Monday, September 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

Get this.

GREEN ACRES, Ontario, was the place to be!

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

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

I still can't believe this is true.

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

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

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

for me!

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

Because soon after that, my folks came to visit. 

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

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

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

I still have allergies. 

ACCESSORY: "I get allergic
smelling hay."

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

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

The math does it self. 


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

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

All those God-bless-yous took.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ma Carter

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

THAT HALO EFFECT: Swear to God it's 

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. Or a nail. Or something. 

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.