I was driving north out of the city recently when two canvas-covered army trucks rumbled past causing a flashback to this story told nearly two decades ago.
St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS

Pen and Ink by J. Moseley "St. F.X." July '91

I met Lina in 1991 at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, NS.  She arrived sad and pensive; sad at the ending of a great love and pensive about winning a recent battle with cancer.  I arrived angry and wired; angry that my love had chosen alcohol over a continuing relationship with me and wired because this was the first time I’d had a room of my own with no responsibilities.

Thirty people came together that summer for the five-week Academic Diploma program in Adult Education, travelling from across the country, the North West Territories, Iqaluit and as far away as Pakistan. We were drawn to Chevy’s, a local bar, as much for the $2.99 specials as the roomy dance floor, cheap beer and the steady thump of rock ‘n roll.    It was Lina’s suggestion one night the first week at St. FX that we each tell an embarrassing story about ourselves as a way of getting to know each other better.  All agreed, but I invoked the makers takers rule – Lina had created the game so she had to go first.  We ordered a few more pitchers of beer and settled in for her story.

Lina’s Tattled Tale

Every Thursday night a group of my women friends from Toronto converged on the Nottawasga Inn north of Toronto for ‘Ladies Night’ to eat, drink, dance and meet guys (Camp Borden was close by).  That’s where I met Etienne in the spring of 1980. 

I noticed him as soon as he walked in … a soldier’s body, fit, well-muscled and husky.  His sandy blond hair matched his moustache.  I don’t remember exactly what colour his eyes were, just that they were dark and snapped with mischief.   He was beautiful and loved to dance as most French Canadian men did.  He was at Camp Borden for a few weeks of tactical training.  Etienne was 28; I was 40. 

Somehow he ended up in Toronto that weekend and every weekend for the duration of his posting at Borden.  Those weekends were filled with music, laughter and passion, hours of talking, telling stories and sharing dreams.  Cooking came as naturally to him as kissing, and he was one great kisser.  I introduced Etienne to the St. Lawrence market; he discovered fondue.  Food even came to the bedroom.  Until Etienne, I’d never been served breakfast in bed.

One weekend he suggested we go north for a change.  It was late in the day and getting dark by the time the tour of  Camp Borden ended.  He knew the area well, and as we were leaving the Base, he made a sudden turn into the wilderness, bumping and jostling across open ground, finally stopping the station wagon in the middle of a field.  

And that’s when our clothes started falling off.  We were very busy.  Much later I thought I heard a distant rumbling, but by then, 2:00 a.m., it was pitch black, and I couldn’t see anything.  “Etienne, do you hear something?” 

Now I was feeling the reverberations as much as hearing them.  We sat up in the back of the station wagon just as long lines of headlights broached the crests of nearby hills.  “Oh my God!   Lina!  It’s war games!” 

He scrambled to put himself back together, while I sat there blinking into the glaring lights of military tanks on maneuvers.  Etienne, only partially dressed, scrambled over the seats to the front of the station wagon.  If he’d used the door, interior lights would have come on.  He might be recognized by someone in those tanks, which were moving relentlessly in formation, rolling down the hills straight toward us. 

I remember how odd it was that he kept yelling at me from the front seat, “Lina!  Where are your socks?  Find your socks, Lina.”  Etienne spoke three languages, fluency fading in the order of French, then German and ultimately English, so I didn’t blame him for not remembering the word ‘pantyhose’.  I don’t know why he was so fixated on my ‘socks’, panic I guess. 

Etienne started the car and, without headlights, drove us the heck out of there.  I wasn’t able to climb over the seats and stayed sitting in the back, a blanket-wrapped silhouette with tussled hair and huge grin on my face.   What a thrill!

There was a profoundly pregnant pause before the guffawing started, not so much because of the story as the shock hearing it from this particular storyteller!  Lina was the least vocal of our crowd, a quiet watcher who seemed to enjoy her own company as much as ours. 

Three weeks later our group’s newsletter, “The Lost Beach Beat”, published an exemplary example of the program’s formula for writing Learning Objectives:

GIVEN:  one station wagon, a blanket, a handsome partner with great lips, a military field and war games
THE LEARNERS WILL BE ABLE TO:  exchange passionate kisses
TO THE EXTENT THAT:  the kissers are unaware of 40 tanks and 1000 soldiers converging on the military field
AS EVALUATED BY:  the Base Commanders

Copyright © 2010, Cheryl Andrews