Baby-boomers were nearing adulthood. Survivors of World War II and Korea were discovering middle age. The US military-industrial complex was trying to gouge profits out of a futile and morale-destroying war in Vietnam.
The people among the family and friends of Martin Tremblay are finding their way through personal and professional challenges as Canada gears up for the Centennial of Confederation. Can we recollect that time of hope and optimism, and see it reflected now, half a century later?
It was New Years morning. The first day of 1966.
My head felt three times its normal size, my nose was plugged up and my throat was dry from breathing through my mouth all night. I’d slept a bit, but in an on-and-off way. Despite the date, the only drink I’d had last night was some rum in a hot lemon and honey. We’d gone to bed at nine.
I looked over to the other side of the bed. The lump there was making snuffling noises. Better not risk waking Michelle, if she was indeed asleep.
We’d been supposed to spend New Year’s Eve in Brockville with my parents and my sister and her family. Then December 30, Michelle and I started to come down with this flu or whatever it is. It was full blown by breakfast for the two of us, and by lunch Andrea started sniffling, though she seems not to be quite so bad as Michelle and I. She’d really been looking forward to seeing Penny’s daughter Joan who was about the same age – fifteen, going on sixteen.
For some reason the fact that today was the start of the Canada and Quebec pension plans kept popping up in my mind. Not that anyone would be in the office, of course.
I looked at the clock – already 8:15. Hmm. Need to pee. So I eased out of bed and went to the bathroom. I’d left my dressing gown hanging on the hook on the back of the door, so rather than go back to bed, I put on the gown and went downstairs, intending to make another lemon and honey. But Andrea was ahead of me, about to pour hot water from the kettle into her mug.
“Hi Martin. Happy New Year”, she said.
“Yes. Happy New Year to you too. How’re you feeling.”
“A little sniffly, but not too bad.
Want a hot lemon?”
“I came down to make one. Do you think your Mom would like one too?”
“Is she awake?”
“I’m not sure. I didn’t want to wake her by asking.”
“Yeah. ’Are you awake?’ is a pretty silly question. If you’re asleep, it could wake you up, and if you’re awake you probably know someone is moving around the room.”
“Let’s risk making one for her. I suspect she’ll be awake soon enough to benefit from it.”
I guess I should explain. Andrea is my step daughter. Michelle and I married last year – guess I’d better not forget the anniversary at the end of the month. January 30. It would be a Sunday this year – good for celebrations, not for quick shopping if I forgot a card or present.
Funny. I’d got used to September 6. September 6, 1947 in Ghent, with a second ceremony in Ottawa on December 20. But Clara had died of breast cancer early in 1964. January 23. Rather close to my new anniversary. Michelle made sure we had a quiet toast to her.
Clara and I only got sixteen years together. It went by quickly, along with Anna’s birthdays. Since Clara was a widow and Anna – then Annje – was three when we married, our anniversaries could raise some eyebrows if folk who didn’t know us well heard the numbers. There was that girl whose parents had the skating rink in the back yard – oh yes, Katie Smith – who’d said “Annie’s parents are getting married” before thinking through how it might be interpreted by her parents. Oh well, it had all worked out. Except, of course, for Clara getting cancer.
It always gave me an awkward feeling that I now had a wife who I loved just as much. Perhaps worried about losing more. And we both had daughters. Anna – I still wanted to say Annje or Annie – was finishing her fourth year of physics. She was essentially top of her class. Hell, not far from top of her university year. Already married to a graduate student in statistics – Peter – the son of my family physician, Jim Sinclair, who I’d met when he was the MO of the RAF squadron I was in through France and Germany. My father was the logistics guy at the High Commission in London when war broke out in 1939, so we kind of got stuck there. I finished school and started University at Oxford – physics, like Anna. But when Penny’s husband – her first husband, not Joe – was shot down over Holland in ’43, I couldn’t stay in Oxford, so I joined the RAF as a wireless mechanic.
Unlike some of his medical colleagues, Jim Sinclair wasn’t opposed to the British NHS, but the demands it put on his time and energy as well as the wider opportunities for his boys led him to come to Canada, where he already had been in touch with me. So Anna and Peter knew each other from their youth.
Last Autumn they had a big scare when Peter was hit by a drunk driver who jumped onto the side-walk. He’s still far from fully recovered, and it’s been a big strain on their very new marriage. Still, I think things are getting settled.
Andrea had finished making the hot lemons, and had put two mugs on a small tray.
“Thanks, Andrea. I’ll take them up to Mom.”
Hmm. Should I say Mom or Michelle? Merged families raise a lot of nomenclature issues. Probably best not to take things too seriously.
I carried the tray into the bedroom. Michelle was lying on her side, clearly awake but not striving to get up.
“Morning Michelle. Happy New Year. How’re you feeling?”
“Don’t really want to think about how I’m feeling. Since I’m speaking, I must still be alive.”
“Andrea made us some hot lemon.”
“That may earn her an extra ten bucks for her birthday present,” Michelle said. It struck me that she must be feeling a good deal better than she was saying.
I set the tray down on the bedside table, and Michelle eased herself up onto her two pillows. I passed one mug to her and sat on a chair we had in the room. For a couple of minutes we sipped our lemon drinks.
“Can we keep a low profile today?” Michelle asked.
“It makes no sense to do otherwise if we’re sick. Anna and Peter are with Mom and Dad in Brockville. We can ’phone and say ’Hi’ and suggest they stay over. We’d already decided even before we got sick to have a quiet day today. Pity we missed the party at Barbara and Joanne’s, but we certainly would not have been good guests.”
“Yes. We needed to lie low. Still do, I think.”
“We can give your folks a call later today and see if it makes sense to go for dinner tomorrow.”
“Yes, Martin. I agree. My folks may be sick too. Haven’t talked to them since Thursday. I’d meant to, then somehow once I was in bed yesterday lunchtime, I just couldn’t seem to get around to it.”
“Do you think we should get up and get dressed? Or back to bed.”
“I think a quiet day around the house. But I’m sure I’ll feel better after a shower and getting dressed.”
I poked my head out the bedroom door and called out “Andrea. Is the bathroom free?”
From downstairs, she called back “I had my shower half an hour ago. Go ahead.”
I went into the bathroom and started the shower, which was in the tub. After I got the water to a nice temperature, I hung my bedclothes on the hook and got in. I was about to reach for the shampoo, when I felt the draught of the door opening, and before I could say anything, Michelle put her head round the curtain and asked “Can I come in too?”
“Of course, at the risk of scandalizing Andrea.” I almost said "your daughter", then "our daughter" and compromised on "Andrea". Before I’d finished these thoughts, Michelle slipped in at the far end of the tub, then moved closer, saying, “Oh. I need some of that lovely warm water.”
It’s fortunate Michelle is quite tiny. Claims to be five feet tall, but that would be after some medieval torture on the rack. I’m not a big man, so we fit in the shower together just fine as long as we don’t try to shift around too much. And while I hinted at scandal, our joint showers are more a mix of practicality in washing each others’ backs and some playful affection, especially on a day when we’re both fighting a cold or flu.
“Do you want your hair washed?” I asked.
“Yes. But not because it needs it. More for the warmth.”
“Better slip round me so you get the spray, and I’ll help you.”
We carefully changed places – the slip and slide of body to body was nice – and we went through the shampoo and rinse sequence.
“If you squeeze into the corner, I can get a bit of the warm spray too,” I said, and we managed this. I didn’t shampoo, but Michelle was right – the warm spray really did help the stuffy nose heavy head feeling.
“Ready to turn off?” Michelle asked.
“Reluctantly, yes,” I replied.
She turned off the valve and we shook off. I opened the curtain and passed her her bath towel, then took mine and we dried off partially before first I, then Michelle stepped out. After drying ourselves, we just combed out our hair. The low winter humidity in the house would be enough to dry our hair in a few minutes, and Michelle kept her hair quite short.
Since Andrea was in the house, we both put on our dressing gowns to return to the bedroom. We found casual, that is, very comfortable, clothes and quickly dressed. It can’t have taken us more than a minute or so to do so, and we headed downstairs.
Andrea was in the kitchen.
“There you are. Oh. You’ve both showered.”
She must have noticed that the water only went on once. Michelle answered her more or less directly “Martin had got the water just right, so I stepped in and had him help me wash my hair.”
Whatever Andrea thought, she said “I thought you might like an omelette for breakfast. I read about fruit omelettes, so I’m trying banana and some frozen blueberries. And there’s coffee ready in the pot.”
“Thanks, Andrea. We’re a bit ready for something cheery,” I said.
“I figure I needed it too, having missed all the fun last night.”
Michelle and I sat at the kitchen table and let Andrea cook the omelette, though we did undertake the herculean effort of feeding the toaster. Nobody said very much except small phrases of appreciation for the excellent omelette. It really was different, and less sweet than I would have imagined. When we’d finished, I poured Michelle and I more coffee – Andrea’s cup was still almost full, as she isn’t a regular coffee person.
“Any plans for the day, Andrea?” I asked.
“I thought I’d have a look through my room and see if there’s anything I should put away, give away or throw away.”
“Trying to make us feel guilty!” Michelle commented.
“That may be a bonus,” Andrea said, and stuck out her tongue.
“What about you, Martin,” Michelle asked.
“Probably should do some of that. And think about some goals and plans for 1966.”
“What goals and plans? Better include me.”
“And I’m also part of this household,” Andrea added.
“You both should know by now, even if it’s not quite a year since we made it official, that I don’t make plans without plenty of consultation. After all, we live in a government town, so it’s hard to go to the bathroom without a commission of a few MPs or senators giving approval.”
The ladies both laughed. We must all be feeling a bit better.