Thankful Thursday XL – Fish Wrappers

This Thankful Thur…, err Friday, I’m thankful for newspapers, an important anachronism in this day and age.

I grew up in a house that had newspapers. We subscribed to a daily big city paper (the Toronto Star) and were in a suburb that had a couple of weekly or semi-weekly local ones delivered automatically. I might have been nerdy as a child, but I loved them. By the time I could read well, I’d always look at it; perhaps even more than my parents did a lot of the time. I got to know what was going on in the world as well as the weather and keep track of the baseball scores and stats in that era that long preceded the internet and real-time updates. And of course, being a kid after all, I looked forward to the comics every day… Peanuts was my favorite back then. The local papers were thinner and didn’t have as much of interest, but being local, they were great at informing us of minor events in town and once in awhile, you’d see people you knew in the photos.

As I grew up and went out on my own, the papers stayed a big part of my life. Much of the time I subscribed to the Star, like my parents (my dad did right up until his death, even though he was having a fair bit of difficulty seeing it well enough to read in his last year or two) and quite often I’d buy the rival Toronto Sun as well. The Star was a big, broadsheet, but was surprisingly liberal in stance; the Sun was a tabloid that was more conservative … the opposite of what most would expect. Both had their pros and cons. The Star was better for in-depth national and world news and usually had better comics (yep, still liked them as I got older though by my 20s I was a fan of things like The Far Side). The Sun was better for local news and sports. Plus its smaller size made it ideal for reading on the bus or at a coffee shop table, making it all the better to take to work. Both offered thought-provoking editorials and by reading both, I’d get two sides to the same story quite often. It helped me think better and be better-informed.

Since I relocated, newspapers aren’t as much a part of my life. For a couple of years we did subscribe to the daily in our city here. It was a disappointment compared to the ones I was used to – much thinner, with more limited national and international news, drawn almost exclusively from wire services, less actual coverage of local events – but it was still something. I’d get the big stories of the day, and at least baseball boxscores for early games the night before. But it kept getting smaller and its price went up so when we moved, we decided to forego it. And with it now costing $2 a copy at the stores, I rarely buy one on a whim.

It’s a theme repeated across the globe. It’s a downward spiral and one of the worst side-effects of the Online Age. Fewer people have time to read a whole newspaper, and most of the things they want to see in one are found online anyway. Classified ads are a dinosaur, so ad revenue drops for the newspapers, circulation drops, so they cut back to try to save money. Which in turn makes the paper less interesting… less original content, smaller staffs, fewer photos, less expensive syndicated columnists or features…and sales drop more. One by one, city newspapers across the country shut down shop.

It’s a shame, and a socially dangerous trend. One only has to see All the President’s Men or know a bit about American political history to see the importance of a widely-read newspaper with good journalists. Or more recently, Spotlight chronicling the Boston Globe‘s role in exposing child abuse and the church cover-up to try to avoid blame. At their best, they not only report the news, they find it.

The only security of all is in a free press,” Thomas Jefferson once said. So yesterday I decided it was time to do my part, and subscribe to the local one again. I’m thankful there still is one and that we live in a land where they’re free to print, and we’re free to read them.

Thankful Thursday XXXI – Talking About My Generation

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for my generation. Not the Who song – that was representative of the generation before me – but Gen X, as we’ve come to be known. Or more precisely, to be a part of it.

Of course, each generation probably thinks it’s the best. I, perhaps typical of this generation, don’t necessarily claim that ours was the best. But I’m glad I grew up when I did.

To me, my generation got the best of music, the best of TV and, more importantly, the best conditions to grow up in. Notice I don’t say “easiest” however. I love that I grew up listening to Top 40 radio on transistor radios in the ’70s that exposed me to a bit of everything ranging from Motown to country to early heavy metal to disco. Sure, we didn’t really see The Beatles in real time, but I heard them plenty on radio and courtesy my older brother. By the ’80s as adulthood came a-knockin’, college classes were bookended by a new music that was actually exciting. Young kids these days won’t know the High Fidelity-like experience of hanging out at a grubby, crowded record shop looking for import Depeche Mode singles and hearing the music snobs behind the counter going on about the Pixies and Marshall Crenshaw. We were a generation that wanted to change the world. Well, don’t they all, I suppose. But it seems to me that outside of the tail-end of the Baby Boom, young people before were too conventional to challenge the status quo. The youth of today want to change the world too, but I’m not sure that that extends too far beyond the right for young women to call themselves”men” and vice versa for most of them. Some of my happiest times were summers during my university years, working for a conservation agency, with dozens of similarly-involved people around my age. We sure knew how to party at night… but by day, we were all about working on environmental projects and educating people about the need for conservation. Whether it amounted to a lot or not, we were doing something that we felt was bigger than ourselves, that was going to make the world a better place.

Moreover, I think I’m lucky because I straddle the digital and analog age. I grew up spending lots of time in libraries. At school, at the city ones, looking through stacks of books, going through card catalogs to find a title. It seemed like there wasn’t a question that couldn’t be answered by the Encyclopedia Britannica, all fifteen feet of shelving of it. I took typing classes at school, banging away on old manual machines, periodically getting my hands dirty changing the ribbons. It was good experience. But thankfully I was just young enough to see the value of computers by some time in the ’90s, and pick up the skills I needed to write articles, fix photos, design posters or search the internet for wacky kitten videos quickly. My brother, about six years older than me, got through school long before “cyber” was a word and hates computers to this day. Our dad, bless him, tried hard to adapt, but never got beyond playing Solitaire or checking, with extreme difficulty, his e-mail on his laptop. My mom never even got that far along in the process. I feel lucky I am reasonably tech-savvy, but have the background in old, analog ways. I wonder if anyone under 18 today could find an answer any question about science, history or pretty much anything else besides BTS if Siri stopped answering or Google went on holiday.

We didn’t have it easy, but then again, it wasn’t a battle. My parents both were youth in Europe during WWII. That’s hardship and stress. We on the other hand, had to live with the sword of Reagan and Gorbachev’s missiles hanging over us, which was stressful but there was always food to be had, electricity for the lights and despite the fears, no big wars materialized to worry about. We were however, the first generation of “latchkey kids.” For the first time, most women were working and one-parent households were common, so I wasn’t unusual in often coming home to an empty house after school. Like so many others of my peers, that was OK. It gave us a bit of freedom to grow, and more importantly, let us learn real quickly how to make a dinner, or wash our clothes. We walked or rode our bikes to school…yes, yes, you know, in the snow, uphill both ways!… and had our own legs and our friends to rely on. We got part-time jobs as soon as we could to buy our own records and snacks and if we were real lucky and smooth, use the funds to go on dates with. It astonishes me to go by a neighborhood school these days and see cars backed up around the block waiting to get their ten and twelve year olds and drive them immediately home, where they will stay, playing video games, until it’s time to drive them back to class the next morning. Where will their sense of adventure or independence arise from? Will it ever arise, for that matter?

Well that’s my grumpy old, thankful rant for this day, now that we Gen X-ers are getting up there … tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” in case you’re keeping track. So how about you? Are you happy you were born when you were? What is your generation’s best feature? Whatever it is, I hope you’re thankful to be you.

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 XXI – Canada Day

This Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for Canada. Appropriately enough since today is Canada Day, the national holiday celebrating the country’s origins and independence from England 154 years ago. To many, it will be an extra-special one since last year’s was a total washout due to the pandemic. Although initially Canada had done well in keeping the virus at bay, last summer having infection and death rates much lower than their neighbors in the U.S. or in Europe, a growing disinterest in following the “rules” – social distancing, masks etc. – and problems obtaining the vaccines when they became available led to a spike in numbers this spring which led to widespread lockdowns once again. But things are looking up, with illness rates dropping and numbers of people vaccinated increasing by the day. As of last weekend, 66% of Canadian adults had received Covid vaccinations, compared to less than half of Americans. So, Canadians may not be crowding together into bars to drink Molsons tonight nor heading to the Rogers Centre in Toronto to watch a Blue Jays game, but they should be able to at least get together with a few friends and bbq a burger and perhaps sing along to the Tragically Hip before taking in some fireworks. I hope they do and enjoy it!

Of course there will be some protesting the people having fun because they object to the day itself. The killjoy contingent of Cancel Culture enthusiasts have taken to Canada like flies to a dungheap, which is conveniently pretty much what they compare the country to. They propose eliminating the holiday and erasing its name from history, because they object to parts of the country’s history. The whole thing has gained traction since news of the bodies of long-deceased children at long-closed Native boarding schools has come to light, suggesting possible widespread abuse of the students.

There is absolutely no justification for the abuse of the children, and indeed, it is reasonable to investigate it further to see how widespread that might have been, who the victims were and prosecute the violators should they still be alive. That in itself is unlikely, as the very last of the schools was shut for good in 1996; they were most active and in all likelihood most abusive during the first half of the 20th Century. Prime Minister Trudeau has apologized – several times – on behalf of the country and its forefathers, and created a list of 94 recommendations to right the wrong. Many Native Canadians are already receiving cash payments in return for being displaced from their land generations ago. That seems to me like a reasonable resolution. Let’s not forget the past, but recognize it is the past and move along together from there.

I’m a Canadian and I’m proud of the country. It is by no means perfect. No country that I know of is, or comes very close to that mark. But it is a good land with a history of great individuals and great deeds. Liberating Holland from the Nazis in WWII. Developing insulin. Gas masks. Hockey masks. An ebola vaccine. Lacrosse and basketball. Hawaiian pizza… well, I said Canada wasn’t perfect!  Add in more great artists, musicians, actors, athletes and comedians than you can shake a Zamboni at and you’ve got reason to feel good about the Great White North. And let’s not forget that magnificent scenery from the mountain lakes at Banff to the glowing fall colors in Algonquin Park, all saved for posterity in the parks.

My dad and his dad as well were struggling in post-war Europe when they came to Canada. They learned the language and soon found good jobs and built lives for themselves in the new land. My mom went through many an air raid and bombing as a child in Britain during the War and didn’t take to the climate there, so she too found her way to Canada (why she didn’t pick Australia for a better climate while still being able to see the queen on the money, I never fully understood) and soon was teaching classrooms of kids from a smorgasbord of different backgrounds. I went to school with kids whose parents had come from Germany and England, Jamaica and Japan. One of my best buddies in high school had escaped the Philippines not long before with his family. He missed his country but not the secret police busting down their door in the middle of the night and taking family members away for unknown reasons. His dad, sleeping safely at night for once, started a very successful electric company in town. After all sorts of asthma and other medical problems as a small child, I was probably only alive to meet him because of Canada’s fine health care system, funded by taxes but making world-class hospitals as accessible to a factory-worker’s kid, or an unemployed person for that matter as they were for the CEOs of the companies employing those workers.

Actress Jennifer Garner recently quipped that people often assume she is Canadian. She’s not, being from California in fact. But, she says it makes her feel great because if people think she’s Canadian, that must mean she is pretty nice. That’s a great compliment to all of us who are from there!

I’ll never say Canada is perfect and probably will never like the climate – I really hate cold weather. But I will always say I am proud to be Canadian, and glad that is where I began my life. Happy Thursday, and Happy Canada Day no matter where you hale from.

Yetis And Life’s Other Little Mysteries

About a decade back, I briefly wrote a few blogs entitled “Things I Don’t Get.” Life’s little mysteries. Things like people’s fascination with zombies. Or their fascination with the Kardashians. “One day last month,” I wrote about the latter, “while in line I counted (Kim Kardashian’s) pouty mug on seven magazines (by the cashier)…the one proclaiming ‘Kardashian World!’ did make me think the retailer genius for also putting Tylenol at the check-out for subsequent impulse buys.” I was a bit snarky ten years ago apparently. Little mysteries. Of course, big mysteries always interested me too. UFOs. That missing Malaysian jet. And Bigfoot.

On the one hand, it would seem like if there were giant ape-man sasquatches out there in our dense forests, some gun-loving settler would have shot one and had it in their den by now, or a tractor trailer doing 80 would have hit one. I mean, dozens of people get run down by cars, can Bigfoots be that much smarter than us? But on the other hand, there are so many convincing reports of them, most from the pre-internet era. One doesn’t imagine Natives of coastal B.C. would have had much chance to talk to and share oral stories with the ones in the Appalachians, yet both have similar Bigfoot-like creatures in their histories.

I thought of those pieces not long ago when driving behind a big pick-up. Of course, in the decade since, there’ve been no shortage of things I don’t get. People falling off cliffs playing “Pokemon”. About half the politicians elected across the globe. Ice coffee. The Simpsons still being made about fifteen years after anybody I know stopped watching. And Yeti stickers.

This Dodge truck was shiny and of behemoth proportions, looking more or less straight from the factory…except for the Yeti sticker in its back window. Now as odd as this was, what is odder is that I see all kinds of vehicles around with those stickers. At first when I encountered one I was hoping it might signify the car was being driven by a Bigfoot. You know, some people put Italian flags on their window to signify their origin, maybe this driver was doing the same. Certainly his fast acceleration and lane-changes without benefit of turn signals suggested that could be the case. Humans on the road should be able to drive better than that. But sadly as they turned off, I could see an ordinary driver of adult human proportions and child-like lack of motor skills. Subsequent encounters with Yeti-stickered cars, trucks and vans alike have shown similar lack of content that would interest crypto-zoologists.

I’ve never been one to want to decorate a vehicle with lots of “bumper stickers”, be they on the bumper, window or any other part. I’ve seen too many people working too hard on scraping off “Wassup” stickers that didn’t seem quite as hilarious anymore or “I HEART Bill Cosby” ones which unintentionally did. Besides, I figure if someone wants to know me, let them talk to me. But I usually can understand the rationale for most stickers. A car with Texas plates but Acadia National Park and Everglades stickers; probably a person who likes to travel and nature. “My kid is a honor student at Washington Pre-school and Kindergarten”; proud and possibly delusional parent. A brother-in-law served in the military and has small but proud Marine logo stickers on his. I get that. And of course, I might assume quite different things about someone in a Prius with a “Bernie!” sticker than someone in a Ford F-150 with “Trump 2020” proudly emblazoned on the window. They at least tell us something about the people in that auto. But a Yeti?

This I don’t get. For those unfamiliar, Yeti, besides being the Asian name for a Bigfoot which may or may not exist, is the brand name of a popular line of travel mugs. They are usually metal, and by all reports very good. A cold drink stays cold in them, a hot one, hot. But why advertise them on your car?

The logo itself isn’t interesting. There’s no clever little sasquatch worked in, nor any bright colors. Just the word in big, bold white font. At least, Apple, say by comparison has a colorful interesting, almost decorative logo. And saying you’re an Apple fan perhaps exudes an air of “cooldom” or “superiority”. Hard to imagine the same is true of someone based on their choice of what to put their morning commute coffee in. After all, the cups and mugs start at about $20…expensive for a travel mug but well within almost anybody’s budget. It’s fair to say that if you can afford a car and the gas for it, you can put together the cash for a Yeti mug should you want to. So that can’t be it. If prestige is what they’re going for, one might as well put a Coca-cola logo on there instead to signify you will pay that extra dollar a case for what’s inside your Yeti. No Walmart-brand cola for me, it would scream to the masses!

Maybe one day people will yawn and ask “Who?” when somebody starts talking about a Kardashian. Maybe someday those TV explorers will actually find a bigfoot out for a stroll instead of just hearing mysterious growls in the forest or seeing bark oddly ripped off tall trees. Maybe one day we’ll know where those other socks go in the washing machine. And maybe one day someone will explain why they want to put a $4 sticker for a $20 item on their car. Then again, maybe some things we just were never meant to know.

Thankful Thursday XIX – Timmies

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for one of my fonder memories of Canada – Tim Horton’s. Only a few Americans know what that is, and fewer people still from other countries. But to Canadians… they’re a way of life and as much a cultural keystone as maple leafs and geese.

Tim Horton’s, or simply “Timmies” to many Canucks, is a chain of coffee shops. Diners perhaps would be a better word since they offer an array of foods as well. But they are a great deal more than that up north; not only do they define the national obsession with coffee and the “down to earth” mentality, in many communities they have become the de facto “town square” – the meeting place, the place to hang out when you don’t want to be by yourself. Quite an achievement for something begun in the ’60s by a second-string hockey star as a single little coffee shop in the factory city of Hamilton.

Today there are over 4000 of them, the vast majority of them in Canada, although Americans close to the border – those in Western New York, Washington State and the like – have some of their own, perhaps as much for the Canadians driving south as the locals. Although they started out as simple purveyors of cheap coffee and a range of donuts (another Canadian obsession, and something Tim’s does very well) they have through the years expanded the menu to have a number of lunch options from sandwiches to soups and chili, and even brought in cold soft drinks for those who for some difficult-to-understand reason don’t always want a hot coffee! As such they’ve become a viable competitor to the various sub and burger places in the fast food market.

Through the years, I consumed many a cup of that java. Many a thousand cups, actually. When I was going somewhere in winter, there’d always be a Tim Horton’s along the way to stop and get a coffee at and quite probably, get rid of the last coffee, if you catch my meaning. Many a work lunch break was spent sitting in one, a cup of coffee and a bagel with cheese (their poppy seed bagels are pretty extraordinary too) as I read the newspaper and forgot about the job for half an hour. I’ve taken dates to Tim’s, sat and chatted with my dad for many an afternoon, packed my laptop and sat in one late at night when the wi-fi at home gave out. I might add that I wasn’t convinced they offered the best coffee of any chain in Canada; but they were the one that was always there for me. And the 33 million others in that land.

And therein was the appeal. Tim’s are a unifier there, a totally democratic sort of institution. The prices were reasonable, the décor comfortable but very basic. It’s the place the grubby street people go and sit in when they’ve panhandled up enough for a drink and a donut just as much as they’re the place the office execs from the shiny city towers stop at to get their cruller and double-double at on their way to work. If Ryan Gosling or Bryan Adams are back in their hometown, chances are if you wait long enough, they’ll be at Tim’s. The local cops are likely to be there between calls, just as are the teens coming home from school, the socialites heading out for a night on the town and the retirees who don’t have a lot to do during the afternoon hours. So they find the Tim’s and each other and then have something to do in the afternoon. So engrained into the culture are they that they’ve even added to the lexicon. “Timbits” anybody? “Roll up the Rim?” The Canadian in the crowd will know.

That sort of thing doesn’t really exist in the States, or at least not in my part of them. Coffee isn’t king down here (mind you, I guess it takes a special breed of crazy to be like me and want hot coffee day in, day out, in a place where half the year days top 90 degrees) and of course, there is a Dunkin’ here and there if you search them out, and a few Starbucks but it’s not quite the same. Dunkins seem a place to get in and get of quickly; Starbucks are pricy and have a sort of elitist air to them. They’re all places where you can get a hot drink, but not a place to go.

While there isn’t a Tim’s shop for about a thousand miles from here, at least we can get the coffee in imported bags at the supermarket. So sipping one in my own room isn’t like being in a busy restaurant watching the world go by, it is pretty good “jo”. And a nice reminder of where I came from.

Thankful Thursday XVI – Vacations

Yesterday was a busy day for me, so I took a break from Thankful Thursdays. Not quite a holiday but a wee break from one thing that’s part of my routine, even though it’s one I quite enjoy. It got me to thinking that this “thankful Thursday – redux” I’m thankful for vacations. Both little ones and grand ones, ones I’ve enjoyed, ones others have taken and just the concept itself… one that resonates, I’m sure coming onto the unofficial first long weekend of the summer.

My dad loved to travel; my mother not quite as much but she still enjoyed getting away from it all – not to mention staying in a hotel and having the cooking done for her – from time to time. My family wasn’t poor but neither were we rich, so our holidays when I was a kid were somewhat modest. When I was young, we had a camper trailer – a modest one mind you, nothing like the behemoths we see being towed along our highways today with their own satellite dish and front and back doors – so we’d often get away for a week or so and go camping. Exploring the eastern half of our Canada, and adjacent areas of the States; cooking some dinners over a camp fire, going to town for the local restaurant other days, sleeping in a trailer with screen windows, hearing the hooting owls and cacophony of bugs in the woods around us. By day we’d explore the forest trails, take some pictures, or maybe visit the nearby towns and explore the local shops and attractions.

A few years later, when I got to be of double-digit age, we found a fondness for Florida. For several years we took a summer holiday in southern Florida. That seemed crazy to some, but we liked it just fine. The prices were cheaper, the beaches less crowded and we had all the time in the world. Well, a few weeks anyway, given that it was school break and my mom was by then working as a teacher. Sometimes we’d head down there by bus and my Dad would drive down a week or two later when his holiday kicked in, all driving back home together. We made friends there, found that the 90 degree days there in July were quite tolerable with the sea breezes absent in the 90 degree days back home and enjoyed dips in the Gulf water.

They were good times, generally relaxing times. It was driving back from Florida I got to marvel at the vibrancy of American cities like Atlanta and the beauty of the Appalachians. I don’t remember a lot from when I was about four years old, but I remember standing under “The Big Nickel”, as the name suggests a statue of a very big five cent coin – in Sudbury on one of our camping trips. I recall vividly the excitement I had a few years later when I, as a young baseball fan, looked out the window and saw the magnificent home of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Ken Griffey and all those great Big Red Machine teams – Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium – go by as we crossed the Ohio River. I remember stepping into a patch of long coarse grass one time in Florida near our hotel and hearing a loud, distinctive buzzing set in right away , and quietly backing away, not in fear but rather awe knowing that I must have awoken a sleeping rattlesnake. Still wish I’d been able to see the critter, from a safe distance.

When I grew up and became an adult, budgets usually didn’t allow for a lot of exotic holidays, but I have equally fond memories of camping in some of the provincial parks along Lake Erie during the bird migration; of the sights of New York when I went for a long drive, and experiencing that vibrant Atlanta as an adult. My dad meanwhile, with his equally fond-of-travel new wife, took many trips back to his homeland in Switzerland and hers in Britain before they sadly became too old and unsure of their health to do so any more. They’d regale me with the stories of their trips, photos of the landscapes and tales of the best food they got in the foreign restaurants. That was mostly my dad’s thing.

The travel industry took a beating in the last year with Covid. There are pros and cons to that; obviously it’s bad because it effects so many people’s livelihood but the reduced air pollution from the fewer jets and cars on the road has done a wee bit of good to the environment and enabled people to find interesting things to do at home that might have eluded them previously. Still, it would seem that the more people get to travel, the more we might hope to understand each other. It’s easier to have empathy for others when we’ve actually met them and seen their lives a little rather than just the Hollywood sterotype depictions of them.

So, vacations. They can be big or small, far or near, but here’s to them. Hope you can treat yourself to one, no matter how humble, sometime soon.

Thankful Thursday XI – Earth Day

This Thankful Thursday is also Earth Day, so I’m thankful for that!

Earth Day is a pseudo-holiday begun in 1970 to celebrate nature and a healthy environment. As one correspondent on a news show this morning pointed out, that was not long after the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland caught fire, so polluted was it, and less than two decades after a killer smog – from a weather phenomenon that kept coal-burning fumes from rising and dissipating quickly – caused approximately 4000 deaths in London. People were beginning to become aware of the importance of nature, and that keeping our surroundings clean and healthy wasn’t merely cosmetically pleasing…it was essential for our own well-being.

Somehow I’ve always been an environmentalist. As a small child, my family watched a lot of nature shows, and I was fascinated by the animals, and the exotic landscapes they showed. The rain forests, the African savannahs, and even the equally impressive ones closer to home, from the Rockies and Florida ‘glades to the vibrant fall forests I lived close to. We had a bird feeder and I spent many a chilly, snowy winter afternoon watching the comings and goings of a rainbow-array of birds having a meal. My brother was a Boy Scout and one of their community works back then was a “paper drive.” They’d be driven around in pickups or on flatbeds and pick up bundles of newspapers people would leave out for recycling. I was too young to take part, but I admired their efforts. Seemed obvious to me – if all these tons of paper could be recycled and re-used, a lot fewer trees would have to be cut down. In turn, more homes for the birds and bears, and (as I’d learn by maybe grade 5) a lot more oxygen being put back into our air. I was exceptionally happy when the city took over and began collecting paper as well as plastics and metals from everyone for recycling and to this day, I’m the one who is the household “nag”, collecting and rinsing out the empty pop and beer cans, tearing the contact info off the many (too many!) mail order catalogs we keep getting and putting the rest of them into the blue bin, making sure it’s out on the curbside on the right day. Seems like a tiny effort to me, which if duplicated in even half the households of our community, would make a huge difference for the better.

The best, but also most frustrating job I ever had was one I started as a summer job during my college years and carried over for a year or two afterwards, working for a governmental agency responsible for a range of environmental issues ranging from local parks to floodplain mapping and protection of rare plants and animals. It was a fun and interesting job, and over the years I talked to thousands of people of all ages, led tours, pointed out wildlife, interesting edible plants they’d never heard of. I hope something I said or showed at least made an impact on a handful of people and generated seeds that grew into concerned environmentally-aware adults. I conducted biological studies of wild areas near the city and worked on a photo catalog of them. It was a fun and, I felt, beneficial job. The frustration came from the fact that it was governmental and our input on behalf of the environment often became outweighed by commercial, economic influences.

Rivers aren’t catching fire these days, thankfully, and if poor air quality is making people ill or causing asthma, at least we aren’t seeing hundreds per day drop dead from it in big cities. Yet, for that our world isn’t in much better shape than it was on the first Earth Day. There are more of us people and we’re creating more garbage than ever, importing more and more problematic invasive species (everything from fast-growing weeds to hornets to wild pigs) into new areas they don’t belong and seem hellbent on converting the Amazon rain forest into the world’s largest cattle ranch regardless of the consequences for the atmosphere, wildlife or native populations of the area. So we still mark ‘Earth Day.’

Way I see it, this is the only world we have. We hear stories about how life might be possible on Mars, if we find ways to move huge populations there quickly, and build artificial domes and find ways to pump in nitrogen and oxygen and on and on. But for me, I don’t think I’d want to live in an area without trees, flowers, wildlife, living in an artificial climate relying on machinery to allow us to breathe and bring us food from other planets. Seems like putting the money and effort needed to do that would be spent better on keeping this little planet inhabitable. So, I’m thankful for Earth and therefore thankful too for Earth Day.

Thankful Thursday X – 70s Boy!

This Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for my age. Well, not exactly for being in my 50s… although there’s a certain clarity of mind that perhaps was absent in younger me, there also is an increasing creakiness and aching of the knees and back to remind me I’m not all that young anymore. Not to mention the unfortunate but inevitable shrinking of the family ranks that I spoke of last week. But what I am thankful for is growing up in the 1970s.

It occurs to me because this week, two older guys talked about growing up when they did, and the kids today. Fellow blogger Phil talked of how wild it was in the ’60s. I bet. Everything changing and living with the constant threat of being drafted and sent over to a distant continent to fight a jungle war for who knows what end. Likewise, my brother-in-law of about that same age was talking of what was wrong with the kids today. I couldn’t help but agree with much of what he was saying. Too many of today’s kids are sheltered and afraid, destined to seemingly be big-bodied children even as their hair turns gray. It was different for me, and I think most of us born in the tail end of the ’60s, growing up in the ’70s and early-’80s.

I used to think my parents were overly protective when I was young. Compared to many, they probably were. But I count myself lucky I’m not one of the “bubblewrap kids” that have been raised in the past couple of decades. When I was a kid, if the weather was good, a Saturday or a day during the summer holiday meant getting out. Seeing my friends. Riding bikes came about as naturally to all of us as walking or knowing the lyrics to “More than a Feeling.” We’d get together, ride around, shoot the breeze. Maybe go to the plaza and get some pop. Maybe ride to the lake, three or four miles distant. When I got to be about ten or eleven, a couple of friends built a rough little treehouse down in the creek ravine near us. We’d climb up, sit there looking down on the town from all of about seven feet up, gossip and laugh and maybe get into a few youthful hijinx. Gawking at a copy of Playboy someone managed to sneak away from a dad or older brother was about the most daring of those. Or smoking a cigarette similarly obtained. I was much more into the pictures than the smoking I must admit. Or maybe we’d just go to the park behind my house and kick around the soccer ball. Play on the fort. Ah yes, the fort. If there was a clear description of the difference between generations, that was it.

The “fort” was a big wooden play structure the town had built in the park which sat between two halves of a subdivision, directly down from a public school. (Oh yes… we all walked or cycled to school ourselves too. Any parent would have laughed in our face, if we were lucky, if we’d asked them to drive us three blocks. We got our exercise even if it wasn’t a “gym” day.) Anyway, the structure had three wooden turrets for lack of a better word, connected by elevated walkways, one of them a swinging one. There were ladders leading up, tire swings hanging,some sort of rope ladder up one side, a slide down from the tallest one, to the giant sandy area below. It was lots of fun. Running around it, climbing, maybe jumping off the walkway all the three feet to the ground. Burning off energy, inventing silly games. We had fun and kept busy.

You probably guessed, that fort is now ancient history. A good two decades back the town tore it down. They had seemingly had complaints galore from a new breed of parent who fretted and were worried of a million-dollar lawsuit should any kid burn their behind sliding down a hot metal slide in summer in shorts or twist an ankle jumping off it. Besides the kids probably had little interest in it. Now they had the internet to keep them entertained and meet people presumably far more interesting than their peers from around the neighborhood.

Sure at times I fell off my bike and scuffed up my knee. I took it as a life lesson, a little tip on how not to take a corner too fast or ride across loose gravel. My parents, if they even noticed would tell me to wash it, put a bandage on it and be more careful next time. They didn’t see it as a chance to sue the city or bicycle company for a king’s ransom nor as a reason to keep me from ever going outside the confines of our yard again. I turned out fine.

At least I think so. I think at least I turned out better than kids born 30 years later who’ve never traveled more than a block from their home without being driven and whose only recreational activity involves a video game console will be when they reach their 50s. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m thankful theirs wasn’t my childhood.

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.

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