Dad and I share a bottle of wine. He lifts his glass.

‘Here’s to love, life and laughter. I’ll be true as long as you, but not a moment after.’

I laugh, lift my glass and alter a toast I’ve long since learned from him.

‘Here’s to whiskey, amber, pure and clear, not as sweet as a man’s lips, but a damn sight more sincere.’

Dad smiles accepting the challenge.

‘Here’s to San Francisco, that city by the sea, where a woman’s ass and a whiskey glass made a jackass out of me.’

Knowing I can’t beat his sass, I return to the heart of the matter, another toast I learnt from him.

‘Here’s to good blood and good health. You can’t have good health without good blood, so here’s to a bloody good health.’


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My Rainbow in the Clouds

‘I love the video you posted on Facebook of that black woman,’ says Mum.

Not sure which video she’s referring to, Mum pulls out her iPad, then and there, wanting to watch it again, this time with me.

As the clip plays, I stand behind her watching her reflection in the screen as Maya Angelou speaks. I see Mum’s heart in her eyes as she mouths the words revealing the repetitive viewings that must have already taken place.

Ms. Angelou says,

“There’s an African American song, 19th century, which is so great.

It says, ‘when it looked like the sun wasn’t going to shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds’.


And I’ve had so many rainbows in my clouds.

I had a lot of clouds.

But I have had so many rainbows.

And one of the things I do when I step up on the stage, when I stand up to translate, when I go to teach my classes, when I go to direct a movie, I bring everyone who has ever been kind to me with me. Black, white, asian, spanish speaking, native american, gay, straight, everybody.

I say ‘come with me. I’m going on the stage. Come with me. I need you now.’

Long dead, you see.

So I don’t ever feel like I have no help.

I’ve had rainbows in my clouds.

And the thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so that you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you, may not call God the same name you call God, if they call God at all. You see? And may not eat the same dishes prepared the way you do, may not dance your dances, or speak your language.

But be a blessing to somebody.

That’s what I think.”

Mum looks back up at me.

‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ she says, crying.


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My Shadow and Me

‘I’m afraid your father isn’t a fit for the program,’ says the coordinator.

Recently I’ve had doubts about whether Dad would be happier in a place with more people his age to interact with, rather than living at home with just his caregivers, pets and regular visitors like Mum and me.

My previous attempt to schedule Dad into a once a week day program for seniors had failed a few years back after a woman had gotten irritated with him on his first day. His feelings hurt, he refused to return.

In hopes the weekly outing would improve his quality of life and/or signal whether  he’d be better off in a professional home for the elderly, I try again.

‘He’s better suited to one on one interactions,’ the woman from the senior’s centre continues.

I get what she’s trying politely to say.

‘He told the same story five times this week,’ she explains.

Dad isn’t skilled at conversations that aren’t dominated by his stories, on repeat. The irritated woman from before wouldn’t be the only one triggered by Dad’s cyclical tales. Still, I can’t help but feel like my baby was rejected from daycare.

‘He has cancer,’ says Mum, returning from a doctor appointment.

He has basal cell carcinoma on his chest. The doctors say surgery would be difficult to recover from so he goes for a single dose of radiation instead. Like his prostate problems, he’ll likely die with it, not of it.

‘I’m calling to see about Sandy using a walker when he comes for his bath,’ says the bathing assistant.

She’s right. Dad is increasingly unsteady on his feet. Though he depends on his walker in the house, he still refuses to use it on outings and instead wobbles his way to and from the car with just his cane.

‘I’ve decided to pack it in,’ says Dad about church. He finds it too hard to get down the aisle for communion.

So after many decades of Sundays spent kissing church ladies on the mouth and needling their husbands in hopes of a reaction, Dad stays home watching TV with the dogs.

‘You need to keep moving,’ I say to him, worrying as he kicks back in a dog friendly cocoon for longer and longer lengths of time.

‘I move all the time!’ he says, irritated.

‘I’m always running to the bathroom,’ he continues. His humour returned.

Dad sings to me:

’You can’t get to heaven on roller skates

cause you’ll roll right by those pearly gates

You can’t get to heaven on the CPR

cause the god damned thing don’t go that far’

Getting old and dying is hard. It isn’t easy to watch happen to your loved ones either. I understand why the nursing home culture has flourished, why children don’t want to watch their parents grow weak and die. Sometimes I envy the ones who move away and support their siblings from afar to make the hard decisions.

After five years of carrying the responsibility of my treasured father, my heart and soul are tired. My productivity on the farm has dropped to a snail’s pace and I come home to the mainland Sunday afternoons bleeding invisibly from my throat to my chest.

‘I need help,’ I tell my husband and mother while in fetal position.

It’s become too heavy to sit alone with Dad while death taps on the windows at night making her way to the closest unlocked door.

‘What do you need me to do?’ they each ask.

I need the island to be more than the place where a gentle man’s soul approaches its end.

‘I don’t need you to do anything,’ I say, ‘I need you to spend time with me while I keep Dad company at the farm.’

My next visit, Mum answers the call and spends her Saturday with me in Dad’s kitchen phoning the washing machine repairman while I battle the piles of paper that have been growing around me during my overwhelm-induced paralysis.

Back on my feet, I sit and talk with Dad.

‘How are you today?’ I ask.

He tells me about the dogs on his lap and the beautiful weather we’re having.

‘We three make good company,’ he laughs, ‘my echo, my shadow and me.’

My doubts and overwhelm assuaged. He is where he belongs. Happy at home.

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Texts from Dad’s 30 year old caregiver, John, a mechanic and entrepreneur:

‘Sandy went and found a pot and boiled the already boiled eggs.’

‘Any way, eggs blew up again. He is insistent he makes his own eggs and he says he will stand and wait till they are cooked.’

‘He is very committed to making his breakfast.’

‘What would you like me to do?’


All these years later, for once I can say I know what to do.

My response over the phone:

‘Boil a dozen eggs. Hide the pots. Every morning before he gets up, leave a bowl with two eggs on the stove with a sign below it that reads ‘Boiled eggs’. Don’t talk about it.’


The problem of the eggs has been on the radar for a while, but it came to a head when the nurse arrived to Dad’s house with smoke billowing out the kitchen from eggs boiled to dehydration and exploded on the stove. The pot didn’t make it.

Dad was in his living room chair, all jokes to greet her. He had no idea anything was going wrong. Afterwards, the nurse called Mum. She was worried. She had to tell someone.

And so it is forever now decreed, Dad is no longer allowed to boil eggs for breakfast.

After boiling eggs every morning for a handful of decades, this too must change.


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A Rolling Stone

“Is this the little girl I used to know?” Dad asks when I call to tell him Mum is flying home from England in a few days.

“Warning me,” he says, “You’re a good little girl.”

A few days later, we spend another weekend sitting side by side in old people chairs in front of the TV.

“Remember, in order to grow old, you have to have a sense of humour,” Dad says, “There’s lots to laugh about.”

He pauses, not laughing.

“Mostly yourself.”

We admire the animals on his lap.

“Where’s the warden now?” he asks.

“She comes back in two sleeps,” I say.

“Long ones, I hope,” he replies and we laugh.


“Here comes ol’ shuffalong Sandy,” he says getting up with stiff steps to his walker.

“If you can,” he says, “laugh about it when you can barely make it to the bathroom.”

I treat him to a bowl of vanilla ice cream when he gets back.

“I’ll try to go to church next weekend,” Dad says later.

He didn’t make it this week. Lately, it takes two people to help him down the aisle for communion which has him contemplating packing it in.

“I think it’s important you keep moving,” I say.

“Otherwise, they throw dirt in your face,” he replies.


An email arrives from Mum. It reads:

“At the moment, I am researching going to Oz by freighter. The only problem is I have to be under 80. I could go and see Taeja so I am hoping they do make occasional exceptions to the age limit. Perhaps next year. What do you think? The reason for the age limit is that there is no doctor on board, and the trip is about 35 days. However, if I were that sick that I couldn’t survive without a doctor, then I would die anyway, so what is the problem I ask myself.”

Dad laughs and shakes his head.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

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“Tony has been missing for 7 nights,” reads the text from Dad’s new caregiver, John.

“We are looking and calling for him,” the next text reads, “We are sad.”

Grief strikes my heart. I push it aside to think about later. I push it aside later with Nicol’s  parting theory: He must have made friends with a neighbour.

Grief averted.

2015-09-25 22.50.51

“Crying…” reads a new text from John a couple days later, “Thankful for our time getting to enjoy his ever so sweetness.”

I’m confused until the next text arrives.

“We just found Tony in the pool.”

Grief strikes back.

I push it aside.

I’ll feel it later, I tell myself. He was just a cat, I whisper.

Tony was a cross-eyed kitten from Vancouver. Lacking in feline social skills and rejected by the other household cats, Tony turned to spraying our mainland couches, tents and other expensive items in protest.

“Your cat is sleeping on the kitchen table again,” Dad would say when I called.

After much discussion, Tony moved to the farm with Dad in the hopes he would settle into an island farm cat.

Again, it was a difficult transition as the shitzus and Samson, the old cat,  who didn’t appreciate his in-your-face personality either. Tony spent a lot of time outside, on top of parked cars and in the peak of the barn’s open window.

But slowly, the dogs stopped chasing him, and Samson let him be. Tony, too, was more humble in his demeanour and an animal harmony had begun.

These past few months, a new tradition had formed. I would arrive home to the farm and open my bedroom door to let the warm air in.

Come bedtime, Tony and Samson would be waiting for me on my bed. Competing over territory, it was lovely.


“He is now buried under the tree in the backyard,” texts John.

I think I put aside grief because it’s a familiar pain and I don’t want to feel it again. I think I put it aside because I know how much more of it lies before me.

Dad and I never mention Tony. Perhaps he feels the same way.

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WHAT!!? SCORPIONS AT THE FARM!!? (By the Oatmeal Savage)

(My longest and closest ally in the care of my father these past years writes his final blog post before moving on to new adventures. Thank you for everything Nicol Drysdale. I would have lost my mind without you.)


I shout out the kitchen window as Sandy passes me with his walker, doing well over the maximum speed limit, inquiring, ‘Nic, did I ever tell you I was the biggest masonry contractor on Vancouver Island?’

‘…hmm…. come to think of it, Sandy. I think I do remember you mentioning it to me one time.’

‘…. excuse me just a sec, Sandy …’ I say, rushing out the back door toward the former swimming pool/ now pond where the waterlilies have started closing their petals for the night.

‘Tony, you’re as bad as that fat bullfrog over there stalking the fish by pretending to be a lily pad!’

As usual, Tony, our most recent vagabond to find a home at Sandy’s, looks at me with the same amount of respect afforded me by the other animals: Nigel, Emmy, and Sammy (ie. zero), and returns his gaze to the golden prey below with a concentration the most accomplished hunter envies. Suddenly, he swipes outstretched claws through the water, skimming the tail of the petrified fish below. He shakes the water off his wet paw, and gives me a look which, in no uncertain terms, blames me for spooking his intended victim.

I chase Tony awkwardly around the pond trying to dodge dead branches as he hops nimbly over them.

‘Stay away from those fish, or one day you’ll bloody well fall in!’

I know that telling Tony not to go after the fish is futile because like me, he is who he is. It is in his character – just as it is with the fabled drowning scorpion who belatedly informs the drowning frog who had unfortunately given him a lift on his back.

When I return to the kitchen, the hunter is safe on Sandy’s lap – snickering at me as only a cat can.

I finish the dishes reflecting on Sandy’s significant entrepreneurial accomplishments, which I find particularly remarkable considering they were achieved, unlike most of the successful entrepreneurs I’ve known, without being a ruthless b*stard.

While impressive, Sandy’s past business success pales in comparison to something else he built – his Mt. Newton home. A place to give love to his children and grandchildren, as well as his many other ‘daughters’, friends, and the endless stream of vagabonds, like Tony and myself.

Sandy built his home with a particular kind of love, something very rare these days – unconditional.

I have known few individuals in my life who have given so much to so many without any expectation of something in return. And never thinking badly of those who take advantage of his kindness.

Most of us can only dream of even a modicum of the unconditional love Sandy has for others. And those of us who think we have it, usually, in my experience, have less of it than those who think they don’t.

Time changes almost everything in life. As we get older, part of us needs taken care of. And often, this change effects the things that always were.

In Sandy’s case, the wonderful laissez faire chaos of the farm had to change for him to continue living there in his twilight years, rather than the alternative of spending them in the ‘home’ oxymoron where most of the elderly find themselves.

While the farm was wonderful chaos, it was simply not an environment conducive to Sandy’s health and wellbeing at this time in his life, and someone had to take on the unenviable responsibility to transform it.

Katie, Sandy’s daughter, took on this heavy yoke.

Could Katie have made better decisions in some instances? Perhaps – she’s human, after all.

But, who among us could have done better and sacrificed so much of our own time, lifelong friendships, and family relationships to accomplish the transformation, eh!? Most of us would have sat back, spent the time on our own interests, quite content in the knowledge that at some point in time, we’d reap the same material rewards without risking and losing so much of what was important to us.

The necessary transformation required at the farm has been a selfless act of unconditional love by Katie for the sole benefit of her father at the expense of significant personal loss and anguish.

‘So why would she do it when most of us wouldn’t?’ asked the frog.

‘Don’t you ever learn!?!’ said the scorpion.

It is time once again for me to resume my nomadic wandering.

To be who I am – a stranger in strange lands, knowing at the end of all my exploring, I will end up somewhere in purgatory, sitting on a sidewalk well aware there’s no chance of a home in heaven – just as on earth.

Of course, I tried sneaking in heaven’s backdoor by reaching up as far as I could while God was preoccupied checking admissions at the front gates – but fell short. Sitting there, homeless as usual on the sidewalk, I see a hand reaching down from heaven’s backdoor and a voice saying, ‘Hey, Nic, grab on and I’ll pull you up. I’ve got a spare room in the basement, you can hide there with Tony.’

I grasp Sandy’s forearm and, while being pulled up, I stop him in mid air and say from my heart, ‘Thanks for everything, Sandy!’

When he resumes pulling me up, I notice a scorpion on my shoulder.

I turn to it and ask, ‘Why does this man do these things?’

The scorpion turns away from me to the audience saying, ‘Just when you think there’s nothing dumber than a frog, along comes an oatmeal savage….!’

Just then, I hear a strong powerful voice from above Sandy interrupting the scorpion, ‘And, pray tell, Sandy, just what do you think you’re doing…?’

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