Author: Karen Harmon

Hanging Out With Old Friends

Hanging Out With Old Friends

Hanging Out with Old Friends, Saying

“Remember When…”

As we grow older and everything around us is changing rapidly, our long-time friends remind us of who we are. They know a lot about us, and everything feels comfortable. They offer us a sense of family without pressure. They know how to make us feel better, even if we think we are okay. Our past struggles do not seem so hard with someone who knew us way back when. If they are still in the picture, they are a person who loves us unconditionally.

When I first met my best friend Mary, we were in Grade Two. We both loved Miss Cook, our teacher at Queensbury Elementary School in North Vancouver, B.C.

Looking for Normal “Miss Cook was classy and glamorous, with a bee-hive hairdo, matching skirts and jackets, go-go boots and frosted pink lipstick. She could have been a model in the Simpson Sears or Eaton’s catalogue. She spoke softly and was very kind. I was shy and overly obedient.”

Mary was not shy at all; she was the “pick me, raised hand, bottom out of her seat” kind of student. She rarely got picked, which only made her try even harder the next time.

Looking for NormalEyes fixed on the Queen every morning with her ruby red lipstick, pleasant smile and sideways pose. Singing God Save the Queen, followed by the Lord’s Prayer until it was engrained into our pint-sized heads. These segments and flashbacks of elementary school are unforgettable.

I lived two blocks from the school and went home for lunch every day. Mary stayed for lunch at school because she lived too far away. Besides, her mother had five children and a job outside the home, so it would have been much too confusing for Mary to eat lunch at home. Therefore, we got in the habit of Mary coming over to my house to eat lunch with me. 

In 1966, our favourite lunch was Campbell’s Tomato Soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes we were given Swanson’s Chicken Pot Pie, the individual kind, and if my mother was in a rush, then it would be Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup that came in an envelope in a red box. We loved the tiny noodles. Crackers were smashed, crumbled, or dipped as an accompaniment.

When Mary came home for lunch with me, we were always late going back to school. Talking, laughing, and playing took up most of our time. School always came second, especially to Barbie dolls.

Me and Mary 1966

I moved away in Grade Nine to Mission, British Columbia, and Mary and I lost touch. 

When I moved away and left Mary, I had no friends in my new community. Although I lived with my parents on a hobby farm, in a log cabin which my father built, I felt completely alone out there. I had a horse, chickens, pigs, and an above-ground swimming pool.

Looking for Normal – “Starting Grade Nine in a new school made me think that perhaps I might be more popular. Maybe my grades would get better, and just maybe I would become thinner, prettier, and less shy.”

Climbing aboard the school bus in 1973, I was filled with anxious excitement. I was starting fresh, beginning something new; fearful and yet joyful. 

Making my way to an empty seat on the school bus, a friendly voice, and an even friendlier face invited me to sit with her. She had thick blonde hair, a slight overbite, and braces. Her name was Barb, or Barbie to her family, and Barbara to my mother. But I started right off the bat, calling her Barb.

We liked each other instantly. By the time we had arrived at school, we had already made plans to hang out together that same day after school.

With Barb, I went shopping at the mall and enjoyed attending her Scottish Dancing recitals. We both had first boyfriends at the same time. We relished our time horseback riding and cruising the strip in my parent’s car. Eventually, the inevitable arrived, our high school graduation.

Barb and I hit the disco floor in our late teens when we moved to Palm Springs together. Even though we got into some sticky situations, we sure laughed about our many adventures and shared fiascos.

Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No Regrets – “We discovered in 1979, the drinking age of twenty-one was not closely monitored, and that two fresh-faced Canadian girls could cause quite a stir in this swanky, upscale town.

After entering the nightclub on our first attempt, we cruised through unnoticed. Feeling empowered, we gave each other a half shrug and a knowing glance. Surprised but not showing it, we were thrilled to have gotten in past the tinted glass doors with just a coy smile directed towards the bouncers.

Karen and Barb (Sara) Newport Beach, California, 1979

When we arrived home in Vancouver, we got jobs and began looking for Mr. Right. Shortly after that, Barb moved away. 

I met Dawna, another best friend, at one of my first jobs. She was clad in a spandex leotard, leg warmers, and a headband. It was 1980 at The European Health Spa in Vancouver.

Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No RegretsI enjoyed my first two days of work just fine, but on my third day, I was informed that I would be teaching the next day’s aerobics class. I felt panicked and unsure of how I would pull off an exercise class that I had no experience in teaching.

As I pondered my dilemma, out of the Sales Office bounded a tall brunette girl, about my age and dressed as I was in a black leotard and high heels with a badge that read Dawna – Head Girl. Her bouncy shoulder-length permed hair set off her dynamic personality. I was captivated by her enthusiastic voice and was all ears as she began to explain how easy it would be for me to teach a thirty-minute aerobics class.”

Soon Dawna and I rented an apartment together and began adventurous endeavours of teaching fitness, skiing at Whistler, staff parties, night clubs, and working on the Alaska Highway.

Above: Dawna and Karen working on the Alaska Hwy 1982. Below: Karen and Dawna 2012.

Several years passed, and in my early twenties, as the saying goes, “it’s just like riding a bike,” Mary and I reconnected. It was like no time had passed. We were together again, best friends; Lucy and Ethel, Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern, Laverne and Shirley.

Karen as Lucy, Mary as Ethel
Karen and Mary now

Catching up, bringing each other up to speed, sharing our heartbreaks and disappointments and then reminiscing about our past… Babysitting jobs that had gone sideways, science tests we failed; mean teachers, nice teachers; boys we liked, boys we disliked; sleepover parties and all those lunches we had together.

Barb and I stayed in touch and have had many visits in person over the years, and long-distance phone calls. Facebook messages and photos of children, pets, and grandchildren have been consistently shared. Last year we went on a trip together.

Dawna and I have a relationship mostly on What’s App, but when she comes to town, we always connect in one way or another.

Three friendships that span over fifty-four years.

We will all change, but our old friends remain guardians of our memories. We can take stock of our life journey with regrets, or we can work towards no regrets. And figure out what we learned. 

We see how we have evolved with old friends, what was once painful, what mattered, or what we have wholly forgotten.

Remembering what it was like to be someone different from who we are now is indispensable to our growth and integrity. To be with old friends can be warming and comforting.

Over the years, I have strived to keep in touch with Mary, Barb, and Dawna.

Sometimes I see one best friend more than others, but I hold them all close to my heart. Our lives have changed, evolved, and grown, occasionally in different directions and paralleling from time to time. We listen, we talk, we learn. We share mishaps and feats, struggles and strengths, grief and healing, fear and courage.

As an added note, your best friend does not have to be with you 24/7 or think and act like you. Despite all the changes a person goes through in their life, a best friend will stick by you and always accept you for who you are.

Honourable mention…

I recently connected with my grade five best friend Elizabeth from Queensbury, Lee-Ann from Mission high school, and Carol, my dear friend from Maple Ridge. 

Six amazing women from my past are now a part of my present. And don’t get me started on all my NEW friends!

“A friend is the hope of the heart.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

You’re My Best Friend

Song by Queen

“Oh, you’re the best friend that I ever had

I’ve been with you such a long time

You’re my sunshine, and I want you to know

That my feelings are true

I really love you

Oh, you’re my best friend

The Old Lions Gate Hospital

The Old Lions Gate Hospital

North Vancouver B.C. – The City of My Beginning

“And the seasons they go ‘round and ‘round. And the painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on the carousel of time. We can’t return. We can only look behind from where we came. And go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round in the circle game.

-Joni Mitchel

When they tore down the hospital that I was born in, I took it personally. I was shocked, taken aback, and saddened. Out with the old and in with the new, or so the saying goes.

Living on the West Coast of Canada, we are warned continually, “The big one is coming!” Earthquake drills, safety kits, water, and granola bars—“Are you ready?” they ask.

Built in 1929, the first Lions Gate Hospital on 13th Street in North Vancouver, B.C., met its fate a few years ago, and I suppose it was inevitable. Many older brick and mortar buildings are either being reinforced, or the wrecking ball is called in to demolish them before they crumble and are shaken free from becoming historical monuments. 

When I first noticed the boarded-up windows and fenced barricades, I panicked. I wondered how they could close down the building of my birth, where thousands of babies had started just like me—new beginnings, new mothers, and decades of memories, both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

This particular building was a collection of archaic rooms, narrow hallways and outdated systems in desperate need of costly restoration, or perhaps a more practical and frugal approach was to dismember this dinosaur of my youth.

I took note and began watching daily. Whenever I drove past the dilapidated hospital, I felt the pull, like a magnet attached to my heart. “Look to the left between St. Georges and St. Andrews Streets,” my brain told my eyes. And there it was, trapped and surrounded by portable fencing. It spoke back to me, “I am tired, old, and frail.” Helpless and forlorn, it called out to me as I continued past. If the walls could talk, I could only imagine what they would say.

Much to my dismay, they began tearing down the monumental hospital in September 2016,

I must have shared my concern and plight with my husband and son one too many times because they gallantly, heroically (some would say foolishly) snuck in through the temporary fencing one damp night and snatched me a brick. How sweet and romantic, I thought. The moment bonded them.

Writing about the place where I was born has made me a hopeless romantic, a nostalgia junky and a lover of the past. So much so that I enjoy the Group Facebook sites that one must join to share stories and photos of days gone by. There we can catch up with old friends and meet new ones that share a common theme. The same town, school, experiences, and memories. Clicking the Like button or commenting engages us in the lovely walk down memory lane with others.

When I see the shared photos and stories of my townspeople, friends, strangers, and those of us linked by the city where we once lived, I often think of my parents, now deceased, and how they arrived here first; it is because of them that I am here in North Vancouver.

They instigated my life, and now I am flooded with these sweet memories.

Trekking through forests and mucking about in creeks; roller skating at Stardust and swimming lessons at Mahon Pool; bike riding and skateboarding through friendly, well-kept neighbourhoods; from rocky beaches and sandy French fries to mountains, ski lifts, and picturesque views; coke floats at Steadman’s five and dime, and afternoon matinees at the Cedar-V movie theatre.

Our parents have similar stories to each other, but different from those of us grown-up kids. Sometimes they gave us a glimpse into their pasts and how they got here, arriving by boat or train, working, struggling, and coping. Their memories became a road map for us, the ones left behind.

My father’s journey west – excerpt from Looking for Normal

Vincent Alphonse Bonner

The train chugged and steamed along, emitting smoke and soot as it huffed and puffed towards the mountains, heading west. After the night on top of the boxcar, thirteen-year-old Vince woke from a fitful sleep. As daylight approached, Vince was lost in the epic scenery. A towering, majestic backdrop were these fearsome Rocky Mountains that he had only heard about and never seen. How grand that a poor boy from a small prairie town could experience something so breath-taking. In a dream-like state, Vince Bonner found solace in the picture-postcard scene that was unfolding before him.

The grandiose beauty was a welcome distraction from the shaking and rattling of the train. Vince felt as though his limbs would come loose from the constant sway and jostle, and from holding on for dear life. With his eyes burning from the putrid stench and his head pounding from lack of food, he was still able to find hope knowing that he was fleeing a desperate situation. Soon, young Vince would be in beautiful British Columbia, the land of opportunity. He just knew that his dreams would all come true once he made it to Vancouver.

My Mother’s journey west – excerpt from Looking for Normal

Mary Frances Lillian Gervais

Thinking back to her recent journey from Taber, Alberta, immediately brought back fond memories. The warm cozy berth and thick wool blanket were a comfort to Frances. Never having travelled west before, the Rocky Mountains took her breath away, majestic and surreal as the train passed through Banff, Alberta and on to Golden B.C. Photographs did not do justice to the towering, jagged razor blades of rock jutting out of the mountainside—powerful long-horned sheep grazing not far from the tracks, massive moose looking up to the passing locomotive, brave, bald-headed Eagles soaring high, searching the landscape for their next prey.

Excited to be arriving in Vancouver after a long train ride, Frances was not prepared for the dark skies and what seemed like endless rain, now understanding the term, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

Regardless of the weather, she had made it, relieved and excited about the unknown. A big city, a fresh start, adventure, romance and the beginning of something new.

Frances and Vince meet, married, and set up in North Vancouver, the city of my beginning.

In a way, we are all like old buildings. Some of us have weathered the years, whereas others have developed a hard outer shell, which, if not treated well, will develop cracks and become unstable. If we can be restored, we are able to live on for many years; if left alone, we will crumble.

We all become a little worn over the years, and yet, if we stay connected and lend an ear to each other, we can learn and treasure the memories of days gone by. Let us keep sharing our history with each other, offering years of wisdom, hope, and love.

If we continue to remember, the structures from our past will always be with us.

Joni Mitchell – The Circle Game

Click the link to have a listen

Take Me Out to the Ball Game…

Take Me Out to the Ball Game…

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”

I was born in the 1960s and fell into the role of being a typical girl for the decade, life and times. I knew no other way. I played with dolls and was the nurse when my brothers played games of army or cops and robbers. Never expecting to do well in math, I professed to hate it, and no one thought to change my thinking. Instead, I helped my mother bake and set the table at dinner time.

Girls my age wore dresses to school as we were not allowed to wear pants. By grade three, after much petitioning by my mother and other like-minded women, the rules were changed.

Ironically, when my mother was a girl, she was a tomboy. She climbed trees and rode bicycles. Rebelling was her favourite thing to do, and she created a gang of other spitfires who refused to live by conventional 1930s standards. In the wintertime, one cold prairie year, she threw a frozen sock with a rock in the toe at a bully. Instantly she became famous and the talk of her town in Tabor, Alberta. Don’t mess with Frances was the sentiments all around.

As for me, I was more of a little miss goody two shoes.

At the North Shore Winter Club, I took figure skating lessons, and my brothers played hockey. I went to afternoon movie matinees over town with my mother, and my brothers went fishing on Chilliwack lake with my father. I worked on my Mary Poppins jigsaw puzzles while my big brother Kenny played soccer.

I adored my Barbie Dolls zooming them around in a pink convertible or packing them up in their orange van for a camping trip with homemade knitted sleeping bags.

On dreary, rainy North Vancouver days, I created tasty treats in my Easy-Bake Oven, serving up thin slices from sugary sweet chocolate discs on a doily covered plate to every member of my family. All prepared in the comforts of my home and cooked by a lightbulb.

My cat Ginger was the best-dressed pet on the North Shore as I maneuvered him into doll clothes, wheeling him around the neighbourhood at 18th and Moody in a baby stroller. He was passive and contentedly lolled about under a yellow crocheted baby blanket, while we meandered up and down Grand Boulevard. His tail annoyingly twitched, indicating he had other thoughts on his mind.

However, every spring, once the baseball season started, together as a family, we went to Loutet Park Baseball Diamond, behind Sutherland High School in North Van.

My father sponsored a Little League team named after his business, Vince Bonner Bulldozing. Sometimes he coached, and some years he had men – other fathers do the coaching.

My father is the tall, handsome man on the right, standing beside my oldest brother Doug.

What was interesting is that my father did not have a competitive bone in his body. He mentored his team nonetheless. He taught them to be good sports, show kindness and have good clean fun.

During practices and game days, well known for his clowning around, his genuine boisterous laugh could be heard from near and far.

After every game, my dad enjoyed taking the boys to the local corner store, Williams Confectionary. A neighbourhood store that carried all our favourite treats; saltwater taffy, mojo’s, spearmint green leaves, marshmallow strawberries, lick-a-maid straws and salt and vinegar potato chips. Root beer popsicles were my favourite.

The entire little league team piled into the back of his pickup truck, parade-style and ice-cold Cokes were handed out to each kid whether they won or lost, struck out, or hit home runs.

Many people, parents, other teams and by-standers would scratch their heads, throw up their arms and shake their heads at my father’s style of coaching. Nothing was thought of the twelve boys rolling around in the back of the pickup truck!

It could go down in the history books that my father’s baseball team never won a game. This brings to mind his unspoken philosophy, It does not matter if you win or lose, but it is how you play the game that counts.

Both my brothers played on the team, and my mother was a scorekeeper. I played in the forest with other little sisters and begged to purchase something from the on-sight concession stand. Much to my dismay, the answer was always no, but I made a point to ask anyway. My forest friends and I gleefully chimed we want a pitcher, not a belly itcher, even though we did not understand the meaning behind our chanting.

Watching my mother in a floral printed dress sit behind the bat catcher, on a little wooden bench, with a pencil and scratchpad to keep score, impressed me. She appeared beautiful and smart. I wondered what she was scribbling; it always looked essential, which warmed me and made me feel proud.

I never knew the tomboy side of my mother. When I came along, her adventurous spirit had been squelched so many times that it failed to appear. She had hung up her patched blue jeans and rebellious attitude many years prior. Long gone were the stones nestled deep in her pockets never to be thrown again. She traded everything in for a wedding ring, handsome husband, house dress, four children and housework.

The free-spirited younger version of my mother occasionally emerged for storytelling purposes, giving me a slight glimmer of who she used to be.

My mother’s memories became my memories.

Years ago, after a failed marriage and struggling as a single mother, I worked hard and often felt beaten down, it was the age-old saying; It does not matter if you win or lose, it is how you play the game that counts, that reminded me of my dad and propelled me forward in life.

I was out for a walk the other day and took a trip down memory lane, which entailed a short walk over to the still standing and utilized baseball field of my youth, Loutet Park, behind Sutherland High School in North Vancouver. Even though I did not play the sport as a child, I have fond recollections of a family event just the same.

Ghosts from my past showed up that day. The umpire’s sober caged in face and puffed out padded chest. The ambitious expressions of freckled-faced sweaty boys, and my dad’s gregarious smile while throwing his head back laughing, mixed in with his hollering, “way to go, or better luck next time kid.”

Visualizing my mother keeping score, soft brown curls, correctly applied red lipstick, wearing a blue and yellow floral dress tucked in around her will always tug at my heartstrings.

The spectator bleachers, dugout and scorekeeping bench, are still the same, just a little worn and weary but not ready to throw in the towel just yet.

I treasure the thoughts of my typical 1960’s childhood, and recently, I have felt inclined to learn how to throw a ball, hit it with a bat and catch it with a baseball mitt. If you think that you can teach an old dog new tricks, leave me a comment and let’s make a date. I know just the baseball diamond that you can teach me at. I promise to be a good sport.

Check out more stories like this in my first book, Looking for Normal

My Fourth and Fifth Child

My Fourth and Fifth Child

“If writing and publishing a book is like giving birth to a child, then book marketing is like rearing it.”

After writing my first book, I was excited and proud, mostly because it was intended for my family. A keepsake, a walk down memory lane, and a history lesson. A reminder of our roots and where we came from. I speculated the issues that plagued our ancestors could help us. Like a road map to find our way or a jigsaw puzzle showing which piece goes where—eventually leaving it up to us, the ones left behind to figure it out, like Nancy Drew deciphering clues.

As friends and family began to read Looking for Normal, I was curious and wanted to know what they thought. Many enjoyed it and found it relatable, humorous, sad and a worthwhile read. While others said nothing at all, indicating to me that they had not read it or simply could not get through it. Or perhaps the worst-case scenario, they did not like it in the least.

After talking with my author friend Nadine Sands, she helped me understand that Memoirs are not everyone’s cup of tea. Some prefer reading Stephen King or classics such as The Great Gadsby or Jane Eyre. While others play games on their phones, listen to music or watch Netflix, all perfect stress releases at the end of a busy day.

I gave up wondering people’s opinion and realized how happy I was that I pulled it off, I wrote a book! I appreciated that someone cared enough to purchase my book in the first place, even if it sat on a shelf unopened. This concept got me thinking that I wanted to reassure them, the non-reader types, and say “It’s okay, memoirs are not for everyone. I get it, and my feelings are not hurt in the least,” followed by a happy face and heart emoji.

Two years later, before the publication of my second book, Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No Regrets, I could not figure out why I was so attached to the manuscript. I found myself reading it over and over again. Obsessing over this and fixing that. I was having a hard time letting go and pressing the send button.

When all was said and done, I eventually took the bull by the horns, closed my eyes, bit my lip, crossed my fingers and clicked send. Off it went, my pride and joy to Tellwell Publishing.

After my manuscript arrived back to me as a real book, I had an Oprah Winfrey Ah Hah moment, an epiphany of sorts and the light bulb above my head shone brightly.

I estimated that it took me approximately nine months to write Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No Regrets. During the process, I laughed and cried. I researched and studied. I dreamed of the day my book would finally be published and presented to the world. In comparison, during all three of my pregnancies, I laughed and cried. I researched and studied. I dreamed of the day my baby would finally be born and presented to the world.

While writing, I had many sleepless nights, I questioned my capabilities, and sometimes felt vulnerable and alone.

Minus the swollen ankles and morning sickness, birthing my book reminded me of birthing my children. Nowhere near as monumental and miraculous but a process of being born just the same.

When I thought about my book and worried about its content, much like I thought and worried about my children, I wondered if my readers would like it or if it would be misunderstood. Hurtful or helpful. Entertaining or trivial.

Or would it slip through the cracks and get completely unnoticed?

Years after graduating high school, even though my mother never saved anything, I came across some of my old report cards. Handwritten and folded in thirds. In the section where the teacher was to leave a final comment, were the words, Karen was a pleasure to have in my class. From grade one until leaving Elementary school at the end of grade seven, year after year, those same sentiments were repeatedly shared.

After discovering these outdated records of my education, I realized that the teachers had no idea who my younger self was, I felt as though I had slipped through the cracks and had gone completely unnoticed.

To my superiors, my mentors and guides I was a pleasant and nice girl. I was neither high maintenance nor low maintenance: a class clown or a brainiac. Exceptionally beautiful or outwardly plain, but average.

Who would have thought the little girl who felt unnoticed would become a writer and published author.

My biggest wish is that Looking for Normal and Where is My Happy Ending? will inspire, influence and reassure the reader that we all have struggles, highs and lows, joy and sadness. We are more or less in the same boat on the same turbulent seas, and we share similar calm waters. We are not alone, even though it sometimes feels that way.

A very wise women told me this… when we open up ourselves it is natural to experience vulnerability, but with it comes strength followed by empathy for others that may share a similar story to us.

Please note that I have enjoyed the writing process immensely. Followed by the delivery of my books into the vast big wondrous world. But now that my book has been released, I need to handle it with care and raise it up and watch it grow to the best of my ability.

If you like my baby, my fourth and my fifth book child, I would be grateful and thrilled if you could tell others by giving me a book review on Amazon, Indigo or Good Reads. Not lengthy. Something short suits me fine so that I can get noticed and not slip through the cracks. And if it is not your cup of tea, I am okay with that too.

Looking For Normal

Where Is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No Regrets