Monday, 29 December 2014


 I’m growing older. I am seventy-three. Or seventy-five. One or the other. So I’m not too thrilled that a New Year is upon us.
   To quote Sara Gruen from her book, Water for Elephants, “Age is a terrible thief. Just when you’re getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. It makes you ache and muddies your head…….”
   However, it’s not entirely gloomy. Nothing is expected from old people. You’re pretty much free to spend as much time as you wish sitting quietly and remembering backwards.
   I remember many a New Year. But I’ve always found that New Year’s celebrations were all about acting as if you were having fun, and getting drunk while waiting for the New Year to arrive. And then there was the countdown and the celebratory kissing and the wellwishing, all the while hoping that young woman with the runny nose and horrible cough who kissed you on the lips wasn’t conatgious. So, although I spend considerable time thinking backwards I prefer to think about anything other than ringing in the New Year.

   Thinking backwards actually takes some practice. If you begin in the middle of your life, and go forward or backwards, facts tend to become jumbled. Best to begin at the beginning, the very beginning, and build upon what you remember. No mean feat for someone who  can’t remember names, or his correct age. But it seems to work.
   The other day I spent some time thinking about my birth. Now I really don’t remember my actual birth, and there's no one left to ask the circumstances. But I do know that it was an important day for my mother. I was told that she was the headliner for a Country and Western Jamboree being held in a large arena in Hamilton. She lived in Hamilton during the summer and fall as occasionally my father’s steamship would visit the port with a cargo of iron ore. I should explain that the steamship wasn’t owned by my father. It was owned by the Patterson Steamship Line. He was one of the engineers. He would have liked to own it but we were as poor as church mice, and to simply be allowed to work on the ship was more than one could ask during the dirty thirties. 

Anyway, despite being nine months pregnant with me my mother was performing her act in this Country and Western Jamboree.
She played the guitar while step-dancing down home country style. Apparently all went well until in the middle of jumping up in the air and clicking her heels, all the while playing the guitar, her water broke. You have to hand it to my mom, however, as despite her water breaking she finished the show then hitchhiked to the Mountain Hospital in a snowstorm where, although  she was a bit worse for wear, I was born yelling and screaming.
Or so I was told.
My mother’s best friend, May Something, telegraphed my father,”BABY BOY BOTH DOING WELL”. My father proceeded to celebrate getting drunk on five cent draft beer.
   I do have memories of my first year. I have this image of a light at the end of a long hallway. Apparently my mother lived in a second storey cold water flat on Ottawa Street, and the light that I saw came from a window at the head of the stairs. I also remember vegetable stalls at the street market that my mother would attend to purchase tired vegetables.
   My next memory, a vivid one at that, was when I was in my second year. It was in the late fall. I know this because it was snowing and I was dressed in a coat and was wearing a cap. We were at a train station standing on the platform. I remember the screech of metal on metal, smoke and steam from the engines, and the train’s porter yelling, “All Aboard”. A black porter who wore a uniform like Tom Hanks wore in the movie, Polar Express, helped me onto the train and got me seated. My mother was having difficulty managing a suitcase and me while carrying my baby sister. I can still smell the steam and hear the train’s bell and horn as we chugged out of the station. It carried us home to Midland, to the house where my mother and father would spend the rest of their lives.

 I remember the house, the play pen on the front lawn, the yellow rose bush, fishing in the sewer drain with a safety pin on the end of a long piece of string, eating sand, bobskates, and much, much more. Another time, perhaps.

   Memories, one of the benefits of growing old and having the time to sit and and think backwards. 

   Anyway, ignore this old guy and get out there and celebrate the New Year. Get drunk. Suffer the hangover. Make resolutions to be broken. But, by all means avoid the young woman with the runny nose and the horrible cough. As for me, I believe that I'll stay home, have a glass of wine, wish for World Peace, then go to bed early and spend a little time before falling asleep thinking backwards. After all, it really is just another day in what can only be described as a really messed up world.


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