Harbinger of fall

Shelley Macbeth at her Blue Heron Bookstore

Some of the last few nights, when I took the dog for a walk, I noticed that I had to wear a sweater. On other walks up our street, it became pretty obvious that the trees were starting to turn. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Shelley Macbeth’s email arrived.

“Just confirming that you’re all ready for Books and Authors,” she wrote.

That’s when I realized the season had changed. If it’s time for Blue Heron Books’ Books and Authors night, it’s truly the beginning of fall. For those of you who have lived here and have followed Uxbridge’s incredibly lively arts scene over the past 30 years or so, it’s no surprise.

Hammers, nails and words

Writer’s garret.

It was a few weeks after summer had officially begun. I was up in my writing roost – a.k.a. my upstairs office. With the start of summer, I had just started writing a book. I’m not being presumptuous. It’s often what I’ve done over the past 15 or 20 years – I’ve taken the summer to complete a manuscript, I hope for publication soon after the summer is done. Anyway, I heard an SUV pull up next door and a man stepped out and began assembling his survey equipment. I asked him what was going on.

“They’re going to start building here,” he said. “They’re just waiting for this survey.”

Making news unfake

David Carr, photo Chester Higgins Jr., New York Times website.

When 911 happened, he was working at a magazine in New York. He called it a party magazine. Not particularly substantial. And he was a recognized media critic covering the arts. Suddenly, one morning in September, long-time newspaper reporter David Carr got a call from his editor just after 9 o’clock. The editor told him what had just happened at the World Trade Center and he was assigned to the story.

“Some of the staff are going uptown, some downtown,” the editor told him. “Carr, you go cover the firemen.”

Statue of limitations

Col. Henry King Burgwyn Jr. – photo University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The basics of the story were chiselled into the brass plaque in front of us. It described the heroic advance of a young colonel in the Civil War. More important, beside the plaque, in this little gulley known as Willoughby Run in the middle of Gettysburg National Military Park, one of my dearest historian friends, Paul Van Nest, described the final charge of an officer with the 26th North Carolina Regiment on July 1, 1863.

“His name was Henry King Burgwyn Jr.,” Van Nest said. “He was just 21 years of age, the youngest colonel in the Confederate Army. It was his last charge.”

Health care with character

My wife and I arrived at the downtown Toronto hospital just in time to see the patient we were concerned about transported from an ambulance into the hospital Emergency ward. Then, we saw the crowded waiting room, and knew it was going to be a long stay. Within a few minutes, however, the paramedics who’d wheeled our patient in, got a heads-up and we were suddenly on the move.

“Express Six,” the paramedic said. “We’re going to Express Six.” And right away the paramedic team had cradled our patient onto a bed in one of those Emergency room cubicles where curtains gave the only privacy.

A soldier’s voice

Tim Isberg. Visualz photo, Isberg website.

He was supposedly the warm-up act. He was Tim Isberg, a singer-songwriter from Fort Macleod, Alberta. And I was supposedly the main event, offering a talk about veterans’ stories, and how I came by them. But, as I sat there waiting for Isberg to finish his set, I was mulling over a problem in my head. I wasn’t quite sure where to start my presentation. Suddenly, I paid attention to what Isberg was singing.

“Listen to the voice,” he sang in a calming sort of way. “Listen to the voice calling me … calling you.”

Summer camp 101

A summer camp by any other name.

It was just a few minutes south of town. And I was the taxi driver, transporting our granddaughter to the summer day’s activity, her day camp. Only this day was different. She had her cap, her bug spray and a big sports bag packed with stuff. And added to the luggage was a pillow.

“We’re having a sleepover tonight,” she said.

Bowing to young leaders

Monte Winter announcing he’ll be stepping down after 32 years’ service in Ontario Legislature. Toronto Star

A few weeks ago, I read a story about the end of an era. A man who’d come from a family-run gourmet meat business and then had been elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1985, was stepping down. Monte Kwinter had served his constituents in the riding of York Centre for 32 years, but now he was retiring. The Toronto Star’s Robert Benzie asked the former solicitor general about his decision to leave.

“I am proud of what we accomplished during that time in my riding,” Kwinter told Benzie. But then the 86-year-old Member of Provincial Parliament added something I didn’t expect when he said:

“It’s time to turn over the reins to a new generation.”

One man’s gift to his family

He offered more mentorship than advice.

I close my eyes and all of it comes back to me. Richard Nixon had just won the U.S. Presidency, for a second term. The family gathered – either later that fall of 1972, or the following summer – from Toronto, from Maryland, New Jersey and Florida. Then, usually after the first meal together, dessert was finished, a few drinks consumed, and it was time to talk. It wouldn’t take long before current events, politics and Nixon became the focus. Within minutes there was a storm brewing.

“How could he possibly get re-elected?” my father would say.

“He’s good for business,” a couple of my American relatives would say. “He’s gonna end the war in Vietnam.”

“He’s a crook!” my father would say, looking for a verbal fight.

“He’s our president,” came the retort.

And, well, it escalated from there.

Of men and machines

“Sentimental Journey” B-17 Flying Fortress on tarmac in Hamilton.

I was battling rush-hour traffic. Ironically, I was listening to a Toronto radio station’s traffic reporter tell me I was in gridlock. Then, my cell phone rang. I read the call identification. It was one of my teaching colleagues at Centennial College. And he was excited.

“She’s here!” he said, with more energy in his voice than usual.

“Who’s here?” I asked.

“Sentimental Journey. She’s going to be in Hamilton all this week,” he continued.

It was Malcolm Kelly on the phone. He’s the co-ordinator of Centennial’s sports journalism program. And second only to his love of sports is Malcolm’s love of airplanes.