The picture of me in the lovely chartreuse dress (which I thought was slimming at the time) has a story behind it. It was taken the night of my brother's retirement from 44 years service in the Canadian Armed Forces. I had been asked to speak about what it had been like growing up with a military-obsessed older brother. I had written what I thought was a fairly amusing speech about how, during the 100th anniversary of the American Civil War he had memorised a chronology of events and battles based on his own research (he was 14 at the time). He would come down to breakfast every morning and recite for us what had taken place on that day 100 years before. Like we cared.
When he was 16 my brother joined what was then called 'the student militia' of the 48th Highlanders of Canada. They are one of Canada's most famous reserve regiments. They served in both World Wars and in Korea. He drilled with them every Friday night and spent every second weekend in battlefield training. Needless to say his schoolwork suffered. He would start cleaning his kit on Sunday night to be ready for Friday. His bedroom reeked of Blanco, a substance for whitening his web belt, and Brasso, used to polish the brass buttons on his tunic. He took the wallpaper off the bathroom walls running the shower on hot while he steamed his 'feather bonnet', the traditional head dress of all highland regiments. My mother found black streaks all over the ironing board cover and my father, ex-RCAF had to step in and tell him, "Son, when the Drill Sergeant said he wanted to see you all with kit so smart you had ironed your bootlaces, he didn't really mean it."
All of this I was gleefully happy to remind my brother of and had practised my speech long and hard before the day. I knew there would be alcohol at the retirement party so I chose to leave the car at home and took local transit out to Dennison Armories at CFB Downsview where he served his last few years, and where the party was to take place, in the Officers' Mess. It's located in the north-western sector of our city and is easily reached by subway. What I didn't take into account was the 40C heat (110F) of mid-July and the fact that the escalators in the subway were out of service when we got to our stop. Anyone who rides our transit system will tell you this is an everyday occurrence. Anyone who weighs what I did at the time will tell you that climbing three flights of stairs in that heat in order to get to street level is an almost impossible task. I got to the top furious, sweating, chafed and miserable. My knees were on fire, my back was threatening to go into a spasm ( a chronic problem) and my acid reflux had flared, thanks to the stair-climbing motion causing pressure to the abdomen and forcing acid from my stomach up into my esophagus - a most painful experience.
None of the above-described experience exactly put me in the right frame of mind for standing in front of a roomful of army brass and talking about how wonderful I think my brother is. When I think back on it now I can still feel all the pain of the chafed skin, the embarrassment caused by having huge wet patches under my arms and my hair wet and sticking to my neck. It took a good few cold bevvies to make me feel human again - and then it got worse!
As night fell, the floor-to-ceiling windows in the Officer's mess where the part was held became something equivalent to the 360 degree mirror on What Not to Wear . All I could see was sticking-out butt and bulging gut. It was humiliation after humiliation, all the while there were people congratulating my brother and coming up to me saying how proud I must be. And I was! (Still am - he presently commands the army cadet corps and is sharing his one true passion with a future generation.) Then, when I got home I had to look at the pictures my husband had dutifully taken. I have no idea why I didn't delete this photo along with all the other photos I got rid of because I hated the way I looked, but I'm glad this one survived. It's the one I show to my Weight Watchers members nowadays and I also tell them this story.
Oh, and about those stairs? I often think about them when I do my three-season boot camp training (more about that in a post yet to come). Part of our training requires us to run three flights of stairs, just like in that subway station. Whnenever I remember the person who could barely drag herself up those stairs I remind myself that she is the same one now running them and I smile and shake my head in wonder and amazement.