A podcast of Allan Gregg in conversation with Michael Reist, author of “Raising Boys in a New Kind of World.”
Louise strained her eyes to identify the man who was trying to help Pepper but came up empty handed.
Gregarious people, Louise and her late husband, Tom, were easily assimilated into the community and, as a result, quickly became either fast friends or familiar with most whom quite rightly so called themselves permanent residents.
Staunch in their cohesiveness as a community, they learned to endure the onslaughts from the city as nothing more than pesky insects defining a season.
“Hey Pepper! What are you doing? Get over here,” she commanded, pointing down to her side. That’s not like him not to come, she thought, as she marched toward him.
The man who had been helping Pepper began to walk toward her. His toque was pulled down tightly over his ears and his high-back collar partly obscured his face. He smiled at her as he approached and slowed down, tipping his head in her direction as he passed. “Cute dog you’ve got there.”
She smiled and nodded back. He seems familiar, she thought. “If you think disobedience is cute,” she chuckled, pointing in the direction of Pepper who stayed his distance while playing with the running shoe he had retrieved from between the rocks.
“What can I say?” he replied, laughing. “He’s got the curiosity of a perpetual two year old. But, he’s still cute.” And, he began to pick up his pace.
“Ethan? Is that you?”
Stopping, he turned and slowly walked back toward her with a wide grin on his face.
Pepper dropped a soaked and muddied running shoe at her feet and attempted to get her attention.
“Shss.” And, she kicked the shoe away. “My god, Ethan! Is it really you? This is the last place on the face of the earth I’d expect to meet you. Take off that silly toque and let me have a good look at you.”
About to remove it, he hesitated. “Why don’t I keep it on until we find warmer surroundings?”
“Then I’d recommend the Boar Inn.”
When Pepper returned with the shoe in his mouth she bent down and grabbed him by the collar and hooked on the leash. Unable to dislodge the shoe from between his teeth she gave up and, placing her arm under Ethan’s, the two of them toddled off toward the Inn with Pepper leading the way.
“You know, you look pretty good for an old fart,” she said teasingly.
“Thanks,” he chortled, patting his stomach. “I’ve put on a few pounds there
since the old beat.”
“Tell me something. Would you have just kept on going if I hadn’t called out?”
“Louise…I know you’re still grieving over Tom. Timing…well…I didn’t want to intrude until…”
“Oh, Ethan! “ Why would you even think that?” She gave his arm a squeeze. “You and Tom were so close.”
“Yes…at one time we were. But, if you remember, he and I didn’t part under the greatest of circumstances.”
They crossed the street in silence and stopped outside the pub’s entrance.
“Ethan, all I knew back then was that you two were no longer partners. He never spoke about it…at least not to me. I’ve never held any rancor toward you.”
“Louise, I know that.” He sighed deeply. “Look, he was sworn to secrecy. Just like me. Few people knew. That’s the way the department wanted it played out.”
“Wanted what played out?”
“Let’s get in out of the cold,” he replied, opening the door. “Should we tie him outside?”
A smirk formed at the side of her mouth. “No…Pepper’s a regular like me. Anyway, he’s got a special in with the owner.”
A few minutes later they were sitting in a booth with hot coffees between them. Lying on the floor beside the table was Pepper with the running shoe tucked between his paws.
“It’s as plain as the nose on your face that you don’t want to talk about what went on back then between you and Tom. I’ll buy that for the moment. But, can you at least tell me why you showed up here after all these years?”
Ethan blew across his coffee and took a sip before answering. “I’m here investigating a murder.”
As the morning dragged on, the rain finally stopped and the sky began to clear up.
Placing Pepper on the floor she said: “Well little friend, if we’re going for a walk I’d better wash up and put on warmer clothes.”
Pepper playfully zigzagged in and out around Louise, occasionally leaping up at her, while she pretended to try to catch him. This continued for several minutes until he bounded up the stairs barking and, at the top, he turned and looked down at her panting. She could have sworn he was smiling at her but before she could blink twice Pepper’s wagging tail disappeared around the corner, heading toward her bedroom.
As she ascended the stairs, the sun burst through the clouds transforming the bathroom at the top from a solemn grey to a blinding glow of hopeful possibilities. And, she smiled.
Louise was glad she wore her ankle-length black Spanish Merino coat as she walked along the pebbly beach at Macleod Park, roughly ten minutes from where she lived. The sporadic sunshine had brought a handful of people to the park but most, she surmised, were discouraged by the cold north wind blowing off Georgian Bay.
She pulled the long hair Tuscany collar, that doubled as a hood, over her head and watched Pepper running up ahead, sniffing this and that as he went along. Normally, she would have had Pepper on a leash but, with so few people in the park today, she thought it would be alright to let him run free. Anyway, he never ran too far ahead and often scurried back with some prize he had gathered to lay at her feet. Occasionally, she’d gather up this newfound toy and play fetch and retrieve with him though, more often than not, she deflected his attention elsewhere while she discarded it.
She was glad that she had decided to wear her woolen mittens as the cold wind nipped at her cheeks. Picking up a flat stone from the beach she tried to skip it in the rough water but was unsuccessful. Undeterred, she tried several more times until one stone completed a triple skip and she giggled like a young girl. Looking around for Pepper, she found him further along the shoreline than usual, pulling at something between two large rocks at the water’s edge.
The Town of Meaford began to change about ten years ago. Whether it had changed for the better or worse was open to debate. The local bakery coexisted with Tim Horton’s—contrary to what was expected—and the local tax base was sizably increased from the influx of people from the Greater Toronto Area hungry for lands on which to build their dream homes. Many who came, came only for a chance of respite and an opportunity to play in at least one of the four seasons. This would have been all fine and nice if these outsiders had been willing to leave well enough alone. But, when the smell of money to be had reeked across the landscape, the tenor of country living—though kicking and screaming—was corralled in and redesigned to give a contrastingly new meaning to what was meant by country living. It was now defined along more narrow lines that emphasized the self-centered blindness of entitlement. This philosophical shift irked the locals as they resented to their core these city dwellers who bullied their way into their lifescape. Real-estate once enjoyed by all—especially along the shoreline—became prime real-estate and was gobbled up overnight, only to be traded the next day for a hefty price-tag. Three new high-rise condominiums had been completed along the shore-line last spring so that there were now five: two at one end of the park and three at the other. The number of upscale shops along Sykes Street running parallel to the park had tripled. Closed between seasons, these shops mainly catered to seasonal dwellers and tourists while the locals stayed with the familiar to support their friends, their family and their way of life. They were begrudgingly coming round to tolerate that that unwelcomed change was part of life’s twists and turns that entailed familiar faces disappearing and strangers arriving in their place.
At the corner of Sykes and Lombard was a century old Tudor-style building, the Boar Inn and Pub where the locals—mainly the fifty plus group—came for a few pints, a game of darts, a good chin-wag and sing-along, and plain good food, usually British fare. The younger group on Friday and Saturday nights wouldn’t be caught dead there and willingly drove the forty minutes along the coast to the joie de vivre atmosphere of the town of Collingwood to celebrate the weekend at the Admiral’s Post Pub, Lounge 26 and the Copper Blues.
“Where is that dog?” she grumbled under her breath as she looked around for him. “Pepper!”
At the far end of the shoreline, Pepper was busily trying to pull some sort of object out from between the rocks with the help of a man.
When Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow by B. B. Wright.
Heavy rain, common to November, had pelted the Meaford area for the previous twenty-four hours and, now, was nothing more than a drizzle. Located two hours north of Toronto on the shores of the fresh waters of Georgian Bay, the area awaited the arrival of winter and the influx of skiers and winter enthusiasts.
Louise Kedry’s long, reddish hair cascaded over the comforter as she pulled it up around her shoulders and under her chin. She wore soft brushed polyester blue pajamas bought for her by her late husband, Tom. Snuggling down to keep out the damp morning chill, she chided herself for not programming the thermostat to come on earlier.
On weekends, Tom had always brought her breakfast in bed: a tray of hot tea and warm buttered toast with strawberry jam, her favorite. He would sit on the side of the bed drinking his coffee while they rehashed the week and planned that day’s activities.
Her eyes welled up with tears that coursed a path across her flushed cheeks. She missed his playfulness and how he’d blame their dog Pepper for stealing a slice of toast from her plate.
An impish smile creased her girlish face as she pulled a couple of tissues from the box beside her and dried her tears.
A black terripoo, pressing against her, stirred restlessly as it jockeyed about for a comfortable spot. Finally, giving up, he jumped off the bed and ran to the bedroom door and scratched frantically at it.
“Ok! Ok! I’m getting up Pepper,” she said, disgruntled by the thought of leaving her warm bed.
By the time Louise’s feet hit the cold wooden floors searching for her Haflinger wool slippers, Pepper had nosed open the door and headed downstairs.
She watched Pepper through the window in the kitchen door rooting about to find the best place to do his business. He seemed so undeterred by the inclement weather and she envied him. Forcing her hands into the side-seamed pockets of her blue, full snap-front robe, her shoulders crunched inwards to a sudden chill. A burst of warm air from the vent she stood beside travelled up her leg and she moved closer to it.
By the time the whistle on the kettle heralded, Pepper was back in the house shaking off the rain drops and looking for something to eat.
Gently, she blew across the surface of her tea to cool it down while watching Pepper chow down. She welcomed the warm, moist steam on her face and the heat of the cup that she cradled in her hands and hoped Pepper wouldn’t pester her too much for his ritual walk. The radio in the background informed her that the rain would stop late morning and that it would be a cold but partly sunny day. Winds off Georgian Bay, biting this time of year, made her shudder even more when she thought of the possibility of a walk before the warming effect of the sun had managed to burst free from its prison behind the clouds.
She missed the company of her two sons and their families but she had come to accept that their busy lives pressed them back to their world. Though they had only left yesterday, it seemed an eternity ago.
Unnoticed by her, Pepper had finished his meal, slurped down some water, and made his way over to her, leaving a trail of water droplets behind him from his soggy beard. Still ignored, he pawed roughly at her leg.
Placing her cup on the table, Louise patted her lap to encourage him to jump up onto it. At first, she regretted her invitation because his wet face, licking tongue, and affectionate energy were overpowering, and she tried to push him away. But, once he settled down on her lap, she patted him, and her mood became warm and loving and she could accept his gestures of affection.
She remembered when Tom had first brought her to meet the litter of puppies and the only black terripoo among them he had already named Pepper. It had been obvious to her right from the start that Pepper and he had chosen each other and how much that relationship had brought out the little kid in Tom again. Pepper was his first dog. Her eyes bubbled up again with tears and she dabbed them with a well used tissue, retrieved from her pocket.
When Tom was dying of cancer, Pepper never left his side. They were inseparable. Pepper, a quiet dog except for the usual warning barks when strangers came onto the property, had become unusually restless during Tom’s final hours. When he died, Pepper’s prolonged forlorn howling sent a soul chilling dagger through the night.
Louise cradled Pepper closer, hugging and kissing his head. She knew she was silly to think it—it was just her imagination—but, she could have sworn that she felt Tom’s presence. And, she held Pepper even closer.
To be continued
Christopher and Adam were deliriously giddy in October 2004 as they splashed accelerant onto the floors and walls of the main block of Hafodunos Hall—a residence in disrepair since 1993. The glint in their eyes was nothing short of evil as their lighted matches hit the floor.
Flames licking hungrily at their heels, they didn’t stop running until they knew they were safe. Cheating death for profit had become a ritual as they flopped down on the slope for a smoke to admire their handiwork.
With relish they awaited the police and local firemen and shivered in the chill of the Welsh air.
When they finally slithered over the brow of the hill, a silver-plated lighter with Christopher’s initials was left behind.
“Here my sweet, you must keep up your strength,” Henry pleaded, offering the spoonful of broth.
“I just can’t…please Henry,” Margaret muttered through tightly flattened lips. Gently, she pushed aside his offering. “Don’t look at me that way. I haven’t given up…honestly…I haven’t. It’s just that…today’s…not a good day.” She reassuringly squeezed his hand. “Maybe… later.”
Born in 1812, Margaret had been on a trajectory to fame as a poet until she had been diagnosed with breast cancer twelve years earlier at the age of 28. She and Henry had lived in Hafodunos Hall since their marriage.
Henry waved for the servant to take away the tray. “I heard what you just said…but…might you be up to going to the conservatory? It would only be for a short stay.”
“There’s mischief in your eyes.”
“You know me too well, my sweet,” he laughingly replied. “Well?…Are you?”
Nodding, she shut her eyes and breathed deeply as Henry pulled back the covers and scooped up her frail, feather-weight body in his arms.
Nuzzling into his neck, she nibbled on his earlobe. “You still know how to sweep a lady off her feet, Henry Sandbach.”
“So, I haven’t lost my touch, then?”
“Not in the least, my darling.”
He placed her on the wood carved tapestry chaise in the conservatory and tucked the blanket around her. “Are you warm enough?” She looked up at him with a quizzical expression. “Be patient, you’ll soon learn.”
Her brother, Edward, and their cousin, Charlotte, entered and took up their positions: he at the piano and she standing beside him.
The melodic union of word and song flowed with ease across the room and washed through Margaret. They were her words. From her poem “Lamentation.”
Intent on putting most of her poetry to song, “Lamentation” was the only one she heard before she passed away later that night.
The conservatory and service wing survived the fire. During a routine search of the property by police, Christopher’s lighter was found, eventually leading to their arrest.
Seven years later—like the Phoenix rising from the ashes—the abandoned beauty of Hafodunos Hall was restored to a residence again and Margaret’s poetry was finally put to song by Linda Lamb and Mark Baker.
I think from time to time it is important to change the kind of post that is posted. And, this is one of those occasions. So, instead of reading my words, I have added the following 8 discussions for you to think about. Hopefully, you will find them useful.
“Thank you for this, George,” Jill yelled over the drone of the plane’s engine as he brought it to a stop. She stretched over and gave him a peck on the cheek.
“That’s payment enough. Let’s hope…”
She had known George since…well…she couldn’t recollect when she didn’t know him.
“Me too,” she interjected, sighing. “Nasty storm brewing…Are you sure you shouldn’t wait this out?”
“Git girl! I’ll be back in Portland before it breaks.”
Disembarking with her suitcase, she shut the door and, rounding the plane on the propeller side, headed to the fence-line to watch the plane disappear into the low hanging, foreboding clouds.
The moment she laid eyes on her brother, Allan, standing at the door, she knew and she began to sob uncontrollably as sheets of rain played out its empathetic gesture.
“I tried you know…I really did…” she said between waves of sobbing.
“I know sis…I know.” Placing his arm around her shoulders, he guided her into the kitchen and sat her down at the table. “Here, let me take your suitcase. You just sit here.”
The ghosts of her mom and dad danced in the kitchen to the intermittent beat of rain smashing against the windows and Jill smiled at the thought.
Allan sat down beside her and handed her a wad of Kleenex and watched as she wiped away her tears and blew her nose. “Jill, it was a massive heart attack. He was dead before he hit the ground.”
“Damn it, Allan! I’m a cardiologist! I should have seen the signs the last time I was here.” Jill bent over and kissed the top of her brother’s head and gave it a little hug. “I’ll be okay, Allan…Really…I will. I just need time to myself.” She stood up and started down the hallway to her bedroom.
“Wait! There’s an envelope from dad. It’s in your room. And, no, I don’t know what’s in it.”
Alone, she sat on her bed for a long time before finally opening the envelope and reading the letter.
Clutching the letter in her hand, Jill ran down the hall, through the kitchen and outside into the rain to the side of the house where she flung open the cellar door and rushed down the stairs to the basement. Allan found the light-switch and turned it on while she pulled the trunk to the middle of the room and opened it. Inside were neatly stacked letters tied off with string with a different year marked on each. Arranging them on the floor in sequence, she set about reading them while Allan looked on.
Rain droplets splashing into the rain-barrel outside counted out the three hours that passed.
Tears streaming down her face, she put down the last letter. “George is my father.”
The radio crackled in the house: “News Bulletin: A pilot is dead after his plane crashed outside of Portland…”