Thankful Thursday XXXVI – Meatloaf

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for meatloaf. Not the rotund Texas singer, although I sometimes don’t mind his operatic rock epics. Instead I mean the food, a food many call a “comfort food.”

My sweetie made a meatloaf earlier this week. It’s not a meal we eat much in our household; if we have a pound or two of hamburger meat, we’re more likely to make tacos or hamburgers. Hamburger Helper perhaps. But this week she baked a meatloaf, ketchup, bread crumbs and all.

So, you’re probably thinking “he must really like meatloaf!” In fact… I don’t. I have my share of comfort foods – pasta dinners, sandwiches, spicy tomato soup, pizza when my stomach’s up for it – but meatloaf, not so much! In fact, I really don’t like it much at all.

But that’s ok. It reminded me how lucky I was to have someone who cares for me and cooks up nice meals for me and the kiddo frequently. Moreover, I’m very thankful for us having enough food. Even in our community, there are some who are hungry most days, and we’re better off than half the world. There’s a whole lot of people who would love to have the problem of having lots of healthy-enough food to eat and simply not thoroughly enjoying a little of it. Earlier this week on my music blog, I’d featured a record by Harry Chapin, a singer who put his career on the back burner at one time to help the government combat hunger in our country. You know he’d have appreciated some meatloaf!

The next evening we had some fish, and I was even more thankful. But I had some leftover meatloaf for lunch, said a few thanks, and made a note to myself to buy some stuff to donate next time the supermarket runs a food drive.

Thankful “Thursday” XXVIII – Allie Dog

This Thankful Thursday… err, Saturday in reality – I’m thankful for Allie Dog. Long gone, sadly, but remembered fondly as the only dog I’ve ever had. A bit of backstory.

I love animals, but have allergies. We never had pets when I was a kid, save for a fishtank for a bit. This saddened me a bit, but was just a fact of life. I particularly like cats, and most of them seem to take readily to me, so if not for allergies, it’s likely I’d have been surrounded by kitties over the years. As my dad grew older, he turned into a Cat Person, taking in a couple of tiny black kittens and putting food out for neighborhood strays.

Dogs however, were a bit of a different story. Not only do they seem a bit messy, they can be frightening. While I’ve always been OK with little dogs, big ones tend to scare me. I’ve had too many run-ins with boxers, German shepherds and other similar ones running loose to take fondly to them. And as luck would have it, despite being chased through a city street by a doberman (which had gotten loose from an auto shop) once, the only time I actually ever got bitten was by a Black lab, of all dogs. Supposedly the friendliest of pups, I seemed to come leg to face with the one and only mean-spirited representative of his kind. I was a teen and hiking through an urban woodlot when one rushed me, took a chomp out of my thigh and barked ferociously. Besides ruining a good pair of new jeans, it also necessitated a trip to the ER, a tetanus shot, and a call to police, who found the dog, just as aggressive as advertised, and took it in. Luckily it wasn’t rabid. Since then, I was particularly disinclined to like big black dogs.

Of course, God or fate or karma, whichever you prefer, has its sense of humor. Fast forward about thirty years, and my sweetie (also with fur allergies) are living a nice domestic life in happy, dog-free house when one of her distant relatives had to move and couldn’t find anyone to look after his dog while he got settled in to his new digs. She volunteered to look after the dog while he did that. A week, two tops, we figured. I was not amused and the dog and I seemed to view each other with suspicion when it came. She was set up with a food dish and water and an old doghouse in the backyard and seemed dejected when her owner took off, leaving her behind.

You can probably guess the rest. The one or two weeks became well over a year. The dog, Allie, seemed glum the first few days in a new home without her familiar person. We had a leash; eventually I apprehensively put it on her and tried to see if she’d walk. She did. It didn’t take long for her to decide I was the best human around, and me to notice Allie was the best dog in the world. She was a quiet dog, a definite plus to me. Her bark would scare off the most hardened burglar, I’m sure, but it would almost take someone trying to break in to coax her to show that. I’d spend time with her out in the backyard, and rain or shine, we’d go for a walk to the park down the road every day. Although by “walk”, I tend to mean “jog”…Allie was always energetic and ready to examine the next smell along the way. It was a daily highlight for us both.

Inevitably, over a year later, her original owner returned and took her back. It was a sad day in our household. However, the already aging pup (we figure she was about 12 at the time) lived a few more happy years and I got to see pictures of her frollicking in the Gulf of Mexico, quite enjoying it before she took off to the Happy Butt-sniffing Grounds of the doggie great beyond.

So here’s to pets. They add so much to our lives and ask so little in return for their friendship. And to the unexpected circumstances. Allie showed me again that life’s detours don’t always lead us into unwanted areas.

Thankful Thursday IX – Dad

This Thankful Thursday is a bit of a special one. And a difficult one as well. This day I’m thankful for my dad, Ernie.

What is there to say about a guy whose life that touched so many and who saw so many things. My dad didn’t have a lot of formal education but was one of the smartest people I knew. And more importantly, he was one of the kindest. He was old-fashioned but got along with people from generations from Gen Z to those older than himself. He taught me how to live by setting the example.

He and his dad came to North America from their native Switzerland when he was still a teen. The Land of Opportunity to the south was probably their intended destination, but landing in Canada and taking the train they happened onto the suburbs of Toronto and made a home there. My dad had to learn a new language and try to find work at the same time, no small task even in the ’50s. I was always proud of how well he learned English and how much he enjoyed reading (until in recent years his eyesight made that a challenge) which led to the part of him being one of the smartest people I knew. He did both, the new language and the work, remarkably well, soon settling in at the bustling GM factories in town. He worked for years on the line and in smelly paint booths before working his way up to the better, more relaxed jobs. Usually with his buddy Bert. One of those tiny stories that make life interesting – a real life Ernie and Bert. Who’d believe it? After 30-some years of that, he retired and followed his other passions – collecting coins, gardening, traveling and helping out. His factory job was more or less replaced for several years by a volunteer one at A Place Called Home, a shelter and training center for homeless people near him.

Now, neither his life, nor my relationship with him were always storybook perfect. As a small kid, he was often absent. In no small part because he and my mom had a strained relationship at best. Dad provided, and provided well, but wasn’t at home as much as some dads. I loved the time we spent together when I was little – we both loved trains and set in on building a dynamite model railroad layout. It never quite got finished but we had fun. I’m sure I would have liked to have had more of those times with him when young, but I cherish the ones we did share and perhaps value those later on in life with him all the more for it.

Things changed when he re-married the real love of his life, Chris, a lady who’d lived around the corner from us when I was young. Chris shared his faith and his love of travel and growing things, and spent over 30 happy years with him before she passed away last fall. She softened him and helped him look at life a bit differently; he in turn took care of her in an unspoken lesson of how to love your significant other, even when she was ailing. In time, Chris treated me as her own son, “step” or not. Both of them offered me good advice when I was lovelorn or broke and love at those times and the better ones. Over the years I came to learn what mattered to him, and he tried to do the same. I looked out for new coins for him, and even one new quarter I could send him made him joyful. He was never much of a sports fan outside of the Olympic times, but when I stayed with him for a little a dozen or so years back, he’d sit with me and watch my Blue Jays baseball on the big screen, cheering on the Toronto blue-and-white even if he didn’t quite get the complexities of the game.

Dad had a ready smile, and usually a ready Werther’s candy he’d give to any helpful store clerk, waitress or bank teller. He loved collecting, always looking for a nickel he didn’t have in his album or an unusual stamp. About three decades back, he began collecting egg cups. Every time he passed a yard sale or junk shop, he’d take a look for an unusual egg cup they might have. He put together more egg cups than I had ever seen, or I reckon most egg farmers ever had dreamt of. Cartoon characters, porcleain, plastic, ones with paintings on them, ones that were travel promotions. In recent years he became fond of Paddington movies and began collecting teddy bears… probably something he didn’t have a chance to do growing up poor during the War in Europe. Times were tough as a child of the ’40s over there and he never forgot that, or the value of a dollar. It might have been why he so loved gardening, growing veggies especially, because he remembered when his family couldn’t afford such luxuries from a store all the time. Then again, like me, he just seemed to like to be out on a sunny day, enjoying the sights and sounds.

As he got older he got chattier. I loved listening to his stories when I’d phone him, even ones he’d sometimes tell me twice. He loved hearing about my life in the States and was always my biggest fan when I did something halfways interesting or successful. Last time we spoke a few days back, he was telling me of getting his Covid vaccine and looking forward to the pandemic ending so he could maybe visit me in Texas, meet my love, Cinnamon, and then go back to Switizerland one more time.

This is a tough column to write because Ernie passed away suddenly and unexpectedly Sunday night. A heart attack took him swiftly; hopefully he is now with his Chris again, somewhere out there. That gives me reason for solace. I have the hurt which will fade, but the memories and lessons which won’t. Be thankful for your parents too this Thursday. I doubt they’re perfect… but they are yours.

What is there to say about a guy whose life that touched so many and who saw so many things? So many more things than just this…but at least it’s a start.

Thankful Thursday VIII – Toilet Brushes

This Thursday I’m thankful for toilet brushes. And no, it’s not an April Fool’s joke.

Well, not exactly for the brushes, although they are useful implements to have hanging around in the bathroom. But one made me feel good yesterday. Perhaps a little explanation is in line.

My mother-in-law is quite elderly. For her age, she’s in great shape and quite feisty but still…she’s a little old lady. My sweetie and I have been actively discouraging her from going out into crowds in the past year with the pandemic raging. So most of her grocery shopping and trips to pick up prescriptions, we’ve been doing. Often she just needs basics – bread, tortillas, eggs, maybe some pork or ground beef. And candles. She loves burning her prayer candles, plain white please. We usually pick her up a few when we see them.

So this week, she needed one or two usual things…and a toilet brush. She still cleans her own bathroom and had thrown away the old one. I got one while doing our family’s shopping and took it over to her. She was happy to get candles, but really excited to get a simple toilet brush and its holder. A five buck plastic item. Useful no doubt, but not the thing of which many dreams are made. But she loved it. She was happy. That of course made me feel quite good in turn. Who knew a plastic brush and holder would bring such joy?

Simple story, simple moral. Sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that make the biggest differences and gifts can mean as much to the giver as the recipient. We all love making a huge difference in the lives of those around us and accomplishing great things. But this Thankful Thursday, I’m reminded of how special run-of-the-mill little favors and gifts can be.

May Hooray 3

I’ve been reading through actress Ellie Kemper’s book My Squirrel Days this week. Considering the heroine in my novel Grace…fully living is a perky redhead and the network show that appeals to me most among the new crop features carrot-topped Zoey, .I think I might have a bit of a “thing” for redheads. Or books about squirrels.

Anyway, one story The Office actress relates is of Waldo, a plush walrus toy who “wears a small white sailor’s cap that suggests he is not opposed to a good time!” While other bits of her childhood fell away, Waldo stayed with her until one fateful weekend in Vegas, when she was in her 30s, that he disappeared. (Spoiler alert: the hotel found him and returned him to Ellie! Yay!)

I understand. I live in a household of two things. People who are allergic to, well pretty much everything, and a house of plush critters.

I never had a pet as a child; my allergies wouldn’t allow for a dog or cat, and I was probably the only one in the house who saw appeal in reptiles. (“Hi Fido”, I’d dream of saying to someone with their pet schnauzer, “this is my Timmy. He’s a timber rattlesnake. Aren’t those golden and brown scales beautiful…”) . When I was on my own and in my late 20s, I got a hamster named Henley. I got him a nice terrarium with a wheel and a ladder thingy for him to climb, and changed the wood chips regularly. Unfortunately, Henley taught me two things. One, that hamsters slept all the livelong day and then got up to run on squeaky wheels all night long. And two, that when freed from the confines of their home terrarium, they’d enjoy biting me, and disappearing into the ductwork in about equal parts. I was sad when one day after I’d shared my apartment with him for about two years that I noticed Henley hadn’t been up for a night or two and wasn’t eating the food I gave him… but not sad enough to think of bringing in a Henley Jr. Henley was a good little dude though, and I think made a wonderful Christmas card insert one year, posing in front of some yule lights.

I always liked cats, but not sneezing, let alone having trouble breathing. As luck would have it, the first lady I ended up close enough to to actually live with for a year had three cats. Remarkably, the one which had a reputation for hating people took to me. After a few months, Daphne would wait for me by the door like a puppy and seem to be as happy as a pup when I came in. More remarkably, I sneezed very little in that year. Unfortunately, her owner didn’t respond as eagerly to me when I got in, after awhile.  Go figure. As soon as Daphne was dragged off with her owner and I returned to my homeland, pretty much every cat I’ve met leaves me wheezy and short of breath within minutes. Which is better than the reaction my sweetie has to them. Dogs? Pretty much the same. We had to dog-sit a black lab called Allie for over a year, and Allie was a good dog! Good doggie!! My walk with her was a daily highlight for both of us. But Allie was largely an outside dog, and when indoors, she usually bedded down in the little pseudo-home we made for her in the garage. When it got real cold, she was invited into the living room, to lie on a sheet which would be washed every day afterwards… while we all sneezed, sniffled and wheezed.

But we do have some “furry” friends to keep us company, like Ellie does. No walruses but some classy “friends” nevertheless. My sweetie has her big bear, Diva, who wears a leopard-print jacket. And her doting bear boyfriend Cocoa, who inexplicably is a white bear. But he has panache as we see in this photo:

cmas bear

Her daughter, the Kiddo loves sheep. So she has a collection of stuffed lambs. Prominent among those are Fluffers and Luke. Fluffers, the fluffiest of sheep, originated in Canada, where “someone” found him one Easter and sent him down to Texas to be with her about eight or nine years back, when Kiddo was much smaller. He’s sweet and quiet, like a Canadian, and fluffy like a …well, something! Then there’s little rambunctious Luke the ram, always getting into things, and tipping over due to the size of his nose. We see him riding Fluffers here:

fluffer

For years, I didn’t have such accompaniment,but this year, going through a local department store I came across this little fellow.

EB bear

It was just after Valentine’s Day and no one had taken him home, and I feared his future was to end up on the Island of Misfit Toys. So I adopted “EB”. Which stands for Edward Bear. The name of a fine Canadian band, and the real name of Winnie the Pooh, the gold standard of friendly bears. Or possibly it stands for “Evidently Brown.” Or perhaps “Everybody’s Buddy.”  Or even “Exceedingly Bugged (by a lack of pizza.)” EB likes pizza. He obviously has style,, since he wears a snazzy bow tie. And likes pizza. He’s happy now that he has a home, watching TV with sweetie and me…and Diva and Coco Bear too!

A Rite That Doesn’t Feel Right

First day of school, first kiss, first job, first sexual encounter, first car, first place of one’s own, first child… so many milestones in life. Unfortunately, not all are as happy as that or things which will be cherished memories down the road, but that doesn’t make them any the less important or impactful. I hit another milestone this year that fits that category – my first parent died.

My Mom passed away quietly last month after a couple of years of slowly fading into the void. Dementia had made it necessary for her to be somewhere where she could be looked after 24/7 three or four years ago. The path from there was uneven but always pointing in the same direction. Downwards. Stomach problems that had plagued her for much of her adult life were getting fiercer while the medical personnel could do increasingly little for her with her growing frailty. Many a phone conversation took place this past winter between concerned doctors and I that always revolved around the same things – if she were younger, stronger, more could be done , but at her advanced age with her numerous health issues, even comparatively minor procedures could end up costing her the life it was supposed to extend. Having to decide whether one’s own parent should be resucitated if unconscious, or given any medication aiming to do more than keep them comfortable, what they ultimately would want while far away are not the types of call that anyone would have to take in a perfect world.

But this isn’t a perfect world (it is however, the only one we’ve got as I point out as much as I can) and there’s a reason the phrase “circle of life” exists. I grieved of course, but knew as well that it was a part of life. A rite of passage I’ve been lucky to have been able to avoid into middle-age. My wonderful Dad and loving stepmom are still in the here and now, something a number of my counterparts haven’t been able to have for a long time.  A good fifteen years back I was a pallbearer for my friend Russ, who was burying his own Mom a decade or more after his Dad had gone on. And of course, I take comfort in realizing that she’s not suffering any more; the quality of life for her in the final few months, bed-ridden, weak and in pain more often than not isn’t much of a life after all. I take comfort in the hope/belief that she’s somewhere else now, reunited with two sisters who left this world long before her.

Being, fortunately, the first person close to me that I’ve had to be in charge of putting to rest, I’ve been lucky to have had a number of good people, kind souls, helping me through the process. To make sense of the paperwork, arrange the funeral preparations, design the marker for the cemetery. Which brings me to the point, in a long way round.

I was stuck with the question of what to put on her gravestone, to remember her to the world with. Obviously, like everyone else, I had her name front and center, and the dates when she entered and departed this existence. What was left was what more to say. What few words could tell the world who she was?

Wife/Mother/Educator/Gardener” .came to mind, before settling on a simple line I think would mean a lot to her : “Cymru am byth.”

I didn’t know that one either, but it is the motto of her homeland, Wales, and roughly means “Long Live Wales.” For although her time growing up there was only a small percentage of her life – she went to college in England and came to Canada soon afterwards – it shaped her ways, her thoughts and beliefs. She was proud of her adopted land, but never entirely left behind her homeland. Before I was school age, she’d already become a Canadian citizen. She made sure she voted and would be quick to put in her two cents worth about any politician or policy in the news. At varous times she was an ardent fan of both Toronto’s Maple Leafs and Blue Jays. But there was always Wales at her core; fond memories and a mindset that were integral to her. Few things she traveled with, from suitcases to cars, were missing a Welsh flag; the local supermarket probably stocked leeks (their national symbol) largely because of the volume she consumed in soups, stews, steamed… if there were Flakes of Leek in the cereal aisle, it would’ve been her breakfast. Cymru am byth.

It reminds me of an important lesson she taught. Always remember where it is you come from but be always be proud of where you are now. Of how far you’ve come. Or to quote Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.” Which might not be the quote for her tombstone, but might be a very good one for all of us in the here and now.

Looking backwards, but moving ahead. RIP, Mom.