The Santa Parade

I couldn’t help myself last night.  I just had to dress up like Charles Dickens for the Belmont Santa Claus Parade.  It was full regalia: dress shirt and tie, top hat, long dress coat and a red scarf (courtesy of the TFC soccer team).  Oh, and I used spirit gum to develop an instant moustache, a black handlebar jobbie.

I walked down Main Street to the staging area an hour before the departure time, coming across various gaggles of humanity.  Each time, I announced myself as Charles Dickens, arrived earlier in the day from England, and asked if there was a parade happening soon.  Most people laughed and joined in the fun.  One couple playfully directed me to the wrong end of town.  A few folks just stared but that’s okay.  I guess I was an abrupt shock.

Down at parade central, I joshed with kids and adults, many of whom I knew, as the rain began.  It would last for the next hour.  My task was to walk beside the Belmont Diner float, handing out mini-chocolate bars.  Based on my parading two years ago, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.  Kids deserved their five seconds of eye contact.  So my bag was plum full of tasty treats.  I felt “like a peddler, just opening his pack.”  Strength training here I come.

As our cavalcade spilled onto Main Street, there were the kids … hundreds of them on the route.  One bar for each small human, and a huge mustachioed smile.  “Merry Christmas!”,  “God bless us everyone”, and other assorted holiday greetings.  I mentioned to the adults that they’d get chocolate if they were under 15, and many of them happily volunteered that they were.  The ones who spoke up got a bar.  Why not?

I told a few kids that hidden beneath the plastic wrapping of their treat was a lovely piece of broccoli.  Pained faces, until I corrected that to chocolate, “which as we all know is one of Canada’s four major food groups.  By the way, the other three are also chocolate.”  So … many smiles.

I saw lots of kids I knew, and received several hugs from children who could see beneath my disguise to the Mr. Kerr within.  I only forgot one name and awkwardly looked at the boy for a few seconds after “Merry Christmas”.  I was sad that I couldn’t remember his name.  After all, he was in the class where I volunteered last year.  But that’s life.  Perfection is not me.

I was so happy to see people, young and old, who are part of my life.  And they were happy to see me.  Belmont has been my home for two years and now I belong.  What a sweet feeling.

As someone wise once said
“Home is where the heart is”

Coffee Shop

I’m sitting in a Tim Hortons in London, gazing at the span of humanity before me. People-watching is so much fun.

Across the way, two guys and a girl, all seniors I’d guess, are having a grand old time. They’re probably setting a world’s record for laughs per minute. I can’t quite hear their topics of conversation but it seems like they’re not laughing at anyone. It’s more like they’re chuckling at life. Every so often they greet someone in line so these folks must be regulars.

Off to my right, another old guy sits alone. He’s wearing a grey plaid beret, plus a scowl. Wow, does he look unhappy. His arms are crossed and he’s looking down. Such a contrast to the laughers nearby. I ponder going over and talking to him, but leaving him alone and wishing him well feels like a better plan. So that’s what I do.

I look at the teenager who served me half an hour ago. Her face is pretty, when you think of Hollywood. It’s buried, however, under a white coat of makeup. And there’s a paleness about her spirit too. She filled my order with the contact of a robot. I felt like a “thing” in her eyes. Still, I also wish her well. May she discover what’s truly beautiful in our world.

Now a young guy sits down with the laughers. Green ball cap, camouflage jacket, heavy growth on his face. F-in this and F-in that. Complaining about someone or something almost continually. The smiling ones adjust and smile some more.

I switch seats to watch the parade of cars at the drive-thru. Faces waiting in line:

A young man at the wheel, passenger seat empty, an elderly woman in the back. What does that mean?

A 60-something woman wearing a bright red coat, surgical mask tucked under her chin. What could this story be?

A blue Dodge Ram truck looming above me, with two bearded fellows talking loudly to each other.

A teenaged girl driving her mom, I suppose -the young one gesturing in the air and the old one smiling.

A black SUV climbs the curb. Inside, there’s a grey-haired fellow with a black coat and sunglasses. I look to see if there’s an earpiece.

And beyond the drive-thru lane is the traffic on Wellington Road. The flow of human beings, slowed only by red lights. I’m in the midst of us and it’s a pleasure to be here. Home is not alone. Home is with you.

Finding Home

Most Wednesday evenings, I go to a house concert, generously hosted by Christine and John. Jake does a first set on the piano, followed by the feature performer of the evening.

Not only does Jake entertain us, he teaches. Last night, he talked about “home”, the resolution of notes that sooner or later leads to a feeling of completion. Take John Lennon’s Imagine, for instance. Early in the song, we’re flowing upwards:

Imagine all the people, living for today

But at the end, John brings us down again with a sweet message, and we know we’re “there” … we’re comfy … we’re home:

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Jake played the tune Misty for us, written by Erroll Garner. It’s a haunting melody and, at the same time, it wanders around, away from home, toying with us. For it seems that our dear human ears (and souls) want to go home. As Jake’s fingers caress the keys, it feels like I’m being seduced, drawn in and let go, again and again. Only at the last note do I breathe the sigh of “yes”.

Some songs are long ballads, where home shows up at the end of every four-line stanza. Take Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair:

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one that lives there
For once she was a true love of mine

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without any seam or fine needlework
And then she’ll be a true love of mine

Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Where water ne’er sprung nor drop of rain fell
For once she was a true love of mine

The rhythm is hypnotic but there’s a sameness there that I yearn to break out of.

***

I guess it’s all in the ear of the beholder
Are we nomads?
Are we homebodies?
Or do we dance between the two?

Day Ten: The Pull of Home

I said goodbye to Kayla yesterday morning. She too is on a spiritual path, one quite different from mine. When we go out to dinner, it’s obvious that we have some contrasting perspectives but there’s a celebration in the space. “I’m so glad that you and I have a spiritual life. It brings our words alive.”

As soon as I moved behind the wheel of Scarlet, I could feel the tug – Canada, Belmont, home. There was no sense at all of getting rid of the United States. My last ten days have been full to the brim with precious moments, all of them centered on the presence of one or two other human beings. Those were shining times and now I want to bask in the light of folks who sit at the counter of the Belmont Diner.

I felt immense peace as I followed Scarlet up Highway 23 from Columbus, then 15, 68 and the I-75. I guess I passed a car or two but mostly it was a flood of humanity zooming by on my left. I wished them well, with the possible exception of the truck driver who just about ripped off my front bumper as he pulled back into the curb lane. Oh heck, I’ll wish him well, too!

The freeway through Detroit was surprisingly light with traffic and soon I was on the approach to the Ambassador Bridge to Canada. As Scarlet climbed, I glanced at the water below. No boundary down there or up here on the bridge. Just folks on both sides. You could describe them as American or Canadian but identity goes infinitely deeper than that.

A leisurely two hours to Belmont. Tonight there was a community fish fry at the arena and both my stomach and heart wanted to go. I climbed the steps to the big meeting room with anticipation. The place was packed but as I looked around I realized that I only knew about twenty people. I’ve lived in Belmont for two years now and I want to know far more locals than that. “It’s okay, Bruce. It’ll come.”

My favourite conversation of the evening was with a girl I’ll call Terri. Two years ago, I volunteered in her Grade 6 classroom. Now she goes to another school in another town. I hardly ever see her. We talked about this and that, including her eagerness to take Drama and Art when she goes to high school next year.

As I looked at her, I knew that I loved her. She’s so spontaneous … so very much herself. While we continued talking, I realized that I wanted nothing back from her. Not her time, not her compliments – nothing. And that’s a very sweet kind of love.

I’m home
I’m happy
I’m me

Day Ten: The Plane

First the breakfast. I walked by two fit-looking fellows and said hi. I soon found out that Clive and Alen had just completed a cross-country bicycle ride. I chose not to mention my recent Tour du Canada experiences but instead showed my appreciation of their achievement.

“Do you think you’ll look back on this as a life-changing experience?”

“No. It’s just something else for the bucket list.”

I wasn’t expecting that answer. Turns out that the two of them specialize in crossing countries on their bicycles. Twice they’ve “done” the USA. This fall is Africa. Just part of a cycling lifestyle.

How different these guys’ lives are from mine. And that’s just fine. No better or worse … just different. I love hearing of other folks’ journeys.

Alen and Clive talked about cars bombing by less than a metre from their handlebars, how so few drivers will pull over a bit or wait if there’s oncoming traffic. Many is the time that they’ve had to veer off into the gravel. Now why does all that sound awfully familiar? Just listening to them moved my heart into my throat.

Next was Brian, my cab driver to the airport. He loves St. John’s because everyone is so “laid back”. “Hurry” just isn’t in the vocabulary. Brian is a passionate Montreal Canadiens hockey fan and I’m a lover of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Along the road, we talked hockey, about the great Canadiens players of the past, such as Henri Richard and Jean Beliveau. Not a whiff of antagonism between us.

Now I’m flying high aboard WestJet’s flight to Toronto. I have a window seat in Row 4. The rows ahead are for “Plus” passengers. The three seats on the left side of Row 3 hold two people. The middle seat boasts a tray with two cup holders. So one of the basics of Plus is that you don’t have to sit beside anyone. Speaking to your seatmate would be over a greater distance. No doubt the folks ahead will have a fancy meal but how sad that “better” includes isolation from other human beings.

Jimmy is sitting next to me. He works in Ottawa but is a true Newfoundlander, friendly and “down home”, with a wonderful thick accent. He ordered a rum and coke, offering cash to the flight attendant, except that WestJet accepts credit cards only. Both the fellow to Jimmy’s right and the handsome guy to the left were ready to pay with credit cards … but the female employee gave Jimmy his drink for free. Waydago, WestJet!

A male flight attendant is serving the Plus passengers. He’s an older fellow (younger than me) and I like watching him. Even from a distance I see his easy smile and the graceful way he moves as he pours wine or delivers a dessert. Nothing forced, just natural. Clearly he likes people. Very cool.

A couple of minutes ago, we were coming in for a landing at Toronto Airport. “Wow. Look how big those homes are getting!” And then they weren’t. They were getting small again. A few seconds later, our plane was swooping gently to the left. Out my window, there was the world of solid ground. Happily the pilot came on the intercom to announce that another plane was slow in getting off the runway so we were going on “a tour of Toronto”. He was so calm and reassuring. Now we’re on final approach number two. May the wings be with us.

Touchdown! Piece of cake.

Now I’m on the bus from Toronto to London. A young Chinese woman has sat down beside me. Yan Nan Gu has been in the air from China for 14 hours. And she’s just given me an orange candy. What a sweet thing to do.

Yan Nan was going to give me her English name but I really wanted to know her real one. She’s in fashion marketing at Fanshawe College in London and is a delightful human being to talk to. We’re laughing a lot.

I keep struggling with her name but I’m determined to say it right, to spell it right, to know the real person. We smile and bow as we say goodbye.

***

And now only one word remains … home
It’s where I am

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.