I must have been born with a vivid imagination and a creative nature that would ensure
reading had an overarching importance in my life. I read ‘Gone With The Wind’ for the first
time when I was eleven years old, and then reread it many times thereafter. Unfortunately for
my mother, I was a difficult breech birth: years later I would joke with her that the long and
challenging labour was due to me reading GWTW in the womb. “I should have had the
forethought to close that heavy tome as I made my way out into the real world,” I remarked
to Mom when home on a visit from the city, “but I was intensely engrossed in the burning of
Growing up in a large family, my sisters and I had a love-hate relationship, typical of many
children. I was a terrible tease with them; I was the proverbial thorn in their sides. However,
for the record they teased and taunted me too; in fact, they ganged up on me on many an
occasion, a middle child, and the only boy in a house full of sisters (several years later
another sister and finally a brother were born but were like a second family for my parents).
For example, they often insisted that I was adopted: making the best of a bad situation I
imagined there had been a mistake at the hospital between Prince Andrew and myself, and
my rightful and regal place was at Buckingham Palace in Jolly Olde England. As well, a
favourite trick of my sisters was to try to pull the towel off me that was wrapped around my
waist, when I was either on the way into the washroom to have a bath or on the way out. I
was mortified that my sisters would get sight of ‘the family jewels’, in all their glory and
It is generally known to be true that boys are testy and odorous little creatures, but girls are
just plain mean and spiteful when they have a bone to pick (and they don’t forget anything,
better than any elephant you may have met). When at our worst, we fought like cats and dogs,
enjoying every minute of our sibling-based battles; at our best, just have someone say
anything untoward about any one of us, and a line was drawn in the sand, the wagons were
put in a circle, and all artillery was pointing outward at the enemies. In short, may God have
Mercy on those children who had decided to pick on any one of the Potter brood. As siblings,
we were as thick as thieves, and sometimes did some good-natured thieving - seeing if we
could steal a chocolate bar from the candy counter at the town’s most popular restaurant-
coffee shop when the owner was busy at the cash register, just to prove a point. Even though
that woman kept an eagle eye on us, the hand is quicker than the eye!
As my three older sisters entered their teenage years, they became rather bored with teasing
and taunting me. They had bigger fish to fry: all three of my older sisters were attractive, and
suddenly teenage boys started to hang around our farm. I had to content myself with teasing
my younger sister Barb, who was easy to bate but no fool. She was Dad’s favourite, no doubt
because she looked so much like him and his side of the family; moreover, she was just plain
adorable. Her nickname was Pinky. Barb’s cute, pert, and pink ski-slope nose perfectly suited
her (and it was an original because no one else in the family had a similar one). I liked to
tease Barb that her father was actually Bob Hope, who must have come to Canada in the early
60s and met our mother at one of his stand-up comedy performances; for children, when
teasing is involved either as the inflictor or the inflicted, logic goes out the window.
In high school my love of reading meant that my favourite class was English. Never wanting
to be noticed, particularly by my teachers, I tried to be invisible in the classroom. I was of
course a different person with my friends when in the hallway or the cafeteria at school, but
generally preferred to maintain a low profile when in high school. I had long hair and thick,
Coke-bottle bottom glasses, and acne...and those were quite possibly my best features! Years
later looking back at my high school photo, I joked to my sisters that I looked a great deal
like our dog, Sheba. She was the family dog, but my particular pet and we adored each other.
At one point I had taken a photo of Sheba, a headshot, and proudly displayed it in our home.
After the comment to my sisters about the similarity in appearance between Sheba (by that
time, dearly and clearly departed), I put my old high school photo on the table in front of
them, and then the photo of the family dog. The similarity was definitely evident to all of us,
and we had a good laugh that Sheba’s photo was the better one.
One day in English class we were studying the lyrical ballad by Tennyson, ‘The Lady of
Shalott’. The teacher had asked some pre-reading questions at the start of the class. I had not
read the poem in advance and hoped not to be asked, thus kept my eyes cast downward at my
desk and the book in front of me. Then he started to read the poem, in a histrionic manner, his
voice resonant and deep. When the teacher came to the line, “She knows not what the curse
may be” a memory came back to me in a flash. I started to chuckle quietly, trying to suppress
my response by covering my hands over my mouth while the teacher continued to read. I was
afraid that the teacher would notice me, and that was the last thing that I wanted. Then he
recited in a dramatic way, “The curse is come upon me,” and I broke out in an uncontrollable
guffaw, and with tears (of laughter) streaming from my eyes I was cursorily banished from
the English classroom, and with a proverbial tail between my legs, made my pitiful
progression to the office for my first and only disciplinary chat with the high school principal.
Barb and I were sitting in the kitchen at the big oval wooden table, staring at the television
screen of the portable set that was perched in the recessed shelf of the wall opposite. It was in
the late 1960s and we still watching a black-and-white portable television; at the time, I was
9 or 10 years old and Barb was four years younger. We heard a piercing scream from the
floor above, then the voices of our three older sisters raised in that kind of shrill and panicked
manner that is typical of a sudden and dramatic emergency situation. Then we heard heavy
feet pounding down the linoleum-covered wooden stairs with a series of resounding and
ominous thuds. When the cacophony was heard from the upper floor, our mother had turned
from the kitchen counter where she was making one of her delicious meat-and-vegetable pies
for supper. In the same wide-eyed manner as my sister and me, Mom was staring in
consternation first at the ceiling above and then at the door at the bottom of the stairs when
suddenly my second oldest sister, Laurie, burst through it with a bang as the door slammed
back against the kitchen wall. She had the wild-eyed and hysterical look of someone who is
being pursued by the hounds of hell. Laurie was running at a madcap pace for the bathroom
that was on the far side of the kitchen.
My oldest sister, Cheri, must have been fast on Laurie’s heels because moments later she too
appeared at the bottom of the steps and made a beeline for the bathroom, with an expression
on her face that was hard to discern. It was somewhere in that vast inexplicable expanse
between misery and mirth. For a self-satisfying moment, it crossed my mind that my sisters
must have been involved in that type of age-old and pleasure-inducing battle that is typical of
siblings across the world and through the centuries. That thought was banished, however,
when my sister Jo Ann, who was next oldest to me, literally flew through the opened stairway
door with feet that barely touched the linoleum of the kitchen floor. As Jo Ann sped across
the kitchen she managed to turn her head and shriek at our mother the following sentence that
remains imprinted even now in my mind and makes me smile at the memory:
“Laurie’s got her period!”
Immediately my mother, who was always at her best during times of crises, turned her back
on the meal she was preparing and hurried into the bathroom. Barb and I barely had to glance
at each other before we went into action: we were of one mind, as it were, and ran fast behind
our mother. Just as we reached the bathroom door, it slammed in our faces and we heard the
lock clicking in place. After Mom had slammed the door closed in our faces, I turned to look
at Barb who was standing beside me. I was amused to see that her cute and pert Bob Hope
ski-slope nose now appeared to have a definite little skier’s ramp at the end of it! We
hammered on the door, asking what all the commotion was about, but we were ignored. We
could hear our sister Laurie half-sobbing, and the voices of our other two sisters talking in an
animated manner, whilst our mother’s voice was soothing and at a lower pitch. Despite
plastering our eager ears to the bathroom door, we could not distinguish what was actually
being said, nor determine what curious calamity had befallen our sister, Laurie.
I turned to Barb and exclaimed, “Let’s look in the bathroom window!”. I ran from the kitchen
and through the back kitchen, then around to the rear of the house. Barb was fast on my heels.
Our home was on the family farm that Dad had purchased from his father; at one time the
house had wooden siding, but several years earlier my father had arranged for multi-coloured
asphalt shingles to cover the two-storey house at the front, and the one-storey at the back
where the kitchen and bathroom were located. As children we joked that the siding looked
like something our old asthmatic mother cat, Tinker, had coughed up; in retrospect, although
not the most attractive siding for a house, it was at least new and was considered both
fashionable and affordable at the time.
The rear of the house was on a slight hill, and thus the back wall where the bathroom was
located was quite significantly higher than ground level. Behind the house there was a type of
covered shed with steps that lead down into the cellar; it had wooden walls on two sides with
a stone and cement foundation at the sides, and a Dutch door with an old-fashioned metal
handle at the front. An aluminium eaves trough ran around the house at the lower edge of the
roof on both upper and lower floors; however, at the rear of the house the eaves trough ran in
a straight line below the bathroom window. It was just the right level for two children with
beady little eyes and snoopy big ears to perch upon in order to do their sleuthing!
It was not the first time that Barb and I had climbed up onto the roof of the cellar shed: like a
pair of tree-dwelling chimps, as practised climbers we clambered up the side of it, getting
toeholds on the exterior where there were knots in the wood. On that particular day, I was the
first to climb on top of the cellar shed and perched on its roof as I waited for my sister, Barb
“We can walk along the eaves trough to the bathroom window,” I whispered to Barb, “ and
then from there we can see and hear what is happening.” From what our sister, Jo Ann had
cried out in the kitchen, we knew that Laurie had got her ‘period’, but we were not entirely
clear what that meant (although we had a pretty good idea it had something to do with her
body and its functions). That said, it was clear to us that a major pow-wow and emergency
session was taking place in our family bathroom, and we did not want to miss out on all that
anxiety and excitement.
I sat on the edge of the roof of the cellar shed and then began to inch my way across the eaves
trough toward the bathroom window, using the wooden trim above from which to cling
precariously with my fingers. Barb followed closely behind. It was not far from the roof of
the cellar shed to the bathroom window, but it seemed quite a distance when one is moving
sideways, one tiny and tentative step at a time.
We reached the window and looked in. The bathroom light was not on, and the sun shining
behind us on the glass of the window made it difficult for Barb and me to see into the
darkened room. When our eyes focused, we were able to distinguish our mother from behind
as she busied herself administering to Laurie (who was sitting on the family ‘throne’), whilst
our other two sisters were standing nearby, making the occasional indistinct comment. It was
indeed frustrating for Barb and me to be unable to see or hear sufficiently; we could not quite
make out what was being said, and unfortunately by now the earlier shrieks and exclamations
had become subdued conversation.
I had just turned to Barb and murmured, “I wonder what is going on” when I heard a loud
cracking sound. In an instant I felt myself falling the half-storey distance to the ground
below. I hit the grassy slope with a thud that knocked the breath out of me. I quickly sat up
and looked around myself and saw the eaves trough had broken in two and was lying nearby.
But where was Barb? I then looked up at the wall above and saw that Barb had managed to
maintain a hold on the wooden window frame with her two small hands. Her little feet,
encased in her familiar running shoes, were desperately trying to get a toehold on the wall. I
was amazed that my younger sister was still hanging by her fingers at the window ledge. I
was just about to jump up to grab or catch her when all of a sudden Barb dropped
unceremoniously to the ground beside me. She too had the breath briefly knocked out of her.
After a few stunned moments we looked at each other and had the same idea in unison: we
knew that we would be in trouble for being such snoops and for breaking the eaves trough.
Immediately we got to our feet in order to flee from this mishap and started to make a beeline
down the lawn to hide in the barn. Just as we began to make our great escape we heard the
bathroom window open with a resounding bang and our mother shouting, “Just what are you
kids up to now?”. Rather than stop to give an explanation or to beg forgiveness, our flying
feet beat a path down the long back lawn and to the welcoming solace and safety of the barn.
We later better understood the full meaning of what transpired to Laurie that day, on what is a
significant milestone for a young teenage girl. The incident became a favoured and humorous
recollection for me and my siblings, told and re-told to cousins and friends. No doubt Laurie
was not as enamoured of the family tale but being a good sport, she put up with the retelling
of it. Our father, who already worked like two men, had the task of repairing the eaves
trough. We were told to never try walking on it because it would break again; we were too
heavy for it to hold our weight. There were no particular consequences for the two of us,
although my sister, Barb and I were taken to task somewhat by our mother for being such a
pair of nosey parkers.
What is clear to me is that in those days and with my generation, we found fun and occupied
our time in so many ways that we took for granted then, but unfortunately is really not
available now for children. The world on our farm and in the nearby community was a place
of exploration, experimentation, education, and enlightenment. We would ride our ponies and
horses, or bicycles, on nearby back roads for hours on end. We could explore the wooded
areas and pasture lands not only on our farm, but also on the neighbouring land, without any
issue or concern. During summers we swam for long and pleasurable hours with our friends
on the next concession road in the large pond on their property. During winters we climbed
snowbanks that almost reached the telephone lines. The memory of those days and that
childhood world has been made more poignant during the past two years, due to the loss of
my sisters, Jo Ann, and Cheri, who left this world too young and too soon. My siblings and I
have been fortunate indeed to possess shared childhood memories of such a wonderful world.
It was a world of the imagination, that still illuminates and enlightens my life as I continue on
my journey toward the future, and other adventures that are yet to be discovered.
John RC Potter is an international educator and gay man from Canada, living in Istanbul. He has experienced a revolution (Indonesia), air strikes (Israel), earthquakes (Turkey), boredom (UAE), and blinding snow blizzards (Canada), the last being the subject of his story, “Snowbound in the House of God” (Memoirist, May 2023). His poems and stories have been published in a range of magazines and journals, most recently in Blank Spaces, (“In Search of Alice Munro”, June 2023), Literary Yard (“She Got What She Deserved”, June 2023) & Freedom Fiction (“The Mystery of the Dead-as-a-Doornail Author”, July 2023). It was recently announced that "She Got What She Deserved" has been named as one of the Top 100 Projects in the 7th Annual Launch Pad Prose Competition.
John RC Potter – Author Website (author-blog.org)