Since Mom became a parent, she had moved ten times before landing in Westport, where her parents had moved for retirement. I was six when we moved here. In Westport, we moved six more times in the five years we lived there. These moves were all triggered by a new boyfriend, leaving said new boyfriend, moving in with our Grandparents in between these moves, and the obvious one, the money situation. Mom was very good at spinning this to us ‘as a big adventure’.
When we lived in town, it was great. Even though Westport had less than six hundred residents, it had what we needed. We biked around with our friends, made forts in the woods, climbed trees, went to the beach, and walked to the rink in the winter for the affordable public skating afternoons on Sundays. We were able to walk to get food, and there was always the dreaded weekly family laundromat excursion. Renting places with washers and dryers wasn’t an option at this point. When we were out of town, it was not so great. We felt like caged animals. Stuck on some property, typically without Mom, with nowhere to go, and nothing to do.
Towards the end of grade four, Mom must have come onto some really hard times because she moved us to her parent’s place about five minutes outside of town. Pa had built Nan a log home on their one-hundred-acre piece of land before he passed away. It was beautiful. And we had spent days and days there exploring the outdoors with our cousins. Mom had eleven brothers and sisters, so we had lots of cousins. A couple of Aunts lived close by, but everyone else was spread across Ontario and some were out west. We saw each other during holidays and over the summer and on weekends sometimes. We would camp, have bonfires, and go on hikes. All of us kids would be sent outside for the day to play and explore and we loved it.
But that wasn’t this experience. This time we were in a two-room construction trailer that was parked in Nan’s driveway. You know the kind that they park at job sites. It only had power, no running water. We all slept on the floor with blankets in one room, and the second room was the ‘kitchen’ and the living room area. We had pails of water, a bucket to do dishes, the ability to boil water on a two-burner stovetop that we plugged in to cook on. It was like glorified camping. I remember Mom being gone all the time. Alone and bored, with no cousins to play with and no ability to get to town and tap into our usual activities, those days felt like forever. And not in a good way.
To make us feel better, Mom had my friend Mary come to the trailer to play. I’m sure it eased the monotonous days out there and we were happy to be around our friends again. Fast forward a few months at school and we’re doing a social studies project about Mexico. My fifth-grade teacher is presenting a slide show to the class to give us a sense of some of the living conditions they experience there. There are some pretty harsh situations being shown. One slide, in particular, caught Mary’s eye and she loudly announced to the class, in a not-so-innocent way, “That’s what your house looks like Jennifer.” I was mortified. I instantly felt physically small. I was bright red from anger and embarrassment. Everyone in the classroom turned to stare at me and laugh or snicker. In one shattering moment, I realized how mean friends can be and that we are obviously poorer than most.
And I immediately realized there wasn’t anything I could do about either of these things.