  I had always wanted to swim with a whale, and when I heard on CBC that this whale was swimming with the people at the beach, I drove all day (from South of Halifax) to meet the whale.  When I arrived, there was no whale to be seen, but I rented a room for the night and went back to the beach the next morning before sunrise.  The person interviewed on CBC said that the whale responded to a whistle.  Since I couldn't do that, I sat on the beach, "singing" in the highest pitched squeak I could summon.  I was rewarded, after more than an hour of squeaking, by a sighting.  I ran into the water, beside myself with joy.  I had only learned to swim the summer before, and the only stroke I felt confident doing was the breast stroke.  Each time I lifted my head to breathe, I saw the whale, and I forged on, just hoping I wasn't scaring it away.  Finally, I lifted my head, and there was no sign of the whale.  I was heartbroken, and put my face down in the water, planning to turn back to shore.  As I looked down, there was only white beneath me, and I suddenly realized, there was "my" whale.  I have mentioned this in one other blog entry, and I still hope to write, one day, a description of our swim together, that will do justice to the experience.  For now, I will just say that when I returned to shore, there was an elderly woman waiting.  She threw a blanket around me (it was Labor Day weekend, and the Atlantic had numbed my fingers and toes) and took me home to give me breakfast.  Her name was Mary Barker, and we spent several hours together that day.  A couple of weeks later, she sent me the newspaper article, as a diver journalist had also heard about the whale.  It was decided that the whale was most likely an adolescent female, and she was approximately 13 feet long.  After eight days, she disappeared from the area, and was not seen again.  I like to think she is still swimming free, somewhere in the Atlantic.

3. I have a condition called Strabismus.  This simply means my two eyes do not work together.  It's quite common, and often corrected with surgery.  I had four surgeries in my life, the first when I was only two and a half years old, but none were successful.  Because my mother was so diligent about making me do my detested eye exercises, I am unusual in that I use both eyes.  You've heard of ambidextrous people.  Well, I guess I'm ambioctrous (or something).  I do not need to cover one eye, but just switch back and forth from one to the other.  I do this when I read, when I bike and when I walk.  Most people either quit using one eye completely, eventually losing vision in that eye, or suffer from double vision.  I subconsciously suppress whichever eye I'm not using, so there are no problems with double vision.  (My mother is no longer alive, but I feel very grateful to her for persisting with those boring and dreaded exercises.)  I just learned when I googled the condition that Abraham Lincoln also had the condition.  He has vertical strabismus, so one eye is on a higher plane than the other.  (I have both vertical and horizontal.)  It doesn't bother me a lot, except that my students in the back row are never sure who I'm looking at. I always give them a little demo, and most of them eventually figure my eyes out with that aid.    

4. When I was in my second year of university (music degree) at McGill, in 1968 (I think), I bought myself a motorcycle.  It was a Yamaha 180 cc, and I loved it.  I never told my parents about it.  I never took a photo of it, but I think the one below is a close representation.  I rode it, wearing a leather jacket that an opera singer/ex-gang-member gave me, and sometimes, mini skirts and knee-high white plastic boots.  I'm not proud of this.  Call it a phase:)  I had been a very obedient kid growing up, and I guess this was my late rebellion.  I may write more about this one day.  The bike was eventually stolen.  I had no insurance and was quite heartbroken.  I bought another one a year of so later (Honda 450 cc), but I guess the spell was broken.  I sold it, and shortly after that, became more or less obsessed with horses.

5. I stole my dog, Scott.  I can't remember the exact year, but it was sometime before my 50th birthday, I had decided to go back to Montreal, after five years in the Maritimes, to study at Concordia University.  I was listening to the radio one day, and the SPCA was looking for foster people.  They wanted to get all of the animals out of the building in order to disinfect the premises after a serious outbreak of distemper.  I answered the add.  Although I lived in a small apartment, I was a regular jogger, doing several miles daily through some of Montreal's most beautiful parks.  When I went to see the dogs, the fellow doing the cleaning suggested I take a few different dogs out for a little run, to see how we got along.  I tried three dogs.  The first pulled and pulled for about five minutes, and then sat down and wouldn't move any more.  The second one stopped every few seconds to pee/sniff/investigate, and I couldn't seem to get any sort of rhythm going.  Then I saw Scott.  He was in a cage, barking like crazy, and not even able to stand to his full height without his head bumping the top of the cage.  They said he was three or four years old.  Most vets later said he was probably at least four.  When I took him out, he found my pace, and trotted beside me as if we had been running together forever.  I returned with him, and lined up at the counter, to tell them I had chosen my dog.  They told me I wasn't allowed to select a dog for myself.  I had to take the one they chose for me.  I left, angry and disappointed, but couldn't stop thinking about Scott.  I kept calling each day to see if he was still there.  My mother, who turned 80 that August, was living a half hour drive outside of Montreal, and I talked to her several times about my frustration.  Finally, a week later, I went back to the SPCA.  Again, the boy doing the cleaning suggested I take Scott out.  I did, and again, we had a beautiful run together.  I went back to stand in line at the desk, determined to adopt/foster/whatever they would let me do.  I waited for a couple of hours, with Scott by my side.  There were reporters there (because of the radio publicity), people lined up, and general bedlam in the waiting area.  Nobody at the desk would speak to me.  Finally, I went to the pay phone and called my mother.  She drove into Montreal in her white Ford Taurus.  I met her at the front door, put Scott in the back seat and we drove off.  My mother, never an animal lover, adored Scott for the rest of his life.  He died at age 16, about 9 months before she passed on.  To the end of his days, he loved white cars.  As you can see below, he looked rather like Black Jack, even to the curly tail.   
When I moved to Vancouver, Scott continued to run with me until about age 12, when I felt he was developing some stiffness.  As it turned out, x-rays found no arthritis, but rather, a neurological illness.  We stopped jogging, but I continued to take him for long walks which he loved.  His favorite place was Stanley Park.  I had no car, and when he became too weak to walk all the way there, Yellow Cab taxi company agreed to take us.  The dispatcher's name was Scott, and every time I called (about three or four times a week), he would ask how Scott was doing.  Along with white cars, Scott came to love yellow cabs.  If one slowed down, or was parked, he always wanted to climb in the car.  The taxi would drop us off by the trails near Second Beach.  Then, when we had had our walk, I would put a towel down and Scott would sleep (see the picture below) until the cab arrived to take us home.  When I finally had to put Scott down, Kitty (a good friend, who was also Scott's caretaker when I was at work), Sue (his favorite pet store person who gave him treats and also looked after him occasionally) and I took him, using a sling to support his hind end, to that trail, fed him his favorite meal, and then gave him a medication that the vet had agreed to.  He fell asleep, and Sue, Kitty and I carried him to Kitty's car (also white, and also much loved, as she drove us many a day to Stanley Park and other parks as well) for his final ride to the vet.  He never woke up, and it gives me great comfort to know his last day was as joyful as his life had been.
I have a tiny bit of Scott's ashes in this pendant which I still wear around my neck.  I told myself I would just wear it for a few weeks but I've never taken it off.  

6. I belong to a hockey pool (Fantasy Hockey).  As much as I like to be active, I've never been very good at team sports.  Most people are surprised at how much I enjoy making my picks and following the games each week .  Sometimes, I do quite well.  Last night, Henry Lundqvist, of the New York Rangers had a shut out, and I was the only one in the pool to have chosen him.  Four points for a shut out so that was a good start to the week.    

7. I like all dried fruits, including raisins.  An oatmeal cookie or a muffin without raisins would be a disappointment.  When I was two years old, my parents came home with some groceries.  They put me in my playpen, while they put away the groceries, but gave me a large, unopened, and cellophane-wrapped box of Sun-Maid raisins to play with to keep me from fussing.  In the time it took them to put away the groceries, I managed to open the box and eat the entire contents.  I broke out in a terrible rash, but otherwise, suffered no ill effects.  I also, as a child of about eight or so, decided that I hated milk and all dairy products, including ice-cream. I had more cavities throughout my teen years than anyone I have ever talked to.  I have also spent more money on my teeth than I care to think about.  I have finally given up eating sugar, as I discovered that my joints are much happier on a sugar-free diet.  But I do eat all fruits, and I do take great care of my teeth now.   
I apologize for having gone on and on, but must say, this was fun to write.  Thanks for the idea, dp, and if anyone has made it all the way to the end, thanks for hanging in!  I guess being long winded is another of my characteristics, but this one, I suspect most readers will have figured out long ago.  If this inspires anyone to write about his or her own factoids, that would make me very happy.  


  1. You story of stealing Scott was really interesting. I too tried to adopt a dog from the animal shelter, and I too was told that I couldn't have the dog I wanted. They kept picking one dog out for me that didn't have what I was looking for. Then several more people came through the door and they picked out that exact same dog for them. I don't think their choices had much to do with the people, but with which dog is simply next in line to be adopted for whatever reasons.

  2. Probably more fun to read than to write, Carol. Thanks for a great start to an otherwise dreary morning. Tell me you didn't bike to work today.

    We stole Spike from the SPCA in Vancouver. I was fostering him during a distemper outbreak, and we decided that we would like to keep him because our other cat Alley really seemed to like having another feline around. I tried and tried and tried to pay for him and to fill out the paperwork, but they made it such a hassle that I finally said "fuck it" and stopped trying. He has been a very expensive free cat, as it turns out.

    Too bad there are no pictures of you on the motorcycle in a mini skirt and white gogo boots. Too too bad.

    I am an excellent whistler, which makes up for my horrible singing voice (though I do love to sing -- it is a cruel world). I finally learned to roll my rrrrrs in Barcelona a few summers back. I am also a good hockey player -- skating is a great way to use your riding muscles in the off-season. Team sports were never my thing, but hockey is different. I haven't joined a pool since my best pool-joining buddy moved to Tokyo. I don't start paying attention until the playoffs these days, except for Jerome Iginla who is about the cutest thing ever to walk the earth IMHO.

    Raisins. Ugh.

  3. Well done for stealing Scott!!!!!!!!! He was a very lucky dog! My people got me from the RSPCA here in Australia. They let people choose any dog they want or is it they let the dogs choose any person they want? They try to match up the dog and the people. I am active so I chose active people. You definitely did the right thing helping him break out. It was obviously meant to be.

  4. Nuzzling Muzzles: I think you are probably right, although that system sure doesn't make sense to me. I've also heard that black dogs, and especially large ones, are the most difficult to place, so I would have thought they'd be happy I came along. Did you end up adopting a dog from that shelter, or did you look elsewhere after that?

    Thanks, dp. I'm glad you enjoyed it:)
    -Wow! You too. Amazing. What is it with SPCA people? Glad to hear you hung in and did what had to be done for Spike.
    -Once, years later, at a band competition in Halifax, one of the adjudicators remembered me from McGill days. He kept going on about the time I had given him a lift on the back of my motorcycle. My students were quite shocked, but at least there were no pictures. Phew!
    -If you can whistle well in tune, I would think you sing better than you realize. Anyhow, sing with gusto, regardless. Think of your voice as your own personal musical instrument that no one will ever be able to replicate. Do you have any hints about rolling r's? I feel there's still hope for me, although my Mexican students are convinced it's a physical abnormality that holds some people back from learning:)
    -Are you finding time to play hockey this winter?
    -I agree with you about Iginla, and from listening to his interviews, I've always had the feeling I would like him as a person, too.
    -I did bike today and enjoyed myself thoroughly except for one tumble. No slips on ice but a huge rut in the pavement at the corner of Broadway and MacDonald caught me by surprise. (Sore left knee, and elbow, but no twists to the joints, so consider myself lucky. I'll probably blog about it tomorrow.)

    Thanks Ruby. Sounds like the SPCA's in Australia have it more together than the ones here.

  5. What a great idea for a blog! So interesting to learn things about people you would otherwise never know! I particularly enjoyed reading about Scott. What a beautiful story... I was in tears! (Though we know with me, that's often the case!). He was most certainly a lucky dog to have such a caring human :)

  6. It seems you really love Scott the way I do with Scott.


  7. Hi Carol, thanks for linking this to me through my blog! It's nice to know you a little better, I love your story about how you got your dog. I love raisins too! I have to be careful not to eat too many though... you can guess why!
    In answer to your question the emphasised syllable in my name is 'zee' and crocs for dog walking is allowed, my mum has 2 pairs that she wears, sometimes she jokes she is going to tell all of my friends one of the pairs are mine