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 

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?"

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.


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Gripping adventures in Rainbow Country


Got a flat on my motorbike yesterday. 

I was southbound on highway 400 near Barrie, Ont., and seconds after I passed a big sign that said "Staples," I ran over one. Honest. I have a picture!

I had often wondered what it would be like to have your front bike tire blow at highway speed. For the record, it's pretty undramatic, which is, on balance, a good thing. (Get it? On balance? Sometime I surprise even me!)

If you must get a flat on your bike, do it at around four in the afternoon near a big city. Summer and having a cellphone help. CAA coverage always cushions the blow(out) also. (Thanks to driver Dan and his colleagues at Classic Towing.)

Another not-so-downside?

The tire blew at almost the very same time as -- 100 kilometres south -- my daughter Ria was winding up her first day at her new job as a funeral director. Done work, Ria could come pick me up. (At least she didn't fetch her old man as part of her new job.)

TRANSLINE MOVING: I  found this image on The
Transline Moving Company's website. They probably 
know this road really well.

And finally, as I just said to my sister Norma, things could have been a whole whole lot worse.

Yesterday's trip home from Barrie was just the final wee leg of a longer, 3,000 give or take kilometre ride I was on from Toronto to Thunder Bay and back. My daughter Ewa is biking to B.C., so I accompanied her part way. (Ontario is one really fat province, btw.) 

So after she and I parted ways at The Lakehead, I headed home, east along the north shore of Lake Superior, which I had gone west on with Ewa the day earlier. 

I'll probably blog more about my and Ewa's adventure but first I want to tell you about how what must be one of the longest stretches of middle-of-nowhere highway in Canada makes my flat tire so bearable.

All across the north shore of Lake Superior, on the Trans Canada, at one moment you're on a HIGH way overlooking the water and then heading down around curvy hills to the shore. Superior really does seem to go on forever; the road turns and twists and frankly "the legend lives on from the Chippewa on down to the big lake they call Gitche Gumme," insists on worming its way into your ears. (My friend Dave once told me that during the '70s, if you were driving through small-town Canada and The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald came on the radio it meant the deejay had to leave his post to go number two. Dave is immature. And I digress.)

This time of year, Northern Ontario skies are almost psychedelic; dark clouds bump up against fully white ones with miles of beautiful clear blue around them all. So across Superior, you cruise down into one sunlit valley only to find yourself driving up out of it.

NOT ONLY  is it a Great lake but
a Superior one at that!
Forty nine seconds later, you're in a downpour. 

It reminded me of of my grade-nine science-fair project. I got a D.

At certain points, I pulled over and even though I couldn't get shelter; I just stood on the side of the road and let the water fall down on me because it was more comfortable than moving through it.

But then the sun would come out again; and I'd forget how awful the rain had been. (My life, in 17 words.)

Saturday, I'd been riding for about six hours through the above conditions. It was dusk, I was getting tired and realized I was approaching the Montreal River Hill (MRH).

Here is how Northern Ontario Business magazine once described the hill:

"It is problematic in that it is the scourge of the trucking fraternity. It causes long delays and is particularly dangerous during the winter. The hill is closed over a dozen times each winter due to serious accidents or because it is impossible to navigate. In most cases, the closings only serve to cut off Wawa from its southern cousin in Sault Ste. Marie. The hill and the area around it also happen to be one of the “10 best drives in Canada” according to the Canadian Automobile Association. The stretch is promoted by several Northern towns, including Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa and White River. The hill’s notoriety was exponentially increased on August 18, 1980 when Terry Fox traversed its three-kilometre length with a t-shirt that read “Montreal River Here I Come” and “I’ve Got You Beat” on the back."

I hit the top of the hill, and the rain started. 

RAIN'S WORLD: For protection on
precipitous roads

In my rear view mirror: a tractor trailer. And splashing everywhere. 

No place to pull over. 

I knew the hill was winding,windy (I'd been up it a day earlier) and slippery. I downshifted and wished I had a little sign to hold up, like the Road Runner might, informing the trucker, "I'm an old biker and just downshifted and hope you enjoy going down this hill slowly because slowly is how we're going to go down." 

Down down down and around the corners I drove, gingerly; and the Montreal River Hill is so twisty that at one point, even though you are theoretically heading eastwards,  the hill actually turns completely west--and at 7:30 p.m. in late August, that means you end up looking straight out your wet visor into a great huge blinding ball of SUN!

It gets better.

At the bottom of the hill the whitecaps hit the shore and double-soak the roadway. (Cue Gordon "The lake it is said never gives up her dead," Lightfoot.) The water looks angry. 

I drew this myselfie. 


The eeriest thing happened. The storm, the clouds, the rain, the sunshine and weird weather conditions created a fountain of rainbows. There were rainbows over the shore line; there was one huge arc ending right in the middle of the bay; and another across the power lines. 

I was driving across a Candyland boardgame. I'd never seen anything like it!

I would have stopped for a photo but like I said, pulling over was too dangerous. (Being extinguished by a truck while photographing rainbows is sorta like choking on four-leaf clovers.) 

Plus I would have been more soaked and---I almost forgot--my phone/camera was dead. I'd checked back in Wawa. 

So this selfie-portrait will have to suffice. 

Anyway, you get the picture. It would have been a crappy time to get a flat.

Yesterday's, in Barrie, was almost welcome.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Partridges, schools, families, buses,

Somebody: “Peter how do you like working from home?”

Me: “It’s okay I guess but I do miss my commute.”

EARLY STARTER: My big brother Tom enrolled me early inMe, in Young Designated Drivers of Canada
My big brother Tom teaching me to drive him

Somebody: “You aren’t being sarcastic are you?”

Me: “Nope.”

I honestly enjoy driving to and from work, whether it’s in my 2011 Malibu with its great sound system, a/c and the adjustable driver’s seat which is, in fact, the most comfortable chair in my universe; or on my 1993 Harley Sportster motorcycle, which I of course love and when I use that word I don’t fart around. I seriously like pizza but I don’t love it.

I’ve really really enjoyed driving since the first day my sister Norma let me at 15 years old get behind the wheel of my late father’s blue and white 1970 Impala.

True fact! I’m pretty sure she didn’t have dad’s permission, but my cool older sister let me drive the family car on dirt roads near our home town of Sudbury and the day I actually got my driver’s licence at 16  was the first time I drove on pavement.

I was scared because I thought I wouldn’t have any traction.

That reminds me.

Am I the only person in the world who — when he was in grade two — seriously wondered if he might actually be attending a school for, like, you know, “special” kids?  And that everybody was keeping it a secret from him?

I distinctly recall trudging up the hill to St. Albert’s School — Miss Winnie Trainor was the grade two teacher — and I was in front of Walsh’s house when it occurred to me. Across town from us near Ramsay Lake there was one of those schools; and it was called, I believe, Partridge, and I figured the Partridge families (ha-ha) never told their kids either, that their school was “different.”

were forced to play with real buses.

But I digress.

I just realized something else. I sort of drove even before Norma did me that big favour. Hands up everybody whose dads let them sit on his lap and steer, when you were far to small to even reach the pedals. 

We used to play drive, too. In buses. My dad and uncle operated a fleet of buses, so we often had one parked on the street in front of our house.

We lived on a hill.

HOME MADE CHALICE: If we were French, that 
would be a swear.

In the early days, none of the buses had automatic transmissions, so they relied on a parking brake to keep them from rolling; a parking brake, that is, and the fact that the front wheels were turned in towards the curb so in the event some five year old named Peter was playing bus driver and stepped on the clutch, the bus wouldn’t roll far. As if a four-inch curb would hold a 44-foot bus.

But there you were. My dad used to let us play bus driver all by ourselves, in buses parked on hills. I wonder if it might have been some sort of Irish Catholic retroactive birth control. 

Speaking of.

I also used to play at being a priest. Swear to God. 

By the time I was six, I had been to church often enough that I knew how to say Mass.

So more than once, I actually got a little white towel, placed it on the little table in the boys’ bedroom (stop thinking like that!!!) thus making the table into an altar, I put grape juice in one of my mom’s egg cups that sort of looked like a chalice, genuflected and made some hand gestures and basically did everything the priest at Mass used to do. 

I’m starting to think that stuff I suspected about St. Albert’s school was accurate. And I forget what I started to write about.






Saturday, July 18, 2020

Feels soooo good.

It just took me almost nine and a half minutes to drive our black VW Beetle from the Toronto train station to our house, located in the southwest corner of Toronto.
Don't let me hear you say you don't learn
stuff here at Pete's Blog&Grille.

I know how long the trip was  because I was listening to the album version of the Chuck Mangione hit "Feels So Good" and it's just shy of 10 minutes. The first oh-so-familiar horn phrases cried out from the speakers just as I was heading up the ramp on to the expressway and the last tones faded as I turned right on to our street.

Man, was it a fabulous 10 minutes.

About seven minutes in, if you were in the next lane, you could have glanced over to see me use the back of my right hand to wipe a tear off my left cheek. I was and this is no exaggeration, moved to tears.

Here's why.

Or first, maybe I'll explain the tears part.

Several members of the Carter family and I could name names cry when they see or hear emotional stuff. My dad once said I had a bladder where my tear ducts should be. He should talk, he was a crier himself.

I cry every time I watch Fiddler on the Roof. Or when I see kindergarten grads get diplomas. My eyes well up at the very first bars of "On Eagles' Wings" which they sang at my father's funeral.

One time last year, I was driving my motorcycle to work and listening to an old album called "Men of the Deeps." The Men of the Deeps is a choir comprised of coal miners from Cape Breton Island.

At one point, the choir was singing ''Rise Again" and I was thinking of my late mom Huena who was raised in Cape Breton and who introduced that choir into our lives. And then...and then... I realized I was biking immediately beside the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, where my pal Jim Cormier is buried.

Cormier, who died at 39, was also part Cape Bretoner,  a Men of the Deeps fan and in fact wrote about them for Equinox magazine. I'm still mad at him for dying so young and I'd be lying if I told you I'm not getting teary-eyed writing this.

On my bike that day, I had to lift my visor, wipe the tears and deliberately think of something else because crying while motorcycling can be very dangerous. Tears blur your vision. I think you catch my drift. (That's a miner joke. A drift is a part of a coal mine. Jim and Huena would have laughed and laughed.)
I might still have that blue hoodie somewhere.

A second ingredient for the great ride home just now?

Driving a modern VW with the stereo cranked up is like sitting inside a pair of giant quadraphonic headphones. You can hear every guitar note and feel every tone dripping from Mangione's flugelhorn. You can almost see the drummer's cymbals sparkle and you get the feeling that if you glanced in the rear view mirror you might spot Chuck Meeks, the bassist on "Feels So Good."

The fidelity and frequency response of a modern car's sound system are something we all take for granted but border on the miraculous.

"Feels So Good" was also playing on the radio. I hadn't heard it in a long time so I welcomed the piece the way you would a surprise visit from an old friend.

I hope "Feels So Good" made Chuck Mangione a lot of money because it is one of those pieces of music that made this planet a better place to live and raise a family.

That it was at its height of popularity when I was turning 20 means it was playing on Peter's soundtrack at a key time.

"Feels so Good" is an anthem to optimism.

Everything was possible. I was young; there were places to explore; big concepts to discuss, and countless people's lives to learn about. I knew that if we all got to know each other better, most of the big problems would be lessened if not licked. I was idealistic and as an aspiring writer, I felt my best work was ahead of me.

Of course, what's really weird is I still feel the very same except for the being young part.

And "Feels So Good" just keeps getting better with time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Parsing Huena's pickles with relish

I don't get radishes.
said my mom, never.

I know lots of people do and that's okay, and sliced ever so carefully radishes can make lovely little decorative additions to a table; but of all the things that are available to eat, I rank the taste of radishes at the bottom.

Maybe if we are down to foraging for food.

But until that time?

Here's what I think of when I think radishes. When I was in university, one of my  housemates, Stuart Ziegler, took me to his family home for Passover and it was to this day one of the richest experiences in my life. Part of that meal was "bitter herb" which, Wikipedia tells us, "symbolizes the bitterness of slavery in Egypt... 'and they embittered their lives with hard labor, with mortar and bricks and with all the bricks and with all manner of labor in the field'..."

That's not only what bitter herb tastes like. Radishes do, too.

Radishes also remind me of when I was a kid growing up and my parents had company.

My mom, Huena, put out, as appetizers, little glass trays, which were never used for anything else, covered with what people called "pickles."

The glassware contained a variety of bite-sized foods that included radishes, olives, little white onions, pieces of red pepper and always, a green goopy sort of home-made wet grassy creation that mom called "pickles." ("Ooo" somebody would say, "Your aunt Kaye pickled these herself! They're delicious!" Somebody was lying.)
SECRET INGREDIENT: Maybe guests appreciate this more
if they're a little pickled themselves. 

If you were a nine-year old and actually liked anything that was on that "pickle plate," you probably also enjoyed homework and going to bed at 9:00 p.m.

I admit I was spoiled and an extremely fussy eater and didn't like anything that wasn't candy, french fried or covered in ketchup.

The only vegetables I remember enjoying (beyond corn on the cob) were "raided" from one of the local gardens  For some reason, swiped carrots tasted great. It was good to grow up in a neighbourhood filled with new Canadians.

I'm happy to report that my mom, a registered nurse, never ever once said, "You'll eat everything on your plate." She was far more likely to ask us what we wanted for dinner and then make it for us.

As far as I can tell, her nutrition M.O. was the same as mine: "Eat food that makes you happy. Happy people live longer."

What's really weird is this, despite that, I still don't like doing homework or going to bed at 9:00 p.m., but I might be the least picky eater you've ever met. If you showed up this very second -- it's just before 1:00 p.m., with one of those pickle plates, I'd likely down the whole thing.

Except of course, the radishes.

And the lesson in all this?

Don't blog on an empty stomach.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

You say potato; I say we're good to go

But does anybody know what English fried potatoes might be like?
When I was a teenager, I thought it would be cool to be a writer for a big magazine. And when I got older, I was fortunate enough to find myself on staff at Canada's most recognizable publication, Chatelaine.

And it was indeed great. Here's why.

Chatelaine was located in a downtown Toronto office building at the corner of College and Bay streets. (My nephew and Godson Hugh Carter once commented that everybody around there must have great lips, and I was like "Huh?" Hugh responded: "Colagen Bay!"... ladies and gentlemen? My nephew.)

Anyway, Chatelaine was on the eighth floor of 777 Bay and down in the basement of the building was a very diversified  and substantial food court.

One of my favourite things to do was go to a certain French fry joint in that food court and order "a large fry."

The fries that that chip stand produced were like the fries that came off the chip trucks I grew up with in Northern Ontario. Sometimes, the Northern Ontario chip trucks were  buses, but never mind that. They had all been, at some point, vehicles.

The best was in a village called Sturgeon Falls, which was about 60 miles east of my hometown of Sudbury.

Lucky for me, my bilingual sister Mary attended a French boarding school in Sturgeon and inasmuch as I love Mary to pieces, what I remember most about the times Dad drove us to visit was sometimes, he'd stop at a chip truck not far from Mary's school so we got some of those deeply oily, salty, crispy French fried potatoes, covered with ketchup, salt and vinegar.

If I thought long and hard or if I phoned Mary and asked, I'm sure we could come up with the name of that chip joint but that's not the point of this story.
HERE'S THE SCOOP: You are allowed to
make a whole meal of fries and nothing else. 

What I'm getting at is, the fries from the place downstairs Chatelaine were almost the same high-quality product as the Sturgeon Falls fries. Perfectly crispy and maybe just a tad singed on the outside yet soft but not mooshy on the inside. The best ones had potato peel still stuck on.

I would swear in court: Chip truck fries are nature's most perfect food.

But back to the Chatelaine building. Plus I just remembered something.

One time, after the chef  handed me my cup of fries, I walked to the ketchup dispenser. It was one of those complicated affairs with the pump thing that you push like a plunger on top and the ketchup comes out of a long curved skinny spout. I held my fries under the spout, pushed the plunger and the equivalent of two drops came out. I did it again--nothing. The guy waiting behind me said, and this true, "somebody upstairs must be using the ketchup."

Clearly his house had the same plumbing as every place I've ever lived.

So after I bought my chips, I'd  go back to the Chatelaine office where all my health-conscious colleagues were, and hear them, one by one, say exactly this: "Oh those fries. They're like s-o-o-o-o-o bad for you. And they smell so good."

I would say "want one?" And 100 times out of 100 times, my colleague said, "Oh I shouldn't. But okay maybe one. Or two."

That's why it was so great working at a big fancy magazine.

Of course the reason I'm telling you all this is that during this weird time (there's something going around) a lot of people have embraced fulfilling projects, like physical fitness and sourdough.

We here at Pete's Blog&Grille have taken to making French fries from scratch. And we've nailed it.

Best thing is, should editing ever dry up, I'm pretty sure I know where I can get a bus.