Archive for September, 2008

The Dirt Devil

September 24, 2008

Way back when, when Frank immigrated to Canada all of his qualifications were as if they did not exist. Added to that, he was struggling with the English language. After twenty years here, we still spoke in French when we were together. His command of the language was never great, but he always managed.

He’s a clever kind of guy. I always admired his ability to get him out of the situations he got in. He worked at a French bakery for awhile. He’d apprenticed at that when he was a youngster – fifteen or so – when he refused to go to school anymore and his dad, having none of that, arranged for his apprenticeship and marched him into the bakery the next day. It was school or work. There was no choice. When he came to Canada, it was an easy job for him to fit into. Lots of bakeries employed French bakers and he could communicate; but he’s allergic to flour – a common thing in the bakery world – and he didn’t last long at that job.

I’ve got to hand it to Frank, he’s got a fantastic work ethic. He’s always there and on time. He’s never faked a day off because of an imaginary illness. If he had to be there at four in the morning because that was when work started, he’d be there at four even if he had to walk ten kilometers to get there.  He works well independently and sometimes, he’s good at commanding a group of men to get work done, although I’ve seen him get pretty argumentative and I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that.

So here was Frank without a job and going stir crazy in the house, unable to speak to neighbours and friends.

One day, something needed to be fixed – a neighbour’s washing machine, I think it was. Well, it wasn’t long until he had another request for his services to fix a vacuum cleaner; and then a  dryer, and then a sump pump and then a stove and then, and then and then….

And then he was in business for himeself. We didn’t have a car. He took the bus complete with his heavy took kit and a map to find his way around. I was working full time. I didn’t have time to help him out except a bit in the evenings – locate something faster on the map, tell him what bus to take, or phone his customer and straighten out what was needed and what time he expected to get there.

Not only that, but he had to go get parts once he’d decided what was wrong. It would take him all day to look after one customer; but he was fiercely independent, wanted his own money to spend, not depend on me, and so bit by bit, by word of mouth, he built up a good business.

Of course, he got to know what were good brands to buy – which ones were dependable and of long service, which ones were easy to repair, which ones had quirks to be avoided.

Last year when I needed a vacuum cleaner, it was Frank who picked it out. It was a shiny red Dirt Devil which we brought home from the big box store.  I have an aversion to assembling things and I always assume that these products will need something to be done, so I left the machine in the box. Frank, however, can never wait to get his mechanically minded hands on a new toy, so he was the one who unpacked the vacuum as if it were a Christmas present. He was happier than a kid with his first hockey stick and a pair of skates!

When it was all assembled and he led it through its paces, he brought me out of the kitchen to the living room to see the new toy. He showed me the switch to activate it, and the lever to lower the handle to an angle for sweeping the machine across the carpets.

The vacuum was one of the new models without filter bags. There were two chambers, each with a gizmo that filtered. When this chamber filled up, it had to be emptied. There was a little catch to open this up and then underneath, when this part was removed, there was a filter bank that had to be pulled out an cleaned occasionally. It was held in by two locks that needed to be snapped open.

If you remember one of my earlier blogs of August, you might remember that just before the Wedding Anniversary party, I intended to vacuum the rug. After all, there were visitors coming that had never been to my house before and first impressions are pretty important. The vacuum cleaner was not being cooperative. It was picking up dog hair and depositing it back on the rug in curious polka dot shapes.

After some frustrating trials to fix whatever was wrong, I gave up and used a hand vacuum to do the job. This small vacuum  did a wonderful job, but doing eight hundred square feet of carpet completely bent over is not to be recommended. I’d have to fix the vacuum or get a new one. The cost of getting someone in was going to be about the same cost as a new machine. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that’s the way of things in the labour market these days.

It’s been a month since then. Frank and I are no longer an item and our parting was acrimonious. There’s no way I would take it to him to fix, if fix could be done.

You may also remember that Whistler, my nephew, is staying with me while he awaits some medical tests. He’s feeling a little sensitive about having to be here and, not being able to work, he’s eager to help to make up for his contribution to the household.  For my part, I’m trying to keep him gainfully occupied so that he doesn’t go crazy with the uncertainty of his situation. At the same time, I’m quite sensitive to his energy levels. I don’t want to overtax him and I don’t want him to equate my listing of things to do that I mumble out loud as I think of them, as a request for him to do it.

So I extracted the vacuum from the cleaning closet and armed myself with some tools and a layer of old newspapers to tackle the ailing Dirt Devil. First I ran the motor and confirmed that there was some suction, but it was so little. Then I took off the chambers and looked for something clogged. There was nothing there. Even after I vacuumed a little, there was still nothing there. Nothing was coming through at all.

Next I checked the hose, but it appeared to be clear as far up as I could see without a flashlight. That wasn’t it.

Next I extracted the filter bank but it too was clean. There was nothing that could be stuck there. It just wasn’t possible.

The only other thing I could see that could be removed for some kind of a check was a kinky little clear plastic cover, about four inches long, that covered the place where the hose joined the machine. There were three black magnetic screws with Phillips heads on them.

“Hey Whistler,” I said to him as he lounged on the couch. “This used to put your grandmother in awe when I did this kind of thing.  I’d take out three screws and she’d just shake her head saying “where did you learn to do that?'”

“Three screws. It’s hardly rocket science. And then she would go tell my siblings that I knew how to do everything; and she would forget how many times she had said it and they’d all get mad. ” I laughed.

Whistler laughed too, and it was good to hear him laugh. He rose from the couch and came to watch what I was doing. I showed him the three screws and the little clear plastic cover.

“Three screws,” he repeated, shook his head and entertained a wry smile on his ingenuous face. “But really, I wouldn’t have know where to start either.”

“Well, Frank taught me lots of things. And he showed me, when I bought this thing, how I should take care of it. I’ll have to see what I can do now.”

Sure enough, there was a wad of dog hair, dust bunnies and fine powdery dirt that was compacted into this little passage. I fished it out with my fingers and let it drop onto the outspread newspapers. I fished a little deeper and there was still more, both up and down in the tube.

That done, I replaced the cover, screwed back in the screws and ran the machine.  It still did not draw well. Whistler proposed that there was still blockage further down and if I let the machine run a minute, more would rise to the opening.  And so it was.

I removed and replaced the cover about four times, and then it seemed, there was nothing left to pull out. It amazed us both, not only how compacted all this dirt matted together with dog hair and other detritus had become, but also the sheer quantity of it. It kept coming and coming. No wonder the machine had not worked. Just so you don’t think this was an easy operation, we had to pull this stuff out with a fondu fork with a little catchy tine on the end; and once, when we could hear pebbles or stones or marbles or something in there, Whistler helped me turn the whole machine upside down because we couldn’t get it either with our fingers or with the fondu fork.

Whistler found his opportunity to do something with his day.

“I know you don’t like doing it, and I’ve nothing better to do. I don’t mind. And you can go do something more important, ” he offered.  He took the machine, plugged it in and started to vacuum. This lasted about three minutes when the engine shut down and refused to work. The red cover was hot to the touch.  Obviously there was still something wrong.

I looked for another entry or exit for this tube. Something surely was blocking still. It wouldn’t be long before the machine shut down again and went on strike. After some poking and dismantling the dirt chambers, I found the tube exit and poked my fingers in it. There was a rubbery part, a bar that seemed to move.  When I pressed a little harder, it moved deeper into the machine.

“Oh, grief!” I thought. with a groan. What if I’d dislodged a working part? What if I’d made things worse? I continued to poke and the object went sideways, my fingers just barely holding its rubbery surface, working its way up until, with a jerk, it dislodged and was free in my hand. It was a wine cork, the new kind made of plastic or rubber.  No wonder the machine was complaining. No wonder there was no suction draw.

It took a few more times of cleaining out the passage as the newly freed hose allowed the suction to bring the remaining dirt into the chambers.  Now the whirlygig metal parts turned freely in the dirt chambers, Now the dirt was sucked from the carpet like it was supposed to.


“Good for you!” declared Whistler. “I’m impressed. I don’t think I could have done that.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” I said, thanking him in return for his assistance. ” And we just saved $170 of a new vacuum or $90 for a repairman,” I added, “so let’s go thrift shopping. It’s seniors day at the Sally Ann, and I’m over 55 now. I think I get twenty percent off”

“Do you need anything?” he said, a bit incredulously.

“Nope. It’s just to get out and do something. And you never know. You might find something.”

And so we did. After all, I’d saved some money, so now I could go spend it, don’t you think?


The shoe box

September 20, 2008

My childhood drawing – looks like flowers and butterflies.

When I sat down this morning to write, I intended to tell this story. Wordy person that I am, I ended up writing two posts about Whistler. The first was meant to be a preamble, but it took it’s own direction and I just had to finish my thought, so it went it’s merry way without me really having to work at it. It got too long, so I wrote a sequel which should have been the short preamble, but it was not meant to be. That diversion that I took just kept me travelling down that same road with Whistler.

What I really wanted to say was this:
Whistler and I were watching television. Numb3rs, to be exact. I like the program and rarely miss it if I have my way, each Friday night.

In the way that Whistler reads while watching television, I need something to occupy the other side of my brain. I’ve been wanting to interest Whistler in the family history, so I pulled out some of the archival material that has become my Nemesis. It came with the boxes and baggage from my mother’s Estate, and as executrix, I have to determine what is kept and what is disposed of.  Over and above that, I’m at the age where I am curious about our family origins, as far back as we can gather from living members and from deductions from primary sources – letters, bills, addresses, photos and the like.

I thought that Whistler might like to dabble in some of my preparations of all this stuff and so I brought out the document that I’ve created to date which contains all the photos and as much description as I could muster and let him peruse it.

I sat with three boxes of the collected jumble I’ve inherited and started to sort.

First of all, I had a box of Father’s technical documents complete with transparencies he used in teaching Surveying and other university Civil Engineering subjects. I’m looking for things I can throw out and yet, I look at these things and they are the only tangible records I have of my beloved father. It’s his handwriting. His oh so careful, oh so precise mechanical drawings.

I pondered as I went through them, how I might do some work of art with these images as an element in them. That kind of activity would have to wait until later. I need to get this stuff sorted and away unless I want to still live with ceiling to floor boxes.

The only file I found that could be chucked was a file of applications by students from other disciplines requesting admission to the Surveying course that he taught. It contained school records, dates of birth, copies of diplomas. In these days of Privacy Laws and identity theft, it was incredible that he had kept these at his home and now, thirty years later, I was looking through these records and thinking, these men who applied graduated from University the same year that I did! And then, I reflected, there were no women applicants. How different the world was, in just 30 years.  When I left work at my Property Management company, most of the new engineers coming in were women!

I took and shredded that file batch, but there was precious little else that I could let go. It went back into a new and rather spiffy box that I will be able to tolerate looking at if I have to store it for long.

Next I tackled two boxes of Mother’s things. There were the usual things that Mothers keep. I found my Piano Certificates from the Toronto Conservatory of Music and transferred them to a box for me. I found several drawings I had done as a child, several invitations to various shows I had had in my career, and a notice of a class that I taught a UBC Continuing Education. I found letters from Lizbet and Heather and put them aside to give to them later.

Some had already had been sorted. There was still room in that box for more but one of the sub-boxes, a black and redshoe box marked VERY OLD ADDRESSES in fat red felt pen. It was filled with old addresses and it was not going to fit, as was, into the remainder of the new spiffy box everything was to go into.  As a result, I decided to dig in and see what could be chucked.

I had a first thought to just chuck the works. After all, even Mother had marked this box “very old addresses”. Historic sleuth though (that’s me) could not just do that. Maybe there was something important in the box. Maybe just maybe there would be a tidbit that would trigger some memory that would turn into a family story or would help define a family tree member that was otherwise missing. If nothing else, my mother was a thorough soul. When she was afraid of forgetting something – a birth date, a spouse’s name, a brother’s anniversary date, a child’s full name – she wrote it down.

I found several of these for her side of the family.  I found a good treasure trove of addresses that I lived at that are beginning to slip from my memory if I have to come up with them in a hurry. I found the same for my siblings. I had a horrible thought when I found cards given to her at the time of her mother’s death and then was assuaged that I had actually done the right thing when I found letters written to her by all of us siblings. Mine was a hand made card on brown Canson paper with a gold design on the front that I had done myself. Even then I was outraged at the price of store bought cards.

I did find records of  my uncles’ and aunts’ birthdates and their progeny, complete with those life altering dates of births, marriages, deaths.

I kept these and I kept anything that mentioned her life long friends – ones I recognized, ones that might trigger stories about her life or fill in blanks.

And then I settled down to the serious business of going through her address card file. Now, card file is only a way of speaking. While many of the addresses were written on the back of a series of black and white postcards I had produced in my youth when I had dabbled in the gallery business – a one-summer-long store in the resort town of Garden Bay, B.C. , many were on legal size charity envelopes. These were folded to postcard size. I challenge you to try it. The folds were many and the thicknesses cumbersome.

Some envelopes simply had a pre-printed address, the kind you get through the mail with every fund-raising group that has garnered your address legally or otherwise. There were stamps on these going back, the oldest to 1972. Now, those aren’t ancient stamps, but they still will look good in a stamp collection, so I tore those out before chucking the address, if that were its fate.

She had addresses for friends and family. I had moved around often, from Pender Habour to New Denver, to France, moved twice in Rheims, and then back to Vancouver and then to Burnaby with three more addresses before I came to live with her,  twelve years before she died. Three cards were stapled together for me and they included the business cards I had used for the Antiques store my spouse and I had in Rheims and every new business card I had with the large Property Management company I had worked for when I came back to live in Canada.

Lizbet had a smaller collection; Heather as well. Funny, I’m just thinking, I never saw one for Otto. Perhaps he never wrote a letter to her. He wasn’t the literary type to do so.

As I went through, I saw names and sometimes clues, for the hundreds of addresses she had collected:

Bishop, Bialecki, Bicklehaupt, Blum, Nurse Bauer (now there was a clue!) Sinke, Dodworth, Chronell, Byle, Chilton, Carrick, Fawcett.  Who were these people? I knew none of them. I thought I knew so much about my mother and here were people, significant enough to hit her address collection, and I knew none of them.

There were addresses for institutions – University Women’s Club, Faculty Women’t Club; University of Manitoba, Grace Hospital, The Red Cross, a Life Membership certificate for the Christian Blind Mission.

And back to names – Hergest, Hobek, Halford, Kanseth, Kaser, Melhorn, Moshoeshoe.

Moshoeshoe was from Africa and there was a fine stamp attached. The letter was still within and it began with an apology for not writing followed by an explanation – she had written but the letter had come back to her. She must have had the wrong address, or missed a number. That was the entire letter.

There were several other letters still enclosed. Of these, there were a significant number of people whom she had met on her travels through tour groups. One told of her dissatisfaction with Maupintour and how she had been sent from pillar to post in her search for satisfaction, then dropped. No satisfaction at all. Another requested that they plan a tour where they could meet up again. This one was written from the other side of the continent in Alabama.

There were two complete letters from Norah, the black woman she had met in Columbus Ohio while whe was taking courses towards her Masters degree in the teaching of children with disabilities. Norah was a Minister’s wife and it brought to mind the day Mother, Father and Lizbet were invited to join Norah at her church on Sunday for the regular service. It turned out that Martin Luther King was murdered, assassinated, that same week and my parents were fearful that they would be the only white family in a church entirely composed of blacks.  What might the reaction be? Might it be unwise to go?

They checked with Norah. Norah assured them that everyone would know that they were connected to the minister and his wife. There would be no risk. No need to worry. So they went.

I don’t remember Mother telling about the service. It’s not that that stuck in her mind. It was the fear and the uncertainty that she felt about going. It was April 1968. There were other protests throughout the country. At Kent State University, students had been killed during a demonstration. She felt vulnerable and unprotected.

She and Norah corresponded for twenty years and then the letters from Norah stopped. I remember her very sadly saying to me one day, “The worst thing about getting old is that your friends disappear and you never know what happened to them.” Norah was one of those. Probably no one in her family knew she corresponded annually to my mother and wouldn’t think, even so, to send a note of her death. Certainly, if she had been put in a retirement home in ill health, nothing would have been sent at all. There was a stigma to that. One did not easily send bad news to almost strangers to the family.

And so it went. I found other letters but I didn’t have time to read them. As it is, I’ve reduced two full boxes to one and I’m happy about that. I’ll be shredding and recycling the paper from them for the next few days. There’s quite a pile of it.

I’ll read the kept letters later with a bit more leisure. Right now I’m trying to find space and visual tranquility in my office and writing space. So, onwards and upwards, it’s time for coffee and a bit of a Klatch with Whistler.

I’ll get out another box to sort while I’m at it.

Whistler and I go walk-about

September 20, 2008

If you haven’t read the previous post, you might want to read it first.

Whistler and I are living in harmony while Whistler is still waiting for his specialist appointment.

As Favoured Auntie of the moment (after all, I’m putting him up, aren’t I?), I’m trying to keep Whistler busy, not thinking of his medical troubles. When I went to the gym the other day, he accompanied me, just to get out of the house. Not that he was into the treadmill thing nor the reclining bike.

He took the opportunity to walk to the bank and then to the walk-in clinic. There he made in-person inquiries as to the status of his appointment with the specialist.

“It’s on our posting board. We’ll call and see if we can get one for you,” smarmed the receptionist.

“It’s been a week since the doctor determined I needed one!” he almost wailed, voice raising.

“We make our specialist appointments on Mondays if there’s nothing urgent,” declared the young women.

To Whistler, it seemed that she didn’t care a whit. Of course, she had no idea how desperate he was beginning to feel, not knowing what was the matter with him

During the week gone by,  Heather had been speaking openly amongst her friends in Sechelt as to Whistler’s case. The minister from the church confessed that he had had the same problem and that he knew of four other men with the same condition – all had turned out to be cancerous. Of course, Heather had passed this information on to Whistler. Now armed with his conviction that this was his fate as well, he tackled the nonchalant receptionist.

“Good grief! he exploded. “I’m being assessed for cancer and you sit on making the appointment!”

The girl did not change her demeanor, but she was paying attention none the less. She couldn’t afford a crisis in the reception area.

Whistler is normally a mild mannered young man. It takes quite a bit of passion to get him to be assertive. He defers to many; but this wasn’t one of those occasions. He caused a fuss (so unlike him) and he left the clinic, adrenaline pumping, with a promise that the specialist would be contacted within the three hours left in the work day.

Next day, he was back up at the clinic asking for status; and then the weekend came in between and there was no point in checking.

Heather, in one of her phone calls from Sechelt said,, “Don’t they know how agonizing it is to wait when you are sick and don’t know what it is; nor how sickening it is to wait while you know something is worsening and they don’t do anything?”

Monday came. Whistler heard from the specialist that he had an appointment on the thirtieth, two weeks away, but he still hadn’t heard from the doctor nor from the clinic’s receptionist.

And so Favoured Auntie is trying to keep Whistler amused. Distracted.

On Saturday, we went to the Haney Farmer’s Market. It was Sunflower day and the contest for the tallest sunflower was on. There were about ten giants lying on the ground, their shallow roots dripping dusty dirt, their glorious and sometimes misshapen heads burgeoning with seeds. They were the kind of plants that would have made Jack and the Beanstalk believable to young children.

We didn’t stay for the judging. The tallest one there by the time we left was over thirteen feet!

“Twice my height!” I remarked to Whistler. “Twice MY height” he replied. He’s a good seven or eight inches taller than I am.

We bought some Artisan Foccacia bread, top sprinkled with sea salt and rosemary; some farm fresh tomatoes; did the tour of the craft products – bead stringers, jam makers, soap producers et al –  but I could see that he was losing interest. We went to the produce market and picked up some fresh fruits and vegetables; we went to three garage sales on the way home and then he was tired and slept the afternoon away.

On Sunday, he showed me how to use the pressure washer that I’d bought and never opened. It wasn’t rocket science. He offered to powerwash the peeling paint from the front steps that needed paintingbefore the snow flew, and I left him to it.  It kept him busy. He had a date on Sunday, too, with a long time friend from college. He drove to Burnaby to meet her and they had coffee that they took down to the beach. It was a fine, sunny day, just like the summer we almost missed out on this year. (We had only two weeks of really hot, sunny weather).

On Monday he primed the stairs and on Tuesday he painted them. We’d also gone out to select a colour of paint and done some banking for me and a trip to the post office. At the end of each activity, he was tired. Not so tired as required sleep, but that lethargic “I-can’t-hold-myself-up-any-longer” kind of bone weariness where one needs to stretch out on a bed or a divan and let all the muscles sink into the sofa cushions.

On Wednesday, he still had not  heard from his doctor’s office that he had an appointment, although he was feeling much better to know that the number of days to the thirtieth were diminishing day by day. He phoned each day to see if there were cancellations; but, no.

On Thursday, the sun was behind clouds. A more dismal day I had not seen for a long time. It was grey – a deep depressing grey that pervaded the house. It was better outside. Still twenty degrees out, despite the gloom, it was a perfect day for gardening. I was out in the garden digging up a bed that I would like to use for vegetables next year. At some time, someone had filled it with excellent quality top soil. Things that I’ve planted therein have flourished.

Whistler came out at  about eleven o’clock, just breakfasted, looking for something to do. He fixed some hooks to the fence so that I could tie up the raspberries. He mixed some grass seed with sand in a large container to let it germinate (which is a great way to keep the local denizens of the garden from eating all the seed and becoming permanent pests).  He pulled out the overgrowth of Lamia so that I could dig out the next bed. He helped me transplant some big plants from one place to another (as I slowly sort out this big garden to my tastes).  There’s a fine line between providing him with things to do and overtaxing him. It’s the last thing I want to do. It wasn’t long before he was going in for another couch hug.

We did a second day of gardening on Friday with similar progress. He lasted about an hour or so and then went back to his Ken Follet thriller whilst listening to the television.

And there it rests.

We visited Mr. and Mrs. Stepforth in the evening for a cup of tea and a lot of chuckles. They are a great pair for lifting the spirits. Nothing is sacred and everything is fair game for a dig and lampoon. We laughed and sipped our tea and then came home.

We watched Numb3rs on the television until it was time for bed, and the rest is another story.

Whistler comes to stay

September 20, 2008

Whistler came to stay in May for a few days. He’d finished his ski season at Sunshine Peaks and when the hotel closed for the season, he was on his way back to his parent’s home to say hello, all the while looking for a summer job to tide him over to the next ski season.

Whistler is thirty-five and though he has a University degree in geology, he’s never practiced in the profession. Job hunting was tough when he graduated and he either had to go back to university for a Masters to get anything decent in the way of a job or settle for something more mundane. With his love of skiing, he found a  job in the hotel industry and had worked his way up to desk manager. It was a good enough living if one didn’t have lots of bourgeoisie dreams of house and family, but it worried my sister Heather that he wasn’t going anywhere.

And now it was September. Whistler had not found a job. He was visiting at his parent’s home with his brother who also had come, from Japan with wife and child in tow. Even so, though he had sent out resume after resume, he was tired and dispirited. His energy levels seemed depleted and his response to any reply he got from potential employers was lacksidaisical.

“Yes,” he told me, ” I could have worked in a Vancouver hotel, but the rents were too high, so it wasn’t worth it; and I was offered a job at Blackcomb, but I went for three days and couldn’t find accommodation so I had to turn it down.”

When we held the Fortieth Wedding Anniversary party for Heather and her steadfast husband, Whistler came down from Sechelt with them and he never left here afterwards. His lethargy had become worrisome and there were other signs that needed checking out. At first the doctor said it was an infection, and then when the antibiotic treatment made not a whit of difference, further tests were required.

“Just don’t get the big C. OK?” my sister Lizbet urgently whispered to him in his ear one day. She’d just been through a spring session of having pre-cancerous patches removed from her face and there were still a few red spots where the skin, not yet fully healed,  had been abraded from her cheeks.

Whistler’s tests needed to be done over a period of weeks. Since he was technically homeless while he waited to find his dream ski job, he had to make a decision – miss the party and stay in Sechelt while the test were done, or come to the party and stay with me in Maple Ridge, find a new doctor who would take him on for the length of time it took to get a medical appraisal of his situation.

There were tests to be done at labs and specialists to see. Sechelt would have meant trips into Vancouver and back. That would not only be tiring and time wasting, but costly also, and Whistler was now out of work, had been for three months and his Visa Card was mounting up to max.

Now, if you are aware of the crisis in medicine these days, you will know that trying to get a doctor to look after you is a dicey thing. When I first came to live here a year ago, I could find no one but rotating walk-in clinic doctors to care for me, so for the small things that befell me, I went to these doctors. Then I had a bout of something more serious and in three visits I got three different diagnoses from the same clinic! I went scurrying back to my Burnaby doctor even though I had miles to drive to get there. I trusted her. She knew my history for the past 12 years. She was lovely and not a) officious b) disdainful nor c) obviously uninterested as the three walk-in clinic physicians had been.

When I went to get a family doctor who would keep me as a patient (I wanted none of this rotating door business) in April, I was advised that there was one doctor in town who would see me and I could have an interview with her to see if she would take me on. “You understand, she might or might not like you. She doesn’t just take anyone. We’re just receptionists. We can’t just tell her that she’s got a new patient now,” said her nurse. “There’s an appointment open to see her in July – July 28th. Will that be fine? Shall I pencil you in?”


July was three months away. Just to get an appointment!

Pencil me in? I had visions of erasers dancing through the appointment books at night, searching for vulnerable patients, first time supplicants, wiping out their dates with destiny, driving the poor, the sick and elderly out of the book so that the doctor who had spent years training for his or her profession could pick the cream of the crop, the body builders pure in shape, the bikini girls with flawless skin, the fashion plates in perfect size 10, the men who looked like the models in Sears catalogue, mothers with well behaved children and grandfathers with a Maurice Chevalier je-ne-sais-quoi kind of dapper elegance.

On his own, still mobile but not very energetic, Whistler started to do the rounds of the walk-in clinics trying to find a doctor. To his credit, and perhaps to the credit of the doctors, he found one quite quickly – one who would see him through the whole suite of tests and trials that he might need to take if one test led to another. He went for his tests. He’s been to the doctor. The diagnosis is still up in the air.

With the ponderousness of our mammoth health care system, answers do not come quickly. All we know is that the tests have been done, but Whistler is now waiting for a specialist appointment and waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

It was a dark and stormy night

September 2, 2008

Kay and Lizbet sat gazing at the clouds form at the crest of Grand Mountain several miles to the East. Both Kay and Lisbet were warming their hands on their first cups of coffee of the morning trying to ward off the under-chill of the first days of autumn. It was only August, for Pete’s sake, and the temperature overnight had dipped from twenty eight to four degrees Celsius, a sure sign that the summer days were slipping away.

Lizbet owned an incalculable number of blankets to ward off the mountain cold. Both Lizbet and Kay had one wrapped about their laps and legs.

“Look!” said Lizbet. “That cloud is just like a bear; or if you look at it the other way, it could be a small elephant with its trunk curled up.” Kay was facing the wrong way to easily see. She twisted her head about and looked. Eventually she could see the image that Lizbet had seen. Kay returned to her comfortable position looking north, facing Lizbet.

“Look!” said Lizbet. Kay bristled. She couldn’t turn her neck easily. She couldn’t keep turning around to see every cloud. She didn’t turn. But Lizbet insisted. With reluctance, Kay got up and turned about to see the cloud. With a sigh, she turned her whole chair around, her back now towards Lizbet.

The cloud had grown. Now it was like a donkey, Kay thought, with big ears, or a rabbit. The cloud was not going anywhere. It was simply growing and changing in place.

“What is it about Kootenay clouds that make them do that?” she asked rhetorically as she wondered at the physical, scientific properties that might engender these in situ cloud transformations. It wasn’t anything like the coast where the clouds rolled in, ready made, banked up against the Coast Mountains in towering masses of dark grey. These were fluffy white pillows. Cushions that grew. Grew into towering thunderheads like atomic bomb explosions.

The day heated up. Coffee was over and they went to their various tasks. Kay was painting the porch railing, the only paint failure that had occurred during the last winter. Paint was coming off in large flat flakes on the lower rail and this needed scraping, priming and painting. She also had some cedar siding to prime and paint. Slowly the house painting was getting under control. There was just the north side left to paint, but Lizbet would have to get a contractor in for that. The house was simply too high and she wasn’t about to climb up thirty feet on a ladder, no matter how stable anyone could make it.

Lizbet was going to cut the lawn. It was a large lawn with some hilly places. In her summer holiday absence, a young fellow had cut it once, but now it was long and it was going to be a big task. She brought out her new power mower and yanked on the cord. Once. Twice. Thrice. Finally the motor rumbled into action and snorted, ready for its grass eating exercise.

Kay stayed a little. She was considering if she could cut her own lawn with a power mower. If Lizbet could, surely Kay could. Lizbet ceded the grass eating monster and Kay held the trembling beast with both hands. The shuddering of it ran right through her.

“Good hand massage!” she declared over the noise of the beast, as her hand absorbed the vibration of the machine. “Good body massage!” shot back Lizbet, “It goes right through you.” Lizbet pulled dandelion heads while Kay mowed. After a bit, Kay gave the machine back and returned to her house painting.

Just before noon, the wind came up, rustling in the Lombardy poplars, brushing across the maple trees on the ravine hill in a gentle sh-sh-ing. In no time, the trees were swaying, whipping about. They were drowning out the roar of the lawn mower. Rain started to spatter, first in tiny drops, then in normal rain drops, then in big fat globs of water. Lizbet and Kay ran for cover, abandonning the machine in place as the sky dumped a proper deluge, but it was over in minutes and the wind died with it. It was a good time to break for lunch.

They sat on the porch, Lizbet with some reheated ribs she had left from the night before and Kay with a pair of fried eggs. It was a quick lunch. There was much to do.

“Look how black the clouds are to the North,” said Lizbet as they sat eating, both looking outwards this time.

“And look how the cloud on the crest is mushrooming like an atomic bomb,” said Kay. The cloud had started white and fluffy, the centre was darkening and expanding, the cloud rose in a matter of minutes from a small self contained pillow to a ginormous presence, growing out of the mountain crest like a mushroom, the light still pouring over and through it. It was white and beautiful with a full range of gray scale in between. Shafts of light came streaming through in some places. In others, there were form defining slate greys. And still, the sky between East and North was full of Dutchman Breeches, a pure sky blue.

Kay returned to her painting. Lizbet went inside to prepare for her first day back to school which was tomorrow. The School Board was downsizing the district. Drastic cuts had been made a few years previously, but she had seniority and had managed to stay on. This year, there were fewer students again. Although there were no more school closures – there had been ten of them two years ago, mostly one room schools – the downsizing continued. Instead of intermediate grades, she would have Grades Two and Three in a mixed class plus one of Grade Five French.

She knew she could do it, but she didn’t have the materials for the primary grades. She’d inherited piles of paper from a younger teacher who had been let go due to the downsizing, but she’d not had the heart to go through it. Now she had to prepare. Thirty youngsters would be facing her tomorrow, thirsty for knowledge, waiting to see the Fashion Queen of the Universe, as the Grade Threes had dubbed her last year. What she wore was of vital importance. But fashion wasn’t everything. Lizbet would need to be prepared to teach as well.

Kay was standing on a step ladder that had sunk into the garden soil just in front of the porch, scraping away loose paint and dust, priming as she went. Of a sudden, the lights went out. The black clouds from the North had blanketed the sun, had swept across half the sky – the half that Lizbet’s house was in.

Again, the warning wind, again a few random drops fell, then normal drops. Kay lidded the paint can. The drops were coming faster, were schooling together like tiny fish in the sea, massing, becoming big drops in a moving mass. Kay ran for cover. Lizbet came to the porch edge. The rain was pounding, The rain was pelting. Pea sized white pellets were driving forward. The gutters could not contain the onslaught. Water was gushing over their borders. The pellets were now the size of a dime. Slush was falling off the roof. Water was running down the driveway in sheets of brown slick mud, racing for the ravine edge.

Kay and Lizbet watched the phenomenon with wonder as rain and hail pelted, drove, dumped. And then it stopped.

Just stopped.

The driveway was slick with water; it began to form into muddy rivers, collecting, dispersing. The flower bed soil was black with damp. And then it was gone. The sun shone bravely as the cloud disappeared.


The termperature had fallen from twenty five to fifteen in less than ten minutes.

Four hours later, Kay looked out the window to the north. A slushy pile of hailstones lay melting ever so slowly, the collected mass of what had fallen on the roof and then to the lawn.

It was a dark and stormy afternoon.