Basketball

So we’re in Toronto … Olivia, Baziel and me. Eight hours after lifting off from Brussels, we nestled into the joys of Terminal One in Toronto. Adventure was in our six eyes.

We had to wait a fair long time for our shuttle bus to Scarlet’s temporary abode. Pas de problème. We all knew that we were about to be on a mission: to buy a basketball. You see, these kids are fanatics. They play on teams in Belgium. They dream of the future.

After we corralled Scarlet at Skyway Park, it was off on the 401 freeway to Yorkdale Mall, the home of SportChek, and hopefully many basketballs.

The ceilings were high, the glitter of wealth surrounded us and the people of Toronto flowed past in all their glory of multiculturalism. The store was full of athetic achievement, many sports represented in their clothing and equipment. Downstairs was the home of NBA devotees.

Ahh … the b-balls. Baziel settled on a Wilson Crossover model, and all was right with the world.

We wandered the mall in search of NBA jerseys but few were to be found. We had our treasure. It was time to play.

First to Anne and Ihor’s bed and breakfast. Anne glowed as she welcomed us in the door. The teens got it. They were glimpsing a new home.

Google Maps showed me a nearby school and we bounced our ball along the sidewalk. Around the back of the building were four hoops, all without nets, but that didn’t matter. Olivia and Baziel dribbled beautifully, laid up the ball gracefully, and nailed lots of long-distance shots. I … threw up the basketball in the general direction of the hoop. We had fun.

I was hungry, and convinced the kids to take a break for chicken. Yum.

Anne had mentioned that there was a basketball court near the local arena so we decided to explore in that direction. And lo and behold … there it was. Three young men crowded around one of the three hoops, testing each other. Baziel and Olivia did the same at another one.

Magically other teens and kids appeared. I just stared at all the athletes. One young boy in a red shirt was so skinny and so skilled. All those between-the-legs dribbles! At another basket, a supremely powerful young man was coaching a little boy who had gorgeous braided (?) hair and an everlasting smile.

A fellow came over to challenge Baziel to a one-on-one game. Olivia and I smiled as the contest unfolded. Then it was three-on-three. Baziel was beaming.

For the last hour it was a full game – five against five – as the sun declined. Belgium saying hi to Canada and Canada welcoming Belgium.

I loved it all.

Tyrrell

Lance, Jace, Jagger, Nona and Jaxon

An ancient fish – thirty feet long and weighing as much as three elephants

A 71-million-year-old dinosaur.  Check out the teeth.

Our tour guide, plus some folks on the left

I arrived in Longview, Alberta last night to see my brother-in-law Lance and his family.  This morning we were up bright and early for the three-hour drive to the Royal Tyrrell Museum.  We were immersed in the paleontology of long ago creatures, especially dinosaurs.  The above four photos all depict ancient ones.

I could give you the science of it all but that wouldn’t be as cool as goofing around.  It’s astounding how old these creatures are … so many millions of years.  What’s not astounding is how much I like having fun.  I revel in doing strange things just for the joy of it.  At one point, the family came upon a mummified dinosaur.  It was protected by a rectangular glass cage, and a yellow line on the floor eighteen inches from the structure asked us to stay back a bit.  I decided to put my toes on the line and see if anyone would walk between me and the glass.  Ahh … the study of human behaviour!

Two adults and nine kids made the journey between.  I was hoping the numbers would be zero.  Jace, Jagger and Jaxon saw me standing strangely and came over.  Once I revealed my strategy, their toes joined mine.  I guess our lineup was intimidating because no more “trespassing” ensued.  Yes, it was a goofy thing to do, and yes, it made me happy.

When I was in Alberta a few weeks ago for Jaxon’s high school graduation, I arrived as a stranger to the family’s little white dog Melody.  For four days she barked at this bad guy and nipped at my ankles.  Then she gave it a rest.  Yesterday, Melly yapped at me for half an hour before concluding that I was okay.  Good news for my skin and vital organs.  I told Jace that I’d “slipped her a ten” to get her to leave me alone.

This morning Jace asked me if I was going give a ten dollar bill to anyone else.  I laughed.  But as we strolled the Tyrrell, I decided to play.  I folded a ten spot in half and subtly slipped it into Jace’s hand.  A minute later, he returned the favour, with all the smooth grace of a drug dealer.  We were having fun.  Then I sat on a bench near a woman.  I think she was cluing into what we were doing.  So I reached over and put the ten dollar bill into her hand.  We smiled together.  “Give it to somebody else.  You can have the experience of receiving and then giving.  And so can the next person.”  She nodded.  She stood.  She walked over to a dad, standing close to his daughter.  She started talking.  I walked away.

That ten dollars hopefully travelled throughout the Tyrrell Museum.  Maybe its journey was brief, ending in an opened wallet or purse.  But perhaps it went on for hours.  I’ll never know.

I’m smiling now as I remember the giving.  Priceless.

Seeking Gifts

Just before I went to California in April, a boy in the Grade 6 class asked me if I’d bring him back a snow globe. I thought for a second and then said yes. In Monterey, I had so much fun tracking down just what he wanted – a version that featured a sea otter.

On Tuesday, I was in class before my afternoon flight to Alberta. A boy had already asked me to find a wooden sculpture for him. I bet everyone knew that I’d said yes. As time wound down towards my departure, two girls came by separately and each shyly said how much they’d like to have a necklace from Alberta. I asked for details of what they’d prefer and they were happy to oblige. I overheard another young lady telling her friends that she’d love to have a souvenir from the west.

So, Mr. Kerr, do you give these kids what they’re asking for? Immediately the answer came back “Yes”. I choose to reward the kids who speak up, who are brave enough to ask.

On the plane to Calgary, I decided to give the last girl the gift she wanted – some depiction of a horse. It’s true that she didn’t ask me directly but at least she tossed her intention out there.

Today was my first full day with Nona, Lance, Jaxon, Jagger and Jace. Nona knew of a few gift shops in nearby Black Diamond and I promised to be no more than half an hour. I figured I had six more days to score any unfound treasures.

First the recommended drug store with its gift section. A small rearing horse caught my attention on the top shelf. Cool. But so did the $89.99 price tag. My eyes roamed and soon came to rest on a pile of small plates. The top one had a sublime painting of a mom horse and her foal. I stared. “Yes” rang through me. Just like that, one of the four was complete. I could see the future smile on the 11-year-old’s face.

The accompanying shelves weren’t yielding further secrets so I readied myself to leave. I asked the saleslady where in town I was likely to find necklaces. She smiled and gestured over to where I had been. Little boxes, each with a pendant, graced the glass. I hadn’t noticed their silver chains. Before me were jewelry designs in abalone shells – shimmering greens and blues.

The first one to my eyes showed the shining feathers of a dreamcatcher, and the face of one of the askers appeared. Less than a minute later, I saw a “Tree of Life” pendant, and the other young face was smiling at me. How can this be? Three out of four in ten minutes!

I meandered down the street, peeking into this shop and that. The warmth of one place beckoned me inward. My request for “a little wooden sculpture” drew a smile from a clerk and an offer to shift my attention to tiny stone animals. I looked at the small ones in their rectangular compartments and knew that the answer was no. But I was being nudged onward, past several displays of artistry. There, sitting on a vibrant scarf, were four small wooden boxes. One was rounded at the top and a tree stretched over. Mango wood from India. Four.

In ten days, my young friends, gifts will be given.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Actually, I was born on January 9 but why should facts get in the way of a little fun?

Today was a special day at school and there were fools all over the place.  Take me, for instance.  I told the kids first thing that I had just been listening to Doug Ford on the radio.  He’s the Premier of Ontario.  “He said that starting on May 1, he’s extending the school day.  Instead of students going home at 3:30, it’ll be 4:00.”  I said this with a very straight face.  No sooner were the last words out of my mouth than I was met with a chorus of “April Fool’s!”  Kids are just so smart these days.

Around 10:00 am, one of the Grade 6 kids left the room, supposedly on the way to the washroom.  A few minutes later, a shorter and younger version of her, dressed exactly the same, came into the class and confidently sat in her sister’s chair.  For some of us it took seconds, but others didn’t notice for a minute or so.  Well done, girls!

The announcements started just before morning recess.  A teacher came on the PA with this message: “It’s Mr. Kerr’s birthday today.  If you see him in the halls or on the yard, wish him well.”  I was working with two kids at that moment, and my face jerked.  Huh?  Oh yeah … April 1.

Now, what would be the most fun?  Well, play along with it, of course.  Thank everyone for their good wishes and revel in my birthday celebration.  So that’s what I did.

No sooner was I on the asphalt than a girl rushed up with a birthday card.  How did she pull that off in ten minutes?  I smiled and said thank you.  “How old are you?”  >  “70”  >  “Oh.”  (unspoken, I believe, was “That’s really old.”)  As I walked around, maybe twenty kids came up to say “Happy Birthday!”  One girl said she had a present for me and plunked a quarter in my hand.  Naturally, staff members or volunteers don’t accept money from kids, but I made an executive decision: I picked up the coin with a flourish, opened the change pocket of my wallet and dropped it in.  The young lady was so very happy.

Feel free to congratulate me as well.  I’ll gladly receive all the good vibes that come my way.  January … April … they’re both marvelous.

It Flew Away

I was pleased with the post I wrote yesterday.  In “Flying to You”, I talked about my two trips to Alberta this June, first to see my nephew Jaxon’s high school graduation and the second two weeks later to visit my friend Sharyn, and later Jaxon and his family.  The highlights of the intervening time back home will be a Grade 6 grad and a Grade 8 one.  I’m happy about being with the people I love.

This afternoon I couldn’t resist – I had to find out how many folks had viewed my words.  “Wow!  That’s quite a lot.”  So much for not needing people’s feedback.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be empty of ego.

One of the WordPress pages gives me the stats.  Another one simply lists my recent posts, with the first sentence or so shown.  I looked back on my week.  There were “Daddy!”, “Fresh” and “Skaters”.  Above was “Flying to You” but something looked different.  Hmm.  Then it hit me – no first sentence.  I clicked on the title …

BLANK

No words.  All gone.  Bye bye.

My heart leapt up.  My muscles collapsed into my bones.  My mouth gaped.  Bottom line: this was a disaster.  Four hundred words that I was proud of were no more.  I thought of the damage to me, and I also thought of the loss to folks who enjoy reading what I have to say.

I felt violated.  There was a huge gap ripping through me, plus a compulsion to recall the words of twelve hours past and put them into a new post – “Flying to You 2.0”.  I was leaning towards the laptop keys, shaking below the surface.  Isn’t there an “Undo” button here somewhere?

And then … I sunk back into the couch.  I loosened, all over.  I smiled.  My heart rate fell back to 60 or 70 beats a minute.  I was at ease.

So what happened?  How is it that I let go of thoughts that were “mine”?  That it didn’t matter if anyone will ever read them in the future.  That I have peace.

Are the possessing parts of me starting to break up, being shuffed off like dead skin?  Is there a new, far broader identity emerging, one that stretches far out into the world?  Or is it that I just don’t give a poop anymore?

Whatever’s happening, I sense it’s good.  The unravelling is something I can trust.

***

And how about these sentences that lie before me right now?  Just for laughs, should I press “Delete” instead of “Publish”?  Naw.  A guy can only have so much fun.

Floor Hockey

For the past decade or two, I haven’t been what you’d call a careful person.  I’m pretty spontaneous, and no doubt some of the silly things that come out of my mouth have some folks questioning my sanity.

And I want to do things.  Things that involve spurts of energy, throwing my arms into the air, singing when I feel like it.  I’ve loved dancing for many years.  Jody used to enjoy staring at folks who were watching me dance.  She loved seeing their fascination with my erratic use of four limbs – not exactly the fox trot, not exactly jiving, not exactly … anything.

I hurt my knee on Canada Day last year, slipping on some slopey grass.  It still hasn’t healed fully.  I’ve wanted to get an MRI to see what’s going on, but my doctor at the Fowler-Kennedy Clinic offered another perspective.  “You have arthritis in both knees.  They’re degenerating some.  The grass was just the moment that caused you to pay attention to something that previously you couldn’t see.”  Oh.  So I’m doing these eight exercises, not to end a pain that came on suddenly but to strengthen knees enough so that I can continue doing the “Activities of Daily Living”.

And what exactly are these ADL’s?  I guess that’s up to me to decide.  Walking, climbing stairs, bending over to pick up the newspaper – these are good things.  But I want more.  I want to play floor hockey with the kids at school!  Doctor J warned me about the dangers of sudden sideways movements of that joint of mine, but saw floor hockey in my future.  That was three weeks ago.  Today I decided the future is now.

A friend and colleague presented me with a blue t-shirt this morning.  Written across the logo of the Toronto Maple Leafs was the name of the school.  On the the back was “Brucio”.  That’s me!  At noon, the teachers’ team was to bang sticks with an ace kids’ squad from Grades 5 and 6.  The winner would go to the finals on Thursday.

So, Bruce … yes or no?  I said yes, after consulting with my right knee.  It smiled up at me.  The kids are fast and aggressive.  I’m slow and aggressive.  I got out there and did battle, noticing that when the puck did end up on my stick, I had precious little time to do anything valuable with it.  Oh well.  I played some so-so defense and got a few good passes off to my teammates.  The knee twinged here and hurt there but I consistently remained vertical.  I even got a zippy shot on net.  The Grade 6 girl playing goal had to make the best stop in the history of the western world to deny me.  Or … the puck headed right for her stomach.

I picked an opponent to check and stuck with him like glue, occasionally.  More often, he was long gone down the gym floor while I breathed behind.  Happily though, I wasn’t the token adult.  I played hard.  I wasn’t out of place.  I contributed to our stellar 1-1 tie with the kids.  And we do it all over again on Thursday.

Am I crazy?  Am I risking my future ability to walk by engaging in these hockey shenanigans?  Is this a late life crisis?  Naw.  None of the above.  I’ll keep doing my physio.  I’ll do my yoga.  I’ll be on the elliptical.  And I will have fun with those kids.  They deserve me and I deserve them.  And watch out Miss Goalie.  I see a wrist shot to the top corner in your future.

 

Day Thirteen: A Little Sick, A Lot Happy

My day started with breakfast at the B&B. The group of us had the chance to taste baguettes with onions and potatoes, or with beans. I had one of each. They were both yummy. When in Rome …

Lydia wanted us to experience a far older village than Toubacouta. Secouna (I think) was eighteen kilometres away, and we doubled up on four motos. I was sitting behind Eddy, our B&B host, and was thrilled to see carts pulled by donkeys, crowds of folks seeking shade under wide-spreading trees, and even a couple of large red monkeys bounding across the road.

At one point, Eddy and I passed a fellow carrying a load of wood on his back. Eddy gave him a toot and the guy raised a couple of fingers in response. Beautiful. It reminded me of Ellwood Irwin, my former father-in-law. He was a wheat farmer on the vast Canadian prairie. When Ellwood was driving his truck and another farmer was approaching, he also would lift a couple of fingers in salute. Senegal … Alberta … just folks.

We were about halfway to Secouna when the urge to upchuck rose within me. Oh, no. Surely I wasn’t going to puke all over Eddy’s back! Oh, God, please help me here. I was also getting dizzy, and holding on to the bar behind me for all I was worth. “I can do this!” And I did.

We finally reached the village and stopped at a store. I ungracefully lurched off the bike and rested my head against the doorjamb of the entrance. The next thing I knew, there was a chair underneath my butt and a little container of water was in my hand. My friends were there in a flash to take care of me. Love lives.

As we sat on the patio of a restaurant with a big bottle of water, I looked across the street to see four fellows working on a bicycle. They were all so intent on the task and were chatting together, I suppose about what needed to be done. One guy worked for at least ten minutes, trying to get a tire off the rim. He didn’t have the right tool but no matter.

On the way back to Toubacouta, I felt much better. Eddy and I rolled past twenty or thirty monkeys who were running full out across the dry land. What athletes! We went through two tiny villages and I waved to the folks gathered under trees. Most people waved right back. I thought of the ride to Secouna, where I didn’t wave to anybody. Yes, I wasn’t feeling well, but it’s so strange to not be friendly.

Lydia and Jo invited me to have lunch with the family at their home. And she had a surprise for me: a large bowl of pasta was placed on the table accompanied by … a jar of pesto! My favourite flavour in the world. Mareama, the woman who made sure I got Senegalese pantaloons, was wearing a gorgeous pair of gold heart-shaped glasses. I asked her if I could wear them, and she tried mine on. We looked great, as you’ll see from the nearby photos.

A large group of us went for a walk later on a flat stretch of land that reveals itself at low tide. We felt the mud under our feet and walked into a watery area where snails lay on the intertidal floor. We could see the tracks they made in the sand. Partway, Lydia took my arm as we strolled along. We reflected on love and the beauty of the land. She is truly at home in Senegal. I can see myself feeling the same way.

Thank you for accompanying me on my journey.

Day Nine: We’re Off!

More human beings to enjoy on my travels, and they’re all coming to Senegal with us. Last night, at The Wizard of Oz, I remet Anja and Curd, the friends of Lydia and Jo who were with them on that hiking trail in Alberta. They didn’t seem to speak English so I didn’t get to know them back then. I wonder if they were surprised to hear that Lydia had invited me to go to Senegal, and that I had said yes.

Along with their parents, Olivia and Camille were also enjoying Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. We said hi and gave each other cheek kisses right away, as they do in Belgium. So different from how we greet each other in Canada. I like it.

This morning at the airport, I said hello to Sabrine and Lieselotte, both friends of Anja and Lydia. Simpatico. So we are eleven, now flying from Brussels to Lisbon, Portugal.

How many times have I said this? I feel so included, that I deeply belong. Some of the new folks have very limited English, and that’s okay because I have very limited everything else! We make funny faces, we laugh a lot, and already, I believe, we see each other. We’re each part of the tapestry that is the human family.

As we waited in the Brussels Airport this morning, four soldiers walked by in camouflage uniforms, toting machine guns. Oh my. Someone in our group told me that maybe three years ago, just down the concourse from us, terrorists ignited a bomb that was hidden in luggage, killing many people. I walked over to the approximate area where it happened. I stood. I mourned. And then I went back to my family.

I’ll write some more in the Lisbon Airport and then send it to you. I figure that’ll be it for today. There’s a long road ahead to tomorrow morning and I don’t expect to have any internet access. Ciao!

***

I’m so proud of myself! On arrival in Lisbon, we were channelled into a narrow passage which soon opened onto a grand vista – behind a left to right railing stood perhaps one hundred folks waiting to greet their loved ones. I found my right arm rising naturally and a smile curling my lips. I waved to them all. In return were a good many stares and perhaps ten hands raised in response. Perfect.

Lydia lent me her hat for the day. I consider myself very pretty. Folks strolling through the airport seem to have a different opinion. It’s all fun.

Until the next time, dear friends …

Day Eight: The Day Before

Tomorrow we fly to Dakar, Senegal. We leave the house at 8:30 am for the Brussels Airport. After a short flight to Lisbon, Portugal, we wait for hours before flying to Dakar. We get there at 1:00 am and then five hours overland to our village. So I’ll be laying my head on the pillow around 7:00 am on Monday. Oh boy … an adventure for the tired body and astonished mind.

Today I went with Jo on a series of last minute errands. Our final stop was to his funeral services business. The company inscribes headstones and sells products such as urns for the ashes. As Jo hurried around, I looked around.

There was a plaque on the wall showing photographs of people who had died, all enclosed in small oval frames. They go on the headstone. I looked into the eyes of the departed. A few were old, as you’d expect. A couple were middle-aged. Most of the souls, however, were kids. How sad to think that the children facing me had their lives end so soon. It teaches me to cherish my longtime and just met loved ones because we don’t know when we’ll be saying goodbye.

In Jo’s office, I spied a pile of small books. They were dictionaries. The tongues were Dutch (very close to Flemish), German, English, French and Italian. It was such a symbol of diversity, and of connection. Jo and Lydia speak four or five languages and Baziel and Lore aren’t far behind. The peoples coming together in Europe remind me of all the ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto. We’re apparently so different … but actually not. Behind your eyes are the same glories and agonies that rest behind mine. And early Monday morning, Senegalese souls will say hello to Belgians and a Canadian. It is as it should be.

When in Belgium, play basketball. That’s certainly Baziel’s approach to life. As Jo and I pulled into the driveway, I saw Baziel grooving his jump shot. I just had to join him – some NBA force was propelling me forward. We took turns shooting … he of the graceful flourish and me of the rather stiff non-jump shot, but we were the same. We grimaced as the ball hit iron and threw our arms in the air when it was nothing but net. He’s 14 and I’m 69. I pretended I was grandpa. Just hanging loose with each other.

Later in the afternoon, Lydia’s mom Marie-Paule came to visit. Lydia had told me all about her and suggested that it would be good for me to marry her and whisk her off to Canada. We were even the same age.

I received coaching on the line I wanted to use with Marie-Paule as soon as I met her – “Voulez-vous me marier?” (Will you marry me?) So I gave it a go, giving her a gigantic hug in the first moment. Clearly, Lydia had also coached Marie-Paule, because she was ready with a smile. Initially we laughed a lot but we also shared our histories – Jody died four years ago and Marie-Paule’s husband ten years ago. We shared a few moments of missing our life partner. It was sweet.

Tonight we went to a play in Flemish – The Wizard of Oz. I loved the crows surrounding the scarecrow. I loved hearing Dorothy sing. But I’m just too tired to wax poetic about it all.

So to bed. Africa around the next bend.

Day Three: ‘Sploring

Ten hours of sleep … good for a jet-lagged Canadian. I awoke to the sun. Jo and Lydia’s dining room was bathed in light. As Julie Andrews was found of saying, the hills were alive.

Lore had an oral exam at school this morning and Lydia drove her, with me in tow. The sloping fields here are green and the tall trees cast magnificent shadows.

Lore was nervous and mom was reassuring her, in Flemish, so I didn’t know what she was saying. I told daughter that we’d be thinking about her from 10:15 to 11:00, and I followed through with that, sending her good wishes.

Then it was off to Lydia’s work. She and Jo are managers at a funeral wholesaler, carving inscriptions on headstones, and selling products such as urns. Lydia wanted me to meet her colleagues and I wanted to say hi to them. After a round of Flemish hellos and smiles, I decided to do the natural thing – sing them O Canada. They laughed.

I followed Jo around, first through the shop to see how the inscriptions are created, and later out and about in town. First stop was the bakery, the home of freshly-baked smells, Then it was on to a huge home improvement store to get plumbing and electrical supplies for Senegal. While there, I picked up a can of insulating foam. Like at home, the words were in two languages. Unlike what I know, the languages were Flemish and French. Welcome to the rest of the world, Bruce.

Baziel and I went for a walk in the afternoon. Across a muddy field to see a 300-hundred-year-old windmill. I wondered what stories were hidden between those walls.

We walked on a lovely paved path between emerald fields. Such peace in the country. Turns out that the path was a road and we had to move onto the field a little to let cars pass. Soon a Mcdonalds cup appeared and then seven cans thrown out at intervals, each labelled as a gin and tonic drink. We picked them all up and later recycled them at home.

Baziel described a conflict or two with his mom – no big deal from his end but mom sometimes builds it up in his opinion. As for fights with his sister, Baziel shrugged and said they make up within five minutes. Usual family stuff but I sense an unusual love among them.

Later in the Monday agenda, Lydia, Lore and I headed to a grocery store. As the women picked up cool items from a variety of displays, I tagged along, often falling behind the purchases. At one point, I passed an old couple. The woman and I held gazes for a few seconds and then started chatting, she in Flemish and I in English. Neither of us knew what the other one was saying and it didn’t matter. We just kept looking and smiling. It was fun.

Yesterday Lydia asked me what my favourite food was. My response? Pesto pasta. So three guesses what the meal was tonight. I was in heaven and generously allowed myself to have seconds.

I am being treated like a king near Oudenaard, Belgium. The simple events of the day, as long as they’re experienced with family, are a joy.