Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Saving my bacon

It's cold here. We may have gotten a little frost in the low spots and probably lost a few plants here and there. Yesterday we had a dramatic and beautiful sky, changing all day; today is bright and clear, brisk and invigorating.  My mother's boyfriend Axel contended that cold weather bred creativity. January ushered the really cold temperatures in Winnipeg; the -20s and -30s were not unusual. Axel, always an optimist, found something to celebrate in every situation.

I adored Axel for many reasons not the least of which was the day he saved my bacon. Axel was principal of Tech Voc, a vocational school in our neighborhood. Due to crowding, I had to attend his school for Home Ec classes, along with other kids from here and there around the city. I guess I was thirteen or fourteen. During a class, I got on the wrong side of a clique of "hard rocks" from the North End (the wrong side of the tracks). For the life of me, I can't remember what I said - no doubt something provocative or they wouldn't have threatened to kill me. My biggest handicap, as well as my strongest suit, was my motor mouth. These girls were big, tough and scary. I was skinny, weak and frightened into silence. I took them at their word and thought I was a goner, come 4:00 when school let out. For a couple of hours, I was tremulous, wondering how to avoid the inevitable or how by some miracle I'd be able to defend myself, when I thought about going to Axel. At that time, he was our neighbor. His wife, Dottie was still alive; his son Len and I were friends, my sister and his daughter, Lorraine were close as peas in a pod. Still it was a refuge of last resort. My mother's admonition "Be prepared to fight your own battles" rang in my ears.

"Cinq, six boites de tomatoes verde", I cursed to myself as I skulked down the hall to Axel's office, my detestable cowardice turning me into a simpering mess. Axel waved me in with a big smile. As soon as I saw him, a torrent of tears started and I poured out my predicament in a gush. No doubt, Axel had dealt with plenty of bullying; he recognized my terror. Settled in his office foyer with a box of kleenex and a glass of water, I waited until he finished his work for the day. He drove me home and saved me. 

I don't remember going back to that class or ever seeing the girls again. My Dad and Axel probably put in a fix. Don't we all wonder how life might have changed if that event turned out differently. What if those girls had actually beaten me up? Would I have developed some guts and become more aggressive and courageous?

Mom and Axel
I did resolve to be develop some backbone and to cultivate a little useful chutzpah later in life, but never quite got that right. Decades later, my father was dead and my mother was dating an audacious  Jewish car salesman. An adorable man, he would hear me on the phone doing business back in California while visiting my mother in Winnipeg. After I'd hang up, he'd invariably ask, "You call that demanding/giving orders/persuading/negotiating(fill in the blanks)?". He called me a wuss and gave me coaching and very useful tips. I really liked this man, but my mother didn't, despite the incredible amount of attention and the never-ending deluge of thoughtful and beautiful gifts he lavished on her. Years passed, life happened; the kind and lovely Dottie died. Axel and my mother fell in love; lucky for them both, lucky for me. He'll always be my hero.


  1. I loved that story! I love happy endings...especially in real life.
    I wish my mother's boyfriends had been more like your mother's.

  2. Ditto for me. What a great story. I was almost beaten up once too and didn't fight back. I don't think it's something you learn, I think either you've got the fight in you or you don't. Wish I would have had an Axel to save my bacon. You're right, you were really lucky.