Culhamm, Eileen

Cherry Trees Outside

I come from Shawinigan Falls, Quebec. I graduated high school, then studied nursing in Montreal, then got on a train across Canada and saw the Rockies. I took a train on the CPR to go all the way out West. I love trains, and I would like to be able to travel on trains all the time. I like them much better than airplanes.

I was in Girl Guides and all that, when I was very young. I learned how to macramé. One thing I can’t do any longer is paintwork, because my paints were stolen, my paints and my brushes. I have no idea where they went. I personally purchased these paints, and so it really makes me angry.

I had no money; my father was an alcoholic. I went on my brother’s skidoo once. Now he’s dead. He was an alcoholic. I never touched alcohol. How can I? Don’t have the money to get alcohol! Alcoholics are very vicious people. It’s a sickness. They’re very, very sick.

I was a nurse. I loved being a nurse. Nursing is hard work, not like typing. Then I wouldn’t have become handicapped like this. It’s nice to have people generally appreciate me. I made a great friend in school, but I never see her anymore. Do you know where she is? She’s very healthy, very old, and she’s wonderful. My friend and her daughter, they’re doing very well, both of them. She’s a physiotherapist.

I studied nursing and then I skied with this friend. It was a complete disaster, that’s why I’m in this bed. A steep fall, rolled around, I don’t know how fast I was going. My brains weren’t working: I didn’t slow down; I kept going. I barely remember it, I’m telling you. I was paralysed, completely paralysed. I’ve been here (at Pearson) a long time, since I was nineteen years old.

I also have multiple sclerosis (MS). The doctor had very strong suspicions of MS when I was nineteen, but they didn’t make a diagnosis until much later, when it hit me like a ton of bricks. I have a pressure sore right now so I have to stay in bed. I don’t know if I can still sit in my chair. No…no, I can’t.

My jewelery was all stolen from here. It’s terrible, you shouldn’t trust a soul. This watch on my wrist, it’s from my friend. My other watch, which my aunt gave it to me-that got stolen. It took a long time to get enough money for a new watch. Also, the food here is grim, very grim. I was a very good cook; I know what I’m talking about. If I could stand up on two legs I would’ve studied to be a chef, not a nurse. I cooked all kinds of soups. This is actually a fairly decent place, but these large institutions, they all have their faults.

To keep myself occupied, I read a book. The one I’m reading now is called Never Cry Wolf. It’s a true story, about the Eskimo in the Arctic. It’s by a writer called Farley Mowat. Once I went up north in Quebec, in a log cabin. Oh, it was just gorgeous, with a fireplace. What more can you ask for? At night I opened the door and I could hear the wolf go “aroooooooo!” We were by a lake, Lake Français. It was really beautiful, and lovely. I was about 21 then, or younger. I get lakes confused because I love lakes. I love lakes. The purity. The ocean, I hate. It was a beautiful cabin, beautiful. I love nature. I love to look out my window; there are cherry trees outside.

I spoke French with Joanne Goudreau. I came from Quebec, so I was bilingual. I don’t know if I still am. It’s lonely here because I love people, all kinds of people. I used to share a room, but not anymore. I befriended Johanne Cote. We arm wrestle together. She’s strong, and she usually wins. It’s more exciting today because two people are here!

I used to play tennis. That’s how I met my husband, when we were both playing tennis, in Vancouver. I was 24 when I got married, in England. I didn’t have a very happy marriage. My husband was an architect, and a very talented painter. Since I didn’t go to university, and he did, I always felt inferior. When I left him, I wanted to be independent. I wanted to do some soul searching, and socialize with other people.

I also used to skate, swim, and hike. I really enjoy the outdoors. To be free! Manning Park is one of my special hiking places. I just remember the water, swimming. I used to be a very good swimmer in those days. You can see it in my shoulders; my right arm’s strong, my left arm is weaker. My legs are now useless because of my spinal cord. I used to have beautiful legs; now they’re gone. You have to just lift your arms, and kind of propel yourself. I can’t go in the water anymore, it’s very sad. I was swimming, and a moped was coming at me. They frighten me now; something happened but I can’t recall the story.

I was an athlete, but I’m not a very good competitor; I don’t like competition at all. I came in third place in a race once, racing two other girls. They were two short girls and they could run. I was amazed at how fast they could run.

The best thing that has ever happened to me was my daughter. Her name is Kathleen, and she has a daughter of her own, named Hawthorne.


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