Standing Your Ground

Over the past twenty years, the political landscape in many of the so-called free, democratic countries of the world has become more contentious, more rancorous, more partisan than I can ever remember it.

That’s not to say that the notion of rough-and-tumble politics is a new phenomenon, for it assuredly is not.  One need only read the history books to learn about such scandalous activities as, for example: the Profumo Affair, the Zinoviev Letter, or the Suez Crisis in Britain; the Teapot Dome Scandal, the Iran-Contra Affair, or the Watergate crisis in the US; and the Pacific Scandal, the Munsinger Affair, or the Airbus Affair in Canada.

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The playing of hardball politics has been with us for a long time.

Many of the examples cited here occurred long before my time as a mostly-passive observer of the political scene, so I have no perspectives on them that haven’t already been hashed and rehashed by pundits more astute than I.  Nevertheless, I think such scandals were more the exception than the rule—although I concede that may be more a commentary on my naïveté than an accurate assessment.

Today, however, regardless of whether or not political scandals roil the waters upon which sail the ships of state, there seems to be an especially bitter tone to the back-and-forth among the various political parties in each of these three nations, and even between the factions within those parties.  It seems that no one is prepared to listen to anyone anymore, so desperate are they to trumpet their own messages.

Stand your ground! is the order of the day.

Sixty-five years ago, in 1953, fighting in the vicious three-year war between North and South Korea—which also involved hundreds of thousands of troops from China, the US, and other allied nations—was halted with an armistice.  A demilitarized zone was created as a buffer between the two Koreas, and no formal peace treaty was ever signed to formally end the war.  In all the time since, both countries have fiercely guarded their borders on each side of the DMZ.  Neither side, until very recently, has even bothered to hold talks with the other, relying instead on the issuing of provocative, aggressive threats against each other.

Yet, earlier this year, for a host of reasons important to both countries, their leaders decided to sit down with each other to talk—and to listen.  That, in itself, was a notable and praiseworthy endeavour.  Even more significant, however, was the location they chose—the demilitarized zone that keeps them apart.

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After decades of standing their ground, the two men stepped forward, across their respective borders, to stand face-to-face on common ground, the DMZ.

Is there not a lesson here for the politicians who govern us?  The Korean peninsula, by some accounts, is the most dangerous place on earth, a tinderbox where even the slightest spark could re-ignite the long-ago war—but this time with even more disastrous consequences.  Nuclear consequences.

Still, the two Korean leaders managed to take that step on to common ground, even though the precarious circumstances in which they find themselves are infinitely more perilous—infinitely more—than any found in the halls of Congress or Parliament.

So why, I ask, can our elected representatives not do the same thing, ensconced in their much safer environs?  Why can they not forego their squabbling over issues that history will consign to the dustbin, and focus on finding solutions to the real problems confronting us?

Looming environmental disaster.  Decaying infrastructure.  Racial and religious intolerance.  Poverty and inequality.  Spiralling debt.  Food and water security.  To name but a few.

No one knows at this point where the discussions that have begun between the two Koreas will lead, whether to lasting peace or to a resumption of hostilities.  And no one knows, either, how successful a coordinated, bi-partisan, multi-national effort to address the world’s problems might be.

But, just as those two leaders have tried to find common ground across the border that divides them, so, too, must our elected officials do the same thing.  They must try to understand each other, and the opinions each side holds dear, rather than labelling each other as enemies of the people.

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In 1989, in his acclaimed book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote:  Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

To all our elected officials, I would add this:  Stop standing your ground, look for common ground, and have the courage to take the first step forward.

The ensuing steps will be easier.

Messy Bedrooms

A young mother of my acquaintance was recently bemoaning the fact that her kids forever seem to have messy bedrooms.  Although that young mother is my daughter, because those kids are my grandchildren, I was quick to jump to their defense.

“You and your sister were not exactly neat-freaks at that age,” I said.  “Don’t you remember how I used to remind you all the time about tidying your rooms?”

Remind us?” my daughter replied.  “I’d say it was more like ranting and raging!”

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“No way!” I said.  But, I did have to admit their mother and I resorted to some sneaky strategies to correct the problem.

Basically, our daughters were never messy about themselves.  They took pains to dress nicely, they kept their teeth cleaned and their hair brushed neatly, and they looked after their belongings.  It’s just that they didn’t keep their rooms in good order.  And that drove their parents to distraction.

It was always difficult to understand this apparent anomaly, how two girls who weren’t shambolic by nature could have such untidy rooms.  My wife and I tried to convince ourselves that the messiness was, perhaps, nothing more than a statement of burgeoning selfhood and a need for privacy, independence, and freedom.

That made us feel good about the girls’ developing personalities, but it did little to assuage our concern with the chaos in the bedrooms.

Typically, the following scene might have greeted you if you were to walk into either of their rooms.  The bed, almost always made up as soon as they got up in the morning (which was good!), would be covered with an assortment of articles and clothing.  Those articles—which could have been schoolbooks, backpacks, dolls, portable radios, magazines, and so forth—were always things they claimed they were “not finished with yet.”

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The clothing, which might have numbered as many as three or four different combinations of blouses and skirts, were “not dirty yet.”  The dirty stuff, we had long since discovered, was often lying under the bed.

Two or more of the dresser drawers might be slightly open, with perhaps some pieces of clothing hanging partially out.  The top of the dresser would be hidden underneath various impedimenta that adorned it.  Previously-used glasses and dishes were sometimes among those items.

The closet door would be ajar, mainly because shoes and other articles were blocking it from closing.  In the dim interior, blouses and dresses would be seen drooping at odd angles from the hangers—those that hadn’t fallen to the floor.

Scattered across the carpet, strewn in an apparently-random pattern, you’d see shoes and sandals of mixed pairings.

“What’s wrong with it, Dad?” I would hear when I dared to comment on the condition of the rooms.  “I know right where everything is!”

“Oh yeah?” I once countered, brilliantly (I thought).  “Then how come you couldn’t find your jacket this morning?”

“Because somebody hung it up in the hall closet without telling me!”

End of discussion.

Their mother and I, whenever we encountered certain of the girls’ idiosyncrasies that didn’t appeal to us, employed a system of logical consequences to change their behaviour.  And it had always worked.

For example, if they didn’t clear off their dishes after supper, they were served their breakfast the following morning on the unwashed plates.  We didn’t have to do that too often to bring about the desired result.

Or, if they put their dirty clothes into the clothes hamper inside-out, they got them back, washed and neatly folded, but still inside-out.  When that little ploy stopped working (they actually started wearing the inside-out items to defy us), we stopped washing any items that weren’t turned right-side out.  Eventually, of course, they became responsible for doing their own laundry.

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But, nothing we tried had any discernible effect on the messy bedrooms.  The best we were ever able to do was get them to dust and clean once a week.  Of course, when they discovered that charm-bracelets, ankle-socks, and tiny briefs would be sucked up the vacuum hose, they soon realized everything had to be picked up and put away before they could start.

We used to try to visit the rooms right after they were finished, just to see what they looked like in a pristine state, because in a matter of a few hours they’d be right back to their previous disarray.  Cleaner, to be sure, but messy once again.

At that stage, for our own sanity, we decided it would be prudent to let the girls express their feelings of selfhood by leaving their rooms messy.  And we began to insist their bedroom doors be closed so we didn’t have to close our eyes as we went by!

In any event, I’m not sure the recent conversation with my daughter convinced her I was right about how it used to be.  But, if it buys my granddaughters some flex-room, it will all have been worth it.

They love me.

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The Disappointment in Her Eyes

The tortured republic to the south of us is currently in the throes of an ugly struggle to confirm the next appointee to the Supreme Court of the United States.  In the bitterly-partisan bog in which the country finds itself mired, the approval or denial of the conservative candidate nominated by the incumbent president has become a political war unto the death.

As part of the effort to block his appointment, earnest liberal voices have claimed that the man, while drunk to the point of blacking out, sexually assaulted women during his high school and university years.  As of this writing, three women have come forth to tell their stories.

The nominee and his supporters have vehemently and emotionally denied all charges.

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The great unwashed masses—at least, those of them who care a whit—have no way of knowing what really happened those many years ago, so they make common side with whichever political party they already favour.

And the quest for truth takes a back seat.

The accusations could be investigated, of course, thoroughly and without bias, in order to bring more clarity.  Both the man and his accusers could then speak to the facts and evidence such an investigation might unearth.  But, anything other than a cursory look would take time, which would delay the appointment until, perhaps, after the impending mid-term election, when the opposing political party might seize control of the confirmation process.  Politically speaking, it is in the interests of the current majority party in the US Senate to move forward with all due haste, to swing the balance of the nine-member court to the conservative side while still they can.

So, the search for justice is set aside.

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I, as you might imagine, have no idea where the truth lies in the matter.  The women, to me, sound credible; the man comes across as defensive and dismissive of their claims.  But, that is only my opinion, and differing opinions are in vast supply.

Sadly, facts and evidence are, so far, virtually non-existent.

There seem to be two fulcrums around which the question might be decided.  The first is an examination of the man’s judicial record over the past thirty years—the one preferred by his backers, who believe the record to be impeccable.

The second is an exposé of the moral character of a man who might have committed such vile acts, even as a youth—the favoured option of his opponents, who believe he is deeply flawed.

Is the one more important than the other in making such a crucial decision?  Given the majority of his supporters in the Senate, it is the first, not the second, that is likely to win the day.

More than sixty years ago, as a boy of eleven, I and my classmates took to chasing the girls in our neighbourhood.  When we caught them, we held them until we could force a kiss upon them.  They struggled and squealed, naturally enough, but we thought they probably enjoyed the sport as much as we did.  We didn’t ask them, of course; we simply made that assumption.

A boy and a girl playing chase.

Looking back, I think I knew it was wrong at the time, but I set that aside because it was fun.  It never occurred to me that pursuing, forcibly restraining, and imposing unwanted attentions of that sort upon someone could be defined as sexual assault—not at my age, and not in the mid-1950’s.  We ragamuffin boys would have had no idea of what that term even meant; none of us was yet embarked upon puberty with all the changes it would bring.

I do remember my mother’s reaction, however, after receiving a phone call from the mother of one of the girls.  Corporal punishment (administered sparingly and in measured doses when necessary) was a part of her parenting repertoire, and she left no doubt in my mind (and on my buttocks) as to how she felt about my behaviour.  More than the pain from the narrow leather strop, though, I remember the anger in her voice.

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And I have never forgotten the disappointment in her eyes.

Why is this relevant to the US Supreme Court nomination, you might well ask; why do I even bring up such long-ago events?  Well, perhaps they aren’t particularly germane to the deliberations of the tall foreheads who will make their decision very soon, for better or worse.

But, I wonder what trouble I might have got into in high school and university if I had not been brought up short by a caring parent at the first sign of potentially-abusive behaviour—even if no harm was ever intended.  It is the effect upon the victim, after all, that matters most in such circumstances, not the intention of the perpetrator.

And I wonder if the nominee for this lifetime position on the US Supreme Court would ever have engaged in the sort of behaviour that might subsequently lead to accusations of sexual misconduct if he had learned those lessons at an earlier age.  Did his parents turn a blind eye to his sense of entitlement, I wonder?

As a society, we need to do more to ensure that young boys learn that respectful behaviour towards everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, is what is expected of them.

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It’s time.

Treasured Friends

I bade a sad farewell to some treasured old friends a little while ago.

I learned that a local bookstore owner would pay me fifty cents a copy for all my old books, which he would then re-sell to his customers to realize a small profit.

Like you, perhaps, I have purchased a large number of books over the years, both hard- and soft-cover varieties.  They’ve all been read once—some much more often—and those I wanted to keep were placed lovingly in one of several bookcases.  But, as we downsized to a smaller home, the day arrived when there was just no more room.

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Being one to whom books are almost living things, I couldn’t bear the thought of packing them away in musty cartons for storage, out of sight and soon forgotten.  Somehow, though, it seemed alright to pass them along to others who would enjoy them as I had.  So, over a number of weeks, I carried out the task of sorting and packing more than three hundred-and-eighty books.

I had acquired the habit years ago of writing my name and the year when the book came into my possession on the inside front cover of each one I read.  How delightful it was to browse them once again, as I sorted, lingering over memories associated with those many years.

There was a boxed set of Tolkien’s epic trilogy, Lord of the Rings, a gift from my brother in 1960; a biography of John Kennedy and a copy of the Warren Commission Report of 1965, when the shooting in Dallas was still a recent shock; several novels in a series about a modern-day knight-errant named Travis McGee—the first purchased in 1966 and its successors as each was subsequently published; a number of biographical works from the late 1970’s about such notables as Churchill, MacArthur, Lee and Jackson, and Trudeau (the elder); a Civil War story, After the Glory, perhaps my favourite novel; and, of course, dozens of others.

There were titles of a more recent vintage, too:  thrillers from such writers as Elmore Leonard, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, and Lee Child; more biographies of famous and infamous people—Ghandi, Mandela, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Jimmy Carter, Terry Fox; histories of significant events in my lifetime, dealing with the aftermath of the Great War, the great depression, the fall of Soviet communism, the rise of the Beatles, and the future impacts of technology.

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I had determined to be ruthless in my sorting, adamant about packing everything, unyielding in my determination to move all of them out.  Inevitably, however, there were some I had to keep (including the eight I’ve published, of course).  I’ve never been resolute about being resolute!

Anyway, in due course, I was finished.  Ten cardboard cartons, each the repository of hundreds of hours of private enjoyment, sat waiting for me to take them to the bookstore.  But I, despite my earlier resolve, was plagued by a great sense of loss, a sense of having betrayed a trust, a sense of abandoning something that had become a part of me.

And so, they sat for awhile—those cartons echoing with silent, accusatory voices of so many old friends—awaiting my decision as to their fate.

After several restless nights, plagued by remorse, I hit upon an idea.  An old pal of mine owns a cottage near Parry Sound, one unencumbered by the modern notion that such getaways must have access to the internet, telephones, and television.  Solitary pursuits are the order of the day in his idyllic retreat, and I gave him a call.

frosty-cabin

“How’d you like to meet some new friends?” I asked him.  “They’d love to come and stay at the lake, and I know you’ll like them.”

It took some further explaining, naturally, but he came by the next time he was heading north, and we loaded the cartons into his SUV.  As he pulled away, I bowed my head, placed a hand over my heart, and mouthed a sad goodbye to those treasured old friends.  Dramatic, I know, but heartfelt.

However, I was greatly comforted by knowing I’ll be able to say hello to them all again and again each time I visit.  It brought an old ditty to mind—

Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver, and the other gold.

Do You See the Difference?

If you’ve ever been on a long-distance road-trip and had to stop unexpectedly along the freeway at a service station bathroom, and been repulsed by the dirtiness of the facilities, and the smell, did you appreciate the difference between that and the sanitary, well-maintained, odour-free restroom you found elsewhere?

If you’ve ever been stymied by drivers on a crowded freeway who refuse to let you merge from the on-ramp in front of them, did you value the difference between their attitude and that of the gracious driver who did allow you in?  And did you wave your thanks?

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Wherever we go, it seems, and whatever we do, we are constantly encountering a need for services and interactions with people—some of which do not pass muster, others of which surpass our expectations.

If you’ve ever been dining out at what you thought was a good restaurant and then discovered a trace of someone else’s lipstick on your unused wine glass, or found a morsel of baked-on food between the tines of your dinner-fork, did you understand the difference between that and a truly first-class establishment?

If you’ve ever been ready to tumble into a hotel bed at the end of a long day, only to discover stains on the supposedly-clean sheets, or perhaps traces of bedbugs, did you appreciate the difference between that and a four- or five-star hostelry?

Do you see the difference?

If you’ve ever had occasion to return a purchased product to the store where you bought it, only to be greeted by a surly, suspicious returns-clerk, did you welcome the difference between that and the gracious, no-questions-asked manner of the person you dealt with when you returned something to another store?

If you’ve ever found yourself bewildered in front of an airport kiosk that has apparently consumed your passport, and been forced to deal with a sullen, uniformed airline staffer with little apparent interest in helping you, did you value the difference between him and the employee of another airline who pursued you all the way to your boarding gate to return the passport you’d inadvertently left on her desk?

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If you’ve ever rented a vacation villa for a couple of weeks, only to discover upon arrival that the online pictures—so instrumental in making your choice—in no way resembled the ramshackle reality of the place, did you give thanks for the difference between that and the next place you chose, which was clean, bright, and airy, as promised?

If you’ve ever waited in line for service at a bank, for example, or a supermarket checkout, and had the teller or cashier close the desk just as you reached the front, did you appreciate the difference between that and the person who waved you forward, despite the fact his or her shift was supposed to be finished?

Do you see the difference?

I draw these comparisons to illustrate a realization I came to when I listened recently to a televised address by the forty-fourth president of the United States (who left office two years ago), in front of an audience of mostly college-age folks.  Despite the great difference between their ages and mine, I believe we shared an appreciation of the man and his message.  His remarks were relevant, coherent, humourous, and structured—full of a clarity and insight so absent from the national scene now.

On a newscast shortly after that speech, I heard his successor, the forty-fifth president, speaking to a group of supporters at one of the rallies he frequently attends.  His remarks, by contrast (and in my opinion), were self-centred, random, mean, and spontaneous—possessed of neither lucidity nor prescience.

I was struck by the enormous intellectual gap between these two men, their understanding of duty and honour, and their vision for their country.

Do you see the difference?

Misericordia mea patria tarn infelici.

Grandpa’s Grammar

Your per-nunky-ayshun is her-ibble!

So spake my grandfather once upon a time, admonishing me—perhaps five years old at the time—when I mispronounced a word while talking with him.  I remember dissolving in laughter, delighted by the strange words coming from his mouth.

Language, and its proper usage, were important to him.  An accomplished calligrapher, a voracious reader, and an avocational writer, he was forever dwelling on the importance of speaking and writing correctly.

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Years later, as a young teacher, I carried on that same tradition by including grammar lessons in my pupils’ daily curriculum.  When I became a father, I continued the practice in conversations with our daughters.

Neither my wife nor I favoured the inane baby-talk that was so prevalent among parents back then as they communicated with their children.  Right from the beginning, we resolved to speak to the girls in proper sentences, expressing complete thoughts, using correct terminology, pronouncing words properly.  Most of it probably went over their heads in the beginning, of course, but we definitely set an expectation in their minds that effective communication was important.

Along the way, I made time to tell them of the various quirks and anomalies of the English language.  Making a game of it, or including it in story-times, helped, I think, to convey the lessons.

I’d explain to them about adverbs and adjectives, and how they’re used.  “Adverbs usually, but not always, end in ‘ly’,” I’d say.  “So, you don’t run quick or slow, you run quickly or slowly.  You don’t dress nice, you dress nicely.  Get it?”

“Huh?” their quizzical expressions would seem to say.

“You can feel good,” I might continue, “but you’re never doing good.  You’re doing well.  And, you’re never doing poor, but you could be doing poorly.”

“But, you’re always saying I eat too fast,” the eldest once said.  “Does that mean I’m eating too fastly?”

At that point, I launched into an apology for all the exceptions to the rules in English exposition.

Spelling and vowel-sounds were often challenging, as well, when I’d lead them through the pronunciation of such lookalike words as: through (long u sound), tough (short u sound), although (long o sound), cough (short o sound), and plough (sounds like ow).

For a long time, we enjoyed playing a silly-sounds game, asking each other to correct the mispronounced words in sentences like this: ‘Althoo my meat was toe, I got thruff most of it.’

To many of our friends, parents themselves, my emphasis on grammar and spelling likely seemed fetishist, even obsessive.

“I could care less about that stuff,” they often said to me.

“No,” I’d reply, “I think what you mean is that you couldn’t care less.  If you could care less, it would mean you consider it important.”

Most of them would roll their eyes and drop the subject.

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Pronunciation was always the main issue, though.  In time, the girls would recognize and laugh at obvious mistakes they’d hear on the radio or television, from speakers who ought to have known better.

“That guy said Nagra Falls, Daddy,” one might say.  “It should be Ni-a-ga-ra, right?”

Her sister might pipe up, “I heard someone talk about the nu-cu-lar bomb, instead of nu-cle-ar!”

“How about this one?” the first might say.  “We don’t eye-urn our clothes, we i-ron them.”

“Yeah, and there are no taggers in the zoo; they’re ti-gers.”

I suppose it was Grandpa’s grammar lessons that imprinted on me, and led me to become so insistent on proper language usage.

But, what about the situation today, I wonder, when so much of our verbal and written communication is made up of verbal shortcuts?

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Is the proper usage of language still important?

So many times now, I hear people say something like this in conversation: “So, she goes, ‘I like your dress.’  And I go, ‘Thanks!’  Then, she goes, ‘It’s nice.’”

Can they not use the correct word, as in ‘She said…’ and ‘I said…’?

It’s common anymore to hear someone say ‘What?’, not ‘Pardon?’ when they haven’t heard me; ‘Fer Shurr!’, not ‘For sure!’ when they’re certain of something; or, ‘It don’t matter!’, not ‘It doesn’t matter!’ when asked if everything is okay.

To me, it does matter.

Still, in the grand scheme of life, perhaps it no longer counts if our language continues to be used correctly and in its purest form.  It is a living thing, after all, and should, therefore, be expected to evolve over time, adapting to technology and 5G capabilities.

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But, so much of the first impression we convey to others about ourselves is wrapped up in how we speak, and in how we sound to others.  So much about our intellect and learning is tied up in how we write.  I have trouble accepting that grammar, spelling, syntax, diction, and pronunciation may no longer be valuable in our human discourse.

My grandfather told me over and over that our language should always be held in respect, and used in its highest form.  And I, a child at his knee, believed him.

“Otherwise,” he’d say, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, “it will be a true cattas-troffy!

Nine Lives

It’s always been held that cats have nine lives, but a friend of mine, affectionately known as the Cat, must be close to running out.  Just how much longer he’ll be around is beginning to worry me.

He’s been the Cat since well before we both retired, and almost no one calls him by his real name—if they even remember it.  The reasons for the nickname are long-forgotten, although he claims to remember.

“Just look at how I move,” he says.  “I’ve got the grace and power of a big cat.”

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Sometimes he stumbles as he says this.

I was telling some new friends recently about my old pal, a guy who lurches through life’s little lessons, always landing on his feet.  At least, that’s how he sees it.  He’s always boasting of how he demonstrates the feline reflexes and agility that only the truly-gifted athletes have.

Such claims are usually accompanied by a sheepish grin, following, for example, a frantic scramble to retrieve the food he has just spilled off his plate at the buffet table.

My friends were fascinated by my tales of the Cat’s adventures, if somewhat disbelieving.  They asked if he were still alive, and enquired about the escapades he’s endured.  I obliged them by relating a few—all true, as sure as I’m sitting here now.

After deciding to spend winters in the south with his long-suffering wife, he began to participate again in many of the athletic endeavours he had previously given up.  With wanton disregard for the years that have passed, he threw himself recklessly into everything.

For example, there was the time a group of us were playing in an oldtimers’ slow-pitch tournament.  We were there, more for a good time than to win.  Hence, the Cat was batting fourth in our lineup, rather than last.

When he stepped up for his first turn at the plate, he swung so hard at the pitch lobbed by him that we thought he’d screw himself into the dirt.  But, the Cat wasn’t phased.

“What—a—ripple!” he declared admiringly, unwinding himself awkwardly from the bat.  “Did ya see the power behind that swing?  Panther-power, just like a cat!”  He struck out on the next two pitches, but with a mighty swing both times.

Later in the game, however, the Cat did make it to first base—after being hit by a pitch he couldn’t twist away from.  On his way down the line, he attempted to imitate the pigeon-toed run immortalized by Babe Ruth, but with mixed results.  It looked fine until he tripped on an untied shoelace and fell.

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“I was gonna try out my home-run trot,” he explained later, “except I remembered I don’t have one.  But, I hope you guys noticed how gracefully I slid into first base when y’all thought I had tripped.  Every move is planned!”

Following our final game of the day, we adjourned to the community pool for a swim, a few drinks, and a cook-out.  The Cat was thirsty, but he didn’t stay that way for long.  By the time we got around to eating, he had definitely been over-served.

Sitting fully erect on an aluminum lawn chair, the fold-up kind, he was holding a plateful of food in his hands.  With glazed eyes and a fixed smile, he stared straight ahead, lips moving wordlessly.  Then, ever so slowly, he toppled sideways, out of his overturning chair, and on to the grass.  Incredibly, he never tipped his plate!  Didn’t spill a morsel!

“I wish I’d been there to see that,” the Cat said later.  “I’m sure I handled it gracefully, just like a cat!”

His full day ended with a swim in the pool, something else he doesn’t really remember.  He was walking back and forth across the shallow end, bent over with his face in the water, wearing a face-mask and snorkel.  The Cat likes to take great risks like that.

Inevitably, he stepped into the area where the pool-floor slopes down to the deep end.  He sank like a stone.  When he bobbed back to the surface, still face down, he drew a huge, shuddering breath through the snorkel tube.

That marked the onset of a great thrashing and splashing, punctuated by whooping and coughing, and wild flapping of arms.  The tube, of course, had filled up with water.

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It took six of us to get the Cat out of the pool, still clutching the mask and snorkel when we deposited him on the grass.  After a few moments of laboured breathing, he grinned up at the crowd staring down at him.

“Notice how I managed to grab the snorkel before it sank?” he sputtered.  “Just like a cat-fish!”

On another occasion, when we all went roller-skating (some of us wearing inline skates), the Cat sailed onto the floor with great abandon.  He managed to remain upright as long as he was moving forward, but turning was another matter entirely.  Over the first few minutes, he became intimately acquainted with every corner of the skating arena.

His tour de force happened when he was resting for a few minutes, leaning on a railing that separated the main floor from the rest area.  Suddenly, the roller skates on both feet shot forward from under him, plunging him straight down.  His underarms and chin caught on the rail, and he hung there for a moment, legs outstretched, before dropping to the floor.

When he recovered enough to speak, he croaked, “Did ya see how I caught myself there, before I hit the floor?  Like a cat!”

Unbelievably, these were only some of the escapades from which he’s emerged relatively unscathed.  Several years ago, he went river-rafting with his son and a few other lunatics.  One of their favourite activities as they went careening through the white-water rapids, was to fill the bailing-buckets and toss water at each other.

As it was told to me, the Cat forgot to hold on to the bucket on one toss, and it hit another rafter squarely on the shoulder, toppling him out of the raft.  The Cat was quick, though.  With blinding speed, he lunged for his unfortunate victim, missed him by the slimmest of margins, and followed him over the side.

After much floundering and flailing, punctuated by surges of pure panic, the other rafters managed to pluck the two of them from the river.  The Cat was jubilant.

finishing-the-rafting-adventure

“Notice how I went right in after him?” he crowed.  “There was no time to lose!  Poor guy coulda drowned!  Instant response, no hesitation, quick as a cat!”

My favourite of his adventures, however, happened up north, on a winter weekend several years back.  A group of us had gathered at a friend’s farm to boot about on his snowmobiles.

I’m not sure the Cat had driven a snowmobile before, but he approached his designated machine with even more confidence than he usually shows.  Leaping aboard, perhaps assuming it had a neutral gear, he gunned the throttle.  The machine shot forward, the Cat’s head snapped back, and his helmet dropped down over his eyes.  Clawing at it to push it up, he realized he was headed directly for a parked car.

His car!

With his famed, cat-like reflexes, he yanked the handlebars hard to the right, missing the car by a whisker.  As he pulled, however, he fully depressed the throttle under his thumb, and that was his undoing.

Recalling it later, our host said, “He turned away from the car, alright, but then accelerated straight into a tree!  I never saw anything like it!”

snowmobile

The tree put a stop to the brief, wild ride.  The Cat kept moving after the snowmobile stopped, of course, smashing into the cowling and windshield.  Bruises on his chest and a couple of muscle strains were the lasting effects of his thirty-foot expedition.

“Guess I’ve bought a snowmobile,” he observed ruefully, surveying the wreckage later.  He lapsed into rueful silence for awhile, but then brightened considerably.

“Did you guys see how fast I reacted when everybody thought I was gonna hit my car?  I turned that sucker in the nick of time, cool as a big cat!  Every move is planned.”

The Cat’s friends, and they are many, figure he has maybe two of his nine lives left, if that.  We all hope they’re charmed.

Like them, I love the Cat.  But, given his predilection for tempting fate, I make a point of never standing too close to him.