A paper for those of us a little older…
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View of a Few – Ronald Franklin

 

June 2017
The Sauna And Other Wonderful, Frightening Stuff
Back in the days when we felt morally obligated to go swimming on, or before, the twenty-fourth of May, the world was much smaller. Heated pools did not exist out north of town where we lived, except for the bath tub. On Saturday we carried in pails of water from the rain barrel and heated it up on the kitchen stove. There would be enough water to fill the tub and enough left to keep it somewhat warm. One pail for each person in turn. The two girls bathed first, then my brother and I, then Dad. Mom bathed last. By Mom’s turn it must have been like digging around in a warmish mud hole.
The only communal winter bathing my brother and I had ever heard about, and did not understand the mechanics of, was the Steam Bath that Dad talked of, in the bush camps where there were Finns. The Finns, and the guys like Dad who learned from them, moved in to a patch of timber and built the ‘Steam Bath’ before they built the bunk house or the kitchen.
The ‘Sauna’, as the Finnlanders called it was a one room building, with no windows, a stove—’Tin Hell’—the Englishmen called it, and one or two or more parallel rows of seats at different levels. They would build a fire and throw cold water on the stove, causing much steam to engulf the room and the people in it who were sitting on the benches. The higher benches were extremely hot.
It was expected of the bathers to sit on the top bench until almost unconscious, then stagger out the door and roll in the snow, or jump into a hole cut in the lake. My brother and I, by the time we were about six and eight, were enthralled with the Sauna. It was obvious nothing in the world would ever beat it. Dad said, “You get hot enough that when you roll in the snow it is just like feathers.” It was several years before we got into a steam bath. It was not quite as wonderful as we expected but it was a red letter day when we finally rolled in the snow, bare naked. More exciting than getting hydro out at the farm when I was sixteen.
In later years, after I was out into a larger world and had become, as young men become, wise and weary, I was invited into the sauna by a friend and his sons. It was a beautiful big room, panelled in cedar, no sign of a ‘tin hell’. Very nice, I thought, but not like the real thing. Then two ladies of the family strolled in and sat on the bench.
Wise and ready for fame and fortune? In the real world I was still about eight.
We had learned, on the farm, that you worked as hard as you could, ate as much as you could, and went to bed as soon as the chores were done. Then you got up at five in the morning and did it all again.
After high school, wherein I was, in my own eyes, dumb and awkward, I went to work in a bank. Mostly, I did my work—I was the cash book clerk—and kept my mouth shut. After a few months it became intolerable. My little brother, who never seemed to have any problem with becoming part of the action wherever He was, went to work on a pipeline construction job. It was 1957. He made more money each week than I made in a month.
I quit and went to a bush camp. There wasn’t any sauna. No Finns in that camp.
The work was familiar and I got along well with the men in the bush. Most of them were my Dad’s age. In a few months they made me a supervisor. I was nineteen.
In those days quite a lot of the bush cutters were heavy drinkers. There was a lot of drinking in camp. In order to be accepted I became a drinker. After a few swigs of whiskey, I could talk and laugh and feel like I was one of the real people.
Naturally, unfortunately, I became an alcoholic. By the time I was old enough to go into a bar legally, I was a drunk. The first time I got cut off and put out of a beer parlour was on my twenty-first birthday. In those days, you were supposed to be twenty-one to drink.
I learned to talk in the pubs, still didn’t say much unless I was half in the bag.
Sober, I still felt as if I was stupid. The Company kept me on because they believed I was a good supervisor. I felt guilty about that. Most of the men were a lot older than me. They all knew their jobs and I never had to tell them what to do. I told them what needed to be done and asked them how they were going to do it and what they needed to do it with.
During the next ten years, I lost that job and others, got married and spoiled the marriage. I went back to school and flunked out of university, spent more time in the Legion in Fredericton New Brunswick than up the Hill at the College.
At age thirty-one I stopped drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life. It taught me and continues to teach me how to get along with life, how to get along with myself. Getting away from alcohol was a gift. It was a gift of life that I had no control over. My job, for the ensuing forty odd years has been to learn how to be myself. I not only had to be myself; I had to actually like myself. It has not been easy. During my first year of sobriety, my birthday was coming up. There was an unusual feeling of excitement in my gut. I had not been excited about anything for years. Going back over the years, I realized that the last time I had anticipated the future happily was when I was twelve. This translated into, “My God! Emotionally, I am twelve years old!”
So, it took an AA club room a very short time to take away my addiction to alcohol. After that it took me about ten years to grow up. Even now, forty odd years later, I have relapses, when I hate myself, feel sorry for myself, feel stupid. But it gets better, oftener than it used to.
I now realize, usually, that I’m not stupid. I’m not particularly smart, either. I am just me, not a Hell of a lot better or worse than most other people. Also, I am sober—a gift, without which I would have been dead long ago.
There are yet, problems to deal with, going way back to that little boy from the farm. It is many moons since I was in a steam bath. The idea of walking into one that might have girls sitting around slapping themselves with branches and sitting up higher than I am prepared to climb is still frightening.
In some ways I am damn near eighty—going on twelve.
May 2017
The body I inhabit came out in 1938. It must have been quite well constructed, or it would not have lasted this long. It was not well taken care of.
Early on, out at the farm, my brother and I learned to work. I could milk a cow when I was just finished grade one. My brother, younger than me, harnessed the horse and pulled the tractor out when I got it stuck plowing the potato patch. He was seven at that time. I do not know how in Hell he did it. He could pretty well walk under the horse’s belly standing straight up.
I was almost nine and had been driving the tractor since it was new the year before. Gordon wasn’t much for tractors and trucks at that time, but he communicated with the horses as soon as he learned to talk. When I was ten, Dad said, “Georgie, you walk in to the east place and bring the truck home.” I have been driving ever since. It was about as natural as breathing.
Dad had a sawmill. To operate it there had to be a sawyer, that was Dad, and a ‘dogger’, who turned the logs and rolled them on to the carriage. There had to be a ‘tail sawyer’ who carried slabs and boards away from the carriage. If they were sawing railroad ties, there needed to be two tail sawyers. Some of the tie blocks weighed well over a hundred pounds.
There was always sawdust to shovel. I am sure I shoveled sawdust before I was six.
By the time I was turning thirteen, I was six feet tall. That spring we sawed a huge pile of ties. Gordon did the dogging and shovelled sawdust. Dad sawed and I carried every damn one of those blocks over the belt and piled them on the truck. I was strong, but my spine was not finished growing. I’ve had a sore back most of the time for sixty-six years. No more two tail sawyers. No more hired men at all. Just Dad and Gordon and me.
We sawed a set every year for several years. Then, Gordon went on to university. I went to work in the Bank of Montreal. Gordon stayed at it and got a degree in forestry. I quit the bank in a few months and went back to the bush.
It is painfully evident that the ability to reason went to Gordon. I did try other ways to make a living. I was even successful sometimes. But, I walked away from jobs, businesses, relationships, and went back to the damn bush. I even persuaded Gordon to cut pulpwood with me—when I was seventy. He was able to do the work better than me.
Now I am almost seventy-nine. My body is about worn out. Gordon is gone now. He went suddenly at seventy-four. He had plans in motion that would have kept him busy and happy for many years. I miss him so much.
Why am I the one to still be here? I sit and think about big trees and big trucks.

February 2017

Red Long Johns
Well, we had a January deep freeze in December and an extended February thaw in January.
I was not, mentally, or physically, prepared for that sort of thing. Thirty below and not even Christmas yet. Reluctantly, I dug out the long handled, red, combination underwear, given to me a few winters ago, and never worn.
In retrospect, it is obvious that the person who bought the red long johns knew exactly what she was doing. She knew there would come, sometime, a stretch of real cold weather, wherein I, like a lot of deluded, elderly males, would, believing myself to be bullet proof, freeze my ass off, walking to the corner to buy a newspaper. If I was still alive the next day, there was a pretty good chance I’d remember how warm long underwear was when I was nine or ten, and have it on.
From the day I started high school until the cold spell this past December, I would not put on layers of clothes unless it was to work in the bush. Not ever in public. I suspect that men, most of them, do not mature until they are teetering on the edge of senility. There may be a window of awareness. A few weeks or a few days.
Females, on the other hand, were, probably, born knowing a whole lot of stuff, including how to deal with males, without the males having a clue.
So, I put on the red underwear, and layers of clothes on top of them, enough to cover any and all signs of red. Then I set out to get a newspaper one block down. Hell, I was warm! It felt so good I walked all the way to the bank, about a mile. Then I walked all the way back home. Another mile.
Two months previous to this I’d had a full knee replacement. By the time I got back to my place, I was hurting, A lot. For three days I suffered as much as I did the day after surgery.
She was not the least bit surprised.
January was warm. When I was able to walk again, I had to find lighter clothes. The red underwear is showing from the closet, hanging. Waiting.

January 2017
Yuletide Holidays on the Farm 1954
The cold spell we had before Christmas this year was somewhat unusual. Those long ago winters on the farm bring memories of bitter cold in early January. Christmas sometimes had a snow storm, but the weather was not really cold, that came later.
Christmas day in 1954 was almost Hot. The sun shone all day, and we could make snowballs. After dinner we went outside to bask in it and take pictures. Mom and Aunt Nell each got new fur coats that year. The men and the kids were in their shirt sleeves and the ladies wore their new coats. Everyone was happy, even the horses and cows. We let them all out of the barn. The horses rolled in the barn yard and ran around, squealing. The only one of us who stayed in was the old cat who mostly lived in the barn. He had been let into the house for Christmas, and remained there all day. I believe that was the time he climbed the Christmas tree while we were all outside.
The weather turned bitter New Year’s Eve. In those days, what with chores and winter logging to do, most stump ranchers, like us, did not consider New Year’s Day to be a holiday. We did the chores and went to the bush with axes and a swede saw, and were cutting pulp wood shortly after daylight.
There was no such thing as too cold to go to work. First thing my Dad did, was hang his coat on a limb somewhere, take off his inside mitts, grab the saw and attack a tree. The steam would be rising all around him in five minutes.
My brother and I were fourteen and sixteen that year. We chopped the limbs off the trees and piled the eight foot pieces Dad made from them. The piles had to be four feet high and four feet wide to make a cord. An acceptable day was ‘about four cords.’ Sometimes, we were quite certain there was more than four cords at night when we walked home, but Dad always said, when we asked him, “Well, we should of had another stick or two.”
I don’t know how cold it was that January day. Dad said, “Well it’s about the thirty blow.” I know that there were no wild animals moving around. They were holed up, no tracks anywhere except our own. That morning when we went to the bush, a two mile walk, it was likely forty below
Actually, we did wake up one squirrel. Dad felled a tree that came down quite close to where I was chopping limbs. Squirrel leaped out of the tree on its way down and landed right on top of my head.
Dad, who always got up before five in the morning, had made sandwiches for the three of us. Two pieces of homemade bread, sliced thick, some butter, and a thick chunk of very fat pork, from a cold roast. constituted a sandwich. By noon they were, of course, froze as hard as rocks.
My brother figured we should have a fire. We could burn the brush, keep warm, toast our frozen lunch, maybe make tea in a can. Mostly, Dad gave in, after a struggle.
He would say, “Some of them guys spends all their time feeding that damn fire and never get any wood cut.” But, my brother was at least as mule headed as Dad.
Usually, there would be a pitch pine stub standing blackly among the spruce trees, left from the big fire of fifty or sixty years before. My brother would chop out some pieces and get a fire going when Dad had his back turned. It would turn out good. I sometimes asked Dad about how things were in the real old days, He would get right into what it was like right after the first War, what it was like in the ‘dirty thirties’. My brother would fry frozen sandwiches on a sharpened stick over the fire. We would work till dark, then walk home across the swamp, do the chores at the barn and carry in wood for the furnace at the house.
That was about the last year we cut wood with the swede saw. We had persuaded Dad to buy a power saw the summer before, but, if it didn’t start on the second pull of the starting rope, he would throw it away and grab that darned buck saw. My brother quickly learned how to file the power saw and I learned how to cut with it. Dad, ultimately, was forced to join the twentieth century. It wasn’t easy. He could file a swede saw so that it cut like cheese.
I don’t remember being really cold, back then. I don’t remember getting tired, particularly. January was kind of long to endure, but there was usually a February thaw.
Dad would say, “Hell yes. In no time at all them damn flies’ll be biting.”
And, my brother would begin planning our first trip to one of those secret creeks to spear jack fish.

December 2016
Life Does Go On

It was my intention to write a story about having a knee replaced. It was interesting. I was awake all through it and there was absolutely no pain. Amazing. That was about three weeks ago and every time it starts to feel almost pain free, I forget my cane and hurt myself, so that I can agonize for a while. But, it is Christmas this month. This should be a Christmas story. I cannot write a warm fuzzy, happy thing about all the family together at the farm, every member of my immediate family except my sister and me are gone. Four of my favourite cousins are gone, plus their parents. Three of them died in almost the same year. Of fourteen people in the two families, four are left.
I have been somewhat of a loner the last few years, although I have two or three good friends. They have become very important to me. More than once in the past, I have walked away from my life, from people I loved, still love.
So, what to do? I have been staying with my best friend, Tara. Can’t make it up and down the stairs to my apartment. She looks after me and her cat, with absolutely no favouritism. The cat adores its Mommy and interacts affectionately, somewhat affectionately, with me. As long as I understand that my role, to Her, is that of Second Cat. Life goes on.
It would be easy to feel dreadfully sorry for myself. Family nearly all gone, nowhere to go when my leg heals up, except back to my attic to read books and write little stories about the things we did long ago.
But it won’t work anymore. Having outlived most of my siblings and favourite cousins, all younger than me, leaves me alone. I have always been somewhat of a loner, and an unfortunate streak of honesty, down deep inside, will not allow me to regret or moan about a misspent life that is my own damn fault. In the same vein I must not write amusing, slightly untrue little tales about the dead ones. If I am to be the surviving family historian, anything I write about the family, must be, the truth. I must not make them better or worse than they were, which means I better not write about them. The only things that make my stuff interesting, are the little jokes, here and there, nearly always made up or exaggerated.
The other reality, of course, is that the family still exists and is larger than ever. My sister has three generations of family. My surviving cousins each have children, grand children and great grand children. I have three step children, none of them married—It is to be hoped that they do not take after me. They lead busy lives and always come to me if I need them, and they scold me when I need scolding.
In fact, I really have no complaints. In the spring I will get the other knee replaced. Hopefully, Herself, the cat, will let me heal up again, with her and her Mommy.
Merry Christmas to everyone.

November 2016
In nineteen thirty-eight, when I was born, my mother decided to name me Ronald, after her brother. Dad decided to name me George, after HIS brother. Being quite young at the time, I did not follow the ensuing antipathy.
In later years, the story came down. Dad had won. He said, “Alright, We’ll name him Ronald, but We’ll call him George.”
So, I was ‘Georgie’ for quite a long time. It was okay with me—at that time— because, Dad had SAID, and Uncle George was my hero.
Then I started school. On the first day, Lauretta Tanner came down to get me. She was in grade two and knew the ropes.
I was faced with ‘Georgie Porgie kissed the Girls and made them cry.’ Lauretta didn’t tease me, then or ever, She warned me that, probably, there were no other Georges and the kids, especially the big kids (It was a one room school) would laugh at me, because I ‘kissed the girls and ran away.’ She promised to take my side against any or all of them. And, she did. That was seventy-two years ago. I still love her.
My growing was pretty well done by my early teens. They started calling me ‘George’, and the teasing stopped.
Due to the fact that my brother and I had worked in the bush and trapped weasels from the time we could set a trap, or swing an axe—and got paid for it—we had a can in the kitchen cupboard containing a fair amount of money. When I started high school and had to board in town, Mom instructed me to put my money in the bank. My questions about bank procedure were answered by, “Just tell them what you want. Do it.” Mom had changed in the thirteen years since I was named. If Dad tried any smart ass games on her now, he would be sleeping in the barn with the horses.
It turned out, because of my birth certificate, that, to the Bank, I was Ronald. Later, on my drivers’ licence, it was Ronald. At seventeen, due to a charge called ‘Minor Consumption and Causing a Disturbance,’ also, Ronald.
Over the years, family and friends called me one name, Lawyers, Doctors, and their Ilk, the other. It got so I would answer to either. If the phone rang, I usually knew whether it was social or establishment by which name of mine came on.
I was George to wives, girl friends and to people I worked with on construction or in the bush. In college, I was Ron, also, in a couple of desk jobs. Oddly, when I started using a computer, writing stuff, I became Ronald. On the old Smith-Corona typewriter, I had been, George.
There were many jobs of various sorts, Hell, I worked in a bank for a while, long enough to become George instead of Ron.
Of all the bosses I toiled for, there were about three that I liked. Betty was the one who solved any potential problems, after I worked a few days. Some called me Ronald, or Ronnie, or Ron. Some called me George. I answered to whatever they called me. I was used to it. One morning she walked up to me and said, “You pick yourself a name and stick to it!” Felt like I’d come home. I was George till I retired.
I’m Ronald in my writings. George probably couldn’t, or wouldn’t, learn how to operate a computer.
Oct 2016
All I ever really wanted to do was drive a big truck. Well, early on, a year or two before starting school, I wanted to drive a big truck and be a policeman.
Standing, tiptoed, hand as high as it could reach, I asked, “Mom, will I be this high when I am six?” She said, “Oh, I hope so. Come and eat your lunch.”
Then, I wanted to know, “Can you have a big truck and be a policeman too?” Dad, already at the table, said, “Oh God, I sure hope not!” He didn’t like trucks and he didn’t like cops either. “ Come and eat, then go to the back field and look for them horses.” I didn’t have to catch the horses, just find them and go tell Dad.
He never did get me to be a ‘teamster’ In those days a teamster drove a team of horses. It was years later when Teamsters were truck drivers. He never did get me to drive horses. I liked them but had no desire to drive the damn things.
My little brother who, at the time of which I speak, was sitting in his high chair, planning. He wanted to ride a horse and he wanted to go hunting with Dad. He couldn’t talk much yet, but he surely could think. I didn’t like guns or hunting either. So, Dad had to settle for one out of two. Gordon was hauling hay with the team by the time he was seven. I still wanted to drive a truck.
Actually, I liked being with the horse when we were skidding logs. Gordon was about half as big as me in those years. I would throw him on the horse’s back. He operated the horse from up there, and I put a chain around the log and hooked it to the ‘Single-tree’ ( a rounded off stick of hardwood attached to the rear end of the horse harness) and away we went to the sawmill. Dad said there was no money in farming so we had to take out wood in the winter in order to have the price to put in a crop come spring.
Just once, I asked—-I was about eleven—-”Why the Hell do you farm, if there’s no money in it?” He said, “Well, damn it all, that is just what we do.” I didn’t like farming, particularly didn’t like planting potatoes, hated. even more, digging them up in the Fall. But, I liked Dad, wanted to learn to swear as good as he did. One of the neighbours said, “Bill Franklin can curse for five solid minutes without repeating himself once.” That is what I wanted to do, and I really liked eating potatoes.
By the time we were about ten and twelve, Gordon and I had skidding logs down to a science. He had grown some but I still threw him on the horse. We got five cents each per log, skidded to the mill, later raised to ten cents each. Sometimes, if they weren’t too big, we could take two or three sticks at a time, even more. Our uncle George, had worked on Lake Boats, towing huge booms of timber. He knew lots of ways to tie things together with ropes and chains, and he showed me some of them. I would pull some small logs together, put a halfhitch around them, Gordon would put the horse in reverse till I was near enough to get the grab hook on my chain,—the one around the logs—and away he went. If there was a small, eight foot piece, I sometimes threw it on my shoulder and carried it out behind Gordon and Horse.
One memorable day, back in the five cent per block era, we made five dollars and eighty cents. Does not sound like much, but men working in the sawmill were getting eight bucks a day, or less. We worked up a sweat that day. Once I threw Gordon almost off the other side of the horse. He had to crawl up the harness and grab hands full of mane hair. He called me names, some of which I doubt even Dad knew. He was nine at the time. It was awesome. Maybe I was a bit jealous. I not only would never get to swear as good as Dad, it was probable I’d never get to the level my little brother had already reached.
The years went by. When Gordon was fifteen, he grew several inches in one summer. He got it all done in one spurt. He went hunting as often as he could. He went back in the field to get the horses. He always got them. I didn’t go with him, or ask questions after one conversation between him and Dad. The way to catch a horse, is to take a pail or some container, put a hand full of grain in it, go up in the field and shake the can. The horses usually come running for a mouthful. “What do you do if there isn’t anything to give them a bite?” “I saw you with a half a pail full of sawdust one time.” said Dad. “Yeah, it worked once, and I couldn’t get near them for a week.”
Dad thought for a while and said, “Alright then, you go up in the field, stand on a stump and make a noise like an oat.”
He came back with the horses. I didn’t know how. I did not ask either of them. I went down to the river, laid on the bank and thought about trucks. Big trucks.
Sept 2016
About a year ago, my car went Clunk. It did that twice in the same month. It still got me across town, after a fashion. The garage I dealt at said it would cost about fifteen hundred dollars to fix up the front end. They did not mention the area where the Clunk came from, which was not in the front end.
During the exact same span of time, a Doctor, a very slim, trim one, naturally, said to me, “You are obese, grossly obese. You must lose thirty-five pounds in order to avoid a heart attack.”
It was all I could do to walk a block to the newspaper box and back, so I sold the car and walked nearly everywhere, all Winter. By January, I was walking at least two kilometres, carrying groceries, freezing my ears, freezing my hands. I showed them, or it, whoever them or it, was, or is.
I didn’t need a car. I lost a few pounds. I could walk any place in Thunder Bay, if I really wanted to.
Just before spring, I slipped on the last bit of ice and went Splat, on my nose. Slowed me down for a few days. By the time summer came I could walk all the way to North wood from West fort.
Didn’t need wheels. Didn’t need help from anybody.
Actually, if it was necessary to go across town, my friend, who knows me better than I do, always seemed to be there to give me a ride. She probably knew before I did that buses spooked me.
Life was good, till about a month ago. One day my knees started to hurt. A lot. There were old knee injuries dating back to my teens, but I was accustomed to the aches and pains. Old loggers are all hurting. They get used to it. But, it got worse, all of a sudden. Had to get a ride one day. Couldn’t get home with the groceries. My friend didn’t show any surprise. She carried my groceries upstairs to my place, and then took me to a doctor. They took xrays and slated me for knee surgery. They said it would be a few weeks probably before the first one would be done.
For the first time in my life, I was not bullet proof.
Sitting sadly in my soft chair I mourned for poor me, rising only to pasture around in the kitchen, eating food. Gained back in days the weight I lost walking all winter.
The view from the depths of despair nurtured the negativity. I wrapped myself in it.
Most of my family and many friends were gone. Some of those still alive, I hadn’t seen for ages. Couldn’t remember some of their names.
If a face from the past came up, all I could remember were damn fool things I had said and done in their presence. Mostly, it was long ago stuff, said and done, all the way back to early childhood. Mostly to do with people long dead, but not all. One vivid scene from mere days past: I was sitting on a bench, half way between the super market and my place, giving my knees a rest. I had forgotten my cane.
A car drove up and stopped. “What are you doing?” asked the person. “Just sitting.” I replied wondering who in Hell wanted to know.
He said, “I was looking for you.” “Maybe you should tell me your name.” I answered. “My name is Mike.” “Where do I know you from?” “I worked at a place across the river.” and he named it. I had worked there too. It was my last job before retiring, but I was blank. He looked at me for a while and asked, “Do you still do some writing?”
And it sunk in. It was Mikey, one of my favourite people. We had worked together a couple of times and belonged to the same club. How could I not recognize him?
“Maybe I’m losing it.”
Mike is noted for saying exactly what he thinks. No soft soap from him. “Yes, you are.” He said. I gave him my phone number and told him to call. “Yeah.” He said and drove away.
I doubt very much that he will come anywhere near me in this lifetime.
That was about the bottom of my sad and sorry state. I hung on to ‘poor me’ till yesterday morning, at which time my damned sense of humour kicked in. Laughter saved me again. It has saved me before, from lesser states of despair.
It is not possible to laugh at yourself and feel sorry for yourself at the same time, so the depression no longer makes any sense. All kinds of good thoughts rise. The world is what it is.
So, I am seventy-eight years old. My body is not as good as it used to be, but knees can be repaired, osteoarthritis is manageable with medication, certain diets. Short term memory loss is a bit frightening, but I remember things that happened before I was two years old, very clearly. Two of my siblings, younger than me, have gone on. Many other family members and friends are gone. My parents lived into their nineties and were alert till the end
I am still here. I have no right to feel sad and sorry. It is my duty to present myself to the world as a happy, worthwhile representative of my family, for as long as I live.
Perhaps it will be necessary to acquire an automobile. I do hope I haven’t forgotten how to drive.

June 2016

The second world war ended about the time I was finishing up grade one. There was a knock on the door just before morning recess. The teacher came running back and said, “The war is over.” Everybody ran outside and there was no school the rest of the day.
I wondered how they knew that they were allowed to stop school. Nobody asked. The Teacher didn’t say so. I was pretty sure there was not a rule written down anywhere that if war stopped, school stopped too.
The school was out in the country, a mile from our house. There was no phone, or radio, or electricity. Town was where we went almost every month, to get groceries. Occasionally, Mom would bring home ‘the paper’, which came out once a week, but there was no mail delivery for a few years yet. Dad said, “Well, there isn’t a hell of a lot in it anyways.” and Mom would answer, “At least we can find out who died.”
So, how did they know, at ten to ten in the morning that the war, way across the ocean had suddenly stopped and we didn’t have to stay at school? How would they even know about it in Town? The paper only knew who died in Dryden, not way over in ‘War Torn Europe’.
We actually did have a radio at home. Dad only bought one battery a year. The battery cost seven or eight dollars and it usually lasted about three months. The new battery came in the early winter, before Christmas. It made perfect sense. In winter it was too dark to do any work outside after supper, so it wasn’t such a big waste of time to listen to the radio. Dad was secretly, fond of “Fibber McGee and Molly”. I watched him and I knew, but I never said anything. He might have taken the battery back to Jack’s Hardware. We were sent to bed before the CBC news came on, so, I was not aware that radios stretched all the way across the Ocean.
It seemed a very short time later, soldiers started coming home. A couple of them, from out our way, brought wives, from ‘The Old Country’. It was a bit confusing to me and my brother, who hadn’t started school yet. My brother wanted to know, “How’d they find a wife in the war?”
Well, we asked Uncle George, who was just back from the Air Force, and as far as I was concerned, He knew everything. He said, “You need to ask somebody else. They wouldn’t let me fly a plane because I’m colourblind. I got the uniform, but spent three years running a dragline on the Alaska Highway.” Very confusing. ‘Unc’ could identify any animal or bird, all the way across a lake. Besides, Alaska was West, and The War, was east.
One man, just returned, came to the farm with a team and wagon, to get a load of hay. Mom was away and Dad made lunch for us. The man, whose name was ‘Ches’, talked a lot about beautiful houses and gardens he saw in England and Italy. He told of people who invited him into their houses and really treated him well. These were rich people who had ‘seen some tough times’, but ‘didn’t seem mad at anybody’.
We asked Dad, “Why didn’t He talk about the war?” He answered, “Some of those guys saw the very worst of it. They don’t talk about it. They just remember the good parts. The ones that tell you about shooting people and blowing up stuff is, quite often, lying.” Dad understood a lot. A sentence or two from him, seventy years ago, is like yesterday.
This morning, my intention was, to write about what a wonderful month June is, for me. My birthday is in June, Father’s Day—when I usually hear from some elderly kids—is in June, I quit drinking in June, and,at the end of June, eons ago, summer holidays started.
But, reading the newspapers, watching TV, trying to count up how many wars are going on in the world, got me sidetracked. I shall write a happy story about June, next year. I hope.

May 2016

May was a very important month, back on the Farm. There were many rituals to be performed with regard to the weather, and May was the month in which it all happened.
Mom brought home a baby once. It was born on the third and she carried it in a few days later. My brother and I were not quite sure we needed one of those things. Gordon asked at supper time, “Do we have to keep it here or can you take it back?”
She was keeping it. There was absolutely no doubt. Dad took most of the flak, because he had laughed at Gordon’s question. We went outside until the kitchen cooled down.
“Mom says it is going to be named Wilma and they are getting a crib.” “They can use my old crib.” I said.
“Yeah, Dad says you crawled over the side of the crib and wrecked it before you were two. That’s why I never had a crib.” The time of which I speak was 1942. Gordon was two and a half. I was almost four.
Gordon was very clear about what was right and what was wrong. He prepared himself to face an uncertain future, wherein a big brother would probably get the biggest slice of pie and the little sister would get a new crib and all the fuss from Grandmas and Aunts.
Well, the universe unfolded. We farmed as well as we could. As long as we ‘got on the land by the tenth of May’ there was a crop of hay and a crop of oats. I don’t remember a time when we were short of hay for the stock or a feed of oats for the horses. Gordon and I didn’t worry much about the weather or the animals. We did our chores and made silent plans which nobody but us knew about. I wanted to drive a big truck and haul pulp wood. Gordon wanted to build a big truck and put pontoons on it, and go across the lake where the really big trees were. We went swimming by the twenty-fourth of May. You had to!
I would cringe into the river, wondering if cold water could actually kill people. But I went in. One time I rode my bike into the creek on the School road, by mistake. Hit a rut and flipped into several feet of flood water. It was the seventeenth of April. A definite record. Nobody believed me.
Actually, Gordon believed me, but was unimpressed. He would walk directly into that damn river on the twenty-forth, and not stop till he was at the other side. He wanted over there to find a place to build a diving board. By that time he was seven and I was nearly nine.
Wilma was now five and had a little sister who was three. The little sister was named Sharon Patricia. We called her Patsy, all her life. The next year Wilma started school. Every night she came home and taught Patsy everything she had learned. It was a one room school with eight grades. Sometimes the teacher was a teenager,with a grade twelve certificate. There were advantages and disadvantages. Some kids stayed around till they were sixteen and then went to work somewhere, barely knowing how to read. When Patsy turned six, Wilma took her to school and sat down beside her in one of the big desks. Pat knew every bit that Wilma knew, so the teacher let them both do grade three. Pat graduated from grade thirteen when she was just turned sixteen.
One way we made a few dollars was by peeling poplar trees. We took the bark off, then let them dry out, and cut them into eight foot stuff for the pulp mill. Dad said that the bark loosened up on poplar about the twenty-fourth of May. We always went to the bush, that last week in May. The bark NEVER actually loosened up on the twenty fourth of May. We would beat the bark off those trees until we had what Dad figured was a hundred cords of peeled trees. This would be on in June. The last two or three days we worked the bark would just fall off. If we had waited till June fifteen to start we could have peeled them all in a week. But we never did.
Gordon and I must have made a bit of money from various sources. We trapped a bit, bought and raised bull calves, cut wood, worked in the sawmill. We worked on the farm harder than any other of the jobs. But we didn’t get paid for the farm work. As near as I can figure it out, Dad worked in the bush in order to have money to farm. Farming, you just did because that is what people did. There was no market for grain—-even if you grew a crop. Out in our country you couldn’t sell milk—too far to haul it. Dad wouldn’t haul it himself. It would be called “running the damn wheels off the truck;” One trip to town per month was all you needed.
But, all of a sudden, the year I turned sixteen, there were several high school students to go to town. There was a stipend available from the government to get a bus going back and forth to the high school.
Dad couldn’t argue against education, so we went to town and bought a school bus. We found a vehicle, big enough to haul all of us, about six, to school. I would be the driver. I wrote the dealer a cheque for all the money in my account. Gordon did the same. Dad asked, “How much more do we need?” He wrote a cheque for the balance. The Salesman was visibly impressed.
May third, 1955, was a beautiful morning. We figured there was no need to put a bunch of furnace wood in the basement. No need for the furnace. We went to school, the birds sang, the girls along the sidewalks in town looked even better than usual. If I hadn’t been a dedicated ‘bus driver’, I probably would have driven over a few parking meters. Gordon and I argued about what Wilma should get for her thirteenth birthday, that day, May third.
I do not remember what we got for her. That was over sixty years gone. She has five sons and daughters. She has eleven grand kids. I have no clear idea of how many great grand kids she has.
All I know for sure is this: Three thirty in the afternoon there was at least a foot of snow on the road out home. It all came down in about two hours.
May is my favourite month. Beautiful, wise, She turns the world into summer. And she can, occasionally, be a real bitch. Reminds me of women I have loved, still love, and steer clear of.

April 2016

During my formulating years I very seldom came to a decision on any matter until the decision was made for me. These ‘formulating years’ continued until I was fifty or sixty, and could be, roughly partitioned, into Infancy, Childhood, Adolescence, Post Adolescence and Senescence. There may have been flashes of maturity, but, if there were, they coincided with the few decisions I made and clung to. The outcome of these decisions, ranged from incorrect to disastrous.
I grew up on a farm. My Father also had a sawmill. I started shovelling sawdust at the mill at about age six. I could do most any job on the farm by nine or ten. Being large for my age, I was tail-sawing the mill at eleven. ‘Tail-sawing’ is hauling the lumber and slabs away from the saw and piling them in piles. The job was done by one man, unless we were sawing tie blocks, which weighed from fifty or so pounds to a hundred and fifty or more. Then He put two men working together to carry them away.
Wages, in the early fifties were, compared to today, appalling. Men got eight dollars a day. Dad paid me four. One winter, when I was away at school—–Had to stay in town,there was no school bus—–one guy, Wilbour, a tough rascal who I secretly detested most of the time, offered to tail saw tie blocks alone, for twelve bucks a day. It worked out fine. He got ‘big money’ and the job got done.
Come spring, Wilbour went west for a few months. I guess I was fourteen, From then on I carried the blocks away, wasn’t about to be outdone by Wilbour. A decision.
In the summer of nineteen fifty-six, I was still doing it. I was still getting four bucks a day. My friend, Frank was a few years older than me—I never really learned how to deal with people my own age. High School social dynamics were much more stressful to me than operating a bulldozer, or interacting with forty year old wood-cutters. Anyway, Frank had a new car and He asked me if I wanted to go on a trip around through Minnesota and North Dakota and up to Winnipeg where we could go to see two or three people about his age, who had grown up in our part of the country.
I really wanted to go and made another decision.— Wait for it— I said, “Dad, I want to take a few days off and go to Winnipeg with Frankie. I need some money, and I think I should get the same wages as the other guys.”
“Dad said, “Yeah, you should. Okay.”
It was several days to payday. Got my cheque the day Frank picked me up. Dad paid me eight dollars a day. See? I got exactly what I asked for. Except that I had expected to get twelve dollars a day. Never said a word to anyone, including my father, about how I felt. Just went around thinking that anything I wanted, I did not deserve, that the only way to be acceptable was to do exactly as I was told.
So, didn’t make decisions. I went along with whatever they wanted and lived, mostly in a little dream world in my mind, the only place I could be free from the stomach ache that never went away. By the time I was twenty. I was a supervisor in a bush camp. No decisions necessary. Most of the workers were ten or twenty years older than me. If I had ordered any of them to do anything, they would have laughed or got mad, or refused. A lot of that happened to young green foremen. It never happened to me. I asked them how they were going to do their job. They quite happily told me. They all knew much more about their jobs than I did. I learned that I, or anybody else, could build the CN Tower, if given the resources to hire the right crew of people. All one needs to arrange, is to get them the tools and materials they require and they will build it. There may be some politics to deal with, but, no real decision making.
A long term member of parliament could retire or die and be lauded as a ‘real problem solver’, ‘a real decision maker’. Maybe he actually did solve some problems, but he probably never made a decision.
Over the years, most of my problems in the work force have been from the ‘snap decision makers’ to whom I had to answer. Hand them a problem and they believe their mission is to give a solution in three seconds that must be instantly obeyed. It doesn’t work and I had the choice of trying to do it and go around with my stomach hurting, or walk away from the job. A couple of times, I got rid of the tummy ache, but had to get a power saw and go back to the farm woodlot in order to put food in it.
Now, I am pushing eighty and can look back on much experience but little success. The only times I was comfortable financially and successful in a career, were when I avoided making decisions.
I was unsuccessful when dealing with personal problems
I detest emotional confrontations, and have walked away from relationships, cars, houses, jobs, everything, and had to start all over. Faced with choices and decisions that had to be made by me and could not be solved by manipulating other people, and unable to show anger, my decisions were, to walk away. Wrong again.
Actually, I am not whining here. In these last years, sitting around, trying to be comfortable in a worn out body—packing a tie block a minute away from the saw, when my back hadn’t finished growing yet. Maybe I got what I wanted.
For several years I have been pretty well alone. Any decisions must be made by me. Sometimes they are wrong. Sometimes they are the right ones. Nobody knows or cares including me. It now seems natural to make my own decisions. Never did think I was perfect. I have a friend to whom I strive to explain what I feel. We don’t live together, but we keep our minds open to each other. She is not concerned about my life time avoidance of decision making, When I babbled along about my unsuccessful life. She turned to me and asked, mildly, “Is your stomach hurting?” I answered, with some surprise and wonder, “No, by God. It isn’t.”
That is good enough.

Feb. 2016

If you sit quietly and listen to what is going on in your mind, you may realize that stuff is happening in there, stuff you never noticed before, maybe even original stuff.
Now, this is not an every day, universal occurrence. In fact, many minds shy away from thinking. Certainly, they shy away from thinking about thinking.
Here in the twenty first century, that we have used up more than fifteen percent of, it has become pretty well unnecessary to think. We react, consciously, or, subconsciously to stimuli from various media, teachers, parents and peers. Some of this stuff—enough for us to survive on—is absorbed by the sub-conscious, and acted upon by the same systems that make us breathe, or take care of putting one foot ahead of the other when we walk. Enough awareness of this stimulus nudges into the sleepy mind that it is often able, fleetingly, to learn how to play, to fight, to pass exams or to hold down a job.
In fact, this did not begin in the twenty-first century. It goes way, way back. Some of this subconscious, mechanical stuff has been taught by people who never had an original thought since they realized that bed wetting is counter productive. It was called, in the last century or the one before, ‘learning by rote.’
And another thing needs to be mentioned. Human beings, the non thinkers and the thinkers, from every sector of Society, old or young, all believe themselves to be fully aware of the world around them when the urge to procreate assails them. They are not. They use about as much brain courting as they do dog-paddling in the creek or riding a bicycle. Probably they use less thought than a Tom cat on the prowl. A Tom cat must solve a surprising number of problems to be successful. Think about it.
All a man does is react to whatever is on TV, believe what his body sees and hears, and ‘go where the action is’. If he is not successful, there is a message that he will remember, if he feels bad enough. ‘Wrong toothpaste’, or ‘wrong car’. As long as he knows he is wrong, he will keep on believing the message and go back for more.
I tried, without much success, for about half my life, to be like the winners. Never really felt like I was part of the scene. If I kept my mouth shut, I was usually ignored. If I talked very much I felt like a fool. If, on an unusual occasion, I appeared to be interesting, and somebody complimented me, I didn’t believe them.
When I was forty I spent several months in a hospital undergoing repeated surgeries. For the first time in my life I had nothing to do but think. Didn’t have to feel guilty. Everyone there knew I was very ill. There was time and opportunity to get to know myself.
Thinking was not easy, but it was interesting. Following a thought as far as it could go was a lot more fun than TV. There was a surprising amount of information in my head that I had never paid attention to. Didn’t know where it came from. The first good feeling I ever had about myself was when I realized and accepted that my thoughts and my store of information was as valid as a lot of the stuff in the air around me.
So, I thought and thought for another forty years, almost. There were just as many failures as before. But, I am able to look back and see where the mistakes were made, and what I should have done. Can’t blame society or the Government, or the Department of Education. I screwed it up myself. Makes me kind of proud.
My ability to think has evolved. Society has evolved. I am comfortable with my thoughts and my conclusions. The masses are comfortable in their unthinking supervision.
The only thing is, the brain evolution has caused a thought. Here is that thought: Whether I think or do not think, as far as the world and everyone in it is concerned, it doesn’t make one Damn bit of difference.

Jan. 2016

It is traditional, or, it used to be traditional and may still be, at least among some old people who live in the past, people who I understand better than those who rush around in the present and have no interest or awareness of the past, to go, in the start of the new year and contact friends or acquaintances, to renew business, family or personal relationships. This is, or was, particularly important if there had been any real, or imagined disagreement.
When I was small, there were times when my brother and I would stay for a few days at Grandmas place or at one of our Uncles farms. We made ourselves invisible and listened to everything the grownups said. A monologue we heard from more than one Uncle went something like this: “Well, if you’re mad at somebody, or you think he’s mad at you, just pick a day when it’s too cold to go to the bush, or too wet to hay. And go over and see him. Get there just before mealtime. You’ll get fed and probly neither of you can remember what the trouble was.”
It was not like that at home. Dad liked some of the neighbours, would do anything for them. He ignored some others and absolutely hated a few of the rest.
If we asked him about somebody he liked he would say, “Well, he’s done a pile of work.” or, “Well, if he owed you a dollar, he’d walk all the way across the township to pay you”. If we asked about somebody who didn’t measure up he would say,”Oh, he plugs along.” or, Oh, he keeps his yard neat, but he don’t matter.”
We were a bit careful asking about any of the bad guys. He might erupt. “Just when you get hatin’ a (expletive deleted) like that, well, the (unbelievably obscene expletive deleted) will go and die on you.”
We never heard exactly why He was so angry. None of these people, to our knowledge, had ever done any business with him, or owed him money. A couple of people did owe him money, some from a long time ago. They didn’t seem to be on the hate list, just the ‘don’t matter’ list.
In his later years, He lived to ninety-four, He mellowed a bit. There really was nobody left, He outlived them all. Guess it was hard to hate them after they were dead.
It took me till I was past seventy to figure it out. After he was gone.
There were people I was involved with in business or in jobs, who, over the years , were difficult to deal with, or were dishonest. Sometimes it hurt, but I never wasted energy hating them. There were times when I was difficult to deal with and there were times when I was dishonest. The people I wronged are the ones I remember. That is where my hurt and anger is. It is directed inward. It matters not whether they are dead or alive.
It was not what they did that made him hate. It was what he did that they knew about. He wasted an incredible amount of energy denying imperfection in himself that probably didn’t amount to a hell of a lot. I think he stole some timber off a government lot. The farmer across the road would have to know where the lines were. He got hated by my Dad for about forty years. That is a guess, but it fits. The two or three others, I believe, would be variations of the same. They knew, or, He thought they knew, of some sin he had committed.
It has taken me nearly eighty years to realize I never hated anyone but myself. I thought it was because I was not as powerful as my father. I didn’t have the energy to stay angry. And now, there is a twitch in my mind, a little grin, sort of. There is really no more reason for me to hate myself than for Dad to hate the neighbour down the road.

Dec. 2016

I had been sitting, looking at a blank screen, for quite a long time. Actually, since back in the morning when gainfully employed people and eager students go off to wherever they go every day.
My mind was not as blank as the screen. There were thoughts. The thoughts consisted, mostly, of, ‘What have I ever seen or done that is worth writing about?’ Usually I try to come up with funny lines. If it is even a little bit funny, it doesn’t need much in the way of content.
But, why should I do that? Creating humour is a difficult, serious business, and I am not a happy, witty person who easily turns every day happenings into laugh lines. Actually, I have been taking medication for depression off and on for over fifty years. I should write sad, hopeless stuff, describing the world the way I perceive it most of the time.
Nobody would read it, of course, and that is why it needs to be somewhat amusing,
So, the obvious question is, ‘If it is so difficult for him, why the Hell does he do it?’
There is a reason. I not only started taking medication for depression many years ago, I started writing that long ago.
In high school, for a while I wrote a column called ‘Hi-lights’. That was actually, more than sixty years ago. I had to write because I was not able to carry on a conversation. Couldn’t put sentences together. There may have been, maybe still is, a bit of dyslexia. But, I could put thoughts together on a page. Making word pictures, for me was like painting or making music.
The humour part came from somewhere else. I always say that it has to be funny so that someone will read it, but that is not the real reason.
In my early adulthood, depressed to the point of suicide, I parked my car, one night, on the Princess Margaret bridge in Fredericton New Brunswick. I was going to jump. There was no use. I was a complete failure. I didn’t deserve to live. I climbed up to the side and was ready to go, but my car was parked on the bridge with its lights out. Couldn’t leave it there. Nobody else deserved to die.
I moved it to the street at the end of the bridge. The car had a flat tire. Just when everything was so hopeless that it couldn’t get worse, it did. I started to laugh, put the spare on and went home.
The laugh lines are in there, buried deep. They come out when they are really needed. They saved my life and they continue to do so.
I really appreciate the people, however many there may or may not be, who read my stuff. But, if nobody reads it I have to keep writing and digging deep. It keeps me alive.

Nov. 2015

I grew up taking for granted that people in politics were bad, maybe even dangerous. Back in the forties, people sometimes came to the farm to talk to my Dad about the coming elections. I don’t know what they talked about. My Mom usually sent us out to play, or up to bed.
Once or twice there was a meeting down at the Orange Hall, and Dad went. He came home late and talked to Mom about it. I ghosted to the top of the stairs and listened. “They said they was socialist, but they sounded to me like communists.”
One night Mom said, “Remember, tomorrow is election day. Are you going to vote?” Dad was on his way to bed, He often went to bed right after supper and went to the bush before daylight. “There isn’t a hell of a lot of use. It’s always the same ones that look after it and they always know how you voted.”
To this day, I do not know for sure who Dad voted for— when or if he voted. Some of the neighbours He was mad at because, ‘They’ve bin conservative, that family, probably since Old John A Macdonald.” On another occasion he said, of another family in our township, ‘They’re all good people, mostly, but they won’t say who they vote for. Wouldn’t be a damn bit surprised if they was liberal, all along.’
So, all I could be sure about was that politics was secret and dangerous, and none of the parties were any good.
When I became an adult—chronologically–I did not take part in elections, would not discuss politics, even in the beer parlour.
At the start of the sixties, I married a school teacher and moved to New Brunswick where I was exposed to university students and university lectures. I was impervious to all of it.
Somewhere in there my wife taught an eight year old whose father was an MP. A liberal. At a gathering for teachers, and Liberals, it was an election year, she introduced me to him. He was a nice guy!
Our landlady was conservative. In New Brunswick the protestants were conservative and the Catholics were liberal. If one of them had to make a choice about changing either their politics or their religion, they would change religions.
My wife was probably liberal, but, being from Ontario, she was able to, also, be Baptist. (People from Upper Canada were known to be weird, although School Teachers were tolerated.)
I was in a fix. One upstairs and one downstairs. Each expecting me to vote for a different party.
I went to the polls with one of the guys I knew from the Legion. He knew the ropes. A middle aged man with a red, red nose took us behind the building and gave us each pint of Black Diamond rum, and gave each of us five dollars. My friend also was promised a load of gravel for his driveway. Don’t remember who I voted for, but I vowed to vote every time there was an opportunity.
Here and there, during the ensuing years, I met two or three members of parliament, chance meetings that had nothing to do with their jobs. They were interesting, intelligent, quick thinkers, easy to like. Actually, they were not frightening at all.
I voted for Pierre Trudeau because I saw him in Montreal in the early sixties, on a cold night, among a bunch of riotous students, with no hat, all alone. That was several years before the birth of Justin.
I voted for Justin also. I am no longer scared of politics or politicians. They are just like normal people, only some of them are smarter than normal people and they all have a hell of a lot of energy.
There is a lesson to be learned. When I met Pierre Trudeau, I was already married. When Justin Trudeau was born I was thirty four years old.
Justin is now Prime Minister of Canada. Damn! I’m old.

Oct. 2015

Once a year of late, I go in to see a Doctor who is a specialist in the workings of the internal parts of bodies. The body I inhabit underwent a number of interesting procedures regarding its liver. This was thirty-odd years ago. Some were done on the west coast and some in a hospital in the USA.
There were about six surgeries in all, five of them, to repair damage done in the first one. It took several years for the body to get back to near normal. Actually, I am in reasonably good health now, in my late seventies.
But, I go to see him once a year, just because they told me in 1983 that I had about three years to live.
He looks me over, tells me to lose weight, to go on a diet, and come back in twelve months. Same thing this year in July. Only, this year he said, “There is too much fat around your liver. If you do not lose twenty-five pounds you will have another heart attack .” I had one a couple of years ago, and did not associate the heart with the beat up liver.
Guess I should have. He now had my attention. “What do I have to do?”
“No red meat. No bread. No root vegetables.” All the things I grew up on at the farm.
“What can I eat?” “Fish, chicken, leaf vegetables, rice.”
Maybe he said I couldn’t eat yogurt and other dairy products. I was in shock. But, not quite ready to say ‘to hell with it’ and die.
So, I made salads, no carrots, and stocked up on canned salmon. It was good. Made porridge every morning. No sugar, no milk. Just porridge sprinkled with salt and a bit of butter. For supper, fish or chicken. First time I had eaten three meals a day since I quit working in the bush. No bread and no beef . Brought home really good fruit salads from the super market. Didn’t know there was such a thing before.
And I started walking every day. The first few days were pretty tough. Into the third week I was walking from West fort to North wood, and wondering why I had stopped walking years ago.
Another unexpected thing happened. Three meals a day of all the food I would never eat before became really enjoyable.
Something else happened too. At the start of the diet, my weight was 225 pounds. Less than a month later, it was 236.
What the Hell to do now? Told Rae, a friend who has a real good head on her shoulders, expecting her to laugh or just walk away shaking her head.
She looked at me very calmly and said, “Dieting is about portions, portions, portions.” Don’t suppose it would ever have occurred to me. Just because the food I was eating was a way to diet, does not mean it can be eaten by the tub full.
There is a problem for me with this dieting. Maybe it affects other people. Maybe not. Got inside my head and went back over the years. When I was young I drank too much alcohol. It was not possible for me to have a drink or two and stop. The more I drank the more I wanted. With the help of some very dear friends, it was possible for me to stop drinking altogether. In retrospect it was difficult but not impossible. I have not had a drink for forty-six years. It was possible to quit, and not possible to cut down.
If this allergy/addiction applies to food as well as alcohol, then what to do? Can’t stop eating food altogether. Can’t cut down, even if the available food is stuff I would not eat back on the farm.
There must be an answer. I shall try one or two things that may work. Walking and sugar. I’ll stop eating sugar, if I can find food that doesn’t have sugar. And I will try to become addicted to walking.
Walking will help in more ways than one. My car had accumulated over two hundred thousand clicks. It needed fifteen hundred dollars work done on it just to refurbish the front end, after which it would be worth three hundred or less at the scrap yard. So, I took it to the scrap yard. They gave me a little less than three hundred, and I will walk to the supermarket, thereby losing weight, presumably. If I do not walk, there won’t be any groceries, which should really cause weight loss. Get rid of the car. Sure winner.

Sept 2015

Being a life-long, chronic, early riser, I crawled out at five fifteen this morning. It is one of my most glaring character defects, inherited from my Father.
It was okay when he was younger, on the farm. He could thump and bang and swear outside, or inside the house, and nobody would be disturbed, except his family, and we got used to it. Well, I guess we got used to it kind of. None of us turned out to be noticeably neurotic, other than the one who drew the early rising gene. Me.
There, in the silence, wondering why in Hell I could not stay in my nice warm bed, I remembered Dad in his later years, when he didn’t need to go out and take on the world. If I came down, he would say, “Well, I’m just sittin’ here waitin’ for daylight.”
Which, of course, is exactly what I was doing today.
When I walked to the corner for a paper, only two cars went past. They both looked at me. Hardly anybody drives past at five a.m. Nobody walks,
You can still get a paper out of the paper machine for one dollar. No tax. Don’t tell anyone.
It was fairly easy to establish when the summer heat ended. Today. August twenty-four. I was cold and had my jacket dug out, ten minutes before I went for the paper.
I shut the windows at each end of my apartment. They had been open for two months. Dug out the heater and plugged it in. Do not expect snow for a while yet. But it might. There has been frost occasionally, but never, in my lifetime, snow in August. But it might.
Fortunately, another trait came down to me from both of my parents, only not as infallible as that Damned early rising. I can remember stuff, usually. All writers pretend to have a photographic memory. Most of them do not have one and neither do I. But I can dredge up stories from seventy years ago fairly easily. The fact that I do not retain All of the details, allows me to fabricate and neaten up the past a bit, without getting a guilty conscience.
One uses what one has as comfortably as one is able to.
When my brother and I were kids and when we had a friend or a cousin visiting, we would say, “Give us a date, any date in the last forty years and we’ll get Dad to tell us what he did that day.” Naturally, they never believed us, and he never failed us. He would say where he was, what the weather was like and what he was doing. Every time. He did not embellish his stories. They were reports. Just the facts. He did not make himself centre stage. I am fortunate in that I am not able to emulate him in that respect.
Dad was the authority on the past in our township. Nobody questioned him. If there were visitors, he did most of the talking until he got sleepy, and then he went to sleep. The visitors had to go home. He would still be in his chair.
We didn’t know that Mom could remember everything too, until she sat down at the typewriter and wrote a book about the people of the township. She remembered stuff about some of them that they had forgotten themselves. She told us about things that happened at the end of the first world war, when she was three. She remembered what people looked like, what they wore and what they said, ninety years before.
Both of them lived well into their nineties. Neither of them became senile. Mom was still going strong when I turned seventy and started telling stories about My old days. That is what triggered her. She had to put up with Dad and his monologues for sixty-seven years. She took the floor once in a while. Never had a chance before and was darned if she would listen to me getting the stories wrong. I sure did not try to compete. There is a picture of her playing the piano for a get together, after her ninety-seventh birthday.
On a day like today when I am cold and hurting in most every place, it is good to remember my folks.

June 2015

June is Seniors Month and this fact has been suggested as a possible topic for a June article. Makes perfect sense. It is June. This is a Seniors oriented paper. This writer, having been born in June 1938. is definitely a senior.
All I need is a happy, laid back, sixty or seventy or eighty year old, full of stories about the old days when nobody had any money but every body helped each other and everybody had time to go fishing and you could shoot a deer any day of the year out in the back field.
Only, I can’t find a person like that. Maybe there aren’t any. I tried, even hung around a couple of those places where older people go. Most of them were younger than me. They were too busy to talk to me.. They were taking guitar lessons, or Tai Chi, piano, yoga, painting. They were just as stressed as high school students in June.
They weren’t all younger than me. I have a friend who teaches guitar. She is a senior, a couple of decades younger than I am. She has a student who is ninety-two. The ninety-two year old is one of the few who is not stressed. She still drives a car. She retired to Florida years ago, but had to come back to Thunder Bay and start over again. Most of her friends were gone. She would be the one who has stories to tell. But, she is too busy to sit around and talk about the old days. This lady is doing things in the present and doing them well.
Actually, it is difficult to write about ‘seniors’. They have a range in age of more than forty years—that I know of. None of them are ‘typical’. I’m not typical either.
My friend, Eilo Niskanen wouldn’t go to Fifty-five Plus, even for coffee. “It’s all those old guys.” he said. He was eighty-three. He was vitally interested in his grandchildren and great grand children. He expected his family to keep in touch with him and with each other. He never got old and he never forgot anything. He expected his friends to be as real as they were able to be. I knew him for about ten years before I got on the ‘friend’ list. I knew I had made the list when he started to scold me for all the ‘damn fool things you say and do.’
In fact, I have no understanding of ‘Old’. I grew up in the bush and could work like a man at twelve, so in that respect, never really was young. I went to high school at thirteen, in town. Did not know how to interact with ‘town kids’. Never did learn. Inside, there is still an awkward teenager. Never learned how to be old.
Eilo never bothered to be old. He went on doing things for himself and for others just as he had all his life. He was able to solve problems and he understood people. He did not give up on them for being imperfect. He damn well told them to their face to smarten up.
On a beautiful Saturday morning a few days ago, he sat down in his favourite chair in the living room, leaned his head back and was gone.
Being old does not have a list of rules. If you want to have people in your life, you better keep in touch with young ones, even if they don’t always have time for you. If you do not do this, the more years you stay around, the less people know you. Watch and listen. When you notice that someone needs help with a little problem, get in there and help. Do not worry about big problems. The system we live under is available to deal with big problems, specially for older people.
If you do not do this and you live long enough, you will be completely alone.

May 2015

Sitting in front of the screen, mind completely dormant.  It does that almost always when  an article is due.  On those rare occasions  of mental activity which coincide with  dead-line day,  I do not feel thankful or relieved.   I get worried.  If a perfect starting line flashes into focus, or a two hundred word  little story manifests itself, why, sure as Hell, it is a rememberence of something I wrote before.
One of these mind bubbles—they are not actual thoughts—happened this morning.  Don’t know  where it came from.  Could be anywhere in the last thirty-five years.  It was tempting.  I could dash it off and send it in.  Keith probably doesn’t read my stuff.   Probably has not read any of it for years.  Easy to convince myself that nobody else reads it either.  Maybe I’ve already done it and nobody noticed.
It is sometimes scary, being at the mercy of a mind that just does not believe in following some of the rules of our society.   However, if I do not try to sell something that has already been written by myself or somebody else, I should be able to continue, apolitical, areligious, and amoral.  I am not mad at or envious of any individual, and I am not angry at the bureaucrats who profess to be in charge of everything.  I do not think very often. They—the people in charge—never did think.  They regurgitate what they assimilated in universities.
Realizing, vaguely, how cynical and unconnected to the world I was, I took a break and went to the grocery store.  No matter how isolated I try to be, it is still necessary to eat.
Walking along, I passed a lady who I recognized from ten or more years ago.  She was someone with whom I had worked at one time.  Didn’t expect her to recognize or remember me and did not speak to her.  When I was three steps along I heard. “Ron Franklin.”  She not only remembered me, she told me she read my column every month.  She also said I looked younger than I did twelve years ago.
So, what do I do now?  It may be that there are those who continue to be alert and involved with the world.  People who feel and interact and believe in the system.  Maybe even some who read stuff from the past, like my articles.
What if, somewhere in government, or business offices, there are real people who do not despise the masses, realize how unreal the system is and wish for change? Probably not.
April 2015
I was in the Coffee Shop, reading the paper and wishing I hadn’t forgotten to put a pen in my pocket.  (The crossword puzzle and the cryptoquote)   Then, I figured it would work out okay, I could do them in my head and fill them in  later, at home.
Actually, it turned out even better.  Couldn’t remember what the cryptogram was when I got home and had forgotten nearly all the words in the puzzle, and left the newspaper at the coffee shop.  There was a loonie in my pocket.  Don’t know where it came from, but I went to the corner where the red box is and got a new paper.   Just like starting over fresh.  Well, it was more like starting over blank.
Naturally, I remembered nearly everything the guys at the next table had been talking about at the coffee shop.  They were waving their arms and interrupting each other about fishing.  And hunting.  They may have heard my ears listening, because they lowered voices to almost a whisper when they spoke of  ‘secret lake number three’.  They were pretty mouthy about the moose they got last Fall, and the one they are going to get this year.  They can hardly wait for ‘rutting season’.
I grew up on a farm.  We had a square mile with some fields and lots of bush.  Hunting and fishing was on the list of chores to do.  It had about the same status as grocery shopping.  Sometimes Dad went out to the back field and shot a deer after supper.  It was a change from eating beef all the time.
I remember with pristine clearness, my first fish.  Dad took me to ‘twenty mile crick’  in early April when the Jackfish were spawning.  There was a huge culvert  where the creek went under the railroad track.  Dad handed me a spear and said, “You go inside there. The water isn’t deep,  I”ll go back further to the rapids.  Might be too slippery for you.”  I waded in.  The water was higher than my rubbers—I was five.  When my eyes got used to the dark, I saw a fish. It looked big and it was right in front of me.  I rammed the spear into it and started yelling, “Dad, Dad, I got a fish.  What the Hell do I do now.?”  It seemed natural to swear.  That is what everybody did when they got excited.
He appeared from nowhere in a second.  “Well, by God, you got one!  I just left you here so you wouldn’t fall in the rapids.”
Everybody in the township heard about my fish.  They were all told secretly of course, even seventy years ago there were laws about fishing in spawning season.
I was quite cross for a while.  He told Tom Henderson.   “Well, I figured to go up the crick where they’d be spawning.  I could maybe spear a gunnysack full and take them out to the road  up a ways in case the Game Warden was snooping around.  I figured the young fella would keep for a while, exploring in the culvert.”
Why didn’t He tell me what was going on?  Did he think I was a baby?  I was going to be six in three months.
As far as hunting is concerned.  I never really got into it.    It really seemed just like doing chores or butchering a calf, like we did one Sunday morning a month.  I shot a deer when I was nine and one when I was ten.  Had to shoot a bear once because it had a notion to come into the cabin.  Never shot a moose.  It would have been like killing a horse.  They were friends.  Had to carry quarters of moosemeat out of the bush after I grew up, because I was strong.  Quit doing that too as soon as I could.
If somebody wanted to go fishing because they like fresh caught Walleye, fried in lots of butter, I would go along.  I would even clean the fish.  But, I would still feel as if it was shopping for food.

March 2015

It has been written, by an authority on such things, that an older person, to avoid being lonely and to avoid going blank in the head, should have at least five close friends, other than relatives.  Well, maybe, ‘blank in the head’  is not how it was worded, exactly, but that is what was meant.
I was interested in this information, having experienced quite a lot of being ‘older’.  Actually, I have a tattered certificate in ‘older’ and, of late, am  qualified as an Old.
In the last sixty, or so, years, I have read the work of quite a few authors, most of whom were steeped in their particular subject, whatever it may have been, political science, psychology, mythology, anthropology, and others.  In order to become interested enough to try to understand what was on the page, I had to feel I had some understanding of the personality of the writer.  This meant reading a biography or autobiography.  Usually, one would be available from somewhere, and having read it I could relate to the technical works as being written by a friend, or at least, an acquaintance.
The person who wrote that I should  interact regularly with at least five close friends, a number of relatives and peripherally with their friends is unavailable.  There is no way to get any clue as to the personality or the credentials of this author.
I did try, delved through my memory from back when I was a registered social worker for a while.  A picture emerged, a surprisingly clear one.  The person who was the authority on whether or not I am happy and, or sane, is a twenty-eight year old blonde, female, with a Masters degree in  geriatrics.  Her Grandmother was born three to five years after I was.    There is nothing written about her up to this time.  She will go on and get a PhD, teach her stuff to little tiny nineteen year old blonde females and THEN somebody will write a book about her.  She still won’t have any  actual knowledge or understanding of old age, how could she?  She will be the authority on old age, learned from books by people just like her.
I will be dead by then, hopefully.
Counted them up.  I have five friends, and one or two relatives who call me once in a while.  At every funeral I talk to people from the old days.  We are very glad to see each other and talk about getting together.
But we don’t.  The real secret of happy old age is to think fondly of the ones from the old days who are still alive—and the ones who are not—but, aside from funerals, Keep to Hell away from them, we wouldn’t be able to tolerate each other for a whole day.

Feb. 2015
A mid winter morning, not cold but snowing
steadily. Having forgotten there was a broken
wiper blade, I turned it on, naturally, and caused a
deep arc across the windshield, made by whatever
sharp metal had been designed to hold the wiper.
The arc will no doubt last as long or longer than the
automobile and, or, the equally dilapidated driver.
I continued on into the day, which was payday.
Always get out early on pension day. Like, if
possible, to be pretty well broke by daylight.
It usually isn’t difficult. Most of my monthly
accounts can be paid on line at the ATM. It works
out as if it were planned. Whatever is left after the
telephone, credit card, rent, insurance, I am free to
spend foolishly on food or gas for the car. I don’t
know whose plan it is. If it is a plan laid out and
watched over by angels, based on how little or great
were the sins of my misspent youth, well, I think
those angels live in Ottawa.
This particular pension day, I was really not
feeling well. I have any number of Old Guy
problems. Lungs don’t work very good. Thirty
or forty years of smoking that I stopped doing not
soon enough a few years ago. Osteo arthritis from
stem to stern as a direct result of insisting on going
back to the woodlot and cutting pulpwood until I
was sixty-six.
This year just felt like a time to go hole up in a
cave somewhere, maybe next to a reasonably warm,
fat bear. The way my life is going, come spring,
I’d probably wake up.
The only way to deal with being more or less,
old and more or less infirm is to search relentlessly
and confidently for the humour in it. Sometimes,
today for instance, it was difficult. A while ago, on
a good day, I went to my Doctor with my woes. He
set up appointments for a number of procedures and
examinations at the hospital a couple of clinics-
–spread over a few days. This is tricky. Some
days I am not well enough to go to a doctor or a
clinic. Too damn tired and confused. I go to my
doctor with a list of things to whine about—on a
day when, hopefully I am comfortable enough to
talk and listen—then try to guess when a good day
is to go for examination and treatment. The day,
of course has to be acceptable to the clinic. Today,
with my car almost impossible to see out of, I tried
to cancel an appointment. Was not able to reach a
live person on a phone. Had to drive there. They
did not wish to cancel the appointment and I was
too tired and confused to explain why I wanted to
wait for another day. The result was a perfectly
performed and most embarrassing rendition, by
me, of incipient senility. One seriously hopes it
was incipient.
I went home, had a short nap and attempted, by
phone to mend fence or two. It is fairly certain I
was not successful. In hindsight, the solution would
be to get someone to take me to emergency and
leave me there. It is obvious—now that I have my
head back on straight. They do things and solve
problems in that place.
But when I’m feeling good there are other things
to do. I don’t want to sit around a waiting room
all day. When I’m sick I’m too damn sick to go
looking for doctors.
Old is not much fun some days, unless we learn
to laugh, and laugh real. I got my car home and
parked it and forgot to get a new wiper blade.

Jan. 2015

I seem to remember, very clearly, January days at the farm. This would be from the end of the War, late 1940s until sometime in the Fifties when I escaped from the farm and the bush and the cold and the snow, to some extent at least.

There would usually be a big snowstorm about Christmas time, then turn very cold in January. There was no such thing as holidays on the farm. We did not go to the bush on Sunday or Christmas day, but all the chores at the barn had to be looked after. We just didn’t count that as work.

Maybe it didn’t happen every year, but, sometimes a big storm during Christmas week would have us snowed right in. Even the main road would be closed, just a trail tramped down to the barn and a trail to the well in the barn yard for the cows and horses. If you stepped off the path down from the house, you’d be in ass deep. I suppose, in those years my ass was not very far from the ground.

New Years day was not a holiday. If we had lost time in the bush because of a storm, then it was vitally important, according to Dad, to get down in the swamp and cut pulpwood.

New Years’ Eve, the radio blaring party music and everybody having fun, Dad would say. “Well, tomorrow morning we’ll break trail down to the swamp, if it’s too cold for the horses, we’ll go anyway. We don’t have to do anything, but we’ll go and look.” We were in bed long before midnight.

Black dark on the first of January he would come to the bottom of the stairs. “Yup!” Your feet better hit the floor within about five seconds or he’d be mad all morning. He’d say, “Well, I didn’t wake up your Mother. She likes to sleep in sometimes.”–said in a wondering, unbelieving tone.

Then, “It’s about the forty b’low. We won’t take the team. That cold air might break their wind. But we’ll go anyway.”

He would boil some eggs, some hard as rocks and some hardly warmed up, and slice a few pieces of bread, about an inch thick. Then we would go.

We had to go across two fields back of the barn. The drifts would be deep and there would be a northeast wind blowing in our faces. Down in the swamp would be colder than up at the house. Our gum rubbers would be full of snow , our noses would be froze, and our hands, if we had forgotten to dry our mitts behind the kitchen stove. He never seemed to feel the cold. The last hundred yards before we got to where he had been working, He would speed up and start taking off his coat.

The axe would be stood up against a tree and the swede saw would be hung on a branch.—There were no power saws in those days. His statement about ‘not doing anything’ was completely forgotten. He would take off his inside mitts, put them in his coat pockets and hang his coat on the limb where the saw had been. Then he would ‘bore into it’ as he liked to say, that is, he would saw down a tree and chop the limbs off. In minutes there would be a cloud of steam around him that would nearly melt snow. He would cut the tree into eight foot blocks and throw them out to where the pile was supposed to be. My brother and I would drag them into place.

Sometimes Gordon would say, “Why don’t we build a fire?” I didn’t bother trying, because Dad had a stock answer. “No. Them guys that builds a fire spend all their time feedin’ the fire and they don’t get any wood cut.”

It did not take long to warm up. In a few minutes we all were steaming, and the wood pile grew.

When it got to be about noon, we did get to light a fire. Our lunch, consisting, usually, of pieces of bread and thick slices of fat, fried side pork would be frozen stiff. We had to thaw it out.

One incident I recall vividly. It was almost the last straw. We built our lunch fire back in the strip where he had been working before the storm. The fire must have burned down into the muskeg, below the frost. The hole was all covered up, and I stepped into it. Now, remember, it was actually forty degrees below zero. Gordon and I had white patches on our face and ears from frost bite. I went hip deep with one leg into water. Ass deep again.

Gordon said, “Georgie is all wet, He should go home. He should go home for dry stockings.”

Dad said, “Oh, God no! She wouldn’t let him come back.”

So, we worked until dark. Then we had to go home, because there were chores to do. We had to milk a couple of cows,water all the stock. Clean the barn and get in firewood for the house.

There was no way we could feel good about the work we had done. Dad said, “In fairly good timber a man with a swede saw should put up about the four cords.” Gordon asked, “Did we get four cords Dad?” He said, “Well, another stick or two we’d of been close.”

This recounting of a ‘normal’ day on the stump ranch sixty-five years ago is exactly as I remember it. My brother and I did not feel ‘hard done by’. My father did not perceive himself as abusive toward us. The neighbours knew how hard we all worked and they saw nothing wrong with us. I suppose they did think my Dad was ‘going to kill himself working’. He outlived every man in the township of his generation. I did not grow up angry at the world or my parents, nor did my brother. I never became addicted to work like my Dad. Couldn’t see any point in it, and took it as good training by my parents. My brother became a logging engineer and invented several pieces of equipment that came to be integral parts of the mechanical logging industry. He got his incentive from watching Dad do everything the hard way.

Dec. 2014

It is time again, already, to start thinking about Christmas. That would, of course, mean looking ahead, anticipating all the year end bright spots, happy times.

I do not look ahead, but back, way back. I do not anticipate bright spots. I experience sore spots. I remember where every one of them came from. The school of hard knocks, some leave arthritic pain, some leave psychic pain.

The present is awash with awareness of a mishandled life. The mistakes and failures of the past leave no space to consider the future—Christmas and the like.

Each and every turn taken by me was of my own choosing. Can’t blame anyone or anything else. To accept that responsibility entails accepting responsibility for whatever the future brings. Quite simply, there is no reason why the future should be ‘bright’ just because I was wrong in the past.

On the other hand, ‘acceptance’ allows for good things to happen in spite of my past mismanagement.

Therefore, after seventy odd years of thinking and guessing and wondering and plotting, I am old and broke and adept at being wrong. In my musings one reality stands out. Most of the people I started out with are now dead. Most of them, according to the dictates of society, were as worthy or more worthy of continued life as I. So, it could be that right or wrong, worthy or unworthy, good or bad does not count. There are no favourites. It’s the luck of the draw.

The only way for me to consider the future, is to leave myself out of it and look at a bigger picture.

We live in a country and within a set of rules which, if not perfect, are much closer to ideal than most of the world.

So, maybe I will dither less about the past and consider the present. I am alright today. My health is reasonably good The government looks after us old guys pretty good. As for the future, Christmas, New Year, and all, most of us will have a good time. Most of us will do our best for those we love.

That ‘most’ will probably include me. And it will probably include You. I wish you the best.

Nov 2014

Each month of the year, when it arrives or when it comes, bidden or unbidden, into awareness, evokes its own emotions, memories, personality. Some are immediately and absolutely clear. Mention April, or July, or January to anyone in northwestern Ontario. You can be certain He will have an awareness in his mind, stomach, lower back, or wherever awareness lurks that is essentially identical to your own. It is as close to mental telepathy as one is likely to experience during the course of an average day, given that the average day in the twenty-first century is spent fending off or falling prey to, constant attack from various media, trying to do to your mind, exactly what you can do to a friend, or stranger, by saying, “Wild roses in August,” or,”February thaw.”

November, however, doesn??t fit as neatly from one mind to another. I remember at least twice, in the 1940s when my brother and I dragged our sled through about a foot of snow, the mile to school to take stuff for the Halloween party. I recall, in the seventies, mowing the lawn on the eighteenth of November. In 1960, I froze my feet, timber cruising north of McClain Lake on November eight. The first three weeks of November 1963 were the most beautiful ??Indian Summer?? ever. On the twenty-third, there was a blizzard. Dad and I went to town. It was pay day. We were cutting pulpwood.

We were in the Bar, bellyaching about the weather, just after noon on that fateful day.

So, the personalities of parts of the year are mutually accessible, mostly. It is like tuning musical instruments. Don??t say too much. Too many words and you lose them. Just, “June, black flies,” and you??ve got him. Get the minds on the same mental/emotional level and a real dialogue becomes possible, maybe.

November, of course, does have possibilities, in special cases. I would never attempt to reach the mind of a young person this way. As a matter of fact, I have not reached the mind of a young person, for at least a generation. But, if, sitting in the clinic beside an old Hulk , one who looks a bit cranky, who is probably hurting in at least as many places as I am, I say, quietly, “Wonder what November??ll be like this year,” with some emphasis on ??this??. Often, providing I keep my mouth shut, I will hear more than I need to know about the vagaries of November. It helps to pass the time. And, it makes me feel I have helped another person to, briefly, get his mind off the constant pain in the ass, and other areas, that is a big part of life in the eighth decade.

?

Sept 2014

Life was going along nicely. There were no deadlines for a few weeks. I had not promised anybody that I would be available to do anything in the foreseeable future. The weather was good. It was summer and the livin?? was easy.

I turned seventy six in June and the only thing I could think of to worry about was what to do with a whole room full of books. The heart attack last year and the recent deaths of several family members, mostly younger than me, suggested that, likely, I would not live forever.

For the most part, I could die without causing much of a ripple, about like dipping a pail of water out of the lake. But, twenty-five hundred books, or more, would take somebody with a truck, at least. Even if they took them to the dump.

It gave me a problem to be concerned about, without being in a hurry to find a solution. Quite comfortable, really. Having no problem at all would be just too weird.

Then, one morning late in June, as I was going for walkies with my girl friends?? cat, my landlord Al, phoned.

Under somewhat mysterious circumstances, which I shant attempt to relate—–there are different opinions, not yet rationalized, there was a flood in the upstairs apartment?which I inhabit. Extensive damage resulted on all three levels of the house.

Weeks and weeks later— it is now August sixteenth, people are still painting walls, laying new floors, building new kitchen counters and they put all of my stuff, including forty-five boxes of books outside in a big container. It rather looks like my problem re books is on its way to solution.

Then Keith sent an Email about an early deadline for September?August twenty. (He and his wife are going on an eight hundred kilometre hike. It makes me nervous just to imagine it)

The people who agreed, last week, to take my books, decided they did not have enough room for them. The guy next door, who let me use his shop to sort books, wants his shop back. The day after tomorrow, I must go to Sault Ste Marie for a week. Four days ago I learned that I need cataract surgery, that an appointment has been made—September twentieth.

Where in Hell did all that Summer, easy living, go? I haven??t been this tense and worried since back in the eighties when I was alive.

It was this morning when I realized I would have to write an article four days before deadline?because of the trip to the Soo?I never write an article until dark on deadline day?I thought, ??Well, at least, I have the flood to write about.??

But, that won??t work either. Can??t recount an event until it has all happened. This one is still going on. There are people working all over the house. I would have to make up the end and then try to have it happen the way I write it. Fat chance. I shall force myself to sit back and let it unfold. Maybe I will get two stories out of the flood. Damn straight.

June 2014?

It has to be seventy years ago, though in that corner of my mind where a lot of stuff lingers, it seems like yesterday. Dad hollered from the bottom of the stairs, “Hup!” and, if your feet didn??t hit the floor, immediately, he would be angry and flabbergasted at how anyone could be so completely lacking in courtesy and common etiquette. After all, it was nearly five AM.

We scurried right down, because he had promised to take us to Banana lake.

I had just turned six a day or two before and my brother was four and a half. We desperately needed to see Banana lake. Dad said there were no creeks in or out and there was sand beach all the way around it. There was no road to it, but the hydro line was five hundred steps from it in one place. Dad said that somehow or other Mike Woitowicz and Harry Morton had got their motorcycles in along the hydro line?which had no road and in to the lake. They had rode around the lake, lots of times. It is readily understandable that two half tame bush kids, in 1944, would really need to go there.

He said, “Now, we??ll leave the truck at the end of the road, at O??Douds, It is about the half mile to the river. We need to find a big tree to fall acrost, to walk on. Then its about two miles over the big burn to the hydro line. You find pole number 128 and walk in five hunderd steps and thats Banana lake. You have to keep up. If old Isaac or any of the Hendersons was along, why, you might get left over night in the bush.”

Well, we figured Dad wouldn??t leave us. If any of the neighbours looked as if they wanted to come along, why we would have planned some kind of accident for them.

Anyway, we got across the river, climbed the big ridge,came upon the hydro line and found the required structure. Number 128.

The lake was exactly as I had imagined it. Beautifull. We had a swim. There were no motorcycle tracks. Dad said, “Well, you know, that was last year. The tracks probably faded with the snow. But you guys can shoot at the loons.”

Dad had the twenty-two, his big rifle, the axe and his packsack. He wanted to go on to the next lake to see if a moose was summering there. He always took that much with him and he always knew where the moose were. He told some people where some of the moose were. Only, not the one who always summered in the swamp on the north side of our farm.

He said, “You guys stay here while I go to Anaway lake. You better not swim while I??m gone. This lake is spring fed and it gets pretty deep just past where you can see, but you can shoot at the loons, there are always two. You won??t hurt them because loons is smart. They know when a bullet is commin?? and they duck. I??ve shot at them all my life and never hit one.”

I had shot the twenty-two before a couple of times but I am prettty sure Gordon had not. He was four. We had a shot before Dad left. The first shot my little brother ever made with a gun, he hit a loon right in the head. It floated, dead, in to shore.

Dad said, “I??ll be go to Hell! I never saw anything like that before. I never even seen a loon up close before.”

It was a beautifull bird. None of us ever shot at a loon again.

It was a long hike back through the bush. Gordon played out and Dad carried him. I got a way behind. I was a bit cranky. As the older kid, I didn??t get to ride. I had picked some lady-slippers for Mom. They were hard to keep in good shape. I did get them home. When I gave them to Mom she said, “You are not supposed to pick ladyslippers, they are ??protected??.” The oldest kid just doesn??t have it easy.

At one point I was just about all in. Then, right beside me there was a hornets nest. I think it was taller than me. I past Dad in a flash. He laughed. He had seen it and didn??t tell me. I wished he had found a stupid moose and killed it. Then he??d have to carry the damned thing home all by himself. Ten bloody trips!

 

May 2014
It must have been late in February, 1949.? The snow was deep and the well was going dry.? Actually, there were two wells, one for the house and one for the stock.? We had two teams of horses and a bunch of cattle, I don??t recall how many cattle.? I didn??t like cows well enough to single them out.? It was just a ??bunch??.? Took a lot of water.
The water table is lowest in February and in July.? We had no hydro at that time and no digging machinery, except round mouth shovels and arms.? The thing to do was to dig a well.
Dad was working in the bush and did not want to lose a day. So he said, ??On Saturday you guys dig a well, east of the big barn.
At that time I would have been three months short of my eleventh birthday and Gordon was ten.
??How do you dig a well??? I asked.
??You take the pick to get through the frost.? Make a hole four feet square and shovel till you can??t throw it out any more.? About the eight feet.??
Gordon, who was approximately half my size?He never grew until he was fifteen and did it all in one summer—asked, ??If you was going to dig a well how much would you charge them???
??Well, it??s a dollar a foot for diggin????, said Dad.? Gordon was small for a long time, but he was never a slow thinker.
Dad said, ??Yeah, I guess I??ll pay you guys a dollar a foot.??? (I never would have thought of it.)
Saturday morning, after the chores, we headed to the swamp with shovels and a pick axe.?? The frost was about six inches thick and took a while to break through.? From there on the digging was okay for an hour or so.? When we got down where it was hard to throw out, I would shovel a pail full of mud and hand it up to Gordon, who would drag it away and dump it.
Water was coming in pretty fast—we were in a kind of water run—and by noon we were absolutely covered with mud.? Mom made us eat lunch in the back porch, sitting on the wood pile, which we still had to fill up sometime that day.
I do not know exactly how deep we went.? Dad paid us four dollars each, for eight feet.? He was smart too.? I quit digging when it got too difficult to pass the pail up to Gordon.? Actually, he dropped a pail full of mud on my head.? It probably weighed thirty pounds.
I could not get out of the well.? It was too deep.? Gordon agreed to bring the ladder from the hay barn, if I promised not to kill him.
It was black dark when we went to the house.? Dad came home from the bush and said, ??By God!? You guys did dig a well.?? We dug one every year till I was sixteen.
By the time I was thirteen I could carry two cream cans full of water all the way to the house from our ??February well?? without setting them down.? I never thought of asking what sort of wages a person who could carry a hundred pounds of water two hundred yards without stopping should charge.
When Gordon was thirteen, he built a broadcasting set out of radio parts from somewhere.? Two different neighbours heard him talking.? Mom made him stop that kind of foolishness.? She was afraid he might use bad words.? He would have.
So, Gordon was smart and I was strong.? We did whatever we had to do or whatever we wanted to do.? It never even occurred to us that we couldn??t.

April 2014
Somebody told me a few days ago that the temperature had not been above zero since sometime in November.? Could be, I don??t know.? I??ve been cold all winter, stayed inside more than ever before.? It wasn??t only me.? The cat absolutely refused to stick its head through the outside door.
Only trouble is, I remember years, back when I was alive, that were worse than this one and the worst storms were late in March and even in April.? Couldn??t? even whine.? Had to go to work.
One huge fall of snow happened late in March, 1966.? I got a ride from a bush camp near Atikokan with five Swedish? loggers on a Friday afternoon.? We had various adventures and got stranded in Kakabeka Falls.? Two of the Swedes and I finally got a ride to town.? The other three got the last room in Kakabeka and stayed.? We got in as far as the west side of Fort William and had to walk twenty three blocks.? There were buses spun out all along the way.? When we reached the place on Algoma where we wanted to go, one of the Swedes, the silent one, said, ??That was a helluva long vay to Port Artur.??? It was that.? I had no hat, no mitts, no overshoes and carried a large suitcase.? If I had known I was going to live this long, I??d have treated this body better.
A couple of years ago, I got a call from CBC.? Clair Martin wanted to talk to old geezers about stories of the past.? Weather stories.? I talked to her for a few minutes.? It was very easy to recall that long ago trip from the bush.? Didn??t really know what all I had said, and didn??t think about it.? A few days later, on my way to Dryden, I stopped for something to eat.? A radio was on in the restaurant, on CBC.? Clair Martin was interviewing some old Guy about old time weather.? It was me.? I sat there, in Kakabeka Falls, listening to myself talk about being stranded in a storm, in Kakabeka Falls, forty odd years earlier.? It sounded as though I not only had had a life, but that I was still living it.
That same year, I went smelt fishing with a group of people on April thirteen.? I remember the date because one? fisher? person was having a birthday—another swede actually, a blonde one named Vye.? We had great fun.? The robins were chirping, the fish were running, we celebrated the arrival of the easy living time.
Three days later there was the damndest storm imagineable.? It didn??t last very long, but a lot of birds died.
Many years before that, May third, 1955, another birthday?my sister, Wilma was turning thirteen.? We lived out north of town and I drove the school bus.? When we went to town in the morning it was almost summer.? When we came home in the late afternoon, there was a foot of snow on the road.? Again, it did not stay long.? But, it makes my point.? This is not the first tough winter we have endured, or the worst one.
Who knows?? Maybe April will be perfect.? It often is.? My furry friend and I will go outside and sit in the warm sun.? I will wear sun glasses and lean back.? The cat will hiss at dogs.? We will be as cool as if we knew exactly what we were doing.

March 2014

Most nights, I have trouble sleeping. It has to do with an old body, somewhat the worse for much hard wear. Not all of the pain is physical. Some of it is psychic?I lie there and think about the damn fool things I did.

It helps to let the mind go way back to where there were definite answers for every question and the body didn??t hurt. There were quite a few years when the body felt good to be in. There were less occasions when the mind was comfortable.

In fact, no matter how far back I reach there seem to be events that had to be rationalized. If there was something I could not understand and Mom or Dad were not there to explain, then, rather than be confused or frightened, I would try to interpret the event in terms of something I could deal with. One of these events occurred when I was nine. My purpose in recounting it is an attempt to illustrate that data may be mishandled or denied, or rationalized by a child and, though it exists in memory, may never be dealt with objectively in later life.

In nineteen forty seven, late in June, we were still in school. I was just finishing grade three and had just turned nine. It was recess in the morning and we were outside. There were probably about a dozen of us, ranging from grade one to grade eight.

High in the sky to the east there was a very large, dark coloured, slightly hazy blob that looked a bit like a large blimp. As we watched, several small, roundish flat objects came out of the bottom of the large, stationary one. They moved around individually, not in any formation but did not go far. One of them moved up close to the front of the big ??Blimp?? and stopped there.–I remember thinking that it was the ??front?? only there were no windows or wings or any noticeable characteristics. Just an oblong, dark, huge, slightly hazy–thing . The small, flying machines were easier to see. The shapes were distinct and their colour was brighter.

One of the bigger boys said, snickering,”It looks like it??s havin?? babies.” I didn??t know what to think, but I felt nervous. It wasn??t right. The biggest boy stood kicking dirt with his boot. He would not look up. It looked much like yellow hornets coming out of a nest and circling slowly. I decided they must be yellow. They may not have been yellow.

There were no adults, nobody went to tell the Teacher (I do not know why), the big kids were acting strange. The one who would not look up seemed frightened. Something had to be done.

When my brother was six he begged and campaigned and demanded a subscription to “Popular Mechanix”. He was successful and every month it came in the mail.

If you opened it at about page 28, there would always be a drawing or illustration of a brand new invention. We looked there first. This was less than two years after the second world war ended, and many of the new ideas were war machines. Some of them never did get into production. Anyway there was a drawing of a big four engine plane– (We had not even heard of Jet planes out our way) It had a trap door in the bottom, out of which were ejected small yellow fighter planes, while the big plane was in the air.

So, I told everybody what the thing was in the sky and that we had seen a picture of it in Popular Mechanics. Everybody went back inside and the incident was closed. A few days later summer holidays began and all was forgotten, or put away. The only person my brother and I talked to was Dad, because,of course, it had to be reported to him. He said, after a slight pause, “Yeah, Wilsons saw it too,” so I didn??t have to worry about it any more.

I went for at least fifty years without discussing that event, even with my brother. I did, finally, discuss it with him and one other person who was there, after getting past some of the road blocks in my mind.

There are a couple of realities, hidden from myself for so long. The big plane with the little ones inside it never got off the drawing board. I knew, in l947, that what we saw was beyond belief, but I put it away. I also knew, not at age nine, but for many years of my adulthood,that to recount a story like this would be foolhardy at least and counterproductive at best.

Now, I am old. Probably, a goodly percentage of the population have stories better than mine. If they don??t, most of them are aware—if they allow themselves to think—that to honestly believe there is no life anywhere else in the Universe is absolutely inconceivable.

By writing this down, I have been able to become a little bit more comfortable in one more little corner of my mind.

Feb. 2014

When I was in grade two, in a one room, eight grade, country school, the year the second world war ended, the teacher, who had studied to be, but never became, a priest, gave a lecture to the big kids one day.

I do not know what motivated him. It was unusual. He talked about faith. He drew pictures on the board of a thimble and a water pail. He said, “You have to have faith. It is better to have a thimble full than a pail full of faith.”

Sitting over in the little seats, I watched and listened avidly. It was much more interesting than reading, “I am John. I go to school.”

The big kids, at least one was sixteen, looked blank. The teacher looked angry and sad. I have never forgotten that scene.

Looking back on the ensuing seventy years, I perceive that, although never able to accept or believe in Christianity, I have never been able to lose my ??thimble full?? of faith in a Higher Power. Many times I have silently thanked Mr. Spalton for that little bit of faith in the bad times. Many more times I have appreciated the option to seriously question the machinations and the power games of the religion business.

That morning in nineteen-forty-five was in the winter, probably about the end of January, in the midst of a long cold spell. Exactly like today.

Early this morning, lying in bed, hurting, wondering how long this weather is going to last, wondering how long this old body is going to last, considering the blatant cynicism of our society and the unfeeling unfairness of life in general, I thought, “Guess it??s gone. The only reason for hanging on was fear. Fear of the Dark.”

During the past ten years I have withdrawn from the world, arranged to avoid responsibility and to a great extent avoid people. It has been easy and stress free to sit around and read books.

Unfortunately, the world went on without me. Several people, family members and other loved ones, died. The latest, a few weeks ago was my brother, younger than me. He was always the most important person in my life, from the very first.

While I retired and backed off from life, he dove right in. He made plans for a hundred years and lived as if he would die tomorrow. I was angry at him about half the time. Secret jealousy. He was a smarter and better man than me.

I should have died first. It was not fair. I was not doing anything and probably never would do anything. If God was like that, I didn??t want him.

Thought this morning about Tom Spalton, the failed priest and his thimble full of faith, on that long ago January. I wonder what was testing him that day?

I know he continued and accomplished many things. I guess I??ll continue also. Even if I only read more books.

Jan. 2014

My intention, before sitting down at this infernal machine, was to write a humorous, witty little story, with some sort of point to it and me as the butt of the joke.

Complete blank. No wit, no humour, no hope.

The obvious solution should be, to do a New Year Resolution story. Can??t enthuse about what I am going to do. I have no plans other than to lay around my attic and read books. Mostly, books I have read before. Can??t dredge up stories from long ago Januaries. Already used them . There was one, a few years back. It poured on to the screen like a charm, but it worried me. Sure as hell, in my scrap book from the late eighties, there it was, almost word for word. That was, of course, after it was published the second time. Different paper, different century, nobody noticed. Or, maybe nobody read it either time.

So, my problem, a recurring one, remains. I can??t think. Maybe it will kick in. It does, fairly often. But maybe not today and today is deadline and it is already night.

Fortunately, I can remember old adventures and other happenings of long ago. Some of them I can??t forget.

There appears to be a necessity for some new adventures. If one was to write about new adventures there would be less chance of repetition. Also, people might actually read them.

A few minutes ago, Old Susie called. She takes courses and writes articles that are almost books.

She asked, “What are you doing?”

Dithering. Can??t think.

“You are isolating. Get involved in something.”

What?

“Take some psych courses.”

No. I already took psychology courses years ago and I will not write about it.

“Take a language.”

Well, She is signing me up for Italian at the College.

Her last shot at me was, “Dad, forget everything you remember from the last century. Learn new stuff so your brain doesn??t turn to mush.”

Don??t know if I am starting to think, but I am no longer sad and comfortable. I am worried and uncomfortable. There is a thought here although it is Hers, not mine.

The joke, however, is certainly on me.

December 2013

Fifty years ago today, as of this writing, was November 22, 1963.

It was a day which evoked strong emotion from every person capable of feeling emotion. It would be difficult, for me, to have a conversation with anyone who was listening the day President Kennedy was assassinated. At least half of the people I knew then are now dead. Half the people I know, now, were not born yet. In trying to get in touch with me, myself, fifty years back was also impossible, almost.

I was twenty-five years old, unhappy, angry and alcoholic, had drunk my way out of university, a couple of good jobs and was in the process of spoiling my marriage to a wonderful girl. I thought myself stupid and wrong, with no right to an opinion.

In a bar with my Father and two or three of his contemporaries, it was announced on TV that Kennedy had been shot. He was dead. A sniper.

My Dad said,”Some guys they shouldn??t sell guns to.”

Somebody else at the table said, “That??s what they get for puttin?? in a Catholic”. Then they proceeded with important stuff, like, “That damned sales tax. Next thing you know they??ll put that three percent on cars and everything.”

I couldn??t understand why they would not talk a bit about how they felt. It was terrible. I got up and walked out. Could not argue with my Dad. He must be right, and I could not expect the others to say how they actually felt. A real man doesn??t do that.

Went to the cocktail lounge next door. There was one person plus the bartender. It was Mack McClellan, always silent when sober and completely insane when drinking… much like myself. In walked Fred Marshall the editor of the Dryden Observer. He sat down, arranged himself on the stool, hunched over his drink, turned to Mac and asked, “What??s the latest on the assassination??? Mac replied, deadpan, “Well Freddie. He??s still dead.”

Mac must have been at just the right stage of inebriation to be a gifted comedian. I must have been at the right stage to understand. I went from sad and angry to uncontrollable laughter.

That day, fifty years ago, at age twenty-five. I guess I had my first awareness of a right to interpret the world in my own terms.

Everybody in North America, that day, who had access to radio or TV, got the same information. They all reacted at the same time to the same trauma. They dealt with it , each in their own way. Some were very afraid?if some maniac with a rifle can shoot the president, nothing is safe. Some were in denial—shut down the emotions and make like it didn??t happen. Some tried to make it funny?humour is right next to terror. Many came to believe in a conspiracy—the Government, the Mob, the Russians.

Each person, or group, grabbed on to something that made a bit of sense and carried on.

It seemed to me, over time, that none of the theories, whether personal or group or government foisted, made sense. So, I might as well find my own way to cope?that is, to believe in myself.

It took years to become comfortable with my own thinking. It took many years to learn to change my opinion, when a better idea came along.

In fifty years I have gone from thinking that John Kennedy was a rich kid who bought the job to thinking he was actually pretty damn smart. And there was no conspiracy, all it takes is one maniac and the world is very dangerous.

November 2013

In the township where I grew up, north of Dryden, nearly all of the males one generation older than me, died of heart disease. All except my Dad, who worked himself to death by the time he was ninety-four. He did not believe in having a ??bad heart??. He said, “No, our family don??t get heart attacks.”

In the light of history, this particular unshakeable conviction of his did not pan out. My baby sister died of one at age sixty-four.

Dad was already gone by that time, fortunately.

Fortunately, because rather than admit he was wrong, he probably would have explained that it was only the ??male line?? who carried the ??good blood??.

Mom, who lived to ninety-seven, might have killed him.—He had other interesting, infuriating beliefs. She put up with him for sixty-seven years and went on for eight years without him. Maybe what sustained her was sheer fury—and a good heart.

My reason for making this bit of family history the subject of an article is that it has been on my mind these last few weeks. The DNA of my family, is it to be considered , or disregarded? Should my Dad??s etched in stone convictions be considered? Or, should Mom have offed him years ago?

In August, I was quite ill. I went to the hospital with rather serious shivering spells. They found pneumonia in both lungs. Then, I had a heart attack. A couple of weeks later they let me go home. I have been under home care ever since. I have lost twenty-five pounds and I am tired all the time. They say there is ??minimal heart damage??.

The first few days I was home, they sent around two or three kinds of nurses. One or more of them asked me how I felt, emotionally. In a fit of candidness I told them. I described in some detail how I felt about hospitals, old age, heart attacks, family dynamics going back to when I was fourteen and other stuff too. There may have been one or two statements inherited from that old male, Franklin blood, from Dad.

They sent a psychiatrist around to see me. More than once. They did not seem to be concerned about my heart or my lungs. They were concerned about my mental condition. Maybe they still are.

It is a worry.

Oct. 2013

In the old days, well, from the point of view of most people, the real old days, although it doesn??t matter, because anybody who would consider the nineteen fifties to be the real old days would not be reading this. This sentence has no point and could go on for pages. I should start over.

I wanted to say that in the fifties of the last century, I was young, worked in bush camps, liked cats and girls.

On those occasions when I came out to town, every couple of weeks, sometimes less often, it quickly became apparent how very unlikely were my camp laid plans of finding a girl to romance, a girl to talk to, to wave at across the street? So, being three years too young to do it legally, I would go to the beer parlor. Usually, they would let me drink beer. Except for the time the waiter was the guy who had been my Latin teacher at the high school. Had to leave.

The only thing to do was go home to the farm. No phone. No hydro until I was sixteen. Do you know how difficult high school was for farm kids? If one was away for a week, for Christmas or Easter holidays, the language changed enough that you had to keep your mouth shut until you learned what the new slang words were. Dasn??t use the old ones. Learning school was duck soup compared to being cool. Well, I made it once. In the year book when I was in grade twelve, Ideal Boy Grad; conversation George Franklin. I was astounded for at least a generation. Conversation? I never said anything. What if I said ??Neato?? and it was supposed to be ??Neat??? After many more awkward years somebody wise—there are some—explained to me that conversation is not talking, it is listening and smiling in the places they want you to smile.

There was always a cat at the farm who was glad to see me. A cat would come in the Fall, stay all winter and leave in the spring. If it survived cars and foxes it would come back just before freeze up. If it didn??t, another one would take its place.

Six miles north of our farm, the Womens?? Institute had a hall. There was a dance every other weekend. If I got home from camp on the right Saturday, the dance was a big event.

Nearly everyone at the dance was from the country. Some of them were almost as clueless as I was.

Sometimes, often, I guess, there would be a girl who did not appear to be with anybody. With sweating palms and heart hammering, absolutely certain she would refuse I would take the long walk across and ask her to dance. In retrospect, I don??t think she ever said no, and I never did expect her to say yes. Sometimes we danced till they played ??Home Sweet Home??.

We never talked, but it seemed okay. Maybe I was being a good conversationalist.

I really liked her but I never told her. Many years later, it occurred to me that maybe she liked me too. I still don??t know. Probably I should have tried saying actual words to her in nineteen fifty-six.

Maybe it all worked out. I still have a cat in my life, and a girl. They seemed to have picked me. All I did right was smile and keep my mouth shut.

Sept. 2013
I was driving down Edward Street this afternoon.? The windows were down, to cool the inside of the car.? The radio was playing a song by the ??Tragically Hip?? that I have always liked.
The lyrics of the song evoke? scenes of bright flowers, water, warm hills, long ago loves.? The memories triggered are clear, crystal clear, and the emotions around them are sad and sweet.? Puppy love buried in my heart from way back in the last century.
I am seventy-five? and spent too many years around large, loud diesel motors.? I am nearly as deaf as some of the twenty eight year old Head Bangers.? So, I turned up the volume to compete with the noise from the open windows.? When I pulled up to the light at Arthur Street a really nice new truck was stopped on my right.
I glanced at the truck.? The driver, a young man, maybe mid twenties was looking at me.? Another crystal clear memory.? His expression was congruent with that of my Grandmother the time she happened on a man urinating in the park.
The light changed.? I drove on.? I switched to CBC, having concluded that my listening to loud folk rock, must be completely unacceptable.? Or worse.
I??ve been listening to sounds, not just music, but variations of sounds, nature sounds, crowd sounds, even traffic sounds, all my life.? As small kids at the farm, Mom taught us some music on the old pump organ.? The only music was first world war army songs and hymns.?? I loved the emotions evoked by the sounds.? Happy, sad, lonely.? I never became more than a fair musician, but I learned to hear the sounds and the lyrics.? Never could reproduce adequately what I heard.
Somewhere I got some early Blues and Jazz records. The people who invented Jazz were classically trained musicians who melded the rules of classical composition with African field workers group sounds.? It was wonderful. Expertly arranged instrumental variations laid on deep swelling emotion.
I started listening to classical music, whenever I could find it.? Secretly, of course.? This was fifty years ago, in a small community.? The stuff was not readily available, and one didn??t turn it on around most family members, certainly not co-workers?I worked in logging camps in that era.? It was what I needed.? All sorts of sound possibilities.
Over the years I realized that much popular music on the market consisted of melody lines stolen from various classical composers.? This was true of much music of the forties, fifties and sixties.? Then came Rock.? As with most people of my era, I didn??t like it and muttered along with my peers about the ??noise??.? As rock unfolded and the sweet schmaltz disappeared from the air waves, I went back to classical stuff to recover the ??feeling??.? It became apparent over time that I was more attracted to the structure than the emotion.? I went from trying to be emotionally involved with Mozart, Brahms, Strauss, of the classical and romantic eras, back to JS Bach.? Bach did not stir me emotionally.? The structure of the counterpoint, the incredible arrangement of sounds brought me to a heightened state of awareness where emotion was no longer applicable.? The whole of awareness does not single out emotions.? I went on to Mahler, whose symphonies provide both the intellectual and the emotional sounds.
At some point, fortunately for me, I realized that modern music, rock, particularly, which has become the music of this era, is not all plagiarized from the long dead composers.? There are some incredibly talented rock musicians and composers.? So, I overcame my age bias and started to listen to it.? It does not evoke in me the nice, comfortable sweetness and sadness of pre seventies country and western.? It sometimes takes me to that state of heightened awareness that J S Bach did—with a difference.? Rather than being above the sound, almost watching the composer, I was aware of huge emotion?? almost like anger and fear, which are, after all, the same thing.? Only, the awareness was not filtering up to me, like the structure of the Brandenburg concerto.? It came down and overpowered me.? I was in it, under it, an insignificant part of it.
Now, back on Edward Street, after considering the roles people play, I realized why the young man in the truck reacted to an old man listening to loud ??young people??s music, and why I shut it off.? It is what we are supposed to do.
Now, rock is the music of this era, has been for forty years.? It is here to stay and evolve.? A folk rock composition, if I listen to it, may have all the sound variations anyone could require and the lyrics, sometimes seeming to be thrown in haphazardly, are able, because they, at first do not appear to fit, to evoke all the pictures anyone, me anyway, could require.
My journey toward acceptance of music and myself, through listening and reading about certain mental disorders has led me to? certain facts of life.? I now realize that I am more attracted to structure than emotion.? Bach gives me the objective place above the sound.? Mahler does that and lets me feel something as well.? Loud, classic Rock places me in and under the sound, the only place I have found that forces me to react, at a deep level, albeit with fear and anger, and the sound arrangements are as interesting as any other venue.
I have discovered that I may have a mild mental condition called ASD—autism spectrum disorder.? Thus my fear and anger inside Rock music.? There is another disorder, WS—Williams Syndrome which I guess I don??t have. It could explain an alternate reaction to music.
June 2013It was one of those times full of negative thoughts.? The media recounted, endlessly, tales of dishonest politicians, shoddy business practices, asinine, cruel actions by individuals and groups.? The weather all over the world was getting worse and everybody was going to be forced to work till they were at least seventy and never have any money to retire on.?To write a ??feel good?? little story with myself as the butt of a couple of laugh lines was not possible.? I did not feel good.? I felt sorry for myself, sorry for the whole world.So, I dug out a biography of Walt Whitman.? Maybe reading poetry from a hundred and fifty years ago when life was simple would feel good.? It didn??t.? I am a slightly neurotic, somewhat cynical observer of life.? Whitman was totally, terminally, committed to creating a word picture of? mid-nineteenth century America.? His ??Blades of Grass?? evolved during five editions in his lifetime.? It was not just about America, it Was America.? He was not only the author, he, personally wanted to be the embodiment of America.? I think he must have been psychotic.? Albeit a kind of peaceful, energetic, psychotic person.? I, was not able to identify with whatever? personage he was trying to be.??However.? At the back of the book were some articles he had written. They were not in the turgid style of the poetry.? In them he talked about the glaring faults of America; crooked politics, slavery, war, violence—essentially the sort of problems that exist in Canada, and the world today.? He made the point that the common, working? men and women of the country with their basic industry, honesty, common sense and bravery, would keep the country and the social order intact.Maybe they did.? Conditions are not worse than they were in the 1860s, they are better.? America and Canada co-exist.? They are almost friends, usually.? Most adults are honest and responsible, as they always have been.? I know some of them.? They will probably continue to be a source of sanity, in spite of the government.Personally, I??m okay. I don??t have to worry about working till I am seventy. Already did that.May 2013?A friend of mine was chatting with someone whose Father had just passed on.? He said that he was gathering up a lot of his Dad??s stuff, among which was a box of taped Lawrence Welk shows.? He didn??t want to throw them away.? They had been prized possessions of the old guy.? My friend said, ??Oh, I know who would really like them!???? She gave them to me.The bereaved son said, ??What does he want to do, seduce an eighty-five year old woman???? He also reflected that he had been slightly concerned there might be a few pornographic videos in the box.? ??Maybe that is a good thing.??he re-reflected.Well, I laughed a little bit, not very much, took the box home and put it in the attic.? I have not looked at any of them.? It is interesting to consider Lawrence Welk in the same box as ??Debbie Does Dallas??.? Vonderfull, vonderfull.I didn??t particularly like the show when it was on, years ago.? The arrangements were flawless, the musicians were excellent, but? a certain lack of energy and sameness to the sound, was worrisome.? It was later, in reruns on Public TV, that it got to me.The show came on Saturday evening.? It might be from the sixties or the eighties or anywhere between.? The arrangements were contemporary as were the costumes and hair style.? The settings and the colour differed with the era as did the ages and, perhaps, the personalities of the artists.? However, the cast was essentially the same people.? It was interesting to observe them, some younger than me, most of them older, as they aged or got younger, depending on each show, which could be from anywhere in more than a generation.? It allowed me to remember and relive what we wore and what we listened to, how we? appeared to others and, maybe, how I must have appeared, to myself.?? The ones older than me, gave a glimpse at what my own body might look like as it continues to deteriorate.? They became friends, most of them.Quite a few of those people are still active.? I watched some reunion specials, featuring many of the long time singers and musicians.? Without the somewhat confining? format, adhered to over the life of the show, perhaps free from the influence of Lawrence Welk, they went wide.? It had been obvious, over the years, that everyone was talented.? In those specials, they were incredible.So, although I play an accordian, I am not really a Lawrence Welk fan.? I love music.? It does not need to be perfectly played, it needs to be played, or sung, with feeling, gusto, joy or grief.Mom taught us a bit about music when we were small, on an old pump organ at the farm,from a book of first world war songs.? By the time we were teen-agers we played at country dances.? Gordon, my little brother could,almost immediately, play a tune on any instrument.? Keyboard, reeds, horns, strings, it didn??t matter.? He is still doing it, better and better.? I dabbled, peaked at about sixteen and have become steadily less proficient every year since.? At the dances, there were always musicians who showed up.? Sometimes they brought their instrument.? Often they sat in.? I would gladly hand over my accordian, knowing that whoever took it could play better than I.? Sometimes, if there was an interesting girl in the place, I??d drop the accordian and go dance.? Gordon became a musician and I didn??t, but I can dance better.I feel music of all sorts and all ages.? Certain sounds and melodies are as much a part of me as my skin.? If I hear one that resonates I? know exactly where and when I first heard it and I am back there.? It is my way to remember people, places, emotions, good times and bad ones.? There were a couple of reasons why I never learned to play properly.? Laziness, obviously being one.? Also,I could not make the sound from inside my head or wherever it was, come out the ends of my fingers.? Gave up.So, I listen and remember, associate the sound with the years, the girls, the places, the feelings.? A perspective.? I can live with it.Oh Hell, I guess Lawrence helped.
April 2013

?In an unpretentious part of the city, on a reasonably quiet street, I reside in an attic. On both sides , doors open into large sloping spaces the full length of the house. I never go there, except to look for the books I stashed on arriving, several years ago.

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Feb. 2013
I started school in 1944, one room, eight grades plus? a big girl in grade ten.? The teacher, Miss Fedik was not quite nineteen.? I was late the first day.? Lauretta Tanner who was starting grade two, came down and got me.? We played in puddles and picked flowers along the way.? When we got to the school everyone was in their seats.? We sat down together in a big desk right at the front of the room.
There was some amount of laughter.? The teacher, who I expected to be giant, was a lot shorter than my Mother.? I had heard about teachers from Dad.? You know?the Strap, homework, staying in (whatever that was), sitting in the corner with some kind of a hat on.? All scary stuff.
She made us move over to the other side of the room, to little desks and we could not sit together.? She drew a circle on the board, and a square and a triangle, then she asked me my name.? I said, ??My name is Ronald, but I am called George.??? ??Well, Georgie, go up to the board and copy what I have drawn there.??? I said, ??Oh, that??s easy!??
More laughter.? It was not easy.? I thought I could draw.? I had been drawing trucks and tractors on pieces of paper at the kitchen table for a long time.? Using a chalk, standing up, was hard.?? Total mortification.
The guy at the next desk, also in grade one, jeered, ??Can’t ya even draw a circle???? I made a secret vow at that time.? If I am not smart enough to do this school stuff, at least I??m going to beat the crap out of that guy.
He, of course, became my best friend.? We fought all the way through public school.? His brother was one of the big kids.? That gave him certain status that I didn??t rate.
Actually, when we had a scrap, the brother never interfered.? The big brother became a hero of mine.? Still is.
Almost seventy years later, I can visualize the teacher, the individuals in the room, the colors of their clothes, the smells, all of it.? At recess, the big girl in grade ten and the teacher sat facing each other sitting on the tops of big desks learning French.
I vowed to learn French, it seemed easy.? They appeared to be having fun, laughing and sitting on those desks.? Of course, it wasn??t.? It was harder than drawing circles.? I worked at it for many years, all through high school and college, in bush camps and in bars.
From my seventy-fifth year, where I must tell the truth as I perceive it, I was taught good basic grammar in Mrs. Fraser??s grade ten and eleven French class, better than anything I was exposed to at University level.? I learned how to understand French working in the bush.? There are, of course, certain realities.? I can get along in Quebecois in a bush camp, but am lost in the city.? I can do crossword puzzles in Parisian French? and say whatever I need to say in grammatical form, but am usually unable to understand what people are saying back to me.
It all goes back to that first day at school.? The stuff I thought was easy, where I wanted to start right in the middle, I screwed up.? The stuff I had never heard of, like grammar, mathematics, I had to start on the first page, and it was okay.? I used to listen to the big kids across the room being taught the real hard stuff, like verbs and nouns and long division and history.? I was still doing addition and reading? grade two? ??I am John.? I go to school?? stuff.? I skipped grade seven, which proves the possibilities of an eight grade classroom.
There were maps of the world on the wall.? By grade two I knew all the continents and countries.? They soaked in.? Today, the average college student could not name the continents, including the one he lives in.
I learned how to fight and what the kids across the room were being taught and I learned how to walk a mile to school when it was forty below.? I drove a big truck by the time I was twelve.? I know less about computers and cell phones (because they are supposed to be easy) than the average eight year old.
It is a trade off, and I love to think back—another thing that people do not any longer believe in.? I remember Miss Fedik.? She was wonderful.?
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Jan. 2013
I was at the Bank, waiting in line to find out if I had any money.? Hoping.?? Someone, up ahead of me said, ??All them holidays is a lot of baloney.??? Whether he meant ??a lot of baloney?? as advertising hyperbole, or, as money was unclear,but it got me musing about ??baloney??, or ??balogna??—preferable to anticipating a sick checking account.
We called it baloney, although Dad sometimes referred to it as ??horsemeat??.? It was my very favourite food.? When I was learning to talk, I called it ??orse??—a bit of inherited, old country accent. When I learned to spell, ??balogna?? didn??t make sense.? Mom told me, ??That??s the way they spell it in Italy.??? That was okay until, years later I heard Yuppies refer to ??California round steak?? or bologna with an A, not a Y and no G.? For a few years, just to be sure, I called it ??Bolog-Na??,thereby alienating family members and yuppies.? I was born too soon to be a yuppie, probably all part of God??s good plan.
I grew up on a farm.? We butchered? beef once a month.? Every day there was roast beef or pork chops or home made sausages.? The only time we got baloney was when Mom went to town?once a month.? It was a special treat.? If Mom didn??t? stash part of it to make sandwiches for school the next day, my brother and I would eat the whole roll.? I never got enough baloney.? It was my perception of being a deprived child.
The first couple? years of? high school, I had to board in town.? No bus out north in l951.? That was when I learned that only poor people ate baloney.? I met kids who hated baloney.? The only time they got roast beef was when they went to their rich uncles.? Once a year, maybe.
The idea of being tired of baloney was fascinating.? Anybody like that was ??cool??, in my eyes.? Well, back then we did not use ??cool??, the word was ??neat??.? Some years later I married? a balogna hater—There were other, unrelated reasons.
They got tired of it, of course, because they ate it too often.? They couldn??t afford the steaks and stuff we were forced to eat out at the farm.? But, I didn??t know.? It took me many years to learn much about real life.
By the time I got around to a preference for roast beef, I was far from the farm and often I could not afford it either.? There were occasions when I didn??t have the price of a package of baloney.
The universe continued to unfold.? Recently there was a lady, a youngish sounding one, talking about bologna on CBC.? She was not sneering , she sounded almost as if she had discovered it and was presenting it to the world.
So,I was? not? certain if boloney is in or out, socially or gastronomically.
Then,my friend Ron dropped in about noon on a Saturday and stated that we were going out for breakfast.? He does that occasionally.? Noon is a very civilized hour to eat bacon and eggs.
I ordered bacon and eggs, He had baloney and eggs.
I wondered out loud if it was even legal to request baloney for breakfast.? Said Ronnie,??I don??t know and I don??t care.? I like it and I eat it whenever I can get it.??
That really is Cool!?? Most people do not become? comfortable with? themselves until they are older than He.
I don??t think he is even seventy yet.
Dec. 2012
Most likely, Keith will be expecting something ??Christmassy?? from this space—not that he is fussy. We have never discussed topics or guidelines.? He is cool and would probably print anything I send him, which might be of interest to Seniors or other Adults, and which would not subject him to legal action.? Couldn??t find a better editor.? It gives me a world of room wherein I usually dither for hours to come up with a single thought.
However, today November 21 is deadline for the December issue, I am definitely a senior and Christmas is coming up.? I shall attempt to share with you, my hopes for this one, my seventy-fifth.
I have a good long term memory, am able to remember many Christmas days, back to the early nineteen forties, very clearly, the emotions, the eager anticipation, the wonder.? Christmas in later years is hazy.? Lately, it is just another day, where I eat too much and sadly wish for the old excitement.
Inevitably, I am not that boy of sixty or seventy years ago.? I remember his emotions, but cannot, directly, feel them.? I am no longer connected to the family ??gestalt???the wondrous shared joy, rivalry, love that permeated those far away times.
This is not necessarily something to mourn.? To become an integrated personality, entails a breaking away,? a distance from the childhood role models/parents and the shared personalities/siblings.? It is required to find a larger world to be measured against.? One must find a group of people or an organization to emulate.? When one has begun to become a person, separate from the family, one needs to distance himself again, to listen to himself, to become an individual, rather than a reflection of the group or team or political party around him.? It is a lonely, never ending path, the way to individuation?to maturity.
Once I began to feel comfortable in my skin, to know and to listen to myself, I was able to go back and reestablish bonds with my parents and my siblings, on terms comfortable to them and to me.
It does not end there.? For those of us who are getting on to the final stage of life, another dimension looms.? Once we become able to use and rely on our own inner strength, we realize that some of those around us never reach, or begin to lose, what we have.? We must, without reservation, share it.? No reservations, no anger, just recognize a need and reach out.? Call up an old enemy, it will do wonders.
As for Christmas, there is one feeling from the real old days that never left me in my struggle to be Me.? On Christmas Day the rules were relaxed.? Mom didn??t scold us, Dad was easy and approachable, we kids didn??t compete, the tiffs with neighbors were set aside.? Everyone was nice.
Most of them are gone now, but I will be with people and I hope we create that wonderful atmosphere.? I hope you do too.
Best wishes.
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November 2012
The thing about arthritis is that it comes and goes.? For the past few months it seemed as though mine had come and stayed.
Most days I struggled around, limped on more than one leg, my shoulders felt as if they were trying to gnaw my arms off and my back hurt in seventeen vertebrae?as near as I could count.
Probably, my back hurt because I had been laying on it too much.? The other parts eased off if I was completely still.? There just didn??t seem to be any hope.
Then, yesterday, I got up and felt great.? My knees were almost comfortable and various other bones, sinews and? ligaments were quiet.? Hardly knew what to do with myself.? Wanted to run and jump or look for a job, or, find? one of those disgustingly healthy Old Timers who sometimes stride past and challenge him to wrestle.
But, I guess I didn??t have enough faith.? After all, this body is a pre-world war two model.? Mind you, they made good stuff back then, but they do wear out and you cannot get parts.? If there were parts they wouldn??t be available to seniors.? Spare body? parts are saved for people who are still alive.
So, I settled for a walk, six blocks down and six blocks back?or up—it felt more like up.
Have to walk some amount every day, even bad days, because I have been trying to lose weight.
There has, actually, been some weight loss. Since I was lame lately, I have cut down on food intake.? It sank into my awareness—well, it was hammered into my awareness by one of the two people who insist on telling me the truth—that I no longer run around all day with a power saw, or bounce up and down, and off and on a skidder.? It is not necessary to eat five thousand calories of meat and potatoes for supper.
I have lost weight on every aspect of my body except for the stomach.? It won??t shrink.
Or, it didn??t appear to.
This morning I felt great, again, or yet.
I tried on a pair of corduroy trousers which had not fit for years.? Well, they were like new, and they were out of style when I bought them.
And, they fit, even a bit loose.? Stone the crows!
I rushed out into the rain and went to the Mall for food?healthy food, of course.? The rain felt wonderful, the world was great, I was sound, body and mind.
To celebrate, I bought eighteen dollars worth of pie, ice cream and fat sliced ham.? Maybe, brief flash in the mind, not entirely sound, cerebrally.
Prancing home across the parking lot I came to a puddle?it was really coming down.? Well Hell!? I took three long strides and jumped across it.
Sprained my ankle got a kink in my neck, my pants fell almost half way to my knees and the ice cream container sustained a grievous bruise.
I don??t? believe?I trust, hope, there was nobody else in the parking lot.? Most people are not walking across parking lots in the pelting rain.?? I couldn??t look around much, my neck wouldn??t turn.
Hobbled home.? Considered? a strawberry ice cream pack for my neck.? And another for my ankle.? Ate two pieces of pie.? I think it was rhubarb.
My knees feel pretty good tonight?they can??t compete with the kinked neck—and I really have lost weight.
October 2012
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March 2102
Almost nobody, these days, has any doubt that ??Global Warming?? is a fact.? The cause? of global warming could be debated.? Maybe the emissions and detritus of the mechanical and nucleolar age? caused it.? Maybe we are entering, a mini hot spell, such as the Earth has experienced, along with mini cold spells, over the centuries, between Ice Ages.
Either way, there is not much I can do about it.? If the Arctic is warming up due to long term weather patterns, natural to the planet, then? it has happened before and will happen again.? If emissions from various infernal machines of Man are causing it, then it will continue to happen.? For instance, if exhaust from internal combustion engines is a factor, and people attempt to use them less—to the point where the automobile makers feel the pinch—then our governments will print billions of dollars and give these billions to the car makers so that they may continue to pollute the atmosophere.
I suppose I could get all upset and distraught.? I could rail at the Government, or Big Business, or Heaven, or the Weather.? But I, like most citizens, have absolutely no influence in any one of those departments.
Instead, I shall stroll out, about ten of a March morning and bask in the strengthening sun.? Actually, I??ve been able to stroll out, comfortably a lot of mornings, in January and February.? I tell young people—the ones who can??t get away,??It sure wasn??t like this in the old days!??
Well, it wasn??t.??? January and February? mornings, often, the house squeeked and? banged and the cat came in all covered with frost.
We would ask, ??How cold is it Dad??? Sometimes he??d answer. ??Well, it??s about forty b??low.???? If it was ??forty b??low?? and we were going to the bush, He wouldn??t take the horses.? It was ??Too cold for the team to stand around today.??? It was okay for us though.?? If you froze an ear, or a toe, or a nose, ??Stamp your feet, dammit!? When we get working you??ll warm up!??
I guess we did.? My brother and I still have all our appendages and they still all work.? Some of them not as good as they once did, but that cannot be blamed on the weather.
There seemed to be a lot of snow back then—the nineteen forties, it would be.? We trapped along the road to school and we found places dug, in fields, where foxes had got right down to the ground.? Maybe for mice.? Maybe they holed up for the night.? Sometimes it was four feet to the ground.? We found places where partridges hunkered down under the loose snow.? We scared them up sometimes when we were on snowshoes.? Scared hell out of us.
It would be on in March before there were, usually, any warm days.? Then it would freeze hard at night and there would be a thick crust on the snow.
We would sneak the bike out and ride on the crust, to school.
It wasn??t legal to ride the bike until the road dried up, the tires we had sixty years ago were treacherous on ice and snow, so we? resorted? to various ruses in order to get out of sight of the house with the bike
Fortunately, we only had one bike, so that only one of us went through the crust and went end over end? at a time.
If you were riding along as fast as you could pedal and came to a place where the snow was soft, usually next to a little tree, just sticking up through, the front wheel would go right to the bottom and you would skate on your nose for twenty feet, at least.? That crust was just as abrasive as cement.? And you couldn??t go home and tell Mom.? Had to say I??d had another fight with Wayne Wesley.? In those days of one room, eight grade schools, parents knew that fighting was necessary.? A bully wouldn??t last until second recess on the first day.
All these years later, we have good snow grip tires for bicycles, clothes that will keep you warm, no matter how cold it gets, and buses for anyone who has more than a block to go to school and people who get paid huge salaries to worry about the ??bully problem??.
But, we have Global Warming.
As I said, I am not able to do much about it, one way or another.? If, as it may be, according to some doom prophets, in the near future, January, February and March become interchangeable, temperature wise, I think I shall stay for another twenty years and mosy, or loll in the sun, like a somewhat scarred up old cat.
February 2012
If you survive January, then February should be easy.? It is shorter, there is more daylight, your body must be winterized by now and the Old Guys say there is always a ??February thaw??.
I am officially an old guy, I??ve seen February Thaws and, being an inveterate early riser—an admitted character defect—am able to attest to noticeably more daylight already at the end of January.? My body, however does not ??winterize?? much.? These last few years it gets cold with the first frost and stays that way until the twenty-fourth of May.? It can??t stay warm but it has learned to forecast changes in atmospheric pressure with uncanny accuracy.? It knows twenty-four hours in advance, of coming storms, and changes in temperature.? Ability, by people, to forecast the weather according to aching joints is supposed to be ??an old Wives tail??.? It is not.? It is an arthritic old Loggers?? tale, as true? as I am sitting here aching and whining, softly, which brings me to the point of this pointless story.
Three weeks ago my joints decided the weather was going to warm up.? It was a cold night.? Even I did not believe them.? Thirty hours later we had an extended thaw, a January Thaw.? I had this information and rejected it before it came on the Weather Channel
When I was a kid the Old Guys did not talk about January Thaws.? And they were famous.? We didn??t even have a radio then.? Guys like Ed Renlund who grew up in Lappland, and Wilfred Thibadieu who grew up north of Latoque in Quebec, they knew what the weather would do.? I guess we didn??t get ??January Thaws in the nineteen-forties.
Since we had mild weather during January, does that mean we don??t get any in February?? Is that because we are basically bad and deserve to suffer?? Are we all bad?? Are lots of people good? but must suffer because the democratic majority hereabouts consists of? arthritic oldies and twenty-eight year old, upwardly mobile gods and goddesses who never ever made a mistake in their? entire lives?? They must be good.? They are going to run the country.
I don??t know, because my joints haven??t said, yet.? I know, of course, that I, personally, am bad and have made lots of mistakes. Nothing that hurts as much as I do could be classed as good.? I don??t know about the bullet proof young, don??t think they hurt.? If they did hurt, they would demand that the hurting stop.
So, if the democratic majority is made up of the perfect young and the imperfect old, how will the Power in charge of weather and Global warming decide whether or not to have a warm February—based on the merits of the majority?
Even if we get a perfect February, I am not taking off my long johns till May twenty-four.
I and some of my contemporaries remember the blizzard of March? ??65 and the cold spell that killed off robins in April ??66.
It snowed a foot on May third of ??55.
I have faith that they??ll get us in the end, and maybe a few of those? twenty-eight year olds too.
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October 2011 Issue
During my childhood, my adolescence, and for fifty odd years as a post adolescent, I have considered myself to be Apolitical.? That is, without any political affiliations.
I believe it is necessary to go, in one’s mind, way back to childhood first impressions, probably early childhood, to seek out the seeds from which grew most of one’s cherished, life long convictions.
My first awareness of government and political parties, came from listening to my Father and the neighbours? talking—sometimes loudly—about? ??The Election??.? This may have been before the end of the second world war, and it sounded like they were more angry at certain politicians than they were at whoever the Army was fighting with ??Overseas??.
??If So and So gets in there might be work on the road for me and the Team (horses), but if the Liberals get in, why, Wilsons? is going to get it all.??
Then, two days later we went over to Wilsons to help thresh their oats.? Had supper there and everything, and nobody seemed mad.? Therein, probably, lay the seed from which grew my decision to be ??apolitical??.? Politics appeared to be ridiculous or else, unfathomable.? It still is, but, if I refuse to take sides I can pretend to be above it all and not have to admit my inability to figure out what all the fuss is about.
A year or so later, about the time when I became vitally interested in big trucks—big, red trucks—I noticed that the parameters of political perks had altered.? No longer were the road jobs handed out among the party faithful within the township.? It seemed you had to know somebody from the? ??DND??,The Department of Northern Development—it later, just prior to l950, became the Department of Highways, and now it is the Ministry of Transport.? The jobs were parceled out from—in our territory, Kenora—and the work was done with trucks and tractors, rather than horses and ??sloops??.
Dad was, seemingly, more upset at truck drivers than at the ??Big Shots?? in Kenora.? I remember how it went: ??Well them guys joined up when they was just kids and didn??t know anything.? They learned how to drive a truck in the army and they don??t know how to do anything else.? They got no idea about work, but they??ll even? shovel gravel on the truck so they can drive it down the road.??
I wanted to drive a truck more than anything in the World, but didn??t say so, believing that truck drivers were probably enemies, same as Wilsons or Liberals.? I was about ten.
I asked Dad who he was going to vote for.? He said, ??Well I??d vote CCF if they was still runnin??.??
??Well, would you vote Liberal???? ??No!? The only statesman they had in this century was Old St. Laurent.??
??How about Conservative???? ??I??m not voting.??
I never heard him talk about voting CCF again, after the Communist Party sent people around to talk to him.
When I was about fifty, I realized he had always been Conservative, but was secretive as Hell about it.
For a few years, in my teens. I paid no attention to politics, or anything else.? Then, in the early sixties, I went to New Brunswick, to the University—In retrospect, I didn??t pay any attention to that either.? I did, however, observe the same sort of politics I had tried to understand as a little kid.? It was much more refined and had been operating for a hundred years.
The Protestants were Conservative and the Liberals were Catholic.? If you put a gun to the head of any one of them and gave him a choice, to change either his politics or his religion, he would change his religion.? For sure.
I was there during two Federal elections.
Nobody voted until he was given a pint of Black Diamond rum and a five dollar bill.? If he was a householder, he got his driveway graveled. There was no pretense of secrecy about it.
So, rather than learn the game, I voted, if I had to—pressure from? wives and other persuasive or pervasive people—for whoever appeared to be real.? I??d look for signs of alcoholism or dyslexia,? stuff I could relate to.
Having put in at least fifty years without taking a firm stand on anything, not only politics, I begin to realize what I have done.? I decided at age eight or so, not to grab on to any idea or any set of rules within which to define myself, to myself and to others.? Seems? like a damn shame.? Perhaps our society and its political games, is flawed.? But surely one should not write it off without trying to belong somehow, at age eight.
April 2011
Sixty years ago this coming September, I started High School.Vexes me. I like February.On a good day, like today, I can go all the way back to nineteen forty. Not everything is there, but the stuff that made an impression on me is as clear as yesterday—maybe clearer, I was a bit vapid yesterday.Tazz is a fifteen year old Tom cat. A standoffish tom cat. We are not friends. He tolerates me because I am a friend of his Person. Occasionally, his Person, a music teacher/blues musician is away for a day or two and I get to be yelled at for food and walks. Cats are like that.

I do not take him home to my place. He might shred my book case, or do unmentionable things in the corner where I pile my clothes.

Fifteen cat years are equivalent to one hundred-plus human years ,we have been told, so it would not be unlikely that the cat has some arthritic joints. I certainly have and I am equivalent to nearly thirty years his junior.

He has not become a nice old senior fur piece that lies around and purrs. He yells and demands and I wouldn??t trust him any further than I could throw all four of his bowls—which he expects to be full at all times, even if he isn??t hungry.

Pardon me, I got carried away. What I meant to say is, that the cat has limped as long as I have known him, but that day in the hall, he seemed to be much worse. I almost felt compassion for him. I was having a particularly bad day too.

But I didn??t. When I think of the times I sit there watching him being petted and coddled and told what a nice little boy he is—am even expected to say,”Yeah, nice kitty”. Nice kitty indeed. One of these days??

Tazz had trouble getting up on a chair. I had trouble getting up from a chair. It was a bad day for both of us. It was one of those end of summer times, when the sun shone and it was bright out, but you could tell that something was in the wind. He limped off to one of his ??leave me alone corners?? and I limped home.

It started to rain in the night and rained non-stop all the next day. The last of the leaves blew off the trees. What had been almost like Summer became late Fall.

I got up feeling marvelous. I walked to the corner store in the rain and almost pranced. Went over to where Tazz lives and he met me at the door, ready for the Hall crawl.

He ran up and down, meowed at me softly, happily. He waited for me and sniffed at all the doorways.

He didn??t limp a damn bit. Neither did I.

I have read in text-books that weather has no affect on arthritis.

Tazz and I are agreed on one thing. The text-book is nuts.

October 2010

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A few years ago, not very many years ago, the Doctor was checking me over, investigating the possible genesis of some complaint of mine. He may not have decided on whether ??real?? or ??imagined??. Well, maybe he had decided. My chart does show a history of two or more interesting old wounds. At any rate, he took my blood pressure and leaned against the wall. For about a minute.
Minutes are precious to these guys. They like to get you out in ten or less, including writing the prescription.
“Your blood pressure is High!”
“How high is High?” “You probably shouldn??t have walked in here.”
He sent me to another Doctor who dealt in that sort of thing. The other Doctor put me on four kinds of drugs and my blood pressure went right down. The OD said, “We don??t know what causes high blood pressure, but we can control it. This stuff won??t make you live any longer.”
I need to step out of my ??humorous columnist?? act, here. Doctors are in the business of disease. They are busy realists. The reality is, that, of any ten people who come to see them, six of them, probably don??t need to be there, or, will get better, whether the Doctor prescribes for them, or not. One of them will die?in spite of the Doctor.
The other three, may be helped, or hindered, by the physician. Physicians, in my opinion, take these, ??other three?? very seriously. They forget the ??ten minute?? rule and all the other rules of the business and become very real, very concerned people.
Over many years, I have lived with, and dealt with, or sometimes, did not deal with, a chemical imbalance. This condition can be, usually, treated with drugs. Recently , my Doctor put me on a new drug, two of them, actually. I had been kind of flat.
Then I got a sore toe.
They said it was Gout and put me on more drugs.
I had wonderful dreams and was somewhat manic, and the sore toe spread all the way to my eyebrows.
So, I was taking four pills for the blood pressure, two pills for the psychosis, pardon me, ??chemical imbalance??, and two pills for gout. I hurt all over and my toes turned blue, but , as long as I didn??t try to walk, I could do a dandy Jonathan Winters routine.
My Doctor was on holidays, so I went to the Hospital. They decided that the one pill from the blood pressure meds aggravated the gout which was now all through my body. I always thought ??gout?? was something that only affected the big toes of old, rich men, of which I was not one. But, apparently, I was, except for the rich.
They told me to stop taking one pill and put me on two more and sent me home.
One of the new meds said, ??take two every six hours for six doses??. The Doctor at the hospital mentioned, casually, “You??ll probably find that you have to stop after that.” Boy! Was he ever right.
They also gave me some pain medication with codeine in it, which culminated in the opposite side effect to the side effect caused by the ??six doses one.?? I shall not attempt to be specific about the next few days, except to say that I stayed pretty close to home. Well, Hell! Consider the ramifications. On a new drug, hoping to level out a bipolar condition?Jonathan Winters one day and can??t answer the phone the next. Rearranging the blood pressure pills?leaving out one, doubling the dose of another?one-seventy over ninety to seventy five over fifty?and back. To say nothing of?or, try,delicately to say something about, taking, at the same time, medication designed to clean the poison out of the system?while, simultaneously, swallowing a codeine based Tylenol which bungs up the system.
I sat, one morning and looked at the array of bottles. Could , no longer keep it all in my mind. It was worse, much worse than forty-five years ago when I had two businesses, two bank loans, two affairs and an active addiction to alcohol.
My Doctor came back from holidays, or wherever he was and said, “Oh, we??ll sort this out.” Scratch this, try that, this is the same as that, and it all seemed simple again. Was never so glad to see anybody in my life.
Being old is not for the Young. They couldn??t handle it.
Sept. 2010?
With A Hopeful Heart, Slothfully
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Back at the end of May I whined about how cold the weather was, and how we never seem to have much Summer any more. I made sarcastic remarks about all the ??Global Warming?? talk and I wailed sadly, longingly, for the Old Days when Summer was endless and the livin?? was easy.
In June the sun came out and stayed out for three months–so far.
This summer has been, and, as of this writing, continues to be, the summerest year of this century.
I didn??t do any of the things I had been saving to do on a good summer, like, camping, getting rich picking blueberries,or going to the Farm and playing in the bush. Hell, I stayed home, read books and had three naps every day. Fans in each room and hardly ever shut them off. Didn??t do any cleaning up. One or two trails through the piles of books and newspapers. Sloth. Pure sloth. The computer stuck up above the mess. And my accordion. Coffeecups and mail, mostly unopened.
There were two tentative job offers—that I noticed. Ignored them, of course. Still experimenting with retirement.
September has always been my best month. Always get a burst of energy with the first frost and rattle my antlers like an old Buck. So, in case that happens and I attempt to rejoin, if only temporarily, the human race, I should, at least half-heartedly, make some rationalization for my inertness.
Now, mind you, I am just fine. However, a couple of systems in this body have not been operating as well as they did a few decades ago. Had to go in, early on, for repairs.
One of the problems was physical. They fixed me up like new. Maybe that is why I slept half of July. The other problem, I guess, was mental. I couldn??t think properly, which was, likely, a long term condition. Except that there has been an added twist, of late. At times, When asked for an opinion, or even when not asked, I often blurt out, manically, the truth.
Anyone knows that this sort of behaviour is inappropriate, at best and dangerous at worst. And it isn??t over, so I have a presenting reason for staying home all summer.
If the Universe unfolds as it could, and I obtain from it a modicum of energy enabling me to walk satisfactorily, and to think logically, in reasonably predictable portions of most days, then, I suspect that I will feel obligated to do something productive.
This productiveness is not a selfish thing. It would make the seven or eight people in my life who feel obligated to tolerate me, more comfortable. They could say, “Well, there. See? He??s trying.”
What I could do, is, go over to the University and enroll as a full time student. I could easy get away with telling the truth over there. A lot of the kids do it all the time. That is why most of the conventional Grown Ups hate them.
Maybe I should do that. Maybe I will!
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June 2010
June has always felt like my own personal space.? My Month.? I was born in June, made a couple of life altering decisions in June, and began or ended a couple of careers in June.
I look forward to the weather in June???Summer time and the livin??s easy???my birthday, Fathers Day, stuff that makes me feel important.
However, this condition of ??Old?? that I have been experimenting with of late, may necessitate a mental and emotional adjustment.? Maybe these important, personal, June events should be placed in the context of the Real World.
Another birthday?? All it means is that I am still here.? Big deal.? So is my Mom.? When she turned ninety-five, I asked her how it felt.? She said, ??I??m an old lady and that??s it!??
Hell.? I??m still on the young side of Old!
I stopped drinking in June, many years ago.? That was significant, then.? It kept me from death and made me less of a burden on a few family members.? But, among my peers, those? still alive and reasonably fit, at age seventy-two, do not have a drinking problem.? They have solved their problem, never had a problem, or died.??? I don??t drink.? Again, so what?
As far as ??life altering decisions?? are concerned, I have only one problem, that I can think of, to solve.? I can??t afford to die right now, so it may be necessary to write a book?and successfully market it?in order to pay the ??final expenses??.? I am in no hurry.
The ??Kids?? are in their thirties and have more problems to deal with in the twenty-first Century than I ever did in the twentieth.? They are doing just fine.? They taught me more than I taught them, and I shall strive to pay for my own funeral.
That leaves the Weather.
It is not practical, and not necessary, thankfully, for me to claim the weather, personally.? I will gladly, share with my peers, my Mom, the Kids, and everyone else, sober or not, the Sun in June.
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May 2010
Favorite Things
May has pretty well everything going for it.? Nearly all of my favorite things come out, or come back, or become active in May.
My favorite things are Girls, wild roses and old Tomcats.? Also grass, leaves and red trucks.
The grass comes up and covers the ground.? The leaves come out and cover the trees.? The sun comes out and uncovers the Girls.? Cranky old Cats who laid around the house all winter, slink, softly,? over, around and under, ready to fight, eat any bird who is unaware, or love any lady cat who is aware.
Even old men go down the sidewalk with their heads up, in May.? Old men are not among my favorite things, but I understand them and have some compassion for them, having been one, myself, for the past number of years.
Old men are not, usually, like old cats.? Old cats are blissfully unaware of failing bodies and social conventions.? That is why I admire them.? Even, envy them.
Old men know, they have been told thousands of times by the Media, that there are no more fights, no more conquests, no more wild meat for them.? But, they remember what it was like when they were alive.? In the month of May, they prance a bit.? Good on them.
I have seen a wild rose near the end of May.? On the south side of the rock behind the house on the farm where I grew up, there was, sometimes a rose.? Wild roses, specially the first one, made me feel stuff I could never put into words.
Red trucks, of course, made me want to drive them, with big loads on them, up and down steep hills, maybe with girls watching.
I owned some, here and there.? Never could get over the feeling of being in a big truck.? Never could figure out how to make any money with one.
So, I don??t do red trucks any more.? I got a red car.? My concession to senescence.
Perhaps, this May, I shall go back to the farm, sit on the rock facing the southerly sun and wait for a rose to bloom.? Perhaps I shall take an elderly tomcat to sit and blink beside me.? Maybe, because it is May, I will try to persuade an elderly girl to sit and blink on the other side of me?

April 2010

In order to make a point, it may be necessary to destroy my entire act, my carefully developed writing and conversational style. Damn it! I have nurtured it for years!

I am, basically, a depressive cynical, Amoral, Apolitical, Areligious, hopeless person. In order to avoid being avoided by adults and beat upon by the big kids, I mask my true self with facile laugh lines.

The system has worked pretty well. Well enough that I often successfully write humorous newspaper articles.

I avoid addressing issues of any kind because they almost never have any affect on me. Having no expectations, I have no disappointments.

However, I must now, destroy my phony credibility. Not only that but I must do great injustice to my lifelong cynicism. I may not ever regain my act. Either of them.

As this is being written I am a patient in the Thunder Bay Regional Health Centre.

I came in here, reluctantly. My presenting witticisms ran along the line of “as long as an old guy is able to walk around, they won??t do a Hell of a lot.”

My underlying hopelessness told me they would, superficially, address one of my, several, complaints and send me home with antibiotics to treat a virus.

No expectations, tired laugh lines.

Not so!

It took a couple of days to establish communication. It was that long before I realized they were listening to me. I never tried to get at the truth of my various aches and pains until I let go of my disbelief in the system ? any system.

The people here have all been unfailingly professional, courteous, compassionate and attentive.

This body is rather the worse for much hard wear. It has never been maintained properly except in crisis.

The natural ability of the body to repair itself is no longer quite up to the task.

After sparring and mumbling for a while I managed to divulge to these compassionate professionals ? and to myself — my secret worries that I was falling apart.

They are addressing everything that may ? or may not exist. I am grateful to these people and to one or two friends who insisted I come here, for treating me seriously ? and compelling me to treat myself seriously.

It makes a mockery of one Persona and at least one Mind Set. I should really go for it.

Even the food here is okay.

There! That might wreck the act. Acts.

March 2010

Having felt poorly during the last week, I have not done much in the way of writing, or eating.

I did, however, make it to the bridge table three times. It seemed necessary. Wanted , maliciously, to breathe all over everything and, particularly, to breathe on those other old card players. It didn??t even fizz on them. They thrived on, in a disgustingly healthy manner, all three of them.

Had to mention, casually, three or four times about how infirm and feeble I had become, before they said, ” Yeah, well, deal the cards and try to remember what??s trump.” Not a drop of compassion in the room.

It wasn??t only the bridge players. They, of course, remain glued to the same code of ethics they used in the school yard, fifty or sixty years ago, when they were twelve. Never show a flicker of humanity toward a playmate unless he is bleeding, in profusion.

No. The person who teaches me computer stuff, was particularly cavalier when I drooled pathetically on the key board. ??Cavalier?? has a meaning, from the Spanish, of ??high handed??. The connotation would be, the nasty, merciless end of ??high handedness??.

She said, “Take an aspirin and some Kleenex. Get over it. You have an article to write.”

I had to do it too. The reality of the ??teaching??, is this: She reminds me how to open a file, and how to send an Email——-every week.

It was tempting to get in the car, go back to the old Home Town and whine to Mom. Had to, wistfully, reject that thought. Mom was born in 1915 and taught me to milk cows when I was six. When I was thirteen I got a chest condition in March. Some bit of allergy to dust off of trees. When I told Mom, she laughed. She thought it was hilarious. I was six feet tall and could throw a good sized calf over the fence. I was not allowed to be sick then either.

On reading this over, I find myself giggling and chortling. It really is hilarious. Damned sense of humour. Probably inherited it from Mom.

Probably got her genetics too. God, I might have to live for twenty five years yet!

February 2010

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Old Susie, a noted world traveler, called from the West. She said, ??Dad.?? ??What???,I worried—She has called me ??Dad?? for nearly thirty years. ??Come to Vancouver for a couple of months.??
It turns out that Old Susie is going to be at the University there for a while, has found an apartment with an extra room, with two parking spots. And everything.
Immediately, eleven reasons sprang to mind as to why I would be unable to go to Vancouver. She was ready and waiting.
I can??t afford to go. ??Say what day you are coming and there will be a ticket for you at the Thunder Bay Airport??.
I don??t want to leave my friends. ??You have three people you play bridge with, and two people who don??t play bridge, and the bridge players can??t be classed as friends because you guys fight all the time.?? Then, I don??t want to leave my two friends. ??They will be glad you are not under foot for a while.??
And so on. Like, ?? I??m quite busy, really.?? ??Rubbish! You sit around and read. They have books here.??
Well, I did some considering. There are fond memories of the old days in Vancouver. Had some good friends there.
Then I did some reconsidering. Haven??t seen or heard from most of them in twenty-five years. Let see, Old Gordie would be ninety-seven. Joy, the stewardess would be in her fifties. I don??t think they make stewardesses that old. The bikers would also be a generation on. Some of them were kind of battered in the Seventies. The Gypsy girl would be sixty-six. She, I suspect, is just as psychotic as she was at thirty.
Perhaps I am the only one extant. Do I really want to find out? Do I want to reconnect with them, if they are still around? On rereading that last paragraph, do I dare? They sound like a scary bunch. What in Hell was I doing, hanging out with them anyway?
The point is, I am a different being than I was in nineteen eighty four.
Before I make any moves, in any direction, it is probably time to decide who or what I am in the present and decide what I??d like to be in whatever amount of future there may come to be for me.
Actually, at present, I am a balding, overweight seventy-something lay-about, emotionally attached to a life that existed half a century ago, without energy or direction.
I do not know what to do. I would like to find a source of energy.
Old Susie has energy. So do most young people. They haven??t, yet, had it leeched out of them by Society.
Maybe I should enroll in some lectures at her university, or any other one, and hang out quietly where that energy is. Maybe I will.
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January 2010?

The Guys that I sit around with three afternoons a week are all pretty well perfect. So am I.

Perhaps I could qualify that statement, just a bit. It occurred to me how ascended and evolved we all were when New Years Resolution Time loomed, recently. None of us have any nasty habits or addictions left to stop doing. We have quit everything, almost.

We don??t drink or smoke or do drugs or eat too much. Most of us stay away from Dens of Iniquity—I, personally, have trouble recalling what a ??den of iniquity?? looks like, or tastes like—we don??t, actively, lust after girls, and we never jay walk.

At this time of year, we sit, passive and smug, safely beyond the stress of making and breaking resolutions. Been there, did that.

My peers and I have a bond. We have our character defects, which we have dealt with to some degree. This is a good thing. We deserve a pat on the back.

One pat on the back. All we have done is rearrange our lives so that we appear in public as indistinguishable from normal people, people who had no need to deal with character defects. The fact is, lots of citizens never did drink or smoke or gamble to excess, and none of us sinners ever complimented them.

In addition to having become non-practicing addicts and wastrels, my friends and I have gotten old. We learned how to discontinue our addictions of choice, but most of us have not replaced negative behaviour patterns with new, positive ones. We sit around the table and argue about the rules of Bridge, often at an abysmal level of intelligence, sometimes it breaks up the game. We do not settle disputes by reading a rule book. We conduct ourselves like eight year old boys, crazed on sugar and take turns slamming out the door.

We are in our sixties and seventies. We would have been dead years ago were it not for the strength derived from a common approach to our individual problems with addiction. But, we have turned away from helping others. We have turned inward.

We play and argue and gather together because we know we can tell each other and hear from each other, the Truth. From sad experience we have become cynical. The world around us does not deal with, or expect to hear, the truth. Business, the Government and The Media, really do not pretend to be factual. The Young whose energy is the natural resource of Society, are bombarded by an ever increasing barrage of unreality.

So, we sit and we argue and we avoid doing anything new. We sometimes watch from the sidelines while we play cards. We can spot most any con game ever tried, from across the room, and we turn our backs.

We can also spot the truth. Some people hurt so much they have nothing left but the truth. We can handle it. We??ll stop playing bridge to listen to it.

December Issue

Christmas tree 1948

It was the Saturday before Christmas. My brother Gordon was nine and I was ten.

We had two projects, in addition to regular Saturday chores. There was a Christmas tree to get, and we had instructions from Dad to do something about all the mice in Wilbour??s shack.

First thing in the morning, was firewood for the house. It had to be sawed up, with the swede saw and carried in to the basement. Lots of it. Then we took the cattle to the well and watered them. There were more than a dozen at that time. Hay had to be forked down from the big barn into the feed way in the stable, and the stable cleaned.

While we worked we planned the Christmas tree job and what to do about Wilbour??s mice. Wilbour was a cousin of our Dad. He lived on a homestead across the river from our farm. In retrospect, I perceive that Gordon and I were a source of considerable stress, to Wilbour. Unfortunately, for him, he sometimes tried to discipline us.

Gordon figured we should take the .22 and shoot the mice. That did not seem like an option, to me. Wilbour had fire arms and could have done that himself. He had already shot out a window. He shot a deer in the yard from inside, without opening it. He may have decided that guns don??t do well inside the house. He said it filled up the place with smoke too. Gordon was not convinced.

There was a very large Tom Cat named ??Tippie?? who had both barn and house privileges. I strongly suggested we take him instead and Gordon agreed, reluctantly.

Mom fed us lunch and we set out. Dad had told us to ??bring a feed of oats for the horse??. Gordon asked, “How big a feed?” Dad said, “Much as you can handle in a gunny sack.” So we had to take the sleigh. It pulled pretty good on the path. We carried the cat all the way across the fields almost to the swamp, then set him down. He didn??t know where he was so he followed us across the big swamp, across the river and up the hill to the cabin. We had some trouble getting the sleigh up the hill from the river. It took both of us. The bag of oats probably weighed damn near as much as we did.

We left the cat in the shack and went to the bush where Dad and Wilbour were skidding trees. We had not found a tree in the swamp. Those black, swamp spruce were too skinny and bare.

Wilbour asked, “What are you guys doin?? out here and it one o??clock in the afternoon? You might as well of stayed home.”

I said, “We??re getting a Christmas tree.” He said, “How??re you getting?? it home? You??ll never make it. Day??s just about over and you just got here.”

Gordon fired, “Yeah, if it wasn??t for Dad and us bein?? here You??da stayed in bed all day.” Actually, Gordon outnumbered him in a battle of wits. Even at nine.

Dad fell a big silver spruce with a nice crown on it. He chopped off the top at about seven feet. I dragged it inside the cabin to thaw out so the limbs would not break off when we hauled it home.

We observed the cat eat two mice, at least, then lay two on the floor in front of the tin heater. He likely got more that we didn??t see.

We took the ??gunny sack?? with us when we went back, because we always needed bags at the farm. We didn??t take the sleigh because I figured it was easier to drag the tree with the butt over my shoulder. We took the cat, of course.

Carrying the tree went okay if Gordon held up the tip of it and followed along behind me. However, about half way across the big swamp, the cat sat down on the path and would not go any further.

It was starting to get cold and cats freeze to death very easily, so, Gordon held the gunny sack and I put ??Tippie ?? inside. Gordon carried him all the way, hanging from his back, and I had to drag the Christmas tree all the way to the house. That cat was about a third the size of Gordon.

The stars were out when we got home. The tree and the cat were fine. Tippie climbed the tree on Christmas day.

Gordon and I survived as well. We are still around, sixty-one years later.

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November Issue

There have been rather a lot of Novembers in my life, some of them dark and foreboding. Some November events have taught me stuff I needed to know about myself and about other people.

We grew up on a farm at the edge of the wilderness, nothing north of us but the CN track, then, no people, all the way to Hudson Bay. November was the waiting time, the last chance to get ready for Winter.

It was—still is—a quiet time, deep, without compassion. Last opportunity. Prepare yourself now for the cold or freeze your ass later and it will be your own fault. November made me alert for a while—still does.

I didn??t learn very much during this insipient alertness, one or two factoids which I did not use often enough and didn??t consider,consciously until now, these many Novembers later. As a matter of fact, early on, I rebelled against learning, thinking and being responsible. I became an alcoholic and didn??t entertain a coherent thought for years. Except for one or two flashes in the ??alertness of November??.

The first three weeks of November 1963 were wonderful. I was working in the bush. The days were hazy, quiet, mysterious. The grass was still growing on the lawn. No snow, no flies. It was great.

On the morning of the twenty-second, there was at least a foot of snow. Couldn??t work. Went to town, got paid and went to the Bar.

During noon hour the assassination of President Kennedy was announced. I sat and watched and listened, and drank, all day. Could not understand my emotions, or express them. About the only acts available to me in those days were to fight or act like a silly ass. Neither was acceptable, so I sat incoherent, inebriated and confused. Didn??t talk. Listened, and remembered. Seems like yesterday.

The anger I was feeling, the disbelief, the sadness I was unable to process, was being expressed by others. People who I usually despised and ignored because they were idiots, took turns, all around me, saying the things to each other that needed to be said, wisely, compassionately, with complete lack of ego.

On the TV, Walter Cronkite and Senator Everett Dirkson talked and showed their pain exactly as honestly as the guys in the bar. There was no acting by the newscaster or by the politician. They were just two men sharing a tragic family event.

Three little gems I tucked away that day. No matter how nice the weather is in November, Winter really is coming. People, no matter how flawed and imperfect they are, or how flawed I perceive them to be, are able, in real need, to come together, to be perfect. The only idiot I met that day, was me.

Forty six Novembers later, I understand, finally, most of the time. There have been other Novembers of note. Seems like there have been more Novembers than some other Months. Hardly any Februarys.

Maybe I wasn??t the only one who didn??t know how to be real that day. The Editor of the Observer, the late Fred Marshall, bustled in and sat down on a stool. He wiggled around, rubbed his hands together and asked, ??Well, what??s the latest on the assassination???

Several people looked at him and looked away. After a while, Mac Maclellan, a usually silent, but dangerously witty fellow, said,?? Well, Freddy, He??s still dead.??

Sure glad it wasn??t me who handed him that line.

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October 2009

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About twenty-five years ago, a bureaucrat in his cups, told me about laws that were ??on the books?? but not yet, usually, enforced. He said— maudlin and defiant—“If we wanted to we could require everybody to get a permit to mow his own lawn, every time he mowed it.”
As far as I am aware, this law, if it exists, has not been activated. I am quite ready to believe that it does exist and that it could be activated. Take a comfortable Democracy, lace it with apathy, mix in short sighted, school teacher type activists, and sooner or later it will cost money to legally cut your own grass.
It is necessary to point out, of course , that, not all teachers are unable to think. Some of them are the best thinkers of all. Not, however, the ones who arrange, at the expense of huge amounts of energy and obscene amounts of money, for our government to pass laws, democratically, which may place these same people, also known as ??concerned citizens??—and the rest of us—in contravention of the law, by mowing the lawn.
The original motivation had something to do with saving the ecosystem from loggers and, probably, farmers—people who were too busy scraping up a payment on the tractor to organize opposition to the tree huggers.
In a democracy, if there is no opposition to a proposal put before the government, or if the media is motivated to put a negative spin on one side, then nearly anything could become oppressively legalized. Consider the billion dollar debacle of Fire Arm Registration. There are very likely, as many unregistered hand guns in Ontario as there ever were. They are in the hands of people who make their living pointing guns at concerned citizens.
It is not possible to legislate proper management of the environment. It is not possible to legislate personal safety. The activists don??t think very clearly and the thinkers don??t act.
Personally, I do not, very often, either think, or act. This morning I got up cranky, aching with arthritic joints, mourning lost loves, regretting missed opportunities. Had to write a column and lashed out.
Teachers avoid thought. It interferes with teaching. Street people learn survival routines and don??t need to think. Politicians, realizing that political survival depends on the avoidance of self definition, flee from thought, and do not ever consider actual solutions to problems. Thinkers, perhaps, take a historical perspective—human nature doesn??t change much from millennium to millennium. Humans are self centred animals who do not, naturally follow rules, do not, usually, consider larger realities. They will, at times, help each other, just often enough to avoid a melt down of society—so far.
I gave away my guns and quit cutting trees down some time ago. My motivation may have been concern for the environment and for the safety of my fellow humans. Or, not being a thinker, or an activist it may have been because I could no longer see well enough to shoot, and my bones ache too much to climb up on the skidder.
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September 2009

Carried in on the edges of a late summer breeze are the flutters of long ago memories, long ago habits, faded patterns of old life routines. Ghosts.

Sixty years back, late August on the farm. Haying, hoeing, summer-fallowing, pretty well done. Garden not ready to take up, oats not quite ripe. Time to take a breather, think, pull a job out of the List. The endless list.

School. A real gut wrencher there. Kind of like, ??Oh, Great!??, and, ??Oh Hell!?? in one shot.

But, not yet, not quite yet.

There are berries to pick. They make us pick blueberries. It is not all bad. We have to pick one eleven quart basket—I remember them about the size of a washtub—then we can go explore in the rocks or go down to the lake.

These memories are selective. Sore muscles, exhaustion, black fly bites, heat stroke, are no longer significant. I remember them, but, having survived them, dealt with them, they no longer have any hold on me.

But, the emotions, the feelings, they drift in, each year in their season. Longings, excitement, fear, resentment, regret, confusion, hope. The soul of a na???ve eleven year old reflected from a blueberry patch in nineteen forty nine. It could have been any year and it could have been any event, any one of a hundred childhood routines. The past visits and takes over my mind for a while.

Sometimes I do not want it to leave. I perceive that there may be a choice. There is real time, where the management of an aging, complaining body takes precedence over emotion; where emotions are jaded and damped down by the disappointments and the realities of—Reality. Or, there is the Blueberry Patch of a perfect August, where a perfect body can run and run and run, where there was hope and fear and longing and all the fields were golden.

Perhaps I shall make such a choice one day. But not yet, not quite yet.

In an attempt to go back, physically, I went blueberry picking, back to the farm. A friend, even older than me, with a somewhat Quixotic bent, went along.

It rained for four days, we suffered physically, psychologically and financially. We acquired a number of blueberries at a cost of approximately one dollar each.

Before we returned I went to see Mom, who is ninety-four.

I told her of the project. She asked where we were staying.

I replied that we were in Gordon??s Shooting Cabin. She looked worried.

When I left she said, ??Give me a hug.?? She grabbed me by the neck and hauled me down, she was sitting in a chair. My cap fell off.

She said, ??where are you staying??? I repeated, ??In the cabin at the farm.?? ??Oh yes, you told me.?? Then she said, ??I could forget anything?at the drop of a hat.??

I was nearly to the car before I realized how very good that line was.

But, you don??t really forget, Mom. You can??t forget. Neither can I.

When I dropped my friend , and his costly blueberries, at his house, we told each other we had enjoyed the expedition, that it had been worth while. It was too. I felt all sorts of emotions, in real time. And my body survived. Several new aches and pains?in real time.

?June 2009

At the top of the stairs, with two turns in it, is my room, full of books. Boxes and boxes of books. They have been accumulating for many years, and have been moved several times. At one time they were sorted into books I had read, books I was going to read and books I was never going to read. Lately they are just in boxes, taking over the room.

Eilo, who knows how to do nearly everything and won??t play bridge, suggested, recently, ??We should build some bookshelves and make this into a habitable room.?? It was probably the first time he saw my book room, maybe the first time anybody saw it. Two chairs, a TV you can hardly find and fifty-eight boxes of books.

There were some boards which Rodney had given me from his basement. I don??t think Rodney will play bridge either, but he golfs.

So, I measured the distance from the wall to the TV, considered the width of the stairs, figured there were enough boards to make a good size book case, and loaded the boards in the truck.

Eilo has visiting privileges to the workshop of his son Dave,and we went there.

There was one plank, ten inches wide, perfect for the ends, and four identical boards, just right for the shelves. The shelf boards were exactly the same length. I thought, ??well, Hell, they are longer, but I can move the TV, so we won??t have to cut the boards.??

I believe we intended to make all the pieces and assemble the thing at the house. However, it seemed prudent to put a few screw nails in it to make sure everything fit right—and take it apart to transport it.

It was difficult to make our book case stand up straight. It leaned this was and that way. Pretty limp.

We went to town and got some plywood to make a back, to stiffen it up.

These days they have cordless drills that are really handy. You can use two of them. One, you drill holes with and the other you screw with. You can put lots of screws in really fast. Like a whole box. Which we did. The plywood really stiffened up the thing.

But, we didn??t take it apart. We put it on the truck and hauled it to my place.

Eilo is several years older than I am, so I decided to get Robert to help me haul the thing upstairs. Robert does play bridge, but he is as strong as a horse.

Robert said, ??The book case is no problem. I can carry it myself. You don??t need to help me, even. But, it will not go up the stairs. It is too long. There is just no way.??

Oh yeah. I knew that, didn??t I? Back before I discovered cordless drills.

We loaded it on the truck and went back to Daves?? shop.

But we didn??t do anything for two or three days. The weather turned cold, my arthritis was acting up, Eilo had another project, and I had to play bridge.

On Saturday we got back to it. Dave was home and he observed us, from a distance. It reminded me of the way Dad used to watch me and my brother work when we were twelve.

We cut the book case in half and made two. I wanted to cut it down the center with the power saw—The one Dave had been cutting firewood with, the only power tool I felt comfortable around—but Eilo wouldn??t let me.

Soon we had two book cases in the truck. Shorter ones, of a size that Robert could get up the stairs with.

I was sitting on a stool by the shop, with a shoe off, massaging my right big toe, which, along with my left knee and my right shoulder, hurt like the devil, partly due to the weather and somewhat due to crawling around in the shop trying to help Eilo.

I said, ??You know, anybody past seventy who insists on trying to do carpentry work in weather like this?there was snow in the air—should just go and shoot himself.’ I was trying to look noble and suffering and wise.

Dave replied, ??Yeah and he probably would if he could remember where he put his box of ammunition.?? Dave is about fifty. Irreverent, cheeky pup.

I hauled the new book cases home. Didn??t wait for Robert. Still smarting, muttering, ??I??ll show you??, I carried one upstairs all by myself and filled it with books. I emptied three boxes and gathered up a pile of loose books. Fifty five boxes to go.

And I found a book ??The Complete Works of Charles Fort?? which I bought in 1989 for forty six dollars and lost before I got it read.

I am going to read it before I do anything else.

??May 2009

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One of the little tricks I use to make a point, and get a chuckle, is to make myself look stupid, to be the straight man. The point becomes obvious to the reader, the straight man has to be hit over the head with it. It works pretty good in the production of articles for Thunder Bay SENIORS. The Observer, me, a bit obtuse, reporting on the labeling, and categorizing of ??older adults??, while, apparently, not seeing the irony, in order to make the point, that there is a Hell of a lot more to old age than we expected.
It is not all bad and it isn??t all good. It is a lot wider than portrayed by the non-seniors who do the labeling and categorizing. It is just as scary as adolescence, but there are fewer unknowns. Old age is for adults, with an adult sense of humor, a well aged sense of humor, where quiet laughter and acceptance replaces fear and anger in the face of the unknown.
There are lessons to be learned along the way. My ??little trick?? is a case in point. I took it too far.
Old Susie from Calgary had been after me for about four years to come and visit her, at her house. She grew up at my house, and had decided it was her turn, I guess.
I hadn??t done much flying for a while and didn??t put away the stuff in my pockets. Acting dumb. They took my pen knife and a lighter. They made me take my shoes off and they were slightly annoyed at the Air Port.
In Calgary, I had not double checked the time and had to wait two hours to be picked up. It was unnecessary for me to be that slack, it was unacceptable, really.
It didn??t end there. My daughter put me in a basement room, with everything anyone could need and a TV set five feet wide.
I woke up at two-thirty in the morning. Didn??t feel well, couldn??t get my wind, had a number of aches and pains.
Old Susie, a trained first aid person, heard me moving around. She asked me one or two questions and took charge. I didn??t assert myself, or, I didn??t define myself. In a very few minutes I was in a hospital, needles in both arms, oxygen, a doctor and the whole crew. Again, acting dumb and laid back caused problems for other people. If one is chronologically old and has a pain in the chest—they really move.
They kept me all day. They did every procedure I had ever heard of. They established that I had not had a heart attack, that I did not have blood clots in my lungs, that the blood profile showed no anomalies. They were very real people, professional and compassionate.
I have much admiration and respect for the people at Foothills Hospital, and for Old Susie In Charge, with whom they consulted. They told her to send me back to Ontario to see my Doctor. Which she did. And I did.
My Doctor did the blood work all over again and decided I was probably allergic to air tight basements and, or, Calgary air.
I learned that if I relax and let others make the decisions, they will, and I thereby lose my definition of self.
The lesson here, for Senior Me, is, to not play dumb anymore. Obviously, I do enough dumb things without trying. The thing to do, is to learn how to accept gracefully the help and energy of the younger ones in my life when it is required. I need to tend to the little details, keep abreast of Airport security and Emergency protocol, for example. I need to be interested, and interesting enough to attract the energy of vital people, at the same time accepting a role as a support person in the case management —of Me.
This daunting scenerio is a very real, fair description of what I, as a senior adult , should aspire to be in the society of which I am a part.
Imagine! I??d have to erase from my brain, every opinion, every conviction, every bit of training in logic, ethics, business management that it took fifty years, or more, to acquire. To say nothing of ego, bias, bigotry and distrust of organized religion.
One suspects there are serious possibilities of adventure in the later chapters of life—if You are up for it.
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Ronald

April 09

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Near the end of the month, Winter, not ready to give up, had covered the immediate World with ice. The outside door at the back of the house was welded shut by it.
I pushed and pushed, beat on it with fists, got all hot and claustrophobic, broke into a sweat and squealed a bit, quietly. Then I kicked the door a few times. It flew open and I skittered down the steps.
Friend Alfred was out behind, salting a trail to his garbage cans.
As I sauntered, suavely to the car, He said, ??You got out did you???
Guess I squealed louder than I thought.
??Be very, very careful walking!?? he warned. It was liked being admonished by Mom when I was nine. Fully recovered from getting out of the house, in full and conscious control of myself, I was slightly annoyed at him. ??Next, He??ll be wagging his finger at me. Who does he think he is, treating me like he??s the Boss? He isn??t even seventy yet. Till May.??
The traffic was not moving fast, but I didn??t mind much. I was not in a hurry. Let them dawdle if they are scared of a bit of ice.
One young guy in shorts and jogging apparel, like, ear phones, pink head band and a beard, four hundred dollar sneakers, trotted healthily on the side walk. ??Yeah!?? I thought. The only reason I didn??t scoff at late tantrums of winter and do exactly the same thing was because, well, I hadn??t thought of it.
While parking the car, it slid and bumped the SUV ahead of me. I backed up a bit. Damned long nose sloping hood. Can??t see where the front is. I jumped out, lost my balance and, while looking in my pocket for a loonie for the meter with my right hand, waved my left hand frantically, barely regaining my composure. There was no damage on either vehicle, but my licence plate bent when I backed up.
A lady in the parking lot waved back at me and called, ??Be very, very careful!?? I think it was the Lady from the Bank who told me,last year, that she could lend me money, but, they would not insure the loan, ??for people in your age group??, ??if anything should happen??.
I had almost, not quite, forgotten how miffed I had been about that. After all, I wasn??t asking for a loan, I was just thinking about a new car. One that didn??t have a long sloping front. It wasn??t as if I was about to drop any time soon.
I walked carefully across the lot toward the place where I drink coffee. An old man, also walking carefully, approached me. I said, ??Be very, very careful.?? He said, ??Yeah, I got the wrong shoes.?? He had on leather soles. I never wear leather soles, even in the summer, unless I go dancing, which I have not done for a while.
Leather soles! In a skating rink. It was all ice. A chill went up my back. It lodged there in that place where the Boogie Man used to be, when I was a kid. I walked very carefully.
A teenager, one of those who never acknowledge anyone but a peer, and who are never heard to speak actual English, said to me, ??Be careful. I almost fell down three times.?? I walked very, very carefully.
Even after I got into the Mall, I shuffled, carefully, to my usual table to do the cross word puzzle.
The guys at the next table, whose names I don??t know, but who always talk to me a bit, said, ??Hey Dryden, (They call me Dryden. I was born there in the nineteen thirties) we didn??t think you would make it out on a day like this.?? I read the obituaries. There was nobody named Dryden in it. Yet. Shuffled timidly back to my automobile. There was a parking ticket on it. Made me feel better. At least I am, in some small way, still a threat to Somebody.
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March 09

There used to be a guy named Homer, back in the BCs. He wrote poetry, only it didn??t rhyme or anything, particularly after it was translated from Greek to English or whatever. One of his non-rhyming poems, a really long one, was called the Iliad. There was another one, remembered fondly, or not fondly, by British school boys of an earlier era. I know the name of it, phonetically, but my spell check doesn??t do Greek. The word might, I suppose be in the dictionary, lots of old Greek words are, but, dictionaries are no longer cool. I??m trying to quit. I shall just refer to it as Homer??s Other Thing.

Actually, I suspect that lots of twenty-first century writers have never used a dictionary, wouldn??t know how to turn one on. Some of them, obviously, have never even heard of ??Grammar??. I do not allude, here, to spelling or grammatical construction used in Thunder Bay Seniors articles. I allude to unnamed publications one must pay money for, in order to read.

Homer wrote about ??wine dark seas??, ??purple horses??, ??silver fishes??. The range of colors in his descriptions were mostly very dark or very light. There were few shades in between. A myth, accepted by many scholars, is, that Homer was blind.

In order to make a point, I shall reject this ??blindness??.

Homer, twenty-five hundred years ago, wrote about an era, earlier than his. His contention was, that the world started out in black and white. The spectrum, with greens and yellows and blues didn??t happen until later. No shades until, probably, about the time He came on the scene. He was not blind, he was painting a picture of ??the old days?? as he perceived it.

The twenty-first century is peopled by, and is governed by, or will be, by a post Hippie generation which perceives the beginning of History as coinciding with the date of its own birth.

So, nothing much has changed in twenty-five hundred years, except, they no longer spell, or do math.

We, as senior citizens, have a perspective. From our vantage point, out of the loop, we, all alone bewail the scary state of the world. The cycle repeats. Where is intelligence, when will they ever learn?

Maybe they have learned. The Indigo Children don??t need to learn grammar, or spelling, or arithmetic. They learn, as infants, to access information. They bypass rote learning and subsume solutions. There may be intelligence among the young, an evolution of awareness.

Now, the point. If we, worried seniors, actually, fairly comfortable in our exalted concern, ever met this new intelligence, face to face, would we be able to recognize it?

February 09

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February has been mournfully whined about as ??the dead of Winter??. Maybe that means we are right in the middle of it, two months done and two to go. I don??t know. I??ve always liked February. We are done with January, it is a short month, there is usually a warm spell and then, March. After that, Spring, sometimes.
Business people, in most businesses, other than snow removal, scrape through February in survival mode, hoping for customers. It is the lowest revenue month.
I had a take out Pizza place for a few years. I owned it along with the Bank. Well, the Bank owned it along with me. Actually, the Bank owned it and I owned the liability. It was back in the eighties when loan interest was running about twenty percent—I hardly ever long for the good old days.
Anyway, there is a point. People, in February, sit tight and sit tight until, during a blizzard or an unusually warm day, they get a bit weird, say “To Hell with it,” and order a pizza, everybody does. During one ??February thaw??, we had our biggest single revenue day ever.
So, there is hope in the doldrums, even for retail businesses, like, maybe shoppers come out on at least one day, like groundhogs?
Actually, I have never seen a groundhog on the second of February, and I have never met a credible person who has seen one. But, I have a thimble full of faith. On the farm, skunks sometimes came out from under the barn in February. Maybe they got flooded out, and maybe it wasn??t water. They did come out, because the dog cornered one and it was certainly a skunk. So, why not groundhogs? Even if they don??t see their shadows, or do see them, or whatever the story is, it is only six weeks till Spring. According to the myth.
Squirrels do not hibernate, they just stay in their holes in January, like people. They come out in February, when the sun starts to have a bit of heat in it, which it does by noon, even if it is thirty below in the morning. They chatter and swear and twitch their tails in the real or imagined mellowing of the air. So do the squirrels.
Canada Jays nest in February. They must know something. They would hardly hatch out eggs at that time of year if they didn??t believe Spring was coming soon enough for the chicks to survive. Hell, if a Whiskey Jack is willing to take a leap of faith, surely I can take a chance on toughing it out for a few more weeks. Besides, I live in a house.
On the other hand, considering that I only have ??a thimble full of faith??, and considering how I no longer am required to hustle pizzas for a bank, I think I??ll stay inside—till the February Thaw.
Jan. 09?
Every new year I make resolutions. The one of longest standing, I??ve been making it since age eight, has been to be Honest, Stalwart, Loyal, Help Old Ladies, be True and Constant—that damned, insidious, boy scout fostered ethic.
As an adult, I do not, of course, keep the resolve. Probably didn??t as a kid, either. The only constancy I have evidenced has been a constant lack of commitment.
Another annual Resolution goes way back, though not so far. I have been making it since 1960. Every New Year, I resolve, solemnly, that, next year I shall spend the winter where there is no snow. Never did ,any year, including this one. It??s that compulsive inconstancy. Damn it.
One Fall, long ago, I was released from a hospital, after several surgeries. They told me to take it easy for a few months. When I asked what I should do, they said, ??Go lay on a beach for the winter.??
Friends of a friend offered free use of their condo in Maui. All I had to buy was my food. Instead, I went home to Mom and Dad at the farm. We were snowed in for weeks. Neurotic behavior, I always hated cold and snow.
One time, when I could have gone south, I went to the Arctic. In February. It wasn??t daylight yet.
There have been short winter trips to warm places. A few days. I came right back, in order to suffer, probably. Or, in order to avoid honoring a commitment.
On the other hand, when I chose to go home to Mom instead of laying on the beach in Hawaii, it was because that was what I really wanted to do. When I continued to work winters in the bush year after year, freezing the odd toe or ear, there was a perverse sense of accomplishment and belonging.
That lifelong duality of personality. An organism at odds with itself. Things I longed for were denied by me. Me wanted to do something else.
In books of psychology—which I/Me have read, trying to find answers—it is suggested that a fractured or incomplete personality sometimes becomes integrated, later in life. If it survives till later in life.
Well I am still alive, it is later. I doubt that I am an ??integrated personality??, but there are certain encroaching realities. Comfortable ones.
There is no longer a need to go to the office every morning. There are ways to warm up the car without even going outside. One can make it through most days without having to wear mittens. My friends and favorite enemies are nearby with time to visit or play cards, in warm houses. Somebody gave me a fake Christmas tree, so I have absolutely no need to go to the bush, even once.
I still long for the sun, but spring is only four months away and it doesn??t take near as long to wait a few months as it used to. As for the reality that I don??t have the price to go wherever ??Down South?? is, I have made a compromise. Instead of fretting about my inconsistency, I have made great strides with rationalization.
And, Northern Januaries are a lot more like they are now than they used to be.
Dec. Issue?
On the nineteenth of November I was down at the Corner Store contemplating, deeply, about whether to buy a Chronicle-Journal, or a Globe and Mail. Tough choice. One has the best comic strip and the other has the best crossword puzzle. Also, of course, now that I am trying to learn how to be a retired person, there is the monetary aspect. One costs several cents more than the other.
Any way, I decided on the local paper. Loyalty. And thrift, it was nearly twenty cents cheaper.
As I stood in line to pay for the paper, there was music playing somewhere in the store. Silent Night, solo, on a trumpet.
“Great Scott!” I shouted, silently. I wasn??t ready for Christmas. It wasn??t even December yet! I had not used the DVD player or the radio I got from the kids for my birthday. In June.

I was hardly finished with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving dinner was at Sharon and Rodneys?? house. I ate at least three times as much as I needed to, because there was so much food, all good. I was just trying to help. Didn??t want any to go to waste. I suffered from over eating. Then had two pieces of pie. But it was fine by me. It was a Nice pain.

This thing of being retired may not work out. I find stuff to do to fill in the time. The time all gets filled in. The days and weeks go by in a flash, and I never get a day off.

December. A couple of months ago I thought about getting snow tires for the truck. Didn??t get around to it, what with bridge games, planning to sort out my books, thinking about getting in shape, and such like. Probably won??t get them now. They may have all gone to Quebec.

Fondly, well, somewhat fondly, I remembered last year when I had a job. There were days off, when I could catch up on all the things I don??t, now have time for. There were holidays I could plan for, that didn??t sneak up like they do now.

In fact, I went so far as to telephone Mighty Mouse, a person I used to work with. She brought me up to date, not about Work, about the projects she takes on, other than work. She takes courses at the University?another thing I haven??t had time to do?takes trips to Toronto, and, I believe she put new eaves troughs on her house, by herself.

Would I be forced to find a job, I wondered, in order to get back on the World? In order to get revved up for Christmas?

But, I decided, I must soldier on. My commitment to learning “retired” and “old”, must take precedence over all.

If they are playing Silent Night on a horn in November, I reasoned, I shall be a benevolent Senior, wear a smile, spread fellowship and seasonal good cheer around the Mall.

I put on my store bought clothes, drew myself up as straight as is possible and marched?slowly?smiling , around Intercity Mall.

Some distance away, another Senior, a Blue haired Lady, probably nearly as old as me, pretty well preserved, was scowling in my direction.

“Well”, I thought, “Here we go already.” I walked toward her, fairly beaming with Christmas brotherhood. The closer I got, the louder she scowled. When I went past her, she gave me a look that stuck four inches out of my back.

Obviously, my well intentioned act as the early Geezer Ambassador of ??Ho Ho Ho?? and Jingle Bells, was a hard sell. I felt as though the zipper on my trousers was unzipped. So, I checked. It was.Best Wishes to You.

 

 

AUTUMN LEAVES

The Music Place

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?A group of us were invited, by Dave and Gary from The Music Place, to an evening of food and music, hosted by Raag-Rung Music Circle,and held in The Italian Cultural Centre.
It was an uplifting experience, for a number of reasons.
About three hundred people attended. It looked as if every age group and every ethnic group was represented.
When we went up to get our dinner, I heard comments from ones who, like me were unfamiliar with East Indian cuisine, worried about spicy dishes. None of us needed to have been concerned, for there was a wider range of tastes, flavors, textures and colors than any meal I had ever eaten. And it all worked together. Delicious.
The music, played on Sitar and Tabla by two astoundingly talented musicians, was also unfamiliar to me. I had heard Indian classical music before but had never really Listened to it. However, having dined well I leaned back, closed my eyes and took it in. It was a journey. One could ride on the rhythm. They were absolutely synchronized, which, of course,is what music is all about. The astounding thing, given the ever changing pitch, rhythm and tempo of the Sitar, is, how they did they do it?
I looked around the room and everybody was silent,still. There was no fidgeting. Old, young and infants, all seemed to be focused till the end.
The Northern Woodlands Ojibway Dance Group then, presented social, traditional and contemporary dances, interpreted by a very knowledgeable narrator. For the last dance, the audience was invited to join in. There were Irish girls, Finn boys, East Indians and Ojibway dancers. They all looked happy.
It was a night when everybody was on the same page.
Beginning to look like summer is over. Days getting shorter. Squirrels busy in the oak trees. The easy livin?? days are about done.
That is what I was thinking as October rolled around. Felt about as vital as a gnarled leaf drifting around the yard, in the impersonal whims of dusty breezes.
Hadn??t been working since the end of May, and realized that nobody had noticed I was gone except me. Work, it appeared, was a hard habit to break, after about fifty years of it. Nothing to pit myself against, or to strive for. Poor me. Poor little egocentric me, a wrinkled, brown leaf. Didn??t even turn red or orange.
Well, I did a few things in the summer, but none of them were about Me. I was of some slight, peripheral, passing handiness to two or three people. They made use of me because, obviously, I was not busy. I was not asked to do anything of a challenging nature. There seemed to be obvious reasons, to them, why I was not asked to do anything challenging.
I read a lot of books. There are a lot of books at my place. I was going to sort them out. Every time I opened a box, there would be at least two or three books which evoked memories, fond, infuriating, or other, and I would reread them. Spent weeks reading books I had already read. This was not conducive to alleviating my feelings of uselessness and self pity.
A friend was in hospital. I visited her every day and ran errands for her, and I went over to feed her cat.
She was getting tired of being sick and was getting a bit testy. There were a lot of people in to visit her. She had to be nice to the visitors, so she was a bit testy with me. Growled a couple of times. Then I would go over to commiserate with the cat, who would get fed and attack me.
I phoned my brother and whined about unfair treatment by friend and cat. He said, “There is such a thing as justice, after all. It couldn??t happen to a more deserving person.”
I went directly to the Extended Care place where Mom lives and told her exactly what Gordon had said. She replied, “You listen to your brother. He always has had a clear head.”
So, I drove real fast down the highway, thinking, ” to Hell with them all. I don??t need them. I can look after myself.” Just about lost it on a curve, whereupon that damn adult who had left me in charge all summer, came out and said, “You are correct. You can look after yourself. Lots of people can??t. You are also correct that it is not about You. It was about you for fifty years. Now it is pay back time.”
Fall is the best time of year. Autumn leaves are beautiful, and useful. Autumn leaves are the maturity of Summer green and they are the harbingers of what will be.
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?September 2008

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It occurred to me a while ago that, in order to qualify as a writer of Seniors oriented articles, I should be old.
Well, I am old. What worried me, is my attitude. I talk about advanced age, and I write about it, but, I don??t feel much different than I did when I was middle aged, or even, almost young.
Felt guilty, like an imposter, like I was trying to be old and didn??t know how.
It was a worry. What to do? There don??t appear to be any available courses at the College in senescence. Probably, there isn??t anyone there old enough, or senile enough to teach it. I was at the College for a while, years ago when I was fifty-three. Even then, a couple of teachers called me ??Sir??.
Listening to the conversation around the Bridge table—some of them are almost as old as me—was non-productive. They talked mostly about sex and fist fighting.
Retirees of my acquaintance spend the summers at their camps and go South in the winter. When I see them, very infrequently, they seem a bit uncomfortable in my presence, possibly because I don??t have a camp. Well, more likely it is because I have always had a job.
I realized this much about senior citizenry. There are social mores. Projects are fine, but Jobs, you know, just aren??t done.
Honestly determined to gain experience and credibility, but unable to access data, I decided to leap right in, to get it first hand. I quit my job.
This first move may have been somewhat rash. I found out that most people who are seventy don??t have jobs, because nobody will hire them.
Any of them who do have a job, hang on to it as long as they have a breath left in their bodies. But, I had to start somewhere.
In the two months since my quest for admission to ??The Golden Years?? began, I have made some, modest progress.
Having always been an early riser, I strove to stay late in bed. It was very difficult. It was as difficult as to stop smoking, but I persevered. One day last week I made it till nearly ten in the morning.
Of course it was not all sleep time. I had to get up three times to go to the can, which is to be considered positively. In exhibiting possible signs of prostate problems, an old mans?? ailment, why, Hell, I??m on my way.
I have been learning to nap. Never napped before. Might miss something. A cat is giving me lessons.
We sit and doze. We don??t even lay down. We let our eyes fall shut and loll our heads. I am not nearly as adept as the cat. But, I??m learning Nap.
I have found that Seniors take courses. It is quite acceptable as long as whatever you learn is not viable in any way. As long as you cannot make any money from it.
I am taking guitar lessons. It is absolutely certain that I will never make money playing a guitar.
After two months I am able to pick all the way through ??Red River Valley?? without making a mistake, in under five minutes. I play real slow.
It is almost the same as dozing. I??m on my way.
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June?

June is one of my favorite months.? Most of the other months are okay,? but, June has a lot going for it.
Back at the Farm, years ago, the Spring plowing and the seeding would be done before the end of May.? The garden would be in and those damn potatoes, about an acre, planted.? The only thing I hated worse than planting potatoes was digging them.
By the first of June there was lots of pasture for the cows.? We didn??t have to put down feed for them any more.? And we didn??t start cutting hay till July.
It was very important, in those days to go in swimming on, or before, the twenty-fourth of May.? The river, of course, didn??t get to be the least bit warm until on in June.? In the middle of June, we could actually, sometimes, enjoy swimming.
For years I wondered, secretly, why we had to get in the water as soon as possible.? Maybe it was ??bragging rights?? at school.? You couldn??t just go in the water, you had to actually swim.? Gordon, my brother, took a header off his bike, into the creek on the School Road, on the nineteenth of April.? To make it official, he frogged around a few strokes before he came out.
He had the record that year for sure.
It may have been more than ??bragging rights?? at school, because, Dad, usually managed to fall in the river sometime in the Spring.? He??d be trying to get across to the back place, on a log jam, and step on something that wouldn??t hold him.? He would come home soaking wet and proud as Hell.
Dad and Gordon were a little bit like bears with furniture.
I had to go along, in order to keep my place at the table, but I just could not believe that I enjoyed ice cold rivers.? In later years I became a maverick.? I would not go swimming till July twelve.
And I stayed away from the farm during the planting and digging of spuds.? I did, however, show up quite often for the eating of them.
On the first of June you can look ahead to four months of easy living.? You don??t have to wear a whole bunch of clothes.? Gordon wouldn??t wear shoes? after school got out unless Mom wrestled him down.? She usually let him run barefoot, except for church and visits to affluent neighbours who might think we were poor.
School got out in June.? I still miss going to school, just to feel again that last day.? My birthday is the first week in June and Father??s Day is in June.? So is the day I quit drinking.? Special Days, special month.

Mother’s Day

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On Mother??s Day we always went to church. Then we would go to Grandma??s and sit around in the afternoon.
We couldn??t go outside to play. We had our best clothes on and there was mud and water about. Just had to sit. Mom and Grandma would talk about the rest of the Family, about getting the garden in and about who died.
Mothers Day, it seemed to me, sixty years ago, was kind of like a funeral. I did not, at that time, connect it to my Mother. Figured it may have something to do with Grandma, or Dad??s mother who died while the War was still on. But it was not like a holiday. It was more formal. There were no cards given, like a birthday. And Grandma didn??t get the day off . She always had at least four fresh pies laid out and a huge roast in the oven.
Of course,Moms and Grandmas did not get ??days off??. That would never have been considered by anybody. Including them.
Nope. We sat around , uncomfortable, and watched Dad, in his suit — he really did not do well in store bought clothes—trying to stay awake.
Mom never gave us instructions about Mothers Day. We were programmed for birthdays, Easter and stuff like that. Mothers Day kind of snuck in, unexpected and slightly mysterious. That may be why I didn??t twig to Mothers Day being for Mom.
She, probably, expected someone—Dad—to clue us in.
We are talking late nineteen-forties here. The media consisted of the ??Dryden Observer?? which we might see once a month , out at the farm, and the radio. Dad bought a battery pack for the radio once a year. The battery lasted about six weeks.
??Fibber McGee and Molly?? and ??Amos and Andy?? till the battery ran down, but nothing about Mothers Day. Guess it did not coincide with our six weeks.
When I was eight or so, I asked, ??What??s Mothers Day??? He said, ??Well, get them a flower, maybe. And, probably we should do the dishes.?? ??Is it for Mom too???
??Yeah,?? he said.
It was somewhat disturbing. She had never said anything, and if we were supposed to help her, it wasn??t as if she was sick or anything.
Nearly two thirds of a century later, at ninety-three, she is Mother, Grand Mother, Great Grandmother and Great Great Grandmother to a vast array of us. She knows us all. She acts as Mother and Grand Mother to quite a few senior citizens who have lost their Moms. She played the piano for half an hour at her last birthday party.
We all know who Mothers Day is for and when it is.
Mothers Day is every day Mom .
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The Small Person

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The small Person called me yesterday. ??Guess what happens in six days??? she asked.
Well, I was able to guess right. She has a birthday about this time, and has reminded me every year since she was three. Birthdays are important to her. Other people??s birthdays are important to her too, and all holidays, like Thanksgiving, Easter and April Fools Day.
When she was eight she said, ??There is Valentine Day, my birthday, your birthday, Gramma??s birthday, then school gets out, then Mommy??s birthday, and it just keeps on going.??
It does keep on going. The years fall away, faster and faster.
It seems like no time since she trotted around the house wearing a tall New Year’s Eve hat, blowing on a horn, in her mother??s high heel shoes, for three days into January.
Then she was a teen-ager, arranging dinners and parties and people in honor of important events. We had a cat once, named Christmas, who, more than once had to slink around the house, covered with ribbons, mortified.
Shortly after that, she phoned, on Christmas day, from Australia. It was about forty degrees celsius. Didn??t seem right to her at all. They should have DONE something.
This past December, she called me, from a clothing store, in Calgary, three times, in twenty minutes. Needed sizes, and colors.
It is past April Fool’s Day. I still have not had an appropriate occasion to wear two of my shirts.
Her call, yesterday, was from an oil rig in Alberta. She sounded exactly the same as the three year old. I could almost see her eyes shining over the phone. She made more money in the last three months than I made all last year. She will be thirty-one
Her eyes were not shining about the big wages, it was her BIRTHDAY that was important.
The tears in my eyes were not because she makes four times as much as I do, either.
My tears, my prayers, my hopes, are that , no matter how far up and away, she goes, she will never lose that three year old.
Happy birthday, Small Person.
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The Varmint bought a new TV set.? The screen goes about half way across the living room.? Everybody should have one.? I guess.
He gave me his old one, which is about thirteen years newer than the one I had, which had also been given to me by him, and his siblings.
The Varmint has been calling me ??Dad?? for three decades or so.
It worked fine.? So far as I could tell, the same stuff was on it as my old set, but I was not certain.? I don??t necessarily watch as much as click through all the channels.? And then do it again.? However, technologically, TV wise, it was a quantum leap.? That is, from twentieth to twenty-first century.
The Clicker stopped working on the third day.
I put new batteries in it and it worked for a while.? Then it quit again.? I asked the Varmint if he??d had trouble with it.? He said, ??No.?? When I wondered if maybe batteries only lasted a week, and pontificated about ??planned obsolescence??, he looked pained and went away.
While getting more batteries, the reason for the ??pained look?? dawned on me.? For the Varmint and other twenty first century people, the useful life of a computer is not much more than a week.
So, I would click through the channels, shut off the thing, take out the batteries, and go to bed, or whatever.? On my fixed income, it seemed like a reasonable solution.? I was not about to update batteries every week, let alone computers and TV sets.
My car is ten years old and I won??t update it either, on account of they never made anything nicer than a 1957 GMC three quarter ton with corner windows.? It had to be red, of course, and four by four.? There is one in town.? Bet he wouldn??t trade me for my car that is forty years newer.
Even with taking the batteries in and out, the clicker, sometimes, didn??t work.? Usually when I wanted to watch something.
Oh yeah, there are two shows I always watch, if the clicker works.? Antiques Road Show and Lawrence Welk.
Fortunately, the Varmint never reads my stuff.? If he did, he??d likely take back the TV, and a really nice leather chair he gave me to doze in.
It turned out that my ??reasonable solution?? was not, after all, based on a ??fixed income??.? It was the product of a fixed mind.
The clicker has a whole mess of buttons at each end of it.? Two messes of buttons. Sometimes I had it turned around backwards.? Those were the times the thing wouldn??t work.
It works fine now.? Don??t take the batteries out any more.
Figured it out myself.
It took about four months.

 

Wanted to write that down, look at it for a while, and just take it in, look at it straight on, for the first time, probably. I wanted to be serious but not objective.

I have had some experience with objectivity, that is, dealing with situations that entailed leaving all emotion to one side. But, not this time.

This time I must find the courage to face the reality of Me— getting old. How does it Feel? Do I have the guts to be real? I??d have to drop my entire act. There is the pretence of objectivity, laugh lines and, if all else fails, anger. It isn??t much really, but it has enabled me to delude myself these many years.

Humour is the buffer between me and the unknown. It masks the fear that lurks just beyond. Acting, or believing myself to be without emotion, is an induced state of depression wherein everything is damped out except sadness, or anger, directed inward. Anger is fear turned outward. My Act.

So, what have I done? Hid in the dark because I was afraid of the dark. I am afraid of being old. Never did that before.

The only way to deal with the fear, to get directly to it, is to peel off the veneer known as “maturity”, where raw emotions are stashed, go way back to that thirteen year old, remember and feel his fear as he went from the farm to the big high school in town.

He was frightened and raw and had absolutely no “protective colouring” at all, but, he survived. He had never done that before either. He had not experienced much of anything at all.

That thirteen year old is now living in his sixth reincarnation?so to speak. He has had to go into the dark many times. He has failed much and succeeded a few times. There has been terror, less terror as the years come and go. There have been, also, times of raw exaltation, wonder and sheer happiness.

I perceive that the good emotions, the ones from whence life force arises, have been hid away along with my fear of the dark.

It is, as if I??ve spent my life turning emotion inside out. I have treated fear as anger; avoided happiness by turning it into depression and calling it “maturity”. I will, then, turn another psychological game around. They told us in books about therapy to go back and save our “inner child”, go back and tell him,”You are okay, I will look after you.”

I shall go back and feel what the thirteen year old felt. He didn??t avoid the dark. He couldn??t, there was no choice. He felt what he felt. He had no choice there either. Sometimes he felt wonder, sometimes he learned a little bit and got stronger. Only later, when the body failed a bit, then he put a shell around it and hid. I can??t help the child, but maybe he can help me.

If you are getting to where you realize, starkly, that there is, no longer, time to fix all the mistakes you have made, to get rich, to make everything right for everyone, then go talk to a thirteen year old.

Really listen to him. Maybe he doesn??t know it, but he has the secret of life in his aura.

Sit on the sidelines and watch the young ones run at life, the energy will keep us old ones going for a long time.

Feb. 2011

Every year I hear people belly-aching about February. The ??dead of winter?? … ??damn cold never ends?? … and so on.

Sure it is cold, sometimes, but it warms up by afternoon, and February is shorter than the other months. Two days shorter, sometimes three. It is the best Month of all to work in the bush, cold enough for the limbs to break off but warm enough so the machinery will start, usually.

February winds make the trees wave around, stirring up the roots and the earth, wakening various systems that cause growing. February, really, is the beginning of Spring.

There is a bird you hear in late February. I don??t know what it looks like because I never saw it. I??d be sitting on the wood pile, in the sun, not really hot or anything, but nice, when this bird would start up. It made a sound like the Oh Canada song. Really loud and nice. But, I didn??t know what it looked like. Neither did Dad. But it sounded just like Oh Canada.

Sometimes deer would come out of the swamp and eat brush off the tops of the trees that we had fell. They only came out, late in the winter. Maybe they had been watching from out of sight and decided to take a chance. Sometimes a big buck would paw the ground and shake his head. Challenging. The sap was starting to run in the animals, if not in the trees.

It seems like people get tired of the cold weather and start to move in spite of it in February. When I had a retail business, and February was the lowest revenue month of all—partially because the month is shorter, we would have a sale, and always, the single biggest revenue day of the year would happen—in the February sale.

People seem to think, “To Hell with winter!”, and just let it all hang out.

Some friends are on their way to Arizona in their camper. I confess to a bit of envy. I??m not jealous because they are going to Arizona, really. I would just like to Go. Somewhere, anywhere. Hell, I would go North.

But I am not going anywhere. I plan to stay at home and savor February. I shall sit and read books and look outside at the sun. I shall walk to the corner store for the paper, in the early afternoon.

If I hear anybody bad mouthing February, I shall climb upon a snow bank and trill the Oh Canada bird song at the top of my voice. Maybe I??ll rattle my antlers at them.

Well, maybe not.

Jan 2011

The end of the year has happened again. The Holidays, the Holy days, the coming together of Families, the busyness, and sometimes, the loneliness, evoke emotions that have lain undisturbed for a while. I??m glad it is over. I guess.

Working is a great way to avoid thinking—or feeling. Hurry to the job. Keep your head down all day and hurry home to sleep. You hardly ever get very far down, or up.

Of course, for some time now I have not had a job. There has been a lot of time to think and feel, to experiment with depression, to isolate and to ponder the final stages of a misspent life.

It has been quite interesting, really. Sometimes it is possible to get right down and feel tragically sorry for myself.

But, it never seems to last, for, on the edge of despair, there exists that Damned sense of humor. The very idea that I, the author of all my misfortunes, should be an object of self-pity, is, after all, hilarious.

Therefore, with a smile on my face, all be it a rueful one, I became part of, or slightly on the edge of, the Year-end Festivities.

Being active, seeking out one or two people I had been avoiding, eating too much and disturbing my comfortable routine, made me less self-centered. It interfered with my familiar, somewhat depressed state. I was no longer trying to find a way to feel sorry for myself. I needed to find a way to deal with self directed anger.

Self centered old idiot certainly doesn??t deserve pity. He should have a slap in the head.

I visited a couple of people who really do have problems. I talked to a couple of friends who are thinking interesting thoughts and who are really optimistic. I don??t know where any of them get their strength or their faith.

There probably are others who, like me lead insular little lives in which they lose touch with the world. Seniors may be particularly prone to this sort of isolation.

I am thankful for this year end. It has served to shake me out of my self.

Dec. 2010

It is getting so that there are a lot of Christmases for me to remember. I like to remember Christmases. A lot of them are very clear in my mind, the sounds, the smells, the colors and the people.

Old Bob Jackson, Dad??s uncle was there. He walked from his homestead, four miles over in the next township. He wore a big packsack with a whole lot of stuff in it. We never did see everything, but I sure wanted to. Couldn??t take a chance on getting in there when nobody was looking. This wasn??t just an Uncle, it was a Great Uncle who didn??t have any kids and he seemed to think my brother and I were kind of like puppies. He gave Dad a bottle of whiskey and Mom a box of chocolates. He also found a large ham in his packsack, which he gave to Mom. He took oranges out of the bag and rolled them, one at a time across the floor to me and my brother. We didn??t have the girls at that time. They had not been born yet. Gordon had just turned one in October and he fell on an orange—squashed it flat. I think I was a little bit glad. In a bag that big, there should have been something more for us!

Then Uncle George came. Even at age two and a half, I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. He had his Air Force suit on, with his wedge cap crosswise on his head and his hand stuck inside his tunic. When Mom opened the door to let him in, she asked, “And who are You supposed to be?”

“I”, he answered, “am Napoleon with his bones apart.” He was—I know, now—in the Canadian Air Force, attached to the US Army, working on the Alaska Highway.

I don??t remember much about dinner, except that Gordon was in my high chair. I had graduated to a regular chair with a cushion on it. It seemed to me they should get him a high chair of his own. That chair was about the only thing I could really feel belonged to me, other than my silver cup with a dent in from where I threw it at the wall. They expected me to share the toys with him too—and he didn??t even know how to play yet.

After dinner, Gordon had to have his nap so they wouldn??t let Me play with the new toys. This did not make any sense to me at all, and I complained, forcefully.

Dad, who, I suppose, had been into the Christmas spirits along with Uncle George and Old Bob, got down on his haunches and said he would teach me how to box.

He said, “Put up your dukes!” and gave me a little tap on the side of my cheek. Well! He had a hand about the size of the ham Old Bob had given to Mom, and it hurt. So, I started to bawl and I nailed him right in the nose with my fist. He bled real good.

Old Bob howled gleefully, “Just lookit that young Bugger!” Uncle George smiled and said.”There Bill, He??s payin?? you back for the times you bled My nose.”

Seventy years later Mom and Gordon and I are the only ones left of that gathering.

The last time I asked Mom about one of those long ago times, and reminded her of old happenings, She said, “Oh Fiddlesticks! You remember too damn many things!”

Nov. 2010

One day last week, my sometimes associate, Tazz, and I were limping down the hall of his apartment building, together.

Once, last year, in the early days of June, I was listening, respectfully to a friend, a fellow pensioner, who was giving me tips on how to survive in the wonderful world of The Fixed Income.

He, like me, had been self employed for the greater part of his working life. This translates, at retirement, at least for him or me, as, no income, other than the government pensions at less than the maximum.

I had found it possible to survive. Barely. In the summer I walked everywhere I needed to go during the last eleven days before pension day. In the winter I stayed at home and read books during the last eleven days of the month. Healthy and mind expanding.

My friend informed me that it would be possible to receive a supplement, and it would be back dated eleven months. This, of course, was great news and I hurried down to the nearest tax office to apply. Fortunately there was still some gas in the car. The required office was not within walking distance of a bus stop.

It was with some trepidation that I approached the person behind the desk, for I recalled, from business days, a couple of traumatic sessions in government offices.

The people I talked with, then and later were unfailingly pleasant and helpful. They did seem to go out of their way to help, as far as they were able to do so.

The lady said it would take about three months to process my claim, due to back-logs. Okay. It would be, then, September and I would be able to finance a trip back to my home town and hang out for a while like a moneyed citizen. Great.

The end of September, they, very compassionately and politely, told me it would be another month. So, I would go home for Halloween.

In November they felt as if there would be ??something?? on the Christmas pay. And there was. They paid me from July to December and I lived high for a week.

But, they didn??t pay the back amount, reputed to be eleven payments. They needed more information.

In January I went in to see the same lady I had first talked to. She was very nice. It was like talking to an old friend. She said it would take about three months. Due to ??back-log??.

Fine. I always get wander lust in March. I could take my extra money and go. I considered going West. I fantasized about going East. I would use my extra money to renew my pass port and, maybe, go South. Hell! If I felt like it, I might go North!

At the end of March, they said, empathetically, “You are probably looking at six to eight weeks. Due to back-log, and income tax returns. They are swamped.”

I went down to the local MP??s office. I walked down. End of the month, you understand. Even though it is still the reading time of the year, not the walking time.

The lady was very nice. She phoned someone. The someone gave the same information. Six to eight weeks. The someone, or the lady in the constituency office, I don??t know which for I was becoming a bit distraught—us old people are like that—said, “If you don??t hear anything by the end of May, come on back and see us.”

Maybe, as soon as the walking season starts, I shall get a paper route. Maybe I??ll do it sooner. I have read all my books.

March 2011?

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September 2011 Issue
I guess it must have been l947 when somebody gave us a tame rabbit.
We started keeping it in one of those wooden apple boxes that I have not seen any of for about fifty years.? It was a fairly good sized rabbit and the box was too small.? Dad made an addition out of slabs, but the animal was not happy.? I don??t remember how we knew the difference between a happy rabbit and a sad rabbit.? But, we were certain.
A neighbour to the north who had gone broke raising minks, (Very few mink farmers made it in those days—or any other days) gave us a mink pen.? It was steel and all steel mesh and had two rooms and a place to hide if it wanted to—the mink, or the rabbit, whichever was the tenant.
We didn??t know if the animal was happy in the mink pen or not.? It only lived two days.? The mink mesh, unfortunately was big enough to let in a weasel.
Must have made for a happy weasel.? He nailed that big thumper in the carotid artery, had a huge drink of blood and staggered out.? Hope he had trouble getting out.
Surely rabbits have carotid arteries.? Maybe that would be carrotid.
We were fated to have rabbits.? Later in the summer, some Communist people from Kenora, named Johnson, who were canvassing in our township, gave me and my brother, two rabbits.
In l947, the communist party was, if not thriving, at least a very real presence in north-western Ontario. Perhaps it was more of a presence out in the stump ranch country than it was in town.
I don??t know.? I was turning nine at that time.
Gordon was seven.? We gave up on pens.? Let the rabbits loose in the big hay barn.
They did just fine for at least a year.? No little rabbits.? We didn??t know which kind they were.? We hadn??t got around to considering the moving parts of rabbits at that time.? Actually, we did have a roughly accurate awareness of how cows went about procreating.
Cows and bulls are So Damn large and obvious about that sort of thing.
After one date we observed between old Sadie and Wilsons bull, Gordon, who may not have been seven yet, said, ??I think people do that too.??? He had other quantum leaps of logic.? Fortunately for Gordon, and maybe for the World, we would, almost always, discuss his flashes of illumination and file them away, or forget them, without telling anybody else.? Like Mom, or the Teacher.
There was a rabbit at Uncle Charlies?? farm.? They sent it home with us.
By the next year there were white rabbits and grey rabbits all over the barn yard, the back field? and the garden.? We had them for years.
Dad figured the rabbits ate as much hay each winter as three cows.? We had to find a market for rabbit.
It turned out that homesteaders and stump ranchers only ate rabbits when they were starving, which most of them had done at times in the past.? Some of them were still hard up but wouldn??t admit it.? They would only say, I ate all the rabbit I??ll ever eat in the Dirty Thirties and I sure as Hell am not going to pay to eat one!
Fortunately for us, the Family consisted, mostly, of Scots, Irish and English blood.? The English, of course wouldn??t admit it.? At that time, it would be easier to be Communist than English.
I only write down what I remember.? Dad, whose Father was born in Birmingham, professed to be Irish.? He said, ??Oh, an Englishman will stand up to you in a fight, and he??s honest.? But they are such Goddamn fools!??
But, every person from the Old Country knew that tame rabbit do not taste like rose bushes and spruce needles as do bush rabbits.?? They are all white meat and at least as good as chicken.
Also, the hide is tougher and tans out really well.
We were able to pay the feed bill without going outside the Family.
Some of them, like Uncle Jack Creerar (born in the Highlands), wanted their rabbits live.? Years later I heard a story.? It was attributed to the English, of course.? It seems they like to hang the rabbit, or bird, or whatever, dead but completely intact, in the woodshed for a few days, then clean it and cook it.? They like it ??gamey??.? Keep it in mind if someone with an English accent invites you in for Game.
Anyway, Uncle Jack would appear for his rabbits every few weeks.? He was well into his eighties at that time and was reputed to be very tight with his money.? Well!? Not with us.
The rabbits were loose all over the farm, but a lot of them lived under the driveway inside the big barn.? They were , of course, impossible to get.
We would hang a gunny sack from bent nails inside a hole where the rabbits went, bag in the hole and open to the outside.? Then we would take Uncle Jack out around the barn yard and show him the bull calf, or whatever, for about twenty minutes.
Then we would go running and yelling at the top of our voices?Uncle Jack yelling and running right along—into the barn.
Guaranteed to have two or three, sometimes four rabbits in the bag.? He never kicked on fifty cents a rabbit, always took two, sometimes three, and he sometimes tipped us a quarter.
Mom tanned skins and made stuff, like mitts and little dresses.? Every fox in the country moved in.? We could get up to twenty=-five dollars for a fox skin.? People came all the way from Town to count white rabbits in the barn yard just at dark.? You couldn??t see the grey ones very well.? Sometimes you could count a hundred.
In later years Dad said, ??The only money we made on the farm was the rabbits.
Damn!? I can see them yet.

Anything for a story June 2011 Issue

I had no idea what to write an article about. I had been feeling poorly for several weeks and had not done much except lay around and try to keep breathing.

One of the few true adults with whom I allow myself to associate, drove me ? in spite of my protests ? to emergency ? my family Doctor was on holidays ? dropped me off, said “call me” and left.

I tottered in, showed my health card, said I had trouble breathing. It was established that I was almost exactly seventy-three years old.

By the time I finished saying “seventy-three” I was on my back experiencing an EKG, chest x rays, ultrasound, losing gouts of blood into little bottles.

In a few hours they decided I had pneumonia. My Doctor, before he went on holidays, figured I had Rheumatoid Arthritis.

He is probably correct.

Since I??d had Pneumonia for weeks ? probably ? they gave me some antibiotics and some strong Tylenol and sent me home. The adult picked me up.

Had a pretty fair night’s sleep. In the morning the Finnlander called. He wanted me to pick him up at a garage where he was having his car repaired.

The Finnlander is an older adult. He is almost exactly eighty. He is not your typical eighty ? year old. He is not your typical anything.

Between he and I, we have over sixty years of continued abstinence from alcohol and recreational drugs.

His sensibilities have not altered, I think, since he was a juvenile delinquent those many years ago. He is now a senior delinquent.

To act or think in a manner, interesting to oneself ? and a very few like minded old people, is difficult when one cannot justify the thinking or behaviour by blaming it on drugs and alcohol.

But the Fin manages, supremely. He is my Hero and my best friend. I strive, sedulously, to emulate him.

Any one of about fifteen thousand people in this city, who might happen unlikely enough to read this thing would know exactly who I am talking about. He has a following.

So, I picked him up and we drove directly to the Grand Portage Casino.

My other best friend, a true adult, a noted music teacher and still a person of contention as a Blues singer/guitarist, — she likes me because she remembers the Old Days–, said, as she hurried off to work, “Go to bed and stay there. Do not go to the casino. You are not out of the woods yet. Do not meet up with that other “oldest Juvenile Delinquent” in the world.” “Okay?”

“Yeah.”

An hour later at the casino, as I teetered, dizzily, between two rows of slot machines, I tripped over the legs of a technician who, apparently was laying under a slot machine making repairs ? with his feet hanging out.

I tripped, lost my balance and fell flat on my face. I couldn??t get up.

I observed from the rug, a number of players, glued to their screens. None of them paid any attention to me. None.

In two minutes medical staff had me huddled into a room and had given me oxygen, did blood pressures and, very competently took care of me.

My blood pressure was now very low and continued to drop.

They would not let my friend drive me to Thunder Bay. They took me by ambulance to the Border, where three Thunder Bay ambulances, with medics aboard met us.

They could not get my blood pressure to rise.

So they called an Air Ambulance and flew me to the hospital in Thunder Bay. There were three medics aboard besides the flight crew and me.

In Thunder Bay it was discovered my kidneys had stopped working “Acute Renal Failure”. They did everything including catscan.

I am not certain of the exact sequence of events. It was along the lines of:

Due to the pneumonia, the oxygen level of the blood was low. The lungs were not able to pump enough oxygen into the blood to properly service the other organs, the kidneys just stopped.

They got me stabilized and as of this writing?hand bombing it from my bed?I am still in the hospital.

The true adult is going to copy this ? if she can read it, and fax it in. She should get me fee made out to her.

The old delinquent said “You will damn near do anything to get an idea for a story.”

They both come to see me.

One brings me stuff and rewrites my article.

The other still has my car.

I love them both.

This was copied by her, word for word.

Any discrepancies, grammatical or factural are my responsibility.

May 2011

One recent morning, I was working happily on a large slice of birthday cake, acquired by me from the birthday party of a friend who had just turned four. The resident Cat lurked at my right elbow, with great interest. To be at my elbow, of course, he had to be on the table. Tables are, legally, off limits to cats, but, from Cat??s point of view, since there were no rule enforcers or Persons of importance at home, he was free to go right to the action.

Cat does not regard me as a person of importance, maybe not even as a person. He uses me for walks and, at the table, for food, people food—specifically, meat. He is not really interested in cake. I think he was training me, honing my skills, so to speak. He will take a few laps of strawberry yogurt, if it is the right brand, the most expensive one in the store. Other than that and for opening doors during walks, he completely ignores me. He has a Person, whom he adores. He considers me a menial, maybe a lesser sort of cat. A real dumb one.

But, this was not supposed to be about cats. It was going to be about birthdays, late April?early May birthdays. Damn cat.

It seems, when I look back—which is what I do these days—there have been a preponderance of people, significant in my life, who were born in late April or early May. Taurus personages and one or two Aries types. Being mostly Apolitical and Amoral, I am also without bias regarding religion and astrology. However, the Aries people could fight better and were quicker witted than average. Better at both than me. The Taurus ones didn??t need to be smart. Their fierce, unreal, unquestioned, unshakeable determination and faith in themselves made everything turn out for them, just as they knew it would. Could not argue them up or down one cent in a deal. Damn Tauruses.

Actually, now that years have smoothed over the only injury any of these people ever caused me—which was to my vanity—I can see what attracted me to them. They were more comfortable in their skins than I. They seemed to arrive at maturity and be waiting there for me.

In point of fact, I was very fortunate. As a Gemini, I never had the fiery competitiveness of the one or the quiet convictions of the other. All I needed was an innate facility for political solutions. I didn??t have to fight or argue.

It used to smart a bit, but I made it this far without much effort. I don??t mind much, lately, that even the cat outthinks me.

 

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December 2011

Someone asked me, “What are your plans for Christmas?”

He probably didn??t really want to know. It is something people mouth at this time of year. About the same as, “Have a nice day.”

It is a good thing that this sort of question does not require a real answer. I honestly would not know what to say. There are many Christmases in my past. I am able to remember most of them, if I want to. A few of them I am not able to forget, even if I wanted to. But, to make plans to recapture old feelings, to be ??like it used to be??, is impossible.

I am not the same person who used to drink and carouse during the ??Holidays??. I??m not particularly interested in carousing, and probably wouldn??t know how. No doubt the rules of carousing are all changed in this century.

The wonderful days we had as kids, the excitement, the wonder, the Mystery, belong back there. No matter how we plan, or decorate a day, we cannot recreate ourselves.

To get together with Family, at the Farm, is what I want, but it is not possible. The farm no longer exists in reality, just in my heart. And, the family, those who are left, are, like me, changed. None of us believe in Santa Claus.

We don??t want to eat huge amounts of turkey any more—-we are not allowed to. We can??t sit around and drink whiskey—-we all quit drinking, years ago. We used to smoke cigars on Christmas day, but most of us don??t smoke any more.

So, I will not make plans. Well, maybe I shall try to be somewhere on Christmas morning to watch a kid open presents, to sit quietly, out of his way and dream of long ago.

Because, I know a way to get close to all those people I used to be. Christmas music does it. The carols and the sounds are the same, almost, as they were fifty, sixty years ago. Christmases past are crystal clear when framed in Carols. I shall sit and relive the best ones.

Now you know why old men sit and doze. It is realer than real, and it doesn??t cost a cent.

 

November 2011

Pretty well all the time, if it is moving, my body hurts.

Sitting, or lying down, or even standing perfectly still, it eases off and may be ignored, but, change position and I have at least four reasons to say,??Ouch!??

Arthritic joints, due, no doubt , to working in the bush, off and on, for about fifty years; lifting too hard, getting too cold or too hot; getting thumped, bruised and two or three fractures.

Maybe more than joints are affected. Any area of my body that I can touch, hurts. Maybe the entire skin has arthritis, however, I??m not certain about that.

I take three Tylenol, most nights. Seems to let me get to sleep easier. I could have access to all sorts of interesting pain medication, but, having had, in the past, some experience with addiction to prescription drugs, I choose to live with pain. It serves to keep me somewhat alert.

Perhaps it has been my painful alertness which tuned me in to an interesting statistic. People with arthritis who die short of normal life expectancy, die from the long term affect of pain medication, not from arthritis.

Besides, if I am forced to stay alert into old age, due to lack of opiates, I may not have opportunity to slide in to senile dementia as soon, or at all.

Of course, I realize that I would become a mean old dog with no friends to help me up and down and around, and I might outlive my peers and relatives. Then I would, ultimately, starve to death in a comfortable chair somewhere. The Old Folks Home probably wouldn??t take me—too alert.

So. A friend—one of the two or three I have—the crankiness, along with attrition due to age and medication, is beginning to make inroads—took me to lunch.

Across from us, was sitting, a fairly large, somewhat overweight man with thinning white hair. He looked to be late middle age. He was wearing almost the kind of clothes I used to wear when operating logging machinery. Something about him looked familiar. He had to be, or had to have been, a machine operator, but who was he? Went through the file of faces in my memory and came up with nothing. Damn! His face was fairly smooth and, although not a really happy face it looked to be almost on the edge of a smile.

The only body and face fitting that general description, in my mind, was myself. Behind him there was a large mirror and I looked at my reflection in it.

The thinning white hair, matched, as did the round face and overweight bodies. But, the face looking back at me from the mirror was lined, angry and closed. It didn??t used to be like that. I don??t look at it very often.

The Guy finished his lunch, pushed his chair back a bit and put both hands on the table. Then he sat there.

I thought, ??He is going to stand up and he??s bracing himself for it.” I was absolutely certain.

As I watched, he put his feet slightly wider apart,leaned forward and stood up without putting much weight on his hands, just enough to steady himself. On his feet, he stood for a few seconds, mentally sorting out his back, his balance, the amount of pain in the moment, finished straightening up and walked.

I knew his moves before he made them. I could feel his pain. Then, he did something I would not have done. He must have noticed me watching. As he went past my table he gave me a lop-sided grin. Made him look young.

Note to myself, etched in reverse letters across my forehead,so that I can read it every day while shaving: If I want to have friends on into my arthritic alertness; Smile You Old Bastard, Smile.

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January 2012

When we complained about the cold in January, my Dad would say something like, “Oh, pretty soon the dust??ll be flying and the mosquitoes will be out.”

Made me angry. Didn??t He know that Spring was months and months away and it would take forever? And, who cared about the mosquitoes? It would be better than it is now!

Sixty years on, the days, weeks, months slide by faster and faster. It doesn??t take nearly as long to wait a while as it used to.

Winter doesn??t seem so cold now, and Summer doesn??t seem so far away—or so enticing. The urge, is to enjoy the fleeting present, whatever it may consist of.

Kids paint themselves a picture of the future, and a lot of them believe it will come to be. Old people paint themselves a past and try to believe it really was. Whoever invented time, designed it so that it is malleable. It may be manipulated by us one way in our infancy and another in our senility.

If one no longer has the faith to believe in a wonderful future, or the ability to delude himself into a wonderful past, or the gullibility to believe the present is wonderful, then one might as well consider, and experience, reality.

One cannot do anything about the weather, or the past. One cannot do anything about the season of the year, or the future. It may, however, be possible to have a certain amount of serenity in many of the present moments of each day.

Hell, it isn??t too bad most days. Anything that comes along is easier to deal with one instant at a time than dragged from the past and worried into the future.

Personally, I am having a reasonably good afternoon. Most of the past stuff that I could regret happened among people whom I have outlived. Mostly, what I could fear from the future, is the unknown, which I am not in charge of.

I sit, looking out the window, resolved to be serene. Since, I suppose, it is the time of year to resolve something, then,I have just done so.

 

December 2011

Someone asked me, “What are your plans for Christmas?”

He probably didn??t really want to know. It is something people mouth at this time of year. About the same as, “Have a nice day.”

It is a good thing that this sort of question does not require a real answer. I honestly would not know what to say. There are many Christmases in my past. I am able to remember most of them, if I want to. A few of them I am not able to forget, even if I wanted to. But, to make plans to recapture old feelings, to be ??like it used to be??, is impossible.

I am not the same person who used to drink and carouse during the ??Holidays??. I??m not particularly interested in carousing, and probably wouldn??t know how. No doubt the rules of carousing are all changed in this century.

The wonderful days we had as kids, the excitement, the wonder, the Mystery, belong back there. No matter how we plan, or decorate a day, we cannot recreate ourselves.

To get together with Family, at the Farm, is what I want, but it is not possible. The farm no longer exists in reality, just in my heart. And, the family, those who are left, are, like me, changed. None of us believe in Santa Claus.

We don??t want to eat huge amounts of turkey any more—-we are not allowed to. We can??t sit around and drink whiskey—-we all quit drinking, years ago. We used to smoke cigars on Christmas day, but most of us don??t smoke any more.

So, I will not make plans. Well, maybe I shall try to be somewhere on Christmas morning to watch a kid open presents, to sit quietly, out of his way and dream of long ago.

Because, I know a way to get close to all those people I used to be. Christmas music does it. The carols and the sounds are the same, almost, as they were fifty, sixty years ago. Christmases past are crystal clear when framed in Carols. I shall sit and relive the best ones.

Now you know why old men sit and doze. It is realer than real, and it doesn??t cost a cent.

May 2012

One day recently, while Eilo Niskanen and I were driving around back roads, something about the sinking of the Titanic came up on the radio.? Because it happened a hundred years ago in April, a lot of stories have been in the news about? that great tragedy.? Eilo mentioned, casually, (he doesn??t often get emotional)
??My Grandfather was on that ship.??
??Did he survive???
??Yeah.? He went to California and got shot in the back in a barn that burnt.??
??Have you got any more information about him???
He thought there might be something sent by relatives in Finland, and he did find a few details, which he let me read.
There were just enough sketchy, down played, bits to evoke? gut wrenching? emotions, but not really enough to tell the story.
John Niskanen was born in 1873 in Finland.? He may have made two trips to ??the Land of Dreams?? and had planned to make a life for himself and his family in California.? He had, apparently, been gold mining in California, ??lived as a loner and got his bread by digging for gold??, and went back to Finland to make arrangements to move his family, then sailed for America on the Titanic in April 1912.
There were sixty-three Finns on board, all, or most of all in steerage?third class.? When the ship hit an iceberg, the people down there were actually discouraged from going up to the life boats.? There were only enough life boats for half the people on board.? Just twenty of the Finnish passengers survived.
The story is? that John Niskanen? ??was thrown away twice from a lifeboat?? but managed somehow to get in the last one.
A newly wed couple, Elin and Pekka? Hakkarainen had just gone to bed when the collision occurred.? Pekka? went out to see what happened. He said he would be right back.? Elin never saw him again.
The steerage passengers who tried to get to the top deck had to find their way through a maze of corridors and doors, some of which were locked.? Some of them were ??surprisingly calm??, dressed warmly and ??just went up to the boat deck??.? Erik Jussila was denied access to three different life boats.? Then he ?? literally jumped into boat number nine or eleven as it was descending??.
One of the most horrific statistics of the disaster is the fact that so few third class passengers survived.? A combination of locked gates, lifeboat shortage and open discrimination resulted in more first class men surviving than third class children.
Notably, none of the Finnish third class passengers who survived ever testified to having had any difficulties reaching the boat deck.? This may have been due to the legendary Finnish sisu.
I can attest that sisu still runs deep in the Niskanen family, several generations later.
John Niskanen reached Boston after ??many adventures?? and went on to California.? He died in 1929 without ever being able to return to Finland.? There is a story that his death certificate stated cause of death as ??suicide??.
It seems very doubtful that any man, who knew? little English, would travel twice from Finland to California, a hundred years ago, survive the sinking of the Titanic, and then commit suicide.
I am grateful to Eilo for sharing the information he was able to provide about his grandfather and the Titanic.? I think I will try to get him to harass? his grandchildren to find more information on this man and one of them could write a book.? It would be an epic.

April 2012

There is no longer any point in my trying to make anybody believe that I, as an old person, long time observer of the seasons, should be able to ??tell the weather??.

It is probably a good thing. I can relax, because I never was very good at it. I was wrong almost as often as the weather channel. And those guys I remember from long ago, they were not infallible either.

My Dad used to say, “Listen to what the radio says the weather is in Pickle Lake. We??ll get the same thing in three days.”

Where he got that idea from, no one knows. But it didn??t matter much, because, who remembered what the weather was like three days ago anyway?

Wilber, a cousin from the prairies, twenty years older than me, had sayings for every occasion. He would spout a line like, “Rain and the sunshine gonna rain tomorrow.” He drove me and my brother crazy, but we couldn??t drown him in the horse trough or anything, he was family. He was not only wrong about the weather, he always got the axe dull, and he pulled too hard on the horses?? reins. It was, however, a near thing, on more than one occasion. Sometimes I had to really ride herd on my little brother when he was into the second or third day of planning how to off Wilber. I??d say, “No. We have to let him live. He always remembers birthdays and Christmas presents.”

He did too, and he was nice as pie and almost sane, all Christmas Day, but he couldn??t tell the weather. All he did was rhyme off stupid stuff from the Farmers Almanac—usually misquoted.

I worked in the bush with Harvey Taylor for a few years. Harvey remembered everything he heard and could regurgitate it verbatim. Whenever the skidder or the power saws were shut down, Harvey would do monologues on any one, or all, of his three topics—some people have mind sets, fixated on one idea, to the exclusion of everything else. Harv had three. He talked about the weather, fist fighting or sex. Maybe he talked when the machinery was running, I don??t know, he was not a loud talker,so I couldn??t hear. Actually, one could have made certain conjectures. Harvey was not only voluble, he acted out his stories, graphically.

To confine myself to his weather reports, which he got from the radio, usually, he became the weather man and seamlessly reproduced long reports of ??Colorado Lows?? and ??Tornado Alley?? hair raisers. I do not know how often he was correct, but he was more interesting than CBC and I hope he got it right??as often as the radio did. As to his other reports, I sometimes suspected that he had to be at least a hundred years older than he said he was, in order to do it all. He was certainly way out of my league.

Now, to get back to where I started—about the weather: January and February were like March and March was like May and I won??t even wonder about April.

I have never been a TV addict. I like to flip through the channels in order to tally up how much really bad programming there is being aired at any given time. Then I turn it off and read a book. Well. I sometimes watch the Vanna White show and Antiques Roadshow. But lately it has been great to turn on the weather channel. Summer weather in Toronto, snow storms in New Mexico, day after day of twenty plus in Thunder Bay, and no foreseeable end to it.

I fairly tingle with anticipation every morning when I wake up.

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September 2012

At one time, actually, quite a while ago, I had a parka with very large pockets. It might even still exist, somewhere. It could easily be hanging in a closet, or be folded in a box. If that is the case, it will have to stay there until it gets thrown out or the moths eat it, because it is not in the place where I now dwell. My past is made up of places I don??t go back to, places I won??t go back to and places I can??t go back to.

Anyway, Old Suzy recently gave me a Lap Top. Old Suzy, along with her Mother, spent many years training me. They worked valiantly, trying to make me into a person of distinction. It was like making a Cadillac out of an old international truck. They failed, of course and I ultimately ran away to live in an attic full of books. Bless them.

Suzy still tries. Every month or so she allots three hours out of her busy schedule to organize my life. There does not appear to be any noticeable alteration in my attitude toward life and interpersonal communications, but she also gives me stuff. I have enough pots and pans and sheets and towels and bedding to put up several people for days, if I interacted with that many people, which I do not. Suzy??s mother occasionally reels me in and scolds Hell out of me, to no avail.

They are both intelligent and energetic, believe themselves to be problem solvers and want to solve the problem of me, but it must seem like an exercise in futility.

From my point of view they do me a great service. They know me well, particularly, they know my faults. And they tell me the truth about those faults and failings. Very few people have friends like that.

So, Suzy gave me a Lap Top which is very small. It would fit very nicely into the pocket of that parka I left somewhere. I could take it to the bush, sit on a stump and write my book as long as the flies weren??t bad.

I have a history of traumatic experiences with computers. I wrote on a Smith Corona portable typewriter that I got when I was twelve, until I was about fifty, wrote lots of stories while sitting on a stump. Twenty odd years ago my brother gave me a 1980 IBM portable, with a program in it that nobody remembered?even then. It had a screen about five by seven?inches, that is. We still used them then. It took me a few years to learn the rudiments of it and then I went back to school?at age fifty three. Had to take a computer course. I got a D, not only did I not learn anything, I forgot what I had learned on my own machine. With perseverance over the ensuing years, I learned just enough to process words, with a several month hiatus each time programs were updated or changed.

The machine Old Suzy gave me is state of the art. She spent an hour telling me all the things it can do. It probably won??t be obsolete for several weeks. It was, maybe, her final attempt at getting me into the twenty-first century.

Well, she unknowingly did me the greatest good ever. The screen is not much bigger than my l980 IBM, it doesn??t need to be plugged in, and if I find that parka, it will be easy to pack around.

I still know where the stump is at the farm, out behind where the barn used to be. The only thing that can stop me now is the mosquitos.

 

 

June 2012

A lot of people, born since about nineteen sixty, do not know how to spell words, actually, it is more than a lot—it is a Hell of a bunch.

When I was in grade nine, in nineteen fifty-one, there was a book called Words Are Important. We had to learn to spell a number of words every week. It may have been twenty, or a hundred or a thousand, I do not recall. There was a test on Friday, and if one failed to get all but three of them correct, there would be detentions until one got it right.

Some people, mostly girls, always got a hundred percent. They were the ones who did their homework, had been studying every night since they were in grade six, were adored by teachers and despised by those of us in the detention room.

There were just as many, mostly but not all, boys who just could not seem to get the hang of spelling. There were as many people in the detention room as there were ??smart?? girls walking home with arms full of books. Some never did learn. I don??t know how they were dealt with by the system. I forced myself to get through ??Words Are Important?? because I wanted to be a writer, figured if I ever got anything published I did not want some Teachers Pet Girl pointing out mistakes. Maybe some of those guys never got out of detention. More likely, they walked from the School, the day they were sixteen and went to work at the Mill, and retired at fifty seven, with better pensions than the teachers.

In those days, teen-agers who had difficulty with spelling, reading, penmanship, putting words on paper, were considered to be lazy, or ??bad?? or ??slow??. A few people in the system who had gotten some courses in Psychology, were beginning, by the mid-fifties, to use words like ??anti-social??, ??low I.Q.??, ??unmotivated??. I, myself was once described—by a youngish female Teacher—no doubt one who had been a ??Good?? student by grade six, as having ??ability but no stability??. Made me kind of proud.

That was fifty-odd years ago. I never really learned how to spell, and never really, got to be a writer. It has always been necessary to write stuff down when I am musing in order to read it and see what I??ve been thinking about. Sometimes I get paid for it. I am careful to avoid much in the way of commitment—hanging on to that fifty year old label of ??no stability??—perpetuated by me as laziness. Any lingering concern about spelling mistakes—old guilt, ground in by the non-benevolent teaching practices of my youth—I solve by having a good dictionary on my desk at all times.

Another thing that makes life worthwhile, and messes up any statistics on language skills—mine or the experts— is this: I have a friend—female—who can spell. She went to high school twenty years after I did, was more rebellious and unstable than I even dreamt of being. She doesn??t remember much about school, but she can correctly spell any word I have ever asked when I was at the key-board. It is easier than looking it up in Webster. Fascinating!

My mind buzzes with lots of impressions. They whirl and change and go away. If I try to concentrate on anything the mind buzz interferes and thinking is mostly an exercise in futility. So I write down whatever is going on?as much as I am able to get—and then sort it out. Often it makes sense. Well, sometimes.

This state of mind, I have learned over the last fifty years, is not ??instability??, or ??low IQ??, or poor toilet training. I am not anti-social. Hell, I might not even be lazy!

I, and all the losers like me, from the Detention room, unable to cope with ??Words Are Important?? were probably dyslexic.

Dyslexia is an inner ear disfunction that causes ??mind buzz??. It causes sometimes severe difficulty in reading or writing or sorting out words, not necessarily in speaking, but in written word comprehension. It is caused by allergies to various substances, mostly foods.

Another fact, readily available on the book shelf in most Health Food stores: A huge proportion of human beings are allergic in some degree to cow’s milk. Therefore, many of us who had ??learning problems?? and ??behavioral disorders?? were dyslexic, because we drank our milk like good little boys. No wonder we were difficult students.

Nothing will be done about this fact of life as long as milk continues to be pushed at us as the perfect food??.

And, consider this: Until the advent of the printing press in the fifteenth century, words were spelt however it suited the writer. The English language grew and was quite successful as a means of communication for two hundred years in spite of the fact that words were spelt quite differently from town to town, from person to person. Shakespeare spelt his name on various documents in at least seven different ways. When the printing press came into use it seemed a good idea—to the printers— to standardize the language.

This was not done for the populace, it was done for the newspaper and book business.

We have been obliged, and brow beaten, to follow, slavishly, combinations of letters, words like ??red?? and ??read?? and ??read?? and ??deed??, to say nothing of ??through?? and ??threw??, ??tough?? and ??tuff??

The language has evolved over the last five hundred years and the way we write it down has evolved—as far as the people who live in the twenty-first century practice it.

The people who text do not know how to spell? Of course they do. They use the language the way it will be used in the future.

The out-of-date system which continues to try to enforce five hundred year old rules on the kids of to-day—some of whom are in their fifties—will fail.

So, I drank my milk and slaved over that damned ??Words Are Important??, decade after decade, to realize, in my dotage, that the kids who spelt things the way they sounded, shortened them up, and didn??t take typing in school—they learned typing and computers in their diapers—and they won??t do up their shoelaces— were right, exactly right.

The only habit I nurtured and retained that is worthwhile is the laziness. For a while now, I do not lace up my shoes tightly, like Mom and Grandma demanded. Tight laces cause poor circulation. None of us knew that when I was alive.

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One of my most deplorable habits is to wake up early in the morning. It is not a life long thing, because, back in my working years, when I was, so to speak, an actual citizen of the community, I had a Hell of a time to get started every day. I??d think, ??If I ever get retired, or have holidays, or even a day off, I??ll sleep all day, maybe I??ll stay in bed for a week.??

With careful planning, or, more likely, with encroaching years, I have, for a while now, reached a life situation in which I could stay abed as long as I wish. Nobody would be concerned by my absence or lateness. Nobody would know. Nobody would care.

So I wake up, wide awake, when it is still night.

Occasionally, I go for a walk. One morning, about four AM, I met a tomcat, coming out of an alley, gliding along, a bit battered and untidy. He didn??t look as if he had been in a fight. Not exactly. He sort of grinned at me. Kindred spirits? I wish. For a few minutes, my mind went back to a night, long ago, from which I returned with a badly chewed ear.

There is always some traffic. That particular morning a police car slowed down and looked at me as I walked. It did not stop. I wasn??t staggering. Still in my reverie of the far gone not-quite fight, I almost pranced.

Sometimes I turn on the TV and click channels, all of them, several times. At least once, there were fifty-three commercials in a row. Some of them are called ??infomercials?? and they go on for hours. Once in a while they put on The Antiques Road Show, really late. Perfect. A show for antiques who cannot sleep. On one memorable early morning, I saw The Lawrence Welk show. Of all the fifty million loyal fans, or the percentage thereof who are still alive, I may have been the only viewer who watched the whole, entire, damned, rerun. Made me feel good. I thought, ??I really do still have a life going on.??

Mostly, I just sit in the dark, to not bother any real people who are sleeping. I can feel sorry for myself for about thirty seconds. Real people, particularly young ones, like, anyone under sixty or so, can sleep through any amount of noise or light, including alarm clocks and sleepless senescent seniors.

Along about eight o??clock, when the world begins to stir, I forgive myself for a misspent past, an isolated present and an uncertain future. I go back to bed and happily to sleep.

 

 

September 2012

At one time, actually, quite a while ago, I had a parka with very large pockets. It might even still exist, somewhere. It could easily be hanging in a closet, or be folded in a box. If that is the case, it will have to stay there until it gets thrown out or the moths eat it, because it is not in the place where I now dwell. My past is made up of places I don??t go back to, places I won??t go back to and places I can??t go back to.

Anyway, Old Suzy recently gave me a Lap Top. Old Suzy, along with her Mother, spent many years training me. They worked valiantly, trying to make me into a person of distinction. It was like making a Cadillac out of an old international truck. They failed, of course and I ultimately ran away to live in an attic full of books. Bless them.

Suzy still tries. Every month or so she allots three hours out of her busy schedule to organize my life. There does not appear to be any noticeable alteration in my attitude toward life and interpersonal communications, but she also gives me stuff. I have enough pots and pans and sheets and towels and bedding to put up several people for days, if I interacted with that many people, which I do not. Suzy??s mother occasionally reels me in and scolds Hell out of me, to no avail.

They are both intelligent and energetic, believe themselves to be problem solvers and want to solve the problem of me, but it must seem like an exercise in futility.

From my point of view they do me a great service. They know me well, particularly, they know my faults. And they tell me the truth about those faults and failings. Very few people have friends like that.

So, Suzy gave me a Lap Top which is very small. It would fit very nicely into the pocket of that parka I left somewhere. I could take it to the bush, sit on a stump and write my book as long as the flies weren??t bad.

I have a history of traumatic experiences with computers. I wrote on a Smith Corona portable typewriter that I got when I was twelve, until I was about fifty, wrote lots of stories while sitting on a stump. Twenty odd years ago my brother gave me a 1980 IBM portable, with a program in it that nobody remembered?even then. It had a screen about five by seven?inches, that is. We still used them then. It took me a few years to learn the rudiments of it and then I went back to school?at age fifty three. Had to take a computer course. I got a D, not only did I not learn anything, I forgot what I had learned on my own machine. With perseverance over the ensuing years, I learned just enough to process words, with a several month hiatus each time programs were updated or changed.

The machine Old Suzy gave me is state of the art. She spent an hour telling me all the things it can do. It probably won??t be obsolete for several weeks. It was, maybe, her final attempt at getting me into the twenty-first century.

Well, she unknowingly did me the greatest good ever. The screen is not much bigger than my l980 IBM, it doesn??t need to be plugged in, and if I find that parka, it will be easy to pack around.

I still know where the stump is at the farm, out behind where the barn used to be. The only thing that can stop me now is the mosquitos.

One of my most deplorable habits is to wake up early in the morning. It is not a life long thing, because, back in my working years, when I was, so to speak, an actual citizen of the community, I had a Hell of a time to get started every day. I??d think, ??If I ever get retired, or have holidays, or even a day off, I??ll sleep all day, maybe I??ll stay in bed for a week.??

With careful planning, or, more likely, with encroaching years, I have, for a while now, reached a life situation in which I could stay abed as long as I wish. Nobody would be concerned by my absence or lateness. Nobody would know. Nobody would care.

So I wake up, wide awake, when it is still night.

Occasionally, I go for a walk. One morning, about four AM, I met a tomcat, coming out of an alley, gliding along, a bit battered and untidy. He didn??t look as if he had been in a fight. Not exactly. He sort of grinned at me. Kindred spirits? I wish. For a few minutes, my mind went back to a night, long ago, from which I returned with a badly chewed ear.

There is always some traffic. That particular morning a police car slowed down and looked at me as I walked. It did not stop. I wasn??t staggering. Still in my reverie of the far gone not-quite fight, I almost pranced.

Sometimes I turn on the TV and click channels, all of them, several times. At least once, there were fifty-three commercials in a row. Some of them are called ??infomercials?? and they go on for hours. Once in a while they put on The Antiques Road Show, really late. Perfect. A show for antiques who cannot sleep. On one memorable early morning, I saw The Lawrence Welk show. Of all the fifty million loyal fans, or the percentage thereof who are still alive, I may have been the only viewer who watched the whole, entire, damned, rerun. Made me feel good. I thought, ??I really do still have a life going on.??

Mostly, I just sit in the dark, to not bother any real people who are sleeping. I can feel sorry for myself for about thirty seconds. Real people, particularly young ones, like, anyone under sixty or so, can sleep through any amount of noise or light, including alarm clocks and sleepless senescent seniors.

Along about eight o??clock, when the world begins to stir, I forgive myself for a misspent past, an isolated present and an uncertain future. I go back to bed and happily to sleep.

March 2013

As usual, today was deadline and as usual, my mind was not connected to my fingers. The brain buzzed with stuff, unrelated in time and unrelated to any other body systems. It left the fingers limp, kind of.

As a rule, over the years, I grab on to a thought or scene from the ??buzz?? and do what was told to me about writing sixty years since—say what you??re going to say, say it and say what you said. It works for an article or an essay or a speech. The easiest and clearest memories to glean are from long ago. The way back ones have emotion. Many of the later ones are jaded. If the memory triggers feelings, whatever sort of feeling, the feelings damp out the mind chaff, and my fingers are available.

Of course, I??ve been doing this for years, the same recipe makes the same cake. Over and over.

The frustrated writer?vegetating as a high school teacher?who noticed my flair for putting words together, also told me, “Write about what you know.” I know that since I retired from my last job at age seventy, five years ago, I??ve been in a slump, felt as if nothng was going on in my life. Nothing in the present to write about. Most of the past vignettes used up.

Poor old hulk. Sit on your ass and let the mind buzz.

A comfortable cop out, of course.

Some time ago, because of my history of alcoholism, drug addiction and depression related chemical imbalance, I became a member of Peer Council, a voluntary organization at Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital. I did it for selfish reasons, to keep me aware of the certain disaster of relapse. I owe my life to The Twelve Steps, but I was beginning to repeat myself, to live in the past, to lose my connection to the real people there. I was not being part of the present. My fault. Not theirs.

I do not, often, share my experience, strength and hope with the people in Peer Council. I listen. They all have life problems, larger loads than I have.

Three other members of Peer Council, one, an accomplished singer/musician/ex patient at the LPH, had recently begun to provide music and singing for the clients, once a month. The clients, many of whom are in my age range, wanted the old time stuff like my brother and I played at country dances when we were kids. I, timidly, dug out my accordion and joined them. We were there today.

I guess I??ve not allowed my association with Peer Council to be part of being alive and being in the present, felt it had to be secret.

Faced with a deadline,needing something fresh to write about and just back from a conversaton with a very perceptive fellow member of Peer Council, it came together. I don??t have to hide the fact that I am an alcoholic, or that I am borderline mpd. It is real and in the present and, for what it is worth I can write about it.

The lady I was talking to has known many of the clients for a long time. She said that some of them, particularly, older people had been uncommunicative, almost blank, until ??music day?? started. Over the past year a number of these people have sung along, knew the words to all the songs, danced, became alive.

They have a life. So do I. It ain’t over till the last breath. I might even remember how to play that damn accordion.

If any musicians happen to read this: There is absolutely no more appreciative audience than the audience we play to, on Music Day.

?

 

In an unpretentious part of the city, on a reasonably quiet street, I reside in an attic. On both sides , doors open into large sloping spaces the full length of the house. I never go there, except to look for the books I stashed on arriving, several years ago.

The ceiling goes from shoulder height to nothing at the back and there is no light. Naturally, I??ve never been able to find anything. Not high enough to walk upright?might overbalance, run all the way to the far end and never get back. Can??t crawl on account of numerous arthritic joints. Somewhere, are several volumes of Carl Sandbergs?? History of the American Civil War. I??ve stood, bent over, flashlight in one hand, the other hand grasping a rafter, my feet balanced on floor joists, sneezing and not able to identify a damn thing. There are several trunks also. Haven??t been opened since I hauled them from BC in the eighties.

It isn??t as though I??m hard up for books to read. There are shelves full, all around the front room, double rows, every where but in front of the TV and the windows. They are on the floor, the coffee table, in the can. Can??t find what I want there either, maybe because of my filing system.

There are three categories. Books to read, books I have read and books I??m never going to read. About ninety-four percent of all three piles are crap, which leaves a little bit of worthwhile literature to re-read. If I could find it..

Over the years I have walked away from houses, businesses, people and provinces. Nothing left but books, last move there was a truck load. Sixty or seventy years of reading to realize that it was an exercise in futility.

Maybe I learned one thing to pass along. To find something, look for something else. I was looking for a book, naturally and I found a box with a brand new pair of shoes in it. Had not been worn since I tried them in the store?who knows when, and I really needed them for a gathering where there would be dancing.

Perhaps if I had spent seventy years learning to dance?

 

It has to be seventy years ago, though in that corner of my mind where a lot of stuff lingers, it seems like yesterday. Dad hollered from the bottom of the stairs, “Hup!” and, if your feet didn??t hit the floor, immediately, he would be angry and flabbergasted at how anyone could be so completely lacking in courtesy and common etiquette. After all, it was nearly five AM.

We scurried right down, because he had promised to take us to Banana lake.

I had just turned six a day or two before and my brother was four and a half. We desperately needed to see Banana lake. Dad said there were no creeks in or out and there was sand beach all the way around it. There was no road to it, but the hydro line was five hundred steps from it in one place. Dad said that somehow or other Mike Woitowicz and Harry Morton had got their motorcycles in along the hydro line?which had no road and in to the lake. They had rode around the lake, lots of times. It is readily understandable that two half tame bush kids, in 1944, would really need to go there.

He said, “Now, we??ll leave the truck at the end of the road, at O??Douds, It is about the half mile to the river. We need to find a big tree to fall acrost, to walk on. Then its about two miles over the big burn to the hydro line. You find pole number 128 and walk in five hunderd steps and thats Banana lake. You have to keep up. If old Isaac or any of the Hendersons was along, why, you might get left over night in the bush.”

Well, we figured Dad wouldn??t leave us. If any of the neighbours looked as if they wanted to come along, why we would have planned some kind of accident for them.

Anyway, we got across the river, climbed the big ridge,came upon the hydro line and found the required structure. Number 128.

The lake was exactly as I had imagined it. Beautifull. We had a swim. There were no motorcycle tracks. Dad said, “Well, you know, that was last year. The tracks probably faded with the snow. But you guys can shoot at the loons.”

Dad had the twenty-two, his big rifle, the axe and his packsack. He wanted to go on to the next lake to see if a moose was summering there. He always took that much with him and he always knew where the moose were. He told some people where some of the moose were. Only, not the one who always summered in the swamp on the north side of our farm.

He said, “You guys stay here while I go to Anaway lake. You better not swim while I??m gone. This lake is spring fed and it gets pretty deep just past where you can see, but you can shoot at the loons, there are always two. You won??t hurt them because loons is smart. They know when a bullet is commin?? and they duck. I??ve shot at them all my life and never hit one.”

I had shot the twenty-two before a couple of times but I am prettty sure Gordon had not. He was four. We had a shot before Dad left. The first shot my little brother ever made with a gun, he hit a loon right in the head. It floated, dead, in to shore.

Dad said, “I??ll be go to Hell! I never saw anything like that before. I never even seen a loon up close before.”

It was a beautifull bird. None of us ever shot at a loon again.

It was a long hike back through the bush. Gordon played out and Dad carried him. I got a way behind. I was a bit cranky. As the older kid, I didn??t get to ride. I had picked some lady-slippers for Mom. They were hard to keep in good shape. I did get them home. When I gave them to Mom she said, “You are not supposed to pick ladyslippers, they are ??protected??.” The oldest kid just doesn??t have it easy.

At one point I was just about all in. Then, right beside me there was a hornets nest. I think it was taller than me. I past Dad in a flash. He laughed. He had seen it and didn??t tell me. I wished he had found a stupid moose and killed it. Then he??d have to carry the damned thing home all by himself. Ten bloody trips!