Monday, June 23, 2014

The Posses' Pics of the Wanted Men!

Rain Down On Me - Blue Rodeo feat. Devin Cuddy

In the past month or so I have been lucky enough to rub shoulders with artists whose talent I admire deeply and share with the crowds some amazing music. From the east coast local Rasta Gumbo, to the visiting Royal Wood and Peter Katz. And on my travels to central Canada to see My Kind of Karma, Devin Cuddy Band and Blue Rodeo as well as some local talent at some Queen Street haunts. Severely sleep-deprived and frantic about being late I attended a long awaited reunion show with Peter Cash and the Skydiggers. 

I can't turn off the great music running like many ear worms in my brain and I don't want to! 

I missed some serious photo ops and will forever regret and kick myself for those, however, these are a few I can share. But please, if you want to share off this site please credit the source. They are my creative brain cells and I can't afford to give them away :)

All pictures are the property of the subject and

Peter Katz in Halifax
Royal Wood in Halifax

My Kind of Karma in Ontario and from the west coast
James Hockin on bass Garrett Scatterty on guitar
Isaac Balson on ukulele and banjo
Taylor Gross on drums
Mid song trombone solo

The Devin Cuddy Band
DCB - Nichol, Devon, Zach, Devin and special guest keyboardist
Devin Cuddy away from the keys and killing the vocals
Zach favourite drummer of all time! 
Nichol Robertson makes those string dance and sing
Devon Richardson - vocals and bass! 
Another picture of Devin - because I like this one :)

Old friends still close after all these years...magic!
The One The Only GREG KEELOR
The melter of ladies hearts coast to coast - JIM CUDDY
Colin Cripps - musician and all around talent
 Hi'ya you! ;) 
Standing at their feet in awe! 
l -> r Colin Cripps, Glenn Milchem, Jim Cuddy, Bazil Donovan, Bob Egan and Mike Boguski
Best playlist I've heard in awhile! Awesome
Even his promo poster at the Cameron house has a boo-boo!
I wasn't there in its Hey Day and in the middle of the day there were no performers...but I was there!

Not a Penny More - The Skydiggers
live in Halifax YouTube video
link to access: Not a Penny More

Peter Cash, Jessy Bell Smith, Andy Maize at the Carleton Music Club, Halifax, NS
Andy Maize of the Skydiggers
Jessy Bell Smith, Derrick Brady (bass), Andy, Noel Webb (drums), Jeff Heisholt (keyboards)
Jeff Heisholt (keyboard), Josh Finlayson (founding member on guitar)
Set One playlist
Set Two playlist


Credit where credit is due:

Royal Wood:

Peter Katz:

My Kind Of Karma:

Devin Cuddy Band:

Blue Rodeo:

The Skydiggers:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Blue Rodeo Posse Strikes Again with Kid Cuddy :) and MKOK

Up On That Cloud - Blue Rodeo

I think that by the end of this post, the song selection will make a lot of sense to those who ponder such things. And if you are so inclined you can check back at a later date for the posting of pictures to go with this story.

From the time that I moved from Ontario to the East coast of this great country, I knew that I would be back to visit. But the dates were up to me, so I chose to come at a time that I could see an awesome concert, oh yeah and spend some time with my adult children and their significant others while I was here.

There are many things that unite this vast county from coast to coast and from triumph to tragedy. Terry Fox from British Columbia who gave us the Marathon of Hope to the recent slaughter of 3 RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) in the small eastern community of Moncton, New Brunswick. And music. From Stompin' Tom Connors and Matt Mays in the east to Bachman Turner Overdrive and Matthew Good in the west. And for 25+ years, live from every corner of Canada, Blue Rodeo. 

A true band for the people. Blue Rodeo made a name for themselves by playing the small towns and out of the way hockey arenas when they could clearly sell out larger venues. There is greater opportunity to connect with your audience if they rock out at your feet rather than if they are just a face in the darkened crowd of a stadium. Not that they don't play and sell out larger places like Massey Hall in Toronto and Metro Centre in Halifax, because they do. The Blue Rodeo family of fans (or Crazies) are a dedicated bunch and follow the Blue Road wherever they may travel. For me, never before have I cultivated such strong friendship by just having the love of Blue Rodeo in common. 

Debra is my Blue Rodeo buddy. We met by fate as winning guests to see Blue Rodeo perform on Canada AM. I didn't want to go alone, she was worried that she didn't get her official confirmation. The weather wasn't good, the drive to the studio in the early hours of the morning were concerns. We were one - two in line and became fast friends despite the odds of either one us not attending was great. I've met other people at concerts but the Blue Rodeo bunch is a dedicated crowd like nothing I've seen before. You've got your contingent that love Jim Cuddy and go to drool and curse his wife (lol), or the rugged introspection of Greg Keelor chewing gum as he sings, you've got some who have formed an attachment because the catalogue of songs has been defining moments in their lifetime. I'm too old to say my lifetime, but I will say my adulthood. I've been a fan from the first release 25 years ago..  

Blue Rodeo has been playing a small community venue for nearly 20 years and I have attended since hearing about it three years ago. The story is told, that in the beginning a member of the management team knew someone in the town and the gig was booked as a fundraiser (and still is for the local group that hosts the event). Tickets are limited and sell out quickly. The small hockey arena is 1/3 stage and the rest for people. We plan to arrive very early so that we can stand and savour the music from front and centre for the entire performance. Bus-loads of people arrive from surrounding areas and some hire limos. Security is tight and spirits are high. 

The artwork on the tickets is absolutely beautiful and are a treasured keepsake. We were fortunate to meet Karen who offered to get us one of the advertising posters that mimic the tickets. Chuck, went to the local Home Hardware for us so we wouldn't have to leave our coveted front of the line spot and came back with three. One for Debra, myself and our new friend Lynn. Thanks to them both for their thoughtfulness. I love it. 

By the time the doors opened we had met some of the members of the opening band, My Kind Of Karma and were more than a little excited. I did a little happy dance being the first one into the arena and with a wristband affixed rushing the stage. Hugging that rail, we become a family. Total strangers ask you to close ranks while they go to the washroom and you happily comply knowing they are as dedicated as you are. 

It turns out that last years opening act Who's Army has disbanded with various members pursuing other avenues. It's unfortunate, I really enjoyed them when we heard them the previous years. So this year we heard, My Kind of Karma from British Columbia. Many of the members are originally from the Southern Ontario area where they attended school and  re-connected on the West to make music and a name for themselves. Do yourself a favour Kelowna and check them out at a bar near you. They don't play a pigeon hole style of music but rather a pleasing mix of rock/folk/reggae. I knew it was going to be different when I saw a ukulele and a banjo on stage. One song and I was hooked. The music, the words, the harmony and band members, they had karma and they shared with the audience. I look forward to adding the CD I purchased to my i-Pod. 

I had heard earlier that Devin Cuddy had suffered an injury playing hockey but I had no idea how bad it was. It became quite clear when a fifth member joined the quartet and sat at the seat of Devin's keyboard. And Devin holding his right hand in an invisible sling was braced and sore looking. He had surgery the day before and yet he was here to entertain us! I appreciate his dedication as I was really looking forward to hearing him and his band again. They are amazing. Nichol Robertson on electric guitar can really make it sing, he is so talented, as is Devon Richardson on the bass. From the first time I saw Zach Sutton on drums, he made me smile. I am transfixed by the expressions on his face when he beats those skins. But Devin himself looked lost and lonely on that stage, singing while someone else tickled the ivories. It was good though, because you really got to appreciate the man and the vocals on a different level with him standing so vulnerable in front of us instead of seated behind the "NO NO" keyboard. His set included some tracks from this Volume One release and some that we may get to enjoy on his second instalment due out on July 29th. I can hardly wait, is to too early to start begging for a signed copy? 

The band had left the stage, the roadies were setting the stage for Blue Rodeo and removing the Devin Cuddy Band equipment. Zach returned to collect his drumsticks and walking to the edge of the stage, reached down and handed Debra and I each one. It's amazing how a seemingly simple gesture accompanied by such an engaging smile can make another person feel. He is truly a wonderful human being and it was a pleasure to meet his Mom after the show and tell her the same. Mom's like being proud of their offspring. Zach's mom has good reason to be! 

It seemed an interminably long wait for Blue Rodeo to take the stage, but I think that is because we were standing on guard of our posts. For as we were entranced by the music, the arena had filled up and the crowd behind us was jocking for position. Hoping that we would slip up and move. One even asked a rather tall gent if her friend could stand in front because she was short. He suggested that if viewing was an issue she could have arrived 3 hours early like him also. Yes we are Blue Rodeo fans that are standing at the barrier a drum stick length from the stage! Alcohol tends to get some a little more rowdy at a public event, and this year was no exception, I had part of a beer poured down my back and one lady got covered in the front. It's not intentional, it's people jostling for position and tipsy glasses :)

From the very first song I knew that we were in for a real treat! The entire set was a fine mixture of new and old tunes. From Mattawa to Diamond Mine. For what it's worth, probably one of the finest single set lists I have heard played live. Although I am saddened by Greg's struggles with hearing issues, I kind of like what it's done to the band. I mean it was really neat to see him on the electric, but strumming the acoustic just seems so comfortable that (like Devin) I get more of a feeling of the man behind the music. I quite like this new role of his, even singing at the mic with nothing but passion and that beautiful voice of his. Good to see that Jim looked more rested than the last time I saw him. Of course his voice was perfection as usual. I am in such awe of the talent of this band. I am literally mesmerised by the music, the men, the show. So much talent! Colin Cripps who took over much of the electric guitar work that had been Greg's was a welcome addition of skill and I do enjoy his addition of vocal accompaniment especially on songs from the latest release "In Our Nature". Mike Boguski really gets into his flawless piano solos with passion. Every time I see Bob Egan play his repertoire of musical instruments, I wish I could play them too. Glenn Milchem is harder to see these days as he is hidden behind the plexiglass barrier that was erected to help preserve Greg's failing hearing. Bazil Donovan is always tucked neatly against the back of the stage. He looks like his playing the bass is so effortless and then you see the energy he is putting into his riffs. I curse my camera as I try and try to get a decent picture of that legend in the shadows. 

Not so entertaining was the woman who stormed the stage and tried to grab Jim. Not expecting that kind of intrusion must be a bit scary in this day and age especially. Seeing the vast number of security before the show and the three that rushed up to haul her ass off, I am surprised it even happened. Greg made light of the situation, suggesting she was an old one-night stand of Jim's. I hope that her drunken behaviour doesn't damper any plans to play this venue in the future. 

We were hoping for a encore that included the return of the Devin Cuddy Band on stage with Blue Rodeo and we were not disappointed. I felt so bad for Devin, clearly his previous set had taken a physical toll on him, for he obviously went off-stage for some medication. His father even remarked on his dazed appearance saying "Over here Devin" urging him to come to the centre mic with him. Only Zach left his instrument of choice to pick up a tambourine and share the mic with Colin. Devon joined Greg  and Nichol and Jim flanked Devin. The substitute piano player (I'm sorry I forget his name) took a turn on Jim's on-stage piano. Lost Together sounds amazing with that choir of voices and I love it when Zach tries to engage the gang into some choreographed dance moves. Well, not so much dance as moving to the beat :)

We were on such a high as the bands left the stage. We were in no hurry to let the feeling go and were milling about when Zach came out from the back and we had the opportunity to chat for a bit before being introduced to his mom. We eventually all made our way to the merch tables to get our new My Kind of Karma CD signed. And of course to express our appreciation one final time (that night) to Devin and his band.


That was the concert. This is about the day after. An amazing day for this musical junkie! We had decided to join my son and his girlfriend for a meal and some live music. We had picked The Walkervilles who were playing at the Rivoli on Queen Street, Debra knew of them and my sons friend was an avid fan and planning to attend as well. It was turning into a real party.

On the way to the Rivoli, as we walked on Queen Street I saw a familiar figure strolling towards us. I couldn't believe it, and I didn't believe it until I called the name Baz when he was parallel with us and he turned that it was actually him. We introduced ourselves and offered praise for the previous nights performance and then we let him go on his way. I was so gob-smacked star struck that I completely forgot to get a photo memory. Yes, I am still kicking myself.

After a quick bite to eat, the four of us decided to stroll the street in search of a watering hole to quench our thirst. I knew that without a doubt we would end up at the Cameron House because I wanted to share that intriguing spot with my son. And as I was looking up at the ants garnishing the side of the building I was alerted to a familiar figure standing on the side street looking at the same view as I. It was Devin! Ignoring traffic I turned in the middle of the intersection to make my way for yet another hello. I have so much admiration for this man and his talent, I can't even express it adequately.

Inside the Cameron House, Al Tuck serenaded us via recording as we enjoyed our suds and the atmosphere of the storied and historic venue. A final moment of star-gazing came when we spotted Whitney Rose sitting at the bar as we were leaving. That is one artist that I am anxious to see live as well. Our planned main event was icing on a perfect day spent with music, musicians and loved ones. 


Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Ron Sdraulig: Another Time Another Place - Part 3

Dancing in the Sky - Dani and Lizzy
This year my brother has been dead for 30 years.
My mother and sisters have been gone for 40 years.
And my dad left us 50 years ago.
They were all too young. The oldest was 33, the youngest 10
They are my child angels. 

Ron Sdraulig: Another Time, Another Place

By: Gigi Sdraulig

Part Three - The End

I was getting to know my brother as a young man. We still bucked heads, but I didn’t know why. Ron and I had often discussed the irony of Dad dying in 1964 and Mom dying ten years later in 1974. “Bad things happen in threes,” the old saying goes – what would happen in 1984? I tried not to dwell or worry but yeah, it was a thought that wormed it’s way around my brain and popped into conscious thought periodically. Ron feared for my mental health as 1983 drew to a close. He knew how important is was to me to have him in my life. How important is was to not be totally alone in this world. He knew that the grandparents would never be a source of comfort – as they weren’t for him either. How would I cope if something tragic occurred? I brushed him off. There was nothing left bad to happen. If anything, the grandparents were old.
I was still pretty clued out about Rons’ cancer. He never talked about his remissions, recurrences or treatments. I never asked. I should have! He lost his hair from radiation but he didn’t tell me that the newest tumour was in his skull. In the early part of 1984, my short-lived marriage broke up. Ron’s concern focused not on himself but his fear that I would end up alone with the music blaring and a house full of dogs. I was still young (22) and cocky. In May 1984, I should have seen the obvious. Ron called for me to come back to Thunder Bay to see him. He was in the hospital. I renewed some old friendships, reconnected with Bobbi and Gord and made a friend in Jim. Jim Scali was Ron’s closest friend. Through Jim I learned a lot about my brother. He never referred to the death of my Mom as an accident it was always a tragedy or devastation. I learned that Ron was overly eager in his relationships because he was afraid he would not be around long. He enrolled in university not to get a degree but for the experience with his peers. His doctor arranged for him to be in residence despite being local so that he could keep up with doctor visit and get out from under Nonna’s claw. He didn’t feel he needed the education because he would never use it. His first part-time job at McDonalds did not last long. He was fired because of his frequent absences due to his treatments. He did not think anyone else would hire him for the same reason. Yet despite this new-found knowledge, I never allowed myself to entertain the idea that Ron would not recover and leave the hospital. His spirits were good and we spent a lot of time reminiscing and just visiting. He liked that I visited him in his room even if he wasn’t very good company. I supplied the music and the games that we played. “Wouldn’t It Be Good” by Nik Kershaw, Ron could have authored the chorus to that song! The nurses often invited me to spend the night in an empty hospital bed. Ron always dismissed this idea as unnecessary and confided that he wished Nonna would not spend the night either, she had parked herself in the family room many nights.
After I had been in Thunder Bay for almost a month, I decided to return home to take care of a few things and resume my job search for a week or two. It was Friday, June 1st when I flew back to Toronto International Airport. That very night, I was at an uncle’s house when I got a call from the hospital saying I should return. I got a flight the following day and brought my cousin for moral support. When we got there, we learned that Ron had passed a critical night and he was joking with me that no one believed him that I had gone home for just one night.

Ron and I hanging around!
 Sunday, I was in his room when a nurse came to straighten the bed. I inadvertently saw my brother’s once thick, muscular leg. There was nothing left of it. It barely looked like it would support him. I was shocked but suddenly scared. Our eyes met, not a word was spoken, he hastily covered up. He didn’t want me to know, he didn’t want me to worry. He just wanted me to be with him. My uncle arrived that day from Toronto to see Ron. Things were not good. That evening, a nurse approached me and told me that the room across the hall was vacant. She offered me the room. Ron said no. But inexplicably this evening I chose to stay. Nonna spent the night in the family’s room, as she had been nightly for the previous week or two.
In the early hours of the morning, Monday June 4th, a nurse summoned me to Ron’s bedside. As I rushed in, I heard him mumbling. I got as close as I possibly could in an effort to make out what he was saying. He was dying! Was he trying to tell me something? I could only catch a phrase here and there. I heard “broken leg” and I felt his life was flashing before him (he had broken his leg on one of his first skiing outings). I struggled to hear more. I heard my name “Gigi”. My heart was breaking, tears streamed down my face. He was leaving me. I was consoled by the fact that it was peaceful; he did not appear in pain, his expression was not strained. He died of heart failure. When he took his last breathe, the entire room broke out in agonizing sobs and cries of sorrow and anger. Why was this young 22-year-old man gone from this earth? That day was the longest of my life. I didn’t think I would ever recover from the loss. I was truly alone in this world. Picking out my brothers casket! I will never forget that feeling of finality when I walked into the showroom, not to pick out a new car but a finally place for my brother to rest. I felt it was an indignation to go against his wishes. But I had no fight left in my shattered heart. I shouldn’t have been so clueless, Ron was constantly preparing me for this day. True to my style, if it’s unpleasant I push it away and pretend it’s not real. We had discussed his final wishes. Under a cloud of morphine and the approval of a lawyer (Petrone) he wrote a codicil to his will forgiving a loan. Legally that loan is not forgiven and I haven’t forgotten either. Ron and I had discussed organ donation, so he could live on in someone else. Nonna’s Catholic beliefs would not permit this or the cremation and so we buried all of him but not his spirit. His soul is in Heaven with the Mom he missed so desperately.
I spoke to his doctor, trying to get answers. Dr. Leishman had cared for Ron for many years and he told me that the cancer did not kill him. With the advancements in science, Hodgkins patients can easily live to at least their 30’s and by that time, new treatments would likely keep him going even longer. Ron, he said, had gotten tired of the pain and the uncertainty. His heart quit because his will to fight was gone. I couldn’t be angry, who was I to deny him what made him happy? He had fought cancer for more than 10 years, most of it (he felt) alone. He lives on in my memories and heart and when I look at my own son, I often see my brother.

Ron Sdraulig March 1984
He never accepted thanks for pulling me from the burning car. Anybody would have done it, he countered. I regret that he was never acknowledged as the true hero that he was. He, in many ways earned a Medal Of Bravery. Ron was a brave, kind, thoughtful person who put my survival before his own. I coped with his death and was able to go on because he spent so much of his energy making sure that I could deal with it. I couldn’t let him down. Is it a coincidence that he died in 1984? I don’t think so. Back in the recesses of my mind I always thought something bad would happen in 1984, it just never occurred to me that it might be the passing of Ron.

He saved my life, but I could not save his.

“Wouldn’t it be good to be in your shoes, even if it was for just one day?
Wouldn’t it be good if we could wish ourselves away?
Wouldn’t it be good to be on your side, grass is always greener over there?
Wouldn’t it be good if we could live without a care?”
from: Wouldn’t It Be Good by Nik Kershaw 1982

A tribute in song and pictures remembering the life of Ron Sdraulig and his family.
MacDonald Clock - Dan Gleeson 

PS. A brief word about the songs that are always attached to stories about my brother. Wouldn't It Be Good by Nik Kershaw was an older song, but he enjoyed listening to it a lot as he lay in his hospital bed. The irony of the lyrics was lost on no-one who listened. A visitor who knew that we were searching for new tunes to listen to brought over a mixed cassette tape and this song was on it. And remembering his emotionally chocked words as he repeated the lyrics after first hearing it. "Wouldn't it be good"  
The other song has meaning partly for the title C'est La Vie (And Now the Waltz). This is life, dance now before it's over. I get that it's a love song but the repeating chorus line "Another time, another place we'll be together again". It's a simple sentence with words put together in such a powerful away that I found comfort when I needed it the most. Especially on the day that I put my brother in the ground and walked away alone.   

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Ron Sdraulig: Another Time Another Place - Part 2

Wouldn't It Be Good - Nik Kershaw

Ron Sdraulig March 1984

Ron Sdraulig: Another Time, Another Place

By: Gigi Sdraulig

Part Two

One-quarter mile north of Hinkley, Minnesota on Interstate 35, at 8:55 pm, we were rear-ended by a Geno’s Frozen Foods tractor-trailer. He rode up on the trunk of the car, causing the gas tank of our car to drag along the ground, explode and start on fire. We were pushed down the road for 250 feet, crossing into the left lane before becoming airborne for another 80 feet (and an estimated air speed of 60 mph) landing upside down on the opposite bank of the Grindstone River – 15 feet below the roadway. The transport truck came to rest partially on the riverbank and partially on the northbound roadway of the divided highway. I remember Mom telling us not to breath the thick smoke, Linda was pleading for help. Sandra was silent and I believe either thrown from the vehicle or dead from the impact. I remember staring at the flames to my left (through the rear windshield). I was dazed and didn’t know what had happened. I felt a tugging at my foot and then my sock came off. I was pulled at until I was able to squirm my way out of the mangled wreckage and was safely out.
Sandra watching over me, Ron and Linda 1973
 It was Ron. He had saved my life! We didn’t speak. The noise of the crackling fire was deafening. The heat was intense. We slowly made our way up the embankment a ways and stared at the burning car. Without speaking a word we both rose and were on our way back down to the car to get the others when the first Highway Patrolman came upon the scene. He wouldn’t let us any closer. Then reality hit and we cried for our family to come out. We were quickly ushered into the patrol car and were headed to the nearest hospital. On the way, word came over the police radio, that a woman had emerged from the car (that woman turned out to be Jenny). My brother and I cried, he suggested we pray that it was Mom. Through tears, I said that I couldn’t because my hands hurt. But will overcame pain and my severely burned hands went together in prayer. Mom would be okay, she just had to be. At the hospital and on the stretcher, the ER personnel started to cut off my clothes. I had no idea that I was injured – just my hands hurt – and I complained that I did not want my favourite jeans and sweatshirt ruined. In fact, I had suffered third plus degree burns to my hands, face, left arm and left leg. I was immediately transferred to Miller-Dwan Hospital’s Burn Unit back in Duluth. Torn clothing was of little consequence to those who knew my life was in the balance.

Waking up in that hospital bed, the first thing I saw was Ron, standing at my bedside. We talked about Mom, Sandra and Linda. I knew I had been transferred and so we surmised that they were alive but just more seriously injured and unable to make the trip to the second hospital where ever it was that we were. We believed we would be reunited soon. It didn’t happen that way. I got the “You’re a big girl…” talk from my Uncle (mom’s brother). They were all gone. My best friends, Sandra and Linda and my Mom. All gone to be with Dad.
Alone with my news, I cried like I never cried before. My world was completely shattered. I felt no physical pain but I felt my heart rise into my throat and fall into pieces like the tears streaming down my bandaged face. There was no way, that at that age I could attempt to comprehend the gravity of the situation. I didn’t know what it meant to have third degree burns and I certainly didn’t know how to deal with the sudden and devastating loss of nearly ever member of my family. I cried. I felt sorry for myself and I pleaded for answers. Why?  
Oddly enough, growing up believing that Dad was in Heaven with the angels helped me to deal with my plight. When I asked God “Why?” I got from within myself an answer that made sense. Mom and Dad were very much in love and went through a lot to be together – they missed each other, so she died so she could be reunited with her love. Sandra died because she was the oldest – you know how parents are about their first-born, Dad wanted her with him. And Linda, she died because she was the baby that Dad never knew and he wanted to get to know her. I didn’t like it, I was still angry but I felt like I understood why. That understanding allowed me to let go of some of the bitterness that I felt at the time. I didn’t want to be the one left. But I went further than that. Ron was not injured in the accident, save for minor burns on his ears and I decided that was because God had thanked him for saving my life by taking away his injuries, besides he had enough to deal with because of his cancer.                                            

Ron and I spent many hours as he sat at the foot of my bed just talking and trying to deal with it all. In the beginning my eyes were swollen and bandaged shut, so I didn’t so much see him as sensed his presence. In the relative seclusion of my hospital world, I was not confronted with the reality of life without Mom. Ron had returned to school promptly and was adjusting to our “new” life with Nonna and Nonno moving into our family home and assuming guardianship. An Aunt from Thunder Bay left her own two children in the care of her husband (my dad’s brother) and came to spend time with me. She made me laugh, she helped me heal, she told me I laughed just like my Mom. She reminded me of better times and helped me to see some hope for the future. After spending nearly three months in the hospital, I was released. I had to go back and face school friends as a totally different person. I was an orphan with a tragic past and I carried the scars of my life plainly for all to see. Generally, people were either kind or stayed away, but some hurt with comments and stares. I was accepted by most of my friends. Many didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t help them; I didn’t know what they could have said. What do you say to a 12-year-old orphan whose appearance you barely recognize any longer?
Being so visibly scarred by the accident was in some way therapeutic for me. I had to talk about it. All of my life people have asked what happened. I re-told the story so many times that I was often concerned that I sounded callous speaking so matter-of-factly about something so devastating. Dwelling in my sorrow was not my style. From the very beginning I found the silver lining in the dark clouds. I still had my brother. Although severely burned, it certainly could have been worse. And I did survive. Truth be told, just barely. Despite all the trauma we had endured, there was no mental after-care. There was no social workers who monitored the adjustment period. Ron and I were left to our own devices to cope in any way we were able. Unbeknownst to me, talking about it was the only therapy I would know.
For Ron it was different. No one knew that behind his mischievous grin lurked a boy in a lot of pain. Sadly, I was not there for him either. Ron and I were not particularly close before the accident. The four of us paired off. Linda and I (both very feminine) versus Sandra and Ron (both more sports orientated). Life was a great deal different with Nonna that with Mom. Nonna followed the old Italian school of beliefs that held that boys had more and different privileges from girls. Mom grew up this way (and from all accounts suffered because of it) and determinedly raised her children, girls and boys, equally. After 12 years of being raised “New-fashioned” it was not easy to conform to these odd rules. I rebelled and argued constantly. I am very strong-willed! To this day, I maintain that I basically raised myself in accordance with Moms’ ideas. All this open battling had a detrimental effect on Ron’s and my relationship. We had frequent arguments because he did not understand why I was being so difficult. At the time I couldn’t put it into words myself. He had everything he needed (including freedom for a boy his age) and could not understand my attitude.
Ron 1977
 He had everything he needed that is except his Mom. I had no idea of the internal turmoil that he dealt with daily. What child doesn’t want his Mom by his side when he is sick or hurting? He needed his Mom. Ron and Mom had developed a very close relationship during those long hours in doctors’ waiting areas and in hospital rooms. Ron knew things about Mom as a person, as a wife to Dad, as a single parent that no one else in the family did. But, his trips to Rochester continued on without Mom, Nonna took him now. He had more operations, chemotherapy, painful tests and the uncertainty that goes along with having a disease. In fact he had at least seven recurrences in the following 10 years. I remember the Shingles that he contracted when he was about 16 and we were told he was contagious and that we should stay away. I snuck into his room to keep him company anyway. This was the first time we discussed his mortality and he began to understand my civil unrest. He eventually landed in a local hospital to rid his body of this infection. This was also the first time that I visited my own brother in the hospital and sat at the foot of his bed as he had so often done with me. Just talking.

 Ron and I developed a relationship with a very special family that essentially took us on as their own. They were Bobbi and Gord Law and their children, Kerri and Craig. Gord was Ron’s sixth grade teacher at the time of the accident. While I was still in hospital, Gord took it upon himself to drive Ron to Duluth to visit me. Things progressed and soon we began to tag along on their family outings. We went camping, biking, skiing, even celebrated birthdays as a family. We did the little family things together too. Shopping, BBQ’s, playing board games, watching TV, hanging out, sharing dreams and even arguing. In many ways, Bobbi and Gord became surrogate parents. I can’t imagine life without them, even today.

Ron and I in Thunder Bay
I moved out of the house two weeks after my 18th birthday. It was a good time for me. I could finally live my own life. I remained rebellious but level-headed (sort-of). I got a job in the kitchen of a Nuns’ residence, while I contemplated my career choices. Ron visited often and although he did not approve of my relationships, he was supportive. And he finally fully understood my dissatisfaction at home. I went on to college just outside of Toronto. I had decided on Early Childhood Education because I did not want to raise my kids the way my grandmother parented me, I wanted to learn how to do it right. I was afraid I would follow the destructive model of my own later life. Ron stayed in Thunder Bay and spent some time at Lakehead University. He loved the excitement and opportunities available in the Toronto area so he visited frequently and stayed with me (much to the chagrin of Nonna, who hated his being away from her). And hated his being with me more!

Monday, June 02, 2014

Ron Sdraulig: Another Time Another Place - Part 1

And Now the Waltz (C'est La Vie) - Slade

This is a story I wrote a very long time ago and I am ready to share it now to coincide with the 30th anniversary of my brother's passing, June 4th, 1984. 

Ron Sdraulig: Another Time, Another Place

Ron Sdraulig March 1984
By: Gigi Sdraulig
“Another time, another place.  We’ll be together again.”
from: And Now the Waltz (C’est La Vie) by Slade 1984

This is about a young man who had the courage to save the life of someone else but could not save his own. This is about the bravest person I have ever known. This is about my brother, Ron Sdraulig.

Thursday, March 21st, 1974.  It was the middle of the school March Break and in Thunder Bay, Ontario there was snow on the ground still.  The roads were clear and the weather was warming.  We were taking a family trip-Mom (Livia, 32), Sandra (13), myself (Gigi, 12), Ron (11) and Linda (10).  Although I am not sure why, on this occasion we had an extra passenger: Mom's friend Jenny.  I am not sure how this came about because Jenny was not one of my Mom’s closest friends. In fact, I still know very little about her. Maybe just the adult company, for Jenny never took the wheel to drive.
Linda, Sandra and I holding onto Ron
Mom had planned to get away early in the morning for the eight-hour drive to Minneapolis and then on to Rochester, Minnesota, but it was almost noon before we left the house. My Mom was notoriously late, she had the best of intentions but I think there was just too much on her mind and she often forget. She forgot appointments, things she had to do, where she put her car keys. We were late for everything – that’s just the way it was. Mom would have benefited greatly from writing herself reminders – if she could remember where she left her lists. She was also very fastidious and the house had to be neat and tidy before we left, so that when we returned we would enjoy it rather than worry about having to clean. After a long trip we could come home and relax.                 
        So even though we left late from the house, Mom still had a few errands to run and we had to make a quick stop to switch cars with Nonno (our grandfather). We took his 1966 Pontiac and left him the loaner we had. Mom had hit a deer on a previous trip stateside and our old Meteor was being repaired. Then we were off on what I considered to be an adventure despite the fact that we had made this very trip on a fairly regular basis. Mom's brother and his family lived in a Minneapolis suburb, so we got to visit our cousins, but the primary reason for the trips was cancer treatment and check ups for Ron, who had Hodgkins Disease.

It was Boxing Day 1972, just before his 9th birthday, when Mom first noticed the large egg shaped lump on his neck.  As children, we knew he was sick but cancer wasn’t so commonplace back then, and we did not associate death with his having to go to the hospital all the time.  We did not experience his hospital stays or his pain, because all his treatment occurred at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. We stayed home with various caregivers.  We went as a family only for check-ups that fell on school breaks, as it was on this March day.

Dante and Livia Sdraulig Jan. 8, 1960
Mom was a great mother, who amidst chaos and uncertainty, made us feel as though we were a normal family.  But we weren't.  We had no Dad, Mom was widowed.  When forms came home from school asking for Dads' occupation and we matter-of-factly wrote - Deceased - almost as if that was his occupation.  We didn't know him to miss him.  Dad (Dante) died, along with Mom’s brother, Feruccio (Frank) Babudro, in a car-train collision on February 17, 1964. Mom was a strong woman who coped in the face of adversity far better than anyone I know could. At the time of his death, Dad had been building the family home with the help of Feruccio, and they were going to the lumberyard for supplies. They were broadsided by a train at a dangerous crossing in the middle of the day. They didn’t have a chance. Mom was left heart-broken and grieving with four young children and a partially built homestead. Sandra was the oldest at 3 ½ years of age; Linda, the youngest, was just 5 weeks old. There was an ensuing lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court and did not provide much for the effort. So without a breadwinner, Mom struggled financially. The local school board eventually ousted mom, a teacher by profession, when she was unable to return to university for her Bachelors Degree-required since her graduation from North Bay Teachers College. After that she took a variety of jobs to support her family and at one point, I believe, social assistance.
My mom’s parents were a very big part of our lives – my paternal grandparents were still in Italy. What I didn’t realize then, was that her parents were both a source of comfort and anxiety and stress at the same time. We often heard Mom and Nonna (grandmother) arguing, and once I asked why they fought so much. “Because we love each other” is the answer I got. Love, it seems now had very little to do with it. Nonna didn’t approve of my dad’s side of the family and the marriage…and us children? She also blamed my father for the accident that killed both him and her son. As a matter of fact, it seems that Nonna approved of very little that my Mom did. There certainly was a one-sidedness when it came to the parents supporting the remaining son and daughter. The son, his wife and family wanted for nothing. It is just another testament to the strength and courage of my Mother that she obviously passed on to her children. Strong, honourable character.

With the last of the errands completed, we crossed the set of railroad tracks where I mistakenly believed my dad was killed. Perhaps because of the pain it caused her, perhaps because we never asked, but Mom never really talked about Dad. I knew nothing of his personality, his height, his character, his likes, dislikes, habits, hobbies. One framed picture was on the bookshelf. The same picture that adorned his mausoleum.  I knew how he died and that my parents were in love. That’s about it. We visited his final resting place often but never went to the scene of his death. So the tracks that intersected Thunder Bay between the twinned cities of Port Arthur and Fort William were not were my Dad breathed his last breath. Instead, the crossing was nearer the Port Arthur waterfront on Clavet Street.
All together!
Linda, Mom, me, Ron, Sandra
Spirits were high and excitement building with chatter of fun to come when the song “Photograph” by Ringo Starr came on the radio. It was one of Sandra’s favourites and a lively discussion ensued about everyone else’s favourites. Mom’s was “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy; Linda’s was “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce. I, like Ron, could not pinpoint any one favourite. I liked too many.  To this day hearing those songs evokes a rush of emotions. Both sad and comforting but mostly hurt. Music was always important in all our lives. The stereo was a more prized possession than the TV. Of course, that was in part due to the fact that my dad built the stereo cabinet and put together (possibly with help from my Uncle who died with him) the interior components complete with the old tubes. No electronics back then. Many nights we would sit by the stereo as a family, listening to the Top 10 hits of the day on CKPR radio and then trying to be the first to call the radio station with the names of all ten in hopes of winning. I don’t remember the prize, or even winning. But I do remember the excitement of playing the game. Rewards and treats came in the form of new albums or 45’s. I still own the first 45 I ever earned. It cost $.33 in 1971 and was Day After Day by Badfinger. We all learned to play the piano and had aspirations to expand our musical abilities with other instruments. Singing as a family was another activity we enjoyed together, there was a host of traditional Italian songs that we learned (and I still remember), but there was one that came to impact my life in later years for reasons I have never really understood. The song was “Farewell to Nova Scotia” and I did not know what if any importance there was in that song for her. Perhaps it was because Nova Scotia and Halifax were the first things she saw in Canada when she came through the gates at Pier 21 as a pre-teen girl leaving her homeland. Perhaps she had hopes of one day returning for a visit. I’ll never know.

It was getting dark when we stopped at a Perkins Restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota for supper. With four hungry bellies whining, it probably wasn’t that late at night but the daylight hours are significantly shorter in the winter months. Perkins was a real treat because we liked the food, Mom liked the prices and we could only go when we were in the States. Downstairs, near the washrooms, we found a telephone and called Nonna to tell her all was well. Nonna was concerned with the darkness of the hour and the journey ahead. Mom assured her we would be fine, she was not at all tired. We only had another four hours or so to go, mostly on divided highway and with good road conditions. Mom was also very accustomed to this journey, having done it so often before.

            We didn’t make the rest of the trip.