Listening to My Mother

As a young boy, lo, those many years ago, I listened to my mother—not because I always wanted to, but because I quickly learned that not doing so could have severe consequences.  She’s been gone ten years and more, and yet I find I’m still listening, especially now, living in this pandemic world in which we find ourselves.

“Wash and brush your teeth first thing,” she’d say, “and brush your hair.  Make your bed before you get dressed, then come down for breakfast.”


She didn’t tell me to shave, of course, my being but a stripling who had no need to do so.  But I was told to put my pyjamas away and drop my dirty clothes into the hamper on my way to the kitchen.

I didn’t need telling every day, but the reminders were frequent enough.  And woe betide me if I neglected any of the tasks.

Fast forward to today, and you’d see this past-mid-seventies man I have become still making my bed right after returning from my first visit of the day to the bathroom (where, of course, I wash and brush my teeth).  I still don’t shave, at least not every day, but I do brush my hair assiduously.

After slipping my PJ’s under the pillow, I get dressed (always neatly, if not stylishly), gather up any laundry, and head for the kitchen.

My mother always had breakfast ready when I got there, sometimes preceded by my brother and sisters, and she watched closely to ensure we ate everything—juice, oatmeal porridge, toast, and milk.


“Sit up tall,” she’d say.  “Lift your spoon to your mouth.  Lean over your bowl.  Hold your spoon properly.”

My remembering it like this might make her sound like a martinet, but she was not.  Neither was she a nag.  She simply wanted each of us to be the best we could be, and she had strong opinions as to what the best looked like.

Today, my breakfast might consist of cottage cheese with fresh fruit mixed in, and a couple of oat biscuits; or granola with fresh fruit and yogurt.  Green tea has replaced the glass of milk, but juice is still a staple.  And while I am eating, I sit straight, careful not to lower my chin to the bowl.

“Don’t leave your dishes on the counter,” my mother would say when we’d get up to leave the table.  “Put them in the sink.  And make sure you fold your napkin and push your chair back in.”

To this day, my napkin is rolled carefully into the napkin ring, the chairs in my kitchen sit squarely around the table, pushed in just so.  And no dirty dishes adorn the countertop (although a dishwasher has replaced the sink to receive them).

I Love School

Our reward back then, as we tumbled out the door to school, was a smiling kiss from our taskmaster.  We expected it, looked forward to it, and remembered it often throughout the day.

Looking back, I think these instructions from my mother helped prepare us to face the world in front of us.  The subtle sense of accomplishment we gained from completing such simple chores, even if we weren’t consciously aware of it, instilled a sense of confidence in us that we were more than up to the task of dealing with whatever might befall us.

Of course, we were uncomplicated souls back then, my siblings and I.  As a senior citizen today, I would have expected myself to be much more jaded by now, much less naïve, not so likely to be swayed or influenced by simple rewards for elementary tasks.

Yet, here I am, confined to home because of the dreaded pandemic swirling around us, unsure as to what might lie ahead, needing that jolt of confidence more than ever.  I’m making my bed first thing every day, brushing my teeth, sitting up straight at the table.  I’m doing the dishes, the laundry, the numerous other household chores that keep my shrunken world from toppling over the edge into chaos.

And why?  Well, the answer to that is simple.


I’m still listening to my mother.

Can We Coexist? Will We Survive?

Some time back, well before the pandemic era we find ourselves in just now, I wrote a short piece on the importance of coexistence if we are to survive the challenges facing us as a species.  As we face the hardships wrought by the need for physical distancing and social behaviours that will ensure the greatest chance of survival for the greatest number of us, I am re-posting it in the severely-altered context of our world today.

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There’s a bumper sticker out there that neatly sums up the means to solving the world’s problems, including war, famine, pandemic, pollution, drought, overpopulation, greed—

Coexistence sounds so simple, yet over the millennia it has proven impossible to attain.

An old joke goes like this:  “You don’t know when you’re dead; only other people notice.  It’s the same when you’re stupid.”

Never having been dead, I can’t vouch for the first premise; for all I know, the world will scarce notice when I’m gone.  But the second part might well be true.  Why else, other than stupidity,  do so many of us ignore the certainty that humankind’s current practices are dooming our planet?

Nation against nation, race against race, religion against religion; ignorance and denial of the potential rise of drug-resistant bacteria and viruses; endless resource extraction; massive defoliation and over-fishing; reckless despoliation of our environment, including the very air we breathe—all in the name of what?  Geo-political supremacy?  Last one standing wins?  It’s sheer, rampant stupidity.

In his poem, Ozymandias, Shelley wrote these lines—

“…on the [shatter’d] pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Where the glory, where the triumph?  Nothing is left in a vast wasteland but a smashed relic of one man’s vainglorious attempt to take control of his world.

Think of two anthills in a garden, one bustling with industrious black ants, the other alive with equally busy red ants.  Everything is peaceful in the garden until, one sad day, the two colonies discover each other.  And then madness, folly, turmoil, mayhem, as each tries to subjugate the other.  Warfare unto the death, until the gardener brings his stomping boots and smashing shovel down on them.  And they are all annihilated, indistinguishable in their lifeless remains.

Is there a celestial gardener, I wonder, who looks upon our planet, this earthly garden, and despairs?  Do we appear as nothing more than those foolish ants, scurrying hysterically to and fro, intent upon the destruction of any who are not like us?  And will we avoid the gardener’s heavy boot?  Or is it already too late?

Coexistence has many synonyms: reconciliation, harmony, accord, synchronicity, collaboration.  All are needed if we are, indeed, to live together on our fragile planet.

Coexistence also has one supremely important result—


Golfing Legends

In the long-ago summer of ’67, I went with a couple of friends to a day-long golf match at the Toronto Golf Club, the third-oldest course in North America.  We were there to watch two of the game’s leading players go head-to-head for Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, a very popular TV program of the time.

Screenshot_2020-03-17 Home - Toronto Golf Club

American Mickey Wright, a winner of 82 LPGA championships and 13 majors, was matched against a young Canadian amateur, Marlene Stewart, who went on to become the only person ever to win the Australian, British, Canadian, and U.S. Amateur Championships.  Both women have since been elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida.

My friends and I were rooting for the Canadian, of course, and after nine holes, she was up by one.  We had rushed ahead and strategically placed ourselves behind the ninth green, by the path the players would use on their way to the tenth tee.

As they left the green, the women stopped to be interviewed by the co-hosts of the program, two revered PGA golfers, Jimmy Demaret and Gene Sarazen, by then both retired from the game.  Demaret had won 31 tour events during his career, and was the first three-time winner of the Masters.  Sarazen, known as ‘The Squire’, had won seven major championships, and is one of five golfers to have won a career grand slam—a U.S. Open (twice), a PGA Championship (three times), the British Open, and the Masters.  Both of them are also in the Golf Hall of Fame.

sarazen and demaret

These four people were, indeed, superstars, and there they were, standing right in front of me as the camera rolled, taping proceedings for the hour-long telecast scheduled for later in the season.

I don’t remember what was asked and answered during the interview; it took place, after all, fifty-three years ago.  Nor do I remember being conscious at the time that I might be captured on film directly behind the celebrity foursome.  And I do not remember ever seeing the program when it was eventually broadcast.

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Many years later, my eldest daughter, Tara, had married a young CPGA golfer, head professional at one of Ontario’s premier golf courses.  We went with them on a week-long golfing holiday to Myrtle Beach, where we played several of the outstanding courses in the area.  At the end of one particular day, after enjoying a lovely dinner, the two couples withdrew to our separate bedrooms to read, watch TV, or, in my case, fall asleep.

Sometime shortly after I had done just that, my daughter burst into our room, face alight with excitement.

“Dad!  Dad!” she cried.

I wakened immediately, alarmed, worried something was wrong.

“Dad!” she said, plopping herself on the bed beside me.  “Did you ever go see a golf match at the old Toronto Golf Club?”

“Huh?” I managed.

“Dad, years ago, Marlene Stewart played a match with Mickey Wright, and it was taped for Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf.  Were you there?”


Sitting up now, I tried to remember.  “Yeah, I think maybe I was.  I would’ve been in my early twenties, before I got married.  Why are you asking me now?”

“I knew it!” my daughter said, clapping her hands.  By now, our son-in-law, Adam, had joined her in our room.

“This is unbelievable,” he said.  “I was fooling with the remote and stopped on the Golf Channel.  By chance, there was an old black-and-white program showing a game in Toronto, so we watched it for a bit.  The guys hosting it were interviewing the two women playing the match, and there was a young guy standing behind them, right in the middle of the screen.”

My daughter cut in.  “I thought, ‘Holy cow!  That guy looks a lot like my dad, but younger.’  And just as I was thinking that, Adam said, ‘I think that might be your dad standing there.  How old is this program?’  So, it was you?”

The memories were slowly creeping back.  “I guess so, yeah,” I said.  “I was standing really close to them after the front nine, and I think you’re right.  They did stop to be interviewed.”

“Did you get an autograph from any of them?” Tara asked.

“Nope,” I said, seeing it again through the mists of time.  “As I recall, Marlene Stewart wasn’t much older than I was, and kinda cute.  I’d have been more likely to ask for a date.”

They laughed at that, even my wife, and then my son-in-law said, “I’ve seen you play.  You should have asked for a lesson!”


We all laughed at the truth of that, but honestly, I’d been much too shy at the time to ask for any of those things—an autograph, a date, or a lesson.

To this day, I have never seen that program.  And I know my memories of being there at the match have been warped by the intervening years.  But I do remember those  people—Demaret, Sarazen, Wright, and Stewart—just as they were then, frozen in time.  Golfing legends.

I was certainly starstruck in the moment.  And I could never have imagined reliving the experience through the eyes of a grown daughter half a century later.

Wonderful world of golf, indeed!

Teenage Angst

The writers’ group I meet with regularly issues ‘prompts’ for us to generate story ideas, for presentation at our gatherings.  One of the most recent asked us to write about ‘oceans’—whatever that word might bring to mind.

I hit upon teenage angst as the setting for my piece, which I entitled By the Ocean.  Here it is for readers of this blog who might remember the heartbreak of summer love—

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Despite my repeated efforts to block them out, the mocking words and melody keep running through my head—

On a day like today, we passed the time away,

Writing love-letters in the sand…

Not love-letters exactly; just a big heart drawn on the beach with a stick, an I on the left, a YOU on the right.  We’d spread a blanket inside the heart and lie beside each other, resting, oblivious to the comings and goings of the other surfers.  There was only us and our boards.

i luv u 2

Sometimes we’d just stare at the ocean, watching it crash ashore, pointing at the big waves others were carving.  Abby would say she could see charging white stallions in the surf, like a painting she once saw, but I could never see them.  All I ever saw was yellowish foam, flecked with flotsam, washing up on the beach.

As each afternoon wore on, the water would creep ever closer to us on the incoming surge, until finally it would lap at the very edge of the blanket.  We’d pack up then and head for higher ground.  She’d laugh each time we saw the tide take our love-letters in the sand, washing them away as if they’d never existed.

Those were my favorite times, those late afternoons, both of us exhausted from surfing the breaks and bombs, when the sun hovered precariously above the horizon before plunging into the ocean.  The tips of the waves were almost pink as they rose and fell pell-mell on the sand.  The water behind them had a slick, green sheen on either side of the wide, diamond-dancing path across the surface that led from us to the sun.

The ocean’s power was immense, like the love we had for each other.

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I’m alone on the blanket now, though, and that cursed song keeps playing in my ears—

You made a vow that you would always be true,

But somehow that vow meant nothing to you…

I’m not sure when things changed, or why.  All I know is that, by the end of the summer, Abby was no longer surfing.  Not with me, and not with anyone else as far as I knew.  She quit returning my calls, and finally her mother told me to stop phoning.

I must have sounded pretty low because, even though she’d never approved of me—that beach-bum, I overheard her call me once—she explained that Abby had gone away to school.  Wellesley, I think she said, somewhere back east.  Not even a goodbye.

“What about you, Bode?” she asked, as if she cared.  “Where will you be going?”

I didn’t bother to answer.  Back to the beach is where I was going.  I’d grown up by the ocean, following my father from competition to competition up and down the state.  Even got to Hawaii once.  He won lots of trophies, not much money, and now, in his early-forties, he’s desperately clinging to that surfer-boy persona, the only thing he knows.


They’re still together, though, him and my mother.  She cleans house for the rich-bitches on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, earns enough to keep us in the old double-wide on the outskirts of Surfside Acres, a patch of scrubland north of the beach.

I worked part-time all through high school at the Hang-Ten Board Shoppe, which is as tacky as its name.  Paid enough to suit me, though, and I got to try all the latest equipment.  Now that I’ve graduated, finally, I’m hoping to pick up a few more hours, maybe earn enough to buy a set of wheels.

“Bode?  Did you hear me?  What school are you off to?”  Abby’s mother, still on the line.

I hung up without replying.  She didn’t care, and, apparently, neither did Abby.

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The surf is up today, the orange sun falling slowly behind scattered clouds to its rendezvous with the edge of the world.  Only a few people lie scattered on the sand, a few more out on the water.  I watch the waves creeping ever closer to the blanket, wishing Abby were here, knowing she never would be again.

I can imagine her friends talking about us.  Abby?  She’s at Wellesley.  Bode?  Still at the Hang-Ten.

Yeah, that’s me alright.  Despondent now, I resign myself to what I’m about to do.  Leaving my board by the blanket, I’ll wade out to waist-level, and begin the final journey from there.  I know the incoming waves are strong, but they won’t be a problem for someone who’s been surfing since he was eight years old.

sunset swim 2

I’ll follow that familiar, sun-dappled path on the surface toward the horizon—swimming freestyle, breathing easy, arms reaching, legs kicking.  I’ll harbor no second thoughts as the distance between me and the beach increases, stroke by stroke by stroke.  If someone on shore sees me, it won’t matter.

Pretty soon, I’ll feel myself tiring, but I won’t pause to look back.  Once I’m out beyond where the waves form, still swimming toward the sun—wondering if I’ll reach it before it’s extinguished by the ocean—it’ll be too late.

When my arms turn leaden, and my legs hang uselessly behind me, I’ll realize I’ve stopped for the last time.  And the damn song will start up again—

Now my broken heart aches with every wave that breaks

Over love-letters in the sand…

And as the song dies, so will I, swallowed by the unfeeling ocean.

–  0  –

I’m ready to do it now, but as I clamber to my feet, I spy Mary-Lou, Abby’s friend—the tiny one who always had a shy smile for me, the one Abby never let me get too close to.  She’s by herself at the water’s edge, holding her board, apparently unsure about going out alone.  Despite the heartsick funk I’m in, she looks mighty fine in her two-piece.  Rad!

When she sees me standing there, she waves and smiles, beckons me over.  I hesitate a moment—conflicted, my emotions chaotic—and then impulsively, I grab my board and trot towards her.  I feel a huge grin spreading across my face.  And as I get closer, another song breaks out in my head—

sufer girl

Little surfer, little one, makin’ my heart come undone,

Would you love me, love me, surfer girl…surfer girl,

My little surfer girl…