Novememoir

If one is intending to write a memoir, reading other people’s version would be a logical way to improve and learn. My goal for enrolling in the memoir writing course was to enhance my writing skills. The work published in my blog seemed to me to lend themselves more to history; yet, after a few weeks into the course, I understood how they could be transformed. The resource section includes a recommended reading list with examples of various writing styles. Reading several might help steer an aspiring writer into a format indicative of his/her style and voice.

Viking Canada, 2021. 302 pages

With that intention, I stumbled on this new release perusing the shelves at the bookstore. Pluck: A Memoir of a Newfoundland Childhood and the Raucous, Terrible, Amazing Journey to Becoming a Novelist appealed to my curiosity for the title alone. I recognized the author, Donna Morrissey, having several of her novels on my shelf. I purchased her debut novel, Kit’s Law, in 1999 during my first and only trip to St. John’s Newfoundland. (Spoiler alert: it is the book Donna Morrissey publishes at the end of the memoir – although you probably figured it out based on the timelines.) She went to publish five more novels, a few nominated for some major awards and winning a few for Eastern Canada authors. I have been collecting her work since but must confess, have yet to read any of them. The completion of Pluck has whetted my appetite for delving into her novels in the future.

The book opens with an eight year old Donna returning home from a day exploring the shores of White Bay harbouring the family’s fishing village, The Beaches, in 1964. She is met outside by Aunt Rose who broke the news of the death of Baby Paul even though Donna could not comprehend the meaning. It wasn’t until she approached the casket whilst the adults were still asleep when Donna discovered the meaning: The white box was on the table, the cover was off. Baby Paul was still and silent as stone. The little bump of his nose was the only curve on his tiny white face. I crept closer. The smell of soap from yesterday became stronger. I lifted my hand as my mother had done. I touched it to his forehead and leapt back with a cry of fright. His skin was cold, as cold as sea ice. I knew then what death was. The scene set the tone for the immediate fallout and for another death many years later which would have a dramatic effect on Donna and the entire family.

There are events which seem particular to the East Coast, especially to the fishing villages or small towns of Newfoundland. The prose is scattered with local humour, my favourite being, “Normal. I was as normal as a rubber boot in a microwave oven.”

Donna Morrissey stresses the value of fortitude as she witnessed in her parents, and which served her well in completing her first work of fiction. “I was daunted by [my mother’s] fortitude, and by my father’s later that spring…..Fortitude. Without it, I was to learn, all other virtues wither on the vine.” And then a couple chapters later, “And it was there, on that dark and loneliest of roads, that I’d be granted yet another grace: that of fortitude. And through it bump up against the immensity of God.”

There are similar statements about the impact of God scattered throughout the memoir without an explanation until the very end, in the Epilogue: “I did not go looking for God, the Keeper of light and the Giver of gifts. I found God through tragedy, horror, and grief, and within the gifts of grace, of joy, and of love.” There is no sense of religiosity or spirituality in the retelling of hers and her family’s story. It would appear the process itself, the deep examination and thoughtful reflection of their lives, which enlightened her to a renewed perspective.

The level of recall detail here and in other works have always intimidated my own writing, having difficulty remembering every moment of important events in my own life. Donna Morrissey addresses this question at the end in the author’s notes. She explains the efforts to confirm and check with others involved, some of whom had another perception of the story; nevertheless, “the events I describe are wholly true and recounted in good faith”, consistent with the message of other writers and that of the memoir writing course. The lesson is one which will serve me well attempting to fill in my own gaps.

Scribner, 2017. 217 pages.

Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation by Kyo Maclear is one of the recommended memoirs for students of the course. It won the Trillium book award in 2018. I had already owned a copy along with her second adult novel, Stray Love. Kyo Maclear is more commonly known for her illustrated children’s literature, having produced seven so far, and counting. Her father is the journalist and documentary filmmaker Michael Maclear, which is relevant only in that his travels and workaholic lifestyle had an impact on their relationship, as one might imagine.

The memoir writing course includes an excerpt from Birds Art Life which is a description of Kyo spending time with her dying father, in the hospital: “My work now came with a recognition that my father, the person who had instilled in me a love of language, who had led me to the writing life, was losing words rapidly. ” The section was selected because it encapsulated the lessons of the chapter: use all five senses; show, don’t tell; avoid cliches; write good sentences; and eliminate sloppy grammatical errors.

As the title states, the book is a year when Kyo Maclear takes up birding with the accompaniment of a fellow amateur birder known only as the musician. They explore the birds of Toronto throughout the four seasons while Kyo reflects on her own life with a growing family, aging parents, and a dying father. The reader is presented with extremely well written observations on birds, art, and life.

The instinct for liberty may be deeply ingrained, but we are all captive in some way to something. We may be held in place by the confinement of tradition or trapped in relationships (family, marital, professional) that grow to feel like cupboards – comfortable, well appointed but cupboards nonetheless. Or we may be stalled by our fear of immensities and the free fall of the unknown. We may be captive when we choose financial stability over artistic freedom, when we live our lives like agoraphobics, confusing the safety of a locked house with security. The cage of habit. The cage of ego. The cage of ambition. The cage of materialism. The line between freedom from fear and freedom from danger is not always easy to discern.

This paragraph displays her predilection for repetition of words or phrases or sentence structure. There are numerous examples: every sentence beginning with “we”; two pages of “I remember”; a series of “stones for”; another paragraph of “I regret”. However noticeable, the style is effective in pressing a point, emphasizing an impression, rather than being overused. Although I cannot imagine employing the strategy with the same frequency, her utilization provides confidence to write in a similar manner whenever the situation warrants. The structure of the book itself is informative as well. The narrative of birding during this particular year is surrounded by issues of her history of immigration and family accompanied by her concomitant evolving emotions.

I will finish with one more profound quote: “if you watch life through binoculars, your vision is naturally blinkered”.

Palimpsest Press, 2020. 147 pages

My last read for November was the 2021 winner of the Governor General Prize for non-fiction, alfabet/alphabet: a memoir of a first language by Sadiqa de Meijer. Her debut poetry collection was shortlisted for the GG prize in 2014 and  her poem “Great Aunt Unmarried” won the CBC Canada Writes award for poetry in 2012. Sadiqa was born in Amsterdam to parents of mixed heritage and moved with the family to Canada at the age of 12. I was hooked into purchasing and reading because the back cover describes the book as “the record of Sadiqa de Meijer’s transition from speaking Dutch to English.” The description had me thinking it could inform an understanding of my parents’ experience. At only 147 pages, I would be able to finish by end of the month and cap off Novememoir. Completing it took longer than expected largely because of it’s unusual format and in part, the subject matter was not always rivetting.

The chapters tend to alternate between a lesson in linguistics and a reflection of growing up, the latter most interesting, the former sometimes very dull. The chapter entitled “stilte/silence” is the most egregious. It begins with a column of English words parallel to a column of the same word in Dutch. The first paragraph then begins “In English, the words on this list are pronounced as trochees, with weight placed on the first syllable, while in Dutch they are iambs,” etc. The rest of the chapter is a discussion of the various translations of a poem, seemingly at odds with the rest of the book.

Yet at times the description of her experience is poetic and reflects the title:

The countryside is linear and disciplined; nature in the governance of engineers. As a child on road trips, I would sometimes experience an illusion of scale; the sense that I was large enough to reach out my gigantic hand an tenderly stroke the landscape as it passed. Now, from the train, it’s almost as if language rises like a vapour, an early morning fog that fills the drainage creeks and blankets the tilled soil, and might drift to reveal the otherworldly dance of a stork, that clicking bird whose name is all long vowels and soft consonants, ooievaar. Then English suddenly feels awkward and contrived; a dream I’ve had in which my tongue didn’t work quite right.

I was amused by the discussion of Dutch words and their similarity with English; Sadiqa’s experience of living in the Netherlands as a child of mixed heritage is also revealing. The frequency of the lessons in language, however, detracts and makes me wonder what the judges saw to award it the prize for non-fiction.

Next month will be a continuation of reading more memoirs, but not necessarily Canadian.

Until then, happy reading.

Return to Sender

Today would have been Dad’s 89th birthday. Petrus Gerardus Cornelius Aloysius de Cock was born on this day, November 27, 1932 in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Return to Sender is a story about my writing to him up until his death at a long term care home in Wallaceburg, April 2, 2019.

The notes began when the phone calls ended.

Dad would telephone us every weekend as part of his Sunday ritual. The practice began when Olga and I moved from London to Toronto 37 years earlier. Mom initiated these conversations, checking in each week, asking about everything and nothing in particular. When she passed away, Dad continued the phone calls. Hearing our voices helped fill the silence and loneliness Dad felt after losing his partner of almost fifty years. Olga and I would schedule our breakfast in anticipation of the inevitable ringing; on occasion, when we were not going to be home, we would make the call ourselves. 

The number of phone calls increased when we were planning an international vacation, or I was headed abroad for a work-related trip. They began in the weeks leading to the eventual departure, culminating in a farewell send-off the morning of: “I wanted to wish you a safe trip. Call me when you come back.” When we travelled to Dad’s homeland, the Netherlands, we stayed with his brother, whom he would call every single day asking about our whereabouts, what had we seen, what site would be next.  When I travelled abroad, alone, for work, I wrote daily emails in hopes someone would relay the letters to Dad so he could enjoy adventures in countries he would never have the chance to visit himself.   

Selfie with Dad in February, 2019

After he moved into a retirement home in Wallaceburg several years ago, Dad was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus, commonly known as water on the brain. Easily mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms include loss of gait, falling over, cognitive impairment and dementia. A stint implantation in the back of his head showed promise for improved mobility but after six months he had reverted to his previous deteriorating condition. When Dad could no longer manage to remember our number, we would call him at approximately the same time each Sunday. It was now our turn to initiate the weekly connection. Dad had increasing difficulty balancing the phone to his ear especially after stumbling across the small apartment to pick up the receiver. The conversations became challenging as well; “I know I’m not all there” was a common refrain as we attempted to explain or elaborate or repeat a message. After only a couple years, when his physical needs exceeded the capacity of the staff, Dad was moved into a long-term care facility. By then he had lost his ability to speak.

The telephone went silent; our connection was lost.

A spontaneous purchase of a couple postcards during a work trip to Prince Edward Island was the beginning of my attempt to bridge the chasm. Shortly afterwards, I again mailed several postcards during a two-week stint at our cottage. At that point I took to writing a note to him on a card every week for the next eight months and sending a postcard from each destination of my personal and professional travels. The subject matter was not profound. It reflected the content of our weekly telephone exchanges, addressing questions he would have asked: how was the weather? How was work? What are the kids up to? Did you see the Leafs game last night?

Dear Dad,

Well, the hockey season has begun, and your beloved Maple Leafs have started their march to the Stanley Cup! I don’t know if that will happen, but it certainly will provide a season of excitement and ongoing conjecture.

Cannot recall if we mentioned that Olena and Daniel are in Colombia for two weeks vacation. She has sent along pictures and looks to be having a wonderful time. Colombia was not high on our list of places to visit but Olena is loving the place.

Nicholas is starting to interview for jobs next summer. The idea of selection eight months in advance appears unusual but clearly normal in the field of law. He is excited about the possibilities.

Love, Henry and Olga

I was never sure when or how the cards were received. Frank, husband of another resident, explained that Dad would sit at his table in the central activity area with several cards spread out in front of him. The local priest would stop by, engage in some questions about the day; then Dad would push a twisted hand in the direction of the card, slowly tilt his cowering head toward the priest, prompting him to begin reading.

On the other days Frank himself would meander over to Dad’s spot, the same set of cards still splayed out on the table. “Do you have a new card, Peter? Would you like me to read them?” Dad would tilt his head, open his eyes a little wider and listen to Frank’s Scottish drawl. Later in the afternoon my brother would pop in on his way home from work. The cards still there, Michael would read them as if for the first time, having gone through the same routine, with the same cards, two days earlier.

Dear Dad,

Today was the first full day of the conference and I presented at the second session. It went very well except technical glitches with the projector. Like a stand-up comedian I just kept talking while the hotel technical staff fixed the problem.

The afternoon speaker was a musical therapist who spoke of her work which had nothing to do with the conference. It was sheer delight. She spoke of essential songs or ones to which we identify.

On a walk in the sun, after the session, I thought of you and the The Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. For Mom, I thought of Leaving on a Jet Plane by Peter, Paul and Mary. “Leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again”. “One more time let me kiss you, then close your eyes and I’ll be on my way”.

Maybe someone can sing it for you.

Love, Henry

Olga connecting Dad with the one of the kids using the iphone.

The trip from our home in Toronto to Wallaceburg is a full three hours, 300 km. of mostly highway driving. The visits would be an hour, maybe an hour and a half, of comments and familial news, trying to solicit a nod, or a smile, or the raising of an eyebrow. The one-sided conversation evaporated quickly. If the weather was warm, we would push the wheelchair into the garden to luxuriate in the sunshine, where the topic would be about gardens, remembering the ones from his home. Dad would close his eyes, raise his head in the direction of the sun, letting the rays engulf his body, reminiscent of the afternoons in his own backyard watching the grass grow. Olga would rub Dad’s curling and stiffening hands, dexterity long lost, their only use reduced to chin scratching.

Dear Dad,

It was another glorious day here in Calgary. The temperature was a brisk 0 degrees in the morning, but it slowly warmed with the sun to become wonderful walking weather. The city has created a well maintained, carefully constructed trail around the river. I walked it at length.

Trips like these also give me the opportunity to read. And on this one I have been reading a book entitled, “All Things Consoled”, a daughter’s memoir about taking care of her aging parents. I thought of the book throughout my stroll today as I also heard an accordion playing “my beautiful Sunday, say that you love me, my my my it’s a beautiful day”.

It reminded me of a passage from the book when the daughter asked about why the mother wanted to continue. The mother said, “because it is so beautiful outside”.

Till next time.

Love, Henry

We were never quite sure how much Dad understood. If we arrived to find him sleeping, fifteen or more minutes would pass before his brain engaged. When his eyes opened wide and bright, we knew he recognized us and he began to be cognizant of our attempts at communication. I started to read to him as an alternative form of stimulation beyond the regular monologue. I began with a book about the occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, knowing he could relate to the content and maybe conjure up some memories. His shortened attention span prevented him from grasping the content; Dad eventually withdrew, closed his eyes and fell asleep.  

Dear Dad,

Today was the 100th anniversary of Remembrance Day. I hope you were able to watch the ceremonies on the television and observed the two minutes of silence. I remember the stories from you and Mom about life during the Second World War and many of the everyday necessities of your families in order to survive.

I worked in the garden today, wrapping up the yard for the winter, and listened to CBC radio broadcasting from Ottawa. I stood, cap off, for the moment of silence, hearing the bells of Parliament Hill sound the eleventh hour. Bag pipes ended it which was punctuated by fighter jets overhead; then, the remainder of the Last Post was played. Olga was at a workshop for yoga today and they also paused to remember. I can’t say the same for some neighbour who fouled the air blowing leaves the whole time. You used to talk of the whole country stopping everything for those two minutes. Wish we could do the same here.

We also understand the home is celebrating your birthday this week. We wish we were able to be there. Hope it was fun.

Lest we forget.

Love, Henry and Olga

One of the last photos of Dad, taken a month before his passing on April 2, 2019.

In my last visit, I was alone but facetimed-in Olga who spoke to Dad, asking questions, providing words of encouragement. This time his eyes were pleading. He was saying goodbye. Dad had stopped eating and began refusing the medication by pushing them out of his mouth every time a nurse snuck some past his lips. He did not want to live anymore, not in this manner. It was time to join Mom, to be together with her again. On that Sunday evening, when I returned home, I wrote another card knowing the end of his life was close.

Dear Dad,

Mother Nature played an early joke on us with a downfall of snow over the weekend just as the last of the icebergs around the house had disappeared. This morning the skies and the grounds are clear and once again, the weatherman is promising better temperatures this week.

The real promise, however, is the sound of birds in the trees, singing the music of warmer days. Signs of hope are popping through the garden soil, with spots of green sprouting where flowers will soon appear. On one hand, spring is the ugliest time with brown dirt and unkempt grasses and filth uncovered.

But it is the budding trees, the peeking perennial plants telling us not to worry, all will be better, and we will be with the beauty of summer soon.

Love, Henry and Olga

Dad died a few days later.  His room had been emptied by the time my card arrived. The long-term care staff stuck it back in the mail, bouncing to my home a week after the funeral. Someone had unceremoniously scratched through the address and printed neatly, “Return to Sender”. The post office list for potential reasons was checked off beside “moved/unknown”, the next best option to passed away, a euphemism for a euphemism.

The writing of notes and postcards stopped.

I managed to recover all of them; and in rereading, I realize how they form a memoir of sorts, a marking of the events of my world – some profound, some mundane, some needing to be read out loud, others to be savored privately. I miss both my parents. I miss sending the notes. Now, the emptiness is filled by memories resurrected through photographs of their life in Canada; and, through my writing.

Training 101

On October 8, Olga and I purchased a Samoyed from a breeder near Peterborough, Ont. He came with the name, Smirnoff, which we were quick to replace with Odin. This 9 month old puppy was certainly bigger than we anticipated (61 pounds according to our vet) and younger; we had our name on a list for a two year old. The breeder offered a younger one and we accepted, not wanting to miss out.

Cats had always been the pet of choice in our household. Olga had been harboring felines as a child and she had adopted Heidi prior to our marriage. When we eventually had to put down Heidi, Nicholas and Olena were very young; it was our intention to acquire another animal. Olga and I believed a pet would help in their emotional development, particularly their sense of empathy. We had considered a dog but realistically believed a cat (or two) would be easier to manage specifically because we both worked fulltime. A dog would require more daytime attention, something we could not provide given the circumstances; so, we adopted two kittens, brothers, Milo and Otis. Skip forward to 2016, Milo had reached his end and our household has been without a pet since.

Our home was missing a presence especially now that our excursions were few given the limitations of COVID-19. We thought about the long-term benefits of the company a pet would bring along with routines and expectations to provide some structure to the days ahead. Adopting a cat proved problematic (stories for another day) and Olga’s research suggested the temperament of a Samoyed would suit our sensibilities. A chance meeting on the street with a couple walking a female version of the breed cemented the decision to pursue one.

The first few days were bliss. Odin was crate trained and house trained; he was quiet and docile on our first walks, oblivious to other dogs and squirrels; he slept through the night and was completely compliant on our ride to the cottage. We had scored. Issues began to arise during the five days at the lake as walks became increasingly difficult and Odin played rough, nipping and grabbing as if we were his toys. The overstimulation of the environment appeared to have obliterated whatever lessons were learned; bad habits were emerging. Odin needed to be trained systematically in order to get back to square one.

Samoyeds are reported to be smart and willful, with a reputation of being difficult to train. YouTube displays numerous training procedures, all professing the technique to teach even the most irascible canine. The best ones focus on a form of operant conditioning, rewarding the desired behaviour with an endless supply of treats, the most tasty saved for the unusually difficult tasks. The dogs in the videos all respond immediately; success is achieved in a manner never matched by our own efforts. Patience in these matters has never been my strong suit. On one evening Odin had been barking incessantly, something new, eventually defecating on the floor, in two spots, one pile squishing beneath my slippered feet. I lost it. The clean up was a scene of huffing and yelling and fury, a display of temper akin to a pipe bursting under pressure; an embarrassment, really.

The next day, at approximately the same time, just as Olga was preparing supper, Odin’s barking began again; surely a sign of needing to relieve himself so I put on the leash and led him to the backyard. Nothing happened. Odin was only interested in playing, chasing birds and squirrels, finding sticks to carry, frolicking. The events of the previous day girded my resolve to wait him out, my will versus his stubbornness, my insistence of showing who is boss. As I waited Odin kept finding different ways to annoy me. Darkness was setting in, supper was waiting yet all he wanted was to dig up the grass here, there, there and back here. I grew angrier and yanked harder with each new annoyance until the last one when my eyes widened, my teeth gritted, my heart raced and suddenly I saw my Dad, a visceral recollection of him attempting to “train” Duke.

I scared myself.

We had two dogs when I was growing up as a teenager, both named Duke. The first didn’t last, a stray which ran went for a romp in the neighbouring field and never returned. I don’t recall the number of years, five or six, when we had Duke, the second one. And as much as Duke was a fixture, pictures of him are rare. This one was from the summer of 1980 on the front lawn of our Kostis Avenue home, my mother in the background.

Duke was picked up at the Aylmer Sales Arena by Mr. Gooyers who bought and sold pigs there weekly where someone was giving away a litter of pups. Duke’s features suggested he was a cross between a German Sheppard and a St. Bernard. He was a big dog who could easily put his front paws on my shoulders.

I don’t recall precisely all the details of his upbringing except that I was not directly involved; my parents assumed those responsibilities. I have visions of my Dad being the disciplinarian, the one to direct Duke into the correct behaviour utilizing corporal punishment when required. His was also a form of operant conditioning, inflicting some form of physical inducement to modify Duke’s actions. Dad was not cruel; he was administering the lessons as learned through his upbringing, influenced by the acceptable understanding of the time. Pets are not people; they belong outside and your job was to demonstrate yourself as the master. Both my parents would have laughed at the current practice of a treat to reward a positive act; when you wanted the dog to leave something, you tamped on the snout, you spoke angrily, you did not provide a delicious snack to recognize the dog’s restraint. And if the dog did not move, you did not coax him with food; rather, you yanked on the collar and pulled him with the chain until the dog finally got the message. Those are the images which spooked me on that pivotal evening two weeks ago.

Duke was a very good dog for the family. Us four boys rough-housed with him, mimicking our own style of play with each other. Duke enjoyed our company and we his. I remember vigorously ruffling his fur, putting my whole fist in his mouth, feeding him coffee beans to laugh at his attempt to eat them. My Mother grew increasingly attached to Duke, especially for company when she was home alone, letting him stay indoors when Dad worked the night shift.

Duke was also very protective of everyone in the family, a trait which eventually led to his downfall. I remember a close friend stepping into our home, coming to pick me up for a night out. Charlie put his hand on my shoulder to say hello whereby Duke reared up to grab his arm and pull it down, sitting to guard me until we left. Duke flashed a mean streak on occasion, growling if you came too close while he was eating, or snapping from his house where he ensconced himself to ward off discipline for some transgression. The final straw was breaking his chain to lunge at the delivery man for handing mail to my mother. Duke could no longer be trusted with other people so he had to be put down.

Duke’s reaction was the consequence of his “training”; he responded in kind during moments of perceived stress. My difficult evening with Odin conjured up those memories. I wanted my actions with him to be the foundation for a mutual, respectful understanding of each other’s needs. I needed to train myself as much as Odin needed to be trained, properly, with consistency and gentle firmness and love.

Olga is a much more patient person and has spent hours sifting through training videos, seeking advice from on-line Samoyed owner Facebook pages, attempting the different methods to arrive at the most effective approach. She brings the wisdom and affection of a mother along with the knowledge of toddler development. I am endeavouring to train in the same manner and keep myself in check. Odin has responded daily, modifying his behaviour with each repeated lesson as we learn about the most advantageous approach for him and ourselves. Odin’s endearing character shines more frequently as he plays tug with the chew toys, gazes up at you with those puppy eyes, rolls onto his back with feet splayed so we can rub his belly, falls asleep on the ground beside you with his head in our lap, walks proudly alongside you, instep, around the neighbourhood, and greets new people with nose prodding, tail wagging enthusiasm. Odin is our huggable, little polar bear. There are still moments of frustration to which we attempt to address with ideas on what we need to do differently; training 101.

Not a single one

The month of October passed into the next without the completion of a single book. I did start with a new memoir by Donna Morrissey, Pluck and attempted to read each night just before my head went to the bottom of the page to stay. I managed only a few before the lights would be turned off.

So, instead of a review of books from this month, this post will talk about novels from the past, focusing on quotes which I recorded in my notebook, words which compelled me to write them down. As an illustration, let me begin with a couple from an unknown source. This passage is found on page 354 in a book for which I had neglected to include the title:

“Institutions are amoral” he said. “We should never lose touch with our individuality. Once you lose that you lose touch with the basics. The right and the wrong of things. I have to think we are conditioned to do the right thing as people. But not as institutions. There’s no morality in an institution. It’s just a thing.”

It is a message which resonates among those who have encountered a bureaucracy, subjected to the rules in apparent odds to the humanity of the circumstance. I think of our federal government yet again appealing a court decision on the neglect of providing indigenous child services even though compassion would be the most logical response especially given the apparent acceptance of the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations. It seems as if they have entirely missed the message to help heal the wrongs of the past: The true act of contrition has to be a deed, an action that somehow leads to change (page 205).

Macmillan, 1959. 373 pages.

My first foray into book collecting began with Hugh MacLennan. His book, The Watch That Ends the Night was a standard in Ontario secondary school curriculum. Many years later, I discovered the novel at a used book sale and reread it a second time. The indulgence sparked efforts to purchase the remainder of his works, all focused on Canada, all well written, several winning the Governor General award for fiction, some finding their way into the political lexicon, such as Two Solitudes, or into popular music, such as the Tragically Hip’s Courage (for Hugh McLennan) :

There’s no simple explanation
For anything important any of us do
And yeah, the human tragedy
Consists in the necessity
Of living with the consequences
Under pressure, under pressure

When I realized the source of these lyrics, I read The Watch That Ends the Night for a third time. In hindsight, it is the political story, the polar feelings about participation in the Spanish Civil War, the prevailing dynamic of the merits of socialism which captured my interest. In so doing, I copied another profound quote into my notebook:

Passion has a way of spilling over into all aspects of the human mind and feelings. It is the most dangerous thing in the world whether it focuses itself on love, religion, reform, politics or art. Without it, the world would die of dry rot. But though it creates it also destroys.

Hugh MacLennan passed away in 1990. I believe some of his books can still be found in print and you could most certainly find copies of his works in a Canadian library. I enjoyed them all.

ECW Press, 2018. 388 pages.

One of the benefits of travel, particularly international flights, is the opportunity to read. The long hauls provide lengths of undisturbed time to really dig into a book, ploughing through significant portions in one sitting. In 2018, on a work trip to China, I brought along the newly named winner of the Governor General Award for fiction, The Red Word, by Sarah Henstra. It is the story of a young woman attending university where she is caught up in gender politics and becomes a victim of the rape culture on campus. The writing had an impact on me as I found several lines which resonated:

The purity of vision itself becomes a kind of violence.

and

Pleasure is political… Enjoying something is a political act.

The latter has found its way onto my home page where I employ several quotes for consideration. I am not always clear what is intended by this statement. The words pop into my head as I reflect on how we live and its impact on others.

Time and age has also changed my perspective on my youth, on my education, and my ideals, particularly looking back at the early years of work. A quote from The Red Word probably captures it best:

We all thought we were different, but we weren’t. We all thought were resisting something, but we weren’t. We all thought life would be like this forever but it wouldn’t. …. From here on in, it would be nostalgia.

Sarah Heard is a professor of English literature and creative writing at Ryerson University here in Toronto, so I can imagine her book reflects stories from campus and her own lived experience through the system. Recent headlines emanating from the start of this past semester suggest the messages of The Red Word remain timely and relevant. It is a very worthwhile read.

Knopf Canada, 2018. 246 pages.

Another quote you will see on the home page of my blog comes from Craig Davidson’s book, The Saturday Night Ghost Club:

Reality never changes. Only our recollections of it do. Whenever a moment passes, we pass along with it into the realm of memory. And in that realm, geometries change. Contours shift, shades lighten, objectivities dissolve. Memory becomes what we need it to be.

The quote is a constant reminder to myself as I uncover old photographs, conjuring particular memories which vary with those of others who were part of the same experience. They recall elements which I have forgotten, or somehow subconsciously have chosen not to remember. I think as much about the events where I can no longer recite the details as those I write about with vivid scenarios spurred by a picture or artifact or experience. The idea of memory being what we need it to be haunts me as I proceed with the memoir writing course, attempting to complete the exercises, reflecting on the time, the circumstances, the emotions.

Craig Davidson has written several novels, largely centered around the illicit, seedy world of dog fighting, dog racing, and bare knuckle boxing in the Niagara region here in Ontario. In his book, The Fighter, he writes of parental relationships, particularly father and son: Bonds of family are the fiercest and can only be broken by the most extreme strokes. I am increasingly reminded of the truism of that statement.

I have enjoyed all of Craig Davidson’s work, including a memoir, Precious Cargo, and his horror books under the pseudonym, Nick Cutter.

From my perspective, the best novels have well written prose and insight into the human condition, images to mirror our world, words to induce reflection, situations which give us pause.

Let me finish with several statements which found their way into my notebook:

When it comes to understanding others…. we rarely tax our imaginations – Lawrence Hill, The Book of Negroes.

“You cannot know the true nature of another’s suffering.” “No. But you can try your damnedest not to worsen it.” – Esi Edugyan, Washington Black.

You get what you want, but never in the way you want it. – Steven Heighton, Every Lost Country.

Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future. – author unrecorded.

Until next time, happy reading.

By definition

A section in the memoir writing course discusses structure; more specifically, whether or not adhering to a predetermined one assists or inhibits creativity and achieving the goals. Sticking to a plan can be beneficial for some while restrictive and static to others. At the same time abiding by a particular practice, like the writing of letters or the creation of lists, can organically develop into a fulsome story. One chapter exercise was to generate a list and elaborate on the items, perhaps following the letters of the alphabet as a prompt. Nothing immediately popped into my imagination so I decided on another route: I would employ the word of a day, in order, from the first of the month to today (the 24th). What follows is that exercise utilizing the Merriam-Webster word of the day for October (https://www.merriam-webster.com/word-of-the-day/mirage-2021-10-24). I hope it doesn’t sound inauthentic or forced.

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I created my blog as a vehicle to reach a larger audience for my daily writing about a three week trip to India. The subject matter expanded when I began to digitize my deceased parents’ photograph collection, the last vestiges of their life. They became the prompts for a post, generally centered around a theme or a memory sparked by the images. The nostalgia of the early writing might be mistaken as an attempt to cozen readers into believing life was a rose garden. Rather, it reflects my own need for development, as I am not particularly adroit at conveying the difficult times and have lacked the mettle to persist, to work through a seemingly intransigent approach to discussing family matters. I don’t believe the avoidance to be lolling or to reflect a cavalier attitude about their realities.

Part of the hesitancy may be an unconscious minimization of my work and a disbelief in anyone’s interest to read the material. After all, who am I? Certainly not some scion of a famous family whose members would fret about any revelations. Instead my father is remembered as an amicable working man, the salt of the earth who could strike up a conversation with everyone: the staff in the front office, the president of 3M at the annual picnic, or the restauranteur of his favourite dining establishment.

My father was a machinist. This picture was taken at Kelco, a small shop in London, circa mid 1960’s.

Dad was not one to face difficulties directly; he would rather extricate himself from the situation or leave it to my mother to handle. Despite his fervent vocal support for unions and the causes they represent, my father avoided the odious strike at his place of work, the first in the plant’s history. He rationalized that the local leadership reflected a mini cabal which made the decision to walk out, without due regard for the membership. The leadership’s call to action was precipitated by angry words embellishing the divide with management, solidifying the previous gossamer support among the rank and file. Dad could not abide the rancor and vitriol, so chose instead to find other temporary employment until it ended. The income was needed, and picket line duty was avoided.

But I digress.

The discipline of writing, to place my bum in a seat every day putting pen to paper, purported to be the secret to success, hopefully means my inhibitions will not continue in perpetuity (with the added risk of my body devolving into a zaftig figure). I hope persistence, practice, and vulnerability will support my ambitions to be a writer, to be deserving of that nomenclature. My enrolling in the memoir writing course was intended to provide ongoing access to the tools necessary to batten my resolve, to tackle the realities of our lives, the beauty and the untoward.

I believe an integral element of this goal is my devotion to documenting the unrecorded and the unspoken, the myths and the truths; to discern between the actual and the bogus. This motivation certainly reflects my determination to uncover the mid-20th century world of a Catholic missionary Uncle, discovering how much of my father’s admiration was built on the mirage of priesthood or was the genuine love of an older brother possessed of fatherly characteristics.

Father Kees de Cock performing mass in Uganda, I am guessing in the 1970’s.

In a similar vein, the recording of stories generated by family pictures will engender the full gamut of emotions and inspire their expression. And in time, I hope to exhibit the bravery necessary to capture them in my blog and in my writing.

It and me are a work in progress.

Good things come in threes

One of the exercises in my memoir writing course challenges participants to write a story using only three word sentences. There is no expectation to be grammatically correct; rather it is in an exercise in parsimony, being able to communicate your message without elaborate sentences. The exercise is part of a chapter on what to leave out, lessons on selectiveness.

I combined my story with an exercise from an earlier chapter suggesting writing about a blurry picture from our photograph collection, the ones from the pre-digital days which we hung onto because they were the only evidence of the event. I relished the three word challenge and wrote this story. Hope you enjoy it.

Our First Place

Married first October. Purposely small gathering. Wrote own vows. For non-denominational wedding. Catholic ruled out. Not everyone agreed. Not everyone sure. But we were.

Honeymooned in Quebec. City more specific. Drove the distance. Stopped in Renfrew. Enjoyed each other. Stopped in Ottawa. Marriage was blessed. Priest a friend. Provided welcome acceptance. Union was complete.

Only one week. Back to school. Back to work. Back home together.

Olga finishing undergrad. My graduate ambitions. Put on hold. I need employment. For the money. Not my career.

Work pays rent. Cute little apartment. East of Adelaide. Three storey building. Overlooking parking lot. Price was right. Groceries are close. Ice cream nearby. University walking distance.

Our first place. Our first memories.

Sun engulfs rooms. For morning coffees. Reading the paper. And some books. For her homework. For my pleasure. Embraced small things. Walk the neighbourhood. Saturday church choir. Evenings at home. With some wine. Maybe some TV. An occasional guest. But mostly us. Alone in bliss. In all ways.

Inherited a cat. Not my choice. Part of deal. Had dogs before.  Stepped on feline. Middle of night. Middle of hallway. The next day. Paw got caught. Closing the drawer. Another painful meow! Two strikes down. Only one day. Cats have ways. Some new adjustments. Need to learn.

For first Christmas. Tree was small. Stand was crude. Home made decorations. Except the lights. Teddy bear cookies. Shellac, hooks, string. Bright red ribbons. Strings of popcorn. Hung with care. Didn’t need much. Hosted cookie night. Brothers came over. Parents came over. Everyone took part. Making the dough. Gingerbread boys abound. Drink was aplenty. Merriment all around.

Enrolled one course. Introductory French class. On Tuesday night. Could go together. Continue to learn. Not lose touch. Spring was busy. Sixty hour weeks. Could not study. For one month. Assignments were late. Tests were poor. Last one disaster. Thought I failed. For first time. Professor showed mercy. The only explanation. For the C.

Olga’s last exam. How to recognize? Brought the wineskin. Brought the glasses. Poured in courtyard. Outside examination hall. Imagined ourselves rebellious. Toasted an accomplishment. Meant to surprise. And it did. A simple celebration. Still fondly remembered. In our minds. One blurry photo. Only us aware. Of the content. Of the scene. Of the story.

Picture maybe blurry. Memory still clear.

Graduate school offers. Decided on Toronto. Packing up belongings. Friends helped us. With pullout couch. Unfolded in stairwell. Damn @#&%in’ thing. Boxes, beds, chairs. Three flights down. Three flights up. Repeat after me. Into rented truck. Never drove standard. But no choice. Gotta learn somehow.

Said our goodbyes. Will always remember. Our first place. Our first days.

Something New

Fall is the season for new releases and book awards. The Scotiabank Giller Prize announced it’s long list at the beginning of October (including two which had yet to be published) and just this morning, unveiled the shortlist of five finalists. A week ago, the newly named Atwood Gibson Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize (now there is a mouthful) revealed their five nominees. The Governor General’s Literary Awards is next up with their list on October 14; all will make their selection in the first two weeks of November. Keeping up with the new releases is almost a full time job; attaining them becomes increasingly difficult with each passing year and the concomitant reduction in space at home. My future collecting will need to be more focused, purchasing only award nominees or reducing the writers to only my favourite authors.

Knopf Canada, 2021. 251 pages.

That list would need to include Mariam Toews. She first drew my attention with the release of her third novel, A Complicated Kindness. It was a phenomenal success winning numerous awards, including the 2004 Governor Generals’ and was the winner of 2006 Canada Reads competition. I have purchased and read every book since, including a memoir written in her father’s voice and inspired by his suicide, Swing Low: A Life. I have acquired her first two novels through ABE.com and have found American first editions of The Flying Troutmans and All My Puny Sorrows in my US travels. (The latter was turned into a movie which had its debut at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.) I remember when Mariam Toews was one of three writers at a local edition of Read for the Cure. The quirkiness of her writing was evident in her presentation that evening, stories seemingly random all coalescing by the end in a satisfyingly cohesive manner. I brought my books along and she graciously signed them all.

Her latest book, Fight Night, has been receiving considerable press and has been nominated for the Giller and the Atwood/Gibson so far. Fight Night like every one of her previous novels are semi-autobiographical, all containing elements which reflect her life from growing up as a Mennonite in Manitoba, to her father’s and sister’s suicide, to her current situation living in Toronto with her mother and daughter. You will know Miriam Toews life by reading her works of fiction.

This story is told through the voice of Swiv, a ten year old girl just suspended from school whose actor Mother is pregnant with Gord, identified as such even though the sex of the fetus is unknown. The name is that of her father who has left. They live in Toronto with the grandmother who assists in “home schooling” Swiv until she is able to return. Swiv in turn supports Grandma with her daily medicine dosages and by putting on her compression socks. Grandma is a devout follower of basketball, the subject of much conversation, and is a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, with the doorbell chiming “Take me out to the ballgame”. Swiv and Grandma have given each other writing projects, one of which is a letter to the future newborn, Gord. In the meantime, the mother is managing the hormones of pregnancy and the stress of her work and her boss.

Grandma is the real star of the story with her feisty personality and idiosyncrasies, making her one of the more endearing characters in Canadian fiction. In one of Grandma’s many attempts to explain to Swiv the circumstances of their family, she encapsulates the essence of the book and it’s title:

It was protection. What she was doing was forming a team with that guy. We need teams. That was a good instinct. Survival. She was fighting, fighting, fighting . . . to stay alive. To get back to you. And here we are . . . where’s that nitro, honey? Well, that’s the truth . . . you know, fighting can make peace . . . fighting can be going small . . .

And then a few paragraphs later, in talking about their relationship to the church:

They stole it from us. It was . . . our tragedy! Which is our humanity. We need those things. We need tragedy, which is the need to love and the need . . . not just the need, the imperative, the human imperative . . . to experience joy. To find joy and to create joy. All through the night. The fight night.

I loved this book.

Knopf Canada, 2021. 288 pages.

Mary Lawson burst onto the Canadian literary scene in 2002 with her very first novel, Crow Lake, at the age of 56. I remember reading the articles and thought of her as a role model, someone who came to writing later in life and persisted until she was able to land that first publication. Crow Lake was an instant success winning the Books in Canada First Novel Award and published in 22 countries. Her follow-up novel, The Other Side of the Bridge, was long-listed for the Booker Prize. Mary Lawson moved to Great Britain to pursue a career in industrial psychology. A Town Called Solace, like all her books, takes place in a fictional northern Ontario community, reflective of her rural roots. This latest novel was also long listed for the Booker Prize and reads in the same manner of the other work.

The story is told by three characters in alternating chapters. Clara is the young girl whose older sister, Rose, has run away from home. Clara cannot understand and is standing vigil in the front window of their home in Solace, waiting for Rose to return. Clara is also responsible for feeding Mrs. Orchard’s cat, her neighbour who has been taken to the hospital. Elizabeth’s recollections resurrect much of the history behind the novel, which includes Liam who has just arrived in town after quitting his accounting job in Toronto and separating from his wife of eight years. Between the three narratives, the story unwinds as the reader is introduced to life in a small town and its accompanying characters. To that end, the book reminded me of an old adage: The best thing about a small town is that everybody knows everybody; the worst thing about a small town is that everybody knows everybody.

Unlike many of my other reviews, I have not highlighted a particular quote or a passage to emphasize a point or a perspective. Instead, I found the book to be similar to a home cooked meal. The material is familiar and comforting without the exotic presentation on fancy dishware. Instead the reader finishes satiated from a warm experience, a high degree of satisfaction. Every time I read the title, the 80’s song, Town called Malice kept playing in my head. “‘Cause time is short and life is cruel but it’s up to us to change, This town called malice.” As a result, I thought the book title to be unfortunate until I thought of the meaning of solace: comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness. The book is hopeful and as such provides a dose of solace for the characters and the readers.

Knopf Canada, 2021. 243 pages.

For something completely different, I ventured into Kill the Mall. The author, Pash Malla is not a household name even among prodigious readers of Canadian literature. His first book was a collection of short stories with the curious title, The Withdrawal Method, published in 2008. It was longlisted for the Giller prize which would explain it’s presence on my shelves, and was the winner of the Trillium award. There is more biography on those inside flaps, stating he was born in St. John’s Newfoundland, but grew up for his formative years in London, Ontario, my hometown. A search on Google finds Pash Malla to be the 2021-22 Mabel Pugh Taylor Writer-in-Residence at McMaster University. Convenient since he lives in Hamilton now. I picked up Kill the Mall his the latest book since I already own two others, and I must admit, was intrigued by the title.

The premise of the book is the most unlikeliest of scenarios. The narrator, a writer, has been selected as the artist-in-residence at the local mall, where he must spend the next eight weeks practicing his craft, engaging with the public and writing weekly reports. His name is unclear, never being used in the dialogue, the only hint being an indecipherable signature at the end of his application which opens the book. The remainder is a weekly account of his imaginative misadventures and fantastical encounters. He is watched by K. Sohail, the security with the squeaky running shoes and jingling pants who locks him in every night; he befriends Dennis, who sells him a pair of jeans making him Dennis’s one and only customer. He is haunted by Pony tail, and pony tails; the former as another more popular artist-in-residence; the latter, the multiple apparitions of Dennis’s own, who may have been murdered, which conspire with the cars in the parking garage in an attempt to capture him. Trust me, if these images sound strange, they are….and there are many more in the book.

The book is hilarious, with a very wry sense of humour throughout. You could open the book at almost any page to find a funny passage, sometimes with clever insight, or describing some bizarre scenario. From the first progress report: “Work is the lifeblood of humanity. But love is the lifebones (equally essential). For blood without form is just a red mess on the floor“. In the second report, he talks about his getting a haircut: “You head for the salon confident that you’ll return a ‘satisfied customer,’ for cutting, by its very nature, assures a reduction in length. Little else in life offers such an inbuilt guarantee. Even a lunch, should it flee your system via propulsive evacuation, might leave you hungrier than you were before you ate.” One more example which typified a relentless paranoia: “Wasn’t instinctual behaviour precisely what the mall wanted? For me to be seduced by what felt like intuition and to believe that said intuition was my own, when in fact the mall had infiltrated my thoughts? Six weeks here had no doubt reporgrammed my brain to the mall’s diabolical caprices.‘” However, as much as I laughed and smiled for three quarters of the book, I was getting a little bored by the end.

Followers of my posts will know I am enrolled in an online memoir writing course; my next books, therefore, will be…..memoirs.

Happy reading.

Take a chance on me

“Are you the couple getting married here later this afternoon.”

The woman had wandered over to us sitting in the fifth row, left side, hand in hand, quietly watching the preparations. A number of people were scurrying about St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica in London, ensuring the flowers were arranged just right, the candles were displaying enough wick length, the readings were at the ready available at the podium and the microphones were all functioning. Olga and I had just raised ourselves off the kneeling board after several minutes of reverent prayer.

“No, I am afraid not” I began.

“We were merely stopping by before our wedding at another venue”, said Olga, completing the thought.

“Oh, you look like such a beautiful couple. Congratulations. I hope you have a wonderful ceremony.”

We wanted to visit the church before heading to Windermere House where 42 guests were gathering in the library of the old estate, awaiting our arrival. This small homage to St. Peters was as close as we could venture to a Catholic service. The parish priest had ruled out any opportunity of a traditional church wedding when he pronounced the notion to be scandalous.

Our ceremony was going to be very simple, sanctified with our own vows, presided over by a non-denominational minister, with musical accompaniment from the choir from Mary Immaculate Parish of which Olga and I were both members, singing songs of a wedding mass. The day was not going to be the one my parents envisioned, the first son to be married. They were overtly opposed when we announced our intentions three months earlier; eventually they grew into acceptance. Olga’s parents weren’t enamored; her Mom would be the only person attending, her father ill, her brother living out west. Others were subtly skeptical of our age difference, although had it been reversed, few would have noticed.

No wonder I woke in the morning with an unsettled stomach. The beverage consumption last night with my brothers and best man played a part; nervousness would be the main ingredient. A morning of hall preparation before I donned my best and only suit, black, purchased a mere three weeks ago. I drove by the flower shop to pick up my corsage and the bridal bouquet, before alighting upon Olga’s Victoria Street apartment, our future home.

Olga was quiet, also nervous, alone, waiting in her dress. Not the full bridal white gown of puffs and frills. Hers would be a simple, elegant dress, understated in a light beige, befitting the solemnity of the moment. Olga’s hair was pulled up, braided; her face adorned with makeup to enhance a natural beauty. Together, alone, unbeknownst to anyone, we made a detour to arrive here at the Basilica for some final reflection.

“Olga, are you ready?”

We both genuflected to the altar, Olga making the sign of the cross, three times as per Ukrainian practice, bowing our heads one last time. The hours of conversation in the two years preceding, discussing our values, our beliefs, our dreams, filled the silent ride driving past the university, the conduit of our beginning. Our family backgrounds made for shared experiences; our political interests combined for a common front; our personalities were complementary: we loved being with each other. The lingering questions of our individual particulars no longer mattered when we pulled into the parking space at the bottom of the hill. Uncertainty would be overcome together.

At the precise instant I put my hand in Olga’s to begin our walk up the tree lined drive, I knew.

We were blessed. Our marriage was meant to be.

Entering Windermere House in London, Ontario. October 1, 1983

Happy Anniversary, Olga.

With all my love,

The Last Breath

I remember Mom’s last breath. It was more of a heave, a bursting of air, a quick exhalation preceded by days of shallow, open mouthed panting.

We had sent Dad to our house, imploring him to get some decent rest. He had held vigil for the last five days, never leaving the hospital since he instructed all life supports to be removed. Mom’s second massive stroke had ravaged large sections of her brain. Here and here and here, said the doctor, pointing to the x-ray on the screen. Tubes and wires were protruding from her mouth and arms, attached to monitors of flashing numbers and lines. Two days in ICU broke Dad. He lost all hope. Mom would not not want to live in this manner he rationalized. Dad pulled the plugs without consulting with any of us. I was in disbelief, angry at a perceived weakness. It would be years before I arrived at a more compassionate understanding.

Mom’s body was to be left to fend for itself, propped up only by the morphine. A rotation of nurses would stop in on their round, ensure the drip was steady, vacuum out the accumulation of saliva in her throat, raw from the constant cleaning. Mom’s eyes were shut tightly, body motionless, no signs of life beyond the steady gasping. A few days earlier it had quickened, as if in a panic. Dad burst in tears, demanding, near screaming for all of us to stand round the bed, touch Mom’s arms and hold hands because the end was nigh. For an excruciating ten minutes we waited and watched and begged for finality.

Then the breathing regulated, falling back into the now familiar pattern. Dad collapsed into the chair, head in hands, sobbing. He vowed never to leave and would remain ensconced in the room until the bitter end. Exhaustion ceded to our insistence: Mom’s condition has not changed. Here is our key. Sleep in a bed for a few hours. Mom will still be here when you return.

The rhythm of Mom’s breath was steady, relentless, a white noise to which we had become attuned. Then a long silence, and the sudden gasp. We stopped our conversation, looked at each other then simultaneously turned our heads to watch for some sign, a resumption of life.

Nothing. No movement.

I jumped up to find the nurse who sauntered in to confirm the long inevitable. Mercifully, it was over.

No crying, just relief. We recited out loud the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary.

Dad walked into the room minutes later. Mom’s pain was over but his would morph into a new, prolonged phase.

Mary (Reit) Decock (nee van Rooij).
October 7, 1928 – September 28, 2005.

They look like big, good, strong hands

A focused memoir in 200 words.

I wipe the dribble of gravy running down his chin through the three-day stubble, his head leaning to the left. Dad’s eyes pop a little wider to acknowledge the attention, probably feeling embarrassed. He does not want to blemish the new orange soccer sweatshirt emblazoned with the Dutch flag.  The hands which deftly shuffled a deck of cards and splayed a full hand for selection can no longer grasp the cup of juice to bring the straw closer for a drink.

When Mom was alive, they waited anxiously for vacation breaks in anticipation of our two children spending a week at their home, playing catch in the yard, working the garden, picking the vegetables. The evenings would be capped around the table, counting the wins and losses in the penny stakes card game. On other days, the kids would accompany Dad to the Canadian Institute for the blind to deliver the canes he repaired in his retirement as a machinist. Those same hands are incapable of holding a fork and knife. The tools must be managed by the long-term care staff.

I lift another bite sized morsel to Dad’s mouth. He keeps it closed, drops his head. He is done.

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