“So I hear you’ve been in touch with Blake.” Sara and Colleen were in the kitchen cutting up loaves of day-old bread for stuffing.

“Oh? Well, yes. I mean he sent me a little note for my birthday. No big deal.”

“Well, I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Sara mumbled.

“Oh come on, Sara. He was part of our family for four years!” Mom tossed another handful of bread cubes into a large, stainless-steel bowl.

“Yeah, well so was Linda.”

“Yes, well Linda left your brother for someone else and took his daughter. Things are different.”

“Mom, how are they different? Blake was cheating on me constantly!”

“But he was sorry and he wasn’t the one who left.”

“I know that mom! I left HIM!”

“You don’t have to get upset.”

Sara started cutting at the stale bread with fury. “What, you expected me to stay with him?”

“All I know is that you didn’t try. You just filed the papers and left the country. And now you come home after nearly three years, and what have you got to show for yourself?  Not even a boyfriend. I had three kids when I was your age.”

“I can’t believe you. After all this time you really don’t get it…what I went through. I had to get away. He really destroyed me. You really have no idea.”

“Well, that’s what your family is for. To help you guys through the rough spots. Can you chop up those onions?”

Sara grabbed an onion and started peeling it. “Mom, he was seeing two other women. TWO! And he’d been doing it for years. Can you imagine how that must have felt, how betrayed I was?”

“Well, people make mistakes.”

“How would you feel if dad did something like that?”

“I don’t know. If he was sorry and apologized…”

“Well, obviously it has never happened to you then. “ Sara started chopping the onion madly. She found her mother so infuriating. Her divorce had always been looked at differently than Ned’s.

“Oh REALLY? You think I have no idea…” She paused momentarily and picked up a cube of bread and put it into her mouth. Her eyes stared upwards captured in thought. Then she snapped out of it and returned to cubing the bread. “Well, I mean my own parents had a problem like that. So I do understand.”

“Mom, you were five years old when that happened. And grandma never forgave grandpa for that, did she?”

“I’m not discussing this with you anymore. I always liked Blake and always will. So, he made a mistake. I don’t think that’s a reason to throw your marriage into the garbage.”

Sara threw the knife on the counter and stomped out of the kitchen, grabbing her coat in the hall and headed outside for a smoke.


Rupa burst into the house as only Rupa could. At just over five feet tall and about 150 pounds she looked like the Koolaid Man in a bundle of red.

“Merry Christmas! Hahahahahahahahaa!” She squeezed the air out of Sara before hurling a puffy scarf on the stairs and racing towards the kitchen continuing her “Merry Christmas chorus.” Ryan followed a few minutes later with a box of presents and a none-too-happy expression on his face.

“Where’s dad?” he mumbled.

“Downstairs watching TV, as usual.” Sara watched Ryan drop the box on the front room sofa then stomp down the stairs to the family room.  She scooted to the end of the loveseat to listen in on what she was sure were to be the ensuing fireworks.

“Where’s the plough?”

“What plough?” Herb replied innocently.

“You know what I’m talking about.”

“Listen, I already told you we don’t need a plough.”

“What the heck are you talking about? Every time I come up that driveway I nearly go off the edge! You haven’t shovelled it in years and it’s gonna kill someone someday. I mean, you’ve already gone over the edge TWICE.”

“I put salt on it. That’s all it needs. And with the four-wheel drive it’s just fine.”

“Well, it was a present! I bought it and it wasn’t just for you! It’s for mom too.”

“Yeah, your mom put you up to this.”

“Well, geez, maybe she doesn’t want to get herself killed.”

“We don’t need a plough and that’s it!”

“Oh, that’s it eh? You always know better.”

“I don’t need to listen to this.”

“Fine, whatever. Go ahead and kill yourself on the damn driveway.  Just remember that you’ll be killing your wife at the same time.”

“Who do you think you are?”

“Me? Well, I’m Ryan.”

“Get out of here. I don’t want to uh…that’s it.”

“Well, I’ll leave as soon as you give me the money back.”

“What’s this?  You taking a gift back?”

“I never actually had a chance to GIVE the damn thing to you! I bring it over to the house and hide it away and next thing I know it’s gone! So, if you don’t want it…fine! But give me the money back.”

“Well, I don’t have it.”

“What do you mean, you don’t have it?”

“I bought an air compressor.”

“For what?”

“Because I need one.”

“You already have one in the garage!”

“That thing is useless.”

“Honestly, you have completely lost your mind, old man.”

“Pardon me? That is disrespect!”

“Oh fuck off,” Ryan stormed upstairs. Herb soon followed, although more waddling than storming. Ryan was already out the front door when Herb made it to the hallway. He looked at Sara.

“You hear that? My own son fucks me off!”

Sara tried not to smile.

“You think it’s funny? Hmm? I’d wipe that smirk from my face real quick if I was you.”

Mom arrived with Rupa in tow. “What on Earth is going on?”

“Your son just fucked me off!”

Rupa started to cackle.

“What is this? I don’t have a single person that respects me in this FAMILY!” With that he reached out and grabbed the nearest item, which in this case was an antique vase filled with silk flowers and smashed it on the floor. Nobody was laughing.

“What the Heck? That was mother’s! What is wrong with you?” mom immediately started cleaning up the mess. Rupa rushed out the front door to find Ryan. Herb stood watching his wife clean up the mess, as if not quite believing what he had actually done. Sara shook her head and walked to the front door as well.

“Where do you think you’re going?” dad yelled at her.


“Help your mom clean up this mess!”

Sara stopped in her tracks. She could feel the rage creeping up her spine; the rage she knew he had passed on to her, but that she kept firmly inside.  She glared at Herb. It was still there inside of him too…although kept mostly in check. She actually hadn’t seen that old rage in years and was none-too-pleased to see it once again. She could already see in his eyes that he’d realised he’d lost control. Then a look of shame washed over his face. She continued staring him down…making him feel even weaker.

“No. But I will help mom clean up YOUR mess.”

Not knowing how to respond, Herb mumbled “sorry,” then plodded back down the stairs to his comfy chair and television.  Sara got a broom and mom held the dustpan. They cleaned up in silence. Finally, as mom picked up a garbage bag, she turned to Sara and softly whispered, “On second thought, I guess I’m wrong. I am glad you got divorced. I really should be more supportive. I know I’d want your love and support too if…”  She patted Sara on the shoulder.


“I press this button?” Tiffany held the camera while Sara posed in front of the large dollhouse crammed with Barbies old and new.

“That’s the one.”


“That’s a good one!” Tiffany screeched as she looked at the camera’s screen. “Now, let’s do one picture together and then maybe we can pretend all the girls are goin’ to, like, this real big party and the boys want to come but they’re not allowed so the girls kick them out.”

Sara was actually kind of happy that her niece hadn’t yet grown out of playing with Barbies. They’d already thrown a grand wedding where the maid of honour got beaten to a pulp for trying to steal the groom, and another where the main Barbie left one Ken for another Ken because the first Ken was a “bum who just smokes and complains all the time!”

“Aren’t you tired of Barbies yet? We’ve been playing for two hours!”

“Nooo! Come on, Aunty…just one more time! You can even play with my favourite one!”

“I’m pooped! We can play tomorrow.”

“But tomorrow is Christmas Eve and you’ll be busy.”

There was no fooling this one.

“Why don’t we have a break for an hour and go have a snack?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.”

They walked downstairs to the kitchen. Herb was out buying some milk (i.e. buying more crap at the local junk shops). Mom and Kat had gone to town to get their hair done. Wes had taken Lucky to the groomer. Nobody had heard from Ryan or Rupa since the plough discussion. Uncle Joe and his “friend” were hiding out at Ryan’s. Ned was doing his own Christmas shopping…which left Sara to babysit Tiffany.

“How come Blake didn’t come for Christmas?” Tiffany asked, grabbing a shortbread cookie.

“Blake and I aren’t together anymore.”

“How come?”

“Well, he made some big mistakes.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Just, well, some bad stuff.”

“I know it’s BAD stuff, but what kinda stuff?”

“You’re too young to understand.”

“That means sex stuff.” Tiffany laughed, causing her to spray cookies crumbs over the floor.

Sara smiled. “Why do you think that?”

“Every time someone says I’m too young to understand it means sex stuff. That’s why my mom won’t let me watch CSI. One time I sneaked and watched it and I saw sex stuff. A boy was just wearing his underpants and a dead girl was naked.”

“Well, your mom is right.”

“So you don’t like him anymore?”

Sara pulled a jar of Colleen’s homemade pickles out of the fridge. “It’s complicated.”

“Yeah. Can I have a pickle too?”

They munched on pickles for a minute, and then Sara grabbed her coat.

“Where you going?”

“Just out for a smoke.”

“I’ll come too.”

They bundled up and headed out onto the porch at the back door. Tiffany started shaking the snow off a Japanese maple.

“You wanna know a secret?”

“Sure,” Sara answered as she inhaled.

“Well, I have ta show you. It’s not a secret I can tell.”

“OK, show me.”

“It’s outside in the shed. It’s in Uncle Ryan’s box of stuff from when he was a kid.” Tiffany’s nose wrinkled up just the way her dad’s did when he was being sneaky.

Sara finished her smoke and Tiffany grabbed her arm and pulled her up the bank towards the shed. As they entered Tiffany said “but you gotta promise not to tell anyone. I don’t think anyone knows but me.”

Sara followed her niece inside, and Tiffany went to where two wooden chests were stored at the back underneath some apple crates. She moved the crates aside and lifted open the lid, the smell of cedar filling the room. She then stuck her arm in and jammed it to the bottom of the chest, feeling around for something.

“What are you doing?” Sara chuckled.

“Well, I was lookin’ for Christmas presents. I looked here cuz last year grandma hid stuff in my dad’s chest. So I looked again this year in uncle’s, and I found these!”

She pulled out a moderately sized stack of Young Titties magazines. Sara immediately snatched them away from her.

“Tiffany! You’re not supposed to be looking at this kind of stuff!”

“I know, cuz it’s sex stuff. But you can’t tell. Promise you won’t tell.”

“I won’t tell.”

“I think uncle thinks those girls are pretty.”

“Oh yeah? Well, Uncle Ryan’s kinda silly, isn’t he?”

“My dad is too. One time I saw him looking at this computer movie and there was this lady in a black thing and she was spanking this guy who had no clothes on. Isn’t that funny? But I didn’t say nothing. My dad thought I was sleeping, but I wasn’t. I think boys are kind of weird.”

“They sure are, my dear.”



“What’s that?”

“FOOD!  Did they feed you?”

“Need what?”


“No, just some awful pretzels.”

“You want to get a fo-ko-shu bun? A place up here has real good ones.”



“No, I’m fine. “

Grandpa sat with dad in the front. Sara was in back with an already snoring Aunty Kat, who had fallen asleep on the way back to pick up grandpa at the Kelowna airport.


“I say.”


“Yes, Colleen told me many times.”

“GUESS THEY HAVE FUNNY HAIRSTYLES OVER THERE.” Herb shot Sara a look in the rear-view mirror.

“I say.”

Grandpa had never cared for Herb all that much. In fact, mom told a story of when he met Herb for the first time, took one look at his long hair and moccasins and announced that his “daughter would not be marrying any dirty hippy.” Grandpa fancied himself a true Englishman and claimed that his mother had brought him over to Canada from London as a young boy. However, mom and Kat discovered on his birth certificate that his mother was born in Liverpool and that grandpa had been born in Didsbury, Alberta.  There was never a mention of grandpa’s own father. Once, when asked by his father by a young Uncle Joe, he had snapped that “He died in the war! He died in the war!”

“Yeah, Colleen’s been cooking up a storm! Kat too…so lots of goodies at, uh…”

“The sounds lovely,” Grandpa said through a scowl. He then grunted and turned to face Sara.

“So tell me, how is it that you plan to find a new husband when you are living amongst all those Nips?”

Herb shot Sara a look of horror in the mirror, his eyes pleading for her just to let the comment pass.

“Well, grandpa, I haven’t really been looking.”

“I do hope you meet a nice, young man soon. After a certain age a lady loses her attractiveness to men and the possibility of finding an acceptable husband becomes increasingly difficult.”

“Well, guess I will just have to get Botox at that point!” Sara jokingly smiled. Grandpa smiled back.

“You have your grandmother’s wit, my dear. The only one in the family who does. Colleen got my brains, but as for poor Kathleen…” he paused to glance back at fat Aunty Kat’s sleeping form, “well, she must have gotten the milkman’s appetite.” He winked at Sara.



Scrabble was not just a game in the Bell house…it was a gladiatorial competition. Out came the official Scrabble dictionaries, the $159 deluxe anniversary edition of the game-board,  the timer, the special notepads, an array of pens and the official score sheets…well, not so official because mom had scanned a sheet into her computer and printed out about a hundred.

The formal dining room table was cleared and the competitors stood around it nervously. Herb, Colleen, Kat, Wes, Ryan, Rupa, Ned, Joe, Tak-Sin, Tiffany, Grandpa and Sara stood pondering their next moves.

“Well, there are twelve of us, so that makes teams of three” Colleen announced. And the battle started. Joe immediately reached out and grabbed Colleen’s arm, who then latched on to Sara. Kat kept pawing at her husband, who kept shaking himself free while trying to catch Rupa’s extended hand. Herb laughed and pretended he didn’t care, while at the same time trying to push Rupa’s hand off her husband’s arm. Tiffany announced that she and great-grandpa were together. As usual, Ned and Kat were not being fought over as Ned’s spelling was atrocious and, well, nobody wanted to be partnered with Kat because she always started crying.

The dust settled and the teams sat down at the four corners of the table. On the upper left-hand corner were Tiffany, grandpa, and Ned. Next to them were Rupa, Ryan, and Wes.  Joe, Sara, and Colleen sat on the lower left, with Tak-Sin and Herb got stuck with Aunty Kat on the bottom right.

“OK, so three minutes per turn, no looking up spellings and Canadian spelling only,” Herb announced.

“Well, I don’t know your whacked-out spellings, so I think we should allow both,” Wes bellowed from the other end of the table.

“Well, your team members will know the Canadian spellings.” Herb replied authoritatively.

 “How ‘bout we just accept either types of spelling?” Rupa suggested.

“Because, my dear, there is no such thing as American or Canadian English. There is the Queen’s English.” grandpa answered before Herb could reply.

“And Tuck-Shin too! He is foreign so we should allow any spelling,” Aunty Kat wailed.

“FINE! Is everyone agreed then?” Herb asked. Nobody responded. So each team drew a tile. Herb’s team got a “B” so they went first. There was a quiet murmur as each team frantically arranged their tiles to spell out a variety of words.

Kat reached out and placed her team’s tiles on the centre of the board, covering the star in the center. Everyone quietly looked at the board to study the word.

“What’s that?”  Rupa asked.

“What do you mean?” Herb replied.

“Well, it’s spelt wrong.” Ryan stated.

“No, it’s not. We agreed on any spelling.”

“Nobody spells it that way,” Ryan answered back.

“That’s the British way.”

Mom and Joe started laughing. Sara smiled and then Tiffany started to laugh too, which then annoyed dad. His face turned red.

“Listen, we all agreed that international spelling is fine!”

Sara decided to step in. “But dad, nobody spells it ‘S-E-X-Y-L-Y’.”

“That’s old English.”

Then grandpa started to laugh.  “There’s no such thing, dear boy.”

“Of course there is. That there is Shakespearean spelling!” Herb’s bottom lip was starting to quiver in annoyance. “Ask Joe!” Everyone looked to Joe who was a literature professor in Vancouver.

“Well actually, Herb, it isn’t. And anyway, we can’t use old English for Scrabble.”

“Says who?” Herb shouted.

“Oh brother,” Ned mumbled.

“Hon, just take it off,” mom mumbled.

“Fine.  So now everyone knows that we are not using British English. As long as that is clear,” dad pronounced while he snatched back his tiles.

“Time’s up!” Tiffany screeched brightly. Ned started to laugh.

“No, we get to do it again.” Herb retorted back.

“What do you mean? You had your three minutes!” Rupa exclaimed.

“Nope. We are doing it again and that’s it!” Herb bellowed.

“Who died and made YOU king of Scrabble?” Rupa answered back with a laugh. Herb’s temple veins started to twitch. He closed his eyes for a moment. Everyone was dead silent…nervously awaiting the predictable eruption of Mount Herbious.

He finally spoke. “OK. Don’t worry, Kat and Tak-Sin…if they want to try and cheat that’s fine. Let them cheat. Cheaters always lose in the end.”

“How on Earth do you think we are cheating?” Rupa exclaimed.

“Never mind.  It is all fine. Go. It’s your turn. Tiffany! Start the timer!”

Rupa picked up Q-A-T and plopped it on the board where S-E-X-Y-L-Y had previously sat.

“Now look who’s talking! That is DEFINITELY NOT a word!” Herb shouted.

“Sure it is. You want to challenge us? Go ahead. “

A Scrabble “challenge” in the Bell household meant that if the team challenged was proven to be incorrect, they lost their turn and had to take an additional two tiles. If the challenger was proven incorrect, they in turn lost twenty points.

“Well, I’ll let you get away with it this time…as long as you know that I know that THAT isn’t a word.”

“Well, it is.” Rupa was not giving up.

Herb turned to Colleen and shouted “Gimme the dictionary.”

“So, you ARE challenging them?” mom asked.


“Then what do you need the dictionary for?”

“To prove my point.”

“So they still get to keep their points no matter what.”

“Yes. Just give me the darn dictionary!”

Rupa and Ryan smirked at each other. Kat seemed to be nearly dozing off again. The rest of the competitors sat staring at Herb as he nervously thumbed through the dictionary.

“Ah-ha!” Herb loudly declared, slapping the dictionary shut.

“What? It’s there! I know for a fact!” Rupa was not happy.

“Yes, but it’s an Arabic word.”

“So what? It’s in there.”

“But didn’t we all just say that we were only going to use Canadian and American English?”

“It is in the OFFICIAL Scrabble dictionary!!!”

“You guys made the rules.” Herb was smirking with pride.

“I’m sorry, but S-E-X-Y-L-Y is NOT even a word!” Rupa slapped her hand down on the table in emphasis.

“Who died and made YOU queen of Scrabble?” Herb answered back.

“Great grandpa said Uncle Joe’s the queen,” Tiffany announced out of nowhere.  Ned and Tak-Sin burst out laughing. Joe scrunched his lips and stared down his father. Colleen shouted out “Tiffany! That’s not nice!”

“Time’s up!” Tiffany screeched brightly.