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.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

5 Great Moments From A 5-Great-Lakes Odyssey

My daughter Ev and I arrived home tired and happy yesterday after a five-day bike trip during which we visited much of the state of Michigan and saw all five Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. I'd love to write a long story about why this was the best vacation a father could have, but that would only make people jealous. Heck, sometimes the stuff I get to do makes me jealous.

So instead, here're five highlights. (I may have to blog more on this adventure later.)

Highlight One. It was Ev who suggested we pull over to get a look at the giant Jesus at the Dinosaur Gardens Prehistoric Zoo, just outside Ossineke, Michigan. A little plaque near His Left Foot tells us that the founders of the park were devout Christians who saw no contradiction between dinosaurs and their view of creation. They just reckoned the "seven days" of creation that the bible goes on about is taken way too literally. My mom would have loved this place.

Highlight Two. The 1988 diesel-powered Bluebird bus sat alone and a bit sad in a field just east of Bay City, Michigan. Ev stopped and said, "Dad I know you love buses. We better go see it." Of course I'm glad we did and we learned it could be ours for a measly U.S.$3,200. My father--who with his brother Ed owned a fleet of buses when I was young--would have liked this bus as much as my mom would have liked the statue.

Highlight Three. Day two or three--I forget--we were looking for lunch and Ev noticed this homey place: The Big Ugly Fish Tavern. Upon entry, we were immediately told : a) There's no food  and, b) it's the best dive bar in Saginaw. "Google it!" the guy at the bar said. We did.  It is. Just like I said about my mom and the Jesus statue, every Carter I've ever met would have liked The Big Ugly Fish. In fact a few of the folks we saw in there looked like cousins.

Highlight Four. Jack the Dog we met at the Lakeshore Motel just north of Port Huron. The Lakeshore's owner Val  told me she recently adopted Jack after her sister's ex (who had been serving in Belgium) got re-assigned so had to find a new home for the pup. Jack comes from a long line of award-winning Belgian Border Collies, and Val said, "I can just imagine how proud his mom and dad are, knowing that their well-bred son has moved to America and is living up in Northern Michigan in a no-tell motel."

Highlight Five. See that map? It's a close approximation of our route. (I produced it myself, using my computer software skills.) See how the road goes a bit screwy in some places? That's because for pretty much the whole trip, Ev and I kept changing our destinations and our plans. My favourite switcheroo came on day four, after we made it to the very top of the state, headed for the Canadian border, which meant we'd loop  across the north side of Lake Huron, past Elliot Lake, Manitoulin, Sudbury and all those parts of the world we're so familiar with. Minutes before we arrived at the border, Ev and I made a U-ee and headed south instead, to explore a few more places we'd never been before.

Highlight Five, eh.  Michigan is a helmet-optional state. Because we're conscientious and mature, 99.9% of the time Ev and I kept our helmets in place and securely fastened. But when I decided I'd like this blog to contain at least one photo of us actually riding, turns out  my camera was trained on Ev only during that teensy weensy remaining 0.1%. What can I say?  All's well that ends.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Howzzis for a baby-boomer pick-up line? "What's your top-10 palliative-care discs?"

Early last week, my wife Helena and I went to see a friend, Dave, in the hospital. (Dave's not his real name, but what I'm about to tell you really happened.)

I was standing beside Dave's bed; Helena was sitting at its foot. She commented on how high-tech the bed was; with all sorts of switches, guages and little lights.

I looked down at Dave and said, "All these years Dave I figured you'd be going out in an electric chair, not an electric bed."

Dave sort of whisper-laughed and said. "Electric chair. That's funny."

And I was, like "yessssss!"

People who know me well might tell you I spend a lot of time trying to make people laugh. Never mind whether I'm successful or not.

Some might say the constant joking thing is as an attention-getting device. Which makes sense. After all, I was raised the youngest of 10 brothers and sisters. We're all pretty good at playing the what-I-have-to-say-is-way-more-entertaining-than-what-you-have-to-say game.  (I just remembered something. My friend Nigel Simms once observed that we Carters all employ the string-of-hyphenated-words-linked-together-as-an-adjective trick. An observant man, that Simms.)

Where was I?

Right. At Dave's bedside. What was particularly happy-making about that particular little electric-chair joke (Nigel was sure right, re: hyphens) was this. Dave is in palliative care.

You read that correctly.

He is not coming home. It's sad that he's so sick, and we'll miss having him around. However, soon his suffering will be over and I'm really glad we went to say bye.

But what I'm getting at is this.

I'm really happy with my electric-chair joke.

Here's why:

If you can make somebody laugh when they're in palliative, your work here is done.

Like it or not--all of us are going to have to get comfy with "palliative care" real soon. (I even wrote a song about it. Thank me for NOT posting it on YouTube.) Palliative care is going to be part of your life, sooner or later.

And about a week before our visit with Dave, I was driving in a car with a lawyer, writer, beer connoisseur and blogger named Edward Noble and he asked me what my 10 desert-island discs are. What records would I choose if they were to be the only ones I'd ever get to listen to?  ("Desert Island discs" is a great conversation starter, btw.)

But I'm never going to be on a desert island.

I will, however, wind up in Dave's slippers.

I will want to be cheered up.

So here, in no discernible order, are Pete'sBlog&Grille's Top-10 Palliative-Care picks.

Things that will make me laugh, when the going gets as tough as going gets.

10) First, lots of visits with family. These are key and when I assume Dave's position, please expect Google Map instructions to my bedside, from wherever you are. All Carters and MacIsaacs (my mom's maiden name) and McIntosh's are infected with that last-laugh gene. My cousin Don MacIsaac (the Don MacIsaac in Vancouver; not the D.M. in Germany) said "we could be on the phone with a cousin talkin' about how we're so depressed we've a loaded gun to our heads but by the end of the phonecall we'll be laughin' and talkin' about gettin' a drink together."

9) "Blazing Saddles."

8) Visits from almost any friends who know the best conversations are punctuated with laughter. Take Rodney Frost, in Orillia, for instance. He once pointed out that laughter accompanies discovery; Every conversation with Rodney is a voyage of discovery and when he and I talk on the phone, we don't say goodbye; we always end phonecalls the same way--in fits of laughter that make conversation simply impossible. I'm lucky enough to have several friends like Rodney. Nigel from back there in paragraph five is one.

7) "Young Frankenstein."

6) Speaking of horror movies, if you're scared of palliative care visits, get over it. Once you go to one palliative care ward, you'll be overcome by the sense of calm that pervades the place. I mean it. I've been to, I think, five, and they're all happy-making in a very strange way. If you know of somebody in palliative care, quitcherbellyachin and go see them. You think it's hard on you? Think about what it's like for them!

5) A few episodes of "One Foot In The Grave." The Eric Idle theme song alone's worth the price of admission.

4) Screw this list. It's beautiful out. Life is far too short for me to stay inside writing about palliative care.

Besides. You know what I'm talking about.

Laughter may not be the best medicine, but why shouldn't it be the last?