Friday, 4 January 2008

significant doors ... and other things

The other day, while walking home thru the snow, I realized my feet knew their way home. My feet turned down the street where I live without the rest of me checking the street sign on the corner. That made me think about all the different things that are so familiar I don't even notice them anymore. My thoughts wandered around a bit more and then settled into pondering doors.

Yes, doors. To my surprise, there were a lot of doors I couldn't remember. So I've decided to spend some blogging time contemplating some of those doors. This is going to be an experiment in creative writing and blogging, and perhaps some kind of analysis. So here goes ...

Were the front doors of old St Martin's Hospital wood or glass? Double? Single? Painted? Locked? Did they squeak when opened, or bang shut? I don't recall.

What I do recall is the long flight of stairs leading up from the half-moon driveway-slash-parking area to those front doors. Those stairs rose in two sections with a small concrete terrace between. Each section was wider at its bottom than at its top as the stairs narrowed into the doorway that I can't recall. Those stairs were very smooth, likely quite dangerous in rain or frost. You certainly wouldn't see the likes of them leading to the front doors of a modern hospital. Those stairs were also very clean.

I used to play there while family adults visited inside the hospital. Once I watched a nun down on her hands and knees and scrubbing the stairs. She wielded a big scrub brush sopping with soapy water that smelled like the inside of the hospital. I didn't know the word disinfectant yet. Another nun -- perhaps the dreaded Mother Superior -- exited the hospital and marched down across her freshly scrubbed steps. The kneeling nun kept her eyes down and then rescrubbed without complaint. I wondered what she was being punished for.

Those stairs were smooth, shiny and grey, but when you looked very close you could see faint streaks of pinks and browns like elongated bits of play dough rolled out flat. I did look close because sometimes my child legs got so tired climbing all those stairs that I made the final ascent on my hands and knees.

I wanted to become a nun, but we weren't Catholic. I identified with that nameless stair-scrubbing nun. I always felt very connected to St Martin's Hospital and the nuns.

Jacks. I played jacks on the stairs while the adults visited inside the hospital. Red rubber balls were best for jacks there. White ping pong balls sometimes bounced too high and got caught in gusts of wind. Pick up your jacks, little girl, these stairs are no place for jacks. But they were the best place for jacks.

Outside on the stairs, I could smell the shrubs planted around St Martin's, and hear the wind moaning down the shady treed nun's walk to the north. Inside the doors I can't recall, I smelled soap and sick, and heard silence. St Martin's Hospital was a place for whispers and lies.

On very special occasions, I was allowed thru the front doors. When Kenny was born, a white-robed nun led me down the hall to the right and to the nursery. She held me up so I could see the miraculous baby, his fragile head small enough to fit inside a good china teacup, kicking and squirming inside his glass isolette. He'll live, Sister whispered, see how strong his little legs are. But his little legs took extra years to be trained to walk, and now Kenny's gone. He didn't see forty. When Joyce slit her wrists, a different nun led me down the hall to the left and to her room. I wasn't allowed into her room. I had to visit her from the doorway, and I wondered if that was so I wouldn't catch what Joyce had. Out-of-wedlock babies were bad. I wondered if they would make Joyce scrub the stairs to get better. It was an accident, she whispered, I must have broken a slippery glass in the soapy dishpan.

Sometimes Daddy let me wait in the foyer inside the front doors while he visited with old Father Downey, the hospital chaplain. I couldn't imagine why my Protestant Daddy wanted to visit a Roman Catholic who drank Christian blood and worshipped idols, or why he needed to visit him at the hospital. What did you talk to Father Downey about, Daddy? Oh, we talked about his new painting of McIntyre Bluff and where the road should go. Then Daddy put his crumpled wet hanky away.

There were two big chairs in that foyer, both with waxy curved wooden arms and lions' feet and wine-coloured upholstery. Both chairs faced Mother Superior's office, which was immediately to the left of the front doors. To the right if you were sitting on the chairs. Mother Superior was a disembodied oval face who glided on invisible feet. She punished bad nuns, and possibly bad little girls. It was best to keep an eye on her office.

The best part of that foyer was the two plaster carvings, two tall flesh-coloured arches set into the walls. One depicted St Martin on horseback, and the other -- my favourite -- a seated Jesus with outstretched hand beckoning the little children to come unto him. Once I stood on the chair and placed my small child hand in Jesus' big hand. I wanted to climb right onto his lap like the curly-haired tot in the carving, but Mother Superior might come along. I worried those plaster carvings would be destroyed when St Martin's Hospital was replaced by a new secular hospital, but somebody rescued them. For a while, the carvings adorned the walls on either side of the east doors at Christ the King Church. I don't know where they are now.

I have a clear mental picture of the front doors to the new secular hospital, and I can even envision the east doors at Christ the King Church. However, the front doors of old St Martin's Hospital, between outdoor stairs and indoor foyer, I cannot recall.

Another door I can't recall is the kitchen door to our house on the Island Road .... (to be continued) ....

2 comments:

GMBGnome said...

Like you, I remember the stairs, the driveway and the bushes, yet I can't help with the kind of doors. Perhaps another sojourner who knows will help.

LDF said...

Perhaps, gmbgnome. I tried to find a photo. The BC Archives have a few photos of the area and the actual building in progress, and of the nuns and staff, but none show the front doors.