Passed Over

 

The celebration of a holiday steeped in tradition and family was pre-empted this year due to several family crises. My wife suggested that we do it in a week or so. “We can do it then, right?”, she asked.

“I don’t think we can.”, I informed her.

“Why not?”, she asked.

“I think that a Passover Seder must be held on Passover.”, I answered.

“Who says?”, she queried.

“Well”, I replied, “6000 years of history and tradition, and several bus loads of Orthodox Rabbis en route to a Hassidic convention in Monsey, New York.”

“Are you sure?”, she inquired.

“Pretty sure.”, I told her.

“Well”, she said, “that sucks.”

“Indeed.”, I agreed.

So, with all of the preparation, the cooking and cleaning, the purchasing of seder specific foods, and the table being set, one of my sons, the chef, called to let his mother know that he could not attend as there was an emergency at work. I had no idea what a kitchen emergency could be, short of a fire, but he was clear that was not the case. I suspect that either the sous chef burnt the beef wellington, or some one screwed up the marinara sauce, so he had to go and rectify the problem. “Well”, my wife said, “everyone else will be here, so it will still be okay.”

We headed out to the store to pick up a few final items for my vegetarian/vegan son, and had to visit 3 different supermarkets to obtain the specific foods he would eat. With the morning gone, we began the final organization of food, seating, and Passover paraphernalia. There was another call, this time from my vegetarian son, stating that he was in the E.R. at a local hospital. It seems that he was experiences chest pains through the night, and had been transported by ambulance to the hospital. I went down to check out what was going on, being asked to bring him an orange juice and a chocolate chip muffin, and upon my arrival I found him in a room, not hooked up to any piece of equipment whatsoever. ‘What the hell is going on?”, I asked him.

“I don’t know.”, he said. “I was having chest pains, and my arm felt kind of weird, so I called 911.”

“What did the doctor say?”, I asked.

“Nothing really.”, he replied. “They took blood, and did a chest x-ray. We’re waiting for the results.” He asked if I could go to his place and pick up his boots and socks, as he arrived only with his slippers. I suggested that he get his wife to bring his stuff over, as I was not delivering his shoes.

When the doctor arrived, he was very sure that it was a cardiac event, but more than likely anxiety, or perhaps a pulled muscle. He was discharged, and I gave him money for a cab home, and I headed home myself. At home, I informed my wife that neither he, nor his wife would be attending the seder, as he was going to sleep as he had been up all night. I was told that while I was at the hospital with my son, one of my daughters called and, since neither of her brothers were attending, she didn’t think it was worthwhile coming down, and with my wife’s assistance, put a plan in place to conduct the seder within the next few weeks.

In the meantime, there was a fridge and freezer filled with food. The pantry was bursting with items to be served along side the main courses. There was chicken and brisket, roast potatoes, candied carrots, soup, fricassee and meatballs, gefilte fish, and a host of Moroccan dishes that my wife had grown up with. “What are we going to do with all of this food?”, I asked as I surveyed the abundance of food that had been systematically organized and arranged in the kitchen.

“We’re going to eat it.”, my wife said. “And what we can’t eat, we’re going to freeze.”

It was a very disappointing evening for me. At this time of year, my thoughts dive headlong into the memories of childhood Passovers spent at my parents home. Being with family, the traditions, the food, and the hockey playoff games that inevitably were on at the same time of year, and how my brothers and I, feigning a need to use the bathroom, headed downstairs to catch just a few minutes of the game and to at least check on the score. And upon returning to the table, my father would inevitably ask “What’s the score?”. That too had become our family tradition. And when the seder was done, satiated with food and the story of the emancipation from bondage, we headed to bed, taking comfort in the Leafs’ victory over the Bruins.

This year, however, there was no family. There was no tradition. And as I get older, they both seem to carry increased importance to me. “We’ll have our own seder.”, I told my wife. “There’s you and me, and the two girls. It’ll be fine.”

“The girls won’t be here.”, she informed me. “When they heard no one was coming, they made plans to go out with friends.”

“I see.”, I replied. I didn’t really. I was quite dejected, wallowing in the disappointment of childhood memories that seemed gone forever.

“We can do it together.”, she said. “Just the two of us.”

“Its okay.”, I told her. “I just don’t know why its so hard for everyone to get together twice a year. They’re always too busy. How come we’re never too busy? They’re going to forget everything we taught them. But we should eat. At least I won’t have to put pants on.”  We sat at the table, and before we could begin to eat, my wife looked over at me.

“You are a good father.”, she told me. “We’ll be fine, and they’ll be fine. No matter what they forget, they will never forget what’s important. We did a good job with those kids.”

I felt better. She always made me feel better. “I don’t think I want to do this next year.”, I told her. “I think one of the kids should hold the seder at their place. And maybe, we should have a crisis and have to cancel.”

“If that’s what you want to do”, she said, “we’ll do it. It sounds like fun. Its about time we screwed them around.” At that precise moment in time I realized that this was exactly where I was always supposed to be.

 

 

 

 

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Day Of The Dog

There was going to be a party. Not just any party. There was going to be a birthday party at my son’s home. It was an hours drive, deep into the suburbs north of the city. There was going to be food, fancy food created by a chef. Everyone was attending. They had been talking about it for weeks. It was a thoroughly planned party. My mother-in-law and my sister-in- law, were coming in from out of town. It was apparently a party that was not to be missed. Some of the family members were discussing gifts, text messaging photos of items they were considering purchasing for the guest of honor. Everyone was bringing a gift. My wife wanted to know what I wanted to take as a gift.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”, I stated.

“No.”, she said. “We have to take to take something.”

“Why.”, I asked her.

“Because that’s what you do for a birthday.”, she advised.

“You know”, I told her, “He doesn’t know its his birthday.”

“It doesn’t matter.”, she replied. “We have to take a gift.”

“The question really is why do we have to go at all.”, I said.

“Because its the right thing to do.”, she said. “Its his birthday.”

“You know”, I said, “you know he’s a dog, right?” Right. Everyone knew he was a dog. But he had always been my wife’s dog.

The party itself was a gala event. The living room was decorated with banners embossed with sentiments suggesting that the dog have a happy day. There were dog cupcakes, and a candle was put in one as my family burst into a rousing rendition of happy birthday for a dog who had long ago left and went to sleep in another room. He was carried out to hear the song and to eat a cupcake, and then returned to another room to go back to sleep.

The gifts were unwrapped without his presence. There was a sweater, a basketball jersey, some assorted chew toys, dog treats, and a certificate for a dog spa day.

“Someone should have got him a girl.”, I said.

“What?”, my wife asked, wondering if she heard me correctly.

“Someone should have got him a bitch.”, I said, “You know, a female dog that jumped out of a cake or something.”

“What the hell is he going to do with a bitch?”, my wife asked me. “He’s been fixed.”

“So have I.”, I reminded her. “But I’ve still got a bitch.” She smiled ever so slightly, not wanting me to know that she found it funny.

“Well”, she said, “The difference is you’ve still got your balls.”

“Really?”, I queried. “I’m pretty sure that you’ve had them for the last 25 years or so.” I went back to sit in the lounge chair only to find the birthday dog and his little sister laying down across it.

The chit chat emanating from this group was loud and diverse, There were several different conversations occurring at the same time, each one slightly louder than the other, in order that each participant in each conversation could hear and be heard. There was talk of synthetic proteins to aid in muscle building, shoulder surgery, and healthy eating. There was one conversation which raised the concern of the poor and the homeless. I was bored, and I wanted to leave. No one was speaking about music, or drugs, although my mother in law did raise the issue of now taking statins. There were no philosophical debates, and no questions regarding intelligent life in the universe. What the hell had happened to my family? The lot of them were turning into protein drinking, vegan gym rats. I had never felt so alone in my life. It was clear to me, at that moment that I must be the alien. As for intelligent life in the universe, I was certain that it wasn’t in that room on that day.

I suppose it was a good party, I mean its always great to see all of the kids and their partners together. It was nice to see the dogs too, although in all of the years I have known my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, neither of them has ever come into town for one of my birthdays, and there have been many significant ones. I have never received a gift from them either, although my wife informed me that I already had the greatest gift they could have given to anyone, and that of course, was her. I remind her that the return policy had always been very one sided, with no opportunity for a refund or at least an exchange. She let me know that she is irreplaceable, and at best, I would wind up with a a very inferior replacement. And as for the refund, well, apparently there just wasn’t enough money to cover her value. Sadly, she was right.

“This better not become an annual event.”, I told her on the long drive home. “I’m not doing this again.”

“We’ll see.”, she said. “Since we’re in the area, do you feel like grabbing a veal sandwich from Nino D’Aversa?”

“Are you buying?”, I asked.

“Do you have any money on you?”, she questioned.

“Not a dime.”, I answered. “You don’t let me have any.”

“Well.”, she told me, “That’s because you keep losing it.”

“So you’re buying then?”, I  again.

“I always do.”, she replied. “And this is why I can never be returned.”

“Ya.”, I said. “Because you have all of my money.”

“Its our money.”, she advised me. “And yes I do.”

 

 

 

 

Feeding The Baby

 

 

My wife was always an exceptional mother. I would watch in amazement as she exercised her maternal prowess. With 5 kids, there was always changings, and feedings, and trips to doctors, and a host of car pool events for the older ones.I helped as much as she would allow, relegated me to the chores and tasks she felt didn’t require a mother’s touch. I changed diapers, and gave kids bottles when they were done nursing. The responsibility for the nursing of the children was entirely hers. Except for that one evening in 1996.

The baby was crying, my wife was exhausted, and it was 2 in the morning. “I’ll go get her and bring her in here.”, I said.

I picked the baby up from her crib, and cradling her in my arms began the walk back to my wife. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain, and looked down to see the baby firmly attached to my nipple. Now I don’t know what the protocols are in a situation like this, but I began tugging, and pulling, and tugging some more, but she just wouldn’t let go. I screamed. Really, I screamed. My wife came running to find me sitting on the floor, trying to pry this monster off my nipple. “You have to break the seal.”, she said, laughingly.

“Get this thing off of me.”, I shouted, as the baby began sucking harder and harder. My wife inserted one of her fingers into the side of the baby’s mouth and I don’t know what happened, but the baby fell off. I was free. I passed the baby to my wife, and went into the bathroom to examine the damage. It was sore, and red, and I think I saw my life flash before me. “I think its swollen.”, I told my wife. “Do you think I should see the doctor?”

“You’ll be fine.”, she said.

“What the hell is wrong with that kid?”, I asked, still massaging my swollen, painful nipple.

“There’s nothing wrong with her.”, I was informed. “She was just hungry.”

It took a few days, but things got back to normal, as the swelling went down, and the pain subsided. Following that fateful night, I have never picked up a baby without wearing a shirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had always gone out of my wife to help my wife take care of the kids when they were younger. I clothed them, fed them, changed them, took them for walks, took them to the park, took them everywhere really, and just always tried to be involved. So when my youngest was a baby, and in her crib crying, I decided that I would go get her and bring her down to my wife. I lifted her out of her crib, and cuddled her against my chest, and began the treacherous walk down two flights of stairs to where my wife was waiting.

 

 

sima latching o to y nipple…

The Handyman

 

“Do you remember…”, my wife began, and I braced myself. Every time she began with that phrase, it meant we were about to set out on a review of all of the tings I had done wrong, or had forgot to do, in front of all of the kids. She thought it was cute and funny and something my kids’ partners should be made aware of.

“Do you remember the time you tried to put that barbecue together?”, she asked.

“I don’t think so.”, I answered.

“Oh, come on.” she said. “Sure you do. We were living in that big, old farm house. You were out in the back yard with your tool box. I was watching you from the kitchen window. You kept dropping screws, and were crawling round in the grass looking for them. When you were done you had all of these left over parts.”

“They always put extra screws in those things.”, I said.

“That’s exactly what you said then.”, she continued. “And when you put the burgers on the grill, the whole thing tipped over, and the food was on the ground. Remember? We had to throw it all out and order pizza.”

“Ya. Ya.” I said. “I remember. I also remember you thought it was the best pizza you’d ever tasted.

“I remember that.”, one of my sons responded.”

“For that you wake up?”, I asked him.

“It was funny.”, he said. “You were so mad.”

“And what about the time he tried to build a wall unit.”, another son stated.

“Oh ya.”, my wife said. “You put the doors on upside down. The whole thing was backwards.”

“It worked, didn’t it?”, I asked.

“Well, we couldn’t use the drawers or the cupboards.”, one of my daughters stated.

“You don’t need drawers or cupboards on a wall unit.”, I answered.

“Didn’t he try to put a crib together once?”, another daughter asked.

“Oh, that was great.”, my wife answered. “He wound up shoving a screwdriver through his hand. 5 stitches, and nerve damage in a finger.”

“The damn crib was put together, wasn’t it?”, I stated.

“Yes it was.”, my wife answered, as condescending as I had ever heard her.

“Are we done.”, I asked.

“I don’t think so.”, she said. “I’m sure there’s more.”

“And the desk.”, someone shouted.

“Right.”, my wife shrieked. “You built me a desk. Lifted it out of the box, and pulled your back out. But you just kept on trying.”

“You still use that desk, don’t you?”, I pointed out.

“I do.”, she replied, “but I rebuilt it myself, afterwards. well, the kids helped.”

“Didn’t you get hurt a lot when you were a kid?”, one of my daughters decided to join in.

“I don’t remember.”, I replied.

“Oh, sure you do.”, my wife interjected. “Your mother told me all kinds of stuff. When you were 5 or so, you got a hazel nut shell in your eye. Almost lost the eye.”

“Didn’t one of us almost poke his eye out?”, a son asked.

“Yes.”, my wife answered. “You did.”. she said looking at my eldest daughter.”You wanted him to read you a book, when he said no, you hit him in the eye with the book. What did the doctor say?”

“Detached retina.”, I answered.

“Right.”, my wife continued. “For 3 weeks he walked around with a patch on his eye. It was like living with Jack Sparrow. And, you fell off of the roof of your parent’s house at least once, right? Right. And what happened when you went through the screen door?”

“Nothing happened.”, I said. ” I was running down the hall, and pushed the door to open it so I could go outside. I missed the handle, so the door didn’t open, and I ran right through the glass.”

“And the can opener.”, my son shouted.

“Oh, yeah.”, my wife said as she laughed. “What were you trying to open, a can of tuna? Well it doesn’t matter. We had just got one of those openers that are supposed to make it safer to handle the cans. Well, not for him. He was draining the liquid, and he yelled “Oh shit”. When I went to the kitchen, I saw him with a dish towel wrapped around his hand, and blood pouring out. 7 stitches, and nerve damage in the rest of the hand.”

“Holy shit.”, one of my sons said. “You probably shouldn’t do anything.”

“What I should do”, I told him, “Is kick your scrawny ass.”

“Oh, relax.”, my wife said. “You probably just wind up pulling a muscle or something.”

“Are we done?”, I asked as I stood up. “I’m going to smoke now.”

“Almost.”, my wife continued so I sat back down. She came over and sat on my lap, putting her arms around my neck. “And yet”, she said, “he is the best man I know. He has always kept me and the kids safe, and he makes me laugh. He is always there for us, helping us fight our fights, and making the pain and fear go away.” She looked me in the eye and continued. “And just so you know, I don’t need you to put things together, or build me things. You do more for me, for us, than you even realize, and I wouldn’t change a thing. You are the best husband I could have imagined.”

“Well”, I said, “now the truth finally comes out.”

“Just one thing though.”, she said. “If you’re going to cook, please let me know. You never remember to turn the oven off.”

“Oh, I remember.”, I told her. “I just choose not to do it because I know how how happy it makes you to think you need to take care of me.”

“You 2 are so messed up.”, one of my daughters said.

“Ya.”, my wife said. “But we like it that way.”

 

 

 

 

A Holiday Miracle

 

“You’ve got to be kidding!”, I said.

“No.”, my wife replied. “I’m pretty sure he took it all home.”

“Why the hell would he do that?”, I asked.

“I don’t know.”, she replied. “Except we always give him stuff.”

“Did you give it to him?”, I asked.

“No.” She said. “I just assumed you did.”

“”I’m not doing this again.”, I stated. “From now on, we go to someone else’s place.”

And so ended a rather precarious night. It began several hours earlier, when all of the kids and their partners came over for another of our bi-annual family fun fests, filled with festivity, frivolity, and food. They arrived en masse, marching in like the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea, tossing jackets down the hallway and into the living room,  wandering into the kitchen, opening the fridge, and re emerging for the customary hugs. “I don’t know why you still can’t hang a jacket up.”, my wife said as she picked their coats up off of the floor.

“Just leave them.”, I told her. “No body eats until they hang up their coats.”

“What are we having?”, one of my daughters asked.

“Did you cook or are we ordering in?”, another one inquired.

“They didn’t cook.”, a son stated. “I already checked.”

“Well”, I said, “None of you will be eating until those coats are hung up.”

The traditional Chinese food for the holidays meal was becoming near impossible to coordinate. Someone was allergic to shrimp. There were prohibitions to beef, pork and chicken, garlic, and broccoli. There was even a Vegetarian. “It was so simple when they were little.”, my wife said.

“I know.”, I tried to console her.

“They were happy with fish sticks and fries.”, she continued.

“Just order what ever you want to order. They will eat, or they won’t.”, I advised.

The food arrived, and everyone found something they could enjoy. I settled in to hot & sour soup, while my wife tackled the order of ribs that lay before her. There were noodle dishes, beef dishes, and chicken dishes. For the Vegetarian, who would not eat from the Chinese restaurant, there was vegetarian pizza. Dinner was followed by board games, lemon coffee cake, blueberry pie, and an assortment of goodies covered in chocolate, all served to a background of assorted Progressive Rock.

“What the hell are we listening to?”, someone said.

“It’s the old man’s stoner music.”, one of my kids blurted out.

“Are you high?”, someone asked me.

“He’s usually high.”, my wife responded. “For as long as I’ve known him.”

“Actually”, I responded, “I’m just comfortably numb.”

“And there’s the Pink Floyd reference.”, one of my son’s acknowledged.

“Does anyone want coffee?”, my wife asked the throng of trolls still hovering around the table.

Over the course of the next hour or so, each one of my kids wanted to speak to me in private. To be honest, I was scared. It was never good when they want to talk to me. It usually involves them asking for money. But this year, it was different.  One son was leaving his partner after 4 years. Turns out she’s a bitch. A daughter wants to have her her in-laws committed. Apparently, they are insane. My other son is having problems with his wife. It seems that she requires far more maintenance than he had anticipated. And finally, one of my daughters merely wanted money. It seems that she had a significant credit card debt that she wanted me to pay off. For the record, she was told no.

“And now”, I said to all of them, “I want you all to go home and think about which one of you will be taking your mother and I in, when we get too old to take care of yourselves.”

“I thought you were going to a seniors’ home.”, someone said.

“We’re not going to any home.”, my wife stated, as they hastily put on their coats and boots. And somewhere in the confusion of which jacket belonged to who, and where did she leave her purse, the Bermuda like triangle in my living room opened up. As we closed the door behind the last one to leave, we notice the barren table.

“Where is all of the stuff?”, I asked.

“I don’t know.”, my wife said.

“Well”, I continued, “It was all here just a few minutes ago.”

“Its not there now.”, she advised, stating the obvioust the obvious.

“Well”, I continued, “It didn’t just walk away on its own.”

“You’re starting to sound like your father.”, she informed me.

“Well, sometimes he was right.”, I replied.

“I think one of the kids took it home.”, I was told. “Probably Terry.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”, I said.

“No.”, my wife replied. “I’m pretty sure he took it all home.”

“Why the hell would he do that?”, I asked.

“I don’t know.”, she replied. “Except we always give him stuff.”

“Did you give it to him?”, I asked.

“No.” She said. “I just assumed you did.”

“I’m not doing this again.”, I stated. “From now on, we go to someone else’s place. I think you should call the boy and ask him what the hell he thought he was doing.”

“It’s not that big of a deal.”, she said. “It was only the coffee cake, and the pie.”

“Well, you may want to sit down for this.”, I told her. “But he took all of the chocolate-cashews, and the chocolate pretzels.”

“What the hell.”, she bellowed. “What’s wrong with him.”

“Oh”, I reminded her, “Its not that big of a deal.”

“You’re right.”, she said. “Its okay. It’s just nice to have everyone down here so we’re all together. Everyone is healthy, and they have such a good time together. It’s a miracle.”

“The fact that we never put the little shits up for adoption”, I stated, now that’s the real miracle.

“You don’t mean that.”, she said, as she put her arm around my waist. “You’re just upset that he took your coffee cake without asking.”

“It was lemon coffee cake.”, I reminded her.

“Let’s go to bed.”, she said, as she gave me a gentle tug towards the bedroom. “I’m pretty sure you’re going to get lucky tonight.”

“Wow.”, I said. “Another Holiday miracle.”

A Willowdale Christmas Story

Growing up in a suburb of Willowdale, in the north end of the city in the 1960s was remarkably ever changing. As developments sprung up, and roads were being built, Passer’s Farm stood as a reminder of what used to be. My brothers and I spent a lot of time outside, scouting out the building sites, carrying home bits of lumber, so that we could build a fort in the back yard.

I particularly enjoyed the winters. Crawling around in the snow, tunneling through the moats we made that led to our snow fortress. And while we did not celebrate, my favorite time of all was Christmas, with all of the family traditions that accompanied it. Christmas Eve was filled with the joy of watching  ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’, and ‘Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol’. It seemed like I had to wait forever for the annual airing of these shows. We stayed up late and watched ‘Its A Wonderful Life’ with my mother, and then retired to our beds. It was strangely quiet on Christmas Eve, so quiet that you could actually hear the snow fall, as it piled up on our lawn, glistening in the pale yellow street lights that dotted the landscape of my life.

In the morning my brothers and I raced outside and shoveled the driveway, so that we could play ball hockey, while my father took the garden hose and flooded the backyard in an attempt to make us an ice hockey rink. It was always uneven, and there were patches that didn’t freeze due to inadequate water placement, but it was wonderful fun, skating up and down the rink, body checking each other into the waist high snow drifts that lined either side. Our laughter seemed to echo across galaxies, as we pulled our heads out of the drifts,  our faces covered in the untainted snow, making us all look like Santa himself.

In the afternoon, we all piled into the Ford Country Squire Station Wagon, to begin the first leg of what had become our family Christmas tradition. ” You guys better get yourselves outside.”, the old man chanted as he stood at the front door  of our house. “I”m leaving in 2 minutes.” The old man hated to be late for the movies. If he wasn’t in his seat at the theatre before the cartoon or the coming soon features started, it was a Christmas catastrophe. We headed off to the Willow Theatre, located on Yonge Street, just south of Finch Avenue, at break neck speed.

“Slow down.”, my mother would say. “Let’s get there in one piece.”

“I been through worse than this.”, my father would answer.

“Go faster, faster.”, we shouted from the back.

When we arrived at the theatre, we ran up the stairs to the balcony, with my mother following behind us, and my father at the concession stand buying us popcorn. There was always a western showing in those days. My father adored westerns. Over the years we watched ‘The Sons Of Katie Elder’, ‘Nevada Smith, ‘The Way West’, and countless others. One Christmas Day, my mother, who was a huge fan of musicals, managed to coerce the old man into attending a revival of “Calamity Jane’.  It was the last time she was ever permitted to select the movie. We sat in the balcony, 1st row, with our parents in the row behind us, popcorn in our hand, and our eyes glued to the screen as six guns were drawn, and rifles were cocked. It seemed necessary to advise the ‘good guy’ that trouble was behind them, or waiting for them around the next corner. We shouted it out with delight, certain that he could hear us, and followed up with the disappointing “if only he had listened”. If there was a coming attraction feature, and it was a western, my father would lean forward, pat us on the shoulders and guarantee that we would be seeing that one. Particularly if the cast included Jimmie Stewart, Randolph Scott, or Audie Murphy.

With the movie over, we piled back into the wagon, and headed out for what was the highlight of  the day. We did this only once a year. We did this every year, but only on Christmas day. As we pulled into the parking lot, the huge neon sign, seemed to scream out at us, beckoning us inside. “Let’s try to behave in there, shall we?”, my mother remarked.

“Oh, they’ll behave.”, my father stated. “Won’t you?”

“Yes. We’ll behave.”, proclaimed the unanimous children’s chorus.

“Okay then.”, he said. “Let’s go.” We jumped out of the car, and ran up to the door. And there scrawled in Chinese Style writing of English letters, were those words we waited all year to see: ‘Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Food”.

If you had never been to Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Food as a kid in the 1960s or 1970s, your childhood was incomplete. Nestled in the Bathurst St, and Wilson Avenue area, it was a cultural phenomenon. Every Christmas Day, for as long as I can remember, everyone who did not celebrate Christmas, for whatever reason, living in the North end of this city, wound up at Sea-Hi for dinner. It became a tradition for hundreds of families, perhaps thousands. It was, without a doubt, the crowning achievement of a Christmas well spent.

As we poured over menus, we would laugh at the names given to the dishes. Things like moo goo guy pan, and egg foo yung brought us great joy just to read them aloud. And, in those childish, politically incorrect times, we found great amusement in ordering in what we considered, Chinese. “I want flied lice.”, someone would inevitably request.

“Stop that.”, my mother scolded.

“Can I have clispy chicken?”, someone would shout from the table.

“We’re just going to go home.”, my mother offered her final warning. Regardless of what we wanted, my father always ordered the same thing, year after year after year. Vegetable fried rice, egg rolls, chop suey, mushroom egg foo yung, and hot and sour soup. We ate, and laughed, and attempted to use our chopsticks, and when that failed, we inserted them in our mouths and became walruses. There was one occasion when one of my brothers inserted them up his nose. This caused quite a commotion, as one became stuck, and had to be forcibly removed by my father’s tugging, which caused his nose to bleed right there at the table, all over the starched, white tablecloth, and my mother to begin the almost daily ritual of dying of embarrassment. The highlight of the meal, for me anyway, was the fortune cookie, which always seemed to carry some profoundly meaningful Eastern words of wisdom, written on the small, white paper hidden inside of the crunchy, tasteless morsel.  I was certain that those ancient words would somehow transform my future.

The car ride home was eerily quiet. We were tired, and we were full, satiated with enough rice and noodles to carry us over until next year. This tradition carried on throughout my childhood, and one by one, each of my siblings and myself dropped out of the ritual when we entered adolescence. It seems we were more interested in hanging with our friends, than we were in tradition. When I began to have kids of my own, I jump started the whole family Christmas, Willowdale style. It was never quite the same. We would watch Rudolph, but my daughters were frightened of the abominable snowman, and they found Its A Wonderful Life boring, as it was in black & white. Sadly, Mr. Magoo was no longer aired on Christmas Eve, but it did become available years later you tube. We moved north of the city, and Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Food was too far of a drive, so we settled on East Moon. The tradition continues to this day, however we now watch a movie on Netflix, and order in from South China Chinese Food. Sadly, it is difficult to maintain a family tradition in the face of ever changing technology, and free delivery. But those days, all those years of a Willowdale Christmas in my parents’ house, well, I miss them, and I carry those memories around with me like a badge of honor.

 

 

 

Remembering Uncle Needle Nose

The death of Uncle Needle Nose came as quite a shock. He was my wife’s uncle, well, her Great Uncle, her Grandfather’s brother, and not surprisingly, his name was not really Needle Nose. It was Alistair. The story goes that when he was a child, he had inadvertently inserted one of his mother’s knitting needles up his nose, and required some sort of surgical procedure to remove it. There was speculation that the needle had pierced his prefrontal cortex, leaving him with a somewhat diminished capacity for keeping his manhood in his pants. Nevertheless Uncle Needle Nose had passed away, peacefully in his sleep, at the age of 87.

The news of his passing hit my wife hard, even though they were not really that close. During the years I had known my wife while Needle Nose was alive, we had seen him on 3 occasions; 2 weddings & a funeral. “I’m so sorry.”, I told her as I held her in my arms.

“I just wish I had been able to speak with him one more time before he died.”, she said. “He was a nice, old man.” In reality, Old Needle Nose was an ass. Although not by choice. He spent most of his time devising elaborate schemes to expose himself to unsuspecting women. He had received numerous charges for all kinds of inappropriate sexual behaviors, but all of them were dropped due to diminished mental capacity. Most recently, when he was 78, he was caught in the bushes across from the public library with his ‘willie’ in his hand, showing off to the female passersby.

“I’m sure he was nice.”, I said. “But man was he ever messed up.”

“Ya.”, my wife agreed. “It was really too bad.”

My kids, who had never even met Needle Nose were excused from the memorial, and it was my duty to attend, and provide consolation and support to my wife and my mother-in-law. I was prepared, and up for the task at hand. On the way over to the Funeral Home, we exchanged stories about him in the car. I reminded my wife about the time he called me. “Paul”, he said. “Is that you. It’s Alistair.”

“Alistair.”, I answered, even though my name is not Paul, nor had it ever been. “What can I do for you?”

“Paul.”, he continued, “I am updating my telephone directory, and need to have your phone number to put in the book.”

“Alistair.”, I pointed out. “You just called me. You have my phone number.”

“Yes.”, he said. “I need to put it in my telephone directory. Can you give me your number?”

“Alright”, I told him. “Do you have a pen and your phone book?”

“I had a pen. Where did that pen go?”, he responded. “Hold on just a minute while I go to get another.”

“Who’s on the phone?”, my wife asked. I informed her about the conversation with Uncle Needle Nose so far. She laughed. “Really?”, she continued. “He called you to ask you for your phone number?”

“Thank God I’m not the only one who thinks this is weird. And then he can’t find his pen. The sad thing is”, I told her, “I’m sure, but I think he might have put the missing pen up his nose.”

“Well, just don’t tell him to look there.”, she said.

I waited on the line for over 10 minutes. Needle Nose lived in a very small room in a nursing home, and required no more than 30 seconds to retrieve a pen. I hung up. About an hour later, the phone rings. I answer it. “Hello, Paul. This is Alistair. I am updating my telephone directory, and need your phone number to enter into the book.”

“Sure thing, Alistair.”, I replied. “Do you have your pen ready?”

“Oh, yes.”, he answered. “I have just returned from the store with a new one. Can’t seem to find the one I had before. This one has 4 different colors of ink. Would you like to be black, red, blue, or green?”

“Let’s go with green.”, I told him. “Now let me give you the number, Alistair, as I am about to go out.” I gave him the number, quite slowly, but it took 3 attempts for him to get it right, and then put it in the book.

“Well.”, my mother in law said, “he was quite old and you know he had some problems in his brain.”

“Yes I know.”, I answered. “That’s why they called him Needle Nose.”

“I hope you don’t call him that at the service.”, my wife stated.

“I’ll do my best.”, I replied.

There were not a lot of people in attendance at the chapel. There were a few relatives, and it appeared some people from the nursing home had attended as well.  I sat beside my wife, and held her hand, trying to comfort her, and just to let her know that I was there for her. My mother-in-law, who had been speaking with the funeral director, returned to where we were sitting.”

“Could you please do me a favor?”, she asked.

“What do you need?”, I answered with a question of my own.

“There is no one to deliver a eulogy.”, she said, “Would you say a few words about Alistair.” My heart sank. I wanted to say no, but there was my wife, squeezing my hand tight, and looking at me with hope.

“Not a problem.”, I said. When it was time for me to speak, I walked past the casket, and notice Uncle Alistair resting peacefully, with a 4 color ink pen in his jacket’s breast pocket. As I approached the lectern, all I could think about was the time he called me, asking for my phone number. I started to smile, and fought hard to keep from laughing out loud. There was not much I knew about Uncle Needle Nose, and I had no idea what I would say. As I stood there, looking out at the faces seeking some consolation for their grief, the following came out.

“I did not know Alistair very well. In fact, I had only met him on a few occasions. But today, as I walked past him, I noticed that he had a pen in his jacket pocket.” I then proceeded to tell the story of the phone call for my number, and being left on hold while he went shopping for a new pen. When I had finished speaking, I used the pen and a piece of paper that were on the lectern and wrote down my phone number, with the name Paul beside it. I returned the pen, and as I walked past Needle Nose’s casket, I placed the paper in the breast pocket of his jacket. I returned to my seat beside my wife. She took my hand, and leaned over to me.

“What did you write?”, she asked me.

“I gave him our phone number. He had a pen, but I didn’t see his phone directory.” I explained. “Just in case he needed to call. Although I would  appreciate it if you told your family members not to call collect.”

“Consider it done.”, she replied.

“And by the way”, I said. “His fly is unzipped.”

“No way.”, she replied.

“Yep.”, I informed her. “Even in death, he’s going to dazzle the ladies.”

“You didn’t, did you?”, she asked.

“Didn’t what?”, I responded.

“Unzip his pants.”, she said, as she squeezed my hand.

“I think we should go now.”, I said.

“I think you’re right.”, she agreed. ” By the way, I love you.”

“I know.”, I replied. “I know.”

 

The Rebellion of 2010

 

Moving with my family was one of the most horrifyingly traumatic events in our lives. My wife and I were busy in our search for a home in the city’s downtown core, while my kids were opposed to leaving their lives in suburbia.

We searched and searched for the ideal home, but everything we saw raised at least one significant issue with my wife. It was  too far from a school, or not near enough to a subway station. There were homes that were too close to the main street, or too far from a grocery store.  And  the search seemed to continue for what seemed like an eternity. After intensive investigating, and viewing, we finally found something she could live with. It was just blocks away from a high school, right next door to a grocery store, a few blocks from a subway station, and about a 1/2 hour walk to a hospital. “Well.”, she said, “I suppose its as close to perfect as we’re going to get.”

“What do we tell the kids?”, I asked.

“Leave that with me.”, she said. “It will be a piece of cake.” Now, I don’t eat cake. I never did. I just don’t like it, but I was almost certain this would not be a piece of cake.

We sat down with the 4 remaining kids still living at home, and my wife broke the news. “We’ve found a place. We’re going to be moving downtown. You guys will love it.”

“What the hell?”, one of my daughters shouted.

“I’m not going.”, my son said. “I hate it downtown.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.”, another daughter chimed in. “I love it here. I’m not going.”, and she burst into tears. They all got up and left the room.

“Well, that went over well.”, I said to my wife. “Perhaps they don’t like cake either.” And, as I have so regularly been subjected to over the years, my wife gave me the Moroccan death glare, the one that implies “I could kill you with just a blink of an eye.”

“You could have helped out a little.”, she said.

“You said to leave it with you.”, I replied. “Remember? It was going to be a piece of cake.”

“What do we do?”, she asked, “Do we stay here?”

“I think we just leave it alone.”, I told her. “They’ll get used to the idea. It’s not like they have a choice.”

Well, things went from bad to worse, and of course, I bore the brunt of the blame. My son had decided that he was moving out. He had a friend who was looking to share an apartment, and my son was moving in with him. One of my daughters was okay with the move, as long as she had her own bedroom, and we took the dogs with. The 2 other girls were emotionally wrought, filled with anxiety, fear, and hatred. They said that they would not move. They informed me that I could not make them move. They threatened to contact Children’s Aid, and have themselves placed in foster care in order to stay in outer suburbia.

“Its all fixed.”, I told my wife. “We lucked out. One is moving in with a friend, and two are going into the care of Children’s Aid. So we have 4 out of 5 kids no longer living with us. And, just to let you know, there was no cake involved. I substituted pie.”

“Nobody is going into Foster Care.”, she bellowed. “They’re coming with us. It doesn’t matter what they say. We are the parents. We decide what’s best for this family.” She often said we, but in reality, she meant that she decided what was best for this family.

The kids continued to be adamant about not moving, singing rousing versions of ‘We Shall Overcome’, and  ‘I Shall Be Released’, that came out as “I hate you”, and “I wish I was never born”. Over the following days, and weeks, they began a campaign to try to force us to change our minds. They employed subversive tactics such as ignoring us when we called them, refusing to do their chores, and refusing to clean up after themselves. They kept their lights and televisions on, and stayed up late in the early morning hours, on their computers. They posted on social media just how unfair and cruel their parents were. They left us notes stating that they would run away, and we would never see them again. I bought them suitcases on wheels, like a good and thoughtful father, so their departures would be easier.

As the moving date neared, their defiance heightened. They flat out refused to pack up their things. They would hold sit ins in their rooms so my wife and I could not pack for them. “It’s really a simple choice.”, I told one of my daughters. “You can leave with your stuff, or without it, but you will be leaving.”

“You can’t make me move.”, she replied.

“That’s true.”, I told her. “I just hope the family moving in doesn’t mind having you here.”

By moving day, my daughters had, I thought, surrendered, given that they had packed what they wanted to take with. Once we arrived at our new home, they amped up their disapproval of downtown living by refusing to eat, staying in their rooms, and giving us the silent treatment. My youngest daughter gave up the battle soon after we moved in.

The older of the 2 dug her heels in, with letters expressing her absolute and total disapproval of our parenting style and decision making process. Apparently, she believed that she had rights, which my wife and I had violated. I reminded my daughter that, since she was over 16 years old, I no longer had to allow her to live with me. I could, if I so desired, toss her sorry ass out on the street. She reminded me that she had rights. “Not in my dictatorship.”, I advised her. “You’re not obligated to stay here. You can pack up, and leave. Sail away to undiscovered lands, and start a new life. But if you choose to stay here, remember, this is not a democracy. I am not taking votes.”

“I want to talk to mommy.”, she said.

“That’s up to her.”, I said. “But I will ask.” I spoke with my wife about my daughter’s requrest.

“What am I supposed to say to her?”, my wife asked.

“I guess you don’t want to try that cake thing again.”, I remarked, as her Moroccan eyes darted back and forth searching for her prey. “Just tell her the truth. She will come around.”

“And what if she doesn’t?”, my wife inquired.

“Well”, I responded, “she really has no choice. Where is she going to go?”

The negotiations were long and arduous. Hour after hour, day after day of back and forth bargaining had the parties at a standstill. “Why don’t you say anything?”, my wife asked me one night.

“I am using my silence to confuse and befuddle her.”, I said. “I will talk when it is time to deliver the one crushing blow that will bring this to an end once and for all.”

“This isn’t a game.”, she said.

“Ah, my dear wife,”, I advised her, “but it is.”

About 1 week later, my daughter made a fatal mistake, and I could see the end in sight. She had made plans to spend the weekend with a friend in suburbia. She approached my wife and I, asking for money to finance her trip. I took money out of my pocket and placed it on the table in front of her. “How much do you need?”, I asked.

“$20.”, she said.

“Okay.”, I said and I picked up a $20 bill, and held it in my hand. “Let me explain how this is going to work. As long as you need to come to me and ask for money, there are rules that must be followed. I will always provide for my family. It doesn’t require you to like me, I really don’t care if you do or not. It does however require you to respect me and your mother. Nothing is free. This money is not just money, it is time taken from my life that I can never get back. It is mine. I have the option of sharing it with you, or not. I am under no obligation to provide with anything other than food, shelter and clothing. I don’t even have to pay for your cell phone. In fact, if this continues, I will cancel it. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”, she said.

“So”, I asked, “What do you want to do, because today we are resolving this. The revolution is over, and we now need to negotiate peace”

“Can I use the money you were going to give me to go to see my friends to paint my room instead?”, she asked.

“When do you want to paint it?”, I responded.

“This weekend.”, she told me. “I don’t think I want to see Elana right now, anyway.”

“Go and get dressed, and we’ll go get paint and the brushes.”, I said.

“I’m sorry.”, she said as she walked to her room to change.

“Me too.”, I told her.

“Well”, my wife said, “that turned out okay.”

“Okay?”, I questioned. “That was a superbly executed act of patience, power and control.  I told you not to worry.”

“I am impressed.”, she added.

“Thank you.”, I replied. “And notice that there was no need for any cake.”

My daughter remained with us for another 5 years, before moving in with her boyfriend, who resides in an outer suburban community. She calls her mother everyday, and comes by and visits at least once a month, whether we want her to or not. She learnt her lesson, and I was proud as hell of her for at least attempting to overthrow the powers that be. None of it really matters to me anymore though, as her boyfriend, who we care for very much, has inherited the little guerrilla inside of her, laying dormant, but waiting for the opportunity to jump out and usurp power and control before he even notices that it is gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rites Of Spring

 

Ah, spring. The time of year when trees blossom, and flowers bloom. The days when the air smells like a barnyard, and the dogs go missing, to be found days later sitting on the front porch, smoking cigarettes. My family has always been excited by the announcement that spring is upon us. There is much reflection on what is to expect according to the revelation of Wiarton Willie, the rodent weather wizard. There is an equal amount of joie de vivre, when day light savings time is initiated, and the days get longer. No one in my house dares to complain about the loss of 1 hour of sleep.The highlight of this festive time of year, is the much anticipated 1st Robin sighting. What it does to the heart, and soul. How the sight of this bird is so embedded in the family’s collective psyche.

About 2 weeks ago, my daughter squealed with delight, as she came home announcing that she had just seen a robin, perched in a tree outside of our home.

“It seems a little early for a robin.”, my wife said.

“Not necessarily.”, I interjected. “What kind of robin was it?”

“What do you mean, what kind of Robin was it?”, my daughter asked. “The kind with the red stomach.”

“Well”, I asked, “was it a Canadian robin?”

“A Canadian robin?”, my wife repeated, as skeptical as ever.

I informed them both that there were many birds that no longer went south for the winter. Unlike years ago, I informed her, some of the birds stay here, and now, its mostly the people, the senior citizens who migrate south. I went on to explain that these birds, had adapted, and could withstand the harsh Canadian winters. If it was a Canadian robin that was sighted, well, then it doesn’t really count.

“Why do I not want to believe you?”, my daughter asked.

“Because you’re a skeptic.”, I answered, “just like your mother.”

I pointed out that there are geese, and then there are Canada Geese. There are Arizona cardinals, and St. Louis cardinals. There are orioles, and then there are Baltimore Orioles, as well as Baltimore Ravens. Why then is it so hard to believe that there are Canadian robins?

“How do you tell if it is a Canadian robin?”, my wife asked, suspiciously.

“It would be wearing hockey equipment.”, I answered. “But only because its hockey season.”

My daughter stormed off to her room, cursing under her breath as she walked away. “Why do you always have to torment the kids?”, my wife asked.

“I don’t have to.”, I replied, “I choose to. Its like asking why do you have to irritate me? I know you don’t have to, but you like to, right?” My wife tried very hard not to smile. “I know you do.”, I continued. “As bizarre as it is, you like to watch me get irritated.”

“Oh, I do!”, she stated emphatically. “Its so funny to watch you get frustrated, and not know what to say.”

“Oh, I know what to say.”, I told her. “I’m just not stupid enough to say it.”

It was so much easier when my kids were young. They believed everything. None of them ever doubted any of the stories I told them. “You can’t tell them that kind of stuff anymore.”, my wife said. They’re too old for that. Try talking to them about important things.”

I thought about what was important to my kids. Wifi was certainly important, and shoes, shoes were a very important issue for my daughters. I had no desire to talk to my kids about the internet, or footwear, or, in the case of my sons, gaming systems. “I’m not sure there’s anything that I can talk to them about, that they’re interested in.”, I said.

“Well,”, my wife responded, “then just don’t talk at all.”

“I’m sorry.”, I advised her. “That’s really not an option.”

“Do you remember what you told one of them years ago, and the trouble it caused?”, I was asked.

Many, many years ago, when my middle daughter was in elementary school, grade 1 or 2, I had informed her that my family was from another planet, far far away. At school one day, they were asked to talk about their families, and where they were from. My daughter spoke up, and reported that her mother’s family was from Spain, and Morocco, while her father’s family was from another planet, that she couldn’t remember the name of. Well, there was a big tadoo at the school, and my wife and I had to attend to discuss my daughter making up stories, and disrupting the class. My wife was embarrassed, but she embarrasses easily. I informed the school administration that unless they could prove my daughter had been untruthful, we really had nothing to discuss. I was asked by the Principal to confirm that my family did indeed come from another planet. I merely replied that I could not answer a question like that as it could jeopardise the entire mission. We left the meeting no worse for wear, and my daughter received no consequence for the revelation of her family history.

“I remember.”, I told my wife. “And I still think that I should have shot them with my laser.”

“Go talk to your daughter,”, she advised me, shaking her head in disbelief.

I went for a walk with my daughter, to Riverdale Farm,  and Sugar Beach. It was, after all spring, and the smell of manure permeated the air.

“Did you bring your camera?”, I asked her. “You’ll never know when you just might see a Toronto Blue Jay.”

 

 

The Return Of The Mouse In My House

 

“He’s back.”, my wife informed me as soon as I walked in the door.

“Oh, hell.”, I said. “Which one of the boys have moved home?”

“NO, not one of the boys!”, she shouted, bordering on hysteria. “The mouse. The damned mouse is back.”

There was a time when I was greeted on my return from work with a hug, and a kiss. ” I doubt it’s the same mouse.”, I told her.

Oh, it’s the same one.”, she exclaimed. “I recognize the look in his eyes.”

I didn’t doubt, not for a moment, that my wife had seen a mouse. I had some reservations that she could tell one mouse from the next, by the look in its eyes. She has a gift for the paranormal, all things ghostly, and weirdly, but retinal recognition of rodent’s was not something I would be willing to believe she had mastered. I told her I would buy some traps to get rid of the rodent, but she only balked at the suggestion. I offered to call a pest control specialist, but that too did not bode well, and she rejected the use of poison, as she was afraid that she would find the mouse, laying on the floor, dead.

“What is it that you want?”, I asked. “Should I try to capture and rehabilitate it?”

“If you could.”, she said in all seriousness. “catch it and release it in the wild.  That would be best.”

“You understand, this mouse is not wild.”, I told her. “There are no field mice scampering  through the forests.”

She a bit disconcerted, but it was made clear that there is no mouse sanctuary. This was a city mouse.After much deliberation, we agreed that I would dispose of the mouse in any way I saw fit, but would never, ever, reveal what I had done to this rodent.

“Can’t we keep it as a pet?”, my daughter asked. “I’ll keep it in my room.” I looked at my wife, the explosion was imminent.

“There will be no mice, and no snakes, and no spiders or lizards in my house.”, she exclaimed.

“Have you seen a snake in here?”, I asked.

“Not yet.”, my wife replied, “but I’m sure that’s coming next.”

“Well”, I said, “if its any consolation, they are much easier to catch. They move very slowly.” It was no consolation.

The following morning, on my way to the kitchen to make coffee, I saw the little bastard on my kitchen floor, twitching his whiskers. He didn’t look like much of a threat. based on my wife’s reaction, I was anticipating a much bigger mouse. As I got closer, it ran off, scurrying under the oven, and vanishing into thin air. I said nothing to my wife. I left for work, leaving her alone with a desperado mouse, hiding out in our kitchen.

Several hours later, I received a call informing me that Mr.Tarkanian, had come over to catch the mouse, as it ran past her in the kitchen this morning. He was unsuccessful, but in his exuberance, had smashed one of my classic posters that had been on the wall in the living room. “What was he doing in the living room if the mouse was in the kitchen?”, I asked her.

“Well, the mouse ran out from behind the oven, across the kitchen floor. Mr. Tarkanian tried to get it with the broom, but the mouse was too fast, and ran out of the kitchen and into the living room.  And the rest, well, he just has very bad hand eye coordination. “. she explained. “Sorry.”

“Did he catch the mouse, at least?”, I asked.

“No.”, I was advised, “he got away. And just so you know, I’m not making dinner tonight.  I’m not putting one foot in the kitchen until that mouse is gone.”

On the way home I stopped at the hardware store and picked up some traps. “Don’t you think you should have got poison too?”, one of my daughters asked.

“I’m trying to catch a mouse.”, I told her, “I only need to kill it once.”

“You’re going to kill it?”, she asked.

“No.”, I told her, “I’m merely going to hold it hostage, and wait for his family to bring the ransom of cheese. Then I’ll let him go.”

“Not funny.”, she advised me. I never realized  before that my family had no sense of humor. None. I was certain that it was, indeed, funny.

The next morning I checked the traps. Nothing. For 3 days I baited and left them for the pest. For 3 days he eluded me. “I told you he was a smart mouse.”, my wife reminded me.

He was a smart mouse, alright. Shockingly elusive. “Well, what are you going to do now?”, my wife asked

“I don’t know”, I told her.

The next afternoon, she called me. “We got the mouse,”, she told me. I wasn’t sure what she meant, I mean we had had the mouse for about 5 days now.

“What?”, I asked.

My wife told me how my son had come over, and saw the mouse running across the kitchen floor. He jumped up and threw a book at the rodent, and as luck would have it, hit the mouse and stunned it long enough for my son to trap it in a box. He was going to take it over to the park behind the school, but the mouse died. It was tragic.

“Just out of curiosity, what book did he use?”, I asked.

“The Southern Cooking cook book.”, she said. “You know, the big one.”

After careful consideration, and a thoughtful pause, I let her know that I would not be home for dinner.