Wednesday, June 26, 2013

June 26, 2013

This week, here in Southern Ontario, marks the end of school. Thursday is the last day, and then the joy of summer vacation begins.

I remember what it was like, being a kid in school, nearing the end of the school year. We lived in a rural community and there were no organized activities, and no community centers nearby. Heck, there weren’t even any public pools in our area until I was about 13.

That didn’t matter to us one whit. Summer time was magic time. It was sleep in time and play outside all day time.

We had a creek, pronounced “crick”, and that we got to go to some days when my brother had permission to drive us there. More rarely, there was the Burlington Beach, which is a beach on Lake Ontario.

Trips to the beach when my dad was alive were sweet special Saturdays. Mom and dad would pack a picnic lunch for us, including a big jug of homemade lemonade. In those days, at the Beach strip, there was an amusement park with rides and booths where you could get foot long hotdogs and soda! Those treats were very rare indeed.

We would stay all day, even having a nap at some point, and wouldn’t leave until near to dusk. We knew it was getting close to leaving time when mom handed us the bar of soap and told us to go into the water and wash off. I can see you cringing, as I am cringing, confessing that. But everyone did it and no one believed they were doing any harm.

The rides at the beach strip are long gone, but I do recall they were still there when my youngest was about four, because we went once. It was a shock to me, to see how sad that merry-go-round looked!

I was the youngest of three, and while my mother had to work, during the summer my brother and sister were at home, and responsible for watching over me. Then when my brother got married and moved out, when I was twelve, it was just my sister and me, but by that age I really was pretty much on my own.

Staying inside watching television, in the good weather, was something that never would have occurred to me. And if it had, I wouldn’t have been allowed to do so. “Go outside and play!” My mother would say first thing in the morning on the days she was off. I could grab a sandwich at noon, but then it was out the door again until she called me in for dinner.

Our parents didn’t always know where we kids were and they sure didn’t have a clue what we were doing. I don’t know if that was benign neglect or not. There wasn’t much “bad” we could get up to. We made forts in the woods, and when I think about it now, though we were unsophisticated, country kids, we pretty much ran wild.

It wasn’t much different for my beloved, who at the time lived about twenty minutes away from me in the small town of Dundas. He tells how, if he wanted a lunch on a summer day, he had to pack a sandwich because the rule at his house was go out and play until supper. After that meal in the summer time, it was go back out and don’t come in until the street lights come on.

His mom had no idea what he was up to, either, all day. He says that was a very good thing for the comfort of his bottom, indeed.

My own kids didn’t have quite as much freedom as I did. They were small in the same country house I’d grown up in. After my mother passed, we bought it from the estate, and moved in. We put a fence up in the back yard, and the woods were still there, although quite a bit thinned thanks to the quarry.

Still, my children had the sense of being on adventures because I would let them play outside of the fenced area in the field beside our house sometimes.

But I don’t believe they ever really noticed me sitting on the kitchen table so I could keep my eye on them out the big window as they morphed into Transformers, fighting their diabolical foes.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

June 19, 2013

A long time ago, when I began to write these weekly essays, I made a promise to myself. After careful reflection, I understood that as much as I could touch some people with the kinds of stories I would write about people and relationships, I could touch others here. I could be transparent, and in so doing I would be sending what I felt was a very important message: we’re all very much like one another. Our similarities as people on this earth far outweigh our differences, and, most importantly, no one, really, is alone in the journey they travel through life.

We’re all in the same boat.

People, being people, often suffer in isolation. They go through the trials of life and think that they’re the only ones who’ve ever been through this, or have felt that. But when they learn they are not the only ones, a small but crucial part of their burden is lifted.

That was my purpose in writing Wednesday’s Words: to offer something that would help someone. If even just one person feels better after reading my essay than they felt before, I count that as a massive victory. I’ve heard from many of you over the years and I feel exceptionally blessed to have touched you, even a little.

However, sometimes being transparent is not easy.

As any of you who follow me of Face Book know, recent days have found me dealing with a death in my family. My only sister passed away on June 2nd.

My relationship with my sister, six years my senior, was complicated, and that is an understatement. I don’t really remember a lot of what my family as a whole was like before my father died. But looking back from where I am in life now, I understand that he was our lynchpin.

My sister lived wild. She stepped outside of conformity from the time she was just a young teen. Because I don’t believe that there is any such thing as behavior without reason, I find myself wondering what had happened to her to send her on her ultimately self-destructive path.

I really don’t want to delve too deeply into that here. The truth is, I will never really know. And really, there is nothing I can do about any of what may or may not have happened back then. There certainly wasn’t anything I could have done at the time. She may have only been 13 or so when she began to live as she chose; but I was barely 7.

Both of us were children, and both of us, therefore, blameless.

What I wanted to share with you was that in the last twenty years or so, I made a conscious choice to let go of past hurts, and live my life according to my own moral code. She was my sister; I was there for her when I could be, and helped her if at all possible.

I would drive to the city to spend the day ferrying her and her husband about, as neither of them drove or had access to a car; when she needed to go somewhere special, like when she wanted to get him his recliner, I took them to the stores they could not easily reach by bus. Every spring except this last one, I would bring her out to the countryside near to where we grew up so she could cut a bucket full of lilac stems. No, they don’t last much more than 48 hours, but for that short time she had the pleasure of them, and the memories of her youth.

She had planters on her tiny apartment’s balcony filled with flowers she would acquire when I would take her out to the garden center in May– whichever garden center she wanted to visit, made no difference to me. I think, over the years, we hit most of them in a twenty-five mile radius.

Each December I would buy her an amaryllis and several boxes of chocolate covered cherries. I consistently refused payment for these things or for the gas to drive her around to wherever she needed to go.

In short, I did what I could do and now, now that she is gone, I can say I have no regrets. I didn’t let the past stand in the way. Make no mistake, dealing with her as I have done these past many years was quite difficult. She could push my buttons like no other, and wasn’t always—or even often—kind to me.

But I did what I could do, and I have no regrets.

Maybe there is someone in your life with whom you need to mend a fence; maybe it means that you will be swallowing your pride to do so. But maybe that would be a less bitter tonic for you to ingest than a lifetime of regret from which there is no relief, should you fail to do so.

Once a person is gone, then all chances to mend fences, to make apologies, or to make a difference are lost forever. And in the place of that hope, the bitter root of regret will grow and thrive and could end up consuming far more than its fair portion.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 12, 2013

This Sunday is Fathers’ Day here in North America. As I do every year, I’ve spent some time the last few days thinking about my own father, who died at the too-young age of 46 when I was just 8.

My memories of him are vivid, for all that they are few. Some of the stories I have of him were given to me by my mother. She didn’t speak about him very often—he was, after all, the love of her life, and she never stopped mourning his loss. She herself passed away just thirteen years after he did, and she was only 57 at the time.

I have no doubt whatsoever that my mother died, in part, from a broken heart.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been visiting the past quite a bit, trying to discover if I can bring the events from my childhood into sharper focus. Most of what I recall—especially about my dad—could be likened to snapshots—isolated little photographs of the man he had been, and of the father he was to me.

One thing I do know is that he read to me nearly every night. I recall three books in particular—a large fairy-tale type book with a story for every day of the year (the only one I can recall is the one for the date of my birthday, titled “The Oh Shucks Fairy”); he read to me from a series of books he got from the library about the adventures of a frog [all I remember of those is the frog’s unusual name: Wilberforth Wildwood Webfoot Water Lily Frog]; and of course, he read to me from the Bible.

Although he died in 1963, my father was a man ahead of his time. He cooked, he cleaned, and he did laundry. On Saturdays he would make sure we were up and dressed and fed and sent out the door to play. My mother worked outside of the home as a nurse at one of the hospitals in the city. She told me in later years that my father felt very strongly that if she had to go out and work, helping to do “his job” of providing for the family, then it was only right and fair that he do what he could to help her with “her job”—what in those days was called “women’s work”.

My son is very much a father in his grandfather’s image.

Sometimes I think our society takes fathers for granted. In truth, fathers have a very hard job. We expect them to be strong, to provide for the family, and to keep their loved ones safe. When the rest of us have moments of weakness—when our emotions get the better of us and we break—we expect the fathers to hang tough and soldier on.

We expect our daddies to make things right for us when they go wrong—whether it’s mending a broken doll, or mending a broken heart.

The best fathers do all that we expect of them, and more. They nurture and guide and counsel; they teach us how to ride bikes and how to fix the lawnmower; they lift us up and carry us when we’re too tired to make it on our own.

Fathers teach us by their good example how to live lives of honesty and integrity and value.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to say “thank you” to the fathers in your lives; and if you are a father yourself, take a moment to take a bow.

Happy Father’s Day! I hope this Sunday will be a special day for you, when your families show you how much you mean to them. I hope you’ll allow yourselves to understand how special you all really are.

You’re important, fathers. You matter more than you can possibly know.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June 5, 2013

Mr. Ashbury is completely smitten by his new best friend—Tuffy the puppy. Now twenty-three weeks old and a robust five and a half pounds, the little fur ball is firmly ensconced as a member of the family.

While we were in Kansas City for RT in early May, our daughter came to stay here at our house. She brought her three Chihuahuas with her, and as far as Tuffy was concerned, it was a great, 8 night long sleep-over with his best canine buddies.

That’s sleep-over as in he, and my daughter, and her dogs all slept in our bed. Does anyone imagine that after that love fest, Tuffy would agree to return to sleeping at night in his “play pen”?

Mr. Ashbury is delighted, of course, since he has wanted the puppy to sleep on our bed with us since day one (actually the puppy did sleep on the bed day one, unbeknownst to me).

Tuffy is very happy to see his daddy when he steps in from work each evening—just as our old dog was. The difference—other than size—is that Tuffy the puppy doesn’t really like going for a walk. He’s not a lazy dog. He simply does not like to go for a walk. He’d rather just play.

Of course, Mr. Ashbury sort of understands the concept that puppy = child and puppy owner = adult. He takes Tuffy for a walk most days if the weather conditions are ideal. And, of course, the good news is that if the little guy tries to pull against his leash, he’s not dislocating Mr. Ashbury’s shoulder in the process.

Now that the heat of summer has begun, Tuffy has a new “hair style”. We’d taken him to a groomer near us about a month ago. As it was his first visit to the lady, the appointment comprised a bath and brush with a tiny bit of clipping, to introduce him to the concept. This groomer doesn’t believe in forcing things on a pup. She wants them to think of the process of being groomed as something fun. Last Friday he had his second appointment. This time, with the help of her own dog who served as distraction, she was able to accomplish what was needed.

Tuffy is no longer a scruffy puppy. The difference in his appearance is amazing. His fur which had been very long is now barely an inch, and he has legs! We didn’t know he had such long legs, because he was such a puff ball of long, shaggy fur. Tuffy appreciates the new style—if not the process—as it is cooler for him.

The little guy is now five months old, and he has hit—relatively speaking—the terrible twos. He likes to filch shoes and slippers, though he doesn’t inflict any real damage on them (yet). He has learned how to jump down from the sofa, and tries really hard to get the cat’s dinner each night. He’s taken to sleeping in the bed very well, and if he and his daddy go to bed before I do, I can be assured that when I do retire for the night, Tuffy will be laying in the vicinity of my pillow.

He’s curious about everything, and he likes everybody. He’s the eternal optimist, in that he will not give up on the hope that one day the cat will, indeed, play with him.

And he’s brave. He doesn’t hesitate to put himself between us and perceived danger. When he growls, there can be no doubt that he means business. He must have a good memory because he growls at the cat window—the place those scary looking racoons appeared a few weeks ago. Tuffy Ashbury is the true embodiment of that maxim, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Yes, my beloved has a new best friend and he is a very happy man.