a frivolous five minutes with ‘e’ après le soup and before the butter tarts — age 97

I’ve known ‘e’ for close to twenty-five years—since he was but a lad in his mid seventies—and he hasn’t changed a lot, though he’d probably beg to differ where walking is concerned. Not as easy, he’d say. Well, at three years shy of a century you’re allowed to take your time.

Sometime before her 101st birthday, my friend Judy said (and these are her words) that if you lived long enough you’d eventually lose it from either the neck up or the neck down. She might be right but it’s about degrees. And attitude. She lost the ability to get around on her own, but it didn’t stop her doing much.

‘e’ is pretty much the same.

Maybe it’s that generation, something in the water. Or, more likely, not  in it. As was Judy, ‘e’ is a pretty amazing role model where aging is concerned. And yet society doesn’t celebrate this kind of aging… Funny bunch, society.

Things about ‘e’ that I happen to know: he likes chocolate but not fish. He reads widely and avidly and is currently addicted to a series of excellent detective novels. His memory is mind-bogglingly sharp. He played football when helmets were made of leather and lined with sheepskin and once had a rustic cottage in the Gatineau. He is among the kindest people you might ever meet, and possesses one of those smiles it’s impossible not to return.

Here, then, is a thin slice of this dear man, ‘e’…

How long could you go without talking?  Better part of the day.

Do you prefer silence or noise?  Silence, with a limit.

How many pairs of shoes do you own?  Three or four. You should change shoes ever day, better for the feet.

If you won the lottery?  Give away to loved ones, children.

One law you’d make?  Can’t think of one.

Unusual talent?  I’ve been told I’m not a bad singer. Started lessons at age 21; good but not professional quality.

What do you like to cook?  Nothing. Never do.

Have you or would you ever bungee jump?  No.

What’s the most dare-devilish thing you’ve done?  Swam to an island quite a distance from cottage and back at age 10.

Do you like surprise parties, practical jokes?  Neither.

Favourite time of day?  Late afternoon.

What tree would you be?  Why would I want to be a tree?

Best present ever received?  The luck of two good marriages.

Best present ever given?  Probably some small gift to my mother.

What do you like on your toast?  Orange marmalade.

The last thing you drew a picture of?  I don’t draw pictures. Am most unartistic.

Last thing written in ink?  A letter.

Favourite childhood meal/food?  Mother made cut out heads (cookies) from Dec. 5 to 25. Each day we kids took turns taking one.

What [past] age is your favourite?  20

Would you go back if you could?  No.

Best invention?  Car

Describe your childhood bedroom. Wallpaper, big window, faced west; I liked the window open.

Afraid of spiders? Not particularly.

Phobias?  A little afraid of heights. I wanted to be paratrooper in the war so I tested my nerve by jumping from the high diving board at the local pool.

Least favourite teacher and why?  Ms. Davies in grade 2. She had a moustache and her hair in bun. I was strapped once and thought it was unjust; my dad spoke to her to straighten things out.

Favourite children’s story? Was read to but can’t remember titles.

Ideal picnic ingredients?  Hot dogs.

Best thing about Canada?  Sober second thought.

Best thing about people in general?  Ability to accept each other.

What flavour would you be?  Chocolate.

What colour?  Red.

What would you come back as?  Myself.

Favourite saying:  none.

More frivolity of various ages.

it may seem we’ve come a long way but you’ve got to admit, the bar was pretty low…


In 1854, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon published a pamphlet, A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning  Women; Together with a Few Observations Thereon” ; this is an excerpt:

“A man and wife are one person in law; the wife loses all her rights as a single woman, and her existence is entirely absorbed in that of her husband. He is civilly responsibly for her acts; she lives under his protection or cover, and her condition is called coverture.

A woman’s body belongs to her husband; she is in his custody and he can enforce his right by a writ of habeas corpus.

What was her personal property before marriage, such as money, becomes absolutely her husband’s, and he may assign or dispose of them at his pleasure whether he and his wife live together or not.

A wife’s chattels real (i.e., estates) become her husband’s.

Neither the Courts of Common law nor Equity have any direct power to oblige a man to support his wife….

The legal custody of children belongs to the father. During the life-time of a sane father, the mother has no rights over her children, except a limited power over infants, and the father may take them from her and dispose of them as he thinks fit.

A married woman cannot sue or be sued for contracts—nor can she enter into a contracts except as the agent of her husband; that is to say, her word alone is not binding in law….

A wife cannot bring actions unless the husband’s name is joined.

A husband and wife cannot be found guilty of conspiracy, as that offence cannot be committed unless there are two persons.”


* In 2007, the British equal rights campaigner and feminist Lesley Abdela came across the grave of Barbara Bodichon. The grave lay in the tiny churchyard in Brightling, East Sussex, about 50 miles (80 km) from London, in a state of disrepair, its railings rusted and breaking away and the inscription on the tomb almost illegible.[  About £1,000 has since been raised to restore the site.


* With thanks to Wikipedia.

watching where i step


Dog like an angry fox at the bottom of a driveway. Possessive of its tarmac.
As I pass it watches me, positions itself as something much larger… I buy the ruse, walk faster.

But it’s not the only scary thing at this intersection of seasons.DSC02211Ice too.

And then another dog. Black and small and growly, companion to a small woman in black. She does not say hello, speaks only to the dog. Perhaps winter has been long and hard for her…

A teenaged lad approaches, staring at his hand. I veer out of his way.

And then a puddle in the shape of a hawk in flight.

And this.DSC02214Always this.DSC02216

Smell of cigarette smoke on the other side of a cedar hedge.

Third dog—a very young puppy, gambolling through the snow, followed by two gamboling young girls.

Things are getting better.

Signs of spring.DSC02215DSC02217

Also, the sun. Still high at 6:30 p.m.

Another puppy, a sand coloured one, unremarkable and content it seems.DSC02218
And then, because there haven’t been enough dogs, a beautiful but seemingly unfriendly Lassie, walked by a chap in designated walking apparel and with his perky young daughter outfitted in pinks and purples.  He reluctantly returns my hello  with a lemon sucking face. (No disrespect to lemons.)

As I turn toward home, a dove. Creaky garden gate sound of its wings as it flies from tree to overhead wire, sits, watches in that non-judgmental dove-like way… and I wonder what the view is like from there.


wordless wednesday

IMG_5602 - Copy - CopyAm breaking from my usual silence to say that I chose this shot with the hope of inspiring some chatter, or at least an expression of preferences. I’m guessing there are at least two camps at this *almost spring*  time of year—those who can’t stand it one more minute and and are fleeing the last of the snowdrops (or in the case of eastern provinces, snowdumps)… and those who are all a-twitter waiting for them to bloom.

So, at the end of winter, are you a flee or a-twitter??

Other Wordless Friends—

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

this is not a review: ‘and the birds rained down’, by jocelyne saucier


I haven’t the foggiest as to why fat books are so popular. Is it because there’s more to wade around in, that the reading will last longer? A double cheeseburger vs a cup of soup?

Yes, but,  I say.

Skinny books, being pared down to their sweet essence, have a tendency to stay with you long after the yummy saga of a fat book has slid into the oblivion of a happy gamorph. (After which you’re hit with the craving for another fat book.) A skinny book, on the other hand, often begs to be read again. And the re-reading gets sweeter (and more nourishing) every time.

And the Birds Rained Down is a skinny book of the most delicious kind, one of five Canada Reads selections, for which I am truly grateful.andthebirdsraineddown-220

I’ll be honest though. It took me few beats to relax into it and I wondered why this was… because I liked the story. Then it occurred to me: I was reading at the wrong speed; I was looking for something rather than letting the something contained within the pages find  me.

Also, the ‘something contained’ wasn’t what I thought. So I’d never have found it by looking.

For instance, what it’s NOT about is a few feisty and elderly men who have chosen to live in the woods where they rely on their wits and each other and occasional supplies from town courtesy of a couple of pot growers. Neither is it about the two women who arrive, one a photographer, working on a project about survivors of an infamous fire; the other, a former inmate of a lunatic asylum.

Neither is it about a small Northern Ontario community that was devastated by fire, or the way the fire’s effect has touched various unconnected people in the decades since.

It’s not about dogs named Drink and Chummey, or a cat named Monseigneur.

And it’s certainly not about the worry of death, though it’s mentioned a lot and figures prominently. And, well, there is  strychnine.

It is… however, about dignity. How we see people, how we expect or allow them to live. How we can choose to help or hinder or judge. It’s about the kind of communities we want and the kind we build. (A roadside hotel—a rather old and often overlooked shell of a place with an interesting past that still serves a real purpose to those with an appreciation for authenticity—offers a powerful metaphor for aging.)

“I like places that have given up any pretence of stylishness, any affectation, and that cling to an idea waiting for time to prove them right: prosperity, the railroad, old friends… I’m not sure what they’re waiting for. The region has a number of these sorts of places that stand the test of time as they revel in their own dilapidated solitude.”

It’s about respect for generations that have lived lives we can’t possibly understand; it’s about breaking down age barriers.

“The eyes are what are most important in old people. The flesh is hanging, sagging, gathered in wrinkled knots around the mouth, eyes, nose and ears. The face is ravaged, illegible. You can’t know anything about an old person unless you look into their eyes—their eyes tell the story of their lives.”

It’s about friendship and the surprising places it’s found. In one case, in an asylum where one inmate (who had her own baby taken from her) helped another mourn the loss of her child.

“I rocked her baby. That’s how we became friends. I asked if I could rock her baby. She passed him to me very carefully and I took him just as carefully, and I rocked the baby too, for a long time, singing songs to him. And that’s how, taking turns rocking a baby that didn’t exist, we figured out how not to be where we were.”

It is about love and sex in old age and the latter not working quite as it used to. Never mind. There are other ways. Saucier doesn’t shy away from this subject but treats it with exactly the right amount of ‘natural’. We might ask ourselves why this isn’t talked about more… is it just so terribly shocking to know that the elderly feel passion?

It’s about creativity.

The way these men have built their lives, and an unknown stash of paintings in which more is revealed about the artist than ever could be shared in friendship.

And, yes, it’s about death. Not in any maudlin or sentimental way but in the way it’s connected to both life and independence and the choices we make. Not only how we live, but how we die…

“Too many deaths,… Too many bodies, too much black coiled at the bottom of his paintings, never any light, or, if there is any, it’s to illuminate blacked bodies, cries of horror, hands out stretched where death surprised them. No one can live with that deep within. Ted tried to free himself from it, to hurl all of that horror onto the canvas. Maybe he succeeded in a sense. His final painting, the one on his easel, had light—very little a faint glimmer, but enough to created a space from which he could slip away gently. That’s what I hope for him, it’s what I hope for all of us. To slip away gently.”

It’s a book that celebrates the realities of life in its not always perfect perfection. And it does so quite perfectly.

All that in 155 pages.

And the Birds Rained Down, available online at Blue Heron Books.