Goin’ Back to Houston

“I’ve been through hell and half of Texas.”
-Janis Joplin

“If I owned both hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas and live in hell.”
-General Philip Sheridan, Union General during the Civil War commenting on the Texas countryside during the famous Union Army march from Georgia to the sea throughout the last months of the war

Like father, like daughter. Rachelle surprised me by deciding at literally the last minute to make Bishop’s University her choice for higher education for the next four years. I had made the same decision a mere forty two years earlier. Three weeks into her stay was the official Bishop’s Homecoming weekend. She e-mailed me with her cryptic message: “Homecoming was great. Too bad you missed it. There were a lot of senior citizens here you would have enjoyed talking to.”

No doubt. We could have enjoyed our warm milk and oatmeal but would have probably fallen asleep just before the pubs would be opening. Maybe next year…if I’m lucky!
The reason I had to pass up what could be my last Homecoming reunion was because of the unlikely event of a hockey tournament in Houston. Yes, that Houston, the city built on a floodplain and which was hit by six days and six nights of non-stop torrential downpour. “Has the arena floated away?” I asked my friend Jim who lives half the year in that Texan city and the other half a few streets from me in Ottawa. “Nope… they assure me the arena is in fine shape and the tournament is on,” came Jim’s reply. “I’ve also invited Nick and Chris and they’ve already booked their tickets.”
“Yeah, well, the last photos you showed me on your phone the highways looked like the Ottawa River.” Jim shrugged. “My wife Barb and I have booked a flight on United. And you have a spot on one of the teams that are in the tournament.”
Jim knew he had me there. It sounds absurd that a 61 year old man wants still another play session, but whenever an invitation is extended for an out -of-town tournament I start pacing around the kitchen table, figuring out how to juggle appointments, chores, dog-walking and any other commitment I may have in order to find room for another playdate. I believe psychologists label it the Peter Pan Syndrome.
United breaks guitars. That line became famous a couple of years ago when, I suppose, United Airlines broke the guitar of some musical dude. The first part of the trip would be easy. We were flying Air Canada to Washington D.C. and I was given permission by the woman at the check-in counter in Ottawa to just tape my two sticks to the strap of my hockey bag.
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Indeed. That full speed was easier done without the load of my hockey equipment and sticks which had not followed me onto the proper plane when we stopped over in Washington. No big deal, I was told at baggage recovery in Houston. “We’ll take your address and your equipment will be delivered to the house by nightfall.” Yeah, I thought. That’s what they told the guitar guy as well.

The rented car that Jim, Liz and I were driving from the Texas airport to their home in the Heights was stopped at a railway crossing. Jim was already in giddyup Texas mode. Despite the warning clanging of an approaching train Jim must have been a Pony Express driver in a past life. “Go, Barb, go,” he urged his wife on, who was fortunately at the wheel. Barb was made of saner stuff. She held her ground, indifferent to the impatient honking from behind. Jim’s impatience, however, had obviously inspired those foolhardy souls from the other side of the tracks. They obviously had a meeting to make, a bar to get to, or maybe just wanted to get back on the job, keeping the Texas economy great. Three cars made it through the flashing red lights, along with one plumbing truck, memorable to me because of the lettering on its side panel. ‘A flush beats a full house.’ Amazingly they also avoided the barrier arms which were now lowered. I had not observed a better job of turning and swerving- by- obstacles since I had last seen the Ottawa Senators hockey team race around pylons during an on-ice practice session. Toto, you’re not in Ottawa anymore. On each of the rail cars were written the words: No humping. No packing.
If any of you can figure that out, please let me know.

Perhaps because of the stress of our drive home, we stopped in at a bar to mend our shattered nerves. The sign outside read ‘The Hunky Dory. Steak, wine, whiskey.’
It was probably after my second beer that I made my way to the washroom. I was stopped in my tracks when I looked at the wording on the door which read, ‘Gays Restroom.’ Jesus, I thought to myself. Texas has come a long ways. Well, why not, I thought to myself. I’m as progressive as the next guy. I was pushing the door open but upon a second blinking of my eyes I was able to read the actual lettering of ‘Guys’ Washroom.’

Nick and Chris arrived the next day, their hockey gear with them. Luckily, my equipment was delivered the same day and so we were set to play. Chris wondered about my decision not to just walk on board the plane carrying my two sticks. “They’re so short, you could have just walked on board using them as canes,” he snickered, not entirely inaccurately. Thank God for teammates. They keep you humble.

So maybe the west was won, but not by me, and my team didn’t win the tournament either.. The week was over soon enough and once again it was time to fly, you guessed it, United, back to the Great White North. The flight from Houston to Washington, in these days of economical airlines, was not deemed long enough to serve anything but soft drinks, sodas to our American cousins. And I didn’t want to order a beer, having remembered what that did to my eyesight earlier on in my adventure. “I’ll have a Coke,” I advised the young flight attendant. (I understand that they’ve been called flight attendants for at least three decades now.) She seemed distracted by another customer. “Did you say a ginger ale?” she inquired again.
“No,” a Coke,” I reminded her mildly. I can be surprisingly patient at times. She nodded at me, smiled, and handed me a ginger ale.
My hockey sticks didn’t make it to the Ottawa airport that night either !

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Empty Nest

“I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.”
-Waylon Jennings

The sign in the Bed and Breakfast’s bathroom wall read:
Our aim is to keep the bathrooms clean.
Gentlemen: Stand closer. It’s shorter than you think.
Ladies: Please stay seated for the entire performance.

So it’s come to this. I’m now getting my best lines off of bathroom walls. And I’m thinking of stealing those lines and putting them up in our own bathroom when we start our own bed and breakfast business.

It’s called the Empty Nest Syndrome. The third and last of our spawn, the scrapings of the pot (she objects when I refer to her in that way) moved out almost three weeks ago. My wife Brenda and I helped her pack up her belongings and we temporarily piled them up by the front door. Our daughter Rachelle has never been known to pack one pair of shoes when four or five would do. She does excuse herself by saying that she hardly owns any dresses. But a couple of months ago one of my errands was to go to the dry cleaners and pick up what she would be wearing to the high school prom. I was in a hurry. “I’ve got a dress to pay for and pick up,” I told the polite young cashier. He looked at me, as if needing more information. I felt a sudden surge of… I don’t really know what. “Not my dress,” I hurriedly added. “But who cares anyway? It is 2017, after all.” Paraphrasing Justin Trudeau was the best I could do.

We still had to pack everything op and we had two choices: our 2004 Mazda 7 or our 2006 Toyota Corolla. Two imperfect choices, much like the decision to use arsenic or hemlock. The Toyota, although ultra-dependable would be packed to the gills, leaving few sightlines. The Mazda… well, it’s had three beginning drivers literally learn through the school of hard knocks on this unfortunate vehicle. My wife never agreed with the concept of paying others for Driver’s Education. “I’m a teacher, aren’t I,” she’d retort whenever I meekly opined that maybe a third party would be a safer choice for this particular life lesson. “And I can drive, can’t I? So it only makes sense…”

Of course. The result is that our Mazda 7 doesn’t look much better than the horseless carriage that the Beverly Hillbillies drove and Brenda doesn’t like to think of herself as Granny Clampett. There’s some rust on the sides, “Not too much,” I always say, and the front bumper is held together by wire. “You can hardly see it.” Just to make sure it’s a matching set there’s also a crack in the rear bumper. And it’s not really a case of looking like the Beast and driving like Beauty. We’ve had to pull over more than a few times. I’m on a first name basis with most of the CAA tow truck drivers in the Ottawa Valley district. I always protest when Brenda starts up again about selling it to the local bodywork shop that has seen so much of our business. Her take is that with only two drivers left for much of the time, who needs two cars?

So the Toyota is it. Squeezing everything in left only enough room for Rachelle and me. Brenda would have to say good-bye in the driveway. That’s fine with me; I don’t need an eight hour round trip of driving instructions anyway. When I came back it would to an empty nest.

A five bedroom nest. Brenda and I have actually run that type of business twice before, in two different locations while we both held full-time teaching jobs. We always enjoyed it, and unlike many, we never minded having strangers in the house. They often do a lot less damage than family members. But ironically, mornings could be more of a problem now than when we were working. I’ve usually got hockey, often late at night and which includes the mandatory obligation of having a post game beer, and Brenda likes the early morning workout classes at the gym. So I was thinking, couldn’t we just leave a note on the kitchen table saying…
Be back sometime. Do you mind making your own breakfast?

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The Grim Reaper

I’m not going to go all cosmic on you and say that I saw God during my recent Near Death Experience.
Well…okay. It wasn’t really a NDE. But driving myself to the hospital that Monday morning the pain was so bad that I was afraid I was going to die. Then it got even worse, and I was more afraid that I wasn’t going to die.

Really. Not that I see myself as that old guy in the Dos Equis beer commercial ‘The Most Interesting Man Alive’ or anything, but as my mother used to say when I was a kid,”David doesn’t get sick very often, but when he does he gets really sick.”

What tipped me off was when I started vomiting blood. At first I wrote it off as the cheap wine I had imbibed the night before, but when the blood started flowing from both ends I decided that I couldn’t ignore the red flags any longer. Sorry for the bad pun and the graphics, dear readers.

It was Monday morning and I naively figured that the usual weekend crowd of drunks, overdoses and knife fights would have already been bedded down or else shuffled off from whence they came. As I approached the Civic Hospital Emergency parking lot I cursed quietly to myself as I read the ‘Lot Full’ sign across the entrance. I turned the corner and joined the line on Ruskin Avenue as I waited for a parking spot to open up. I’m not the most patient man in the world, but a few whispered feverish prayers seemed to open up the blockade. I realize we all have our own opinion on that.The man at check-in (nurse ? office manager ? administrator?- people seem to be awfully sensitive about their job titles these days) of course asked me for my Health card and I felt very proud when I flipped through my wallet and produced it instantly. He gave me a funny look and passed it back. I had handed him my fishing license. “Never mind, sir,” the ‘administrator’ had seen plenty of doddering old men, confused by any query up to and including reciting their own name. “I’m in the system,” I said, trying to help him out. And then, “How long is the wait?” He leaned back in his chair. It was the first time I had seen him smile. “Hours,” was the answer. “Take a seat.” He gestured to the waiting room, crowded with suffering humanity, hardly a spare seat in sight.

I was very fortunate that two chairs became vacant as I shuffled over, carefully eyeing the proximity of the nearest restroom. I plunked myself down and put my reading material beside me. My wife had told me that she would be coming, but so would Christmas, I thought. An older gentleman (my age?) saw the empty spot and hurried over. “Excuse me, is that chair occupied?” he inquired.
“I’m dying,” I answered. I thought a little drama might scare him away.
“We all are,” he replied. “That’s not what I asked you. Can I sit here?”
Of course I obliged. Maybe he could save my seat until my wife arrived while I was running to the restroom every five minutes.Two of the cleaning staff were over in the corner.”The usual manic Monday,” one of them opined. “When will people learn not to come in to Emergency on Mondays or Fridays.” Like most of my life lessons, I had just learned it through bitter experience.

Inch by inch, life is a cinch. I eventually did get through to a doctor, who listened to my symptoms and then sent me for bloodwork and a CT scan. I was called back in afterwards and by the look he gave me I knew that the news could be better. Thirty one years of reading people’s body language had left me with more than just a pension.
“The good news is that it’s not cancer,” he began. “The bad news is that you’ll have to stay in awhile for us to give you some more tests.” I looked over at my wife, who had arrived before Christmas. We were then led over to a young Asian male, who looked no older than someone sitting in my Grade Eleven Comparative Religions class. He introduced himself as Dr. Song, and proceeded to ask me all the same questions I had just gone through with the other young doctor. I know kids today don’t talk to each other much anymore, but couldn’t he have just texted the information over?

And then the young guy surprised me with a sucker punch. “I was looking over your records. It seems as if your PSA counts are high.” Oh shit. Here we go again. Dr. Song wasn’t finished singing yet. “It’s problematic. It seems as if you don’t have cancer but you don’t not have cancer.” Lovely. No better place to be caught than in No Man’s Land. Even though I’m not Catholic my condition is like those of countless souls floating in Purgatory, not knowing whether my final resting place will be heaven or hell.

Dr. Song was starting to get on my nerves. “So I’ll be getting a room tonight, or at least a bed?”
“Uhh, no.” He looked over at the recliner in the small examining room. “You can stay here. And we’ll be able to give you your colonoscopy and endoscopy tomorrow.” Wonderful.

An hour-and-a-half later I was meeting with Dr. Song’s superior and I was let go for the night, with promises to fast and not even drink water after midnight nor before my two operations at 12:30 p.m. the next day. “But I can take Advil?” I pleaded. By now it was like mother’s milk to me. “No, just Tylenol. Advil can cause internal bleeding and your system does’t need anymore of that.”

The next day after my two operations the head surgeon heard that I hadn’t eaten in three days and told me that he wanted to keep me in for a couple of days for observation. By this time I had seen three doctors and two surgeons had a CT scan, bloodwork and two operations. As my wife loaded me into a wheelchair I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just becoming another burden to the Canadian taxpayer. My wife Brenda pushed me into yet another waiting area where the old boy beside me was noisily puking into a bucket. Oh well, I thought, what I cost the system now will soon be negated because I probably won’t be collecting my old-age pension for very long. That thought brightened me up enough that I felt hunger for the first time in three days and asked for something to eat. The nurse obliged, the service was speedy and after one bite she looked at me and said,”That’s good. You can go home now.”
Whaat ?
“The surgeon was concerned that you couldn’t eat. We were going to hook you up to intravenous. But now that you can eat, we don’t have to keep you.” So I was given the bum’s rush out the door, but at least my wife didn’t have to push me out in a wheelchair.

For several days I continued to live on Tylenol and the upside was that soft ice cream seemed to agree with me. Even though my illness was always at its worst in the morning the fact that I was male and sixty one years old allowed me to rule out pregnancy as the culprit.

I’m still waiting on my results. If I see any of you on the street, you better turn tail and get away from me as fast as you can… or else you’ll have to listen to another long story about the next phase of my treatment !

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Out of My Time

A guy I play hockey with served three tours of duty in Afghanistan. He’s a little bit outspoken, somewhat rough around the edges, but then I’ve been called worse than that and I’ve never served anywhere. he’s still working and sounds as normal as I do. Okay… bad example.
“How come you don’t have PTSD?” I asked him one day while we were lacing up our skates.
“I do have it,” he replied. “I got it from my first marriage.”

I thought that was funny and since I was in a hockey dressing room I could laugh outright and not look over my shoulder, checking for the P.C.- thought police. They are everywhere it seems and it even makes me angry to read the two daily newspapers we receive at the house. Just the fact that I don’t get all my news off my phone should give you an idea of how old I am. I’m as out-of-step with the times as I used to think my uncle was, and he was an old farmer who died twenty five years ago.

However, it’s gotten to the point where my wife is now inviting people who I regard as my nemesis into the house to eat with us. What did that guy say about his marriage giving him PTSD ?
Recently we rented a cottage on a lake. It’s about a ninety minute drive from Ottawa and I thought it would be the perfect spot to decompress for awhile. That is, if a guy who’s been retired for five years needs to decompress.
“Why don’t we invite Andrew and Eleanor over for one night while we’re up here?” my wife innocently asked one evening.
Jeezus Murphy.
Both my daughter Rachelle, the only one of our children who accompanied us, and I were against it. I didn’t want to be disturbed from kayaking and fishing off the dock and Rachelle seems to think I can be an embarrassment.Imagine that.

But my wife invariably gets her way, mostly because even I know that it’s become unacceptable to carry on like Ralph Cramden of the old Honeymooners t.v. show. I’m sure that you can find reruns on YouTube.
“O.K.,” Rachelle finally went along with the idea. She then turned her sights on me. “But I don’t want to hear any of your politically-incorrect opinions while they’re here.”
Who?… me ?

They arrived with one bottle of wine and three beers. Andrew drank two beers while I did the barbequeing and was served wine from our supply. Throughout supper we were treated to Andrew’s monologue. He ran down a long list of his latest accomplishments, complete with all his opinions on the latest court decisions. He was so politically-correct that he’d make the latest C.B.C documentary look like it was written by a bunch of Alberta oilfield workers. I smiled, bit my tongue and drank myself into such a stupour that I wasn’t able to articulate a single sentence. In other words, my family was happy I was playing the perfect host.

The next day, after swimming, canoeing and a large breakfast, they started loading up to go home. Andrew opened up the fridge right beside me, took out the lone beer he hadn’t drunk and then the bottle of wine that they had brought. He loaded them into his cooler.
I was doing the dishes as I watched, almost breaking my jaw as it dropped to the floor.

I used to think it was standard practice to leave your host family with a bottle of wine. But then again, I’m about as up-to-date as a five cent bottle of Coca-Cola. The new code of conduct has left me back in the horse-and-buggy era. Now, if you excuse me, I have to go water my horse. I left him out at the hitching post.

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Upon Retirement

When I first met her I thought that she must be one of those mysterious Eastern European women we always used to see in those Cold War spy movies. She had these high cheekbones and maybe, just maybe, she was a few pounds lighter than she is now, thirty one years later. No offense intended.

That first encounter with my future wife Brenda did not take place clandestinely on the Charles Bridge in Prague, but in Lindsay, Ontario’s Grand Hotel. To be perfectly frank, it wasn’t really grand but it served its purpose as a hangout for teachers on Friday afternoons in the 1980s. I had just returned to teaching after a semester off travelling in Europe and I became quite smitten with her not only because of her high cheekbones and slim figure but because she was the only person in town who actually listened to my travel stories.
Little did I realize that that wouldn’t last too long.

Shortly after that we ended up teaching at the same high school in the same department and even sharing the same prep period. What really shocked me was that she had actually read the Ontario Ministry Guidelines. In fact, our first disagreement was when we were assigned to make up the Grade 9 French exam and she was adamant that we follow instructions to the letter-of-the-law. Remember – this was the 1980s, in small town Ontario and French was considered an unwelcome intruder to the high school curriculum by many in the community. My cynicism when it came to following the bureaucratic maze of instructions shocked her at first.
Little did I realize that I would create a monster.

One of the first things she told me was that she wasn’t long for teaching high school French in Lindsay. She had just returned from a summer course at the University Of Nice in the French Riviera. She was going to the Sorbonne, she said, to further her studies and then begin her many journeys into parts unknown. Oh yeah, I thought, and I’m going to study astrophysics and become an astronaut.

Within a year we were married and the first two summers Brenda spent doing further studies in La Pocatiere, Quebec and at the University of Grenoble in France while I taught at a summer hockey school in northern Ontario and drank beer. There you go, I thought, there’s the wanderlust out of you. After failing to convince me to move to China to teach ESL and being one day late with my application for a Department of National Defence school in Germany, Brenda successfully applied for a paid sabbatical to take her Master’s in French and we ended up having one of the best years of our lives in Sherbrooke, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. That sojourn ended up being both good and bad for me. Upon our return to Lindsay with her expanded education my wife was appointed Department Head for a year while our previous chief took her own leave. So now she was officially my boss at work, which extended her authority over me to around the clock.

We had been married eight years and had two young children when she began talking about an international teaching exchange. Oh-oh, I thought. Let’s rein this in, I said. We have a four year old and a two year old here, for crying out loud. I don’t want the boys, and especially not me, suffering from culture shock. Why not something a little less exotic… like Edmonton, perhaps ?

Brenda nodded mildly and I heaved a huge sigh of relief. The next thing I know the Ontario Teaching Exchange had given us the address of someone named Philippe in Nimes in the south of France. Brenda handled all of the arrangements because I sat them out as a conscientious objector. Another great year as our family used the extensive French holidays to travel through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Lichtenstein, Andorra, Spain, Monaco and Morocco.

After years of teaching French most of us have shifted out of it for the sake of our sanity. Brenda never did.

Maybe that explains a lot. But what put a reluctant end to her teaching career were those concussions: two within three weeks because of collisions in the Y’s swimming pool and another one too soon after those while skiing in Orford, Quebec in between our daughter’s hockey games at a tournament in nearby Sherbrooke,. But even head trauma can be a blessing in disguise. Brenda is loving life in retirement, even if she was forced into it. Last Thursday she just returned home from a month visiting one of our sons in New Zealand.
But no more concussions, I told her. We need your sense-of-direction while on those trips. Me, I inherited mine from my father, who could get lost on his way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Next November we’re scheduled to hike the Annapurna Trail in Nepal’s Himalayas. We don’t want me leading the way. They tell me if you take a wrong turn somewhere you can end up spending a long, cold night.

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Beginning Jobs and Bad behaviour

“I really want to be a hockey referee,” one of my sons said to me awhile back.
“No… you don’t,” I answered.

Like most of my advice, I have no delusions that this unsolicited counsel will be heeded. Nor should it be. My track record of advising is at least as odorous as the pile of manure which still exists outside of my deceased cousin’s horse stable. I once advised the father of Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks’ all-star defenseman who is one of the three contenders for the James Norris Trophy as the NHL’s’ top defenders, not to move from Lindsay, Ontario to the growing city of Barrie. Brent’s parents, Rob and Gabby, thought that he would receive better coaching and competition closer to Toronto.
“Don’t do it,” I advised. “What chance does the kid have of ever making it out of Junior ‘B’?”

The thing is, we can only relate to our own experiences and perspective when we look out at the world and give our opinions. I refereed hockey on outdoor rinks and umpired baseball on the sandlots of Montreal’s baseball diamonds when I was twelve and thirteen years old. It looked like a step-up from delivering the Montreal Gazette at six a.m. or trying to sell greeting cards door-to-door.
It wasn’t.

My fingers and shins were hacked to death when I dropped the puck between two house league centres and the renumeration probably wasn’t enough to buy myself a hot chocolate at Peppy’s Greasy Spoon as I trudged home, carrying both my skates and the resentment I felt after listening to an hour of abuse.

And even though I was earning my wages in the wide world of sports, which I loved, I came to realize that there was no easy money out there. “What did you expect, kid?”, my father retorted when I shared this profound truism with him.

My daughter has a part-time job as a cashier at a grocery store on Ottawa’s Bank Street. Her job has both annoyed and amused me, for as much as that matters. She and I can’t walk through a grocery store without her rattling off the cash register numbers of every piece of produce that I pick up. “Broccoli… 4060.” I decided to humour her along so I asked her the number for apples. “What type ?” she asked. “Royal Gala…4135. Granny Smith? 4017.”
“Do you wanna know any others?”
No. That’s enough.

But standing at a cash has provided my daughter with more of a life education than memorizing produce food codes.

Lost causes and crumbling empires make for a good story. So does bad human behaviour. Maybe not all of us have carried a banner for a lost cause or lived through the crumbling of the Babylonian and Roman Empires. But not any of us, not a one, has not witnessed bad human behaviour.
We don’t have far to look. And it’s usually when people have their guard down, at the times they think they are free of the judgement of their friends and acquaintances, that their true colours shine forth.

And it’s become a part of my daughter’s coming of age. There’s the grocery store crowd that when asked if they need bags at a cost of five cents each, say no, that’s not necessary. When the order is rung through and the bill complete, then they suddenly realize that bags may be of some use. There are others who bring bags, but they are of the small clear plastic type that we tear off in the produce department and in which these aforementioned cheapskates now expect their cereal boxes and ice cream containers to be wrapped in.

Then there’s the guy who has carefully removed the tiny round identifying paper stickers used to identify apple brands. “These are Royal Gala apples?” my daughter will politely inquire, although she certainly knows anyway.
‘No… they’re not. They’re MacIntosh,” the thrifty fellow will reply assertively, having substituted the most expensive stickers for the least. To his credit, he didn’t expect to walk off with free grocery bags. He threw his on the counter, then folded his arms as he watched my daughter pack up, pretending to be completely enchanted by the price of the chocolate bars on the nearby shelf.

Of course, there’s such a thing as karma in this universe of ours. You see, I’ve done more than played hockey and worked out at the gym in my retirement’s free time. I’ve also been studying Eastern mysticism and spirituality. And as it turns out, my new gym, GoodLife, is now on the lookout for personal trainers.
“Maybe that could be a retirement career for me,” I mused to my daughter one afternoon while reading the notice on the gym wall.
My daughter snorted and almost choked on the smoothie these kids always seem to be drinking these days. “Who would want a 60- something personal trainer,?” she scoffed.
I silently envisioned a phalanx of bagless, apple sticker-switching customers lining up relentlessly at her till.
Karma, anyone ?

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Vimy

I do not love war, but I love the courage with which the average man faces up to war.
-James Michener

Those that know me might accuse me of not getting my facts straight too often… and they might have a point. But I’ve never let not knowing the facts get in the way of forming my opinion.

April 9th was Easter Day, one hundred years ago. If you’re a Canadian you know what happened on this day and if you don’t, then shame on you. Maybe you skipped History class the day World War One was being taught. I made my living as a teacher for thirty one years but I don’t know how much I actually taught anyone. I do know that whether I was teaching Grade One phys.ed in Ottawa, Canada or college- level English as a second language in Nimes, France, I did learn a lot more from my students than they might have from me. In some of the courses I was given to teach I didn’t know an awful lot before I started. In Law for instance, I didn’t know a legal tort from an apple tart, so I had to stay a least one day ahead of my students.

That was certainly true with my knowledge of Canadian military history. I grew up in Quebec and the society and culture of la Belle Province did not give a lot of support to either of the two world wars. In high school history we would spend a lot more time on Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain than we ever did on those years between 1914-18 and 1939-45. Conscription was a dirty word in Quebec and most in that province witnessed a lot more violence in the protests against going to the war than they ever did at the front. Not much attention was paid to any hostilities that the English and Germans were undergoing at the turn of the century in their battles for empires; it was more focused on the hostility that some French-Canadians felt against ‘les maudit anglais.’

And for that reason when I did start teaching Canadian high-school English in Lindsay, Ontario I didn’t know the difference between Vimy Ridge and the newspaper column ‘Goren on Bridge.’ And even though my mother had taught me that card game at a young age I soon became way more interested in the four divisions of Canada’s Expeditionary Force than I ever did in bidding in bridge. And as I did in the classroom, I’m not going to bore you with a recital of the facts of how in a very short few days Canada’s four divisions in the first time that they ever fought together did something that the both the British and French divisions had failed at for for years; capturing the German-held stategically -important Vimy Ridge.

When I turned on CBC Radio this morning they were denigrating Vimy Ridge of course, not too mention all of Canadian society at that time. We were racist, misogynist, homophobic and hide-bound. Of course we were. I’m not disputing that. And I wonder what the intelligentsia will say about our society one hundred years from now. And I’m not glorifying war. The whole misadventure of 1914-18 was one horrendous mistake which should never have happened. But you can’t blame the the 3598 Canadians who were killed and the 7000 wounded in one battle for that.
Winston Churchill was not talking about Vimy Ridge but I’m going to steal a line from him that he used to describe another event of incredible bravery during yet another war.
War should never be glorified, but it should be remembered. And as far as wars go, for Canada, “It was our finest hour.”

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