Stripper Girl

How to handle uncertain information when digging in the family archives.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

A guest post from Melissa Ballard:

Family history. Why would anyone waste their time with it?

In the summer of 1993, I agreed to do just a bit of ancestral research, at the request of my great-uncle. I was quickly lured into the mysteries of century-old handwriting, sepia-toned photographs, and the personal details in local newspapers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

I began to write essays about my ancestors, who were much more interesting than I’d thought. My publication record for these pieces is scant, but I persist. At first, I had to go to libraries or historical societies and do battle with microfilm machines. Now I can do most of my research online, from my home office.

So when the newspaper database I use added two decades of issues from Muncie, Indiana, I set aside some time to search. I already knew a line of my…

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Chocolate quinoa cake

The first piece of chocolate quinoa cake I ate was at a fancy restaurant where main course portions were the size of Canada’s largest coins – loonies and toonies. Lunch arrived prettily set on a silent white plate with scribbles of coulis of some sort. You know the stuff – pureed parsnip essence or a reduction of Brussels sprout hearts and maybe a shake of smoked paprika. Way off on the northern hemisphere of the plate a single perfect candied walnut emerged from its shell, like a sailor adrift in the arctic ocean, considering his options as the icy sea begins to crush his vessel. Because food tells a story and the chef wants you to listen to what the food has to say. That kind of place. Continue reading


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When I shared my impressions of childhood living with an alcoholic father with a friend – memories of a five year old – he said that my memories predated a cognitive understanding of my father’s behaviour.  I bristled. It was as though my memories were irrelevant because I lacked dates, context, and the cognitive ability to connect the dots.

Did you do “dot to dot” puzzles as a child? I remember doing them as far back as kindergarten. Teachers used them as a way to teach numbers. The easiest ones were from 1-10 and the resulting pictures were simple. There were no details in the final image, just a big shape, like a ball, or an outline of a cat’s head or a house. But its spare lines still told everything you needed to know. The same way kids know when something is off kilter without understanding why. Continue reading

Dust up

Every morning I make the bed. I give the comforter a good shake to restore its loft and then I sweep my hand across the steel blue sheet on both sides of the bed. It feels nice and smooth and when I’m done all the wrinkles are gone. (If only that was possible with my face.) I settle the comforter in place, punch the pillows – a bit of therapy before the start of the work day – drop them with a satisfying whump against the headboard and then add the decorative pillows. In this way I create order at the start of the day, fooling myself into thinking I am the mistress of my universe. Continue reading

Magic word

Professor Margaret Miles-Cadman’s black academic gown created a soft breeze as she entered the class and addressed students in her Introduction to Old English class in a hypnotizing, sibilant voice. Her page-boy cut hair was grey with brown shadows and her skin as pale as the pages of our textbook, An Anglo-Saxon Primer written by Henry Sweet and first published in 1887. Prof. Miles-Cadman looked like she may have known Mr. Sweet. I took her class in 1977. Continue reading

It wouldn’t have been my prediction


Hard, fast ice on the Rideau Canal, January 25, 2018

I skated by myself today. By choice. I wobble when I skate and I’m slow and I’m afraid of falling. Plus, I don’t want to hold anyone back and I don’t want them to see my ancient skates which date way back to the early ’90’s. They were the first generation of leisure skates. ie. NOT figure skates. They have a thick liner and fasten with velcro. This means when its minus 20 my fingers survive the  20 seconds required to pat the velcro in place.

Have you ever tried to unlace skates, winkle your foot into the boot and then spent the next 15 minutes getting the buggers laced up while you lose sensation in your fingers and your glasses fog over because you’re breathing through your scarf and then your nose starts to drip and your eyes start to water from the cold? When you skate the condensation in your spectacles freezes and you’re blind. Velcro prevents this from happening.Chalet

There I was screewhooshing along on the best hard ice so far this season when I stopped to take a picture at Patterson Inlet. Two women were attempting a selfie and asked if I would take their picture.”Where you from?” I asked.

“Maine and Massachusetts. We’ve been friends for 40 years and we both turned 55 so we came here to celebrate.”

And off they skated with me wobbling behind them. As they slid away they said “We’re sorry for our President.”

I said “Me too. But I like our Prime Minister.”

“So do we.”

Wasn’t that nice?


Photo by Maine and Massachusets

Just Jot It January: Prediction

According to Marx

“I wish I had the guts to write my performance appraisal self-assessment honestly,” I said to my husband as he drove me to work.

“You have nothing to lose but your chains,” he said, quoting The Communist Manifesto.

“Yeah,” I replied. “And my pay cheque.”


Just Jot It January and One-Liner Wednesday


You come from a land of drama. On Vancouver Island gardens and drunks share a word: Lush.  Its mountain peaks split the ski like axes and windstorms batter homes rougher than Viking invaders. Natural colour wails like a Saturday night, as unavoidable as a beach party in June.


Maybe because the last time you lived there you were an adolescent it will always be a land of Romantic Comedy, Shakespearean tragedy, The Greatest Show on Earth. Nothing, nothing, nothing in moderation. Like the farmer’s field across from your old high school known province-wide for its hallucinogenic magic mushrooms. Every fall pickers arrived and kids skipped school to harvest organically grown highs until one kid totaled his brain on a bad batch of mushrooms. Drama. Continue reading