When a statistic hits home

The Aquinian 
Lauren Bird

My Uncle Chris was born without stomach muscles. He had several operations as an infant to move muscles from his legs to his abdomen. The doctors said he would probably never walk, but he did.

Chris was slow — his mental capacity never exceeded that of an adolescent’s. When my sister got into the University of New Brunswick, Chris presented her with an old UNB letterman jacket he picked up at the Salvation Army. It was about three sizes too big and smelled like mould.

Everyone loved Chris. He was always at the rink and never failed to pick up the newspaper for his neighbour.

He always had his eye on a pretty girl, but Linda won his heart. Linda has multiple sclerosis; she’s diabetic, blind and wheelchair bound. They were married for 19 years and couldn’t have been happier.

They always came by for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner. Chris ate with his hands and chewed with his mouth open and helped Linda navigate her own plate.

Last month, Chris was hit by a truck at the corner of Brunswick and York streets. He was dead six hours later.

He wasn’t the first pedestrian to meet a fatal end on Fredericton’s streets, nor will he be the last. Last week, Nerida (Nena) Gleason was killed in her motorized wheelchair on Smythe Street; she was 67.

Police say there were 15 collisions involving pedestrians this year. In 2010, there were a total of 39 people hit by vehicles.

Fredericton’s streets are long and straight. They make speeding hard to resist. Who doesn’t love sailing down Brunswick at a smooth 70 as the lights change green with your pace?

And that traffic — what a pain. With the Princess Margaret bridge closed, it takes an easy 45 minutes to get from the south to the north side and vice versa. Who doesn’t get agitated when they have somewhere to be?

Still, there were twice as many pedestrian-vehicle accidents in Fredericton than Saint John last year.

In 2009, 33-year-old Dianne Trottier crossed at the intersection of Regent and Beaverbrook streets late one Saturday night and was killed.

Trottier was in a wheelchair and the driver fled. A 20-year-old woman was eventually charged with hit-and-run.

But the story never ends with a funeral or an article in the paper or even with the police investigation and a conviction.

Linda held my uncle Chris’ hand when he was taken off life support. She wore two knock-off, mismatched crocks and a large knit sweater. Her grey hair covered her sightless eyes and she didn’t make a sound.

Chris took care of Linda. He lifted her from her wheelchair into bed; he got her meals for her, he helped her dress and he loved her. Their relationship was one for the books.

Linda sat through an agonizing three hours while Chris’ unconscious body struggled to grasp breath and pump blood. And when the room was finally silent, Linda’s life changed forever. Not only because she had lost her best friend and her husband, but she lost the man who gave her life. Her navigator.

The ripples are astounding; they don’t stop either.




Ms. October

The Aquinian/The United Church Observer
Lauren Bird

I was getting my wisdom teeth pulled a few weeks ago and my dentist asked me if I was still playing baseball. Talking isn’t the easiest thing to do when your mouth is numb, but I managed to flop out a clumsy “yes,” although this summer was probably my last.

I’ve had the same dentist my whole life. He is a gracious man with tender fingers, but he is a Red Sox fan. I told him I wasn’t sure if this dentist-patient thing would work out after all, but being the gracious man he is, he still pulled my teeth.

There are a million things I could say about the glories of fall. But only one of them really matters: playoffs. Once teams clinch their divisions or wild card births, I have all I need to make me truly happy.

Baseball is a game without limits. Time is measured by strikes and outs, and if you’ve got the heart you can always buy more. There really is nothing like a crisp night game when the sun disappears behind the top of a stadium, which protects a crown jewel. Perfect white lines run perpendicular, touching only at home, 90 feet represent the distance between being safe and getting out; and there in the middle of this perfectly cut diamond, lies the feeling of infallibility.

Most people call it a mound but I’ve always thought of it as more of a mountain. I can’t tell you the fear I’ve always had of climbing it, which only got worse at the top. Eight other anxious human beings around you are counting on your foot to land in the right spot, your fingers to grip the ball just so, and the rest of your body to follow your arm in perfect unison.

But when the ball escapes your hand and you watch it cut the air and listen to the symphony of figure-eight seams spinning toward an unknown future, the fear magically, evaporates. In that split second between the release and the outcome – the moment of possibility – is the reason that I still love baseball.

Being a girl whose first love was baseball has had its problems. When I was in the third grade I was severely made fun of for wearing my cleats to school, and I had to come to terms with the fact that I would never be shortstop for the New York Yankees, or even play junior ball. But whatever the cons, the pros definitely outweigh them.

I played competitively on a boys’ team in Fredericton until I was 18. I learned more in the dugout than I ever did in any middle school sex-ed class, and I got a good look at the inside world of boys. When a member of the team showed up to a Saturday morning game, still half drunk, my coach made him pitch. He stood on the mound almost wobbling, trying to find the strike zone. It’s hard enough work to throw strikes sober, but he managed to do it drunk. I blame it on testosterone. They never made me feel like a “girl,” although they made fun of my hoop earrings and were shocked at the sight of a runaway tampon.

I also learned, but never mastered, the art of “baseball chatter.” It’s a series of words strung together by “umms” and “hmms” and taken low then high for emphasis.  It is cheering at its best: “hmm now babaay ahh kid, whataya say now, little poke now, find a little green out there kid.”

When the conversation wasn’t on girls (which wasn’t often), it came down to two sides – the Yankees and the Red Sox. When you grow up a baseball fan, you pick your side at a young age and stick to it. I am a Yankees fan primarily because when I was in Grade 4, my mother bought me a Yankees hat, which I wore out.

Boys are much more passionate about this sort of thing than girls. I was amazed at how they rattled off stats and names of players. The only time I ever knew stats was in October.

If it weren’t for midterms, I’d say that October is the best month of the year. There’s Thanksgiving, Halloween and, of course, the World Series. My dentist is convinced that the Yankees will take the cake, and I hope (and pray) that he’s right; although I’m not sure they’ve got the pitching to do it.

Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic this autumn. I know that the likelihood of ever pulling my socks up high and tucking in my jersey in again is slim. I will miss grounders and digging my foot into the batters box. If I’m honest, I feel closer to God on the baseball field than I ever have in a church; I guess it’s called “home” plate for a reason.




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