Day Forty-One … Leaving and Laughing

The day before I left Longview, Nona, Lance and I sat down with bins of jewelry, dishes and crystal.  These were items that Jody had bequeathed to the family.  Especially hard were my dear wife’s necklaces, bracelets and rings.  We all gulped and sighed in our sadness, but also smiled to see Jody’s love of bling, of funky shapes and colours.  That’s my wife.  I love you, Jodiette.

Yesterday morning, I hugged all six of my family members and told them that I loved them, starting with Ember outside in the yard.  The doggie was bouncing around, her nose to the wind, but then came over and sat beside me for a short petting.  We’re friends.

Jaxon, Jagger and Jace had located in my car, which was a trick since it’s so full of stuff.  It looked like I was going to have to take them all home with me.  Finally to have kids.  Jace’s hug was very long and sweet.  The boys sat on the lawn and said silly things as I backed Scarlet out of the driveway.  Then they raced after me on the street as we left Highwood Drive.  Such sadness on the leaving but I will be with them all again.

It would be a 9-hour drive to my friends Henry and Louise in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.  Around lunch time (How convenient!) I rolled into Eleanor and Cam’s place east of Lethbridge.  They’re Jody’s aunt and cousin.  I sat on their deck a month ago and enjoyed a Mike’s Pink Hard Lemonade.  A few days ago, I had talked to Cam on the phone and discreetly requested another one of those cool coolers.  And Cam came through for me.  Plus I got to have a delicious home-cooked meal of chicken and corn-on-the-cob.  Gosh, I’ve been treated royally on this trip.

The three of us sure laughed a lot.  Cam started talking about my alleged Buddhist powers.  Apparently I can levitate and travel vast distances in no time at all.  News to me.  In ten days, I’m taking the Greyhound to Massachusetts.  But I went with it, my ego floating high on the possibilities of specialness.  Except the Buddha would say just be ordinary and realize that within each of us resides the extraordinary.

Eleanor told us that she’d seen the Dalai Lama interviewed on TV:

Q:  How is it, sir, that you’ve gained so much knowledge about leading a life?

A:  It’s all bullshit!  (Giggling and bouncing up and down)

To which the three of us collapsed in spasms of mirth.

The road was long but I like driving.  Near Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, I drove by a pond whose surface was partially encrusted with white.  And the shoreline was often piled with white.  My mind said “salt” but truly I don’t know.  Driving by that spot was like much of my life:  Normal … Normal … Normal … What the heck is that? … Normal … Normal …

It was about an hour-and-a-half from Moose Jaw to Weyburn.  Two lane road.  Dark.  Tired.  Semi-trailers approaching.  I was some scared but also felt a strange confidence.  I know that Jodiette is always with me.  “I shelter you, Bruce.  I protect you.”  Thank you, my dear.

I got lost in Weyburn but actually that’s one thing I really enjoy in life.  It often means that I get to talk to new people but last night I meanderingly figured it out myself.

Henry plied me with rum drinks and Louise with little cheese and spinach ooverdoovers as we talked about everything and nothing.  Henry brought out a small bottle of liqueur, in the shape of a naked woman.  I was encouraged to rub all the appropriate body parts (knees, elbows …) but naturally I demurred.  But I sure like the feel of smooth glass!  I wasn’t drunk but I was certainly well lubricated.  Henry and I sang “Home On The Range” and I favoured my friends with animal sounds, especially the rooster and chicken.  Oh my, we tittered and gorped.

Henry and Louise are such fine people.  They love each other quadruple oodles and laugh together easily.  It’s another home for me.

Two extremely long days to home.  Tonight I’m in a motel in Eau Claire, Wisconsin – a 12-hour drive from here, plus an hour for the time zone change.  Sounds like a midnight arrival.  Oh well.  More fun.  I’ll see you tomorrow morning

Day Forty … Quiet Times

Just sitting around at home, or better said, my home away from home.  I feel accepted as a brother, without the “in-law” tacked on.  Also as an uncle, even though I’m 50 years older than the kids.  Several times during our trip, servers have identified me as “grandpa” and who am I to complain?  I like it.

If you look at a lifetime through the lens of a year, I wonder where I am?  It feels like October.  All those bright fall colours.  I don’t get that I’m buried in snow and cold, even though the white stuff is lovely when it glistens in the sun.  But I wonder what I’ll be feeling like on New Year’s Eve.

I was watching women’s golf on TV yesterday afternoon, trying to suppress my obsession with Canadian golfer Brooke Henderson.  I was comfy in a black leather chair.  I expect that Jace doesn’t like TV golf, but here he comes to snuggle up to me.  We watched several holes that way.  I felt like dad.

Later, Jaxon came over to me as I sat on the couch.  He leaned over and gave me a hug.  The boys and I hug to say goodnight but it was cool that he did it in the middle of the day.

I can feel that Jaxon, Jagger and Jace are sad that I’m leaving this morning.  Ember too.  Bruce too.  Family, you know.

We watched another episode of “Just For Laughs Gags” before bed.  Gosh, I love that show.  Here’s my favourite:

A woman walks down the street wearing a hat.  She tips her head back and the hat falls off.  She keeps walking.  A fellow behind reaches down to pick up the hat.  As he does so, the woman takes an identical hat that she’s been carrying and puts it on her head.  The man looks up and, astonished, sees that another hat is in place.  He comes up to her and extends the hat to her, to which she replies ” Oh, no thanks.  I’m already wearing one.”

Makes me happy.

In a couple of hours, I’m back on the road towards Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where I’ll be staying with Henry and Louise again.  I’m not going alone.  Lance, Nona, Jace, Jagger and Jaxon will be in the back seat.

Day Thirty-Nine … Back to Longview

Two nights ago, we were staying at the Sleepy Hollow Campground in Pincher Creek, Alberta.  The creek after which the town was named flowed lazily between long grasses as Jaxon and I sat on the shore.  An Aerobie (like a Frisbee) sat marooned on the far bank.  Jaxon and I rescued a plastic glass that had dropped from a human hand into the water.  Mostly though, we just sat, enjoying being with each other.  I wondered if he would start talking about “chicks” or some other teen topic.  No.  We just were Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer watching the world float by.

That evening, we had a campfire.  The campground in Waterton didn’t allow those.  It was fun, seeing the family faces in the orange light.  And then Daddio started telling stories.  Lance is just awesomely good at it.  I looked on, marvelling at his creativity, spontaneity and any other -ity I could think of.  The boys were glued to his words.  My fave had Jagger, Jaxon and Jace sitting around, worrying about the impending start of school.  Their spirits merged and, in a flash of celestial light, time reversed itself.  It was no longer Thursday, August 27 moving towards Thursday, September 3.  Homework and tests faded away, to be replaced by endless ice cream cones, dirt bike trips, and sleeping in.  Ecstasy!  At least for awhile.  After many calories expended and consumed, the dreaded b-o-r-e-d-o-m set in.  Could it be possible that s-c-h-o-o-l was a good plan after all?  The young men decided it was.  Circular again, the power of youthful oomph brought the world forward once more.  And it was good.

Waydago, Lance.  I applauded.  The 3 J’s smiled.

Yesterday morning, we packed up in the smoke and headed home before the winds picked up.  The camper is a big one and the westerly hurricanes often rushing across Highway 22 have been known to flip semi-trailers.

I sat beside Ember and petted her.  We were quiet.  Then she laid her head on her paws, about eighteen inches from my left hand.  I wanted her to come closer for more loves but that’s not the way life works.  Let them all go, Bruce.  Let them do what they need to do.  They may come back or they may not.

I watched fence posts.  Several hawks stood on guard during our journey.  I wanted there to be more hawks than there were.  There weren’t.  Winding down towards home, I am.  I’ll sure miss my family in Alberta.

I thought of my three marathon days of driving to get back to Union, Ontario.  That’s okay … Sunday, Monday and Tuesday – piece of cake.  Get good sleeps and be alert for those tipping semis.

We sat around last night and watched a bit of “Stand By Me” until the language got too bad for 8-, 12- and 14-year-olds.  And so to snooze.

Day Thirty-Eight … Cameron Lake and Missoulan Friends

The whole family was having fun on the rocky beach of Waterton Lake, with the somewhat smoky view down into Montana still spectacular.  Nona found some cool rocks, a couple of them with a heart shape imprinted.  She took a sharp stone and carved messages on a few of the tablets, such as “Live. Love. Laugh”.  “I’m hoping people walking on the beach will find them.”  What a marvelous idea.  The boys and Lance were skipping stones and in general hanging loose.

It was time to head back to the camper and the family left the beach before me.  As I roamed over the stones, here came a family: mom, dad and their daughter, perhaps 20-years-old.  I couldn’t resist saying something silly, so I looked at dad and said “How about if you and I have a race, swimming to the end of the lake?” [7 miles!]  Dad laughed.  I conveniently forgot to mention that I couldn’t swim.  Anyway, we stood there blabbing about the mountains, the trails and other good things.  I talked about myself too much but these folks laughed easily at some of the stuff I said.  That made me happy.  I told them about Jody dying last November and that I had written a book about her.  Theresa (mom) immediately said that she’d like a copy.  Emily and Kevin seemed keen too.  Oh my, I was happy some more.  I had new friends – from Missoula, Montana.  We agreed that the next night I would come over after supper for a visit, with a glass of wine a possibility.

Early the next afternoon, Lance started driving up the steep highway from Waterton townsite to Cameron Lake.  I remembered the first section of road.  In the early 70’s, some Prince Of Wales Hotel employees created the PWSJMA, which, as I’m sure you’re aware, means the Prince of Wales Slow Joggers Memorial Association.  I created the “Memorial” part.  I was actually quite proud of my contribution.  Many evenings, the group of us would run (jog, walk, totter …) onwards and upwards to a big rock on the edge of a pullout.  As far as I know, none of us ever died.  Yesterday, I kept looking out the window, searching for that rock.  My goodness, did we really run that far?  I must have been a man of steel!

We were all in the van, with Nona in the front passenger seat, Jace and me in bucket seats midway, and Jagger and Jaxon goofing around in the back.  I thought of my dear wife Jodiette, and of our travels with the family in 2011 and 2012.  Jody was always in the front, and Nona at the back.  I looked at the back of Nona’s head and saw Jody instead.  It was lovely.  It was loving.  I was sad.  How I miss my wife.

Up at the lake, Lance and the young guys decided to rent a canoe.  While Nona was doing her thing somewhere nearby, I strolled onto another rocky beach and saw three familiar human beings – my friends from Missoula.  I was happy to see them.  They were happy to see me.  How can it be that I’d only known them for less than a day?  Such comfy folks.  We talked about mountains, I guess.  The topics didn’t matter.

Now, back to family doings.  The guys were off, smiling into the wild blue yonder.  Nona and I wandered down the lakeside trail and stopped at a beachette.  We sat down.  We talked about how we each had traumatic experiences in swimming pools.  We watched the canoeists from Longview head way down Cameron Lake.  Later, we strained to see the little canoe shape, wanting our loved ones to be safe.  Mostly though, Nona and I sat there in silence, comfortable.  A woman came by to cuddle Ember.  Another woman and her young daughter walked past us on the beach.  Ember didn’t like them for some reason.  Lots of barking.

That evening, I walked over to site A2 and saw Kevin sitting at their picnic table.  A bottle of red wine was also in place.  Emily and Theresa soon joined us.  We talked about how Theresa and Kevin met.  Emily told me what she was doing in college.  All of them were missing Elyse, the older daughter, who lives near San Francisco.  It was natural.  I had fun.  I do hope I see the Finnegans again.

After darkness had come visiting, I got up to leave.  I hugged Theresa.  I hugged Emily.  I looked at Kevin and we decided to hug with a laugh.  I waved goodbye, turned towards the home camper, and felt my eyes moisten.

Oh, what wonders can appear in the space of a day.  Lucky me.

Day Thirty-Seven … The Jagger, Jace and Jaxon Story

I just sat down in the camper and wondered what I was going to say about yesterday.  There was a 12-year-old hero sitting beside me, Jagger by name.  So the title came to me: “Day Thirty-Seven … The Jagger Story”.  The next thing I know, the young man (age 12) took over my laptop and wrote thusly:

“it’s all about this awesome boy who everyone cared about so much they give him respect over it.  And the person who is writing this is a goofy, crazy uncle.  An uncle of jagger himself I worship him .well everyone does like he’s a god he is so nice I wish I was him.”

“Even though I’m smarter and handsomer.When we sleep he wakes up and eats 100000000000000000000000000000000000 large bags of raisins and lisens to us breath he is weird even kookoo in the mind he is still my uncle and I love him and my cool family I love em all especially my uncle who reaminds me that I need to go to the washroom when I think of cheese.”

To which said uncle replied:

“Oh, give me a break!  I’m certainly not as goofy as Goofy.  And I only listen to you breathe when we’re all in the camper.  Plus what’s all this about cheese?  That was a pretty cheesy comment!”

Jagger continues:

“My uncle is a cool guy but not as cool as me.he’s not my only family member there is still Jaxon,Jace,Mom,Dad but still I’m cooler than all.  Again my uncle is a 80 year old raisin loving hat wearing cool machine.”

Uncle again:

“I’m not that cool.  Seems to me I’m a normal 98.6 degree human.  And, just so you know, Jagger, I hate raisins and I’m not too fond of hats either.  As well, you really should work on your Math.  Calling a 45-year-old man an 80-year-old is simply the wrong answer.”

And now, ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear from Jace (age 8):

“My uncle may be a bit crazy and weird but he still loves raisins he scarffs them down he has them for breakfast lunch and dinner also for chrismas I bought him a hat yay he’ll be so happy he’ll rush to the bathroom he so great but he scared me once by lifting up his shirt I was blinded I passed out I love him”

“so my uncle … this is secret last night I saw him with 53 bags of raisins he was chugging them he also whispered to the raisins he said my presious little things and sais he stole them from wal mart so im guessing he ran all the way there cause his car was still in the driveway when I heard him shut the door and ran. So my uncle loves raisins so much I see him with a box every second so ya”

Uncle Brucio:

“Well, Jace, I’m really not that scary when I lift up my shirt.  No one has ever fainted at the sight.  And Christmas with raisins would wreck my holiday mood.  The only thing I scarf down is chocolate peanut butter waffle cones.  So there!”

“They are not precious!  Good grief, what’s happened to the young people of today?  And I would never steal anything, especially raisins.”

Not to be outdone, another young man, known as Jaxon (age 14), approaches the keyboard:

“First of all Jagger is not cooler than me he is more like 5th coolest in the family but my Uncle Bruce is definitely 2nd he is great with making us and everyone he meets laugh. Which I could use some lessons on since usually I am really shy. Also another concept on my Uncle is that he loves RAISINS!!! He says he doesn’t but I can tell he is hiding his true feelings he secretly likes them I bet he sneaks them whenever we aren’t in the room. He also hates hats….but one time I put my skater hat on him and he wore it the whole time probably forgot it was on his head either he wore one before and hated it or never put one on before because he thinks it doesn’t work for him. So even though my uncle says he hates stuff that he really likes I still love him.”

“Hi guys I’m back and I’ve heard that Jagger thinks that he is the only person who is cool in the family but really all five of us Dad(Lance) , Mom(Nona) , Jace , me and Uncle Bruce are together the most coolest. I really enjoyed Uncle Bruce coming to visit us this summer he has made the past two weeks very fun either it was trying to make him eat Raisins or beating him in Laser Quest by 300 points it’s been a blast. But the one person who I really miss from all this fun was my Aunt Jody I was and still am sad that she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer back in November 2013 we had so much fun together I remember coming to Waterton in 2011 and having such a blast. And she and Uncle Bruce camping with us in peter Lougheed and hiking many trails. I still love her very much.”

Uncleness responds:

“I’m happy to be second coolest.  There’s nothing wrong with being a runnerup.  I make a lot of people laugh but some people frown.  Both are okay.  As for raisins, why are we still talking about those horrid little creatures?  And hats make my head too hot!”

“Thank you, Jaxon for loving Aunt Jody so much.  Me too.  Jody made a huge difference in the lives of many, many people.”


So there you have it, folks
As you can tell
Day thirty-seven was pretty special

Day Thirty-Six … The International

The MV International is a wooden ship that was built in the 1930s.  It has plied the waters of Waterton Lake every summer since then.  Waterton is seven miles long and halfway down we enter the United States.  As a young man working at the Prince of Wales Hotel, I got free trips on the International.  I’ve been down the lake over the bounding main at least fifty times.  Yesterday was fifty-one.

As we walked onboard, I looked up at the little shelf in front of the captain’s cabin.  That’s where I always sat.  Not yesterday though.  A young girl from Calgary was fully in place with her still younger brother.  I told her my shelf story.  She smiled.

I sat with my nephews for the first half hour of the trip.  We were on the top deck, breathing in the sunshine and feeling the wind against our faces.  I was 24 again.  There were the valleys – left, right and straight ahead – where I had backpacked up to high lakes, staying overnight in the silence.  The Crypt Lake trail, with its 60-foot natural tunnel to crawl through, with vistas then opening to an aquamarine jewel, and with snow hanging above.  How very happy I am to have had those moments in my life.  More to come.

I moved to the front of the boat and soon Leonardo DiCaprio came through.  I raised my arms and gently shouted “I’m the king of the world!”  Some folks laughed.  Some stared.  I just wanted to know where Kate Winslet had got to.  I talked to all and sundry, people from here, there and everywhere, looking like they were loving the trip.

At the southern end of Waterton Lake, we docked at Goathaunt, not even needing passports.  I chatted for awhile with the captain.  He’s been the boss for 20 years and I knew him not.  I talked about the International captain whom I knew and loved – Galen Nielsen.  Today’s captain told me that Galen died a few years ago.  I was sad to hear that.  Captain Nielsen was a big guy, and such a kind man.  Once he led a group of us towards the summit of Mount Cleveland, just south of Goathaunt.  We made it to a point only a few hundred feet from the top when rain and slippery slopes forced an executive decision.  The captain said we were going back down.  We were all disappointed but we knew that Captain Nielsen had our backs and that he rightfully called the shots.

Lance, Nona, Jaxon, Jagger, Jace and I spent time on the rocky beach, skipping stones over the skin of Waterton Lake.  It was fun.  I saw Jaxon pick up a rock too big for skipping and I called out to him, “I’ll give you a thousand dollars if you can skip it more than once.”  The result?  One > Two. (!)  Good grief.  There goes my retirement fund.

As the International cruised north and we were nearing the dock in Waterton townsite, the PW loomed above us.  I looked to the same young girl, now standing beside me, and talked about my years at the hotel, that I saw how great people are, no matter where they’re from.  She smiled some more.  Seeing my opportunity, I told her I was a teacher and that I’d discovered kids really appreciate being given a math test in the summer, when they’re missing school really bad.  And I just happened to have one on me.  She smiled for a third time and lowered her head.  I guessed there wouldn’t be a math test today.


It’s all so much fun, this life of ours
Not always, of course
But enough to make my day

Day Thirty-Five … Bear’s Hump and the PW

We seven stood at the base of the trail up Bear’s Hump.  Ember was eager to go.  So were the Doram’s.  I wasn’t.  As they stepped purposefully upwards, I stood on the spot.  More remembering.  Forty-six years ago, Glen Reid and I had sat in the staff caf of the Prince of Wales Hotel.  It was after supper and we were bored.

“Glen, how about if we do something crazy?”

“Like what?”

“Let’s crawl up Bear’s Hump.”

(Unremembered response)  However, we did seek out carpet scraps and other padding for our hands and knees, and accompanied by several employee onlookers, we began our epic quest.  And yesterday I lingered at that spot.

As I began trudging upwards on the sometimes steep trail, I saw the exposed roots and lots of rocks sticking out.  After a few switchbacks, I found the little side trail that leads to a fairly level green meadow.  I spent about two weeks there in 1973, camping illegally in my little green tent (hoping I would be sufficiently camouflaged).  That was the summer I spent backpacking in Waterton, Banff and Glacier National Park in Montana.  I even tossed in a hitchhiking interlude to visit friends in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Back in the present, I wondered at how I had done the crawl.  How did I get around those rocks?  I remember Glen being faster than me and that I didn’t see him again till the top.  But some friends stayed with me, encouraging me upwards.  The knee pain grew.  Should I stop?  No.  I have no idea how long it took for me to summit but I sure remember the last thirty feet.  At that point, the trail was a slab of rock, and the pain was huge.  I was lost in some other area of consciousness.  As left hand replaced right, all I saw ahead was sky.  A little more up and still just sky.  A few more hand placings … and then … mountains!  The whole of Waterton Lake spread below me, surrounded by applauding peaks.  Such ecstasy flooded with such agony.

Yesterday, I stood at the lower end of that slab and remembered some more.  I heard myself talking to a young man, “Thank you, Bruce.”  And what came back to this current fellow was also “Thank you, Bruce.”  For the person I’ve become, I guess.

After sitting with my family for awhile, I went in search of a gravel spot that resided in my memory.  And there it was.  A few times as a PW employee, I slept there with my sleeping bag and foam pad, in the company of perhaps ten wonderful friends.  Such a view upon waking but more importantly such an unspoken love among us.


And then there was the Prince of Wales.  My home.  I worked there as a laundry boy (1969), dining room bus boy (1970), and laundry manager (1974, 1975 and 1976).  I can describe experiences I’ve had there, past and present, but words will totally fail to give you what I feel.  How can a large Swiss chalet hotel sitting on top of a windy hill do this to me?  I don’t know and I don’t care.  The Buddha talked about being home everywhere and sometimes I feel that.  Sometimes there is no yearning to stand anywhere else.  On another level of consciousness, however, the PW stands alone, a place where I learned to delight in the presence of many others, not just those who lived in the same city that I did – Toronto.

I walked up the highway and turned onto the access road to the PW dorms – three three-storey wooden buildings.  The gravel under my feet reminded me of a young man who once camped on this road after a rainstorm, next to the newly christened Dorm Lake.  Another memory was not so savoury.  For the last time in my life, I got thoroughly drunk at a party in someone’s room on the third floor.  I tottered to the end of the hallway, opened the fire exit door, stumbled down three sets of outside stairs to the ground, and ended up a few yards away under some bushes, where I vomited it all up.  I awoke in the morning covered with the stuff.  It was a pretty effective cure.

Monday, in a far more pleasant circumstance, I talked to a waitress from the Czech Republic about my history.  “You climbed that hill for five years!?”  The dorms are down by Waterton Lake while the hotel sits on the hill above.

As I climbed the path, I veered off towards the laundry, a separate building.  I walked in.  More storytelling, this time to Denny, the laundry manager.  I talked of things we did back then, such as taking a foot-long tube of grease, getting up on a chair and applying the stuff to big leather belts that were turning as fast as the eye could see.  He gaped and smiled.  We had a fine time, sharing common experiences that were separated by only 40 years.  I mentioned names that he had never heard of, naturally.

Next up was the staff caf, where Glen and I devised our crawling plan.  I had a momentary thought that I’m not a staff member anymore and therefore shouldn’t go through that door.  But I did.  “What the heck, I’m an alumnus!”  It was a lot smaller than I remembered.  The room must have been downsized, at least in my head.  I talked to a couple of smiling faces and then exited stage left.

Now into the lobby, with the huge dark wooden posts and the towering chandelier.  I just stood.  There were the comfy chairs and couches, the two-storey windows looking down the lake, and a harpist playing for folks enjoying afternoon tea.  Above me were four wooden balconies.  In the fall of 1974, Johnny Haslam, the hotel’s caretaker, invited me to stay on after the Labour Day closing, to drain the toilets and board the place up.  Sometimes Johnny was away from the hotel and I was alone in the PW.  I often leaned over the fourth floor balcony and sang.  Within the acoustics of the old girl, my voice was deep and rich.

I took the stairs down into the basement to look for my name.  Back in the 70’s, behind a closed door, there was a hallway filled with the signatures of former employees, some from the 40’s.  Way back when, I added mine, including the jobs I did each year.  Sometime in the 90’s, Jody and I visited the PW and I was shocked to find that the walls down there had been painted.  All that history … gone.  Such sadness.  In 2011, we returned with Lance and Nona, and magically names had reappeared, mostly from recent employees.  Again, I added mine, with a renewed appreciation of the human spirit.

On Monday, I looked at wall after wall for me.  Lots of big Sharpie displays but no Bruce.  I remembered doing my art work at about shoulder level but I just couldn’t locate that ancient laundry manager.  Until … I did.  Pretty indistinct but still seeable.  I sighed.  I was tempted to get a black marker and do it up right but then thought better of it.  Let my history at the PW be as it was.  No embellishment.  Good times and bad ones.  Mostly good.  I’m glad this grand old hotel has been a major part of my life.  She has coloured my spirit.

Day Thirty-Four … Old Rooms, Old Friend

We arrived in Waterton on Sunday.  Despite the smoke from forest fires, I was home.  While Lance was setting up the camper, I gazed at the peaks.  Way down there beyond the head of Waterton Lake, there was Mount Cleveland.  A group of us almost got to the top in the early 70s, turned back by slippery slopes in the rain.  At the other end of things, on our approach to the park I saw the silhouette of Chief Mountain.  It stands separate from the other peaks at the edge of the prairie.  I came within fifty feet of reaching its summit.  My friends got there. The short cliff between them and me ended my mission.  I was so scared as I looked up.  And that is as it was.  Decades later, the experience makes me smile, and has me reflect on life as a little bit of everything … gain and loss, pleasure and pain.

Standing in the campground, I also saw Bear’s Hump, a shoulder of Mount Crandell.  It was the scene of my crawling up it on hands and knees.  Such a silly goose I was.  Tomorrow we’re hiking up to the speechless summit view and I’ll tell you all about the past and present.

Nona, Lance, Jaxon, Jagger, Jace and I went for a walk downtown.  Approaching me was the Waterton movie theatre, or so I hoped.  The door was open.  I walked in, and found not rows of plush chairs but instead a bunch of tables.  The building was now a restaurant and a venue for concerts.  Tonight was an open mike event.  These were fine new uses but I wanted the old days … sitting with friends munching popcorn, laughing at “If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Belgium.”  I lingered in the space and remembered.  I was a young man, ages 20 to 25, discovering what life was really like, discovering people.  Now I’m an older man, age 66, and I’m happy.  I have friends.  I love them and I love me.  And I’m very thankful for that that young guy who came west to see the mountains.

We walked along Main Street and just happened to find an ice cream shop.  I didn’t remember it but my tongue sure remembered the taste of a chocolate chip cookie dough waffle cone from a few weeks ago.  Gosh, I’m even getting nostalgic about 2015.

Farther along, we entered a gift shop.  The building felt familiar.  I asked our hostess if she knew where the old Waterton pharmacy had been.  She didn’t, but a fellow looking at the displays said “Right here.”  And so I stood in the room where I had many fine conversations with Dave Cruickshank, a young pharmacist.  I remembered the little books on rotating racks, the aisles of health aids, but mostly Dave.  Young Bruce and older Bruce stood in the same spot.  Silence.  I saw Dave four years ago in Waterton.  He had bought a gift shop (not this one) and was managing it.  I wondered if he was still there.

I asked my resource person if he knew where the Tourist Café had stood.  He did.  Long ago, as a long hike neared the townsite, I would start dreaming of rhubarb pie at the Tourist, with a dollop of ice cream.  And then we would bring the dream to life.  What incredible pie.  I remembered watching an old fellow doing the baking.  He always wore a white chef’s hat and white clothes.  And my memory told me that he was always dangling a cigarette from his mouth, the ashes of which often dropped into the pie.  More flavour.

So I walked into the scene of baked yumminess.  Now it was a steak house and I told the young host my story.  He smiled a lot.  And he let me stand there, breathing in the aroma of rhubarb and youth.  Ahh.

Eventually I found Dave’s gift shop and I found Dave.  We talked for fifteen minutes about the old times and the new times.  I was right back there with the young pharmacist who was now 74.  He’s been in Waterton for 48 summers.  He was sad that Jody died.  He happily remembered the 1976 production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”, with me as Snoopy and my former wife Rita as Lucy.  He said we were good.  Thanks, Dave.  You’re pretty good yourself.

Onward and backward
Happy now and happy then
With a touch of angst for flavour

Day Thirty-Three … Out And About, In And Within

Scarlet was calling to me yesterday morning: “Fix me.  Fix me please.”  And who am I to resist the urgings of a red Toyota Corolla?  A few weeks ago, I hit a curb in Vancouver.  As well as an oil change, my car needed a wheel alignment.  So off I went to High River Toyota, with the sparkling Rockies behind.  Fresh snow on the mountains.

After dropping off my four-wheeled wonder at the dealership, I followed the rep’s directions towards Smitty’s, with breakfast on my mind.  I kept walking along the highway … McDonald’s, Tim Hortons, A&W, but no Smitty’s.  I stood at an intersection, spinning around inside and out.  A woman stopped, rolled down her window and said “Can I help you?”  And so the location of the breakie locale was revealed.  It was behind a hotel that I had walked by.  On my return trip, I did visual research.  I’m usually good at spotting landmarks but I missed the Smitty’s sign.  I discovered that it was only visible for a distance of 40 metres along the sidewalk.  How strange.  I felt there was a life lesson here but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  I know … go to Tim’s for breakfast!

As I munched on my lettuce and tofu, the Calgary Sun magically appeared before me, somehow open to the sports section.  Seven pages of football … and I don’t even like all those huge men hitting each other.  But I got to read about Brooke Henderson, the 17-year-old Canadian golfer who won her first LPGA tournament last week.  I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with her.  Or would I?  She’s pretty, hits the ball 280 yards, and is a nice person.  She smiles.  I’m all for those upward bendings of the mouth.

After bugging my waitress sufficiently, I lined up at the cash.  Ahead of me was another fellow who likes playing with servers.  And the woman receiving his money clearly was enjoying the moment as well.  We got talking.  He’s 94 and still driving.  Oh, I want to be like him when I grow up!  He offered me a ride back to Toyota but I wanted to walk.  I suggested to him, however, that if he sees me on the highway, he should come close and nudge me with his right front fender.  He decided not to.

As I pointed Scarlet westward, the full glory of fresh snow on the Rockies lay before me.  Words just don’t do it.  A few days ago, Lance took us to a high point on a foothills road, one that gave us an enormous vista of this good earth.  I sallied forth to find the spot.  With Scarlet leading the way, happy with her straight wheel, we arrived.  Photos were good but standing there in silence was better.  Just because happiness comes from within is no reason not to revel in nature’s glory.  And glorious it was.

Back home again, I got to spend some time with Ember on my lap.  She stilled and sunk into my legs.  Oh my.  If only we human beings would touch like this.  Sometimes we do.  I stroked Ember’s head and back.  I scratched her ears.  I enjoyed her company.  There was nothing to add.  Being with a touch of doing.

Today, we family of seven are launching ourselves towards Waterton Lakes National Park for four days of exploring.  Waterton is where I became a person.  I worked at the Prince of Wales Hotel there in 1969, 1970, 1974, 1975 and 1976.  I became friends with fellow employees who came from nearly all the provinces.  Waterton is home.  The PW is tied for my favourite building in the world, alongside my home in Union, Ontario.  And we get to go there.  We get to climb Bear’s Hump, a shoulder of Mount Crandall.  Fifty-six years ago, I climbed that trail on my hands and knees.  I’m going to try feet this time.

I don’t think I’ll have any Internet in Waterton, so there won’t be a peep from me till Thursday.  I’m going to write a post each day in Microsoft Word and send them all on Thursday evening.  I’ll miss you.

It’s time to get high on mountains.

Day Thirty-Two … What Does It Mean?

Things happen.  I make conclusions about those things and about what it says about me.  Oh well.  Sounds like a human being.

1.  Yesterday was a snowy day (in August!) and I was mostly feeling dopey.  We watched several episodes of “Border Security”, about Canadian officers dealing with people who smuggle stuff into the country.  It’s a show that I never would have chosen but so what?  I started studying the officers.  Some seemed more humane than others.  And I became fascinated by someone trying to get $1.5 million of heroin into Canada in the packaging of a painting.  What are those lives like?  Are they happy people?  And as I let myself fall into the shows, it became irrelevant that they weren’t “my thing”.  What’s important is that I was with my family.  And then I started wondering what exactly my thing is.  Does it exclude all those other things?  Mostly no, I’d say, but it still omits any acts of belittlement and violence.


Interlude:  Jagger just came up to me and shoved a handful of raisins under my nose.  What’s happened to the young people of today?


2.  Jaxon and I played the NBA video game last night.  It was his Chicago Bulls against my Toronto Raptors.  I fell behind early, amid a wash of wrong controller button choices.  At any given moment, I couldn’t figure out which player I was controlling.  So I pressed the triangle button.  That makes the player jump up into the air, trying to block the opponent’s shot.  So there was my guy in the middle of the court, nowhere near another player, leaping high in the air again and again.  Jackson’s player would block my shots effortlessly, it seemed, and then his teammates would rush down the court in a flurry of passes, culminating in a sweet layup into the basket.  I could feel my whole body contracting as the score mounted.  Gosh, what was this saying about Bruce Kerr – the real human rather than the computer-generated player he was controlling?  At the final buzzer, I looked up and saw that the Bulls had just squeezed by the Raptors 67-28.  And I let my sadness just sit there, alongside the litany of deficiencies that my brain applied to reality.

The Buddha talked about each of our moments being either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral and asked us not to get all wrapped up in any of those realities.  To hold it gently, no matter what was happening.  So I choose to do just that concerning points 1 and 2, as well as the dreaded number 3.

3.  On my road trip, I’ve partaken of much beer and many nachos, resulting in a net gain in  my … body.  To the tune of 5-10 pounds, I imagine.  Sort of on the unpleasant end of things.  You might expect that a nice little Buddhist guy like me would take the high road here, realizing the impermanence of weight gain (especially when you consider the decline of life towards death).  To take a mellow approach, in which the poundage has no impact whatsoever on the essence of Bruce.  Hmm … well, I guess I’m not ready for the monastery quite yet.  My vision has been centred on my belly leaking out over my belt.  In fact, that’s not even been accurate on my trip.  I’ve studiously avoided wearing jeans so far, instead favouring loose-fitting shorts, all to conceal my personal growth.  Maturity, wherefore art thou?

This morning, it was a cold one, and I had an appointment in High River to get Scarlet serviced.  So on went the jeans, and overboard went the tummy.  Oh, time for a gigantic “So what?”  Rather than indulging in a spasm of belly consciousness.  Truly, I am often humbled by life and my frequent choices in response.


Sit with all of this gently, Bruce
You’re a thoroughly imperfect human being
And it doesn’t mean anything