St. Andrew-by-the-Lake

I got on the tiny ferry to Toronto Island this morning, and a chilly, windy one it was.  Go inside or stand at the bow.  An easy choice, and I loved watching the ducks take off as our vessel chugged into the fog.  I kept hoping that one duckie would be brave enough not to fly, that it would just steer clear of the big metal thing.  No such luck.

Once ashore I wandered the narrow paths between the Ward’s Island houses.  Many were tiny.  I loved the ones that were lit from within.  Such a cozy place to call home.  Flowers and bushes were past their seasonal best and the trees arched over me in their skeletal blackness.  My coat and toque kept me warm.  I was happy.

It was time to wander down the island to the church.  I came upon a geodesic dome, about fifteen feet tall.  Lots of silver metal triangles.  As I got closer, an intricate web of black ropes revealed itself.  A climber!  The shapes inside were squares and hexagons.  I imagined kids loving every second above the earth.  The floor was a spongy rubber, ready to cushion the occasional fall.  I smiled.  Waydago, designing adults.

And then the church … brunch at 12:30, folk concert at 2:00.  I knew no one but I didn’t think that would last for long.  And it didn’t.  Anne and I talked about the brilliance of Stan Rogers, a singer-songwriter who died in a smoke-filled plane in 1983.  And not just talk.  The two of us broke into a rollicking chorus from Northwest Passage:

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea

Soon I met Julia, Roger, Jo, Linda and Karen.  We all sat at the same long table and chatted away as we dug into salads, beans, squash and cheesecake, all grown in island gardens (with the possible exception of the cheesecake).  The church was a small wooden structure built in 1884, all white outside and all brown wood inside.  The tall stained glass windows included Jesus praying at Gethsemane.  Lovely all around.

Our musicians were a guitarist from California and a violinist from Toronto.  They showed us Bach and Vivaldi and an Irish reel and a Balkan dance.  We clapped and cheered as the sound surrounded.

Outside the wind was whipping the season’s first snow sideways.  Inside the building and inside our bodies, all was well.

It’s a community I found today and I became a part of it.  Blessedly home.

Fear Of Colour

I’m living in the Comfort Inn in St. Thomas, Ontario for about fifteen days.  My condo in Belmont should be ready for me sometime between September 15 and 20.

Jane is the interior designer I hired to “stage” my home in Union for sale and to help me design my new living spaces.  A couple of weeks ago, it was time for us to decide on colours for the walls.  You’ll be happy to know that as well as a warm white, I’ve picked bright red, green, teal, yellow, purple and blue, as well as a cozy reddish brown for the den.  I love them all!  At one point when Jane saw the directions I was heading, tears came to her eyes.

How strange that along with the grief in losing my dear wife Jody comes an unexpected silver lining:  I don’t have to run wall colours by anyone else, except getting Jane’s opinion … It’s the Bruce show.

My bedroom will be teal – both walls and ceiling, with a warm white crown molding separating the two surfaces.  It’ll look so cool.  The new owners of my former home in Union asked for Jody’s and my reddish wood sleigh bed in their offer to purchase so I needed to buy a new headboard, footboard and rails.

Friday I went to The Brick on a furniture hunt.  I rounded corner after corner with nothing singing to me.  And then, there sat a creamy white bed with a sweetly curving headboard.  And I’m pretty sure there was a sign hanging on it saying “B-R-U-C-E”.  I fell in love.

Soon thereafter, I realized I could buy a matching dresser, mirror, chest and two night tables, all for a very good price.  I wanted to leap to the sky but I felt myself contracting.  “I must see if Jane thinks this stuff will go in my bedroom.”  So I texted her, even though she had told me the day before that she was heading off on a week’s vacation.  No answer Friday.  No answer yesterday morning.

As I waited for a text that probably wouldn’t be coming for a few days, I thought about Bruce.  The guy has some design skills.  He can recognize “esthetically pleasing” (most of the time).  And I noticed that over the past few weeks, I’d fallen into the trap of depending on the professional’s opinion.  Thank God Jane agreed with me about the bold colours.  But here I sat, afraid to say to myself “This works.”  Afraid to be the sole one choosing.  Afraid to head back to The Brick with my MasterCard.

I just watched this fear, as a good Buddhist is wont to do.  My body was rigid.  And then it wasn’t.  And then it was again.  Then another letting go.

I got in Scarlet
I drove to The Brick
I sat on my bed
I opened the drawers of my dresser
I looked in the mirror to see who was there
And I pulled out my credit card

Done deal

Becoming Home

I went to the site of my condo today.  Two days ago, the cement foundation was all there was to see.  As I walked towards 12-132 Robin Ridge Drive in Belmont, there was wood!  The base floor was laid and one of the walls of the garage was up.  Oh, Lordy.  I’m just a bit excited.

As I rounded my neighbours’ home, there sat the crew, enjoying a lunch break in the shade.  I asked if I might join them and was welcomed in.  Five young men, happy to talk and happy to share my newspaper.  We were just folks, playing differing roles in the erection of my home, but all needing some respite from the power of the sun.

Soon it was time for them to get back to work and for me to resume gazing upon my emerging kingdom.  Except that the sun’s rays had found their way to our sanctuary.  I looked across the street at a condo that was for sale.  The porch was in shade, and soon my lawn chair and I were too.

The guys had arranged a bunch of 2×4’s on the floor and were soon power stapling to beat the band.  My home … appearing before my eyes.  Those young men were working hard for me in the heat.  Thank you, gentlemen.

Number 12 was no longer just a flat expanse of grey concrete.  That one vertical wall would soon be joined by another.  I decided to record this on my laptop in real time but even in the shade I couldn’t see the screen.  So I got up from my throne, left it sitting there, and drove to … here – the library.  Soon I’ll return to the scene of the action and will no doubt resume my state of ownership bliss.  I’ve never had a new home.  I’ve never seen it take shape.  And I’ve never been a Belmontonian.  Soon.

Letting Go Of Place

Jody and I bought our home near Union, Ontario in 1994.  For twenty years, it was our sanctuary, our place of intimacy and repose.  But gradually since Jody died in November, 2014, home became house.  For most of the last six weeks, I’ve looked at many of our shared objects, asking myself whether they still sing.  Most of them don’t and so have found their way to an auction company, a donation centre or the dump.

Jody’s spirit is everywhere within 6265 Bostwick Road, especially the kitchen, where she was the master of gourmet meals.  And so it’s time for me to move on.  And my sweet wife is coming along for the ride.

Last Friday, I put our home on the market.  How surreal to see the “For Sale” sign out by the road.  Twenty-two years ago, Jodiette and I posed for a photo near that spot, just after signing the deal.  In two months, we’d be resident on “the road that goes to Union”.  I remember our first night, eating pizza on our furniture-less living room floor.  The seller, Jim Johnston, told our realtor that he picked us because he wanted to give his home to “that nice young couple”.

Last night, another nice young couple made an offer which I accepted.  I hope they have kids someday and that their family experiences great happiness on Bostwick.  In the offer, they asked for the beautiful reddish wood sleigh bed that Jody and I shared.  My first reaction was “No way!” but half an hour later there was another letting go.  Our bed was the centre of our intimate life – sex yes, but also thousands of nighttime cuddles.  May thousands more take place in its embrace.  I’ll choose a new bedframe and wait for the next love of my life to appear.  She’ll be here next week, next year or next lifetime.  I’m a patient soul.

Goodbye Bostwick (on August 24).  Hello Robin Ridge Drive.  Home again.

Homeless

Jody and I bought our home on Bostwick Road in 1994.  It’s been the scene of our joys and some sorrows.  Cuddling on the couch in the family room.  Enjoying evening fires on the patio.  Being together during my dear wife’s illness, including a day when Jodiette took 400 steps with her walker on the driveway.  Home.

Except it’s not that anymore.  The energy of Jody and Bruce is everywhere I look.  All those moments together, tied to the house and the yard.  Spots inside and out are no longer magic … they’re flat.  How can that be?  Well, it doesn’t matter how.  It just is.

Jody and I planted three magnolia bushes on our front lawn when we moved in.  Today they’re trees 20 feet tall.  Last week they were in full glorious bloom, white flowers with a touch of pink and the sweetest scent.  Absolute beauty in the world.  In previous Mays I plunked a folding chair amid them and drank in the glory.  But in 2016 I didn’t want to do that.  I should want to, said my brain.  I decided to follow my heart and stay away.  How fascinating to be in paradise but not feeling it.  Wow.  I need to be somewhere else (such as a lovely-to-be condo in Belmont).

I don’t want to sit on my patio and listen to the birds.  I don’t want to sink deep into my couch.  I don’t want to sit in my man chair, eating breakfast and reading the paper.

Jody understands.  “Create a new life, Bruce, in a new home.  It’s not that you’re forgetting me.  You’ll be flying again, and I’ll be there with you.”  Thank you, my love.  Fly I will.

Condo … Part Two

 

I walked into the Belmont Diner and sat down, ready for poached eggs, bacon, home fries, brown toast … and peanut butter.  When Chrystal saw me, she came right over.  “I was wrong.  Glenn’s condos aren’t on Manning Drive.  They’re on the northeast corner of town, by the water tower.”  Okay then.   Once I finish slurping my coffee, I’ll head out there to get the lay of the land.  Shortly thereafter, the door opens and in walks a guy.  He sits beside me at the horseshoe lunch counter.  Chrystal makes an appearance once more.  “This is Glenn.  And Glenn, this is the guy I told you about.”  Serendipity!

We gabbed and chewed a bit and then he suggested I come over to see the model home.  Fifteen minutes later I was at his doorstep.  We talked and walked for an hour-and-a-half.  From the map of the development, it looked like there was a lot available backing onto the farmer’s field to the north … a long view.  Something I treasure.

There was a cheque in my pocket earmarked for Wellington Manor, the big condo building in St. Thomas.  I whipped it out and re-earmarked it to Glenn.  There.  Deposit delivered.  Home reserved.  Bruce happy.  Should I have done more research, more thinking?  Naw.  Lot 4 at 12 Robin Ridge Drive was calling my name.  Strike while the iron is hot and all that.

In the week between then and now, I’ve met lots of my fellow condoers, mostly by walking around and saying hi.  I even knocked on my next door neighbour’s door to welcome her to my world.  Sharon very kindly showed me all through her home.  Oh my goodness.  In four months I’ll be in a very similar sanctuary, with Bruceness inserted into every nook and cranny.

Glenn and I have pored over the plans and come to an agreement about the design.  And yesterday I went to Patene’s to pick out brick and shingles.  Among the brick colours available for Glenn’s condos was a warm orangish-brown variety, with some of the bricks having a touch of grey or white.  Beautiful.  I asked for the addresses of homes that were built using this colour and found out that only three homes in the entire London region qualified.  “Weird,” I thought.  There were 50 or 60 homes constructed with my second favourite brick – a reddish brown hue.

Oh well, I guess my tastes are different from the vast majority.  I drove off to London to view my colour.  Google had given me directions and the target structure was number 2088 on a curving street.  As the road moved leftward, I checked out the numbers … 2044, 2048, 2052.  And then what to my wondering eyes should appear but a two-storey home decked out in the most lovely orangish-brown brick.  I pulled Scarlet to a halt, got out and leaned against my car.  I just stared.  The brick sang to me.  It was so beautiful.  So warm, so homey, so me.

Tomorrow the journey continues.

Condo … Part One

Here I sit in my big home, surrounded by nearly an acre of grass.  This is where Jody and I thrived and suffered, and thrived some more.  My dear wife is everywhere here, cheering me on.  I’m looking over to the couch where we cuddled for many a movie.  And there’s the kitchen, where Jodiette created brilliant meals.  (Sigh)

What’s true is that I don’t want to live here anymore.  The energy within is loving.  It’s also of the past.  I need a new start.  Part of my bursting forth is becoming a member at the Tarandowah Golfers Club near Avon, Ontario.  I love the beauty there.  Saw a red fox a couple of days ago.  But Tarandowah is a 40 minute drive from Union.  Can’t I live somewhere closer?

Two weeks ago, I discovered the aura of Belmont, a town of maybe 2000 west of the golf course.  I was trying to create the perfect golfing day, and unearthed a breakfast spot (The Belmont Diner), a place to read (The Belmont Library) and a pub (The Barking Cat).  Cool.  But now that I had set up my perfect day, where would I hang my hat?  (Actually I don’t wear one.)

On Friday, April 29, I asked Chrystal, the owner of the Diner, if there were any condos in Belmont.  I was guessing there weren’t.  “I think that one of my customers is building some out on Manning Drive.  Go check it out.”  So I moseyed over to the northwest edge of town and found lovely new single family dwellings … but no condos.  Oh well, I guess Chrystal was wrong.

A few days before, I stood in the presentation centre of a future condo building in St. Thomas, a city of 35000 just north of Union (about 30 minutes from Tarandowah).  I liked the layout of a small unit and over time decided to put down a deposit of $5000.  I didn’t really enjoy the area of town, but it was a condo, and I didn’t want any more yard work.

On Saturday, April 30, I left home with a cheque in my pocket.  I remembered that Chrystal had said she’d talk to Glenn, the builder, about me being interested in a condo.  Oh, what the heck, why not drive out to Belmont for breakfast first, and then go back to St. Thomas for the deposit?  Couldn’t hurt.

It didn’t.

 

My Golf … The Course

Can you fall in love with a piece of land?  I say yes.  For me, it’s the Tarandowah Golfers Club near Avon, Ontario.  Years ago, the farmers who owned the property decided that they wanted to build a championship golf course there.  They recruited a British golf architect, Martin Hawtree, to create a masterpiece in rural Southern Ontario.  And Martin came through.

Tarandowah is a links course, which usually means a track by the sea with dry fairways, deep pot bunkers, wild fescue grass in the rough … and wind.  My home way from home has all that, except for waves lapping on the shore.  It’s an environment of the heart for me.  For the first time in my life, I’ve found a course where I love every hole.  All eighteen of them have character, the sense of a unique place in the world.  And there aren’t any condo developments surrounding the fairways … just more farm land.  The content thrives within a context of peace, lingering and birds on the wing.

I would love to get to the point where the score matters not.  Walking on the land does.  Hitting some shots that fly off the clubface and touch the sky.  Finding the out-of-the-way spots between fairways, high points of land where I can see much of the journey through the front and back nines.  A relationship to the earth.

I think of the sixth hole, a honey of a par four with an elevated tee and a big mound of fescue in the middle of the fairway.  That’s not a mistake.  It’s an opportunity to see that life throws us lots of curve balls.  A fine drive that ends up in six inches of grass.  A hard fairway that turns a “down the middle” drive into a sideways bounce, plopping my ball into a deep sand trap.

I yearn to find companions who will join with me in seeing the beauty of the holes before having thoughts about the golf swing.  People who will pause in wonder on the tees before smacking the little white ball down the fairway.  Folks who love Tarandowah … and may the score rest where it does.

I yearn to be a member out there near Avon.  To come to the course as the sun rises.  To just sit near the 13th green, way out at the far end of Tarandowah, letting the beauty in.

There are over a hundred deep bunkers.  What if I wanted to spend time in each of them?  Was okay with my ball bouncing into the creek that pops its head up all over the place?  Smiled after my final scorecard count was 120?  Would that be golf?  I think so.

Perfect

Now that I’m back in London, I’m rediscovering my worldly life.  I found out on Saturday evening that I missed the St. Mary Choir School Christmas concert.  It was last Thursday.  But today from 11:00 till 1:00, the Chamber Orchestra and Grade 8 carolers were performing in St. Peter’s Basilica and I was going to see them, hoping to say Merry Christmas to the kids I know.

Sudden update:  On Saturday night in Worcester, Massachusetts, I looked at the St. Mary’s website and found this concert.  It said “St. Joseph’s”, not St. Peter’s!  (Sigh)  Sudden all right, because I just figured that out as I was typing.  Eighty-four days of almost complete silence and I forgot the name of the church.

You know the rest.  I showed up at St. Peter’s, expecting to see legions of uniformed students climbing the steps.  No one there.  And virtually no one inside.  Maybe ten folks praying.

I felt a twinge of sadness.  I wouldn’t be seeing these children before Christmas.  But only a twinge.  Peace descended.  I sat down and meditated to the strains of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, sung through CD in the lofty heights of the sanctuary by a boy choir.  And then more lilting songs, given from far away to the warmth of my mind.  So quiet.

After the meditation retreat, I’m very quiet inside.  There seems to be space around each cell of my body.  The moment of the moment is entirely sufficient.  There’s virtually no leaning forward towards some “better” spot in time.  The choir sings.  I think of the kids and wish them well.

Just as it is
Fine by me

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.