Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 at 8:29 PM
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve had anything to say… but I’d like to talk about family – or, more properly, the concept of family. I’d like to talk about the honorable men and women of the fire department… specifically the New Hope Volunteer Fire Department of New Hope, Virginia.
Let me preface all this by saying that April and May have been particularly stressful for Sheila and me. A number of incidents happened that really put our coping abilities to the test. For example, on Friday, April 20, Sheila and I had to go to the doctor because we were both suffering from an acute sinus infection. For each of us, he prescribed a single-dose antibiotic called ZMax which worked well, but really knocked us out for a couple of days. Still, by Monday we were pretty much back to normal. Well… for a while.
On the evening of Thursday, April 26, Sheila and I went out for dinner at our local Outback Steakhouse. We had a great meal and thoroughly enjoyed the entire evening. At about 2:00 am Friday morning, Sheila developed severe diarrhea and started to throw up. It went on for about 45 minutes non-stop with waves of searing abdominal pain in between. Remembering how badly it went for Sheila the last time she was really ill and we delayed taking her to the hospital (see blog entry: Dad – Part 5), I packed her up and drove her to the ER at our local hospital. Within about 15 minutes she was in a bed, receiving IV fluids, and had received a dose of strong anti-diarrhea and anti-emetic medicine as well as a dose of narcotics for the pain. The medicine didn’t stop the symptoms though… and about 3 hours later (6:00 am), she received another full dose of each. The hospital could not admit her because our health insurance didn’t allow her to be admitted to any hospital other than the one for which she worked, so at about 7:00 she was discharged and I drove her to the ER at the hospital where she worked – about a 30 minute drive. They admitted her immediately and she stayed there the rest of the day and overnight – and by Saturday morning, she was in much better shape. She still had the occasional bout of diarrhea, but the vomiting had stopped and the pain had diminished.
The doctors (and there were several who saw her), agreed it was a variant of a Norovirus, a particularly nasty bug, and that there was nothing much to do but let the virus run its course – usually about 36 hours worth of misery. Her condition improved enough that by Saturday afternoon, she was discharged home. The doctor had written some prescriptions for her and after I made her comfortable in our bed, I drove to Wal-Mart to get them filled. Sheila slept the rest of the night… and then it was my turn.
At about 2:00 am on Sunday morning (why do these things always happen in the middle of the night?), I was in the bathroom vomiting with severe diarrhea. Fortunately, by this time we knew what was going on and we had the medicine handy. Like Sheila, there was nothing much to do but let the virus run its course… and I came to fully empathize with her and what she had just gone through.
The most stressful part of the past two months, though, was not our being ill, but the tragic loss of our nephew, David Reynolds on April 4, 2007. David was a great guy – a terrific friend, a good father to his two young daughters, a devoted husband, a fire fighter, a metal sculptor, and a man so full of life that living it to the fullest was his passion. David never did anything halfway. If he took on a project, he threw himself into it fully and stayed with it until it was done.
David was on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia with his boss and two others, in a beautiful boat owned and driven by his boss. They were on their way to his boss’ summer house on a small island in the lake when for some, as yet, unexplained reason, the boat overturned and the four of them went into the water. According to the police reports, they were not speeding and alcohol was not involved. David’s boss and one of the other men managed to hang on to the overturned boat and were eventually rescued by a father and son who were out on the lake to do some fishing. One man died at the scene… and David, the youngest at age 44 and by far the strongest swimmer, was lost. As I write this blog entry, his body has not yet been recovered.
David was a 2nd Lieutenant with the New Hope Volunteer Fire Department. When they heard the news, every available member of the NHVFD scrambled to the lake to help in search and rescue operations. High winds and cold weather hampered their efforts though, and after 3 days with no results, and in consultation with Melody, David’s wife, the rescue efforts were officially called off. Still, every day, members of the NHVFD were at the lake to search – something which they continued to do throughout the months of April and May… and something which they continue to do to this day.
There wasn’t much that Sheila and I could do other than offer support to Melody, and we felt pretty much helpless despite our best efforts. There was no body, and so there was no closure. After five weeks, Melody resolved to move forward, if only for the sake of their two young daughters. She settled on May 12, 2007 as the date for a memorial service for David – it would have been their 17th wedding anniversary. Sheila and I drove to Virginia this past weekend to attend the service… and it was during this service, that I discovered a new meaning of the word “family”.
People came to pay their respects. Hundreds of people came! By the time the service started, there were over 350 people in the hall. It was a humbling experience. More humbling though… honor guards from no fewer than 7 fire departments were present… most of whom had never even heard the name “David Reynolds”. It didn’t matter. They were honoring their fallen brother in the only way they knew how… with dignity, and respect, and a sense of duty. I was so taken aback by their presence, I had to catch my breath at times because the intensity of their brotherhood was almost overwhelming.
As the service started, there was a young man – about 25 years old – sitting in the next aisle. While most of the men were nicely dressed, this young fellow was wearing old baggy blue jeans with a jack knife hanging from his belt loop, tennis shoes, a faded cream shirt, and hair that looked as though it hadn’t seen a brush for a week. He also had a tattoo of a scorpion on his right hand with the body and tail on his wrist and the claws extending down his thumb and index finger. He looked totally out of place. As it turned out, my first impressions of him were totally wrong.
At the front of the hall, there stood a framed photo of David in his VFD uniform, and folded neatly below, was his uniform and polished helmet. The hall had 3 ceiling mounted projectors and screens, and a slide show highlighted moments in David’s life… his wedding to Melody, the birth of his daughters, holding a water hose near a burning building, goofy memories of camping, moments with friends, and other good times. All of this was accompanied by Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie “Titanic”. Up until this time, most of the group had been able to hold back their tears, but the images were so typically David and the music was so poignant, that you could hear people crying within a few moments of the music starting. Sheila and I both cried a bit… David was a good man. But if anyone was affected by the music and images, it was the young man in the next aisle.
When the service first started, he appeared to struggle to stay awake as though he wished he could be anywhere other than where he was. Soon though, I noticed that he seemed very upset – he was trying not to cry… and his face was filled with pain. When the slide show and music started, he completely broke down and sobbed loudly. His whole body shook with the intensity of his emotions and it took a few moments before I realized that he was sitting with some members of the New Hope VFD… David’s own department. At one point during the music, he stood up straight and with a great sense of deliberateness, he saluted David’s picture. The tears streamed down his face as he stood silently… still saluting and he had to be consoled by a member of his department. As more and more people noticed, their own emotions became more intense… and soon it seemed as though the whole hall was crying.
I never found out who this young man was other than that he worked at the NHVFD and that he knew David… but it didn’t really matter. Perhaps this was his first experience with the loss of a friend… I don’t really know, but his reactions that day were seared into my mind. That young man did the only thing he could do to honor the memory of a man who, apparently, had made quite an impression. His actions spoke volumes about David’s character.
Perhaps the hardest part of the service was Last Call. It lasted only 15 seconds, but it has occupied my thoughts every day since the service. It’s the way in which members of the fire department honor their own. The department dispatcher sent a radio message that was picked up in the hall and patched through the speakers so that everyone could hear. Simultaneously, the message was broadcast through the public address system to every fire department and FD vehicle in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The message was the official “last call” for David, thanking him for his service, and reminding all within earshot that he will not be forgotten.
I have not yet shed a tear for my dad who died last year… but I cried for David. I have to wonder what that says about my concept of family.
Finally, almost 4 months to the day since he was lost, David’s body was recovered on August 2nd. For Melody and the girls, it means the opportunity to have a proper burial, a proper gravesite, and some much needed closure.
On Religion - Part 3
Posted on Sunday, November 19, 2006 at 12:16 PM
Warning – this blog entry concerns my thoughts on Christianity… right or wrong; for better or worse. If you are a Christian, a person of faith, or are otherwise easily offended, you should not read this blog entry. Consider yourself warned!
I truly believe that Peter screwed over Christianity. After a vision by Peter (Acts 10:9-16), it seems that god cleansed all animals and made them fit and lawful for human consumption. But I’ve got to wonder… what was the political climate at the time? Were pig farmers putting undue pressure on the government? Did such pressure help raise revenues by allowing pigs to be eaten by those who, only a few years earlier, would have gone straight to hell for breaking the Jewish dietary laws? Let’s remember that Jesus was Jewish… he would not have eaten pork or shellfish. So did Peter really believe that god suddenly tossed 1,500 years of dietary law into the garbage can? On the basis of a dream? Yah… right!
In recent years, it has become commonplace to ask “what would Jesus do?” (WWJD) when placed in a situation of conflicting viewpoints. I’m pretty sure that Jesus would not have eaten pork or shellfish. The book of Acts was written after Jesus died… most likely in the 12 years between 48 and 60 AD. So, no sooner was Jesus in the ground when his followers – those who had sworn to uphold his teachings – turned their back on his and their own faith.
I believe the early church, while making a noble attempt to help the illiterate population evolve into good and compassionate people, built some huge mystique about Jesus. This was compounded by an attempt to clean up the language of the bible to make it somewhat less ambiguous than it otherwise was; perhaps an attempt to make it more user friendly.
I believe that the early bible writers and scholars grossly misinterpreted the name of god to suit themselves... to suit the mystique that had arisen with respect to Jesus and the belief – or, at least, the political assertion – that he was the son of god. In John 14:6, Jesus asserts: “I am the way”.
Now, god’s name, as revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14) was “I Am”. I firmly believe that the early scholars deliberately altered Jesus’ comment from: “I Am is the way” referring to his belief as a Jew that “I Am” – or god – was the way to salvation to: “I am the way”, meaning Jesus himself and not god. Perhaps they found the original to be too much of a tongue twister. At any rate, that one simple change forever altered the world.
Jesus goes on to say (still in John 14:6) that, “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” which smacks just a bit of nepotism if you ask me. I mean, doesn’t this pretty much point out how arrogant Jesus was? No Jew – at least, no practicing Jew; no Jew worthy of respect within the community – would have ever suggested that he was some sort of intercessor between god and the common man.
There is a Zen saying, “if you see the Buddha on the road, kill him, for he is not the true Buddha.” Why? Because the true Buddha lives inside each of us… and the Buddha on the road is but an expression of our longing. From where I sit, this whole Jesus thing is much the same.
People so desperately wanted to believe in something greater than themselves, that they took an otherwise explainable mystery and created a whole religion around it. What’s the mystery you ask? The idea that Jesus rose from the dead.
Let’s not forget that Jesus was Jewish. After his death, his body would have been watched over by someone in the community until his burial. So, what happened? We’re told that he was left alone in a vault – completely contrary to Jewish law – and that later on, when they went looking for him, he wasn’t there. This is just so bogus. Jews would never have left a dead body unattended – never… it was the law. Still, the fastest way to raise Jesus to godhood was to suggest that he had risen from the dead – and you know what, it worked. Whether it actually happened seems a bit irrelevant. As far as I’m concerned, Jesus’ body was dragged off and eaten by a wild animal... and the whole resurrection story was told because no one wanted to admit that the body had been left alone.
Bottom line – someone lied to cover up a mistake, and that lie has been perpetuated ad nauseam.
So, for 2,000 years now, Christians have believed – mistakenly, at least as far as I’m concerned – that Jesus is the way to salvation, and not god! I think Jesus would roll over in his grave if he knew that church leaders – in their vain attempt to bolster their own position in the community – had so completely screwed the message. So, here we are today. Religion seems to have been at the root of almost every war since the beginning of recorded history.
If heaven exists, then I think that when Christians get to the pearly gates, Peter is going to look at them with a somewhat amused grin on his face and say (in a voice reminiscent of Mr. T.), “I pity the fool.”
Posted on Sunday, July 30, 2006 at 11:05 AM
After 18 years and a good life, our cat died on Sunday, July 23. I’m not a cat person. I don’t dislike cats… but given the choice between a cat and a dog, well… the dog will win every time. I suppose part of this favoritism stems from my being allergic to cat fur. I didn’t know I was allergic to cats for the longest time because I just never came into contact with cats while I was growing up – but when I moved to Kentucky, I began to have serious allergy issues.
This part of the Ohio Valley is god’s gift to allergists and otolaryngologists. I don’t exactly know why, but for some reason, this area wreaks havoc on both the lungs and the sinus cavities. Shortly after moving here in 1998, I found that I was having difficulty breathing and I was having to take antihistamines every day. I saw a pulmonologist who diagnosed me with asthma – scary, since I had never before had any breathing problems. He prescribed some daily medication and I learned to use a puffer. I also had a rescue puffer for those times (usually in the middle of the night) when I couldn’t catch my breath. As it turns out, the symptoms lasted for only a few years until, I suppose, I acclimated to the area. I still take the daily medication but I haven’t used my puffer for about 5 years now.
As part of my early testing, I went to an allergist to find out exactly what my asthma triggers were. I found out – much to my surprise – that I was highly allergic to cats. I was also allergic to tree pollen and a number of grasses. In Canada, I remember having seasonal “hay fever” that would last a month or so, but here in Kentucky, I had an almost constant allergic reaction to nature. I mean, there’s such a long growing season here that grasses and trees are in bloom almost all year round… so there was never any relief.
Then came a new fly in the ointment… I developed severe and chronic sinusitis. I lost my ability to smell and had to have sinus surgery to allow them to drain properly. Even now, 5 years after the surgery, I still suffer with sinus problems.
Momma Cat: In addition to Sydney and Bridget and a tank full of freshwater fish, we kept an outside cat. Sheila says that the cat once had a real name but, over the years, she forgot what her real name was. Sheila claims this is because, at one point, she had 14 cats and kittens, so she ended up calling her simply Momma Cat. Momma Cat was a tabby and was born in our garage. After a while, Momma Cat and her twin sister, Perry (short for periscope… the shape of her tail), both had litters within a few weeks of each other… and when one was out hunting for chipmunks or mice, the other would stay with both litters and mother all the kittens. After a while, it became difficult to match which kitten went with which mother but I suppose it didn’t much matter. All the kittens went to good homes and, as the years passed, eventually Perry died. And so Momma Cat was left on her own.
Momma Cat ruled the yard. She had a cat door that led from the garage to our breezeway and she could come and go as she pleased, but once Sydney came to live with us, he would chase her whenever he saw her, so we closed the cat door and left the garage open about 9” and that allowed Momma Cat to get out without having to run for her life!
Momma Cat was very much a solitary being. She liked to be stroked gently and brushed on occasion, but she didn’t like it too much if you picked her up. Oh, she’d tolerate it for a short while but then she’d squirm loose and make a break for it. Even on the coldest days in winter, when Sheila would pick her up and bring her into the house, she'd want to go back out almost immediately. So that she wouldn’t freeze to death in the middle of the night, we got a heated pad and put it in her cat bed. I made the cat bed out of ¾” plywood surrounded by 1” thick styrofoam. The bottom of her bed was lined with towels. Even on the coldest days, the bed maintained an almost constant 70° temperature. Momma Cat liked that very much.
Momma Cat was a very good tree climber. If one of the neighborhood dogs came close to the house, she’d run up the tree faster than you could say Jiminy Cricket. She was like a brown/black blur speeding across the lawn. She was also a fierce hunter. We’d come home from work and, as often as not, would find a chipmunk head or bird wing lying in the breezeway… and Momma Cat sitting close by looking quite smug and pleased with herself.
It was just as well that Momma Cat spent almost all of her time outside, because whenever Sheila brought her into the house, I’d have a severe allergic reaction that would last for a few hours. Still, whenever I came home from work, Momma Cat would run up to the car to greet me and I’d pet her head and scratch her under her chin. She liked that… but I’d have to wash my hands almost immediately. In the morning, at 7:00 every day, she’d be on the front stoop waiting for her breakfast. Over the years, we tried different types of cat food but she eventually settled on “9 Lives”. She really liked the sliced beef in gravy and would eat it almost to the exclusion of everything else.
Several years ago, there were a couple of weeks when she wouldn’t eat and would hardly drink anything and we thought we’d lose her. She was 15 years old at that time, and we thought her kidneys were shutting down and that the end would soon be near. We took her to the vet who said that we should be prepared for her to die… but she bounced right back and kept going! True, she wasn’t as fierce a hunter after that incident, and we never did find out what the problem was, but we were happy to still have her with us.
Then, on Sunday last week, Sheila heard her banging around outside and went to find out what was going on. Momma Cat was trying to climb back onto the bench that she often slept on in the summer, but her back legs wouldn’t move. We rushed her to the Animal ER not far from where we live, and the vet said that a blood clot was the most likely scenario, and was cutting off circulation to her hips and legs. She said that that she could operate to remove the clot but, even with surgery, Momma Cat’s recovery would be long… and there was no guarantee that she’d regain full use (if any) of her hind quarters. While Sheila and I were not prepared for this news, we knew that if Momma Cat couldn’t remain independent, she would be constantly afraid of everything that happened in her world. So we made the difficult decision, and told the vet that it was time to put her down. With great compassion, the vet acknowledged our wishes.
So, after 18 good years, we lost the only cat that I had really ever known. I didn’t think it would affect me too much – after all, I’m not really a cat person – but it is strange not to see her waiting at the front door for breakfast, and it’s strange not to have her running out to the car to greet me when I come home from work.
Dad - Part 6
Posted on Saturday, June 24, 2006 at 11:55 PM
At age 84, my dad died at 11:30 am on Saturday, June 24, 2006. My brother called me early in the morning to tell me that dad had suffered a mild stroke but, according to my mom, had recovered very quickly and was resting comfortably. A few hours later he called again to say that dad seemed to be in some distress and that mom called for an ambulance. Dad’s heart stopped just before the paramedics arrived but, even after many attempts at resuscitation and a remote consultation with a physician, he was pronounced dead at the scene. My brother said that he died quite peacefully.
As I’ve indicated in prior “Dad” entries, my dad and I have had a stormy relationship for most of my life and now… at the end of things, I find myself feeling somewhat unemotional about dad’s death. I have not yet shed a single tear for him and, at this point in time, I’m not sure I will… or can! My emotional bucket has long been empty where my dad was concerned, and I’m not sure I can arbitrarily fill it up just to realize some feigned emotional relief for myself.
So, I’m not sure how to feel about this. I think other people (with the possible exception of my dear wife who knows me just a bit too well) will expect me to wail and grieve and carry on – after all, that’s what they’d do if one of their parents died. But I just don’t feel it. I can’t seem to summon up the feelings. Many years have already passed since I started to grieve for the loss of a relationship with my father and now the loss of his physical body is like the last vestige of the process… so that now my grieving is complete rather than just starting. I’m not sure my mom will appreciate the difference, but I know my brother will.
As I write this entry, I’m on my way to Toronto to help with the funeral arrangements for dad’s burial on Monday. I’ll probably add to this blog entry in a few days… I think there’s something more that I need to say before closing this chapter of my life.
Not a single day has passed since dad’s death that I haven’t thought of him. I think that maybe in some strange way, this is his revenge. All those years when I didn’t think of him at all, are now coming back to haunt me. At any rate, after 3 weeks, I’ve not shed a single tear. At this point in time, I don’t think I ever will.
My friends at work have been very nice, and many of them have sent a card or stopped by my office to express their condolences. They ask how I’m doing and, truthfully, I say, “I’m fine”. I think that when they hear this, they believe I’m being a brave soul and that dad’s death really bothers me – because the death of their father would bother them. I’m pretty sure they don’t know the sort of relationship that dad and I had and that, except for thinking about him more now than I used to, I am okay with things the way they are.
Mom is still upset, of course. She tells me that, from time to time, she’ll turn around to talk to dad but he isn’t there… and then she cries a bit. She’s been befriended by a group of “coffee women” who have invited her to join them each day for a coffee and chit chat. The women are all in their 70s and 80s and are all widows. I think it’s good that she has these women to talk to – they all share a common experience.
In my talks with her during the week following dad’s death, she told me – much to my surprise – that during these last couple of years when dad was most dependent on her, when he got uppity, she’d yell at him, calling him (among other things) a “bad-tempered bastard”. This was nice to know, really. It was nice to know that she had no illusions about dad’s behavior; she had not forgotten that the man who insisted that “his wife’s best interests were always his primary concern” had, 21 years earlier, had an affair.
But, she had been dad’s primary caregiver for several years now, and I believe she is now missing her former duties. Her entire day revolved around dad’s care, and now… nothing. She doesn’t know what to do with her time; she doesn’t yet know how to deal with her freedom.
And life goes on.
On Religion - Part 2
Posted on Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 12:27 PM
Warning – this blog entry concerns my thoughts on religion… right or wrong; for better or worse – and I specifically trash Baptists who, for the most part, I hold in contempt. If you are a Baptist, a person of faith, or are otherwise easily offended, you should not read this blog entry. Consider yourself warned!
In my quest to understand the (often) confusing Baptist mind, I offer the following true story. This event happened at our local high school... the school that both of my stepchildren attended. However strange it might be, it seems that some Baptists don’t like other Baptists for whatever reasons. Because there are a number of Baptist sects, I suppose there are also degrees of adherence to the faith. The parents in the following missive certainly seemed to consider themselves to be truer followers of the faith than those parents whose children formed the group in question. So, I guess it’s okay for one Baptist to trash another Baptist… even though both would tell you that it is not proper for one person to judge another! Well, as it’s often said, religion and politics both make strange bedfellows! All quotes, by the way, are taken from actual published court documents and newspaper articles!
In 2002, students at BCHS petitioned the Board of Education to form a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) group in an effort to bring together all students, regardless of sexual orientation, in order to “foster a climate of tolerance" in their school and community. The group was subsequently sanctioned by the Board. Immediately, the group became the target of both severe verbal and physical abuse by students who were determined to not let the GSA force homosexuality upon them. Under pressure from area parents (including the parents of the protesting students) who were disgusted by the thought that, not only were gay students attending the school and, in their own words “promoting the gay lifestyle and turning otherwise straight students into gays", the school shut down the group. To be fair, the school suspended all non-academic school groups, but all – with the exception of the GSA – were allowed to start up again after a time.
Well, the ACLU stepped in and brought a federal suit against the Board for shutting down the club in what was clearly an action against homosexuals and their federally protected status under the Equal Access Act. After 12 months of controversy and local media hype, the Board finally settled with the ACLU and, as part of that settlement, agreed to mandatory sensitivity and tolerance training for all students at the high school, as well as a ban on anti-gay harassment both physical and verbal. This was generally hailed as a victory for the students who formed the GSA, but several families had a real problem with this… claiming that the mandatory training violated both their religious and free-speech rights by promoting a lifestyle to which they didn’t subscribe.
At the center of the issue was a training video, which covered sexual orientation, gender identity and anti-harassment issues. The video featured school employees and others who asserted that homosexuality is an unchangeable characteristic.
On behalf of those parents and students who objected, the ADF filed suit against the Board on the grounds that the ACLU settlement was discriminatory on three fronts: “first, parental rights were violated by the mandatory attendance at gay tolerance and anti-harassment training; second, the students’ free speech rights were infringed by the settlement’s verbal anti-gay harassment restriction; and third, the information contained in the training maintained that homosexuality is inborn and unchangeable – a totally non-scientific assertion that is universally disputed by those outside of pro-gay advocacy". It’s interesting to note that these are the same people who forced schools to put a disclaimer at the front of science textbooks to the effect that evolution is only a theory and that creationism is an equally valid theory. But… I digress!
Well, rather than make exceptions for the students of those parents who objected, and fearing its tenuous legal position, the school made only a token effort to conduct the anti-harassment training. After considering their position, the ACLU asked a federal judge, in 2005, to reopen the case against the Board. The federal district court eventually ruled that the diversity training offered by the school “does not violate the free speech, equal protection, or free exercise of religion rights of students and parents who object to the training despite the fact that it calls for tolerance of homosexuality."
The federal district court ruled that “the training videos in question are not school-sponsored speech but government speech and, as such, are not required to be viewpoint neutral, provided the content is reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns. After reviewing the training materials, the court concluded they were viewpoint neutral and neither favored any particular viewpoint nor elevated one opinion over the other. In addition, students were given the opportunity to comment on the training without parameters or threat of punishment. Turning to the free exercise of religion claim, the court rejected the students’ argument that the training sought to change their religious and ideological views on homosexuality. Even though the training offended their religious beliefs, the court found, it failed to place a burden upon the exercise of their religion. The court pointed out that there was no evidence that any student was compelled to renounce his or her religious beliefs. Lastly, the court rejected the parents’ claim that the training violated their constitutional right to direct their children’s religious and educational upbringing. Parents do not have the right to impede the school board’s reasonable pedagogical prerogative of complying with a previous lawful court order by insisting on being able to opt their children out of required training."
I believe the court made the right decision. In fact, I think the whole suit was completely unnecessary. I mean… I don’t have a problem if Baptists believe that homosexuality is a sin and evil, as long as they don’t try to make me believe the same thing. While they may feel duty bound as good Christians to promote their beliefs, I have the right to disagree – and disagree vehemently if necessary. The students who formed the GSA were not gay (and if they were… well, so what?) and were certainly not preaching the virtues of a homosexual lifestyle. They were preaching tolerance… something which Baptists just don’t seem to understand. For a Christian group that espouses a firm belief in being non-judgmental, Baptists seem to go out of their way to judge others.
It’s interesting to note that the GSA disbanded within a few months of the ACLU’s initial law suit and their faculty advisor left the high school… and the saga continues.
On Religion - Part 1
Posted on Sunday, May 7, 2006 at 5:27 PM
Warning – this blog entry concerns my thoughts on religion… right or wrong; for better or worse – and I specifically trash Baptists who, for the most part, I hold in contempt. If you are a Baptist, a person of faith, or are otherwise easily offended, you should not read this blog entry. Consider yourself warned!
Life sometimes gets in the way of those things which are truly important. Under the category of “truly important" I include such things as truth and self-reflection. I have done much self-reflection these past few years and have written about some of it in my other blog entries. However, one topic which I have so far avoided has been religion.
I have always been conflicted about religion, faith, and spirituality. While I tell others that I am a person of faith, I’m not sure I really am. I tend to believe things based on empirical evidence, and I have not yet seen proof of god’s existence – Babel Fish notwithstanding. I have always thought that it’d be nice to have proof of god’s existence – to have a religious experience on the order of Moses and the burning bush – but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. However, that might be the only way I’d truly believe in god… if god was to present himself to me. Like Fox Mulder on the X-Files… I want to believe, but it won’t happen until I’ve actually seen it for myself.
I have, on more than one occasion, gone out of my way to ridicule others for their belief in god citing, as proof of god’s non-existence, the classic paradox known as the “problem of evil". The basis for the paradox, with which I agree by the way, is based on the premise: 1) god is all powerful; 2) god is all loving; and 3) evil exists. Simply put, either god wants to abolish evil and can’t, or he can abolish evil but doesn’t want to. If he wants to but can’t, he is not all powerful. If he can but doesn’t want to, he is not all loving. And, if he both wants to abolish evil and can abolish evil, then how can evil still exist? Since these three things can’t all be true at the same time, god doesn’t exist… at least, not for me.
People here in Appalachia are mostly Baptists of one sort or another. There are Southern Baptists, Freewill Baptists, Free Will Baptists (not the same, go figure!), Primitive Baptists, United Baptists, Regular Baptists, Old Regular Baptists (ditto), Separate Baptists… the list goes on.
Baptists don’t refer to themselves as Baptists though – they call themselves Christians, which I find both amusing and misleading! They are quick to point out that Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians are, in fact, Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians and not Christians at all. When they say Christian, they mean Baptist – and they are both insistent and quite vocal about it. The “Evangelical Right" is alive and well in Appalachia. These are the folks who equate abortion with murder; who equate Jesus with god; who equate the ACLU with the devil; and who equate Democrats with everything evil in America.
Baptists consider themselves highly moral persons above reproach. In one breath, Baptists will condemn the Ku Klux Klan as an evil, racist group while, at the same time, preaching that no one, other than god, should judge anyone else. In one breath, Baptists will condemn gays and lesbians as evil, immoral sinners while, at the same time, preaching that no one should judge another! This, to me, has always smacked of hypocrisy.
Baptists take the bible seriously; if it’s in the bible, it is god’s own truth. They believe in the concept of creation, but dismiss the bible’s well documented concept of slavery. They pick and choose which parts of the bible to believe and espouse, and summarily dismiss those parts that don’t fit with their beliefs. They acknowledge that Jesus was a good Jewish man, but dismiss the fact that Jesus didn’t even adhere to his own religious beliefs. In fact, I’ve had Baptists tell me, right to my face, that Jesus was Christian. I’ve had Baptists tell me, right to my face, that Jesus didn’t drink alcohol – which is totally absurd since he was Jewish and sacramental wine is mandated. Actually, I find this puzzling about all branches of Christianity – they claim to follow the example set by Jesus, and yet dismiss his belief in his own religion. It seems to me, that if Christians really want to emulate Jesus, they should practice Judaism but, like Jesus, they should only do a half-assed job of it.
Indeed, there was quite a debate a few years ago about what kind of car Jesus would have driven. Some said he would have driven a SUV for whatever reason, but others vehemently disagreed claiming that an SUV wasn’t economical. Some said he would have driven a Honda Civic because it was both economical and not too flashy. Bunk, I say. He wouldn’t have driven anything less than a Cadillac or a Lincoln. Why? Because he was Jewish and a leader in the community!
I really think that some Baptists are incredibly stupid. Some of these folks petitioned to have the Harry Potter movies dropped from the local movie theatres claiming that since wizardry is not sanctioned in the bible, it should not be espoused as a way of life. I mean, do these folks really think that the rest of the population is so naïve and vulnerable that they’d actually believe what they see on the silver screen?
Maybe I just don’t understand the whole idea of “Jesus loves you". In my town, there are people who stand on street corners with signs saying, “Jesus died for your sins". They do this mostly on Sunday, but also on Wednesdays. While it seems adequate for just about everyone else, for some reason, Baptists feel that one day a week in church isn’t enough… so most go twice a week. This ties right in with their belief that they are somehow morally superior to the rest of us. It’s gotten to the point where after school activities are not held on Wednesdays because it would interfere with church activities. I figured out a long time ago that if they really want to follow Jesus’ example, they should be going to services on Saturday – the Jewish Sabbath! After all, that’s what Jesus did. Anyway, I have to laugh at the people with the signs. While I’ll admit that I’ve sinned, I’ve never done anything bad enough to warrant someone dying for me. I also think that the death of Jesus roughly 2000 years ago can’t possibly have any relevance to any sins I’ve committed in the here and now!
Baptists bemoan the fact that religion, prayer, and god in general, are slowly being weeded out of the school curriculum. These are the same people who hate the ACLU for upholding the Constitution of the United States – especially when it comes to the 1st Amendment. Baptists seem to think that the US was founded on Christian principles, and they have a hard time understanding that the colonists left England to pursue religious freedom. The US Constitution was specifically written to ensure that there would never be any state-mandated religion. With respect to politics, I find it frightening that there is a huge movement underway by the Evangelical Right to force religion – Christianity specifically – on the country. Should it ever come to pass, I’ll probably move back to Canada but, knowing how things usually progress, it won’t happen in my lifetime if ever. Just as well, really.
Baptists equate Jesus with god. They don’t seem to see any difference between the two. They make no distinction between the phrase, “All things are possible with god" and “All things are possible with Jesus". No difference whatsoever! I’ll admit, I’ve never fully understood why Christians of any kind pray to god through Jesus. I mean… isn’t praying to god sufficient by itself? Does god really need some sort of intercessor? Maybe Jesus acts as some sort of clearing house for prayer… regular prayers get handled by Jesus personally, and really important prayers get kicked upstairs! Of course, if all things are possible with Jesus, and if Jesus can handle all the prayers by himself, why then would anyone need to pray to god? Jews, for example, don’t pray to Jesus… they pray directly to god – and if you ask a Jew whether his prayer is effective, he’ll tell you “Yes", every time! So, if god answers the prayers of Jews – who have been around for a lot longer than Christians (and let’s not forget that Jesus was also Jewish), why do Christians think they need Jesus to intercede on their behalf? What’s also a bit odd, is that if Baptists pray to god via Jesus, then they obviously acknowledge that god and Jesus are separate and distinct… and yet they equate Jesus with god! Well… as my Catholic friends would say, “It’s a mystery!"
Now, despite what I’ve written here, I have great respect for those who practice their religion – it’s a difficult thing to which you must fully commit – but I make no exceptions for that… which is to say, you either practice your faith fully or not at all – and, above all, you don’t pick and choose what you believe… something which the Baptists do not yet fully understand. What good does it do anyone if you adhere to some aspects of your faith but disregard others when circumstances warrant or it's not convenient? This only makes you a hypocrite – something which I, long ago, decided I would not be. I may not practice my religion, but at least I’m not a hypocrite like so many other people. Does that somehow make me morally superior to those who wear their religion on their sleeve? I don’t know, but I sleep well at night secure in the knowledge that I haven’t sinned by omission.
Now, I don’t expect anyone to necessarily agree with me, and I’ve probably angered more than a few gentle readers with my thoughts on religion… but y’know – I don’t care. I’m as entitled to my opinion as the next person, and I don’t really care one way or the other if you happen to dislike what I’ve written – I’m a sanctimonious prick after all. You aren’t going to change my mind any more that I’m going to change yours.
On Alcohol - Part 2
Posted on Wednesday, May 3, 2006 at 10:26 PM
In a previous post (By Degrees... Very Slowly), I talked about my party life in 1974 during my 2nd year at the University of Windsor. What I don’t think I’ve mentioned before is that, a year earlier, I almost didn’t make my audition for the music program. The night before my audition, I became intimately acquainted with Mr. Bacardi – the result, no doubt, of my pub experience a few weeks earlier. It was, I believe, a combination of nerves and insecurity. While I was a fine french horn player for high school, I had real doubts about my ability at the university level. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be so tested, and part of me wanted to be content with the ability I had so far demonstrated.
So, the evening before my audition, with all of my anxieties starting to get the better of me, I had a drink! Well, I didn’t just have one drink… I drank half a quart of Bacardi. Fortunately, I didn’t drink alone – because that would have been really pathetic. My roommate, Shep, was there, along with about a dozen or so other folks who lived at our dorm, Huron Hall. Perhaps it was from this humble beginning that people got the idea that our room was party central!
By the time I woke up the next morning, my audition was 15 minutes overdue. In a mild panic, I took a quick shower, grabbed my horn, and hurried to the School of Music on main campus. I can’t remember what sort of excuse I made for showing up late, but my audition was successfully rescheduled for an hour or so later. I played the 1st movement of Mozart’s Horn Concerto #3 in E-flat (K447). Well, for better or worse, I passed the audition and was admitted to the program!
As for that 2nd year at school… well, it wasn’t all a waste. I met a lot of interesting people that year – mostly in our dorm room. There’s this thing called a “Purple Jesus" – it consists of a bathtub full of 180 proof alcohol mixed with grape juice. We’d make a batch of Purple Jesus during the day and folks would drop by with a glass, and scoop out as much as they wanted. We took turns purchasing the alcohol so, by the end of the school year, we had all contributed more or less evenly. As I mentioned in a previous post (On Drugs), Huron Hall was a co-ed dorm, so we almost always used a bathtub in one of the girls’ rooms because the chances were very high that the tub was clean! I say “almost always" because… well, sometimes we just couldn’t persuade any girls to give up their bathtub for an evening! After a few drinks, most folks didn’t much care whether or not the tub was clean. Hey… it was the 70s!
I discovered that I really liked to drink. I enjoyed partying and being the life of the party, and I didn’t see that any long-term problems would result. I drank a lot… mostly with friends, but sometimes I’d go to a pub by myself. At the time I thought it was a bit pathetic, but I rationalized my actions by telling myself “at least you’re not sitting in your dorm room drinking alone". The more I drank the more school I missed, but I didn’t much care by then. I enjoyed feeling good and having a good time but, after a while, I came to realize that I drank not so much to feel good, but to stop from feeling bad. It’s a vicious circle.
Well, I was wrong about the long-term problems. As a result of this partying (and the rest), I was kicked out of school for a year. It was probably good therapy that I got a job at Syd’s Bridge House – a pub near the school. Night after night, I saw the result of uncontrolled drinking. Regulars, some of them friends, ended up falling over themselves, and others, in an effort to stand up straight or get to the bathroom… not just men, women, too!
I didn’t drink as much that next year – 1975 – as the smell of the pub was pretty overwhelming and it stayed with me almost all the time. After a few months, the smell of stale beer made me gag!
I did have one more bout of drinking to excess but, as they say, the third time’s the charm. In 1978 I was dating a girl named Jane, a dramatic arts major. I had been asked by another drama student, Kate Boyer, to write the music for a one-act play she was directing “Out of Our Father’s House". Jane was one of the actors in the play. We didn’t spend a lot of time together during the show, but we’d walk home together since we only lived a couple of blocks apart. Once the show ended, Jane and I stayed together for another year.
Because we were both interested in the dramatic arts, Jane and I went to a lot of cast parties! At one such party, I had quite a lot to drink and I ended up praying to the porcelain god. Jane, who herself enjoyed quite a few drinks, didn’t think that drinking to excess and throwing up was particularly attractive – and I believe it was the beginning of the end for us. After that evening, I realized that I really wasn’t able to control my drinking, so the only safe thing to do was to give it up completely – at least… that was the plan. While I drank only occasionally over the course of the next decade, I never again lost control of my senses because of alcohol. It was quite sobering.
On Alcohol - Part 1
Posted on Wednesday, May 3, 2006 at 1:19 PM
It has been a while since I’ve written, so I apologize in advance for my absence.
A friend of mine from work is getting married in July and, while he and his fiancée will have a nice church wedding, he’s having trouble finding a place for the reception… because many places around here do not allow alcohol, and those that do have already been booked far in advance. Such is the difficulty with a July wedding in this part of Appalachia.
This got me thinking though, of how alcohol has influenced my life. These days, I drink so very little that I don’t even remember the last time I had any sort of alcohol. When Sheila and I got married, I had half a glass of champagne and that was it… and that was almost 8 years ago now. But there was a time when I drank to excess.
1972 – The government of Ontario lowered the drinking age from 21 to 18 – the very year I turned 18, and the same year my brother turned 21! He was pretty pissed at this turn of events, but I didn’t much notice or care. As an aside, by the end of the 1970s, the drinking age was raised to 19 where it still is today. A few years later when I was working part-time at Mother’s Pizza while attending the Faculty of Education, we used to get a lot of business from students at Wayne State University in Detroit where the drinking age was still 21. They liked both that their money had greater buying power in Canada, and that they could legally drink two years ahead of the rest of the US. They usually left very generous tips.
1973 – Just before heading off to the University of Windsor, I took a summer job working at Nalaco – the North American Life Assurance Company in downtown Toronto. I was in the typing pool… in fact, I was the only man in the typing pool. My mother had told me, back when I was in grade 9, that typing skills would serve me well, and she was right. I was (and still am) an excellent typist and could maintain a sustained speed of over 75 words per minute with no mistakes. At one point, I entered a typing contest but, at 81 wpm, I didn’t even get past the first cut of 100 wpm. After several rounds, the winner – at 157 wpm – walked away with the $10,000 prize.
This was also the same year that my parents decided to buy a house and get away from apartment living which they had done for as long as we had lived in Toronto. They took possession of the house in mid-August, the same day in fact, that my job at Nalaco ended. I left for work that morning from our high rise apartment, and would go home to a new house. Since my job was ending that day, some of my coworkers took me out after work to a small pub down the road from the office. It was here that I first learned a new word… “zombie". Apparently, it’s a mixture of 3 different types of rum with some other stuff thrown in for good measure. I quickly developed a strong fondness for rum and, after 3 or 4 of these zombies, I began to act like one.
After a few hours, I had difficulty standing up and, with whatever wits were left me, I decided to leave and go home. My friends wished me well and out the door I went. I managed to get on a streetcar which took me to the Eglinton subway station where I transferred to the Leslie bus that would take me within a mile or so of the new house. I would have to walk the rest of the way. In my drunken haze, I realized that I’d have to call my dad at some point because I didn’t yet have a key to the new house. I think it was riding the bus that finally did me in. The streetcar was reasonably smooth since it rode on rails like a train, but the bus hit every bump and hole in the city streets as it made its way east then north. As it turned north onto Leslie Street, I could hold my stomach no longer and I bolted off the bus as it stopped to let off some other passengers – right in front of the Inn on the Park hotel.
Now, the Inn on the Park was one of the swankiest hotels in midtown Toronto and I can only say in my defense that I’ve always had good taste! It was after 11:00 pm so it was fairly dark, and I managed to find a secluded spot where I wouldn’t been seen from the road. I threw up several times into one of their nice flower beds. What a mess I was… and what a mess I made! After about a half hour I managed to stand and, with only about 75¢ to my name (having spent the rest at the pub) I decided to walk north and call my dad from the first pay phone I found.
I’m not sure how I managed, but I eventually walked up to Lawrence Avenue about a mile or so farther north. There was a pay phone on the corner and I called my dad to come and get me. I then passed out. A short while later, I felt my dad shaking me and calling to me to wake up. It was 1:30 in the morning, and dad said he had found me sprawled out on the sidewalk, reeking of alcohol. He managed to shuffle me into the car and he took me home. He took off my shoes and let me fall onto my bed where I spent the rest of the night and most of the next morning.
Now… it’s said that a hangover is something which can only be experienced, and not accurately described. Well, whoever said that was bang on accurate. When I woke up, I was so completely miserable that I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been the night before. When I next saw him, my dad could only shake his head and smile. For all my protestations about my dad’s imperfections, I guess I had a few of my own.
The sad thing though, is that I didn’t really learn a lesson from my first experience as a drunk.
Playing with Fire
Posted on Monday, March 6, 2006 at 9:28 PM
I have always had a fascination with fire. This fascination certainly didn’t manifest itself in such activities as arson, but there are two incidents which spring to mind!
When I was 12 years old and in grade 8, I used to spend a lot of time by myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends, but I have always been comfortable with my own company… something which many people are not. On one particular Saturday in the summer of 1966, I found myself outside our apartment building with nothing to do.
For some unknown reason – well, unknown because I can’t for the life of me remember how I got them – I had a book of matches in my pocket. I don’t know what possessed me, but I thought it’d be a great idea if I was to set fire to the garbage cans sitting by the side of the building. I was a relative newcomer to matches, so the first few I tried burned out before I could drop it into the garbage can. After a little practice though, it worked quite well. As I wrote in “Sounds Good – Part 3", I lit up the garbage cans which were kept at the side of the small apartment building where we lived. I think I had quite a good blaze going before the landlady called my mom, who promptly came downstairs to drag me away. Mom threatened to beat me within an inch of my life, but she spanked me once and then stopped. She said, “I think I’ve done myself an injury – wait until your father gets home." Well, mom was always saying things like that… “wait until your father gets home", but nothing ever came of it. So I guess that worked out well for me. The landlady turned on the water hose that was also at the side of the building and put out my fire. I must say, in retrospect, it was a damn fine fire!
Five years later, 1971, I was just about out of high school. My uncle Joe hired me for the summer to work for him – he was a painting contractor. I earned a whopping $1.25/hr that summer which, believe me, was the cat’s pyjamas! It was the most money I had ever seen in my life and I was happy for the job! I also really liked my uncle Joe. He had a dart board set up in the basement of his house and I always enjoyed throwing the darts whether or not my aim was accurate. In fact, one day a few years prior, I threw a dart and it accidentally hit the copper cold water pipe. I really was in a bit of a dilemma as I tried to decide the best course of action… leave it there and not tell anyone (I mean, it wasn’t leaking or anything since the point of the dart was acting like a bandage), or leave it there and tell someone! I did the honorable thing.
One of my uncle’s contracts that summer was to paint a high school in the east end of Toronto. He had about 15 men working for him in various parts of the school and my job was to make their job easier. One Friday, I had several rolls of masking tape and was masking off areas with sheets of paper that were not to be spray painted. After the area was painted, my job was to pull down the tape and paper and put the bits in a large garbage can. After that, I was to take some paint thinner and clean up any bits on the wall that were accidentally sprayed by my not covering the wall, or by the painter’s over eagerness! I have to say, these guys really enjoyed painting… or maybe they were just giving me stuff to do.
You know… after a while, exposure to paint thinner can make you feel just a little light headed! Believe me, it was a pleasant experience and, after a while, I was thoroughly enjoying my work! I enjoyed the paint thinner so much, that I must have gone slightly brain dead, because the next thing I knew, I had deliberately poured a capful of thinner on the hall floor and, matchbook in hand, lit a match and threw it into the little puddle. The resulting flare was really neat! It lasted about 2 seconds and then burned itself out. I did this two or three more times… each time delighting in the flare! The fourth or fifth time though, it didn’t work out too well. I had, unwittingly, backed myself right up next to the garbage can full of masking tape and paper and failed to notice (or, perhaps more precisely, didn’t much care) that the capful of paint thinner on the floor was directly next to the garbage can. Well, there was a great little flare, but then the paper in the can caught fire and I was pretty much helpless as the whole can burst into flame.
I yelled, “Fire!" and within moments, 3 or 4 guys came running with fire extinguishers and soundly doused the flames! I was relieved… I was very lucky it wasn’t worse than a torched garbage can and some black soot on the hallway floor. Well, my uncle wasn’t too pleased with me, but he let me think about the incident over the weekend while he decided on a course of action about which he’d tell me on Monday morning. He might tell my parents… he might not; I might still have a job… I might not. I certainly deserved to be fired!
Monday morning, I showed up for work as usual waiting to hear what my uncle was going to do. He had not called my parents – for which I was always grateful – and he had decided to keep me on. He said that two mistakes were as many as he would put up with, but as long as there weren’t any more, he had no problem with me working for him. I said, “Two mistakes?" and he responded, “Your mistake with the fire, and my mistake in not properly assessing the situation in which I placed you!" It was a good summer, all in all, and my uncle taught me a valuable lesson about integrity and responsibility. That lesson has served me well all the years since.
Nowadays, to appease my fire demons, I have a burn pile on our property. All spring and summer, I throw onto the pile the broken branches and fallen leaves that I find around the yard and just about anything else wooden that we’re going to throw out and, by October, it’s a good and high pile. I usually get a good fire going within a few minutes and it burns quite well for a couple of hours. I stay with the fire for several hours as it burns because that’s the responsible thing to do, and I also keep the water hose handy just in case! It’s a good compromise!
Dad - Part 5
Posted on Monday, February 27, 2006 at 7:36 PM
Talking to my dad has almost always been disappointing. He has never learned that it’s not all about him. Case on point… Sheila was in hospital last week – quite seriously ill with an inflamed gall bladder and a full-blown sepsis infection that is now under control thanks to some very heavy duty antibiotics. She had surgery and was in hospital for 6 days and dad couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to talk to him whenever he called. I mean – really! She talked to me and she talked to Amy. She didn’t want to talk to any of her five brothers and sisters, or her dad… and my father is upset because she doesn’t want to talk to him? And, to top it off, he’s quite indignant about the whole business.
It’s a bit weird – even though I know that he acts this way out of a need to control and a need to be the center of attention, it still astounds me – a) that he hasn’t yet figured out that I’m on to him, and b) that he can still get me angry when he behaves this way.
In March 2005, I flew to Toronto for a few days on one of my rare visits. I didn’t really want to go, but Sheila thought I should go. She said that as my parents get older and as their health fails (dad is 83; mom is 76), I might not have many chances left to see them. Well, that would have suited me fine but, finding myself in that all-too-common situation with which most men are familiar – I have to live with my wife – I finally bent to her will.
During that visit, dad indicated that it’d be nice if both Sheila and I could visit for more than a day or so at a time… and I said we might be able to find 4 or 5 days during the summer when we could both come for a visit. It would depend, of course, on many things including our work schedules and Sheila’s school schedule. I was quite clear on this point.
I’ll admit it was difficult to find the time, but Sheila and I managed to set aside the long June 30 – July 4th weekend to drive to Toronto for a visit. We’d arrive on July 1st and would need to leave the afternoon of July 3rd… but it was the best we could do at the time. With our decision made, I called dad to tell him that we’d be able to visit for 3 days. The first words out of his mouth were, “Is that the best you can do? Is that as long as you can stay?" This was quickly followed by, “Why can’t you stay longer? You said you’d stay for a week!" I told him that this is when we were free, but he replied, “A week… you said you’d stay for a week!" I repeated that this was when we were free – but if it wasn’t good enough for him, perhaps we just wouldn’t come at all. To this he responded, “Oh, Ian… don’t be that way… don’t be that way!" as if he was the one doing me the favor! Fed up with his attitude, I told him we weren’t going to come and I hung up on him.
I steamed all the rest of that day and into the night. Sheila tried to calm me down but I didn’t want any of it. I felt justifiably angry and, at the same time, a bit stupid for having let him goad me as he did. He was doing what he always did… trying to control the situation. I was doing what I always did… trying to please my dad knowing that it probably wasn’t worth the effort.
After a few days I calmed down and, with Sheila asking me to do it for her, we took a look at alternate dates for a visit. There was no other time available to us until the end of August but, with an idea in the back of my mind, I told Sheila that we should go from August 30 to September 5 – a total of 5 whole days visiting my family not including drive time! And that’s what we did.
The idea? Well, it’s helpful to know that in the two weeks prior to Labor Day, the Canadian National Exposition is held in Toronto. The CNE is very much like a huge state fair – and I mean huge. In those two weeks, the CNE draws about 1½ million people… and I hadn’t been to the CNE for almost 25 years; Sheila had never been. So, I got online and bought two tickets for the CNE, called one of our favorite hotels in Toronto and booked a room for the duration, and called my dad later that night. I guess my mom had chewed him out after the last phone call (she had really wanted to see us) because he was quite receptive to our coming at the end of August… even though it was still 2 months away.
While I was still somewhat apprehensive about the visit, we did have a great day at the CNE, walking through the various exhibits, eating junk, and generally enjoying being in that milieu. Other days, Sheila got to ride a Toronto streetcar, walk through the underground shopping mall at Bay and Bloor, and see such sights as City Hall (featured in Star Trek: Next Generation episode "Contagion"), Casa Loma (a true castle), and the CN Tower (tallest free standing structure in the world). We arranged to have various friends call and drop in from time to time – so, for the duration, we were pretty much buffered from my parents. After all was said and done, we survived mentally intact… and none the worse for wear – and, more importantly, dad finally felt satisfied!
In reading everything I’ve written about my dad, it surprises me that I’ve maintained my sanity for as long as I have… well, my wife says I lost it ages ago, but that’s a topic for another day! This last trip to Toronto in August 2005 was one of those rare times when everyone seemed satisfied at the end of it all. It certainly doesn’t happen often… but it does happen. Sheila wishes it would happen more often… I’m not sure that’s what I really want.
On Dogs - Part 4
Posted on Sunday, February 26, 2006 at 6:57 PM
We had not planned to get a new dog immediately, but a few weeks after Lucky’s death, Sheila started to check out various dog rescue web sites. Sydney seemed keenly aware that Lucky was no longer in the house and, like Cricket before him, Sydney would wander from room to room searching for his best friend. Still, it was about 8 months later that our new pet companion came into our life.
Despite our constant support and willingness to help, Bridget Hamlin was forced to close SOAR in December 2002 due to a lack of funds. She had rescued many animals in the few short years that SOAR was in business, but keeping the rescue open required a constant inflow of money… and there just weren’t enough supporters. While it saddened us that the rescue closed, we were absolutely shocked when we learned, a few months later, that Bridget had died suddenly after a brief illness. Bridget loved animals and they loved her. It was a fitting tribute to her that so many animal lovers – those who helped SOAR and those who had adopted companion animals from her rescue – attended her funeral.
Bridget: Sheila and I thought about the best way to honor Bridget’s memory. Sydney was one of her rescues and, taking our lead from this, we decided to get another rescue dog. We scoured the local newspapers and web sites, and eventually found a one year old female feist terrier with “special needs". We weren’t sure what those needs were when we contacted the shelter but we soon found out. The dog had been found wandering in southeast Kentucky – hungry and dehydrated. She had a number of buckshot wounds and her tail had been broken. The shelter’s vet patched her up as best he could, but he could not heal the emotional scars from the abuse she had suffered. Sheila and I took her home to be part of our family – and we renamed her Bridget, in memory of our dear friend.
Bridget still had dew claws on her hind legs and there were still two or three small buckshot pellets under her skin, but she didn’t seem bothered at all by these minor blemishes. Our vet gave her a complete and thorough check up, and we arranged for her dew claws to be removed. She looked quite funny the next day when we picked her up, because the vet had put a cone around her head to keep her from chewing on the bandages around her hind legs. This really didn’t stop her though, because she was quite a bit more agile than expected. She found a way to stick her hind foot far enough in front of her to get to the bandages… and, on more than one occasion, she chewed through them… despite the cone. She went back to the vet twice that week for new bandages but, thankfully, after a week, the cone came off as did the bandages. It took another couple of weeks before the stitches could be removed, but after that she was fine and you’d never have known that there had ever been a problem.
Bridget was submissive. Whenever we talked to her – and we had to talk softly because loud noises spooked her – she would immediately roll over on her back and expose her belly. While her physical scars were healed, her emotional scars still needed work. She desperately wanted to be held and, if not held, then touched. Even today, she sits on the floor in front of my chair and plays with my feet. She needs to know that someone is constantly paying attention to her. I was the only man she’d allow to get near her. Whenever a man came to our front door, she’d growl quite fiercely and occasionally bark… but she did not display this behavior when a woman came to the door. We assume this is because it was a man who abused her. We found out, some time later, that the man must have worn a ball cap… because one day in the fall of 2003 I had put on a ball cap while outside in the yard and, when I came back into the house, Bridget growled and barked at me but immediately stopped when I took of the cap and she saw who I was! It was a bit disturbing at the time, but now I think it was quite funny!
Bridget and Sydney have brought – and continue to bring – great joy to our life… and I have only the fondest memories of Putchy, Cricket, Peppy, and Lucky. Sydney is 5 now, and Bridget is 3… and they are good friends; they are our children!
On Dogs - Part 3
Posted on Saturday, February 25, 2006 at 4:47 PM
After Peppy’s death, Lucky was alone… which, while sad for us, passed practically unnoticed by Lucky. She was, after all, a princess who now reveled in the fact that she had our undivided attention. We began to take Lucky everywhere we went.
For short trips, she’d sit on Sheila’s lap – her favorite thing to do; on longer trips, I had a small cage that I would fasten into the seatbelt system in my car. We’d put a soft blanket on the bottom and Lucky would happily lie down or walk around inside the cage. She was a very good traveler. She came with us on trips to Canada, on trips to Virginia, on trips to Florida, and on our longest trip… to Lubbock, Texas to see Todd graduate from Texas Tech School of Law. It wasn’t always easy to find a hotel that allowed pets, but with some careful work beforehand, we always managed… even if we had to pay a slight premium.
Sydney: In the summer of 2000, Sheila and I met a very kind young woman named Bridget Hamlin. Bridget was an animal lover and had rescued many dogs and a few cats over the years. Eventually, she turned her passion into a business that she ran out of her home – Southern Ohio Animal Rescue (SOAR). While money was always tight, Bridget somehow always managed to make ends meet. Her grandfather, Joe, helped her with the grooming side of the business.
We both wanted to help SOAR in our own way, so I set up a web site for her business, and Sheila and I would volunteer at Adopt-a-Thons, and other fundraisers. We’d often just donate money to help her pay the bills. One of my “jobs" was to take photos of the dogs and post them on the web site, and a year later, Bridget showed me a lovely pair of unwanted pups – a male and a female – that had been brought in to the shelter. Bridget said they were an Australian Cattle Dog mix and asked me to suggest names – I said, “Well, since they’re Australian, how about Sydney and Sheila?" Sydney had beautiful blue eyes and I fell in love in an instant. That night, I told Sheila about Sydney and asked her to meet me at SOAR after work the next day; she did, and Sydney came home with us.
At the time, he was about 12 weeks old and much smaller than Lucky, but that didn’t last long. He grew quickly and by about 4 months, he was the same size as her… and by five months, he towered over her! Sydney adored Lucky. He would run over to her whenever he saw her, and he’d lick her face! Lucky, being a princess, couldn’t have cared less!
Sydney, hands down, is the smartest dog companion I’ve ever had. You could see him working out a puzzle in his head before he made a move – a bit like the Raptors in the movie Jurassic Park. While I never had the need for Lucky, I built a dog run for Sydney next to our house – about 20’ x 40’ but I never thought the thing through properly… I failed to take into account that Sydney was a good runner. After running for 15 or 20 feet and building up to full steam, he could jump really, really high… in fact, right over the top of the fence – without breaking a sweat! He didn’t do it often, but it got to the point where Sheila and I had to be outside whenever Sydney was in the run… just to be sure!
In the summer of 2002, the university for which I work was hosting the Governor’s Honors Academy – and I had the opportunity to spend two weeks working with the cream of high school students. I taught two courses: one dealing with Medical Informatics, and the other dealing with Internet Ethics. As part of the experience, the staff and students all stayed in campus housing – and that meant two weeks away from home. Overall, it was a great success and I really enjoyed it. But, unfortunately, there was a high price to pay… at least, as far as I was concerned!
For as far back as she could remember, Lucky had seen me and been with me every day of her life. But after one week of my being absent, Lucky developed an autoimmune response to the stress of my not being there. She became lethargic and wouldn’t eat or drink. Sheila took her to the vet who, after some blood tests, prescribed steroids for a week. But, even after the week was over and I had returned home and got back to my regular routine, Lucky continued to decline. The vet increased the steroid dose and, for a while, Lucky perked right up. But it was short lived. After a few more weeks, Lucky started to pant very heavily and would only eat soft, mushy food.
One night in September, I woke up in the middle of the night to see if Lucky wanted to go out to pee, but she just lay on the bed. I picked her up, but she didn’t move at all. I carried her into the kitchen and turned on the light – she had died in her sleep. I returned to the bedroom and woke Sheila… and we both cried. Whether it was warranted or not, I blamed myself for her death. If I hadn’t been away for those two weeks, Lucky’s routine wouldn’t have been changed and she would still be alive.
Sheila and I got a shovel and went outside. In a scene more reminiscent of X-Files than anything else, I dug a hole for Lucky – in the middle of the night – in the garden in front of our house. Sheila wrapped Lucky in a pillow case, and we gently laid her to rest. We knew she had been ill for almost two months and, in a way, this was a peaceful end for her. We miss Lucky terribly and, even today, talk about her!
Many people reading this blog will have seen my posts on several BritishExpats forums, and will know that I use Lucky’s picture for my avatar. It’s my small way of honoring her dear memory.
Suddenly, Sydney was an only dog… something he’d never been. For as long as he could remember, he had always had another dog in the house, but it wouldn’t be long before he had another friend with which to play.
Dad - Part 4
Posted on Saturday, February 18, 2006 at 8:47 PM
I don’t think my dad ever fully understood why I never returned home other than for brief visits after I left for school in 1973. My brother, after graduation from McMaster University, went back home to live for a while… indeed, I remember at least three occasions when he went home. Usually, this was just for the summer – but that was 4 months long… and that would have been 4 months too long for me. I never went back home. Even in those years when money was tight, I didn’t go back home.
I’m not entirely sure whether it was a conscious decision (although I suspect it was), but after 1973, I never lived closer than 2½ hours away from my parents. As I wrote in “Sounds Good – Part 2", I chose the University of Windsor because Windsor was far enough away from Toronto that it would be inconvenient for my folks to make a weekend visit, but close enough that they wouldn’t feel insulted that I had chosen to study out of town. Windsor is 3½ hours west of Toronto. When I graduated from the Faculty of Education and began my career as a high school teacher, I lived for 3 years in Sharbot Lake and then another 10 years in Kingston – both about 2½ hours east of Toronto.
Oddly enough, when I did go home for a visit, dad was always glad to see me… but after only one day, I was ready to leave! Dad would invariably ask me something like, “What have you been up to?" to which I would answer, “Nothing much different from what I’ve been doing all along!" I know this was a nebulous response, but I really didn’t want to fully answer him. I wasn’t deliberately trying to be difficult, it’s just that my life was my business, and I didn’t want to share it with him. I think that somewhere in the back of my mind, having him know my every move would have somehow diminished what little power I felt by his not knowing. As long as I was somewhat secretive and evasive, I’d keep the advantage!
Dad had a way of diminishing those things that were important to me. Whenever I passed an exam at school, he’d say, “I’ll reserve judgment until I see how you do on the next one!". When I got a 95% in some course, he’d ask, “What happened to the other 5%?" This went on year after year… through high school and then through university. After a while, I simply stopped telling dad about these sorts of things, because I knew that, invariably, he’d find a way to minimize my success. I can only guess that his reason for doing this was to somehow make himself feel more important by diminishing my accomplishment. It was a sick, twisted way to raise a son! And yet, he fancied himself a good father – indeed, a better father than other men he knew!
This evasiveness, this not wanting to share, has kept my dad from knowing some of those things of which I am most proud! In 1988, I successfully completed the National Coaching Certification Program. That same year, I entered my senior band students in a competition in Boston – we won a bronze medal, and the trip was a great success; this really boosted enrollment in the music program the following year. In 1989, I earned my Honor Specialist certificate in Music Education – the practical upshot of which was that I not only got a pay raise, I was now at the highest level of teacher certification in Ontario. Dad also never knew that in 1992, I received the Dr. A. Vibert Douglas Award for “service and achievement in astronomy" from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. All of these things he didn’t know… and, in the back of my mind, I was glad of it.
In 1990, much to my surprise, mom and dad became snowbirds – that is, they bought a condominium in Coral Springs, Florida (just west of Ft. Lauderdale) in the retirement community of Ramblewood. They’d spend October to April in Florida and then return to Toronto from May to September. I was genuinely glad that they were making use of their retirement savings to enjoy life in the same manner as many of their friends… but, of course, it was very expensive – especially considering the poor exchange rate between Canadian and US currency at the time.
I visited with them occasionally in Toronto, but I also went to see them 2 or 3 times in Florida – and, each time after I got back home, I wished I hadn’t gone. There was no escape from them for 3 or 4 days at a time. Mom fussed over me every time I stood up to stretch my legs… “Are you comfortable? Is there something I can get you? Do you want a piece of fruit?" and on and on. Dad would then chime in, “Why are you bothering with him? If he wants something he can get it himself… he knows where things are!" Then mom would respond to dad, and he’d respond back… each time getting louder and louder, until they were practically shouting at each other – and all because I moved from the sofa to a chair!.
I have discovered that guilt is a very fine wire on which to balance! My parents would always want to see me and I would always try to delay it – and when the visit was over, I wished I hadn’t gone at all. This dance was repeated over and over... time and time again!
When Sheila and I got married, I did not invite my parents to the wedding. I did not want my dad, in any way, to draw attention to himself and away from Sheila. In his world, in his mind, attention is a finite amount… if someone is getting any attention, that amount is drawn away from what he feels is his rightful share.
On Dogs - Part 2
Posted on Friday, February 17, 2006 at 9:23 PM
It wasn’t until I moved to Kentucky in April, 1998 that I found myself, once again, surrounded by dogs. One of the statements made by my (now) wife, Sheila, prior to our marriage was, “You have to pass the dog test… if my dogs don’t like you, we won’t be getting married!" Sheila had two toy dogs – Peppy, a male long-haired Chihuahua (his full name was: Red Hot Chili Pepper) and Lucky, a female red sable Pomeranian. Peppy and Lucky were the only dogs for which I had to prove myself worthy!
Sheila had gotten Peppy when he was just a puppy. He was supposed to be the responsibility of her son, Todd but, after a while, Todd got busy with those things that interest teenage boys, and Peppy soon became Sheila’s responsibility. Lucky was a rescue dog to some extent. That is to say, one of Sheila’s patients became so ill that she could no longer look after her two dogs – a female Pomeranian and a male Yorkshire Terrier. Sheila took in both dogs, but soon came to realize that having two male dogs in the same house was a perfect recipe for disaster. Sure enough, the Yorkie marked his territory on the furniture so, after a short while, Sheila had to find him a new home.
Peppy had a great sense of humor. He would run around the house as fast as he could for no other reason than to show off how fast he could run. He’d come in a room and look at you with tail wagging, and then just roll over for no good reason at all. He was a funny dog! Peppy had a little stuffed toy called Mr. Sparky. Mostly, Mr. Sparky was tossed around the house… which is exactly the sort of thing a stuffed toy really enjoys. Sometimes though, Mr. Sparky would become Peppy’s secret love slave. We’d hear a sort of grunting noise coming from the other room and would peek around the corner to find Peppy humping Mr. Sparky. He’d hold Mr. Sparky firmly between his front paws and hump away… quite enthusiastically! It was quite funny really, made more funny because Peppy had long ago been neutered! So, instinct, I guess.
Sheila had made up a whole story about Peppy’s ancestry. His father was a poor, dirt farmer with an abundant crop and, after many years of struggle, his mother carried him on her back while she swam across the Rio Grande River from Mexico to Texas… and to a new life. However, because of their ongoing financial difficulties, she had to sell Peppy into slavery and Peppy never saw his mother and father again. Fortunately, he was soon rescued by Sheila and he became a free-range dog!
Lucky, on the other hand, had no great sense of humor at all. She was a princess; she was a lap dog… and there was absolutely no place on earth that she’d rather be than sitting in someone’s lap – indeed, anyone’s lap – being gently brushed! Lucky, unfortunately, wasn’t too bright! She was very pretty, but she wasn’t anywhere near as smart as Peppy. She didn’t play with any toys unless Peppy threw one at her, and even then, she wouldn’t know what to do with it. Occasionally, she’d try to copy Peppy and grab a toy in her mouth for a minute or so, but then she’d forget what it was for and drop it someplace.
Remarkably, both Peppy and Lucky looked somewhat alike when the sun was shining!
Peppy and Lucky both loved to run across the back of our property over to the house on the next road where my stepdaughter, Amy, and her husband, Alan, lived. Big Al, (although there is still no “Little Al" that I know of), was great friends with Peppy. While Big Al usually wouldn’t give Lucky the time of day – well, were she to ask for it – he always played with Peppy. Indeed, he’d sometimes take Peppy with him in the car when he went to the corner store for something. Peppy loved to travel, and Big Al loved to indulge him.
Peppy had rarely been sick a day in his life, so it shocked up completely when he died so suddenly. One day, he was running up the road in front of our house and, for some unknown reason, he simply fell over… literally, dead in his tracks. The veterinarian said that it was most likely a heart attack, but agreed it was unusual for there to be no warning signs beforehand… and we always took the dogs for regular check ups.
Sheila and I picked a spot just below our deck and I dug a hole for Peppy. We placed Peppy and Mr. Sparky in a pillow case and gently laid him to rest. Big Al and Amy were both with us for the burial and poor Al just broke down in tears. I remember how I had felt a few years earlier when Putchy had died. I had only known Peppy for about 6 months and he was suddenly gone.
On Dogs - Part 1
Posted on Saturday, February 11, 2006 at 3:28 PM
I have been honored to have had many dog companions over the years… six in all. They are (and were) all good and dear friends. If you have never had a pet companion, you have never known true, unconditional love and acceptance.
Putchy: February, 1984 – I was living in Sharbot Lake, Ontario and teaching music at Sharbot Lake High School. One of my students, Mike, lived on a farm and raised hounds. He had a recent litter of pups and was looking for homes for them; the mom was a Blue Tick and the dad an American Walker. After a while, he had one pup left – a white female with a large black triangle on her forehead. Without ever having seen her, I told Mike that I would adopt her.
For a while I called her Spot but, within a few months, she started to develop small black spots all over her body and, most noticeably, on her ears. I renamed her Angeputchket – a word that means “too much of something that would otherwise have been just right" referring, of course, to her (now) many spots! I called her Putchy for short!
Putchy was always a bit on the shy side. She loved to run in the yard and explore every nook and cranny. I had a waterbed at the time and, being a soft, warm place to spend time, Putchy often lay on the bed when I was at work. When I came home, she’d be so happy to see me, she’d pee on herself. It really was something to see because she’d roll over onto her back first – waiting, apparently, for me to rub her tummy – but she’d just get so excited that I was home, she lost control of herself. The pee would shoot about 3 feet straight up in the air and then down onto her belly. She’d then need a bath, and I’d need to do laundry! It took a while, but eventually I was able to get into the house quickly and get her outside before she messed on herself.
In winter, the lake would freeze over, and I’d take Putchy for walks across the lake and around the small island that lay about 75’ off shore. Two years later, I transferred to a new school and moved to Kingston – about 50 miles south.
Cricket: August, 1987 – I was at the pet store in the Cataraqui Town Center in Kingston. There was a cute little male Border Collie mix pup in one of the cages. Apparently, he had been purchased as a gift but was not wanted and so had been returned. I stuck my face up to the cage and he trotted over to me and licked me on the nose! I was hooked and, $5.00 later, took him home.
Putchy had been an only dog up until that time, but the first thing Cricket did in his new home, was pick up part of the 50’ rope that tethered Putchy to a large tree in the yard, and take her for a walk. Even as a puppy, Cricket’s herding instinct was strong… and Putchy was subservient ever after! Cricket and Putchy were good friends and often played with each other.
In 1994, after their annual visit to the vet, I was told that Putchy had developed a heart murmur and that there was no cure or medication that would help. He said that she probably had a year – maybe two – but her heart would continue to weaken and, at some point, it would simply give out. I spoiled Putchy from then on… much to Cricket’s dismay.
It was several months before I really noticed that Putchy wasn’t quite as active as she had once been. She slept more and, after a time, she ate less than she used to. One day, after a short walk in the summer of 1995, Putchy collapsed on the floor and I knew that walking and breathing had become too difficult for her. Though it went against every fiber in my being, I knew that I could no longer let her suffer for my sake. I called the vet and told him that I was going to bring Putchy in that afternoon.
I carried Putchy to the car and drove the short distance to the vet’s office. I carried her in and laid her down very gently on a large, soft pillow and asked if I could stay with her until the end. The vet stepped out of the room after he gave her an injection and, gently holding her head, talking softly to her, and looking into her eyes, I watched my best friend slip away peacefully. It was the most heart-wrenching thing I had ever done… but I knew it was the right thing to do. I removed her collar, made arrangements for her burial in a local pet cemetery, and left. I cried all the way home and late into the evening.
As much as I was devastated by Putchy’s death, Cricket also keenly felt her absence. For as far back as he could remember, Cricket had never been alone. He would run around the house checking every corner, looking for her. He would sit down in front of me and look at me with a quizzical look on his face, as if to ask where she was. After a few days, I think he realized that she wasn’t coming back… and that saddened us both.
The following year, at the ripe old age of 43, I retired from teaching and moved to Halifax. I could not take Cricket with me, so I arranged to have him adopted by a young family that desperately wanted an older dog. One day in June, I took Cricket over to meet his new family. He was a bit suspicious of them at first, but once he was offered a treat and allowed to explore the house, he played very happily with them. We all agreed it was a good match, and Cricket would be happy with more people in his “pack". I called them a week later to see how things were going, and again a month after. Cricket had adjusted very well and it was as though he had lived with them all his life. I never saw Cricket again, but knew that he would be well taken care of.
I have often wondered whether it was incredibly selfish of me to let Cricket go, or whether it was unselfish. In an effort to appease my inner demons, I tell myself that Cricket was better off with a larger, loving family and that it would have been unfair of me to take him from a large house and yard to a small apartment… but I’ve never been quite sure of my decision in this matter.
On Becoming a Teacher
Posted on Thursday, February 9, 2006 at 3:10 PM
After completing my undergraduate degree in Music in 1978, I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to devote 100% of my time trying to make my mark in the music industry. So, I stayed in Windsor for a few years to work.
I got a job working at a local drug store – Bryson’s Big V. There were about 130 Big V stores spread across southern Ontario mostly concentrated between London and Windsor with their headquarters in London. Windsor had 5 or 6 such stores, but Bryson’s was close to where I lived. It was a good job, really… I got to drive the delivery car! I’d spend most of the day on the road, delivering prescriptions (mostly) and other household products to customers all over the west end of Windsor. Most of the customers were elderly and on a fixed income but, fortunately, their health insurance covered the cost of their medication and so they were charged only 35¢ per prescription.
The car was a white 1977 Chevy Nova. It didn’t have a radio but I got permission from the store manager to install the one that I had rescued from my Simca prior to its untimely demise. It took a bit of tweaking, but I did manage to get it in and working. It certainly wasn’t a professional installation, but it looked pretty good and, since I was the only one to drive the car, no one else really cared! In the mid-90s, Shopper’s Drug Mart bought out the Big V chain – securing for itself the position of largest drug store chain in Canada!
After a couple of years of building up my cash reserves, I decided to return to school. In 1980, I was accepted into a new interdisciplinary program at the University of Windsor that combined music and dramatic arts. The Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Theatre gave me a chance to make use of my music degree and afforded me the opportunity to test my thespian skills! Because I had already taken some of the music courses and was not required to repeat them, my work load those first two years was a bit less than the other students. I did quite well, considering my meager acting skills – and I made the Dean’s List my 2nd year.
After two years in the program, I made an interesting discovery. Apparently, the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) from which I got my student loans, would only fund you for seven years. Well, I had done 4 years in music and now 2 years in music theatre, so I had only 1 year of eligibility left. The BFA program was a 4 year degree, and there was no way I’d be able to afford that last year on my own since my cash reserves would run out long before then. So, I made yet another in a series of life-changing decisions.
In an effort to make myself marketable within that one remaining year of OSAP eligibility, I decided to become a teacher. I applied to and was accepted into the Bachelor of Education program offered through the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education. I had never before wanted to teach music, and I didn’t particularly want to teach music then either… but I was 28 years old and my prospects for a bright future were growing thin. Since teachers were fairly well paid, I was on the verge of becoming financially secure in a well-respected profession. It was a win-win situation for me!
The Bachelor of Education was a one-year professional degree program – the prerequisite for which was a 4-year degree from an accredited University. Upon graduation, you received both a B.Ed. degree and an Ontario Teacher’s Certificate. Both the B.Ed. and the OTC were necessary to teach in any school in Ontario… and, because of the prerequisite, Ontario schools were pretty much guaranteed that their teachers had an undergraduate degree in their specific field of expertise. The specific courses you took at the Faculty of Education depended on whether you wanted to teach in the elementary or secondary school system. I wanted to teach high school… I didn’t have the patience to work with little kids! In addition to the regular course work, we had 4 rounds of practice teaching, the first round lasting 2 weeks, and each of the other three lasting 3 weeks.
My 1st assignment was at a rural school in Leamington – home of the Heinz company! There was a big tomato thing as you entered town proclaiming, “Leamington – Tomato Capital of Canada". I was quite nervous that first round as I was totally inexperienced. I lost my temper more than once because, for some reason, I had expected the students to know as much about music as I did… and, of course, they didn’t. But, I got a good report at the end of the round and I was pleased with that.
The Leamington Tomato
My 2nd round was at Essex District High School – another rural school. More confident now because of my earlier training, I had a great time at EDHS. I received an excellent report from the music teacher, Tony Malkowski, and was invited back to guest conduct at the school’s final concert that year.
The 3rd round was completely different. One of the other students fell ill and could not complete her remaining practice teaching assignments. I was asked to step in and, instead of a high school, do a practice round at Hugh Beaton Public School. The school, like all elementary schools, did not have an instrumental program but instead had a vocal program. While I had two rounds of practice teaching under my belt, this was my first time teaching vocal music… and, despite some initial trepidation, I enjoyed it thoroughly. The students were receptive to what I wanted, and I received an excellent report from music teacher, Stephen Snider.
My 4th and final teaching round was at Assumption College High School – a Catholic school just up the road from where I was living. There was no being nervous this time; I was confident and eager to show off both my teaching skills and my classroom management skills. It was at ACHS that I learned an important lesson from the music teacher, Henry Boon. I had been somewhat lax about returning from lunch – it’s not that I wasn’t there on time for afternoon classes… because I was, but Henry thought I should be in the room at least 10 minutes prior to the start of class. He said it gave you time to sit, relax, reflect on what you did yesterday, and plan for how you’ll change it today. I owe Henry a debt of thanks! His advice has served me well for many, many years.
I graduated with straight A’s in May, 1983 and, within a few months, was hired to teach instrumental music at Sharbot Lake High School that September. It was the start of a new era in my life… an era that would end under unusual circumstances followed by yet another life-changing decision!
Posted on Tuesday, February 7, 2006 at 7:16 PM
I’ve discovered an amazing thing! It seems the more I write of my life in the late 60s and 70s, the more I actually remember… and in increasing detail. Small things which I thought I had long ago forgotten are coming back to me – vividly, as if they had happened only yesterday! It was Timothy Leary – the great counterculture guru of the 60s who urged us to “turn on, tune in, drop out" – who said, “If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there!" Well… I’m remembering, although it’s only coming back to me very, very slowly!
When I was in grade 11 at Mackenzie and otherwise deeply involved in various music activities, I found myself hanging around with a totally different group. The leader, a thin boy named Larry, was always reading some sort of fantasy fiction. He was currently reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. He had loaned me his copy of The Hobbit a month or so earlier and, while sick in bed one weekend, I read the whole novel cover to cover. I remember crying when Thorin Oakenshield was killed. Never before had any book so captured my imagination… and, upon my return to school on Monday, I asked Larry if I could borrow his copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. He gladly gave it to me and I began to make my way through the trilogy.
Now, what I didn’t know beforehand, was that Larry and two other boys, John and Roger, were also Tolkien fans. Along with Larry’s and John’s older brothers, the five had formed a group known as the “Knights of Ennorath". They would get together once a month or so, get dressed up in costumes very much reminiscent of medieval Britain, and go on treks, play war games, or spend a very pleasant 10 hours playing Risk. They would drink hot mulled cider and pretend it was fine ale from ancient barrels! Had they been older, they would surely have joined the Society for Creative Anachronism… and who knows, perhaps they did.
The Knights of Ennorath had a great battle cry! Whenever one of them lunged at another with a wooden sword, he’d cry out “Nazgul, Balrog, Orc and Troll" in order to summon up all his courage for battle. They invited me to join their ranks, and I eagerly accepted. Each member could lay claim to a fiefdom – that is, a parcel of land carved out from Middle Earth to hold and defend as our own. After making my decision, I became known as “Sir Ian, Lord of Anfalas". I chuckle at it now, but it seemed pretty important and honorable at the time! I was on the inside; in the know; part of something larger than just myself.
There were also two girls in the group – Tundi and Tammy. Being women, they weren’t allowed to be land owners or participate in the mock battles, but they had great costumes and carried themselves as proper wenches. They poured “ale" when we were thirsty and they fussed over us when we were “injured" in battle. Larry and Tundi were dating and spent quite a bit of time together. Tammy was of Ukrainian decent and had a number of beautiful skirts that her mother made – all very nicely decorated.
One of our treks took us to Ball’s Falls – part of the Bruce Trail near the Niagara Peninsula. For me, it was the one of those great times when I was away from home without my parents – it was a terrific feeling of independence! One Friday evening in July, I prepared a morning snack and a bag lunch, and I chilled a canteen of water in the fridge. We left early the next morning; and I mean early. I walked to Larry’s house where we all gathered at 6:00, and we left about 6:15 for the two hour drive. John’s brother, Peter, drove. We parked the car and, with backpacks on shoulders, we hiked for about 3 hours stopping occasionally to take in the scenery and have a snack. By 11:00 or so, we stopped for an early lunch by the falls. It was a very nice day and the scenery was breathtaking. We broke out the swords and shields after lunch, and spent another hour or so in battle. As it turns out, I won the contest that day and was declared “dux bellum" or “war leader". My prize was a small statue which I got to keep until the next battle when a new “dux bellum" was declared. We called the statue the “Arrggh Trophy" because it was the figure of a woman pirate! “Have ye ever been t’sea, Billy? Arrggh!"
After we graduated from high school, we all went our separate ways and I never saw any of them again. Larry eventually became a Rabbi and moved to the US, Tammy became a scholar and translator of Ukrainian literature, and I… I became a lover of literature and fantasy fiction. I’ve read both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in their entirety about 10 or 11 times now, and I collect Tolkien memorabilia – much to the chagrin of my good wife.
When Peter Jackson announced that he was filming The Lord of the Rings, I was somewhat skeptical. How could you portray on the screen the images that I had in my head? Who really knew what Hobbits looked like? Or Orcs? Or Nazgul? I went to see The Fellowship of the Ring with some trepidation. By the end of the film, I knew that I would never again need such a rich imagination… I could no longer imagine Hobbits as anything other than how Jackson portrayed them in film. Finally, after 30 years, Middle Earth had actually come to life… and those few years I spent as a Knight of Ennorath were somehow validated.
Posted on Monday, February 6, 2006 at 8:25 PM
The University of Windsor is on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, and just a minute away from the entrance to the Ambassador Bridge which joins Windsor and Detroit. The Ambassador Bridge is one of the most heavily traveled border posts between Canada and the US.
1974 – I am a year away from getting kicked out of University for not showing up to my classes, and my brother is studying to be a social worker at McMaster University. My dorm room at Huron Hall has become the closest thing to Party Central and there are always friends dropping by to chat and waste time. Like all campus housing, we had a Resident Assistant living on our floor – a pretty girl named Jane who, as it turns out, had also been friends with my brother a year earlier when he was at Windsor.
Huron Hall was an off-campus dormitory; a refurbished motel that was purchased by the University. Each room had two double beds, two desks and chairs, two armoires, and a private bathroom! Although a bit more expensive, it was much better than the smaller, more cramped rooms on main campus where each floor shared a communal bathroom. And, perhaps best of all, Huron Hall was a co-ed dorm with boys in the even numbered rooms, and girls in the odd numbered ones. Jane was a budding geologist and in her final year at the University. She received tuition and a modest fee to oversee the 28 1st and 2nd year students in our dorm wing. Jane had braces… unusual for a 24 year old, but her infectious grin and beautiful high cheekbones more than made up for it. She was also a good listener!
Jane caught off guard
One weekend in May, my brother flew to Windsor for a visit – not just to see me, but to also see our friends Gary and Barb and, of course, Jane. I think Jane and Michael might have dated at one point – they seemed to know each other pretty well – but I don’t really have any direct evidence of this.
That Friday afternoon, while making my way back to Huron Hall on one of those rare Fridays when I actually went to school, a 4-door sedan pulled up beside me and one of the 3 guys in the car opened a window to talk. He said they were heading back over the bridge and didn’t want to risk being caught at the border with their small cache of marijuana and did I want it? He handed me a small package and I looked inside to find a small baggie of grass, some cigarette papers, and some tin foil for storage! Not being one to turn down some free weed, I gladly accepted the package with plans to give it to my brother – who probably appreciated it more than I did – and the 3 guys went on their way.
When I got to the dorm, I found Michael visiting with Jane and handed him the small package with a full explanation of what had just taken place. Knowing that the dorm was just exactly the wrong place to blaze up, Michael and Jane went over to Gary’s place for a while. Barb, fortunately for all concerned, was visiting her family in Toronto that weekend and was away from the apartment.
I didn’t see Michael for the rest of the night, nor did I see him at all on Saturday. On Sunday, a little after 12:00 noon, Michael phoned and said Gary was going to drive him to the airport for his return flight to Hamilton and would I like to go with them and Jane? I said I would like to go! So, after smoking what they could reasonably enjoy in a day and a half, Michael wrapped up the rest of the marijuana to enjoy at some later date.
Now… Windsor International Airport isn’t exactly the hot bed of drug enforcement in Canada but they do, of course, have an RCMP officer stationed there at all times… and travelers then, as now, must pass through a metal detector prior to boarding. Well, all hell broke loose when Michael passed through the detector – having completely forgotten that he had tin foil-wrapped joints in his pocket! The siren went off, everyone turned to stare, and the RCMP officer immediately pulled him aside for questioning. He was taken to a small room where, for 20 minutes he was grilled by the officer. What is this? Whose is it? How did you get it? What are you going to do with it? Were you going to sell it? Who is your dealer? … and on and on. Fortunately, Michael is even better at fast talking than I am and, while it took some time (and never once mentioned that I was his... um... dealer), he eventually satisfied the officer that the joints were for personal use only and he would never try to smuggle narcotics again! Honest! He was given a summons to appear in federal court in Windsor about 3 weeks later, and was allowed to leave.
Michael returned to appear in court and was given a suspended sentence. The judge apparently took pity on him for being a poor, university student with limited means and good intentions for the future. Besides, a conviction would have ruined his chances for a career in social work.
Barb arrived back in Windsor on Sunday evening and Gary slept on the couch for a week. Huron Hall was torn down in 2002… more’s the pity!
Sounds Good – Part 3
Posted on Sunday, February 5, 2006 at 7:28 PM
I never seemed to get into as much trouble with our folks as Michael did. Once, I thought I’d experiment with fire. I lit up the garbage cans which were kept at the side of the small apartment building where we lived. I think I had quite a good blaze going before the landlady called my mom, who promptly came downstairs to drag me away. Mom threatened to beat me within an inch of my life, but she spanked me once and then stopped. She said, “I think I’ve done myself an injury – wait until your father gets home." Well, later that evening, dad came home. He yelled at me, but I don’t remember him ever hitting me over that incident. In fact, I don’t ever recall my father ever hitting me.
I remember that Michael once ran away from home – he was about 17 at the time. I think dad had accused him of smoking marijuana and hanging out with a rough crowd of kids, and Michael felt that he had been unjustly accused and convicted… so he took off. Dad shuffled me into the car and we visited all his usual hangouts and the homes of his friends, but we didn’t find him. He called the next morning, much to the relief of my parents (although dad, to this day, would never admit it) saying that he had spent the night on Toronto Island and that he’d be home shortly – he just needed some time to himself to work things out. I never discovered whether dad’s accusations were true or not, but it certainly made me want to more carefully conceal my excursions into the world of drugs. Well, I make it sound like I was a dope addict and that just isn’t true. I smoked marijuana in my mid/late teens and I also experimented with Hashish and Hash Oil, but it never did a thing for me so I never pursued drugs as a recreational activity.
The summer after I finished grade 12, my family moved. At the time, if you moved beyond the defined municipal boundaries, you were compelled to transfer to a different school, and so I found myself at Newtonbrook Secondary School for grade 13. I didn’t like it at Newtonbrook. I didn’t know my way around the school, I didn’t know any of the teachers, and I didn’t know any of the students - well, except for my cousin, Merle, with whom I would occasionally walk to school. In many ways, it was like being at the beginning of my high school career rather than at the end of it. I didn’t like it so much, that I would often walk in the front door and out the back, catch a bus, and go back to Mackenzie and spend the day there with my friends. After school, I’d catch a bus back home again. I did this quite successfully for about three weeks before anyone realized what was going on. But, there was hell to pay when I was finally caught, as I wrote in the blog entry, “Dad – Part 2".
I didn’t let my music studies slide at Newtonbrook, much as I didn’t care for the school. The music teacher there was a sweet old soul who had served for many years in the military before becoming a teacher. He was affectionately known as Captain Atkins. He walked with short, stiff steps as he shuffled along in his tan, Hush Puppy loafers. He introduced me to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, which we studied in great depth, and which became a lifelong favorite. It was at Newtonbrook that I found myself playing french horn in the pit orchestra for the school musical “Guys and Dolls". In the orchestra was a pretty violin player named Caryl – she stole my heart.
I kept Caryl secret; my parents never knew about her - even to this day. I knew they would disapprove of me dating her considering the incident with Lily a couple of years earlier. Caryl also played violin in the Toronto Youth Orchestra, and I once went to see the TYO perform outside Toronto’s city hall. The orchestra was playing Franck’s Symphony in D minor – a lovely, moving piece that also remains a favorite. Would it have been a favorite had Caryl not been playing in the orchestra? I’m not sure – I think I would have eventually discovered it, but I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much. In May of 1972, at the tender age of 18, I penned my first poem/song with Caryl’s encouragement – the first of about 80 songs and poems that I’d eventually write.
Posted on Saturday, February 4, 2006 at 11:41 AM
When my family moved to Canada on November 1, 1959, I was just a few months shy of being 6 years old. I'm not 100% sure why we moved to Canada but I've heard it said that my father had come to Toronto to attend the wedding of his nephew (my cousin) Sydney. Dad apparently liked Toronto so much, that when he returned to Glasgow, he informed my mother and the rest of us that we were moving across the ocean. So, we went. Even then, dad’s need to control was evident… and it was only a matter of time before it became even stronger. I do remember that I had a friend named Angus. I have a photo of him taken by the fence around our house in Glasgow. I don't really remember anything about him, but mom keeps telling me that we were best friends and inseparable.
In Ontario, when you're 6 years old, you start school – mostly in kindergarten. However, it seems that I had been in school in Glasgow since I was 4½. My mom tells the story that, after a few weeks of school, she got a call from the teacher who indicated that I was just sitting in the class doing nothing, not participating, not talking to the other students, and totally disinterested in what was happening. The teacher was aghast when mom told her that I could already read and write, and perhaps I was simply bored. This is true as it turns out, and the following week I was placed in the first grade. I wasn't even 6 years old yet. While I was quite pleased with myself for “being so smart", I was younger than all the other students in the class, and stayed that way right through high school. When I finished grade 13, in June of 1971, I was just 17, although I did have to complete one more semester before getting my diploma as a result of switching schools mid-year. I didn't even have my driver's license yet because my dad thought I should wait until school was out! It was difficult trying to get a date in high school. Not only was I younger than all the girls in my class, I didn't have a license like the other boys. Not an easy thing at that age. I also remember being shorter than everyone else in the class and, to top things off, I started to lose my hair when I was only 16 years old. I always blamed my mom for these more permanent bad things in my life. My going bald and my migraines were both hereditary from mom’s side of the family.
In 1974, Mary – my “amour de jour" – introduced me to the writings of Ayn Rand. Mary knew of my interest in drafting and architecture and pushed me to read Rand's "The Fountainhead". After reading the novel, I found myself thinking that I was completely superior to everyone else around me. I had discovered, through my reading, the only sane manner in which to live; the only rational way to conduct business; the only proper way in which people should interact with each other. I can't believe how arrogant I was… how naïve I was. For, as I discovered much later, that rationality, and that sane and proper way was only possible in an ideal world.
I always prided myself on my memory, on my ability to recall the most trivial facts about completely non-significant things. I thought so highly of my own memory, that I don't ever recall spending a lot of time studying my school work for upcoming tests or exams. I felt, when the time came to write down the answers, that I would mysteriously remember whatever it was I needed to know - instantly. My memory let me down a number of times, and it's taken a long time to realize that perhaps it was my initial assumption that was incorrect. It astounds me sometimes, to think that I was (and am) so completely arrogant about my own abilities. Years later, this would be called my “Ontario attitude".
Posted on Friday, February 3, 2006 at 3:10 PM
Every now and again I think about children. I don’t have any children of my own although I have two terrific stepchildren… both now married, and both lawyers – one in Texas and the other in Minnesota. I love them dearly and I couldn’t be more proud of them!
As a matter of curiosity, I note that the popular television show “Father Knows Best" debuted the year I was born and ran until I was 8. Perhaps this is where he got the idea but, like the show, my dad knew best. He knew the best way to drive from point A to point B in the city; he knew the best way to put a garbage bag in the bucket so as to make maximum use of the space; he knew the best and proper channels to watch on TV; he knew the best way to fold socks and underwear so as to make full use of drawer space; he knew the best way to navigate a shopping cart through the grocery store to get maximum coverage in a minimum amount of time; and he knew the best way to play off my mother’s need to satisfy in order to fulfill his own needs.
My dad has emotional needs… manifested most clearly and strongly in his need to control. My mother, although better educated and the higher wage earner, was totally subservient to my dad – fulfilling her own need to please others. Her whole life – to the exclusion of almost everything else – revolved around his needs and his happiness. I always hoped that she would stand up to him, but it never happened. Even when dad had an affair (at age 63) and told mom about it, I hoped she’d divorce him and learn, finally, to depend on herself and her own strengths to carry her through. It never happened. She may never have forgotten, but she forgave just enough and life resumed much as before.
Neither mom nor dad were very good at expressing themselves emotionally. I don’t ever remember hearing them say that they loved me; I don’t ever remember hearing them say that they were proud of me. I do remember that just about every Saturday mom had one of her “sick headaches" and would drug up before dad came home from work and they both went out to a club with their friends. I also remember their emotional indifference to me and Michael. I’m sure the feelings were there – at least, I hope they were – but growing up with them was like living in an emotional wasteland… indeed, we lived in an emotional vacuum because it was more draining than nurturing.
Of course, it took many years of living on my own to fully appreciate the impact of growing up in an emotionally neutral environment, but I came to realize – after some time – that my brother and I were both the victims of emotional abuse. With the help of Susan Forward’s book “Toxic Parents", I came to realize and understand what had happened. In her own words, the book was “written for adults who are coming to realize that they were raised by parents whose own needs were allowed to overshadow the responsibility of rearing independent self-confident children." Never were truer words spoken!
Well, my brother and I were such adults. Michael eventually married and raised two boys. My nephews (aged 15 and 10 as I write) are adorable children – thanks mainly to the intervention of their mother. Aside from that though, they are a mirror image of my brother. Michael, like my dad, has developed strict guidelines for living; strict guidelines for the way things should be done! And even though Michael knows and understands and has fully rationalized what happened while we were growing up, this has not stopped him from raising children in much the same way as he was raised. I see it every time I visit, and I think about the choices we each have made in our life!
My nephews at age 13 and 8!
I chose to stop the cycle of abuse... I chose not to have children – but every now and again I think about children. I think about the “what ifs"; I think about how proud I felt when my stepchildren graduated from law school; and I sometimes regret that I never had children of my own. Those regrets, fortunately, don’t last too long because, in the end, I’m absolutely certain that I made the right decision for me.
My mom, at age 76, developed ovarian cancer last year and had a hysterectomy followed by 6 rounds of chemotherapy. Dad's overriding concern during this time was "who is going to look after me while she's in the hospital?"
Yes, I may have deprived my parents of grandchildren… but to further indulge their needs would have been far too great a cost – a cost I'm no longer willing to pay.
Sounds Good - Part 2
Posted on Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 9:08 PM
My first year at university was very exciting. I was away from home for the first time, I felt I was on my way to a career in music, and I was making new friends everywhere I turned. I had chosen the University of Windsor because Windsor was far enough away from Toronto that it would be inconvenient for my folks to make a weekend visit, but close enough to Toronto that they wouldn’t feel insulted that I had chosen to study out of town. I also went to Windsor, because Michael had attended there the previous year, although by the time I arrived, he had transferred to McMaster University in Hamilton.
Michael’s friends, Gary and Barb, were still in Windsor and, for a small price each week, they fed me and made sure that I was okay and, I suppose, behaving myself. I had known them both for a number of years. Gary and I used to play together in a little folk duo called “Brillow and the Pillow". I was Brillow - referring to my frizzy hair which resembled steel wool; Gary was Pillow - he was a large fellow with a generous waistline. The irony that those names could now be reversed is not altogether lost on me! We’d get together all the time to play folk music and the occasional song which I had written, and sometimes we’d even rent a small hall and put on a more elaborate performance for paying guests. It was a great time in my life.
We once rented the basement of a local Community Centre and gave one of our public performances. I had recently started to sing with Jean – an attractive girl with a beautiful voice. Jean and I called ourselves “Folkus". Jean and I played a number of local coffee shops and did the occasional gig at a bar, but despite our hard work, Folkus never really got too far off the ground. Folk music was on the downturn and there just wasn’t much interest in paying people to sing the sort of stuff to which fewer and fewer people were listening.
Late in 1979, Jean, Gary and I put together a gala concert. We posted flyers all over the neighborhood inviting one and all to attend. Of course, our parents and friends came, but there was also one waif of a girl who sat quietly near the front and seemed quite pleased with everything that was going on. During one of our short breaks, I went over and asked her how she had heard about the concert and whether she enjoyed the music. She said her name was Jane and that she really enjoyed folk music. I thought she was about 15 years old, but she turned out to be 20 and I didn’t hesitate to ask her out. I met her dad, who worked at DeHaviland Air Force Base, not too far from Mackenzie. I guess he was pretty comfortable having me over to their house because he never said anything to the contrary, and I got the feeling that I was probably a step up in the world in respect of Jane’s previous dates. Anyway, we didn’t date more than a few weeks!
Posted on Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 9:37 PM
In one of my music classes that first year at the University of Windsor, was a lovely young woman named Vanessa. She was a singer, and she had a beautiful, lyrical soprano voice. Vanessa told me that, although she was living in one of the residence buildings, her home was in Grosse Point Park - one of the Detroit suburbs, and only a 20 minute drive from the University. I think she told me this because she wanted to impress me… but I had no idea that Grosse Point Park was one of the wealthiest suburbs of Detroit, and so her attempt was lost on me. I had no idea what she was talking about. I did find out though, when she took me to meet her folks. Vanessa had a small car and drove, giving me a thumbnail tour as we went. We passed houses owned by some very wealthy and famous families: Ford, Goodyear, and Rockefeller to name a few.
She turned into the driveway of one building and we got out. It was an odd-shaped building and I thought for sure that it was a some kind of apartment complex, but it seems we had arrived at the back entrance to her dad’s mansion. I walked in and was immediately overwhelmed by the wealth which surrounded me - I had never seen such opulence before in my life. Her dad had made his fortune in the fishing tackle business - indeed, his Helin Flatfish was famous the world over. Go figure! I did learn one thing though, he was a crotchety, bigoted, racist, anti-Semitic man with little use for anyone who wasn’t a WASP. He was an outspoken proponent of Objectivism and truly believed in the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
On one of our Friday night visits to Detroit, Vanessa and I went to see a new horror film, “The Exorcist". It had been released a week previously, had received high praise for its special effects and, unbeknownst to me, was being viewed in its original, uncut version - something which was never seen in Canada. I had never heard of exorcism, and I had no idea what the fuss was about… but I did learn though - and I learned it very quickly. This was the most frightening film I’d ever seen - gruesome, even gory in every detail concerning the possession of the little girl in the story. The movie literally scared the wits out of me.
My roommate, Jerry (affectionately known to his friends as “Shep"), was visiting his folks near Toronto that weekend and so I was alone in our room when Vanessa finally brought me back. Every time I tried to sleep, I kept having a nightmare that I was the young priest in the film, and was falling backwards out of the upstairs window while being possessed by the demon. This happened over and over again, and I couldn’t shut out the image. I turned on the light and my radio, and I put a machete under my pillow and tried to sleep as best I could. It wasn’t until Shep returned on Sunday evening that I felt comfortable sleeping with the lights off - and it was about 10 years before I finally stopped having those nightmarish dreams. Oh, I didn’t have them all the time, but two or three times a year I’d suffer their agony.
Shep having a blank moment
I remember that Shep and I both cut our Christmas vacation short that year to return to Windsor so that we could be with our women on New Year’s Eve. I can’t remember Shep’s girlfriend’s name (Kay?), but I do recall that, after ringing in the new year with a toast and a kiss from our respective dates, the four of us collapsed on the bed with all our clothes on. Vanessa and I only dated for another week or so before we broke up. I’m not sure why we broke up, but I suspect it was because she wasn’t ready for any kind of relationship.
Despite Vanessa’s father, a year later I developed a strong love for the novels of Ayn Rand and the philosophy of Objectivism.
Dad - Part 3
Posted on Monday, January 30, 2006 at 7:10 PM
I got my driver’s license the summer after I turned 17. I had signed up to take a 6-week driver training course through the Ontario Motor League which, if I was successful, would allow me a discount rate on insurance. That was a good summer, and I remember enjoying learning to drive - especially that last day, when the instructor gave us a chance to drive on the Don Valley Parkway. For those not familiar with the D.V.P. in 1971, it was a twisting, winding road which many experienced drivers found somewhat intimidating. I loved it - it was a thrill to be alive and, like most teenagers, I felt invincible. Mom had given me some money to give to the instructor so that he could arrange for my driver’s test with the Ministry of Transportation, and I took my test. At least I passed first time. I chuckled at that, because Michael had failed his first driver’s test, but had passed the second.
Anyway, it was the end of August, I had only one more semester of school before I got my diploma, and all was well with the world. I was dating a pretty, blonde girl named Marsha at the time. In December, just three months after getting my license, I took Marsha to see a movie. It had been raining that day, and I’d had an argument with my dad. As I recall, he’d specifically told me not to take the car - a 1966 Mercury Meteor (which my brother insisted was his), but I took it anyway - I had a date and I needed the car. The movie was playing down the street from Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto (which seemed appropriate because the movie was about a figure skater and a hockey player falling in love), so on that Friday night, I picked up Marsha and off we went.
I guess I wasn’t paying attention, because I managed to run a red light at the corner of Jarvis and Carlton and ran into a Cadillac, damaging its whole side and the front end of the Meteor. To top things off, there was a policeman in his car sitting just across the road and he saw everything. I called my dad from a pay phone and he came to pick me up. Marsha’s folks picked her up, and I never saw her again after that. Well, I was charged with “failing to yield the right of way at a stop light", and when the time came for me to appear in court, my dad compelled me to lie to the judge - giving the story that I was trying to make a left turn (which wasn’t true) and when the light changed I was already in the intersection and proceeded to complete the turn (which wasn’t true) and that the fellow in the Cadillac must have jumped the green light on his end (which wasn’t true). All these lies in court, because my father thought that would be better for me than admitting that I was inexperienced, and was at fault. Well, I guess the judge saw through the story because I ended up having to pay a fine ($75, I believe) and lost 5 demerit points. Fortunately, the insurance covered the cost of repairing the Cadillac, but the Meteor didn’t have collision coverage and so the accident pretty much put her to rest. My brother didn’t appreciate that at all, and I was in everyone’s bad books for quite a while.
Dad - Part 2
Posted on Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 8:43 PM
My dad fell quite ill when I was in my late teens. He developed emphysema and one of his lungs collapsed making it very difficult for him to breathe. It was over 30 years later that I found out he had never been diagnosed with emphysema... so I don't really know what it was he had! Anyway, he couldn’t work and money became very tight. Even though my mom was working, it wasn’t enough and they had to draw quite heavily on their savings. Eventually though and with the help of medication, dad improved a bit and, still unable to attend to a full-time job, decided to go into business for himself selling women’s shoes... and Scotty’s Shoes was born.
He purchased shoes on consignment from an acquaintance he knew, and organized shoe parties as someone would organize a Tupperware party. It wasn’t a big money maker at first, but dad stayed with it and eventually was able to buy a station wagon to help cart the shoes. Since my brother was busy studying at college, I helped dad with his shoe parties after school and on weekends. Being a teenager, this was exactly the sort of work I wanted to do - NOT! I didn’t like working with my dad although I understood it was necessary if we were going to eat, so mostly I kept quiet about it. I knew it wouldn’t last forever but at the time, it seemed like it would.
Well, one day I borrowed the wagon and went to school... well, not the high school where I was registered, but my former high school. What I didn’t know was that he needed the shoes which were in the wagon and while I was happily playing cards at Mackenzie, dad was frantically searching for me all over hell’s half acre and when he finally tracked me down, well, he wasn’t in too fine a mood. I guess I learned an important lesson that day - if I was going to do something bad, I’d best make sure I didn’t get caught. Mind you, I didn’t learn the lesson too well. Shoe parties weren’t the only source of income at that time. Dad also took his shoes to flea markets and similar sales opportunities as they arose. In the winter, he’d also have a selection of boots. Mom too, after a while, started up a little business known as Sheila’s Baking - consisting mostly of fine Scottish breads and pastries, which she bought from a friend who owned Baird’s Scottish Bakery. I ate well that year.
As I said, dad’s illness made it difficult for him to breathe - and he collected phlegm in his throat which he had to cough up and spit into a handkerchief else he’d choke on it. It wasn’t a pretty sight and I soon hated to hear the sound of him coughing and spitting up. His nerves were frazzled by his illness, and my nerves were frazzled by his insistence that if I didn’t help him with the shoes, our family would end up destitute. One evening, while driving him home from one of his shoe parties, he began to cough and I, in an effort to get him home quickly, thought I should go faster. He said to me, "Don’t speed up," and I replied, "I wasn’t speeding up." He said, "I didn’t say you were, I just said don’t do it." I insisted I wasn’t, he insisted that I shouldn’t, and on it went - each time getting louder and louder until we were both shouting.
When I finally parked the car and we got out, he was still going on about me not speeding and something must have snapped in me, because the next thing I knew, I had punched him across the jaw and he had fallen on his butt in the garage. I’m not sure who was more surprised. Oddly, we never spoke of that incident again - almost as though it had never happened. My brother likes to tell that tale from time to time, as though it was a badge of honor, but I felt no honor in the act, and I think that Michael secretly wished that he had hit our dad, but was glad it had been me.
Sounds Good - Part 1
Posted on Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 7:57 PM
Music has played a large part in my life, and my strongest memories of high school revolved around my music activities. At William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute, I performed in four different ensembles: junior band, senior band, junior orchestra, and senior orchestra. Band rehearsals were at 7:30 in the morning each week day, and orchestra rehearsals were at 3:30 each afternoon except Friday. I wasn’t really a morning person, but I enjoyed playing the french horn so much that I didn’t mind those early rehearsals too much. I never really wanted to play french horn, but it was thrust upon me in grade 7.
My music teacher at Dufferin Heights Junior High was a wonderful man named Stan Cook who I believe, many years later, became a superintendent at the Board of Education. Well, that first day in grade 7 music class we were given a piece of paper and, after Mr. Cook demonstrated the various instruments, we were asked to rank three of which we thought we’d like to play. My good friend at the time, Peter, opted for saxophone and drums - I’m not sure he had a third choice. I opted for saxophone, drums and trumpet - I usually did what Peter did because I thought he was quite musical and maybe he knew more about this sort of thing than I did. Well, Mr. Cook looked at my list, then looked at my face and said, "Ian, you have the lips of a french horn player", and I played the french horn ever since. At first I didn’t care for it too much - it was bulky and heavy to carry home for practice. But after a while, it grew on me, and by the end of grade 7, I wouldn’t have traded it for any other instrument.
There were two music teachers whom I remember reasonably well from my days at Mackenzie: Hans Lussenberg and Michael Cole. Mr. Lussenberg was the orchestra director - a towering, stocky man of mid-European background. He would thunder away at us while he was conducting and, rather than gently lead us, would bellow at us to play this phrase correctly or get that rhythm more precise. I remember one afternoon, just before the regular rehearsal. I approached him and begged permission to be excused because I had a headache and didn’t feel as though I could focus enough to play. He suggested it was more or less in my mind and that if I blew very loudly on my horn while playing, that the headache would disappear. I felt he was being a bit tyrannical, but I was so sufficiently intimidated that I followed his instructions. I must admit, somewhat sheepishly, that he was right - after the rehearsal was over, I no longer had a headache. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as a form of healing but it sure surprised me!
It was Mr. Lussenberg’s suggestion that the orchestra should plan an exchange trip with another school orchestra - we’d spend four or five days there, and they’d spend four or five days with us. It was a great idea made more exciting, because I’d had very little exposure to people beyond my own neighborhood. After a few days, he said that he had arranged for an exchange with a group from Ottawa - Canada’s capital city. I don’t think I’d ever been to Ottawa, so this was fine news. But, it wasn’t going to be cheap, and so we had to do some fundraising in order to raise enough cash to get us there, with a bit left over for pocket change. That was the year that I discovered that I really liked to eat chocolate covered almonds. I sold ten cases of chocolate covered almonds, mostly to my folks and their friends - ten bars in each box, and ten boxes in each case. I sold a lot of chocolate covered almonds - I bought two boxes just for myself.
The Ottawa trip was a complete success. I met a lot of new people and developed a crush on one girl in particular. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember that she was Catholic. She must have been very religious, because she kept counting her rosary and reciting the Apostle’s Creed every time I tried to kiss her. I guess Mr. Lussenberg liked the Ottawa trip also, because the next year he wasn’t at Mackenzie and it took a while before we learned that he had accepted a position as the music teacher at the very school with which we had the exchange. I felt a bit betrayed by that, and I was angry that he had abandoned us so quickly in favor of this new school. I never saw him again. I felt that he didn’t care about any of us if he could pack up and leave just like that. Well, I guess that wasn’t the last time I felt that way.
Michael Cole was the band director - a humorous man who enjoyed smoking a pipe while he conducted. Those were the days when teachers could smoke in their classrooms, although the students were forbidden to smoke except in a small designated area outside. You’d really want to hold your breath when you were asked to go to the teacher’s lounge - the smoke was overwhelming at times. However, I really liked the smell of his pipe tobacco and after a while, just the smell would remind me of all the good times in his music class. Mr. Cole was Jewish. Although probably not the only Jewish teacher I’d ever had, he was the first to admit it, and proudly at that. Mr. Cole was my vision of the ideal teacher - he was kind, generous, very giving of his time, helpful, respectful and human. When he made a mistake, he was always the first to admit it and I think that went over quite well with the band members. Most teachers wanted the students to think that they were right all the time, but not Mr. Cole - he’d rather have the students know that he wasn’t perfect, that he made mistakes, but that he took responsibility for those mistakes. I learned a lot from him in that respect.
Mr. Cole would gently lead the band, encouraging us to play to the best of our ability - and we did just that. He gave us difficult music to play, and we did our best to show him that we were up to the task. There wasn’t a student in the group who didn’t feel as though Mr. Cole was very much a surrogate father. The band also had exchange trips, one I remember in particular to Brookline, Massachusetts - just outside of Boston. That was the trip where I first heard the vocal music of Gustav Holst, specifically, “To the Unknown God" from his First Group of Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda. It was a slow, eerie piece of music incorporating strange harmonies which, I would learn years later, were Holst’s trademark.
In my last year at Mackenzie, at the final band performance of the year, I received the Senior Music letter - recognition for my years of work with the band and orchestra.
Proudly displaying my Junior Letter, received a year prior.
Years later, I’d heard that Mr. Cole married but there was also a rumor that his wife had been one of the students in our class. I never could confirm the rumor and, while I didn’t think it was true, it sure did make a good story. For many years afterwards, while I was getting through university, I’d occasionally return to Mackenzie to visit with Mr. Cole. He was always interested in what was going on, and I was pleased to tell him that I was studying music at university. As with all things though, change is inevitable and after some years, Mr. Cole left the music department to teach English literature - changing demographics had dwindled the size of arts programs across Ontario as the Boards of Education became more interested in science and mathematics than in music, art or drama. It’s probably been about 20 years now since I last saw him.
Dad - Part 1
Posted on Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 8:16 PM
I've been thinking about random happenings and how they shape our lives.
When I was 16, I dated a girl named Lily - I think her dad owned a catering service or something similar. I felt very strongly for her but, in retrospect, I guess I’m not really sure if it was infatuation as much as it was my overactive teenage hormones. At any rate, I wanted to spend a lot of my time with her - and she with me, as it turns out. One Friday afternoon, just hours before a school dance, I asked her if she’d go steady with me. I think the exact words I used were, "Would you go around with me?" but it meant the same thing. It took me ages to build up the courage to ask, even though I had the feeling that she felt much the same for me as I did for her. I was really pleased when she said yes.
In Lily's basement, summer 1970
There is one incident with Lily which I remember, although I guess it was somewhat embarrassing at the time. Lily played flute in the school band, and I played french horn. It wasn’t uncommon for us to schedule time in the same practice room so that we could play our instruments and, at the same time, be with each other. One day, our overactive teenage hormones got the better of us and we started necking in the practice room. Well, one thing led to another and pretty soon we were on the floor rolling around. It didn’t get very far mind you - just a bit of touchy-feely. The embarrassing bit was when someone, not knowing we were in there (since we weren’t exactly playing our instruments at the time) opened the door to discover us on the floor, me with my hand under Lily’s sweater! To this day, I have no idea who it was. Well, it was a bit embarrassing at the time, but I guess it was rather harmless.
A few weeks later I was talking with her on the phone when, for some reason, my dad got it into his head that he didn’t like me spending so much time with Lily; spending so much time away from my school work. He yanked the phone out of my hand, told her in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going to see her again, and then hung up on her. I was outraged. I don’t remember quite what I said because I think I was still in shock that he could have done anything so disrespectful but, in all these years, I’ve never forgotten that incident, and I’ve never forgiven him for his actions that day. I couldn’t believe that he would act this way! I know that my dad remembers this incident, because I don’t think I've ever let him forget it!
I think I’ve always been somewhat cruel to my dad, and I’m not sure if this incident with Lily was the catalyst, or simply the culmination of having felt this way for a long time. I just don’t know. What I do know however, is that my relationship with my dad has always been strained - at least for me. He always seemed to be concerned about money - well, I don’t suppose I can really fault him for that except that his concern for money led him to believe that money would solve most problems. I figured out, a long time ago, that I could always go to my dad for financial support and that for him, giving me money was a means of expressing his affection. I really think I’d have preferred to hear him say that he loved me, or that he was proud of me, or something to that effect - I just don’t ever remember the words though.
I think a lot of men of his generation had difficulty expressing their feelings and perhaps it’s because I was raised in a different time that I somehow felt that he should have been better able to express himself. At any rate, it didn’t happen. Oddly enough, I never heard my mom tell me that she loved me or was proud of me until I was an adult - already married and divorced. I think this feeling that I wasn’t worthy of either love or pride stemmed from those early days, but it didn’t really have its full impact until years later - in fact, it’s one of the reasons why I now write this chronicle.
By Degrees... Very Slowly
Posted on Friday, January 13, 2006 at 7:50 PM
1973 - I was accepted into the B.Mus program at the University of Windsor, Ontario. I don’t think it’s generally known by anyone in my family other than my brother, but I got kicked out of university after my second year. I had such a good time that year, partying all the time, staying up until all hours of the night, sleeping late and, of course, smoking marijuana, that I never really attended very many classes. Most of my courses that year, with the exception of a Fortran IV computer course (got an "A" if you can believe it) ended up with an NR designation - No Report. I got a very nice letter from the Dean of Arts who strongly suggested that I take a year away from school to "find myself". So, I did. I managed to get a job at Syd’s Bridge House - a pub not too far from the university. It was a good year, relatively speaking - I was earning some money and I was finding myself... and, for $600 in 1975, I bought my first car - a 1969 Simca.
The Simca, which was practically unheard of anywhere outside Windsor, Ontario (or Detroit), was a French made Chrysler product built exclusively for export to North America. When I first got it, it didn’t work too well, so I took it to a local garage where it also needed to get a safety certificate. Did you know that a car’s engine doesn’t need to work in order for the car to be considered safe? It was news to me! Anyway, after another $100 or so in repairs, she was on the road. I called the car "Aphrodite" - the Greek goddess of love and beauty. In fact, using little sticky letters, such as you’d see on a mailbox, I wrote her name on the hatchback. I had Aphrodite for a little less than a year. She died one day while trying to make a U-turn just outside the University’s music building: crash, boom - broken axle. I had her towed back to where I was living at the time, a small basement apartment - but I couldn’t afford to repair her, so she ended up in the junk yard. More's the pity... she was a good girl!
I did return to school in the fall of 1976 and from then until my graduation in June of 1978, I managed to get straight A’s (well, okay - I also got a *few* B’s). So, that’s why it took me 5 years to finish a 4 year degree! I wonder if anyone other than me ever did the math on that. Graduation was a relatively peaceful time, and my family came from Toronto to attend. I guess they were all quite proud of me, although I don’t recall anyone actually saying the words. Dad had only completed grade 10 and, while mom had finished high school, no one in the family had yet graduated from University. My brother, although 2½ years older than me, was still completing his university courses. Mind you, he was taking a double major and so received two degrees at the same time. I didn’t get a second degree until 5 years later when I received a B.Ed. also from U of W.
Michael and me at my graduation, 1978.
Well, more about my dad in some future post. It's said that we "become" our parents as we get older... and I guess that might explain why I'm a sanctimonious prick!
The Great Toilet Saga
Posted on Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 3:00 PM
... or more than I ever wanted to know about sludge!
Sheila and I had been having some trouble with the toilet in our guest bathroom. It would get stopped up when there was apparently nothing in there but water! We’d plunge as needed, but a day or two later it’d get stopped up again. On Sunday, I went to the basement for an unrelated reason and noticed a lot of water on the floor right below where the guest toilet is, and that’s when we decided to call Workman & Sons Plumbing.
Now, for those of you who have never seen their ads on TV, Workman & Sons is a local company. They’ve run several different ads recently but our favorite remains the one where the fellow is on the operating room table when he gets a call to fix a lady’s plumbing problem. He jumps off the table, rushes over to the house, gets under the sink and starts fixing things. He then mows the lawn, gives the dog a bath, and waters the flowers – all this while still in his hospital gown. The lady in the ad goes on to say "He was some kind of super plumber… and cute too!" Anyway, it’s a very funny ad and was probably instrumental in our calling them to help with our problem.
The fellow came to the house at about 11:45 on Tuesday to get a better grip on things. I showed him how the toilet keeps getting stopped up (good thing too, because it did exactly what I’d been telling him it’d do) and then took him to the basement to show where the water was coming out. He said the water was caused by a leak in the wax ring under the toilet in addition to any blockage we might have. He took some notes including our wanting to get a new "super toilet" to replace the old one which had been there for about 20 years.
About 1½ hours later, two new fellows show up – one about 40 and the other about 25, but neither of them have been in the ads (which was a bit disappointing as I was hoping to meet a celebrity of sorts). They brought in the new toilet – sorry, commode (which I guess is their preferred method of talking about such unpleasant things) – and wheeled in this big camera thingy. It consisted of a tubular metal frame with a long tube attached to a camera at one end, and a display screen at the other. The camera was similar to something they’d use in a colonoscopy but, of course, a lot larger and probably much more uncomfortable were it to be used for said medical procedure! They both put on surgical gloves and removed the old toilet and wax ring. He then lowered the camera about 10 feet into the soil stack and after a moment or two said, "You’ve got standing water in there – that’s not good". He pulled the camera out and asked if I wanted to use the eel? Not knowing what the eel was, I said "Will it help?" and he said "Yup, should!" so I said go ahead. They left for about 10 minutes and then wheeled in this other contraption with a tubular frame and a large circular thing stuck to it – very reminiscent of a cement mixer. They then brought in two "snake" thingies consisting of several 10' to 15' segments which could be hooked together to make a single long snake. They fed it in one end of the cement mixer thingy which rotated the snake at high speed and the fellow fed it down the main soil stack.
He had 3 of these segment things down the drain when the machine suddenly made a screeching noise and stopped. He pulled about a foot of the snake back out and then fed it in again. Again the screeching noise and the machine stopped. He did this about 5 times and finally was able to clear whatever the obstruction was. Unfortunately, as soon as the obstruction was cleared, there wafted into the room the most disgusting, foul odor it was ever my displeasure to smell. It was so bad, it just about knocked me off my feet. The fellow smiled wryly and said "Yup, seems to have cleared things up for now!". He fed another 20' or so of the snake down the drain but there was no further blockage. He pulled the snake out of the hole, cleaning and wrapping each section as it came out. When the final length of snake came out he looked at it (it was pretty dark and sludgy) and said "Hmm… tree roots!".
Apparently, small roots can get in to the pipe through any tiny crack or joints and, over the years, they grow larger and eventually block the flow of stuff within the pipe. He said we could buy some "Root Killer" stuff which is 99% copper sulfate solution and periodically flush it down the toilet and it’ll keep the pipe clear. It’ll kill the part of the root left in the pipe but does not kill the tree (although, to be fair, if the tree died neither of us would be too upset) nor harm the surrounding soil.
When they had packed up the equipment, they opened the boxes and installed our new "super toilet". It looks like a regular toilet but there is a separate vacuum compartment in the tank which helps to suck stuff down the drain. It also uses less water than a regular toilet. The practical upshot of all this is that the new toilet works really well. The fellow said you could toss golf balls or a whole roll of toilet paper into the bowl and it would get sucked out with no problems! Good to know, I guess.
Posted on Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 3:53 PM
I’m an Information Technology Specialist at a university-based medical school. I leave home at about 7:15 each morning and I’m at work by 7:45 to ensure that the equipment in the two major classrooms is working properly before classes start at 8:00. More often than not though, my job has nothing whatsoever to do with computers, networks, LANs, SANs, servers, DHCP, TCP/IP, or any other form of IT service that our department provides. My job, apparently, is – quite simply – to keep the faculty happy! When the faculty are happy, my supervisor is happy!
Don’t get me wrong, I really like my supervisor… she’s young, pretty, and bright, and she’s currently pursuing the same Masters degree that I completed 5 years ago. She’s also building a new house… well, to be precise, her dad is building a new house – and she and her husband will eventually live in it. It looks like it’s going to be a nice place once it’s done sometime later this summer, I’m told… but she is definitely stressing over it.
I’ve often thought that it would be nice to build a house, but the older I got, the less I warmed to the idea… and now I know why. It’s a lot of work!
This poor girl drags herself to work each day by about 10:00 and then takes 15 minutes to eat some hot oatmeal before settling in to the tiring job of browsing the web to see if her favorite no-kill animal shelter has posted any news! By 11:30 it’s time for lunch… and since there are no facilities near us, we must travel into the local town where a plethora of choices is available - including the regular fast food fare, but also Italian, Chinese, and Mexican. According to her, we get an hour for lunch but that doesn’t necessarily include travel time… which easily adds on another half hour or so. So, we’re back in the office by 1:00 or 1:15 and by 4:00 we're both ready to go home although we don't usually leave that early!
After having such a hard day at work, she spends her free time tending her 13 cats and helping her dad build a house! At times, when the weather is a bit drier, she bombs around town in her 1972 Corvette Stingray! I can certainly understand how all this activity can make someone feel stressed.
To Begin at the Beginning
Posted on Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 9:00 AM
Mom, Dad, me and Michael - I was about 4 months old. Do you think maybe they wanted a daughter?
I was born on February 28, 1954 in Glasgow, Scotland – at least, that's what it says on my birth certificate. I guess that’s one of those things which most people don’t question – I mean, either you were or you weren’t born on such-and-such a date in such-and-such a place. I was born in St. Frances’ Nursing Home, but for some reason I used to tell people that I was born in a convent. I tell people that there were no hospitals where we lived (as if there were no hospitals in such a large urban centre as Glasgow) and that my mother was attended to by midwives – sisters at the local convent (as if there were no doctors in such a large urban centre as Glasgow). Sisters! That’s probably why I told people the convent story.
Truth is, my mom’s obstetrician kept his office at the nursing home, so when it was time for her to deliver, that’s where she went. I was born in Bethlehem; my brother was born in Nazareth… those were the names of the birthing rooms – named for real places in the Holy Land; named for real places visited by Jesus. This makes perfect sense to me, since I tell people that I was born in a convent. Why would someone make up a story like that? I even tell people that my brother, Michael, and I were the only two non-Catholic boys to attend the local Catholic school – because there were no public elementary schools where we lived (as if there were no public elementary schools in such a large urban centre as Glasgow) – but hey, it's my story so I'll remember it the way I like. I probably tell that story because I had to wear a uniform when I went to school, and in Canada, the only people who wear uniforms to school were either very rich (which we weren’t) or they went to Catholic schools. My passport photo, taken shortly before we moved to Canada, shows me in my school uniform. Do you see how confusing that could be to a small boy?
Well… I’m older and wiser now, and I know the truth about a great many things! For those of you who aren’t good at arithmetic, I am 51 as of this writing... and my 52nd birthday is fast approaching. After 50+ years on this earth, I'm entitled to a few opinions! Right?
One of my earliest memories was visiting the factory where my father worked. I think he owned it with his brothers, but I'm not really sure about that. For a long time, I told people that I could remember the layout of the factory – the floor plan, if you will. For many years thereafter, I thought I could remember the layout although I'd be hard pressed to actually draw such a plan – still, I like to think that I could remember. In my early adult life, I enjoyed drawing floor plans for houses which I thought I would someday build and in which I would live. None of them ever got off the drawing board, so-to-speak, but occasionally I’d drag them out of the drawer and look at them, and wonder what if... But, I digress!