Monday, November 23, 2009


Forgot the picture of the little knitted stars.

Sunday Activities

It's been an intense couple of days. Saturday was Not Good, and we'll just leave it at that. I've been processing it elsewhere, with people who've been through this kind of thing. Earlier today I looked at Bob and said, "Am I ever gonna get better?" And he said I was doing fine, right on schedule for where I am, and yes, I'm going to get and feel better. Today, the solution for feeling like crap was what it so often is -- pray to be relieved of fear or resentment or whatever it is, and then get on and do something. Anything. I didn't WANT to do anything, and I didn't feel like I had enthusiasm, excitement or energy for anything, but that doesn't matter. I do have one project I really wanted to be Finished, so I started with that. It's a knife sheath, a commission, for a friend who's a biker and wanted something in black leather, with fringe to match his leathers, for a folding knife.

I've never done a sheath for a folder before, and it presented construction difficulties, and I've never done fringes before either. I made a sandwich of thin, 4-ounce leather, with an insert of black-on-white watersnake skin. You have to cut a hole for that, and cut the snakeskin, and put a piece of something soft, like chamois, cut the same as the hole but a little smaller, behind the snakeskin to pad it and make it flush with the top of the sandwich, then glue it all in place and stitch around it. I've done that before and felt competent there.

But straight knives are narrow and this folder's over a half-inch deep. I made the back out of heavier 9-ounce leather, about a quarter-inch thick, with a strap on it folded over and stitched down for a belt loop. That's common and straightforward too. The tricky part here was the welting. I thought I'd be using two layers of the 9-ounce leather, plus a third of 4-ounce, cut for the fringe, and I got all that done, and then realized it still wasn't deep enough inside. I had to cut a third layer of the 9-ounce leather. And I'd already glued the other two layers to the back, and tacked on the front and cleaned up the sides on the belt grinder -- so it wasn't just a matter of tracing. I got a little stuck there, and left it for a few days.

Today, I cut that third layer of welt, glued it up, and the whole welt was, near the top on one side, narrower than optimal. I had to drill holes through all that leather, which was an inch or more deep by then, 3/32" holes, about 3/16" on centre (5 to the inch). and an 1/8" in from the edge. The holes are good on top, but that grinding I'd already done had left the bottom edge a little rounded. The stitches will hold, but they're through the rounded edge on the bottom, and that doesn't please me aesthetically. Or professionally. I couldn't adjust them because of the welt being too narrow. After I got the holes drilled, I saddle-stitched them. Took a LOT of thread. Saddle-stitching, you put a needle in each end of a length of thread and thread it through a hole. Then the needle on the back of the sheath goes through the next hole to the front, and the needle that was on the front in the first place goes through the same hole to the back, so you've got one on the front and one on the back again. Each stitch took about three inches of waxed cotton cord.

I have the COOLEST vice for holding things while I sew them. We saw someone using one like it for filework on knives last spring, and Bob came home and made one for me. I like filework, and it looks like I'll have time to learn some this winter, but it works great for a lot of other things too. Sewing that saddle-stitch needs two hands, so you need your work to be clamped. This is made out of a trailer hitch ball in a piece of pipe, so you can swivel it in all directions, then tighten the screws to hold it still. I'll take pictures another time -- it's too dark now and my flash isn't so hot.

After the sewing was done, I dressed the edges, cleaned the sheath of fingerprints with rubbing alcohol, and got the first coat of black dye on it. I don't know that I like the fringes very much, but I'm really pleased with the rest of it, now the dye's on it. It needs another coat of dye tomorrow, then buffing, a clear coat and a second buffing, and I'll take it to the guy I made it for, and hope he likes it. Pictures of the done thing tomorrow -- those light issues again.

The gluing today was all contact cement, so there was standing time every once in a while. I put the kittens in the former flying squirrel cage, where we keep the cat food now. The runty little black one (my favourite) found his way into the food right away. His sister spent a lot of time climbing the trees in there. The pictures I took of them in there didn't turn out well -- kittens WON'T hold still for pictures. But here's one of the calico on the front steps -- I really like this picture. We gotta name these guys soon -- they're six weeks old now.

And we haven't seen a hummingnbird for a couple of weeks, but the feeders are attracting the red wasps that are as big as Sea King Helicopters, and lots of yellow jackets too, right near the house. Aubrey screams whenever she sees one, which leads her to show me how loud she can scream, and that wears a little thin. Today, I took down all the feeders and cleaned them to put away for winter. I said, "These smell AWFUL," and Bob thought it was because the stuff had fermented, but it wasn't that kind of smell. When I took the last one apart for washing, I found it had become a yellow jacket trap -- there had to be two dozen drowned ones in there. Ugh.

Friday night or yesterday, I forget, I finished this pair of mittens. Here's the hat, just started, to go with them. I love this wool -- I love the colours, and it's soft and beautiful, and machine washable on delicate in cold water. Crystal Palace's Mini Mochi. I hadn't realized this particular colour (Bossa Nova) was quite so pink/purpley, or I'd have picked something else for the girl they're meant for. Well, we do the best we can. I've got the same wool in a different colourway for another little girl -- Intense Rainbow. Soon's I get this hat done, I'll start her mittens. Oh, except tomorrow I've gotta take some time to knit some of these stars, but in pale yellow. Tomorrow's my mother-in-law's birthday, and I'll mail half-a-dozen or so to her for her Christmas tree.

The bottom line is, today's finishing a lot better than it started. My final triumph was just a little bit ago. The bathtub plug's not been fitting, and you can shower, but a bath runs out before you can get wet, hardly. I'd said I'd use a crochet hook and fish out the hair I figured was stuck in there, but I forgot. Bob had wanted a bath before bed, and I finished the dying (leather, not personal) and went and stuck my finger down the drain to see if I could fish out whatever was in there. Easy-peasy. Turned out there was a little circle of clear plastic in there. It had popped off the centre of the hot water tap handle, and got stuck, so the plug couldn't turn. Pictures of the finished knife sheath and the vise tomorrow or Tuesday.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting Free of Fear

I've had a couple of days of living with old stuff and feeling seriously sub-normal. And I've got anxiety around the big family lunch tomorrow (not my family, my host’s), 60 people; and I forgot that it's my MIL's birthday on Monday, which makes me a weasel. That's how I woke up this morning. We'd planned to drive to a place Bob likes today, The Hardwood Barn. They have a sawmill, and exotic woods, and he wanted knife-handle materials. I'd said yesterday I'd like to drive, about an hour each way, because I haven't been, not enough, and especially cuz the forecast was for rain today. Like I said last night, I've driven in a little drizzle, and it sucks on those cobblestone streets up in south Tyler, but not in rain. He asked this morning if I still wanted to go, cuz he could feel I was unhappy. Yes, I did. Just cuz I feel crappy sometimes doesn't mean I want to share it around, and it would be at least another week before we could go. They're only open Friday and Saturday. We can't go tomorrow, and I dunno if they'll be open next weekend with the holiday, and we'd got up early and everything -- I didn't want to add being really selfish to the crap I was already carrying. Second, I knew that going anyplace would feel better than staying still. And third, I knew that driving would require most of my focus and the crappy mood would fall behind because I still have to pay attention to driving a lot.

And it was going fine. I told Bob that a friend of ours who'd been in financial management for an NHL team for a while had said hockey players talk about "flow" -- something smooth and seamless happening in the play -- and I had flow with the driving today. We were on Rte. 259, which is two lanes southbound; a big, two-lane wide grass median with a fairly deep ditch; and two lanes northbound; 70 mph. I had the cruise control set about 72 or 73, and the guy in front of me was going a lot slower than that. I signalled a lane change and checked behind me and there was nothing there. I made the lane change without touching the brake or accelerator, so without disturbing the cruise control, because I didn't have to. We were passing him, and he pulled out to pass the guy in front of HIM, who was really the slow one, without checking his blind spot first, I guess.

I knew he was gonna hit us, and I went onto the gravel shoulder and tried to keep off the grass. I had a flash that at that speed, we'd cartwheel in the ditch. I don't exactly know yet what I did -- I just know he didn't hit us and we didn't go in the ditch -- I just got back into the lane and kept going. I didn't even have time or enough free focus to be scared. I just did what I had to. Bob said I did it perfectly, my reflexes were good, and he'd been sure the guy would hit us. By then I was just grateful I wasn't gonna have to show an out-of-country learner's permit to a state police officer. We'd been the following car when I started to pass him -- I thought that would make it all my fault. Bob said not -- when someone hits you in the side by cutting into your lane, it's their fault. I said there'd at least have been lots of witnesses -- like the guy driving the 18-wheeler behind us. He was far enough back he wouldn't have rear-ended us too -- but I was really aware all the time that he was back there.

We were almost there. Stopped at a gas station because there's no public johns at The Hardware Barn. Bob bought us cokes, and we kept going, and I kept driving. I drove back too. There were some little sprinkles of rain, enough for me to figure out the windshield wipers, but not enough to be slippery. I was told last week not to use cruise control when it's raining cuz you can hydro-plane easier, so I hadn't set it coming back. Then I decided I 'druther drive without it because I'm learning how to feel changes in speed. I tend to speed. But today I was aware before I glanced at the spedometer whether I was hitting five mph above or about three mph below the limit.

Like I said, I didn't have time to be scared then. A friend had called this morning before it happened -- she'd been sure there was something wrong with me, so she called. Later she read yesterday’s e-mail and found out about my low blood sugar yesterday and thought that was it, but I think she knew about the car thing somehow, before it happened. We didn't get the phone -- it was where Bob couldn't reach it. I called her back later from the hammock, with a kitten, and when I was telling her about it, I started to shake.

Rest of the day was pretty normal. Bob's making pork ribs for tomorrow in the slow cooker; I buried the smoke detector in the sofa cushions and opened the windows; four-year old Aubrey came down and helped peel the ginger root cuz I was making qeema again ... (I'd put two chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas in the cart while we were grocery shopping and gave her one. "Is it Santa? Yes, it's Santa!" That made her happy, then she bit the head off, tilted her head back and closed her eyes and she had the most blissful look on her face. Later she had chocolate on her face and I wiped her off, which she didn't mind, because "I can't see it.") I was putting the rest of the qeema away warm, so I could drain off some of the fat first, and I had a big spoonful of it to go in the dish -- and I wanted to swallow ALL of it, and I knew Bob would never know. I haven't felt THAT urge in a real long time. I think it's still reacting to the driving.

I'm really glad we went today and that I drove, and that it happened, and I kept driving. It's not going to scare me off driving, I know that. And I didn't realize until right now -- I had no road rage and wasn't doing blame or getting mad. But I'm still kinda reacting. I gotta go hard-cook 30 eggs now -- we have to be there at 1 tomorrow, and I'm not getting up early enough to do them first.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oooh -- it's been at least two weeks ...

It's been a weird kind of week. I've been doing lots of Country Veterinarying. Hence, little blogging. The kittens all had sticky eyes a couple of weeks ago, and I'd wipe them clean with warm water and a paper towel a couple of times a day and then put NeoSporin on their eyes (well, their eyelids, cuz they closed their eyes, but you know what I mean) and put them back in the kitten box with their mother. I'm pretty sure she licked it right back off, but either the antibiotic or the extra cleaning cleared it up in a couple of days. Wild kittens often have ringworm, which clears up (on THEM) pretty quickly. Not on humans when they transfer it -- you might remember I came back with it last fall. It's not a worm; it's a fungus like athlete's foot or crotch rot, and it responds (eventually) to the kinds of creams you buy for those things. The kittens, when I pick them up, all climb straight up under my chin, so last year and this, I got it on my chest first. Sigh.

Yeshua had a weird, wet cough when I got here. I'm not sure if the hairball I stepped on getting out of bed in the morning cured it or not, but I've been giving him that Femalt stuff. He likes it and it helps. And I wormed all the big cats too, so they're a little healthier. That flea stuff that goes on the back of their heads for Tiger and Yeshua, cuz they sleep with me. I put it on Yeshua two nights ago. That night Tiger got in bed with us and groomed his head for 20 MINUTES! His hair was wet!!! He just lay there like a stone Buddha and let her. (I think he's a highly ascended Buddhist.) I'm sure she licked it all off. There's one left from when they were small, for cats under five pounds, and I was hoping to get that onto him today. He’s been gone all day though. I saw him through the kitchen window early this afternoon. He’s such a good hunter, and he had something. Couldn’t see what, but it was bigger than a mouse, and still alive. Yasmin went over to help him with it, so he picked it up and took it off in the underbrush behind the driveway.

Marmalade, the big, three-year old tomcat (this picture's two years old) is BIG, and he fights a lot. His head feels like a softball, and his head and neck are always covered in scars and scabs. He got in a fight Sunday night (I think). He came for table scraps Monday morning, and let me pet him, which is unusual. I found a couple of engorged ticks on him, and poured olive oil over them. Olive oil works great for ticks -- when I did it for a third one, at night, it was gone in the morning. And it's cheap and quick and easy to apply -- just separate the hair a little and pour.

I got a look at his face though. His left eye was swollen shut, and leaking a thick, sticky fluid. Later in the day it was open a little, but very bloody. And the next day, the eyeball looked collapsed and sunken -- I was sure it was lost. I thought about trying the NeoSporin, but I was pretty sure I'd need stitches and a tet booster after that. There's a site I have bookmarked where you can look up dosages for dogs and cats, for human drugs. We have ampicillin here under the bathroom sink. Bob orders antibiotics from Mexico; it's very cheap; and they're always on hand. It says, for cats and dogs, for ampicillin, 10mg per pound of body weight, every six hours. Well, I'm not gonna weigh Marmalade any more than I'm going to be able to put NeoSponin where he hurts. The ampicillin capsules are 500 mg, and he's gotta weigh 20 pounds, so I've been mixing half a capsule's worth into a couple of tablespoons of canned tuna, and getting 2 whole capsules into him daily. He's really picked up, and yesterday I saw his eye, and talked to a friend who's a nurse and a farmer, and we think he's going to keep the eye and the sight. Hallelujah!

And, it's very easy to medicate him now. This morning he was lying on the picnic table bench, so I mixed up his stuff and went out on the front step, and he RAN across the yard to me. Tuna love. Except, he lets me pet him a lot while he's eating it, and he'll sit on the steps with me for half-an-hour or so after, letting me pet him, and occasionally chewing my fingers gently, after it's done. And tonight, he let me wash his face a little with a wet facecloth. He’s still got yucky stuff on it, from the eye leaking. He didn’t LIKE it – he’d pull his head away. But he didn’t do anything else. Didn’t offer to scratch or bite, or even leave. He just stayed on the steps with me, and kept pushing his head into my hands. A really sweet-natured cat. He's good about the kittens too -- they come to smell the tuna, and I lift them away, but he lets them stand there and even lick the dregs out of the bowl after. I’m glad I knew that you could give them human antibiotics, and where to look for dosages, and that I’ve stuck with this. He’s just acting like a healthy cat today.

We lost one of the kittens Saturday night. This one, the little orange one. It was just a dumb accident, and we're both blaming ourselves. They're so fragile. We've both been feeling awful. They’re five weeks old now. We’re always very careful, and it wasn’t carelessness for this accident, but now we’re being extra-careful. I was sitting on the front steps last night, with the other two, the runty black one and the calico, on the back of my shoulders, trying to wrestle with each other. The black one got down, and I think the calico was trying to eat my head. I could feel paws and claws on my head behind my ears, and another pair down around my delts, and she was trying to bite – but my head’s too big for kitten bites. Don’t know that I have any recent kitten pictures – I’ll have to take some more.

It's hard. We got home last night and were carrying groceries in, both of us with both hands full. I went to kick the door closed, but looked around first. The orange one was the quickest on the stairs and always wanted in the house. He usually got in too, and I'd have to pick him up (more than once cuz he was fast and the calico would be trying too, after the orange one's first attempt) and put him back out. So I didn't kick the door last night: I turned around to look and make sure he wasn't half-way in already. He wasn't there and I remembered why and went and cried a little.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Where I am

At the top of the map there, you can see I-20 running west to east. If you kept going west, a little out of the section here, you'd get to Dallas. If you kept going east on I-20, you'd get to Shreveport, Louisiana, a little faster than you'd get to Dallas from Tyler.

Thanks to GoogleMaps.

About That Knife

I said I’d be making a sheath for the knife you can see a couple of posts back. I did it. I wanted it lean and black and shiny and elegant, with nothing on it that would distract from the beautiful handle. There are technical flaws in it. It’s the first I’ve made in six months, and there are things I’ve forgotten. The places where the stitches are out of a straight line are all I see when I look at it. (Yeah, I know.) It's got a loop on the back that'll fit any belt that's not more than 2" wide. I made it for a right-hander, but if you wanted to buy it and you're left-handed, I'd make another one.

The thing I got really right is the FIT. You put a welt between the front and back, where they’re sewn together. It gives space inside for the knife. It also holds the knife. The inside of the welt, that you can’t see, is cut to match the line of the blade. You can turn this one upside-down, hold it by the tip so you’re not touching the blade, and it doesn’t slip a bit. It still slides in and out easily when you’re doing it on purpose. But it’s never gonna slip out by accident and get lost in the woods anywhere.

“Therefore are thou happy.” -- Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, telling Romeo what he had to be happy about when he was pining over Rosaline. One of my favourite quotations.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Well, I never promised I’d do this every day. It’s been an intense week, including a headcold. It meant it was really a good thing I didn’t try to fly back to Ontario last week. It’s tiring, a day with three flights and the first taking off at 6:30 in the morning. We have to leave here at 4:30 to get me there on time, and the only way THAT’s ever gonna happen is if we stay up all night. And I’d have been at my most contagious and least socially-acceptable with the coughing and runny nose, right during the visitation. My son said, “Yeah, it’s a good thing. A lot of Papa’s old school teacher friends came, and, well … they’re OLD.” Yeah, that lowered immune system thing.

Here, in this little spot in Texas, we aim to live a spiritual life. The premise is, “God’s in charge,” and a key point is that God’s got all the sex/love/relationship stuff and all the money, so there’s no point wasting a lot of time and energy worrying about them. (Some of you will know that’s not exactly how that statement goes, but we’re G-Rated here.) For physical and spiritual reasons, we eat according to a plan. There are some things that are not on the list, and what is on the list is on the list in measured quantities. Lots of people look at the plan and think it’s going to be torture. I did, for 19 years. But it’s not. It’s kept us healthy, made us healthy. Me, beyond my wildest dreams – I haven’t had a shot of insulin since January 21st, 2007, and I was on four a day before that. And I’m wearing size 8 jeans for the first time in my life, and they slide without a belt. Not enough for a size 6, but I never thought I’d get here.

What makes the plan bearable in the long term is that we both see it as a gift from God. The plan is; the ability not just to stick with it but to love it is; the food is. And we both have a sense that the planning and preparation and eating is devotional, or a spiritual discipline.

That picture up there is a salad I’ve been making at least twice a week for the last month. Often more. It’s a cucumber and tomato raita. You start by putting a big paper towel in a sieve over a bowl and dumping a quart of plain yoghurt (we use whole milk yoghurt) into it, and letting it drain in the fridge for anywhere from two to 24 hours. Peel, seed and dice a cucumber into pieces about the size of a dried chickpea. Toss it with a little salt, and put it in the sieve over the bowl (take the yoghurt out first) and let it sit while you do the rest of the stuff. Cut up three Roma tomatoes into bits the same size as the cucumber. Chop up the leaves from half a bunch of cilantro. Mix the tomatoes and cilantro and yoghurt up with a teaspoon or so of roasted, ground cumin seeds (coffee grinder works great for that). Squeeze handsful of the cucumbers as hard as you can in your fist over the sink, mix them in with all the other stuff. Put it in the fridge for an hour or so if you can stand to wait that long, and VIOLA! You have a stringed instrument, and a great salad. Serves 2. It tastes good, it’s good for us, and I always feel like the food is really CLEAN and there’s something more than physical nourishment going on.

We talked about it this afternoon. I said I’d be happy to make one today, but I used the last of the cucumbers and tomatoes when I made it yesterday. Bob went to the store and got 2 cucumbers, a lot of tomatoes and some more cilantro, cuz we’ve got a full quart of yoghurt. When he came back he said it was too bad we didn’t have a Cuisinart or something, to chop up the vegetables. I don’t think it’s that much trouble to do the vegetables, and I said so.

But I thought about it some more while I made the salad just now, and we talked about it for a couple of minutes. Once, when I was living elsewhere with other people, I was dicing up vegetables for soup, and The Voice in my head said, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” just like the priest does about the bread and wine at communion. I realized it was true – I was preparing gifts from God – potatoes, carrots, onions – for people of God – my family. Made the daily task holy. I have that same sense, making the raita. I said tonight, “Preparing this specific food is always spiritual for me. I wouldn’t use a machine for the vegetables if we had one.”

There’s more than that to it. The salad is in a bowl that my friend Deborah Doran made – it’s beautiful, and it was a trick getting it 1,300 miles in one piece. That picture above is a set of knives and choppers that are now hanging on the kitchen wall. (And a dragon that appeared in the sawblade after the knives were cut out of it. Dragons appear unexpectedly like that – it’s their way.) I use the big, round-bladed one with the green linen micarta handle in the top right corner to chop up the cilantro, or garlic, ginger and/or jalapenos, if that’s what I’m doing. It just rocks on the board and cuts them up perfectly. I was using the smaller rounded knife on the bottom for the cucumbers and tomatoes. And below here is a picture of some things on the cutting board. I used that wooden spatula to mix the salad.

Those things are important, because we made them. Bob made those knives. Every once in a while we drive around to the junk barns and stores around here and buy up old, round sawmill blades, or cross-cut saw blades, and once a disc off a harrow. Then he cuts out blades with a plasma cutter, anneals and hardens them, makes the handles. See the handles? Those are all made of micarta, which is layers of fabric held together with a resin. The dark green one was a purchased block of Micarta. The multicoloured ones: we made that block of micarta last spring. Layered different coloured fabrics that we soaked one at a time in Bondo, and clamped them between boards that have pinto beans glued onto them, and that’s what makes the swirls. It’s messy and fun and you have to work fast and don’t know what you’ll get.

That spatula, the wooden one, is one I made a few weeks ago. The first in a series. I like wooden cooking utensils and there aren’t any here, but there’s lots of wood, and lots of tools to make things with. Lots of time too, and an attitude that you don’t know what you like doing or are good at unless you try it. It’s hard to screw up here. The second one of these I made is much too thin, and it will inevitably break – but I’m using it til it does, and being careful with it, and next time I won’t make the same mistake. Next time, I’m making one with a slot in the middle, and I’m going to mail it to Roo in New Jersey, cuz she wants one.

All of this makes making the raita more special, and more about the wonders of the world. Something to be grateful for. You’ll have to make the intuitive leap on that one – the best I can tell you about why, is, it puts love into the task. It makes the salad taste better. It makes the food preparation an act of love and devotion and spiritual gift, rather than drudgery.

It doesn’t only apply to cooking. Attitude is everything. Vacuuming the carpets and cleaning the toilet can be drudgery. It’s not though, when I’m aware that I’m making the place and life more peaceful and pleasant, for myself or for someone else. It’s a way to bring a little serenity, maybe even joy, into the world. Doesn’t even matter if someone else notices that it’s been done: they’ll notice the effect. I used to cook stews and breads and things that cooked a long time and smelled good, on very snowy days, because it made the house a better place to walk into, as soon as someone walked in the door. One of you reading this hangs her clothes on the line instead of using the dryer – it’s an act of good stewardship of the Creation, and so a spiritual discipline too.

I’ve started a new one today. I knit, for joy, and for serenity, and because I can’t smoke cigarettes or eat potato chips or ice cream while I do it. Well, that was why I started – now it’s mostly the joy and serenity. In the last year, I’ve started using (and paying a little extra for) wooden knitting needles. You have to go out of the way to get them. Most stores that have knitting needles at all have plastic or aluminum ones. And I’m less and less able to use acrylic yarns – I don’t like the feel. I use wool, alpaca, mohair, cotton, bamboo yarns. I’ve got a project in my head that I’ll want silk for. They feel better to me. I bought those needles, but I can and will make myself needles here. Bob made me a set of four short fat ones last year for something I made. The picture below is wool that came today, to make mittens and a hat for someone I like a lot. She doesn’t know, and won’t til she gets them. The wool is special – it’ll go in the washer with cold water, but not in the dryer. It’s all very fine – 7.5 stitches in an inch. That’s a lot of knitting. But I’ll think of her while I’m doing it, and say some prayers for her and other people; and be grateful for her and the project itself. The days are still fine enough in east Texas now that I’ll do a lot of the knitting in the hammock too. And fight off the Tiger-kitten sometimes. That all makes it better. It makes it all spiritual gift.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Keith Allan: June 16th, 1930 - October 17th, 2009

That’s a picture of my Dad and his dog, Jake, taken in the summer of 2008. We were in his back yard. The garden was a little weedy – it had really been my stepmother’s province, and she died in April 2007. Dad didn’t have the heart or the knees to take it on himself. He missed her very much. There were landscape gardeners, who came and did the lawns and the flower beds, but it’s not the same.

It’s hard to know what to say. Dad graduated from university the year I was born. He went to teacher’s college, and his first year teaching high school physics (and sometimes math) was the year I started kindergarten. 1960-61. There was me and my sister by then; my brother was born in the spring of 1962. Dad taught at Dundas District High School in Dundas, Ontario first, then moved to Parkside High School when it opened a couple of years later. His department head there, Nick Kinach, became one of his best friends. The Kinachs had a cottage in Muskoka, and we went there sometimes as guests. When I was in high school, and the cottage next to Nick and Rita’s came up for sale, Dad heard about it first, and bought it. When I was in high school I used to go up there with kids from the band. Something went wrong (usually some things went wrong) every time, and my parents must have wanted to kill us, but they said, "Yes," again the next year.

In 1967, Dad started teaching in the Halton Board of Education, at Nelson High School, until Lord Elgin opened. In 1976 he and my mother separated. Dad met Judy, and loved her, and they were married 30 years. Her death was unexpected, and almost instant one Saturday in April. She was twelve years younger than he was. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.

I went to Parkside High School, fortunately after Dad had switched boards. But many of the same staff were there. I’d go to the office for aspirin, and the secretary would say, “Can you take aspirin? Your FATHER can’t take aspirin.” It was one of the things that kept me from getting into more trouble than I did, I think. I had too many teachers he was still in touch with.

Dad loved teaching, and he’d meet people in the supermarket and places, who’d ask if he remembered them – they’d been in his class in 1973. I used to take a taxi to church in Dundas, and one of the regular Sunday mornings had had my Dad for high school physics in Dundas, so in the first half of the ‘60’s, and he always asked about him.

Last year I was talking to my sister about something one day, and whether I’d tell Dad about it. She said, “He’s been worried about you since the minute he knew you were going to be born. You might as well give him something to worry about.”

This past summer, I was unemployed and income-less, in Hamilton, Ontario. I tried very hard to find a job, applied for lots of things. I was interviewed once. There were good friends who put work my way whenever they could, and it helped a lot. Kept me in groceries. And I needed to ask Dad for help, so I could pay rent, and he did help. I told him in August that I’d had plans all summer to go to Iowa for a wedding Labour Day, and I was going to stay with a friend for a while after that, and then go out to western Canada. I’ve wanted to for a long time anyway, and I wasn’t getting work in southern Ontario. There are people out west who’ll help me find a job, and I had a little capital to move with.

Dad has had liver and heart problems for a few years now. He told me this summer his doctor had told him 20 years ago he needed a knee replacement, and Dad had turned it down. He regretted that decision now. And there was arthritis elsewhere too – he’d had to have his university graduation ring cut off this spring. I’d gone away in February, and the day before I left, he said, “I could die tomorrow, or it could be ten years. And I’m ready.” When I left in September, I knew I wouldn’t see him again.

The long weekend, I wrote him a letter from here in Texas. Most of it was happy, chatty stuff about being in Iowa in early September, and then coming to Texas on a Greyhound bus. Usually I put pictures in, but I hadn’t had any printed yet. Dad didn’t use his computer any more – I think it was mostly my stepmother who’d done the communication by e-mail anyway. At the end of the letter, I told him how grateful I was for his help this summer, and told him I hadn’t wanted to be a source of worry to him when he was sick, and I knew I had been, and I was sorry.

My sister called Sunday morning. Dad passed around midnight, Eastern Time. She wasn’t sure if it was legally Saturday or Sunday. Eventually I said, “I know this is dumb, but did he get my letter?” No. She’d been picking up the mail and she was sure. The next day I called back and asked her, if it came in time, could she put the letter in the box with Dad. Cremation was Monday and the letter arrived Tuesday, but she said she’ll turn the letter into ashes and put them in with Dad’s. His will be mixed with Judy’s before they’re scattered. I’m sure he knows by now what the letter said anyway.

There’s no service. Dad didn’t want one; didn’t want anything. There will be a visitation at the funeral home tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got a million feelings right now, and I can’t identify most of them, but there’s one I’m sure of: for his sake, I’m glad he’s done.