Pompeiian Friends

In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, sending a pyroclastic flow of 250 degree Celsius gas and ash flooding down the slopes at 200 kilometres an hour. The force coming from the top of the mountain has been compared to 250,000 elephants being spewed out every second. About 2000 residents of Pompeii died, the theory being that their blood boiled before they could perish of suffocation. How horrible.

We went to visit Pompeii and Vesuvius. Much of the ancient city has been unearthed from its 25 metre covering of ash. We walked the cobblestoned streets and I felt into the lives of people who had similar joys and sorrows to me 1940 years ago.

I could have bought the audio contraption that would tell me about all the buildings but I knew that wasn’t the right choice for me. I needed to be with the spirits of people who have come before. Someone built these walls, these ovens, these theatres. Their lives were likely shorter than mine but no doubt just as rich. I wanted to walk the narrow streets with old friends.

Through a window hole, I glimpsed a tiny semicircular theatre. “Please, may there be a way that I can get in there!” And there was. A passage opened up to the simple grandeur of the stage and stone seats. There were maybe twenty of us standing and sitting in the space. I heard an English-speaking tour guide say that if you stood in the very centre of the stage and spoke, the sound would come back to you. And yes, it was true. A rich vibration returned.

I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to the Pompeiians. Folks came and went from the theatre and I despaired that I would never be alone there. I didn’t want to intrude into the well-being of the ones who were already present.

Maybe half an hour later, a family of four walked away from me. “Ciao.” No new people entered. It was time.

I pulled out my phone, found the lyrics and lifted my head to the gallery of ghosts. I sang … the whole thing. I felt the sweetness inside of throwing myself into their world. My peripheral vision told me that I had visitors, but I kept going. I felt the contraction and I let it go.

As the last “Hallelujah” hung in the air, I turned to see smiling faces and brief applause. Thank you, dear audience. It wasn’t a performance, however. It was a communion.

Roma

It slowly sinks in: I’m in a majestic city, an entrancing city.  Some buildings have been in place for 2000 years.  I think of the people who walked where I walk, who looked out of the windows above me.  I think of the Colosseum as I stand beneath it in the evening, its arches glowing with golden light.  So peaceful, and yet the same place where thousands cheered the upcoming deaths of human beings as lions ripped into flesh.

Everything feels so “big” here – from the towering buildings with their balconies and flower boxes, to the thousands of people filling the squares in the relative cool of the evening, to the long span of history.  What I’ve enjoyed most is the countless sidewalk cafés full of human beings, especially the ones on narrow cobbled streets.  Cars will fit their way through, with pedestrians moving closer to the walls to allow passage. No one seems bothered by the volume of vehicles and people.

I love watching folks walk hand in hand, whether it’s romance or a mom holding her daughter.  I love the hugs I see, the occasional public kiss, the smiles that seem to be everywhere.  And I love being together with Lydia, Jo, Anja and Curd.  We go ‘sploring together as a family.  Yes, I’m been adopted by these fine Belgian folks.  I’m included, which is a wonderful thing for a guy who lives alone.

Often we’ve been on the “hop on – hop off” tourist bus, up on the second floor.  Huge windows and an open sky show me the world.  I love the delicate details of the architecture and the flow of humanity below.  At our stops, I have a few minutes to really look at the human beings passing by.  Some are lost in their ear buds but most seem engaged with this rich environment.  I study the faces and ask myself what their lives are like.  Just as textured as mine, I’m sure.

Here are some more images:

A family of four arranging themselves for a selfie in a cobbled square – the two little girls giggling

Our waiter Luigi engaging us with great spirit in English, and then presenting us with a complimentary dessert of sweet buns and whipped cream.  He also offers us a free bottle of wine if we come back.

Standing in line with a woman from Los Angeles, reflecting on the beauty of Roma, as well as the smog and freeways of LA.  We laugh a lot.

Watching an artisan use pliers to turn a tiny tube of metal into a girl’s name and then attach it to a maroon leather bracelet.  One of the Grade 6 girls near Belmont in Canada had asked me to bring her back a bracelet from Italy.  I’ve kept my word.

The glow of sunset behind Mussolini’s palace, silhouetting two winged charioteers

Pressed together with hundreds of folks to get a view of the Trevi Fountain.  The sheer mass of humanity was overwhelming.

The blessed silence of being inside the Pantheon, an ancient church filled with sculptures and paintings from long, long ago

Sweat pouring off bodies in the 33° Celsius heat as we all choose to be out and about in such beauty

***

How can it be?  In just two days, Rome has become my favourite city.  Somewhere ahead of me, a lovely lady will present herself into my life, and we will walk hand in hand through these sacred streets and lift a glass of wine to each other in a café.  Ciao!

 

 

Lighthouse

I talked so much yesterday about people walking by, and not much about the band I went to see – Lighthouse, all fourteen of them.  Started by Skip Prokop and Paul Hoffert fifty years ago, back then there were two keyboards, a lead guitar, a bass guitar, two violins, a cello, a double bass, a trumpet, a trombone, two types of saxophone, a drum set … and a lead singer.  No one had heard of such a thing.  And Toronto was home.

From the front row, I gazed out at two original members – Paul on the far side on keyboard and Ralph Cole right in front of me playing lead guitar.  Ralph looked like my dad and dressed like my dad, in a turtleneck and a conservative suit jacket.  But he rocked unlike any 75-year-old I’ve ever seen!  He made that guitar wail as he pulled the strings to the side and then launched into a flurry of runs.  His face contorted as decades of onstage work came through.  Dan Clancy, the lead singer, told us that Ralph hasn’t missed playing in a Lighthouse gig for the entire fifty years!

Paul beckoned to the crowd with one hand and smashed some notes on the keyboard with the other, as he blasted out Sunny Days with his fellows, to the roar of the crowd.  At one point, just after receiving an award from Mayor John Tory for Lighthouse’s service to music in Toronto, Paul cradled the microphone and thanked generations of Canadians for loving him and his friends.  Clearly it was mutual.

At the back of the proceedings sat a drummer, a young man.  He seemed out of place until I found out who he was – Jamie Prokop, the son of founder Skip Prokop.  As Skip was dying a few years ago, he had two requests: that the band continue to play the songs he wrote, in hopes that they would touch a new flow of young people; and that Jamie take his place at the drum set.  Both have come true.  The furious beat goes on.

I don’t even remember what the final song was, but almost all of us were standing and dancing.  The boys in front of us were loving it.  Over 1100 souls shared joy last night.  The energy in Koerner Hall was immense.

So it was over.  Did we all file out like sheep, us to the back of the hall and the performers to backstage?  No.  I think everybody in the band came forward to shake our hands.  The front row works quite well for that.  I looked into the eyes of Don, Ralph, Dan, Jamie and Paul, one after the other, and thanked them for their music, and for their delight in performing.  Ralph held my hand an especially long time.  Thank you, dear compatriot of my dad.

If Ralph can be so deeply Ralph at 75, surely I can be deeply Bruce at 70

Presence in Absence

Objects contain absent people

Julian Barnes

I was watching a TV show last night about the wonders of New Zealand and its people. The host was very engaging. He had a syrupy voice that almost hypnotized me at times. At one point, I was nodding off when he spoke the words above. Huh? What did he say about objects? And what does it mean?

The day after, it’s clear. Dear human beings remain in place after they move on in life or in death. They continue to reside in precious objects. Such as …

1. I wrote a book about my loved one, called Jodiette: My Lovely Wife. About 1200 copies are spread around Canada and beyond. One sits on Anne and Ihor’s coffee table here in Toronto. Jody radiates from the pages.

2. The totem poles of Haida Gwaii, a huge island off the mainland of British Columbia, stand guard. Twenty-six of them tilt in the abandoned village of Ninstints. Hundreds of years of the Haida people remain in the wood.

3. I’m sitting in the waiting room of a walk-in clinic on Weston Road. Six others wait with me. The chair beside is empty and I think of the thousands of sick people who have put their rear end down in that spot. May they all have found health.

4. I wandered through the 911 Museum in New York City last week. I came upon a piece of paper, charred at the edges. It was a report about some project that a company was initiating. I imagined some young account executive holding this sheet as he or she spoke to colleagues and bosses. The person was still there in the paragraphs.

5. Value Village is a thrift store in London, featuring lots of quality used clothing. I go to Wellington Fitness next door and often see crowds of folks coming and going with their treasures. I think of the folks wearing other folks’ clothing and wonder if the energy of the previous owner shines through to the new one.

6. I bought a wooden mask in Toubacouta, Senegal in January. The smile is big and the eyes are wide. The fellow offering it said that his great-great-great? grandfather carved it over a hundred years ago. That man’s hands are still in the crevices of the face, in the high cheek bones, in the joy.

7. I’ve been privileged to see many bears in the Canadian Rockies, even the occasional grizzly. And yet most times on the alpine trails there was no sign of the majestic animals. But I would look to the way ahead and realize that the bears were here – I just couldn’t see them. I would sense their footfalls on the dirt and exposed rock.

8. At home I have a ticket stub for a Bruce Springsteen concert in Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium, around 1980. What lives on in that little slip of stuff is … me. A younger version. Dancing in his seat. In love with life, just not as deeply as now.

9. I’m still in the waiting room, and a huge window allows me to look across the street to a brick building. Its side is covered with a mural, depicting Weston Road as it once was. A streetcar rumbles down the street. A two-storey brick building is topped with a bell tower. Mother and daughter are strolling on the porch of what might be a general store. The people are created in paint but they stand in for real folks who walked this street decades ago. And the artist’s love lingers on the wall.

***

Ghosts from the past
Real in the present
Leaning into the future

Day Eight: The 911 Museum

I knew I wanted to go there, to let the sorrow come at the loss of so many human lives. Upon climbing the subway stairs, I saw the tips of a huge silver wing past the buildings ahead. A block later, the whole expanse spread itself before me. The Oculus. Hearts took flight, heads were lifted again after the trauma of 2001.

Now I was approaching a large square reflecting pool, the exact footprint of one of the twin towers. The water flowed into a central cavity. Angled all around the edge was metal plate, on which were inscribed the names of the nearly 3000 victims. Every so often, a yellow rose grew from a name, noting a birthday. I came upon a fellow whose name was Bruce. It could have been me.

Inside the museum stood a cross of girders – a huge rust red symbol of love and hope. Other artifacts, large and small, took their place in history. Papers burned at the edges, eyeglasses beside a toasted case, a crushed fire truck. And the photos, screaming of human anguish. The videos of impact and devastation.

Down a ramp, rectangular images were projected on a wall. They would slowly appear, linger for awhile, and then fade away. These were posters pleading for the recovery of loved ones – friends and family who also faded away, to reappear forever in the hearts of others. One scrawl under a name said it all: “Have you seen my daddy?”

I took a photo, and then spent minutes studying it. Right at the bottom was the smile of Brooke Jackman, a young woman leaning into a delightful life. I decided to stare at the wall until she returned. It probably took twenty minutes … and there she was, for a few seconds.

I looked for Brooke in the Memoriam room. On the walls were colour photos of all who died on 911. A screen allowed me to input her name. Photos of white dresses, beaming parents, friends at a party. An audio clip from mom sharing Brooke’s love of books, even word of a phone call home from a crossing guard, warning that the young girl was crossing a busy street while reading. And then a wavering dad … saying how Brooke always included everyone. Oh my. Real live human beings.

In an alcove, a sign said “Advisory”, warning of disturbing content. And it was. Photos of people jumping from the burning and smoking. Plus a few quotations. To paraphrase one: “She was dressed in a business suit, her hair awry. She smoothed out her skirt (such an innocent gesture) … and fell.”

Another display tucked in a corner told of Flight 93, and the passengers who overwhelmed the hijackers, causing the plane to land in a Pennsylvania field, rather than in the hallways of the White House. Several passengers reached loved ones by cell phone. I heard the spirit of an overcome woman’s words to her husband:

I pray that I will see your lovely face again

I love you

Goodbye

***

Who amongst us would be moved by this place
and the events it describes?

Every single one

Day Twelve Some More: Les Oiseaux

Let’s start with Iced Tea. Yesterday afternoon, I sat behind Lydia on her motorbike as we went over to the site of his home. Four sweating Senegalese men (including my hero) were setting concrete blocks in place and slathering on the mortar. And it was hot. Three walls were climbing and Iced Tea was smiling. Home ownership is a blessing.

My young friend in Canada has helped build those walls with his gift and I will join him in contributing. So richly deserved.

Late in the day, a friend named Ja Ja took Jo, Lore, Jean, Sabrine and me on his little boat. We headed out on the river to the mangroves, trees that grow in the water. We navigated narrow passages and saw oysters clinging from the roots. And then a dead end … roots hanging down in a semi-circular wall of silence. Truly a place to meditate.

Then it was back out on the open water, skimming across the surface and waving “Bonjour!” to folks in other boats. We were heading towards an island where Jo says people have lived for millions (!) of years, up until about a hundred years ago. For all those eternities, the people ate shellfish, and dropped the shells on the ground. Now there is a long and tall hill, about 100 feet high, composed entirely of shells. Grasses and bushes have grown over the remains of many centuries. The biabab trees stand way above the surface of the land. I crawled inside one and looked out at my friends. It was a sacred space.

As the sun declined, we were back on the boat, destined for a tiny island in the river. And then the birds began to gather on the branches – huge white cranes, large black ones and pelicans. For a half hour, we saw them soar in from all directions, over the low trees. Many hundreds of flying beings were settling down for the night. And we puny human beings got to watch, mostly in silence. Reverence.

There’s much more to come but soon we’ll be walking together to the next village. À bientot!

Notes from the Davis Cup

For the last two days, I’ve been watching men’s tennis at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto. Canada versus the Netherlands. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The place was only half full. I was sad for the players and for me. I’ve been to many sporting events when the building was packed and the energy sky high. I just love that energy. It makes me bigger. It reminds me of the spiritual realms that human beings can reach.

2. On Friday, Milos Raonic was playing a match when his Dutch opponent blasted a ball right at him. It went through Milos’ legs and struck the linesman standing behind. The man or woman (I couldn’t tell) crumpled, and Milos was there in an instant, offering support. That’s what the world needs. Sure, Milos has the status and the big bucks, but we’re all human beings who hurt every so often.

3. These players are so powerful and serve the ball at over 100 miles an hour, but it’s the delicate shots I love – a sliced backhand that seems to go sideways when it hits the court, a big backswing disguising a slow-motion drop shot falling softly out of the opponent’s reach, a lob that arches way over a player’s head and lands six inches inside the baseline. Give me the artists, please.

4. Then there are the very few fans who make a noise just as a Dutch player is starting his serving motion. No one does this when a Canadian is serving. Spare me from the world’s ethnocentric folks … my group is better than your group and maybe I can do something to have my group win. I love cheering for Canada and I also love applauding a brilliant shot, no matter who makes it.

5. The first day, I had a lovely couple on my right and two lovely women on my left. I had a great time bantering in one direction and then the other. Strangers became friends. Caution gave way to smiles. Yesterday the two women sat several seats further to my left. I don’t know why. I had fun with the couple but within that was a sadness, that a relationship had faded, that close had become distant. I hope the two women come back today but they may not. It seems that so much of life is a letting go.

6. The Coca-Cola Coliseum has been the home of the Toronto Marlies hockey team for a long time. They’re one level down from the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Inside the front entrance is a sign: “Building Maple Leafs since 1927.” Very cool. And all around the arena, on the little wall separating the lower seats from the balcony, are many of the team’s leafy logos, each with a name.

“Armstrong 1949” – the year of my birth. And that must be George Armstrong, whom I idolized in the Stanley Cup years of the 1960’s. George was the Leafs’ captain for 13 years. I looked up at all those names and thought of the history of the place. Tennis below … hockey above. May we always remember the history of those we love.

7. Daniel Nestor. The greatest tennis player in Canadian history. And yesterday was his final match, a doubles loss to the Netherlands. Daniel played poorly and later admitted that he wasn’t good enough anymore. Jean-Julien Rojer, his opponent and friend, said “You can say that eventually Father Time was undefeated because it catches up to you.”

Daniel cried as he spoke to the crowd after the match. “I love you guys [the Canadian team]. I love you fans. I love the city.” Well said.

I read an article last night about Daniel retiring. The writer said that Nestor “lost his composure”. Thank God he did. I don’t want to be a composed human being. I want to feel life, down deep in my bones.

Like you, Daniel

History Now

My new condo neighbour “Brad” is a very cool fellow.  He’s well into his 70’s and brimming with appreciation for Belmont, his new home.  Both of us have a cornfield out back that we love.

Brad and I went out for breakfast today at the Belmont Diner.  I wanted to introduce him to the regulars and he enjoyed meeting them, engaging in several conversations.  He’s an easy guy to know.

Brad is a historian.  He’s done lots of research on the Black Donnellys, an Irish family who emigrated to Lucan in Canada in the 1800’s.  The Donnelly clan got involved in some violent disputes with the locals, and many members of the family were killed at their homestead one night in 1880.

I watched Brad’s face as he talked about the Donnellys, about standing by the foundation of their home, about the feelings of the Lucan residents he’s met.  He was living right now in the events of the past, totally engaged in the story.

Brad lived for a time in Fort Erie, Ontario, and I learned of him gathering artifacts from the War of 1812, between the United States and the precursor of Canada.  He talked about the heavy cannonballs that the Americans fired at the British from their ships in the Niagara River, and then told me that he has one of them in his home.  Brad also has a collection of buttons from the tunics of American soldiers.  His eyes were wide as he transported himself back 200 years.

Then there was the native princess who lived by herself in a tent near Minnedosa, Manitoba – Brad’s hometown.  As a young boy, he watched the woman as she sat on a large rock in her native dress, gazing out over Lake Minnedosa.  He would encircle the  rock, trying to draw her into conversation.  But she was in her own world.  In the years since, Brad has tried to figure out who she was, and has collected many arrowheads from a local battleground once shared by two tribes.

Throughout all of this, there was Brad’s face … animated with the stories of the past.  Clearly he is enriched by the journeys of those who have gone before.  History is alive in his soul.

My eyes were opened over bacon and eggs.  The aliveness of Brad merged with my own and I realized that people who lived decades and centuries ago have lessons to teach me.  May I absorb these lessons in order to become a more empathetic person, and may that empathy touch lives in 2018.

 

Hometown Hockey

I grew up in Toronto, where hockey is king.  In the 1960’s, I went to four Stanley Cup parades, all ending on the steps of City Hall, where my heroes gave speeches and held the cup high.  The huge crowd cheered.

The official Hockey Hall of Fame is downtown on Front Street.  Each year, many thousands of fans walk by the memorabilia of the National Hockey League.  But hidden in a back alley in the Weston neighbourhood of the city is a more informal shrine, featuring all things Toronto Maple Leafs.  To find this gem, walk along Weston Road to John Street.  Turn east and watch for the sign pointing to Peter’s Barber Shop.  Pantelis Kalamaris started cutting hair just around the corner in 1961.  As an immigrant from Greece, he decided to change in name to Peter and to embrace the sport of his new country.

On Saturday morning, I reached for the sliding glass door and walked into history.  Hardly a square inch of wall space was available … the rest trumpeted the Leafs in posters, pennants, newspaper articles, pucks and hockey sticks.  I stood there transfixed.  Seeing my wonder, Peter the Younger barber smiled.  He was busy putting the finishing touches on the do of an older gentleman.  The two of them were fully engaged in the merits of the Leafs’ current star – Auston Matthews.

I sat down amid a row of blue folding seats … originals from Maple Leaf Gardens, the team’s home until 1999.  As a kid, I too had occasionally sat on such seats, although we couldn’t afford the blues.

To go from waiting area to barber’s chair, you had to pass through a Gardens turnstile, again just like I had done decades ago.  The floor was covered with various hues of hair.  I asked Peter if any of that was from the Leafs’ stars of the 1960’s.  “No, but I do have some in plastic bags.”  Cool.

Here was one of Johnny Bower’s goalie sticks.  Here was a poster showing the Leafs’ 100 best players of all time, photoshopped into a team photo.  Here was a board hockey game that Peter sometimes plays with his customers.  Of course the barber always plays as the Leafs.

And here was a framed letter from Roger Neilson, a beloved coach of the Leafs and other NHL teams.  Peter the Older had invited him to come to Weston and sign the wall, alongside such luminaries as Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and Red Kelly.  In the letter, Roger said that his doctor wasn’t letting him travel long distances but sometime he’d get to Toronto and sign his John Henry.  But Roger died before that could happen.

It felt that my time was up at Peter’s Barber Shop.  The host and his customers were all friendly (as long as I assured them I wasn’t a fan of the hated Ottawa Senators!)  Like Roger, I vowed to return.  Hopefully unlike Roger, I will.

***

From Pantelis Kalamaris Lane, it was only a ten-minute walk to the Weston Lions Arena.  It was constructed in 1949 (just like me!) and hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs for many practices in the 50’s and 60’s.  Many of the players strolled over to the barber shop for a cut afterwards.

What I had read a few weeks ago was that the arena had the world’s best fries, and who was I to turn down an opportunity like that?  I approached a door that had a back door feel to it but it turned out to be the main entrance.  Then I was in front of the snack bar, with the ice surface beyond, full of boys skating hard and fans shouting encouragement.  I was tempted by the “Not so famous hot dogs” sign but settled for the world-renowned treat.  Pouring on the malt vinegar, I took my French fries and Diet Coke into the stands.

Spectators sat on five rows of wooden benches, some sections red and some blue.  The walls of the arena were two tone blue – robin’s egg contrasted with royal.  It was a lovely assault on the eyes.

  • The kids, maybe 12, were giving ‘er on the ice.  Some flew over the blue line.  Some fell unaided on their tushes.  Goalies stretched for the save.  Forwards dipsydoodled by defensemen, with few passes to be seen.  Coached yelled.  Fans screamed.  I ate.  Gosh, those fries are yummy!

The roof was a curve of bare beams, spotted with metal plates and inch thick cables.  The same as in 1949.  I imagined my Leafs heroes doing their drills on the ice.  Maybe some of these boys in front of me knew the history and were inspired by Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich.  More likely, the names of current Leafs heroes will adorn their backs … Matthews and Marner jerseys.

So hockey has been played here on cold Saturdays for 69 years.  Oh, how a sport can seep into our souls.  Whether the seat is a barber chair or a hard bench,  we live the game.

Day Twenty-Nine … The Wild West

Lance and Nona took us exploring yesterday.  Their home faces west towards the foorhills and the Rockies.  Way over there, angling towards me, is a gravel road.  On my last visit with Jody, I loved seeing a truck kicking up a spume of dust.  It hung in the air for the longest time.  But it’s rained some since I got here.  Only one truck … no dust.  Ah but my time will come.  It’s supposed to be sunny today.

Yesterday I got to be on that very road.  I kept checking the side mirror for dust.  At first nothing.  Later on, though, I saw the telltale cloud – small but it met my needs.  Except I wanted to be back at the house to take in the spectacle.  “Irony,” Lance said.  Where’s the Star Trek transporter when you need it?

We kept driving along the gravel road.  It rolled way back into the foothills, across a few cattleguards (metal pipes in the ground that keep cattle from escaping).  Prairie and stands of birch trees to the left and right, plus expanding views of the mountains.  And then the road ended at someone’s driveway.  I wonder what that person’s life is like.  Living in paradise.  The nearest neighbour kilometres away.  Are they happy?  I hope so.  As they say, that stuff is “an inside job”.

Next we went geocaching.  New to me.  People deposit tiny containers in subtle spots on public property.  Inside there might be a treasure or maybe just a piece of paper so you can mark down that you were there.  If there is a treasure, and you take it, you need to leave something in its place.  The person who creates a geocache goes on the Internet and gives its GPS co-ordinates.

We drove to the entrance of the Bar U Ranch and the GPS said we were right there.  We found a path through the tall grass, which led us to a fence post.  I walked right by it, seeing nothing.  Lance, however, has the eyes of a western hawk.  A dark wire hung from the post, with a loop at the end.  Sitting inside was a little plastic container, about two inches long, which had been painted a dull green – perfect for blending in with fence posts and grass.  Inside were a few pieces of paper full of visitor scribbles.  There had even been someone yesterday morning!  Cool.  And people from the Netherlands recently.  I felt so much like Bruce The Explorer.

Now, on to the Bar U, a Parks Canada historic site.  The ranch started sometime in the 1800s.  We toured around the historic buildings and met historic people.  A woman in pioneer dress showed us her kitchen, including an old black metal stove that took me back to my grandma on the farm near Lindsay, Ontario.  She had just whipped up some cinnamon buns and I was too weak to resist.  She told us that when the men were having dinner (at noon) in the cookhouse, they weren’t allowed to speak.  It was all business.  Wolf down your food and get back to work.  Yuck.  I spent one summer working on my former father-in-law Ellwood’s farm.  I remember breakfast and dinner at a long table with the regular farmhands.  Those platters were sure piled high!  And we yapped a lot.  Back at the Bar U, our hostess also showed us a crokinole board.  I remembered it from my childhood.  You use checker pieces and try to knock your opponent’s pieces off the board.  It was fun, then and now.

I especially enjoyed visiting with Lewis, a saddlemaker who keeps a guitar in the corner of his shop.  Sure looked like a cowboy to me, with his Western hat, red bandana, rough white shirt and jeans.  I invited him to sing the song he was telling us about.  The title was something like “I’ll Pay You Back When My Sister Gets A Job.”  He was hilarious.  He told us about a friend of his who sings Italian arias.  Not to be outdone, I told Lewis “I’d like to sing you an area.”  “Sure.  Go ahead.”  And so I did.  Here goes:

“Two metres by three metres equals six square metres.”  He laughed.  Actually, he laughed all through our visit.  I liked him.

We ended our journey through Alberta history with a wagon ride back to the visitor centre, pulled by two white Percheron horses – really big guys.  I felt like chewing on a wheat stalk.  But I guess I’m more of a T-shirt and shorts type of fellow.

***

And now, a concluding message from Nona, the lady of the house:

“Ride on!”