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Winnifred Trainor, who was believed to have been engaged to marry Tom Thomson. (Victoria Lywood/John Abbott College)
Winnifred Trainor, who was believed to have been engaged to marry Tom Thomson. (Victoria Lywood/John Abbott College)

BOOK EXCERPT

'Winnie is the real tragedy' Add to ...

She had been the bane of my existence when I was younger. My mother would often cringe when she looked out and saw "Miss Trainor" making her way up Lorne Street to our house a block higher along Huntsville's Reservoir Hill. She was a sight never to be forgotten: a large, dark, sullen figure moving slowly and deliberately, black hat over dark, scowling eyes, her black stockings slipping and rolling down thick legs under a dark dress, an umbrella held in one hand to deal with wandering dogs or teasing children as much as the possibility of rain. She seemed to have no smile in her, thin lips set in permanent disapproval. That darkness permeates my memory of her is no surprise, for she almost always wore black or various shades of grey and her deep-set eyes were quick, judgmental - missing nothing.

She would climb the steps and plunk herself down in the best porch chair or, in colder weather a chair in the kitchen, and spend several cups of tea complaining to my mother about everything from the altar decorations at the Anglican church they both faithfully attended to the near-criminal behaviour of certain children she had seen in the recent company of my mother's children. The visits were never relaxed.

I was terrified of Winnie myself. My friends loved to play tricks on her - nicky-nicky-nine-doors usually - and I nervously went along with whatever was proposed. Once we filled a brown-paper bag with dog excrement, doused the bag with lighter fluid, then set it on her porch, lighted the bag, pounded on her door and ran. We then dived into a bush on the far side of the street and tried to stifle our snorts and hysterical giggles as she came out in her heavy black shoes, stomped out the fire quickly realized what we had done to her. I spent that entire evening back home, waiting in dread for the phone to ring.

There was never any doubt that Winnie was watching. Once, while walking home from the Huntsville Memorial Arena, which stood on flat ground near the river - stick slung over shoulder, skates tied and hung over stick, duffel bag full of sweaty hockey equipment hanging off the stick like a hobo's belongings - I saw her hobbling in her slightly arthritic way along Centre Street. Our trajectories were in line for a confrontation, so I slowed down, the way someone on a portage might slacken their pace on sighting a bear in the distance, but she saw me and called me over.

She was smiling, her rather yellowed teeth surprising in their welcome, and she asked me if I'd just come from a game. I had. Since it was Saturday morning, the squirts on the town all-star team had been allowed to play with the peewee house league, even though we were one age level below - eight- and nine-year-olds playing up against 10-, 11- and even some 12-year-olds.

"You're doing well with your hockey," she said.

I mumbled something, surprised she would even recognize me, let alone know that I was on the travelling squirt team that was sponsored by the town doctors and went by a sports moniker you could never even imagine in later years: "The Pill Rollers."

She removed a glove, unclasped her large, black purse and fumbled about inside until she pulled free a roll of clippings from the weekly Huntsville Forester.

"You're quite the little goal scorer, aren't you," she said, unfolding the clippings in her hands so I could see they were the same weekly sports roundups I so carefully pasted into a red scrapbook each Thursday after the Forester came out. (One entire page of that scrapbook was devoted to my practising a spectacular variety of autographs that no one would ever seek.)

"Thanks," I mumbled.

"One day you'll be in the NHL," she predicted, quite inaccurately. Still, it was the nicest moment I ever recall having with her. As I remember it, she reached out and tousled my head, but surely imagination has pasted that one into the scrapbook too.

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