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,
Today’s Tune: The Band Played Waltzing Matilda ~ The Dubliners
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.
Nobody knows when it happened – but everyone knew that it had snowed during the night. It’s an excellent example of the legal term ‘circumstantial evidence’ – although you didn’t see it actually snowing during the night – when you awoke and looked out the window – you accepted it as a ‘fact.’
But it seldom snows in Vancouver. At least not like it has in the past three days! In Seattle, yesterday was the second largest snowfall ever recorded in the past seventy years! I’ve used my snowblower four times in the past two days – and now another five to six centimeters of snow this morning!
I’ve been waiting for the ‘right’ time to resume my writing. I can’t remember a year in my life when I had more hurt and disappointment than the past year (2016). Usually, I bounce right back from setbacks but lately, I’ve found it takes much longer. Life can sometimes seem to be like trying to put toothpaste back into its tube or feathers back into a pillow.
I recently returned from Montreal, where I had attended a meeting of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, Measurement Steering Committee – Person-Centred-Perspective. Our committee’s five-year term ends in March 2017 but the mandate of CPAC has just been renewed for another five years by the Government of Canada. I am hoping to be invited to serve as a patient advocate on one of the new committees.
So, now that I am back at the keyboard – and anxious to reveal all of my ‘uppers and downers’ of last year – where should I begin?
Today was going to be very special – I had everything ready except for checking my computer for new emails. Most nights I go to bed early but not before I check for phone and email messages. But sometimes I am too tired or just plain forgetful, so when I checked for my email messages today at 4:10 AM, I was saddened to learn that my friend Finley, who had been fighting cancer for the past several months, had passed. He was a volunteer at the Cancer Centre in Surrey and several hospices and palliative care facilities in the Lower Mainland.
I had just fed Holly her breakfast and decided to leave a little earlier for my daily walk on the Promenade in White Rock. On Fridays mornings, my friend Norm and I meet for coffee at the Whitby’s Coffee House, across from the beach. We usually get there by 8:30 AM and stay until 10:00 AM. And that’s when I usually start my walk on Fridays.
But today I began my walk at 6:30 AM because at that time there usually aren’t as many walkers/joggers, and I didn’t want anyone to see the tears that were streaming down my face as I thought about my dear buddy Finley. Some people can hold in their emotions – I can’t. I used to try to ‘man up’, and conceal my inner feelings but I don’t do that anymore – life’s too short. If you don’t like to see a 66-year-old crying, find another place to walk!
My daily walks usually last for an hour but today I was just going to walk until it was time to meet Norm. Norm was also a good friend with Finley, and I knew that he too, would be sad at the news of Finley’s passing.
I usually listen to music while I walk – but not today. I didn’t want to enjoy anything today – I just wanted to think about my buddy.
My thoughts took me to the day I met Finley and Claire at the Cancer Centre during one of my volunteer shifts. At first, they were both a little shy but after a few minutes, we were all friends. It’s easy to become friends with other people who share a common interest, but this friendship was different.
Now most people who know me, know that I am a hugger – I like to hug. If I know you – and like you – I’ll probably want to hug you. But if you’re a guy, I will probably wait until we’re good friends because some men find the act of embracing too “girlish.” But within a minute of first meeting Finley, I reached out my arms to him, and we hugged!
The other thing that I do when I hug someone special is this: I whisper a few words in their ear – something from my heart. If a person has just learned that they have cancer – I whisper words that will both comfort them and give them hope. If it’s a friend who appears sad, then I’ll try to find something uplifting to whisper. But I will never ‘whisper and tell.’ My particular hug/whisper is for you and you alone – it’s a secret that I’ll never share with others.
So there I was hugging Finley and whispering in his ear at our first meeting! Everyone at the table suddenly stopped talking and stared at the two of us – embracing like life-long buddies. And when I looked up at Claire I saw a tiny spark in her eyes – the type of look that only comes from a proud parent or partner. She never asked me what I had whispered to Finley, but I knew by her smile that she knew what I was doing.
Now, the one thing that volunteers do when they get together for coffee is talk about current events and work-related stuff. We also share many personal stories, and there are many concerning Claire and Finley that are memorable. Here are a few of my favorite ‘Claire and Finley’ stories.
But first, let me clarify something about Claire and Finley – Claire is married to Bob – although it’s no secret that they both loved Finley as though he was their son. And although Finley was 35 years old and born without the ability to speak, it never stopped him from communicating in his special way. And there was always a sparkle in his eyes whenever he made eye contact with you.
So here are some of the stories about Finley, but I know that there are countless more. I have already received several email messages about his many contributions from patients and staff from the BC Cancer Agency, Surrey Memorial Hospital and several Lower Mainland hospices.
Claire and Finley were also volunteers with St. John’s Ambulance and were recently awarded both a Gold and Silver medals for their dedicated service. I am glad that he was still alive to receive the awards, but he probably wondered why everybody was making such a fuss about him. And although it wasn’t an award, I gave Finley my four-year volunteer pin on the last day I volunteered at the Cancer Centre in December 2015.
Claire and Finley’s neighbor Donna recalls Finley licking her tears away as she was trying to come to grips with her cancer – and credits him with giving her the strength to continue.
At the cancer center and hospices, Finley was welcomed by staff, visitors, and patients.
One patient said that was the only time they felt whole again was patting and speaking to Finley.
Finley was asked by another patient to come back again so they would have a reason to ‘live.”
And there was one palliative patient who had been very distressed at the thought of dying alone and was only able to calm down when he met Finley.
But my favorite story is the one Claire recanted about a patient’s family member greeting Finley and her at the door when they arrived at the hospice and asked us to see their Grandpa, who had just died. But before Claire could respond, Finley went over to the bed and licked the dead man’s hand.
Finley then did something memorable – he turned to the window and looked up into the sky. Claire, the daughter, and the son-in-law didn’t think it was remarkable until the grandchild cried out “Finley sees Grandpa’s soul leaving!”
The family asked Claire to have Finley accompany Grandpa to the awaiting hearse.
And as the funeral coach pulled away, Finley stood by the little boy’s side as he cried out “Bye Poppy!”
And I’m pretty sure that Finley was crying his heart out too.
Goodbye, dear friend. You won’t be alone – Doug and Captain are there to show you around.
UPDATE: Saturday, July 23, 2016
This has been one of the most painful stories that I have ever written. Finley was one of my dearest and closest friends, and his passing has left a legion of fans brokenhearted.
My heart goes out to Claire and Bob – I know your pain.
Dedicated to Claire and to The St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.
Sometimes a tiny, almost-invisible spark appears in a girl’s eye when she is about to say ‘yes’, but even the eldest boys at the dance often miss this important signal.
As a young boy, all of the kids from the block would gather on the street and teams would be formed by Teddy H. and Bobby R. the two best athletes on the block, who would take turns choosing players for their respective team. I was never the ‘best’ at sports, but I enjoyed playing all of them. I remember standing beside 14 other boys, hoping I wouldn’t be last. It didn’t matter how good a friend you were with Teddy or Bobby, you stood there anxiously waiting for one of them to look at you and nod.
But it wasn’t their nod that made you feel good for being selected early – it was that small spark in their eyes when they caught your hopeful stare – that ignited a flame inside.
“Good afternoon, Sir!”, chirped the lady at the front desk.
“Oh, uh, yes,” I suddenly awakened, “I have a reservation.”
“Your name please?”
Saturday, April 23, 2016
I arrived at the airport in Toronto in the late afternoon and was waiting for the Hilton shuttle bus to take me to the hotel in Mississauga. After about 20 minutes a Hilton Airport shuttle bus arrives, and I asked the driver if he goes to the Hilton Garden Hotel in Mississauga. He says that he only goes to the Hilton hotel on the airport strip.
‘But isn’t the airport strip in Mississauga?’ I asked politely.
The driver just shrugged his shoulders, rolled his eyes and then drove away.
So I get out my hotel reservation and call the hotel only to learn that you have to make a prior reservation/arrangement for their bus to pick you up. I angrily hung up – which is hard when you’re using a cell phone – I miss the satisfaction of slamming a phone down onto its cradle and hearing the thunderous sound that echoes in the other person’s ears for minutes afterward.
I decided to take a limo and after the driver loaded my luggage I told him that I was going to the Hilton Garden Hotel on Matheson Ave in MisterandMissusauga, Ontario.
I checked for messages on my cell phone during the drive to the hotel, and when we arrived, I paid the driver $38 plus a $7 tip. I got a cart, loaded my suitcases and was standing in line at the front desk. I was daydreaming about the spark in a particular girl’s eyes, when suddenly…
“Your name please?” The lady behind the counter appeared to be getting annoyed at me.
“Sorry, yes, it’s St. Andrews” I answered, my mind racing to the present. I looked around the hotel lobby and guessed that the hotel had only recently opened for business. It still had that “new home” smell that makes it seem all the more ‘special’. The smile was just beginning to form on my face when I heard…
“Are you sure you have a reservation at this hotel sir?”
“Yes!” I snapped back almost rudely. “Is this not the Hilton Garden Hotel in MisterandMissusauga, Ontario?”
“Yes Sir, it is one of three Hilton Garden Hotels in MisterandMissusauga, Ontario!”
A crowd of onlookers began to gather in the lobby… making the scene both tense and stressful. But I was the winner here! Yes, and I have a copy of my hotel reservation which I am waving frantically over my head…
I approached the front desk and confidently leaned on the counter and stared into the young lady’s dark eyes and slowly, with my most excellent voice ever… whispered the following our lips just inches apart…
“Is this not the Hilton Garden Hotel on Matheson Avenue in MisterandMissusauga, Ontario?” I boldly and somewhat proudly demanded in a delivery identical to Donald the Trumpster.
“No Sir, this is not Matheson Avenue. This street is Traders Blvd,” she replied somewhat apologetically as the crowd roared with laughter at my stupidity.
“Oh!” I tried hard to swallow, but I guess that my foot must have been between my new teeth implants.
There didn’t appear to be a spark in the young lady’s eyes, but she did come out from behind the counter to hug and console me. I was a broken man, without a lot of options, and was hoping for a miracle.
When the front desk lady was finally able to break free from my hug, she quickly jumped back over the counter and offered to honor the reservation at this hotel if I paid the $21 difference. It was cheaper than spending another $45 on a limo to get me to the right hotel – so I happily agreed.
I got to my room, undressed, and then fell fast asleep.
Sunday, April 24th
A continuous beeping noise was the first sound that I heard, and it appeared to be coming from under the bed. Seasoned travelers know that you should never look under a bed in a hotel room, but I was no longer a seasoned traveler – so I got out of bed, got on my hands and knees and peeked under the bed…
It was my cell phone that was beeping! But why was it under the bed? I remember plugging the phone into the electric outlet in the bathroom – so how the heck was it under the bed?
I looked at the time on the clock radio; it was 2:15 in the morning! Why was my cell phone under the bed and why was it beeping? I looked at the list of callers, checked for new emails, updated my status on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus but couldn’t find a reason for my phone to be beeping – or a button on the damn thing to stop it from beeping.
And then I woke up. The room was frigid – I could almost see my breath. I sat up in bed and stared at myself in the mirror – and wondered what had just happened.
I quickly jumped out-of-bed and raced into the bathroom – and to my surprise, the phone was still plugged into the wall. It had all been a dream! I breathed a sign of relief and opened the door to the mini bar. So many choices.
I looked at the time on the clock radio. It was 5:15 AM, which reminded me of a song by that name. I closed the mini bar door and decided to have a bottle of water instead. But first, I will jump into the shower.
I was drying myself when suddenly I heard a beeping noise!
The same noise from my dream!
I looked around the room but couldn’t find the source of the beeping. And then it suddenly dawned on me – it was coming from under the bed!
This time, the search under the bed yielded the noise culprit – it was my notebook – giving me my wake up call. Back in the day, I would have relied on getting a wake-up call from the hotel operator – usually, a hot-sounding front desk bunny softly whispering something like:
“Good morning Danny, it’s me, the gal of your dreams. Please wake up, have a shower and shave – and meet me poolside (in the hot tub) in 20 minutes.”
Now, in the age of Star Trek, we are all a bunch of Captain Kirk wannabees – yelling into our flip phones and talking to our computers/laptops/notebooks/tablets or iWatches.
I quickly got dressed and called my youngest brother Randy, who lives in Oakville. I would be staying at his place for most of my stay, and he and his wife Alice would be picking me up at my hotel. I wasn’t able to give him directions because I didn’t even know whereabouts in MisterandMissusauga I was staying. But Randy has a university degree and is unusually smart (despite being married 13 times), and he assured me that they would find the hotel.
I should probably point out to those of you readers who are wondering why I didn’t stay at Randy and Alice’s place when I arrived. It’s because I am usually so tired after a long flight and by the time that I arrive that I just want to chill and go to bed early. – and staying at a hotel is the easiest.
We had lots to discuss and plan during the two-week stay. I was hoping to find answers about my past life in Ontario and learn more about my family and friends.
I would be attending a Lodge Meeting on Monday night – which would be my first time back since June 1982.
I also wanted to visit my parents’ grave site, see my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends in the Southern Ontario area.
And of course, I wanted to see at least one Blue Jays Game while in town. I was also hoping to take a trip to Haliburton to my Grandparents gravesite in Ingoldsby.
Monday, April 25th
I was driving to Whitby from Oakville to visit with my parents and then go to my brother Freddy’s place in Ajax, where I would be staying for the night.
I stopped at the florist shop in downtown Whitby and it was then that I noticed her! Could it actually be her? The Audrey Hepburn’s character Holly Golightly in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s lookalike that I wrote about a few years ago?
Our eyes instantly met and it was then that I saw a tiny spark…
I entered the shop without thinking about what I would say or do. It’s one of those things that you do on impulse – let the moment take you. I could feel the excitement flowing through my body – but this time, I wasn’t going to let it end as it had before (see Danny’s previous post).
I stood in line searching for her but she wasn’t anywhere to be found! How could she have disappeared? Was I imagining this? Yes, of course! It was that re-occurring dream of mine: I was the “Fred” character and she was the “Holly Golightly” in my favorite movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Do dreams ever come true or do they all die?
I laughed at my silly and ongoing fascination with romantic and adventurous dreams and walked into the flower shop. I recognized the lady behind the counter – she served me last September when I bought the roses. She knew that I was from Vancouver as I had given her my actor/writer business card.
Once again, I purchased two roses for my parents. But this time I noticed a display of beautiful butterflies, which I have always loved – so I had the sales lady include them in with the flowers. Neither of us had to say what the roses or butterflies meant – she had obviously been on a similar journey in her life or maybe she has been reading my blogs – the website is listed on the business card I gave her last September.
I meant to make a mental note of her name but forgot. And although I could see the faint outline of a tiny spark in this lady’s eyes, perhaps it too had been extinguished by a broken heart. Who knows what burning secrets are locked in the deepest corner of anyone’s heart?
I had tears in my eyes as I left the flower shop and so did the nice lady. I waved goodbye, wondering if I would ever be back to her store? It’s funny but I am sure that I’ve known her from a previous life. Or maybe she just reminds me of someone. She never returned the wave, she just stood there staring as I drove away.
I pulled up to the Dad and Ma’s place on Thornton Road in Oshawa. It’s just a short walk to their resting place but with each step, a new tear would fall onto the flowers that were clutched tightly in my trembling hands.
And as I laid them down, the butterflies seemed to flutter their wings – as though they wanted me to follow them – but sadly, it was just the wind.
I sat down and stared at the gravestone and wondered why it didn’t hurt so much this time. Had time finally healed the scars? Was it time to finally let go? Would this be my final visit to see them?
As I got to my feet to leave, I noticed the shadow of a person standing beside me. I quickly turned to see who it was but there wasn’t anyone there! I looked at the ground beside me – and the shadow was still there! I stared in disbelief – was I finally losing it?
Suddenly, the sky darkened and a single beam of sunlight streamed from the heavens to the spot in the cemetery where I had parked. And there beside the car was a little boy on a bicycle. He looked strangely familiar and so did the bike he was riding. And then it dawned on me…
It was me!
And I was staring back at me – the 9-year-old on my first bike that my Ma had bought me with money that she had saved from her housekeeping fund. It was a used bike – just like all of the skates and most of my clothes – hand-me-downs that no longer fit any of the original owners.
I watched as Danny got on his bike and started riding out of the cemetery. He was just leaving the gates and then he stopped, turned and waved at me to follow him! He had a serious look on his face – it was neither happy or sad – but why was I seeing this obvious hallucination – this blast from the past?
I quickly started to walk back to the car – forgetting to even say goodbye to my parents. Danny wanted me to follow him – I don’t know why or where but I knew that if I didn’t, I’d probably regret it.
I had no sooner gotten into the car when I noticed a beautiful scent and it appeared to be coming from the back seat. I quickly glanced in the rear view mirror and found myself staring directly into the eyes of you-know-who. She had a concerned look on her face but there didn’t appear to be a spark. In fact, her eyes were dark – very dark and they seemed to be pleading with me to do something. She finally pointed her finger at the younger Danny and I knew that she wanted me to follow him.
I turned to see Danny frantically pedaling his bike down the street towards Rossland Road. And every block or so, he would turn to see if we were following. And we were!
Within a few minutes, we arrived at the Midtown Mall in Oshawa. I turned to the Holly Golightly lady sitting beside me but she was just sitting still, quietly staring at the back of a house that overlooked the mall. Tears started flowing…
It was Mrs. Simpson’s place! This was the place where I had rented a room – no meals – just a room in the basement. This is where I lived during my last year in high school in 1968/9. My parents had moved to Georgetown but I stayed because I was in hopelessly in love.
It wasn’t until I had gotten out of the car that I noticed that little Danny had disappeared! I turned to see Holly approaching the mall entrance and caught up with her just as she reached the door. She waited quietly while I opened the door for her and she smiled at me as she entered.
I wasn’t ready for what awaited us inside.
‘To everything… there is a season’ (or so the saying goes), is definitely true because everything I remembered about the mall had changed. The Dominion Store, Gambles Department Store, Shoppers Drug Mart, Country Hearth Restaurant and even Dino’s Men’s Wear – where I worked after graduating high school – were no longer there! There were only a few people wandering around the mostly deserted mall of my youth. It made me sad but then I saw little Danny waving for me to follow him. Again, he began to pedal his bike like he was going to a fire.
I ran back to my car and within minutes, I was traveling to the next old haunt on my bucket list – Sutherland Avenue – the street where I grew up on. I parked outside our old home and searched up and down the street for a familiar face but the street was very quiet.
Our old house looked great – she had aged well with time. I wondered how we all had managed to live in such a small home – with six children and two adults sharing a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom home and only 1 telephone on the wall in the kitchen.
I wanted desperately to sit on the front steps – just as I had all of those years ago but didn’t know if the people living there would mind. I looked beside me and then behind me but the Holly Golightly lady was nowhere to be seen.
And as I looked back at the house, I saw my dear Ma – a much younger mom – sitting with me as a baby.
My Ma and me on the front steps
She was probably in her late 20’s at the time. I wonder how many of today’s ‘Moms’ could do as well at raising a family as our moms did back in the day.
Little Danny at the front door
Those front steps were wonderful to see again and I decided to knock on the front door and ask if it would be okay to sit there to take a ‘selfie’. A young lady answered the door and I introduced myself. She smiled and seemed very happy to meet one of the home’s original inhabitants.
Her name was Nancy and she could tell that I was getting emotional. She offered to take a few pictures of me sitting on the steps. I handed her my cell phone and then sat down on the steps – for the first time since 1968!
It didn’t matter that the entire street had changed. The chestnut trees were all gone and most of the homes had had updating done. But there was something missing. I was just about to say goodbye to Nancy when it dawned on me to ask her if there were any of the original neighbors still living on the block?
To my surprise, she said yes! She went on to say that Mrs. Mills from 3 doors up the street, was still alive; was 96 years old and still drove a car! I asked Nancy if she thought that Mrs. Mills would mind if I knocked on her door to say hello? She said she thought that Pauline would be thrilled to see me.
Wow, I didn’t know that her name was Pauline – my girlfriend in 1968 was also named Pauline. She was the one who had broken up with me shortly after our engagement. I heard that she’d married well and was living happily ever after, in Toronto.
I almost ran up the sidewalk – the same sidewalk that I had slept on as a young boy. Ma said that she could never get me to take an afternoon nap and that she would often find me fast asleep on our sidewalk.
I knocked on the door and a tiny lady answered. She was much shorter than I remembered. But I was much younger back then and grown-ups always seemed so much taller and older. ‘She probably won’t remember me,’ I thought.
“Hello Mrs. Mills, I don’t know if you remember me – I’m Danny St. Andrews from down the street.”
“Oh my!” she cried, “It’s so great to see you!”
She was still very alert and seemed quite independent. We talked and talked and then I said goodbye. She told me that Kerry, Ronny, and Philip all lived on Vancouver Island! Kerry was the oldest of her boys and we had been the best of friends. I have not seen any of her boys since 1968. I gave her my business card and told her that I would keep in touch.
“Danny, I remember when you were a boy, there were 16 kids living on this street and they were always outside – from morning to night – playing. Now, although there’s still the same number of children (if not more), and yet there is never any of them outside playing. They are all inside their homes playing video games or watching television!” she said and then smiled as she waved goodbye.
Just as I was getting into my car, little Danny pulled up beside the car. I rolled down the window to speak but couldn’t get a sound out. I wanted to tell him so much. But seeing him finally gave me something that I’d lost all of those years ago. In 1968, I went from being an 18-year-old kid to being a grown man, with too many responsibilities and nobody to guide me but “me, myself and I”.
This is where all of my dreams were born and soon, I will be able to put them all to rest.
Danny in 1968
It has taken me a lifetime of searching to find what I was looking for and now, I was starting to ‘get’ what I had never been able to understand.
And as I drove away, I could see little Danny in the rear view mirror. He was pedaling as fast as he could but he couldn’t keep up. I tried slowing down but the car kept going faster. I started screaming “faster! faster! and pleading for Danny not to give up but his poor little legs weren’t strong enough. My eyes were filling with tears as I whispered a goodbye to him. Our eyes met for one brief moment and I watched as the tiny spark in his eyes flickered and then he disappeared. I hope he thinks I turned out okay or mostly okay. Goodbye, little Danny!
Seeing little Danny made me realize, after all of these years, that he was always afraid of not being accepted or loved. And for a brief moment, an overwhelming sense of sadness returned; it was like a knife to the heart. How unhappy that little boy must have been.
I drove around my hometown for the rest of the day. And I knew that it would probably be the for the last time. Maybe it’s true – that you can never go back?
Saturday, April 30th
It will be hard to ever forget this date.
They say that ‘sad things come in threes’. Well, on Saturday, April 30th, it sure did.
The first shock of sadness came when I opened Facebook and saw my cousin Donna’s daughter Leila’s picture, holding her newborn son Zion before saying goodbye to him. I cried when I read it and I am crying now as I write about it.
Can’t sleep, today is going to be a hard day. Saying goodbye to our little man, Zion. ❤ Wish this was all just a dream and I could wake up and hold you forever. ❤ R.I.P Zion ?❤
I drove to Donna’s house, knowing that she would be at the hospital. I sat in the car in her driveway and thought back on all of the happiness in that house. I left my business card and a lot of teardrops at the front door. Little Zion was loved by many, many people and we will cherish him forever. I wish that I could have given Donna and Leila a huge hug. So very sad.
Later, on my way back to Randy and Alice’s place, my brother Freddy called to tell me that his best friend Geoff had just passed away that morning. The funeral would be in Georgetown on Tuesday. I told him that Randy and I would go to the funeral with him.
The third sad event that day was when I got an email message that my friend Harold’s wife had just passed away that day from cancer. I sent him an email with my condolences. Harold works at Surrey Memorial Hospital/Fraser Valley Cancer Centre and I know that all of his co-workers are with him and share his sadness.
I can’t remember a day or week so sad. It sure wasn’t turning out to be the exciting trip that I had planned.
Monday, May 2nd
On Monday, I drove to Cambridge, Ontario to meet with three of the guys that used to work with me in Western Canada.
Western Region Alumni (L-R) Maurice, Gerry, Danny, and Allan.
We worked hard, played harder and always got out of town before anyone could catch us.
I asked the waitress to take some pictures/video of us.
Happy to meet…
sorry to part…
and hoping to meet again…
Tuesday, May 3rd
Randy and I drove to Georgetown to attend Geoff Parker’s funeral. We paid our respects to his wife Nancy and their children and grandchildren. It was great to see his brother Greg, who I used to hang out with in the early 70’s. It was the first time we’ve seen each other since 1973!
Before leaving, we decided to visit the house on Delrex Blvd. in Georgetown where my parents moved to in 1968 (I remained in Oshawa to finish high school).
Delrex Blvd., Georgetown
Another sad goodbye…
Randy and I then returned to his place in Oakville to get ready to go to the Blue Jays game that night.
The baseball game was a thrilling, nail biter. I bought some souvenirs and then Randy and I headed back to Oakville on the train.
(R-L) Sister Linda, her son Russell, Danny and Randy. Freddy is standing above.
It was on the GO Train that night that I realized that what I had come to Ontario searching for, was no longer there. The burning questions had all been answered. The flame was dying… a tiny spark continued to flicker for a few painful moments… and then everything became quiet and at peace.
It was finally time to let go of that Holly Golightly lady. The movie character I loved as a teenager and my life-long crush was just a silly fantasy – and it finally dawned on me why. Little Danny always dreamed of things that he could never hope to ever have but it never stopped him from trying, because quitters seldom win. Besides, Audrey Hepburn passed away some years ago – why chase a dead dream?
And it was also time to finally store away all of the other memories from that period of my life.
But saying goodbye to my little Danny was the hardest part of my past to let go of – and I couldn’t. Because little Danny is who I was; who I am; and the who I hope to always be!
The next morning I returned to Vancouver – to my Holly Golightly.
My Holly Golightly – she’s a Coton de Tulear
And that is where a spark always shines – in her eyes and in my heart.
Okay, so maybe I haven’t hugged you (yet). But here are a few of the reasons why I hug people, dogs, cats, horses, cows and even the rare, elusive, flying squirrel that I sometimes see in my backyard (although not so much since I stopped mixing Scotch with Orange Juice).
Editor’s Note: Danny doesn’t drink alcohol very often – he just likes taking shots at Scotch drinkers).
I have found that people who don’t like hugging are usually the kind of individuals that I have nothing in common. It’s proven to be an efficient and reliable ‘friend filter’.
It’s a good way of checking to see if the person that you’re hugging is wearing body armour or a concealed gun.
It’s sometimes needed and can feel more sincere and meaningful than other means of greeting friends and family.
It’s the perfect thing to do to that cop who has just pulled you over for speeding. The cop will still give you the ticket, but there’s a good chance that he’ll want to be your friend on Facebook.
However, you might not agree with my rationale – so let’s look at what the science experts are saying about ‘hugging.’ The following is a (paste and copy) of an article I read in the Vega One newsletter this morning. It gives the scientific argument for hugging, and it’s quite compelling – so here it is – read it and start hugging!
Both romantic and platonic touch can be very healthy. Cuddling releases all the feel-good hormones we know and love: dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. All of these increase our sense of well-being and happiness, and today we’re going to highlight the main touch hormone: oxytocin.
Your New Favorite “O”: Oxytocin
Hugging and cuddling initiates the release of the hormone oxytocin – which is linked to social bonding (especially between mother and child). But it also has other health benefits.
Here are the top four benefits of oxytocin:
Oxytocin helps to reduce our blood pressure and stress levels—almost instantaneously.
Oxytocin is anti-inflammatory
Oxytocin brings us closer to those we know and love.
Oxytocin enhances your overall well-being—beyond just a five-second hug.
In the majority of research, it appears that these benefits happen when you are familiar and trust the person you are touching. Hugging a stranger is likely not to have the same healthy benefits.
Ways to Get Your Cuddle in:
Hug a friend!
Next time you see a good friend or family member, give them a good, solid hug. You’ll both feel more connected.
Find a cat café
Can’t have a pet in your apartment? Cat Cafés are popping up around the world. Why NOT sip a cappuccino while you pet a furry friend?
Volunteer at a pet shelter
Besides granting immediate, unconditional love, cuddling with a furry friend is bound to make you feel good. Most pet shelters are in need of long-term volunteers. Committing to walking, socializing and caring for pets until they are adopted helps everyone out.
Get a massage
Not only will getting a massage make your sore muscles feel better, but the massage can also stimulate the release of oxytocin.
Take a warm bath
Don’t feel like being social? Pour yourself a hot bath and let yourself relax. Give yourself a shoulder massage. Phew—feeling better already!
So now that I’ve given you proof – beyond a reasonable doubt – that hugging will not only brighten your spirits – it’s free, and there aren’t any calories. So why are you still sitting there? Get up and run out into the street and hug the first passer-by that you meet!