I had to go to Lakefield Foodland an hour ago to buy some Dishwashing Detergent, and being the tomato loving freak that I am, some tomatoes to quench that particular craving. Now, I know that many Canadians are happier it seems with us importing the tasteless tomatoes from Mexico and the US, than we are to spend a a bit more money to support Ontario growers, but I like my tomatoes to taste like tomatoes, and I like to know that my purchase will support a farmer in this province, in this country! I expect to see the overpriced shelves of Lakefield Foodland stuffed with all sorts of imported products (with a good portion being past their "best before" dates), but when I go to buy tomatoes and I see over 10 different varieties all originating from Mexico except the hot-house tomatoes (which come from the USA), I want to scream! Lakefield is more associated with farming than any other community I've lived in my entire life. I remember when "hot house" tomatoes were always from an Ontario Hot House, but here we have our own little expensive grocery store importing tomatoes that have spent the past week and a half in transit, and charging an arm and a leg like there are no tomatoes being grown in Ontario for Ontario consumers, I have to question the owners of this Foodland, and their motives for stuffing their wallets.
I did not buy tomatoes. I will visit "The Market" for "Ontario" tomatoes tomorrow, and failing the success in that, I will branch outwards to find an Ontario tomato.
People that look at the price as their deciding element for a purchase are only looking at a tiny piece of the equation. Support Mexican and American farmers and you're firing a farmer from Ontario. We can grow them indoors all years long. We do grow them indoors all year long. Support
STOP BUYING IMPORTED PRODUCE!
18 years is a long time, and as the time has passed from this day in 1994, it has become more and more common for it to pass with me completely forgetting the events of that day. Generally I prefer to focus on anniversaries of "happy" occasions like birthdays and marriages. Remembering the dates of deaths, accidents or tragedies seems an odd focus to me since I find little pleasure in re-visiting those events. While I remember the dates of my parents deaths, I can only remember the years in which my grandparents passed away.
Perhaps I am today remembering this time those 18 years ago because of the recent death of our dog Punk'n. When death touches our lives, it seems to re-invoke the memories of other deaths that we've experienced, and today I remember my first partner Jim losing his battle with AIDS. While I remember the events of that day with crystal clarity, the emotions that I felt then are gone, but not completely forgotten. When someone we love dies, we hurt in an almost indescribable way. Grieving is unique to each person who experiences a death, and everyone needs to understand that and allow the process to unfold naturally. Grief is probably one of the truly acceptable selfish reactions that mankind accepts and understands. When someone we love dies, we grieve our personal loss of that person, and we grieve the changes to our life that result from that death. We will talk of the quiet house, or the change of routine, the empty car seat next to us, or having to buy groceries alone and cook for one. Oddly we say things we don't truly mean like "at least he isn't suffering anymore" to convince ourselves that what has happened is OK, but in the next breath we'll also say "I'd give my right arm to have them here with me again".
Grief has to be one of the oddest battles the body can endure. When the head and the heart are duking it out over something, it is next to impossible to resolve anything to an acceptable level. One plays the devil and the other the angel, and then they switch roles and throw a few more punches at each other. When the head is in battle with the heart, the best course of action is to just let them fight. They are in complete control, and to interfere will only serve to exacerbate the process. Sometimes, you have to let the dogs fight. Stick your hand in there and you will get bitten, and the dogs? They will continue fighting, and you will be in more pain than before.
Jim's death was not my first experience with someone I loved passing away, but it was my first experience at being there when the death occurred, and to have someone die at home as opposed to being in the sterile environment of a hospital. I hope that when my day on this earth is due, that I have the opportunity to die as Jim did that day. With those he loved by his side, getting a foot rub, and listening to some favourite music. It was a peaceful death. We were prepared, and we knew that it was time. There was an angel of a nurse on scene who had been involved in Jim's home care for a few months, and following his death, our doctor came to the house to pronounce him, and to have her last visit with one of her favourite patients.
So today I am thinking of what happened in 1994, and I'm not sad. I'm remembering the wonderful times we had together, and I'm remembering Jim's family, and I'm remembering all the people who helped with his care, and there were many. I wonder if this day is something they remember. I wonder how their lives have unfolded these 18 years. I wonder because I hope that people do remember Jim. I hope they remember his voice and his laugh, and I hope that they smile when they do think of him. I hope people remember his personality, and that eccentric behaviour of his that would present itself from time to time. I hope all this because like everyone else, we all hope that our own existence will be remembered with smiles and laughs, and that our time here will have impacted others, and we'll never be forgotten. How sad it would be to die, and have no one left to remember you or to find themselves thinking things to themselves like "Gee, I remember when my friend Jim taught me...", or "I'll never forget the time with Jim when we...".
I remember them Jim, and I'm so thankful for the time we had, and the things we shared, and for having my wonderful partner Jeff by my side now to share in the wisdom of some of those traits and lessons. As Jeff and I carve our own path in life together, we understand how great a teacher the past can be. We all just have to remain as students to her wisdom, and the future will be ours to hold.
This past summer while in Manchester, England, Jeff and I took a wee stroll down to Granada Studios (where they film Coronation Street), to hang out with some of the groupies at the gates to see if we could catch a glimpse of any actors. We’d already met Charlie Condou (who plays Marcus Dent), on Canal Street in the city the day before. Well, at the gates to the studio we met and spoke with a few more actors including Mickey North (who plays Gary Windass), Kate Ford (Tracy Barlow), and Steve Arnold (Ashley Peacock). When we met Steve, he’d already officially left the show, but was visiting the cast that day. As he was leaving the studio in his car, he stopped and spoke with me through the open window. Once he learned we were Canadian, he mentioned he was coming here this year. While he knew Toronto would be on his tour, I never imagined that he’d be coming to Showplace Peterborough!
I phoned their ticket office this morning, and on March 11, Jeff and I will be sitting in the VIP section, in seats A14-A15. That’s FRONT ROW CENTER! After the show we’ll be attending the “Meet & Greet” in the lounge at Showplace where we will meet the actors, and I can take an enlargement of the picture I took of Steve (below) for him to autograph for us!
All of the actors at the Showplace performance have retired from Coronation Street, but it’s Steve Arnold and Julia Haworth (who played his wife Claire Peacock), that I’m most excited to see!
Here are some pictures from the Coronation Street aspect of our trip to Manchester this past summer!
Throughout our lives we are all blessed with many friends, and I believe that I have been fortunate to have shared some of the best of life’s experiences with friends that I will never ever forget. But we all grow older, and friends move to other places, and friendships can easily slip into the past making them dependent on memories to keep them alive. Today there is the “BFF” term, and while it pertains to the new language of our youth as they rapidly text one another (a language I cannot stand nor wish to even begin to comprehend), I prefer to say “Best Friend” because I can both say and type it in full without ever wishing to short-form such an important designation, and any “Best Friend” I’ve ever had or though of in that way will always be a Best Friend “Forever” to me, even if we’ve lost touch at some point. No action, no argument, no life changes can ever negate the times shared with others that gave us the feelings that they were a best friend.
Let me tell you about some of my “Best Friends” from the past along with a little story with each so you understand why I feel so lucky to have had them in my life:
When our family moved to Bridgenorth from Peterborough, my mother discovered that a good friend from her past named Cathy lived across the street. My mother (eager to get me out of her hair and make friends I imagine), told me to go Cathy’s house and ask if I could play with her daughter. I did. I went over and knocked on the side door, and when a woman came to the door and said “Hello”, I replied, “Hello, can Cathy come out and play?” In the background was the sound of a young girl about my age who was far from eager to meet the boy from across the street, in fact if I remember right, she was rather adamant about not wanting anything to do with me. Her name is Lynda (not Cathy). We spent the afternoon playing in her sandbox out back of their garage. I remember it well, as I do the countless times throughout our growing up together that we went snowmobiling, trekking in the woods, playing baseball in her yard, delivering newspapers together, swimming at Jones’ Beach, cooking with her Kenner Easy Bake Oven, walking into town, stealing apple blossoms and selling them to the people we just stole them from, playing in the spring water in the ditches in front of her house, listening to records, tape recording everything imaginable with a reel-to-reel, stealing pop bottles out back of Anderson’s Snack Bar and taking them in the front door to return them for a refund to buy candy, becoming of age to drink together and seeing each other sober, drunk, and hung over far too many times.
One day we went trekking for an abandoned hornet’s nest for a school project of hers. We found one just along the fence line out in back of her home, but it was live. Did we care? With hornets trailing behind us, and that nest attached to a broken tree branch, we ran like hell back to her place hopping a fence in the process, bagged that nest and ran inside with not a single sting between us. There was however a nice cloud of hornets completely pissed at having their condominium stolen. A couple of days later she took it to school. I hope she got a good mark for that one.
One of my first rock concerts was STYX in 1981, and Lynda was there at my side in where else, but the gray section of Maple Leaf Gardens rocking on without a care in the world. Lynda learned of my sexual orientation later in life and accepted it without question or judgment, and aside from my parents, I needed that from “her”. She loved my parents, and my parents loved her like a daughter. Throughout our friendship, Lynda and I disagreed on many things, but we were close enough that we could argue, and we might be “miffed” at each other, but that would be it. We set our individual boundaries and we both respected each other all that much for it. While we are not bosom buddies today, we are in touch, and we both know and appreciate this friendship, and I think of her more often than I bet she would ever imagine. There is nothing that I would ever trade for the life experiences I’ve had with Lynda.
By the way, I slammed our back garage door on her finger once and she slapped my face and said “I hate you Bobby Brook”. I’m still in therapy over it, but I love her anyway, and I think she was lying because we were playing in her sandbox the next day.
Gee. How do I explain this one without getting into detail that would get the both of us in trouble? I’ll leave a whole bunch out, sorry, but I would need Dave’s permission and even if I asked (which I wouldn’t because some things just aren’t anyone’s business) he would decline – I hope.
Dave and I became friends at Deer Bay Park where both our families camped by the season. We were summertime pals (his older brother Rick and my brother John hung around). There wasn’t much Dave and I didn’t do together. We swam, we boated, we fished, we water skied, we hiked, we played, we laughed, and we camped out overnight on the islands at the head of Deer Bay. Dave and I probably experienced enough of what two young boys growing up together during the summer months could experience. I have a story too long to tell here, but let’s just say that our parent’s insistence that we take a first aid kit with us on a campout journey came in damned handy to say the least. That camping adventure is a story I tell at length as being one of the most memorable camping experiences I’ve ever had. It’s hilarious and painful at the same time. I mean, how can you lose a boat, burn a 2 foot diameter hole in a sleeping bag, get a soaker, set fire to an island, and receive enough cuts and bruises to grant any parent the right to refuse permission for a repeat outing? Dave and his family lived in Toronto, so our friendship was very summer-based, but I remember well visiting him in Scarborough and cycling to the Scarborough Bluffs where we climbed up and slid down those things all day long. We scourred the shorelines of Lake Ontario and returned home with glass fishing net floaters, and all kinds of smooth rocks. We were inseparable friends, and the memories are forever.
Gary became the best of friends during high school. We were each sitting alone in separate seats on a bus trip to Toronto, and I invited myself to sit beside him. We began hanging out at school a lot, and then he would visit our home on occasion for dinner, and eventually spending the night and heading to school with me the next day. He, myself and another friend named Warren got jobs working for the Business Assistant of our high school helping him and his wife with finishing their log home and property in Ennismore – a region across the lake from Bridgenorth. At this time,
Gary’s relationship with his foster family was strained, and he came to live with us. We’d bicycle the several miles to work and back, and learned fast what hard work was, and that hard work meant income. When we weren’t working on the house, we were busy refinishing my father’s mahogany inboard boat. It was an 18 foot cruising masterpiece from the old days, with a massive 8 cylinder engine located in the middle. We stripped varnish and paint, sanded that baby, re-grouted the decks, and coated it with new varnish and paint making it ready for the summer in even finer condition than it was before. Gary and I also spent a great deal of time bicycling around Bridgenorth, or in and back from Peterborough, but we were at that age that hitchhiking was more desirable, and we would often be seen roadside with our thumbs out.
I had a huge crush on Gary, and I was struggling inside with sexual orientation issues. All of which confused me even more because I realized he was straight, and our friendship and his staying with us ended as he was relocated to another foster family. Thanks to Facebook, we’re back in touch again, but I’ve never forgot him or the experiences we shared together as lads in our teens growing up in the country. Thanks Gary!
Now, Wendy was my girlfriend, and although I was struggling with my orientation, I cannot deny that I truly loved her a great deal. Back then, and especially living in the country, gay people were deemed mentally ill, but curable, and I spent far too much time trying to “fix” my feelings by playing the “straight” role in life. Obviously, that didn’t work, but throughout my relationship with Wendy I learned to appreciate women, to experience love outside of a family environment, and experience so many wonderful things in life.
The both of us matured together in many ways and I appreciate that we are still in touch, and that her reaction to my being gay was positive. I carried a lot of guilt around for many years believing that I was unfair to her knowing that I was hiding who I truly was, but we were each other’s “first” and nothing could darken or diminish what that meant to either of us.
Jim was a college mate and remains to this day a very close friend. We were the inseparable two in college, and it was his friendship that made it possible for me to come out to someone for the first time in my life. I told him I was gay during our second year of college, not that it needed to be said because we both suspected that in each other, but Jim was very protective of that aspect of his life, and I remained afraid of being completely out, so we kept our “news” to ourselves. Jim is an incredible fine artist who continues to excel in his own business providing event decoration design. He hired me quite regularly as his graphic artist because he knew that was not one of his strengths, and in turn, I knew I couldn’t decorate an event in any way close to the creative level he was capable of. Our friendship during college consisted of a lot of partying, in fact at one point I realized that the wildness of our activities was hurting my grades, and it was quite the struggle to get back on track and graduate with honours.
Jim moved to Vancouver to complete the “Co-op” portion of our program in the last term of our final year. It was one of the most painful experiences emotionally because I was losing an incredible confidant, yet we spoke often, and it wasn’t too long before I was on a plane for the first time heading out for an extended weekend visit on the west coast. What a blast. I’ll never forget the inundation into the gay scene I received during those few days. I was completely blown away (pun intended) by what I experienced living in and amongst a gay community. I felt more at home with myself those days than ever before. Frightened too, because it happened all at once, but at least comfortable in my own shoes.
Jim returned to Ontario not too long after graduation, and settled in London, and it was because he lived there that I sought out employment there in the late 1980’s. Our friendship simply took over where it left off, and away from my family, and living in and amongst the gay community there, I soon fully accepted myself without regret, and entered into my first relationship.
Jim and I are friends to this day. There isn’t anything that I wouldn’t share with Jim, and I value his friendship a great deal.
In the early 1980’s I met Michael Fong in Toronto when he joined the design team at a company where I was employed. He had arrived from Ottawa with experience in the field and I will state that he is a fine artist extraordinaire. I immediately was attracted to him, and was certain that he was gay. We hit it off as friends very quickly. Michael was a thin guy like myself, very into self-expression, and he taught me many things in life. I also learned to appreciate all sorts of things through Michael, like fine clothing, a croissant with earl grey tea, making home made spinach soup, eating Chinese sugar chunks, and the love of my life to this day – hot and sour soup. He introduced me to the music of Prince and Tina Turner, and we would spend as much of our free time together siting in his apartment sharing a doobie or walking the streets of Toronto shopping for things on our credit cards like we were the richest people in the city. We both walked fast and managed to master maneuvering through the crowds on Yonge Street like pros. No one got in our way.
We both worked hard at our jobs and put in a great deal of overtime. We were fortunate enough to travel and represent the company at many trade shows, and there wasn’t much we didn’t share, except around the issue of orientation. I knew I had fallen in love with him - something I doubt he truly knew or understood. He asked me once if I was gay, telling me that if I was it was OK with him, but I lied. I wasn’t able to truly admit it to myself with any great degree of pride then, and I was so afraid that our friendship would end. In retrospect, I should have been truthful that day. Michael met a wonderful girl, and they soon became a couple, and our friendship suffered as they will when a partnership develops. Eventually he married and had children, and for that I am pleased because his nature would make for a great father. I haven’t been in touch with Michael for years, and I wish that he knew how I truly felt then.
Losing that friendship was one of the most painful experiences in my life, and following his marriage, I became very ashamed of being gay, and went much deeper into the closet refusing a relationship or any opportunity to explore my feelings for a very long time.
Donna and I met on a Tuesday. On the prior Saturday I broke my wrist high-fiving an iron channel buoy in Lake Katchewanooka while water skiing intoxicated (you should try it, it’s a blast), and a Monday visit to have two wisdom teeth removed. Donna was from Louisville, Kentucky, and she led a project for a company there that was a client for the firm I worked for in Toronto, and yes, it’s also the one where Michael Fong worked.
Donna and I quickly became great friends and before a year had passed, I had spent time with her in her home and with her friends in Louisville. Donna and I have remained in touch since we met in the early 1980’s, and we share a history of friendship that I doubt many people are fortunate enough to experience. If we’ve done anything, we’ve bared our souls to each other, and we’ve laughed ourselves completely silly. We’ve toured New York City, attended Kentucky Derby after Kentucky Derby, partied ourselves to near forgetfulness, shopped, cried, and sat together, completely silent for a good 20 minutes staring in awe at an original Monet in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I was with her when she slipped on a banana peel on a New York street, and I’ve stood at Colonel Sanders grave with her craving a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken. We have gone to drag shows together (in fact she took me to my first one in Louisville), and I’ve watched steamboat races with her while sipping cocktails on the Ohio River. Donna will hold a very special place in my heart forever. Something about our meeting was right from the first second, and I would say without question that if I were to ever have had a child, I would wish for her to be the mother.
After moving to London (Ontario) and coming out of the closet to all of my friends (not my family), I began to feel very happy with myself, and realized that I need not be ashamed of who or what I was. In fact, just the opposite was happening, and I was actually enjoying it in a manner that one does when they belong to some sort of elite group.
One night at a gay bar I was approached by a guy who said “my friend over there thinks your cute”, and I took a quick glance to where he was pointing, saw this guy, and brushed off the news with a “thanks for letting me know” kind of attitude. On subsequent nights out, I would notice this guy looking at me, and I was becoming somewhat attracted to the whole game, and on another night while seated with two friends at a table, I looked to my left and there was the hottest looking butt in black Edwin jeans at my eye level. I looked at my friends and made a comment about the hot ass, and at the same time the guy in the jeans looked over his shoulder and made eye contact with me. It was HIM. The guy I’d been playing eye games with. I learned his name was Jim. We didn’t speak all that much, but there was strong physical attraction, and with his number in hand, I promised to call him.
One week later after not being able to get up the nerve to phone Jim, I found myself out at another bar, and of course Jim was there wondering why I hadn’t called. I told him about my being nervous, and promised to call in the coming week. We both went our ways for the rest of the evening, and before I knew it, they were announcing “last call”. I was then invited by some other friends to their home just up the street to an after-bar party, and 10 minutes later I found myself in one of the most beautiful homes I’d ever been in. I was there only a short time when there standing in front of me was Jim! He explained that he rented a room here, and he took me on a tour of the house, his bedroom, and his weight room in the basement. I was beginning to like this guy very much.
Jim invited me on a date later that coming week to come back to his house for some fireside drinks and a chance to get to know each other. It was a blissful date, and one that I won’t ever forget. That was on December 6, 1990.
We soon became a couple, and I quickly learned that there was an issue with his health. A few months into our relationship Jim related to me that he had HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). His expectation was that I would leave him and be angry for withholding this information from me. His confession came as a result of him being hospitalized with a strain of pneumonia, and he knew that he shouldn’t keep the news from me any longer. It was inconceivable to me to run. I was in Love, and I was not about to have this illness jeopardize the happiness I was feeling with Jim in my life. Jim’s diagnosis was not public knowledge and in spite of many friends telling me they felt the relationship was moving “too fast”, we moved in together to our apartment on Waterloo Street six months after that first date.
Jim and I were more than your average gay couple, we truly became the absolute best of friends. We found out that we shared so much in common and yet we learned so much about life from each other that it seemed like a perfect match. We both came from small towns in the country, we both struggled with being gay, we both had a keen interest in the death care industry (Jim attended College to become a Funeral Director), and we shared the same interests in stereo equipment and what we played on it. Jim appreciated the finer things in life, and took great care of his possessions. His illness was at a stage where he was not working, but received income from available pensions, and he was happy to be the “at home” figure in the relationship, working out, eating well, and tending to his health as best he could. We were fortunate to have many fantastic friends, and our social calendar was always full it seemed. We certainly lived our lives to the fullest because we both knew that at any time, he could be stricken with a condition that would see him admitted to the hospital, and that one of those times could very well take his life. While he did experience many hospital stays during our relationship, his ability to recover quickly was uncanny, and our routines would be back on track as soon as possible, and our attitude’s positive beyond what most ever understood.
It was not all sunshine and roses however. Jim was a very complicated man, and I learned that even from his teenage days there were issues affecting him, and he sometimes acted out in ways that were not so well thought out. I became aware of, and dealt with Jim’s pathological lying. He was a convincing storyteller and fabricated a vast amount of untruths that to this day will never completely be understood. He created an imaginary world with imaginary people, and had the incredible skill to remember it all in specific detail. It wasn’t until his diagnosis with AIDS and it’s affect on his brain that the stories started to become more and more unbelievable, which led me to realize so much about other stories that I once believed. This shattered Jim as it became more difficult to trust him and his word, and he was not happy that the side of him that he nurtured and protected was now open. Still, as his dementia increased, Jim did not go the angry and uncontrollable route, but rather turned more into a little boy, happy with having the simple things in life like Dubble Bubble Bubble Gum and Fudgsicles, and never forgetting who he loved, and who loved him. Like no other could, Jim helped me deal with my father’s death one year into our relationship with great care and compassion and I will be forever grateful for having him by my side then.
As a result of Jim's dementia, our apartment was gutted by fire in March of 1993. From that point on he required constant care throughout the day until I returned from work, and the efforts of volunteers from our local AIDS service organization, home care and later the VON made possible a much better existence for us both. Jim supported me in whatever I did. When I hurt, he hurt. Likewise, he was my soul mate, and as time has passed the memories of the troubled times has become appreciatively foggy so that recollections of the good times prevail. After 3 years and one month together, Jim died peacefully in the apartment that we shared throughout our relationship. It was our home. It was where we held dinner parties, Halloween parties, and parties just for the sake of having a party. It’s where we’d sit up late at night drinking cocktails while watching London’s thunderstorms blow tree branches down the street. Here we’d sit on our porch and whistle at the good looking guys that cycled by, and it was here that we celebrated our Christmases together, where we displayed our collection of Moorcroft pottery, where we worked out, cooked dinner, watched Jeopardy, Designing Women and Golden Girls.
We played music, we danced, we laughed absolutely every day. We lived!
A couple of post fire pictures
Robert G. Brook
While I always felt secondary to my father after my brother, I remember many things growing up that made our relationship unique and special between just us two. Growing up, I seemed to get stuck more with mom and her psychotic behavior, and while that may sound mean, if you truly met the woman or heard some of the experiences I had with her you’d completely understand why she’s not on this list. The woman had anger and baggage, and I was her dumping ground.
Dad on the other hand was a peaceful man who hid is sadness well, and was, when faced with hard times, able to look at the sunny side of just about everything. Dad loved to canoe, and he would take me on canoe trips all around Deer Bay sometimes for hours on end. He would paddle, I would sit, and we would talk, or just sit quietly taking in the silence and beauty around us. Dad taught me how to paddle a canoe, and he taught me how to fish, how to ride a bike, how to cut the grass, take out the garbage, and shovel the driveway. I learned how to pitch a tent, light a campfire, start up the camp stove without setting myself ablaze, and drive a boat. He taught me how to use a saw to cut firewood, and how to have a good laugh, tell a great joke, and entertain with personality. I owe much of my personality to him, and I often will say or do something and think “hey, that’s just how Dad would have been. When I was sixteen, My Dad and I went on a helicopter ride. We’d heard about them being offered at some public event for $10 per person for a few minutes, and while it wasn’t affordable then, he got the address of the pilot, and one day, with a $20 bill (a fortune to Dad), we drove to the farm where the heliport was. The pilot was having lunch with his wife, but with someone showing up out of the blue to commission a helicopter trip, he was eager to make some cash, and out we went to the helicopter and it took him about 15 minutes to fuel up, and prepare the craft for flight. Now Dad was a photographer, so of course he had his camera with him, so I know how it must have looked to the pilot, so after getting everything ready, he turns to Dad as says “so where do you want me to take you?” to which Dad grinningly replied “Anywhere this twenty bucks will take us” as he handed the bill to the pilot. That poor pilot was not going to make a dollar off this flight, but he loaded us in, and he took us around the area on a flight over Buckhorn Lake, Deer Bay, the campground, Lakefield, Young’s point and back to his farm. I will never ever forget that wonderful day with Dad!
I mentioned that Dad was a photographer his entire life. His father, and his father, and his father alike, were all photographers, so it’s definitely in our family’s blood. To this day I cannot go into a photo developing facility without thinking of Dad. The smell of the chemicals was something we caught whiff of every day he came home from work at General Electric. In the morning he left smelling of Old Spice, and at the end of the day, like a photographer. It’s just the way it was… It’s the way he was.
Dad was forced into early retirement from GE, and soon after experiencing his freedom from there, his health declined. He had hip replacement surgery after a long, painful and forcibly inactive period of time. He underwent a heart valve transplant – again after a lengthy waiting period in which he was unable to enjoy life very much at all, and still, given all the setbacks, Dad remained his happy and humourous self, and we’d go on car washing excursions together, or one of our favourite things… a trip to the dump. Yup. There was no better trip you could take with Dad than a trip to the dump. Now, you have to realize that throughout my life, a trip to the township dump usually involved a fully loaded box trailer (he made one out of an old tent trailer box), and after unloading it in the pits, you’d take a damned good look around, because, well, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and with Dad, we very seldom ever returned from the dump without bringing something that “could” be useful back home. I think my mother dreaded us going to the dump. I don’t blame her. When we helped move her and Dad from the Bridgenorth home, there was no room in the garage for a car, and most of what was in there, ended up where it came from – the dump!
Following his recovery from the heart surgery, and ready to take on the world, Dad noticed a lump when he swallowed, and after some tests it was revealed that he had Esophageal Cancer. Dad was a severe asthmatic his whole life, and he suffered from countless allergies and terrible acid reflux for as long as I can remember. It would appear that that his munching on Tums and Rolaids did little to help prevent this cancer, and he was given only months to live. Dad was 67 years of age, and between treatments, and the invading cancer, he spent much of his remaining time hospitalized. It was during this time that Dad and I truly became the best of friends. There were no issues between us to be settled, and I knew enough to grant him the ability to share his feelings about life, and his dying. He shared many things with me during the last months of his life, and I so wanted him to meet my partner Jim, and I wanted desperately to reveal my sexual orientation to him. I needed that peace. I needed “his” acceptance. I had planned on coming out to he and Mom awhile before, but the book “Coming Out To Your Parents” warned not to upstage or upset a family when a terminal illness is present. This was a conflict for me, so Jim would come with me to visit Dad in the hospital, and one day when Dad and I were alone while Jim and Mom went to the cafeteria, Dad asked “So Jim is your Friend?” I said “Yes, he’s my friend”. Dad said, “That’s not what I mean. Is he your Friend?” he again asked. I knew where he was going, and I remember the book explaining how important it was to use words acceptable and understandable to the person you are coming out to, so I replied, “I know what you mean and yes Dad, he is my friend” putting emphasis on “is” and “Friend”. Dad said, “No, what I mean is, is he your friend”. “Dad” I said. “I know exactly what you mean, and Jim is my very best friend”.
Dad started to cry, and I told him how sorry I was if I was a disappointment to him, and he got mad at me and said that I was never a disappointment to him, and that “I am crying because you will never be able to experience the joy of having a son like I have with you”. We spoke about many private things then, and he wanted me to promise to not “carry flags in one of those gay parades” – a promise I made but broke many years later. He told me to go get Jim, and leave mother in the Cafeteria which I did. The three of us talked at great length, and Dad insisted that “he” be the one to tell the rest of our family. I was out! I was finally out to the one person I’d feared coming out to my whole life. And he accepted me without question. He accepted Jim without question.
From that point until Dad’s death, our visits were just that… visits. We spoke of so much, and in a manner that we never had before. We spoke of the things we did and loved, and the memories of some really great times. We spoke about his dying, and his being thankful that I would listen because no one else would let him speak about it due to their own discomfort with the subject. When he was drugged up with morphine, we spoke about the conspiracies against him, the nurse shooting the barking dog, and together we watched the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Snowbirds flying in formation inside his hospital room.
I will never forget the last kiss we had. I still feel his lips, and I can still smell the Aqua Velva I’d put on his face prior to shaving him so his beard would stand out. To this day, I can’t puff out my cheek while shaving without thinking of that wonderful man puffing out his cheeks like a little boy while I ran his electric razor over his face. That last kiss happened a week before he died. I cried all the way home, and Jim just drove… all the way back to London, silently knowing, like me, that we had just seen my Dad alive for the last time.
I love you Dad!
I was just on my way to "La Store du Beer" ("The Beer Store" in French), and I was scanning up and down the radio stations and heard an interview in progress of which the following question was asked: "Is there a blur at the point where sanity meets madness?" and I thought "gee, it's been perfectly clear whenever I've travelled from one side to the other!
While growing up in Bridgenorth, Ontario, there was this little cabin on the edge of some woods directly beside the path we would walk to school if we missed the bus, or if it missed us. We’d snowmobile by the cabin as well, and I will always remember the homemade fence that sectioned off the small plot of land, and the smoke rising from the chimney. I really don’t remember passing the cabin in the summertime that much, but it was the warmth that just seemed to ooze from that cabin that I was always attracted to. As night fell, the lights inside added to that feeling of coziness as did the pile of wood outside, and it just made me want to knock on the door and ask for a look inside.
I never met or even saw the owner of the cabin. The school kid rumours claimed that an old hermit named “Doozy” lived there. There were stories of a wife that had died at an early age, and that he was an old and lonely man who didn’t want to be disturbed. I think me, that added to the mystique of it all, and I felt rather envious of this man who could cast aside what modern amenities most of us were spoiled by to exist there as simply as he did.
For me, cabins (especially log ones) looked like forts, and it was nothing for my brother and I along with whatever friends were labeled as being “best” at the time, to be out building one fort or another in trees, along fence lines, in our backyard and even in our basements. And that doesn’t include the countless snow forts that came and went with the temperatures of the season. We had clubs with no names, and while we’d say they were for "members" only, pretty much anyone could enter, unless of course they were from a different age group. In that case we’d usually tear each other’s forts down when that gang wasn't in them only to return to our own fort and realize that while we were wrecking their hard efforts of construction, they were doing the same to us.
Growing up, my brother and I were blessed with two parents who taught us how to enjoy so much of what life can offer that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Every summer for as long as I could remember we camped by the season in a private campground on a lake not too far north from where we lived. Many lifelong friendships and relationships were formed in that campground, and we learned to love camping, first in tents right on the ground, then tents on wooden platforms, tent trailers, and finally the ultimate of the camping cabins – the house trailer.
There is nothing at all comparable to the feeling of living as close as possible with nature, and camping is about as close as you can get. The lakeshores then were dotted with small cottages and cabins, unfinished inside and certainly not winterized. These three-season structures were the place to be if you could afford them. Our Uncle had a cottage on a nice piece of land on another local lake. While a teenager, he bought the land which contained a small hunting cabin for a total of $300. He, his father, my father and another uncle built onto the cabin to create the cottage that supplied all of the members of our extended family with many great summertime memories. That cottage was heated by a pot-bellied wood stove, and had cloth curtains for interior doors. The place always smelled like wood and whatever meal was cooking in the kitchen, but wood predominated the senses. You couldn’t drink the water from the tap because it was pumped right out of the lake, and the washroom of course was an outhouse a good 25 yards out back that smelled like Pinesol, well to be honest, it smelled like shit and Pinesol. Every few years a new hole would be dug, and that outhouse, with the help of anyone around (and fuelled by a few beers) would be moved to the new location.
The beach there was very sandy, and full of bloodsuckers. There was a huge rock on the property that we would climb as children using our imagination that we were mountaineers scaling the highest of peaks. Funny how that rock seemed to get so much smaller as the years went by. You just couldn’t visit the cottage without having fun, and feeling at peace with the world. Even in the worst weather, the comfort and warmth of that place along with some board games, comic books, some potato chips and a bottle of Coca-Cola was like being in heaven. There was no phone. And although there was a TV, the rabbit ears barely brought in the single station that had enough strength to get close to that lake.
We all have our bucket lists, and the things on those lists come and go, sometimes because we realize the dreams, or because the things we once wished to do just don't seem important enough to pursue any longer. My bucket list contains one thing that has always been there, has never changed, and is not in danger of ever being removed. Ever. That is to have my own little cabin in the woods.
My cabin would be one or two rooms with a small loft accessed by a ladder. It would have a stone fireplace or a woodstove. There would be water on the property which could be a lake, but I'd prefer a river or a small stream with just enough room to paddle a canoe. The land it would sit on needn’t be any bigger than a single acre, just enough that I wouldn’t have to hang curtains unless I wanted to. It would have to be insulated to keep warm in the winter months, so that means a log structure, or one sided with wood on the inside and out. There would need to be an outdoor shed to house some of the tools I would need to tend to the property, but the property itself wouldn’t need much maintenance since I’d leave it alone as best I could. You can’t build outhouses anymore without upsetting the environment, so I’d have to figure out how a composting toilet works. I’d rather not have electricity hooked up to the cabin, but suspect that such a dream isn’t all that sensible. If I could I’d have a solar system put in place to power the few lights and appliances I’d need.
A cabin is also a place where you need to have a dog by your side. I always imagined such a place to share with my black lab Punk'n, but the dream wasn't possible in her lifetime. I also imagined her sitting in the front end of a red canoe and posing as labs do while dad paddles the boat effortlessly through the waters. Her first experience with the canoe made it clear that this would never happen since she used the craft as a catapult to dive into the water, but a cabin? Oh, she would have loved a cabin in the woods and she would have relished the access to daily swims in a river, and curling up on a coil rug by the woodstove. Who wouldn't?
My cabin wouldn’t be for long-term living, but rather a place to visit, ponder life, escape the insanity of the world, and retreat to all those things that I have appreciated since I was a child. In the quietness of a cabin you can hear the wildlife calling out across the land. You can hear a million frogs croaking along the shorelines. You can see a million stars on a clear night, and you can co-exist with all kinds of critters that would normally scatter at the sight or sounds you'd make without even knowing it.
As life continues and I grow old, that cabin would be an even more special place to visit, and look back upon on the memories I had there with the wildlife, the water, and the serenity of it all. It would be incredible to go outside some winter weekend and grab a few pieces of wood to put on the fire, and as the sun sets, look back and see smoke coming out of the chimney and the lights exuding the warmth I remember from old Doozy’s cabin those many years before.
Ultimately, the cabin would be the ideal place to spend one’s last days on earth. How wonderful it would be to just fall asleep tucked comfortably under a homemade quilt surrounded by the peacefulness that would come with such a place, and take that last living breath before heading onto the next journey of the soul, knowing that a full life had been lived, and that I truly was one who appreciated and respected this beautiful world, and became as much "one" with it as I could.
Four years ago I went to the "Ski Swap" at Devil's Elbow Ski Resort to purchase skis, boots and poles since renting each time adds up to a lot of money. The visit went well actually, with my purchasing a brand new pair (previous year's model) of Volkl skis (retail $675) for a shocking $125, and a pair of used Lange boots for $80. The poles cost about $20, so the days' haul was a bargain to say the least.
Now those boots felt like I'd worn them my whole life, only a tiny bit snug. The snugness meant that even with one pair of socks my feet became cold after an hour or so of skiing, and that meant a trip to the chalet for some feet warming and a plate of fries and gravy (you can't just go warm your feet when the scent of fries and gravy is in the air), and that has been the procedure for these past four seasons. That is until this morning. Today I Googled "how to re-form ski boots" and found a host of solutions to re-fit the boots to my piano playing toes so that they would feel comfortable, and allow a bit of necessary movement or "breathing room".
So downstairs I go and pull out the liners from the boots (like trying to pull a tree out by the roots), plug in my heating gun, pull the trigger and warm those babies up as instructed. It was then I noticed that the liner in the left boot was meant for the right boot, and vice versa. You see, this is how my life has unfolded since birth. For four complete seasons, I suffered from misplaced liners in my ski boots, not actually realizing that they could even be removed, or re-formed. So I now have my liners in the right boots, they've been heated and reformed to my feet, and I suspect that as Jeff and I ski the runs in Haliburton, that I'll survive a whole lot longer on the slopes than I have in previous years.
I'm so glad I can't skate.
So… one day during the first week of December my MINI and I go into the village to get a wee piece of ribbon to hang the christmas decorations I made from pics of our black lab (whom we had to have put to sleep a couple of weeks earlier). The truck driving in front of me was also heading to the village and pulled into the first available parking spot on the street, and I in turn followed into the last available space behind the truck.
I shut off my engine when all of a sudden the back-up lights of the truck came on. My Central Nervous System immediately went to an Amber Alert. With no time to start my vehicle and reverse away from the truck, I honked my horn like a mad man. "Meep, Meep, Meep" cried my MINI. But the cries of desperation from under the hood failed. The driver was not looking over his shoulder, using either of his mirrors (nor the ears on the sides of his aged head apparently), and while casually looking out his front window while travelling in the other direction, he smacked right into the front end of my car.
I stepped out of the MINI as the gentleman drove forward into the parking space he originally occupied. He climbed down from his truck leaving it running, and again his back-up lights came on, this time with no one behind the wheel. WHAM! Collision number two – and less than 30 seconds apart! Another unbelievable YouTube moment missed.
The man got into his truck, pulled forward once again, and shut the vehicle off. He then tells me that "I just had my transmission overhauled and I don’t think it’s working right”. Duh!
So, in the pouring rain, with a little bit of huffing and puffing I copy out this man’s information on the hood of my car, and after picking up the 2 foot piece of gold ribbon, head into the Accident Reporting Centre in Peterborough. The uninterested, well-fed man behind the desk pretending to actually be doing something on his computer screen says "we don't look after accidents that happen in Lakefield anymore. You have to call the Lakefield Police", and he points me to a phone on the wall with a direct line to the Peterborough-Lakefield Police Department (which by the way IS where I am). I say to the person who answers, "I'd like to speak with someone at your Lakefield detachment". He says, "would you like their number?". I say, I'm in your lobby on the direct line phone, can't you just put me through?". The call is connected, but of course, no one is in the police station in Lakefield, so I get an answering machine. I leave my message. I drive home.
Car parked in the driveway, boots off, coat off, I see that someone has called from the Lakefield Police station, but they've not left a message, so boots on, coat on and out the driveway I go. On my way I see that the police have just finished with someone he's pulled over, so I follow his car into the parking lot where I figure he's driving to fill out a report, consume a doughnut or something else. But, he doesn't stop and exits the parking lot with me in pursuit.
As the two of us make our way down the main street of Lakefield, I flash my lights at him realizing that this is actually the first time I’ve pulled over a cop. I snicker. He pulls over, and I pull in front of him, go back to his cruiser, and ask "How does a guy go about reporting an accident in this town?" He says "Are you Bob?". "That's me" I reply, and I get into his car and file the damned report.
OK, so now people who know me think that I've been pulled over, and the next day I get approached by a host of people asking “what did you do yesterday to get pulled over?”
You know… all I wanted was a little fucking piece of ribbon for my christmas decorations!
It should just be written law that a new vehicle for someone, whether brand spanking or previously owned, will, regardless of how hard one tries to protect it, be involved in a collision as a result of someone else’s complete and utter stupidity.
Picture a clear and sunny day, not a cloud in the sky. In the parking lot of Lakefield’s one and (unfortunately) only funeral home sits my “liquid yellow” MINI. It’s all by its lonesome, not disturbing a soul and clearly stationary between the painted lines that designate where a car is supposed to be parked. Inside I’m busy working on a memorial video for a recently deceased person, and I feel a hand rest on each of my shoulders. It’s my boss. He says… “I just hit your car”. OK, so first I think “fuck off you did not” and look at him hoping that this is some kind of sick joke. But I can tell by the look that he’s not kidding around. So what do you say when you “boss” hits your car? You can’t go off the deep end and rag out him can you? Well, I suppose I could have gone ballistic, but that would just make things really awkward wouldn’t it? I follow him outside, and sure enough, he’s backed the big old black Chevy Suburban body wagon out of the home’s garage, and while in reverse executed a wide curve down the drive and into the parking lot in some sort of “I’m a real man” maneuver and smashes into the ass end of my MINI shoving its entire backside a good foot to the left. That’s the same MINI that I had just made my first payment on. My pride and joy. My little yellow MINI Cooper S with dual exhaust, heated seats, onboard computer, built in GPS system and a sound system that puts the band right there in the back seat! Yes… THAT MINI.
So with the tail light smashed and pieces of it hanging there by a thread of what’s left of the rubber seal, the bumper crumpled in like a dried Apricot - only yellow, and the back panel looking as messed up as the mouth of an NHL player, I flick the light cover a bit and watch it swing back and forth on the rubber thread, and say “there… now it looks more real Scott… Something has to be moving to make an accident look more authentic”. I don’t know why I said that. Maybe it’s because whenever you see a crash on TV there’s always a wheel spinning on a turned over car, a turn indicator blinking, steam erupting from under a hood, or blood pooling onto the pavement from beneath the passenger side door. I just needed to see something “move”.
Surprisingly, that’s about as excited as I got, and aside from asking something like "how can you not see a bright yellow mini in an empty parking lot?" in a sort of joking manner (he was feeling like an idiot I gathered so I didn't want to get too rough), we went inside, and arranged to have the damage appraised and fixed, which was completed within a couple of weeks to the tune of $2300. That’s $2300 from HIS wallet of course, not mine.
The event of that terrible day remains emblazoned in my memory as if it happened, well… three years ago. Since then my faithful MINI and I have travelled hither and yon. We’ve been on the highways, and on the country roads. City life and country farms, we’ve done it all. We’ve plowed through snow and battled torrential rains, and we even went camping. Put those back seats down and you can fit a whole load of groceries, three 18L water jugs, and a six-pack of beer - no problem. The best cargo I ever had wasn’t cargo at all though. That would be the company of my Black Lab Punk’n Louise. She absolutely loved riding in the back of the MINI, and while I never knew what the two of us looked like travelling through town, I would bet that many a finger pointed at how cute the whole picture would have been. When you have a MINI, you have memories. A new one is made every time you go for a ride, and people aren’t afraid to talk with you about your car wherever you go.
All this being said, there’s another chapter in the series of I Love My MINI. It’s the latest story of how a bright yellow MINI parked on a village street can once again be victimized by a vehicle in reverse.
Stay tuned for “I love my MINI, Part 3" (you'll pee your pants!)
I really do. I LOVE my Mini! When I was growing up those many moons ago, there was this family down the road whose son had an Austin Mini with (get this) wood paneling on the sides. It was British green, and I thought it was the coolest car. In the 1970’s my friends Ev and Doug bought a Mini, and to be seen in that driving around town made you feel… I don’t know… special? And when we’d pull up somewhere and out of it would pour Doug, Evelyn, Myself, their son Douglas, and then their full-grown Collie, mouths would drop!
In college, aka “the wild days”, my best friend Jim showed up at the beginning of our third year in a bright green Mini that his parents bought for him that summer. This car was the absolute most incredible vehicle I think I ever sat in or drove. Now Jim shall I say, drives like an over medicated mad man (still does). Speed is his middle name, and he’ll pass anyone or anything if it dares to even make him think he might have to take his foot off the gas pedal. For him, this car was perfect. For me, it was just too cool to be seen in. I’m just glad I didn’t become a casualty in that car. I remember one day we were on some weed induced mission heading east along Eglinton Avenue in Scarborough when some hot looking guy on the right caught our eyes. WHAM! Those Mini’s didn’t fare well when they slammed into the rear end of a bigger (weren’t they all?) car. Shaken but not stirred, we ended up laughing it off since the driver of the car we rear ended thought we were looking at some chick in a car, and the damage to her vehicle was minimal (cost Jim about $150 if I remember right). The damage to the front of the Mini was more extensive however, and we spent some time that afternoon pulling out the dented grill and body work to make it look less “injured”. You see, it was an injury, because a Mini isn’t just a car… a Mini is your friend. A couple of months later Jim and I visited his parents in Sarnia, and his father noticed the front end damage and asked “what the hell happened?” Jim’s acting abilities far surpass his ability to tell the truth with many things, and he reacted like it was the first time he’d seen it, Forcing me to “play along” he explained “Somebody must have hit me in a parking lot somewhere”. Who knows whether or not his father ever bought into that story.
Well, as you know the Mini became a piece of history when production on them dwindled and ownership was tossed from one company to the next, and as the years passed, they disappeared with only a few refurbished ones hitting the summertime streets. Then, in 2001 thanks to BMW the new MINI was introduced to the market, and I would bet that my friend Jim was first in line to get one. I remember when he pulled into our driveway with that silver baby. It was like a trip back in time… Jim, a MINI, and a world still waiting to be terrorized.
Once again I was faced with this internal desire (need?) to own a MINI. To sit behind the wheel of my very own baby and zoom into parking spots too small for the other cars, and zip my way in and out of traffic like no other car can do. I found myself scanning the auto trade magazines and internet car sites, but still found myself behind the wheel of everything but a MINI. In my days I’ve owned a 1962 Rambler, a ‘67 Pontiac Parisienne 2+2, a ’69 Ford Mustang, a 72 Ford Comet (don’t fucking ask), an '82 Toyota Tercel, an ’85 Toyota Corolla, an 89 Pontiac 6000LE, an ‘88 Honda Prelude, an ’89 Toyota Tercel, a ’92 Nissan Maxima and a ’95 Nissan Maxima. Not a terrible spread of vehicles (except the Comet of course), but still no MINI (insert very sad face here).
Then it happened. The day of the Peterborough Nissan dealership drive-by. Out front, hoisted up on car ramps 4 feet in the air sat the baby of my dreams. A bright yellow Mini Cooper S , and it was calling out my name… “Bobby… look at me” it said. “Bobby… I love you” it went on. It was destiny. It was love. It was time for a trade in quicker than you could say “Bye, bye Maxima, Hello MINIma”. That “liquid yellow” 2003 MINI Cooper S and I became immediate best friends, and within a week, my name was proudly on the ownership papers. Over 30 years of dreaming had finally been realized.
Stay tuned for “I love my MINI, Part 2” (it get's better!)
R.G. Brook (Look up... c'est moi), was born in 1959 in Peterborough, Ontario CANADA. I am a Class 1 Licensed Funeral Director, graphic and stained-glass artist & photographer (not to mention an all-around super duper fella), who loves far too many things to mention here. Oh... I'm very opinionated on some issues, but that doesn't mean I'm close-minded. Read the blog... you'll see.