Conversation: Blair



Blessings of a "Baby-Boomer"





Go Way Back

Dad (Jack Blair) was stationed with the R.A.F. at Invergordon, Scotland during the war. Working radar, navigation and surveillance on Sunderland floating bombers over the North Sea. He remembers one day being reprimanded and excused from a flight for some other menial task. He watched that plane head out over Cromarty Firth, falter and crash into the waves. Great loss of life. There were other close calls.

Mom (Bev Blair) lost her mother to a heart attack when she was only fourteen. Her father Ken, a WW1 veteran injured at Vimy, tried his best while working as a commercial painter at C.P.R. A Danish Aunt Mary, sister to the deceased Hertha, became the surrogate mother providing much female comfort and counsel.

After the war a neighbour half a block away from Aunt Mary had some interesting news. Her elderly father Hank Radway, a golf personality in London had met a strapping young man who worked for his Uncle Tom Munro at Munro Sports. Match -maker collaboration ensued and the date was on for Jack and Bev.

The young retailer and the pretty blonde nurse were wed at a simple ceremony in 1947.

Four years later Bev sat at the edge of a hospital bed, painfully into her third day of sporadic labour. Apparently the baby had a really big head. She remembers thinking to herself, as the nurses whispered down the hall, "I could die having this baby. Lord help me."

Almost eight years later, Bev was again ready to deliver, but this time much more confidently. Young Doug was having a "holiday visit" with Aunt Mary. He remembers being driven each day by Uncle Perce past the fire-hall and across town to Ryerson Public School. Then came the suspenseful return home and the first viewing of baby Scott in the re-decorated bedroom on Regent Street.

Skip to 1972 and a summer break from college. Doug and his friend Jim Carson drive into Invergordon, Scotland. The village looks pretty much as it did in the 1940's. The sun is shining over Cromarty Firth.

On May 8th this year (2009) Mom celebrated her 83rd birthday. Dad looks forward to his 87th on June 7th. They still live at the same house on Regent Street. Gardening. Holding each other. Watching for birds at the backyard feeder station. Keeping tabs on curling and golfing championships. Occasionally, although failing in eyesight, Dad takes a try at nine holes, as did old Hank Radway.

All this was interconnected. God at the helm. He has carried my family. He always will.


Railroad Family


My Dad has a real soft spot for railroads. As a youth he would accompany his grandfather "Lug" Watson, a locomotive engineer, on rides on the London and Port Stanley Railway to the docks at Lake Erie. His "Uncle Bill" Watson was also an engineer in the Sarnia and Michigan area.

I remember Uncle Bill very fondly. He and Aunt Betty would often drop by at my parents' home whenever shopping or the horse races or an itch for a drive would bring them to London. Uncle Bill's voice belonged in a much larger man. He was loud because of his living with my widowed and somewhat deaf great-grandmother Elizabeth Watson. It was surprising for me to learn in later years that Bill had once had a real struggle with alcoholism. Petite and smiling Betty and Elizabeth had seen him through the ordeal. (I never once saw my Aunt Betty upset or downcast. She ran variety stores in Sarnia and would often arrive with exotic Yankee candies for Scott and me. Even widowed and taking the bus to visit us, she was all smiles.) Bill and Betty loved our little dachshund "Otto", and the dog always got first loud welcome when they arrived. Simple, resilient, hard-working, thankful people who REALLY enjoyed their years in retirement together.

I will tell a story of Lug Watson. He and an associate were crossing the townships of Elgin County. The railroad line intersected a dirt country road at a very sharp angle with the road somewhat hidden by a hedge. They did not see the little old green-grocer in his dilapidated truck approaching the intersection. CRASH! Cucumbers, lettuce, potatoes, pots and metal parts flying all over the place. The two men in the locomotive only suspected what had happened and they hit the brake. Often they had waived to this merchant in their travels. Was he alive?

Once stopped they left the cab to the sound of pathetic whimpering up front. How surprised they were to find the little Jewish merchant intact, crouched on the "cow-catcher" and hugging the head-lamp! Before long, the three of them were rolling on the ground in laughter and much relieved.

Years later in retirement my Dad visited the Railroad Museum under development in St.Thomas. Their guide told of a project to re-build one of the old L.and P.S. engines. He pointed to a black and white photo on display, and there was "Lug", standing proudly in front of his old charge. Dad now has a copy of that picture hanging in the den.


The Danish Side


My mother is not much of a story-teller. Dad has that propensity. Mom was always the good listener, sitting often at the kitchen table, hearing out the teen-age boy with his many challenges. I always treasured her support. Words, though few, were appropriate and loving. She was extremely artistic. Oil paintings of scenes and still life. Tasteful backyard gardens. The finest of popular music on the high fidelity record player - Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Keelie Smith, Julie Andrews, Percy Faith, Mantovani and Henry Mancini.

There were times when she had to be both mother and father, Jack taking to the road in his Regional Manager's position with Dominion Rubber. On one such occasion she suffered the undeserved guilt of being on the watch when her son was on a construction site and throwing stones with another boy. An errant stone took out about sixty percent of the vision in my right eye.

Mom had not had an easy upbringing. At age fourteen she lost her mother, Hertha (nee Jaeger) to a heart attack. Her father Ken Roberts, English-born, tried valiantly to hold things together. He was a commercial painter and a crack local athlete - softball, lane bowling, lawn bowling. Daughter Beverley held in some secret pain, began to gain weight, felt out of place.

But then Danish aunts came to the rescue. Mary and Lillian, sisters to the deceased Hertha. These were robust, jovial Danske folk. Mary had married a local musician, Stuart McKenna. Lillian's husband was Pete Belcher, a cab driver.

The female comfort and counsel took hold and Beverley began to blossom in high school - glee club, basketball. Then off to nurse's training at Victoria Hospital.

Aunt Mary suffered the early loss of Stuart. Her beloved son Dalton joined the American Navy for the war and became an American citizen with Hollywood friends. Dalton was the practical joker, hockey enthusiast, construction engineer, traveling to distant places with exotic projects. He would always, and I mean ALWAYS make his mother laugh. He was the closest thing to a brother for Bev. My parents happily visited him in California. His third and final wife, Laurie was an airline executive.

Lillian and Pete lost in a couple of attempts to have children. This would draw Lil even closer to Bev and her two sons. I always remember Aunt Lil for her considerate gifts and cards, which seemed all the more precious because she did not have much money. She worked as a switchboard operator at Hotel London. Her voice was perfect, "I'll connect you." Surprisingly she also suffered threatening bouts of emphysema. Mary was married again to a local optometrist, Perce Dawkins, and the two lived comfortably. They got my parents involved in the Gyro Service Club with many memorable meetings, projects and parties.

These women remain all that I really know about my Danish side. Of course I have the stereotypical images of pastries, dairy cattle, blue cheese, seas in every direction, herring, Hans Christian Anderson, Jenny Lind, Victor Borge and the history of Vikings in longboats.

Perhaps only the people really matter anyway. I can still see the fair-skinned, rosy-cheeked, costumed sisters smiling, hugging and singing Christmas carols at their beloved Beverley's holiday dinner.

Victor Borge


Family Thanksgiving

This is the first Thanksgiving without my Dad (2010).

I can remember his excitement at the prospect of going up near Georgian Bay to close the cottage of his good friend Bill Ward. The two would prepare for it like kids going to summer camp. The steaks. The I.P.A. The fancy breakfasts. The hike through the bush. The sounds of the geese, the blue jays, the red squirrels, the chipmunks who would feed from their laps. On a couple of occasions I was included in the odyssey. I remember the fascination of watching a stand of silver birch empty themselves of yellow in a single windy day. Neighbours down the lake shore (from Sudbury) would be called over. Perhaps their boys would offer a couple of partridge from a traditional Thanksgiving hunt. And then the bracing chill of the clear, starry autumnal night air.

Or perhaps even earlier it would have been a leisurely Thanksgiving at home with the football on TV and Dad in his Adidas suit doing the leisurely progressive afternoon soup pot extravaganza...and the fireplace crackling for a cozy evening together reading or talking.

On other occasions Mom would out-do herself with the full turkey meal and a visit with jovial Danish Aunts or grandparents from either side of the family. The house would be filled with the sound of music, good smells and laughter.

The mature trees in our neighbourhood brought their own special glory in final show of colour. The leafy rustle in the wind or underfoot recalled the play of childhood years. The squirrels darted everywhere in fast-paced preparation and comedy.

What wonderful times we had. Yes, give thanks. As the old chorus so aptly says:

Give thanks with a grateful heart;
Give thanks to the Lord above.
Give thanks for He has given us
Jesus Christ His Son.

And because of that gift the celebration will go on; the glad reunion is inevitable.


Old Retail Ways


I can still see George standing by the restaurant cash register and looking out his big picture window on Dundas Street. Three piece suit. Gold chain watch. Ever present cigar. Diagonally opposite the old Hotel London. This was his street.

My Dad's sporting goods store was around the corner and he would often cut through the back parking lot and George's rear kitchen to go to the restaurant. Cooks. Waitresses. George's two sons, Gus the number two restauranteur, and Gary the high school teacher. "Nice boys." Mrs. Kerhoulis, short, neat, smartly coiffed and keeping an eye on the table service. Addressing many of the customers on a first name basis.

Often when I was working youth program or the swimming pool at the YMCA I would join Dad there for a lunch or Friday night supper. Meals were prepared to your specifications and the waitresses got to know "the usual" for many of the patrons.

This was retail as it used to be for those like George and my Dad. Big on customer service. Full-time skilled employees. Centre of town. Courtesy. Family owned. Long hours. Real sense of community. Good will abounding. "The customer must be satisfied." My Father campaigned hard for this to continue through his involvement with the Downtown Business Association.

Meanwhile the syndicated shopping malls conspired to suck the life out of the city's core with their warehouse atmosphere, zero customer service, ranks of half-trained part-time staff and location in the nameless, faceless suburbs.

Tom Munro Sporting Goods Ltd. was liquidated successfully and the property sold just months before the big New Year's Eve fire destroyed the London Central Y. I remember pictures of the ice castle charred remnant the morning after. Dad's store was empty and suffered extensive smoke damage. I often wonder what would have happened to Dad and his partner Roy if they had still been operating with inventories at peak level for the skiing and school seasons. But the partners had decided to get out and leave the trade to the encroaching department, tire and drug stores who were "butting in".

George also closed the Maple Leaf Restaurant. The Hotel London was knocked down for a banking and office tower. The complexion of Dundas Street changed dramatically.

Years later my Father passed the old corner and saw George sitting on a bench in a newly established green space and watching people pass by. George looked at his old friend as if through a fog. "Jack?" "Yes George, how are ya?"

Tears welled up in the old Greek gentleman's face. "My friend I have been sitting here for over two hours now, and yours is the first face I recognize." Dad joined him for a while in order to reminisce.


"Wully" Ward


My Dad's best friend lived across the street. Big man. Heavy. General insurance broker. Born in the northland (Burk's Falls)...moved to the big city. College football enthusiast. Time-keeper with Dad at many a Western Mustangs football game. Daily morning "coffee club" partner. Fishing buddy. Cottage enthusiast.

Bill was about ten years younger. He died years before Dad from complications with pneumonia. His funeral service was ministered by a friend who gave an honest-to-goodness Gospel hope message. His son and daughter, Bob and Janet handled the reminiscences admirably.

"Wully's" favourite expression in a wide variety of circumstances was "Mercy". That was it. No embellishment. But the way he said it invested it with mystery and respect.

He was a fair-minded man with a big sense of humour. Coming from him "mercy" sounded like something good. But I never heard him express a Gospel message or allusion. His life's message had an impact on me and suggested time and again the concept of mercy.

Listen to Jesus bawl out the religious formalists of His time:

Matthew 23:
23Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.


Dear Teacher Remembered


Her name was Louise Wyatt. Never married. Head of the London Central Secondary School English Department. No children. But a large moving cavalcade of young people drawn into her interest, time, attention and love.

One would see her shuffling between classes. Arms full of books. Hair bun slightly askew. Spectacles slipped low on the nose. Her classic "hunkering" posture. But if you had a question or a concern, all would stop and the time would be yours.

My mother-in-law Betty Hourd told of how Louise had made her first few weeks of supply-teaching bearable with the class "straight from hell". Miss Wyatt would focus those piercing eyes on Betty, and would see, and would understand everything. Betty finally got the better of that class and came to enjoy teaching. It was as my supply teacher that I first met Betty before starting to date Hilary.

Years later Betty and Louise would share a room at Parkwood Senior's Residence. Betty for a short period of convalescence. Louse until her final days. Always books to be read and reviewed in stimulating conversation.

I also recall Miss Wyatt from Robinson United Church where she would usually sit with Eloise Cotton, an amazingly upbeat widow who lived around the corner from my parents, and who visited daily their next-door neighbour Myrtle McMaster. If ever I enjoyed a conversation with any of these elderly women, I felt that they had an honest interest in my thoughts and well-being, almost unparalleled in my experience.

Robinson United did not show me much of the "Roman Road" of the Gospel, but I was shown unselfishness and true friendship with individuals well beyond my years, individuals who attended and honoured the seasons of Christian celebration.

From these women, and particularly from "Hunker" Wyatt, I learned something about the extraordinary value of stopping, establishing eye contact, listening long and hard and demonstrating simply the affirmation of another human being. We all need this from true neighbours. Do we still have the time?

Perhaps this testimony of the old English school-mistress will provoke someone, somewhere to follow suit. Louise, thank you.


Lawyer Unger

I can remember him perched happily in his corner window office on a Saturday morning, surrounded by his beloved law books, smoking a prized cigar, relaxing in short-sleeved shirt and flipping through some corporate minute books for a client.

Or chatting cordially across a table at the Registry Office with another solicitor, title abstracts, deeds and closing documents all around, going through the agenda of a house purchase transaction.

Or walking briskly with signature pork-pie hat over to St. Peter's Basilica (London) for a mid-day meditation and possible exchange with the Monseigneur.

This was Mr. Unger (Edward G.), my Dad's business lawyer and my mentor for law articles, following three years of law school. He was the definitive gentleman sole practitioner. One of the last in that strange breed who would presume to practice it all. (Now all is specialty and large departmentalized partnership with ranks of conveyancers and para-legals on the payroll.)

Mr.Unger also traveled once weekly to the small farm community of Lucan (of Black Donnelly fame) to serve his long-time country clients with wills, loans, land severances and new acreage purchases.

There had been a time when he donned the court room gowns. Even a murder trial back "in the day when the loser got the rope". He won. Latterly he would try to add a mediatorial or comforting touch to divorce cases. Otherwise court work got handed over to the new breed of "black or white" advocate.

Many of these attributes - general practice, single-man office, hands-on conveyancing, mediation in conflict made my boss the brunt of gentle jokes from the leaner, meaner community at law. The brethren. To them he seemed sort of "old-womanish".

It was evident to me that his life's priorities were large family, Church, law, baseball, cigars, the army and a men's service club. I had just gotten married. No children yet. This he referred to as "scoring a run". We had talks, I remember, about a stimulating television series hosted by Malcolm Muggeridge, agnostic journalist turned thoughtful Roman Catholic man of faith. (the series featured Bonnhauffer, Blake, Wilberforce, Pascal, Kierkegaard and their experiences of Christ).

Post bar exams I went to practice with one of those leaner, meaner groups. But Mr. Unger's contributions in profession and in life remain with me as things of value. Treasured memories. Thirty-six years later. (2011)


Dogged by Messerschmitts


"Even though the Mosquito was envisioned as an unarmed bomber, the uncertain Air Ministry were still sceptical, so the first 50 ordered were to be the Photo-Reconnaissance type. With no armament other than a few cameras, this model depended on its svelte form and speed to out-fly any enemy it came across. The very first Mosquito missions were Photo-Recon over France in the middle of the day."

This was certainly not like flying recon over the North Sea looking for submarines. Those big Sunderland bombers up in the air from north-east Scotland seemed invincible. Jack had often served in radar and navigation in such missions.

But now a special assignment accompanying pilot Gerald* for photograhs of a large Nazi staging camp in Northern France. The Mosquito, largely of wooden construction, had been called jokingly the "fast flying torch". Emphasis please on the fast.

Quite a change in scenery for Jack when compared with the black frigid waters leading to Norway. He was surprised at the efficiency and clarity of the equipment at his disposal. The French countryside, beautifully green and then torn into ugly gray at points of skirmish. They were up high and moving at much reduced speeds (and noise) to minimize risk of discovery and response. One engine off.

Constantly checking his coordinates, Jack could see from the road patterns that they were getting close. Then he had it in his scope, and told Gerald to cut speed as the filming began.

All was good and he knew that the higher-ups would be pleased with results. But then from the bottom left of his viewer he saw some of them. The Messerschmitts. Hungry Nazi hunters. A group spiraling with mesmerizing, almost slow-motion effect, in blood-thirsty ascent.

"Buddy we got company. Must be time for home!"

Gerald's response seemed almost non chalant, "No Jack, we are supposed to get the camp and the northern entrance and southern departure. Probably about another sixty seconds. Keep shooting."

Shifting more toward the one o'clock position in his viewer, Jack watched painfully for the appearance of the exit road. But somewhere down toward seven o'clock outside his view he knew that Jerry's bloodhounds were getting larger.

Outside he could hear them now. Clock and camera ticked on...

"OK Canuck, brace yourself, I'm dropping, turning and accelerating. This baby wants to dash."

And that was it. Jack could imagine the scene behind of several planes backed by blue and white, diminishing to size of a page from a children's picture-book of adventure.

And then the Channel and the comforting, familiar feel of water below.

(* fictitious name)

Note: My Dad Jack made it home from this and other harrying adventures in the RAF. He married the winsome Danish nurse, Bev in 1947 in London Ontario. Little Doug came along in '51. Incidentally, a factory in east London was given credit for production input on many Mosquitos.

Gospel Story with Claude Rains (78rpm)

Ben Hur: Beautiful Movie, 1959
Beautiful Gospel Under-current    

From an ebook:

The timing of this story (made into an epic motion picture) coincides with the earth walk of Jesus. Jerusalem is an unpleasant outpost of the Roman Empire. The inhabitants dream of their promised Messiah.

An old man drifts in and out of the story line. It is inferred that he was one of the Wise Men who visited the Christ child. In later years he is searching for the young man Messiah.

A freak accident places the aristocratic family of Judah Ben Hur in disfavour with the Roman occupiers. His one-time boyhood friend holds the fate of the family in his hands. The decision: Judah to be sent to the coast and slave galleys; his Mother and Sister to be sent to prison and ultimately the leper colony.

A slave’s march takes weary prisoners past a Carpenter’s Shop. The Carpenter takes pity on the chained men and offers drink, Judah Ben Hur included. The Sergeant with whip is incensed and struts over to teach this intruder a lesson. But then there is eye contact. The soldier freezes, stunned and embarrassed. He cannot mete out the disciplne as he gazes upon the face of that Carpenter. The march continues and our hero looks backward, refreshed and renewed, and most thankful for that Man of Mercy.

Providence is kind to our protagonist. In a tragic battle at sea Ben Hur’s ship sinks and he is able to rescue the Captain from drowning. A friendship ensues. Glorious return to Rome. Adoption of “Number 41” by a thankful new father, and more opportunity than could have been imagined.

But the Jew longs for Jerusalem and Home.

In his return trip he meets a fascinating rascal of an Arab horseman, bound for the competition of Pontius Pilate’s Circus. The events of the chariot race have been described in an earlier posting.

Ben Hur’s family estate lies in ruins, but an old household steward and his beautiful daughter Esther have stayed on. Esther provides the love interest. Over the years she has sought out and supported the imprisoned Mother and Sister. She has also frequented the public gatherings of the Carpenter from Galilee. She is fascinated by his ethic and has pledged herself as a follower. But Judah will have none of this. He sees himself now as a spearhead of Jewish patriotism and retribution.

That is…until the Passion Week of the Christ. The Via Dolorosa. The unimagined cruelty of men, Jewish and Gentile. That kind Carpenter with water in that slave’s interlude of long ago! Here! Now the victim of the worst of Religion and Politics. Judah bursts through the jeering crowd with water. Again eye contact. And then Golgotha. A Cross. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Our hero’s family and beloved share with him in this experience. And they watch Kindness submit and die.

Judah’s hatred is broken by the images. Mercy. Promise. Forgiveness. Peace. Lessons in an instant.

And what of the leprous family members? Speaking kind words of the Carpenter. Standing out cold and wet in the terrifying mid-day darkness, rainstorm and earthquake. Blood and water mingling at the foot of a Rugged Cross and flowing everywhere. (1 John 5: 7, 8). Healed of their affliction by Divine Act! (1 Peter 2: 23, 24).

All has been restored.



Watch this, Friends.



Duke and Duchess


Watching a movie this evening about English aristocracy, Hilary and I were reminded of our holiday trip to England and Scotland the year before our daughter was born.

A dream come true to avid students of English literature, art, history and Scottish culture. Lovers of the current monarchy. Lovers of theatre, old architecture, darts, shepherd's pie. Seashores, cathedrals, heather covered hills. The list goes on.

But almost in the same breath this evening, the two of us blurted out "Blenheim Palace". This is the home of the Dukes of Marlborough (pronounced "Mollbra"), the family of Sir Winston Churchill.

The night before we had lodged in Oxford, drizzling wet, gray ancient buildings. Too tired and late to sight-see. But we had a delightful conversation in a common room with a foreign exchange student, a girl form the east, who simply needed some companionship and a few smiles as she adjusted to the big English centre of learning.
Our little stints at UWO in London, Ontario seemed small by comparison.

Back at our room we were delighted to see that BBC One featured a nature documentary on the Scottish Highlands and a dramatic presentation on the Battle of Britain entitled "Churchill and the Generals". We were being primed for what lay ahead.

To our pleasant surprise we were up early the next morning. The sun was shining. After a hearty British breakfast of fruit, bacon, eggs, kippers and "stiff" toast we were down the road to the palace, arriving long before visitors' hours. Parking the car we decided to wander the beautiful landscaped grounds in the forefront, complete with man-made lake, swooping stone bridge, wood lot, sculptured shrubs and lush lakeside pathways. Suddenly we noticed two on horseback coming from the far end of the lake toward us as we stood on the bridge.

They appeared to be in their young forties, handsome, dressed smartly in riding attire. They gave us warm smiles and a ready "good mowning". The unspoken comment was that it was pleasant to meet in this uncommon, private, quiet part of the day.
I can still visualize my wife, back towards me, hands in her trench-coat pockets, watching the two riders progress up the cinder roadway toward the impressive columned palace.

Then it dawned on us! Who would have liberty to ride these beautiful grounds during the off-hours? The Duke and Duchess. Once inside the palace we saw the portraits confirming our supposition.

Now the ironic part is that in former years Hilary's family had nick-named her "the Duchess" and my high school basketball chums had nicknamed me "Duke".

There you have it! The Duke and Duchess drop in on the Duke and Duchess.

You may not be getting anything out of this. No matter. It is for us. Thanksgiving is both a delight and a tonic. We remember that beautiful time. Four days after our fifth anniversary, which was September 21st, Battle of Britain Day, 1979.

Shortly thereafter, ten months to be precise, little Lauren arrived

Self Deprecating Brits...lovely

Demised Bird



Hard at the Birthing
She was the first. Came out fluid and supple. Wasn’t breathing. I looked down into my wife’s face and prayed. Doctor made a couple of adjustments. Then came the exquisite cries of Kimberley Lauren.

Little girl in the curls and hand-smocked dresses on the tree-lined street of solid old homes in Chatham. Always game for a party even when relegated to the crib upstairs. Topic of many a pleasant exchange on stroller walks round the blocks. Playground and campground buddy for a Dad who was finding it hard to grow up. Playing judge and lawyer in the very room after-hours in the Old Court House. Dad had a key.

Sitting in the waiting room all night while little brother was born. Seven-year old counselor to troubled adults sharing the same space. Always attentive and trying to offer good support. Watched a rattled Dad spill a whole plate of lasagna over himself later that evening at the restaurant.

Strange little student in the home-school environment, taking the quizzical looks of other kids in the new neighbourhood in the new City. They would ask her if her parents were the “original two”. Apparently nobody else around had that. Dad had traded white collar for blue. Little brother was happy to accompany in the art projects, the nearby playground, horseback rides and the “Duck Park”. She, the High School artist staying late at the studio and Newsroom to get it out and out right.

She travelled with me to Thunder Bay to take brother to the new college and distant career path. Heard of his adventures in aviation while she went through the tough jobs. Wondering often if she measured up, but as is often the case, not hearing bosses’ real thoughts (she was mature, reliable and one of the exceptional). She accompanied me, giving comfort and courage when Mom was seriously ill in a distant hospital. Being often Mom’s girlfriend, giggle-partner and sounding-board when there was none other.

Launching into credentials in Human Resources. All the muscle-building now coming to the table for others of different walks who find themselves “hard at the birthing”. Hearing them out with compassion, ideas and persistence.

Letting go in this set of circumstances with her own ironic and quirky sense of humour, and that arsenal of hilarious accents.

Now comes “the significant other”. A divorced man with two charming kids. A master in sales. Good-humoured. Apparently sensitive to her needs; and she recovering these days from a torn Achilles tendon and consequent blood clots. Understanding now push button doors and stairway-sensitive buildings. She stops to talk to the disadvantaged.

Still hard at the birth. She will probably be embarrassed with this written slant of mine. But honestly, the end result (and one still in progress) is a Princess with capability, courage and compassion of high order. I love my daughter.

And “I know something the Prince never knew”*

(*Lyric in the song Cinderella by Steve Curtis Chapman)




Temagami Laker

Hard to tell where
Copper-tone rock- face ends
And lake surface begins.
Mirror image.
Late afternoon sun
Bathing all in rust.
Trolling this
Finger-arm of the lake
These twenty-five minutes.
The boy is intent.
Line out a good
Seventy feet,
And thirty feet beneath.
Trusty Rapala
Doing its lazy wiggle.
Noticed a gull
Plopping to surface.
Feasting on small-fry.
Same gull,
Moments ago,
Other end of the slip.
Something beneath,
Frightening up a school
Of little ones.
Perhaps a pattern?
Will the hunter
Again harvest
The far end?
“Doug, let’s quietly
Pull in line,
And scoot down
Hundred and fifty yards.
See if He comes back.”
Springbok delicately
Traverses the fluid face.
Fresh wind pleasant
On eyes and cheeks.
“This should be right.
Don’t cast. Drop
And play out some
Hundred and twenty feet.”
Trolling motor
Reduced to childish chug.
Overhead, blue heron
Bats out his strange
Croaking sounds from tree-line
Suggest heron's nest.
Fish-line quivers where
Wave ringlets mar
Sun-trail of gold.
“Still, Doug. Wait.
Don’t spook him.
You’ll know when
The real tug hits.”
Rod tip jerks
To something lordly!
“He’s yours Son.
No slack.
Now enjoy the play.
We called his game!”

Note: This was a memorable afternoon’s prize from Lake Temagami shared with my Dad (Jack Blair) years ago.

Algonquin Fall



 Adventure But Foggy

Image result for georgian bay islands national park

Given this boat trip

Not easy I know

Son happily set it up

Through northern waters

Close to his cottage.

And touring old haunts

The summer camp

Kids attended

The Delawanna Inn

Remembering holidays

With Jack.

Never thought I’d climb in

But I did

Wavelets thunking

Their welcome dockside.

Engine roar

Vibration beneath

Am I losing balance?

Hold on Old Girl.

Fresh cool air

Hits the face

Haven’t felt that for years.

Happy colliding voices

All around

Can’t make them out

No matter

This is adventure

Somewhat as I recall

Ooh my back!

Did we hit something Son?

Oh just a wave

And another one

And another

We don’t have to enter

The Open Bay do we?

Oh well you’re the Boss.

Never thought this

Was in the plans

For my 87th year.

(Brother Scott and Zoe had Mom, Hilary and I up to Honey Harbour in the late summer of 2014. I had worried that it would be too much for our Mom - rocks and docks and climbing and weather and a strange bed. Guess again.)

Grey Owl's Guests


Building my new camp
In this virgin Saskatchewan park.
Beaver family observes
My timber gathering
Little kits venture daily
Closer to the front porch
Mother observes
With occasional whine
Of caution.
I simulate her cries
And comforts
As I chink and place
The logs in age-old
Intentionally leaving
Water's edge corner
Of cabin unfinished.

Nine days into project
Mother drags healthy length
Onto front porch...
And then inside
To lapping water's corner.
Sliding effortlessly
Down mud bank with
First instalment.
So, a joint project now,
I guess?
Each visit brings
New-found respect
And growing common vocabulary.
Little kits observe
And lounge on my
Hardwood floor,
Or sun themselves
On the porch.

The mud I allow
Her for several days,
And marvel at her
Submarine pattings
And thumpings,
Barely audible.
Soon all furry activity
Switches to the outside.
I delight at the
Late afternoon
Aqua show.
Little ones joining in
With small filler branches.
I close in the remaining
Corner boards and trim.
Leaving thirty inch square
Aperture at lodge roof.
Happy, satisfied tenants

Note: Grey Owl, formerly known as Archie Belaney (1888-1938), was a Channel English youth drawn to the wilds of Ontario and enticed into living the assumed role of a half-breed canoe tripper and hunting guide, and eventually a conservationist. Northern communities such as Temagami and Biscotasing knew of this fascinating man and his love for the trail and canoe route. Europe would come to celebrate his writings of the trek and of the rhythms of bush and lake; the majesty of the loon, moose, wolf and beaver. Eventually he moved to a post as ranger-conservationist in Saskatchewan. Aboriginal friends always chose to overlook Archie's fraudulent misrepresentation of heritage.

Moose Conscious



Neath the canopy

Of conifer

You have wondered

Is he there

Gargantuan quadruped

Rack so wide

Passage through trees

Almost other worldly.

His place this

Munching plodding huffing.

Perhaps noting my trespass

Kodiak leather-shod.

His kind can un-road

A  Kenworth or Peterbilt.

Hide beneath delicate

Water lilies.

Stomp down a snowy “yard”

For freer movement

In harshest of winters.

And he dwarfs me.

Would stride right over me


But usually kinder than that

Except when having female issues.




Was it just for joy
That he pulled the sleigh
From the rafter of the shed that day?
Leaving wife abed
Early Saturday
To be on his way.

Was it just for joy
That he found the track
In the sagging spot in the fence out back?
Crunching hard-cap snow
Past the tamarack
He was going back.

Had it been this crisp
In a former time?
Had the sculptured ridge been this hard to climb?
Had the cardinal sung
In three-quarter time?
Then, when in his prime?

They would pick up speed
As the hill drew near.
Yes, and once right there they had spotted deer.
And perhaps a crow
Would announce, "They're here!"
My, the view was clear.

Then the reckless rush
To the vale below;
As the sleigh would hiss o'er the yielding snow.
And their breath would steam
In the upward tow.
They had loved it so.

Was it just for joy
He had come again?
To their Matterhorn, to their Crystal Glen?
To rehearse a play
Staged for little men,
But it's half-past ten!

Was it just for joy?
Or a missing boy?
Note: Jordan, our Arctic charter pilot son, is often away at odd and mysterious places (Nunavut, Baffin Island, Hudson Bay) with their own monochrome beauty and allure; with their own guileless, artistic and hardy peoples.
 See the poem "Muskeg Spring"

O Come, Emmanuel

YouTube Video




Muskeg Spring    



Be careful

You’ll miss it

The hints of the spring.

The blooms from the muskeg

The geese on the wing.

The vast glacial sculptures

That trickle and flee.

The lichen in colour

But nary a tree.

The wolf pups now yipping

The open Bay rolls.

The flukes of leviathan;

One looks long for those.

And sun at this mid-gray

At all kinds of hours;

Enough for the bushes and

Insects and flowers.

Who race through their cycle

In furious form,

With mercury rising

Slim chance to get warm.

And this is our country

And these are our friends

Who course through

The tundra

Beyond where land ends.

And life

Is a slim thread

That wends through

Their earth;

And shouts at

The challenge

Of death and of birth.

Of boreal curtains

That hang in the sky,

Til spring brings

The wonderful

Midnight sun nigh.



Note: Our son Jordan is a commercial airline pilot with Air Canada. He served a period of time as a charter and medevac pilot in the far North. Many were the stories of this unique and strangely beautiful land.



Northern Night


The lake is calm,
Without a breeze.
Bedecked with stars,
Above the trees.
And Ursa Minor
Points the way.
While moonbeams
On the ripples play.
And standing on
The dock, I hear,
Kathunk, kathunk,
As boat bunts pier.
Some plashing faintly
Down the shore.
A creature lands
To rest once more.
The birches rustle
Just behind.
A single puff
Of cooling wind.
And peeper frogs,
With chorus sweet,
Perform where grass
And lilies meet.
Then basso bull,
In search of love,
With thunderous throat
His troth to prove.
Mosquitoes skim
The fluid face;
And water-bugs
Their etchings trace.
But then a hush,
A freeze, a pause;
Some recess called
By Nature’s laws.
And dimly, faintly,
He is heard.
The eerie voice
Of diving bird.
A plaintive low,
And yodel sighs..
Raised far out there
To Northern Skies.
Primordial scene,
And timeless tune.
The concert of
The Common Loon.



Over the Parapet


I have mentioned my Grandad Roberts. At sixteen he lied about his age to enlist in the Army and go to fight in France. He was injured at Vimy and suffered health complications on and off throughout life.

Athletic in interests, he took great delight in my mother's improvements in sport later in life. She played excellent games in golf and curling, a member of the "Hole-in-One Club" in fact. Her enthusiasm was a great boon in the development of my Dad's sporting goods store next to the London YMCA.

On one autumn afternoon, I returned from university to find Grandad waiting for his daughter. Our conversation in the backyard turned to my Canadian History Course and his involvement in World War One. He became enthused about describing life and conflict in the trenches: "Oh, Doug, I will never forget coming over a rise in the land and encountering a German soldier also with bayoneted rifle in hand. You knew what you had to do..."

His eyes welled up and he could say no more. The following poem is in memory of Grandad Ken. It is taken from Rhymes of a Red Cross Man by Robert Service:

All day long when the shells sail over
I stand at the sandbags and take my chance;
But at night, at night I'm a reckless rover,
And over the parapet gleams Romance.
Romance! Romance! How I've dreamed it, writing
Dreary old records of money and mart,
Me with my head chuckful of fighting
And the blood of vikings to thrill my heart.

But little I thought that my time was coming,
Sudden and splendid, supreme and soon;
And here I am with the bullets humming
As I crawl and I curse the light of the moon.
Out alone, for adventure thirsting,
Out in mysterious No Man's Land;
Prone with the dead when a star-shell, bursting,
Flares on the horrors on every hand.

There are ruby stars and they drip and wiggle;
And the grasses gleam in a light blood-red;
There are emerald stars, and their tails they wriggle,
And ghastly they glare on the face of the dead.
But the worst of all are the stars of whiteness,
That spill in a pool of pearly flame,
Pretty as gems in their silver brightness,
And etching a man for a bullet's aim.

Yet oh, it's great to be here with danger,
Here in the weird, death-pregnant dark,
In the devil's pasture a stealthy ranger,
When the moon is decently hiding. Hark!
What was that? Was it just the shiver
Of an eerie wind or a clammy hand?
The rustle of grass, or the passing quiver
Of one of the ghosts of No Man's Land?

It's only at night when the ghosts awaken,
And gibber and whisper horrible things;
For to every foot of this God-forsaken
Zone of jeopard some horror clings.
Ugh! What was that? It felt like a jelly,
That flattish mound in the noisome grass;
You three big rats running free of its belly,
Out of my way and let me pass!

But if there's horror, there's beauty, wonder;
The trench lights gleam and the rockets play.
That flood of magnificent orange yonder
Is a battery blazing miles away.
With a rush and a singing a great shell passes;
The rifles resentfully bicker and brawl,
And here I crouch in the dew-drenched grasses,
And look and listen and love it all.

God! What a life! But I must make haste now,
Before the shadow of night be spent.
It's little the time there is to waste now,
If I'd do the job for which I was sent.
My bombs are right and my clippers ready,
And I wriggle out to the chosen place,
When I hear a rustle . . . Steady! . . . Steady!
Who am I staring slap in the face?

There in the dark I can hear him breathing,
A foot away, and as still as death;
And my heart beats hard, and my brain is seething,
And I know he's a Hun by the smell of his breath.
Then: "Will you surrender?" I whisper hoarsely,
For it's death, swift death to utter a cry.
"English schwein-hund!" he murmurs coarsely.
"Then we'll fight it out in the dark," say I.

So we grip and we slip and we trip and wrestle
There in the gutter of No Man's Land;
And I feel my nails in his wind-pipe nestle,
And he tries to gouge, but I bite his hand.
And he tries to squeal, but I squeeze him tighter:
"Now," I say, "I can kill you fine;
But tell me first, you Teutonic blighter!
Have you any children?" He answers: "Nein."

Nine! Well, I cannot kill such a father,
So I tie his hands and I leave him there.
Do I finish my little job? Well, rather;
And I get home safe with some light to spare.
Heigh-ho! by day it's just prosy duty,
Doing the same old song and dance;
But oh! with the night -- joy, glory, beauty:
Over the parapet -- Life, Romance!

--- Robert Service
 (For an interesting biography on this celebrated Canadian poet of the wilderness, the First Great War and Bohemian Paris, consult Pierre Berton's book Prisoners of the North, 2004, Doubleday, Canada.)

Fast Friends

My parents were married in 1947. They were already fast friends with Dorothy and Bill Vize. The two women had been together in nurses' training at Victoria Hospital, London.

This month my Mom celebrated her 90th birthday. Part of the day's celebration included a visit to the Vize home in South London. Imagine! Dorth and Bill are still keeping up the old homestead at ages 92 and 93 respectively. And she is certified blind and he a long-time diabetic.

Daughter Lynda, a retired university professor in Education lives in Kingston with husband Dennis. My brother Scott and I have considered her like a sister.

Every day Mom chats with Dorth by phone. Every day. The conversations are rich with empathy, laughter and memories. Those shared cottage summers, trips to the Detroit Zoo, Sunday dinners at one home or the other, card games, Nurses' reunions, high school events and sports for the kids, summer Y camp visits, general YMCA involvement, sunny visits to the farm of Bill and Nadine Danforth, Bill's drumming spot with the Johnny Downs Dance Band, the business men's coffee club most working mornings for Jack and Bill (Bill was a long time general insurance broker and Dad was a sporting goods retailer).

Dorothy worked many years as a nurse for Dr. Morris Wearing, a London obstetrician. There she comforted many women on the birthing journey and other concerns. Her soothing voice and straightforward manner.

Last Saturday Dorothy and Bev, upright and active, ran into each other's arms and laughed and kissed, saying "I love you".

Do we see such committed friendships these days? Not likely. The society is so mobile and driven that there is little time to sit down and appreciate. But these two...Dorothy and Bill and their friends Bev (and Jack) remind us of good old days and good old ways.

Bravo with Love.



Always the Smoothest...Doris and Perry

Always the Smoothest


New Reality for Mom

I was thinking today of the courage of my Mother. Lost her best friend and helpmate seven months ago (June, 2010). Moved out of the comfortable home of over fifty-five years. Disposed of most of the contents and keepsakes. Gone the daily routine of cleaning, meal preparation, shopping, driving, basking in the comfortable backyard complete with gardens, bird-feeder and pool.

Now residing in a senior's retirement "village". Her little apartment tastefully accoutered with only a few of the fine old pieces of furniture, paintings, lamps, figurines and photos of happy times. Adjusting to meal times, medicine times and bath times. Taking her seat at the same dining room table with a couple of new and appreciative friends.

One son in Toronto. The other in Waterloo. Few of the old friends remaining. Occasionally visits from colleagues from high school or nursing or the golf club or the United Church. But new friends to be made in the "village" community, in the "movie room" or the "bingo hour" or some special program with visitors in song, dance, music, sermon or travelogue. Mom retains her interest in fiction, TV golf and curling and a couple of favourite programs and game shows.

I wonder if she remembers her mother-in-law Velma's good spirits in living alone at Marion Villa and thankful for the simplest of pleasures; or Jack's Aunt Edith with the persevering hobbies in reading and needlework; or Jack's Aunt Betty with the spunk to take short trips alone; or her own Aunt Mary's unstoppable sense of humour; or her Aunt Lil's choice always of the good word to say or note to write. These memories are examples and building blocks for the life which she must now live without her husband.

And she does it heroically, without complaint and with much appreciation for the latest news, visit or small blessing. She tells us often that she "loves us very much". I treasure that and I am proud of her.

Nat King Cole
I can remember my Dad's widowed Aunt Ede. She would get on the phone and tell my Mom to put on the coffee pot. She would be over with suitcase in a cab and would stay for a few days experiencing family again. We had a special collection of Nat King Cole and Lawrence Welk records just for her. She would happily blend right into the group, the fun and the chores. Through the years her son Ken Munro of Kemble, ON has remained a special friend for my parents, often sending the happy bit of history or memorabilia. A long time teacher in the Owen Sound area.

Edith's former husband Tom Munro had been an outstanding sports figure on the London scene. Sole proprietor of the second longest running sporting goods store closely held in all of Canada. Often referee of hockey games at the old McManus Arena. Avid golfer. He employed my Dad Jack at the store before World War 2 and his posting with the RAF in Northern Scotland. Years later he relinquished ownership to Dad and associate Roy Olson. Next to the old London Family YMCA the place remained for years a gathering place for fitness and sports enthusiasts; and for the traditional Christmas customer visit upstairs over fruit cake and sherry with employees Rita and Franky and Bill and Stan.

Uncle Tom always thrilled as Jack and Bev developed their zeal and skill in golfing and curling.


Dean and Kate

YouTube Video


 Gleason and Carney



 Beep Beep


Tribute...well sorta

Roasting Ole Blue Eyes

Circus Parade

Tim Conway Talks of Elephants

Two of My Greats

Grumpier Old Men



Graphic Romance


"WARNING! Some scenes in this Film Festival contain incidents of graphic romance."

Then followed four delightful Cary Grant movies on the public television station. We chuckled at the humour of the ad in light of the sexual content in most films today.

But there is really a sad comment here. Modern viewers might in fact be offended by the tameness and slow, hopeful pace of these films. Current fare presents key characters in hasty liaisons of convenience and chemistry only. Desperate people in desperate times interested largely in their glands and quick gratification.

Consider also the reality shows on television, The Bachelorette, for example. I must admit that I find the dynamic of the competition to be interesting. Dozens of hopeful young men get virtually minutes to make some lasting impression upon the one woman looking for a husband. And viewers get to watch it all - the awkwardness, the stunts, the fleeting intimacy, the pathetically short monologues which represent, supposedly, some sort of honest self-disclosure. Will viewing young people get to see this as the norm for a search in today's market for a help-mate?

Admittedly most young men groan at the prospect of a "chick-flick". Perhaps such films suggest the young woman's longing for a slowly developing hope, coupled with chivalry, gentleness, small niceties and gradually developing dialogue on the condition of the heart. The first kiss used to be a target of some significance. There was much delight to the imagination...BUT NOW?

This past weekend we were called down quickly to be bedside with my Father, age 88, at University Hospital in London where treatment will now focus on a tumour in the brain. He had suffered stroke-like symptoms overnight and was left all of Saturday with bodily thrashing and awkward speech. We hardly know what lies ahead. At one point and for several seconds he extended his hand behind himself and toward the foot of the bed where my Mother was seated. HE WANTED TO HOLD HER HAND!

Romance may still be found. Bravo!

The Old Man and the Sea


The Outing

It is a cooler
Late-summer Sunday,
When grand-daughter finally
Gets the time to take
Rose to the Park.

The two cross
The lawn slowly (walker included).
Shaded picnic tables
Invite to a comfortable
Vantage point.

Before arrival,
Half-dozen ducks
Amble toward them,
Chuttering welcome.
To Rose’s laughter and surprise.

Once seated,
Grand-daughter suggests
Cold drinks,
If that would be all right.
Leaving the elder, in broad sun- hat.

Five-year old blonde,
In long braids, crying
For lack of sandbox toys.
Soothed by Rose’s reassurance
And peppermints.

Young couple, bicycling
Along cinder path,
All smiles and small-talk.
Reminding her of John
In that first summer after the war.

Grand-daughter back
With refreshments.
Apologizes for the wait.
Rose gestures a “de nada”.
“It’s a good time for ice-cream line-ups.”

Distant, muted loud-speaker.
Rise and fall of children’s cheers.
Sunday-school picnic.
Cavalcade of colours - towels,
Marquis tent, sun-hats.

Grand-daughter feels no need
To struggle at conversation.
Rose’s eyes are everywhere,
Wringing spotted hands, habitually.

The younger pulls out
A pocket novel.
The older swings her legs
Up and over the bench seat,
To face the park’s edge.

An open vista of
Beautiful blue and clouds,
Rustling poplars and
Two elegant ancient willows.
Hosting purple finches.

Two and a half hours - enough.
Back to the car, the apartment.
She will tell John about it for weeks.
He will smile back,
From the photograph.

Note: The indomitable spirit of this sweet woman is drawn from memories of my grandmother Velma ("Rose") Blair. Toronto Simpson's Ladies Department saleswoman. Her beloved Roy, a provincial tax auditor, often in travel. Thankful cancer survivor. In the throat. Treatment left her voice "raspy". But she lived to see the arrival of her great-grand-daughter Lauren.

 Feel free to email a comment or contribution to the following:
Doug Blair,
Feb 15, 2012, 1:52 AM