Category Archives: history old and new

Gossip, shame and power.

“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.”

Anais Nin (attributed)

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I’d like to talk about gas lighting and shaming, in particular about victim shaming. Gas lighting is defined as rewriting someone else’s reality. The phrase is from a movie about a man who plays tricks with the lighting to make his wife think she’s going crazy so that he can take her money from her (my rough understanding, I’ve never seen the movie but I probably should). The lights in the movie are gas lights and so the phrase, ‘gas lighting’ was born.

Gas lighting is a technique usually used by abusers to keep their victims on the defensive, to keep them worried and off their footing so that the victim can’t regroup and come up with an escape plan. It makes the victim question every last thing in their reality right down to the tiniest of things like: did I leave the door unlocked? Did I leave the window closed? Did I put the cap on the juice?

It’s enough to drive you mad, and that’s the point of it. The abuser wants to drive you mad. They want to have complete power over you. It’s the true mark of a sociopath to take this route with a victim. If you suspect you’re a victim of gas lighting you need to seek help immediately. You need to call a helpline if you don’t have friends or family that will support you because along with gas lighting comes isolating you from everyone else.

This isolation can be done in such an insidious manner that it seems impossible, paranoid even to trace it back to your abuser. And yet, when you look at where all the roads lead: they all lead right back to the person who has you in their sights.

Usually this sort of thing occurs in an intimate and usually sexual relationship. Usually one party has considerable power over the other either financially or physically etc. These sorts of tells make victims of gas lighting hyper aware of new gas lighting efforts and most victims will run away when they see the first signs of the same cycle repeating once more.

 

I’m someone who was raised by a violent sociopath. He was intelligent and calculating and not the sort of man who threw me into a wall and punched me, he was manipulative. He was scheming. He made me feel like everything I did was of my own volition and not doing it was weak. He made me want to protect him and to feel like I was doing a good thing to protect his secrets.

It took a massive amount of will to come forward about the sexual aspects of abuse and how deeply I’d been manipulated. It was deeply shameful to admit how badly I had been taken in. But it was okay because I had a good support network.

I had my husband, I had my friends online, I had my online friends, I had my local community, I had my therapist and perhaps one of the most valued anchor points of all was my childhood best friend who was one of the very few who I told the most intimate of my details to.

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But it wasn’t okay. It wasn’t okay because someone in my system was gas lighting me. Normally it would be most likely to have been one of my therapists or my husband since authority and/or sexual behavior are the two big things that allow someone to be in the position to gas light another person. It wasn’t them. My husband has never kept me in a position of subservience in any way and my therapists have been carefully weeded through to find ones who listen to me and who don’t ever push me outside of my comfort zone.

false alarm

There was something wrong with someone who I least suspected: my best friend.

They say that you should always trust your dog. Well, my dogs hated her. The longer they knew her the more they hated her. They started acting out around her in ways that I had only seen them act around people who had admitted to having violent thoughts towards me or who had acted aggressively. That’s weird.

Then one day around Christmas, out of nowhere, she just called me and my husband stupid. She just said, ‘I was looking at getting a new game but I didn’t think you guys were smart enough to get them so I have to look for games for stupid people.’ Then she laughed. Hahahahah. That’s funny?

It’s not the way I talk to my friends and I’m not used to my friends talking to me that way. In fact, the only ones that have ever really talked to me like that are my abusive family. I started to have success in the local community and my friend C got mad. I could see it made her mad. I didn’t let it bother me because I could see that it was the sort of anger that comes with jealousy. I understand jealousy and I started the typical victim cycle of making excuses for an abuser.

But I had no idea that my friend would do this to me! Why would she? Was it all jealousy all along?

Then it got worse. Little bits of private information started to surface around town. At first it was little things that I keep to myself because I had to change so much to get away from my abusive family. They aren’t exactly secrets; but they aren’t things that I want told far and wide either.

The details that were getting out got more and more detailed and personal. People started to turn on me and my husband. And then, people started to let me know where the source of the rumors was: C.

I couldn’t believe it! With my typical loyalty I stood up for C while she smugly dispersed vivid images of my dad raping me around the small community where I live. All the while, not saying a word to me about it.

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She would come by almost every weekend and sometimes she seemed exceedingly eager to hear about any misfortunes that my husband or I had had that week and seemed disappointed when I was happy and upbeat. My suspicions grew. My dogs continued to growl at her.

Every Sunday we’d play games with her and my husband and we’d either make dinner or order pizza, most often our treat. There was something else that was weird too. While to my face she would say that she liked my husband, as soon as I left the room she would treat him like he didn’t even exist. As soon as I walked back in she turned back on like a light switch. She was gas lighting us. She wanted me to think Tony was crazy or for me to say something to her and then to accuse us both of being oversensitive and crazy. It became rude to the point of insanity. How could I have her in my home if she was going to treat my husband this way? And what was she playing at by acting this way anyhow?

I wondered for awhile if she knew what she was doing. I wondered if it was just because she was awkward. Maybe she didn’t know what to say? But no, it was too extreme for that! And the escalation convinced me that she knew damn well what she was doing.

Meanwhile she was pumping us for information. One week she was elated. She told me that her mother had spent an hour and a half talking to her on the phone and was so happy for her mother’s attention. But she had been talking all about me and the pottery guild and how they had treated me. I felt sick to my stomach. Why was she talking to her mom for so long on the phone about me? Why did it make her so happy?

I realized with growing sorrow that she was trading in my struggles and tragedies as little gossip tokens to make herself the center of attention at her coffee shop. I realized that she was not my friend at all. This was affirmed when she told me that she wouldn’t stand up for me because she wouldn’t put her business at risk for me. She would, however, be more than happy to tell people about my childhood rapes it turned out!

Thanks, friend!

I told her I didn’t want to have our Sundays anymore. Having her leak everything we  said to her friends who hate me wasn’t cool. Having her be friends with people against whom I have a Human Rights Tribunal case made it too conflicted to have her over any more. Her response was to inform me that I was unappreciative of her efforts to ‘stand up’ for me by telling people about my abuse.

WHAAAAAAAT????

So, C, now you’re going to write my story for me? You who barely noticed my broken arms throughout childhood? You, who said you didn’t remember the times I broke down and said I had to do better, lose more weight (at 90 lb) so daddy would be happy with me? You who turned your back on me? You and your mother both. Your mother who was a goddamn school teacher and should have been on the phone with social services when this emaciated kid with broken bones was at her house… but was happy to let me come and stay for a few days but never to really help?

I would have been happy to let the betrayal go. To let it go that when people who know my name look at me and imagine my dad raping me when they see me. I was okay with you getting the facts wrong, C. I could have walked away without setting the record straight. But I’m  not okay with you telling me that I should be grateful to you for gossiping about my life and my pain. For making it impossible to know if the person next to me in public will say something about your version of the abuse I’ve suffered.  I’m not okay with you using my story as your currency. I’m not okay at all.

A lot of the comments you made and the friends of yours and your mother’s made make a lot more sense now. I wondered about them, like how I wondered about the things my family said before I found out my dad had told them all that I was crazy and that’s why I ran away from home. The two groups’ reactions were SO similar.

Congratulations. You’re almost as good as Leonard and Frank. One day maybe you’ll get smug enough and deluded enough and evil enough to rank right up there with them. But for now you can pat yourself on your back and tell yourself how much better you are than me because you have such a normal family, and how you ‘helped’ support me by taking my voice and telling your version of my stories to the world. Behind my back.

And maybe, just maybe, I won’t tell everyone all the horrible things you had to say about them. I can’t think of very many people that you had anything nice to say about. You listen in on your customers and judge them for what they read, what they eat, how they raise their children. You spill their private lives, rebirths and changes of name. You gossip about it to everyone else. You are a big pitcher with very big ears and a mouth meaner than nearly anyone I know.

You’re quick to talk about how important it is to be liberal but you won’t even admit openly that you’re bisexual. You’ll brag about it and talk about how proud you are of it, but only in front of the ‘right’ people. When it comes to time to put up or shut up, you shut up. You’d rather delete your FB page than put that up (and no one but you prompted you to insist on doing that, I wouldn’t mention it but you’ve assured me many times that you’re incredibly open about how liberal and bisexual you are that I don’t see why you’d mind me talking about it)… and deal with having to be connected to the real me. Not the little structure of me that you made up to use to put yourself in the spotlight, but the bag of pus you extracted to spread like poison over the city of Dawson Creek.

You aren’t just Faking Sanity. You’re faking everything. You’re lying. I know how you REALLY feel about a lot of people, maybe you’d like me to repay the favor you’ve done for me? ‘Warn’ people about what you’ve been through having to work serving them while hating them so very much? Despising them and their beliefs, their children, their ‘fruity’ or ‘nutty’ ways? Or maybe it wasn’t a favor at all and some things aren’t meant to leave a room. Maybe you wouldn’t want those people to hear the cruel things you had to say about them at all. Just a thought: you might value your privacy a bit higher than you value my privacy or in fact the privacy of anyone else around you including your business partner/roommate and your family… not to mention your much maligned customers.

Tell your own damn story and quit talking about my story. Quit talking about everyone else’s story. You don’t own any of that. You don’t do anything except sit in bed eating dollar store junk food and watching Will Wheaton play role playing games. You haven’t earned any of the stories you smear all over yourself and you don’t have a right to steal them. You’re worse than Gollum- at least he only wanted one ‘Precious’, you want anything dramatic, shiny or sordid to claim for your own and you don’t care who you hurt.

Speaking of hurt, I have one final thing to say on the subject. My dad hurt me, a lot. But I never trusted him, and I trusted you. I let my guard down around you and I thought you were safe. You were abusive in a way that stung more than what my dad did to me because there were good times with my dad. They were separate from the bad times but with you… everything I respected and treasured about you turned out to be a vicious and manipulative lie. You hurt me so much and for so little return, just a moment of attention and of being in the spotlight, a moment of putting a bit of tarnish on someone else. I should have known when I saw how cruel you had become to everyone in our past and in your present. The way you talked about your roommate and your family should have told me what to expect from you. The cruel lines around your mouth and the way people remarked that they had never seen you laugh before… the signs were there. I should have seen, but I loved you and so I didn’t let myself see.

I know that I’m not the only one you’ve done this to because I’ve heard the things you’ve said about other people. I’ve seen your cruelty in action. I wondered what they had done to you to make you so bitter and hurtful but now I see that you ARE bitter and hurtful. What people do in your radius is independent of how you treat them.

You need help. You know that. I’ve decided to post my response to you in public because I’ve learned that anything I say to you in private you’ll just twist. At least this way I get to keep my own words. You don’t get to steal those from me anymore. I’m reclaiming them and I hope all the people who listened to you realize that you committed a crime against my person, against my very soul by trying to steal my story for your own petty purposes. Go to the doctor, talk to a therapist, but whatever you decide, for once talk about yourself and not about everyone else. Get yourself sorted out and stop stealing from everyone and cutting everyone down to make yourself feel taller.

I hope that one day I can clear the debris of scum that you’ve covered our entire relationship in. Maybe I can enshrine what I thought of as our relationship in a hallowed place in my heart and mind then. That day is not today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where I Live: The City of Dawson Creek

Three Major Districts of Import

Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada
Virginia Stark

 

The Health Care and Hospital District

Dawson Creek Hospital has a complex of buildings around it that show the regions need for an increase of medical resources in a hurry. The complex consists of a three story hospital with three wings that house a variety of patients and facilities including an X-ray, Laboratory, Ultrasound and recently and MRI. Although it has a lot of space and facilities, it is often lacking in doctors for the Emergency Room. Patients are frequently flown out of Dawson Creek to Vancouver or Edmonton for emergency procedures that outstrip the areas technology or the availability of qualified medical personnel.

The entire facility encompasses a large park-like area that allows patients some easily accessed green space. Dawson Creek is a city that is known for its boom and bust economy and the set up of buildings shows how the municipal government utilizes bursts of money to build smaller, but well outfitted buildings. These buildings include a walk-in clinic for transient workers with no local doctor. It also has a health unit complex that treats the elderly and other patients who need help with physical care but may not need or qualify for in-home care workers. It also administers vaccinations and narcanone kits.

The Mental Health and Addictions Centre is housed in the same building as the Health Care Unit and offers help for anyone seeking assistance in dealing with any drug or addiction problems, group therapy and both psychologists and psychiatrists who are available through a General Practitioners recommendations. This is a sizeable amount of permanent resources available for a population whose permanent residence level is fairly small.

There are many people involved in the construction of these buildings including oil and gas companies who make financial contributions to offset the burden that transient workers they bring in put on the health care system. The workers at these places seem content and although they are less likely to stay in Dawson Creek permanently due to the remoteness of the location and the hostile weather conditions. The buildings themselves are slightly awkward because workers often have to go from one building to

The Walk-In Clinic offers the service of doctors for non-emergency services for patients who do not have access to a General Practitioner. It is pictured across the road from the hospital. There is a bus stop between the hospital and the clinic for increased access.

 

another in inclement weather to access the array of resources.

Shown here is the entry to the hospital. Now covered in snow, this expanse is covered in grass in the summer months. There is also a large parking lot that offers free parking for easy access to the many resources offered.

The Health Unit and Hospital are ringed with easy access to bus stops to further facilitate accessibility.

 

 

 

The Parks and Recreation Public Use District

The Rotary Park is a large park that is vital to the city in all seasons. It is utilized for walking, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and for various other games and sports as well as a training ground for emergency workers who must learn to move through the woods and snow in all conditions. Pictured here is the tennis courts. They are of little use in the winter but are utilized heavily in the summer. There is also a baseball diamond on the far side of a parking lot. All parking and usage of the park are free. It is maintained by park workers and the land was donated to the city by the Rotary Club of Dawson Creek.

The park offers greenspace and protects the creek, Dawson’s Creek, that the city was named for as a protected watershed. The Arts Society has contributed interesting markers with poetry and historical markers along the extensive walking trails to enhance its interest and encourage people to visit the park.

Part of Rotary Park, an outdoor gym sits unused in the winter months but offers free access to sophisticated gym equipment for anyone to use day or night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Railroad District

 

The railroad is another vital piece of infrastructure. The city was brought into existence by the railroad and is one of the oldest parts of the city. The grain silos pictured are now abandoned but they are likely to be utilized in the future. There are more active grain, feed and other agricultural as well as other natural resource transportation that relies on the railroad to this day as its artery to the outside world.

 

The original railroad station brought in many people anxious to get in on the Klondike Gold Rush. Later it was instrumental in bringing in American soldiers to build the famous Alaska Highway that protected the entire west coast of North America from invasion through the Pacific Ocean. The railroad station is now a Museum and popular tourist attraction but the original railroad line is still active behind it.

Immediately beside the former railroad station is the last standing grain elevator in Dawson Creek. It has been transformed into a magnificent art gallery that supports local artists, potters and crafts persons of all sorts. Classes are offered for young or accomplished artists and it is a hub of culture in the city.

Valentine’s Day Triple Feature

This Valentine’s Day has been spread over two days for me and my husband this year. Part of this is because in British Columbia we now have ‘Family Day’ which fell on February 13 this year. Because of this a lot of our day on the 14th is the ‘back to the real world’ part of any long weekend.

This hasn’t stopped it from being an extremely special time. Last year we released the ‘Hearts Asunder’ anthology and this year we released the second anthology of the same title. It’s starting to feel like things are moving at a rolling, steady pace with the holidays adding a conducive momentum to these types of themed anthologies. Heart’s Asunder 1 was popular and I think the second of the same name will be at least as enthusiastically received.

I’d like to share a more intimate (but still PG rated) part of my Valentine’s Day this year. As with most anything in my life, it comes with a backstory; so get cozy!

When I was a little girl I was in many ways treated like a princess. This extended to my Dad making me a little girl’s dream canopy bed. I had always wanted a canopy bed and both of my parents pitched in to make it my fantasy come true. Pink, with rosebuds on the curtains and canopy and crushed velvet accents, my mother made a matching blanket out of the same material with my childhood velour blanky as the lining.

pink-canopy-bed

This bed isn’t nearly as nice as mine was, but you get the general idea: A little bed for a little princess. 

Like all in most fairy tales, the princess’ life became more complicated through no fault of her own. Evil forces conspired to burn her house down and the magical bed went with it.

I’m really serious about that last paragraph. I’ve frequently joked about living in a Lemony Snicket book and I’m half convinced he got some of his ideas from my childhood (not really, but sort of really). The bed was lost in the fire and I never had one like it ever again.

Even all in pink my older brother was jealous of that bed. I think it was more about the time and energy both of our parents put into it but whatever the case, it was something special. it’s rare that something has so much love put into it. In my tempestuous life, it was an anchor point for me to hold onto. My dad was a man of grand gestures that made up for his many other shortfalls. In this case, that bed of mine made up for a lot of failing and probably bought him years of forgiveness that kept me bonded to him.

It wasn’t because the bed was perfect. It was, after all, handmade. As a child as now, I have always been far more impacted by the love put into a present than in the most expensive of gifts. My dad could have gone out and bought me a bed like other little girls had, but instead, I got something special. That was something no one else would ever have or could ever have. The bed lived on in my mind long after the flames took it.

Here we come back to the fairy tale princess:

The princess grew up and after many trials and tribulations she found her prince. They got married and she became his Queen and he was her King. They loved each other very much even though the words, ‘and they lived happily ever after’ never scrolled onto the screen. Instead they had many adventures and came to love each other more and more despite all odds.

Here I am, a Queen now in my own way but a Queen with a story that lacks closure on many areas. That’s just bad storytelling: Let’s hear more.

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This year I was telling my husband about my little girl bed and discussing the loss of it. There’s a whole lot more to the stories here, a wicked witch of a stepmother, a father turned villain, a mother under a horrible spell…

But that’s not for today. Today is about a happy ending to an aspect of my fairy tale princess story. After hearing about my loss my husband decided that it was only fitting that I get a grown up version of what had been stolen from me. This brings us back to Valentine’s Day.

True to the original bed, my husband decided to draft plans for a new, improved version of the bed and today I was presented with what will soon be a bed fit for a Queen. I’m not a princess anymore and I don’t need my little girl bed returned to me, there wouldn’t be room for two in it for starters!

I found a picture that is close to what the finished product will look like (there will probably be fewer throw pillows though): hp photosmart 720

Pretty nice, huh?

The dominant colors will be red with gold and dark wood accents and the headboard won’t look like the one pictured, but it gives you a pretty good idea: valance, curtains, fancy bit at the top and my husband will be carving the posts with things that are significant to us in our relationship rather than the simple doweling for the corners.

How did this make me feel?

First off: happy that it isn’t completed yet. I think having it all at once would have been a bit shocking to my system. It’s nice to have a bit of time to adapt and I’m also happy to have gotten to have input into the final touches of design.

Second of all, a lot like crying. We all lose things in life. Usually it’s a gradual moving on, in my case however, it was a violent and dramatic wrenching away of all my childish things in one hideous blaze. All I had left after the fire was my dog who was thankfully with me at the time. Even my fish and my turtle got fried.

A fire like that, the loss of my entire life isn’t something that is easily forgotten. The beautiful bed and all of the things I loved were taken from me. That was something that I dealt with and moved on until I discovered the villainy behind the fire and that it was not an accident. The bed had been taken from me by the same man who had so lovingly built it for me.

This is more than a piece of my childhood restored, this is a marriage bed. This is a bed fit for a Queen. This is a celebration of the fact that I am married to someone who cares about me enough to give and to not take away.

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There were some more little exchanges. There was a lot of snuggling, there was good food and chocolates and the night was rounded out with a movie.

I got tools for me to work on my pottery and a handmade container especially designed for them. My husband got a few special things too 😉

I don’t think there is a Valentine’s Day that could equal what my husband did for me this year because it wasn’t just a time for loving, it was also the return of potential that had been stolen from me. It was a return of a certain trust that my father lost and my husband gained.
It was in fact, the best Valentine’s Day that the little princess who lost her magic bed could have ever imagined. Maybe I’ve got a fairy godmother or two looking out for me as well as some guardian angels. Man, I keep all those guys busy!

guardian-angel

 

Dawson Creek as a New City

Dawson Creek and The Alaska Highway

By Virginia Carraway Stark

Dawson creek is a unique city and a relatively new one. Built in Northern British Columbia, Canada, there were few resources or incentives to colonize the area. It started off as a very small settlement but was mostly settled by Indigenous People who had made it their home for hundreds of years.

map-of-dawson-creek

Despite the northerly latitude of the city, it is located in the Peace River District which is unusual for northern cities in that it gets far more hours of sunlight especially in the winter than most regions at the same latitude or even lower. The Peace River wound its way through the region creating fertile soil and many crops that wouldn’t grow so far north anywhere else would grow in the Peace Region due to this confluence of events.

peace-river

Nevertheless, the region remained unpopulated for many years because it was so difficult to get to and there were no roads or trains going to the area. It wasn’t until World War 2 that Dawson Creek became significant as a strategic outpost for the Pacific theater. The American military used a railroad spur to expand the small settlement and to use it as a base for one of the most difficult and beset engineering projects of the day: Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway.

As a result of this, the city is built around several features:

The greenways and parks to keep the creek it is built around removed from construction projects and unhindered in its natural route. This was extended to include a large network of walking trails and parks. Many empty lots were also converted into parks rather than built on.

The Axis’ that it follows that make up both an irregular pattern and then try to establish a more ordered pattern through a grid design.

The new modern area that caters to entertainment, tourism and long term stay hotels for the oil and gas industry.

Additional green spaces and waterways have been highlighted in the maps below. The axis have also been marked out in pink. The city has left the surrounding area to agriculture and to wind farms to increase it’s green spaces. Even the Modern area ensures that trees and areas of grass or field are left to break up the intense building in the Modern Industrial Area.

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It follows two axis, one axis is the Alaska Highway itself that forms a unique layout to the city planning since it protrudes in a Northwest direction. The second axis is 8th street, it too is part of a highway that turns into one of the major markers in town. It is along this second axis that a grid for subdivision was laid out and most of the commercial areas are located and is the most modern area of Dawson Creek. Nearly all of the buildings in this zone are new or have been significantly renovated to give them a modern feel.  This area includes the Aquatics Center, several large hotel chains, a Walmart, Canadian Tire, a row of fast food restaurants,  Northern Lights College, the Encana Center and many more such buildings. The Encana center and the Aquatics and recreational center are very large buildings where thousands of people can gather.

Below shows the exterior and interior of The Encana Center.

dawson-creek-pomeroy

One of several hotels, behind the Pomeroy you can see the back end of the Walmart building.

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Journey’s performance at the Encana Center shows how exciting this modern aspect of Dawson Creek is.

 

 

These modern areas are in stark contrast to the old downtown area of Dawson Creek. This area is enclosed on both sides by the arms of 8th street and the Alaska Highway. The place where the two roads interconnect is a roundabout that is the actual location of Mile Zero.

alaska highway.jpg

One of the things that was easy to observe was how the city of Dawson Creek had worked to re-purpose old buildings to create not only a still vibrant downtown that seems to leap out of the 1950s, but to create centers for artists and tributes to history in what was the ‘old downtown’.

dawson-creek-art-gallery

Located near the Mile Zero round about, this last grain elevator from the days when agriculture was the sole industry in the area was preserved and turned into an utterly unique and beautiful art gallery. Visitors follow a circular walkway that leads up to the top of the grainery that is now regularly covered in artwork from local and visiting artists.

dawson-creek-museum

In another example of repurposing and preservation the former railroad station was converted into a museum that preserves much of the past of Dawson Creek and the building of the highway.

Much of Dawson Creek is devoted to green spaces including the windfarm that tops nearby Bear Mountain. Bear Mountain and the surrounding areas are dedicated to agriculture so the entire area is surrounded by green and yellow fields of canola.

dawson-creek-agriculture

Field of Canola blowing in the wind shows how Dawson Creek borders on the prairies. It is juxtaposed between prairies and mountains resulting in the ability to establish the windfarm in addition to the massive amounts of agriculture still being practiced in the area. These fields contribute to the greenspaces available to the people of Dawson Creek and keep the area’s air clean.

wind-farm-dawson-creek

The Bear Mountain windfarm as seen from the edge of the city.

Dawson Creek has made a point of making access to green areas a priority. In addition to preserving the natural waterways the city has also made a man made lake and park called Rotary Park. This offers a free place for residents and tourists to swim and picnic. It borders a campground and a second historical area that has preserved settlers homes, churches, general stores and other buildings.

 dawson-creek-rotary-park

The man-made lake and surrounding park known as Rotary Park. Not pictured are acres of land that consist of play ground space, biking and walking trails and areas for cook-outs.

 

Among the re-purposed buildings was the original post office. A brick structure with marble interior, the building was a long term landmark and no one wanted to see it torn down but it cost too much for a private company to purchase and maintain it. As a result it was completely renovated as a complete center for the arts including a performance theater, cafe as well as studios for artists and room for the Potter’s Guild and the Quilter’s Guild amongst others. 

The post office boxes were partially left intact and were used as plaques to dedicate to patrons of the arts.

Not all buildings were successfully renovated. The old swimming pool building was filled with toxic waste and was a difficult issue for many years. It was recently torn down and the waste removed. The area is now a green space and park adjacent to the ice arenas.

dawson-creek-former-swimming-pool

 An unusual building, the swimming pool served the people of Dawson Creek for many years. It is now a memory in a photograph. 

Ding Dong the Witch is STILL Dead

Two years after the death of my Stepmother I found myself weeping with joy. She’s gone. She’s really really gone. The woman who left my half sister in a bathtub face down (and I had to revive with CPR) and then punched me in the face for telling her that she had nearly killed her own little girl is never going to hurt me again.

You can get mad at me if you want for being happy over someone’s death, but if you are, perhaps you’ve never been hurt and abused by someone to the point I was. I’ll share some of my memories of her since I’m sure that my half-sister will be telling the world how sad she is that the mommy who nearly killed her on repeated occasions is finally out of this world.

Lets start with the basics. My stepmother was an abusive alcoholic who made me run away from home when I was fifteen. She abused my real mother and smeared her name and did everything she could to hurt the woman whose husband she had stolen. She had her daughter taken away from her repeatedly after I left home. One time for going on a drunken bender and leaving her daughter naked and screaming behind the toilet until the post lady called the police when she heard the little girl crying.

That little girl grew into my half-sister. My half-sister damn well knew what her mother was like. Katy would routinely call her mother up when she was living and yell and scream at her for how she acted when she was drunk. She even warned our dad not to sleep with her sainted mother because she was worried he would get an STD because Judy slept around so much.
Now that her mother is dead though… my goodness, her mother was the most amazing person in the world. Let no one ever speak ill of her mother at the risk of angering Katy.

Well Katy, your mom was no saint. She hurt you for years after I ran away and I understand that you can’t face it. But it’s the truth. She was a bad human being and I know she was a hell of a lot better to you than she was to me but to celebrate her as a human being is a fraud. You can remember the good times she gave you, and unlike me I know she gave my sister some good times, but you DO have to acknowledge the evil she did in the world and in your life. You have to acknowledge the damage she did to you.

My dad stayed with Judy because when Katy was a little girl she saw an old woman crawling into a dumpster and she said, ‘Daddy, is mommy going to end up like that?’ and my dad felt so bad that he swore that he would never let that happen to Judy. It was a promise that my dad claimed to have deeply and heartily regretted.

I had never knowingly seen ANYONE drunk before my stepmother. I remember when she was about three months pregnant with my half-sister, my dad getting a phone call. He cursed and told me to watch my brother. He came home about an hour later and opened the door. He said, ‘You go upstairs and you shut the door and don’t look out. You keep that door shut until morning.’ His voice was rough and angry. Without a question I fled upstairs and tucked my sleepy brother into bed.

But I was a curious little thing and while I had been obedient to a fault until the divorce my parents had lost a lot of credibility since then. So, I crept out to the stairwell and peeked around the corner. My dad opened the door with a kick of his boot and carried in a figure that at first I couldn’t make out. All I could see were stiletto heels, black nylons and an animal print mini skirt. He swung around to shut the door and I saw my stepmother’s face lolling in his arms and laughing while my father cursed at the door and her drunken giggles.

That probably explains why my half-sister doesn’t get this. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is not a kind fate. Judy knew that she was pregnant when this happened. She was so happy and excited that she just had to out out in her ‘guy hunting’ clothes to celebrate. My stepmother had come from a truck stop and jumped into my dad’s truck with him and headed to Mexico. She latched onto him like a leech and never let him go.

Judy went to her father’s funeral and, of course, got wasted. Her family took her to a hotel outside the city limits and left her there with a bottle of whiskey, they called my dad (who was currently having a ‘break’ from her) and told him: If you want her, come and get her but we’re done with her.

This is the thing with Judy’s death in particular that is hard for me to swallow. Her family who was sickened by her behavior and washed their hands of her now talk about how she was a wonderful person and she did ‘so much good’ and that everyone loved her. These are lies. Katy isn’t the only one to posthumously attempt to glorify Judy and I think it’s a natural thing to do, to try to reclaim some good out of a wasted life.

She and my dad fought physically, the police were called, Katy was repeatedly taken away. Judy was put in rehab and came out and got drunk. She was put in the hospital near death again and again and would get drunk again and again. Even at the end she couldn’t easily admit that she had a drinking problem. Her entire life she never got as far as step one: admitting she had a problem.

Occasionally she would gust to an admission. When Katy contacted me and cried about how much she wanted me in her life, my dad and Judy both contacted me with elaborate apologies as well. Judy gave me gifts and a card and I told her the truth: I had lived for years without them and made my own peace with them. I wanted to forgive them all for everything and have a family.

It wasn’t to be.

My forgiveness of Judy sent her into a tailspin. She was convinced that I had forgiven her to mess with her head. She told me that after everything she had done to me that no one could ever forgive someone like her. I told her that she was wrong, I had forgiven her and that she had a chance to start fresh.

Judy responded to my assertion that she was forgiven by drinking. She had asked me to come help her at the second hand store she ran in Dawson and she stopped paying my wages. I told her that I trusted her, that I knew she would pay me as soon as possible. One night, I don’t know if she was drunk or sober, but she started to get more and more agitated about the fact that I had forgiven her. There were customers in the store and she started to yell at me. I went into the back room to try to keep the scene down and texted my husband, ‘Come get me, I’m scared’.

He came running from work in time to see Judy with her hand around my neck and her getting her fist up to punch me. It was just like when I had left home. I had been plunged into a high school nightmare all over again by forgiving her and letting my family back into my life.

Tony, my husband, yelled her name and Judy lowered her fist to her side. He had to confront her face to face to get her to drop her hand from my neck. We made a police report and I had to take Judy to the Employment board to get a portion of the wages she owed me. She was drunk when she talked to the Employment board according to my dad.

What did my dad do during all this? He threw up his hands and said it wasn’t his fault, that if ‘you two want to fight, I’m not getting involved.’

I did not want to fight with Judy. I had wanted to have a family. But despite my dad’s many prolific promises that he would NEVER believe Judy over me again like he had in high school and that he would never let her hurt me again. That was a lie too. They were like a pack of dogs and Judy was the meanest dog and the other dogs fled from her target: me.

More memories: her chasing my little brother and hanging off of the driver’s window while he punched her to get her to let go of his arm as she drunkenly pursued him.

Grabbing the wheel of the car while she laughed and laughed while a semi truck barreled towards us and we skidded on the winter road in the wrong lane of traffic and Katy cried in the back seat.

Her breath stinking of booze while she ‘gave me a makeover’ that made me look like a drunk clown. Her telling me how pretty I looked and looking at myself in the mirror, black eyeliner drawn messily around my eyes, rouge plastered on my cheeks, bright pink lipstick jaggedly applied around my mouth, mascara caking my eyelashes and brushed onto my cheeks.

Her and my dad standing me in front of the mirror and telling me that I was fat and that my thighs had to be able to see daylight between them before I would be given lunches to take to school anymore.

Her chasing me with wolf spiders and laughing like a maniac while I tried to hide from her. Finally, when she ‘fell asleep’, calling my dad who was on a long haul load across the country. I thought she just hated me, that was the first time he told me she was drunk. I didn’t know. You see, I hadn’t been raised around alcoholics, I had been raised in a Christian home where neither of my parents or my living relatives drank.

My dad told me to go look in her closet for some sort of bottle. I went and I found a mason jar full of a clear fluid. I took it back to the phone and told my dad about it.

“Open it.”

“Ok,” the sound of the lid unscrewing, the phone tucked between my shoulder and ear, trying not to cry, but I was so scared. I had never seen an adult act like that before!

“What does it smell like?” He asked with baited breath.

“Like something you clean a cut with,” I said, recoiling from the smell.

“I need to tell you something about Judy, she’s very sick. She’s an alcoholic.”

“I’m scared, please come home daddy.”

“She’ll wake up in the morning and be just fine,” he assured me and paused and his next words were muttered. “At least I hope she will be.”

This was my stepmother to me. As an adult, my husband and I invited her and my dad over for thanksgiving and she showed up drunk. She shoveled turkey and potatoes and gravy into her mouth with her hands and sprayed food over the table when she laughed too hard. My dad hid his head. She forgot her purse and her cellphone at my house she was so drunk. I was so angry that she had ruined Thanksgiving that I looked at her cellphone and saw everything she and my half sister said: mostly gossip and vitriol about me and Tony. How they hated us for being ‘the good ones.’

You can judge me how you wanted for looking at her cellphone, I’m glad I did because she was a good liar and finding out how much she and Katy hated me was good to know. It protected me from further harm and that was one of the last times I ever saw Judy. I don’t pretend to be perfect, I defended myself as best I could. I did things to protect myself the year before I ran away as well.

Judy sitting on my dad’s lap during the Canada Day BBQ, dressed in a flimsy nighty she moved her head to block my every word to him. She put food in his mouth and called him, ‘Daddy’ and smirked at me.

Her sitting outside of my house with her truck idling for hours on end. Her phoning my landlords, anyone she could think of and telling stories about me. Making up emergencies to force people to give her my forwarding address so that she could continue stalking and harassing me.

This was my stepmother to the world: passing out in the secondhand store on one of the beds drunk while people came in and out and left money on the counter for her for when she woke up again.

The doctors and nurses saying: There’s nothing we can do, she doesn’t want help. She’s going to die if she doesn’t stop and that’s all there is to it.

Being picked up in a snowbank where she died, in the end, no different despite all the enabling my dad and my half sister did as the woman climbing out of the garbage bin. She died on the street, alone and cold and disoriented and drunk. She died the way she lived and no self congratulating lie after her death will ever make her life any better than what it was.

There is no shame in being relieved, even euphoric when someone who harassed, abused and did everything in her power dies. She was, in everything she did to me, the most wicked witch that ever was. People can deny what she was, but there is extensive documentation of police reports, social services report, orders for her to seek therapy, more and more police reports. I have documented evidence of her crimes, no one has documented proof of her being a good person, only wishful memories of what they wanted her to be. I understand, I did the same thing when I forgave her. The difference is that I never ever ever forgot the horrible things she had done to me. People don’t realize that forgiving is far different from forgetting.

Ding dong the witch is dead. Thank God, I won’t ever see her again.

 

‘My Children are My Sunshine’ -Meet my Mother.

I would like you to meet my mother.

She was NOT a perfect woman but she was pretty wonderful in her very special way. She was a school teacher, she was a foster parent, she worked tirelessly with special needs children. She was a poet and a writer in her own right, having kept journals her entire life.

Let me tell you about some more of the really great things about my mom.

My mom didn’t finish high school. She was abused as a child and like many women, she used pregnancy as a way to marry and to escape her own family. She didn’t just use my dad as a means to her own desperate ends though, she fell deeply and passionately in love with him. She wasn’t good at keeping house but she doted on my dad and would have done anything that she was capable of doing to make him happy. She loved her three children and wrote that, ‘My beautiful children and my husband are the sunshine in my life. Without them, everything would be dark’.

My dad had affairs on my mom and my mom had few options at her disposal. Because of her early pregnancy, she never finished high school, she was utterly dependent on my dad for financial care. On several occasions she tried to get her GED and this led to fights between her and my Dad.

It was because of this that when my dad divorced my mom after cheating on her, my mom was in a dire place. She was completely traumatized. The one thing she had believed in: Her Love, had failed her and set her out in a boat in a stormy sea.

She collapsed. It was awful.

And then, she picked herself up and she got her grade 12. Yep, that’s right. She did what she had been stopped from doing and she did it on her own. She didn’t stop there. She applied for college and then university and became a school teacher. She worked primarily with children with special needs.

When my mom was going to university I was just discovering my own love of literature. This love blossomed for us at the same time. It was like our childhoods overlapped into her adulthood. Her life, a life that was kept from her because of being a girl from an abusive family, and then being with a controlling man, had been ‘gifted’ to her through the divorce.

She did great at school. She and I stayed up late and talked about what books I was reading, what she was reading. My dad had never liked anyone to read so the freedom we both had to read literature was a liberation for us both. We would butt heads about this later on when it came to her religious beliefs, but the point was that literature was great.

We read Shakespeare together and her favorite poet was John Donne.

When I was a little girl she brushed my hair 100 times every day. When she realized how afraid I was of spiders she made me a book about how spiders were our friends and it was so sweet and tender that I actually PRETENDED to be cured from my fear of spiders for so long that I stopped being scared of them!

She worked hard to be a good parent even though she was such a young parent. She had been raised with beatings and wooden spoons, that’s how she raised me when I was very young. By the time I was in kindergarten she had advanced to using ‘time outs’ and using positive statements about each other in place of what she had been brought up with. She broke the cycle of violence used as punishment.

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She was always into self improvement. One time she took this course on massage and one on foot care. She taught these things to me and probably started me off into my career as a masseuse and Shiatsu practitioner. She was always trying to stay on the upside of life and not get sucked into the darkness. Sometimes she slipped, it was especially hard after my dad left her. Nevertheless, she would not be stopped.

debbie wedding garter

When my dad re-married my step-mother, Judy, she took great pains to torment my mother. When I stayed with my dad my mom would write to me and Judy would open the letters before I saw them and she would cut down everything my mom said in them. She would try to convince me that my mom was putting me down in completely innocuous statements. She loved me enough to write me a letter and there wasn’t any vitriol in the letter.

Judy was so jealous. She once orchestrated paying my mom her child support for me in pennies. She put them in a big blue water jug and then peed on them. She thought this was hilarious. What a nice woman. My mother rarely got any child support and struggled to support her kids on a student loan. Life was not easy for her. Judy, a woman at a truck stop who had jumped into my dad’s big rig and then clung onto him for life, had stolen my family. She had stolen my mother’s family. Judy started poisoning my brothers against their mother as well as me. Only poison ever came out of her mouth.

My mom never spoke down about my dad after the divorce. She never spoke ill of my step-mother. She was just broken hearted. My dad and step-mother had plenty of bad things to say about my mother and she never tried to defend herself.

I fell for it. I believed a lot of the things that they said about her.

I was a stupid kid and I had always been a daddy’s girl but you know something? I might have been a kid and believed what my dad said, but that doesn’t mean everyone was quite that gullible.

One of my husband’s co-workers was asking about his wife. My husband mentioned her last name and the man he was talking to, an old timer in Dawson Creek, got a reminiscent look to his face and smiled wistfully.

“I know who you mean, Debbie. My god, she was a beauty, smart as a whip too! She was a teacher, you know, loved books.”

THAT was my mother.

I was recently accused by a friend? Of glorifying my father in my story about him for Chicken Soup for the Soul. I was surprised by her anger at my very truthful and heartfelt story about my dad because there are many different sides to people and you can acknowledge the bad while focusing on the good times and the good memories of the people you actually love. You can love people despite the fact that they hurt you an incredible amount.

For me, I had to leave my family (what is left of it) and have zero contact with them. This isn’t the first time that this had happened in my life. When I was fifteen I ran away from home. I tried to stay in contact with my mom but it was too difficult, the whole family was too tangled up and if I touch one of them the whole ball of yarn comes tumbling into my lap. That doesn’t mean that I can’t value the good things that my family did as well. They were a difficult family to have from the start and after their divorce and then Judy coming into my life things became hellish.

But there was also GOOD there.

So, yes, my mother hurt me and she really hurt my little brother, but she also loved all three of her children an incredible amount. My older brother, the baby who had helped her escape from her parents left her to drown after the divorce but I know that he was drowning too. He had to leave then just like I had to leave when I was fifteen and things got too bad.

There are few villains who are villains for the sake of being villains. My stepmother enjoyed tormenting me. I can count a very few things that she did for me in life and after she was ensconced in marriage with my dad those few things ceased entirely. She and my half sister are some of the worst, most malignant, oblivious and stupidly cruel people I have ever met.

judy and katy

My half sister, Kat, Kate, Katy or Katrina depending on the day and her mother, Judy (deceased). These two people tormented me and my half sister continues to slander me and to deny my mother’s very existence. She’s not my family and neither of my brothers are  Judy’s sons. 

The rest of the ‘cast’ of my life have good traits and bad. I can tell you hundreds of good stories or bad stories that would make you say, ‘how could they even be human?’ They tried to be good and sometimes they chose to be villains. Of all of my family I know that my mother never tried to be a villain, she just slipped down the rabbit hole from time to time.

I was out of contact with them all when my mother died. She had stayed and spent the years while I was gone being tormented by my drunk stepmother and my increasingly foolish father. She died from an electrolyte imbalance from drinking too much water. She died too young and it wasn’t her fault. Like everything in her life it seems, it was too soon, she was too young.

My mom and I weren’t as close as we could have been. She and I both had poison being whispered in our ears and we both were innocent unsuspecting dupes. We were played by a lot of people. I wish we had been closer. I wish she had had a better life but what I wish most of all is that people would remember like that one old timer. She was a mother, a wife, a teacher and most of all, a sensitive, delicate rose that kept her blooms long past all logical explanation could justify. She had a core of strength to her that is neglected in her memory.

75 years of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

75th Anniversary of the Alaska Highway
A Coffee Table Book and Production Celebrating Our Great Achievement

From War to Alaska:

75 Years of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

By Virginia Carraway Stark and additional authors

Produced by StarkLight Press in conjunction with the StarkLight Players, The Songwriters of The Peace, The Dawson Creek Arts Gallery, The Peace Liard Arts Council and the South Peace Community Arts Council, this celebration of northern heroes is sure to inspire young and old alike with the vibrancy of our history in the north!

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The original definitive guidebook to the Alaska Highway was published in 1949. The Alaska Highway was one of Canada’s largest contributions to World War 2 but it was nearly completely shrouded in secrecy. The path that it took was designed to optimize hooking up with key points of military importance. It is thanks to the Alaska Highway that American Fighter planes had a jumping off point into the USSR to fight Germany and its allies. A key point to winning the war and fighting against Japan’s ingress into North America’s West coast.

Because of the secrecy and its strategic importance there is still little known about the work, struggles and dramas that played out during the all important building of a highway that had been proposed since 1920. 75 Years of Putting One Foot in Front of Another strives to pull off the shroud of secrecy and to make the story available to the world.

So secret was the mission that built the Alaska Highway that many of the residents who have lived along the road their entire life are unaware of the origins of the road. Without the Alaska Highway the world north of Prince George would have remained a nearly uninhabited wasteland. The first engineers who planned the building of the road traveled by dogsled to map out the terrain and plan the best mode of attacking the enormous endeavor they were charged with.

alaska-highway-conception

The original highway was much longer than the modern highway, or than in this artist’s conception of how straight and easy a road would be to build through such harsh, unbroken landscape.

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With the loops necessary to reach remote military outposts and with improved technology the road was streamlined into a modern road for transport and for tourists who want to enjoy this gateway to the hard to reach State of Alaska. Transportation, fuel costs and rubber were at a premium and how to get resources to the troops was one of the largest hurdles Generals faced. The Alaska Highway solved many of these problems.

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The Alaska Highway was one of the most diverse projects of the war. 10,000 men were initially sent to begin working on the road that would start off as more of a rutted trail than as what we now consider to be a highway. Pontoon bridges served in place of stable, modern bridges in the haste to build the road that would play silent but key roles in an Ally victory. About a third of the American Soldiers sent to work on the road were black.

 

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Perhaps as remarkable, one of the lead engineers was a woman! ‘Rusty’ Dow, nicknamed for her auborn hair asked for the challenging assignment herself.

‘Without the ruffles and stiff stuff that is the usual decorum between a general and one of his workers, “Rusty” Dow sat cross-legged in the office of the late Simon Buckner, Jr. She told the commanding General of Alaska Defense Command in World War II, “There are two places I want to drive a truck: the Burma Road and the new ALCAN Highway.”

I can do nothing about the Burma Road,” the general told the auburn-haired truck driver. “The ALCAN might be different,” he said to the woman in coveralls, driver for the Anchorage Corps of Engineers. (The Great Lander Shopping News, October 1975)’

Upon receiving her orders on June 1, 1944, Rusty was ecstatic and the following was her reaction in her own words:

Immediately I put in an appearance at the major’s desk. We have been informed that you wish to drive the Alcan highway said he. Yessir I stammered. Well here are your travel orders, approved by General Buckner. Report to Merrill Field in two hours where you will take a plane to Fairbanks. Upon arrival there report to North West Service Command, from whom you will receive further orders.

Yessir – I was able to reply weakly thinking of just how much preparation I could make in two hours.

But evening found me reporting to my new assignment at Fairbanks with a clean pair of G.I. coveralls under my arm, and my toothbrush and pair of pliers and a screwdriver in my pocket.”

The event was published the next day in The Anchorage Daily Times. An excited reporter got word of the story before she boarded her plane and was able to conduct a quick interview with her. The headline read: “‘Rusty’ Dow To Drive Highway: Will Be First Woman Piloting Military Road”

“‘I don’t know what it’s all about,’ Mrs. Dow said in her rushed interview between gathering her few things together. ‘But I do know it’s going to give me the biggest thrill of my life.’

Rusty was a true hero and a role model for women and men to look up to. Born in Texas, her name was Benzie Ola ‘Rusty’ Scott, her maiden name was changed to Dow when she married years later. She was one of the first of the lady Two years later, Texas-born trucker Benzie Ola “Rusty” Scott packed up her two-ton Chevy and traveled first to California and then was deployed to Alaska.
Only a few years after Amelia Earheart broke stereotypes wide open, Rusty started on her own rash of stereotype blasting. Rusty Dow had a big line of firsts under her belt: first woman truck driver in the territory, first woman to drive trucks for Alaska’s Fort Richardson, first woman to drive the newly constructed Alaska Highway, first woman to drive through the Whittier tunnel.

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Rusty Dow in her iconic Studebaker driving the Alaska Highway.

She wasn’t the only woman to be deeply involved in the highway, its construction, maintenance and the health and transportation of the many people who contributed to its building.

75 years of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other focuses on the firsts that are what we, as Mile 0 are all about. We are the starting point for The Alaska Highway and so much more. This lineage is going to be celebrated between the covers of this beautifully formatted coffee table book as well as on stage as Rusty Dow and other key players come to life for the first time in the modern era.

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Even though we start with ‘firsts’, 75 Years of Putting One Foot in Front of Another celebrates endings as well. This wasn’t just something we started, it was something we finished and in doing so, we contributed to keeping the world free.

 

Sources:
Dawson Creek Art Gallery Archives/Photos

https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-16460323/the-black-corps-of-engineers-and-the-construction

http://www.alaskahighwayarchives.ca/en/chap2/4highwaywomen.php

Project 49: Benzie Ola ‘Rusty’ Dow, ‘The dean of women war workers in Alaska’