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.

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