Broken Boughs, Shattered Vows–Conclusion of Trilogy

Chapter Seven excerpt:

Mattie and Alf

It did not take long for Mattie to prove her sales and managerial skills: she was a natural in the rag trade.  Mrs. Norris knew that she had hired the right person, as her load had been getting increasingly heavier and she had never had anyone before whom she could rely on like she could on Mattie. Each day Mattie was given more authority, and Mrs. N. was able to cut back her hours and know that the store was in good hands.  Mattie quickly assumed more of the duties of a Regional Manager, and when Sweet Sixteen was expanding, another opportunity arose. She was asked to go and set up the new store in Quesnel.  It was a big responsibility as she had to set up the merchandise and hire staff, all of which was going to take a couple months or more.  Mattie was excited and justifiably proud to be offered such a promotion. Now all she had to do was to tell Alf that she was going to Quesnel for a couple of months.

I am still unsure as to why Mom decided that she would take the trailer to Quesnel, and Dad would stay with Morris and Ev until she returned, but that is was what happened. Dad had not been so lucky with his job as a floor layer. It was hard on his knees and the work was sporadic. Sometimes he had to work ten or eleven days straight, and other times there was no work for days on end. He had seen a job opportunity at Tranquille Mental Health Facility. “Tranquille” was the old King Edward VII tuberculosis sanatorium on the north side of Kamloops Lake; set in beautiful grounds, it truly was “tranquille.”  However, strangely enough, its name really came from an Indian chief who was called Tranquille by fur traders.  In 1958 it was converted into a facility for mentally handicapped individuals, and at one time employed close to six hundred staff.  They were looking for a nurse’s aide who was willing to work shifts and was capable of handling the demanding job of care giving to patients who could be difficult to deal with.  Dad joked afterwards that working as a publican had been the perfect training ground.  He was right, as from day one he was a natural care giver and soon became the “go to” person if there was trouble on any of the wards. His size and affable nature was somehow a perfect combination. He had the ability to diffuse trouble even before it began.  Some of the wards were particularly difficult as they housed the severely disabled who, due to their non-verbal skills, were often quite aggressive.  Dad’s compassion must have been evident, as he was able to work that ward just as well as any of the others. He called the patients his boys and girls, and told many stories of how some of them were actually brilliant on certain topics. One young man could recite every King and Queen of England, starting from 1066 and also give their dates of reign.  Another patient could do mental arithmetic faster than most calculators. Dad was “Alfie” to patients and staff, which always seemed funny to me, as I never thought of him as an “Alfie.”  Somehow that name conjured up a small impish man. Dad was more a gentle giant to me, but I later learned that it was a term of endearment, so I was even more proud of the work that my dad did.

Once more, Dad patiently complied with moving back in with Mo and Ev and Mom made arrangements to have the trailer transported to Quesnel.  She was excited about the opportunity to set up the new store and to go to a different town and meet new people.  The trailer went ahead and was set up and ready by the time she arrived. The only problem was that she had no idea which park the trailer had been put in.  It was after midnight when she landed, and she had no way to contact the hauling company. As always, Mom landed on her feet again, as standing in the bus depot in Quesnel and looking lost, of course a “white knight” came to her rescue.  A tall, good looking young fellow offered to drive her around the different trailer courts until they found the trailer.  Without a moment’s hesitation she accepted his offer, and that began a short-term affair that added to the excitement of her new position with Sweet Sixteen.   The affair lasted until the job was done, and Mom left behind the young man who had been nothing more than a dalliance. He was not happy to be thrown aside and actually tried to stay in contact after she returned to Kamloops, but Mom was already bored with him and ready to move on to the next adventure.

Dad was enjoying his job at Tranquille, and when he was asked to go to camp with the “boys and girls” for a couple of months in the summer, he couldn’t believe that he would be paid to do something so wonderful.  He loved the outdoors, fishing and camping by a beautiful lake. He even bought and renovated an old boat, which he renamed Iffida.  The name was coined when several friends made suggestions starting by saying, “Alf, if I’d have bought it I would…” He had made many friends amongst the staff who would be going out there with him, and the patients enjoyed the way he made things fun for them.   Mom had no objections; she had already met a salesman for Rothmann cigarettes. Joy of joys, free smokes.  It was another short-term affair, which while it lasted fed her ego and boosted her confidence.

Once the excitement of one affair waned, another candidate was waiting in the wings.  The next paramour was the local manager of a bakery store.  The girls at the shop did not take long to find out why they were getting a steady supply of fresh cream buns each morning. Mattie was the daughter of Lance, and blood is blood. As I think back now, I believe that her DNA was just programmed that way and that she was incapable of living her life any other way. On the other hand, I never saw Dad look at another woman, and he would never hear anyone say a bad word about her. I had tried once, many years before in England, when I was so hurt by her lack of interest in either me or her grandson, just using us as an excuse to spend time with her latest lover.  My “interference” was not welcomed by my dad, who defended her to the utmost and would not even consider the fact that I might be right. It was the last time that I ever tried to enlighten him.  Now, many years later, I am sure that he already knew.

Mom stayed in touch with Bob in England, one of her lovers from the White Horse Inn days.  He was probably the closest she had ever got to having a serious affair.  The other temporary liaisons were just a distraction, and inevitably she decided that she had to return to England to visit him.  Her trip to England was passed off as having to go back to see Polly and Evan, as she missed her mom so much.  She intended to make a big impression on her return, and with the advantage of working in the fashion industry she was able to put together an outstanding wardrobe.  She flew Ward Air, which was first class all the way, and chose to wear a white western outfit with boot cut pants and a fingertip length jacket.  White and silver buckle western boots and a white Stetson completed the outfit. There was no doubt that she was arriving from Western Canada. It was a long flight across the Atlantic and, sipping on tea from a china cup, she anticipated the welcome she would receive once she landed. Her dalliances in Canada were just that, but no one had come close to the excitement and passion that she had experienced with Bob. She tingled with excitement as she anticipated the passionate reunion.

There was, however, an hour or so to wait in London before catching the train to Derby, so Mattie decided to spend it in the first-class lounge at the airport.

Checking her reflection in the mirror at the terminal, and pleased with the image, she breezed into the lounge all smiles, contemplating a quiet corner, a cup of strong tea (she would use three bags), and a cigarette.  She was met at the entrance by a young lady who immediately refused her entry.

“I’m sorry, Miss, you can’t come in wearing trousers! Ladies are not allowed to wear trousers in the First-Class Lounge.”

“What?” Mattie indignantly exclaimed. “I’ve never heard of anything so stupid.”  Oh never mind, if they are that crazy I am a whole lot smarter. “Just wait five minutes and I’ll be back.”

With that, Mattie found the closest bathroom, quickly took off the offending pants and, stuffing them into her oversized carry-on bag, exposed her long slim legs.  Short skirts and hot pants were all the rage at the time, and when she sashayed back into the lounge full of confidence, no one questioned what was under the fingertip length jacket.  All she had on underneath was a matching set of the latest lace lingerie. Mattie got quite a charge out of this, and sitting sipping her tea, she took a long luxurious drag of her cigarette and smiled. They’ll have to get up a lot earlier than that to stump me, she thought to herself.  It was true. Mattie was always able to follow Lance’s words, “If there is not a way around something, you go right through it.”  Feeling much better after her tea and a smoke, Mattie retrieved her pants and set off for the station.

Polly and Evan were so excited to be seeing Mattie again and had been waiting at Derby station for an hour before they saw the train puffing into the station.

“It’s here, Evan. This must be the one.” Polly craned her neck to see the passengers getting off.

There was the usual swirl of smoke and chaos of people struggling with luggage as they tried to find their way to waiting loved ones. In the midst of a group of travel weary passengers, it was easy to find Mattie.

“There she is,” grinned Evan, as he saw Mattie emerge unrumpled and baggage free from the train. A uniformed porter was loaded down with Mattie’s bags as she strode on ahead.

Polly and Evan could not wait to get home and hear all about life in Canada and how Mike and I and the boys were.  Mattie enjoyed showing them photographs of Canada and regaling them with stories about her adventures. Naturally she left out all the parts about her various paramours.

Although the trip was supposed to be to see Polly and Evan, Mattie spent very little time with them, as most days she spent with Bob.  Neither Polly nor Evan were stupid, and it did not take them long to realize that Mattie had used them as an excuse to see Bob. Mattie’s siblings, Belle and Darren, had visited but Mattie had little time for either of them. Belle was really interested in Canada, as she and her husband Alf would have emigrated years ago if it had not been for leaving behind Polly and Evan. Mattie extended a half-hearted invitation for Belle to visit, but in truth, she was quite comfortable out of Belle’s shadow.

During her three weeks in England, Mattie spent almost every second with Bob.  Their ardour was even more intense after spending so much time apart. They devised ways to stay in touch once Mattie returned to Kamloops, but when it came time to say a last goodbye, neither wanted to part. There was no way that Mattie was willing to return to England as she had become used to a much better life in Canada and she loved her job with Sweet Sixteen. Bob would never leave England and his mother, who he was very close to, so it really was goodbye, at least for the foreseeable future.  Their last night together was one of intense emotion and one Mattie would relive many times over in the future.

Forewarned about the airport lounge rules, Mattie chose to wear a short black and white polka dot dress, with ridiculously high stiletto heel shoes.  She had no intentions of carrying bags as she was sure that someone would come to her rescue.

And so Mattie returned to Kamloops, feeling sad at leaving Bob behind in England, but already anticipating her next adventure. Alf was back from summer camp, tanned and toned with all of the outdoor sun and physical activities. Mattie looked at him and knew that he was twice the man of any of her lovers. He was larger than life, tall and handsome and with a heart as big as his stature. She felt guilty for a few seconds but soon pushed the feeling out of her mind. She was Mattie, and Lambert blood flowed through her very being.

Life went back to normal for a while, and Mattie had now found a new friend who was later to play a large part in all of our lives.  This time Mattie’s friend was a young lady who had recently emigrated from Blackpool, in Lancashire, England. This was a new experience for Mattie, as other than her old school friend, Liv, she had never had any true girlfriends. It all started when Ann walked into Sweet Sixteen to look for a dress.  Mom happened to help her, and the two of them started to talk about England and about Marks and Spencer’s, where Ann had worked.

“I really miss the great little bra slips that you could buy at Marks and Spencer’s,” Mattie said, as she passed Ann another dress to try on. “I’ve been telling the girls about them, but they have not seen them in Canada.”

Ann, a petite, blue eyed strawberry blonde, peeked out from behind the fitting room curtain.

“Is this like the ones you are talking about?” she asked, as she shyly did a quick pirouette.

“That’s just like the one I was talking about. Do you mind if the girls have a look at it?” Mattie, not at all shy herself, saw nothing wrong in asking Ann to model the undergarment for the rest of the sales staff.  Ann chuckled as the girls came back one by one to take a look, and Mattie was instantly impressed with this Lancashire lass who had so graciously agreed to do an impromptu modelling session.

As Mattie wrapped up Ann’s purchase, she asked her if she was looking for a job.  “Anyone who can put up with this lot ogling you in your undies is the kind of girl we need in the store.  Think about it, Ann, and if you are interested, come back and see me.”  Ann was not quite ready to make a commitment, but she had also taken an instant liking to Mattie and found the rest of the staff very friendly and easy to get along with. The money would also come in handy, as having recently moved to Canada with a young daughter to look after, money was tight.

Ann started to work at Sweet Sixteen a couple of weeks after their first meeting, and so began a lifelong friendship.  Not only did Ann become Mom’s friend, but she became my best friend, and has remained so for 50 years. Ann was often the voice of reason for Mattie and I am sure saved her from many disastrous mistakes throughout her life.  A keen gardener, Ann and Dad had a lot in common, and the two of them would brag about their prize vegetables. One time Dad carefully tied a big beautiful tomato from Safeway onto his vine, and could not wait to show off his prize produce to Ann.  It took her only a few seconds to see through his trick, and the two of them had a good laugh.

Ann and her husband Ken were going through a difficult time in their marriage and I think that she enjoyed the quiet times spent away from conflict, just enjoying the camaraderie of good friends.