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Ma Bayly's Darkest Hour Ma Bayly sat at her kitchen table, steaming mug of tea in hand, pondering what to make for supper as the whole brood were coming tonight and she always prided herself on putting on a good spread. Lost in thought, she jumped at a sudden frantic banging at the kitchen door. It was Eileen, her grandson Stan's intended, red-eyed and flushed.
"Why Eileen me luv, what in the world's the matter? Come in, come ... click to read moreMa Bayly sat at her kitchen table, steaming mug of tea in hand, pondering what to make for supper as the whole brood were coming tonight and she always prided herself on putting on a good spread. Lost in thought, she jumped at a sudden frantic banging at the kitchen door. It was Eileen, her grandson Stan's intended, red-eyed and flushed.
"Why Eileen me luv, what in the world's the matter? Come in, come in!"
As soon as Eileen crossed the threshold the damn burst and she dissolved into floods of hysterical tears. "He...he's called it off. Stan...Stan doesn't want me anymore," was all she could manage between gut-wrenching sobs.
Ma thrust a handful of tissues into Eileen's shaking hands before pouring her a strong cup of sweet tea. The poor girl was obviously in shock. Plus, leaving the scene to pour the tea gave Ma time to think before speaking.
"Well now Miss Eileen," Ma said in her best motherly voice, take a good long sip of yer tea and then I'll hear all about it."
An hour or so passed while Ma got the gist of the catastrophe from Eileen in between tearful outbursts.
It had all been because of a soccer game. Stan used to be an avid soccer player and Eileen never missed a match or the opportunity to cheer Stan on. Yesterday, Stan's old team from the local church had been playing and he and Eileen had gone to watch. Of course, they cheered the players on and everything was going well, until Stan caught Eileen cheering Ed on.
Now, Ed had been Stan's best friend since they were nippers and it had always been customary for her to cheer Ed on (not as much as she had cheered for Stan of course), but yesterday it caught Stan the wrong way and he had suddenly turned back to the way he was when he first came home from Afghanistan, surly and edgy. With his below-knee amputation and prosthetic leg in place, soccer was out of the question for him now.
Mr. Bayly, Stan's Newfoundland dog and constant companion and helper, had sensed his master's tension and done his job by trying to pull his master away from the soccer game, but not before Stan had turned on Eileen.
"Well Eileen, I can see you miss having a whole man around. Why don't you wait for Ed and he can walk you home!"
Before she could speak, he had turned and walked away as fast as his bad leg would allow, without looking back even when she called his name over and over again. Eileen had gone to Stan's bungalow later on to try to talk to him, but he had made his mind up to shut her out and there was no getting through to him.
"I hear Ed is looking for a girlfriend Eileen, why don't you go and pay him a visit," was all he said before literally pushing her out the door and slamming it behind her.
"Well," said Ma, "I think our Stan needs a good talking to. Ed indeed! Why, you all grew up together! They're best friends for goodness sake! Jealous of Ed? What in the world has got into him?"
She could see that her words were calming Eileen down and she felt she'd suitably averted the catastrophe when she added, "You come to supper tonight as planned and I'll bet you my best china our Stan'll see how silly he has been and you two will be back to normal by the time I serve pudding!"
Suppertime came and everybody showed up, apart from Stan. Eileen sat quietly like a ghost and could barely swallow her food. It didn't take long before she left the room, again in floods of tears. Ma followed her through to the kitchen, but before she could reach her she'd bolted through the back door and was running towards her own home.
Apparently, Billy and Jean, Stan's parents, knew nothing about the troubles and Ma waited until the rest of the brood had gone before telling them all about it. They were as flabbergasted as Ma.
"We had no idea! Ed? All this upset over a silly soccer game? Poor Eileen!"
Ma lowered her voice, "And poor Stan. He must still be hurting a great deal inside to act like that. We mustn't forget what he's been through. I'm afraid it's going to be one step forward and two steps back for a long time to come."
Billy and Jean drove Ma to Stan's bungalow and dropped her off, both of them making exaggerated signs of crossing their fingers as she closed the car door. They knew it was no use them trying to talk to him. Why, it had taken him months to leave Ma Bayly's parlor and move into the bungalow they had especially built for him on their property. If anyone was to help him through his feelings of helplessness and inadequacy, it would have to be Ma.
Once Billy and Jean were safely out of sight, Ma carefully knocked on Stan's door. No answer. She knocked again, this time more loudly, and called out to him, "Stan, it's your grandma, are you going to open the door or do I have to stand out here til I starve to death?"
Still no answer. Ma pushed at the door and found it to be open.
"Stan? It's your grandma. Can I come in Stan?"
Silence. Then Mr. Bayly came bounding towards her wagging his tail furiously, obviously delighted to see her.
"Hello Mr. Bayly! What a good boy! What a good boy," she said as she patted him. "Where's our Stan Mr. Bayly? Where is he?"
Mr. Bayly barked and lead Ma into Stan's bedroom. Well, she couldn't have been more shocked if there had been an elephant laying on the bed. There was Stan, empty bottle of Jamieson's on the floor by the bed, roaring drunk!
"Oh Stan!" Ma didn't know whether to feel pity or anger towards him. "The last time I saw a man in your state was when we lost your Uncle Stan and your grandpa Cyril once did the same thing!"
Her anger did give way to pity, as she remembered the terrible anguish of losing their son Stan and it dawned on her that now his namesake, her grandson laying drunk as a skunk on his bed, must be feeling that kind of anguish, for there had never been any heavy drinkers in the Bayly clan.
Tenderly, she got an extra blanket from his cupboard and lay it over him, talking gently to him while she tucked the blanket around him. Stan came to once or twice and slurred a few lines of gibberish that she couldn't make out.
"That's right our Stan, that's right me luv. It'll be alright in the morning me luv. That's right."
Mr. Bayly lay down on his huge cushion by the side of his master's bed and Ma patted him once again. "You look after him Mr. Bayly, there's a good boy."
She let herself out and there was Billy and Jean waiting in the car to take her home, hearing all about it on the way.
Ma got home in the nick of time before a torrential downpour of rain pounded like a thousand drums against the windows. She made herself a mug of warm milk, liberally laced with honey, and pulled her shawl about her shoulders as she sat by the fireside, sipping on her milk and going through the day's events. It had been a long day indeed and after draining the last of her milk she wearily climbed her stairs to bed and fell sound asleep, despite the thundering rain outside.
At first, she thought she was dreaming when she heard a very loud whine, followed by a bark, followed by more loud whines. What brought her out of her sleep with a jolt was a desperate scratching at the front door. She sat bolt upright in bed, straining to listen for a moment in case it had only been a dream after all. But no. The noises were unmistakably real. In a mad frenzy, Ma pulled on her shawl and slippers and flew down the stairs to the door, shouting "I'm coming, I'm coming!"
She flung open the door and there stood Mr. Bayly. Drenched. Panting up at her as though his life depended on it.
"Why Mr. Bayly, what are you doing here?" She looked out at the street. "Stan?" No answer. "Stan? Are you there Stan?" She looked up and down the street. No sign of Stan.
Panic welled up and her heart pounded in her chest. "Mr. Bayly, where's Stan? Where is he Mr. Bayly?"
He looked up at her with pleading eyes, barked, and pawed at something on the wet street. Ma looked down and there was Stan's prosthetic leg.
"Oh Lord help us! Where is he Mr. Bayly? Where is he?"
She frantically pulled on her coat and, still in her night dress and slippers, grabbed the prosthetic and followed Mr. Bayly as quickly as she could, never giving a thought to banging on someone's door to give them a lift. No time for that. Thankfully, the village was small and Billy and Jean's property wasn't far from the centre. Ma found herself stifling a sob of absolute terror as she followed Mr. Bayly. She didn't dare let herself think of where she would find Stan, or in what state.
They came to the river that ran through Billy and Jean's property. It had burst its banks and flooded with the torrential downpour. At this point, Mr. Bayly ran on ahead, barking for her to hurry, and Ma could just about make out the figure of a man laying dangerously close to the edge of the furiously rushing river.
"Stan! Lord, help Us, Please Lord help us! Stan!"
She ran to him and pulled him away from the edge of the river. A few minutes later he may have been engulfed by it and...well, she couldn't let herself think of that.
"Mr. Bayly, run and get Billy and Jean. Run and get Billy and Jean Mr. Bayly." The dog was reluctant to leave Stan. "NOW MR. BAYLY!" And off he went like the wind.
As the dawn broke and the rain had subsided, Stan woke up to find Ma Bayly, his parents, Eileen and, of course, Mr. Bayly sitting around his bed. He had been duly cleaned up and dried and lay in clean pyjamas, blankets tucked up around him. The doctor had been called during the night and the prognosis was that, apart from a bad hangover and maybe the possibility that he had caught a chill, he had suffered nothing serious during last night's escapades.
As Stan squinted around at everyone, head throbbing, he noticed another figure standing in the doorway. It was Ed, his best friend since he could remember. Ed loved Stan like a brother, but this was not a time for flowery words. This was a time for man-to-man talk. Ed slowly approached the bed, shaking his head, while the rest of them stayed silently in place.
"My son, my son, my son...," was Ed's opening statement. "I'm after stealing your girl now am I? Well, if you must know I tried years ago in junior school and she wouldn't have me. Once she set eyes on you in the playground, there was no persuading her, even though I was always by far more handsome and clever than you!"
Everyone risked a giggle at that. Even Stan couldn't hide a crooked grin.
"Well, Stan me lad, you can imagine my surprise in the wee hours when Eileen came banging on my door. I thought she'd finally come to her senses and dumped you. I thought she was about to beg me to give her another chance. Well, my son, she begged alright. She begged with tears in her eyes."
Stan's eyes widened and he shot a look of shock in Eileen's direction. No response from her. No response from anyone else either! What was going on? Had they all turned on him? Had they all gone mad?
Ed continued, "Yes my son, Eileen begged me and it was pitiful to behold I can tell you."
Stan again looked at Eileen like a stunned cod fish. Ed let his words hang for as long as he could before speaking again.
"Stan, Eileen begged me to be your best man and when she told me of your outburst at the soccer match I refused point blank."
Ed again paused to give the moment the respect it deserved.
"Well," he continued, "she finally persuaded me, but under one condition."
By now Stan didn't know which end was up. "Condition...," he managed through a very shaky voice.
"Yes, condition my son," said Ed with great reverence.
"What...what condition would that be now?" Stan stuttered.
"The condition that you have a good day's rest and a good night's sleep, and I'll meet you in church tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. I don't think any of us can stand this anymore, least of all your fine woman Eileen, who I still think is making a great mistake by the way."
Again, there was giggling around the room. Stan didn't speak.
Now Eileen took the floor. "Stan, I love you. I always have and I always will. I believe you love me. If you're waiting for everything to be perfect, it never will be me luv. It's time we tackled our problems and challenges together, and there will be plenty of them throughout our lives. You'll not push me away ever again Stan Cyril Bayly. That I promise you!"
At that, she marched out of the room and everyone else slowly and quietly followed. Ed was last to leave, but not before turning to his best friend and giving him a big wink that only the two of them knew how to interpret.
It wasn't the society wedding of the century. Of course, all the family were there, along with a good many of the village folks, all of whom were as good as family. The whole soccer team was there, dressed in soccer kit ready for the match against the neighboring village team, which was scheduled to take place after the ceremony. There were no elaborate flower arrangements or miles of ribbons adorning the church, no time or money for that. Just a few simple posies, handpicked from spring flower boxes and gardens and carefully crafted and arranged around the church by well wishers before the ceremony.
Ed stood at the altar, ring in top pocket. The ring had been provided by Ma Bayly. It was an eternity ring given to her by her beloved husband, Cyril, and she could think of no better use for it.
Stan stood sheepishly next to Ed, looking surprisingly handsome, if Ed did say so himself. He was staring down the aisle, waiting for the first sight of his bride.
Reverend Irene stood front and centre, waiting to queue the organ player when she first spotted the white dress coming through the door.
Everyone knew when Eileen had arrived, as Reverend Irene smiled down the aisle with great warmth and encouragement and nodded to the organist. Ed grinned widely at Stan. Stan...well there are no words to describe the rapture on Stan's face as Eileen approached him like an angel in a white cloud, wearing her grandmother's wedding dress that had been cleaned and altered to fit her the day after Stan left for Afghanistan. It was to be Eileen's good luck charm for her beloved's safe return.
Eileen's father had died when she was a child and she proudly walked up the aisle with Mr. Bayly, who looked very dapper wearing a big white bow tie. Together, they walked slowly and contentedly, both beaming happily, stepping together in perfect timing to the wedding march. Eileen could think of no-one better to give her away.
There was no grand reception. The Recreation Committee had donated the use of the community hall for the afternoon and food and drink were donated by "the fairies." The hall was also decorated by the same fairies early that morning. The music was provided by open mike, so anyone and everyone who wanted to sing and play music for the newlyweds were welcome to do so.
Eileen and Stan, of course, had the first dance and Ma couldn't remember ever seeing a couple more in love (apart from herself and Cyril, of course).
The soccer match went ahead as the celebrations continued in the community hall. Stan and Eileen stood on the sidelines and cheered for their soccer team together on the pitch just outside the hall, both dressed in their wedding finery.
This time, there was no jealousy over who Eileen cheered for. Particularly as she was clinging possessively to the arm of her new husband, with Mr. Bayly at his usual place on the other side of him.
Ma Bayly stood at a distance watching the two of them. Certainly, there would be rocky roads ahead and plenty of them. But for now...for this one moment in time...there was only joy and love. She turned her eyes to the sky and her lips moved silently, as was her customary way when she was offering up a private prayer to The Man Upstairs.
The Easter Bunny called Mr. Bayly! (Ma Bayly Saves The Day!) Ma Bayly stood by the kitchen stove carefully removing the hardboiled eggs from the steaming pan and placing them into a large pot of cold water. Next would be the setting of the special 'Easter Egg Table,' a time-honored tradition in Ma Bayly's house. First came the plastic table cloth with Easter bunnies frolicking all over it, next the paints and paintbrush sets, with jars of water to rinse off one colour before choosing another, ... click to read moreMa Bayly stood by the kitchen stove carefully removing the hardboiled eggs from the steaming pan and placing them into a large pot of cold water. Next would be the setting of the special 'Easter Egg Table,' a time-honored tradition in Ma Bayly's house. First came the plastic table cloth with Easter bunnies frolicking all over it, next the paints and paintbrush sets, with jars of water to rinse off one colour before choosing another, and a big pile of bits of old cloth to wipe brushes and hands alike. Last, but certainly not least, a huge plate of Ma's homemade Easter cookies, each with a tiny candy Easter egg baked into the center, and a mug of cold milk for every child.
The grandkids and their friends would be arriving soon to undertake the very serious business of painting their faces on the hardboiled eggs. Once the artists were satisfied with their masterpieces, the eggs were very carefully placed in the empty egg cartons to dry and left with Ma Bayly, who assured the children the eggs would be kept under lock and key until Easter morning, when they would be judged and prizes awarded for the best faces.
After Church on Easter Sunday, there would be the community Easter Egg Hunt down at the park next to the Community Hall. There would be live entertainment of Newfoundland folk songs performed by talented local musicians, sandwiches and cakes brought from home by the folks in town, and plenty of hot dogs and ice cream for the kids.
And so it was almost Easter again in Ma Bayly's beloved community where everyone's house had a "Welcome" mat at the door and everyone was family.
Everything should have been glorious, for it usually was in Newfoundland's picture-perfect fishing villages in spring, but Ma Bayly's heart was heavy. Her grandson, Stan, had safely returned from Afghanistan last Christmas. That is to say, he had returned safely, apart from a below-knee amputation and the fact that, although his prosthetic was the finest he could have and his physical rehabilitation was doing fairly well, he just wasn't himself.
The doctors called it post-traumatic stress disorder. Ma Bayly called it heart-break disorder for the agony it caused poor Stan and the gut-wrenching helplessness it caused those who loved him and couldn't, just couldn't help him, no matter what they did or tried not to do.
Even though Stan's parents, Billy and Jean, had returned home from Alberta after Stan's return at Christmas and bought a house with a large piece of land, then quickly had a fully-equipped 2-bedroomed bungalow built on the property for Stan, he had flatly refused to move from Ma Bayly's parlour and spent his days sitting on the couch that was also his bed, flicking through t.v. channels, refusing to eat, unable to sleep and jumping at every little sound.
Eileen, who had been Stan's intended before he went to serve his country had had to slowly build up her life again with Stan. At first he had pushed her away, telling her he wasn't the man she had said goodbye to, so proud and sure of himself in his shiny new uniform. She told him over and over that she loved him now as much as she ever had and she would love him until the day she died. But still he pushed her away. "You don't want to be stuck with an invalid, Eileen. Off with you now and find yourself someone better."
He broke her heart and she lost so much weight she could hide behind a lamp post. But still she came, every day, to be with her Stan, even if it meant putting up with hours of silence with him just staring at the t.v., or losing his temper and telling her to just leave him alone.
Slowly, the love they shared won the day and they became a couple again, but only the shadow of a couple they had once been.
On a good day, she could persuade him to take a stroll down the lane to see the new spring flowers and, although she linked his arm as she always had and would reach up and kiss him on the cheek as many times as she dared, he would be constantly looking around warily, suspicious of every little noise, feeling exposed in the open with nowhere to hide, always watching his back. He had a morbid fear of any kind of crowd, and a crowd to Stan was more than 4 people walking towards him. Finally, he would snap, "I want to go back, let's go back!"
It was as if a switch had been turned on when he was serving abroad and he just couldn't turn that switch off.
Ma Bayly dutifully took Stan the pills prescribed by the doctor with a glass of water to wash them down. At first, Stan took them, albeit grudgingly. Then one day he just point blank refused. Ma enlisted the help of Stan's parents, Billy and Jean, and of course Eileen. But to no avail. According to Stan, all the pills did was make him feel drowsy and less alert and he was adamant that he needed to keep alert at all times.
Ma thought her heart would break. Poor Stan. Nobody could know what he had been through and he was unwilling to talk about it.
Ma contacted the people in the army whose job it was to help lads like Stan and they offered Stan counseling with an army psychiatrist. That night, Ma gingerly broached the subject with Stan. Huge mistake!
"I'm not crazy grandma! I don't need any army quack poking around in my head!"
So that was the end of that.
Eileen was looking more pale and wan than ever and Ma took her under her wing as well, but there was no helping Eileen until she could help Stan.
Billy and Jean visited every day to try to persuade their son to come home. They called every night to wish him a good night and tell him they loved him. But there was just no moving him from Ma Bayly's side. It was as though deep inside him, through all the hell and fear, she was his one beacon of safety, his one connection to life as it had been before he went away. Inwardly, he was fighting with all his might to find his way back, but he just couldn't reach the hand he knew Ma was desperately stretching out to him.
Two weeks before Easter, Ma could stand it no longer. She only had one idea left to help Stan, but she would have to do something she promised herself she would NEVER, EVER do. She would have to grace a computer with her presence. She decided to go, (oh what did they call it), 'on line' down at the local library.
Now, the local library was a tiny room housed at the Town Hall, and Alice, the Town Clerk, would welcome anybody who wanted to use the computer, whether or not the library was open. Alice would never turn anyone away. Well, when Ma Bayly walked into the Town Hall, Alice took one look at her face and knew something was seriously wrong.
Before Ma could even speak, Alice decided this was a good time to take her lunch break. She turned the sign around on the entrance door (Gone to Lunch) and turned her attention to Ma. Ma knew that whatever was said in Alice's office stayed in Alice's office, the trust was rock solid, so she knew she could let rip and share her burden with Alice. A brief conversation ensued, not many words were needed for the 2 women were cut from the same Newfoundland cloth.
Minutes later, Ma sat in front of the computer in the library while Alice gave her the basics, in plain English, about the workings of the dreaded contraption.
"No wonder the world's going to rack and ruin," was all Ma could say to hide her nervousness at pressing the wrong buttons.
Alice left her to it and re-opened the Town Hall and sat in her office, one ear cocked towards the library for any sounds of distress signals.
Finally, pile of papers in hand, Ma walked into Alice's office and Alice made phone call after phone call. Ma's searching eyes never left Alice's face and every time Alice put down the phone on another dead end, Ma thought she would go quietly mad.
There was only one more number for Alice to contact and her hands were trembling as she made the call. She couldn't look into Ma's face, the face of sheer desperation and just a shred of hope left. How could she send Ma home without even that shred of hope.
But this time the phone conversation went on a little longer. Alice asked more questions and seemingly got more answers. Then Alice looked Ma in the eyes and smiled, "You'd better take this one Ma," she said, handing the phone over to Ma before taking a tissue out of her pocket and diplomatically leaving the room, wiping her eyes as she went, to 'tidy up the books' in the library, while Ma poured her heart out to the person on the other end of the phone.
Three days later Stan was sitting in his room at his grandma's house, listlessly flicking through t.v. channels. Ma, Eileen, Billy and Jean were sitting around the kitchen table in silence, waiting.
Finally, there was a knock at the door. Ma crossed herself, Jean grabbed Billy's arm and Eileen all but burst into hysterics out of sheer panic.
As Ma walked towards the door, she sighed and sent up a silent prayer, "Please God, please make this work."
On opening the door there was a tiny little woman with a HUGE black dog! Ma's jaw dropped. How would it fit into the hallway, let alone the house?! Apart from its size, all she could focus on was its drooling. She'd have to mop the floor if it didn't stop.
"Mrs. Bayly?" asked the pipsqueak of a woman. (How did an elf of her size keep such a massive dog in tow?) "I'm Kirsten and this is.... well, I think it's best if Stan names the dog, if all goes well."
"Yes, I'm Mrs. Bayly. Come in, come in!"
Thank goodness Stan had his door closed and the t.v. up loud.
Well, when Kirsten and the massive Newfoundland dog walked into the kitchen, Eileen slapped her hand over her mouth. Billy and Jean stared at the dog with eyes like saucers and mouths agape. They didn't know what to expect, but a dog the size of a horse was not it!
It was obvious the dog was friendly, gentle and extremely well trained. Kirsten simply said, 'Sit,' followed by 'Good Boy,' as the dog obediently did as it was told, still drooling like a water leak.
A quick discussion took place. As Ma had learned over the phone, Kirsten represented a program that rescued animals from abusive situations or shelters, then cared for them and trained them to become service dogs for people with disabilities of all kinds, including veterans returning with both physical and psychological war wounds.
Kirsten gave Ma a handful of brochures and a list of contact information. Apparently, there would be someone coming to the house three times a week for a month to help Stan and the soon-to-be-named dog get to know each other and each other's needs and capabilities. Both Stan and the dog needed to be trained in each other's ways.
There was only one more thing to do now and frankly even Ma was quaking in her boots as she dreaded Stan's response to the plan that had been hatched for him behind his back.
Kirsten looked at Ma and whispered, "Courage Mrs. Bayly...courage."
The 3 of them, that is Kirsten, Ma and the dog, walked to Stan's door and knocked. The t.v. volume went down. "I'm sleeping," came a surly voice from the other side of the door.
Ma looked at Kirsten, who looked back at Ma and down at the dog, who looked up at both of them and decided to take matters into his own hands or they'd be standing there all day. He pawed at the door and whined very loudly. The t.v. promptly went off as Stan sat there, wondering what on earth was on the other side of the door. When the dog barked, there was nothing else for it. They opened the door and in trotted the huge black dog, leaving a trail of drool all the way to Stan and, on reaching him, promptly sat down by his side and looked up at him with smiling eyes and a big pink tongue lolling out with pleasure, as though Stan was the one person he'd been waiting for all his life. For the dog, it was love at first sight.
Stan's face was an absolute picture of frozen shock. The dog barked at him and promptly laid a huge paw on his bad leg. Ma held her breath. Stan stared into the dog's face and, despite himself, grinned. So engaging was the dog, that Stan forgot about everyone else and said, "Well who in God's Green Earth are you?!"
The dog whined and barked and drooled before putting his front paws on the couch, reaching up and licking (aka slurping) Stan's face. Stan said, "Urgh," and wiped his face, but at the same time laughed (and I mean actually laughed) for the first time since anyone could remember. The more Stan laughed the more the dog kissed (aka slavered) him.
Kirsten took the reins from here and Ma left her with Stan and the dog as things were explained to Stan.
Of course, everyone sat in the kitchen listening to every word and when the final crunch came, i.e. did Stan want to commit to entering the program, everyone held their breath until Stan said, "Can he stay with me now? You don't have to take him back do you?"
Kirsten disappointed Stan when she told him she would have to take the dog back today and someone would bring him back in a couple of days. Unfortunately, the dog and him would have to get to know each other slowly, for both their benefits. But when she took the leash and tried to take the dog from Stan's side, it wouldn't budge.
"Come," she said as commandingly as she could. "Come."
The dog was not "coming" anywhere and he made it quite clear by placing a paw on Stan's lap and leaving it there. Both Stan and the dog looked at Kirsten as though this was a gun draw in a spaghetti western.
Kirsten knew when she was licked. With great dignity, she cleared her throat and asked if they could give her a minute. She walked out into the back yard and made a phone call from her cell phone. Minutes later she came back in and, to Stan's absolute delight (and the dog's), she said that although this was highly irregular, given the circumstances (i.e. if the dog wouldn't 'come,' there was no way she could fling it over her shoulder and carry it out against its will) the dog could stay.
She and Stan carefully went over the details and requirements of the program and Stan eagerly signed the paperwork. The dog barked and wagged his tail so hard he almost gave himself whiplash!
Officialdom out of the way, Kirsten smiled warmly at Stan and the dog, a match made in Heaven if ever she'd seen one, and wished them both luck in their future together. She explained that in a couple of hours someone would arrive and bring all the supplies they would need to get them started. A huge dog bowl for food (along with a huge bag of food), another bowl for water and a special vest telling the world what a special dog he was. Someone would be in touch in a day or so to set up the first training session for Stan and the dog.
All that needed to be said having been said, Kirsten left to a triumphant chorus of 'Thank you,' from everyone.
Ma reminded Stan to let the dog out to do his business. Thankfully, there was a fenced back yard.
"But grandma, aren't you going to help me with him?"
"Oh Stan me luv, he's your dog, I'm afraid you'll have to look after him." As she turned to leave the room, she said, "You'll have to think of a name for him luv."
Her heart skipped a beat of relief and happiness as he promptly yelled for Eileen. "Eileen, where are you? Come and meet our dog. We'll have to think up a name for him." Eileen's face lit up like a golden beam.
The dog was so humongous that she was a little afraid. She gingerly sat down opposite Stan and the dog, and almost shrieked when it came over to her.
"Relax Eileen, he's a gentle soul. He's more likely to drown you than bite you!"
When the dog placed his head on Eileen's lap and looked up at her, doe-eyed, she carefully placed her hand on his head and he let her pat him. She was lost from that point on.
"Well, what shall we call him Stan?"
"Well Eileen, he's going to be a Bayly for the rest of his days. No doubt about that."
The dog's ears pricked up at the word, 'Bayly,' and he sat between Stan and Eileen, looking from one to the other, eagerly awaiting their next bright idea.
"Bayly? Would you like to be called Bayly?" Stan asked the dog, who cocked his head to one side. The dog didn't seem sure. He barked and looked from Stan to Eileen, as if to say, "Now look here, I may be a Bayly, but I'm certainly not any old Bayly. I'm the one in charge of looking after you! I'm important!'
For reasons unknown, both Stan and Eileen understood and Stan said, "What about 'Mr. Bayly.' Does that sound better?" Well, he'd hit the jackpot. The dog barked, jumped up and slurped Stan's face and wagged his tail eagerly.
Ma smiled broadly as Stan and Eileen announced they were taking 'Mr. Bayly' out for a walk. She then rushed into the kitchen. She'd better have something ready for Mr. Bayly when he got back. A dog of that size wouldn't want to wait a couple of hours for someone to bring him something to eat. She warmed inside at the name they had chosen. It was a good name. She set about carving chunks from yesterday's beef roast and putting it in one of her big bowls, before filling another huge bowl with water and setting them down in a large space beside the back door.
Easter morning was, indeed, a sunny, happy affair. Stan readily agreed to judge the children's Easter eggs in Ma Bayly's kitchen and made a very good job of hemming and hawing and going back over each egg, with eyebrows knitted together in agonizing indecision, with Mr. Bayly matching him step for step as they both paced up and down the table scrutinizing each egg, finally announcing that they were all so good it was humanly impossible to choose, so they all must get a prize - a chocolate egg each!
Mr. Bayly lapped the whole situation up. The kids adored him and he obviously returned the feeling.
Later on, down at the Community Hall Easter Egg Hunt and community get-together, the whole town was gathered, enjoying the fun.
Stan told Eileen that they should go, but she knew he was only suggesting it thinking that she would enjoy it. She knew he wasn't ready for such a big crowd and all the noise, but he wouldn't be put off and so they set out for the Community Hall.
As they approached the crowd and noise, Stan, holding Eileen's hand on one side and Mr. Bayly's leash on the other, started to slow his step. Eileen said they should turn back. But no, Stan was adamant he was going to conquer his fear once and for all. However, Mr. Bayly had other ideas and, after barking up at Stan, started pulling back on the leash. His master was in distress and he could sense it a mile off.
Eileen spoke softly, "Stan, I'm not really that keen on going. I'd much rather the 3 of us take a nice stroll through the field together on the way home. The daffodils are beautiful at this time of year." Mr. Bayly was still pulling back on the leash. As far as he was concerned, this was not open for debate.
Knowing that both Eileen and Mr. Bayly were right, Stan agreed and the 3 of them turned around and walked away from all the hullabaloo.
Ma Bayly spotted them from the park and felt a sense of relief. She knew Stan wasn't ready, but at the same time she knew now for certain that, all in the fullness of time, she would get her grandson back.
As they walked, Mr. Bayly now content beside his beloved master, Stan suddenly said, "You know Eileen, Mr. Bayly is a bit big for grandma's house. Maybe I should think of moving into the place ma and pa built for us."
"Us?" Did Eileen hear him right? "Us?!" She turned away to hide her tears.
Stan continued, "I mean, it's a good-sized 2-bedroomed bungalow in a nice spot away from their house, so we'd have our privacy, and it's on a big piece of property, so Mr. Bayly can run around to his heart's content." He hesitated for a moment before turning to her and looking deeply into her eyes in a way he hadn't done for so long. "And we really have to start thinking of the future Eileen."
Well, if he hadn't been holding her hand I swear she'd have floated away on a cloud of sheer joy and love.
Ma Bayly stood with her friends, dishing out tea and coffee, along with a cheeky word or two when she felt it was warranted, for she had never been one to mince her words. "Get yer hair cut Jimmy Piercey, you look like a cave man," to a teenage boy she'd babysat since he was born. She was rosey-cheeked, as always, looking out at her community with complete, unconditional love.
As she soaked up the beauty of her surroundings, she looked out over the field at Stan, Eileen and Mr. Bayly walking together in the distance and, as her heart soared, she offered up a heartfelt prayer of pure gratitude to God that He had helped them once again.
One Christmas At A Time (from Ma Bayly's House to Your House) Ma Bayly and Christmas haven't always seen eye to eye. Don't get me wrong. She takes a great deal of joy out of seeing her grandchildren's faces, beaming with excitement, at a time of year when everything twinkles and shines; the music in the stores is happy and upbeat; there are tons of huge, bright red bows everywhere; lots of special treats that only come out at Christmas and, of course, let's not forget that ... click to read moreMa Bayly and Christmas haven't always seen eye to eye. Don't get me wrong. She takes a great deal of joy out of seeing her grandchildren's faces, beaming with excitement, at a time of year when everything twinkles and shines; the music in the stores is happy and upbeat; there are tons of huge, bright red bows everywhere; lots of special treats that only come out at Christmas and, of course, let's not forget that jolly fat fellow in the red suit with the laughing face and big white beard that all kids simply adore!
The Christmas Carol Service at Church always moves Ma as she looks around at all her neighbours and friends, her family with her in their usual pew, feeling a sense of comfort and belonging in the House of God.
However, as for so many other folks, Christmas hasn't always been a time of happiness for Ma Bayly and sometimes has been more like something she's had to "get through."
Ma Bayly and her beloved husband Cyril were blessed with four great kids. Bonnie was her first and gave Ma two beautiful grandchildren, Jimmy and Rosie.
Brenda, her second, was born three years later and brought three more grandchildren into Ma's fold; Isabel, Sylvia and Christine (the youngest and by far the most outspoken).
Stan, her third, was born two years later. Stan was killed in a car accident when a drunk driver ran a red light and crashed straight into him. The police officer said the scoundrel must have had the gas pedal to the floor, he was going that fast. Stan was only 24 years old. It happened two days before Christmas. So you wouldn't be wrong if you said that it was a Christmas Ma and Cyril had to "get through."
Unable to recover from their terrible grief, the doctor, friends and family told Ma and Cyril that the best thing they could do was to have another child; not to replace Stan, for no child can ever be replaced, but to fill the unbearable hole in their lives, the terrible emptiness that hung over them like a black cloud. It took a long time to come around to the idea, but still in unbearable pain two years after Stan's death they did want another child and a year later Billy was born, on Christmas Eve. So that was definitely a happy Christmas.
The following year, on Christmas Day, Ma's beloved husband Cyril passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Another "get through it" Christmas for Ma Bayly.
Years later, Billy went on to marry a nice girl called Jean, the week before Christmas, and a year later welcomed their first son into the world. They named him after his late Uncle Stan and his late Grandpa Cyril; so Stan Cyril Bayly was born on Christmas Day. A wonderful, blessed Christmas for sure.
Ma doted on all her children and grandchildren, but Stan Cyril Bayly held a special, if secret, place in her heart.
Stan knew from when he was knee high to a grasshopper that when he grew up he was going to join the Army and serve his country. There was nothing on God's green earth that was going to stop him and everyone had to put their own fears and dreads aside and just be proud of him. What else could they do?
Stan joined the Army at the age of 22 and fulfilled his family's worst nightmare of being deployed to Afghanistan.
When most of the troops started coming home in 2011 the whole family was ecstatic, including Eileen, the girl who lived across the street from Ma and who had been Stan's sweetheart from the day they laid eyes on each other as children.
They hadn't heard from Stan in a good while, but lots of letters got lost and they all waited in great anticipation for word that he would be in the next group to be brought home.
Well, a year ago, on Christmas Eve, they did get word. But not the word they were hoping for. They got word that Stan was missing in action, presumed dead. So last Christmas was yet another one to "get through," as many of you folks out there will understand only too well.
This year, as Christmas approached, Ma felt the familiar tug of dread in her heart, while doing an heroic job of hiding it for the sake of her other grandchildren, who felt nothing but the anticipation and excitement that all young ones feel at Christmas.
Billy and Jean, Stan's parents, had moved to Alberta when Stan left to serve his country. Billy found good paying work and Ma believed they made the move because it was just too painful for them to stay at home, without Stan, and live their lives making a shrine of his room and worrying.
But Stan, being Newfoundland through and through, was adamant that when he came home, he would come home to Newfoundland. There was to be no Alberta for him! And so it was that a room was prepared for him in his grandma's house and it was understood by all that Billy and Jean would be by his side as soon as the first flight left Calgary.
Well, here we were. Christmas night at Ma Bayly's house and the table was laid, brimming with all manner of vegetables, breads, a massive turkey and, of course, Ma's world famous savoury dressing made with breadcrumbs from her own homemade fluffy white bread. There was also the very special carrot and turnip mash, which was always Stan's favourite. He was always very partial to carrots and turnips mashed together with a good dollop of butter and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Everything Ma Bayly and her helpers had noisily conjured up all day in the kitchen was laid out in all its splendour.
Ma Bayly, red faced, brushed off a bead of sweat with her special "I'm a Christmas Grandma" apron. She smiled brightly at all the goings on around her as everyone gathered around the table, but Bonnie, her eldest, could see it was forced. It was a happy mask put on for the sake of everyone else. Only Bonnie noticed when Ma would pull the curtain and look out of the window to the street. Searching.
Finally, Bonnie said, "Ma, come on now and take your seat. The food will get cold!"
"You go on," said Ma. "I'll be there in a minute. Got some things to see to first."
Ma made motions to bring more napkins to the table and fuss around. Anything but sit down.
Bonnie felt her eyes well up when Ma, once again, parted the curtains and looked up and down the street, reluctantly releasing them and giving in to hopelessness and helplessness.
Ma slowly made her way to her chair at the table when the sound of a vehicle pulling up outside made her turn on her heels and run back to the curtains. Her eyes widened like saucers. "Stay in your seats, all of you, there's someone at the door and I'll see to it!"
For a split second Ma shut her eyes and they could see her mouthing a quick prayer, then she made for the door with a stoic stride.
Before anyone could knock, Ma had the door open. There stood two soldiers, their army vehicle parked outside her house like a terrible omen.
"Mrs. Bayly?" The most officious of the two soldiers asked.
"Yes, I'm Mrs. Bayly." Ma's voice was almost a whisper. "You'd best come in."
"There's no time Mrs. Bayly. We just thought we'd better warn you. We've just dropped Stan off at the bottom of the hill and he's making his way here as fast as he can."
Ma's eyes widened while filling with tears. Her voice was no more than a croak. "Stan? My grandson Stan Cyril Bayly? He's on his way home?"
"Yes ma'am. He insisted we drop him off down there. He wanted to get here under his own steam ma'am. We just stopped by to make sure you were home...to make sure the lad had someone waiting for him when he got here."
"Well of course I'm home!" Ma said with great indignation. "Where else would I be?"
"Of course ma'am," said the soldier. "Sorry ma'am. Oh...and Mrs. Bayly....there's something you should know..."
"Thank you sergeant...um corporal...um...sorry son, sorry, no time for details." Ma abruptly cut him off. "I've a lot to do. Thank you." No time for niceties, she was about to shut the door in their faces, but she stopped as they wished her a Merry Christmas.
"Oh my, oh yes, Christmas...I'd forgotten...oh thank you serg.... um...thank you son, thank you, same to you, thank you!"
She almost slammed the door in her hurry to get in and get things organized and the two soldiers drove off into the night, wide smiles on their faces. This was the kind of house call they enjoyed making.
Ma made a noise akin to a yelp, but stifled it by putting her hand over her mouth. She made her way back into the dining room where the brood were sitting stock still, terror in their eyes, searching her face.
Ma's lips quivered and Bonnie started to cry. "Don't be foolish Bonnie, Stan's on his way home! They dropped him off at the bottom of the hill. He insisted. They just came to warn us he was on his way!"
There were screams and cries all around the table as Ma parted the curtains and strained to look down the hill leading to her house through the darkness and fog. At first, nothing. Then she could just make out the sight of a lonely figure, bent over, struggling with all his might to wheel himself up the hill to home.
"Oh me poor Stan," Ma whispered to herself. "Me poor dear Stan." She forced back emotion and tears.
Pandemonium broke loose as Ma sprung into action, barking orders in a voice nobody had ever heard before and nobody dared question.
"Bonnie, scrunch the kids up and make room for at least two chairs in Stan's usual spot!"
"Brenda, run upstairs and bring Stan's bedspread and pillow and slipp....no, never mind the slippers. Oh and bring some clean pajamas from his top drawer. Make up a bed in the parlour and be quick about it!"
"Rosie, bring down Stan's side table. Isabel and Sylvia, you go with her and bring down Stan's lamp, clock, and the picture of him and Eileen, and put them next to the bed. They stood gawking at her. "NOW!"
"Jimmy, go into the shed and bring me that old table top the men use to split the fish. Hurry now me lad!" He was back before he'd gone, table top under his arm.
"Now, nobody speak. Hush now," Ma said in a loud whisper as she turned off the hallway light and the outside light.
Everyone watched in disbelief as Ma quickly opened the front door, plunged herself down on hands and knees and quickly placed the fish-splitting door over the two steps leading up to the front door. She took a brief glance down the street before backing up, still on hands and knees, and quietly closing the front door. A flicker of a smile came over her face and Bonnie knew Ma hadn't been seen, apart from Eileen, who was peeking out through her curtains, clutching her handkerchief over her mouth like her life depended on it.
The whole house was in chaos, but apart from Ma, nobody had looked outside.
In a matter of minutes all was accomplished. Finally, the whole team squeezed around the window and pulled back the curtains.
Still quite far down the street was a lone figure in a wheelchair, fighting to wheel himself up the hill to the house.
A chorus of cries filled the room. "Ma! He's in a wheelchair Ma! He needs help Ma! We have to go out and help him Ma!"
Ma barked her final order. "NO!" Everyone's jaws dropped. Never had they seen Ma so....so wound up! Ma continued, "He told those soldiers to drop him off at the bottom of the hill. They told me he insisted! They told me he wanted to get home under his own steam and by Gracious God in Heaven we will NOT deprive him of that."
Ma's voice started to crack. Everyone looked at her in awe. They had never seen Ma like this. Bonnie and Brenda started to weep.
Ma looked at them all in turn, making intense eye contact with each. "I will say this only once and you will listen." She took one more fervent peek through the curtains, watching Stan's progress toward the house, making sure he didn't see her. "There'll be plenty of time to hear Stan's tales of the horrors he has gone through. He'll tell, but he'll tell when he's good and ready."
Once again she looked at each in turn. Nobody dared breathe, such was her intensity and determination.
"What our Stan needs when he comes through that door is NORMAL. He needs everything to be normal, just the way it has always been, and we will all make sure that's exactly what he gets. NORMAL. Now, do you all understand?!"
A chorus of whispers replied, "Yes Ma," and "yes Grandma," in complete unison.
"Now, all of you, get back to the table and start eating. When Stan comes in, he will take his place among you as he always has and there'll be NO STARING. Do you hear me? NO STARING!"
Silently, they took their places at the table, the large empty space where Stan usually sat being the most focused upon place in the room.
One more glance out of the window and Stan was almost at the door. This time Ma noticed that across the street, Eileen was peeking through her curtain, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. Ma silently prayed that Eileen would not rush over and try to help Stan, just as he was about to make it on his own. She stared over at Eileen, who saw her and nodded, instinctively knowing what Ma meant.
Finally, there was a knock at the door. The whole room went into a kind of shock. Ma stifled a sob, took a very deep breath, cleared her throat and, as though it was the most natural thing in the world, marched into the hallway and opened it.
Everyone sitting at the table strained to hear. Nothing at first, then Stan's voice, "Grandma, it's as though you were expecting me."
"Course I was Stan me love. Course I was," Ma said with a quiver in her voice. "Welcome home my precious grandson. Welcome home. Now you'd best get inside and take your place at the table. The food's getting cold!"
With that, she opened the door wide and Stan wheeled himself in and through to the dining room where the whole family sat, eyes gaping (but NOT STARING) at Stan in his wheelchair, Stan with one leg missing.
Bonnie was the first to speak, trying to mask the emotion welling up inside her.
"Welcome home Stan. It's great to see you." Then a chorus of, "Welcome home Stan!"
Ma stood stock still and watched as Stan manoeuvered his wheelchair into his usual spot. She gave him a quick, discreet 'head-to-toe going over' and saw that he had lost his left leg above the knee and thanked God in Heaven because that seemed to be the only thing. That, of course, and the hidden trauma from the untold horrific memories he would no doubt suffer for the rest of his life. "Oh me poor Stan," Ma thought.
Again Bonnie came to the rescue. She tried with all her strength to sound "normal," but as she spoke her words came out in a high-pitched babble at the speed of light. "Pass Stan the potatoes Jimmy, Stan do you want white or dark meat, Ma I think it's time to bring out the blueberry wine, Rosie pass Stan the dressing, it's his favourite!"
Ma looked over at her and winked. Bonnie smiled weakly and breathed out through pursed lips.
Ma took a quick glance out of the front curtain and there was poor Eileen, still standing there clutching her handkerchief.
"Everyone get stuck in, I've got to bring some washing in."
"But Ma, it's Christmas, you never do wash....."
"That's enough Christine......," Brenda gently nudged her under the table.
As she closed the back door, Ma pulled her old shawl around her shoulders and hurried across the street to Eileen's house.
Things around the Christmas table were going very well. Stan was obviously starving and put everyone at their ease by wolfing down his food in his usual fashion. Bonnie had poured everyone a glass of Ma's blueberry wine and raised her own glass to wish everyone a "Merry Christmas!" "Merry Christmas" echoed around the table and Stan downed his glass in one with shaking hands. Bonnie promptly poured him a fill-up, her hands also less than steady.
Suddenly, in the kitchen there was a sound like a stifled shriek, quickly followed by Ma's loud voice, "Get from under me feet you foolish cat!"
Christine, missing nothing, piped up, "But we haven't got a ca.... Ouch!" Again, she stared up at her mother, Brenda, who stared back with 'that look' again.
"Pass our Stan the carrot and turnip mash Sylvia, Ma made it especially for him."
For the umpteenth time that night the table fell silent again as Ma walked in with Eileen.
Bonnie and Brenda seamlessly shoved up around the already squeezed-to-capacity table as Ma pushed a chair in the space and set down a plate, knife and fork for Eileen.
Stan didn't look up, but focused on his carrot and turnip mash as though his life depended on it.
Eileen, who had been properly briefed by Ma, sat down as though this was just an everyday occurrence.
She stared at Stan, who point blank refused to look up and meet her eyes.
"Well," she said in a very bossy tone, "this is a fine state of affairs! Stan Cyril Bayly, I let you out of me sight for a couple of years and this is what happens! Well, you can rest assured I will never let you out of me sight ever again!"
Christine giggled, but this time there was no, "Ouch!" In fact, everyone seemed to be stifling a giggle.
Still no response from Stan, until he allowed himself a quick glance only as far as her plate, when he noticed a ring on her engagement finger. That did it! He forgot himself and for the first time acknowledged she was even there.
"I see you've been busy Eileen. Nice ring you have there on your finger. Who gave it to you?"
Eileen was momentarily taken aback by his voice, for it was not the chirpy, cheeky voice of the Stan who left to serve his country two years ago. It was the heavy, wooden voice of a man whose spirit had been broken.
Knowing full well the importance of this moment on their future together, Eileen quickly recovered and said, very tenderly, "Why YOU did Stan. YOU gave it to me."
Stan's temper flared. "Don't talk foolish Eileen. I never gave you a ring and you know it! We were going to wait until I came home. I suppose you just couldn't wait!"
At this point, everyone was looking from Eileen to Stan as each spoke like it was a tennis match and they were watching the ball pass from one side of the net to the other.
Stan's voice dropped to a dull monotone. "Anyway Eileen, it's just as well. I'm not the man you said goodbye to, all proud and fit in his shiny new uniform, and I never will be. I wish you luck."
Again, a silence fell over the table and everyone looked at Ma for guidance. But guidance was not forthcoming. Ma very daintily cut up a piece of turkey and placed it in her mouth as though there was nothing at all happening that didn't always happen around her dining table. Silently, though, she was pleading with Eileen to say the right thing, in the right way, and do it now. Otherwise, there might not be any picking up of the pieces of their relationship that had been so filled with love and devotion since they were childhood sweethearts.
Eileen didn't disappoint. She spoke very softly, her voice filled with love. "Stan, it's your Ma's engagement ring. She brought it over to our house last Christmas when she came to break the news you were missing in action and you were presumed.....presumed......" she couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence.
For the first time, Stan looked into Eileen's eyes as his face flared bright red.
Eileen continued. "Your Ma told me that "missing in action" just meant that you had outsmarted them and had escaped. Missing in action just meant that you had to take the long way to get back home and we'd just have to wait a little longer for you to get here. That's all it meant Stan."
Eileen's eyes filled with tears as Stan stared at her and allowed himself to feel, really feel for the first time since he could remember. Eileen and Stan were oblivious to everyone else around the table, but you could have cut the emotion with a plastic butter knife.
Eileen continued, "Ma said if you were here you would want me to start wearing this ring right now. It wouldn't be an engagement ring until you had got down on one knee, but it would do as a hope ring until then."
Christine piped up immediately, "But he might not be able to get down on one kne.... Ouch!"
Stan smiled for the first time and Ma welled up as she saw signs of her grandson start to resurface; her grandson Stan who had inherited her husband Cyril's easy smile.
Stan's voice had even started to get less wooden as he said to Brenda, "Let her be, it's only natural for her to be curious."
Never one to miss an opportunity like that, Christine immediately asked, very self-importantly, "Does it hurt?"
Everyone laughed, including Stan. "No Christine me luv, it doesn't hurt at the moment, but they tell me it'll be painful at first when they fit me with me new leg as I learn to walk on it on me stump."
As everyone laughed and shovelled food into their mouths, oblivious to the fact it was now almost stone cold, the phone rang.
"Stan," said Ma, "you'd better get that son. It'll be from Alberta."
As Stan wheeled himself into the hallway Ma shut the door behind him. They heard Stan's voice saying, "Oh Ma, don't cry. It's alright now, it's alright, I'm home now Ma!"
Ma Bayly looked at each in turn, at their beaming faces. At last, all her brood were together again. Her own son Stan and beloved husband Cyril were also there in spirit, she knew that for a certainty.
Bonnie caught Ma's look and knew this was one of those occasions when she had to become mother.
"Right then you lot, let's get this table cleared and then we can see about bringing out the figgy duff!"
As they hustled and bustled to and from the kitchen, Stan still on the phone with his ma and pa, Ma slipped away into the parlour and shut the door. She sat very quietly on her grandson's bedspread, stroking it as though it was a newborn baby. She looked at his things. His clock, his bedside lamp, the picture of him and Eileen, his pajamas laying very neatly on his pillow.
Inexplicably, her mind started to race a mile a minute, as mind's often do just as the heart is about to release a huge pressure valve. "Thank goodness my Cyril had the sense to get an extra bathroom put in downstairs, what with the growing family and two girls to boot! There'll be some adjustments to make. Jack Hiscock will put in ramps at every door and he'll be glad to do it. Billy and Jean will be on the next plane home, where will we put them? Won't be long before they come home for keeps. Oh, it'll all sort itself out...and on and on with the tiniest of details buzzing around her head like angry bees, until the valve finally popped and she sobbed (as quietly as she could) as she hadn't sobbed in a long time.
She wasn't aware of Stan as he quietly wheeled himself beside her and she jumped as his arm went around her. Grandma became child and grandson became parent for a few moments, as she lay her head on his shoulder and cried. "Oh Stan, oh Stan," she said in between sobs; and he sat quietly for the longest time before grinning at her and saying, "I just outsmarted them Grandma and I had to take the long way to get back home, that's all."
Later that night, everyone in bed, Stan next door sleeping in the parlour, Ma sat staring into the embers of the ebbing fire. Memories of Christmases past played through her mind. She smiled as she saw her beloved husband, Cyril, wink and smile at her in her mind's eye. The smile turned to sadness when she thought of her third born, Stan, and how cruelly he had been taken so young, his whole life ahead of him.
But this had been a good Christmas. Not a Christmas to "get through" after all.
And she thought the thoughts that had gotten her through so many unhappy Christmases, for Christmas arrives bang on time no matter what folks may be going through in the privacy of their own hearts.
She thought of those who were going through a "get through it" kind of Christmas this year. Folks with kids serving abroad, folks with loved ones who were sick or who had passed just around this time, folks who were going through who-knows-what, Christmas or no Christmas, who were going to have a "get through it" season this year.
She silently sent out a prayer for each and every one of them, a prayer she had repeated to herself over and over through her own difficult Christmases in the past.
"Dear Lord, please help them get through this; one minute at a time, one day at a time, one Christmas at a time."
DON'T MASH THE BLUEBERRIES! Sound Baking Advice from Ma Bayly Blueberry Season Looms,
So Let's Share A Blueberry Cook-up with Ma Bayly
(Ability to cook optional.)
Ma Bayly has always thought fame is highly overrated. Like she says, "It certainly hasn't done those film stars any good. Who in their right mind would want to have their picture taken every time they went to hang out the washing? No wonder they're all drug-quaffing, alcoholic, neurotic wrecks. Who wouldn't be? God forbid someone gets ... click to read moreBlueberry Season Looms,
So Let's Share A Blueberry Cook-up with Ma Bayly
(Ability to cook optional.)
Ma Bayly has always thought fame is highly overrated. Like she says, "It certainly hasn't done those film stars any good. Who in their right mind would want to have their picture taken every time they went to hang out the washing? No wonder they're all drug-quaffing, alcoholic, neurotic wrecks. Who wouldn't be? God forbid someone gets a picture of them still in their curlers or slurping back spaghetti with tomato sauce splashed from one end of them to the other! The poor souls can't put on a pound of weight or grow a wrinkle but we all have to know about it."
Wrinkles are something Ma Bayly has never given a second thought to. For she has worn very well indeed for a soul who has lived such a hard life. If she were to be asked why, she would swear up and down on the Bible that her shock of thick, silver (she doesn't hold with the term "grey") hair, smooth rosy complexion and all her own teeth are due to her absolute faith in Him Upstairs and what she likes to call "The Blue Pearls of Newfoundland." The Newfoundland blueberries. They are not big and cumbersome like you get in other places. They are small, sweet, juicy beads of goodness. Every bite tells the tale of Newfoundland. Every tingle of taste carries with it the salt air, the earthy sod, the wash-day clean wind and the free spirit that is Newfoundland. These tiny pearls have all the goodness a soul will ever need. All the anti-this's and low-in-thats and high-in-the-others that she is constantly bombarded with in the supermarket posters and on the television adverts.
Not to mention the glorious soul-soaring exhilaration she feels when she is out on the hills and glens of Newfoundland, brood in tow, all foraging for their bowlfuls of the blue gems for Ma to make into any number of delicious recipes and concoctions. To a child, or the child still within us all, the sheer magic in parting the bush and discovering the hidden blue clusters is every bit as enchanting as happening upon Aladdin's cave in a dream world. So there's a whole lot more to Newfoundland blueberries than the eating.
Ma's blueberry recipes do not require any cooking ability whatsoever. Just remember, if you've got more splatters of muffin mix on your spectacles than in your bowl, you're probably being just a bit too heavy handed. It is especially important to go gently when mixing the sugar in with the Newfoundland blueberries, as they are extremely delicate. This is a miracle in itself, when you consider the howling winds and lashing rains they must withstand as they grow and stand humbly in all their beauteous glory, just waiting to be discovered, admired and finally contribute to a downhome family get-together around the kitchen table.
It is not uncommon in Ma Bayly's kitchen on "blueberry cook-up" afternoons to hear her constant reminders to her helpers, her grandchildren, "DON'T MASH THE BLUEBERRIES!" She will repeatedly show them how to gently "fold" the sugar through the blueberries while keeping each precious gem a perfectly round tiny blue pearl.
When it comes to measurements, we have all been told about those wonderful women who never have to measure anything. A pinch to them is something they can hold between their thumb and finger. A cup is something they scoop out of the flour bowl with their hand. A third of a cup is something they instinctively know when they have it in their fingers. A quarter cup of butter is cut from the whole block with nothing but the naked eye as a gauge. Those women are, no doubt, very gifted. Ma Bayly is not one of them. Whenever someone tells her of these clever women, especially when she's in the very act of carefully measuring out a cup of flour with the aid of an actual measuring cup, she will wince even though she tries to cover it up. That wince means, "bully for them."
It's like when someone who thinks they're better than her needs directions to her house. She will spin a great yarn about turning right here and left there, then heading up the lane, where they will come across a brand new, huge mansion of a house with a black Hummer parked outside and a massive water feature on the front lawn - a huge cod spewing water into a bucket of pebbles. Then, when the person's face lights up like they've finally met "someone on their own level," she'll let it drop very matter-of-factly that she's in the old salt box house next to it. Just her way of getting things back on an even keel.
Measurements, according to Ma Bayly, are always open to interpretation. Sometimes a recipe will call for a cup of blueberries. Ma Bayly will read that as at least two cups of blueberries, depending on what she's making. The same goes for raisins and chocolate chips. It depends on whether you want one in every bite or whether you like it to be hit and miss. So never mind HOW you measure. It all comes out in the eating! According to Ma Bayly, you should measure as you like to eat. Sound advice if ever I heard it.
Well, no sense in going any further with this. When blueberry muffins are still warm from the oven, nobody wants to stand there and be told how they were made, they just want to stuff them in their gob and feel the comfort and warmth of home and the magic of finding Aladdin's cave crammed full of tiny blue jewels, with the glorious salt air and rolling green hills of Newfoundland in every chew.
So, get in there, get your hands sticky, your spectacles splattered and your hair good and floury. It all adds to the fun, especially for the youngsters helping you. For, like Ma Bayly with her brood, you will be helping to make memories that they will take with them forever, wherever their lives lead.
Ma Bayly of Newfoundland Ma Bayly is a young, 80-something-old Newfoundland lifer who lives in a picturesque, small fishing village. I know that is not telling you a lot about where she lives. A good many people in Newfoundland live in picturesque, small fishing villages, for these pastoral hamlets to Newfoundland are like seagulls to the sea. They are just a natural part of the terrain. But I'm afraid that is narrowing Ma Bayly's whereabouts down to as narrow ... click to read moreMa Bayly is a young, 80-something-old Newfoundland lifer who lives in a picturesque, small fishing village. I know that is not telling you a lot about where she lives. A good many people in Newfoundland live in picturesque, small fishing villages, for these pastoral hamlets to Newfoundland are like seagulls to the sea. They are just a natural part of the terrain. But I'm afraid that is narrowing Ma Bayly's whereabouts down to as narrow as it is going to get.
No need to get too worked up about honing in on Ma Bayly. She's always thought fame was highly overrated. Like she says, "It certainly hasn't done those film stars any good. Who in their right mind would want to have their picture taken every time they went to hang out the washing? No wonder they're all drug-quaffing, alcoholic, neurotic wrecks. Who wouldn't be? God forbid someone gets a picture of them still in their curlers or slurping back spaghetti! The poor souls can't grow a wrinkle or put on a pound of weight but we all have to know about it." That's Ma Bayly's take on being famous. So, needless to say, there won't be any guided tours past Ma Bayly's house anytime soon.
In any case, Newfoundland knows her, or at least knows OF her, for every Newfoundland family has their own Ma Bayly. She's the glue that keeps the family a family. That means each individual family, but it also means the family that is Newfoundland, for all who come from this isle are family. Even if you move here from somewhere else, you will be treated as though you are family. Within your first hour on the island someone will call you "Me Love," if you are female, or "My Son," if you are male. It's like you've been part of them for always and now they're finally meeting you in the flesh. You feel comfortable and comforted. They will want you to love this place as much as they do. They will want you to call it Home...and mean it.
Suffice to say, Ma Bayly is what Home means in Newfoundland. She is the reason why everyone who comes FROM Newfoundland, eventually comes BACK to Newfoundland. Doesn't matter where work may have taken them or how grand those other places may have been. Ma Bayly can only be found in one place. Newfoundland. Home.
Whether you have been away for five, 10 or 20 years, Ma Bayly will have your room ready for you just as if you'd never left. (Well, it will be much cleaner than when you left, but apart from that ....). Whether you eventually come back to have your wedding at home, bringing someone from somewhere else with you, your intended, who may even be meeting Ma for the very first time, or whether you come home with a brood of your own in tow, where Ma Bayly is, your home is and always will be.
Doesn't matter if you haven't visited her for years, or if you haven't even bothered to pick up the phone, you will be welcomed home as though you'd phoned her every day, or visited her every chance you got, or never left at all. If you have any guilt because you left Ma behind the same way as you left the woes and worries of no work behind, that guilt will be of your own making. For Ma Bayly doesn't judge or grudge. She just, simply, loves. That's who Ma Bayly is.
But make no mistake. We're not talking about the gushy, "so sweet it gives you a cavity but caves in at the first sign of hardship" type of love. For Ma Bayly is as tough as they come. She's the one who stayed back home to bring up the kids single handedly, through all the troubles and illnesses that goes along with raising children. She's the one who kept it all together through winter storms; hurricane-force winds; torrential downpours and floods; everything breaking down at once; everyone in the house sick at the same time; the paycheque from Alberta or some other faraway place not making it in time for the Friday mail, no matter how hard Ma shook the useless flyers in the desperate hope that the much needed envelope would drop out, with the cupboard bare and a table full of empty bellies; and, of course, the soul-crushing loneliness of being hundreds or even thousands of miles away from her husband, her partner, the father of her children, the man of her household and her life. All this was meant to be tackled together. On their wedding day, promises were made that they were now one and would never be apart. Damn and blast the lack of work. But she kept it together. She kept the home fires burning, through thick and thin, and doing it with as much good grace and humour as humanly possible. We're talking LOVE here.
She's the one person you can go to with any problem and know, sure as eggs is eggs, that anything that is said will never leave those four walls. Doesn't matter whether you're five years old or 65 years old. All problems get the same weight of consideration and respect from Ma Bayly.
When I was nine years old, I went to her with a HUGE problem. Brenda Babcock was forever correcting me and putting me down at school. It didn't matter what I said. Brenda Babcock would correct me in front of everybody else and make me feel stupid, like I knew nothing. Finally, it got to be too much for me. Out it all came in Ma Bayly's kitchen. After a long, reverent pause, she told me I should feel very sorry for Brenda Babcock. I didn't get it and told her so. I hated Brenda Babcock and could never feel sorry for her even if she begged me. Then came the light bulb moment. Ma Bayly said, "What do you call someone who knows nothing at all?" Clueless silence as I searched her face for the answer. Finally, she put me out of my misery. "A KNOW IT ALL!" A triumphant beat as she watched me reach to understand. "You should feel sorry for Brenda Babcock because she's a know nothing at all and she's just trying to hide it by pretending to be a know it all!" Well, I skipped home giddier and lighter than a helium balloon. Brenda Babcock was a know nothing at all! Poor thing. That must be awful!
Your problem becomes Ma Bayly's problem. But one thing you won't ever get from her is gooey, no-use sympathy. Like she's always said, "An ounce of help is worth a ton of sympathy." So, she'll offer help, but never sympathy. "Let's face it," she would say, "sympathy never fed the babies."
Ma Bayly knows that she is neither better nor worse than any other living soul. You'll never hear her talk down to anyone, but she won't let anyone talk down to her neither. It's when someone who thinks they're better than her needs directions to her house. She will spin a great yarn about turning right here and left there, then heading up the lane, where they will come across a new, huge mansion of a house with a black Hummer parked outside and a massive water feature on the front lawn. Then, when the person's face lights up like they've finally met someone on their "own level," she'll let it drop very matter of factly that she' s in the old saltbox house next to it! Just her way of getting things back on an even keel.
Ma Bayly is not perfect. In fact, far from it! Mistakes, mishaps and mess-ups are all part and parcel of her well-rounded soul. But she keeps striving and trying. Her strength comes from never giving up hope. For, as Ma Bayly cottoned onto out of sheer necessity when her man was away working for years on end and all hell broke loose in one way or another at home, hope is the one thing that the human spirit cannot live without. Hope that she could get her family through this crisis and the next. Hope that she was raising her children right, trying to be a mother big enough to compensate for their absentee father, who was hard at work somewhere far away to provide for them all. Hope that they would remember, appreciate and love their father who was sacrificing watching them grow in order to keep a roof over their heads. Hope that their father would be able to get time off to come home for Christmas, a child's birthday and eventually graduation. If he couldn't come home, then it was Ma's job to whip up as much excitement as possible over his phone call in a vain attempt to try and ward off the upset and disappointment on both ends of the line because Dad couldn't be there in the flesh. The anticipation in the household while waiting for the phone to ring, and when it did, "Quick me love, go answer it, that'll be your dad!" Hope that her husband would not become depressed, despondent and as lonely as she was, being so far away from his family and homeland. "Women tend to cope better with these things," she would tell her friends, Ma Smith and Ma Percy, who also had their men folk working away. Like a fiercely protective lioness, she held onto the hope that every soul under her care would make it through and not be any worse for wear for the hardships endured when a family is separated through the necessity of making a living. And finally, hope that she, herself, would continue to find the strength and courage to rally her brood, to nurture and nourish them, body and soul.
For without her, all would fall down like a house of cards. A burden impossible to put into words and sometimes, alone, in the quiet of the wee hours when all the children were safe in their beds; the washing in off the line; the mending, darning and ironing done; the peas soaking for tomorrow's dinner of ham and pea soup with dumplings; only then could she temporarily give into her own feelings of desperation and loneliness. A burden impossible to bear. But bear it she did, because she never gave up hope.
That's Ma Bayly for you. Don't fret too much about finding her. If you haven't one of your own here at home in Newfoundland, just lift your face to the wind and breathe in deeply the wash-day clean air tinged just right with a nip of kelp and salt and a ladling of new-cut grass earthiness. Breathe in the resilient, inspired spirit that is Newfoundland. Most of all, breathe in the hope and Ma Bayly will be standing right beside you.