Testicle

One of my great preoccupations, as readers of this blog might assume, is playing with words.  Spending a couple of hours with the NY Times Sunday crossword is a regular part of my week.  Figuring out the theme of each one can be frustrating, of course, and I sometimes seek out help with individual squares or words.  But for the most part, I find it immensely entertaining and satisfying.

I have long been an aficionado of the iconic word game Scrabble—and in recent years, with the similar online game Words With Friends.  The first is played with the traditional board and tiles, which lends a pleasing tactile element to the game.  The second is played on the internet, sometimes with actual friends, other times with complete strangers.

My online handle is anagramps, coupled with a photo of a Mesopotamian oracle, to identify me to opponents.  The handle is intended to convey both my status as a grandpa, and my affinity for anagrams, an essential skill if one is to play the games successfully.

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The photo is meant to be intimidating.

There is a feature in the online game to allow players to converse with each other via messages, but in my experience, that doesn’t happen very often.  I’m sometimes tempted, when I’ve dropped a bombshell-word on an opponent, to type Sorry! with a rueful-looking emoji accompaniment (although I’m never actually sorry on those occasions).

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Or, when my opponent has produced something similar against me, I occasionally have the urge to message a mock-angry Grrr!

I rarely do, however.  Mercy is seldom shown on either side.

Over the years, I have become quite good at these games (if I may be permitted so immodest a claim).  My winning percentage online is in the high .600’s, roughly double a high, major-league baseball batting average.  I fully expect to win each game I play—although, in the interests of full-disclosure, I must confess I sometimes sulk when I do not.

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It’s not pretty, that, but there it is.

In my own defense, I never gloat when I win.  If it’s been a particularly close game, I often send a message of congratulations/condolences to my opponent, and a request for a return match.  When I’ve won by a wide margin, I wait diplomatically to see if my opponent wants to challenge me to another match.

There are a very few players out there who bedevil me, winning matches with annoying frequency.  One of those is my wife, another my daughter.  It seems they draw especially good, high-scoring tiles when we oppose one another (or so I tell myself).  Because the online game is based on algorithms, not random chance, I can occasionally convince myself the system is deliberately trying to take me down a peg or two.

My wife and daughter merely laugh.

It was with my wife, however—or rather, against her, and against her mother—that I had my greatest moment.  I, a callow youth of nineteen, assiduously courting the lass who would become my life-partner, was playing a game of Scrabble at their home.  Late in the game, I discovered a word I might play, using all seven letter-tiles, which would come with a fifty-point bonus.  Not only that, but because there was already a letter on the board in the lower, left-side column I planned to use (an S from one of their earlier words), I would be able to start and end my word on a triple-word square.  In my head, I totalled the score I was about to receive—558 points!  Oh!  My!  Stars!

There was a problem, though.  My future mother-in-law was still getting to know me, and I her.  This was a critical sizing-up period for me.  It was important that I not do anything to offend her, thus dooming my chances with her daughter.  I had to think long and hard about whether to use the word, for fear of blowing everything.

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The word was TESTICLE.

In the end, I seem to remember convincing myself that there were other girls in the world, but such a high-scoring opportunity might never come my way again!  I’m sure I didn’t really think that, but it’s how I tell it these many years later.

In any case, I played the word, trying mightily to be nonchalant.

“What’s that?” my mother-in-law-to-be said.  “Is that a word?”

Flustered by the questions, and fearing the loss of my points if the word was not deemed acceptable, I sputtered, “Yeah, of course.”

“What does it mean?” she said.

“What does it mean?” I repeated stupidly.

“Yes, what does it mean?”

I was too nonplussed in the moment to realize she was playing me.  “It means…it means…you know…the private parts of a man’s…you know…reproductive system.”  Sweat was beading on my forehead.

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And then she broke into laughter, joined quickly by my future wife.  “Okay,” she said, “as long as you know what it means.”

My immense relief and towering sense of accomplishment were short-lived, however.  The two of them told me the rules were clear—the fifty-point bonus for using all seven tiles had to be added after, not before, the point-total of the word was tripled and re-tripled.  Thus, my true total was 158, a colossal 400 short of my expectation.

But by then, I didn’t care.  My status with my future in-laws was preserved, I had managed to play my perhaps-once-in-a-lifetime word without forsaking my betrothed, and…oh, yes, I won that game.

Anyway, if you are a devotee of Words With Friends, and if you care for an online game sometime, look for me—anagramps.  I promise no R-rated words!

Toot Your Roots

I was told once upon a time by a spinster great-aunt who disapproved of my adolescent exuberance (and, perhaps, my apparent irreverence for traditions she held close) that in our vast family-tree, with its roots stretching back to highland-hills across the sea, I was surely the sap running through the branches.  The sap!

I probably smiled gamely, unsure about the implications of the comparison, although doubtless certain I’d been disparaged.  But, interestingly enough, her comment did prompt me to find out more about my family-tree.

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That lady and her sister, my grandmother, were first-generation Scots-Presbyterian, born into a family of nine to an austere, eastern-Ontario farmer and his wife—my maternal great-grandparents, dead long before I appeared as a bud on the tree.

Sometime in the early 1900’s, my grandmother married a Catholic suitor with a French name, whose family had emigrated to Canada from Ireland.  From the time I first learned to speak, I was told not to address him as Grandpa or Grandfather, not Poppa or Gramps (my preferred sobriquet now with my own grandchildren), but instead by his first name.  So, I did.

This worthy couple had five children, my mother being second in line.  She—in concert with my father, of course—eventually had five children of her own.  One of her siblings had one child only, the others none at all, so I and my sibs grew up with one first-cousin on the maternal side of the family-tree.

My paternal grandparents—he born in Canada to English émigrés, she born in Canada to parents of Irish descent—had three children, only one of whom, my father, had children.  Thus, I had no first-cousins on that branch of the tree.

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Interesting, at least to me, was the discovery that, after my grandfather had married my grandmother, his brother had wed her sister.  They also gave birth to three children, so my father and his two sisters grew up with three double-double-first-cousins—a somewhat unusual occurrence on a family-tree.

Long after my disapproving great-aunt had passed to greater glory, I married a young woman whose family had similar roots to mine—Irish, Scottish, and English.  My wife has three siblings, and two first-cousins.  Her sibs have produced five children who are first-cousins to our own two daughters.  Our girls also have ten first-cousins on my side of the family, the children of my sisters,  for a total of fifteen!

As I delved into the history of our family-tree, I learned about the nomenclature and relationship of cousins—considered complex by some, incomprehensible by others.  I think it’s straightforward, however, so let’s see if I can explain it simply.

cousinsThe children of my first-cousin are my first-cousins-once-removed, as are my children to her.  Her children are second-cousins to mine.  That pattern is repeated unto the third, fourth, and all subsequent generations of cousins.  Easy, no?

We are now at the stage in our extended family where second-cousins (great-nieces or -nephews to me) are just beginning to have children.  Eventually, I expect this will lead to multiple sets of third-cousins, most of whom (due to constraints of time and location) will probably never even meet one another.

Two generations on from me, two of my five grandchildren—each with her own maternal and paternal branches of a family-tree—have a total of five first-cousins from both sides of their family.  The other three of my grandchildren, likewise growing from two branches of a family-tree, have two first-cousins.  None of those cousins has, as yet, had children.

Years ago, a good friend of mine, an artist and out-of-the-box thinker, developed a prototype for what would today be marketed as a family-tree app, which he called Toot Your Roots.  It didn’t catch on, although the digitized world we live in now might make it a feasible product.  As I recall, it had spaces in which to enter surnames in flowing script as each new family-tree melded with the others.

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If I were to attempt entering those names today—back to the time of my great-grandparents, forward to my great-nieces and -nephews, including both my and my wife’s branches, and those of our daughters’ families, and the families of their cousins, and so forth—I confess I could not do it.  Not without a lot more research.

Even now, having benefited from the endeavours of like-minded extended-family members, I can list only twenty-five surnames.  Descending across the years, they are:  Burt, Thompson, Smythe, Duck, McKinnon, Roche, Colquhoun, Fife, Dunleavy, Eaton, Eckert, Cherry, Rowsell, Whittington, Wigglesworth, Lansi, Moss, Curtis, Sweezey, Tiller, Tucker, Dunn, Fiorino, Guthrie, and Grant.

Given this partial list, and aware there are many more surnames I do not know, I envisage my family-tree looking like one of these—this dragon-blood tree on the island of Socotra (left), or this large banyan tree in Florida (right), one tree at root, despite its many appendages.

 

The thing is, I’m not sure where to look for myself on either of them.  My family-tree is just too vast, its roots and canopy too extended.

But I do know one thing for sure.  I am not the sap!

No Cavities!

“Look, Ma!  No cavities!”

You might remember this loud boast.  It was shouted by a kid I really came to hate every time I saw him in a television commercial many long years ago.  The kid’s face seemed split in two, the upper and lower halves separated by a wide row of perfect, pearly teeth.  His was the smile of one who had never known pain.

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I also envied that kid.  Not just because of his check-up results, but because he would never need to face the needle, the drill, and the pick.  For him, the dentist’s torturous tools were virtually unknown.

Today, there are cavitydetectors available in the modern dentist’s office.  Through the use of a small, micro-electric current, the device locates cavities at the earliest stage of their development, thereby enabling the dentist to employ preventative medicine, rather than restorative piecework.

Alas, this news comes as no great comfort to me.  I usually receive good reports when I visit the dentist—but not because I’m using the miracle toothpaste that kid on television was hawking.  For whatever reasons, I haven’t had a new cavity in several years; however, the operative word in that statement is new.

It’s the old ones that cause me the problems.

When I was a small boy, the age of that other kid, I suffered from what my mother called ‘soft teeth’.  That meant I was going to have cavities despite all the safeguards she could set up.  It was in no way reflective of her parenting.  I just had ‘soft teeth’!

Every six months, I was trundled off to have my mouth opened unnaturally wide, and stretched, probed, and pulled by my dentist, a kindly, grandfatherly gentleman.  He always seemed genuinely glad to see me.

old dentist

“This isn’t going to hurt, young fella,” he’d say, as he tied the drool-bib around my neck, my mother hovering nearby.  “Just lie back and relax, while we see how you’re doing in there.”

Of course, he’d always find something wrong, something to fix.  Out would come the needle to freeze my mouth.  Out would come the array of picks and hooks.  And, worst of all, out would come the drill.

Mostly, I guess, my dentist was right.  It didn’t really hurt in the classic sense of pain.  After my face went numb, he would insert both hands into my yawning mouth (or so it would seem), and begin his excavating.  I used to imagine I resembled an old-time comedian named Joe. E. Brown, whose trademark was his oversized mouth.

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My dentist’s drill was a far, far cry from the high-speed marvel of today.  Back then, it droned along at a leisurely pace, sending vibrations on a journey up and across the bony structure of my skull.  I used to close my eyes and go with it—until, that is, I would smell the smoke.  When the drill got that hot, when I could smell part of me burning, I invariably began to gag.

That usually signaled the end of the heavy drilling.  The rest of the visit would be taken up with packing, shaping, and tamping a new filling in place—an amalgam of mercury mixed with silver, tin, zinc, and copper.  Then the ordeal would be over, at least until the freezing came out.

Fortunately, aided by fluoride in the water, my own children never had a cavity.  Nor, to my knowledge, have my five grandchildren ever had one.  Cleaning, yes.  Orthodontic work, yes.  Whitening, yes.  But nary a cavity.

And today, happily retired, I am just like them—no new cavities.  When I visit my dentist, a young woman, it’s to have my original fillings, some more than sixty years old, replaced with porcelain, tooth-coloured fillings.  I lie back comfortably on her contoured couch, breathe sedating-gas deeply through a nose-piece, cleansing me of all fear and anxiety, and listen groggily to her  talking through her mask about her latest trip to Europe.

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Occasionally, I drift off during the monologue—happily mellow, free-floating, with not a care in the world.  And sometimes in these reveries, I dream about that kid on television.  I wonder, if he were still that age now, what he would do in a world of no cavities, a world where teeth are ever-perfect, a world where regular cavity check-ups are a thing of the past.

And I find myself hoping the little braggart will grow up to become a dentist, only to find himself with nothing to do!

I really didn’t like that kid!

Repeat Again!

In my personal opinion, it was an unexpected surprise to each individual person to see an armed gunman circling around the fenced-in enclosure where the invited guests had gathered together.  The uninvited intruder, although separated off from them, was in their close proximity, which presented a difficult dilemma as to how they possibly might escape to freedom.

Did the two sentences above capture your interest, alarm you, perhaps?  Or did they bog you down with verbosity?

If the latter, how would you rewrite it?

One of the outcomes desired by most writers is clarity through brevity.  Do not use ten words to say what might be said more effectively with fewer.  As an example, read the same two sentences, revised to eliminate redundancy.

In my opinion, it was a surprise to each person to see a gunman circling the enclosure where the guests had gathered.  The intruder, although separated from them, was in their proximity, which presented a dilemma as to how they might escape.

In conversation, it’s easy (and forgivable) to utter redundancies because talking is generally spontaneous.  Writing, however—particularly if it is to be published—is subject to editing.  Whereas speech is heard at the moment it is uttered, affording no chance to amend it, published writing is seen only after it has been scrutinized for errors.

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How often have you heard people say things like: I’m absolutely certain…or here’s an added bonus…or the consensus of opinion…?

How many times have you caught yourself saying: past history…or they were few in number…or those are basic fundamentals…?

I say things like that all the time.

Occasionally, I allow them in my writing, as well, but only for style purposes—that’s my official explanation, anyway.  Truth be told, there are times when unplanned redundancies find their way into a finished essay, even after the application of a rigorous editing.

Here is an example of both, taken from a recent post on this blog—

tallandtruetales

Hot air, flights of fancy, and roads not taken…

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.

The word free is unnecessary as a modifier for democratic; of the world is unnecessary after countries; ever is not needed ahead of remember; all were unintended.  However, my use of contentious, rancorous, and partisan in the same sentence was deliberate for emphasis.

Here’s another example from a different post—

When music is added to words, the result can provide a tremendous, emotional impact for an audience fortunate enough to be part of it. 

The word tremendous is not needed to modify impact; the phrase fortunate enough to be part of it is unnecessary to clarify audience.

And here is one more example from my blog—

I’d be well offshore when the sun brought the forest alight in greens, bouncing and careening its way through the translucent leaves.  Dark shade-spots would climb the stretching tree-trunks, dance across leaves turned to face the morning light, and then suddenly vanish.

The words bouncing and careening were deliberately used to convey the sense of helter-skelter as the sunrise broke through the forest; the word suddenly, although not needed to modify vanish, was likewise used purposely to emphasize the quickness of the change.  The word dark, redundant in describing shade-spots, snuck in unintended, although I confess to liking it descriptively.

There are times when I write clinically, as a reporter might, describing only the bones of the subject.  On other occasions, I write descriptively, as a water-colourist might paint, portraying imagery above facts.  Both have their place.  It is in the second mode, however, that redundancies are more likely to intrude.

Still, the best writers are able to craft beautiful descriptions without a plethora of words, and that remains a worthwhile objective for lesser ones such as I.

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Compare these two examples, one from a writing workshop, the other from the Bible, describing a man’s grief.  The first reads—

The middle-aged, forty-five-year-old man was sobbing and crying. Wet tears streamed down his cheeks, his whole face was red, and he screamed loudly at the very top of his lungs. His upper body and shoulders wracked and contorted with every sob that forced its way out, chest rising and falling as he gasped for breath.  He closed his eyes shut, balling his hands into clenched fists each time he threw his head back to let out a blood-curdling scream.

The second reads—

Jesus wept.

Each reader may decide which of the two is more powerful.  But the first could be rendered less verbose by eliminating a few redundant words and phrases; read the passage without the parts underlined in bold—

The middle-aged, forty-five-year-old man was sobbing and crying. Wet tears streamed down his cheeks, his whole face was red, and he screamed loudly at the very top of his lungs. His upper body and shoulders wracked and contorted with every sob that forced its way out, chest rising and falling as he gasped for breath.  He closed his eyes shut, balling his hands into clenched fists each time he threw his head back to let out a blood-curdling scream.

Of course, none of this is of import to people uninterested in writing.  But even if you are one of those, you might enjoy listening for redundant phrases in the conversations going on around you—

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actual experience; advance notice; ask a question; completely filled; end result; enter in; false pretense; first began; free gift; plan ahead; postpone until later; revert back; still remains; usual custom.

And don’t forget the title of this post—

Repeat Again!

Another Birthday

As it has every year since first I made my entrance into the world, another birthday is creeping up on me.  In the dim, long-ago past, I suppose that was quite exciting—the anticipation, the suspense, the thrill of growing older.

For some time, however, the prospect of celebrating one more year added to the total has held no joy for me.  I’d have been quite happy to stop observing birthdays way before now.  On the big day, I don’t feel the slightest bit different than on the previous day, yet I’m supposed to feign happiness at reaching another milestone.

In truth, I feel neither happiness nor sadness about it.  Relief, maybe, or gratitude, for still being around.  But the actual number is of no concern.

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Fortunately, my adult family members know how I feel, so the day is long past when they unveil a surprise party, or present me with airline tickets to a destination of my choosing, or arrange for me to be serenaded by a cadre of bored, atonal servers in a fancy restaurant.

Even my five grandchildren lost interest when they realized there’d be no goodie bags—such as they receive at their friends’ birthday parties—if they came for dinner to honour the completion of another year along my journey.

As I said, I’m not unhappy about any of this, nor am I fearful of growing older.  Aging is just the way of things, after all.  I prefer to think of life as an uninterrupted voyage from womb to…wherever.  The fact that I travel ever more slowly as the years unwind is immaterial; the crossing continues until it doesn’t.

One of my pals is fond of saying, “I plan to live forever.  So far, so good!”  I love his optimism.

Other friends who might have espoused the same sentiment are gone, however, perhaps surprised by the ending of their travels, perhaps relieved.  An analogy I’ve heard expressed is that of riding a train, being joined along the way by fellow-travelers, some of whom will disembark ahead of me along the way, some of whom will still be aboard when, at some point, I shall have to get off.

The best part of getting older is the humour that accompanies it, some of it self-deprecating, some of it kindly (I choose to think) foisted on me by family and friends.

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It’s better to be over the hill, Dad, than buried under it!

I agree wholeheartedly.  I welcome each day on top of the grass.

Growing up is inevitable.  Growing old is optional.

Well, in spirit, anyway.

Studies show that people who keep having birthdays live longer!

I’ll drink to that!

You’re pushing eighty, my friend!  Isn’t it getting heavy?

Only if I’m not going downhill!

You could ask for a recount!

Not sure they could count this high!

Not sayin’ you’re old, but if you were milk, I’d smell you before pouring a glass.

Okay then, think of me as a fine wine.

You’re only as old as you remember you are!

That’s the problem!

Getting old is like living in a haunted house…lots of unexplained noises and smells!

Ah, that explains it.

Keep your chins up, old pal!

Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

Getting older isn’t so bad, Dad.  Consider the alternative!

Getting younger?

If you haven’t grown up by now, Gramps, you don’t have to!

Amen to that!

Laughter certainly helps to cope with aging, even if only because I can claim my wrinkles are laugh-lines.  In fact, one of my sisters-in-law has a plaque on her wall declaring, If you don’t have wrinkles, you haven’t laughed enough!

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Anyway, my upcoming birthday will be quietly spent with the special someone who has already shared fifty-six of them with me, dating back to high school, and then we’ll continue on our merry way.

It really does come down to this—even if I didn’t enjoy growing older, I wouldn’t want to stop!

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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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.”

big cat

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.

snorkel

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.