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.
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.”
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.
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.
It’s the sort of thing I do mindlessly. Pull up next to the pumps. Pop the gas tank cover lever next to my driver’s seat. Walk around to the pump. Pick up the nozzle. Press the self-serve request for gas. And fill my gas tank. Then, just as mindlessly, I walk into the gas bar booth to pay for my gas. Only this time, when I entered the booth, I was almost bowled over by the music blaring inside.
“There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run,” an unmistakable voice was singing from the booth speakers.
And I nodded my head so the booth attendant would realize I heartily approved. And then I asked him why that music, why that loud?
“Because this month is Canada’s 150th,” he said with a pinch of patriotism. “And after all, it IS the greatest Canadian song ever.”
I stood in what seemed thunderous chaos. Horses galloped to the right of me, to the left of me. Lances appeared to whisk past my ears. The ground felt as if it were trembling beneath my feet. And I grabbed my dad’s arm, fearing if I didn’t I might topple over. Just audible above the din of the rhythmic panting of the horses and the pounding of their hooves, I could hear singing.
Remember those threatening storm clouds that rolled over town last Saturday morning. They popped off some lightning bolts, rumbled with thunder and then, just as Canadian Tire was full of folks doing last-minute Father’s Day shopping, inside the store there was a momentary blackout.
Simultaneously there was an audible sigh as everybody in the store realized what it meant. The store’s entire electrical system – from lighting, to security alarms to cash registers – would have to reboot before things got back to normal. What was worse, with everything at a standstill, the line-up at the checkouts was growing fast.
Almost as quickly, with the temperature among impatient customers (and the store itself because the air conditioning also had to reboot), a guy in a blue Canadian Tire shirt slipped past the queue, grabbed an armful of bottled water and began handing out the bottles for free.
“Sorry for the inconvenience,” Kevin the store manager said. “We should have things back to normal in a couple of minutes.”
My back was to the wall. Eleventh hour. Up against it. All those clichés applied. My Grade 8 history essay – on the causes and effects of the War of 1812 – was due Monday morning. It was Sunday night and the essay was done in every way but one. I pleaded with Dad to help me, not to compose the essay, but to type it for me. And he did, but not without an important provision.
“This is the last time,” he said. “From now on, you’re on your own. You’ve got to type it yourself!”
I nodded, not really understanding what had just happened. All I cared about was that my history paper would be delivered in class, on time and looking spotlessly professional. Why? Because my dad was a professional writer and he would never submit anything short of perfect.
I paced slowly and quietly across the back of the ballroom, last Monday morning. Keeping to myself, I was reviewing a few thoughts about the presentation I was about to deliver as part of the keynote to a local business club in Burlington, Ontario. Then, I tuned in to what the person at the lectern at the front of the ballroom was saying about the agenda that the meeting had to go through before the keynote speaker (that would be me) was introduced.
“We’ve got committee reports and the financial statement to table and accept,” the chair indicated, “and, of course, we have to introduce the incoming executive.”
My head suddenly snapped to attention, as I focused on what the chair was saying. I realized the business part of the meeting that preceded me had a lot of content. “This is going to be a long wait,” I said to myself.
It’s been a while since we stopped to smell the roses, as it were. But a few weeks ago, just relaxing on our back porch, my wife and I sighed simultaneously. Aloud we recognized, despite the abundance of rain and the not-so-warm temperatures, and its rather clumsy entrance, that spring had finally, thankfully and delightfully arrived. But Jayne noted something I hadn’t noticed.
“It’s awfully quiet this year,” she said. “The sounds of birds aren’t there like usual.”