When Did It Start?

When did it start to be okay to ignore the fundamental tenets of good manners?  Of respect for other people?  Of common sense?

As a gentleman of a certain generation, I am beginning to notice innumerable illustrations of how the teachings of my parents, for instance, are flouted, seemingly with impunity, by so many people today.

When did it start to be okay, by way of example, for men to leave their hats on while dining in a restaurant?  Or while riding in an elevator?  Or when meeting someone for the first time?

hat

Was it not always de rigueur to doff one’s hat in such situations?

When did it start to be okay for a gentleman to remain seated when a lady enters the room?  Or when greeting someone at a social function?  Or when there is no seat left for an elderly person on a crowded subway car?

Was it not an expectation that one would respect one’s elders?

Perhaps it is cantankerous of me to bewail the apparent passing of such social niceties.  Maybe I am being overly pernickety in complaining about such faux pas.

And yet, when did it start to be okay to start eating before everyone was seated at the table, their food in front of them?  Or to prop oneself on one’s elbows, head lowered almost to the plate, to shovel food in?  Or to talk with one’s mouth full?

eating

Was dining not intended as a social occasion where one might enjoy, not only one’s meal, but the pleasant company of one’s family and friends?

And when did it start to be okay to show up for social occasions without a proper RSVP in advance, if requested?  Or to arrive fashionably late, or embarrassingly early?  Or not to appear at all when expected?

Were politeness and punctuality ever considered superfluous, unwarranted, not of value?

I can scarcely believe I am alone in bemoaning the dumbing-down of our social discourse to the lowest common denominator.  Alas, I fear it may be so, based upon the evidence I see on an almost-daily basis.

For instance, when did it start to be okay to interrupt while someone else is speaking?  Or to speak over them?  Or to ignore them altogether, perhaps by staring pointedly at one’s cellphone?

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Was polite conversation not always considered to be an amiable exchange of ideas and opinions, offered with due regard for others’ points of view?

When did it start to be okay to speak loudly in public, to the annoyance of others around?  Or to sprinkle one’s speech with profanities?  Or to play one’s music so loudly that it impinges upon others’ right to peace?

Was consideration for others not always a hallmark of a polite society?

I suppose, in fairness, I must concede that not everyone is guilty of such breaches of social refinements.  In fact, among my circle of friends and acquaintances, there is more adherence than avoidance in evidence.  But my circle is not particularly broad.

When did it start to be okay in the wider world to make demands, rather than requests?  Or to forget please and thank you?  Or to refrain from offering the plate to others before helping oneself?

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Are good manners now out of style?  Is it considered better in this day and age to receive, rather than to give?

And when did it start to be okay for one to let a door close after walking through, without checking to see if someone might be following close behind?  Or to forego standing aside in the first place, holding the door open for the other person?  With a smile.

Was such consideration for others not always a hallmark of civilized behaviour?

These contraventions of the social contract that has always held us together are, in my opinion, nothing short of egregious.  They tear at the fabric of our human condition, at the ties that bind us, one to the other.  We are the lesser for their prevalence.

I have written in the past that my wife (and others, I suspect) consider me a curmudgeon.  Perchance, I am.  Yet, despite such censure, I cannot stop asking the basic question—when did it start to be okay to ignore the standards of cultured, urbane comportment?

Curmudgeon_Logo

My wife hints at the answer, however.

“When did it start to be okay?” I ask.

“When you got old!” she answers.

Lying? No, Storytelling!

“What’s the most interesting thing that happened to you today?” he’d ask.  My grandpa, puffing on his pipe.

Pleased to have his attention, and anxious to keep it, I’d rack my brain for a response.  Growing up in the suburbs in the 1950’s was pretty mundane.  Nothing of great interest ever seemed to happen to me.

So, I’d make things up.  Not lying, exactly.  Storytelling.

“I fell in the creek today,” I might tell him.  “Tried to walk across the log, but my foot slipped off .”

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“How’d you get out?” he’d ask, wisps of smoke curling around his head.

“Wasn’t deep,” I’d say.  “But don’t tell my Mum.”

“Nope,” he’d say.  “Be best not to go near the creek anymore, though.”  And he’d give me a broad wink.

On another occasion, I might tell him that my bike got stolen, but I managed to get it back.  Heroically.

“Wasn’t it locked” he’d ask.

“Yeah, the lock was across the forks of the back wheel.  But the guys who took it just picked it up and carried it.  That’s how I caught up to ‘em.”

“What did you say to them?”

“Nothin’ Grandpa.  When they heard me comin’, they dropped the bike and ran away.  I guess I scared ‘em off.”

“Sounds like,” he’d say.  “Maybe you should fasten your wheel to the bike rack from now on.  Be hard to take that.”  His blue eyes would sparkle, and I’d love that I made that happen.

He never tired of asking the same question, and I never got tired of answering.  I might have told him how I won the game for our team when I made the game-ending catch of a long fly-ball in centrefield.

“Jus’ like Willie Mays!” I’d say, omitting the fact that I had actually stumbled and fallen, slid to an ignominious stop, only to have the ball land on my stomach, where I frantically clutched it.

ballplayer

“Mays is one of the greats,” he’d say.  “You caught it over your shoulder, like he did?  Wish I could have seen it.  Next time, though, try to keep the ball in front of you.  Those over-the-shoulder catches are pretty rare.”  And he’d flash me a knowing smile.

As a grandfather myself now, I know he knew I was padding the truth.  But I didn’t know back then.  I thought it was okay, because it brought us closer together.

He lived to a ripe old age, and in the last few years before he died, he was slowed considerably.  When I’d visit with him, it seemed our roles were reversed.  Now it was I asking the questions, and he searching for answers that would keep me there longer.  I always asked the old chestnut.

“So, what’s the most interesting thing that happened to you today, Grandpa?”

He no longer smoked his pipe, but he’d stroke his mouth as if still holding it, and I could almost hear the gears meshing inside his head.

“Nothing much today,” he’d say.  “But did I ever tell you about the time I saved your father from drowning?  Fell off the dock while we were fishing at the lodge up near Bala, no life-preserver.  I reached down, grabbed his collar, and hauled him straight out of the water.  Poor little guy cried like a baby.  That was pretty interesting, I’ll tell you.”

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I’d heard the story many times, of course, and my father had debunked it every time.  “The water was shallow,” he told me.  “I jumped in, and waded ashore.  And I did have a life-preserver on.  Dad loves to tell the story, though.”

Of course, I never let on that I didn’t believe what my grandpa was telling me.  I remember hearing how he met the King, back in 1939, when he and the Queen, on their tour of Canada, visited the hospital where my grandpa was recuperating from surgery.

“I had a picture of the two of us,” he’d say.  “Don’t know what ever happened to it.  Your grandma must’ve thrown it out.  But that was really interesting!”

Grandma would only smile when I asked about that picture.  “Grandpa was in the hospital in 1937,” was all she’d say.

I heard about the lawn-bowling championship he won, the skip of a Dominion championship team in 1909.  According to him, the mantel clock that still sits in my home was the prize awarded for the victory.

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“There’s no plaque on it, Grandpa,” I once told him.  “How come they didn’t put your name on it?”  The wistful look he gave me made me wish I hadn’t asked.

“Ah, they gave us all a letter,” he said.  “Signed by the prime minister, Mr. Borden.  That’s why your father’s middle name is Borden.  No idea where that letter is now.  But that’s pretty interesting, don’t you think?”

I nodded in agreement, and was circumspect enough not to mention that the prime minister in 1909 was Wilfrid Laurier.  My father was born in 1911, right after Robert Borden’s election.

By then, my grandpa’s eyes no longer sparkled as in days of yore.  But he’d still wink at me while telling his stories, and smile whimsically.  Kind of like my smile now, when I listen to my own grandchildren telling me about the momentous events in their lives.

And when they ask me about the interesting things in my day, I try not to lie to them.  Elaborating is not the same as lying.

“Nothing much today,” I tell them.  “But did I ever tell you about the time I saved my brother from the big kid across the road who was beating him up?  I ended up with a bloody nose and a black eye, but that kid never picked on my brother again.  That was pretty interesting.”

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“Really, Gramps?” they marvel.  Or pretend to.

Of course, I don’t tell them the real reason my brother was safe afterwards; the kid’s family moved away.

To this day, I have a warm feeling inside when I remember my grandpa, and those conversations we used to have.  And I love the exchanges now with my grandchildren, swapping tales about our lives.

Not lying, exactly.  Storytelling.

Which is what I do.

It’s a Boy!

Another of those small milestones of life passed us by the other day.  Our youngest daughter reached the ripe old age of forty-five.  It didn’t appear to faze her, the realization that she is now firmly ensconced in middle-age.  But it brought a flood of memories for me.

Way back then, my wife became pregnant at the same time as one of my sisters—apparently within days of one another.  We didn’t know that at the time, of course, but as delivery day approached for each of them, it became a matter of conjecture as to which would blossom first.

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My brother-in-law and I oversaw a number of betting pools within our two families—all in good fun, naturally.  Who would deliver sooner?  Would the babies be girls or boys?  If one of each, which family would have the boy?  What would be the combined weight of the two babies?

The combined weight of the two mothers was never up for discussion!

As it happened, my sister went into labour first.  In short order, a wee daughter made her grand entrance, and all of us rejoiced.  My brother-in-law and I gathered the vital statistics for the betting-pools.

A day later, my wife told me it was time.  I drove her to the hospital, after dropping our older daughter off with my parents.  It was hard to tell who was more excited, our little girl or my mother and father.  None of them could talk coherently when we departed—my daughter because she was only a year-and-a-half old, my parents because they were so thrilled about my sister’s newborn, and our impending one.

We had elected not to know the gender before our baby’s arrival, as had my sister and her husband.  I think they’d been hoping, if they had a girl, they could borrow our daughter’s swaddling clothes if our new baby was a boy.

As far as we were concerned, the gender issue was a non-issue.  Unlike previous generations in my family (my grandfather and father both celebrated wildly whenever boys were born), I was more than happy to welcome either a sister or brother for our daughter.  However, given our precarious financial situation back then, which would be exacerbated by the arrival of another child, I was secretly hoping for another girl.  I mean, a boy would have looked strange in the pastel pink and yellow clothing that would have to be passed down from his older sister.

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Our hospital was a welcome change from the location where our first daughter had been born.  This time, I was allowed—encouraged even—to be in the delivery room.  I had wanted to do that the first time, but was prohibited.

“We can’t be worried about a father who might faint during the birthing,” I was told.  They had obviously been tipped off that I had once passed out while having stitches removed from my hand.

I practiced for this delivery, though.  I attended the pre-birthing classes with my wife, learning all there was to know about the process.  I stood by her head in the mock-up sessions, holding her hand gently, counting the seconds of each mock-push and each mock-rest between.  I accepted that it was she who was allowed to scream, if necessary during the ordeal, not I.  And I was assured there would be a stool for me to sit on if my legs gave out.

The baby seemed like it would never come.  While my wife snatched some needed sleep, I spent time with my sister and newest niece, in their room down the hall.  In fact, I was there when my sister and her baby were wheeled into the room after a visit to the nursery.  I stood up when they entered.

“That’s not my wife, y’know,” I told the startled nurse.  “That’s my sister!”

The look the nurse gave me could have curdled my sister’s milk, had she been looking.  What sort of degenerates were we?

My sister quickly explained that my wife was awaiting delivery of our own baby, an explanation I wasn’t sure mollified the nurse.

Finally, some eleven hours after we had rushed to the hospital, the moment of arrival approached.  I was ushered into the delivery room, clad in gown, mask, and bootied feet, and planted at my wife’s head.  The doctor stood at the other end, with a mirror above and behind him.  For the next several hours (minutes, actually, but to me they seemed to drag interminably), my wife pushed and cried her way to the point where the baby began to emerge.

birthing

“Let’s rest for a moment,” the doctor said, clearing the baby’s tiny mouth with his finger.

Perched halfway out, with the barely-showing umbilical cord still folded back into the womb, the baby seemed a miracle.

“It’s a boy!” my wife declared between pants of exertion.  Her certainty, it turned out, was the result of mistaking the umbilical cord for another appendage that only a boy would have.

“If this is my son,” I thought to myself, incredulously, “he’s bigger than I am!”

The procedure was completed shortly thereafter, and we welcomed a second daughter into the world.  After she was placed in my arms, I was the first to begin cleaning her squinting face of the birthing detritus.  Words cannot describe my elation at that moment.  Forty-five years later, I remember it still.

To top off the day, my wife was taken to the same semi-private room occupied by my sister.  My mother and father were already visiting her, with our older daughter, when we were escorted in.  What a joyful experience—introducing our newborn to her sister, her slightly-older cousin, and other family members!

After ensuring everyone was settled in properly, the nurse sidled over to me.  With a gentle elbow in my ribs, she whispered, “So, you got them straightened out now, honey?”

Oh, yeah!

 

Curmudgeon!

Curmudgeon! 

Such a wonderful word to roll around on your tongue.  It has a solid, satisfying sound when spoken aloud, dropping weightily into a conversation like a bag of sand thumping a wooden floor.  It is defined as somebody who is bad-tempered, disagreeable, or stubborn.

Not at all the person I believe myself to be!

Yet, according to several of those closest and dearest to me, I am becoming something of a curmudgeon.  They tell me it has to do with my rather determined efforts to hold fast to the social dicta instilled in me by my mother.

etiquette

Although it’s been seventy years since first that grand lady began educating me on the social niceties—and despite my knowing that the customs and mores of our changing society have altered since then—I cannot stop bemoaning the loss of what I consider to be simple etiquette.

Let me provide a few examples, taken from experiences we had with folks in the community where we used to spend our winters.  And, I don’t mean to give you the wrong impression of them; they were all lovely people, good-hearted, gracious, and kind.  It’s just that they didn’t necessarily subscribe to the things I learned at my mother’s knee.

When my wife and I would invite a few couples for a dinner party, for instance, and specify an arrival time of five-thirty, I didn’t appreciate when everyone would arrive, fashionably late, some twenty minutes past the expected time.  We’d be sitting anxiously alone, wondering if everyone forgot—worrying that the hot hors d’oeuvres would be cooled and soggy by the time we got to eat them.

hors d'oeuvres

“Oh, we just wanted to be sure you were ready,” our guests would say when I’d make a supposedly-offhanded comment about their lateness.

But you see, we were always ready when we said we’d be.  Always.  If we’d thought we needed more preparation time, we’d have set a later arrival target for everyone.  My mother believed it was proper to arrive when your hosts asked you to.

“There’s nothing fashionable about being late,” she would say.  “It’s just rude.”

Hospitality gifts were another example.  Although they weren’t de rigueur, it became the thing to do as we visited back and forth at each other’s homes.  A favourite gift was a bottle of wine, nicely encased in a gift bag designed for the purpose—but never of the same vintage as might have been previously received from the same couple.

“Thank you,” I would say fulsomely as I pulled the bottle from the bag and set it to one side.  “We haven’t tried this one.  I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?” they’d ask.

“Uhh…no,” I’d reply, “not just now.  We have wine already selected for tonight.”

Their disappointment would be palpable as I proceeded to pour them a glass from the decanted wine I’d already planned for the evening.  And I was somehow made to feel as if I were offering a second-rate product, when sometimes, it was better than what they’d brought.

“How rude is that!” I’d rail at my wife after everyone had departed.  “And you know what’s even worse?  They took home the gift bag they brought their wine in!  Can you believe it?”

wine gift bag

My wife would tell me not to get so worked up, but it just didn’t seem right.

Here’s another case in point.  The day after our dinner party, some people would phone to thank us for the evening, graciously commenting on the food, the company, or the conversation among friends.  That’s exactly what my mother told me to do.

“Always call the following day to thank your hosts once again.”

But, increasing numbers of people don’t think to do that anymore.  Or perhaps they do think of it, but can’t be bothered.  Either way, it’s a classic breach of etiquette.

“Don’t worry about it,” my wife would say when I’d rail on about it.  “They thanked us several times at the door before they left.”

“It’s not the same,” I would respond, still miffed.

Now, lest you think I’m overly critical when I have no right to be, let me assure you that I tried to practice all these niceties when we were on the other side.  I’d ensure that we arrived on time, as specified by our hosts, never more than a minute out either way.

“Oh!  You’re here!” they’d say, lifting an eyebrow in surprise as they opened the door.

“Five-thirty,” I’d reply, with an exaggerated glance at my watch.  “That’s what you said, right?”

On one occasion, our hostess was still in the shower when we got there, at the appointed hour, and her husband wasn’t sure whether or not to let us in.

Of course, we always brought along a gift, usually the ubiquitous bottle of wine.  I’d proffer it unassumingly to our host, and often, to my great surprise, he’d open it immediately to pour us each a glass.  I found that mind-boggling.  It made me wonder if he didn’t have enough of his own, and was dependent on his guests for the evening’s libations.

“What if we’d brought flowers?” I’d rage later to my wife.

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And, so many times, when my wife or I would phone the following day to thank our hosts again for their hospitality, they would always sound bemused.  As if we shouldn’t have bothered.  As if they didn’t care, one way or the other.

“Don’t these people know any better?” I’d rant, scarcely coherent.  “Doesn’t anybody have any manners?  Why can’t they just do things right?”

“You mean your way?” my wife would reply sweetly.

“Yeah,” I’d say forcefully.  “The way my mother used to.”

But it would fall to my wife to have the last word in these discussions, and it’s a word that would always shut me up—at least temporarily.

“Curmudgeon!” she’d say.

curmudgeon

 

 

 

Expletive Deleted!

Neither a borrower nor a lender be!”  Sage advice from the English Bard, advice which I unsuccessfully tried to impart to my daughters as they were growing up.

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Borrowing is an art, I used to tell them.  It’s very unlike lending, which is a straightforward act requiring nothing more than an assenting response to another’s request.

Anyone can lend something to someone.  No particular talent is needed, no marked intelligence, no difficult decisions.  A simple yes is all that’s necessary, and it’s done—just like that!

But borrowing is another thing entirely.  As a borrower, one has to know what’s needed and where it might be found.  One has to make certain decisions and offer certain guarantees to the lender.  It’s essential that one be able to make the request in such a manner as to elicit agreement from the other party.  And, of course, one must return the borrowed article in reasonable condition within an acceptable length of time.

Alas, it was that last condition that gave me a lot of trouble.  I’m a borrower, and always have been, which is why my daughters didn’t take my advice too seriously.  Yet, I never fully mastered the art of it.

I always knew what I needed and where to find it; there was no problem there.  And, I generally found other people quite agreeable in allowing me the use of whatever it was I asked for.  But returning what I borrowed in the same condition in which I received it always seemed next to impossible.

Mind you, I never took something back in a worse state than I found it.  That wouldn’t be ethical—and besides, I knew I’d soon run out of people who would agree to my borrowing their things!

No, my problem was that I ended up spending money to repair or replace the borrowed item, because, while in my tender care, the infernal thing would fall apart, get misplaced, or simply cease to operate.

The people from whom I borrowed stuff could hardly wait to see what wonderful surprises I’d be bringing back to them.  They actually came to my house, carrying things they wanted me to borrow!

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One neighbour, for example, received a brand-new outdoor extension cord from me.  I ran over his with the electric mower I borrowed from him when my own gave up the ghost.  It was on that same occasion that his mower had a new on/off power switch installed—at my expense, naturally, since it cracked and broke while I was using the mower.

The same neighbour, on other occasions, had free repairs made to his electric barbecue starter, his circular saw, and the front fender of his car, all paid for by me before returning the borrowed items to him.

When his firm transferred him out west, the poor fellow literally cried at having to leave me!  As a going-away gift, I presented him with a new camera—to replace his old one, which I had dropped overboard on a canoeing expedition.

Given my track record, it was no wonder most of my friends knew that I never mastered the fine art of borrowing.  When people dropped by to see if there was anything I’d like to borrow from them, they also brought along a list of replacement items they’d be glad to receive when the usual misfortune befell me.

Eventually, however, I started cutting way back.  I discovered that I just couldn’t afford to keep borrowing other people’s things, upgrading or replacing them, then returning them.  With my daughters’ encouragement, I resorted to borrowing something only when I really, absolutely needed it.

There was the time, for instance, when I had to borrow my sister’s electric typewriter—this, in the days before computers.  I had a writing deadline, and my own, heretofore-dependable Underwood had expired.  Hers worked perfectly for the first few hours, and then, to my horror, I discovered the last line I had typed read:  Thx summary conclusions prxsxntxd bxlow arx furthxr xxplainxd in thx sxvxn appxdicxs attachxd to thx rxport.

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My sister was not amused when I tried to return the defective machine with only a new ink ribbon to offset the problem.  Were I to tell you what she said, using her typewriter, it would have read:  xxplxtivx dxlxtxd!

So, before you ask—No!  I don’t need to borrow a thing, thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

Really? It Was the Dog?

“Honest, sir!  The dog ate my homework.”

In my youthful years as a grade seven teacher, I bet I heard that timeworn cliché from a student a dozen times.  My two daughters, themselves teachers now, tell me they, too, have heard the ridiculous excuse more than once.

Irony of ironies, then, that my youngest daughter recently tried to make that same claim, or one very similar, on her own behalf.  The girls were flying to New York City, with two friends, to celebrate the end of another school year.  My daughter’s airfare was paid by her older sister, a birthday gift, but they were on separate flights.

The night before, the younger gal was online, printing her boarding pass, when she was called away for a few minutes.  When she came back to her computer, she claims, she found her passport on the floor, mangled and torn by the family dog.

When such calamities strike, my daughter usually exhibits a good deal of forbearance (unlike her father), and so it was this time.

“It was my fault,” she told me later.  “I’m always telling the kids not to leave stuff lying around.  I can’t blame the dog.”

Upset, but undeterred, she set about to repair the damage, carefully piecing the torn pages together with transparent tape.  It was a well-used passport, lots of pages stamped from previous trips, and she hoped that fact would override any challenges she might face from border agents.  When closed, it looked almost normal; opened, however, not so much.

passport

As a seasoned traveler myself, I’ve had lots of experience with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.  These men and women have enormous authority to deny entry to their country, with no recourse to appeal for those turned away.  So, it’s a testament to my daughter’s charm, megawatt smile, and persuasive powers that she actually managed to convince the CBP agent in the pre-clearance area at the airport to approve her entry and stamp her passport.

Safely admitted to the lounge, she spent the next six hours dealing with repeated flight-delays and changes to boarding gates, wandering to and fro through the airport.  Unbelievably, her flight was eventually cancelled, the only alternative being a flight leaving early the following morning.  So, there she was, forced to go home overnight, before a pre-dawn taxi-ride back to the airport.

That, of course, meant another encounter with a tough-as-nails CBP agent, proffering the same mangled passport and same shaky story.

“Honest, sir!  The dog ate my passport!”

Wonder of wonders, that staunch defender of Trumpian immigration policy believed her, and she was once again granted entry.

The gals finally met up in the Big Apple later that morning, and proceeded to have the time of their lives for the next few days.  All the trouble was worth it, my daughter told me later.

“It was like one of those fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen.”

megan in nyc

On the final day, they were scheduled to fly home on the same flight.  But, when they arrived to check in, my daughter was denied permission to board the aircraft.

“Why?” she asked, dismayed and disbelieving.  “What’s the problem?”

“Your passport,” she was told.  “It’s not acceptable.  You should never have been let into the country.”

Despite pleading her case, using the fact of her Canadian citizenship as suitable reason to let her go home, she could not get on that plane.  My older daughter, in a gesture that brought tears to my eyes (although it was no surprise to me), refused to abandon her sister.  Their two friends reluctantly bade them farewell and left on their flight home, while my two girls—ever bright, assertive, and resourceful—plotted their next moves.

After a few face-to-face conversations with airline staff, and some phone calls, they were promised a refund for the cost of their flights (in the form of credits to be used within the next twelve months).  They booked a rental car, negotiating a reduced rate, and phoned their husbands to tell them they were driving to Buffalo.  My sons-in-law, gentlemen of the first order, immediately drove together to Buffalo to fetch their wives and bring them home.

Of course, the four of them had to clear Canadian border security on the return trip.  In my own experience, the agents with the Canada Border Services Agency are among the friendliest, most helpful, and welcoming to be found anywhere.  Not so this time, however.

The four travelers were pulled aside so my daughter could attempt to explain the sad state of her passport, and convince the skeptical CBSA people that she truly was a citizen, just trying to re-enter her home and native land.  After what must have seemed an interminable wait, she was finally granted permission—with a stern warning to replace the offending passport.  The girls (and their gallant guys) finally arrived home in the wee, small hours of the morning after they left the airport in New York City.

“Was it worth it?” I asked my daughters the next time I spoke with them.  “All that hassle?”

“For sure, Dad!  We had a blast!”  the older one replied.

“I agree,” her sister chimed in.  “The problems were really my fault, when you think about it.”

Far be it from me to point a finger of blame. But, when I do think about it, I agree with her.  That passport couldn’t have been damaged the way she said.

I mean, what kind of dog eats passports?  That’s the most ridiculous excuse I’ve heard since…well, since I was a teacher.

Dogs get a bad rap!

macca

 

 

Honk If You Love Jesus!

As my grandchildren grew from infancy into young childhood, we enjoyed playing word games together.  Challenging them to spell different words, come up with rhyming words, find words with opposite meanings, and other such contests have always been a source of pleasure for me.  And for them, too, I think.

One of the great places to play such games was while travelling in the car.  Classics—such as spotting out-of-province license plates, finding misspelled words on billboards, and watching for funny bumper stickers—were some of our favourites.

Sometimes, though, the games had unintended consequences.  For example, on a rush-hour street one afternoon, we were behind a car with a bumper sticker exhorting all who might read it to Honk If You Love Jesus.  My first reaction was to scoff, wondering who would be crazy enough to start bearing witness on the horn of an automobile.

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“Grandpa,” exclaimed my eldest granddaughter, “we love Jesus, right?  You should honk your horn.”

I demurred, but her sister insisted.  And their sincerity made me wonder what harm there could be in responding to such a simple invitation to show my beliefs.  In fact, if I chose not to respond, could that be construed as a subconscious rejection of my religious convictions?  In front of impressionable little ones?

So, somewhat abashedly, and in order not to jeopardize my granddaughters’ faith, I did honk—a long and loud affirmation of Jesus.  The reaction of the driver in front was immediate, and rather unexpected.  His car jumped ahead momentarily in the clogged traffic, quickly followed by the flash of his brake lights.  His arm jacked out of his window, and he began to gesture in what I hoped my granddaughters would think was an attempt to point out the direction of heaven…with his middle finger.  Luckily, they appeared not to notice.

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On another occasion, while driving to my grandson’s soccer game one Saturday morning, we overtook a car with a brightly-coloured bumper sticker asking us to Buy From a Breeder.

“What’s a breeder, Gramps?” my grandson asked.

“Well, that’s someone who brings animals together so they can have babies,” I answered carefully.  “Those people want us to buy babies from someone who breeds them.”

A few minutes later, we passed a car whose bumper sticker advised, Caution. Baby On Board.  My grandson craned his neck to catch a glimpse of the baby as we flashed by.

“Those people are breeders, right?” he asked.

I confess I nodded in the affirmative.

One of the funniest bumper stickers I ever saw was on the back of a black hearse, but my grandchildren didn’t really understand the humour.  In flowing, black script, it proclaimed, Yours Eventually.

One I admit I wasn’t too fond of, but which my grandson thought might apply to me, was stuck on the back of an old, copper-coloured Nash Rambler, driven by a white-haired codger:  I Used to be Cool!

That was a bad day because, a short while later, we saw another that declared, Watch Out for the Idiot Behind Me!

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“That’s you, Gramps, right?” my grandson asked.  Innocently, I choose to believe.

We’ve occasionally had close calls in the car, trying to read bumper stickers with print so small that it’s impossible to decipher from a reasonable distance.  The first time we saw one, it took five minutes of white-knuckled bursts of speed to get close enough.

“What does it say, Gramps?  Get closer!”  Two little girls were peering avidly through the space between the front seats.

Grammatically incorrect, it nevertheless smugly stated, If You Can Read This, You’re Following Too Close!

You’re too close!” my wife was yelling by then, her arms locked rigidly on the dashboard to brace herself.  “Slow down, or we’ll be a bumper sticker!”

The girls giggled, but I didn’t dare.

I was much fonder of the message we saw another day, in living colour on the mud-flaps of a huge eighteen-wheeler we were following.  Impossible to miss.  My youngest granddaughter recognized the cartoon character immediately—a short, red-haired, moustachioed gunslinger with a huge sombrero and two smoking pistols pointing at us.

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BACK OFF! was all it said.  No ambiguity there.

But the most sensible bumper sticker we ever saw was plastered squarely in the middle of the rear bumper of a large recreational vehicle.  It sported two bright red arrows, one pointing left, the other right.

“The left arrow says Passing Side,” my granddaughter declared.

“And the right arrow says Suicide,” her brother replied worriedly.

We had come up on that camper in a great hurry, so, as my grandchildren spoke, I stole a glance at my wife, who was staring pointedly at me.

Smiling reassurance, I slowed right down and backed right off, heedless of the traffic piling up behind me.

And, with all the honking that began to blare behind me, I figured those drivers must really love Jesus.

So, I was glad for the sticker I had on my own rear bumper—

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