A companion suddenly gone

A boy and his first best friend – c1955.

It was a reflex. An involuntary response. It’s what I’ve always done when it starts to thunder or rain really heavily, like it did the other evening. It was during that thaw Monday night when all of a sudden we got a cloud burst over the house. Being in my office upstairs, and close to top of the house, as soon as I heard the rain begin to pound on the roof, I pushed my desk chair back, turned for the door and called out.

“It’s OK, Bud,” I said. Then, I stopped myself.

Ronnie’s moment of fame

Ronnie Egan wears her beret and Women’s Royal Navy Service identification in May 2015.

About a month ago, a CBC television reporter from Nova Scotia emailed me with a request. Being sufficiently old-fashioned about these things, I decided to phone him to offer a verbal (rather than texted) answer. He said he and a camera operator had just returned from an assignment in downtown Halifax. He said they had just shot video of the demolition of the Discovery Centre. I didn’t immediately get it.

“You’d more likely remember it as the Zellers store,” Dave Irish said. “It’s a building with much history. … I’m hoping to speak to you about Ms. (Ronnie) Egan saving it.”

The trail she blazes

An opportunity to pose for a photo at the University Women's Club of North York event on Oct. 31, 2016.
An opportunity to pose for a photo with Mayyasah Akour, a woman focused on a career, her future and a way to lead the way. Oct. 31, 2016.

It was at a speaking engagement. I was about to address the University Women’s Club of North York the other night. I had prepared my opening remarks and was just waiting to be introduced. That’s when a stranger approached and asked about my work as a writer. I responded briefly and asked about her career.

“I’ve just begun my first semester at university,” she said, “in engineering.”

“A challenge?” I asked.

“Not so far,” she said and smiled. “I hope it’ll be the right thing for me.”

A house that was a home

My neighbour's house comes down piece by piece.
My neighbour’s house comes down piece by piece.

The demolition had been going on for over an hour. Layers of roofing, above the second floor were now caving in. Rafters that hadn’t seen the light of day for over a century and the walls that could tell stories of many of those years came cascading down. It was all quite controlled. With the precision of a surgeon, the excavator operator was bringing my neighbour’s house down piece by piece.

Murray Huntington spots an important clue.
Murray Huntington spots an important clue.

But suddenly the excavator shovel – Murray Huntington’s industrial scalpel – powered down. Huntington opened the excavator door, stepped out of the cab and climbed over the debris that had been the second floor.

“What’ve you got?” I called out to him from ground level.

“Maybe you can use this,” Huntington said.

And he gently tugged at a few of the floorboards atop the pile of rubble to reveal some paper. He’d spotted it in the debris, brought it down and handed it to me. It was a newspaper.

A dog’s life

A boy and his first dog.
A boy and his first dog.

Just the other day, I bumped into one of my acquaintances in the park. Of course, the people I meet in the park generally have a companion with them – of the four-legged variety. Anyway, as often happens among dog walkers, we got talking about breeds, dog compatibility and ages of our pets.

“This Kerry’s a bit older than my last dog,” I said to my dog-walking acquaintance.

“Mine too,” he said. “She’s been with us throughout the lives of our kids.”

Food for thought and comfort


Last Friday, when the tributes, reminiscences and spiritual acknowledgements at our neighbour Ronnie Egan’s funeral came to an end, many of us retired to the basement hall of the church for conversation and, well, refreshments. There was lots of coffee and tea and something to tide everybody over. The banquet tables were laid out with veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, fruits and sweets and, of course, sandwiches.

“What else?” I heard someone say. “Ronnie wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, but to have egg-salad sandwiches.”

Up the sleeve of an audience

You’d think in a room full of people over 70, there’d be somebody with a light for candles on a birthday cake for a 90-year-old. Ronnie Egan and I had to do the cake cutting without lit candles.

The event was coming to its climax. Guests were assembled. Speeches from dignitaries, family and friends were in the books. We had even sung “Happy Birthday” to the birthday girl. All we had left was to present the cake and candles to her, invite her to make a wish and watch her cut the cake. But there was a problem. Nobody had a way to light the candles. No problem, I thought, I’ll ask the audience.

“Anybody got a light?” I asked. And I looked out at a sea of faces expecting a smoker or a boy scout to come forward.

But nobody moved. Not one person had either a lighter or a book of matches to offer. If any group might be expected to have one or the other in its pockets, for sure, I thought, this one would.

Sentinel of a century

Tree cutters arrive to bring down the maple on Balsam Street.

About a week ago, a friend up the street visited my next-door neighbour on a mission. With his pickup truck empty, save for his chainsaw and a can of gas, He began a day-long project dissecting the remains of a piece of history. A maple tree that had stood near the street at the corner of Ronnie Egan’s property for nearly a century had dropped too many dead or dying upper limbs to be safe anymore. So the township decided for the benefit of all concerned that the tree should come down.

“I cried the day they took it down,” Ronnie Egan admitted to me. “It was very sad to see it go.”

Making Remembrance Day instructive

Outside the Southwold community centre, the sign invites participants to the annual Remembrance week service.
Outside the Southwold community centre, the sign invites participants to the annual Remembrance week service.

Just before I delivered a Remembrance talk in the southwestern community of Shedden, Ont., last Sunday morning, I walked along the back wall of the Southwold Township Complex, where I was to speak. There were perhaps 500 people waiting for the township’s annual pre-Remembrance Day observance to begin.

And standing politely along that back wall, so that older citizens – principally veterans and their spouses – could have seats, were about 20 young army and air cadets. I made a point of introducing myself to them and learning who they were before I spoke.

“I’m 18 and in the Elgin Regiment,” one of them announced proudly.

“And why did you offer your part-time service?” I asked.

“I wanted to say something about my generation,” he said.

When walls come tumbling down

GARAGE_FROMBACKYARD1I’d been planning the demolition of my garage for a long time. Built sometime in the middle of the last century, my fast disintegrating, single-car enclosure – I had come to realize – had outlived its usefulness and had to go. So, over the weekend, I hired a friend and his future son-in-law to help me bring the old building down. But what the destruction of my old garage revealed as it came down was a great deal more than I expected. For example, as we three demolition types took a break last Saturday afternoon, I asked my longtime next-door neighbour, Ronnie Egan, when she thought the garage had been built.