Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Karen feeding of a young guy's brain

I haven't asked the woman at the centre of this story if I can use her name, but here goes nothing.

Believe it or not, I am extremely cautious about how I employ names in this blog. I never use a person's first and last names without permission.
THE DEVIL YOU SAY: Imagine the
moment you learn you share a name
with a famous dictator.

With some exceptions. For example, if a guy is famous. Or dead maybe. And of course family members and good friends, I write about with abandon.

But other than that? No names.

Well except for this chap I once did some business with whose name tag told me he is "Victor Mao." Victor Mao. I'm going to tell you about him without asking his permission.

When I asked about the surname, he told me that he'd grown up in Canada and had no idea who Mao the Chinese ruler was until his opthalmologist mentioned it when Victor was 14. Imagine being a teenager in the the eye doctor's chair and finding out your surname is one billions of people associate with one of history's most famous and infamous people.("Okay Mr. Mussolini, what letters do you see on the chart?")

Me, I just started by asking about his first name--Victor. Were his parents expecting much or what? Can a guy named Victor be allowed to lose? At anything? Ever? (There are no Victor Carters, by the way.)

Victor Mao. Not only did he seem like a well-adjusted young man,  he appeared very happy when I left his office.

But I digress. The person I'm writing about today is Karen MacIntyre, and I did not ask if I could use her name.

Karen, you have to know, is my good friend Trevor's sister.

Trevor and I first started pal'ing around when we were eight or nine; and Karen would have been all of 15 or 16.  I haven't talked to her in ages.

But when I was eight or nine, in my eyes, just being in the same house as the beautiful Karen MacIntyre was reason enough to be Trevor's buddy. She has no way of knowing this but up until that point, I'm pretty sure I'd never been in a room with a woman as good looking as Karen MacIntyre.
a.k.a., the 'Old Spice Girls' 

That she was halfways nice to skinny little big-eared me was just icing. Karen also has no idea of the profound effect she had on me.

(Pause for breath)

Here's what I'm talking about.

Four days ago, my wife Helena and I were at Costco. We were heading for the check-out line when I realized I needed deodorant. Not like, then and there. Rather, I remembered,  I was running low at home. 

We strode toward the deodorant shelf.

The choices were--as always--almost overwhelming but frankly, I don't care what brand I use. It's all the same to me. Except.

There was one type on special: five sticks for $13. And because it was on sale, that was the brand I was going to have. Under any other conditions, I never would have given it a moment's thought.

But this was different.

Here's the thing.

The older I get, the more I realize you never ever know where what you say is going to land. And take root.

We stroll through life, having conversations here; making jokes there; offering one liners on all manner of topics, never thinking for a moment that somebody might actually be listening to what you're going on about. And they'll take it to heart and carry it around for the rest of their born days.

 A long long time ago--let's say 40 years--Trevor and I--a pair of pre-adolescent grade-schoolers--were lucky enough to travel from our hometown of Sudbury to visit the wondrous Karen, when she was a nursing student in Hamilton, Ontario.

A  few things stand out from the trip.

I remember Karen and her pals showed us around McMaster University; then they took us to the Stoney Creek Dairy for ice cream cones; and finally, I remember overhearing Karen talking to one of her girl buddies.

One of them was describing how some guy had been coming on to her. And, she said, he was okay looking, but a fatal flaw made his chances of having any success less than zero.

His felony?  "He was," she told Karen, "wearing Old Spice."

Ooo----ick. Old Spice after shave.

Who knew? A buzz-kill before the word was invented.

Up until that moment, for me, splashing on Old Spice aftershave was something I sort of looked forward to doing. (Okay, shaving was pretty high up there on the wish list too.)

SEND IN THE COLOGNES: Yup. The instructions came with the product
But with one up-turn of her adolescent nose, the pretty Karen MacIntyre's pal pulled the plug on Old Spice for me.

After that? Once shaving was a thing, it had to be Brut or Hai Karate, which came with instructions on how to fight off girls, or anything; even the celtic scent of Irish Spring.

But no Old--spit ptooie--Spice for me.

Until this past Sunday. I caved.

Seems like I crossed a bridge of sorts.

This very morning, when deodorant time rolled around? It was Old Spice.

Does this mean I'm washed up? Only  thing I know for sure?

Getting old is the pits.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Making tracks for life

When I was a kid, we Carters didn't have Grand Theft Auto. We had slot cars.

Just like in the picture. Two little electric cars, guided along their paths by tiny plastic pegs and fuelled by hand-held wired remote controllers, raced around the track until they crashed or we got bored, whichever came first.

For us young Carters, the slot cars delivered minutes and minutes of fun.
MAKING TRACKS FOR LIFE: Big brothers knew how to make
playing in traffic fun!

Of course when I say "we had slot cars" I mean "my older brother Eddie had slot-cars." I'm pretty sure it was Ed Santa brought the racing set to.

But because I was the baby of 10 and spoiled so rotten my teeth were brown, I  thought every thing in our house belonged to every body in our house.

Toys, boots, candy, longjohns, you name it. We shared everything equally.

Or maybe it was just me. One of these days I'm going to survey my brothers and sisters to see if they felt as generous with their stuff as I did.

It's true about the brown teeth though. My baby teeth---and this might be linked to the fact that my mom and dad allowed me as much sweets as I wanted--came in crooked, sort of "fangy," and darkly off-colour. Pretty attractive huh?

Get this: One of my childhood nicknames was "Golden Snags." Imagine. Teasing a youngest brother because of a physical deformity. That's the kind of older siblings I had I mean still have. It's a miracle I turned out so well.

Another of my nicknames? "You Little Squirt." A third? "Little Hitler."

You can't make this crap up.

I got called that, too!
But back to the slot cars. As high-tech and advanced as it was, the toy had limitations; so  early on Eddie figured out that if you removed the little white guard rails from the edge of the track, the risk of the cars flying over the side got way better, so off came the guard rails and wheeeee! off flew the little racing cars.

Eddie also--in an effort to make the racing cars even more dangerous--squirted 3-IN-ONE oil on the track to make the surface virtually undriveable on.

I also just remembered Ed configuring the slot-car track to ascend a slight ramp and instead of sloping back down again, just end. So the cars just flew off into mid air, doing a sort of  mini Jimmy Dean. (Amazing how a few little-boy shenanigans presage life-long patterns. But I digress.)

I looked up to my older brothers and sister then and now and wonder how they put up with spoiled rotten me.

Not only were they all generous, sharing, daring, bright and adventuresome, the Carter kids had superb timing.

I remember one time out in the yard playing cowboys. I was the villain and I'd done something real bad and had to be hanged for it.

And--true story--the rope was looped over a tree branch, the noose was around my neck and everything. I was about to pay for my crimes.

But mere moments before I met my maker, lucky for me, out came Mom to call us in for lunch. Just in the-- ahem--neck of time. How much fun is that? We laughed and laughed.

But something just occured to me. You don't suppose that...naaaah...couldn't have been.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Where we bring back the True Meaning of Hallowe'en!

before cameras were invented.
Here's how old I am: When I dressed up as a hippie for a Hallowe'en, I didn't even know what a hippie was.

I was probably five, maybe six.

The costume idea came from my older-by-15-years-or-so brother Tom.

Believe it or not, the word "hippy" was not yet a household word.

But Tom always seemed to know about stuff before the rest of us. My older-by-29-months brother Ed and I have discussed this mystery many times. We've no idea how Tom managed to stay ahead of the curve.

We grew up in the dark ages in a mining community called Sudbury, Ontario, with two TV stations, and two maybe three radio stations, one of which was French. We had no FM radio. Yet somehow, Tom was the hippest guy in our universe. He brought home Argosy magazine and Bob Dylan and Smother Brothers albums. He told us about hippies.

My best guess is that he received--and still gets to this day--messages from outer space. But I digress.

Like every other costume of the time, the hippie one was decided at the next-to-last minute. Tom fashioned a wig from one of  my mom's mops (a.k.a., he sawed the handle off) and made a protest flag with "MAKE LOVE NOT WAR"--whatever that meant--on it. The only thing missing was the requisite pillowcase for the loot, and I was good to go.

Back then, almost everyone's costume was made on the fly.

resolved--"Two Eds are better'n one."
Hallowe'en was completely different. We  may have had jack-o-lanterns, but they were all the same.  Nobody decorated their houses. And no kid with any dignity would have gone trick-or-treating with--gasp--parents.

And you know what?

Hallowe'en, when it was a simple and unplanned affair,  was way better.

I mean worse.

That's right. Hallowe'en--more than half a freaking century after I donned that hippie mop--has morphed into one of the only annual obligatory holidays that I look forward to.

And here are half a dozen reasons why.

1) Adults get to play along! My mom and dad thoroughly enjoyed candy and beer and parties and would have leapt at the chance to be involved in Hallowe'en all those years ago. But they were too busy. My mom had 10 children.No microwave. A wringer washer. You don't think she'd have given away her jewelry and her youngest child to join in a mid-week party like lucky young parents nowadays do?

BE IT RESOLVED: "One side effect of
Hallowe'en decor is it likely keeps the
J.W.'s at bay."
2) People go to great trouble and expense trying to make houses look haunted. We're no slouches in that department neither though a few years back, Eddie said we could save ourselves a lot of trouble; if we really really wanted to scare the kids, he and I could just shell candy out from the open side door of our minivan. Did I ever tell you Ed's a brilliantly funny man? I thought not.

3) Speaking of, most Hallowe'ens, Ed comes over and we along with my wife Helena and whoever else is visiting, have a front porch party. The street turns into Mardi-Gras lite.We average more than 150 trick-or-treaters plus they drag all their parents along and everybody's in great moods. Best of all, it ends nice and early.

4) Nobody ever talks about "the true meaning" of Hallowe'en. That's because the true meaning of Hallowe'en is having fun and eating candy.  End of story.

5) Well, almost the end. Another thing about Hallowe'en is you don't have to cook and clean for it. And it's not like Valentine's, a day designed to make half the population feel miserably lonely and another quarter of the population feel guilty and a very very tiny part of the population feel stupid for forgetting to buy his Polish wife a gift until the last minute so the only thing he comes up with is the equivalent of an airport souvenir.

6) Or St. Patrick's. Talk about offensive. As somebody whose roots are in Ireland, I take considerable umbrage at this annual ritual. Around the world, millions of non-Irish people think it's perfectly appropriate to pretend to have roots in Ireland, so what do they do? They put on goofy hats, drink beer and make fools of themselves. Is that what they think Irish people do? Well, now that you mention it, that's exactly what Eddie and I will be up to come Hallowe'en.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

One man's recipe for 'Winning at Life'

DAD AND KISENYA:  (I copied this picture from the Red
Deer Advocate website. I'd give the photographer credit but
there was none.)
Four years ago, the following paragraph appeared in the Red Deer, Alberta, newspaper, The Advocate

"He has undergone tongue reconstruction using arm and leg muscles, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He had a second surgery to remove his tongue, and a reconstruction again using his own muscles. His lower jaw was removed. He has had to learn to walk again because a bone from his lower leg was used to reconstruct his jaw."


Medical staff took some man's shin bone and put it where his jaw used to be. They rebuilt his tongue with muscles from who knows where.

The things doctors do. Me, I have a hard time moving words around a page...

Elsewhere in the story, and why I'm even talking about it,  is the fact that "he"; namely, Jason Kom-Tong, a 35-year-old husband to Bambi, 32, and father to Zak and Kisenya, had stage four cancer of the tongue and had only been given a few months to live. 

Cancer of the tongue. A few  months to live. For the love of God...

Although Jason had started some experimental anti-cancer therapy in Vancouver, the former oil-field business-minded Albertan was unable to work or talk; he was getting nourishment through a tube that went directly into his stomach.

Here's the thing:  I know this Jason guy.  

And his story is worth nothing short of yelling to the world about. Never mind for a moment that I say that about everybody.  This story's different. 

Here's why.

The day last year that I first met Jason, after  he told me he had to eat through a tube, I dumbly asked, "what's that like?" And  you know what he did?  He joked! "It's f'n awesome," he said. This was my kind of guy!  

Turns out the Kom-Tongs moved here from Red Deer in 2017. Bambi found a fast-track dental hygienist program here that she could complete quickly so she’d be able to support the family. Jason continued the treatments in Vancouver; and by the time we met, it seemed that the treatment was helping.

He was well beyond the few weeks he’d been given three years earlier.

Last time I heard from him was Halloween, 2017

Until this week. The following text showed up on my phone: “Hello Peter. It’s been a while.

“The reason I thought of contacting you is, I officially beat cancer and want to give back.

 “I was hoping to get some news coverage but every time I emailed CTV they don’t respond back.  Which I can see why because my email sounds like I’m a crazy person.”

Then I read the text again. “I’m giving away cases containing many silver coins.”

In their celebration of his new lease on life, Jason and his family have taken to filling little pirate chests with real silver coins and holding impromptu treasure hunts. Some in public places like a park in Niagara Falls; and some in less public places, like the dental hygiene school Bambi’s attending.
X MARKS THE SPOT: ish. This is the letter the Kom-Tongs
give to the treasure hunters

They’ve put a whole lot of work into it. (See the photo of that letter that they hand out? These people are detailed!)  The next one’s somewhere in Toronto October 17.

Then….. I thought, “Well Jason. You’re giving boxes of money away to complete strangers.  Some might say that’s a bit odd.”

If I, on the other hand, just got pulled back from the edge of hell the way Jason just was, I’d be like Scrooge on Christmas morning after the big conversion — dancing in the streets and giving stuff away too.

Turn out, Jason is more like Scrooge than I knew. He says his health scare made him reengineer his priorities. Before this, he told me, “I rarely took my family anywhere. Work and money were all the mattered. I was blinded by my career.”

But now?

“Life should be enjoyed.

“I just want to rock the dad thing and write my book and tell my story. The silver [treasures] may entice people go out with their families to view some of our beautiful nation; or maybe will sway them just a bit into helping out a student or someone in need.”

See why I like this guy?

Finally, what do you suppose a really handsome ambitious chap who has had his face and life ripped apart by tongue cancer call his life story?  “Winning at Life,” of course.

I sure hope he gets the attention he deserves.     

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

We have the tools, and we know the Benadryl

THAT SOUND YOU HEAR? It's Johnny Cash rockin'
and rolling' over in his grave.
"I love you."

Though I had met Nancy for the first time just 10 minutes earlier, I went and told her I loved her.

Last night. Twenty four hours ago.

I'm fairly certain she didn't hear me. She was busy rooting in her purse for drugs. And I didn't mean to say, "I love you." I just sort of blurted it out, like a sneeze.

And when Nancy and I see each other again next Monday night, I'll be prepared, so the topic of love won't rear its ugly head.

But it's true. We will see each other again, me and Nancy. I'm really quite looking forward to it. And this blog isn't sounding at all like it's supposed to. Maybe I better, as they say, walk this back.....

First of all, I'm still married to my wife of more than 32 years, Helena. (32 years and 28 days to be precise.)

A few weeks back, she decided to enrol in a vegetarian Indian cooking class, offered by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). She suggested I find another special-interest course at the same time, and we could go at the same time. Pretty romantic, I know.

My first choice, and I'm not making this up, was "Blues Harmonica for Beginners."

I logged on to the TDSB's website, punched in a bunch of information, and it turned out mouth-organ class was full.

Second choice: "Almost Beginners" guitar class. It ran the same time as the veggie Indian thing and and though I've been  hacking around on the guitar since I was a little boy, I can't exactly call myself a "player."

We signed up.

Next day, Helena realized that her book club meets on Mondays so she switched her veggie class to Tuesdays. I would be going to guitar lessons, alone.
SIGNATURE TUNE:  Callo couldn't have picked a better number

Last Monday was our first class.

I hauled my beloved Fender six-string (autographed in magic marker by the late Stompin' Tom Connors) down to Central Tech, found my way up to the music room, walked in and sitting there, holding acoustic guitars in various states of preparedness, were 19 or so other students, the vast majority of whom looked exactly like me

Except for two women and one teenager,  this could have been my St. Charles College Boys School grade nine reunion.

Either that or an AA meeting. I felt at ease.

The teacher, a Latino guy named Cado who is so short that I'm taller than him even when he is standing on the second tier of the music room floor, is the most enthusiastic instructor of anything I've ever had. There were going to be no hard lessons; we were going to have fun.

Cado handed out a few pieces of paper; one with some charts on it, the other with the words and chords to "Stand By Me" and for the next 90 minutes, we all sort of traded jokes, farted around and watched time fly.  I got home and Helena said "you're sure in a good mood."
 AND ONE OF THESE DAYS: These boots are
going to stomp all over tunes.

Class number-two was last night. How great was it, you ask? Get this.

I was applauded. Not for my guitar playing; for singing. The first half of the class, Cado taught us all how to do that familiar Johnny Cash strum that I've been working on since grade, oh, 7.

Some guys in the class weren't familiar with it.

Then he taught us a simplified version of the guitar solo from--I hope you're sitting down--"Fulsom Prison Freaking Blues"--a song I know every breath of. It might be the one song I've sung out loud more than any other  beyond "Happy Birthday."

And then, during the second half of the class, after we all had the intro, the chords and the solo down pat, he said we could sing along. If we like.

Well now.

Three lines in and -- I've never used this phrase because before last night, I'd never actually done it -- I was just givin' 'er. The rest of the group wasn't even trying. Why would they? They were there to learn guitar.

Me? With my six-month-old cowboy boots keeping time and 18 or 19 acoustic guitars pounding out the chords behind me, I was completely neck deep channeling Johnny Cash. Or Waylon Jennings. Or my late brother Pat who -- like me -- believed he could sing, too.

This was Pete's Blog&Grille music.

Four times we went through the song, and each time I did my very best, and after class a few of my new buddies told me how much fun it was. One said I could be on stage.

And they were laughing. At or with me didn't matter. It was..oh. Right. Nancy.

The thing was, when I arrived at class, for some weird mysterious reason, I was having an allergy attack.

My nose was running like a busted toilet. My eyes itched and I was sneezing every 12.4 seconds.

When I first sat down, it was beside Nancy and she asked if I had a cold. I reassured her I didn't.

Then she said, "You won't think I'm weird if I ask you to move a bit further away will you? It's just that whenever you sneeze, well, it's sorta surprising, and I'll be uncomfortable."

I said something like, "I don't blame you; I don't want to be near me right now." I moved my butt one chair north.

Still, for the first five or so minutes of class, while all my chums were tuning their Yamahas and Martins, I was thinking I wouldn't be able to make it through the next two-hours.

I.  Detest.  Allergies.

Nancy leaned over. She said, "I think I might have a Benadryl. Would you take Benadryl?"

I turned and out it came: "I love you."

I didn't mean it. It's the drugs I love. But still. I know what a junkie feels like.

By that time, Nancy was poking around in her purse. She didn't  hear me. But she came up with a Benadryl. And then I had a Benadryl!

Just over 15 minutes later my sinuses had dried up; I could see clearly now and I wasn't wheezing or snorting. I got down to serious belting out.

Like most of my life, I have a feeling these classes are going to go by way too fast.

I'm so glad I signed up. But "Almost Beginners" guitar class is nothing to sneeze at.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Breakfast Epiphanies, or, Why bacon fat is so good for you and delicious too

HUB-A-DUB-DUB: If I ran the shop, I'd use the slogan
'God is in the detailing.'
Maybe it's because I'm the youngest of 10 and spoiled rotten, but whenever somebody asks me how I'm doin', I believe they want to know the answer, so I tell them. (Doesn't everybody?)

And you never know what's going to result.

Like what happened in the grocery store near my house, this very morning.

My daughter Ria was visiting, and she and I decided we should have some bacon and eggs. But there was a problem.

We had no eggs.

I said I'd go fetch some, but suggested to Ria that she start the bacon right away. If there's one thing I learned when I worked beside the Chatelaine magazine test kitchen all those years ago it's that no matter how much delicious food the lovely and generous food editors share with one throughout the course of one's workday,  one should never arrive home in the evening to one's wife's freshly cooked supper and announce "I'm not hungry, I'm stuffed with test-kitchen food."

Oops. Wrong lesson.

What I meant was, Chatelaine's food editor Monda Rosenberg taught me that the most common way people screw up bacon is by trying to cook it too fast. Hence me suggesting Ria begin before I go.

Out the door I strode.

All I had to do to remedy our lack of eggs problem was jump on my motorbike, whip up to the nearest grocery store where I knew they would not only have eggs, they would have a broad selection of eggs, and they were all accessible to me! They would be affordable, fresh and delicious and this was on a Sunday morning for Pete's sakes. I could have as many as I wanted!

Just a few years back, big grocery stores weren't open on Sunday.

But now?
PIZZA-FLAVOURED GOLDFISH! How'd we get by without it?

Not only are supermarkets open Sundays, so are banks and liquor stores. When I was younger, if you needed money, you had to get to a bank branch between 10:00 a.m and 3:00 p.m., which is what we called "bankers' hours." But now? There's money 24/7. I heard one guy say ATMs let us all work wankers' hours.

Thankfully, I was born into the most comfortable, richest, most convenient and colossally wealthiest time in all of history.

Not sure why I awaken every day with this "Gods Must Be Crazy" fascination for how much stuff we have. But I do.

Look at the grocery store's deodorant shelves. Or the array of tasty "goldfish". How many varieties can we handle?

But I digress.

Yet not really. For some reason, I never seem to forget how miraculously comfortable my life is.  And it's not like I did anything to deserve it. Just lucky is all. To whit, before I left the house to go to the store for eggs, I had to choose from more than six different types of footwear. That's right!

I, Peter Carter, own more than 12 shoes, ranging from Birkenstock sandals to really comfortable cowboy boots. How many does a person need?

Yesterday--I hope you're sitting down--we had my wife Helena's VW Beetle (I can hardly believe I'm writing this) detailed. Three hours it took, and they even washed and polished the freaking tires!  It has that new car smell again.

That reminds me.  On a fairly regular basis, I get my teeth cleaned and polished. By a professional! In a comfortable office with pleasant music playing in the background. In the history of Carters starting one generation ago and going all the way back to the bogs of Ireland or wherever we came from, I am dead certain not one has had his or her teeth polished. Assuming they had teeth.

But back to the eggs.

I got to the store, parked the bike, marched to the rear of the store where I knew the eggs were, carried them up to the counter and before I put them on the food tread mill or whatever you call it, the cashier said "Hi, how are you?"

So I told her.

"Well," I said, "I'm buying eggs because my daughter's over and we're going to have eggs and bacon and she's already cooking the bacon so when I get home, the bacon will be done so I can fry the eggs right in the bacon fat. I love'em like that."

The cashier laughed and said, "I know. I like them like that, too. But it's so fattening." (I need not tell you how slender she was.)

Me: "But it's healthy."

The cashier (with that maybe-I-shouldn't-have-engaged-this-strange-guy-in-conversation look that I've seen with increasing frequency over the years): "Healthy?"

Me: "Happy people live longer so if food makes you happy, it's good for you."

She hesitated. "I think," she said smiling, "there's some truth in that."

Another thing that comes with being the youngest of 10? I believe anything anybody tells me.

I believe she's right.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

My mom's guide to making your kids behave

FOR THE LOVE OF PETE:  The guy I was named after was a
hard act to follow.
This might sound weird, but there was a time when I thought that nothing would make my late mom Huena happier than if I died a martyr.

I might have been, like, five, when I had those feelings, but for a time, I was dead certain that if some malevolent non-believer gouged my eyes out and stripped me of my skin like a banana in his failed efforts to make me renounce Catholicism, my mom's day would be made.

Better yet, maybe they would  crucify me upside down, like they did to St. Peter, who I was sort of named after.

The evil doers could stab me with a big sword, there'd be blood everywhere, and before I died, my face would suddenly lighten up with glee. My  head would  be encircled by a halo of light; and Huena would be on her knees nearby, her hands clasped together in delight, knowing that her baby--the youngest of her 10 kids--was a true Catholic hero and safe in the hands of God.

Then again I could be wrong on this. She mightn't have wanted me to die.

But one thing I do know: Growing up as one of Huena Carter's children was the finest childhood a person could have. Even if it meant getting my eyes gouged out.

Here's why.
 MOM'S THE WORD: I'm not saying that my late brother Pat did
anything wrong, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

Huena (and my father Tom, but he was mostly a wing man) had her hands full, with 10 kids, a small house, and a husband who ran his own business which meant working 25 hours a day. So you can't blame her if, in her chest of family management tricks, Huena kept many tools.

Chief among those tools, and this might surprise the so-called parenting experts of the world, was unparalleled generosity.

In Huena's eyes, none of her kids ever did anything remotely wrong. If we got in trouble, it was because of the bad company we ran into. Even with them, mom would be like "they're more to be pitied than censured."

For a religious woman, Huena really sucked at the judgmental thing.


"You'll eat what's on your plate," was something Huena said, never.

True fact. If you didn't like what Huena had on offer, she'd come up with something else. She never forced me to eat anything I didn't like.

A registered nurse, Huena also liked pain-killing medicine. If it made her kids' sadness go away, Huena was all over it. I remember her saying "if God had intended us to fly, He would have given us the brains to build airplanes." And the same applied to medicine.

Another? Her total and utter shunning of corporal punishment.
HE HAD HER AT 'HALO': Gabriel telling Mary that sleeping in
her old room at her folks' house will never be the same.

Huena knew that if  she had God on her side, there was never any reason to raise a hand to any of her kids. One big downside is, she raised a bunch of wusses, but the fact is, she had other, more effective means of keeping us in check.

Here's one. My favourite, in fact.

Huena had a rule: "You can't hit anyone smaller than yourself."  (As the youngest, this definitely worked in my favour.)

And I just remembered this. For some reason, we Carters all knew that no matter how mad you got, if you ever ever struck your mom or dad, when you died your hand would stick out of your grave so passers by would know that "here lies a parent hitter."


Statues. Everywhere.

My mom's house made the Vatican look like an empty warehouse.

My mom had statues where other moms didn't know they had places. In closets. On stairway landings three quarters of the way between the second storey and the first.

In every room; on every wall, and in almost every corner, she had Jesus' on the cross and Jesus as a little kid.

Some statues were of saints--one of my favourites was St. Christopher, who is usually cast holding another statue--presumably the Christ child--on his shoulders, fording a river. I defy you to find where in scripture it says this happened but so what? Chris was the patron saint of travellers.

Among the army of statues were a few of her favourites: the martyrs.

And here's something most people don't have to think about.

Say you get married. And you bring your new wife home. And you and she get to "sleep" in your old room. And it's still decorated with pictures of Jesus surrounded by little children and The Virgin Mary being told by the Angel Gabriel that she's going to be giving birth to God's son and maybe, just in case you didn't get the message the first time, a martyr or two.  Let me put the newly wed husband's reaction thusly: He's very happy knowing he and his new wife have their own apartment to go back to.

I just remembered another of Huena's management tools.
THE CHRIS CROSS:  Nobody has
ever asked 'when did this happen?'


Say one of us Carter kids got in a big argument in the kitchen and,then, frustrated because we didn't get our way, we'd storm upstairs to the second floor, stomping our feet as hard as possible.

We'd hear from downstairs, mom saying,"Don't look down!"

Again, without a syllable of explanation from Huena, we all knew that meant, "look down and you'll see that your feet are transforming into cloven hooves because that's the first step on the road to turning into a devil." (I still won't glance at my feet on a stairwell.)

Then again, maybe I can't speak for all my siblings. Maybe it's just me.

Here's why I think that.

My dad Tom was raised on a farm in a tiny place called Corkery not far from Canada's national capital city of Ottawa, and his conversation was spiced with a broad collection of old Irish-isms (material for another blog). And though he seldom swore, he was very expressive.

Case in point: when some guy did something particularly idiotic, Tom said, "he's a dumb cluck."

Yesterday, something occured to me. I consulted one of my brothers, the older and smart Alex, and the following text exchange ensued:

Me: "Do you think that when dad called me a dumb cluck, he meant you're a dumb 'rhymes with cluck'?

Alex: "Yeah, so does everyone else."

Now that I think about it, Alex would make a far better martyr than me.