Life Lessons

19 Things I Learned in Jamaica.

Some people go on vacation to purposely turn OFF their brains. I always set out with that goal, but it never works out. I always end up reading, thinking, and — help me sweet Jesus in the garden — LEARNING. Like, EW. I guess I just can’t help it. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.*

I’m going to attribute these vacationary discoveries to my gingerhood. See, most people fly south to find out how brown their thighs can get. Well, as curvaceous and firm as these gams may be, under the tropic sun they go from “dove white” to “cloud cover” to “paper mache” — all shades, I might add, that appear on a Benjamin Moore colour swatch entitled “Timeless and Classic Whites” so fuck you ya sunkissed bastards. Sunbathing is pointless for me, not to mention deadly. I have better things to do than morph into a leatherback turtle. Like be intrigued by the world, learn shit, and share it with you. So here are 19 things I discovered in Jamaica last week. There were 20 but I forgot one of them on account of the cannabis. Just kidding, Mom. Not really.

1. The national fruit of Jamaica is a murderer. It’s called the ackee. And according to our Jamaican bus driver, if this fruit is picked and consumed BEFORE it opens ON the tree, game over motherfucker. Grab a plantain, pretend it’s a phone, and call poison control because you’ve just been ackilled by an akee. BUT — hold the banana phone. The ackee is not to be confused with the acai. When the bus driver told us about the homicidal ackee, he didn’t spell it out obviously, and I couldn’t Google it, so I assumed he meant the acai berry, and I started boycotting deadly acai juice (which I sometimes buy at the grocery store) in my head and pledging allegiance to orange juice forever. So yeah. Acai: good. Ackee: bad. Unless it opens on the tree. Which I guess it usually does because “poison and saltfish” is not the official dish of Jamaica; “ackee and saltfish” is.

2. The official herb of Jamaica is parsley. Yeah, right. You can get weed from anyone in Jamaica. ANYONE. The butler, the maid, the pool boy, maybe even the Prime Minister. Officially, it’s illegal. Unofficially, it’s confetti. Seriously, it’s celebrated — quite openly for something that’s, officially, against the law. They have ganja tours that take tourists to hidden plantations, for god’s sake. When you ask a local where you can get some skunk, they start to glow with pride (while you’re glowing with embarrassment for saying skunk), like you’ve just transformed before their very eyes from a dickish white honky to a slightly less dickish white honky. And also perhaps because they’re about to make some coin by marking the shit up about 6000%.

One night, Andrew and I dined at the resort’s Japanese teppanyaki restaurant where Tex, a 50-year-old black man in a kimono, while chopping and flipping meat on the grill, went around the table asking us our names and pastimes. After a string of Americans and Germans proclaimed their love for golfing and hunting and such, it got around to moi. I wanted to say “writing” was my favourite pastime, of course, but that just sounds totally toolish, so I said “smoking weed.” (I also said my name was Yazmeen.) Before I even had the words out of my mouth, Tex started waving his metal spatulas in the air and shouting out to the entire restaurant “SMOKING WEED MON HA HA, JAMAICA…HOME OF THE BEST WEED IN THE WORLD MON HA HA WOOOOOO”. Then he high-five’d me with his spatula and gave me extra rice. Wow. So I guess there’s no need to keep it down then.

3. Marriage counselors should really consider incorporating some “herbal therapy” into their methods. Just sayin’.

4. Do not go down the White River with a couple of Rastafarians in a wooden dory. And clearly agree on the plan for your “fishing excursion” before you embark. Like, it seems fair to assume you’d end up right back where you started, at the pier on the beach, right? Assume nothing, Stupid White People From the North. We ended up on a private beach just outside the resort where Mr. Local Fisherman and Co. are selling shells and wooden cocks and OBVIOUSLY you’re going to buy something because DID YOU NOT SEE THOSE POOR STARVING BASTARDS ON THE WHITE RIVER?

5. Goats are very stupid. There are goats everywhere in Jamaica. They’re just roaming around, eating grass and garbage and babies. They’re not penned in or tied on, because they always go back home, because goats are very smart. Of course, eventually they get slaughtered for their meat, which makes going home seem not very smart at all.

6. They are really milking Cool Runnings, aren’t they? Jesus. They didn’t even finish the race, people!

7. Jerk chicken does not usually contain semen. Jamaicans love their jerk chicken. But I can’t say jerk chicken without thinking of…you know….jerk. Sperm. When they’re cooking it, are they actually jerking it? And hello…choking the chicken! It also doesn’t help that every second shack on the street says JERK CENTRE. I saw one place called ULTIMATE JERK CENTRE. Like, is this a good restaurant or a sperm bank where everybody gets pregnant the first time? Do they call napkins jizz rags at this establishment? Anyway, apparently the best jerk chicken in Jamaica can be found at Scotchies. NOT at the resorts where, according to a very candid bartender, they serve jerk-off chicken. Which did not help the situation.

8. Bob Marley just never stops wailing. Jamaicans love Bob Marley. Of course they do. But with tourism being their most important industry by far, and Marley tunes filling the air ALL THE DAMN TIME, they are sick and tired of hearing it. Like seriously, shoot the deputy already. Sadly, the music-making ended far too early when Marley was just 36. There has been nothing new to add to the playlist in over 30 years. So they play it for us over and over and over again. We like it. But surely there’s some NEW reggae or dancehall-pop that’s worthy of sharing with the world when it comes to visit. As a tourist in the country for but a week, I reckon it’s time to stir it up, little darlin’.

9. Marley had 11 children (at least) with several different women (not that that matters, no double standard shat here, yo). One of his sons, Ky-Mani Marley, he had with Anita Belnavis, a Jamaican table tennis champion. She was a TABLE TENNIS CHAMPION. Does anyone else find this awesomely hilarious?

10. Colourful drinks are actually the devil’s urine. So the swim-up bars open at 10am. This does not mean you should start drinking at 10am. All those rainbowy drinks with the little umbrellas and fruit dangling sexily from the side? Pure deception. Last thing I remember I was throwing myself down onto the grass repeatedly because it looked sooooo comfortable and down there nobody would see the mystery chunks I upchucked on the front of my bathing suit.

11. Jamaicans are wonderful. The people at the resort were the best part of the trip. They don’t make you feel bad when you barf all over the resort. They seem genuinely happy to be showing you around and carrying your luggage and serving your dinner, despite the undeniable resemblance to slavery. Do they make fun of our white asses when we turn our backs? I really don’t think so, but they probably should.

12. Jamaica is pure sex. Everyone walks really slowly because I think they’re all mid-orgasm. Right after I watched the Prime Minister deliver her Heroes Day address, an ad came on for Black Stallion Bedroom Tonic. It’s Jamaican Viagra, basically, in drink form. It reminded me of the “formidable scent” of Sex Panther. “60% of the time, it works…every time.”*

13. Jamaican advertising is so bad, it’s spectacular. Watch this ad for Black Stallion Bedroom Tonic which I’m pretty sure was made by the guys on the banks of the White River. Those guys must also be responsible for the award-winning creative we saw on the sides of the roads, like the billboard for helmet safety that exclaimed “Protect your head, don’t be dead.”

14. Pepsi is high as a kite. I can understand some local businesses having low-budget advertising, but you’d think the Pepsi people would know better. I saw Pepsi signs in Jamaica with this slogan: “Live for now.” Like…are we all going to die here? Frig, maybe we are. Over the Heroes Day weekend, 16 people were shot, 7 murdered. For a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, I wonder if Pepsi might have considered something a little more, I dunno, optimistic.

15. Do not start a pants store in Jamaica. It is no place for pants. That’s not true for the locals who don’t mind the heat so much, so technically a pants store could work. But you won’t see any tourists shopping there. Every day when we got back to our suite, we’d immediately take off everything from the waist down. And watch TV. Swear to god. I think whoever invented the word “panting” for breathing really heavily due to heat was totally inspired by people taking off their pants.

16. “Jamaica is not for you, gurlfren.” That was me talking to a gay guy. Jamaica is one of the least gay-friendly countries in the world. Which seems a little contradictory to their laidback “no problem, mon” philosophy that seems to imply anything goes. The “One Love” slogan they stole from Bob Marley obviously refers to penis-vagina love. THAT is the ONE love they like. The only love. In fact, Sandals Resorts did not welcome gay couples until 2004, when it changed the rules in order to advertise to the UK. So technically, you can bring your sweet gay ass here, but being loud and proud is not advised. This past summer, a transgendered teen, Dwayne Jones, was murdered by an anti-gay mob after he showed up at a street party dressed as a woman. I’m glad I didn’t know about this until after I got back, or an inebriated (and therefore outspoken) yours truly might have strutted around Ocho Rios with a big wooden dick tucked into my shorts.

17. Jamaica is full of frogs. Not french people, although I heard a few of them too. I mean frogs. Ribbit ribbit. Though I never laid eyes on a single one. Every evening when the sun went down around 6pm, the jungle around our villa got crazy loud. Not with lions and tigers, but with a zillion tiny toads. Collectively, it sounded like one long, screeching, stab-you-in-the-shower sound effect from the movies. You’re lying in bed in this tropical paradise, and THAT’S what you hear. Murderous frogs. Very romantic. I mean it. I lured Andrew into the shower to keep him close so I’d know for sure he wasn’t approaching me with a knife.

18. Nobody outside Canada knows where Newfoundland is. Nobody. But it is our responsibility as Newfoundlanders to tell them. So every time someone said “oh yeah” after we told them where we were from, I’d follow with “you have no bloody idea where that is, do you?” They’d admit they didn’t, and then I’d whip out a world map and a laser pointer.

19. Inflight entertainment is not always a good idea. On the flight home from Jamaica, I realized that airlines play a lot of movies where people get shot out of the air. On the way down south, I watched World War Z. On the way back, Man of Steel. Lots and lots of aircraft getting blown to bits, bodies flying. Awesome. I went to bathroom on board — you know, the shitter that’s 35,000 feet above the earth — and I’m certain I’m going to be sucked down the hole by a cyborg zombie. It may have been the paranoia leftover from the parsley I finished before breakfast. What? Well we couldn’t take it with us!

 

*Props to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Again.

 

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I’ll see you in my dreams.

Dad died three years ago yesterday. That’s more than a thousand days ago.

I could tell you I think about him a thousand times a day, but that would be a lie. In the beginning, maybe. But now, somedays I don’t think about him much at all. Maybe that’s because I don’t need to. My life is full and happy, even without him here, in part because he was here. I’m okay without him, because he helped make it so. I don’t think about him all the time, but I have 30+ years of him squirrelled away for the winter.

He does cross my mind at one particular time every day: when I’m tucking Max into bed. We read a storybook, turn out the light, and say “goodnight, Poppy Jim up in the sky.” After this sign-off, Max likes to remind me, quite matter of factly: “YEAH, POPPY JIM DIED. HE IS KILLED.” And, without fail, he goes on to mention that Spook and Lacey – my husband’s childhood pooches – are also dead. “THEY IS KILLED TOO.” To him, there’s no difference. Dead dad, dead dog, dead mouse, dead spider… In some ways he is exactly right. Death is a fly in a web, a crisp leaf in your hand, and a father in a casket. Everything goes to sleep, eventually. There’s no getting out alive.

Bedtime seems like a good time to remind Max of dad, with Max going to sleep and dad enjoying a dirt nap like it’s nobody’s business. Sorry – I’m not much of a believer. Dad dying when Max was just nine months old was not part of some great divine plan. It did not happen for a reason. It happened because our bodies are full of cells and sometimes abnormal ones grow uncontrollably and they don’t give a sweet shit about the terrible fucken timing.

But sometimes when Max drifts off to sleep after our usual cuddle, I like to think another comforting arm takes the place of mine. I imagine the two of them together, enjoying an ice cream cone somewhere on the outskirts of Dreamland, right where the clouds end and the Great Beyond begins. No talking, just licking. Licking and smiling and knowing. “You’re Poppy Jim,” Max says with his eyes. “And you’re pop’s boy,” dad winks. “And ice cream is a wonderful thing.” They both nod in agreement. And they’re not strangers anymore.

I made this slideshow. Sorry if it puts you to sleep.

 

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Damn you, Blair Tapper.

We are just a couple weeks away from Father’s Day.

Normally, right about now, I’d be doing some kind of woeful “happy fatherless day to me” countdown.

Some kind of tear-jerking tribute to the late Jim Combden.

Some ode to that salty Barr’d Island blood from whence I bubbled.

But instead, I write about someone else’s daddy.

Today, I write about Blair Tapper.

I first saw him in the big family portrait at the house of what would one day be my in-laws. 17 grandchildren. Blair is the one right smack dab in the middle. The one with the craaaaaazy eyes staring right into your soul.

My husband’s first cousin and a few years his senior, I didn’t know Blair very well. But from a few brief encounters I learned one thing for certain – he was damn funny. Sarcastic and seemingly crooked, his mission in life was to get under your skin. He got under mine, but for another reason altogether.

Just the look of him was side-splitting. Big menacing eyes topped with thick eyebrows. You’d think he was mad if not for the gem just a couple inches below: a perpetual beaming smile.

To me, he looked like a child, forever surprised or perplexed by the world. Probably one of the reasons he was so good with kids – because he was one. Another reason? Practice. He was dad to six. Yes, you heard me right. Six.

Blair was salt of the earth. No bullshit. No pretense. A roofer for 15 years, he also cleared snow and did small engine repair. Many locals probably remember him pumping gas at Tappers Gas Bar as a teenager. He worked harder in his 38 years than most do their entire lives. Yes, you heard me right. 38.

He lived just one street over from us in the Torbay countryside we both called home, where streets are not really streets but cow paths and lovers lanes. There are cows all over these parts, and I reckon Blair and Kelly’s driveway was Lovers Lane. And not just because of the multitude of munchkins pouring out of their humble abode.

I’d often see Blair at the grocery store nearby, picking up a few things for Kelly to cook for supper. Mushrooms. Hot dog buns. Occasionally, on the way back he’d pop into the house for a beer with Andrew. Kelly would text him, wondering what the heck was taking him so long. He’d chuckle mischievously as he texted her back. He spoke her name with love. I could see it, hear it. They’d be making another baby before the wieners were warm.

When I took Max for a walk or tricycle ride, Blair would often zip by in his ol’ white minivan. Even the way he looked and waved was a performance.

He was at our house a couple of months ago, when he was feeling good. His head was as smooth as a baby’s arse, but he looked well, eyes wide and full of hope. Andrew was helping him with his passport application; he was thinking about going somewhere, maybe Mexico, for some kind of treatment unavailable here in St. John’s. He showed me the two passport photos he had to choose from – one where he was bald from the chemo, one where he had a bit of hair, both photos with those crazy-ass eyes. He asked which one was best, so I said, “Either way, they probably don’t let psychos on the plane.” He laughed. He could give it, and I knew he could take it too, cancer or no cancer. I rubbed his head and said it was cute. It was.

I recall that night clearly. I was doing my usual song and dance to try and get Mister Max to go to sleep. His little voice was calling out to me from his bedroom, begging me to lie down with him again. “Mommy, lie down. Mommy, lie down.” The soundtrack of my sleepless life. I rolled my eyes and sighed. “This happens every night,” I said. To which Blair replied something like, “Go in with him, b’y. I loves lying down with the youngsters at bedtime. One of my favourite things.”

Damn you, Blair Tapper. Now, every single night when Max calls out to me, as much as I want to tell him to “go the hell to sleep, maggot!,” I just can’t. I hear Blair’s voice in my head, I take a deep breath, and into the room I march. Again. To savour the moment that tomorrow does not guarantee.

Despite the toll cancer took on his body these last few months, Blair was strong, optimistic, and matter of fact. But once when Andrew bumped into him and asked how things were going, Blair showed a softer side. He said things were not great, but spoke with assurance as usual. Then he welled up as he confessed the one thought he could not bear – the thought of being too sick to pick up Victoria, his six-year-old little girl, from the bus stop.

He could stare cancer in the face and say, “fuck you, I will take you down,” but the thought of his little girl waiting for him, and daddy never showing up… It’s enough to make the Incredible Hulk break down and sob.

Despite a grim prognosis, Blair never gave up. Several times, I saw him scuffing from the store to his minivan, grocery bags in hand, bent over, pale, and broken. But dammit, he was bringing home those groceries.

Two weeks ago, he even ventured to Denmark for a last chance treatment – to buy some time, to change his fate. Maybe he was looking for a miracle. Maybe he was an old dog going off into the woods to lie down. Either way, it took a heap of courage. It was the first time his wife Kelly had ever been on a plane. Blair died there in a suburb of Copenhagen, three days ago, on May 28th.

***

I lost my dad too early, too. I guess any time is too early when you’re talking about your father. But at least I had my dad for a good spell. Long enough for him to prepare me for a world without him in it. While I’m busy hating the world and the dummies who’ve yet to cure cancer, I am thankful I had my foolish father as long as I did, short as it was.

But this, this is too bloody early. Excruciatingly early. The Tapper kids ages: 16, 14, 12, six, two and one. Some of them won’t even remember him. Does sadness go any deeper than this?

This is where we must take a lesson from Blair himself:

HOPE.

We have to hope that he is not lost to his kids at all, that they will grow up with a strong sense of who he was, instilled in them by everyone who knew and loved their daddy.

And sweet, sweet genetics: do your thang, work your magic. Make those kids inherit his humour, perseverance, humility and lively disposition. In a few years, make us all drop our jaws and say, “My God, you turned out just like your father.”

Though he won’t tuck them in anymore, or pick them up from the bus stop, what he was to his children is still a very powerful thing. The knowledge of who he was and how he lived will inspire them long after he’s gone. Who knows, maybe he’ll mean even more to the kids who can only imagine what he was like. Love works in mysterious ways.

They will know he worked his ass off to keep them safe and warm and happy. Just before Christmas, despite the raging lymphoma, he still insisted on working – “to buy a few more gifts for the kids,” he told Andrew.

They will know he was strong. He laughed in the face of cancer and fought it to the bitter end.

They will know he never gave up. He tried everything he could to stay by their side.

They will know he was courageous. We will tell them. Like an epic tragedy, on Monday morning, the hero from Torbay laid down his sword in the land of Hamlet.

With all this knowledge wrapped around their hearts, his children can grow up in the warm glow of his shadow, proud as punch to say Blair Tapper was their dad.

***

When you’re saluting the death of a clown, you must end with humour.

So I’d like to conclude with a message to Blair:

How the fuck am I supposed to get the roof done now?!

And don’t worry about anyone forgetting you, buddy. Those menacing eyes will haunt me for eternity.

Blair’s funeral will be held on Monday, June 4th at Holy Trinity in Torbay. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to a trust fund for the Tapper children.

 

 

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Life is a (little boy on a) beach.

I’ve been away. Two weeks vacation. Away from work. Away from routine. Away from sentences more than three words long.

Monday morning is on the horizon and frankly it’s blocking my sun, so let’s pretend it’s something else: a UFO, a ginormous green apple martini, or a Thursday before a long weekend. Ah, that’s more like it.

Actually, I feel invigorated. I’m eager to pick up the pen. Pray tell, where is my inkwell and puffy shirt?

So what did I do these last 14 days to feel so inspired? Not a lot. In fact, I strayed no further than my childhood home of Badger’s Quay.

You don’t have to go far to find inspiration. But everybody knows that. I just thought I’d say it again because it’s the perfect prelude to these photos taken a few days ago at Cape Island, Bonavista Bay, just a shell’s throw from the Combden homestead.

One for the logbook. Because we’re on a log.
If a big wave hits now, he’s duned.

My grandmother walked on this sand, and her mother, and hers. Maybe dear old nan lost an earring here, or a nickel, or her innocence. 😉 At one time, nobody at all walked on this sand because nobody knew it was there, save the natives perhaps. Today, it is deserted once again and has been for 70 years or more; everyone packed up and moved to the mainland for better services. Hey, there’s a decent beach in Cape Freels too, so it’s not all bad.

The Random Passage Walking Trail takes you to Cape Island now. (Yes, Bernice Morgan’s famous book was set here – not New Bonaventure; that’s just where the miniseries was filmed, dum-dum.) The trail draws visitors, but it’s far from crowded. In fact, when we were there we felt like the only living creatures in the world, save these squishy beach bums…

You see the jellyfish but do you see the butterfly?

…and the old guy on the quad in the distance who looked kind of squishy too.

Where else on earth can you find such almost-perfect peace without spending little more than a tank of gas?

Reality Injection: Let’s face it, there is rarely any “peace” with a toddler. Right before we left the Cape, Max smashed our peace to pieces by taking a colossal dump in his shorts. I had to change him in the backseat while he did the worm. He had just run the length of the beach ten times over and now I expected him to lie still? Dream on, dreamer. So, while the morning was glorious, it ended with me shouting threats like, “Max, if you don’t stop squirming we’re going to leave you here to walk home.” Hey, grandfather Stagg did it.

Growing up, I rarely visited this beach. I was too busy counting my quarters for Splash ‘n Putt or the annual trip to the majestic Avalon Mall.

I did visit the nearby beaches of Windmill Bight pretty regularly, however. Today, that beach of my childhood is no more. Hurricane Igor has rendered the white sandy shore a heap of boulders. That beautiful beach took millions of years to form, and just one stormy day to destroy.

We often don’t see the beauty right in front of us, especially when we’re young and stupid, always looking for something bigger and better and different. The soil from which we sprouted couldn’t possibly be… awesome? But it’s true; we see it in the eyes of the urban traveller all the time. Don’t you see it?, their twinkling eyes beseech us. Don’t you see what you have here?

Thankfully, I’ve grown up and my vision has improved.

Walk short and carry a big stick.
Loggin’ lots of love.
An ad for NL tourism or the Montreal Canadiens?
Run, into the forest, run!

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rabbit stewing thoughts

Happy fatherless day to me. Yay!

My father’s day weekend started off pretty much as you’d expect for someone whose father is dead, deceased, expired, extinct, kaput. It’s like Valentine’s Day when you’re single, times a hundred-thousand-million. Because at least you can find new love; you only get one dad. Unless your dads are gay. Okay let’s move on.

Two years ago, and every father’s day before that for as long as I can remember, I wrapped yet another jumbo pack of golf balls, a silly poem and a pack of gum. No more. Callaway and Top-Flite sales have plummeted since Jim Combden retired his clubs.

Take a look at me now. There’s just an empty space. Nothing left here to remind me… except all the happy people celebrating their dads who are so awesome and wonderful and, oh yeah, ALIVE!

Father’s day is now just a shot in the guts, reminding me (as if I don’t already know and think about it daily) that mine is gone. I once again blame Hallmark for inventing a holiday to sell corny, overpriced greeting cards without considering how much it costs to send a card to heaven. One stamp costs 60 cents… oh, and your god damn soul.

Ironically, when I was a kid, dad used to feign death for entertainment purposes. It was one of his go-to pranks that never got old. I’d come home from school to find him lying there on the floor, his hands perfectly crossed on his chest, his trademark smirk on his face. It’s still funny, in spite of today’s reality. Speaking of Hallmark, and speaking of pranks, I wish I’d get a card in the mail with a great big “GOTCHA!” on the inside. These past 18 months, dad has just been punking us, hiding in the bushes on the 11th hole of the Gander Golf Course. Not gonna happen; dad never could hold back a punchline.

Father’s day weekend: blah.

But then I saw the rabbits.

I was on my way to the Relay for Life at the MUN Field House, where I would be doing laps around the gym for 12 hours to help fight cancer in honour of my dear old dad. Just after I had taken the ramp to get off the TCH, two brown bunnies darted across the street right in front of my car. One on the heels of the other, they scurried into the thick greenery and were gone. A reason to smile. Make that two.

They say your sense of smell is the sense most linked to memory. I close my eyes and I can still smell the Tinkerbell make-up I kept in my jewelry box, and my scrumptious Strawberry Shortcake figurines, and the scratch-n-sniff stickers in my sticker book (mmm grape), and the delicious chemicals of that plastic Raggedy Ann Halloween costume.

But most of all, I can still smell the rabbits.

Clinging to the back of our old black and green Jag Arctic Cat, I watched dad lumber through the knee-deep snow to check his snares for rabbits. The unlucky furballs were soon dangling from the beams of his store (that’s Newfie for shed), frozen in their last earthly stance, paws pointing in all directions. The next day, they’d be still hanging there, stripped of their fur down to the purple, sinewy muscle. (“All fluff” my ass, huh bunnies?) The store smelled perpetually of rabbits. Even in the summer, it hung in the air. Was it the stench of death, or fur, or raw meat? I’m not sure. To me, it’s the smell of a happy childhood.

On Saturday, though, the rabbits I saw were free and fast and full of life. And instead of one lonely rabbit, there were two. I instantly thought of dad. Was he speaking to me on this day before father’s day, as I was about to go kick some carcinogenic ass?

And get this – on the way home from the event the next morning when St. John’s was barely awake, I saw… a dove! Okay, that’s a lie. It was a white plastic bag flapping around in the wind. But it had a life about it. An American Beauty, if you will. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGWU4QhJ4L8

Oh come on. Who am I kidding here? Dad is not speaking to me from the great beyond. He’s not sending me messages from a voodoo lounge in the clouds, with Hemingway throwing back shots at the bar and Shakespeare practicing his bank shot in the far corner. He’s not showing me anything; I’m finding it myself, because he taught me how. I see things more clearly than ever through the eyes that he gave me.

Guess we should teach our children well. Not by instruction, but by example. Because it sticks. Actions speak louder than words, and lessons last much longer than the human body. Fucken cancer.

And our kids are not the only ones picking up what we’re laying down. I can only imagine how many students dad inspired during his 30 years of teaching English lit. Knowing dad was extremely sick, one of his students sent him a thank-you note to express how much he had inspired her. Her note arrived 10 minutes too late. But I got to read it, so it was not in vain. And dad knew she had become an English teacher herself, so he probably suspected that he played some small part.

This past week, cancer claimed the life of popular local businessman, Albert Hickman. My boss, Gary Wadden, also a successful businessman, was compelled to write a full-page tribute in The Telegram, exclaiming how Albert had impacted him as a young entrepreneur – simply by how he conducted business and how he lived his life. With integrity, humour, compassion, a family-first philosophy, and a flashy tie. http://m5.ca/AHtribute/

We are mere mortals. But the light we emit is absorbed by others, and continues to shine long after our candle has burnt out. (Wow, that’s some cheesy metaphornication there, Elton John. Let’s try it again with less fromage.) My dad saw deep meaning in ordinary things. He talked about it. He wrote about it. Some called him a weirdo; some called him a poet. He put it all out there, fearlessly. And I saw it. Every day. So even though he’s gone, I see the beauty. There is still goodness. There is still humour. There is still life. (Not a bunch of fruit in a bowl. You know what I mean.) Because of what I learned from him, largely by simple observation, I am well-equipped to find reasons to be happy in this fucked-up, fatherless world.

“And that’s the day I knew there’s this entire life behind things. This incredibly benevolent force who wanted me to know that there was no reason for me to be afraid… ever.” (American Beauty)


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Cock-a-doodle-dead.

How much cock did you get on Mother’s Day? I got four.

Well for starters, my husband had nothing to do with it; in fact, he went playing with his own balls, also known as golfing. Max got me out of bed before eight. Then the dog threw up. And before I knew it I was vacuuming, which is against the Supreme Law of Mother’s Day. The day was off to a sucky start indeed. But suckage turned to surprise when I went to the door to put the dog out. On my front deck were four roosters. Yes, roosters, like on the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box, except not the illustrated kind. They scattered in a hurry when Splash came bolting out. And thank God; there is no way I’m getting pregnant right now.

My encounters with birds did not stop there. This morning, I had another run-in. Literally.

I was cruising along the winding road out of Pouch Cove when – clunk – I hit a bird. Was it a sparrow? Did God see it fall? Did it meet His tender view? Frig, I don’t know, but He sure didn’t save the little guy. (Yes, it was a boy.). It was a little teeny one from what I could gather in that millisecond when I saw him fly out of the trees on the left of the road, right into the side of my car. I held my breath and looked in my side mirror, hoping to see him flying away into the wild blue yonder all honky-dory. Please let him be okay, please let him be okay. But all I saw was the flutter of tiny wings on the pavement.

I contemplated pulling over, going back, giving him chest compressions with my pinky finger and mouth-to-beak resuscitation. But I was already late for work, and what was I going to do anyways? Put him in a box and take him to the office? Feed him little bits of shredded paper and staple his wing back together with the stapler I stole from the Halifax office that time? What if he were hanging onto life by a single feather? Would I have to put him out of his misery? There’s no way I could do it; I can’t even pick a scab off a fly-bite. As I kept on driving, I imagined the little guy getting squished by the very next car, or plucked up by a big scavenging seagull. I don’t know what became of him. But one thing is clear: I am a horrible person.

So my day is off to a killer start. In an effort to forgive myself, I decide to be prepared for the next time it happens. So when I arrived at work I immediately googled “what to do with a broken bird”. Wrong choice of keywords, let me tell you. So I tried “helping an injured bird” and found a whole nest of information on the subject:

http://www.ehow.com/how_5282306_save-injured-bird.html

Thanks Internet; now I know what to do. (By the way, this eHow site also tells you how to help a bird with a broken wing, how to care for baby birds, how to capture an injured pelican, how to pluck a turkey, how to make a down comforter, how to make a feather pen, and more. I kid you not.)

But why is this shattered bird weighing so heavily on me? I guess it’s the doggy mama in me. Ever since Splash came into my world four years ago, I have compassion for all creatures, great and small. I mean seriously, what is the difference? Who says my Portuguese Water Dog is worth more than a little sparrow? Well, the price tag. But otherwise, what’s the diff? If Splash was hurt and lying in the middle of the road, I’d call 911 and try my damnedest to convince the paramedics that she is a really hairy human with four legs. Hey, the pollution is causing all kinds of mutations these days!

I’d do that for a dog. Any dog, in fact. But not a bird, apparently.

The baby mama in me is that angel on my shoulder, telling me what to do (although clearly I don’t always listen.) I would want Max to help an animal if he saw one in distress. (Unless it was a sabre-tooth tiger, in which case shag calling the vet; call the Museum of Science because someone’s about to get famous!) All jokes aside, I can’t imagine an attribute I value more than kindness. Screw the wit, the athleticism, the courage, the smarts. If Max is kind to others, generous and compassionate, I will be oh so proud of him. As long he’s also good-looking.

Also contributing to my sunken feeling is the fact that dad loved birds. So when I hit that bird this morning, I felt like I hit dad. And he’s already dead for God sakes. Double dead. Not cool. The self-loathing continues.

That’s it. I am going to put a shoebox in the car with a teeny tiny blanket in it, and some sticks and leaves, and maybe a worm. And some mud for the worm, so he doesn’t die. But what if I have to feed the worm to a sick birdie? Damn this food chain; I just can’t win.

Please note: In spite of her animal affections, Mother Blogger supports the seal hunt. Mostly by not thinking about the cute little furry ones.

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Crappy Easter from the party pooper.

Since when did Easter become a mini Christmas? Seriously, when did this happen? Was it always this way and I’ve just been living under a rock not unlike the rock at the entrance to the tomb of Jesus? Now that I have my own egg-seeking chocolate muncher, other moms are asking me…

– So what are you giving Max for Easter?

– Uhhh… turkey dinner?

– Oh (you terrible mother.)

– Why – am I supposed to give him gifts for Easter?

– Well, you don’t have to. But you know, some parents (good parents) give their kids candy eggs, chocolate bunnies…

– Oh yeah, I could do that. They sell that stuff at the liquor store, right?

– …and clothes, toys, bikes, video games…

– Shit, son! The Easter Bunny is trying to show up the jolly old elf. Is this revenge for Santa sporting that fur-trimmed suit? Should I put up a tree and set snares under it?

Call social services or the Grinch Police because Max ain’t gettin’ none of it. Okay, maybe he’ll get one chocolate egg or a rice krispie bunny, but that’s about it. That’s enough – he’s two! One chocolate bunny is bigger than his head! Well, not really; he has an enormous head, but you get my point. And between the loot of Christmas and his birthday, he’s got more clothes than the combined wardrobes of Suri Cruise and the Housewives of Orange County.

Christmas is bad enough. Commercialized up the ass. What’s that – the baby Jesus was born? Excellent – I think I’ll go drop a grand at Sears to celebrate. The Bible… The Sears catalog… What’s the diff? I mean I guess I get it: Christmas is about love, and we show our love by giving each other frivolous junk. And at least it’s just once a year, right? Once a year ain’t so bad. I mean it’s not like we’re stuck paying off the debt for months afterward.

But, oh wait, just a couple of months later and here comes the big ol’ floppy-eared frigger with his bountiful basket of crap. Yay? I’m a bit of a pagan myself, but even I know Easter is supposed to be about the ultimate sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. On Good Friday, there was no big ass bunny hanging on the cross with rusty nails in his paws, blood trickling down his fluffy white fur. And when they rolled away the stone of the tomb, they didn’t find a stockpile of Cadbury Crème eggs in there.

I was at the mall last week. Parents were lined up with their kids to get their picture taken with the Easter Bunny. A few months ago, they forced their kids to sit on the lap of a creepy old man in a red velvet suit and ratty beard. And now it was time to get cozy with some sweaty guy in an enormous rabbit suit. And seriously, this bunny was scary. I came across Max’s copy of the Velveteen Rabbit yesterday and the cover scared the shit out of me.

So what other Christian holiday shall we commercialize to death? Since we have this dry period around summer with no excuse to further spoil our already rotten children, how about we have a Noah’s Ark Day and give our kids expensive watercraft? Every child needs a Sea-doo. And perhaps we could pick another day and pretend it’s the day Jonah got swallowed by the whale. We could have some dude dress up in a whale suit and make our kids sit in his mouth.

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First-born.

There are many reasons why I hate this house. But there are a few reasons why I love it. One of them is the hill in our backyard that makes for the perfect tobogganing experience. Sometimes at night, we hear the laughter of children enjoying the snow-covered knoll, not realizing it’s on our property, or maybe not caring. No odds, because we don’t care either – whoop it up, kids! But next time, pick up your chip bags, ya little bastards.


This Sunday was Max’s first day on the slopes of Chez Murphy. The whole family had fun, but none more than our three-year-old. You know, the kid with the beard. The one who poops in the yard and sweats through her tongue.


We started to deck out in boots, hats and mittens. Splash, our Portuguese Water Dog, knew what this meant – the great outdoors was near. She’s no dummy; she’s been fetching beer from the fridge since she was five months old. http://www.youtube.com/viccombden


Dogs smile with their tails, and her fluffy appendage was grinning from fuzzy butt cheek to fuzzy butt cheek. Andrew has only to say “where’s my fun pants?” (that’s code for snow pants), and Splash starts to lose her furry little mind, growling eagerly and encircling him with her leash in her mouth.


Andrew and Max were the first to test the speed of our new foam sled. They flew down the hill with Splash racing along beside them, occasionally heaving her four-pawed self toward the sled to derail them.


"Wheeeeee x 3"


When it was my turn to slide down with the boy, Splash stayed at the top of the hill with Andrew. But when Max and I came to a stop at the bottom and looked up, Splash was racing toward us full-tilt, tongue flapping in the sun-kissed winter wind. Half a second before she got to us, she veered to her left, avoiding us by a hair. After the exhilaration of the descent, El Mutto’s antics supplied an unexpected final rush. Well, not really that unexpected. That’s so her. So full of life. A reminder that life is nothing if not fun.


I wrote this little ditty about her once…


The Ultimate Loyalty.
The kind that waits for you on the doormat,
the bathmat,
every mat everywhere
from now ‘til my final loving pat.
She destroys all my abandoned socks,
and all my loneliness,
and all my doubts about true love.
Suddenly I have compassion for anything that breathes.
In every bird and spider and llama, I see her eyes.
All these gifts,
wrapped up in one black and white furball
who, in return,
asks only for a walk, a rub, and a cookie.


Max, in all his childlike wonder, has shown me the meaning of life. When we take him out of the car, the first thing he does is look for the moon. “Mooooooon?” he says, like an uncertain cow, as he points toward the radiant orb in the sky. The light of the moon. The crunch of snow underfoot. The taste of fresh pineapple. He’s discovering the simple joys of being alive. And I get to watch.


But he’s not the first one to show me these simple joys. Splash was my first teacher of this lesson of lessons. (Well my ‘rents were the first, really. But Splash came along when I needed a cosmic reminder.) In a world that feels more like a race than a journey, with people accumulating more and more and feeling less and less, Splash’s humble requirements keep me grounded. A walk, a rub, and a cookie. A dog’s life – how intrinsically simple it is. At this very moment, she lies next to me on a couch big enough for eight of us, secretly hoping for a scratch or a treat, but content to just be here, with me. Quiet companions. I type, and she snores, occasionally raising her head from my thigh when she hears a car go by – could it be him? When I turn off the television and the lights, she’ll know – it’s time for one last tinkle in the garden and then bedtime. Sometimes when she’s tired, she heads for the bedroom and stops halfway and looks back as if to say “you comin’ or what?”


Since Max came along, Splash has inevitably taken the backseat – literally. She used to ride shotgun. At red lights, people in nearby cars would point at us and laugh, realizing the proud passenger was a dog and not a person. Now she’s confined to the backseat, partly because the front seat is full of baby crap, and partly because she chooses to be back there with Max and his delectable food-covered face. Jackpot.



She doesn’t get the exercise she used to or deserves, but we’re trying, and when Max gets a little bigger and less insane in the membrane, we’ll take more outings together – all four of us. Good times are ahead. Like any dog’s life, hers will be too short, so it’s our duty to make these 10-15 years as rich as possible. She doesn’t ask for much. If only the people next door felt a fraction of that sense of responsibility. On Sunday, as Splash frolicked freely in the backyard, their dog watched on longingly from his 6-foot leash, as always. Just another lawn ornament, begging to be stolen.


One thing is for sure – there is no shortage of love here at Chez Murphy. She sleeps with us every night. (Yes, Dog Whisperer, I know that’s unwise, but bite me.) We wake up in the morning and turn to see sleeping Splash, four perfectly straight paws pointing skyward. Without my glasses on, I see a furry, upside-down table. I’m no morning person, but how can I be cranky when I wake up to such a ridiculously cute sight?


If you’re petless, you probably don’t understand. But I won’t count you out. My dad didn’t have a dog, not since I was a toddler. (R.I.P. Skip the Irish Setter). But he loved all creatures. (Here I go again about my dad. Sometimes I think this blog is more about him than it is about Max. I guess it’s the thread of parenthood, stringing us together.) I think dad saw the purity in those big, brown, fur-trimmed eyes. More than once I caught him slipping her treats. A couple summers ago, we were all at my brother’s for dinner.  Splash was tied to the back deck, staring at the windows and doors, whining to come inside where the people (and the food!) were abound. We just ignored her; we’d be going home soon. But a couple of times, I caught a glimpse of dad through the window, kneeling down to give her a gentle pat on the head or a drink of cool water. He recognized her. He saw her for what she was. The purest soul on the property.

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Friendly Reminders.

So. What was your new year’s resolution? Let me guess. You joined the gym. You rededicated yourself to the gym you’ve been donating money to for months out of the goodness of your fat ass. You bought a treadmill (or is it a coat rack?) for your bedroom.

Or wait – you resolved to get organized. To throw out all the clothes you don’t wear and the crap you don’t use, and store away all the things you don’t need but simply can’t part with into big plastic totes that will eventually form an alliance in your basement and conspire to kill you while you sleep.

We all feel the need to turn over a new leaf, start the new year off right. More health-conscious. Less cluttered. Oh January, you stupid whore. By Easter, we’ve all violently tumbled from the wagon, stuffing chocolate into our pie holes hand over fist and buying shiny new crap to replace the old crap to make us feel less crappy about ourselves.

We’re pretty predictable. And marketers cash in on it. Hence the January flyers screaming sales on elliptical machines and Rubbermaid storage tubs as chunky as our post-Christmas waistlines.

As the one-year anniversary of my father’s death approaches, I reckon I have a nobler idea for a new year’s resolution. Friendship. Let’s put some energy into that, compadre. Let’s get our shit together in that department, pal. We are more than wives and mothers, you know. Have you forgotten?

When we were 13, friendship was everything, wasn’t it? We were all looking for acceptance. Someone to have our back, and admire us, and share clothes with us, and be there to pick up the fragile little pieces when we break over something tragically trivial.

Somewhere along the line, we let go. We started our own family. Our kids took over. We lost ourselves a little, or a lot. Friendship became a thing of youth. In the chaos of parenthood, a few acquaintances would suffice.

But I have been reminded as of late – if you can’t make time for friends, you can’t make it. We may not see it now, but we’re gonna need these people – big time. Maybe not today, but one day, when the shit hits the fan. And the shit always hits the fan. You just haven’t seen the shit yet. Maybe you haven’t even bought the fan. But oh, it’s comin’ atcha. Beware of shit. Wanted: friends. And splatter screen.

“The best time to make friends is before you need them.” ~ Ethel Barrymore

I am reminded of the paramount importance of friendship when I speak to my mother. Not because she tells me, but because she is a living, breathing example of how friendship finds you when all else is lost. She is a breast cancer survivor and a widow, but she is not shrouded in black. She has a lust for life despite what she has lost, because she has so many wonderful friends. She has such great friends, because she too is one. When someone is sick, she is the first one to lend a helping hand, and a dozen blueberry muffins. Dad was the same way. Always at the ready to lend a dollar, a poem, or a joke; his name was synonymous with laughter. She carries on his legacy by laughing still.

During dad’s last weeks of life, our humble seaside abode was brimming with concerned friends. And they did not scatter once the curtain fell. They kept coming back. Mom and dad relished many lifelong friendships. Now, mom lives to reap the good they sowed together.

Her husband is gone. Her kids and grandkids are four hours away. And yet when I speak to her on the phone, she is joyful. She spent Christmas in town with her three grandsons, but she was eager to get home for new year’s, to spend that time with her friends, as she always did. She is a solo act among duets now. It’s hard. But she is strong. And with her network of fine friends, she finds comfort, unwavering. And I find relief, knowing my mother is okay.

I am not the world’s greatest pal. I don’t call my people as often as I should. I turn down offers of coffee and movies when it doesn’t suit me well. Frankly, I am bored silly by the vast majority of people. But I see the error of my ways, and I’m improving. We all need to nurture friendships in our youth and maintain them in our prime, so they’re strong and well-polished when we need them most.

Admittedly, I have let some friends drift away over the years. Some of these relationships thrived on convenience and were not meant to be; it’s nobody’s fault.

But the ones that are good and true. The ones of high quality, both old and new. The people we see when we close our eyes and fast-forward 30 or 40 years. (I smell ointment.) We must cherish them – not just in our hearts but in our actions. No matter how much laundry we have to do.

“But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

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An untraditional Christmas…

Christmas is steeped in tradition. For many of you, I bet your mother put up the tree in the very same corner of the living room with the very same tacky-ass ornaments. You eat fish and go to church once a year on Christmas Eve. You open your gifts in the same general routine as always. You get deodorant in your stocking. (Clearly, you stink.) You stuff yourself with turkey at precisely the same time on Christmas Day and blah blah blah…

And now as mothers yourselves, you have brought much of that tradition into your own home, to your own children. The magic your parents created for you, you create for them. Maybe you even have a few old family heirlooms around, warming your cockles, casting their shadows of Christmases past. Myself, I have a little ceramic tree that is illuminated from within by a lightbulb. It used to be my Nan and Pop’s. For me, it’s symbolic of a simpler time, when Christmas was no work, no worries, all joy. It sits less than two feet from where I now type. A few of the coloured pegs are missing, the result of frequent moving. If my house were burning down, I’d like to think I’d have enough room in my arms for that little tree. Ironically, it may be the tree that causes the fire.

I have fond memories of Christmas, I do. But nothing was set in stone. I have traditions that I savour, but I am not attached to anything specifically. If I don’t have a tree in my living room, I’m not going to feel like an empty vessel. If I don’t get a bunch of presents, I am not going to have an epileptic seizure. I’m more than okay with imperfection – when it comes to Christmas, at least. (My hair is another story.) Which might explain why I had a very untraditional Christmas this year. Or maybe it was something else.

The fir tree, killed and dragged from the mighty forest by my handsome hunter husband, stood in my living room, undecorated, until late on Christmas Eve night. Appalling, isn’t it? And when I did finally hang the bulbs, I may as well have worn a blindfold. The tree lights – that’s the husband’s job. Because if it were mine, I would toss them on there from three feet away and wherever they land, they land. When I told my friend Robin about my bare bush, er, I mean tree, she told me she had decorated five trees already, three in her own home. And she is on maternity leave! When I was on mat leave, I showered once a week, sometimes with water.

Maybe there is something wrong with me. Or maybe there is something with her. (Oh hi, Robin!)

We didn’t put any lights on the house. I could have nagged at the husband to hang them, but why bother picking that fight? Our lights suck reindeer wang anyway.

Maybe my lack of jolly gusto is because, this year, I have a three-foot, 28-pound bulldozer running through the house. Unfortunately none of my holiday décor is made of rubber.

Or maybe the fact that my dad is not here just makes everything else seem petty. Who gives a flying fuck about trees and lights and gifts?

Don’t get me wrong; my state of disillusion did not deter me from creating magic for my boy. We sing to Christmas music in the car. (He doesn’t say too much yet, but he sure can bust a move, and when I crank the car tunes he sways to the sound of the chimes.) He awoke on Christmas morn to a new wooden train track assembled under the tree. And on the night before Christmas, he met Dustin Nolan, his first (and only, if his father has anything to say about it) Cabbage Patch Kid. Max combed Dustin’s hair with the attached brush, gave him a little squeeze, then flicked him facedown onto the hardwood floor. I’m fairly certain we’re raising a heterosexual.

My holiday attitude occasionally conflicts with my husband’s. See, he was raised in Santa’s village. The mother-in-law has toned things down in recent years, especially since the arrival of the latest batch of grandkids, but a few years back… wow. I remember going there for the first time during the holidays. The front door swung open to unleash a sea of red, green and white. My eyes were as big as saucers. Not a square inch of white space to be seen. On every mantle or shelf sat a maddening elf or singing angel. From every nail dangled a dancing Santa or psychedelic stocking. And they’re Catholic (seven children, hello), so there were at least a couple Baby Jesuses around for good (like, really good) measure. And to top it off, there she be in her fur-trimmed red apron and sleigh bell earrings. It was like Christmas had thrown up right there in the Pearl. And ya know, I liked it. I really liked it. More trifle, please.

But I didn’t like it so much that I was going to replicate it. Hell no. And Andrew is okay with that. Sort of. Hey, it spares him from having a list of “things to do before December 25th.” But there are a couple of times when I must bow to tradition to refrain from shattering his childhood. Take the stocking thing. At Chez Murphy, the stockings were more exciting than the gifts. So last year, when I expressed to Andrew that I wasn’t going to bother with stockings, he was like whaaaaaaat. We may as well have not put up a tree, or gotten up in the morning. So his mother scrambled to put one together for him. Bad, bad daughter-in-law. This year, I stuffed his stocking with condoms and cash.

Long story short, I am clearly not grounded in tradition. I’m adaptable. And that’s a good thing. Because the people and the things around us when we were children don’t last. Things break. People break. And life goes on. We must make new traditions. Ride the winds of change. And not lose our shit when things don’t come together with glorious perfection. We just do the best we can to find joy in this crazy world, and create it for others – whether that be through long-standing tradition or frequent change. As long as the love is a constant.

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