Susan McNicoll’s Online Home

If you’re interested in Canadian history, theatre, true murders, biographies, acting, Jack the Ripper, death, hanging, intrigue, memoirs, historical murders, fibromyalgia, chronic pain and illness, mystery and more, then you have come to the right website. Not only has Susan written about all those things in different books or articles but she has a page devoted to her handsome Maine Coon cat, Jay, including a musical video link. Susan’s lifelong love of words and history has been the main focus of her writing career, which began with five years as a reporter for the Ottawa Journal in the 1970s. Her latest release is The Opening Act: Canadian Theatre History, 1945-1953, a book devoted to professional Canadian theatre prior to the Stratford Festival in 1953.

My Sister’s Death

Today would have been her 63rd birthday. My baby sister.  Of all five children, I thought Caroline would be the last to go. Vibrant, healthy, active, a wife and mother.  Instead she is the first.

I looked after her so much when she was little. She felt like my child and this is all so wrong. I was supposed to die before her. She was my executor.

I find it hard to write her essence down in words. She was one of the most alive people I have ever known. Whatever she was doing, Caroline was there in the moment, absorbing it completely.

I won’t talk about all her accomplishments, of which there were many, but instead tell you three stories that give you a glimpse of her.

First, her courage:

Caroline was fearless when facing injustice or standing up for something she believed in. When she was in her twenties, she went to Sierra Leone to teach in very rough conditions. They had not yet fallen into the civil war that was to come but a lot of the critics of the regime were disappearing in the middle of the night. Authority of any kind was not to be questioned. Except perhaps by my sister. One of her students was a girl who was more than qualified to attend the university but they would not let her in simply because she was female. Caroline marched right into a meeting of the board at the university to take them on and told them exactly why they were wrong in great detail. I don’t remember the outcome of that fight only that she took it on and I have always admired her bravery in standing up to them when it was not safe to do so.

Second, the inquisitive scientist in her:

Caroline returned from Sierra Leone right before Christmas. There is an insect there called the Tumba Fly (also known as the Tumbu or Mango Fly). They are parasitic which means they burrow under the skin of mammals, including humans, and hatch their larvae there. Caroline brought one of these back embedded in her forearm. One easy (!) way to get them out is to cover the area with Vaseline. This shuts off their air supply so they come up through the Vaseline to breathe and you grab them with tweezers.  So explained my sister. She was so excited about having this creature in her arm and the process of getting it out. She decided to do this on Christmas Eve, enlisting our sister and I to watch. Caroline thought we would be as enthralled as she was. You could see movement under the skin of her arm. It was gross. She was fascinated with the whole thing. The Vaseline worked and she was able to grab the larvae. Her face was so alive and animated as she said “wasn’t that cool”. Not really Caroline.

Third, the silliness:

We used to have a number of Christmas albums growing up and one was Burl Ives’ Rudolph the Red- Nosed Reindeer. One of the songs is “We’re a Couple of Misfits”. One time (she was already a young woman) the song came on and I said “Hey Caroline. That’s us, a couple of misfits.” She leapt up and started jumping up and down and dancing around like a mad person (Yes, I joined her) and we sang the whole song like that. The image of her dancing like crazy will be one of the enduring memories of my sister.

Her life continued to be full as she went on to make many more memories with her own family. And then came the news that changed everything – she had a tumor on her liver. (more…)

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Wheels of Love Chapter One

 Chapter One

It was scorching hot that late September day in 1972. Sue and Deb had been travelling for six weeks and having a blast. They’d both worked hard for a year, saving to backpack for four months through England and Europe. Sue, although only 23, had so much responsibility back at home that she was really enjoying the freedom she was experiencing. That freedom was all she wanted from this adventure. Never in a million years was love in the picture.

Arriving at the train station in Barcelona early that morning, the platform was overrun with men. Given what happened in France a couple of weeks before, seeing few other women left Sue a little apprehensive about the day ahead but she quickly put her fears aside. They grabbed an empty carriage but it did not stay that way long as they were soon joined by a young Moroccan boy and a woman from England. The latter was so frail and nervous Sue wondered why she was travelling alone. The 16-year-old boy with the black curly hair and animated gestures made them all smile. In spite of his exuberance, he had an appealing shyness about him. It only took five minutes of sitting in the station before the heat got to them.

“Geez it’s hot. This is September, isn’t it?” Deb asked as she made sure all the windows and the carriage door were wide open.

“Apparently” Sue replied while helping fight one of the creaky old train windows into submission.

However, the open windows brought them little relief. Sue was reaching into her knapsack for a bottle of juice when a young man appeared in the doorway of the carriage. She saw his feet first and then her eyes slowly moved up the rest of his body to a face that made her solar plexus tighten and piercing blue eyes that led her down into the most open soul she had ever encountered. She knew at that instant her life would never be the same again.

“Is seats taken?” the man said.

“No,” Sue said quickly.

The young man must have thought he was asking were the seats empty because with Sue’s response he started to walk away. She sprang to her feet and grabbed his arm.


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