Dell's Canadian Tails

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dell on Bad Women

I was fifteen the day Elaine told me about running into Shirley Dun___. Elaine would have been a year younger than Shirley who was a year younger than me. I was home by myself when Elaine returned from her Saturday trip into town where she had gone looking for white gloves to wear to our cousin Peter's wedding just over a month away and one of the last weekends before September's return to school. Shirl had been held back after her mother died and she missed more than six weeks of school mourning. She had been in Elaine's class after Christmas holidays, yet I had never seen her around our house.

Elaine always modelled herself on our mother: a woman given to good manners and social respectability. She could barely hold onto her sense of decorum as she came in the front hall. Fit to be tied, she told me how she  had found her gloves and was coming out of the shop, when Shirl came along with her father.

"You would have thought we were the best of friends the way she greeted me, Dell."

"What's wrong with that?" I asked from the stairs above her where I had been sorting baseball cards.

"Oh, you should have seen her. Formally introducing me to her father." Elaine was pacing about the hallway, tossing her hair and stomping her little feet. "The nerve of her, Dell, all tarted up on a Saturday morning looking more like a bad woman than any friend of mine." Elaine raised  her hand to cover her mouth, having said more than she intended.

Now that last bit had peaked my interest: Tarted up? Bad woman? and my eyes went all round. I grinned.

"Oh, you know what I mean, Dell. Dressed like a woman instead of her age."

Trying to understand how this had angered my sister, generally considered our family's best candidate for sainthood, I attempted to draw her out, "You mean dressed up like mother?"

"Dell, are you serious? Even you must have noticed how she wears her clothes just a size too small, busting out all over the place?"

I let Elaine's barbed dig at me slide, giving my mind over to the last time I had seen Shirl. I had been heading over to the drug store for something for our mother when some older boys had gone by in their father's car, hooting the horn and calling in chorus, "Go for a whirl, Shirl?" as she was heading into the library. I hadn't really got a good look at her with her head down and her hair hanging around her face. Her clothes had looked small on her but not dirty or anything.

"Well, her mother dying and all, I just thought they couldn't afford new clothes for her."

"Those are her new clothes. Mr. Dun___ insisted on telling me how Mrs. Dun___ 's life had been insured and how he was now going to be able to dress Shirl with the best of everything. He was as pleased with himself as if he had won a sweepstake instead of buried a wife," Elaine made a small clicking sound against her teeth the way mother would when father stayed too long at the pub.

"He made a big fuss over my new gloves and when I mentioned Peter's wedding next month, asked if I wouldn't like to come by to have my picture taken beforehand."

Mr. Dun____ had a small studio in what we would have kept as a parlour. People had been surprised how quickly his photography business had grown with the latest equipment. Mr. Dun___ was known to have a gift for photographing his subjects and I wondered if somehow Shirl had got confused about dressing up on account of the business.

"You haven't said anything that's news to me," I threw out,"I don't understand why you're all fired up. If you think Shirl needs a woman's hand, why don't you take her under your wing?"

Now, for those of you who have a large family, you will understand that there is always that one person that wants to drag home every broken thing and fix it up. I was appealing directly to that part of my sister most likely to elicit her kinder side. For good measure, I then used my mother's standard answer to the undertaking of all distasteful tasks,

"Offer it up for Lent...doing something for sorrow for your sins."

"Lent was six months ago, Dell.," and then after a pause," but you've got a point. Maybe when school starts back up if I took her aside with a catalogue or maybe window shopping I could show her what was a big sister."

"She's got a  big sister," I reminded her, only to have Elaine tell me the sister had moved out west just weeks after the mother died.

"Selfish. That's what I think, " Elaine spluttered, "leaving her little sister like that. Selfish!" she pronounced, "she should have stayed on and showed Shirl how to behave. There's just no accounting for some people's behaviour. I think you're right, Dell. Jesus put Shirl in my path so I could set her straight and that's just what I'm going to do."

I had never thought much about the Dun___ sisters, so later that evening when a bunch of the fellows were out behind the backstop sharing a smoke, I mentioned my sister running into Shirl downtown that afternoon.

"Your sister might want to think about who she's making friends with," Tom said seriously,"Shirl's fast."

"My sister thinks she just needs some pointers on clothes and girl stuff."

There was a roar of braying laughter and then,"maybe pointers on how to get them on. According to Brendan, she and her sister have no problem taking them off." As much as I hounded them for more details, no one seemed to know much. I made a mental note to have a talk with Brendan's younger brother John the very next time we served at Mass together.

Now before I continue, I want to share one of my little insights with you. The mind has a way of grabbing onto something and adding whatever it wants to fill in the parts that are missing. It's the damnedest thing.  Instead of just leaving a piece of information alone, the mind will just naturally begin plastering its own interpretation all over it. Worse yet, the human mind will fight tooth and nail clinging to that faulty vision it created despite whatever other information becomes available.

Armed with raging hormones and no experience beyond hand holding with Connie O'____ , my natural sense of curiousity led to countless hours of torment over Shirl, lying in my bed each night, face to the wall.

Before I got a chance to quiz John at Mass, all hell broke loose the day of Peter's wedding. Shirl's father or Shirl herself had done something rude: we knew it had something to do with photographing Elaine in her finery that morning. The house got quiet as a death when Elaine returned in tears. The usual whispered words, we children gleaned from eavesdropping on our parent's discussions, failed to materialize and Elaine wasn't talking. What I remember clearly is how our entire family had a great time at Peter's wedding. I had a great time, too, not knowing anything else was possible.

With Elaine receiving a sudden burst of parental affection that weekend, we surmised that whatever had taken place, Shirl had somehow wronged our sister and family. No one said anything. There were thinned lips, furrowed brows, heavy sighs and the bottle in back of the pantry went down significantly.

Come Monday, I went looking for Shirl only to discover she had been put on a train to her sister out west. Her father moved on within the month and I more or less forgot about Shirl until some 12 years later.

Home for my father's funeral and to help set his affairs in order for mother, I was reading over the sympathy cards mother had received. Among them was one from a Shirley Dun_____ Masterson, with a picture of her, a husband and kids. Under the part printed, 'In Deepest Sympathy', Shirl had scrawled , "God Bless him. He saved my life," and taped to the other side of the card was an old stub of a railway ticket.

Dell on Missing Pieces

As a young pup I was known to party until dawn just to see the sun rise. Should have waited for old age since I now rarely sleep more than a few hours a night and had no idea until my sixties how much better a sunrise looks without the blur of alcohol.

When I stay in town for my regular  donation to the blood sucking vampires over at the clinic, I find my pattern doesn't change. Waking up around five, I sneak out of the apartment building to see the day breaking. On this morning's walk I got to thinking about my post yesterday.

Maybe I should have mentioned that there's a whole range of things one can do between doing nothing or something. There's no black and white to this world. I should have been clear on one point: I have led a less than virtuous life (more on that later) and done my share of shit on other people's backs. Not on purpose, always: I just didn't have all the missing pieces to make a good decision at the time. Now when I see what the world has got up to, all I can do is shake my head and ask myself, "what was my part in all this?"

Seems to me whether you're talking about a single person or the whole world, you find a range of good and bad and everything in between. Countries are like people. They have personalities and are misunderstood  because information is skewed or unavailable. I don't judge a book by it's cover (most of mine have the cover missing - not for resale) and if I were to read only a few pages or look at the ending, well I won't learn anything that way.

Recently I found a book I had never read: Cormac McCarthy's "The Crossing". For a while I thought I'd lost my mind. Around page 188 it started...for the next thirty pages, each page was out of order switching back and forth between characters, conversations and happenings...printing error...(gotta wonder who paid for the reprint on that one)...anyhow, I plowed on ahead and eventually the pieces I'd held back in my mind, waiting to fit them into the rest of the story, finally sorted it all out.

Life is like that: little pieces of information that seem to make no sense whatsoever, but if you keep going and remember the general story line you may just be surprised at the understanding gained by this method. 'The Crossing' turned out to be a helluva good book and part of a trilogy: typical Dell, I started with the middle of a story.

Puzzling things out seems to be a necessary part of the learning process. No man can take in the whole world all at once, and it's the not knowing that helps keep a man humble: I know, but I don't know all.

It's been my experience you get one piece of information over here, then another over there, and neither makes sense until you get twenty years down the road. By then the picture has filled itself in; promptly, I readjust my thinking and behaviour armed with this additional information, only to find out I still haven't got the whole picture and worse I remember what I did while I didn't know what I was doing.

Just to show you that I was guilty of knee-jerk thinking from my earliest days, I'd like to share with you the tale of a sexy little miss back in my school days ...unfortunately that'll have to wait until my next post...the coffee has done its job and now I'm off to do mine.