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.

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“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.

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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

“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.

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“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.

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“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.)

‘TONY!!! LEAVE THOSE BLOODY GOLDFISH ALONE!’

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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Mother Ormiston

“She’s a world traveller and I won’t go to Sooke,” says Dad.

Mum is going to England again; this time, she’s helping a dear cousin recover from knee surgery.

“When we’re down below,” says Dad pointing to hell, “she’ll be raising funds to install air conditioning.”

Admiration has overtaken his past hurts.

“It would’ve been our golden wedding anniversary next year if we’d stayed married,” Mum told Dad recently.

“Let’s throw a party anyways!” he replied.

I call Mum to wish her a good trip and a safe flight.

“I kissed your father goodbye this time,” Mum says over the phone, “He was laying back in his chair so I was practically in his lap by the time our lips touched.”

We laugh.

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Another weekend, another night spent sitting with Dad.

“Jerry called to tell me he’s checked into a nursing home,” says Dad. Jerry is an old friend I don’t think I’ve met.

“If he dies, I’m to be notified,” says Dad.

There’s a pause.

“Shoot me when I get like that,” he says, “No, hire your mother so that she has to change my diapers, and have her pat my bum.”

He laughs as I smile and shake my head.

I suspect he’s a little hurt she’s left again. To Hawaii in November, Cuba in January and England in February, his ex-wife is a busy woman.

“I don’t owe anyone. I never did. I paid cash and built the whole damn thing,” says Dad about the house, “Your mother got upset because I never did anything until I had time to do it.”

A few hurt feelings still remain.

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“We’ve got a good family,” says Dad, listing off various grandchildren.

“Except for the one that never sticks around,” he says referring to Mum.

Time passes.

“Mother Ormiston,” says Dad commenting on how Mum will help anyone, a trait he respects.

“You can’t get mad at her with all she does,” he says.

No, you can’t.

An email arrives from England.

It reads:

“You don’t give me any news!!! How did yesterday go at the funeral? How is Dad? Are you having dinner with him tonight?

Do you miss me? I miss you!

Love, M”

We miss you, Mum. Dad and I miss you very much!

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The Sabbath

“I want to be buried in my Hunting Stewart tie. It’s worn by the Royal Scots. They are oldest regiment in the British army,” says Dad, “I hung it here so you wouldn’t forget.”

A dark green tie hangs between us from the standing lamp beside his living room chair.

“Ack man, it’s the Sabbath,” he quotes his favourite film, Whiskey Gallore.

“I’m taking you to church tomorrow for your birthday,” I say.

“Are you sure the roof won’t fall in?” he asks.

Dad turns 86 on February first.

“Thank you,” he says looking at me. His eyes are clear and focused.

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I cry six times on Sunday.

At church, we sit in his favourite spot: the farthest back corner. We stay sitting as the rest of the congregation stands up and down following the service’s procession. We sing songs and I cringe silently in the places where my non-Christian beliefs get triggered, like how God gets mad at us when we don’t do his bidding.

The passing of the peace, where the lovely people shake hands and offer each other kindness, is followed by communion.

Holding my hand with his left and his cane with his right, Dad slowly makes his way down the aisle towards the minister. The congregation sings. I kneel beside Dad as he opens his hands and accepts the blood and flesh of his saviour.

On our way back to the pew, the rest of the congregation now seated before him, Dad bursts into the hymn and begins his weekly ritual of gushing love over the people he passes.

“Thank you father,” he sings out, receiving love in equal doses to the love he is sending out.

And I burst into tears.

“Your tears are infectious,” my Godmother tells me afterwards.

I cry again.

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We leave coffee time early to attend the funeral of an old friend of Dad’s.

I drop him at the door and park the car. I’m nervous of leaving him for even a few minutes as I worry he’ll fall.

Inside, Dad sees his friend and launches into his memory cycle of how he was once the largest masonry contractor on Vancouver Island. I interrupt him by asking what he remembers about Allyson, the woman who the funeral is for. His eyes clear and he tells a story he remembers about her. He always liked her.

Dad falls asleep during the service. It’s his nap time and his heavy eyelids are hard to fight. I let him sleep with an elbow ready in case he starts to snore. He wakes on his own and looks over at me, embarrassed.

After the post-service treats, I help Dad up to leave, but he almost falls.

“I just about fell on my ass,” says Dad looking at his friend apologetically.

He points at his wrist.

“I wear a memory patch,” he says, and again I sense an apology.

More tears come as we walk out the door.

“You’re going to have to shoot me,” says Dad as we hold hands to the house.

More tears.

“My father wanted me to be a pall bearer at Uncle Joe’s funeral,” says Dad over a cup of tea, “He was bloody mad when I told him it was time Tom and Dick did something.”

Tom and Dick were Dad’s brothers. And yes, my Dad’s real name is Harry.

What my grandfather didn’t know is that Dad was too busy making arrangements to be a pall bearer.

“Wee Andy MacGeorge was a piper in the Scottish and he came and volunteered to do it for me,” says Dad, “At the end of the service, Wee Andy, in his kilt, marched down to the pall bearers carrying the casket and led them out to the hearse.”

The piper played The Barren Rocks of Aiden by Lady Rutherford of Ormiston.

Dad saw tears rolling down his father’s cheeks.

“He was a sentimental old bugger, tough as hell,” says Dad as he segues into another story where grandpa stops a knife fight in the men’s mess with a stool.

“I love you, dear,” Dad says when I kiss him goodbye and head to the ferry.

Love hurts.

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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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