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Friday, June 13, 2014

This one's for you, Dad

Dear Dad: I know we aren’t really big on heart-to-heart talks, but it’s Father’s Day this week and I just want you to know how I feel.
Growing up with you wasn’t always easy. You had a short temper and I did a lot of tip-toeing around trying to stay out of your hair. Raising my own kids, I tried to keep them quiet so as not to disturb anyone. Someone pointed that out to me one day – that it wasn’t normal. I loved it when your 2-year-old grandson moved in with you. He was loud and wild and free and he softened you up for the rest of us. Or maybe that’s just what happens when you are a grandparent. You don’t have the quick temper anymore. Your patience grows longer. At least that’s what I’m hoping, because I have inherited your short fuse.
Now that I’ve watched a few kids of my own grow up (I won’t say I raised them because they pretty much raised themselves), I want you to know I appreciate the rules you set while we were growing up. Some of them may have been unspoken; I can’t remember.  I think you passed some of them on not with words but by example:
-          Do the right thing.
-          Be kind to animals, always.
-          Work hard; then goof off.
-          If it’s a nice day, try to be outside in it.
-          There is no reason to sleep in past 10am, ever.
-          Nothing good happens after midnight.
-          If your dad hasn’t met him, you shouldn’t be getting in a car with him.
-          No matter what time of night you come home, always find your Dad and kiss him goodnight.
-          If you are in trouble, call your Dad. He won’t ask questions until the next morning, after the smoke clears.
-          Everyone is good at something. Don’t compare yourself to others.
-          A good work ethic, strong character and sense of humour are more important than good breeding, a Master’s Degree, fortune or fame.
-          Laughter is better than multi-vitamins.
-          Hugs heal.
My memory is sketchy and fading but thanks to family photos I do remember a few Father’s Days from the past. In one, you are sitting on our front step at the little bungalow on George Street, bare-chested and brown. I am the skinny boyish kid beside you in the pixie haircut, handing you something in a shoebox. You are smiling that big crinkly-eye smile. Wish I could remember what was in the box.
I made you an ashtray, at least once. You also received ties as Father’s Day gifts, and you actually wore them. Whether in a suit or t-shirt and jeans, you still hold the title of best-dressed man I have ever known. I bought you many, many books over the years, and watched you devour them in about three days per title. You were a speed reader. I have inherited that habit. I started buying you books with more pages so the gift would last longer.
Later on, gifts were related to boating and snowmobiling: two of your favourite things. I now have maps of the Big Rideau system marked up with “nice picnic spot” and “swimming hole” in your handwriting.
For the past six Father’s Days, I have had no Dad to buy a gift for. I might go visit your resting place, and then I might not, because I don’t really feel your presence there. I feel you when the whole extended, blended family is gathered around the dinner table, cutlery is clinking and the girls are laughing. Or after dinner, as we sit on the back porch watching the cows come in and the sun go down. The guys light up a cigar and the girls get out the guitars and sing in harmony. I know you would like to be part of that moment.
The steady pain of losing you that sat on my shoulders for a few years after your death has morphed into a steady, comforting presence. I miss you, but it is true, what “they” say. You will always be with me.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. We will spend it thinking of you, and celebrating the way you would, by enjoying the great outdoors, with family.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Singing the praises of our resident beast of burden: Donkey

I don’t often write about Donkey. He gets a passing mention from time to time but unless he is living up to his name and being a real a**, he doesn’t get any press. I think it’s time to change that. Let’s sing the praises of Donkey. He is mischievous and stubborn but he does have a few redeeming qualities. 
First of all, he is never sick. He can eat just about anything and never have as much as indigestion (that we know of, anyway). He is hardy in all kinds of weather, chilling in the shade on a blistering hot summer day and outstanding in his field (get it?) with a snowdrift on his back in winter.
Donkey also seems to have a handle on self-maintenance. When it’s time for his winter coat to come off, he just finds a patch of rough sand or gravel and rolls on his back in it. The extra hair comes off in a cloud of fluff and off he goes, his new shiny coat revealed for summer.
I’m glad Donkey’s constant traipsing over our glacial moraine pasture and its many stones trims his hooves fairly well, because I can’t imagine getting them trimmed. I asked Thad, the only person we know who can trim our untrained Belgian Misty’s hooves and he said he did work on a donkey once but the animal had to be placed in some sort of restrictive cage so that he couldn’t kick the farrier. No pedicures for Donkey.
According to the Internet, Donkeys have been used as working animals for over 5,000 years. I’m not sure how you get them to do any work as they are so mischievous but they certainly are strong and they do like to carry things. I never have any trouble putting the halter on Donkey; he stands stock still, lowers his head and acts like he’s being adorned with a mantle of which he is exceedingly proud. Like he’s the Mayor of Fisher Farm or something. Usually when he gets the halter put on him it’s because he has been chasing sheep and I need to dress him with the long gangsta chain that knocks him in his knobby knees if he tries to run. He seems to like it anyway.
A female donkey is called a Jenny; a male is a Jack. I wish I had known this when I was naming Donkey. Instead I was heavily influenced by my most recent reference: the movie Shrek.
Much like a horse, Donkeys are social, people-loving animals. They need plenty of mental stimulation because if they get bored they get themselves into trouble. Donkey has very dexterous lips. He can open gates and door latches with them. Usually this takes place because he can smell something delicious on the other side of the barrier but often it is just to get to the other side because he knows he isn’t allowed.
Misty is well aware of Donkey’s abilities, and shuffles around anxiously behind him until he has flipped the lock, the switch or the latch on whatever he is jimmying. And when they make their way into the shed without our knowledge, Donkey flips open the lid to the storage freezer like it’s his own personal lunchbox. The scent of molasses fills the air and Misty pushes her way into the space beside him to get her share. One day I walked in and Donkey had his head so far inside the deep freezer his front feet were off the ground. I didn’t get my camera out in time.
If the sheep are ever in trouble, Donkey is the first one to report to the house. He does this sometimes by braying but more often he does it simply by getting in our line of sight, i.e. directly in front of the kitchen window, and just staring at us. Then we know there is something wrong and we go out to investigate.
Perhaps the most important purpose that Donkey fulfills on our farm is as companion to Misty. When her sister died suddenly, she was lost. Then she felt that familiar nudge by a soft velvet snout against her flank. Donkey was there, and she let him fill the gap that her sister left behind. And he’s pretty good for entertainment value too.

In search of a good night's sleep

It’s been a long winter and I’m ready to do some spring cleaning. The urge to purge had me wanting to throw out our old bed so we went to the Finnerty Auction in search of a new one. Rhonda had tweeted that the showroom was looking like The Brick this week so we decided to have a look. Ken draws a crowd of antique collectors from near and far on a Friday evening as he liquidates furniture from old farms and estates.
I’m not much for antiques, but the Farmer is. He got distracted for a while by the old Sleeping Beauty spinning wheels and farm implements. I wandered over to the rather modern-looking king sleigh bed. In my increasing years I don’t sleep much, or very soundly, and the Farmer has restless leg syndrome. This tiny, almost imperceptible movement of his foot back and forth under the sheet is just enough to keep me awake. Many nights I had to sneak off into the spare room and sleep in the spare bed. There are a few problems with this arrangement: #1. The spare bed is now occupied by our boarder, an International student; #2: I have nightmares in a different room because my feng shuei is all screwed up and I start seeing things in the shadows; #3: I have to be alert enough to sneak back into the marriage bed early in the morning because if I don’t the Farmer gets all disappointed and everything.
If there is one thing we don’t want, it’s to sleep in separate beds, in separate rooms. That just feels like we’re senior citizens ahead of our time and we are not ready for that. Never, I say!
We spent the last year on two single beds shoved together. It solved the problem, as we each had our own little island of peace, yet we were still together. Unfortunately the rigid edges of the mattresses and the gaping canyon between the two wooden captain’s beds where they didn’t quite meet in the middle made for a pretty inconvenient situation at times.  (He’s going to love that I’m publicizing our private sleeping arrangements). I felt sad every time I made those two stupid little beds. I wanted something nicer.
The capacity crowd in the auction house concentrated in silence (or else you get “shushed” by the auctioneer) as Finnerty moved swiftly through the items, grouping them in bundles of two and three at a time.
“He likely won’t get to that bed ‘til 11pm,” the Farmer commented. I worried I would fall asleep first. Finnerty’s helpers kept moving up the left side of the room. Then, suddenly, the auctioneer announced they were going to move over to the back end of the hall on the right side, where the bedroom suites were grouped. It was like he read my mind. I watched as the couple that had been sitting on MY bed was asked kindly to take their seats elsewhere.
The queen-sized sleigh bed went for $1100. Ooh. That’s a bit rich for us. We had agreed we would pay up to $500 for the king bed but I didn’t hold out much hope. I started repeating in my head the mantra, “it’s too big for your room, people. Leave it for me. It’s mine.” And they did! Only one other person bid and the Farmer got the bed and beautiful pillow-top mattress for $500, all in. Amazing.
I realize the king bed with its gorgeous dark wood sleigh frame that perfectly matches my end tables and sets off my bronze-and-red colour scheme may not answer the problem of the restless leg in the night. But the waves that his leg used to make in the night are just ripples after crossing the wide expanse of our king bed now. In time I should be able to ignore them.
It could be worse, I suppose. I could be dealing with a snorer. How do you solve that problem, I wonder? Thank goodness neither one of us snores. At least, he doesn’t. I might. I wouldn’t know – he’s deaf in one ear and sleeps on his good one so he never complains. And with that, I’ll stop giving out all the Farmer’s personal information. Farmwife out!