Bob said “anytime.”

My dad has a friend who’s been in his life for many decades.   Let’s call him Bob, to maintain some anonymity; Bob is a bachelor, never been married, no kids.  I’ve known him for more than 25 years.  And now Bob has Alzheimer’s disease.  

I struggled about whether or not I should write this post, about whether or not I’d be violating Bob’s privacy, about whether or not he would approve or disapprove, should he be able to make that decision.  And as my thoughts rolled around and around, I thought I’d ask his sister, who is handling his affairs these days.  She said yes.  And so I wrote.  And as the words came, so did the the memories.

Bob was diagnosed a couple of years ago, and just this past Spring, his sisters helped him to relocate to a Retirement Home in Toronto.  His deterioration was progressing, so within months, his house in Calgary was cleaned out and sold, and Bob was back East, closer to his sisters and extended family, and also to me.

For much of his life, Bob lived in Calgary, just over an hour from the small town of Sundre, Alberta, where I grew up.  He worked downtown, in the oil business, and had a mind for math and numbers and a personality for order and specificity.  He was a perfectionist through and through, and gave of his talents generously to many people in his life, myself included.  When I was a new University student applying for a waitressing job, Bob helped me get my resume in order; he made my experiences of babysitting and lifeguarding sound like formidable accomplishments and he went over my revisions again and again with a fine-toothed comb.  Every sentence perfect, every statement clear and concise, every opportunity explored.  He must’ve spent hours behind the scenes, thinking about how to best present my 18-year-old self to restaurant managers, while I rolled my eyes on the other end of the phone line as he got me to rewrite even the smallest details.  I got the job, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

I moved to Toronto to attend the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in 2002, Bob’s hometown.  Way before the Facetime era, Bob arranged for his nephew to scout my potential apartment for me.  Moving solo across the country to The Big Smoke was a daunting endeavour for my 22-year-old self, but his nephew gave me a full report via Bob.  I remember that he commented on the water pressure being strong; attention to detail must be genetic.  I got the apartment, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

School took over my life and I immersed myself in my studies and my friends, my running and my new city.  I was working occasional hours as a personal trainer when tax time rolled around.  I called Bob and asked for help with my personal taxes.  He filed them via paper and pencil, long before QuickTax, with me on the other end of a long-distance phone call, answering endless questions, sorting through paperwork, being as thorough as Bob demanded.  I got the taxes done, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

I was a newlywed in 2006, back in Calgary with my husband for a Summertime visit, and needed a place to spend a night in between dinner parties and brunch plans.  He toured us around his neighbourhood, took us for a walk, made us feel welcome.  We had great conversation, marvelled at his tidiness, commented on his home’s precision.  He gave us a place to stay, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

My family went to visit him last Sunday.  We told the kids that his brain was sick.  That he’s a smart man with a big heart and a big, awful disease.  He was having a good day and he was the Bob I remembered in many respects; the Bob who likes to talk, except this Bob had trouble finding words.  The Bob who loves children, except this Bob couldn’t interact with them the way he used to.  The Bob who loves showing people around, except this Bob got disoriented in the middle of his tour.

But this Bob still remembered me.  This Bob was still happy to see me, my husband, my kids.  This Bob still smiled, still laughed, still has a positive outlook, a generous spirit, a fierce loyalty, a kind soul.

I gave him a long hug, he said thank you, I said “anytime.”

 

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Blue.

I’ve had a dog for a large part of my life.  My first dog, Sugar, was a small black poodle that passed away when I was only seven years old.  I have limited memories of her, but my parents tell tales of how they’d tell her to “stay” on the front porch of our small-town home, and come back at the end of the workday to find her still sitting proud and loyal.  I do vividly remember her burial, in a remote, wooded area just off the Alberta-prarie golf course that she so loved.  I remember my dad’s tears, something I hadn’t seen before, and a heavy feeling of loss.  Our next family dog, an American spaniel named Jacob, lived a short four years before developing a fatal spinal blood clot.  The trauma of that loss is still with me today, as he was my running buddy throughout high school and I held him close as he was euthanized at the emergency vet clinic.

As adults, my husband and I have had two dogs- our beloved Chocolate Lab, Tyson, who passed away in 2012, and our Chocolate Labradoodle, Oz, whom we had to re-home in May 2014 following some health concerns with my daughter.  So, for the last four years, we’ve been dog-less.  We’ve done lots of dog-sitting for friends and family and there’s been lots of chatter about “when we get a dog,” knowing that it was a foregone conclusion that our home would have a dog again at some point.  But I hadn’t felt ready until very recently, much to the chagrin of my husband and children.  My heart wasn’t prepared yet, and I didn’t feel like our family had the time or energy available to give.  Sometime late last year though, my mentality shifted, and I felt some “space” in our lives open back up.

Our focus turned to rescue dogs.  We searched for many months and put in applications with dozens of rescue organizations and shelters throughout Southern Ontario.  We were interviewed, screened, and we even met some dogs that ultimately weren’t the right fit for our family.  We began to get frustrated with the constant searching, and decided to try another approach; in early June we placed a Wanted Ad on Kijiji, hoping to find a family that needed to re-home a beloved pet for circumstances beyond their control.  A few days later, we got an email from a local rescue organization who had seen our ad and had three Golden Retriever/poodle puppies surrendered by an overwhelmed breeder.  The puppies were three and half months old; “would you like to come and meet them?” she asked.

Um, YES.

Three days later we were driving home from Cayuga with our newest family member, Blue.


Her name is such simply because we love many things blue; the BlueJays, the Leafs (well, at least some of us do), the lake.  And to think of all of the joy that she’s brought into our home in the last month…… well, I guess I’d forgotten the power of a dog.

Meet Blue Jay Worobec:

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Go Wild, Go West!

This blog post comes at you two days late, and with more than 7000km of travel under my belt; 6000km of it by plane, and over 1000km by car.  Such is the Alberta way: road trips.

Late last week, my kids and I took advantage of some soon-to-expire Westjet vouchers and hopped on a plane to Calgary for six days of soaking up family and friends and exploring Southern and Central Alberta.  (Unfortunately my husband couldn’t join us, since he’s a teacher and the school-year has not yet wrapped up in Burlington.)  I grew up in Sundre, Alberta, an hour’s drive Northwest of Calgary, but until I was ten years old, I lived in the tiny village of Hughenden, about 100km west of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.  I still have lots of relatives in and around Hughenden, so this trip was a chance to see many of them and to give my kids a taste of their heritage.  My children are older now, and at nine and six, they’ve got improved stamina for car travel and a bigger interest and awareness of their surroundings.  So while they’ve been to Alberta many times, it’s usually a Christmas visit, and it’s usually centred around Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  This trip was the opposite of that, and we put in more than ten hours of car travel, slept in three different beds, and threw in lots of coffee and cookie visits with their Great Aunts and Uncles for good measure.

Our first adventure was the Sundre Pro Rodeo.  Sundre hosts a three-day professional rodeo annually, on the third weekend in June, so if you want a true Western experience, this is it.  And….. since I’m not one to do things halfway, I registered my daughter as a mutton bustin’ contestant.  For those non-Albertans reading this post, mutton bustin’ is a children’s rodeo event, whereby five and six-year-olds who weigh less than 50 pounds can don a hockey helmet and ride a sheep across the rodeo arena.  Hang on the longest, win a prize.  I’d prepped her for months; YouTube videos, storied descriptions, and promises of fun and accomplishment.  My city girl was about to get a country girl experience.  After taking in the local pancake breakfast and the main street parade, we headed to the rodeo grounds, and in true Sundre Rodeo fashion, the infield was a mud pit from the rain the night before.

Undeterred, my brave girl stood above the chutes thirty minutes before her event, and we scoped out the sheep, who were corralled and waiting.  The grandstand began to fill, the rain-jackets and hoodies came off, and after a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, it was time.  Into the chute I climbed, onto the sheep she went; the whistle blew, the gate opened, the sheep ran.  Fast.  If you’re picturing this scene in your mind, you can now picture a sheep darting across the mud, then slipping and falling onto its side, with a little girl still attached; orange rubber boot in the air, she only let go when the sheep got up. rodeo discussionShe came up crying, upset not about falling off, but about being covered in mud.  As I’d hoped, dry clothes and a trophy quickly changed her tears to laughter.  Oh, what a show-and-tell she will have at school today.  

Our next adventure took us to Provost, Alberta, my birthplace, to visit my Aunt and Uncle’s farm.  We spent two nights there, under the big prairie skies, and had more fun than I can describe within my word count here.  Ironically, my kids missed their end-of-the-year field trip to a farm earlier this week, but got an up-close-and-personal look at a working farm instead.  We checked on the cows, played with the cats, and rode the ATVs for miles across wide open spaces.  We breathed in the fresh Alberta air and watched a storm roll in across the prairie, we shot slingshots and pop cans, rode in tractors and played cards and boardgames and shuffleboard.  I saw my childhood flash back through them, saw life come full circle, saw the next generation see and feel and taste my memories, my nostalgia, my experiences.

I should also mention the several Aunts and Uncles and small towns that we stopped in throughout our 1000km of travel; we drove by the house I grew up in, we visited two cemeteries to see my grandparent’s headstones, and we climbed the big dinosaur lookout in Drumheller.  I saw dozens of high school friends, ran on my favourite trails, and threw rocks along the riverbanks where I learned to skate.  Our final night in Alberta was spent in Calgary with my brother and his family, who had also joined us in Sundre earlier in our trip.  We filled up on pizza and ice cream, playgrounds and cousin hugs, neighbourhood walks and familiar streets.   

All in all, this week was about roots.  These people, these places, these experiences; these are the components of me.  And while my life has changed dramatically over the years, their importance and value remains, so sharing these people and places with my children is something I’ll cherish forever.  You know, roots and wings and all that…..