'Regular Column' Archive

Mar 31 2010

When The Swallows Return

By Michael McGrath

The blackbirds are back. I saw them first thing this morning in the back yard pecking away at lord knows what. The Ravens never leave. They are always there in the background. I admire them for their stealth and cunning. They are true survivors and can be seen in the treetops about town seemingly content and well too do even at minus thirty degrees Celsius.

Soon the Robins will appear with this early spring weather. One morning I will simply awake, lookout the back kitchen window and there will be the Robins busy gathering material to nest. They are so domesticated and hardly ever have time for any fun. The Robins are all about making and raising their young. It is a full time job because most of the time they are not all that careful in selecting a secure and safe place for their nests and that results in their neurotic flights here and there all day long trying to protect the little ones from other birds and those dreaded cats.

When the Swallows arrive that really makes it official. Spring is here. They keep coming back to that rickety little bird house perched precariously above the garage doors. Generations of this Swallow family just can’t give up on the old bird house and they return faithfully every year to put up with the run down accommodation and the regular hub bub of our comings and goings to the garage. We run cars in and out with exhaust smoke belching all around the bird house. In mid summer we are in and out of the old garage on our motorcycles which produce loud, high decibel roars. Nothing else seems to matter to the Swallows as long as they can return to their familial birdhouse.

They are ungrateful tenants in that they don’t even recognize us as the landlords. If Xavier or I are anywhere near the birdhouse they fly up in alarm and in dire resignation then they dive at us as though they were tiny little jet fighters. It is strange to be attacked by these little birds but it has become more or less common place for us during the summer months.

In reflection, it occurs to me that we two have more in common with the swallows  then we would like to admit. I have heard too many jokes about bird brains over the years. Our common trait with these streamlined fighter birds has to do with our identification with home. In my case, I have lived in the Dunn homestead for most of my life. I was raised here from the time I was a baby and only left to pursue college education and fancy jobs in journalism, public relations and advertising along the way.

I was more than happy to fly back to old Third Avenue and land in the arms of my granny, Margaret Dunn. My mom Emily and Granny shared the place and kept the home fires burning while I and my sister Pat were off having other life experiences. Patty married John, a Mohawk fellow from Six Nations near Hamilton and they were wrapped up in raising their daughter Brooke and making a life down south. Regularly, they made the trek north during the summer mostly but with visits also at Christmas.

When I flew home it was as though there was no thought involved. I had a bunch of experiences in the belly of the province and simply stopped in my tracks and headed back up north to that welcoming front door. The house felt like a cocoon for me and I let it take me in and wrap me in a cozy, safe blanket. I needed that after a ferocious decade of fighting my way to the top of nothing where I found myself holding on to thin air and falling.

Granny almost jumped for joy at the prospect of having me around the house to play with, care for and challenge. Those were the things we did best together. As is the case with the Swallows there were all kinds of good reasons for me not to return to the white clapboard house on Old Third Avenue. Similarly, as is the case with the Swallows, nothing else mattered to me at the time other than making it home. I had to make it back home.

Mom was  happy on my return too as this couple had sunken into a rather boring lifestyle that had to do mostly with Emily going back and forth to work at the main office in the Paper Mill and Granny taking care of the house and keeping mom fed and more or less grounded. With my return, Mom had more time to herself as Granny and I were like mischievous old friends that were more than willing to keep each other busy in an unlimited way that featured, lively discussions, board games, listening to music, reading to each other and at times just enjoying the comfort of each others company at the kitchen table.

Although it had been a decade since I lived at home, on my return it seemed as though I had never left. The house had not changed all that much, the neighbourhood was still pretty much the same. The town looked the same as it had thirty years before and there was something comforting and secure about that. I hated the fact that I felt as though I was living in a fish bowl but I equally loved the feeling I got when I moved around town and bumped into family, friends and neighbours I had known all my life. It always felt right to be in a place that I knew in every detail imaginable. Many people I met I had nothing in common with other than we shared the same place of birth and raising and some of them I really disliked. However, it still felt better to be in small town Iroquois Falls where I knew just about everyone, their family histories, their good points, their bad and their comings and goings. Of course as a gay person in my little town I had lots of critics but at the very least I knew exactly who they were.

As much as I hated to admit it I had enough learning and sensitivity to understand even where the bigots, racists and closed minded people were coming from. I understood that many of these poor souls had terrible lives, they were impoverished in many ways and had  been abused, many had little education for the most part and they were not entirely satisfied with hardy party lives that left them sad, confused and angry much of the time.  Most of them had never been any further from town than Timmins or Kirkland Lake. Their exposure to the outside world ended at the signpost announcing the town of Iroquois Falls out on Highway 11. I understood all that and it helped.

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Mar 25 2010

I Grew Up On The Wrong Side Of The Tracks

I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Iroquois Falls during the 1950s. Actually, it has been a running gag over the years between me and my friends that in fact we were fortunate to have been raised in Ansonville and Montrock. Iroquois falls proper back then was supposedly the right side of the track and more or less reserved for the upper class, tradesmen, engineers and company executives of the Abitibi company. They were mostly English.

Ansonville and Montrock developed haphazardly with second rate housing and tar paper shacks around the more affluent and engineered community of Iroquois Falls. The company town boasted a huge Hudson Bay store, mercantile building which housed shops, a police station, restaurant and gymnasium to cater to the more privileged workers at Abitibi. However, it was in Ansonville  that all the action really took place. We had a movie theatre, bowling alley, a few bars and hotels, grocery stores and all kinds of shops. You could get drunk, go bowling, watch a movie and have a hair cut all on the same day.

There was always a tension between the coming of age teens from either side of the tracks. We for the most part tolerated each other but often exciting fights broke out in front of the Silver Grill on Ambridge Drive. The English and French secondary schools both were located in Iroquois Falls and that meant that  no matter what,  we inhabitants of the far reaches of the Abitibi empire,  at some point,  had to swallow our pride and make the move to further education on the right side of the tracks. It was intimidating at times.

Ansonville and Montrock were little towns that did not see much development until the 1950s. Here we mingled in a curious and interesting mix of cultures that included Jewish, Irish, French, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Italian and Chinese. My friends and I felt we were lucky to have had the opportunity to mix with and learn about so many other cultures at the early stages of our lives. We were worldly in view without ever having to leave town.

There was a lot of bigotry and racism back in the 40s and 50s but for the most part people managed to get along. The hierarchy went something like this. If you were English and I mean proper English with roots to the old country you were at the top of the heap and probably looked down on everyone else. Now if you were an American and English you weren’t far off the mark.  We Irish were lucky in a way because we could fit in with the English if we had to and because of historic realities we were also at home with the French. We mixed easily with all the other cultures mostly out of our mild disdain for the English. For the most part sadly we have a history of pretty much banishing Native people from our little collection of towns. That didn’t change until the 1960s when people for a brief moment in time seemed to come to their senses.

We had a lot of fun in Ansonville and Montrock. There were dances and concerts at the old Ukrainian hall near the original Ansonville Public School. We shared special days with our Jewish neighbours and marvelled at the fantastic Easter egg decorations of the Ukrainians and Polish. Many a jig was danced with the French and Irish at the old Moose Hall on Third Avenue. We didn’t live in the English hamlet style houses of Iroquois Falls but as my grandmother pointed out many times, “We owned our own homes.” In those days most people who lived in Iroquois Falls proper rented their homes at a subsidized price from the company. They lived high on the hog until retirement day came and then it was out the door and off to find something to purchase on the other side of the tracks.

I was raised in the Dunn household. My grandfather Jack Dunn, came from the Alumette island area of Quebec near the border with Ontario in the Ottawa Valley. He married my grandmother Margaret (Mellon) Dunn in the early 1920s and promptly moved her up to the  bustling boom town of Ansonville. When they came to town granny brought along her family shamrock plant and installed herself in the community which already had a small gathering of Irish and French folk from Waltham, Quebec and Pembroke, Ontario area.

There’s a story to the shamrock. Family history handed down over a hundred years tell us that the plant came over on a ship with the Mellon family in the 1830s. It was a remembrance of Ireland to be cherished and passed on to others from the mother country. The Mellons managed all those years to keep that shamrock alive and they passed it on to family and friends. Granny Dunn, brought it to Ansonville and spread it around the Irish community. Today, you will find the lovely green weed alive and well in many homes around the community. The sharing of this plant has accounted for its survival. If one family or household loses the beauty they simply have to visit one of their clan or a friend to borrow a little starter. Soon, the resilient shamrock is well rooted and flourishing in a green glow which often pushes forth delicate little flowers. Granny Dunn often gazed at it and sighed, “Erin go bragh”  the only words she knew in Gaelic. It means, “Ireland Forever”.  So get your Danny Boy CD out and cry a tune to that one.

In the old days, if you were Irish, there was a pretty good chance that during a walk on main street, you would bump into somebody who had ties to the Emerald Isle.  There were the Devines, Harkins, O’Donnells, Spences, Russells, Corks, Wallaces, Watsons, Whelans, Turners, Stacks, Stewarts, Shallows, Sheas, Shields, Shirleys, Shannons, Purdys, Bigelows, Porters, Peevers, O’Shaughnessys, Dunns, Mellons, O’Connors, O’Maras, Murphys, Moores, McLeans, McMeekins, McEwans, McGraths, Maddens, Jones, Micks, Hopkins, Donovans, Cotnams, Corcorans, Chandlers, Carrolls, Burtons, Browns, Brandreths, Duffys, Doyles and Brindles, to name a few.

Jack and Margaret raised five incredible daughters at 463 Third Avenue in Ansonville including: Emily, Tessie, Sarah, Rita and Celia. They were true Irish colleens as pretty, kind, entertaining and curious as ever were created under the sun. Emily was my mom. She passed away in 2007.

In the late 1930s granny Dunn had to make a big decision. Jack put it before her. Did she want a proper wringer washer to make life easier for herself and the family or would she prefer a piano. Well, you know the Irish. The piano won out and one day the local delivery man big Normand Grenier appeared at the door with our upright grand piano. From that day on the house was filled with song, the wonderful acoustic sounds of the piano and much laughter.  My grandmother said many times, “If you have music in the house you will have love in the house.” She was right.

Lucky us. My sister Pat and I spent the earliest days of our lives being entertained by my grandparents, aunts and my mom. The aunts or sisters as I refer to them took us everywhere, taught us all the Irish songs, placed our fingers on the piano’s ivory keys and made our days happy. I watched them all marry and start families of their own. Tessie was betrothed to Harvey Ruddy, Sarah wedded Don Paquette, Rita became Mrs. Everett Elliot and Celia shared her life with Johnny Mercier. Although the sisters moved on we still managed to gather often around the piano to while away the day or night in song and dance. Jack died early of a heart attack most probably brought on by the steady diet of pork and beans from the time he was a boy. He was raised on a farm in the valley and then in his 20s he found work in the bush camps of Northern Ontario. He was a dapper man and never stepped out of the house without looking like he was going to a high society event or a funeral.  Granny Dunn, lived to be 100 years of age. She lived long enough to become everybody’s granny in our part of town and she could always be counted on for cookies, a cup of tea and a few kind words.

Ansonville and Montrock went the way of the dinosaurs in the 1960s when a feisty little Frenchman by the Name of Elmo Lefebvre joined with some other visionary people in the community to push for the amalgamation of the three towns into one. Iroquois Falls ended up being the name of choice in what was a hotly contested political mish mash that almost tore the communities apart. Many of the company people satisfied with the status quo of the good life in Iroquois Falls proper didn’t want anything to do with change. However, a small but vocal and dedicated group of more or less revolutionaries brought us fighting and kicking together. There were little thanks to Elmo and the forces of power made his life difficult. He left to live out most of his life in Kapuskasing although his heart no doubt remained in Iroquois Falls. It is said that the victorious and the powerful write the history books. Well, here’s one for Elmo Lefebvre another great founder of Iroquois Falls. Where is his monument in town?

Today the railway tracks that run through the heart of our town merely present a mild annoyance when a company train crosses a roadway. Gone are the days of this side and that side of the tracks. Iroquois Falls looks kind of comfortable and tidy. Thanks to the invention of aluminum and vinyl siding in the early 1960s the tar paper shacks of Ansonville and Montrock were magically transformed into shiny little homes with a disneyesque appeal to them. Our mammoth recreation/sports complex complete with hockey arena, curling rink, pool and what not facilities exists as proof of our ability to get along and do great things. The complex at one point was billed as the largest volunteer project in Canada.

We had the best neighbours in the world on old Third Avenue, which is D’Iberville Street today. There were the Poiriers, Mahers, Regimbals, Manders, Russels, McCarthys, Lavoies, Blacks (of the corner store), Larsons, Larivees, Denaults, Croatins (of Croatin’s wood yard), Brudenelles, Postivichs, Youngs, Gauthiers, Adamsons, Gervais, Berniers, Sarmientos, Pierinis, Flageoles, Charlebois, O’Donnells (writer Eddy O’Donnell), Soucys, Lachances, Bigelows, Lachapelles and Proulxs.  Many of them are gone now but in a way they are still here. That is one of the wonderful things about becoming a senior citizen as my memory banks are full of all those caring, colourful and hardworking neighbours and every time I take a drive or walk uptown I am reminded of them along my way. They all seem to be doing quite well thank you.

The End

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Jan 05 2010

Granny Dunn’s Swing

By Michael McGrath – January 2010

In the mid 1950s, when I was just a bit of a lad, I passed many a day on the family swing. Few households in Iroquois Falls back then had the luxury of a full fledged swing. Sure, there were all sorts of basic examples of the swing hanging here and there from trees and railings in between two ropes bound around a plank but only the privileged few had the benefit of a multi person, proper chair swing that could accommodate family and friends. Ours was a beauty.

I am not sure where the Dunn family swing came from. It had always been a part of my childhood memories. I believe it was ordered through the Eaton catalogue and delivered to the door on horse and buggy by Norbert Grenier. Most finished products came from Eatons in those days and when you saw Norbert and his team of horses or later his old jalopy of a truck at a front door you immediately understood that there would be happy faces to welcome in a new piano, a stove, fridge, sofa or bed. It was pure entertainment to have a visit from Norbert. He was a big fellow with a loud sound and resounding laugh. Most of the time he managed to haul huge heavy loads on his back into the welcoming homes in Iroquois Falls, Ansonville and Montrock. Later in the 1960s all these towns were amalgamated to become Iroquois Falls. Norbert always had a story or a joke to tell and his wide smile and sparkling eyes put the finishing touches on the delivery of a much needed, anticipated and celebrated new item for the home.

Our swing was actually a platform or floor of wood like a small deck attached on the bottom to seats that were about five feet wide. There were two seats on either side of this floor and then a frame held the seats in place and hung them on two wood rails. The seats faced each other and could seat three adults on each side and a couple of children on the floor.

My most vivid memories of the old swing has to do with my granny’s network of wandering friends. I say wandering because I knew them when they had all raised their families and most of their husbands had passed away after years of hard work as lumberjacks, teamsters or paper mill workers All these ladies were in their 60s and 70s in the 1950s and most of them had a lot of time on their hands and they could only bear to sit in their little houses for so long before needing a dose of social contact. My grandmother, Margaret Dunn on the other hand, had two grandchildren at home and was more or less raising a second family. Myself and my sister Patty were lucky enough to be under her care as our mother Emily toiled through her days in the main office of the local paper mill.

I recall that on those muggy days in summer, cool but sunny autumn breaks and as the sun warmed us up after a freezing winter in the spring the swing was there to help us while away hours in friendship, a little gossip and strong, hot tea.

“Hello Mrs. Dunn,” Mrs. O’Donnell hollered at the front door on old Third Avenue in her vary man like voice. She was a tall woman and her strong and deep voice captivated my sister and I. In good weather we made our way to the swing and the visit was on. In a short while Freda Spence would arrive on the scene. Freda was a social butterfly and member of the Moose Lodge who attended mass regularly and could be seen at just about every funeral in town bidding her fond farewell. She simply liked to be around people and in small towns regretfully there are more funeral get to gathers than weddings and the like. Freda loved to clamour aboard the Dunn swing and chat with her favourite neighbours while sipping tea.

Mrs. Harkins sauntered up to the front yard and hauled herself onto the swing amidst warm welcome from the ladies and a how do you do. She knew my granny from the Ottawa Valley days as they were both born in the vicinity of Fort Coulonge and Waltham in Quebec near Pembroke, Ontario. She had a hard life and raised a large family of boys and girls in a little house just around the corner from us on Church Street. In her early years she was counted on for her experience as a midwife and she assisted granny in some of her births. Mrs. Harkins was a stocky lady and had a lot of trouble walking which resulted in a job for me once I could be trusted to find my way around the block and come home. At one point I became her walking companion and I would run around the corner and down the hill in two minutes to help her inch her way up for a half hour walk back to our place and a visit with Granny.

Mrs. Manders, often would arrive to join the group of Irish ladies. She was tall and thin and always looked as though something terrible was going happen to her at any given moment. The poor woman was old beyond her years and she counted on the kindness and understanding of familiar Ottawa Valley faces to open their doors and hearts to her. She was frantic to say the least and the very first person I ever met that gobbled up prescription medicine with her tea.

If it was a hot day Patty and I served lemonade or cold drinks on encouragement from Granny but most of the time the ladies like to have their tea and whatever biscuits Granny could come up with from the cookie jar. There they sat, happy and full of good chatter under the sun, just inside the white picket fence, on the green lawn comfortable in the swing.

Most of the time Patty and I lounged lazily around on the grass near the dragon lilies, sunflowers, bleeding hearts and roses. We watched in fascination as the bees buzzed about fixated on visiting our flowers to gather nectar. All types of bugs roamed the forest of grass leaves at ground level and often we followed them on their travels. The Robins, Starling, Sparrows and Crows floated and darted in and out of our scene there in the front yard like little punctuation marks in the day. Above, all we were comforted by the lullaby of familiar, friendly voices on the swing. The ladies gently motioned the swing back and forth as they soothed each other with words falling like little chutes of memories that flowed from early childhood on farms and from the small towns back in the Valley. They swung back and forth, sometimes in question, at times with a sharp refrain. On occasion in the heat of discussion the swing seemed to pick up on their moods and moved briskly to the rise and fall of their conversation.

With all of the ups and downs on the swing somehow the old friends managed to keep an even keel and their time moving to and throw for hours in our front yard seemed to speed by. It was like some precious commodity or treat that you wanted to preserve and keep for as long as you could but that was impossible. Friends and neighbours passed with greetings and the odd car limped by as the ladies pumped gently on the swing in a rhythm that mostly comforted them. Sometimes, they all fell silent and simply let the swing and movement fill their moments in the fresh air scented by the fragrance of the flower garden.

When the men were seen walking past on their way home from the mill with lunch buckets in hand that was the cue to wrap things up. Granny, they knew still had Emily to feed and greet on her return from her day in the office. There was supper to fix for Patty and I and a host of chores to accomplish. So, the swing finally came to a slow halt. The ladies gave thanks and praise for the grand afternoon and disembarked from the old swing. “Good Day Mrs. Dunn” they sang and headed off down the street to their own kitchens and living rooms with the joy of time well spent in the backs of their minds.

The End

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Mar 17 2009

The Voice In The Hall

by Mike McGrath (C) 1985

    A voice in the hall said it was three in the morning and he marveled to himself  at his wide awake state. It probably had something to do with the music blaring top 40 hits next door and of course the company he didn’t keep in the hall.
    Howard Munroe lay propped up against the wall on the lumpy bed with worn sheets pulled  around him and a book of short stories open at his side. He  wanted to be anonymous and alone after his three year stint in the small northern town which was home, most of the time. Now, he was indeed alone in one of the many cells that made up this Victorian vintage hotel in the heart of downtown Toronto.
    He was thankful for the contact he had made with the young man last night. He was relieved at the opportunity to lay in bed and linger in whispers and chuckles with his new friend as the hours slipped away. He was grateful that kind mind had accompanied him back to embarrassing accommodations to share a hard and trim body in tight hugs that turned quickly to heated love making.
    Tonight, Howard was on his own. It was what he had wanted, to be lost in the midst of thousands of city people, all going about their lives oblivious to his. No doubt he felt a quiet comfort and some serenity but he was nervous too as though in the eye of a storm. It did not take long this night for the peace to turn on Howard in loneliness again and to make it worse he seemed to have become acutely aware of every sound around him.
    The hall reverberated with stomping feet and crude, drunken chatter. Somehow even the laughter that drifted through the warped plaster walls was cruel and had an edge to it. This could have been a 24 hour donut place if sound were his only sense. In fact these sounds came from the hallway outside the dingy room where Howard lay listening.
    There were several sharp raps on a door in the hall and a voice followed, “It’s Brian, man. C’mon lets go,” a young man  whined. He got no answer. He knocked again and harder. “Just a beer, c’mon don’t make me wait here,” the voice was more determined. There was another pause and no answer. “Fuck,” the voice said in anger and the sound of slow steps faded down the hall and then were punctuated with a burst of disco music that drifted up from the bar below, past the shuffle of feet  and down the corridor, then they were gone with a slam of a door. 
    Next door the music blared out of a portable radio, “Life, la la la la la, life is life, la la la la la,” and his was accompanied by sensual sighs, that progressed to grunts and then laughter.
    The north still had a hold on Howard and it caught him again for a few seconds and made him writhe in pain that was a missing feeling of sickness that churned in his stomach. He thought of the old woman, fragile, thin and wrinkled. He imagined he was a boy again and was cuddled in her arms as she sat in her rocking chair at the window.
    He could almost hear her weak but still beating heart and see her glazed but still bright, dancing eyes that momentarily calmed him with deep wells of love.
    Then he wiped the scene away by rubbing his eyes so hard that it hurt. He cupped his hands over his face and a deep breath became a long and drawn out sigh.
    No, he reminded himself, he could not let the thought of home and the old woman pull too greatly or the result would find him back in the Buick and heading out of the neon night city to the expressway and the narrowing, dark road that wound back up north.
    The voice in the hall was back again on the tail end of three sharp and loud knocks, “Look. It’s me again. Just tell me your OK. You don’t have to let me in. C’mon Ken just one word. OK?” Silence was his answer and he beat on the door, “This is bullshit and you bastard you’re just going to make me wait all night,” the voice said in a mean and desperate tone and then left again with hesitant steps that did an exit with the disco beat  rushing up from the first floor and then again with the slam of the door there was silence in the hall.
    A few minutes passed and from the far end of the hall a door opened and closed in a series of knocks. Greetings were punctuated with rough  words like fuck, shit and screw and a party  stumbled back and forth between the distant room and the hall. The party grew quickly.
    From the direction of this party a young woman’s voice sliced through dull drunken sounds after two slight knocks on a door, “I’m here,” she said.   The door opened and the party spilled into the hall with heavy metal music and a sexy young male voice, “Yea, come on in.” He sounded eager.“Oh, whoa,” the girl’s voice said to what she saw. “What are those guys doing here?”
    His reply was cool, smooth and meant to be reassuring, “Oh its okay, they’ll mind their own business. Anyway in half an hour they’ll all be passed out.” 
    “No way man, it’s too crazy,” a more defiant tone spoke out of the woman. Street wisdom barked out of her, “You want me in there, get them the fuck out or forget it.”
    “I can’t babe,” he swooned and then harshly added, “What you wanna do fuck on the staircase?”
    She was blunt, “It would be a lot safer,” and her high heels kicked in with hammering clicks that faded down the hall, let in the disco beat and a door slammed.
    “Fuck you bitch,” came a frustrated retort that was obviously more for the ears in his room than the departed visitor. Grunts and roars of laughter drew him back into his world and the party was shut inside again.
    Howard shook his head in amazement. This he was not used to and it filled him with a combination of disgust and sadness. He felt disgust for the thin emotion that bounced back and forth between the voices and their seemingly desperate situations. Then he felt sadness for what he imagined was poor luck, which had taken them to a rough edge that glittered like fools gold with alcohol, drugs and fast, risky money.
    Two days, Howard thought and he could move on to a more comfortable and sane environment. He had been naive on this jaunt into the city and had settled too quickly for the huge Victorian hotel, which with its outward shell had promised much more grand accommodation. He felt a little cheated too; the advertisement he had read in the Body Politic claimed  Ernest Hemingway as a resident for a short while in his early days as a writer with the Toronto Star.      
    Howard adored Hemingway’s work and admitted to himself now that he had been pulled in by a sense of history and nostalgia and some pretentious notion that he fancied himself as a writer.
    This glamorous hook led him to a decaying cell where wall paper heaved from disfigured walls and cracked plaster mixed with the shadows cast from the dim lamp light to make crazy designs on the ceiling ten feet above his head.        
    He tried to imagine the grand state of the old hotel in the 1920s, the toast of the wealthy and high society. The red brick, castle like building would have jutted high on the city scape back then. Ornamental chandeliers, oriental wool rugs and gleaming wood staircases would have given the hotel a prominent place in Toronto. There were still enough hints of what had been and it captured Howard’s imagination.  For thirty-five dollars a night he felt he could put up with any inconveniences for a short stay  in the belly of this ragged Victorian princess.
    Bass notes came up from the disco below in dull thuds that shook through the room and rain beat, whipped by the wind on loose panes from which only the fuzzy sight of other panes in the dark could be seen lit in a building across the way.
    The pop music next door mixed with a bizarre harmony in sounds of lust, the dull disco throb from below, muffled rock beats down the hall and rain that pounded in a pulsating rhythm. These were sliced with the wail of a siren that cried in panic and distress from the suppressed but ever present roar of the city at night.
    Then he was back with the same slow leather heal to pine step sounds, “Please. Its me Brian. Please Ken I promise I’ll go away if you just say something, anything,” the voice trembled. Then he cried, “You really are a bastard .”
    There was a pounding on the door and what sounded like a bang made by the force of an entire body crashing against the door. It was quiet for a moment and then the voice groaned as the pain of love lost slipped up and out of him. “Oh Ken, Ken. I love you Ken, please.”
    As though tethered with a greater weight, the feet moved in sluggish creaks, hesitated, then continued to where the disco music came up to welcome the wounded young man back downstairs, the door slammed and it was quiet again.
    Howard looked about his room and was overwhelmed with where he was and also with the demands of his day. He shut the light out of it all with a flick of the lamp switch and then went in a drift off to sleep.
    Deep in the caverns of slumber he could hear from far away the goings on about him. From where he lay there were familiar passings and knocks and voices. They trembled in waves to him like thunder announcing a storm.
    In panic he awoke trough the layers of numbing, fluffy sleep to horrific screams that bolted him automatically up and to the door. The screams were trying to get in and Howard, in a knee-jerk reaction, unlatched the lock and pulled on the heavy oak door to reveal wild eyes in terror. Wild eyes that pushed him aside and against the wall.
    A naked young man covered in blood tore into the room and scrambled on all fours towards the far window. He was followed by a bearded fully clothed assailant that jumped on his back and in great thrusts was burying flashes of steel into his victim’s back. Blood splattered in streams up and over  everything and Howard, on impulse, lunged at the bearded assailant.         
    “Ahh, you fucking cunt,” the bearded man with the knife screamed and Howard knew it as the recurring voice in the hall. In reflex, Howard tried to overpower the flailing figure but the voice turned in the violent body with the power of ten men and put his flash of steel into Howard with a crunch that broke though his rib cage and exploded his heart. A butcher knife sucked back out and the voice with crazed eyes in a screwed up face, behind a full black beard let out a satanical laugh, then went back to hacking at the writhing form on the floor.
    Howard fell slowly against the wall. He was poised to holler for help, there was a great scream just on the edge of his tongue but he was frozen in this cry and everything slowed and then stopped and locked into one last frame of the scene that hung there before him.
    There was no breath to come, no way out, no angel of mercy, time stopped dead and Howard was cold then very warm. This last view of the murderous rampage began to melt in colors that dripped and flowed where forms had been and then he went with a sick feeling into the deepest dark there could be. He felt as though he was free falling into empty wells of blackness and then a dot of light appeared and grew.
    He came to screaming but it didn’t seem right. It was new and it was fresh and he was crying and gasping and ripping with his arms and legs at the air. There was the thick sweet odour of blood and he cried out but could not find words to speak.
    “It’s a boy. A good healthy boy,” the voice said. Howard Munroe felt his memory banks empty as he was raised in the air and gently slapped.
    He tried with all his might to hold on to his one final thought in this new world, “Oh no, not again,” this thought echoed in his mind and began to fade as air filled his lungs, images blurred with a new light and  energy burned in him like a fire in renewed  ignition after having been blown back from dull embers.

The End

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Jan 28 2009

Train Of Thought

When we stopped with a clunk he got on in New Liskeard,
He was tall, a bit plump and walked awkwardly up the aisle.
It could be he was a farm boy with his blond hair and freckled face.
His look was a bit out of sync as though someone else had dressed him.
He hid his eyes under a baseball cap with the Maple Leaf’s logo on it.

Travelling by rail seemed new to him as he gazed out the window.
The slow rocking of the iron horse soon sent him into slumber.
I wondered if he were off somewhere to school but that could not be.
It was the middle of February and the time frame did not fit.
All the kids had gone back to their studies long ago.

It could be he was headed to a hospital in Toronto at the end of the line.
The train had become a sort of cancer shuttle over the past decade.
People went from the north with deadly diagnosis on their minds.
Sometimes they returned but often they got lost in the cancer machine.
Much of the time they came back in a box.

He looked too healthy to be sick and there was no sign of worry on his face.
Here he was in the seat across the aisle bobbing gently with the rhythm of the train.
I watched the miles blur by him in his window and now and then he would stir.
The snow covered farm fields gave way to white clad forests and rock.
Whistle stop northern towns paused us and people came and went.

By the time the conductor had announced “Union Station 10 minutes”,
The farm boy was awake and staring intently out the window.
Trees and fields had given way to grey and brown brick and mortar.
Lives in all types of purposeful situations were displayed in our windows.
We could see them coming and going and it made me wonder who they were?

The city opened up to swallow us in great walls of concrete and structure.
More than 200 years of digging, forming, constructing and expanding welcomed us.
I knew what I was coming back to and I felt an uneasiness yet excitement.
The farm boy seemed frozen in his seat and fear spread across his face.
His eyes were wide and his mouth agape as he sensed his impending arrival.

Strangely I felt some kin to this teenager headed into the frenzy of big city life.
He shared the same pine tree, fresh water, frozen snow experience.
I wished I could have offered up more than “Well here we are” on our arrival.
The last time I saw him he was walking down the busy hall into Union Station.
He simply disappeared in the crowd that flowed further into the belly of the city.

I stopped at a coffee shop in the station to pause and reflect.
There was no mystery here at the gates of the city in the middle of winter.
On one hand here I could be myself and fit right into a vibrant and colourful patchwork.
On the other I felt uprooted, detached and in limbo.
The city hung before me in a slippery slope that offered relief but at a cost.

I thought of home and my street, the house and my neighbours.
Granny would be waiting by the phone to hear of my safe arrival.
Mom was busy at work but I knew she was thinking about me.
Barry and Linda and the kids were busy putting their day together.
Alana and Emma had opened up the store by now up the street.

A tremble went through me and I fought the urge to turn back.
I knew another rail car waited for me ready to take me back to Iroquois Falls.
Still, I realized that somehow I had to leave behind everyone and everything I loved.
A life lived in vulnerability, fear and intolerance had taken its toll on me.
The gay life in the big city held the promise of a rainbow…after the rain.

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Jun 14 2008

Mama After Her Night In San Pedro de Marcoris

By Michael McGrath – 1986

Mama, as the locals called her, was a big busted Quebecois woman with a head piled high with blonde hair. Here in Juan Dolio she was popular with all the boys. The women were less generous in her regard and showed signs of mild disgust in asides here and there as mama strolled the rocky road along the beach.

I met her in person at Johnny’s bar one night. It was hot of course out in the open patio there on the beach facing the ocean. Thankfully, the sun was setting on another day and a cool breeze started up as though it was fanned from the relentless roar of crashing salt water on the sand. Mama was well on her way to a party night and her face was blushed with drink. She, as usual, was surrounded by a group of young men who all seemed very eager to please her every whim. They laughed at her jokes and sexual innuendos and happily ate and drank on her generous tab.

Mama, Johnny the bar owner told me, had retired from her government office job in Montreal to move to a little house in Juan Dolio. She arrived with must gusto and hope and situated her self in her place along the main road and facing the beach. I had seen mama a few times in the past week as she made her way around the little fishing village with an entourage of strong and athletic Dominican boys. She always seemed happy and no doubt life here encouraged that response in comparison to what she was accustomed to back in Montreal on Sherbrooke Street and the smothering one bedroom apartment.

Mama, was a heavy woman. She was rolly polly and her body shook in rolls as she danced with her boys to the music in Johnny’s Bar.

“Anglais, anglais,” she shouted out to me as she pointed her bouncing gaze my way. She pointed to me directly and hollered above the sound system, “Come join us. Come on don’t be alone there. Come and dance Anglais”.

Thankfully, I was not sufficiently inebriated and I managed to deflect her spotlight on me with a short wave as I shook my head no no no to her request. She just laughed very loudly and was joined by her boys in great cheer as they mocked my refusal with their heads in the air and noses pointed upwards. I laughed too.

It was fun to watch them bounce to the rhythm in the middle of the bar. Mama wore a flowing yellow cotton dress and she was covered in fake jewellery that hung around her neck and dangled from her ears. When she danced the floor shook and the boys all thought that was hilarious. The other tourists in the bar seemed to be a bit embarrassed by the mama’s antics. They huddled close over their drinks chatting while peering every so often to the spectacle of mama and her boys moving like a freight train in the middle of Johnny’s Bar.

Suddenly, a beat up old van pulled up in a cloud of dust in front of the bar. Mama and the boys responded with woops and yells. The big lady paid her bill and the group dashed out into the night to the waiting van. She turned to me and hollered, “Hey Anglais come come we go to San Pedro de Marcoris to dance the merengue. Come, come.” Her boys chimed in, “Come, come, come,” they chanted.

“No no, I go home soon but you have fun. I see you tomorrow,” I called after them as they crammed into the van and sped off into the night.

Soon after, all the lights went off as was the routine here in the Dominican. Every night at about 8 p.m. just as night fell, off went the lights. The antiquated electrical system was sufficient to provide electricity to homes across the country but when the lights went on at the ball parks then zap that was it for the rest of us. It was quaint in a way as the candles were lit, generators powered up and people became a little more friendly in the safety of groups here and there along the coast in the dark of night surrounded by jungle and the roar of the ocean.

I made my way back to my rented house a mile away. A few drinks helped to calm the fear I felt as I walked alone in the dark along the rocky and twisting road. Here and there I would pass by small shacks where I would see people huddled in the dark and watching as I made my way. A few cars passed by and I welcomed the light that momentarily provided me with an idea of where I was. I was happy to finally reach my little place on the beach and I rushed in and locked the door quickly behind me. I fumbled for the candle and lit it. Then I made my way to the table, where my portable underwood sat. I lit a cigarette, had a few good puffs and then beat the keys of that little typewriter with a story.

In the morning I awoke, as was normally the case, with the wretched crow of a frantic rooster and the squeaky braying of a donkey. The two seemed to be somehow unofficially appointed to keep the time in these parts. If it had only been a rooster I might have been able to fall back to sleep at six o’clock in the morning but that damned donkey sounded like a monster in pain. So, I was reluctantly up with the sun and cleaning up for my walk back down to Johnny’s for breakfast.

I was always eager to open up my front door and step out onto the beach in front of the ocean. This was my reason for being here. That view of sand brown, turquoise sea and a white cloud studded robin’s egg blue sky did something wonderful to my brain. Then, with that good feeling in my head I half ran my way along the road to Johnny’s Bar. The route was much more friendly in the daylight and the shade of the overhanging jungle growth made the jaunt cool and refreshing.

I could hear the commotion long before I got to the front patio of Johnny’s. Still, it did not prepare me for what I was to witness. As I entered the patio a chorus of black and brown faces turned to “hush” to me. There was a circle gathered and I made my way to the group to see what was up. There in the middle of all of this was mama. She was flat on her back on a rug and someone had put a pillow behind her head. Her face was beet read and she was screaming.

“It has me. I has me. Mon Die Je Suis Mort,” cried mama and she struggled to break free of her boys who were holding her down. A small but tough looking little Haitian who was referred to as the Voodoo Doctor was at her side. He had a live chicken in his hands and he was about to slice its neck off. He mumbled a few words I could not interpret and then off went the poor creature’s head. Then he rose up and spilled the blood of the chicken on mama from head to toe. All the while the Voodoo Doctor chanted and thrust the writhing blood spewing chicken towards mama. I could take it no more.

I found Johnny at the bar downing a shot of whiskey. “What’s up I asked?”

“Mon Dieu. They found her on the beach this morning. She was crawling in the sand and barking like a dog. The boys brought her up here and then they called for the Raphael, you know that Voodoo guy. He has been poking her, chanting at her and now you see…he’s covering her in chicken’s blood,” explained Johnny.

I ordered a coup of coffee and we sat there at the bar as the Voodoo Doctor worked on mama. Suddenly she stopped screaming. There was sighing from the crowd. Then with a bound mama drew up into a sitting position and looked around seemingly confused.

“Bien, sacrament. What’s going on?” she asked.

“We don’t know,” answered Johnny from the bar. “You were a bit sick I guess. How are you now mama?” queried Johnny.

“I am fine. The last thing I remember was that old witch at my door this morning. She said she was going to curse me. I don’t remember anything after that except of course her husband running all the way home with her following with a stick,” said mama. Then she laughed at that recollection. She laughed so hard that she shook and like an aftershock it seemed to reverberate into the entire crowd and we all fell into long and bizarre laughter.

Mama got to her feet, pushed her boys aside and headed for Johnny at the bar. “Merci tout le monde. Johnny, drinks are on me. Put on the merengue I want to dance,” she shouted.

A cheer came up from the crowd and her boys. The music blared, the whiskey flowed and mama grabbed the tiny Haitian Voodoo doctor in her arms. One could only surmise what his payment would be for services rendered. There she was in her yellow cotton dress red with chicken’s blood, she was wrapped tightly around the hard and somewhat astonished Voodoo doctor and her boys had encircled her as they all moved as though one in the sensual beat of the merengue.

The End

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Jun 14 2008

Palm Trees In Black Coral Eyes

By Michael McGrath – 1986

The way he moves is slow and like he is captive,
He has the fear of a caged animal about him,
Slavery days of yesteryear still have a hold,
Buccaneers still ride the waves in his DNA,
Spanish galleons still guard the way to port.
When he stops to look in my general direction
I see the palm trees in his black coral eyes.
I see the palm trees in his black coral eyes.

He tells me of his life here in paradise,
His hands are rough with the work of hard labour,
Long hours in the hot sun have blistered his purple black skin,
He tells me everything is for papa back in Boca Chica,
Papa takes the most of his small pay and drinks away his days,
When he stops to connect with me,
I see the palm trees in his black coral eyes.
I see the palm trees in his black coral eyes.

When he is not working you can find him on the beach,
Not for the sun or sand and recreation,
Here amidst the dull and floating tourists,
He takes his daily bath and defecates,
Still somehow as he walks among the wealthy,
He shows them a smile and his anxious look is kind.
I see the palm trees in his black coral eyes.
I see the palm trees in his black coral eyes.

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Jun 14 2008

Red Berries In The Snow

by Michael McGrath – 1985

I don’t know what type of tree it was,
Winter had taken the life from its limbs and branches,
Leaves had long since flown with the wind,
But, two berries remained dangling from a mere thread of fibre,
Bright Red Berries they were,
They almost glowed in contrast to the grey and white of the northern winter landscape,
They trembled in pulsating blusters and seemed so alone and out of place,
Red Berries in the snow

I stopped in my snowshoe tracks,
Then stomped and packed down the snow in a circle,
From a nearby pine I took some boughs to lay in a circle,
Here I lay down in the resounding silence,
Searching white clouds floated in the pastel blue sky,
A winter pale sun danced off of the infinite white blanket of snow,
I took comfort in the peace here on the outskirts of town,
Red Berries in the snow

Everyone else had moved on,
I felt as though I was more or less surviving these long winter days,
An entirely new and vast world lay before me at the edge of town,
Yet, I felt like a bird with a broken wing,
I could not fly and I did my best to deal with life on the ground,
The confines of town streets and the house pulled me and beat me down,
I may as well have been black in the middle of small town texas,
Red berries in the snow.

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May 23 2008

The Piano

By Tessie Ruddy 2008

I grew up in a small “paper” town in Northern Ontario during the great depression, as they called it. Strange in way for us because although things were tight we never felt depressed. We didn’t have much in the way of marvellous furniture or possessions, but we had some marvellous times. When I was still almost a baby, I would sit on my mother’s knee in church (they had no nursery rooms) and hum along when the organ was playing. We went to halls where other cultures played their music and in particular at Christmas. We heard bag pipes from Scotland, balalaikas from Polish and Ukrainian people, the flute from our Jewish neighbours and fiddles from the French Canadians and Irish.

We had a radio and listened to the Grand Old Opry fiddlers, gospel music, the American Stallions Nashville and others. We got those signals over the radio so strongly that we could hear them playing from Nashville and other parts of the U.S.A. coming to us over hundreds of miles in distance over the frozen airwaves. It was great to hear all that country music from the likes of Roy Acuff and the Smokey Mountain Boys playing The Arkansas Traveler and other square dance tunes. I remember my father’s show was on at six o’clock in the morning. My father Jack turned the radio on in the kitchen at a very high volume so that we would here it upstairs while still in bed as we were not invited to get up yet. We were five little girls in the room awake but simply resting and listening while not making a sound. So, this went on as a routine. We also had an old wind up gramophone that played over and over Polly Wollie Doodle and Who Broke The Lock On The Hen House Door as well as many Irish songs by John McCormack.

There was no kindergarten in those days so we started right into grade one and learned to read and actually write. I recall the most outstanding thing I noticed on my first day of school was “The Piano”. I had never seen one up close before. There it was a big black carved piano being played by quite a large and robust teacher who smiled as she played tunes like English Country Garden. We sat in our seats and listened intently. Although I decided that I liked school a lot on that first day I really fell in love with “The Piano” and all of the singing we did around it.

From that time I wished and longed for a piano but of course all in vain. The depression was still on but the paper mill in town was running although only five days a week. Tim Buck was getting strong at that time and there was lots of excitement while happily my father was kept on to work at the mill. Finally somehow daddy had saved up one hundred dollars. What had that money been put away for you might wonder? Well, it was set aside for a washing machine for my mother. She always had to wash with a wash board. The decision that had to be made was left up to my mother. Did she want the new washer to make life easier or a piano for us girls? Momma decided that piano was the better choice.

We sent away for a used piano from The Family Herald and Weekly Star newspaper. It arrived on the freight train F.O.B. (freight on board) on Christmas Eve. I was fourteen by this time and the second oldest of five girls.

From the train station a man, who was a friend of my father’s delivered the piano safely packed into a wooden piano box on a very low sleigh pulled by two work horses. The piano arrived on a very cold dark Christmas Eve and the snow was actually up past the windows of our house. Alas, on arrival at our front door we discovered it was too big to move in. This created a lot of noise, fuss and swearing as the delivery men and my father looked for a solution. They decided to take off the front door, open up the crate and roll the piano in on its casters. The horses waited patiently outside in the freezing temperature and snow with frost on their manes and whiskers. Nobody cared enough to cover them with blankets or melton cloth and I wondered at that. The piano was old but magnificent, it was dark brown wood on casters and made by Bell. I t was stunning with ivory keys.

Fortunately our teachers had taught us a bit of music theory, so we were able to play with one hand to start with. So, that Christmas Eve we took turns at playing Silent Night. My father could plunk a few lines of dance tunes as well. The evening was a joy with all of us taking turns banging away at the new piano.

The next day it was Christmas. My father had invited some Italian friends from work to come over for a visit and to enjoy some Christmas cake and tea. We all sat around and listened to them admiring “The Piano”. My father claimed proudly, “Tessie can play”. Well, yes I could play alright but only one hand and a line of Silent Night so I did that to please them and hit any note to fake my way along as my sisters sang quite loudly to give me cover. The elderly Italian fellow by the name of Joe cried and clapped his hands as he was so happy at our little production of Silent Night. I knew then that we could all accomplish just about anything if we tried. I also knew that I loved the idea of performing.

As time went on we were able to take lessons for 25 cents a week from an elderly French lady that lived near by. We learned with her teaching us chords and her son accompanied us on the fiddle. Before long we could play a tune with the right hand and chord with the left. We played some popular dance tunes like Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet and Red wing as well as a few hymns like Nearer My God To Thee.

We had lots of visitors to hear us play the piano as word spread along the block. Every Sunday afternoon we all played and sang and danced as we tried to master the songs made popular by the war. My mother produced fudge for the occasion and she and my father danced around the small kitchen and living room to songs like After The Ball and To Feather Your Nest.

I will always remember “The Piano” with all of its ornate carving and yellow ivory keys. It was the centre of attraction when we growing up and then when we came home to visit with our own families. Other homes had pool and gaming tables and all sorts of entertainment but the Dunn household had “The Piano”. Thank God to Daddy and Momma for that.

The End

A little about Tessie Ruddy. She was born and raised in Iroquois Falls, one of five daughters of Jack and Margaret Dunn. Her sisters include: Emily (McGrath), Sarah Paquette, Rita Elliott and Celia Mercier. She became a teacher and taught initially in Monteith and then Iroquois Falls. She married Harvey (Buck) Ruddy and raised a family including: Terry, Celia and Iris. Terry is a world renown doctor and heart specialist married to Cathy who is also a doctor. They have two sons Brendon and Christopher. Brendon has an interest in music and Christopher is studying computer technology. Terry and Cathy reside in Ottawa. Iris is also a medical professional and has the speciality of working in Infectious Disease Control. She lives in Kitchener/Waterloo and has one fabulous daughter, Sarah who is an accomplished dancer and currently studying in University. Sadly, Celia and Harvey have passed on. Tessie taught school for many years and it was her great joy to pass her passion for music and the creative arts on to many students through decades of her career in education in Northern and Southern Ontario. She is an accomplished pianist and at 81 years of age she is still active in her community of Cambridge where she participates with many volunteer organizations and seniors groups. Happily, she continues to this day to delight people with her skill at the piano.

Below she is seen in a photo playing the piano with her sisters Celia and Rita during the celebration of Celia and Johnny Mercier’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Tessie at the piano with her sisters Celia and Rita

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May 22 2008

Emmy Has Gone Home

Eulogy For Emily McGrath by Michael McGrath May 28, 2007
Read At Her Funeral by Michael McGrath and John Elliott

A school photo of a young Emily McGrath in 1934Thank you all for being here today in honour of Emmy. The family wants to thank Doctor Lupien and many nurses for the wonderful care they gave mom over the many months that she was sick. We also want to thank Father Katooka for his assistance with Emmy.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be in her living room in her house on old Third Avenue reading her newspaper and sipping her tea. The doorbell might ring and that could be Marilyn Chircoski stopping by on her walk for a visit. It could be Verna Turner or her good neighbor Nancy Breton stopping in to share some good news.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be on the phone to Emma Sullivan, her favourite cousin in Pembroke. They would probably be talking about their fabulous trip to Ireland in 1998. Or she might be chatting on the phone with one of the many Girl Guide leaders she kept in touch with over the years.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be in her back yard sitting in her swing surrounded by flowers, the swallows darting back and forth from the bird house over the garage and the sounds of her neighbourhood. She might wave to Viv next door or have a little visit with Gaston who would make her laugh with one of his jokes. Robert and Clara might wave from their backyard and come over for a little chat while the kids ran in the back field. The Kataquapits might drop by on their way south or while shopping in Timmins.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be on her knees and running her hands through the soil as she planted new flowers and new beginnings in her garden. She might see Ruth and Chris Swartz as they happily walked by with Mila. Terry and Collette Madden might drop by on their way back from some interesting trip. Or she could look up and see Jimmy and Helen sitting on their front porch and sending her a wave. Music could be drifting over from the Soucki’s as they sang and played.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be walking down to the post office where she could meet Ruth Jennings or Norma Labelle or Linda Peever and Dave Smith. She could catch up on others lives with these short meetings. She might get a letter from Brooke and Patty with pictures of Jack and Brynn and that would make her day.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be able to make her way down to the grocery store and she might stop in at the Pink Store to visit Alana. They might share a cappuccino and make each other feel OK with kind words and a little vitamin G. On her way to the grocery store she could meet up with Rosalee and Huey Madden or Rose and Ron Bernier. She would thank Rose for the wonderful soup and muffins she brought over last week.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be in the old truck with me and Xavier heading up to Timmins for the afternoon for a visit with Celia and Johnny. She might see a rabbit or a fox on the side of the road. Celia would have tea and cookies ready and she might even play a tune on the piano. Johnny would make her laugh as usual and Jamie and Anita could stop by with Dylan and Kyle or Graham and Pammy could stop by with Arron or Riley. Marcia and Beech might pull in with news about Nicky and Josh at school. Betty Anne might call from Ottawa with a few good jokes. Patricia might be up from Wawa with news about BJ. And Chippy would hurry in for a quick bite and some warm words and news about his Ryan and Jessie.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be at the Iroquois Falls Art Club where she painted and drew while she chatted in comfort with her friends Verna Turner, Christie Riley, Marilyn Chircoski, Therese Bender, Hazel Derbie, Blanche Brindle and Jean Annand.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be at a Manor Auxiliary meeting where she reported as the Treasurer. She wanted to share a few moments with other volunteers dedicated to making life better for the pioneers of our community. She might stop by for a visit with her brother in law Everett Eliott or her old neighbour Ruth Larivie, residents of the manor.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be at a meeting at the Historical Society that I sometimes refered to as the Hysterical Society. She liked to be called upon for her great memory in assisting the board and staff with her knowledge of the community.

Emmy did not want to be here today. Well at least not like this. She would have wanted to be here on Sunday with her good friends Rhea Pike, Elsie Lowe, Irene Powers and Cec McMillan. Maybe Mrs Shey or Marion Luke would accompany her and the rest of the girls to Randy’s for breakfast after Sunday Mass.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She would rather be stopping in to see Donna McEwan at the Sears store and she might meet up with Don Paquette and his friend Bernie there and they could certainly have a great chat about the new baby Sarah and how happy Andrew and Carmen must be and of course Aunt Kathryn. She might be invited out to Chuck and Jennifer’s cottage to see Daniel, Nicky and Joey. Donna might have news about Cathy in Orillia or Dave and Marci’s daughter Allysandra.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be heading down south and arriving at Johnny and Patty’s door where she would be joined by Brooke and Rob Vokes and Jack and Brynn. Judy and Ross would invite her for tea. John and Colleen Elliott might come over for a visit from London and if John brought his keyboard, there would be some singing. Luanne and Chris and the kids might show up with John and Norma Bradley. Lorrie and Fred could stop in with news about Russ and his family. No doubt Ron and Tanner would show up with some treats.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be on her way to her see her sister Tessie Ruddy in Cambridge. Tessie could make life exciting as they went here and there shopping and exploring with Iris and Sarah. Terry and Cathy might call while she was visiting with news about Christopher and Brendon.

Emmy did not want to be here today. She wanted to be having a wonderful Sunday supper with Don and Dawn Elliott out at Nellie Lake. Betty and Judd Zadow, or Jane and Pat Eaton might drop in for coffee and dessert and there would be lots of stories told and times remembered.

You know the funny thing is – Emmy is not here today. As a matter of fact she has gone home. She is in the most perfect place. She might be sitting on daddy Jack Dunn’s knee listening to Rita and Sarah play the piano while granny was cooking supper in the kitchen. Uncle Jimmy Melon and his wife Little Annie and their family Jerome, Cassie, Patty and Ralph would show up. Uncle Johnny and Aunt Louisa will be telling stories about life on the farm. She might be having tea with Cec McIntyre, her best friend and her good friend Stella Frederinko. Jean Young might stop by with a new book for her to read and Jamie Bigelow could come in with a jar of Helen’s pickled beets.

Yes Emmy is in her perfect place where Barry Peever might be strumming his guitar. Mr and Mrs Maher would be on the back swing in their yard enjoying the day. Freda Spence, Irene Manders, Mrs Russell, Mrs O’Donnell or Mrs Harkins might be heard coming from a Bingo at the old Moose Hall. Emma Pierini might pull up in front of the house to take Emmy out for a ride. They might go to Tim Hortons. Harvey and Celia Ruddy might be sitting with her in the back yard and Harvey would make them all laugh and keep them busy. Aunt Mary, Agatha and Matt would be coming by to greet Emmy and Mrs Lafortune might be serving all her favourite desserts while Louie teased them all. Mrs Regimbal and Alma and Nipper Naigel would be chatting at the table. Big Jimmy and Nan will be laughing at Jimmy’s jokes along with Dalton Melon and the Lafrenier family. The Lavoies, the Manders, the Russells, the Poriers, the Proulxs, Collelas, Blacks – from the corner store and the Soucys and Tina and Robin Olaveson will be calling in to say hello.

So let’s feel happy for Emmy because she is in her perfect place. She has gone home.

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Apr 23 2008

I Don’t Feel Like Singing Anymore

I Don’t Feel Like Singing Anymore
By Mike McGrath for Emily , June 21, 2007


I don’t feel like singing anymore,
Feel like a bird that’s fallen from the sky,
I don’t feel like dancing all around,
Feel like a butterfly that broke its wing
It’s like the world has grown cold and grey

I don’t feel like laughing anymore,
Feel like a clown that’s lost his funny bone,
I don’t see the colours in your flowers,
They seem so pale without you around
It’s like they are leaving with you now

You move around me like a fading wind,
You brush against me make me feel again,
I hear your words inside the corridors,
Of all those memories we built in time,
And time heals everything in time

I don’t feel like gazing at the stars,
Feel like you have joined them, gone to far,
I don’t see reflections in the lake
Just deep wells of swirling sadness
It’s like my world’s turned upside down

I don’t feel like walking down the trail,
The forest seems so dark and lonely,
And I don’t want to sleep and dream,
My dreams seem troubled and full of anguish
And your not there when I awake

You move around me like a fading wind,
You brush against me make me feel again,
I hear your words inside the corridors,
Of all those memories we built in time,
And time heals everything in time

I don’t feel like singing anymore,
Still I try to find my way in song

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Apr 23 2008

Time For Living – lyrics

Time For Living
Lyrics By Michael McGrath for an old friend April 14, 2008
The Song is being developed

Well I’m standing here feeling like a long lost friend,
Just might come by blowing in with the wind,
It just could be that I’ve finally bottomed out,
And just when I thought that life was over for me,
I’m moving ahead and feeling free

Feel like that little boy I once was,
I can see clearly what’s ahead of me
Time for living clean and free

It feels like I’ve been spinning round and round,
Trapped in some kind of sinking reality,
Going down for the third time baby,
When you reached out and took hold of me,
I’m moving ahead and feeling free

Feel like that little boy I once was,
I can see clearly what’s ahead of me,
Time for living clean and free,

Been so long since I could look in the mirror
And really like the person looking back at me,
The fog is clearing now and I can see my way,
A helping hand here an honest word to go,
I m moving ahead and feeling free

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Apr 23 2008

The Living Room

The Living Room
By Mike McGrath for John E, April 14, 2008

Somewhere they are waiting,
Tea is on the stove and cookies baking,
They are playing the piano and singing tunes,

Nothing really matters in the living room
Nothing really matters in the living room
Nothing really matters in the living room

There comes a knocking on the door,
No need to fret there’s always room for more,
Friends and neighbours come and go,

Time stands still in the living room
Time stands still in the living room
Time stands still in the living room

Hard times and little tragedies all forgotten,
Forgiveness answers when called upon,
Comfort comes in their sweet songs

Nothing to hide from in the living room
Nothing to hide from in the living room
Nothing to hide from in the living room

It’s warm and cozy and you can lay down,
Rest your weary mind and get lost in the sound,
Of all the voices of everyone you ever loved

The sun shines out the living room,
The sun shines out the living room,
The sun shines out the living room,

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Apr 03 2008

A regular column is in the works for the future

Published by under Regular Column

Stayed tuned for a regular column feature that will be provided on this page

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