Thursday, May 25, 2017

Where you never know who you'll run into

NATHAN'S FLAME-EMBOLDENED PETE: I told you he could draw. 

Something happened earlier this week and it made my day. Life rather.

I'm currently in the middle of researching a story for a business magazine I used to be editor of, Today's Trucking.  I sometimes refer to Today's Trucking as my  "alma pater". Get it? Pater? Mater means mom. Pater's dad. At Today's Trucking  I got to write about all kinds of things I first learned growing up around my late father Tom's bus business, like engine retarders, which are real things.

But never mind that. The story I was preparing this week had me calling provincial government offices all across Canada.

Here's how I roll. I go online and find main government phone numbers. Whoever answers gets the following--my name, what I'm doing, an abbreviated account of my whole life history, my assignment details, and my last line "who do you think I should talk to?"--and it's all condensed into about five seconds. Over the years, I've found this highly non-strategic system effective with public servants at every level in this country approximately 100 percent of the time. You call a government as a reporter and somebody gets back to you.

Tuesday, I called Saskatchewan. 

Woman who answered the phone got my five-second earful and then told me she'd find somebody who could help and, just before going bye-bye, she asked me to repeat the name of the magazine.

Me: "Today's Trucking." (I speak italics.)

Her: "And you said your name's Peter?"

Me: "Sure did."

Her: "This might sound weird but I'm pretty sure it was a Peter from Today's Trucking did something incredible for my young nephew a few years ago."

Me: "Are you Nathan's aunt?"

Her: "YES!"

One of us, maybe both: "HURRAY!"

Her: "You are a hero in that family. I can't wait to let them know this happened."

Me (mostly): "Four or so years ago....blah blah blah.. Nathan this...Nathan that.. Great coincidence...coolest story ever...and on and on....and sweet kid....isn't it amazing how much you can love your nephews and nieces?.....I still have the truck picture he drew.. say hi for me.."

I hung up the phone and was like, "Yessssss!"

I wasn't no hero. I'd just made a couple of phone calls. 

Four years ago, when I was editing the magazine, I received a snail-mail letter from an eight-year-old Duncan, B.C., chap named Nathan. He really liked Peterbilt trucks (who doesn't?); he was a highly skilled artist (proven by the drawing you see above); and there were one or two other things on his mind.

The envelope contained a return address so I Googled it and phoned. That call led to another and after a few weeks of laughing and talking and backing and forthing with Nathan, his mom and some generous folks in the trucking industry, my new buddy and his family wound up going for their very first big-rig ride from Vancouver to the aptly named Hope. B.C.  

Just connecting with Nathan's aunt (his mom's sister) this week made me relive the whole happy episode and the part I got to play in it. 

You can get a play-by-play of the original story if you hit the links below. 

TO HOPE AND BACK: Artist Nathan
with cool TFX Transport driver Jeff Lockwood
But even if you don't read more, don't forget the important lessons we get out of all this.

First is, journalism can make important things happen.

Second, you might think Canada's a huge country but in fact it's tiny. You are two and a half clicks away from just about anybody.

Just sayin.'

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Where we put the fun into funeral

YOU MEAN TO TELL ME Your grandma didn't
keep a copy of this handy?

I've been paid to attend a couple of funerals recently because my daughter Ria, who is a licensed funeral director, put me in touch with an organization that is sort of like a supply-teacher company for the funeral business.

It works like this: If a funeral home is overloaded and needs, say, an extra hearse driver, or if a family wants pallbearers but there's nobody at hand, this organization sends in help. So they maintain a roster of people like me: I have a driver's licence, a flexible schedule, I clean up pretty good.

It helps that I really like funerals. Always have.

Some people are at their best rinkside at a hockey game or making, like, a PowerPoint presentation. Me, when I am standing beside an open casket or leaning over to read the names on the sympathy cards attached to bouquets, I am, as they say,  in the zone.

Makes sense, really. I come from a huge sprawling Irish/Scottish Catholic family. Everybody dies, and funerals are just a part of life.

One of my earliest memories has four-year-old me visiting Kelly's Funeral Parlour in Ottawa. I don't know who the old person in the casket was--some distant relative--but I recall wondering if his or her hearing aid, which was still in place, was still functioning.

For years, on one of the coffee tables in my Grandmother Carter's living room sat a book called "Irish Wake Amusements."

And wait'll I tell you about the night Pat Murphy died.

I was probably in grade two or three.

I had been taking piano lessons from Janet Anderson, who was the absolutely stunning daughter of my mom's best friend Ida Anderson.

Janet was about seven years older than me and the only thing I can remember about the lessons is the way her delicate hands danced on the piano keys and that she sat straight and elegantly on the piano bench; her waist-length shimmering black hair cascaded down her back. My music teacher had fine white skin and very red lips and the more I think about Janet the further I'm going to stray from my topic of death. But it was because I was taking piano lessons from Janet that, one evening, I was in our basement pretending to practise scales on our big old upright black piano.
MY MOM'S BROTHERS: Fun-loving uncles
Alex and Stellie

Like with everything else in my life, I really wanted to play the piano, but I did not want to practise.

Upstairs, mom and dad were entertaining some relatives and I could hear they were having a lot more fun than I was.

Drinking might have been an activity. Laughing certainly was.

Anyway, our downstairs piano was situated right beside the basement bathroom.

At one point, my mom's brother Stellie came down to use the facilities. (Stellie. I know. His full name was Stellarton. My mom's name was Huena. That's another blog altogether.)

But never mind that. What's important is that instead of going right into the bathroom, Stellie plopped himself down beside little boy Pete on the piano bench.

It would be safe to assume that he might have been holding a drink and/or a cigarette.

He said something like, "Um.. how about this one.. " and then... and then..  he started banging away at the keyboard. Chording. I'd never seen it before.

And he sang. Loud. And somehow, he was laughing, all at the same time.

 "Ohhhhhhh.... The night that Patty Murphy died was a night we'll never forget!  Some of us got good and drunk and some ain't sober yet. Said it was a sin and a shame and we winked at one another. something something something something the night Pat Murphy died."

It was completely spontaneous, unrehearsed and Stellie was having the most fun I'd ever seen any adult have, ever.

I had no idea a mortal could just sit and play and belt out a song with such unrestrained joy.

Stellie didn't care if he hit all the right notes.

Stellie didn't even know all the right words. I could tell he was making half of them up.

He just had to sing and didn't care what he sounded like.

I'm kind of sad to add that Uncle Stellie died far too young, not long after that epic basement performance. So I never got tell him how much his song meant to me

But when Stellie was belting out Patty Murphy, he was completely and utterly living in the moment and that inspired me to take the same approach and anybody who knows me will tell you I love making music for fun and it's often when we're doing that kind of stuff a person is most alive.

And that's why I like funerals.

P.S. Here's version. Not as good as Stellie's but it'll do.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Where we don't nurse grudges or begrudge nurses

We were in grade eight.
 UNCLE ALEX & His nurse sister: My mom

It was afternoon recess at St. Albert's School in Sudbury, and a softball game was underway. I can't remember whether Joey MacPherson was batting and Paul Uguccioni pitching or vice versa but I know I was catcher. 

And the other detail that remains cemented in my mind as vividly as if it happened two minutes ago is the mind-splitting agony that quaked through my entire body when the batter swung with all his might and rather than connect with the thrown softball, he whacked my left elbow. 

Had it not been attached to my arm, my elbow would have been knocked clean outta the schoolyard.

Safe to say that when I took the hit, I likely said a swear. 

The play stopped. 

I staggered over to the school's cement wall, leaned against it and must have been trying with every cell in my skinny little body to impress my classmates because when our principal, Sister Sylvia, showed up and asked what happened, I shrugged it off, with something like, "I'll be fine. Don't worry." As if.

The rest of the day went as planned.

 CHARLENE, R.N.: Presents as innocent 
This is interesting: The harder I think about the event, the more I remember. I'm pretty sure it was that same evening that Joe, Paul--all the grade eights--went through a Catholic religious sacrament called Confirmation. It's when young Catholic boys and girls are recognized as adults in the church. We also get to choose another name. My Confirmation name is Alexander, in honour of my mother's late brother Alex MacIsaac because I thought he was such a funny guy though now I'm wondering if my brother Alex has believed all these years it was because of him. He's wrong. And I digress.

Morning after the ball game,  I remember my parents had to leave town for the day and although my arm was still sore, it didn't prevent me from going for a walk with one of my sisters, who was, at the time, a nursing student. 

Actually, three of my sisters became registered nurses.  And my mom was one, as well. How unlikely is that?

Imagine how proud my mother, Huena, must have been when the girls all graduated and our local paper The Sudbury Star reported that her daughters Mary, Norma, and Charlene followed in her white-shod footsteps.
MARY HOLDING MY SON Michel. The statue is another Mary holding her son. 

In fact when I found out two hours ago that May 6 to 13 is National Nursing Week, I decided it's high time I shouted lovingly to the world about the four wonderful nurses I shared a home with. Four.

No wonder I had such a charmed injury-free childhood. Has any young boy in history ever been showered with as much TLC as was little Peter Frances Alexander Carter? No. 

Unless of course you're referring  to "The Elbow Incident."

I once again whisk you back to the Saturday after I got batted. 

Nursing-student-sister number-one and I returned home from our walk and I noticed my elbow had started swelling up. 

Another nursing-student sister assessed the damage and a majority of my them determined that a trip to the General Hospital emerg was in order.

One of them drove me to the General and accompanied me through triage and then for treatment. She had actually worked at this hospital and knew her way around. Also because she's my big sister I believe everything she says. Which--when we were told who the doctor on call that day was--was this: "Oh no! He's got a terrible drinking problem. I hope he doesn't screw this up too."

NURSE NORMA: A consonant away
from being Normal
That is not what you would call a confidence-builder.  

Drunk or not, the doctor determined that my elbow was indeed fractured and required what he called a half-cast; i.e., a plaster support that worked like a splint, so it didn't go all the way around my arm but was wrapped completely in bandages so I ended up with what looked like a cast that would keep my bones in position until they healed, so they should stay put for a few weeks.

A few weeks, that is, or--as determined by my sister nurses once I got back home--a few hours. Moments after I got into the house a coven (or murder, or group, whatever the collective for sisters is) of Carter sisters determined that what Peter's arm needed was a good washing. 




The Cast. 

They wiped my elbow and got the cast back on, all before mom got home. 

Happy to report my arm healed okay. I'm pretty sure they didn't really know what they were doing but perhaps I've been wrong all these years. There is an outside chance they made the right call. 
Maybe that's why they all turned out to be such great nurses; i.e., they had me to experiment on. 

Two final thoughts: First, I can't believe how lucky I am to have such doting sisters, who remain just as sweet and caring to this very day; And finally, those same darlings encourage me to write. They should be careful what they pray for.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Where We Twitter Away Our Time

I just found a bunch of really really important notions I tweeted over the past couple of years and realized I'm not using them anymore so you can have'em!
(p.s. I'm @petesbandg)

My wife of several decades says we should get a banner for the back of our car that reads "Just Married" cuz "Just" is also a synonym for "barely."

My brother Tom, a retired underground miner on safety: "Is mining dangerous? I dunno. Death rate's the same per capita."

Me. Single. At a party. Saw baby in a room. Wondered what'd be like to be a dad. So I gave it $20 and said "You really need this light on?"

22 down; 2 to go. How blowing the guts out of eggs relates to Jesus rising from the dead escapes me completely 

Hear about the metal band that plays the same song over and over and over cuz it's never quite good enough? They're called OC/DC.

Has anybody checked to see if Putin's first name really isn't Ras?

Cops are looking for a escaped prisoner; He was doing time for bestiality. He's been on the lam for days.

Incoming joke: Plane crash in California. 100s killed. Searchers find black box. They hear the last words the pilot says: "Too soon?"

If they want to find a lost peacock, they have to issue an amber, orange, blue, green, red, teal, yellow, and silver alert.

Just stood up to talk at a meeting and realized I forgot to wear pants to work today.. is that what they call Livin' The Dream?

English is amazing. Laughter and Daughter are only one consonant apart; My daughters make me dafter. With laughter.

You know your preschooler's hanging with a tough crowd if--when you say "say please,"--he's like "guilty and not guilty."

Still in Charlottetown. Can I measure the circumference of the island using PEI R squared?

H: "Please stop by Costco to buy kitty litter & milk." M: "If we just traded our 2 cats for a cow we'd never have to go to Costco again."

What religion are most heavy-duty technicians? Diagnostic?

You never know if our main-floor toilet's going to flush well or not. It's always a crap shoot. Or should that be chute?

One hour and 45 minutes from my bed to the F97 departure lounge at Terminal One in Pearson. That was fast! And quite a Departure!
David Menzies: "When small-town djs play the Edmund Fitzgerald ,
 it's because they're taking a extra long bathroom break.'

I used to be dyslexic but now I'm mornal.

My New Year's Resolution: Play more C, F, and G chords. Ask not what country can do for you but what you can do for country.

Why do priests and ministers wear colourful clothes for services?  Huge altar-egos?

"Eddie. Come in. Sit for a spell. We're playing Scrabble."

I hate having unwelcome insects in the kitchen. Time ain't fun when you're having flies.

Flu got. Difficult smart to work when. My drugs on brain.

Why do they call it fasting when it makes time slow down so?

In a restaurant with a password protected wi-fi. I told them the password should be "OnlyCheapskatesDon'tTip."

When will somebody finally invent the wind-powered car?
It seems like such an obvious and cheap use of wind energy. 

Besides copyright, what else will be obsolete in 100 years? Hope they don't replace internal combustion motors with external combustion ones

My wife wants me to buy a new windbreaker. Does that mean she wants me to break even more wind? 

Laziness walks in my family.

If you have a crush on your pastor do you get pulpitations?
The Life story of Ravi Shankar: From Ragas to Riches

Woman at work as I exit office: "Are you off?" Me: "No I just smell that way." Her: "I grew up with brothers. I get it."

Just realized I'm of the age when I order a club sandwich, mostly looking forward to the 4 toothpicks that come with it.

Who decided not to put the comma in years? I mean, it's really 2,013, no?


 Spellcheck ALERT: if you type thong instead of thing, spellcheck will not alert you, Your message "Show me your new thong" gets sent

She keeps saying she's going to phone her friends but doesn't. She should join I'll call aholics Anonymous.

Damn,less than 15 hours into New Year's I already broke 2 resolutions. 1: to not drink before 6; and 2: if I do, not tell the world about it

As ye rip so shall ye sew.

In a music store in Toronto today. Me: "Do you have accordions?"
Clerk: "Sorry sir we only sell musical instruments."

 Astonishing: The moment the plumber says the toilet is broken and won't be working for a few hours, the back teeth start zipping up life jackets.

Off course Bernie's name was Madoff. Cuz that's what he did with other people's money.

Wife's awake fretting about sick mom, work, bills, taxes. I'm awake worried I can't come up with a joke beginning for the answer "Car Pool Tunnel syndrome."

Ria rules. My answer: "Car pool tunnel syndrome" Ria's question: "What do you get when you cross a covered bridge with commuting secretaries?"

I failed math more times than I can count.

Why do men make more typos than women? Male pattern badness?

Is saying bye-bye a tautology?