"No doily or decorative language, no fancy postmodern structured techniques, just a straight-from-the-heart story."
-Patricia Morley, Ottawa Citizen
"In a Cameron novel, the men drink, beat the people around them, and/or sneak into their daughters' bedrooms. Their wives drink, co-depend and/or enable. Yet Cameron can build a believable enabler before you know where she's headed, or give a convincing Caliban moment to a brute."
-The Globe and Mail
"Cameron knows how women talk to each other."
"Cameron's women aren't whiners. Their problems are believable, their triumphs small but fulfilling. They feel real enough, likable enough, to want to call one up to go out for coffee."
Praise for The Whole Fam Damily:
". . . an absolutely riveting cacophony of voices that will stay in your head long after you've put the book down."
-The Daily News, Halifax
"Theirs is a world where children learn that beer and violence are as much a part of life as TV and Kraft Dinner . . ."
-The Leader Post, Regina
"Beatings, sexual abuse, arson. . . all of the sickness that spins out of a family as it swirls in its own destruction from generation to generation.. . . The Whole Fam Damily rings powerfully and disturbingly true."
-The Ottawa Citizen
Praise for Women, Kids & Huckleberry Wine:
". . . quirky, witty, entertaining and somehow strangely uplifting."
". . . easy-going, direct, funny, cynical and full of incisive curses and wisdom."
- Harbour Publishing Company, Limited
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.76(d)
Read an Excerpt
Gerri and Skip wanted DeeJay to call the new baby Sidney James, after his poor dead father. DeeJay thought about that, on and off for months, then for three days and nights in the hospital. It wasn't the Sid junior part of it that bothered her or even the Little Sid, it was that what you get to name somehow Belongs to you, and he didn't Belong to them. And who wants to go through life trying to fill the shoes of someone who was playing a harp several months before you pushed your way into the world? There was enough reminiscing going on anyway, she was doing a lot of it herself, cradling her revisions to herself, erasing and expunging the lessthan-golden-perfect parts, embellishing the rest and even pretending for some of it.
She didn't argue, though. She wasn't up to that. She just smiled and yet never quite agreed. And then there he was, with his little hospital nametag bracelet on his wrist, wrapped in a blue blanket, his hair standing up every which-a-way like the fluff on a newly dried chick, and she called him Steven Allan Banwin.
"But I thought you were going to call him Little Sid!" Gerri almost exploded.
"I never said yes," DeeJay answered, quietly stubborn. "I never said no, maybe, but I never said yes."
"But ... Sid junior. . .
"No." And by her, that was that. Whose kid was it anyway?
Just calling the baby Stevie instead of Sid Junior or Little Sid seemed to hammer something home for Skip. DeeJay didn't want to look too closely at whatever it was Skip had been pretending to himself. Or maybe not pretending, maybe he believed in reincarnation or something. All she knew was there was some kind of spunk that just seemed to dry up in him. And she knew for sure Gerri was as mad as a wet hen. Well, let her be. She'd get over it. Or not.
DeeJay took Stevie home to the new place and had sense enough to do it right. She carried Stevie in one arm and Bobbi's new rubber dolly in the other. Stevie had a blue blanket, and Bobbi's baby had a new blanket. When it was time to give Stevie his bottle, Bobbi's baby had to have her bottle, too. When Stevie had a bath, the rubber dolly had a bath. Stevie got powdered, the rubber doll got powdered, Stevie got cuddled, Bobbi and her rubber doll got cuddled, too. "Come on," DeeJay settled herself in the big chair and patted her knee, "smoochups, okay?" Bobbi hurried over, climbed up and sat leaning against her mother, holding her dolly in the crook of one arm the way DeeJay was holding Stevie. "Wanna switch?" DeeJay asked. And in seconds DeeJay had the rubber dolly, Bobbi was holding her baby brother and grinning widely. "So much for jealousy, eh babe?"
"Smooch-ups," Bobbi agreed placidly.
Stevie wasn't placid. Stevie was what they called a going concern. He slept until he was hungry; then, as his eyes opened, so did his mouth. The noise was incredible. "Must have vocal cords the size of a choker cable," Skip decided. "Only kid I ever knew who popped out and roared whaa in a bass voice."
Stevie ate, burped, belched, wriggled and went back to sleep for three hours. Then he opened his eyes, opened his mouth and roared. An hour later he was fed, burped, belched, bathed, changed, cuddled and nodding off to sleep for another three hours. Day and night. He was four months old before he slept the whole night and the morning it finally happened DeeJay woke up, heard the silence, saw how light it was in the room and nearly died of fear. The baby had died, she knew it, other-wise why hadn't he wakened for his middle-of-the-night feeding?
He wasn't dead. He was still asleep. She hurried to get his breakfast ready in case he woke up roaring. He did. She changed his diaper and started feeding him, he stopped roaring and started packing it away, slurping and almost growling in his eagerness.
Doug showed up every couple of nights. Before Stevie was born it was "Just dropped by to see if you needed any help with anything." But after Stevie was born things settled into something else. Doug visited DeeJay every day in hospital, brought flowers, even offered to drive her and the baby home when it was time.
"Jeannie's coming for me," DeeJay told him.
"Sure," he smiled and shrugged. Gerri didn't smile, Skip didn't shrug, they looked puzzled and almost hurt.
"It's not as if she's family," Gerri said finally,
"As close to it as I have," DeeJay answered stubbornly. "You sure can't count Patsy!"
"We're family." Gerri's voice was getting a bit hard around the edges.
"I haven't known you as long as I've known her. She's like a cross between my mom and a sister." DeeJay's voice was just a little bit harder around the edges than Gerri's.
And when Gerri and Skip showed up to see Stevie, not only was Jeannie there, staying a couple of weeks to help out, Doug was there, too, sitting on the floor, his legs spread, Bobbi sitting facing him, her legs spread, the two of them holding hands and rocking back and forth, chanting "rowboat, rowboat, rowboat." That went over like a lead balloon. They seemed to think he should jump up, grab his hat and run off down the road casting terrified glances over his shoulder. Instead, Doug smiled and nodded, and when Bobbi stopped playing rowboat and raced to Skip, Doug got up and went over to the kitchenette area to plug in the kettle and help Jeannie with lunch.
"Hey," DeeJay said clearly, when Gerri finally put it in words, "I'm not the one they buried, okay. He's a friend. That's spelled eff, ahr. . ."
"I know how it's spelled. I'm just not sure I know what that word means to you! Sid is hardly cold in his grave and . . ."
"Sid doesn't have a goddamn grave!" DeeJay yelled "And by now the wind has blown him all over the coast. I'm not going to climb into a cave and sit there snoffling for the rest of my life, Gerri. And I'm not even going to tell you Sid would have wanted me to ... whatever. It's got nothing to do with what Sid might have wanted or might not have wanted! He's dead. He don't want for a thing, okay? I'm not dead! If I wanna have a friend, I'll have one. Or two or three or ten if that's what I want. If I want to eat a gallon of beans and stand on my head in the corner farting Oh Canada, I'll do 'er!"
"I just meant ..."
"Never mind what you just meant. I know what you just meant."
And he was a friend. A friend who didn't show up at suppertime unless they'd made plans for it, a friend who came over in time for the bedtime rush, who at first just sat on a chair grinning and watching as first Jeannie, then DeeJay dunked Stevie in his blue plastic tub set up on the table. "Look at those feet go," he marvelled. "The old fight-or-flight instinct, I guess. It's okay, beanpole, it's just water, they aren't gonna drown you. Look, Bobbi's baby isn't a suckyboy, Bobbi's baby isn't splashin' water all over the kitchen."
And then one night Jeannie looked over at DeeJay and winked. She was holding Stevie with one hand cupped over his chest, washing his back with the soft pale blue cloth. "Want to give it a try?" she asked softly.
Doug hesitated, looked almost wildly at DeeJay, then looked at Bobbi, who was doing her best to drown her rubber dolly.
"Sure," he gulped. "If Bobbi can wash her baby I guess I can try old Steve."
He moved beside Jeannie and slid his huge hand where hers was. She pulled her hand away and Doug swallowed nervously. But he knew what he was doing. "Oh, I got more brothers and sisters than the Protestant Children's Orphan's Home in New Westminster," he laughed. "My mom had kids, my dad had kids, then they got together and they had kids, then they split up and each of 'em had some more kids and since neither of them was much into looking after kids we all sort of had to look after each other. Hey, I got more experience at this than you have, lady."
"Yeah? Then how come you're so scared?" Jeannie teased.
"Because there was so many of us it didn't matter if we drowned a few, but this is half the sum total around here so far."
When Stevie was three months old Doug was spending a couple of nights a week with DeeJay. Jeannie was back at her own place by then, and Gerri and Skip only came by every few days to see the kids and check on DeeJay. The first time they showed up in the morning and found Doug sitting in his jeans, barefoot and bare-chested, having breakfast with Bobbi and spooning cereal glup into Stevie's mouth while DeeJay slept in, Gerri nearly blew her cork. It must have cost her just about everything she had not to go into a verbal eruption, but she bit down hard and pressed her top china clippers against her bottom ones, made her mouth smile and accepted a cup of coffee. She waited until Doug was in the shower and the kids were being entertained and amused by Skip before she brought up the Siberian tiger which had been lurking in every corner of the place since she had arrived.
"Is he going to be a permanent fixture around here?" she asked carefully.
"Probably not permanent, and maybe not a fixture, but he'll be around a lot, for sure," DeeJay agreed, making her voice as casual as she could manage.
Gerri nodded and swallowed the lumps in her coffee. "He seems nice," she said, going the extra ten miles.
"He is," DeeJay smiled, going ten miles or so herself. "And real good to the kids."
He knew how to handle bloody Patsy, too. She came out of the pokey with the idea she'd move in with DeeJay and the kids until she got herself "properly set up again." DeeJay said no. And Patsy started her version of the Chinese water torture. "Why not?" "What do you mean not enough room, you could lose a damn softball team in here." "Jesus Christ, your own mother, and you'd see her on the street I suppose." "Thanks a bunch, kid, I guess this is what they mean when they talk about family support being so important to rehabilitation of multiple offenders." "I don't see why not, I'd pay my own way." "Cheapskate bitch!"
DeeJay knew she was losing ground. She'd run out of answers and was reduced to merely repeating "No, Patsy." And when she got that low on ammunition it meant that she was as apt as not to give in, and wouldn't that be more fun than a frog-hopping competition.
"No," Doug said loudly.
Patsy turned and tried to flatten him with her The-Duchess-of-the-Realm look. "And who, pray tell, are you?" she snapped. "We know you have an opinion, but opinions are like assholes, everybody has one and a lot of 'em's shitty."
"I'm the one who isn't the least bit impressed with that disguise you're trying to wear." He stood up, filling at least half the room. "And I'm the one has heard DeeJay say at least three dozen times that the answer to all this goddamn go-round is no. Take a tellin', Patsy."
"Do I know you?" Patsy was, if possible, even more haughty.
"I don't know." Doug wasn't smiling at all. "You know a lot of people, I guess. Now me, I got no trouble at all remembering who I know and who I don't know, but I don't think my circle of acquaintances is as large as yours."
"Butt out, you fuckin' jerk!" Patsy lost her false cool. "Just butt the hell out!"
"Stop shouting, you're scaring my kids," DeeJay roared. Stevie started to cry, Bobbi moved away from the noise, went to her room and closed the door.
"I never scared the goddamn kids, you scared the kids."
"Shut up," Doug yelled. "Just shut the fuck up, okay? The answer is no. Enn- oh. Now if there's some part of that concept goes over your head, just tell me what part and I'll do what I can to explain it."
The nagging stopped. At least any time Doug was around Patsy buttoned her lip and accepted, with what grace she could muster, the fact she was going to have to make her own way in the world. When he wasn't around she bitched. Of course. "That damn motel unit is so small you couldn't swing a cat in it."
"Who'd want to swing a cat? There or anywhere else, for that matter."
"Well, if you wanted to swing it you couldn't."
"You don't even have a cat. If you did it would leave home."
"What a grouch you are."
"You're the only one thinks so."
"And noisy? You wouldn't believe the noise."
"I'd believe it. I lived in too many of them when I was a kid, remember?"
"Well, if you know how awful it is why don't you ...
"Shut up about it or leave."
"Some daughter you are!"
"Look at the mother I got stuck with."
"Well, why'n't you loan me your vacuum cleaner? That thing I got from the Goodwill don't hardly suck and that motel unit hasn't been properly done since Christ was a cadet."
"No? No! Why in hell not?"
"Because you'd pawn it. Then I'd have to drive down, find the pawn shop and pay to get my own vacuum back again."
"What a lie."
Patsy dropped it though, because DeeJay did have to drive down that one time and hit the pawnshops looking for her rug shampooer. Patsy vowed up and down she wasn't the one pawned it, she swore on a stack of Bibles someone had swiped it from her. "I'd just finished doin' the rug and the manager came to say there was a phone call and I just ran over for a minute and I left the door open so's the rug would air out and start dryin' and then I came back and just like that ... gone ...
And who knew for sure. Maybe it had been someone else swiped it. Maybe Patsy was telling the truth. Maybe bureaucracy was the best way to run things. And maybe the cow really had jumped over the moon.
There were all these things Patsy seemed to want and need, things she seemed to expect, things she seemed to feel DeeJay ought to know, to do, and even to be.
"Guess you got that Jeannie a mother's day card, too, huh?"
"Of course I did. It was at Jeannie's place I found out what Mother's Day was!"
"And didja get her a boxa choc'lates, too?"
"No, I didn't," DeeJay said. She didn't bother to add she had bought Jeannie a nice little bush for her front yard, a magnolia the man said would have purple cup-like flowers on it when it bloomed. She might have got away with the lie-by-omission, too, if Bobbi didn't have a tongue, a mouth and vocal cords. She dropped the clanger about the nice flower tree they had bought for Grandma Jeannie.
"Magnolia tree?" Patsy glared.
"Not a tree," DeeJay backfilled hurriedly, "a bush. Maybe a foot tall is all."
"Lucky for her she's got a yard to put it in."
Patsy wanted a cake for her birthday. And more, she wanted no cake for Jeannie or Gerri, either. Patsy wanted them to have Xmas together as a family, just her and DeeJay and the grandchildren, with no sign of anyone else. When it didn't turn out that way, when she came into the house and found Gerri and Skip already there, up to their chins in wrapping paper, with Doug leaping around taking pictures, the flash illuminating the entire scene with light bright enough to make even those not the subject of the photo blink, the old green-eyed dragon surfaced again.
"Last one to arrive, I see," she muttered. "Must be nice to have a car."
It didn't help matters that Jeannie dropped over after the rush had died down at her place. All that meant to Patsy was that some people had two Christmases instead of only one.
"Don't you ever do anything like normal people?" she flared.
"What in hell would I know about normal," DeeJay said wearily for the umpteenth time. "Give it a rest, will you Patsy? Get off my case. If it makes you so friggin' unhappy to come, don't come."
"Oh and some people would just love that!" Patsy was getting herself all wound up for a real display.
Doug came over, stared down at her for a long and very quiet minute, then, so quietly only Patsy and DeeJay heard, he put in his two cents' worth. "Button it up, bitch," he said. "I can drive you back to your cage one helluva lot quicker'n the bus brought you here."
So she shut up. But DeeJay's stomach was in such a knot she could hardly force herself to eat her turkey dinner. She might not have got any of it down if she hadn't had a good supply of beer in the fridge to wash the ashes from her mouth.
"Listen," Patsy tried a new tack, "it's gettin' kinda late. Rather than drag anyone away from things I could just stretch out on the sofa with a sleepin' bag."
"Oh, no problem," Doug was on his feet immediately. "No problem at all, Patsy, be glad to be of help."
Sometimes, when she was fully in the bag, Patsy would phone and bleat into DeeJay's ear until DeeJay felt as if she'd like to join Stevie in his crib, just curl in a ball with her thumb in her mouth, and anytime something didn't sit right, open that thumby mouth and wail. "I might as well be a bloody mouse," Patsy griped drunkenly, "Then I could crawl into your walls and live in the corners of your life, come out after dark and stuff myself on the crumbs that fell from your table."
"You're not movin' in with us, Patsy," was all DeeJay could say, over and over again.
"Oh, there's room for that sausage with the big shoulders, but no room for your own mother. Nice. Real nice."
The problem was like one of those nails in an expensive pair of shoes; with cheap shoes you can find the nail right away, it's sticking up where it's impossible to not find it, but with expensive shoes, as soon as your foot comes out and your weight is off the sole, the leather assumes its own shape and the nail tip is hidden. Even if you run your fingers over the seams and joins inside you don't find the nail, but by Christ there's a scrape on your foot and the longer you try to wear the shoes the worse the scrape gets until you'd have a hole in your foot if you didn't have sense enough to throw the goddamn shoes away or, if you can't afford to do that, at least put moleskin over the rubbed place and slide in some cardboard or something.
You could also amputate your foot, of course, and not need to wear a shoe on it.
"If you give in on this one, kid, you're sunk," Jeannie agreed. "And other than just telling her over and over again that you're not going to give in, I don't know what to suggest. Unless you want to pay the bikers five hundred dollars to knee-cap her."
"Oh, they'd do it for two hundred, prob'ly," DeeJay sighed. "The woman is such a total pain in the ass I could probably get a grant from the federal government to pay the bikers to off her and dump her in the ocean."
"You could maybe talk to her social worker?"
"And then what? If talk is all I want to do about it I could get a bloody gerbil at the five'n'ten and talk to it while it ran around on its little go-nowhere wheel and shit oval pellets into its own food dish. I mean if talk is all I can do about it I've got Stevie. He's a great listener. Or I could just say Sure, Patsy, move in, and then Stevie could listen to her the way I had to listen to her all those years. He could also listen to all her bloody loser friends while they burned holes in the sofa with their cigarettes and other holes in the rugs and maybe even burned the place down around our ears. And we could all listen to them barfing all over the bathtub and fighting with each other and Christ, couldn't we just listen to the sound of all our furniture being dragged out and sold at the pawn shop for money for something to poke up their snouts. Mind you, they'd have to move fast to get anything before Patsy'd already took it."
"You must take after my damn parents," Patsy's shriek poured from the receiver. "They got a house as big as the bus station and more locks on the doors than you could shake a stick at! Locks on the windows. Amaze me if I found out they don't got a lock on the crapper to keep someone from stealing what they flush away. If it's money you're worried about I'll pay my way. I'm sick and tired of living in this cheap unit, I tell you."
"Then get a job, Patsy," DeeJay shouted. "Stop sucking tit and waitin' for your next whoofare cheque. Clean up your act, wash your face, and for a change, brush your hair. Go down to the market and get a job puttin' cans of peas on the shelf. Make some decent money and get a two-room upstairs with a view of the sea."
"A view of the alley and the roof of the garage, more likely. Even the whoofare says I'm unemployable."
"Leave me alone." DeeJay hung up and pulled the plug out of the walljack. If the place caught fire or Stevie choked on something she could always plug the sucker back in and phone out, but she wasn't waiting for the Prince to phone for an appointment to try the glass slipper on her foot so why did she need the damn thing anyway.
"In all the paperbacks she'd move in, be struck by lightning or maybe love for the kids, start going to AA or something, get herself sober and straight and make up for all the lost years, safe in the bosom of her loving family." DeeJay popped the tab on the can of Black Label and sucked morosely. "Even a damn leech will let go sooner or later. Maybe the world is lucky Patsy found booze and Junk, can you imagine what a fuckin' threat she'd be if she'd, say, joined the Army and been able to direct all this stubbornness at the enemy? People with that kind of need to win, win, win all the time must make real good generals. Of course, she'd be hard as hell on the enlisted ones, and the casualty lists would be as long as your leg, but I can just see her, slappin' her damn swagger stick against her leg and yellin' at John Wayne to put on his fuckin' red berry and take that ridge, pilgrim. Only trouble is, I'm not interested in bein' John Wayne and this isn't any ridge, it's where I live. And it used to feel like home but not any more."
"Just keep the phone jack unplugged is all." Doug put his empty can in the case, got another and opened it. "Drink up," he grinned, "you're one behind me."
"Be four behind you soon, the way you're suckin'er back."
Doug sat down beside her on the sofa, put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a quick hug. DeeJay grinned at him and leaned her head back. He moved, shoved his beer can between his legs then reached up with that hand to shift her head from resting against the back of the sofa to touching his shoulder. "Supposed to put your head on my shoulder," he reminded her.
"G'wan, ya dumb tit," she teased, "I got my head on my own shoulders. You got your head on your shoulders."
"So, what say we invite some people over for Saturday night?"
"What's Saturday night?"
"That's what comes between Friday night and Sunday night, didn't they tell you about it?"
"Is it someone's birthday?"
"Anniversary or something?"
"No. Does there have to be a reason for a party?"
"Just have a bunch of people come in and mess up the house for no reason except it's Saturday night?''
"People do that, DeeJay. It's called socializing."
"Guess someone forgot to socialize me. I'll pass, thanks."
Doug sighed, and nodded. "It's your place," he agreed. He even bent his head and managed to kiss her on the forehead.
DeeJay smiled up at him and tried to concentrate on and enjoy the quiet that came once the kids were in bed and asleep.
"Don't you like having people over for supper or drinks or stuff like that?"
"I don't know many people." She looked up at him, her face showing her puzzlement. "I like going to Jeannie's place for a visit and a good yack, and I like it when she comes here. I don't particularly mind it when Gerri and Skip come over because the kids bounce around and laugh and have themselves a great old time and anyway Gerri and Skip don't stay long, usually, an hour or so and they're off again. I can take visiting them for a bit, but it wears on me when they want me to go for the whole weekend, because, well, we don't really have anything much to talk about except Sid and what's there to say that hasn't already been said ten times. And I've been thinking that maybe what they want is to have the kids overnight, so I thought maybe first chance I had to bring it up I'd tell 'em that if that's what they'd like it's fine by me. I never had a grandma or grandpa but Jeannie said kids really get off on doing stuff with them, so ... far be it from me, eh? "
"And what will you do with yourself while the kids are spending a few days and nights with Grammie and Grampie?" He looked down at her and smiled gently. "Sit in this place and listen to music? Hon, you're like a bloody hermit or something."
"You're all the time talking, Dougie. And when you walk around you make little noises. You pick things up and put them down without even looking at them. You whistle while you're making coffee. You even make little whistles through your teeth when you're reading the paper, and you rattle the paper and you go hmmmm, and you do this little tsk thing if there's something in it you don't like and ... like you're trying to fill up a hole or something, dribbling sand into it, or dropping in bits of grass and pieces of stick. It's like quiet is something you've decided to get rid of. And I like quiet. I like music soft and you crank 'er up so's you can hear it all over the house. It's funny how people can get along real good and still be totally different. You like to live in a crowd. I spent my life watchin' the crowd come and the crowd go and to me a crowd is just a whole buncha people and there's not many of them I'd walk across the street to see."
"Boy." He finished his beer and moved gently. She lifted her head and put it where she had wanted it to be all along, against the back of the sofa. "Want one?"
"Sure." She drained hers and grimaced at the taste of warm beer. "Sure, why not?"
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