September 24, 2007


My father Bob died last week. He had been fighting cancer for a couple of years. He was 77.

He was cremated wearing trousers, his bowling shirt from his winter life, and his golf shoes from his summer life - complete with tufts of grass in the cleats from his last round.

His memorial service will be at his golf club in eastern Quebec on Friday.

He and I had a complicated, fragile relationship, rusted by neglect, watered sporadically like a weed, blossoming occasionally.

I will be taking up my 3-wood - and blasting a ball off the tee for him - well, blasting as far as my arm movement right now will allow. Plus he never saw me hit a ball anyway - so if I shank'll be okay.

Dad was one of the most optimistic people I've ever met.
And he loved a laugh more than anything.
And he had the most love for the worst, bawdiest, dirtiest jokes I've ever heard.
And every meal he ate at our table he loved, and seemed to mean it.

He loved music - swing, jazz, reggae and of course classical - and requested it during his last days of lucidity. He was probably Oscar Peterson's biggest fan - and loved to recount how he bought the great Canadian pianist a drink one night in Montreal.

My very first grown-up album - an LP, a record, a vinyl disc - was from Dad. The London Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven's 9th Symphony...alle menschen werden bruder...ode to joy. When Cindy told me he was requesting music, I wanted to send my now-CD version of the symphony...but it was too late.

I remember one night at our kitchen table Dad cried when I played Nessun dorma for him, sung by the one, Pavarotti, who raced him to the grave.

It was Pavarotti's signature.

He sang it at his final performance last year. And the final words, of the final performance, of the final song that Pavarotti performed, say:
Vanish, O night! Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win! I will win!

Dad - March 20, 1930 - September 17, 2007

...and that's it.

So, I pause here. I'll be back next week - drenched by the saying, when it rains, it pours.

the top photo you have seen in a previous post about my Mum - is of my parents on the summer night they met, in 1949. They were married 3 months later. When she sees this photo she still gushes...about the dress...she loved that dress.

the bottom photo is the first photo I ever remember having of me with both my parents - it was four years ago - I cooked them dinner. The picture was the idea of, and taken by, Dad's wonderful wife, Cindy.

September 18, 2007

kick it in the butt

I just registered for the Run for the Cure on September 30th, so here's a shameless request for support...

Help transform me from a breast cancer patient into a breast cancer survivor.

It's perfect. I'll have recovered enough from the surgery to do it. And I won't have started chemo yet.

So for all my foodblogging friends out there - let's show them what we're made of.

You can click here above and follow the donate to a this case meeeeee: Nicola Pulling, for the Toronto run...

There's plenty of information on the website about where the money goes - it funds researchers, like my surgeon...

Come...let's kick this bastard in the ass.

September 13, 2007

my talisman

I've been home 7 days today.

I have flowers and emails and visits and care and love in abundance - and you never know where it's going to come from. Today it came in a tiny package in the mail.

The kindness of strangers overwhelms me.

A few weeks ago, my aunt and uncle picked up John and his wife Violet, and off they went to France for the weekend. Actually they went to Dieppe.

They went because August 19th was the 65th Anniversary of the Battle of Dieppe, also known as a catastrophe.

Of the 6,000 troops that landed at Dieppe, almost 5,000 of them were Canadian.

It was a ferocious battle that went wrong from the start. And by the time they made landfall, later than they expected, in full daylight at dawn, the Germans were waiting for them. It lasted ten hours.

The official death count was 1,380. 913 of them were Canadians. Two thousand more of them were taken prisoner. And only 60 Canadians made it back to England.

Two years later, the Canadians landed at Juno Beach on June 6th, 1944. And on September 1st, it was the Canadians who liberated Dieppe.

John, who was in 3 Commando of the British forces, was at Dieppe.

A few years ago I stopped over in Paris on my way home from my trip through Asia. I made my way up to Normandy because my Aunt and Uncle were there - and I met John then. My family was with him to commemorate D-Day - because, as you might have guessed, he was a survivor of those battles as well.

Well into his 80s now, he wanted to be in Dieppe this year to honor the 17 remaining Canadian commandos who had made it back to the site of that battle.

They stood as tall as they could in their 4-score years - at attention - some slightly bent - medals on their chests - hands at their brow in salute, still living the memory.

A few days later, after they were home, my Aunt took round some photos of their trip.

They were talking about Dieppe and Canada - and John asked about my Aunt's connection to Canada. She explained that my Mum and I have lived in Canada for a long time.

And she told him I was battling my own battle against breast cancer at the moment.

He asked her if I was English. She explained I was born in Kent and moved to Canada as a baby (not alone of course, my sense of independence kicked in long after the boat landed).

He nodded.

He got up and formally presented to my Aunt a small case. Inside was a pin in the form of a tiny stiletto.

He told her he was presenting it to me.

It is the Commando Badge of Courage.

It arrived safely on Canadian shores today.

And I am wearing it where my left breast used to be.

My first battle is over - a clean, straight, knife line - no pain meds - one night in hospital.

The thing about crossing to the other riverbank is that you miss the journey. September 5th I slept my way there. It's a journey my surgeon knows too well. She ferried four of us over that day.

So, this is the other side of the river, where my doctor promised me a whole lot more life. This side is still forested. I do see a path. I just can't see the end of it - although I suppose none of us can.

For sure, this was the easy part. This was no Dieppe - in fact I'd prefer to think of it as D-Day, but I don't know how the battle will fare now.

They say a talisman is something you hold to be a charm that will avert evil and bring good fortune - I've never really had one before.

I do now. I'm averting evil, embracing fortune with all my might.

A tiny stiletto - touched by a commando who survived those bloody beaches of Dieppe and D-Day - touched by a human who knows fear and has shared his courage with me...

A talisman of kindness.

The top photo is from the wiki page on Dieppe.
The Calgary tank is from here.