The Forest

A close friend posted a picture online recently, accompanied by a passage from John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist and author.  It read …and into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

On this past weekend, our Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, two of my sisters went camping with their families, braving the October temperatures in the boreal forest of Algonquin Park.  They also posted online, pictures and messages, waxing eloquently on the beauty and serenity of the wilderness world around them.

I have long believed there is no more beautiful place to be in the world than Ontario in the splendor of October—when the green forest recasts itself in glorious hues of scarlet red, bright yellow, incandescent orange, and intense burgundy.  The sun, lower in the sky, shines through them, and they glow as if afire.

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We lived on a lake in the north for a long time—a long time ago.  One of our favourite October pastimes was walking the solitary cottage roads after all the seasonal vacationers had headed home.  Smelling the wood smoke from chimneys of the few year-round homes, kicking the wind-strewn piles of fallen leaves, breathing in the nippy harbingers of winter borne on the autumn breezes.

Occasionally, late in the month, we’d even get the first falls of snow, blown hither and yon before melting away in the late October sunshine.

The forest was a refuge, a release, a reminder that life, once upon a time, was simpler and elemental.

Sixty years ago, I spent a summer planting trees on the slopes of a valley, formerly the rocky, infertile fields of a pioneer farming family.  A lovely, clean river meandered its way along the valley floor.  We worked in pairs, one with the spade, the other with the bag of saplings, and we traded places every half-hour, or so.  I remember it as hard work, dirty work, thirsty work, to be sure.  But I know now it was glorious work, where we were (to steal from the 1965 novel by Peter Matthiessen), at play in the fields of the Lord.

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One of us would cut a T-shaped slice in the ground with the spade, then pry it up, splitting apart the base of the T.  The other would gently place a sapling, each about six inches high, in the crevice, and press the ground back together around the fragile stem.  When we finished a row, we’d retrace our path, pouring water from a bucket on each new plant.

I’ve lost track of how many trees we planted in a morning, or a day, or over the entire summer.  But it had to be a lot.  Hundreds.  We’d never heard the phrase paying it forward…it hadn’t even been coined back then, I imagine.  But that’s what we—such callow, carefree boys—were doing.

I had occasion some time back to drive through that same valley, not too far north of Toronto, and I stopped to look at the fields where we had laboured—private property now, far across the river on the opposite slopes.  To my chagrin, I couldn’t see them at first.  And then the astounding reality struck home.  The fields were still there, but the green canopy of a forest covered them—a forest—shielding them from my view.

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Our forest!  Our trees!

I couldn’t walk through that forest, of course—touching the trees, remembering them in their infancy, as they passed from my hands to the soil that embraced them.  Nor, truth be told, did I really need to.  It was enough to recall those barren fields as they were, and compare them to what they became after we were there.

As I think back on that long-ago summer, I know I left things behind—sweat, friends, youth.  Lost now in the mists of time.

But, as Muir so eloquently wrote, I found my soul.

Bearing Arms

When I was about ten years old, a long time ago now, my father gave me some needed advice to deal with bullies at school.  The ones who could outrun me.

“Don’t run away,” he said.  “That’s what they want, and they’ll keep coming after you.  It’ll never stop.”

I asked what I should do, instead.  “Hit them,” he said without hesitation.

When I pointed out that such a response might result in a worse beating than usual, he said, “Maybe.  But if you land one good punch, right in the schnozz, for example, they’ll think twice the next time.  Bullies don’t like to get hurt.”

bully

I honestly don’t know if that was wise counsel or not.  But I remember ending up in a few fights for awhile afterwards, often enough that my mother spoke to my father about his advice.  For her, fighting was never the answer.  Talking through a problem was always the preferable option.

I’ve been an adult for quite a long time since then.  And there have been occasions through the years when I felt put upon unfairly by someone—not physically, perhaps, but in a bullying manner.  And I’ve wondered what would have happened at those times if I had continued to follow my father’s advice.

Don’t like somebody’s behaviour?  Hit him!

I suspect I might have been charged with assault, my only defense being that I was following a strategy that was, perhaps, legitimate once upon a time—but no longer.

It reminds me of the tragic situations I read about too often, it seems, in the great republic to the south of us, the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave.

In 1791, more than 225 years ago, the American government adopted an amendment to their constitution, which had been ratified two years earlier.  That amendment bestowed upon every citizen the right to keep and bear arms.  The arms in question in the eighteenth century, of course, bore little resemblance to the guns available today—some of which constitute weapons of mass destruction, by any reasonable definition.

Weapons-Silhouettes-Set

As recently as last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled:  …the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding; and further, that its protection is not limited to …only those weapons useful in warfare.

According to the New York Times, more Americans “…have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.”

Data from the National Vital Statistics System of the U. S. Centers for Disease Control, through 2015, show that—

  • on average, there are 12,000 gun homicides every year in the U.S.;
  • seven children are killed with guns in the U.S. on an average day;
  • America’s gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other nations.

A list of firearm fatalities in the U.S. since 1999 yields more than 440,000 killed, including the awful massacres of school children in Columbine, Colorado in 1999, and in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

And this past week, of course, the lives of fifty-eight innocent souls were snuffed out in Las Vegas, Nevada by a deranged killer with an arsenal of military-grade, automatic weapons at his disposal.  All legally purchased.

As has been noted many times elsewhere, shocked politicians offer their thoughts and prayers every time to the grieving families.  Far fewer of them, however, think to call for an end to the madness.  Apparently, the slaughter of American children has become something that can be tolerated in the name of preserving the sanctity of the Second Amendment.

2ndAmen

That provision may have been acceptable, even advisable, when it was ratified those many years ago.  Today, however, a nation’s fawning adherence to it strikes me as being even less wise than a decision on my part to follow my father’s long-ago advice into adulthood.

When—if ever, I wonder—will that gloriously-blessed, yet grievously-afflicted nation grow up?

Just a Cliché?

Many people think of clichés as timeworn, too-oft-repeated banalities, devoid of meaning because of their ubiquitous presence.  Too self-evident to be of any use; to wit—

It is what it is.  Well, yeah…almost assuredly…duh!

What will be, will be.  You think?

As I approach the three-quarter century mark, however (in fluctuating moods of disbelief and resignation), I find I have begun to pay closer attention to many of them, discerning nuggets of truth that, heretofore, I paid scant attention to.  Whether this is on account of acquired wisdom or wishful thinking, I cannot tell.

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Either way, I am becoming increasingly aware of the boundaries of life—that there is, not just a beginning that was, but an ending to come—a fact I tried to ignore in those halcyon days of my youth.  And many of the so-called clichés are resonating clearly now for me, rather than ringing hollow.

The times, they are a-changin’, right in front of my eyes, falling by the wayside as we continue to poison our planet, wage war on our fellow humans, and trample on the rights of others in a mad scramble to make our selfish way.  I’m beginning to understand more fully now that time and tide wait for no one, and it will soon be too late to reverse the flow.

Actions speak louder than words, undoubtedly; yet increasingly, we scoff at the science of climate change, and the inevitable—and irreversible—consequences of global warming.  The planet is home to all of us, the only home we have, and I fear we will not defend it, so focused are we on wealth-acquisition and a penchant to wield power.  We need to remember that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

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We shall reap what we sow.  Or, if not us, those who come after us—those for whom we have tainted the future they will inherit.

It has been said it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.  Nevertheless, if we do not speak out while yet we have the chance, our children and grandchildren may experience a fate worse than death—living on a planet that will be hell.

Too many of those to whom we look for leadership and vision, alas, fail us with their short-term thinking.  And as I enter this last quarter of my life, it occurs to me that neither they nor I will be around to reap the whirlwind that is being seeded by our collective short-sightedness.  Too many of them are yesterday’s men, when what we need are tomorrow’s dreamers—men and women who think beyond the constraints of the present.

Hindsight is better than foresight, by a damn sight, it is true.  But foresight is what will save us from ourselves.  If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything, and we’ll fall very hard.

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So, these clichés—are they just empty aphorisms, bereft of significance?  Or do they, perhaps, constitute a wake-up call, wisdom from those who have gone before us, that might help preserve our bounty for those who will follow?

And, if they are true, will we pay heed?  Will we listen to the ones that caution us, each a voice of one crying in the wilderness?

Or will we ignore their message as nothing more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

When I hear false promises from so many of our leaders, I am reminded that every man has stupid thoughts, but wise men keep them quiet.  I am reminded that when you talk sense to a fool…he calls you foolish.  I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.

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Worst of all, I am in fear of those who believe everything they think. 

If we are to change the current course of human folly, we must refute the notion that everyone is entitled to an opinion, and substitute instead: everyone is entitled to [an] informed opinion.  No one is entitled to be ignorant.

Napoleon famously said (in French, I imagine), In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.  Woe that he was right!  So many of our leaders persist in pissing on our legs, while telling us it’s raining, and have the gall to pretend not to notice that we notice!

And that is our fault.  Far too many of us demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which [we] seldom use.

My mortal coil is unwinding, more quickly now, it seems, than ever before; and too soon for my liking, I will shuffle off to who knows where.  In the meantime, I try to heed the old advice—Don’t look back; something may be gaining.

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But looking forward is difficult, too, given the problems we seem not to be facing up to.  I yearn for a generation of leaders who will step to the tiller, place firm hands on the wheel, and chart a steady course, one we all might confidently follow.  We need captains who are principled, intelligent, unwavering, and above reproach—like the north star, [so we can] set our compass by them.

Will we find them?  Will they find us?  Or is such conjecture nothing more than a fanciful wish on my part?  The world ends when you die, or so some believe.  But for those left behind, it goes on, whether for better or worse.  Will that world flourish—a renewal, a blossoming?  Or will entropy prevail—a gradual decline into chaos and disorder?

Will the future confirm what Robert Browning once wrote—the best is yet to be…?  Or will it be what Porky Pig proclaimed—Th-th-that’s all, folks!?

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Just a cliché?  Maybe.  But it matters to me.

The Old Barbershop

Perhaps the only regret I ever harboured about having two daughters and no sons was that I couldn’t take them with me to the old barbershop.  I was informed early on that girls go to salons!

I always thought that was too bad.  Because, in spite of the razzing that most of us took from teasing friends after getting a haircut, it was always one of life’s most pleasurable experiences—well worth the minor annoyance of listening to wise-guys who persisted in asking why we got our ears lowered.

haircut

The pleasure I experienced stemmed from a number of factors.  For example, it was comforting to enter the crowded shop, find an empty chair, and pick up a copy of the daily paper.  It was a respite from the work-a-day grind.

Today, of course, I pull out my cellphone while I’m waiting.

Back then, a drowsy feeling would creep over me whenever I was sitting, waiting my turn.  The low murmur of voices, punctuated now and then by hearty laughter; the snickety-tickety of the scissors; the low humming of the electric trimmer—all came together to create a warm, relaxing rhythm.  I often had to be called back from some far-away place when my turn came, though I’d never left my seat.

And no one ever argued about whose turn it was.

Being in the old barbershop was a familiar experience, too—particularly if one had been going to the same barber for twenty-five years, as I did.  But for the prices, not much changed over all that time.  Except, of course, we the people, who had a front-row seat to (as Yeats put it) the sorrows of our changing faces.

Traditional Barber's Shop

In those long-ago days, the same red, white, and blue-striped pole was always spinning in the window.  And no matter how many times I studied it, the stripes always seemed to disappear into the bottom in mysterious fashion, only to reappear at the top and begin their descent all over again.  Or was it the other way around?

I never figured it out, and can still convince myself, if I try, that it was magic.

Throughout those years, the same mirrors ran along both walls of the narrow shop, with the same few cracks and discoloured marks, right where they’d always been.  I still remember my amazement when, as a young boy, I discovered I could see the back of my own head while sitting in the barber’s high chair.

Even today, in a different shop with different barbers—a man and two women, much younger than I—I’m intrigued by the number of reflections-within-reflections that can be seen in the parallel mirrors, reflections that run in a seemingly endless chain to goodness-knows-where.  The end?  The beginning?

Anyway, it was always a comfortable and cozy delight to go for a haircut, and reassuring, too.  In this world of ours, where change seems to be the only constant, it was a joy to go in and find everything just as it was when I left the last time.  All the tools laid out on the shelf in the familiar, haphazard arrangement; the bottles of variously-coloured liquids standing, twinned against the mirror; small piles of multi-hued hair swept into corners, away from the chairs; and talcum powder covering everything in sight with its fine, white mantle.

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It was reassuring to know that Nick—my barber with his unpronounceable Greek surname—was ever willing to discuss the fortunes of the various sports teams we rooted for, and that he had all the answers to the problems that plagued them.  We probably had the same conversations a hundred times or more, but they always seemed fresh and enjoyable.

If you can understand and appreciate how I felt about that old barbershop, and if you can imagine the bonds that grew up over twenty-five years, then you might have some inkling of the trauma I experienced when I moved away.  It seemed impossible for the longest time to find that same comfort level in any of the many shops I tried.

But then, finally, it happened.  Just a few short blocks from where I live now, I stumbled across Joe’s Barber Shop.  There’s no Joe, anymore—he’s been retired as long as I have—but the folks who greet me each time I enter have become almost as familiar as the long-since-departed Nick.

My new shop is closing, however.  But not permanently, thank goodness; only for a few days, to move to a new location, one closer to where I live now.  By the time I need my next haircut, they’ll be comfortably ensconced in their new shop, still known as Joe’s.  And a spiraling barber pole will be there, too, to bedevil me as it always did.

pole

One major difference will await me, though.  They’ll be sharing digs with a ladies’ salon, and the waiting area will be used by patrons of both.  Because of that, I expect the tone and tenor of conversations in the shop will be different than those I remember from my youthful days.

But there will be one wonderful change that I shall applaud heartily.  Young fathers with daughters will be able to bring their girls with them when they come for a haircut.  I envy them that pleasure.

Toddler child getting his first haircut

Because the only regret I ever harboured about the old barbershop was that I couldn’t take my daughters with me.

And Still, The Seekers

In the early 1960’s, back when we first learned rock ‘n’ roll was here to stay, my favourite songs were not from the likes of Elvis (the King), Jerry Lee (the Killer), or any of the other superstar singers of the time—Dion, Ricky, Roy, or even Chubby and Fats.

Nor was my preferred music drawn from the best-selling albums of the mega-bands—The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, CCR, or any of the others.

I did enjoy them all, mind you, and many more besides—The Mamas & the Papas, Dylan, The Moody Blues, Aretha, The Platters, Buddy Holly, The Supremes, and Ray Charles (the Genius).

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If you liked early rock ‘n’ roll, and I did, these were all great artists among a plethora of others too numerous to mention.

I, however, favoured folk music.  Not that I was an habitué of coffee-houses, with their pungent substances and aromas, both drinkable and inhalable.  And I certainly was no one’s idea of a flower-child or long-haired hippie.  I had a buzz-cut, for goodness sake!

Truth be told, a square is what I was.  What today one might call a dork, a dweeb, a wally.

So inevitably, I became an unofficial folkie, listening to wonderful artists from as far back as the 1940’s—Seeger, The Weavers, Woody (and later Arlo), The Blue Grass Boys, Baez, The New Christy Minstrels, Buffy, Simon & Garfunkel, Odetta, The Kingston Trio, Lightfoot, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Joni, to name but a few.

So well-known are these performers, even today, that I’m able to list many with only their first or last names.  And there are innumerable others not even on this brief roll.

All of which is but a prelude to my introduction of my all-time favourite folk singers, the incomparable group from Australia—The Seekers.

seekers

Unlike many of their contemporaries, their names are not as well-known individually, but their music certainly was.  The only surviving band from the ‘60s, anywhere in the world, with the original founding members (albeit with an interruption along the way), they compiled an amazing list of firsts in their heyday—

  • first group ever to reach No. 1 on the UK charts with their first three singles,
  • first Australian group to reach No. 1 in the USA,
  • first Australian group to reach No. 1 in the UK,
  • first Australian group to reach No. 1 with a debut song,
  • first concert artists ever to draw more than 200,000 people to a concert,
  • three worldwide No. 1 hits (The Carnival Is Over; I’ll Never Find Another You; Georgy Girl), and
  • quadruple Platinum for their 1994 live-in-concert video, 25 Year Reunion Celebration (which knocked Michael Jackson’s Thriller 10th Anniversary video off the No. 1 spot).

It wasn’t their awards that attracted me to The Seekers, however.  It was the music!  Three instrumentalists—Athol Guy on bass, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley on banjo, guitar, and keyboard—backed up the lead singer, Judith Durham, augmenting the crystal clearness of her voice with subtle harmonies.

Whether you’re a musician or music-lover, if you want to do your ears a good turn, you have to listen to someone with perfect pitch.  Perfect pitch means hitting the real notes—their core sound—and singers who have it can do that.  Judith Durham had it in spades, and it was her voice that initially attracted fans to the music the group produced.

The Seekers were the final act in the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Paralympic Games in Melbourne, and their performance of one of their signature songs sparked both joy and tears in the athletes assembled in front of them, as attested to in this link—

They had so many hit songs, most in the folk genre, some crossing into the spiritual category, that it’s impossible to list them all here.  Some of my particular favourites are—

  • Allentown Jail,
  • A World Of Our Own,
  • If You Go Away,
  • Morningtown Ride,
  • Silver Threads and Golden Needles,
  • Sinner Man,
  • The Leaving Of Liverpool, and
  • When The Stars Begin To Fall.

The last one in the list, for which I’ve provided a link, is my all-time fave, as fresh in my mind today as when I first heard it more than fifty years ago—

If you want to listen to any of the songs for which I haven’t provided a link, they can be found on YouTube, and they’re well worth the time.

In 2010/2011, the group toured Australia and New Zealand with Andre Rieu and his famed Johann Strauss Orchestra, packing every venue.  This final link, however, is to their 50th anniversary concert at Albert Hall, London in 2014, described at the time as ‘one big hug of a tour’—

I enjoy The Seekers as much today as I did when I sported that long-ago buzz-cut.  I hope you will, too.

 

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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

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“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.