Chasing a Dream

During the Spring of 2017, I separated from a forty year marriage and began planning a new life for Holly Golightly and me.  And as much as it pains me to write about such a private matter, I wanted to be very clear about one thing – it was not because of infidelity or anything nasty or sinister.  It’s been something I’d been wrestling with for several years and I was very unhappy, which resulted in an unhappy relationship for both of us.  I am not coming out of any closet – and I am totally straight – I just want for both of us to have happiness in our lives.

I decided to wait until my wife retired in December before leaving and we continue to share the same house, although we’ve had separate bedrooms and haven’t been intimate for many years.  We decided to list our house in the New Year and expect to have it on the market within the next few days.  We will be dividing everything equally, but I won’t be purchasing another home.  I wish her well, and that’s all I have to say on this matter.

*******

In December, during one of my walks with the Surrey Trekkers and Vancouver Venturers Volkssport Clubs, I was chatting with my friend Frank S. about my future plans regarding housing options in Vancouver and he came up with a few recommendations that were very interesting.   But first, I had to resolve a pressing question, namely: ‘Where do I want to live?’  I had already decided to rent instead of buying but knew that it would be a challenge to find a place that allows dogs.  And I wasn’t sure if I wanted to remain in Vancouver – despite the fact that it is the best place on Earth – it is also very expensive.  So I started thinking about Vancouver Island and/or the Sunshine Coast.  But there was this silent voice from within, that urged me to consider my birthplace in Southern, Ontario.   That same voice reminded me of the secret dream I’ve had for many years, but shared with no one.  And now, I could begin chasing my dream!

But first, I had an appointment for a CT Scan on my lungs on January 12th.  A year and a half ago, they found two small spots on my right lung, and my oncologist wanted to compare the size of the spots after six months.  In February 2017, the CT Scan showed that the two spots were still in the upper chamber but now there were two additional spots on the lower chamber of the right lung!  Dr. K. scheduled my next CT Scan for September but by August, I was going through a lot of stress because of the separation and Holly’s illness and subsequent surgery.  I decided not to go for the scan or the follow-up appointment.  And I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even call to cancel those appointments.

I stopped my daily walks and continued to slide into a deeper depression, aka feeling sorry for myself.  I had stopped communicating with my brothers and sisters for more than a year but fortunately, I still had my family at the Fraser Valley Cancer Centre in Surrey, whom I love dearly; and my best friends’ Norm and Robert – who I consider the older brothers I never had but always wanted.  But as close as these people are to me – I haven’t shared my dream with anyone – it’s always been a secret.

They say there are three types of secrets that we all possess, namely:

  1. Secrets we share with family
  2. Secrets we share with best friends
  3. Secrets we keep hidden deep within 

But all of that changed in early October when I learned about the Surrey Trekkers Volkssport Club.  And just as the BC Cancer Agency had saved my life eight years ago – this walking/hiking club dragged me out of the darkness and into a world of smiles and friendship!  We walk three times a week at various locations in the Lower Mainland and Washington State.  I also joined the Vancouver Venturers Volkssport Club and I’m a member of the Washington Trail Association.  Walking with these clubs has been an effective treatment because amazingly, I lost the depression during my first walk with the Surrey Trekkers.  It has been the best thing that I have done for myself – in a very long time and I’ll be writing a lot more about it in the future!  

*******

Chasing a Dream

The snowbirds had already begun the migration to a warmer climate in early December, and several other flocks would be leaving in January, after spending the Holiday Season at home with friends and family.  But I, on the other hand, decided to travel to a colder place – Toronto, Ontario.  You should have seen the look on the faces of my fellow walkers when they learned about my plans to visit the land of ice, snow and frigid temperatures (and people).

‘Danny, why are you going to Toronto?’ they’d ask politely while trying not to roll their eyes in shock and disbelief.

Someone once said, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought of as a fool – than to open it and remove all doubt!”  But I’m not sure the warning applies to the written word. 

But in any event, here are the reasons why I’m visiting Ontario for three weeks in January.  I want to find answers to the following questions:

  • Would I be able to live in Ontario, after leaving thirty-six years ago?  

A lot has changed over the years.  I’ve always liked Ontario but I like the West Coast best, followed by the East Coast.

  • Could I live in ‘downtown’ Toronto? 

I last lived in Toronto in 1974.  It was in a high-rise apartment in Etobicoke at the end of the subway line.   But I want to stay in the heart of downtown Toronto, preferably in the harbor area with an unobstructed view of Lake Ontario.

  • Would Holly and I be happy living in a high rise condo or apartment rental?

Holly is twelve years old and needs to be able to go outside when Nature calls.  But I’ve seen lots of people in Robert’s old apartment building with dogs, so it’s a possibility.  But my preference would be something on the ground level with a bit of an enclosed patio or balcony, so it will be easier for both the dog and me.  The experience will be valuable regardless of what city I choose to live.

  • Could I give up my vehicle and rely on transit? 

I’m getting older and finding it more difficult and stressful, driving in rush hours and/or in heavy traffic and driving in the dark.  I also have less patience with ignorant drivers, who seemed to become more plentiful in recent times.  I’d rather just rent a car for the day when I need it and walk or take transit as my normal mode of travel.  You also see more when you’re a passenger. 

  • Could I endure the cold, cold winters?

I’ve already answered that question.  NO!  But I’m hoping to go south during the winters, so this isn’t a factor.  

*******

But Danny, how are you going to afford a hotel in downtown Toronto for three weeks?

Relax, Spanky – I’ve done some online research – comparing the cost of hotels vs AirNB.  And in so doing, it didn’t take long to realize that I could rent a condo for about half of what it would cost to rent a hotel room, as well as other advantages, including: 

  • Avoid the cost of staying in a hotel with no refrigerator or stove to make my special meals
  • I also compared AirNB vs Craigslist
    • AirNB gave much more info and pictures and better variety of choices and only featured listings that were available Jan 13-31st
    • No idea if Craigslist listings were accurate vs AirNB – so I went with the better known of the two choices
    • I’d be living with condo residents vs hotel guests – because they’d be friendlier if they thought I was a new neighbor
    • Having a washer and dryer was an added bonus to avoid dry cleaning bills – pack fewer clothes

I found a condo in a high-rise on York Street and Queens Quay – with an unobstructed view of the lake and just a few blocks from Union Station, Air Canada Centre and of course, the iconic CN Tower.  The cost per night was $113.   But the fee was non-refundable after I took possession, so I hoped the pictures and info were accurate.  I booked the condo from January 13 – 3oth and paid in advance.  I also planned to stay in a hotel at the Toronto Airport on January 3oth to avoid the next day rush to get to the airport.

I also booked my flight and chose Premium Seating vs Economy.  I used to travel Business Class when I was working – but that was when I had Super Elite and Elite status with Aeroplan and had lots of upgrade certificates.

Friday, January 12, 2018 

I went to Surrey Memorial Hospital at 8:00 AM for my CT Scan.  They inject a dye intravenously into you and then you feel a sudden, warm rush throughout your body.  The dye reacts to any cancer cells that are present and makes cancer visible.  The scan doesn’t take too long – and I’ve had many of them over the past eight years.  I asked Dr. Karvat’s secretary to book the follow-up appointment for February 2, 2018, so I could do the trip to Ontario.  All I could think about during the scan was my trip to Ontario the next day and finally, chasing a dream – my dream!

Now that you’ve got a little background but before we start this journey together – you might want to fasten your seatbelt, stand behind the sneeze guard and hang on tightly because I have no idea how or when this story is going to end!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge was the perfect place to wait for my plane to begin boarding and I was thankful that I had upgraded to business class.  During the last fifteen years of my career with General Motors of Canada Limited, I was a frequent flyer and obtained Aeroplan Elite or Super Elite status every year – which meant lots of free upgrade certificates – priority boarding and unlimited access to the Maple Leaf Lounge.  So even when I had the lowest fare – I still had all of those benefits. 

The lounge has a self-serve bar & beverage service, food, and snacks; workstations, desks, magazines, newspapers, and television to watch while waiting for your plane to board.  Although retired for thirteen years, and I no longer have access to free upgrades – there is the option when traveling by Air Canada to purchase access to the Maple Leaf Lounge for $50 – even if you’re flying in Economy Class.  It’s a great option, to consider when traveling economy class.

We boarded the 787 plane, and I had a private domain – complete with a seat that became a bed, TV monitor and desk; headphones, remote control – and the unit is both a window and aisle location; with nobody sitting on either side of me.  The flight attendant soon arrived with a glass of orange juice and a breakfast menu.  I explained that I’m not able to eat solid food but if they had a yogurt or ice cream – I’d be happy with either.  She also offered me a newspaper from Australia – which is where the plane had originated from earlier. 

Soon we were 39,000 feet in the air, and I had my headphones on and listening to one of my Eagles tunes, and they began serving breakfast.  I could tell by the heavenly fragrance – they were serving pancakes and sausages.  The flight attendant brought me a yogurt with the saddest expression on her young face.

‘Are you sure that I can’t bring you something else?’ she whispered.

I thought about asking for a cocktail, but I seldom drink alcohol anymore because it burns my throat.  Back in the day, I would have ordered a double vodka on ice, with a dash of 7Up for color.  

‘No, but can I ask you a question?’ I whispered, ‘do you know Captain Joe G.?’

Immediately, her eyes lit up, and she was smiling from ear to ear.  We talked about our mutual friend and how Joe and his wife, Brenda, were my neighbors when I lived in Bedford, Nova Scotia (1989-’92).  Joe has been an Air Canada pilot for many years; we used to run into each other when he flew Dash 8’s with Air Nova in the 80’s.  It’s why I usually fly Air Canada – to support a buddy’s employment – and he always drove a GM product.  Brenda’s father was the regional manager of GMAC, which was also a connection.

I tried to configure the seat into a bed but couldn’t sleep a wink – I was too excited.  I decided to listen to one of the playlists of music on my laptop.  Next, to breathing, music is a ‘must have,’ and I have a library of over 10,000 songs – all of which I purchased.  I have never downloaded music or movies for free – artists deserve to get paid for their work and pirating is unconscionable.  Would you work if your employer decided not to pay you?   Me thinks, not!

The pilot’s voice suddenly shattered a hot daydream I was having.  He announced that we were about to land and the temperature was minus 35 degrees Celsius, with the windchill factor!  A large gasp of shock and disappointment erupted from the passengers.  ‘Where did they think we were landing – Hawaii?’, I thought.

Soon we were at the gate, and I was first off of the plane and racing to the luggage carousel to retrieve my suitcases.  After getting my bags, I went outside to get a limo and just about froze! 

On the drive downtown, I called Ramy G., the owner of the condo apartment, to confirm the address on York Street.  He told me to ring his buzzer when I got to the lobby of the building, and he would buzz me in.  He said that the apartment was open and the keys were on the kitchen counter.

The condo complex was actually two large high rises connected by a large lobby on the main floor.  It appeared to be a fairly new facility and it had two security people on the lobby desk, so I felt safe and secure.  ‘So far, so good!’ I thought.

I rang the buzzer to Ramy’s suite.  He buzzed me into the building and I headed to the elevator.  The apartment was on the 35th floor.  I had no sooner opened the door to the apartment when I heard the sirens from the street below.  I quickly dropped my suitcases on the floor and ran to the balcony door to see if the fire trucks were stopping at this complex. 

And that’s when I got the next shock! 

To be continued…

Hugs,

Danny

 

Today’s tune from Danny’s library (purchased):  

 

My First Blind Date

I was finally moving into my new apartment and it had only taken me a week to find it despite the numerous ‘No Vacancy’ signs hanging outside most of the high rises in the West End.  It was located on Alberni Street, a few feet from Stanley Park and it had an awesome view of Coal Harbour and the north shore mountains.  It’s probably a lot easier to find an apartment or condo to rent in Vancouver today than it was when I first moved here from Etobicoke, Ontario in 1973.  Back then, the vacancy rate in downtown Vancouver was less than 1%.

We had just started a business in Toronto and I would be living in Vancouver, Bobby would be in Montreal and Jack, the senior partner would remain in Toronto where our office and warehouse were located.  Basically, we were a textile company that sold to department stores and fabric stores.  Jack, the senior partner, was somewhat famous because he was the person who first brought polyester to Canada from Japan.  Back then, polyester was known by various names such as crimplene, crimpknit, trevira, dacron, terylene, and others, depending on country of origin.  We were importers and converters of textiles but most of our fabrics came from the United States.  But this story isn’t about fabrics… I just wanted to explain why I had moved to Vancouver.

I had been a manufacturers’ agent (self-employed salesman) that represented a number of companies in the textile industry.  I had a button and zipper line (HA Kidd & Co); trim and lace line (Morgan Uster Ltd); velvet line (Martin Fabrics) and my territory included Central and Northern Ontario.  I called on all of the established customers as well as constantly looking for new customers.  I was on a draw against commission – which means that each of these companies sent me a monetary advance on the first of each month.  I had to pay all of my expenses (living and work-related) out of that draw and hoped that my commissions for the month covered the advances.  My work-related expenses included leasing a vehicle, gas, meals, hotels, entertainment for others and dry cleaning bills for the suits I wore.  My living expenses were the usual – rent, utilities, clothes, and girls.  It was those combined expenses that made me become the best possible salesman I could ever be – I was too terrified of not covering my monthly expenses!

I can remember filling my car up with gas in Toronto and paying 39 cents a gallon!  I didn’t have a CHARGEX credit card at the time, so all of my purchases were in cash.  My monthly draw worked out to $175 per week – with no deductions for income tax etc.  And it used to cost me one hundred dollars to travel on the road for a week – gas, hotel and food.  Now you can better understand the source of my financial worries.  But I was happy – and within a few months – making good money!

Over the course of a few visits, I became friends with many of my customers in northern Ontario.    Later, when I went into business I decided to give my customers a phone call to thank them for their business and advise them of my upcoming move to Vancouver.  One store owner in Timmins became a close friend – she was like an aunt to me.   She said that although she was sad to see me moving, she did want me to know that her best friend had a daughter who now lived in Vancouver and she knew that the girl would really like me.  But I wasn’t interested – except – how do I say no to my friend (and customer)?  So I agreed and was given the girl’s name and phone number.  My friend, whose name I forget, said that she would call the girl and tell her to expect a call from me.  When I arrived in Vancouver, the last thing I wanted to do was call this girl – after all, I didn’t believe in blind dates (for both’s sake).  Besides, I had to get a new vehicle and find an apartment to rent in the West End – where the vacancy rate was less than 1%.

My priorities were like any self-respecting single guy – car first; pad second; business third; romance fourth.  I walked into BOWMAC – if you’ve lived in Vancouver – it used to have this huge sign on Broadway.  It was a GM Dealership and that’s all a kid from Oshawa would ever drive.  Anyways, I met Jim, a salesman about my age and within minutes, I had leased a ’74 Trans Am.  He invited me to his place on 10th Avenue – it was a large house and he shared it with three other guys.  Did I mention that it was a stone throw from the nurses’ residence?  Each of his roommates were also salesmen, so we had a lot in common.  And the nurses’ residence was nearby – but I probably already mentioned that.

That weekend, Jim and the guys and me did a little pub crawling – it was the first titty bar I’d ever been in and I was somewhat shocked.  It also gave me a sudden attack of loneliness.  But I was staying in a hotel and needed to focus on getting myself a place to rent.  Jim or one of the other guys would drive me around the West End, looking for a  ‘Vacancy’ sign outside, until one night we found the place on Alberni, close to Stanley Park.  I paid the rent and security deposit and waited until my furniture arrived before I could truly feel I was now a resident of Vancouver!

Sometime later, while sitting alone in my apartment, I pulled the paper with the girl’s name and number.  I fumbled with the paper – staring at it and wondering – should I call?  I gave into the loneliness and called her.  

Although it’s been many years, my memory only seems to remember important events and personal incidents – as opposed to remembering people’s names.  But I always remember a face and the memorable experiences things that I associate with that person.  So, if you asked me what this girl’s name was – I couldn’t tell you.  But I remember a number of things about her and I certainly remember that phone call and the date that followed.

She answered my phone call with a pleasant sounding voice and our conversation went something like this:

Girl:  Oh Danny!  [Timmins store owner] told me all about you.  I was expecting to hear from you weeks ago – I assumed you weren’t interested in meeting me.  

Danny:  Oh no, I’m sorry but I’ve been busy getting some wheels, finding a place to rent and conduct business at the same time.  I would like to get together with you – if you’re interested – but I know that blind dates are scary and …

Girl:  Yes, how about Friday night?

Danny:  Okay, yes, uh-duh, what’s your address?

She gave me her address and then quickly said goodbye.  She didn’t ask me anything about myself – which I thought was a bit weird.  And that’s when the doubts and fears started to ebb and flow inside my tiny brain. 

‘She’s probably desperate’ I thought, ‘maybe I’m the first guy that’s even called her in months!  Why did I ever agree with [Timmins store owner] to go out with her friend’s daughter?  I am such a ‘mark’ for a sob story!  But what the heck did I have to lose – being stuck with someone with whom I have nothing in common with? 

My new friend Jim almost answered that question for me, when I told him about the phone call and pending blind date.  Because after I told him that she lived in Surrey, he threw his arms up into the air and screamed that it was geographically impossible to have a girlfriend, who lived that far away from downtown Vancouver.  (Remember, this was 1973 – before the new bridges and skytrain!)

I bought a city map from a gas station and looked for her address.  I gauged the distance to be the equivalent of driving from Oshawa to Toronto (30 miles), which was a ‘piece of cake’ for a kid from Ontario!

I parked in the parking lot of her complex and then rang the buzzer to her apartment.

Girl:  Hello?

In the background, was the sound of either a baby crying or fifty fingernails scratching down the blackboard at school!  Now, don’t get me wrong – I love kids!  It’s just when the pitch of their crying is so high that it breaks windshields, that I get a little uncomfortable.

Danny:  It’s Danny… uh, duh…

Girl:  I’ll be down in a minute! I’m just giving the babysitter instructions.

I stood in the lobby and waited for the elevator door to open.  It did several times but not with anyone resembling a twenty-something-year-old girl.  After about ten minutes, she appeared – and I was shocked – she was nothing like what I had imagined.

I’d almost talked myself into believing that my blind date would appear wearing a t-shirt with a ‘eat your heart out – I’m married’ slogan; a cigarette hanging from her mouth; her hair in curlers, no makeup, and no front teeth.  Was I ever wrong – because the girl that appeared in the lobby was as beautiful as any girl I’d ever dated.  And although I still can’t remember her name – I can remember her face and body, and both were stunning!

She appeared to be surprised as she gave me the once-over, but her eyes seemed to light up and suddenly she flashed a beautiful smile – and she had teeth, too!

Girl:  Hi Danny. 

Danny:  Hi (Girl).

I didn’t want to appear too interested or anxious, but I couldn’t keep from smiling – from ear to ear. 

Danny:  You’re the prettiest girl I’ve seen in 3 weeks! 

I cringed immediately after saying it – even though it had always been my most effective ‘opening line’.  You should never let a person know you’re interested in them by acting too anxious.  ‘Try to maintain a little mystery, you jerk!’ I mumbled to myself.

Girl:  You’re not what I’d envisioned.

Danny:  In a good or bad way?

Girl:  I’m not sure.  It’s just that I’ve never been on a blind date before, but my Mom’s best friend kept calling me and insisting that I go out with you.

Danny:  I hate blind dates, too!  So, do I pass the test?

Girl:  I don’t know – it’s too early.  But I’ll know soon enough – it’s my job to be a quick study on people.

Danny:  Are you a cop?

Girl:  No.  I’m a customs officer.

Danny: ‘WTF!  (Why That’s Fascinating!) I shouted out loud, [The other WTF hadn’t been invented, yet] my Dad’s a customs officer in Toronto!

Oops!  I instantly regretted opening my big pie hole.  ‘Try to maintain a little mystery, you jerk!’ I mumbled to myself, again.

But she liked my car and within minutes we were on our way downtown.  I had found an awesome multi-level nightclub called Oil Can Harry’s at 752 Thurlow Street and it had live bands playing on each of the three levels.  I was hoping that she’d be seeing the place for the first time – because I knew it would impress her – and that is what any self-respecting guy would do on a date.  But as we entered the first level, the bouncer at the door – a giant of a man – suddenly started hugging my date and within a few seconds they were laughing and hugging and laughing and hugging and I was standing there like one of those wax figures you’d see in Madame Tussauds Famous Wax Museum.  I wasn’t jealous – I’ve never been jealous – but I felt kind of left out. 

February 25 1975 Vancouver Sun advertisement for Oil Can Harry’s on Thurlow Street [PNG Merlin Archive]

We grabbed a table and ordered drinks, but it was too loud to carry a conversation – so we just drank and danced.  I remember that she was a very good dancer and she smelled pretty good, too.  I was hoping for a slow dance, but the band kept playing fast songs.  But when they played the first slow song, I reached my left hand out to grab her right hand, but she instead put both of her arms around me in a hug – so I followed and soon we were standing alone, almost motionless on the dance floor.  I’m sure that there were people watching us and thinking that we should leave enough room between us for daylight, but we were both oblivious to the surroundings.  There’s something about a slow dance that if done properly, can be a green light to other, more passionate activity. 

Suddenly, she stopped hugging me and grabbed my hand and led me off the dance floor.  Within minutes, we were heading back to her place in Surrey.  I don’t remember much about the drive, but I do remember what happened when we arrived at her place.  How could I ever forget?

My date paid the babysitter and then put on some music.  I remember that it was Barry White, her favorite singer – whose songs were perfect for the evening.  Soon the living room was dark, with only the light of a single candle.  I could feel the excitement and anticipation growing, as she threw a couple of cushions on the floor.

Soon our eyes locked and she began moving closer until our faces almost touched.  Her eyes began to close, and I knew that she would be waiting for our lips to meet.  As we kissed, a debate began inside my little brain – should I try for more or just be content with kissing and hugging?  Most guys faced with this type of dilemma would think with their ‘other’ brain and make the mistake of trying to get to first base too soon (as though making out is like baseball!).  Nope, a person once told me that you should wait until you’re both ready to make a commitment to each other – such as going steady or marriage.  But just before our kissing got to the point of no return – she stopped and looked deeply into my eyes and said:

“Do you think I’m promiscuous?”

I stared back into her eyes, but I didn’t know how to answer her because I didn’t know what the word ‘promiscuous’ meant!  I had never heard the word before but in the heat of the moment, and somewhat out-of-breath, I guessed that it meant someone who was attractive or desirable – so I said YES!

It was the first time that I have ever had my face slapped and I was shocked and confused! 

‘WTF!’ (Why The Face!) I shouted, ‘I didn’t mean to upset you.  To tell you the truth, I don’t even know what that word means.’

But she was already standing and soon all the lights in her apartment were on and I was driving back to Vancouver.  She never told me what the word meant and we never saw each other again. 

The other mistake I made that evening was telling my new friend Jim about what had happened.  He couldn’t tell me what the word ‘promiscuous’  meant because he was laughing so hard.

And that, dear reader, is when I learned a new word.  True story.

                                                                                      *******

Dedicated to my friend Doug Jackson – The World’s #1 Salesman (Retired)!

Hugs,

Danny

Gifts of Love

I never expected to receive a Christmas gift this year but I did.  In fact, I got two gifts and both came as a complete surprise.  They were the first gifts that I’ve received at Christmas, in a very long time and at first, I hesitated about opening them.  But I’ll get back to the gifts of love in a moment because I need to tell you, dear reader, another story from my childhood.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had mixed feelings about receiving gifts but I’m not sure why.  It’s not that I’m fussy or difficult to please – I’m not.  It’s just that I feel awkward and unworthy – but I can’t explain it better than that.  But I love giving gifts – so I’ll never be accused of being a Scrooge.

As one, of six children, we always had a gift to open on our birthday or at Christmas but they were seldom toys or other neat things that you’d see advertised on TV.  One Christmas, we got an oversized toboggan – but who wants to share that with two older sisters?   But we always had a great Christmas feast and always lots of company to share the excitement.  And my Ma would always bake a birthday cake on our birthdays – so I’m not complaining or ungrateful. 

But there was always a little part of me that was jealous of my friends at school when they described all of the stuff they got.  The gift I got most often, was something that my Ma knitted for me – such as a pair of mitts, a toque (knitted cap) or socks.  My Grandma Puffer used to also knit things for my sisters, brothers and me.  It wasn’t until later years that I realized how much time and love were spent by Ma and Grandma knitting things for us.  And Ma used to make my sister’s blouses, dresses, and skirts.  She was very talented and I always received compliments when wearing a sweater that Ma had knitted me.  I still have the sweaters and I treasure them, although they no longer fit.

A few weeks before Christmas, one of the walking groups that I belong to was having a party and everyone brought a gift.  I didn’t stay at the party once the meal was served, so I wasn’t there when the gifts were distributed.  Everyone brought something inexpensive that would be suitable for either a man or woman.  A week or so later, one of my walking buddies mentioned that he had saved my gift from the party and it was in his car.  He gave it to me last week, after Christmas but I never opened it until yesterday.  It was a generous gift certificate.  Again I felt a pang of guilt for receiving a gift.  

The other gift that I received was really unexpected – and it too warms my heart just thinking about it. 

My friend Sannie had started a new job in Vancouver, so our get-togethers were becoming less frequent.  But she is like a daughter to me and I was hoping we could see each other before the holidays.  We made arrangements to meet for lunch on the 23rd.  I had gathered a bunch of goodies from Trader Joe’s for her as an unwrapped Christmas gift because I didn’t want her to feel bad for not getting me anything.  But she told me that she had a gift from me, so after we had lunch and got back in the car, we exchanged our Christmas card and gift.

Sannie’s gift to me was neatly wrapped with two ribbons on each end of the gift.  I read the card – and then with my hands trembling with the excitement of a ten-year-old, I opened the present.  It was an awesome toque that she had knitted for me!  And although I never asked her – I imagined that she probably thought about me, as she knitted it.  I held back the tears until we had said our goodbyes and had started the drive home.  Her boyfriend Kuba, is a very lucky boy!

This was the best Christmas I’ve had in many years!  

Sannie and Kuba (Jacob)

 

Hugs,

Danny

 

Message from Santa Danny

Leigha Rock, Dr. Denise Laronde and Santa Danny (December 19, 2017)

 

Yesterday, Santa Danny went to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to present a cheque towards oral cancer research at the university and BC Cancer Foundation.

He also visited with the staff in the Faculty of Dentistry, which is where Danny gave his speech during their Research Day in January 2016.  It was Dr. Laronde, who invited me, as a cancer patient/survivor to give a speech about oral cancer.

Here is the link to the presentation:  Danny’s speech at UBC Faculty of Dentistry

And Leigha Rock is a Ph.D. student (soon to be a doctor!) who I attended a number of evening dental study groups with.  In the recent ranking among doctorate students – Leigha ranked 3rd out of 900 in Canada!

I’ll be posting all of the pictures from Santa’s visit when I get back from my Wednesday walk with my friends at Surrey Trekkers.

Wishing everyone an awesome holiday season and a healthy and happy New Year!

Hugs & Luv,

Santa Danny

 

Not a creature was stirring…

Originally published on December 24, 2012

It was the morning of Christmas Eve and once again it didn’t feel like Christmas. 

It had been years since I last celebrated Christmas – but I remember it well.  It was in 1983 at my Mom & Dad’s place in Midland, Ontario.  My family always got together to celebrate Christmas at my parent’s place – but I had missed the last couple of Christmases because I was living in Vancouver.  My Dad came to the Toronto airport to pick me up – I had yet to see their new home in Midland – but I was more excited about seeing my Mom and brothers and sisters and my niece and nephew.  That’s what Christmas was all about to the St. Andrews family – being together and enjoying our own special traditions.  Some of those traditions included arriving on Christmas Eve and spending the night – so we could all get up together – just like when we were all growing up at our home in Oshawa and then later in Georgetown.

At my parents home in Georgetown, my Dad had built a wonderful bar in the rec room and he would wear a Christmas hat while he served drinks from his perch on a stool – behind the bar – which he considered “sacred” ground.  You NEVER went behind the bar when Dad was on duty – the words “self-serve” did not exist in his bar.  So as we arrived on Christmas Eve, the first thing you heard when you entered their house was the laughter and shouting from downstairs.  A few hugs and kisses with Mom and then you would head downstairs to reunite with the clan.

Early on Christmas morning – probably no later than 6:00 AM, my Dad would be the first one to awake and ready to act as Santa.  We would all gather around the Christmas Tree in the family room and my Dad would give each person one gift to open – beginning with my Mom.  Everyone would watch quietly as each person opened their gift – and then there would be loud outbursts of “ooh’s and ahh’s”.  My brothers, sisters and I would then prepare a large breakfast for everyone – and let Mom have the day off from the kitchen.  Immediately after breakfast we would all gather at the Christmas Tree and continue to open all the gifts. 

About mid-morning, Dad would announce that the bar was open.  Later, Mom would bring a platter of Scotch Eggs for us to snack on.  And then about mid-afternoon, we would all gather in the dining room for a sumptuous turkey dinner.  Later, my brother-in-law Brian – a professional photographer, would get everyone together for a family portrait – which we would all receive framed copies.  Then some of us would start to leave to go to our respective homes – which always made my Mom cry.  She was happiest when she had every one of us together – as a family – and always pleaded with us – “Do you have to go so soon?”

So, on this morning of Christmas Eve, I was having a coffee and looking at one of those family portraits – and I got homesick.  Homesick because I missed my Mom and Dad – and family – and those magical Christmases we shared together.  And I missed not having that special feeling that I used to get every year – at Christmas.  Two years ago, I went to Costco and bought a ton of outdoor Christmas lights – and decorated all of the hedges, evergreens, and fence – I had just finished my cancer treatments and didn’t know how many more Christmases I would be around for – and desperately hoping that the lights would bring back that special Christmas feeling.  But it didn’t.

Last week I wrote a blog about buying a complete Santa Claus outfit – so I could visit all of the patients at the Fraser Valley Cancer Centre – where I was treated – and where I have been volunteering every week for the past 16 months.  And as I made my way through the various clinics – almost all of the patients’ eyes would light up with excitement.  I was hearing voices from all sides – things like:  “Hi Santa!” and “Merry Christmas Santa” and “Hey Santa, can we get a picture of you with us?”  Within five minutes that special feeling returned – and I was a kid again.  I didn’t rush home and decorate the house with lights though; in fact, within hours of leaving the Cancer Centre, I lost the feeling – which made me really sad.

So on the morning of Christmas Eve, I decided to get dressed as Santa Claus, again – and go to the Cancer Centre and to Surrey Memorial Hospital.  As soon as I walked into the hospital lobby a woman ran up to me, pleading, “Oh Santa, could I get a picture with you and my Mom?”  I said “Sure – Ho, Ho Ho!”  The mother slowly walked up to me – she was in her patient gown and was wearing a Christmas hat.  I gave her a hug and was posing with her for the picture – when her daughter suddenly said: “Mom, why are you crying?”  Before the mother could answer, I squeezed her closer to me and asked her why she was crying.  She stared up at me and with tears rolling down her cheek, she cried, “Because I never thought I would ever meet Santa Claus!”   I kissed her on the cheek and whispered into her ear “I will always be with you”. 

I toured the Cancer Centre and then walked down the hall to the adjoining Surrey Memorial Hospital and took the elevator up to 51 North – the Oncology Floor.  I had been a patient there several times during my cancer treatments – when I was at my lowest point.  I walked into each of the patients’ room and wished them all a Happy Holiday.  On my way back to the elevator, I noticed a Palliative Care sign over the entrance to another wing of the floor.  “This is where the very sick and/or terminally ill patients are”, I thought to myself.  I walked into the ward and all of the medical staff were surprised to see Santa.  After posing for several photos I asked if it would be okay to say hello to the patients.  They replied in unison  “Of course you can – you’re Santa Claus!”

I made my way around the ward; entering each of the rooms and then holding the hand of each of the patients.  I didn’t know what to say but what suddenly burst out of my mouth was “I know that you’ve always believed in me, and I just wanted to drop by to say hello”.  One patient – an older man – was wearing a Christmas hat and said that he had awoken that morning excited with the hope that maybe a friend or family member might drop by for a visit.  But none had – until Santa Claus.  He held my hand for the longest time and just stared at me and then muttered: “Thank you Santa – Merry Christmas”.  I turned to leave his room – my eyes were filling with tears and I didn’t want him to see me cry.  After all, he believed in Santa Claus. 

And now so do I.

Santa Danny in the Chemo Room, December 24, 2012

 

Hugs,

Danny

Today’s Tune (from Danny’s library of purchased music):

 

 

 

Eleven Oh One

Originally published on November 11, 2012

It must have caused quite a commotion when he arrived in this world.  Come to think of it,  I’ve never heard of it before (or since) – being born with different colored eyes.  But it’s true – although I never saw them myself – his wife told me about them.  She also told me that he was just a teenager when he left school to join the army – the Ontario Regiment to be exact.  She said that his mother didn’t even kiss him goodbye when he left for Europe to fight in the Second World War.  It was a long journey – boarding a train in Oshawa for Halifax – and then by ship to England.  But he had his guitar with him, and his buddies from the neighborhood, so he probably wasn’t lonely.  His wife also told me – with a look of pride – that he played his guitar on the BBC Radio, although it didn’t make him famous.  After a few months, his regiment was shipped to Sicily, Italy.   

She told me that he was badly wounded – shrapnel from a bomb or grenade had struck him in the eye.  She said that the medics placed sandbags around his head to keep him still while they removed the metal from his left eye – the operation took place on the battlefield.  But they couldn’t save his eye – there was nothing left of it.    He returned home to Oshawa – but the war for him was not over.  There would be many sleepless nights – reliving the horrors of war.  He wore an eye patch for quite some time – until he was fitted with a “glass eye”.  Nobody could tease him about his different colored eyes anymore. 

His wife told me that they had met each other after the war – and it was love at first sight.  She said they married and then went to Montreal for their honeymoon.  They started a family – their first child was a girl – and they named her Linda Mae.  Their second daughter was born a year later – they named her Leslie Heather.  A year later, they had their first boy and named him Daniel James.  Nobody ever called me Daniel though – it was always just Danny.  My brother Frederick (Freddy) was born a year later and then several years later, the stork brought Eric (Ricky) and then returned a year later to bring Randall (Randy).

I remember asking Dad about his experiences in the war but he would always remain silent.  In fact, he never talked about the war until I was an adult but even then, he would only talk about it in general terms – never the gory details.  My Mom explained that most of the soldiers that had seen action would never talk about their experiences.  I remember my cousin Jim Little from Calgary once telling me that he was a young boy when my Dad had returned home from the war.  Jim and his parents were living in my Grandparent’s home on Ritson Road, and he remembers that whenever there was a bad storm – with thunder, my Dad would be in the closet – taking cover.  My Mom told me that for years my Dad would wake up at night, screaming.  

My Dad was sick for the last year of his life.  My Mom called me after he had been taken by ambulance to the Oshawa Hospital.  I made arrangements to fly to Toronto the next day and took a taxi from the airport directly to the hospital.  My family was all gathered in his room – he was laying on the bed – his eyes were closed.  I asked my Mom if he was sleeping, but she sadly shook her head and told me that he wasn’t conscious. 

I went out into the hall and spoke to the Head Nurse – “Is my Dad going to regain consciousness?  Is he going to be okay?”  She told me that my Dad could probably still hear – but he wouldn’t be able to respond.  I remember walking back into the room and over to his bed.  I stroked his head and told him that I loved him.  I had never ever told him that before.  And my Dad had never ever told me that he loved me either.  

I had just sat down beside my Ma, when suddenly, my Dad sat upright and looked directly at me and pointed and tried to say something but it all came out garbled.  It lasted only a few seconds – and then, just as suddenly, he laid back down.  I ran over to him and stroked his forehead, trying to reassure him that everything was going to be okay.

My Mom suggested that we leave for the evening.  My brother Randy would be staying in the room with Dad and then I would return to the hospital in the morning.  We said goodnight to Dad and as we were leaving I glanced at the framed picture of my Dad in his army uniform – taken just before he left for the war in Europe.  My Mom had brought the picture to Dad’s room because it was Remembrance Day – November 11th.

On our drive back to their apartment, I told Mom that I had never told Dad that I loved him before and I hoped that he was able to hear me.  But I knew that he loved me – because my Mom told me so.  He was brought up in a family that didn’t show their emotions – so it just wasn’t in his nature.   We had just walked into their place and the telephone rang.  I answered the phone, it was Randy – he said that Dad had just passed away. 

Yes, he passed away on Remembrance Day, November 11, 2001 – – how befitting for a veteran. 

And my Mom, who was just a bit superstitious, would often comment on how strange it was that when she moved sometime later into a condo in Ajax, that it happened to be #1101 (eleven-o-one) and that Dad had died on 11/01.

And on September 26, 2010,  Mom was reunited with Dad.

Rest in Peace, Dad.

Rest in Peace, Ma.

All My Love Forever and Ever,

Danny

Today’s Tune:  The Band Played Waltzing Matilda ~ The Dubliners

 

Dedicated to my new friend Dale C., a veteran.

 

Rambo and His Kids

Although we had never met – they were perfect strangers, it hurt to see them there in their temporary shelter.  They weren’t much older than teenagers, and yet, there they were all bundled up under an assortment of mix and match blankets and towels – sleeping on the sidewalk.  Laying beside the young couple on the sidewalk, was a large dog.  The dog was all covered up too, with just his head showing.

All three of them were asleep, as I stood and stared at them.  They had a cup and a handwritten sign asking for a donation and another cup beside the dog with kibbles, and a small bowl of water.  I reached into my pocket but didn’t have any cash on me – just credit cards.  I felt guilty as I walked away – heck, these were just children, I thought.

I had come to the city to attend the Crazy8’s Film Info Session at the RIO Theatre on Broadway Avenue, just a few doors down from where the kids and their dog were sleeping.  I checked the time – it was at 11:30 AM – and the event was supposed to end at 4:00 PM, so I doubted that I would ever see them again.  Their reason for being on the street is probably similar to many of the homeless, but I can’t imagine how their current living condition could be better, than what they were trying to escape.   I wanted to stay and wait until they awoke and at least say hello and be a friendly face.  I also wanted to meet their dog.

But the information session was crucial, and I needed to get a good seat, so I rushed into the RIO with my buddy Robert Mahe, with whom I recently started a film production company.  We met as actors on set in 2008, and have been great friends ever since.  We both wanted to produce films and will be using one of my published stories from my website as our first film project.

One hour later…

Although I was really enjoying the session, my mind kept wandering to those kids and their dog, laying on the pavement in the doorway of some building, on a cold and damp October afternoon.  I got up and quickly walked outside the to see if they were still there.  And they were!  So I approached them and said hello.  They looked up at me and smiled!

The dog appeared to be their spokesman because he suddenly gave me an evil-looking stare and then started to bark at me!  I cautiously stepped back to reassure the dog, but that just seemed to make him angrier!

I asked if I could pet their dog, but now the dog was standing and on full alert!  His stare became even scarier and his barking continued – non-stop!

I knew that a barking dog doesn’t mean that it’s vicious – or that it doesn’t like you (unless it’s my dog, Holly).  Barking is their way of communicating.  But it wasn’t his bark that gave me a bit of a chill.  It was his eyes – I’ve never seen eyes like that before in my life!  This was definitely, the scariest-looking dog I’ve ever seen.

“I’m sorry that I upset your dog,” I quickly uttered.

The young man politely explained that the barking indicated that the dog wanted me to pet him!  And although that sounded somewhat counter-intuitive, their love for that dog was apparent, and it was all the reassurance I needed.

“May I take a video clip of your dog?” I asked.

“Sure!” they cheerfully replied.

I asked them for their dog’s name, and then I softly clapped my hands and said: “Come here, Rambo!”

Here’s a video clip of what followed:

Click to view – Rambo and his two kids

But Danny, you took me away from my hectic life to read about two homeless kids and their dog?  Your stories used to be almost interesting, but now they’re redundant.

Relax,  Spanky. And stop picking your nose!

Anyway, I posted this because I told the kids I would post the clip on my Facebook page and gave the boy my card.  But it wasn’t until I got home a few hours later that I remembered that my Facebook page isn’t under my full name; I changed it several months ago.  The library on Georgia Street is probably where they access computers to view their social media pages, and it bothered me that they might be disappointed when they can’t find my FB page.  But my business card also has this website address, so that’s why I’ve written about them and their dog, Rambo – in the faint hope, that they’ll visit my website or email me.  I went to a nearby ATM to get some cash and then returned and gave them $20 and wished them well and then walked away.  The three of them were huddled together in the blanket, and that’s how I’ll always remember them.

It’s heart-breaking to see kids that young on the street and homeless.  And yet, the Little Danny in me admired the fact, that these kids would rather be homeless than be apart.  When I was their age, I too made a sacrifice to leave home to be with the one I loved and worked my way through the last year of high school just so I could be with her.  There were many days I went to bed hungry, but it was worth it.  But here’s the difference: when my girlfriend’s father forbade her from seeing me after we got engaged, she obeyed him, and I never saw her again.  I didn’t know it at the time, but her father did me a favor – because his daughter didn’t love me enough to run away with me.  I heard that she married a rich guy, which now makes sense.

So in closing, I hope that the kids get to read this and see the video.  I also wanted the kids to know that I would have made the same sacrifice for love as they have and that they and their dog will always be my heroes!

And now the sky is crying!  Bye, Rambo!

Hugs,

Little Danny

Today’s tune from Danny’s music library (purchased):  Positively 4th Street ~ Bob Dylan

 

Lyrics:   Positively 4th Street

You’ve got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend
When I was down you just stood there grinning.
You got a lotta nerve to say you’ve got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on the side that’s winning.
You say I let you down you know it’s not like that
If you’re so hurt why then don’t you show it.
You say you’ve lost your faith but that’s not where it’s at
You had no faith to lose and you know it.
I know the reason that you talk behind my back
I used to be among the crowd you’re in with.
Do you take me for such a fool to think I’d make contact
With the one who tries to hide what he don’t know, to begin with.
You see me on the street you always act surprised
You say, “How are you?” “Good luck” but you don’t mean it.
When you know as well as me you’d rather see me paralyzed
Why don’t you just come out once and scream it.
No, I do not feel that good when I see the heartbreaks you embrace
If I was a master thief perhaps I’d rob them.
And I know you’re dissatisfied with your position and your place
Don’t you understand it’s not my problem.
I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment, I could be you.
Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is to see you.
Songwriters: Bob Dylan
Positively 4th Street lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.

Little Danny (1952)

On the Nickel

The mystical Nickel (5 Cents) CANADA 1962 – I found on the Promenade in White Rock, BC

A few weeks ago, I found a nickel during my morning walk at the Promenade, in White Rock.  However, I didn’t realize the significance of that five-cent coin, until today.

It has awakened a quiet voice from within – which has been silent for too many months.  And it’s not that I’ve been sulking or feeling sorry for myself – it’s just that I had given up on a beautiful dream, and couldn’t imagine anything that would excite or inspire me enough to want to write again.  I haven’t written a blog since my cousin Ruthie passed, in November 2016, although I did post a few photos of an exciting day walking on the edge of the CN Tower in Toronto, this past April.

But back to the nickel.

After finding the coin and almost dismissing it as of little value, I suddenly remembered a saying my Grandma Puffer used to tell me:  “A penny can be the difference in your ability to pay a bill on time.”  I’ve never forgotten that or the many other words of wisdom that came from her lips.  But that was back in the ‘60’s – we don’t even have pennies anymore – here, in Canada! 

And yet, as I stood there, beside the totem poles, I had a pressing urge to leave the coin there, on the bench, in the hope that a child, might find the nickel and be filled with the excitement of their sudden good fortune! 

When you’re a kid, with nothing in your pants pockets but holes, finding a coin –  of any denomination – is like finding sunken treasure!  And for a brief moment in time, you’d hold it tightly, in the palm of your hand, for fear of losing it before you could share the news of your good fortune, with family and friends.  But greatest of all, was the fact, that a nickel could buy a lot of candy at Pop Taylor’s store on Mary Street when I was a kid.

Little Danny (1952)

So, in an impulsive urge of shameless, self-promotion on various social media sites, I grabbed my cell phone and shot a short video clip of me leaving the nickel on a bench by the totem poles – stating that I hoped a kid might find the coin.

I remember smiling at those thoughts as I continued my daily walk along the Promenade.

After walking for another thirty minutes or so, I reached the halfway mark of my walk and turned to head back to my starting point, 1 ½ miles down the walkway.   It wasn’t particularly busy, so I wondered if the coin would still be on the bench.  And the more that I wondered, the more I became worried that the coin would be gone!

“Danny, why would you be so worried?” I asked myself.

“I don’t know,” I answered to myself, “but my worries are now becoming panic!” 

But as I approached the totem poles and saw the bench, I noticed the coin basking in the sunlight!  My heart was racing, and I was almost gasping with excitement, as I picked up the nickel.  I was excited but didn’t know why?  I studied the coin carefully – the usual beaver on one side and the Queen on the other.  It was one of the older designs, with the octagon shape, and dated 1962.  It was in good shape, so I shrugged my shoulders and put it in my pocket.  Later, I put the coin in my wallet – as a good luck charm.  Who knows what drew me to the nickel?  But finding it sure made me feel like little Danny, again!

This morning, I was having a coffee and emptying junk from my wallet and noticed the coin.  And when I held it in my hand, my eyes were drawing my attention to the date – 1962.  And that’s when it all made sense!

Danny’s first bike (used) at age 9.

*******

Chapter 2 – ’55 Pontiac, Camp Samac, Duck Lake, Violet  & Public Hair

A penny for your thoughts…. a nickel for your memories… and a dime for a coke!  

I began to smile as my mind raced back to the year 1962.  I was twelve years old and full of piss and vinegar!  Or as one of my uncles used to say, “loaded for bear,” although I never knew what the term meant.  Nevertheless, it became one of my favorite sayings, at the time.

Most of the mornings in 1962 were pretty hectic – especially, with six kids in the house!  But my Ma was well-organized, and she would have made us our breakfast and then packed a lunch for the four oldest of us, and we headed out the door for the bike ride up Simcoe Street to Camp Samac for our swimming lessons.  And inside our bag, Ma would put a dime for the Coca-Cola machine beside the pool area.  And we would be there for the entire day: a lesson in the morning, followed by paddling the canoes during the two-hour lunch break and then back to the pool with our swim classmates for the afternoon.

And if we were lucky, and Ma had given us each a quarter (twenty-five cents), we could stop by the Tastee Freeze across the street from Camp Samac, for the long, exhausting ride home.  

I also remember some mornings, when Ma would drive us, I would get the car keys from the counter and within a minute, I would be sitting in the driver seat of our ’55 Pontiac, with the radio on, listening to Dave Mickie, the AM jock from CKEY – which was the most popular radio station in Toronto in the early 60’s.  Of course, I didn’t know how to drive – I was only twelve years old.  But I would hold the steering wheel with both hands and pretend I was driving – complete with simulating high-speed racing along dangerous, mountainside roads and then faking a head-on crash but jumping from the car – just in time, as the car rolls off the cliff and down the mountainside, into Lake Ontario – at the same time that my two older, and infinitely more mature sisters, stood in the driveway, shaking their heads and waiting to tattle tale (rat on me).

1955 Pontiac Chieftain

But I loved that car. And I loved listening to the songs on the hit parade.  I knew the words to every song – and would even perform them if I was alone.  And one of my first major purchases with money from my paper route tips was a $6.00 Sanyo portable radio – complete with a blue leather case and a shiny, pop-up antennae.  I remember laying in bed, every night, listening to CKEY until I fell asleep.  

But Danny, this was supposed to be about 1962…

Relax, Spanky…

We were at a turning point in our life, anxiously awaiting becoming teenagers and having that almost-grown-up ‘teen’ word added to our age; we would be thirteen years old!  And that, was “Cool, Daddy-O,” as Maynard the beatnik used to say on the Dobbie Gillis Show.

Camp Samac was also the place that I learned that teenagers had everything that grownups had and they got to do grown-up things, too!  But the most shocking thing I learned at camp that summer, was that teenagers, like my swimming instructor, had hair growing in places that you only got to see if you were in a change room or nudist colony, and as far as I can remember, there weren’t any nudist colonies in the Shwa in ’62.

 

Camp Samac Pool (the 1960’s)

When I wasn’t swimming at Camp Samac, I would be playing sports at Connaught Park, but I was also beginning to notice girls.  My cheeks are turning red, as I write this – I remember that feeling – of seeing someone special for the first time.  Our eyes would meet, and a sudden spark or flash of interest would be exchanged – without a word spoken!

Her name was Violet M., and she was from Toronto.  

But I met her at my uncle’s cottage on Duck Lake near Parry Sound, Ontario.  The grownups were all gathered in the cottage, drinking beer and enjoying their holidays and suddenly they decided to become ‘match makers, ‘ and then, there we were – face-to-face in front of adults who endlessly tried to embarrass us.  We’d leave and take a walk along the lakeshore.  And we would talk – which was a first, for me.  The only time I ever spoke to girls before then, was with my sisters and then ONLY if I had to.  But talking to Violet was like talking to a grown up and being treated like I was a grownup, too!  Afterall, she was already a teenager – and a very mature, thirteen-year-old, at that!

I still remember one of her questions – which at the time, I didn’t have an answer.  She asked me whom I thought childbirth was the most difficult for – the mother or father?  At the time, I didn’t know anything about the birds and bees; I just remember when my Ma was expecting my youngest brothers, that she had a big stomach.  So of course, I answered that childbirth was most difficult for the father.

Violet simply shook her head and explained the complete birth process to me.  It was obvious she had been told the facts of life (I still prefer the babies are delivered by a stork theory).  And I remember feeling like a five-year-old.  But she was a sweet person and made me feel… kinda… like a teenager!

Violet and I were together for the rest of our time at the lake that summer, and she was my first kiss.  And I guess that it’s okay to kiss and tell now, these many years later.   So here goes:

We were sitting at the end of the dock, with our legs dangling in the water, holding hands and I was fumbling at trying to kiss her without being too forward.  There may have been a full moon that night because I have this image in my mind, of the moon’s reflection in her dark eyes.  And then she quickly kissed me.  And then we kissed again and again.  

And that was also the last summer that I played sports or took swimming lessons.  I achieved my Bronze Medallion which qualified me to be a lifeguard the next year after I turned thirteen years old.  And little Danny’s mind was already thinking about the many, many girls that will surround him, as he sits high above the water, on a lifeguard tower, with a whistle on a rope necklace, hanging around his tanned neck and hairless chest.  

Hairless?  I thought back to the boys’ change room at Camp Samac and the teenage boys with armpit hair and hair around their you-know-what.  At the time, I probably wondered if they’d still be able to make the farting noise with their hand under their hairy armpit, while the other arm moves up and down on the hand, resulting in an almost perfect duplication of the sound?  (By the way, you can!)

I wondered if girls grew hair in their armpits and the other place(s), too?  But I was very shy and awkward, in those days, so I never thought to ask Violet.  But she would have been happy to tell me, in detail.  So instead, I asked my Ma and learned that the hair that grows in that hidden area of the body is called ‘pubic hair.’  But that word didn’t make sense to me, so I figured that she must have meant to say ‘public.’  And for many years, it’s how I referred to it, although it wasn’t a subject that came up too often.  And one last thing – why are public washrooms, not called Pubic Washrooms?

Anyways, after that summer, Violet and I used to write each other letters, but our worlds were far apart.  She lived in Toronto, and although Oshawa is just 40 miles east, it might as well have been 5,000 miles when you’re a twelve-year-old kid with holes in your pockets.  She was my first girlfriend and my first kiss.  And up to that point, our talks were the closest I ever got to learn about the ‘birds ‘n bees.’   I used to hear my Ma arguing with my Dad about him not wanting to tell me the facts of life.  And every time my Ma tried to tell me, I’d be too embarrassed to hear that kind of stuff from my mom, and I’d run out the door.  I don’t think anyone ever told me the facts of life.

And although Violet and I never saw each other again in future summers at the lake, I never forgot her.  And believe it or not – many years later, when I was in my twenties, I was in a store in Parry Sound and bumped into her at the checkout.  Our eyes met, and for a brief moment, we stared at each other.   The child in the stroller she was pushing began to cry, and that’s when I noticed that she was a mother and probably married.  And at the time, so was I.  So, I quickly glanced away and pretended not to recognize her.  But as I passed her and opened the door to leave the store, I heard a faint… “Hi, Danny!” 

I never turned around to answer and kept walking, but I wanted to take her in my arms and tell her that I still remember our first kiss.  It was my first kiss – I’m not sure if it was hers or not.  In baseball terms, I had finally made it to first base – with her as my coach – in the summer of ’62.

*******

Chapter 3 – 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts, First Date, Football, Crutches & Amy 

I can’t remember why I joined the 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts because none of the kids in the neighborhood were in Cubs or Scouts.  And although the scout hall, where we had our meetings, was located next to the church that my family attended on Hillcroft Street, it wasn’t  associated with any particular church or faith.   But I remember that I liked the fact that the sea scout uniform was very different than what the regular boy scouts wore.  Our shirt, shorts, and knee socks were all dark blue, and our neck scarf (tie) was black and white.  And the white hat we wore was the same as the Sea Cadets and sailors in the Navy.

I don’t think that any of my classmates at North Simcoe school belonged to the 8th, but many of them were in regular scouts.  And the 8th was the only sea scout troop in Oshawa, at the time.    

The scout hall building where we met every Wednesday evening (during the school year), was torn down in the 70’s and the 8th was disbanded at the same time.  I don’t remember why but I’m sure that it had to do with money.  The 8th also had a small fleet of wooden rowboats (each held 6-8 scouts) that were kept in a lockup at the Oshawa harbor.  We used to go there for some of our meetings in the summer and were taught how to row together, as a team. 

The leader of sea scouts was known as the skipper or skip, and his assistants were called troop leaders.  And within the 8th, there were smaller groups that each had a leader and assistant leader.  The skipper and troop leaders were usually grown-ups – some married, some single, some who had kids in either the 8th Oshawa Cubs, Sea Scouts or Rovers.  And one last thing about the 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts – we had two separate and distinct troops, namely Port and Starboard.  I belonged to the Port troop, and our meetings were on Wednesday nights.  The Starboard troop met on Thursday nights.

My greatest joys as a kid came during my years in the 8th Oshawa.  There was only one low point – my Dad decided to get involved in scouting but became a troop leader into the Starboard troop!  Their skipper’s name was Derek.  I remember my Ma questioning my Dad’s decision to be in the Starboard troop and not my Port troop.  I never heard his reasons, and I never asked my Ma, but I remember how hurt I was.  But I kept the hurt hidden – maybe I was too proud to reveal my feelings.  But it was just one more reason to feel rejected – the last boy to get picked on a team in the neighborhood.  But there was one joy in having my dad being a scout leader in a different group – many of the ‘cool’ guys at school – none of whom, ever had time for me – suddenly became friendly.  The reason for their sudden interest was my Dad.  They were in the Starboard troop, and they would ask me what it was like to have such a cool dad!  My Dad was a lot of things, but at the time, to me, he wasn’t so cool.  I wonder if it ever bothered him that Skipper Derek’s son was in Starboard and it wasn’t a problem for father or son.  But Dad’s reasons went to the grave with him.  My dad wasn’t a bad person – he just wasn’t the type of father that little Danny needed.  And if you don’t have an older brother to teach you things or to look out for you – who do you have?  

And although I seldom mention people’s last name in my stories, I want to mention the Skipper of my Port troop.  His name was Don Thompson, and he lived across the street from the scout hall.  His mom and dad were very friendly, and they would be sitting on their front porch every Wednesday night and waved to us as we arrived for our meetings.  He had a greater influence on me than any other person in my youth, and I know that he is probably in his late 70’s now and still involved in scouting.

My first date was also to an 8th Oshawa Sea Scout Christmas Party at Camp Samac that year.  There was a girl at school that I was crazy over but although I was somewhat financially secure from my paper route, grass cutting and snow shoveling revenues – I wouldn’t have any means of transportation to get to her house in North Oshawa and from there, to Camp Samac.  I don’t remember the girl’s name or much else about her except that it was my Ma who chauffeured me on my first date.  But at least she didn’t see me holding the girl’s hand, much less, witnessing us kissing.  But I remember the joy on my Ma’s face as she drove the car and tutored me on the “do’s and don’ts of dating.”  My track record was beginning to improve – two girlfriends and lots of kisses in 1962.

North Simcoe Public School (now Dr. SJ Phillips School)

 

But I also broke my leg playing football at my school that year and had to wear a cast for two months.  It left me with a slight limp, which I still have to this day.  I mention it because it meant that I couldn’t go outside for recess with the rest of the kids.  I had to stay at my desk, with my teacher – the feared Mrs. Trotter.  Most of the students referred to her by her first name, which was ‘Amy,’ but never to her face.  But I became very close to this grade-eight teacher, and I owe her for an amazing lesson she taught me.

Mrs. Trotter’s appearance could be quite intimidating.  But not because of her stature – she was shorter than most of her students.  She also appeared to be very old.  At the time, she seemed to be much older than my Ma and she may have even been older than both of my grandmothers.  But that wasn’t why she was intimidating to me – it was because she never seemed to smile.   And as a rambunctious, twelve-year-old boy, there were lots of things in life worth smiling about: namely, weekends, scouts, sports, Summers, candy etc. 

But after a few days of silent and boring recesses spent sitting in the classroom alone with the ancient Mrs. Trotter, the silence was broken by her sudden outburst:  “Danny!”  

The school year had recently started, so I really didn’t know her at all – other than the rumors about her mean spirit.  I don’t remember if all of the kids were afraid of her, but I was!

“Yes, Mrs. Trotter!” I stuttered, wide-eyed and surprised by her sudden interest in me.  

But she didn’t say anything at first.  She just stared at me and then it happened!  Her stern face suddenly softened and a smile appeared on her face.  It wasn’t the kind of ‘ear-to-ear’ smile that people get when they’re eating candy or doing neat stuff – but it was a smile, just the same!

Mrs. Trotter then began asking me about my family and what I did during the summer recess.  Suddenly, I felt the warm glow of making a friendship with no boundaries.  Yes, she was much older than me and there certainly wasn’t any physical attraction involved – although, she may have been the only woman teacher that I didn’t have a crush on.  But after one of two recesses, I’d told her all that there was to know about ‘me’.  And although I don’t remember her ever talking about her personal life, I felt like she was my first grown-up friend.

During subsequent recesses, I would amuse myself by walking around the classroom on my crutches; going to the boy’s washroom and/or by staring out the classroom windows.  But our grade eight classroom was on the third floor and the windows didn’t face the playground – my line of vision was limited to Simcoe Street, which was one of the main streets in Oshawa.  The other main street in Oshawa worth noting is King Street, which ran east to west.  And the intersection of Simcoe and King Streets was known as the ‘Four Corners’ which was a popular landmark.  But that’s another story.  

I spent much of my youth on or around a ‘Simcoe’  either Simcoe Street, Lake Simcoe or Simcoe, Ontario.  And in the Shwa, if you had lots of coins, you probably lived on Simcoe Street between Adelaide Street and Rossland Road.  And if you were really affluent, and your backyard bordered on Alexandra Park, you could get into the Oshawa Fair and other neat events for free!  You just had to climb your fence and then sneak into the park.  Some of these wealthy tycoons even had gates that opened into the park!

The other thing you should know about Simcoe Street is that one of the prettiest and most popular girls at North Simcoe School was Beth R., the daughter of a prominent doctor, and they lived in a beautiful house on Simcoe Street.  And although I was getting interested in girls, I didn’t have a girlfriend at school and Violet lived in Toronto, which although only thirty miles from the Shwa, it might as well have been 1,000 miles to a twelve-year-old, socially-awkward and insecure in the ways of love.  And although Beth R., wasn’t in my class, she might as well have been at a private school because she had a boyfriend, who was also the most popular boy in school.  

His name was Grant O., and I knew him fairly well, although we never hung out together.  He lived down the street from me on Jarvis Street.  Grant was very athletic and was interested in running.  I used to see him running all of the time but can’t remember if he pursued it after leaving school.  What I do remember about him is that he sold me his Oshawa Times newspaper route.  And that paper route was an improvement over the Toronto Star newspaper route that I had had for a couple of years – because the Times was much lighter and the customers were more numerous, so your route wasn’t as large as the less-populated Star subscribers.  I had that route until I started high school and then got a paper route at the Oshawa General Hospital.  

Grant was in my grade nine class at OCVI but that was in 1963 when I was a grown-up teenager!  The last that I saw of him was on a city bus, during my senior year at high school.  He was working full-time and we chatted about stuff but I don’t remember what else we talked about.

But back to Beth R., the prettiest and most popular girl at Dr. SJ Philips elementary school (formerly North Simcoe School).  

I didn’t know Beth, any more than I knew Grant because we traveled in different social circles.  I don’t even recall ever having a conversation with Beth, although I think that she was in my sister’s class in high school.  But I remember delivering newspapers to Beth’s family home on Simcoe Street.  I wonder if she ever saw my buddies and I sneaking into the Oshawa Fair at Alexandra Park by cutting through her family’s backyard and jumping over their fence?   If she did, at least she never ‘ratted’ me out!  Because even in 1962, nobody liked a tattle-tale!

The next thing that I remember about Beth is crashing one of her parties when I was in high school.  I was with a couple of my buddies and we were hoping to find where the good doctor’s booze was hidden.  We were in the downstairs billiards room which had been locked and ‘off-limits’.  One of the guys had used his comb to open the door (credit cards weren’t invented yet) but there wasn’t any booze.  Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing Beth or Grant for that matter – perhaps they were hiding in a secret room guarding the good doctor’s booze?

The next time I saw Beth was in the 70’s at the nurse’s office at the General Motors Truck Plant.  I was both surprised and pleased that she recognized me and I asked if she and Grant ever got married?  We exchanged family updates and said our goodbyes.  She was still very pretty and married at the time but not to Grant.  I asked who the lucky guy was?  I’m not sure but I think it may have Bill H., who had been one of my fellow 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts.  

My next Beth sighting was ‘virtual’.  I had joined an internet social media group called Classmates, in hopes of connecting with some of my friends from the area.  I hadn’t lived in Ontario since my move to Vancouver in 1982 but was getting more proficient on the internet.  We became friends on Classmates and then our virtual friendship migrated to MySpace and then later to Facebook.  We’re still friends on Facebook and we keep in touch and I think she’s read some of my blogs.  I’m hoping to meet up with her for a plate of ‘shoestrings and a Coke’ at the Globe Restaurant on King Street, if and when I ever get to Ontario again.

As for the title of this blog – On The Nickel.  Its meaning is also tied to the Tom Waits song by the same name.  When he wrote the song, the title referred to a street where the homeless, alcoholics would gather.  The street was 5th Street and when you were on it – you were ‘on the nickel.’  

Not all of the homeless, alcoholic people On The Nickel, are strangers, though.  

Because I have a younger brother who’s been battling addiction his entire adult life.  He probably doesn’t remember much about Oshawa or North Simcoe School and I haven’t had any contact with him in almost two years.  But I hope that there is still a little boy inside of him that has a lingering memory of what it used to be to like to have family, friends, love, and dreams.  Having me as an older brother didn’t help him much and for that, I will always have regrets.  

Brothers Ricky and Danny (2015)

And finally, I know that this story began with a nickel that someone lost – and so now, I’m going to be searching for a ‘penny’ – because we no longer have pennies in Canada.  And if I find one dated 1969, I’ll save it because that was the year of my first broken heart.  But then again, I probably won’t write about it because the wounds are still deep, almost 5o years later.

Correction:  I know of one penny that might still be in circulation in Canada. – and that penny is the former Mrs. Vitale of Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding fame – my dear friend Penny D., a gal actually from the Jersey Shore!  I haven’t seen her for several years – I wonder how she’s doing?  If you see her, tell her that Nunzio says hello!

Nunzio (Danny) and Mrs. Vitale (Penny) at a Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding show (2008)

 

*******  

Hugs,

Danny

 

Walking and Living on the EDGE

 

On April 11, 2017, at 2:00 PM, I walked on the edge of the CN Tower EDGE WALK in Toronto, Ontario.  It was almost the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life!   Almost! 

I had traveled to Toronto to attend the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer – Innovative Approaches to Optimal Cancer Care in Canada conference (April 7 & 8th) at the Harbour Castle Hotel (as a patient advocate) and had extended my trip a few days to do this, as it was the second last item on my Bucket List of things to do.  

The adventure took ninety minutes – with thirty minutes actually walking around the outside of the tower and doing various poses for the camera.  There were two staff members accompanying us at all times – one giving instructions and the other taking pictures and a video – which were included in the price of the package.  It was definitely, one of the most exciting things that I have ever done in my life.

UPDATE  June 1, 2017:  Here is a link to the four video clips of my walk.

Danny’s EDGE WALK VIDEOS

“Living with Cancer isn’t a death sentence – but giving up on Living is.  Never stop chasing your Dreams and you’ll live Forever!” ~ Danny 

Hugs,

Danny

 

Moonshine in the Maritimes – The Final Chapter

My Ruthie

Readers of this blog will remember my original Moonshine in the Maritimes posting from November 8, 2016 –  a blog that was both painful to write and impossible for me to complete a final chapter.

But all of that changed this morning, and now my heart is racing, and my legs are shaking, and I can’t believe how excited I am!  And now, the final chapter is pulsing through my body – from my brain to my heart – and from my heart to my brain.  There’s so much that I want to say…

It’s currently Thursday, March 2, 2017, and I am leaving to go to the Promenade in White Rock to do my walk.  Walking helps me think, and I need to put all of these highly-charged emotions into words, sentences, and paragraphs.  And it has to be believable because frankly, it is – but I’ll leave it to you – and your judgment to decide for yourself.

But don’t ask me to re-publish the original blog – I deleted it one night when I was deep in a depressed state – missing my cousin Ruthie and feeling sorry for myself.  Isn’t that why we cry?  We’re hurt and feeling sorry for ourselves – wondering how our lives will ever be the same without our loved one.

So, my story will resume on the morning of  November 12, 2016, just before we said goodbye to my cousin Ruthie and witnessed her passing while holding her in our arms.  That moment changed my life forever, but it left me with more questions than answers.  But now I know for sure, that Ruthie is still with me – just like my Ma and Grandma Puffer are – and now I have proof!

Stay tuned kiddies, fasten your seatbelts and stand behind the sneeze guard – the ride is about to enter the dark tunnel, and you’re trying frantically to get out before the ghouls and goblins appear from the shadows.

The Last Chapter

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The trip to Moncton to visit my cousin Ruth had been planned for early Summer 2016 but I had a few medical issues that I was dealing with, so it wasn’t until that Sunday, that I booked my flight to Moncton.

Ruth, or Ruthie as her friends and family called her, is my first cousin on my Mom’s (Puffer) side.  Her Mom and mine were sisters.  We were never very close because Ruthie was ten years older than me, but we always seemed to have a connection.  My earliest memory of her was when she came to stay with us for a weekend visit; I was probably seven or eight years old at the time.  And she was the most beautiful girl that I had ever seen in my life.  At the time, I was hopelessly in love with Annette Funicello the Mouseketeer, on the Mickey Mouse Club Show on TV.

Annette Funicello – Mouseketeer

 

 

Annette Funicello 1942 – 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Ruthie became her replacement, and I was now hopelessly in love, with a much older girl – who probably hardly knew I existed.  And that’s how little Danny first fell in love and began to dream and believe in the impossible.  Because sometimes, impossible dreams do come true!

Later in life, I would sometimes see Ruthie at weddings or funerals, but I never spoke to her as an adult until we saw each other one night, at her brother Terry’s house in Bramalea, Ontario in the 70’s.  It was a family get-together, and I was there with my parents and was in my twenties, and Ruthie and her husband Mike were standing in the kitchen with a crowd of people, laughing and enjoying themselves.  I told her that I had had a life-long crush on her – and still did.  She giggled and then hugged me and gave me a kiss on the lips.  I have never forgotten that moment – and how excited she made me feel.  I also remember telling Mike, her husband, how lucky he was to have her as his wife.  I never saw either of them again until I saw Ruthie at my Dad’s funeral in 2001.  She and her sister Patty and Patty’s husband came to the funeral together – and we sat and talked for quite a while about our lives and loves.  Once again, I told Ruthie that I still had my boyhood crush on her!

A few years later, on the week that my youngest brother Randy was getting married, my cousin Patty’s husband passed away.  And although I had only met him once – at my Dad’s funeral – he was a Newfie, and my family and I liked him.  So on the day after Randy’s wedding, I went to the funeral home in MisterandMissesAuga to pay my respects.  Most of the Walkers were there, but as I scanned the room, I couldn’t find my Ruthie.  I was standing at the coffin with Patti, and she gave me a white rose, which she explained meant ‘goodbye.’  It’s why I dislike white roses – because some goodbyes are forever and are often accompanied by a broken heart.  It’s also why I’ve always been frugal in saying goodbye – to loved ones.  But as I turned to walk away from the casket, I saw her!

My heart started thumping as I quickly made my way across the room to where my Ruthie was standing.  She had been talking with a couple of her lady friends and gave a shriek when she saw me.  And then she introduced me to her friends.

Ruthie:  This is my cousin Danny.  He used to wack off while fantasizing about me.

My face turned a scarlet red, and I became tongue-tied.   What could I possibly say in reply to that embarrassing introduction?  But without missing a beat, I shrugged my shoulders, turned to walk away and waved, saying…

Me:  And I still do!

And then I quickly ran outside to my car and drove back to my hotel in Toronto.  We never hugged or kissed, and it was another secret that I had planned to take to my grave.  But instead, I’m sharing it with you because I know that you can keep a secret.  Promise!?

I was on a plane home to Vancouver the next morning, still shuddering with embarrassment at Ruthie’s introduction.  But it made me smile and chuckle all the way home.  And it’s making me grin again this morning, as I write about it.  I mean, how did she ever find out about my secret fantasy?

Several years later, in June ’07 or ’08, I learned that my Ruthie was now living in Moncton.  I gave her a call and told her that I was planning a trip to visit my buddies Bill, Scotty and General and asked if she would like to get together.  A few weeks later I was staying at Junior’s place in Moncton.  I had set his father up in business years ago and then hired his son, Allan, as one of my District Managers for Western Canada.  HIs nickname was Junior, and he was now married and living in Moncton and had invited me to spend a few days with him and his wife, Jennifer.

While there, Ruthie and I got together and went out-on-the-town and partied until the early morning hours.  She came out to the couch where I was sleeping at about 5:00 am and suggested that I should probably leave before her daughter’s family wake up (they lived in the upper part of the duplex).  I was supposed to come back later to meet her daughter, but I time didn’t allow, and I returned to Vancouver, the next day.

But that night that we spent out-on-the-town, was like a first date and I learned so much about Ruthie… and our family’s history.  We never spoke again until after my Mom’s funeral in September 2010, a year after my cancer treatments had ended.  And it was at my Ma’s funeral that my family learned that I had cancer.  I hadn’t told anyone about my cancer because I was afraid that they’d tell my Mom.  And my Ma’s health was too fragile to withstand the news.  View Danny’s Cancer, Story

After Mom’s funeral, I returned to Vancouver and called Ruthie in Moncton.  News of my throat cancer had already reached her from the family grapevine but she still seemed surprised when I told her.  It had been less than a year, since my last treatment and I wasn’t sure about my future.  I was still clinging to the belief that I was in the “40% Group” that survives my type of cancer – but I was also a realist, and needed to have some basis in fact, to continue believing that I would survive.  And Ruthie was just the medicine I needed!

Ruthie had battled three different cancers over a 42 year period – and survived!  In fact, while I was going through my treatments in 2009, Ruthie had a part of her lung removed (lung cancer).  Years earlier, she had both breasts removed.  She was such a positive voice – and her words of encouragement were just what I needed to help me in my own battle.

 

To be continued.

Hugs,

Danny