The Farm: Episode 556 by Nicol Drysdale

Cunning plan 435.

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After long debate, I managed to negotiate the following signed contract without the need of weapons:

BATH CONTRACT

DATED: NOVEMBER 6TH, 2015.

I, SANDY ORMISTON, SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL ABIDE BY MY PROMISE TO HAVE A BATH ONCE A WEEK WHETHER I NEED IT OR NOT IN EXCHANGE FOR MY REGULAR SUPPLY OF GINGER AND ICE CREAM.

I REGRETFULLY ADMIT TO CONNING THOSE NAIVE ENOUGH TO REGULARLY BUY THE CON THAT I  WILL “TAKE THE BATH TOMORROW” OR ANOTHER DAY AND THAT SUCH CONNING  WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN, AND REQUEST THE BIG GUY UP THERE ACKNOWLEDGE MY REPENTANCE WHICH WILL, OF COURSE, TIP THE SCALES IN FAVOUR OF A PASS THROUGH THE PEARLY GATES.

SIGNED                                                                       WITNESS

SANDY ORMISTON                                                     NICOL DRYSDALE

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Peeker Returns by Andrea Wiebe

“Well, how are you doing anyway?” Sandy asks me when Katie and I arrive at the farm on Friday night.

He doesn’t remember who I am or that he used to call me ‘Peeker’, but he smiles as his eyes scan my intentions.

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It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since I left the island.

Sandy uses a walker now to roam his do-it-yourself castle. His breathing is more laboured than before and his chest moves in and out with a machine-like precision. He is perfecting the art of staying alive.

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“There’s your cat!” he yells to Katie as she heads to her part-time bedroom to drop her bag.

“He’s out of cat food,” he says as he abandons the walker to drag the five kilogram bag of dog food over to the cat’s dish.

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“Are you and Joan still in couple’s counselling?” I tease him.

The last time I sat with Sandy, his focus was Katie’s mom.

“We get along better now than we ever did,” laughs Sandy, “and we did have three children together.”

For the first time, Sandy doesn’t use humour to insult her.

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I show him the video of his 80th birthday party from my phone. He names his friends as they appear on the screen and then grows quiet. I wonder what it’s like to see his family standing together five years ago, singing about their home on the hill.

“Woah,” says Sandy, “Who is that old guy? Is that me?”

“Yup,” laughs Katie who has been home for ten minutes and already has tears in her eyes.

“Was he once the largest masonry contractor on Vancouver Island?” he laughs brushing back a patch of invisible hair, “Is that the longest living member of the Carpenter’s Union?”

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Sandy exhales like he’s sipping hot brandy through a straw as he sits on the ledge of his walker and begins to remember.

“I am the Captain of the Estevan and if we can’t settle that point with words, we’ll settle it on the deck,” he says reenacting a story about his father.

“If we can’t settle it with fists, I’ll use a Marlin spike,” he continues, “and if that doesn’t work, I’ve got a Parker twelve gauge shotgun.”

“The engineer said ‘Can I have another scotch Cap’n?’” says Sandy roaring with laughter.

His stories are now fragments of a jigsaw puzzle that few people know how to solve. Katie joins the pieces for me as he speaks so I can share the punchlines.

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On his way to bed, Sandy sturdies himself over his walker without using the brakes.

“I have to keep rolling or you’ll be throwing dirt in my face,” he says.

I look at Katie in awe and she laughs with a face full of tears.

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When I arrive on Sunday to collect Katie for the ferry, she is holding space beside a sleeping Sandy.

Leaving is always the hardest part. Sandy’s life is a temporary contract and he’s the hourly employee of the month.

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She gives him some cough candies for his cold and tells him she loves him.

He reminds her that he never had colds when he drank whiskey everyday and smiles like that one was for me.

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Katie and I pile into my car and descend the hill of the farm where time doesn’t exist and funny memories are cemented in forever.

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Here Lies

“Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go,” says Dad.

I’m home for Thanksgiving.

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“Here lies a lawyer and an honest man. Two men buried in the same grave,” he says.

Mum makes us dinner at her place and comments on how sweet her ex-husband has become in his old age.

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“Here lies my wife, here let her lie, for she’s at peace, and so am I,” Dad says.

Grateful am I.

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Hot Water

“I’m modest,” Dad says in his dressing gown, crossing his arms around his shrugged shoulders when I offer to help him into his bath.

Instead, I listen from down the hall, nervous, as he climbs in and then out.

“I’m not an old man yet!” he says when I tell him he’s on the waitlist for the local elderly bathing facility.

It’s time I put my Warden foot down, and inform him that bath day is now Friday so that Nicol can help him get in and out.

I’ve been avoiding it.

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“Are you okay?” I ask, checking in on him after the hard work of getting dressed is complete.

“I’ll never be okay again,” says Dad rolling his walker out of his room.

The last time I was at the farm, Dad had a cold and fell out of his chair while getting up to go to the doctor.

“I thought you had dropped dead,” said Mum as we leaned over his frail frame tucked into a ball for the drop and roll.

“He can’t be that hurt” said Mum to me, “He’s tickling my leg,” as we picked him up off the floor.

“I’ve made some decisions,” he says as I lay with him on my next visit, “I’m not going to church anymore.”

I ask him why.

“I’m too unsteady on my feet,” he says, “I didn’t fall on my ass this much when I was drinking a bottle of scotch a day.”

I don’t give him a hard time. Hopefully, he’ll feel differently in the morning.

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“Don’t be sad when I go,” he says, “I’ve had a good run.”

My nightmares have returned. In them, Dad is dying and I’m helpless.

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Bring It On

“Read this aloud,” says Dad, eyes lit up and pointing an obituary cut out from the paper and taped to the wall beside him.

“This was Dad’s favourite poem:” it begins.

Taeja, my niece, has mentioned a poem Dad asks her to read aloud when she passes through the room.

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Home for the weekend, it’s my turn to perform.

“Oh the whiskey was spilled on the bar-room floor

And the bar was closed for the night.

A little grey mouse came out of his hole in the floor

To dance in the pale moonlight.

He lapped up the whiskey on the bar-room floor

And back on his haunches he sat.

And all through the night, you could hear him roar,

“Bring on the goddamn cat!”

I laugh while reading the last line. Dad’s ready and waiting to join me.

The next morning, I listen from bed as Lynn and Taeja’s boyfriend, James, take their turns reading the poem aloud in the other room. And like me, I hear them each break into a laugh while reading aloud the final line. Dad joins in right behind them.

It hits me, Dad’s joy at witnessing a joke trigger laughter in another person.

A comedic storyteller, he respects and appreciates the man and his family who chose to inspire laughter at a time of loss and grief.

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“You’ve got to keep your sense of humour,” says Dad.

He works hard to keep his.

So bring on the goddamn cat!

 

 

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A Dry Run

A 1 800 number rings my cell phone as I’m getting ready for work in Vancouver.

I’m tempted not to answer, but I do.

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“A elderly man has pushed his Lifeline alarm and is reporting a possible heart attack,” says the woman, “The ambulance has been called and is on the way over there.”

I swallow hard. Oh my God, is this it?

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“I’m on my way over now,” says Mum when I call her in Brentwood Bay.

I forget having put her on the emergency contact list, but am relieved I did.

I hang up and wait, unsure if I should catch the bus to work or to the float plane.

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“He’s joking and telling old stories to Jim Hume’s son,” says Mum from the farm.

Leave it to Dad to be old drinking buddies with the paramedic’s journalist father and to be making jokes while having a possible heart attack.

I take the bus to work.

“Dad says he’ll happily stay a month,” says Mum calling from the hospital.

He likes the cute nurses.

Walking home from work, I finally talk to Dad, who is back at home and reunited with his animals and his comfy chair.

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“How are you feeling?” I ask.

“Every day you’re alive is a beautiful day,” he replies.

The false alarm has reminded us of finite time, but it has also left us oddly reassured.

When Dad got scared, he knew how to call for help. And help came like gangbusters.

“You should get one of these things too,” says Dad to Mum pointing at the Lifeline button on his wrist, “All hell breaks loose when you press it.”

Thanks Lifeline.

Dad and I sleep better knowing you’re there for him when I can’t be.

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KKKKatie

“KKKKatie, beautiful Katie, you’re the only ggggirl that I adore,” sings Dad rolling his walker towards the living room chair beside me.

“When the mmmoon shines over the cow shed, I’ll be waiting at the kkkkitchen door.”

As a child, I made loud noises of protest each time he sang me this song.

Today, I feel nothing but love.

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“For that, will you be coming to church with me on Sunday?” he asks.

Sneaky bugger, I laugh and pretend to grumble.

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“KKKKatie, beautiful Katie,” sings Dad from bed as I’m walking back to my room from a three am pee.

I laugh in the darkness.

“Nigel and Emmy are here with me,” he says, fishing for a visit.

Finite time, I turn around and head to his room. As I climb into bed, the shih tzus scatter.

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“I know,” says Dad to the dogs, “She’s big, isn’t she?”

We lay in silence.

“No, she doesn’t take up that much room,” he says, “She’s still my little girl.”

 

 

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