Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category


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Memories sometimes fade.

The events that spawned those memories become vague

as years grow on you. One ember of memory rekindled itself

when I found his jackknife at the back of a drawer.


My father was a bricklayer.

He was the only one of his crew allowed to raise the corners. As he crafted a perfect pyramid of bricks, he sang “As Time Goes By,” under his breath thinking himself Humphrey Bogart. The others watched and waited.

With line and level he laid out precise right angles as a guide for each course to come, a leads for the others to follow. When done he would stand back and throw down his trowel, the point thunking into the mortarboard. The other bricklayers took this as their cue to raise the wall to the exactness of his corners.

After a brief moment he would smile, spit in his hands, grab the hockey-taped handle of his trowel, and with one smooth, powerful motion scoop up mortar, spread it straight, and slice a crevice down the center of the cement with the point of his trowel. At the same time he grabbed a brick with his free hand, tossed it into the air so that it turned to the right surface, caught it and placed it deftly at the start of another course.

“Ragazzi,” he would shout, “Guardi un vero muratore al lavoro.” Hey boys, watch a real bricklayer at work. The exchange of good-natured insults kept coming until he was ready to raise the next corner.

Sometimes he hockey-taped his hands and fingers. Mostly when he was handling solid sixteen-inch blocks, laying the foundation of some larger building. The black tape protected the calluses that had grown thick over the years. As a child I could feel their roughness when he grabbed my wrist when I misbehaved. His vice like grip was unbreakable. Although he was a small man, he had the arms of a bodybuilder.

Over the years arthritis stiffened his fingers. His health began to fail. His skill followed. Even though he taped his hands, he took to wearing leather gloves to keep the calluses from tearing with the coarseness of the brick

All the bricklayers he worked with realized what was happening. When he began letting others raise the corners they knew he was done, as did he.

One night he came home, dropped his tool bag on the landing at the top of the cellar stairs, and left it there.

“Non ne ho piu bisogno,” he said. I don’t need these anymore.

I bring him fresh peaches from the corner fruit market. We sit at the kitchen table, his jackknife in front of him. He takes the peaches out of the bag, one by one, weighing each in his trembling hand, gauging their firmness. Those that are too ripe he sets aside.

“I like to slice them and dip them in wine,” he says. The anticipation brings a smile to his face.

As he tries to pull the blade open, the knife falls to the table. He can’t control the spasms in his hands. Transparent skin is drawn tight making the tendons prominent. There is a slight shaking in his movement. But he clasps his fingers together and raises his hands to his chin as if he’s praying and it disappears.

His frustration quickly changes to anger as he stares at the knife as if it too has betrayed him. Staring out of the kitchen window he lets out a small sigh.

Magenta veins bulge on the back of the hand that pushes the knife toward me. “Lo prendi,” he says. You take it.

“It was my father’s knife.” He places his hand on mine. “Now I give it to you.”

The jackknife’s stag horn handle is worn thin from use. On one side, a slim silver plate is engraved with a barely visible name. Each blade unfolds easily. One must have broken some time ago. It is less than half the length of the main blade. You can see where it was ground down to a sharp point. The cutting edge has a deep half-moon curve in it from constant sharpening. Along the back, a corkscrew fits snugly in an indentation in the bone. Beside it rests a needle-like awl. Between them, running the length of the knife is a steel shaft that hooks over the end. Its purpose is still a mystery to me. Two grooves, one on each side, are cut into the bone end. They are empty. I can only guess that they held removable needles or picks that were lost over the years. With the blade fully extended the weight of its steel forged decades ago gives way to a delicate balance.

As I slice the peach cleanly, the knife has never lost its edge.

I still have it. I’ve never used it since that day.

Joe Nanni

Remembering you on Father’s day, Peppino.



Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

June 18, 2017 at 6:00 AM


with 4 comments


Side roads. Concession roads. Hardtop and hard-pack gravel. Graded and ungraded. Rutted and rain-eroded. They can get your car dust covered or mud caked depending on weather and which road you’re on. They are Bruce County two-lanes leading you everywhere and not necessarily where you want to go.


We often drive these Bruce County back-roads. She is looking for birds. I’m looking for pictures. I don’t care much about shooting birds. My meager 250 mm lens fails in comparison to some of the big glass that other shooters carry. Most times, birds are just too far way to capture anything decent.


I’m OK with that. I’m more interested in what was…the abandoned barns and farmhouses, the fences, the fallen in roofs and stone foundations…the what’s-left-on-the-land from times gone away.


The structures that faced years of winds and weather, that struggled to stay upright and remain proud of what they provided to their hard-working owners…structures of shelter and warmth, places, markers that families once called home.

Some markers are different.


This pockmarked weathered stone, its carved inscription unreadable, sits solitarily, a sentinel overlooking a vista of fields un-ploughed or planted. It seems out of place. More often than not you’ll see clusters of resurrected tombstones sitting on the side of secondary roads salvaged from some long forgotten cemetery to make room for more farmable fields. This one stands alone.

Cloud shadows silently drift across the fields it watches over. Why is it there? Is there meaning in its placement? Or is it just a photo-op for a wandering amateur with a camera? I doubt if I will ever know. But I take the shot anyway and move on.


There is a great deal more to discover and capture on these roads.


So we drive on.


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The Spitsbergen’s thrusters whine into full power and gently push us away from the dock. In mid-harbour the helmsman takes advantage of the ship’s momentum and deftly executes an arc that turns the bow towards the channel markers. The main engines take over and we move, dead-slow, to the waiting open water just beyond the towering, treeless granite mountains standing on each side of the harbour mouth. Angry crags of rock dark from cloud shadow are sucking what sunlight they can into their crevices before the dark night clouds roll in.


With the sun sinking behind us we are outward bound. A certain sadness sails with us.

September 19 – 3:30. On a soft, sun-filled afternoon Alice left us. She hadn’t the strength to fight any longer. Alzheimer’s had robbed her of her mind. Now it wanted her spirit. We were with her. She knew because she held Norma’s hand tightly. It was one of those late September days that borders on autumn but is reluctant to cross over. You know this because you can see the light changing – loosing its softness – the colours becoming vivid and taking on a harder edge as the sun prepares for the oncoming fall.

She was days away from her 94th birthday. We were days away from our trip to Norway.

 There was little time to grieve. Just time enough for us to stop in our tracks and think about what just happened. Time enough for arrangements and lawyers and wills and settlements and a multitude of phone calls and of course, packing and travel needs. In the midst of it all we realized that we would have to pack our sorrow and take it with us as we sailed the coast of Norway.


There is nothing as exasperating as travel to take your mind off everything else. Caught in the computer labyrinth of check-in and customs. The lateness of flight departures. The guaranteed jet lag. The stress of tight transfer timelines. The unknown of arriving sleep deprived in an unfamiliar country. Some would say this is the down side of travel; taking yourself out of your comfort zone – trying to create a new “now” even though it is only temporary but must be mastered, quickly. Lawrence Durrell in “Bitter Lemons” described it well: “Journeys…A 1000 different circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will – whatever we may think.”

A new level of determination is needed because it is ‘travel’ – a personal challenge – a unfamiliar situation where you willingly place yourself – where the puzzle of logistics – the unfamiliar of an unknown place – the solving of ‘the way’ is your task. Maps, guidebooks, Internet recommendations don’t accurately deal with the new reality of location, language and customs. Hauling belongings. Running for trains. Searching for streets with unpronounceable names. Fighting fatigue. Lost in the din of strange words. Your best currency is your wit and your intelligence.


When I was young. When I was dreaming dreams of traveling the world, I dreamt of sailing to strange places on a tramp steamer or a cargo ship crewed by misfits and lost souls running from their past – escaping from themselves. We would put-in to strange ports, drink rum in some noisy quayside bar, off-load cargo then sail on to repeat the same process in yet another port many nautical miles away.

I read stories of people who left their lives behind or vacationed recklessly as passengers on a rusty, creaky ship for months at a time seeking solitude, anonymity and the peace of just being themselves without the bother of having to be a tourist. This trip would be something like that only more civilized.


The Spitsbergen is a supply ship for 200 travelers that stops in small ports up the coast of Norway, past the Arctic Circle turning at the Russian Border and heading back down again…a working ship with cruise ship amenities, but none of the luxury liner nonsense. It would be twelve days on the Norwegian Sea, time enough to move through the silent sorrow that was traveling with us.


Lights creep towards us. As they come closer, they flash revealing a bigger ship approaching. Our bridge lights come full on. A blast from our ship’s horn startles us. Now the bridge lights of both vessels illuminate the darkness. Spitsbergen’s sister ship rushes past lights flashing as if waving. We rock with its wake. With engines full now we race ahead into the night of dark water.


It was on this day that I learned of Henry’s passing. Henry had been a close friend since grade school. The loss of a childhood friend brings on a completely different feeling of grief than that of the loss of a family member. What is taken from you is a close relationship forged independently of family prerequisites. It is something deeply personal. A friendship founded on a sharing of intimate life-moments and experiences that infused your personality and contributed to your independence. And this independence let you leave your family; so to speak, so that you could become the individual you are now…the individual that only your friends would understand because they were there most steps of the way. Henry was one of those friends. But, like Alice, he left. And now we are sailing with the memory of them both.


As we sailed this rugged, rocky mystic coast with its cliffs, crags, snow-capped mountains, mist, fog and fiords – this shrouded landscape with steep scree strewn slopes that slide straight into the Norwegian sea – where rain clouds chased the light until they both blended into a kaleidoscope of colours – where stars dominate the night skies and the aurorae dance to the unheard music of the universe – we realized this is the perfect place for remembrance:

 But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 30


On a cold rainy overcast day, in an old wooden Sami church in Trumso, we lit a candle for Alice and a candle for Henry. And then we got on with our journey.



Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

November 13, 2016 at 3:13 PM


with 2 comments

Travel is a ‘connect-the-dots-game’. You move, from one point to another at varying speeds, by various modes of transportation until you end up full circle – home. Along the way you experience degrees of discomfort. Airport hotels – small, noisy, uncomfortable, stale one night stands before moving on to the next dot. Airport boarding lounges full of sleep-deprived fellow travelers desperately seeking coffee. One or two night stands in strange places you previously believed would satisfy your ‘inner traveller’. In the days ahead, no matter how hard you try, your sleep clock will remain indelibly set to ‘home time’. Time zones play havoc with your head. Your biorhythms are constantly trying to correct themselves, searching for some inner landmark to anchor your spirit.

Our sleep clocks are set to ship’s time now and the ‘connect-the dots-game begins. We are cruising the Lesser Antilles, island hopping.


First light slips through a slit in the drapes. A barely audible rushing sound like water lapping the shore of a Northern Ontario Lake lulls us awake. Opening the sliding glass doors we are slapped with heavy humidity rushing in to take advantage of a new opening. It drives us back into our equally heavily air-conditioned cabin to catch our breath.

The sea is calm. Dawn clouds dot the horizon. The ship’s wake is twisting, swirling white-foamed water rushing away from the white steel hull – dissipating then disappearing – losing its forced form – becoming waves in the softly rolling sea swells.

Boobies skim the sea’s surface. They glide between the troughs, rise up then dive deep into the wake with wings folded tight to their bodies, disappear then bob back up to the surface, sit briefly, then take flight. They repeat their kamikaze attacks again and again creating a rhythm that has dictated their lives for eons.


Towering dark cumulus clouds dominate the horizon. We can see the rain lines falling from its gunmetal grey edge. As the ship moves steadily towards it like some jousting knight meeting a challenge, the cloud lifts itself above the horizon revealing a steadily growing gap of burning orange…a haze-fire in the luminous morning mist. Into this opening a red ball slips up from the sea line growing relentlessly. Its light reaches up piercing the cloud’s darkness etching its shape. In an effort to challenge the rising sun, the white-rimmed cloud contorts itself into multiple moguls and towering columns. But the challenge is well met. The now heated rays of the rising sun burn through the cloud’s base forcing the horizon gap to widen and claim the birth of a new day.


And then they appear – rocks in the sea born of fire. Oceanic crust and coral thrust upward by colliding sub sea plates moulded by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, green thick-wet verdant hills running up from sea to sky, cloud shrouded peaks and lush valleys…islands. Cruise islands…more dots to connect. The pilot boat comes rushing towards us.


Island to island there isn’t much difference. The port towns are unbearably hot and heavy with humidity. Tight streets and lanes, sidewalks of alternating degrees of narrow, crowded with bewildered tourists looking for bargains in the markets and street side stores. Frigid air blasting from shop doorways (a moment of relief) is quickly sucked up by the humidity.

Each island’s hills are laced with roads twisting and turning their way up to somewhere. There is room only for one vehicle at a time. Passing is precarious because the culverts on either side are wide and deep to carry water downhill. If you slide over to quickly to make room for an oncoming car you could be lost, swallowed up to the axel. Towns, villas, shanties, shacks, abandoned half finished homes and churches, all perched on the hillsides, jut out from the greenery.


A rainbow rises from the sea. Rain, fog and mist hang over the deep green hills that run layer after layer into the dark clouds that blanket the mountaintops and slide between the peaks. It is a damp, dreary day. Our guide is driving us deep into the rainforest. Switchbacks, fallen roadside rocks, chewed up asphalt, potholes and washed out roads with cars parked on either side, mean nothing to him. Compared to the claustrophobic congested warren of market stalls on the harbor streets, although treacherous, at least these are open roads. There is beauty in the lush verdant hills even though rain clouds rule their peaks.

And as we drive deeper into the rainforest I wonder if we will ever find a clearing that would give us a view of the surrounding sea.

We climb Mount Sage the highest peak in the British Virgin Islands for a change of perspective. But clouds shroud the land beneath us. There is no sea. There is no island. No dots can be see. There is no connection to landmarks of place or spirit to settle you.

And it is still raining.


Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

July 11, 2015 at 5:17 PM


with 3 comments


She gathers her mother’s dress up over her ankles so she can move without tripping or ripping the hem as she shuffles over to the record player. Gingerly she guides the arm to the surface of the 78 until the needle catches a grove. The sweet sound of Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade fills the room. She admires herself in the mirror. She imagines an enchanted night in a ballroom filled with pinpoints of light sparkling down on her from a revolving, mirrored ball. Then the little girl dances in her mother’s shoes, toes stuffed with Kleenex so they won’t fall off.

Jennie felt like Cinderella.

Though it wasn’t a wicked stepmother that made her feel that way. No. Her problem was her stepfather. This man, with his suffocating, old country ways, never accepted her and her older brother as his children. To him, they were an obligation reluctantly agreed to. To him they were outsiders. And everyday he found ways to remind them.

Her natural father died while Jennie was still in her mother’s womb. They had just immigrated to Canada. Out of desperation the family arranged a hasty marriage for their newly widowed daughter. Her soon-to-be stepfather, tired of being alone, simply wanted someone to take care of him. He came with a good job and a home that needed a wife. A pregnant widow was a less expensive and more convenient alternative than a trip to his village in Italy to bring back a bride. To the still grieving widow the hasty marriage meant security for her young son and unborn child. Or so she thought.

In the years that followed, the match evolved into one of provider and housekeeper. Both believed they had taken advantage of the other. It was not a union of love. It was a union of mutual necessity.

When Jennie turned five the reality of her position in the family became obvious soon after the birth of her first half-brother. The stepfather expected her to care for the child while her mother took care of the house, cooked his meals and eventually, had more babies.

Growing up as the oldest girl in a large Italian family, it was her lot in life to be surrogate mother and nanny to her younger siblings. And it wasn’t as though they were overly demanding or mean spirited like their father. They loved her. She was their big sister. By the time Jennie was eighteen she almost single handedly raised three half-sisters and four half-brothers…all while going to school…all without a life of her own.

The absence of love, the absence of a father she never knew, plus a stepfather who ignored her, taught Jennie how to live within herself. As for her brother, she was jealous of the love her mother showered on him. She took some comfort in the fact that he was unhappy enough to stay away from home as long as he could after school. When the stepfather bullied him, her mother fiercely defended him. During these arguments Jennie would turn away, withdrawing into her make-believe world.

Their mother tried to restore the intimacy of a true family when her husband wasn’t around. She kept a faded, wedding photo hidden at the bottom of a battered old steamer trunk beneath her wedding gown and all the christening dresses. When the stepfather worked nights, she would lock the bedroom door, open the trunk and bring it out.

“This is my Salvatore,” she would whisper, almost to herself. “This is your father.” She would gaze at her son; hold the fading black and white picture up to his face and say, “You have your father’s eyes. I look at you and I see him. See, your smile is just like his.” Then, she would press the picture to her breast and moan, “Oh Salvatore, why did you leave me? Why did you leave your babies?”

At first, Jennie and her brother would giggle and mimic their mother rocking back and forth lost in her memories. As they grew older they began to understand her sadness was theirs as well. Jennie was always uncomfortable when the photograph was taken from its secret place. It wasn’t long before she grew tired of the attention it always brought to her brother.

Behind a locked door so no one can see, the little girl dances in her mother’s shoes.These are the moments when she is free. When music carries her soul to a forbidden world.

As her half brothers and sisters grew older and more independent, she began thinking about breaking the grip the stepfather had on her. When he told her it would help the family if she found part-time work she quickly realized, and he didn’t, that this was a small gift of freedom.

Gina was her best friend. Her parents had a small grocery store. They offered her work behind the counter. The job was liberating. She was accepted, without question, by a small family who shared their love for each other with her. In another unexpected turn, the stepfather allowed Jennie to keep a small portion of her earnings. It was, she thought, a grudging reward for all her years of servitude. Purposely, she neglected to thank him.

Jennie bought records with the money she saved. The first one she brought home was, “In the Mood,” by Glenn Miller. When the stepfather discovered what she had done he gave her a stinging lecture about wasting money on jitterbug music. Worst of all, she was forbidden use of the record player. So every 78 she bought stayed at Gina’s for safekeeping. Away from the critical eyes of her stepfather, she could dance to the music of the popular bands, just her and Gina in the spare room with no one bothering them. Like her brother, she stayed away from home as much as propriety would allow.

Little girl dances in her mother’s shoes, alone in her bedroom ballroom. Shadows and sunlight paint patterns on the floor. Stepping between them, concentration frozen on her face, she tries to be graceful in heels far too high for her small body.

On Saturday nights when everyone was out, Jennie would turn on the large Marconi radio and search the dial for the live broadcast from the Palais Royale Ballroom.

When Glenn Miller’s trombone sweetly sang the first bars of Getting Sentimental Over You, her body began to sway slowly. Raising her arms to embrace her make believe partner she danced across the carpet, eyes half closed, head held slightly back and chin coyly tilted ever so slightly to one side. Imagining the feel of his hand firmly in the small of her back, gently leading her in small circles forward and back, she willed herself deeper into a dream world of soft lights, magic nights and escape.

The music and its promise was all she had. Everything she heard on records and from the Palais Royale broadcasts spun in her head. When she felt her life caving in, she came back to the music. Humming to herself she would dance small graceful steps pretending that some handsome young man was leading her away from the life she wished to forget. That was all she wanted, that and to go dancing at the Palais Royale.

Living in her stepfather’s house she was not allowed to date, let alone go dancing. It made no difference to him that her brothers regularly went to the Palais on Saturday night, or that her sisters went to Saturday matinees just to meet boys. After all these years, after everything she sacrificed for his family, she believed she had earned the right to be treated as an equal. So she asked.

“No daughter of mine will offer herself like some cheap dancehall tramp.” His tone of voice was belligerent. “That’s not how I raised you.”

She had expected to be turned down, but she didn’t expect to feel his anger flip a switch inside of her.

“You didn’t raise me,” she heard herself yell. “I raised myself and your children. And what has that left me with?”

She could not believe the words came from her. Never in her life had she been defiant, had she talked back, had she disobeyed the stepfather in any way. Years of fear and silence fell away in an instant. “I’m going,” she heard herself say.

The man stood stiffly in front of her. His cheeks flushed red. Silence filled the space between them. Her eyes fixed on his and she saw how her firmness had unnerved him.

“If you go, don’t come back to this house.”

The threat took her by surprise. Leaving this house, this servitude that he had forced on her because she was not his child, was something she desperately wanted. The uncertainty of leaving her mother always held her back. In that moment though, she realized that the others would still be there. She saw the opportunity floating in front of her and she embraced it with a firmness that shocked him.

“Fine!” She flung the word in his face. “Gina’s family has a spare room. I can stay there. I’ll work in their store for room and board and go to dances whenever I feel like it.”

“You would leave you mother, your home, your family just to go to a

dancehall? “

“Yes,” was all she said knowing that the dancehall was the beginning she longed for.

Little girl dances in her mother’s shoes unaware of footsteps on the stairs. A key slides silently into the lock. Through half-closed eyes she sees the silhouette of a man framed in the doorway. “Come. Dance with me,” she says to the figure walking over to the record player.

She left home without incident. In their silent embrace Jennie knew she had her mother’s blessing. The confrontation with the stepfather was behind her now. Everything she had was packed into two old suitcases her mother used when she came from Italy. She was leaving for a room of her own, a bed she didn’t have to share and a life without boundaries.

The stepfather was at work when she left. He came home expecting to see her in the kitchen, setting the table, as always. When he realized she wasn’t there, he never said a word. There seemed to be a tacit understanding among her brothers and sisters. It was as though they were proud of her, each privately respectful of her act of defiance. Even her mother smiled. She was happy for her daughter.

The streetcar stops where King Street, Queen and Roncesvalles converge in front of the Bus Terminal. From there the girls walk down a long flight of concrete steps, cross over to the boardwalk and follow the crowds towards the muted music floating out on the early evening air. To Jennie the sound is a promise not yet defined.

Sunnyside Amusement Park runs from the mouth of the Humber River to the CNE. Just up from the beach the boardwalk stretches along the shoreline shaded here and there by arching willows, large oaks and maples. At the foot of Roncasvales Avenue stands the Palais Royale. Large windows and doors punctuate all sides of its stuccoed exterior. On its distinctive barrel vaulted roof rows of clerestory windows run north and south. With all this glass, the setting sun pours light into the vast ballroom flooding the cantilevered, sprung hardwood dance floor in front of the elevated stage. Off the main ballroom the Terrace Royale runs the length of the building overlooking the beach. Couples are already dancing in the open air hoping to catch a cooling Lake Ontario breeze.

Arm in arm, Gina and Jennie walk quickly past the small crowds mingling outside. Some single men stand around smoking and cautiously sipping from silver flasks which they quickly return to the inside pocket of their suit jackets. The unattached women gather close by sizing them up. Each man memorizes the faces of those they want to ask to dance and each woman those they will say no to. Jennie is too excited to be bothered with the flirting going on around her. She wants to be inside, she wants to be close to the music.

At a table by a large window she sits, nervously waiting, fiddling with the straw in her glass of Coke. What is left of the sunset rims her dark hair with a thin line of light. Wide eyed she watches the couples on the dance floor, studying their moves so she will be ready. The music she had heard on records and the radio spills from the stage, fills the dancehall and settles all around her. The last light of the sun leaves the ballroom. Couples on the crowded floor become a mass of clinging, shuffling shadows. Above, the mirrored ball begins its slow turning, sending multi-coloured stars orbiting the universe of the room. A look of expectation settles on her face. A small, self-satisfied smile crosses her lips. Being here tells her she has won.

She knows she must be patient. Someone will come. He will be tentative at first, putting out his cigarette before he reaches the table, smoothing back his hair with his hands. Speaking in a low voice to hide his nervousness he will ask her to dance. Her smile will tell him, ‘yes.’ And as she takes his hand and follows him to the dance floor, he will not notice the hope dancing in her eyes.

The record lies in pieces on the floor, but the music still plays in her mind. The man leaves, his anger hanging heavy in the room. Silently the little girl dances to the music in her mind…tears in her eyes…dreams still alive in her soul.

Remembering Jennie on this Mother's Day

Remembering Jennie on this Mother’s Day.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

May 10, 2015 at 8:41 AM


with 6 comments

I walked the Cemetery Road the other morning. It leads to the remains of Southampton’s original cemetery that lies, long since abandoned on a high, crumbling cliff overlooking the Saugeen River. This road is always at winter’s mercy, as the Town doesn’t maintain it except in late spring.


A cold east wind soughed through the trees. There was a chill in the air even though the sun did its best to pierce the battlement-like tall cedars that lined each side of the road. The shade from these trees is the reason for the slow melt on the forest floor. Even so, water runs freely in the ditches that hug the shoulders of the damp, rutted, pot-holed road. Overhead a Bald Eagle inscribes lazy circles in an unbelievably blue sky. A sentinel Crow sounds the alarm as I round a turn out of sunshine into shade.

On the road, a short distance ahead of me, I see a man, slightly stooped, slowly walking with the aid of a cane, his gait steady, measured, deliberate. It isn’t long before I’m beside him, my pace now moderated to match his.

“Good morning.” I say. “Great day for a walk.”

He stopped. Smiled. Nodded. “Indeed it is.”

We walked, side by side for a ways, talking of nothing in particular and everything in general. His eyes were bright blue. His smile suggested gentleness. He wore a greying mustache that gave him the rakish look of someone who flew Lancaster Bombers in World War Two. His leather Bomber Jacket with a fur collar fit perfectly with the mental picture I was drawing of my new companion.

“That’s quite a camera you have there. You must be a photographer.”

“No.” I said. “I play at photography. Just a hobby.”

“I had a Mamiya 6. Got it after the war. Fine camera…a lot different than what you’ve got there.”

“Times change,” I said politely.

At that moment I felt myself becoming impatient with the slowness of our walk. That if I wanted to keep chatting, I was compelled to move at his pace. I wondered if he was aware that because of our chance meeting, he had slowed me down…forcing me, however subtly, into his world.

Don’t be ridiculous, I thought. Then again, don’t we all do that every day of our lives…gently steer people to meet us on our terms…to agree with our outlook on life…our thinking…our opinions…to move at our pace? And more often than not, our resistance is a source of conflict in our lives.

“I think I’ll head home now” His words broke through my silly train of thought. “I’ve gone far enough.”

He had no thoughts other than a pleasant walk with a stranger. On this quiet country road this elderly gentleman had reached his limit. I watched him retrace his path leaning on his cane more than before; shoulders hunched…his step a little slower now. “Cemetery Road,” I muttered to myself.

I picked up my usual pace and moved on…not sure of when I would turn back. Before I rounded a corner I glanced over my shoulder, but he was nowhere in sight.

Regrettably, I never asked him his name.


Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

April 20, 2015 at 3:13 PM


with 2 comments

Vivian was an Art Director that worked for me back in the 90’s during my Ogilvy & Mather days.

She was good. Imaginative. More than willing to present concepts that challenged clients. Her layouts and comps were brilliantly rendered. (InDesign and Photoshop weren’t in wide use back then).

The reality that she was a fine artist was suspected, but remained hidden from us until the day she walked into the Creative Lounge with a battered old art bag full of her watercolours. She had finally decided to show her work and she wanted our opinion…and one of us to write artsy descriptions of each painting.

What we saw were wonderful representations of Toronto, evocative street scenes, finely detailed, bursting with vivid colour. We were impressed, full of praise. Viv was humble. She had stepped outside the confines of advertising and shown us another, creatively different, side of her. She did leave one piece in her bag, though. I pulled it out and she quickly took it from me. “This isn’t worth showing,” she said. “Its too slap-dash.”


It looked like she had ripped it out of her sketchbook; the edges were rough and unevenly torn. But, I liked its simplicity. There was a richness to the varying shades of green that edged up to a slightly out of perspective white Muskoka Chair with three gray shadow stripes across its back.starkness. The chair stood solitary as if waiting for someone.

I was taken by it. This was the garden and the chair I pictured myself one day relaxing in on a quiet summer’s afternoon…not caring about much. At rest. Done with the storms and stresses of ambitions and competitions I depended on for a living were over. It was a picture of a promise I would make to myself.

I told Vivian what I saw in her “slap-dash” work and she smiled. “Ha. Ed’s Chair,” she said. “OK, it’s yours.”

I did pay her. Can’t remember how much. After I retired I had it framed. It hangs in my bedroom.

Today, I have the garden. I have the chair. And I have the quiet summer afternoons to sit and pass the time any way I wish.

Promise kept.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

April 4, 2015 at 4:10 PM