Saturday, September 24, 2022

Reading the signals

OLD CARTER JOKE: "Is my left signal light working?" "Yes. 
No. Yes. No," (Clever photo mashup by the author)
This might sound weird, but one of my favourite sounds in the whole world — I find it soothing and peaceful — is when I’m in a car, and the only thing I hear is the clicking of the turn signal. 

That gentle slow rhythmic ticking is like a contentment tonic. 

Warned you it was weird.

Maybe there’s something in your life like that — the smell of lavender? A  melody?  I’d love to know.

Ever  time  I hear the tick tick tick tick of the signal light, I am filled with the  sense that life cannot get any better. Complete peace. Sort  of zen-like, whatever that means.

I just figured out why.

It starts with this: In addition to my four brothers and five sisters, I have a giant extended family. For instance, my mom’s brothers were named Angus, Alex, Hugh and Stellie; her sisters were Kaye, Bertholde, Peggy and Lillian. They all had kids. Kaye had Anne, Sandy, Greg and Joe. 

Angus had a son named Angus (Little Angy, we called him) and daughters Pat, Bernie and Mary. Mom’s brother Alex had a daughter, Glenda. and sons Andrew, Sandy, Jim and Don. Mom’s brother Hugh had Sharon, Deb, Cathy, Don, Hugh and Rod. One of my aunt Lil’s daughters — Bernie, Frances, Mary, Pauline, Janet, Joan and Rose — and I’m not saying which, got me into a pub for my first under-age beer. Bless her heart.

All those cousins and I’m nowhere near halfway done. I’m sure I missed some. You'll also be happy to learn  I'm almost at the signal light part.

CARTER FAMILY VALUES: Get together as often as possible.

Stellie and his wife Kaye had Hillary, Anne, Frances,  Merle, Stellie Jr., and Gerard. (Don’t worry. There’s no quiz at the end.) Peggy had Angus, Bert and Ulva and Ulva had a Peggy, a Beth, a Jimmy, a Tim, a Ruth, and a Carl.

My family didn’t reproduce, we exponentialed.

Think about this: Every one of them counted. Each kid mattered as much as the others. 

Does your sister have a child you adore? Imagine that times, oh, I don’t know, 158.

My mom also had a ton of first and second cousins. It was hard to keep track of who was related and how. But it didn’t matter. They were all worth being related to.

This is beginning to sound like the part of the Bible with all the begats.

My dad’s one brother was Ed and his sisters were Mary, Monica, Magdalene, Leona, Bonnie and Inez. Ed was dad to Frances. Inez was mom to Nancy, Mayme, Margie, Pat, Mike and Joe. My aunt Mary’s kids were Pat, Tom, Mary and Anne. Although my aunt Monica only had one daughter, Leona, she herself went on to have Helen, Mary Frances, Laurie, Norah, Keith and Canice. Bonnie was mom to Ed and Patricia.  

Is the woman on the left (my mom's maternal grandmother)
my dad's Grandmother in law? 
My grandma  Carter had I think two brothers and a few sisters and they — as unfathomable as this might seem — appeared to love my father Tom— their nephew, as much as you love your nephews. 

One of my grandma’s brothers was Jim Vaughan. He lived in the farmhouse they grew up in, and he treated my dad like a prince which was the same way every single one of the people I mentioned earlier treated me; like a gift from God. 

My brother Tom used to spend summers on Jim Vaughan’s farm. They fussed over us. They spoiled us. They — pay attention  here — listened to us.

And you want to talk generous? My mom’s brother Hugh, also my Godfather, gave me a couple of  bucks every time I saw him. No reason.

That is how my life was. And is.

Much later when I attended Carleton University in Ottawa, my dad’s sister Mary, my Godmother,  doted on me as if I were her own. My aunt Leona not only lent me her car, she gave me gas and beer money.

But now we come to that part about the signal light.

When I was little,  my dad was self-employed and worked all the time, like a farmer. Other kids’ fathers got vacation time and went to DisneyLand or  cottages, but my dad, Tom, worked seven days a week and nights, too. 

extremely thankful my parents
begat as frequently as they did.

I am not complaining, just explaining. But here’s the thing.

All those people I listed above were not only very loving, they were extremely visitable.

Most of my mom’s family were in Nova Scotia, Sudbury and Niagara Falls. Dad’s were primarily in Sudbury and around Ottawa.

Like I said, my father worked most of the time but when a family occasion called for it, we hit the road.

With my father behind the wheel.

The very first trip I remember to Ottawa involved a funeral for one of dad’s uncles and I recall vividly seeing that the guy in the coffin had a hearing aid. The funeral director —he deserves a Nobel Prize for funeral direction — was smart enough to leave the dead man’s hearing aid in as if he still needed it.

Mostly we went to weddings and funerals and a few anniversaries.

All the events involved eating and drinking.

Especially drinking.

The alcohol intake was so ubiquitous it wasn’t even a thing. The tinkling of ice in glasses and the bottomless supply of Canadian Club and beer never struck me as alarming or cause for concern.

I certainly don’t remember anybody getting out of control or stirring up trouble. For all the drinking, I do not recall one single conflict.

In movies and  TV shows, and especially on stand-up comic routines, loud family suppers were explosive events, best  avoided and characterized by arguments, nagging and tears even.

If they happened at our family gatherings, I was oblivious.

No fights. (I don’t recall my parents arguing ever, by the way).

From Niagara Falls and the nation’s capital to Halifax, all I recall is laughing, eating, drinking, making a fuss over the kids and more laughing.

Hang in there. We're almost at the end.

We almost always traveled by car. And the drive never took less than six hours one way.

During those drives, I am sure there was talking going on in our car but I don’t remember that. I do recall, though, that there wasn’t any of music. Radio between cities consisted of static, beeps and silence. Nobody had a tape deck.

During daylight, at least we could look out the window. Maybe even play a little game with the dirt on the windows, keeping a speck riding above the power lines along the side of the highway. Or if it was nice out, you could stick your arm out the window and let your open palm surf in the wind.

VROOM WITH NO VIEW: The endless highway
went on forever.
But after the sun set, the only thing we saw were the headlights of oncoming cars and trucks and there
were far fewer vehicles on the road than there are now, so frankly, after dark, the car was deathly boring.  

Again, I'm not grousing. Just that the later the night went on, the longer the drive seemed. 

The ride there, as Hank Williams Jr. would put it, got ‘teejus.”

No sounds, not much light.

But then. At some point--the click click click of the signal light.

Dad was slowing down and we were pulling off the road. We’d arrived. (Funny how I always associate it with left turns. I think that’s because we made a left off the Trans Canada into Ottawa.) It might have been a motel in the nation’s capital or Niagara Falls.

The long drive was over and we arrived at a place where I was about to be showered in love.

My wish for everyone is that they have a signal light in their life.



  1. Love the story and the McIntosh mention, but Norah and Canice..

    1. Thanks for the kind words and spelling has been taken care of!