photo credit(Kina Reusch): young nash painting at the lake......
Part 1: The Exiles:
Mme Jadwiga Sosnkowska
It was 1973 or 1974 and I wanted time in the country - a kind of honeymoon for me and my beau of the moment. The Gazette ad read: September rental of Quebec-style farmhouse(furnished etc.) on Lake Bevan, in Arundel. So, Bill, (the ‘bo-of-the-mo’) and I borrowed a car and set off for Arundel in the western Laurentians, close to Mt. Tremblant.
The owner - Mme Jadwiga Sosnkowska, looked like a fairytale witch: aged, with a slight body, a prominently pointed nose, and a baboushka wrapped around her bottle-black dyed hair. She was renting out the farmhouse where she and ‘the General’ had lived since 1944. Opposed to the Soviets, they had been forced to leave Poland, their homeland, and re settled in rural Québec. Under greatly reduced circumstances, they worked hard cultivating the rough Arundel soil and nurtured a family of five sons. Eventually, they built a modest home near the original farmhouse, which they rented out. After the General's death in 1969, Mme S spent the summer months at Bevan Lake and wintered in Malaga Spain.
During my September stay, I visited Mme S frequently, and initially expected to meet ‘the General’. His armchair looked comfortable with his pipe lying in a nearby ashtray, and the living room had lots of bookshelves with papers scattered on the surface of a desk. After a few visits, I realized that ‘the General’ had died a few years before, and Mme S was keeping his memory alive as she laboured to finish his memoirs - a task he had not been able to complete.*
We enjoyed our September stay so much that we arranged to rent the following year from May through October. So, back in Montreal, I asked some friends to share the house with me the following season.
The group consisted of:
me(painter/weaver) and my bo-of-the-mo = Bill(dancer/actor);
Kina(weaver/painter) and her bo-of-the-mo = Bill(non disclosed profession - perhaps light-criminality?);
Freda(printmaker) with her bo-of-the-mo = Bill(possibly a Taiwanese spy and exiled activist).
Ekkkkkk! 3 bos’ all called Bill and all living communally was potentially a billemma, I mean, dilemma. So, during the winter we met and decided on name-qualifiers or we would never get the Bills sorted out. My Bill was called Le-Bill(because he was half Quebecois and half Lebanese)=(L-B). Freda’s Bill became Chinese-Bill(he was visibly Asian )=(C-B), and Kina’s Bill became Hey-Bill(because he acted like a hey-you type of guy)=(H-B).
The following May, we packed Freda’s Honda with cats, each put into their individual Sealtest box covered with netting. My felines were: Mr. Gomez(dignified observer) and Vindaloo(aloof but gentle), and Freda and C-B’s cats were: Snowball(defeatist), Peter Whimsy(wuss, name on loan from Dorothy Sayers), and Daniel (patriarchal), whom I chased around the left side of Freda’s house, while
C-B grabbed him coming around the right side. The sealtested-cats were stacked in double rows in the back of the car along with luggage, food, books, art supplies, cat food, tools, fishing tackle and some curiosities. Once the car was loaded, there was only room for felines, Freda and C-B, and the rest of us took the bus to Arundel.
Before leaving the city, C-B and F stopped at the vet to get rabies shots for the cats. Arriving in the parking lot, C-B opened the hatchback and lifted the fish netting from Daniel’s box, who, with a premonition of doom, leapt out and hid under a parked car. C-B called, pleaded, and finally crawled under the car and pulled Daniel out by his back leg. The other boxes were dragged into the vet’s office, where the cats behaved true to their character: Gomez was stoical; Whimsy screamed; Vindaloo snarled, Snowball cringed, and Daniel tried to bite the vet. Afterwards, all the cats were re-boxed, re-stacked and put back into the car.
Once at the farmhouse, the cats were left to work out their differences within the screened-in porch. During the afternoon, loud noises came from there as a social ladder was constructed - rung by rung. Hours later H-B opened the porch door and Daniel rushed out and ran into the woods; Gomez exited cautiously, next came Peter Whimsy - dazed and ruffled, followed by a curious Vindaloo. Hours later, Snowball crept into the house where she hid until nighttime.
Daniel disappeared for three days. We all took turns calling him, and each time a child’s voice would call back from across the lake: Je suis Daniel, qu’est ce que vous voulez? A few days later, Mme S called us to report a sighting and a plan she had concocted for retrieval that entailed placing Polish sausage on her porch. On day four, Daniel came back to us looking content and smelling of garlic. During the next week, the cats claimed their territories: upper-echelon cats (Daniel, Gomez and Whimsy) dined first and had priority use of the main staircase while lower-ranking cats - Vindaloo and Snowball, used the back kitchen stairs. At night, M. Gomez and Vindaloo had total control of my bedroom and a section of the hallway outside my door. Daniel and Whimsey patrolled the space outside Freda and C-B’s room. Snowball hid under the downstairs sofa.
Ten days into our stay, Freda received a call from her city neighbour who said he had been feeding Daniel, who seemed sad - why had they left him behind? Oh oh. While Daniel was in the garden snoozing, we all studied him closely. Maybe the one in Montreal looks like Daniel said K, and took over his place in the city. C-B remembered Daniel had a few white hairs on his chest, so we examined our specimen more closely. No white hairs. Could he have lost them in the trauma of three days in the woods? Could white hairs turn black?
C-B and Freda decided to take ‘that’ Daniel back to Montreal and compare him with the ‘other’ Daniel. When they arrived, ‘a’ Daniel was on the porch and overjoyed to see them, and C-B verified a few white hairs on his chest. Then C-B and Freda wrote a short note and attached it with string to the ‘faux Daniel’s’ neck, who casually walked up the street, climbed up the front stairs of a house and meowed. The door was opened by a woman who bent down to stroke his head. She looked puzzled after reading the note that stated: Sorry if I worried you, I spent a few days in the country with friends. I had a wonderful time, ate well, and got a complimentary rabies shot, and I’ve been invited back next year.
* General Kazimierz Sosnkowski(1885 Poland – 1969 Arundel, Qc), was a well-known Polish political figure: independence fighter, architect, diplomat, and commander of Polish armed forces, and an intellectual of note, able to speak Latin, Greek, English, French, German, Italian and Russian. Besides receiving multiple awards and medals, he was forced to leave Europe(due to his anti-Soviet position) and led a modest and unassuming life in Arundel, Qc. Jadwiga Sosenkowska, his loyal companion, is mentioned only in a small footnote as the wife of the émigré General, in spite of sharing his wartime activities in Europe, his political activities, his exile to Canada, farming the rugged Arundel earth, and bearing and raising 5 sons.
Stay tuned for Part 2, in december:
The Exiles: Chinese Bill.