Senegal

I was sitting on a bench on the Alberta prairie in July, 2017, admiring the mountains to the west.  I was alone, and very much looking forward to the sunset.  Along come four hikers.  We smile.  We say hi.  They sit down.  Turns out that they’re all from Belgium and are revelling in the grandeur of the Rockies.  One couple says nearly nothing.  The other one enjoy chatting with this Canadian guy.

After awhile, the folks head on up the trail, showering me with friendly goodbyes.  A half hour later, I set off too, having immersed myself in oranges and pinks.  The trail enters some trees.  Soon I’m back in the wide open spaces.  I look ahead and there’s another bench in the distance.  Two people are sitting there.  After a bit, I can make out my talkative new friends.  “They’re waiting for me.”  And indeed they were.

Lydia and Jo welcomed me to the new bench and we start talking about life in all its beauty and disappointment.  They tell me that they have about 20 foster children … in Senegal.  Lydia whips out her phone and shows me smiling photos and videos.  Those kids are so alive, so real.  I’m loving this.

Maybe an hour later, Lydia has something to say:

“Bruce, we go every Christmas to see our kids for two weeks.  Would you like to join us sometime?”

Oh my.  Did she just say that?  My small mind goes off into small thoughts.  “But we just met.”  “I can’t afford that.”  “I like being home for Christmas.”

Happily, my big mind held sway.  “Yes, I’ll go with you to Africa to meet your children … in December, 2018.”

Too soon, we were saying goodbye.  Lance’s family and I were heading off in the morning.  I hugged Lydia and Jo and it felt right.

Back home in Ontario, I had lots of thinking to do.  “I said yes.  I really did.”  Well, not knowing how many years I have left on the planet, isn’t it about time that I stretch my wings?  Yes it is.  I wondered if my Belgian friends thought I’d really follow through.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that Jo and Lydia and I and a few other fine people are flying from Brussels to Dakar on December 23, returning to Belgium on January 4.  Although I haven’t arranged my flight to Brussels yet, I intend to spend a week visiting my friends and seeing the sights before we fly to the kids.

This is real
I’ve never been to Europe
I’ve never been to Africa
This is real

Look at me now, a world traveller.  Also a lover of humankind in all its diversity.  Belmont is so cool.  I’m sure the rest of the world is too.  As Cat Stevens was fond of saying:

Well I left my happy home
To see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends
With the aim to clear my mind out
Well I hit the rowdy road
And many kinds I met there
And many stories told me on the way to get there
So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
So much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out

Thank you, Mr. Cat

Ordinary and Imperfect

I saw the movie Fences tonight.  Apparently Viola Davis won the Best Supporting Actress award at the Oscars but I was oblivious to the world at the time.  At the end of the film, the credits rolled, the red curtain closed, and still I sat in my seat, stunned.

It was a marvelous depiction of human beings, with all their glows and warts showing.  If ever I had the thought that there are great human beings, so-so ones, and then the yucky types … all of that faded tonight.

The dad had been a star in the Negro League of baseball but never made it into the Major Leagues.  He has seen the ravages of prison and now works hard for his family from the back of a garbage truck.  His son wants to play football but dad creates massive roadblocks so the boy won’t go through the pain he did.  The younger question “Do you like me?” is met with the older response “I put a roof over your head and fed you.”

The wife has put her dreams away for eighteen years to love her man and her son.  Her husband finally admits to an ongoing affair and insists on continuing to see the woman.  The wife’s fury and agony pour out of her eyes and nose but later, when the mistress dies giving birth, she holds the child to her breast as her own.

Dad’s brother was injured in the war and is mentally long gone, but he is loved.  His disability payments are the main reason that the family has a home.

No fairy tale lives here.  Nobody’s blonde and cute, or ruggedly handsome.  Just folks … loving and hating and loving some more.

Thank you, Denzel Washington, for directing and acting in such a reminder of our fragile stay on this planet.

 

Skating In My Mind

I don’t know how to skate.  As a kid, my ankles just kept flopping over.  I was scared to fall.  I was scared to look stupid, which I guess I did.  Come to think of it, I was scared about most things.  But I turned out okay.

Last night was New Year’s Eve and I didn’t know what to do.  My massage therapist told me that there was some sort of family festival happening in the early evening in Aylmer so I decided to go.

It was a short drive to the East Elgin Community Complex and I was greeted by a packed parking lot.  Lots of folks were heading to the entrance with ice skates over their shoulder.  Somehow I forgot mine.

Inside, the lobby was overflowing with festive types young and old, with the pull of the crowd leading to the skating rink.  I got myself a coffee and climbed the stairs to the upper level.  Below me were a hundred skaters looping around the ice surface.  I looked … and I marvelled.

And there I was, in teenaged female form.  The young lady was walking unsurely on her skates, with none of that graceful pushing off motion to the sides.  She jerked when gravity threatened to take over.  The fear shot through her body.  For several laps, she skated  alone.  But then an older gent, perhaps her father, came alongside.  They talked and smiled.  And my unknown friend kept going, undeterred by the graceful forms flowing by her.  Good for you.

The music of Abba was flooding the scene:

Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving
You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end

And on the world glided.

***

A young mom pushed her son in a wheelchair.  He was laughing every time around

Two ten-year-old girls skated unsteadily together, holding hands and sharing the latest news

A six-year-old boy burst past the slow ones in a flurry of speed and skill

A teenaged fellow tried to look cool as he moseyed along, hands in his pockets

A girl practiced her figure skating, shifting suddenly from one foot to the other, and then took a lap moving backwards

Parents on the boards smiled at their kids and shared the video they’d just taken

And a guy sitting in the balcony took it all in

Friday The Thirteenth

In Southwestern Ontario, whenever that date shows up, it means thousands of bikers (as in motorcyclists) show up in the town of Port Dover on the north shore of Lake Erie.  Yesterday police estimated that 100,000 visitors were roaming the streets.

When I pulled into the parking lot of Wimpy’s Diner in St. Thomas, the place was crammed with bikes.  I felt myself contract.  My past experience, however, told me there was nothing to fear – I’d had many fine conversations with the leather-clad set.

Into Wimpy’s I strolled.  I paused at a table of eight.  They looked at me, probably wondering if I was a decent guy.  “Where are you folks riding today?”  One fellow smiled big.  “Some port,” he replied.  Lots of laughing and then I moved to my regular table.

The restaurant was packed with roadies, most dressed in leather jackets.  A guy in front of me was sporting a cool t-shirt …   Hmm.  Yesterday I memorized the words, expecting to write you about it.  Today the words are gone.  Phrases that included “biker” and “leather”.  I’m disappointed.  Where has my memory gone?  Oh well.

There was so much laughing at those tables, and it wasn’t gossiping.  Just a rollicking good time.  And it was great to see so many women.  So much for the stereotype of bikers being male, loud and violent.  I wanted to be included in their clan but unfortunately I have neither the wardrobe nor the steed.  That’s okay.

Driving various roads throughout the morning, I came upon many flows of motorcycles.  Zipping over the asphalt with their friends.  Good for them.  We all need family.  I’ll just have to create my own version of togetherness.

Pride and Prejudice

Renato is an Italian chef who’s living in my home while I travel here, there and down the street.  Last night, we sat down to watch a movie – Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley.  It was an immense love story.  Snapshots from the film stay with me:

1.  The country dance at the beginning.  Rows of happy people – smiling, laughing and clapping hands to the beat of the music.  Intoxicating.

2.  The severe Mr. Darcy referring to the beautiful young Lizzie as “tolerable” as she overhears the conversation.  A human being as a thing, a piece of meat.  How sad.

3.  Later in the evening, Lizzie throwing Mr. Darcy’s words back at him, swirling around and walking away.  The girl is afraid of nothing and no one.  Who cares about relative status, about being socially appropriate, when your heart and soul need to express?

4.  Mrs. Bennet running down the path after Lizzie when her daughter refused Mr. Darcy’s marriage proposal, in the spirit of “Come back here and marry him!” with dollar signs in her eyes.  Thank God my mom wasn’t anything like that.

5.  Mr. and Mrs. Bennet talking to Lizzie afterwards.  “I’ll never speak to you again if you don’t marry him!” shouts her mother.  Dad returns with “I’ll never speak to you again if you do.”  He knows that there’ll be war in the bedroom but it’s far more important that he speak the truth.

6.  Mr. Darcy’s barely visible Mona Lisa smile as he falls for Lizzie, such a contrast to the scowl he wore for the first part of the film.  Despite his power in society, he can’t yet share his true feelings.  As so we have the ache of love that most of us know well.

7.  The first touch of hands.  Mr. Darcy is helping Lizzie into the carriage and her wide-eyed wonder shines.  Is he the one?

8.  The final scene between Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Lizzie.  She’s Mr. Darcy’s aunt.

“Miss Bennet, I warn you.  I’m not to be trifled with.”

***

“Now tell me once and for all.  Are you engaged to him?”

“I am not.”  [with great sadness]

“And will you promise never to enter into such an engagement?”

“I will not and I certainly never shall.  You have insulted me in every possible way and can now have nothing further to say.  I must ask you to leave immediately … Goodnight.”

“I have never been thus treated in my entire life!”

***

Go, Lizzie!

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-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-One … Zapping, Bugging And Laughing

Jody and I used to love going to LaserQuest in London, Ontario.  We’d blast each other with our guns and then hide away for a bit.  And who introduced us to such rampant fun?  Lance and Nona one Calgary day in 2012.  So yesterday the family headed back for more heroism, minus my dear wife.

On the ride in, I spoke up about the reality that was no doubt so obvious to all concerned: Ontario was going to kick Alberta’s butt!  There was moderate disagreement in the car but I ignored it.  I knew the truth.

After game one, I finished in the top 18, out of 18 shooters.  Humble pie time.  I’d shoot my dear ones, and any other participants, and they just wouldn’t succumb.  I kept hearing that moaning electronic sound that meant I’d been hit.  I made a major recovery in game two: 15th out of 22.  But my nephew Jaxon scored 5th, 2nd and then 5th again.  As for Jagger, it was 3rd, 4th and 2nd.  I was totally outgunned!  Even the Dorams’ dog Ember beat me (Okay, she wasn’t playing.)

Wait a minute, I just had a thought.  If you add up Jaxon’s scores, you get 12.  Jagger 9.  I (18, 15, 17) , the great Poobah from the east, was 50.  There you go … I won!

The worst, or maybe the best, was two little boys who gleefully ganged up on me again and again.  I couldn’t pop ’em if my life depended on it.  But they sure popped me.

Then there were Supernova (Nona) and Billy Bishop (Lance).  I won’t mention their placings but it’s just possible that they rocked and ruled.  Jace was short but fast, and gave it his all to zap his parents and brothers.

***

After the festivities and a yummy lunch at East Side Mario’s, we were off to Costco in Okotoks.  Now I have a history of roaming around that building in London, talking to employees and members about silly things.  So what if I’m a tourist in Alberta?  Shouldn’t I be consistent with my previous personality?  I think so.

I went up to a few food demonstrators and shared some of my favourite lines:

“Will this make me happy?”

[Upon a second visit] “My twin brother was just here and he thought this was yummy.  May I have some too?”

[And my all time favourite]  “May I sing you a little number?” > “Okay.” > “3!”  Most people laugh.  Some stare.

As we roamed the aisles, Jaxon saw a pretty girl (maybe 14) who looked like someone he likes at school.  One of us said “Go over and talk to her, Jaxon.”  His non-verbal response was basically “No way.”  So I helpfully added, “Okay, then I’ll go talk to her.”  And I proceeded to walk purposefully to the meat cooler where the girl and her mom were examining the hamburger.  I do believe I sensed horror from behind me.  It looked like I was walking right up to them but I just kept going, making a tidy circle which allowed me to peruse the faces of my family.  Not sure what their faces said.  Great fun, although perhaps not from Jaxon’s perspective.

***

In the evening, we once again turned on “Just For Laughs Gags”.  My two favourite pranks:

1.  A woman in a dress was sitting on a bench with a stranger when she had to pee.  She walked up to a tree on the other side of the path.  Her back was facing the onlooker.  Then a stream of pee anoints the bark while Ms. or Mr. Onlooker’s mouth drops.

2.  An elderly gentleman has a bad cold.  As he walks along the sidewalk, he honks his nose with great gusto and throws the Kleenex over his shoulder, landing on the chest or face of the person approaching from behind.  More horrified looks!

I laughed.

***

It was a perfect day of bipping here and there with folks of whom I care

Day Twenty-Eight … Just Fore The Fun Of It

Have I ever told you that I’m a champion golfer?  Actually, I haven’t even told myself.  After a round of golf, I love returning to the pro shop and telling the desk clerk “I shot 70 today.” > “Really?  That’s wonderful.” > “Yeah, and the second nine was even better.”

In my deep dark youth, when I was really serious about the game, I would sometimes throw my club after an abysmal shot.  Thank goodness there were no foreheads nearby.  Once, on the raised tee of a par 3 hole, with a shallow pond right in front of me, I swung mightily in an already upset kind of way.  The ball bounced aimlessly over the smooth green grass and deposited itself into the drink.  I did what any normal deranged person would do.  I picked up my golf bag and threw it into the water.  A mighty splash it was.  And then I just stared at the ripples as my golf budget sunk.  After a brief pause for sanity, I clambered off the tee and waded in.  Adorned with muck, my bag and clubs were resurrected.  My goodness, I was young back then.

Yesterday, armed with decades of maturity, I agreed with Lance that a golf game with the kids would be a good idea.  Family.  What a blessing to be out on the course with Jaxon, Jace and Lance.  The golf club in Okotoks only allows foursomes so Jagger got to hang out with Nona while Ember was getting her locks cut off.  She’s one smooth dog now.  And I’m one smooth swinger of the club.  Maybe.

We rented two golf carts and it was Jace and me riding together.  Like all the rest of us, he hit a few good shots within a symphony of not good ones.  Okay, my not good ones were just plain bad.  But back to Jace.  He’d get a bit frustrated but would come right back and give it his best on the next shot.  And he smiled a lot.  Pretty cool for an 8-year-old.  It could be that he was the more mature golfer in our cart.

I always have visions of an effortless swing followed by the ball soaring through the air and landing softly on the green.  Now since I am a retired vision teacher, you’d think that I could bring these images into reality.  Trouble is, in my short life, whenever I’ve completed my followthrough after a shot, and I look up, the ball is already coming down!  Tiger Woods never had these problems.  Well, maybe he does now.

Oh well.  Back to the heroics of the day.  Lance lent me his old clubs but he didn’t have a putter for me.  So I putted with a driver, the straightest face club in the bag.  And I sunk one 20-foot putt!  I raised my arms aloft and yelled out “Yes!”  Those male golf pros just aren’t demonstrative enough for me.  And then unfortunately there was my five-putt on the last hole.

Lance hit all these booming drives.  No problem for him when he looked up, I’m sure.  Putting, however, was a challenge.  Jaxon also hit some good shots mixed in with the bad.  So really we were an epic foursome.  The truth is that golf was just a convenient excuse to be together and talk about silly things for four hours.

And I hope we talk about many more silly things over the next ten days.  Come with us.

Day Twenty-Seven … Music To My Ears

I love traditions, even ones that I’ve only been marginally a part of.  Most every Sunday in the new millennium, Lance has made breakfast for his family – fluffy pancakes and bacon.  I mean this guy knows how to make pancakes, and when they’re drizzled with maple syrup …  Yum!  On Sunday, Nona was still dozing but “the boys” (five of us) chowed down.  I suggested we talk “man stuff” but none of us could figure out what that was.

Ember was bipping here and there around our feet, hoping for a tasty morsel.  Tasty but not very good for her.  She managed a piece of bacon.  Above the table, all mouths were kept discreetly closed as we chewed, except for sometimes.  All this was a convenient, but nutritionally necessary excuse to hang out together.  I wonder if Jagger, Jace and Jaxon will realize at 35 how very special their morning breakies with dad were.  I hope so.

In the afternoon, it was off to the Longstock Music and Arts Festival, held in a park only a block from Lance and Nona’s place in Longview.  How’s that for convenient?  We six carried our lawn chairs down the way and plunked ourselves down among the audience.  Ten gallon hats were sprinkled among the crowd.  Smiles were far more common than that.  And onto the stage there strolled “The Travelling Mabels”, three Alberta women anchored by the spirit of Eva Levesque, who actually is a neighbour of Lance’s.  These women told great stories within their melodies and harmonies.  I hummed along and sometimes sang along.  I tried to get Nona to get up on stage with me to sing a few ditties but she demurred with a smile.  Ahead of us, I saw a woman whose long hair was a gorgeous combo of auburn and blonde.  I wanted that, rather than the current grey highlights that I’m sporting.  Nona wasn’t sure I could pull it off.

My favourite song from the Mabels was “Teach Your Children Well”, written by Graham Nash.  I definitely sang along to that one.  It’s part of my history.

Words for me:

You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself because the past is just a goodbye

Words for Lance and Nona:

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you

Words for Jaxon, Jagger and Jace:

 And you, of the tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by
And so please help them with your youth, they seek the truth before they can die

After the music, I strolled into a tent and met an artist named Carol.  On the wall was a pencil drawing of Andy Russell, an outdoorsman who lived on a hill just outside of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta.  As a young man, I worked at the Prince of Wales Hotel in the park and often looked up at Andy’s place and longed to follow the driveway to his soul.  But I never did meet the author of Tales Of A Wilderness Wanderer and Horns In The High Country.  Reading those pages, I got such a sense of the Southern Alberta foothills and mountains.  It was like coming home.  And next week, Lance and Nona will be bringing me home to Waterton.  I’ll be saying hi to the Bruce who lived 40 years ago.

***

I told Jace that it was his turn to add a final word to today’s post, if he wanted to.  I said that who knows how many people would be reading this.  What do you want to say to them?  Dad piped up with “Imagine you’re speaking to all of them in a big hall.”  So what was the result, you ask?

“Get off your butt and go outside!”