Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Big Life

Our ‘Auntie’ lived a big life: she logged a big number of years; she had big laughs, big cries, and gave big kisses and bigger hugs; she had a big character and yes, she was a big lady despite her modest height! In the kitchen she made big messes and big batches of sugar/cheese cookies for 3 boys she insisted act like (and grow up to be): “Big boys.”

 I remember some highlights:

1. The indispensable story: of Dad coming home in high spirits from the racquets club in a tuxedo at 4:00AM to find Auntie in a dimly lit kitchen baking bread for a Church function in her nightgown and kerchief; the clash of circumstances resulting in: raucous dancing. I was fast asleep and very young at the time but the story became an instant legend to her credit and I always seem tell the story as if I was there myself. In retrospect: the anecdote seems to encompass the magic that was Auntie’s place in our home together.

It should be noted that Auntie’s (almost stalwart) dedication to critiquing dance moves in our house was, and lives on as, a source of so much joy. She could point out your offending technique on a dime; offering corrective example with such confidence and speed that you would forget that you were in fact: white… if just for a minute.

 2. On several occasions she called Morgan Ball late in the evening when he was Investment Banking in Toronto. We’re pretty sure Morgan’s name may have been next to one of her friends or erroneously written in her famous little black book (which I recall, smelled like Tiger Balm), but she never admitted it; she’d chat up Morgan at say, midnight on a Friday as if she meant to. Morgan of course, would chat her right back; filling her in on every juicy detail she needed to know about his (or possibly my) life.

 3. Religion, morality, good manners: Auntie lead by example in a way that was so much more accessible to me than the popular institutions’ campaigns; she cared so much for these values that the fear of disappointing her ‘today’ always outweighed the fear of the certain wrath promised by the bible at our judgment day.

 4. Horseplay & Misc: I lived with Auntie for longer than most of my brothers in part because I managed to parley more years under their roof than any of them! One game I remember best began during my college years when she chased me around the house upon catching me saunter by her door in the hall to the shower in nothing but a towel; I admit that after that, I always ambled at a pace that would surely get her attention…

She just seemed to find a natural joy in goofing around, which (as anyone can imagine) fit very well into my world and it’s no surprise she was so great with children.

I’ll miss: birthday bumps (“one for every year +1 for good luck!”); they were so heavy that more chasing was required to deal them out. No one (or houseguest) was exempt.

I’ll miss her heated debates with Linda over Soap Opera gossip and the facial expressions that adorned them.

I remember (with a sort of masochistic fondness) having her wash my mouth out with soap on more than 2 occasions!

I’ll miss her hip-checks on the stairs (don’t pass me boy!) and negotiating past her in an almost Brothers Grim-esce scenario involving: risk /fear/courage/reward at the family fridge (more hip-checks!).

All this to say: she met the world with courage, pride, humor, and great unwavering faith despite the devastating setbacks including the destruction of her retirement home in her native Montserrat to hurricane Hugo in 1989 and a volcanic eruption in 1995. She returned to Montreal to live with my family for most of my developing years as a teenager through the end of University. I take comfort in knowing that we were all very grateful for her presence every day.

The lasting impressions for me are the perpetual and ambient jingle of her many bracelets and her great big white toothy smile. I’m so glad that Sally got to meet her in good health.

As my best friend Jamie said in his condolences: “What can I say? She was a force…” That she was.

Rest in peace Ms. Eleanor “Auntie” James (1917-2013)

Love, Truck-driver/BRUT/ Duncan

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Big Game

“Welcome back to our live coverage of The-Ford-F1200-Super-Charged-Series-Avalanche/Crossover-Super-Bowl-42 at the Sony-FlatWave-Technology-Georgia-Dome™ in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. We’re talking to Dr. Herbert Grazenschlosser; head of Organic Bio Chemistry of Agriculture at the University of Lincoln Nebraska. Hello Dr. Grazenschlosser.”


“Doctor, can you tell us a little bit about the grass on the field tonight?”

“Well it’s a hybrid blend of two grass strains commonly used in NFL stadiums and a revolutionary new strain of high alkaline PolyAlkaIonNitrate Grass™.”

“Tell us Doctor what does that mean for tonight’s game (nodding in concurrence with a deeply knitted brow)?”

“Well Tikki, it means that the grass is going to be tougher, lighter, and rougher. Traditional grass is heavier and smoother which causes the cleats to grip into the blades with less traction and less grip. But, with the revolutionary new Synthetic-Cross-Germination-Technology® and addition of PolyAlkaIonNitrate Grass™or “P.L.A.I.N. Grass,” the poly fiber cleat gains more grip on the blades allowing for more torque; essentially giving the football player a faster, more powerful game on the ground.”

“Thank you Doctor and enjoy the game tonight. Well folks there you have it, I’m no chemical engineer and the grass may not be greener but it certainly ‘might be better.’ Now lets take a look at The-Gatorade-3-Calorie-CoolMyst-Athletic-Beverage-Lineup™ for tonight’s game before taking a break from our sponsors.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Things seemed strange after the procedure and Caleb felt a little out of sorts. The people he knew looked at him with concerned looks; they called him with concerned voices. They cared cause they knew her and they knew his love for her like they did their own spouses. He understood what had happened and that it was his choice in the end but he didn’t truly feel anything; he didn’t feel the gravity yet. He supposed it was easier to move on now that he could not see, hear, touch, or smell her.

What he really wanted was to get up, walk away; forget about the whole thing; clear his head. But social convention told him otherwise. There would be less confusion and hassle if he atoned for his state of mind; like a forced catharsis. He knew that if he simply got up and walked away, they would only have cause for more concern and press further. He felt pity but mostly guilt.

Later on at home his head would pound after repeating the story so many times that he questioned the validity of it in the first place.

He would look into the mirror and notice that his face had grown older. His shoulders felt lighter but his eyes felt heavier as did his heart. Knowing that his choice was the right thing for the both of them was not the hard part. The hard part was accepting the sobering truth that time is passing, and that everything in life would live and die: dreams, plans, moments, memories, friendships, hatred, misunderstandings and love. He was grateful for all that they had, but knew that their future now would bring only a suffering that no longer yielded a profit and the end of the day.


He’d found Maxi nearly 8 years earlier, brought her home and cared for her. He fought hard to understand her and she in turn, braved her fears to accept him and his home he’d made for her. Over the years they became friends and ultimately grew to love each other. But Maxi grew old fast; seven short years for his one. In her 7th year with him, she developed cancer. Despite Caleb’s best efforts to save her, he could only prolong her death with band-aid pills solutions, which in reality merely slowed the time but could not stop it.

A slave to her own blind loyalty; Maxi would still run for the tennis ball he’d throw in the park despite the crippling pain she was in. It wouldn’t be long before he realized that no matter how sick Maxi would become, that she would run beside him until the day she collapses at his feet.
He simply could not live with himself if it ended that way and he knew what he had to do.


Now, Maxi’s memory was all around him in pictures, the empty bowl by the back door and her pink collar the vet had given him afterward. He looked into the mirror and cried harder than he could remember for a long him.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Oliver woke not to the sound of a stirring, but to the sound of his own excitement; like a tiny rubber ball bouncing off the walls of his brain. Looking across his room he could see his sister Claudia’s face faintly illuminated by the grey morning light now seeping through the window. She slept peacefully- in way that made him jealous and pity her all at once. The sun had just begun to rise behind a ceiling of grey clouds and the millions of snow flakes slowly falling from the sky.

Oliver lay still for a moment, knowing that it was too early to wake up. But soon his conscience began to salivate at all the excitement, the possibility, and the bounty that lay upstairs- patiently biding it’s time in the warmth of a wool stocking and in the cool shade of a tree.

Oh, the waiting!

Oliver’s head began to swirl with curiosity and agony. Again he looked to Claudia, asleep in the bed adjacent, hoping that perhaps she too felt the same way! And that they could spring free from their chambers and make a break for the fireplace together! But, no such luck would fall upon him; Claudia slept away like she always did, possibly dreaming of horses, Jujubes, and dolls.

A minute passed. Then two… Three minutes passed! Oliver couldn’t wait any longer. He sprung from his bed in his favorite skeleton pajamas and raced to the bedroom door, peeking out the crack: clear!

Expertly avoiding all the creaky wooden boards he’d memorized, Oliver snuck down the hall where, as silent as a black cat, he made his way upstairs. At the top he could see that the dining room table was set for breakfast. Snow flakes fell upward towards the sky as they passed through concave sides of empty wine glasses on the table by the window. Outside he could see green pine trees lazily drooping downwards; exhausted by the weight of the snow piled precariously high upon each branch big and small, like icing.

Suddenly (out of the corner of his little eye) he caught a movement which startled him. Across the living room black sooty dust slowly floated down from the chimney into the fire pit. Terrified and excited at once, Oliver froze (eyes fixed) as he briefly witnessed the sole of a boot shake swiftly and ascend out of view (without a sound)! Racing over to the mantle, Oliver saw nothing more; so boots, no red coat, and no Santa. Turning around he would notice the shiny boxes wrapped with ribbons under the tree; new exciting evidence which rekindled his belief and raised his spirits once more.

Heart racing, Oliver would run down the upstairs hall towards the master bedroom and crack open the door with the same care and stealth as he’d done downstairs.

Peeking into the room he could hear the taps running in the wash closet where his Grandmother was bathing. Beyond, he could see his grandfather sitting upright in bed (hair standing on end- one pale hairy leg stretched out, up over the covers) scribbling on a crossword puzzle. Oliver would meet his Grandfathers smiling grey-blue eyes as if expecting him.

“Well? Oliver, let’s see what Santa brought you!?!”

Shrieking with joy Oliver ran down the hall once again; his flat feet pounding on the wooden floors waking Claudia below.