Coming of Age Drama

“Slow Down”


Jeanne Labelle-Potvin

I remember. 

And yet I’ve been told so often, “That’s impossible. You couldn’t remember that.” As I do my best to believe these doubtful Toms, strange things begin to percolate from somewhere deep inside the very core of my being. I watch as pictures dance before me, visions projected through my eyes onto the screen of reality.

 I remember.

It was a long time ago. I’m peacefully asleep, wrapped snugly inside a cocoon of indescribable softness.There are pathways inside my brain that are being laid carefully. My mother is slow and careful and watches the world around her with suspicious eyes. She knows that when you move too fast the morning never seems to last and the pathway before you becomes a multi textured cobblestoned hazard course.

Her beloved mother, my grandmother, had left Vancouver Island and traveled across the sea to North Vancouver to stay with her favourite brother, his wife and their children. She was a most welcome guest, beloved by all and especially sought for her wicked sense of humour. 

My grandmother had been born in the early 1900’s with a congenital heart defect, literally a “hole in her heart”. She was an extremely hard worker, brought up in a shack in northern Manitoba. She was the youngest girl with four older brothers. All but one of them left early for the coast, my grandmother to follow when she was assured her mother would be taken care of by her oldest sibling. She met my grandfather, married and in 1929 gave birth to an only child, my mother. 

Sadly, her birth defect, her very active life on a farm and her addiction to tobacco was to cut her life short at the age of 47. She died while staying with her brother, as she awaited consultation with a heart specialist. My mother received the news and collapsed hearing what she did not want to hear.

I was 7 months on this planet and though safe inside my mother’s womb, the shock of her shock hit my belly like a 220 volt bolt of electricity. The next 2 months were not pleasant. My happy safe place was invaded by grief and pain. My mother endured with a determination to bring me into the light of the world. She did an excellent job and yet her sadness permeated the fibers of my being. I was always on high alert,

I remember.

I was less than two the day my father cut off his thumb. OK, perhaps he didn’t entirely cut it off. But here is what I remember.

My mother is lying on the sofa, pensively looking out our front room window. I’m playing quietly on the floor beside her. I hear deep sighs and the occasional silent sob as she tries to stifle her breath with the back of her hand. I know the depth of her deep sorrow, and I feel the intensity of its fire. 

I am yet peaceful and serene. There is a certain joy in our home, even though sadness casts a heavy spell.

My parents dance. They hold me in their arms as they sway to a Frank Sinatra song. My mother changes the black vinyl record, cranks the handle to the turntable and I’m listening to Patti Page warn her female listeners to not trust their best friend and to carefully watch your man when they play the Tennessee Waltz.

There is happiness in our home and much of that joy and liveliness springs from the energized force that drives my father’s every waking moment. I see early that he is a dynamo of activity. I always knew that I would need to be strong to withstand the magnetic force of that swirling dervish.

Back to the day he cut off his thumb. He is busy chopping wood in the basement. I know he is anxious to move onto his next task and my mother is simply lying low til he calls up for her to get ready so they can go out and cut down yet another tree to clear land for a house they dream of building.

He’s fast. Unfortunately he is also impatient.

Chop, chop. A rather soothing rhythm echoes from the basement. Then we hear shocked screams as my father yells loudly up the stairs to my mother that he has cut off his thumb. 

She leaps off the sofa, grabs me to her side as she runs to the open basement door. She cautions me to sit against the wall as she looks down to see what is going on with my father. I peek around the corner and see my father holding up his left hand with his thumb hanging against his wrist, attached only by a thin strip of skin, blood spurting out in a pulsing fountain.

Mom grabs me again, quickly dresses me for travel, instructs my dad to wrap his hand with the towel she throws down the stairs and the next thing I know, I’m sitting in doctor Cantor's office as he sews my dad’s thumb back together. As we drove back to our home I made a note to be cautious when working with my dad. Especially if he was using an axe.

My next memory of his untrustworthy behaviour happened a couple of years later. By this time my parents had made a sister for me and though she was truly adorable, was also spoiled rotten. Her talents went far beyond batting her huge eyes to charm and beguile those around her to get what she wanted. Her ultimate weapon was to scream loudly and then hold her breath til my mother panicked and gave her what she wanted. I remember being both disgusted and impressed at the same time. However I also fell victim to those luminous eyes that filled with tears so quickly and went out of my way to comfort and offer solace when she seemed to need it most.

Back to my father, the speed demon.

We lived beside a beautiful creek with a train trestle that bridged its flowing waters. For the most part it was quite safe and provided hours of entertainment for many families in the area.

I especially loved to explore the shores, lying patiently watching crawdads, minnows and other water life make their homes amongst the rocks and sand. The skitter bugs would glide across the shallow waters of the small dams I built with rocks. This was my happy place and though I could swim, I was not really driven to leave the safety of the creek's edge.

My sister on the other hand was amazingly brave, and seemed to thrive on the clapping admiration of a crowd that loved watching her perform. I would watch with some small degree of disdain as she would leap into the waters from a rather high position, goaded by the onlookers.

As I said, the creek was actually a very safe place for children to swim and play, save for the deep hole in the middle where I knew monsters hid and lurked waiting patiently for the right victim to swim above them. I spoke not of my secret knowledge as I’d learned by this time that most adults were unable to see the many mysterious creatures that revealed themselves to me.

It was a particularly hot summer day and I was playing along the southern shore. I longed to travel across to the other side but was afraid to brave those lurking monsters hiding in the middle where the water ran deepest. Somehow my father appeared at that moment and asked me if I’d like to ride on his back and he would swim me across to the other side. I blocked out the memory of his hanging thumb and tentatively said, “yes.”

We were halfway across, directly over the deepest spot when my father suddenly dove out from underneath me and quickly swam away. I managed not to panic, praying that my legs would not be eaten by monsters and swam across the rest of the way on my own.

My father was most pleased that he’d been able to help me overcome my fears and seemed proud of his accomplishment. I knew then that he was not to be trusted and though I loved him very much, I came to watch him carefully, especially around water and of course axes.

The years moved on and this dynamo of a man accomplished much in his life. His reputation for speed garnered him the nickname “Energizer bunny” and slowing down was rarely on his agenda.

He managed to break my pension for methodical observation with his demands to, “Hurry up, you're so slow.” His addiction to speed eventually lured me into a similar obsession. Though never quite able to match his racing beat, I managed to keep close behind. In the process I did things that a female was never meant to do, injuring my body to a place where arthritis began to cripple me.

There are certain steps to be taken in life. They begin early and often lead us down torn and twisted roads. Sometimes the path less traveled beckons loudly and resistance appears futile. To follow or not to follow becomes the question. If we are blessed, our admission of powerlessness comes easy and we eagerly relinquish that task to a power greater than ourselves. If our better judgment has been compromised, the work at hand can be insanely difficult and restoring sanity a daunting task.

Friar Laurence’s advice to Romeo was to “slow down”. Romeo failed to listen. He and Juliet certainly paid a steep price for his obsession, as have many that followed. Addiction to speed then becomes more than a handicap and sadly, death or injury follow closely on its coat tail.

Had I been more astute, I’d have buried myself in Shakespeare’s work, especially paying attention to the good Friar Laurence. Fortunately, other hidden guardians came to my rescue and I was able to plant my feet on a firm path that carried me forward to what was to become the easier, softer way. The gory future predicted by some slowly faded into a void that firmly stayed covered…one day at a time.

I may not have been able to skip down cobblestones any more, but for the most part, in the morning, I’d look to find the beautiful petals of life scattered beneath my feet and my prayer became a grateful cry, “Life, I love you, all is groovy!”

May 29, 2024 03:06

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Sophie Parmaby
16:35 Jun 06, 2024

This was such an intriguing story to read! I really enjoyed the themes of how family mannerisms are often passed on and can have a negative impact on wellbeing. One thing I would recommend is having more connections to the theme earlier on in the story since it felt more cohesive at the end but I felt like it tied in less with the very beginning. Overall amazing job!


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21:59 May 29, 2024

Many thanks to Simon & Garfunkel for inspiration. Also my good friend Glenna S. - a retired high school English teacher and great fan of Shakespeare.


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