STORIES of DOUGLAS (oh, where do I begin) by Carol Holm
Carol was 17 when her mother and Charles Douglas married, and lived with them while she finished high school and started university.
Getting time alone with Douglas didn’t happen frequently, even while living with him for four years.
[Later,] With me living out west & coming back periodically to NS to visit, Doug would typically say (& I didn’t have the awareness to contradict him at the time), “Of course, you’ll want to spend time with your mother”. It took me years to realize that: NO, what I REALLY wanted to do was to hang out with Douglas. I had to see this need first in my nephew Malcolm to articulate it for myself.
When it did happen, fun things happened, too: a highly successful Christmas shopping expedition commencing at 5 pm Christmas Eve; assisting in the judging of a regatta, …
One weekend morning, when Mom was (oddly) away somewhere, Doug had an idea. He said that at mid-day, all of the students at the Coast Guard College would be hanging out on the big deck overlooking the dock. He asked if I wanted to go sailing, saying, “your mother would not approve”. He wanted to “buzz them”.
This would be my only time spent on the Vita without Mom, aside from sunny days scraping barnacles. As I recall, sailing into this part of Sydney Harbour was easy. Having done so, we now needed to change course to leave this cramped little dock space. With a shift in wind & in view of a large, attentive audience, Doug said, “lay down on the bow with your arm stretched out as far as you can, & tell me when your fingers are six inches from the dock!” It took us SEVEN tacks to get out.
Around 1984, the faculty at the CGC were anticipating the arrival of the Parade of Sail in Sydney. Huge, majestic multi-masted sailing vessels sailing into harbour, making the Bluenose look like a dinghy! To greet sailors, you need young women. Conscripted, I was. Well, it’s not for naught that we [jokingly] referred to Mom as Douglas’ doxy! It threw me back into – it felt like – the time of the Great War, or earlier. Sailors in proper sailor uniforms, walking up the path from the dock at night, tall ships in the background, towards the Esplanade. Strings of lights in the trees, us girls lined up to greet them.
Around the time my parents split up, my brother Mike said that his friend David’s parents were also splitting up, with David’s dad moving out of the family home & into a house across the street which they also owned. David & his two older siblings moved in with Doug. Their mom & two younger ones went west.
David was always our favorite of Mike’s friends. Sometime before the breakups, one day while David was hanging out with all of us (at home with the Holms), I remember asking David to describe our immediate family (our dynamics) from his point of view. David placed himself in the picture, & nobody batted an eye.
After the breakups, there were a couple of years during which both Mom & Doug got settled into their respective “new normals” as singles. It was my understanding that, after Doug met my mother briefly, Mike suggested to Douglas that he ask her out on a date. Mom was so surprised/shocked at being asked, she nervously said no. Mike prompted Doug again, & by this time she had processed the idea of dating.
Most of Mom & Doug’s dates consisted of walking the dogs: Doug’s Samantha (a cocker spaniel) & Mom’s Tiffany (a cockerpoo). Step-sisters! Along with their dates, we had canasta & backgammon nights at Doug’s, barnacle-scraping & sailing fun. Douglas once gave me a pair of socks: one with a green stripe & one with a red stripe. Threw me into a bit of panic, as I knew I’d have to learn my port from my starboard.
It was around this time that my mother got me into Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, my mom got me into D&D, at a time when so many parents & congregations preached against it (1981-ish). She bought me the original Dungeons & Dragons box set. The one time we played it as a family, Douglas was Dungeon Master (DM). (A friend & colleague of Doug’s from the CGG was a Dungeon Master for a group who met in his basement, & afterwards his stepson became the DM for a group I played with for years.)
Speaking of gaming, Douglas did quite a bit of this while he was at sea. He had developed a board game somewhat like RISK, but nautical, which he beta-tested with his friends on their down-time. One of these friends had his turn on leave before Douglas did, & while ashore, had the game copyrighted in his own name without Douglas the wiser.
SMALL WORLD: I remember being told by my friends Margaret & Jamie Fraser that their mother had to move her piano into their dining room, where we used to hang out, because the music school where she had been renting teaching space would no longer be available. We all began hanging out at my place more. A few years later, shortly before Mom & Doug’s wedding, I went to brag to Margaret & Jamie about this cool new house I was moving into, & they explained that it had been their mom’s music school [run by Doug’s ex, Marilyn]. Roughly where my dresser was going to stand, their mother’s piano had been.
Three years later, Margaret & Jamie’s family cat Tibbles had a litter of kittens. Mom & I went to view them. (The word “view” is code for “pretending we’re not picking one out while we really know we are picking one out”.) About a month later, we brought home a kitten named Sirius, born in a box in Margaret & Jamie’s mother’s dining/piano room.
One evening Jamie came over to play cards, explaining that before goofing off, he needed to get some piano practice in first. As Jamie sat at my mother’s seldom touched piano & started playing, Sirius the cat jumped up onto the bench beside him, watching Jamie’s hands & face intently. This was the first time since we had brought him home that the cat had heard a piano. Sirius moved from sitting on the bench to sitting on the keys, to deliberately playing keys, observing Jamie closely, sitting back on the bench, back up onto the keys, & playing the keys again. As any music student knows, once you start playing a piece, you have to keep playing – seeing it through. Even when some obnoxious cat turns it into a duet!
Any time a merchant ship came into port in Sydney, Douglas had a visit, if not to the house then to the ship or to a pub. I was finishing up a year of university, preparing for exams, & with plans to go & visit my sisters in Montreal for a month afterwards. Around this time, Mom was a member of a group called Women Unlimited, concerned with empowering & supporting fellow women. The group was just a good size to meet in the homes of its members, who took turns hosting.
On this occasion, it was the captain & the chief engineer who came to hang out with Douglas for a couple of days. The first evening, he & Mom were wined & dined on board the vessel, & she was given a full tour. The next night, the four of them went a restaurant. Having a meeting with the Women Unlimited group to go to afterwards, & knowing that the boys were enjoying themselves, sailors at port (oh, Mom, you doxy!), she SUGGESTED to SAILORS that they should go to a BAR. It was RAINING, as it does on the coast. They DRANK like SAILORS, arriving at her meeting two or three hours later, boots on, mud all over the NEW WHITE SHAG RUG, pouring drinks for the ladies. The upshot was, I did get an invite for a free ride to Montreal – by a still-very-drunk chief engineer. Apparently, it was their next port-of-call. Had Douglas been going, had I finished my exams already, had the guy been sober & considerably less creepy, I may have considered it (the one glance I got into the engine room during my very brief look onboard, revealed a very cute young engineer!).