Winter Wonderland

by Fielding Goodfellow

It was a winter that lasted through the spring, filled with dark and dreary days of sub zero temperatures that bit through the four layers of thermal and fleece lined layers, and I was sure could easily make me hypothermic just by looking out of the window for too long. But the old man was pretty fussy about his driveway, so we were out there every time it snowed, leaving him a perfectly manicured runway on which to land his Buick LeSabre, while my mom stood at the screen door waving at us, occasionally opening it to poke her head out and  remind us to “take your brother’s head out of that snow bank”.

The old man would come home, crawling down the snow covered street, swerving left and right, until he hit the driveway and made the perfect landing he longed for as the Buick caressed the asphalt and slid ever so gracefully up the driveway and into the garage. “Nice job on the driveway, gentlemen.”, he said as he stood in the foyer trying to remove the scarf he had managed to knot around his neck. My mother was always standing there, waiting for the moment when he simply gave up trying, so she could release him from bondage. She could untie anything, scarves, fishing line, shoelaces, it didn’t matter. She had never met a knot that she couldn’t defeat. We would stand around awestruck, watching as she manipulated the tangled item in her hands, and, after successfully resolving the dilemma, always handed it back with a smile.

“How did you manage this.”, she asked as she set him free.

“Damned if I know.”, he replied, winking at us. “I have a surprise for you guys”, he said as he removed the last few items of winter. We sat around the table waiting for the old man to finish eating. Consumed by the excitement of his pronouncement, we were unable to eat a thing, and took turns guessing what he had in store for us.

We suited up and followed him out to the garage and helped carry wood from the back of the Buick to the backyard. The old man marked off an area, and instructed us where to hold each piece as he pounded it into the ground with a sledge hammer and then joined them together with clamps. “It’s a hockey rink.”, one of my brother’s shouted with delight.

“Not yet.”, the old man informed us as he picked up the garden hose. “We need ice.” He began spraying water over the backyard. Long after my mother called us in, he stayed out there, freezing his old man nuts off, and continued flooding the yard, one layer at a time, until he was satisfied with the result. He must have been out there all night, and by morning, it was five layers deep. “It’s time.”, he said as he woke us, and we bolted out of bed just to look at it through the family room window.

The old man didn’t skate., I suppose he never learned how, but man did he love hockey. He stood out there with us for hours, coaching us, shouting “Pass the puck”, or “Shoot”, until Billy and Kenny Bellwood showed up. The old man and the Bellwoods had not seen eye to eye since the dog incident of 1966. It seemed that the Bellwoods once had a dog, a mixed breed of terrier and hell hound that, much like their kids, was allowed to roam freely throughout the neighborhood.  One day the dog bit one of my brothers in the ass. The old man pulled the hound off and the little shit bit his hand. The dog was carried back to the Bellwoods with a stern warning that if it returned to the old man’s property, it would meet an untimely demise. About a week later, the dog was found dead on the Bellwood’s front lawn. Mr. Bellwood was certain that my old man was responsible. There were idle threats made, and words were spoken that would never be forgotten. The old man was sure that the Bellwoods were stupid fucks, and he regularly referred to them as the Peckerwoods.. We didn’t like them much either, although I’m not sure why, and out there on the ice, we took every opportunity to knock them on their asses as we glided around the backyard rink.

“Hey”, Kenny shouted as he lay on the ice, “you tripped me.”

“It’s not my fault if you can’t skate.”, one of my brothers shouted back as Kenny swung his stick into my brother’s leg. And then all hell broke loose. A hockey brawl ensued on our little, back yard rink with sticks and gloves dropped, and punches being thrown in every direction. It didn’t last very long, but when it was over, there was blood pouring out of Kenny’s nose and mouth, pooling all over the ice. It wasn’t a big deal to us really, or to Billy or Kenny, but Mrs. Bellwood showed up at the old man’s front door about ten minutes after the fight ended, dragging Kenny and Billy behind her.

I have no idea what transpired at the meeting between Mrs. Bellwood and the old man, but my mother made us go over and apologize, trying to teach us about owning our mistakes. There were several more fights over the years in which Kenny and Billy were left with bloodied noses, and the occasional cracked rib or missing tooth, but the old man never made another hockey rink in the backyard. Our game was played forever more with a tennis ball on the snow covered street in front of the house, amid the endless chants of ‘CAR’. The old man would stand on the front porch, bundled up for the sub zero temperatures, shouting “Shoot”, or “Pass the ball”, or “Knock him on his ass”, in an attempt to lead us to victory.

It was a winter of slap shoots, wrist shots, and penalty shots. It was us against the Bellwoods, and no one was safe. Billy Bellwood was running down the road, carrying the ball on his stick, with his head down. Someone stepped into him, with elbows raised, and sent Billy flying over the street headfirst into a snow bank. Billy didn’t move. “I think you killed him.”, someone said. It certainly seemed so. Someone went to get Billy’s mother, and as she rolled him over in the snow, he groaned and started to cry.

“Someone needs to call the police on you little, bastard hooligans.”, she screeched. It was then that I figured out my mother. She was always so calm, so quiet, and so polite. But she came down from the porch, with just winter boots and a cardigan to keep her warm, and looked Mrs. Bellwoods in the eyes.

“If you ever refer to my children like that again”, she warned her, “I’ll be shoving your face in the snow for as long as it takes to shut you the up.” When we got inside, my mother refused to acknowledge what had just transpired, and we were told that we were never to speak of this incident again. I never did. Until today. But that winter helped me to understand that the love and devotion both of my parents had for us, although it was often shown in some weird fucking ways . I’m sure frustrated and disappointed them, more often that I care to remember, but I know that their love for me never waned. I am who I am because of them. My mother gave me creativity, a love for the arts, and a passion for music and literature. She also gave me hope and a willingness to help others. The old man, well, he gave me perseverance and integrity. He taught me to stand for what I believe is right, to question everything in the search for the truth, and that East Side Mario’s is not an Italian restaurant. Over the years I have discovered that I have turned into the old man, becoming more like him everyday. And while I swore that it would never happen, I am actually quite relieved, I mean it could have been a whole lot worse. I could have been a Peckerwood.

 

 

 

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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.”

 

 

A Cabbagetown Horror Story

It is cold where I live when winter comes. The Arctic winds blow insane amounts of snow that seem to pierce your skin like bullets. It is often dangerous, if not impossible to manipulate the roadways, and the sidewalks with the amount of snow that piles up on them. It gets dark early. Usually by 4:30 or 5:00, the street lights come on, and you can see the snow flakes, still falling, glistening in their glow.

It was on such a cold, wintry night that I stopped in at The Cabbagetown pork3Diner, a small ordinary eatery. I was a semi regular there, and with my wife working late, I took advantage of the opportunity. I sat near the open kitchen, revelling in the additional heat emanating from the oven, and began the customary conversation with Nick, head cook, and manager. He talked about the political and economic nightmare that had engulfed his beloved Greece, and I merely nodded in agreement. When he stopped to take a breath, I placed my usual order, meatloaf dinner, preferably an end piece.

I ate my meal. All of it. Not a crumb left. The Cabbagetown Diner had, what I believe was the best damned meatloaf ever created. Nick spoke to me the entire time I was eating. He was returning to his homeland, to work in the family business, and was leaving in 2 days. All I could think about was who was going to cook my meatloaf? I had asked Nick for the recipe several times, but he refused to disclose the secret.

pork1I asked one more time, one final attempt to extract the information. When Nick revealed what he put into the meatloaf, I heard myself scream, but I wasn’t sure-was it only in my head, or did I really scream out loud? He said that he used a beef/pork mixture. Pork! I had never eaten pork. It was forbidden. It is forbidden. I felt sick, and I felt scared. Was I going to go to hell for this abomination? Do I have to gargle with salt water? Do I pray for forgiveness? The guilt, the shame enveloped me like a blanket. Could I ever tell my wife? I mean, I could never go back there. Ever! How do I explain it to my kids? I felt like I was going to throw up! ‘I think I need to go to emerg”, I heard myself say, “Or maybe I should call a Rabbi”.

pig1I have never fully recovered from that night. I have not spoken about it to anyone. Not my wife. Not my kids. Not a doctor, and not a Rabbi. I have never been back to The Cabbagetown Diner, and have walked on the other side of the street ever since. I continue to struggle with the trauma, but believe that I have made great strides in recovery. I am able to look at pigs on television, however I am still not able to attend petting zoos, or farms.