In Memory...


Within a year, I've lost my Dad, my brother and now a friend and mentor, Dr Louis Portera - so pardon me if I 'yammer' on.

What's it all about anyway?

The question has been pondered and posed by philosophers, theologians and the like for centuries. So I'm not so certain that we will know the answer. In the interim, there is no law that says we can't 'make up' our own answers as we go along...

Take Edward "Bruce" Merritt's obituary...
It seems as though the writer (and quite possibly Bruce himself ) had a real grasp on things. Reading it not only made me laugh, but it also gave me an appreciation for who Bruce was and how much he meant to his sisters, the nation, his wives, children, grandchildren and friends.

Yesterday, I learned that Dr Louis Portera (Lou) a man who positively impacted my life as a nurse and human being, died. I reflected on how much he meant to his family, the nurses, doctors, techs, firemen, paramedics, police officers, office staff and most importantly, the E.R. patients. But he was so much more than just an E.R. Doc.

Initially, Lou was somewhat distant to new ER employees but he always remained professional. It was his very own "probationary period". No one 'failed' probation, it just gave him a 'feel' for your level of skill, decision making and temperament. When Lou's 'probation' had ended, you knew it - as you were invited into his world and that of his family. It was an honour.

His wife, Becky was the light of his life. An avid reader and decorator, Becky was featured in a local decorating magazine - you would have thought she had won the Nobel Prize. When his eldest daughter, Lauren was accepted into The Rhode Island School of Design and married...he was so proud. There was a time when Lou didn't have a lot of good things to say about lawyers, but when Joseph, his son became one, he beamed. He got a kick out of telling the story of a teenaged Cameron, his youngest daughter refusing to be seen riding in his new Mazda Miata . The times I saw Lou become a little teary-eyed was when he learned of his brother's promotion at a university and when he spoke of his grandchildren.

As an ER Doc, he was the best. I can confidently say that I never saw him sweat. Always professional, grounded and consistent. I loved that about Lou. Never heard a curse from him, no tantrums or grandstanding.

In the few short days before his passing - the ER Family communicated largely by a social network site and we were able to remember some good times with Lou...

  • Our system to assign ER docs was simple. We had two ER Doctors. If the Medical Record number ended in an even number - the patient would be assigned to the "Even" doc. If the MR number ended in an odd number, then Lou would get the patient as he was always the"Odd"doc. It fit and he liked it.

  • According to Lou... "An Admission = number of allergies + number of complaints x number of miles one lives from the hospital. Anything over 500 = Admit" - Caveat; "Add 200 points to the final total for a positive suitcase sign"

  • According to Lou..."Squirrelly-ness is directly proportional to the number of rings one wears on ones hands"

  • According to Lou..."Rule Out MI (myocardial infarction) on any IDDM (insulin-dependant diabetic) with vague 'don't feel so good' complaint"

  • Lou loved to play. One of our E.R. docs (Colletta) was a little obsessive-compulsive and required order. When Colletta was away from his desk, Lou would tangle up the phone cords and mess up the papers on his desk just to watch him put everything back.

  • Upon entering a patient's room, Lou would clasp his hands together, peer over his bifocals and say, "So, tell me your troubles today."

  • Most entries were of how much Lou meant to everyone, how he honoured us all with his sincere interest and observations but also with his gentle criticisms.
Although Lou may not have been as 'salty' as Edward "Bruce" Merritt - he was a character in his own right and we all loved him for his knowledge, integrity and skill.

A great role model to us all both personally and professionally and for that I consider myself lucky to have known him.

So, is that what it's all about?

Louis Portera MD

The Red-Headed Strangers - Part 3


Willie & Waylon

As we sat, waiting for word on Waylon’s condition, I, petting the furless cat, the vet tech returned. She escorted me to “The Family Room”.

"The Family Room" in the hospital, is normally reserved for families who are about to receive bad news. I knew this was no different. I prepared myself.

The vet arrived and filled me in on what they had done so far… “Blunt force Trauma, Oxygen Cage, Tracheal Edema, IV Steroids, Multiple jaw fractures”. Should he survive the night, the plan was to keep him in Intensive Care until the morning.

The following morning, Waylon remained weak but alive. I received his X-rays and ICU records. He was admitted to The Rutherford Clinic in Dallas where he remained for two weeks after surgery for getting his jaw wired.

Willie, in the meantime was out of control. Running at a full tilt, he would throw himself against the wall. This weird, behavior did not stop until I brought him to the hospital for regular visits with his brother.

With the exception of an obvious jaw asymmetry when he yawned, Waylon recovered nicely.

My roommate, Susan decided to return to her home in San Antonio and ‘The Red Headed Strangers’ moved with her.

Separating Waylon and Willie would be inhumane. Although I would miss them, I knew that Susan would care for them and love them for the rest of their lives.

And she did.

The Red-Headed Strangers - Part 2

Every evening, Waylon and Willie would scratch on the kitchen door to go out. This evening was like all others and The Red Headed Strangers were off, into the darkness.

Thirty minutes had passed when the familiar scratching at the door resumed. It was time to come back in. Willie stepped into the kitchen.

Within seconds, another scratch at the door – it was Willie, again, apparently wanting to go back outside. This in/out scratching game went on for about 10 minutes when I finally saw Waylon.

He was weakly struggling to climb the stairs outside my kitchen door, I could hear his loud, raspy breathing and he was covered in blood.

My heart raced. I picked him up and wrapped him in a towel. "Oh my God – How do you facilitate a cat’s airway?" I recall. I held him upright as he was bleeding from his mouth and throat. Panicked, I ran downstairs and pounded on my neighbor's door. I didn’t have to say a word - we were on our way the Emergency Animal Clinic.

The clinic was open between 6pm and 8am for emergency veterinary care and they were incredible. I no sooner stepped inside of the clinic when a vet tech snatched Waylon from me and ran off. No questions asked.

We waited for word in the austere clinic lobby. A sweet cat that looked like it had been through hell was very comforting to me as I waited for Waylon’s ‘verdict’was curled up on a chair beside me. Most of its fur was gone, one eye appeared surgically altered and its skin was evidently grafted. I later learned that it had been doused with gasoline and set on fire and was now the ‘Resident Cat’ of the clinic.

If you believe, as I do that every soul has a purpose - maybe this cat’s purpose was to comfort and give pause for thought. Red-Headed Strangers: Part 3

The Red-Headed Strangers


When a friend found four abandoned flea-ridden, hungry and thirsty kittens 'mewing' in the dumpster of her apartment complex, she called and asked if I would consider adopting a couple of them.

At the time, I shared an old duplex on Lower Greenville Avenue in Dallas with a roommate and nursing colleague, Susan.

Convincing her of adding furry friends to the household would normally have been problematic except, I recalled witnessing a petrified, ashen-faced Susan standing on a kitchen chair, screaming bloody murder at the sight of a mouse recently.

This would be a done deal.

Cats are easy. I’ve always liked them and knew that they wouldn’t cramp my style (much). There’s a well-known attitude that differentiates dogs from cats…

Dog: “My people feed me, love me, provide me with a nice warm, dry house, pet me, and take good care of me... They must be Gods!”
Cat:  “My people feed me, love me, provide me with a nice warm, dry house, pet me, and take good care of me... I must be a God.”

Our new kittens “Waylon” and “Willie” were aptly named during my ‘Country Music” phase. It was 1984 and boot scootin’ (aka C&W dancing) was all the rage. Weekend evenings were spent in cowboy boots and Gloria Vanderbilt designer jeans, with big Texas hair, dancing at “Cowboys”, “Diamond Jim’s” and/or “No Whar But Texas”.

I had always thought that Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson had dubbed themselves “The Red Headed Strangers” but recently learned that they actually were "The Honky-Tonk Cowboys" - whatever. "The Red Headed Strangers" were a nice fit for our boys.

It didn’t take long before both Susan and I fell in love with Waylon and Willie. Their personalities were soon clearly defined. Willie was gentler, cuddlier and sweeter than the more aloof, curious and ‘in-your-face’ Waylon. Characteristics that probably got Waylon into trouble in the first place...Red-Headed Strangers: Part 2

The Big Bang - Part 2


On the night of April 15, 1980, I was in bed, dead asleep.

My apartment in Dallas was a hip,huge,adults-only complex called “The Village.” The Village was ‘Mecca’ to up and coming singles new to the Dallas area. Featuring several swimming pools, a large country club, tennis courts with a Pro-shop, sports fields and hosting social events with local bands, it was the happening place to live. My nearest grocery store was the “Tom Thumb” on Lovers Lane and Greenville Avenue. Monthly, its produce section hosted ‘Singles Night’ complete with games and prizes. Meat, cheese and take-home dinners were packaged in convenient ‘singles’ packaging. Several bars and restaurants were within stumbling distance and in the eighties, Greenville Avenue was where you wanted to be.

Unfortunately, I was completely unaware of these fabulous amenities for singles (with the exception of the swimming pools) as I was a shut-in. My life amounted to work and sleep. Overtime was plentiful and I had no friends so I focused on what I knew best…Work-Eat-Sleep.

It was during one of my ‘sleep’ cycles on April 15th that I heard a big bang and felt my apartment shudder. Rolling over, I blew it off.

A little while later I could have sworn I heard sirens and people talking. It was so real that it sounded like they were standing beside me. Flipping over again, I fell back asleep.

Soon after, I smelled the distinct odor of smoke. So, crawling out of bed in the dark, I walked into my living room where I promptly tripped over a very large sofa chair. “How did that get there?” I asked myself I was lying on my avocado green shag carpeting. The chair was normally placed about four feet away and against my living room wall.

I knew for certain that something was amiss when I spotted very bright lights streaming from my living room wall. Getting up and turning on the lights, I saw that the wall had caved in. What’s up with that? An earthquake?

I made my way (about 3 feet) to my apartment front door (my apartment was about 400 square feet so it wasn’t that far) and I carefully opened the door fearing for the devastation that I would witness on the other side when suddenly someone shouted, “Hey, Look! There was somebody inside!”

With that introduction, my sleepy-faced, pajama-clad self received a loud round of applause from my many new friends who had not slept through the bright yellow 1976 Chevy Camaro slamming into my apartment.

Fortunately, the driver, although drunk - was not injured.

Through this event, I was able to meet and make friends with many neighbors, gaining a certain degree of recognition at “The Village” and eventually becoming roommates with one of The Village’s leasing agents. At work the next day, I finally had something to talk about with my co-workers at break, giving them a taste for my story telling.

With the exception of a short hiatus, I have called Dallas “home” since then.

Some say that “everything happens for a reason” and I tend to agree.

The Big Bang - Part 1

February 8th 1980 was the day that I moved from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Dallas, Texas.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, I remained friendless and not quite convinced that my ‘brave’ move to the big city was such a good one. Packing it in and returning to Canada was just a few paychecks away as I was far too proud to ask my parents for the money to go back home.

Then, when I least expected it, things began to change.

In my early twenties I considered myself a ‘heavy sleeper’ and was known to sleep through my alarm on occasion. After a few embarrassing “wake-up” calls from my Charge Nurse, I decided that it would be worth the $10.00 a month to hire a ‘live’ answering service to get me up.

Every morning, just like clockwork, my phone would ring at precisely 5:30 am. My personal wake-up guy, ‘John’ was on the other end enthusiastically telling me it was ‘TIME TO GET UP, JOAN!” in one of those booming The Price is Right, ‘COME ON DOWN!’ sort of voices. Bless his heart. John cajoled, bantered and yik-yacked with me… “ARE YOU AWAKE YET, JOAN?”…until I was finally able to convince him that I was in fact awake. It was only then that he would hang up. He took his wake-up calls very seriously and for that, I am grateful.

I tell you all of this because I want you to appreciate just how deep a sleeper I was and how that impacted my life on the night of April 15th 1980…

A 'Southern' Baby Shower


Soon, my friend Lori and her husband Chris will be having their first child - a boy named, Seth. Today, a Baby Shower brunch was hosted in their honour by their dear friends Adrian, Debbie, Jeni and D'Ann. It was lovely . The hostesses were gracious, the guests were plentiful, polite and well-dressed, the food was delicious and the gifts were every bit as beautiful as the mother-to-be.

Lori's Baby Shower was as civilized a southern event as you could ever envision. The only thing missing might have been mint-julep but Texas is really not a 'mint-juleppy' state so that doesn't matter. Suffice it to say that the shower was a very lady-like affair.
As I was sashaying about, mingling with my fruity peach punch in hand, my 'curiosity antenna' veered towards two attractive blonde baby shower guests. While delicately nibbling on their bite-sized quiche, it sounded to me like the conversation concerned firearms...
  • Blonde #1 - "I just got my concealed handgun license renewed."
  • Blonde #2 - "Really? Do you carry a gun?"

  • Blonde #1 - "Sure, I have a gun in my purse." "I have for years."

  • Blonde #2 - "In Arizona, people don't conceal their weapons."

  • Blonde #1 - "Is that right? In Alaska, everybody carries their weapons in full view."

  • Blonde #2 - "Hey! Maybe we should get together sometime for target practice!"

I couldn't help myself and butted into the conversation... "Where else but in Texas would you stumble upon a conversation about firearms at a baby shower?" I asked. 'The blondes' enthusiastically responded by inviting me to "come shoot with us sometime!"

"Oh, I wouldn't trust myself. I've seen those 'You Tube' videos of people who wind up shooting themselves in the foot or getting hit in the head and knocking themselves out by the backlash of the gun." I said.

With that, the blondes looked at one another, then looked silently back at me. No one uttered a word but their faces said it all ..."We understand."

Genealogy - Part1


It was in the summer of 2008 that my dear Dad at 79 years of age, died.

Admittedly, far from perfect, he was known to drink a little whiskey and have a smoke on occasion but he was also a very kind and wise man. He and Mom were always there for us and helped me to become the person that I am today.

Dad had been a construction worker, heavy equipment operator and teacher. He owned racehorses and became their groomer and trainer. A nature lover, he would have wild birds ,squirrels and even raccoons eating from his hand.

Mom would often say, "Oh, you know your father...he's outside talking to the birds again."And he was.

Like many people as they age, Dad mellowed. He became interested in learning about his ancestry and if I knew nothing else, I knew for certain that Dad loved our step-mother Madonna, his church, his family and all things "Mic Mac".

So, what and/or who are Micmac? What is the correct spelling? It can get a little complex but if you really want to know...

"The Míkmaq are a First Nations (Native American) people indigenous to northeastern New England, Canada's Atlantic Provinces, and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec. Traditionally spelled Micmac in English, but Mi’kmaq (singular Mi’kmaw) by the Míkmaq of Nova Scotia, Miigmaq (Miigmao) by the Míkmaq of New Brunswick, Mi’gmaq by the Listuguj Council in Quebec, or Mìgmaq (Mìgmaw) in some native literature." -Emmanuel Metallic et al., 2005.

Genealogy Part 2

Genealogy - Part 2 of 3


By now, you may be wondering (ho,hum) why I am writing about Mi'kmaqs, Acadians and my Dad. Believe me - it will all become clear in the next installment of "Genealogy".
So, for those of you who are quite literally at the edges of your seats and need a Canadian history fix, I will delay no more.
  • 1605 - Acadia (Nova Scotia) was settled by the French. Marriages between the French and the native M'ik M'aq indians were common.

  • 1642 - Pierre Lejeune, (my paternal ancestor), arrived from France and settled in Acadia where it is documented that he married "a MikMaq woman" (she was not given the courtesy of a name) - and so the LeJeune family tree began.
  • 1755 - The Great Expulsion: A terrifying and tragic experience where thousands of French settlers were suddenly expelled from Acadia under the direction of the British troops. Families were violently separated and forced onto various ships set sail to places unknown. Many Acadians were never to reunite with their loved ones again.
  • Many 'LeJeune' families that were forced onto the British ships eventually settled in Lafayette, Louisiana.
  • With the assistance and protection of the native M'ik M'aq's, some families were able to stay intact. Fortunately, my ancestors travelled with the Mi'kmaqs to the island of Newfoundland, eventually settling in what would become known as the town of St George's.

  • Catholic Jesuits encouraged the new settlers to anglicize their family names in order to escape further potential persecution by the British... "LeJeune" became "Young", "Benoit" became "Bennett", "LeBlanc" became "White" etc.
  • 1995: 250 years after The Great Expulsion, Acadian descendants, including Ted Young (my Dad) began embracing their Indian heritage.
Are you hooked on Canadiana yet? If so, check out a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that chronicles the separation of lovers, Evangeline & Gabriel during The Great Expulsion. It's simply called "Evangeline".

Genealogy Part 1

 Genealogy Part 3

Genealogy Part 3 of 3


At last. The reason you had to suffer through Canadian history, geography, The Acadians, The Mi'kmaqs, and my Dad... to be included in a sacred Mi'kmaq ritual...

The "Smudging" Ceremony

When a native Mi'kmaq dies, a "smudging" ceremony is held in their honour. The purpose of the ceremony is to purify family and friends in attendance and give them the opportunity to communicate to the spirits by preparing them for the soul of the deceased. This rite of passage facilitates their transition from the physical to the spiritual world.
Dad's "smudging" was held just prior to his traditional Catholic funeral on a secluded hilltop, overlooking the Atlantic. It was a beautiful. sunny morning. My sister, Barbara (Bobbie) planned the smudging ceremony with the assistance of a native Mi'kmaq spiritual guide, a man named Scott Butt. There were only a handful of us - Bobbie, her good friend Porgie, my brother Vic, his sons Rob & Thomas, my cousins, Donna and Danny, his girlfriend Rhonda, my husband Doug and I.

Scott gathered us together into a circle and explained specifics of the smudging ceremony.
  • Laying a large caribou pelt on the ground, Scott placed a drum, a ceremonial staff and a 'smudge pot'. The smudge pot was made of clay and a mixture of sage, sweet grass and tobacco was set on fire. To The M'ikmaq, these objects are sacred and are only used for smudging ceremonies. Scott then recited a Mi'kmaq prayer to the rhythm of a drum beat.
  • A ritual 'cleansing' with smoke from the smudge pot was performed. Scott approached us individually and held the smoldering smudge pot in front of our faces. We were instructed to gently wave the smoke over our heads, eyes, noses and mouths then over our chest, arms and legs. The ritual would cleanse our spirit and help to remove any obstacles to speaking from the heart truthfully.
  • The ceremonial staff was a carved, length of wood that was about three feet long. Adorned with an eagle's feather and the claw of an owl, Scott told us that staff represented strength (wood), wisdom (owl claw) and communication with the spirits (eagle's feather). The eagle is known in Mi'kmaq culture to carry messages to the beyond.
  • The staff was passed from one person to the next. As one person held the staff, they were to speak the truth about the person who passed away. Whomever was holding the staff and speaking, was not to be interrupted. The staff was then passed to the next person.
  • Each one of us spoke of my Dad, his impact on our lives and what he brought to our world. For me, I found it to be comforting to know that we were introducing him to the spirit world.
The Smudging Ceremony was very powerful and a fitting tribute to my Dad. I recall while holding the ceremonial staff that I was overwhelmed by the parallel between the characteristics of the staff and the traits of my father. Strength, wisdom and the ability to communicate clearly and effectively were just a few of his assets. Not only did the ceremony validate Dad's strengths but it honoured him in a way that was so... him.

The Catholic Church in St. George's, Newfoundland

Genealogy Part 2

Genealogy Part 1

Paris 2009


I loved Paris for it's gazillion outdoor cafes, music, art, architecture and bread. Our hotel was located in the bohemian, eclectic and artsy district of Montmartre and we loved it. Visions of Van Gogh and Lautrec, higher than kites on absinthe, laughing and stumbling along, the dark Parisienne cobblestone streets, while struggling to hold one another up, danced in my head.

At night, after a full day of sight seeing, climbing more stairs than you can ever imagine and eating more butter than I have in years, Doug and I would return to our hotel, climb an additional four stories to our room, walk down the hall and around the corner to the public 'toilette', then join each other out on our wrought iron balcony, reminisce about our day and watch the same homeless man set up his bedding on the street below. Did I mention we were staying in a very modestly priced hotel? In the morning, he would be gone.

Caught up in the frenzy of 'all things french', I couldn't resist purchasing a long, blue knit scarf. Doug winced. I've seen that wince before and although I knew it to be 'bait' for me to tersely ask, "What???" I chose to let it go. Who cared if he didn't like my new look? Screw him.
As our train was leaving Paris for London, I could no longer resist..."Do you like my new scarf?" - "It's alright but I was afraid you were going to go nuts and buy a beret too" he said. Oh puhleeeease - even I knew that wearing a scarf and beret in Paris would have made me look like a caricature of an American Tourist. But I secretly wanted one anyway.

Paranoid in South America

Anticipating travel to South America was both exciting and scary. Admittedly, reports of muggings, kidnappings and police corruption go...