An Earlier Life

I love sitting at the counter of the Belmont Diner.  I get to joke with the regulars and meet some new folks too.  Separate tables are a part of life but you don’t get to know people that way.

The topics of conversation are all over the map: politics, sports, occupations, local gossip, philosophy, religion, travel … they all make an appearance.  The farmers have their own lingo, which I understand, sort of.  “Too wet to get into the field … Guess what I saw at the equipment show?”  And the hours needed to take care of all those cows.

This morning at breakfast, “Steve” ventured into the past.  He was a snowplow operator for decades.  Sometimes it was school parking lots and sometimes the open highway.  If there’d been a storm, Steve hopped on at 7:00 pm and hopped off at 8:00 am.  Just the concept of working all night boggles me.  I know what it’s like to be on the road when the snow blows the visibility away but having to concentrate like anything for 13 hours?  Whoa.  And maybe there wasn’t any chance to sleep during the daytime before.  Exhaustion and a whiteout.  “You just got used to it.”

I’m looking across the counter at a hero who doesn’t often talk about his escapades.  But once Steve gets going on the topic …

One night he was in the cab of the plow, coaching a new driver.  They could vaguely make out a car parked on the shoulder, and Steve thought he could see inside too easily.  The driver’s window was down!  “Get the blade up!”  Too late.  The snow piled in, filling the compartment nicely.  Later they found out that the driver was furious.  Somehow Steve omitted the part about what happened next.

Another time, a very small car (maybe a Volkswagen beetle) got caught up in the blade and was carted along for miles.  The visibility was so bad that Steve had no clue about his passenger until he slowed for an intersection.

Oh, I love these stories.  Now I have to figure out how to keep drawing out such tales from my counter companions.  I can do it.  I want to do it.  There are glowing moments hidden just under the surface of the bodies drinking coffee beside me.

Jodiette Fifteen Months Later

My dear wife Jody died in November, 2014 and here we are in February, 2016.  How I still miss her.  I remember our walks, our talks and our cuddling.  I remember her wonderful smile.

I’m alone in our home now.  And I’m just getting comfortable with the words “my home”.   Every morning and every night, I stand in front of a photo of Jody that I took in Quebec City in 2008.  We’re in a restaurant and she’s looking at me with love.  Now I moisten the index finger of my right hand and press it to her lips.  “I love you, Jodiette.”  And the answer comes, “I love you, Bruce … very much.”

We still talk  every day and no doubt some people wonder when I tell them that.  It’s okay.  We all have our own perspective on what’s real.  “I’m here, husband.  I want you to be happy.  It’s time to find a new love.  I’m cheering you on.”  With my wife’s urging, I’ve signed up for the dating website Zoosk.  I’ve had one date with a happy woman and we’re going out to dinner next week.  Time will tell.

I don’t cry for Jody every day.  I’d say it’s about two out of three.  My eyes fill with tears when the moment beckons.  The timing is unpredictable.  Many times, instead of getting choked up, a little smile crosses my face as I think of my dear one.  We had our joys, we had our problems, and always we had our love.   Thank you, Jodiette, for staying with me, for continuing to love me.

New chapters will reveal themselves and Jody will journey through them with me.  I’ll be able to give myself fully to whomever emerges as my future love without Jody looming over the new relationship.  But my wife will be with me always.

I was in Wimpy’s Diner a couple of days ago for breakfast.  Kelly is a waitress there and we had a good talk.  I had given her a copy of Jody’s book.  She told me that her young daughter saw Jody’s picture on the cover.

“Mommy, her very beautiful.”

After Kelly told the girl our story, the wise one said, “Her more pretty now that her an angel.”

Thank you, little girl.  You’re so right.

 

 

Day Twenty … Love Lives On

On Sunday morning, I set off on a journey of reunion.  To Vancouver International Airport.  Seeking out international flights, of the arrivals variety.  I got a coffee, sat down and watched folks travel up the ribboned tunnel of carpet … from Japan, Singapore, and finally England.  A very special passenger would soon be smiling at me … my former wife Rita.  We were married in Barons, Alberta in 1988 and were divorced seven years later.  Two people going in different directions.  One of our lawyers said that it was the most amicable divorce she had ever seen.

***

Interlude

I’m sitting on Beryl’s couch in Yakima, Washington.  She’s Rita’s sister.  Sadie, her little fluffy white dog, has just leapt up onto the couch to be with me.  She pokes her head my way.  I lift my fingers from the keyboard and place one hand on each side of her face.  I do believe I saw a smile.

***

I’m blabbing away to a couple when a woman stops past the ribbon, smiles and says “Bruce”.  I don’t recognize her.  I even forget where I am.  Seconds later … “Rita” and I’m hurrying to intercept her.  We hug.

Rita took me out to a lovely fish and chip restaurant that hangs over the water at the Steveston Marina.  It’s a little neighbourhood within Greater Vancouver, the perfect size for human beings.  A window table.  We laugh.  And the smile across the table was the same one that I saw in a young woman 40 years before as we snuggled on a single bed in the residence of the University of Lethbridge.  Rita has made her mark in art education, has travelled to 64 countries and has often been treated as a queen during her speaking engagements.  And that’s all wonderful.  But as I gleefully consumed my salmon fish and chips, we were “just folks”, talking about life past and present and enjoying each other’s company.  The Superman suit she sewed for me way back when.  Two months ago, at a bike ride for Heart and Stroke, I wore the shirt with the stylized “S” and the brilliant red cape.  (The red shorts gave out years ago.)  I introduced her to Vancouver, a place where she’s now lived for 25 years or so.  Marrying Dave four years ago.  Jody being ill and dying last November.  Topics past and present.  All infused with smiles.

Life is such a mystery.  Love doesn’t die.  We make mistakes.  We carry on.  We do our best.  We remember fun times.  We smile.

Day Seven … 1975 and 1324

I roamed around Lethbridge yesterday in Scarlet.  Many of my musings were about my first wife Rita.  We were married for seven years and divorced in 1985.  And on August 9, I’ll be visiting her and her husband Dave near Vancouver.  I’m so glad that we’re still friends.

I think it was for two years (1975-1977) that Rita and I slept on a single bed in a residence room at the University of Lethbridge.  Now that’s true love!  We worked hard, training to be teachers, and laughed a lot.  We had great friends in the residence and out.  I remember setting up a table and having meals on a stairwell landing.  I remember shooting the breeze in the cafeteria, and sometimes having profs sit down to chat.

I roamed University Hall yesterday and reminisced.  The U of L is a long, dramatic building set into the coulees – hills that slope down from the prairie to the Old Man River 300 feet below.  In the winter, with a dusting of snow, the coulees past the far shore looked like people sleeping under blankets.  Cool.  I remember Rita and I sometimes not leaving the university for a month or more when it was super cold outside.

I descended from the main level 6 down a stairwell that held the ghosts of dinners, and pulled on the door to section D4, our old sleeping place.  Locked.  Protected from intruders and my memories.  I went into a lecture hall … yes, I remember.  And sat in what’s left of the cafeteria.  Hi, Rita.

Where to next, Bruce?  How about the home that Rita and I bought in 1978 (for $48,000!)  It was a lovely two bedroom sanctuary with white metal siding and a great shade tree in the backyard.  1324 7th Ave. South.  I held my breath as I rounded the corner a block away.  And there was my old friend, now adorned with a bright red front door, which looked great.  I parked on the street by the side of my no-longer-home, just like I did every night 35 years ago.

***

Another pleasant interlude.  Ray just came in from the yard and we got talking.  For some reason, he referred to himself as “nonchalant”.  Being the shy type, I thought of not sharing the following, but the imp in me couldn’t resist.  “Have you ever thought, Ray, about what a chalant person is like?  I’ve roamed the world and never come across one yet.”  (Smile from Jody’s uncle)  Okay, enough said, which will definitely be my stance on September 12 when I begin that long silent meditation retreat.  But I regress …

***

I walked up the front sidewalk and knocked on that red door.  Dad and I had installed it long ago.  I had attached the big wooden 1 3 2 4 numbers that adorned the siding to the left of the door.  Oh, what a handy fellow I was!

A young man opened the door.  I smiled and told him my story.  He smiled back and invited me in.  I met his wife and went on about Mom and Dad visiting Rita and me from Ontario, and Dad and I building the cedar fence to enclose the backyard.  Dad was the brains and I was the brawn.  Hmm … or maybe Dad was both the brains and brawn, and I hammered a few nails.  I recollected Rita and I sitting in the cozy living room.  I told the young folks that I had planted the Russian olive trees that graced the side yard … trees which now showed personal growth from 3 feet to 20.  I loved the few minutes in my old home.

I walked outside and strolled towards our fence.  I put my hand on a board and remembered my father.  “You did a good job, Dad.  Thank you for being here with me.”  Some tears.  I was a pretty good son to Mom and Dad but I could have been a lot better.  “So forgive yourself, Bruce.”  Yes.

Quite the journey …these lives of ours.  I’m glad I’m along for the ride.

Day Five … R and R

Scarlet, I hope you enjoyed your day off yesterday.  You looked so content, sitting in front of Henry and Louise’s place all day.  And don’t worry about me – I had a great time, which for me means that I was with people.  Henry and Louise are golden.  The bodies look older and a little more uncooperative but the bigness of heart is right there for all to see.

In 1972, Henry was quite the joker.  Me too.  We were great roommates.  In 2015, Henry still has a surprise or two up his sleeve:

“Bruce, are you a swinger?”

(Gulp)

“Let’s go swing.”

Henry leads me around a corner of a building in his backyard, carrying two photo albums.  And … Voilà! … There sits a big wooden swing that could rock four people comfortably.  We sit down beside each other and start looking at my friends’ wedding photos.  Louise and Henry look radiant.  I point out the ones I like, and the ones I don’t, composition-wise.  There’s a shot of Henry and Louise, his arm around her waist, in front of candles and their wedding cake, smiling at someone to the photographer’s right.  There’s a yellow curtain behind Henry’s head and the photographer made sure that the top edge of the curtain isn’t in line with the top of his head.  I’m proud of that picture.  I was the photographer.  A little bit of pride never hurt anyone, I figure.

The three of us spent a couple of hours leafing through albums.  What fun.  There’s a photo of me at a 60’s party in 1972 in Ottawa, dancing with my friend Glenda.  My hair is brown (pretty much like it is today), long and very curly.  I’m wearing hornrimmed glasses.  My tongue has emerged from its cave.  Oh my God, that’s me!

Another pic shows a lovely young girl of about 10, flowing black hair, lipstick, a long sleeveless dark blue dress, and strings of white pearls.  So pretty.  Except it was a boy.  Adam, my friends’ grandson, had dressed up for a school costume party.  Adam’s mom Paulette was apparently thrilled with his disguise and the school principal didn’t bat an eye.  I like it.

In the afternoon, Henry and I went out and about in his Dodge Ram, supposedly to pick up some garlic bread for supper, but really to talk and have him show me the homes he’s built in Weyburn, and other sights.  They included the mental hospital that recently was torn down, in favour of more community-based care.  The site was now the beginnings of a new subdivision but somehow I felt the presence of ghosts … a lot of anguished human beings.

At the grocery store, the cashier had an accent, and Henry prodded gently for her origin, a big smile covering his face.  At first the woman resisted his advances (“Your total is …”) but soon they were talking in French and she was sharing her German heritage.  Gosh, Henry is a lot like me in the grocery lineup.

Back at home, Henry saw his neighbour in the driveway, so we went over to shoot the breeze.  Nice guy, with a story to tell.  He had been driving near Weyburn when a tornado touched down.  He and his truck were on the edge of it and the two of them were buffetted pretty good.  “I was scared.”  Afterwards, this fellow saw a house that had been invaded by plywood.  Sheets of it had been thrown by the wind through a wall, the edges cutting like a knife through butter.  Gulp again.

***

It’s 8:00 am and I’m sitting in the living room tapping with my digits.  Louise is yawning towards me.  It’s drizzling outside.  “Henry’s out watering the garden again.”  He always says that to her during a rain.  So funny.

***

Last evening we had a delicious dinner of chicken, potatoes and beans, two of which were from Louise’s garden.  Plus excellent garlic bread that someone had no doubt spent hours preparing.  Not to mention two ice cream cones offered to the visitor from Ontario.  Who am I to refuse such hospitality?

It was family time.

The Beatles

I went to see the Fab Four at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre tonight, a venue which holds around 100 people.  At 8:00 the lights dimmed and the soundtrack rolled … it was a Sunday evening in February, 1964 and the Ed Sullivan Show was on TV.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, here they are – The Beatles!”  Well said, Ed.

And here they came … John, Paul, George and Ringo … guitars and drums in hand, launching into the first song.  I was in the second row and from behind me I could hear girlish screams, just like that night 50 years ago when I sat with my parents watching the music world change.  Can’t remember what mom and dad thought but I bet they didn’t like the long hair.

Soon two women in front of me were twisting and shouting.  One of them pretended to faint and flopped into the lap of the other one.  Big smile from John.  All night long my new friends moved and grooved, much to the pleasure of the band.  Actually, I moved and grooved as well, with a little less throwing of arms into the air.  What great fun.

From “She Loves You” to “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band”, we heard it all.  And we sang.  My teenage life came flooding back to me and I remembered how the Beatles’ music helped keep my self-esteem afloat, even if ravaged by acne and lack of sports prowess.  I loved the tender songs, especially “Let It Be” and the big finale – “Hey Jude”.  I loved John and his granny glasses.  I so much wanted him to sing “Imagine” but I guess he never did it onstage with the other guys.

Jody was right there beside me, rocking to the hits.  Thank you for coming with me, my wife.

Before the concert and during it some, I had fun conversations with the woman sitting to my right.  We enjoyed each other’s company.  After the final bows, though, I looked around and saw her and her husband heading to the exit.  No goodbye.  That made me sad.

So it was an evening of joyous remembrance, of letting the vocal cords hang out, but tinged with a note of melancholy.  Sort of like life.  I’ll take it.