Friday, November 20, 2020

My mom, the birds, the bees, the books

HUMAN FACTS MACHINE: The Expositor staff

Hands up everybody whose mom was a nurse. Now those of you with your hands up, how many of your moms told you the facts of life?

Just as I thought. 

Nurses might know about where babies come from and what goes where but did they ever share? No-o-o-o-o-o.

I have decided that my mother the late Huena Carter (nee MacIsaac) studied hard and worked for next to nothing to become a nurse just so she wouldn't have to tell her kids about biology or sex.

Instead, she let us learn the way God intended: By osmosis and her supply of lurid nurse texts. (Text books. The other kind hadn't beeen invented.)

Some facts of life, I got from a kid in our neighbourhood though I didn't believe a thing he told me. 

I was single-digits old,  I could name who I was with but won't, and  the crazy scenario he painted about what people got up to was just way too weird to believe and in fact from my little boy perspective physically impossible. 

Had the same feeling a few years later when my older Eddie told me about the president of the United States' friends breaking into hotel rooms. I was like, "That could never happen. How stupid do you think I am?"

We soon learned.

Some facts of life I got from a book one of my older sisters bought. 

It was called Sex and the Single Girl and it got left it in a little cupboard in our upstairs john within easy reaching distance. After it had been read through a few times, it fell open to the best parts. 

And that reminds me of a poem, by Frost; my pal Rodney Frost that is. He penned it in honour of the  Manitoulin Expositor Bookshop, which was part of the Manitoulin Expositor newspaper, where I used to work.

ROD THE POET HOLDING TIGHT HIS WHIRLIGIG, 
which actually sounds like one of the many euphemisms
my mom had for body parts

The poem went like this: 

"The bookshop's shelves are full of books
Some dirty and disgustin'
But you can tell the worstest ones,
They never need no dustin'."

Speaking of bookshelves, in the basement of the house we grew up in, there were hundreds of books and on the second shelf from the bottom, down on the right hand side, close to the downstairs bathroom that only my dad had the guts to use, sat a couple of mom's nursing textbooks.

I remember one about surgery, the best part of which was black and white pictures of all sorts of deformities--brains growing outside people's heads and little boys with leprous arms and other grotesqueries; horrifying enough to cause nightmares but impossible to not look at.

But the book that never ever needed any "dustin'" had about three quarters of the way through, a chapter on human anatomy. With miraculous acetate overlays. At one point, you'd be looking at some bare bones; then with one acetate sheet, there'd be veins on the bones; another would add muscles and then  the last -- tu-duh --showed us what a bare naked person of the opposite sex looked like.

If the book had words, I sure never read any of them. 

Besides, I may not have known how things worked, but I knew what they were called. Huena had so many names for our private parts I could do an A-Z list of them, and still have some left over. 

But I'll hold on to them for now. Wait. That didn't come out right.




 



Monday, November 16, 2020

Persian adventures with Iris the Tomish cat

About one hour ago, I finished work for the day, closed my computer, shifted from the north end of this old red chesterfield to the south end and picked up a book called Garden of The Brave in War, Recollections of Iran, which is one of the most enjoyable books I've found in, oh, let's go with a week.

I started the book on Saturday and was quite looking forward to it after work today and thought, heck there's nobody else around so I might as well lay flat on this couch and get back into it.

The writer Terence O'Donnell, lived in south Iran for a few years and sort of took the same approach to travel writing as I would. In other words, he talks to everybody he meets and says yes to every opportunity so winds up sleeping in strangers'  houses, spending entire weekends with opium smokers and vodka cadgers and going on big game hunting trips over the course of which not a single bullet gets fired. 

At one point, O'Donnell finds himself face-to-face with a senior-citizen-aged panhandler in the middle of nowhere, Iran, named Baba Abbas who, if you refused him money flashed you, so you pretty much had to pony up.

Like I said...my kind of travelling.

So down I lied to resume reading and what  happens?

Iris. 

Iris the cat climbed up on the back of the chair from where she looks out at the world and assumed her position.

You should know that the red chair that Iris perches on is mated to this couch. I grew up with this furniture.

I have no idea how old it is but it came from my parents' house and I know that when my grandson Mateus was an infant and fell asleep where I was lying, that made him the fourth generation male Carter to carry on the proud tradition of passing out on this chesterfield..  

This couch and chair are the dial-up Internet of the modern bed-sofa.

The chair flattens out and when aligned with its matching footstool, becomes a single bed. The back cushions of the sofa can be removed and laid out in front of the main part then the other cushions laid on top of them so in effect it becomes a double bed, admittedly a horribly uncomfortable one, but still. 

Laid out thusly it looks like the kind of surface that writer O'Donnell found himself flopping down on in strangers' houses in Iran.

My point, though, was just as I stretched out on the red couch ready to read, what does Iris do? She climbs up and sits in the window.


This should not seem to a normal person like a time for quick and covert action but Iris's personal sign writer had assembled a few bon mots, (I know, I know) about a week ago but Iris had selfishly avoided sitting in the window behind the sign to get her picture taken. 

Until now. 

I had to get up from my red comfort, unplug my charging phone, walk softly to the front door, make the decision to NOT PUT SHOES on because you never know how long Iris is going to stay put; I opened the door, peeked over to see that she was still in the window (she was). I walked in my sock feet to the walkway in front of the house, camera at the ready, and what does Iris do?  

She jumps down off the back of my late father Tom's chair. And with a flick of her tail implies: "I'm glad you're finding those Persians in that book so fascinating, but can they make you walk outside on a wintery day in your sock feet?"

Every day I'm more convinced that Iris is a reincarnated relative.

And I just remembered something my late brother Tom used to do when I was little.

I would be leaving a room and Tom would say "Peter wait a sec. Come here. I've got a question for you."

I, because I'm an idiot, returned,  and Tom asked, "How far do you think you would have been if I hadn't called you back."

We laughed and laughed. 

 I forget what my point was.

 

Monday, November 9, 2020

A couple of thinks we take for granted


Just this morning I was making a sandwich and used a butter knife to spread the butter, mayo and mustard and a serrated knife to slice the tomato. Two knives for one sandwich. 
A FEW CUTTING REMARKS: Is a two-knife sandwich 
distasteful?

You might think it's a bit much: I could have used one but it's easier to cut a tomato with a serrated knife, and when it comes to spread, you get more food-per-square-inch-per-swipe with the butter knife. (I know. This is not something you have to be told.)

But I wondered: Is two-knives for one sandwich extravagant? And I also wondered: Am I weird?

Making a sandwich takes more brain energy than you might think.

To wit: In our fridge door, we have not one, not two not three but four -- French's, Hot, and two types of Honey-- mustards. And we're certainly not mustard snobs. 

I'm not complaining. In fact it's the opposite.

Take my salami.

The salami in our fridge arrived pre-sliced in a pre-perforated re-sealable package that you only have to grab a little corner of plastic to open. Then when you put it back in the fridge it won't dry out and be too hard to make a good sandwich next time.

MUSTERING CONDIMENTS: 
The French have perfected a few things.

Modern food packaging innovation is a hugely uncelebrated miracle. 

I don't want to sound like a K-Tel commercial, but really. 

Not very long ago, packaged meat came in almost hard plastic wrap that you sometimes had to use your teeth to open. Or the scissors, and when it came to resealing it so it wouldn't get stale fast, you were left--God give you strength--to your own devices. 

I don't know why I awaken every morning with in this googly-eyed  state of awe; amazed that I was born into a world of staggering convenience, comfort and choice, but I tell you--on Planet Peter--every day is Thanksgiving. 

Just last week, I was walking west along our street when I met a neighbour named Jeff, and Jeff asked how I was doing.

This is what he got. 

"Not only am I doing great, Jeff, I'm getting better.

"I was at the optometrist the other day and he told me my eyesight is actually improving. He said I don't technically need my glasses to drive any more." 

Jeff was impressed. He said so.

There's more. 

I'D LOOK SKETCHY without my
glasses. (Drawing by Ewa)

"I said 'you mean to tell me I don't have to have that little "x" on my licence?' 

"And the optometrist said 'nope.' He asked me for my licence, wrote  some stuff down on a form and was like, 'there, I removed the x.'"

I had more to say to Jeff and he's a retired school teacher and very patient.

"I'm still not comfortable enough to drive without'em  though. It's like, they're a security blanket. And as my brother Tom used to say, 'I can't hear you without my glasses.' But I don't need them."

True story. 

My vision has improved. We live in wondrous times. And Jeff is tolerant.

What I didn't tell Jeff was as I was leaving the eye doctor's office, I said, "I hope you understand I take full credit for this. Exercise, healthy eating. 

"I look really hard at stuff every day, give the eyes a real workout."

Finally adding, "Actually, it comes from the fact that I look at the bright side of everything, all the time."

My wife Helena once told me I can look on the upside of death.

I'd hate to actually have to live with me. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Altered states of angels and Saint Alberts

The Wild Bunch
Let me tell you about this picture. It was  taken at my house, where we had a “mixed” party. We were in grade seven and never had a mixed party before, unless you count birthday parties when we were really young.

That’s me holding the bottle of pop and I’m kneeling on Barry Davis, Trevor MacIntyre and Joe Rossanese who for some reason is wearing glasses. That’s how close we St. Albert’s kids were. We knew which ones of us wore glasses. Or who was left handed

I’m thinking the glasses Joe has on belonged to the kid directly beside me, Mike Kohut. 

Mike was one of those genius kids who always got super high marks. There were others. The girl behind me is Shelly Powell; another straight A-student. Roman Stankiewiecz, who isn't in this photo for some reason, was another consistent gold-star student and he still doesn’t wear glasses, to this day. (I know because he was at my place last week.)

STOP THE PRESSES!  

Excuse me for a moment. Since I published this blog, I heard from two other class members. Chris Palmaro, who did not wear glasses and lived about nine doors south of us and asked today, Monday, October 6, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. on Facebook, "Why wasn't I invited to that party?" Good question. I have no answer. For all I know, he was invited but was grounded for something. Or he was at the party but wasn't in the picture. Or finding something more fun to do. And then I heard from another high-mark classmate, Tim Gallagher (glasses)  who went on to law school, and who took Chris' side and said "and you were like a block away!" If this keeps up this blog will never get finished.

 WE NOW RETURN TO OUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING! 

Barry Davis definitely had a better handle on the facts of life than I did. ( Actually everybody did.)  And all the girls thought Trevor was cute. Some of them--I know for a fact because Trev and me and our spouses still see each other once in a while and, well, I wasn't born yesterday so I can tell--still do. Not that it bugs me or anything. 

Besides Shelly, I’m not going to try to name all the girls in this picture because I might get one wrong. 

Except Theresa Keegan. 

Theresa, directly behind me, wearing glasses, deserves a blog all her own because she grew up directly across the street from us; the Keegans also had 10 or so kids and several of us Carters had a Keegan in our class at St. Albert's.
Me and Theresa, before school screwed everything up

To whit:
My sister Charlene was the same age as Peter Keegan, my brother Alex was in their Mary’s grade; my sister Mary is about the same age as their Donnie and our oldest brother Pat (who went on to have a son named Donnie)  had the very same name as the Keegan's oldest sister, Pat.

It’s a miracle we didn’t go  to the wrong house after school. Maybe we did. Never mind that; before life got complicated by school, Theresa and I were inseparable.

But back to that photo: Beside Theresa on the far right is Linda Recollet, easily recognizable because she was the only First Nations girl in the class. We had another First Nations kid in our class for four years or so, Mike Blondin. Of course we didn’t use First Nations. We — and they — said Indian. 

Mike and his family moved to a different neighbourhood after we were in grade six so he attended St. Raphael’s school for seven and eight. 

The thing about Mike? 

One of the funniest kids you’ll ever meet. 

Picture this: Mass time in St. Clement’s Church. Fr. Walter Burns, presiding and on either side of the altar knelt a few altar boys, facing each other, their hands clasped up in front of their faces. 

We looked angelic, deep in prayer. 

What you didn’t know is that one of them was Mike Blondin who, peeking through his clenched fists, was furiously twisting his mouth, and puffing out his cheeks and tongue, anything to make us on the other side of the altar, laugh. He was generally successful. Mike is still exactly like that. 

Exhibit A: 
Ageing altar boys en masse


Five minutes ago, I decided I would include another Roman anecdote in this blog. Roman happens to have a son in university and the young man goes by AJ or TJ, I wasn’t sure which. 

I texted Mike, asking what Roman’s son’s name was. 

Texts Mike back: “Name's AJ but I’m not sure of the spelling.”

Here's the Roman story. 

When we were in grade five or six, a bunch of us altar boys went to the local TV station after school to be on something called Hub’s Club, which was one of those programs where a local TV host entertained a small audience of kids; sort of like a Northern-Ontario Captain Kangaroo thing.

The day us guys from St. Albert’s went, the host, Hub Beaudry, asked if we knew any good jokes and Roman said “I do! I do!” 

Beaudry held the microphone up to Roman’s face and Roman says “What’s hairy and sticks out of your pajamas?” Beaudry yanked the mic away, but not before Roman yelled “Your head!” 

What’s really weird is I have never forgotten that episode but when Roman was at my place last week, turns out his star turn on Hub’s Club had completely slipped  his memory. 

Imagine forgetting an important life event like that. 

I wonder if that’s what happens when people start getting older .

Monday, September 28, 2020

I just literally counted my blessings and, like, holy cows!

I was very small, maybe five or four, when a few of our family drove from our home in Sudbury, Ontario, to Halifax Nova Scotia, to visit my eldest sister, Bertholde. For some reason it seems we were somewhere in New Brunswick, when I sneezed, like 32 times in a row. 

The others in the car counted. It could have been 15, I think it was 32, but I know for sure it was a lot.

Sneezing has been a part of my life as much as breathing or walking. And it never occured to me until five minutes ago, but sneezing made me the man I am today.  

Get this.

GREEN ACRES, Ontario, was the place to be!

As weird as I feel admitting the fact, when I was in high school, thoughts of being a shepherd crossed my excuse for a brain. My dad had been raised on a 300-acre cattle farm in the Ottawa Valley, which by the time I was a teenager was laying fallow. (See? A farmer word! Not bad, eh?) 

And thanks to a couple of much-looked-up-to older cousins named Jim and Don MacIsaac, the profession of "hippie" was a serious career option. I was confident I could take my acoustic guitar, move back to the land that was in my father's family, and do whatever it was that farmers did, like, raise sheep. 

I still can't believe this is true.

So halfway through what I think was grade 11, I signed up for something called the junior agriculturalist program, which put your tax dollars to work sending city kids to work on farms for a summer. I was dispatched to a cattle operation up near the west end of Manitoulin Island.  

I'd never worked harder before or since. And never sneezed more, either. 

On that farm, I was so allergic that when I woke up in the mornings, I had to wash my eyes open because sneeze goop dried and made it hard to move my eyelids. I remember once in the middle of breakfast starting to say "thank you" but instead sneezing an entire mouthful of shreddies clear across the farm kitchen table.   

DOWNTOWN TORONTO's the life
for me!

Perhaps that breakfast sneeze was the final straw. (Get it? Straw? Even the smell of  hay still makes my nose itch.)

Because soon after that, my folks came to visit. 

By that time, the patient farmer Orland Wismer had somehow disinterred from his barn an old gas mask that I could wear while riding on the stuker (not bad huh?) baling hay. We were out in the field when I saw my dad and mom pull up in their beautiful black Buick LeSabre that we called the Black Mariah. 

Orland's grown son Doug and I stopped working, went to greet them and my dad, amused by my get-up, said something along the lines of "I didn't know real farmers wore gas masks."

With that, it was goodbye agricultural college, hello journalism school.  

I still have allergies. 

THIS SEASON'S MUST-HAVE
ACCESSORY: "I get allergic
smelling hay."

Here's the thing:  Since those first 32 (or however many) sneezes in that car en route to Nova Scotia, I've probably sneezed a few times a day. My computer doesn't have enough power to calculate the number of sneezes that would be.  

But what's important is, for probably the majority of those sneezes, somebody said a version of, "God bless you", "bless you," "geshundheit" or, latterly, "na strowie!"

The math does it self. 

  

Anybody who knows me realizes how much I love my work. In journalism. On an hour-by-hour basis. I remind myself that  I'm super glad I didn't become a farmer. (The food chain is probably better off for the fact, too.)

I'm the luckiest man you've ever met. 

All those God-bless-yous took.




Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ma Carter

Woman pushing a child in a stroller past my house an hour ago, to the kid: “What colour is that car?”

THAT HALO EFFECT: Swear to God it's 
coincidence

Little person in stroller: “Blue.”

Pusher: “Right. What colour is Grandad’s car?”

Kid: “Brown.”

Woman: “Brown? No. Grandad’s car is grey!”

I’m not sure how old that child was, but being in a stroller gives you some indication. What I am certain of is that the mom was not a Carter mother. 

I know because I had one. Her name was Huena.

If one of her 10 kids said a vehicle was grey, the vehicle was grey.  

Which reminds me. My friend Charlene Hodgson told me once that if you say, “I’ll go get the vehicle,” it meant you were from the country but if you say, “I’ll go get the car [or van]” you were citified. I’m a “I’ll go get the vehicle” guy. And I live downtown Toronto. This is so confusing. And these are the concerns that keep me awake at night. But I digress.

Back to my mom. Huena’s kids (or grandkids) could neither say nor do anything wrong.

I have no idea what that did to us — developmentally speaking — and I don’t care. The point is, she saw her family as we were: As flawless as the Virgin Mary.

Even when it appeared otherwise, Huena held tight to her beliefs.

If a Carter (or by extension, MacIsaac, mom’s maiden name so it included nephews and nieces and whoever else she said) got caught say, knocking on people’s doors and running away (nicky nicky nine doors we called it), and the p-o’d homeowner called our house, Huena accused the curmudgeonly neighbour of not having enough to worry about.

Or say, for instance, one of us had a scrape with the law.

She knew immediately that the cop who showed up at the house (while the family was on our knees saying  the rosary if you can imagine), the judge, maybe even the lawyer my dad paid and who was until that moment a family friend and fellow parishioner at our church, were crooks, the lot of them.

Not that it ever happened.

Huena's kids, nephews, nieces and the rest of her extended family, were incapable of sinning.

In Huenaville trouble arrived in one of two guises: Bad company and envy.

If one hers got in trouble, it was because he or she fell in with bad company.

And if somebody bullied us, they did it because they were jealous.

I remember a big kid named Gary teased me once when I said I was going home from school because I was feeling sick and he said, “Aww poor Carter. I bet your daddy’s going to bring you ginger ale and ice cream.” (My father Tom knew Canada Dry Ginger Ale cured everything. And I have no clue how Gary had that intel, but never mind that.)

I told Huena about Gary and she said: “He’s just jealous.”

Scientific fact that my kids know: Mean people who pick on you do so because they’re jealous.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think my mom was perfect. You might be surprised to know Huena lied quite a bit. Especially at supper time.

Exhibit a: My chest. Nothing I ate put hair on it.

Other than that, Huena was as flawless as her kids.

My next blog? Why I’ve always sided with The Black Donnellys.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Meet Tom the human polygraph

"Do your parents know what you're doing?" the man at the Toronto Greyhound Bus Terminal asked..

"They do," I said.

ANOTHER PAGE IN THE LIFE: Your blogger with the then
speaker of the Ontario Legislature and very fine gentleman, Fred M. Cass

That was good enough for him. The ticket guy took me at my word, accepted my money and handed me the bus ticket. From Toronto to Sudbury which was, at the time, a six-hour trip. I can't remember what the fare was, but I was alone, small for my age, and 11.

I bought the ticket at about suppertime, on a Friday. I had finished work for the week and--pay cheque in hand--headed home aboard a greyhound, for the weekend. 

Are you with me here? Done work for the week? Heading home? 

I was 11! 

I was also a page at the Ontario Legislature on Queen's Park. 

I didn't have to go to regular school; it was during May and June, we got paid, I commuted downtown with the grownups every day and lived with my older sister Charlene and two beautiful college-student roommates Cathy Welles and Barb Sinclair, who I have secret crushes on to this day. In a cool high-rise in the west end of Toronto. The months I spent as a page was one of the most interesting periods of my life, even up to this point. But that's stuff for another blog.  

The reason I'm telling you about the bus trip, was, after I arrived in Sudbury, I was talking to my dad and  told him about the bus man's question. 

I said "I told the man if I was running away from home, I wouldn't be going to Sudbury. Ha. Ha. Ha."

My father had six sisters and one brother. 

I'm the youngest of 10 kids. My dad and his brother Ed employed dozens of bus drivers, mechanics, sweepers and go-fers, frequently hiring guys just out of jail because nobody would else give them a chance.

On a daily basis, my Dad had run-ins with police (drivers got into situations) suppliers and neighbours.

I once commented to him that he was very lucky because he didn't have a boss at work and he said something along the lines of, "when you're in a business like this, everybody is your boss" 

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Dad was also married to my mom.

At this point, you're wondering what the connection is between my busy father and the bus ticket? 

It's this. My father was not a cynical guy. He wasn't one to badmouth neighbours or malingering employees. My question is, why would Tom, after having so much contact with those thousands of other people, presumably working with the honesty-is-the-best policy philosophy, have the laser-like mental polygraph vision that made him ask, after my witty comment about "wouldn't be going to Sudbury?" was  

"Did that really happen?"

WELCOME TO THE TOM MAHAL:
My parents' and oldest brother Pat's gravesite, with an angel statue, little
bluebirds, wind chimes, a plastic bear's head, a iron dragonfly, beautiful foliage and a
a bus engraved on the tombstone, is basically an outdoor Carter museum.

I said yes, it did.

But in fact, it didn't.

I had made that part of the story up. And he was on to me. Just like that. 

Never said another word about it until just now. 

And here's something even weirder.

When I was in Sudbury last week for a visit, I made it a point to stop at my mom's and dad's grave. It's not something I always do, but this time it just seemed right. 

I told him I was sorry about the fib. I bet he already knew that, too.