Joe was born in 1921, in Kenilworth, Ontario. He filled many days with his love of living. These days ended this morning, 13 March 2015.
Joe knew everyone. And I think he pretty much liked everyone too. He also loved good food and good stories. He loved having coffee with his friends and watching the people go about their lives at the mall. He loved serving his co-congregants at the Church of Our Lady. Joe loved to play bid euchre and shuffleboard. Joe was so very kindhearted and generous.
Joe loved his family. Fiercely. Proudly. Gently. Without judgment.
Joe delivered milk and the mail. He was a dancer (Oh did he love to dance!) and a gardener. Joe was a good neighbour. During war he enlisted, during peace he listened. He was a son, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a great grandfather.
Joe loved life and he did a damn good job at living it.
Joe, you will be missed.
For ten years we lived downtown Montreal. Not on the outskirts, not tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood. We lived at one of the city’s biggest, messiest intersections. In a spot like that, winter is about slush and wind tunnels and snow banks and the beeping of snow removal vehicles all night long. I loved living in the city and I miss it in many, many ways. But when I lived in the city I didn’t love winter – I abhorred it. I dreaded the frozen brown of November. I detested the deep freeze of February. I hated never knowing what footwear to put on. I avoided things like…well, anything outdoors I suppose. I felt primitively designed to hibernate – from the first sub-zero temperature until the last. In Montreal that generally means from the first of November until the middle of April…in a good year. It got to the point that even the anticipation of winter sent me to a miserable place so that by the time the leaves started changing colour, I was already bracing myself for winter. It was like I was losing the joy of two seasons. In our last year or so of downtown living, we added a vehicle to our household. A street-parked vehicle downtown in winter…this misery has no name.
When we moved out to suburbia I anticipated feeling isolated, I worried about never walking anywhere anymore, I was sure I’d never eat good food again…And while some of that happened (I did feel isolated for a long while), it didn’t feel like I thought it would. It took about a year for me to realize how much I loved the quiet. It took me another year to realize I was probably walking even more than I had downtown. And it took five years for me to realize that I’ve grown to love (some parts of) winter. It’s been a fierce winter over here on the Eastern side of the continent. It’s been cold and windy and snowy. But it’s also been a winter of showing off. Here in suburbia, our street stays white and snow-covered all winter. Here in suburbia, someone cleans out my driveway for me every single time it snows. Here in suburbia, I walk down the block and out onto the lake almost every morning. Here in suburbia I watch the sun rise against the white plain of Lac St. Louis and I hold my breath for fear of breaking the spell.
Here in suburbia, I have children. And so here in suburbia we toboggan and build snow forts. We make snow angels and have snowball fights. Here in suburbia we skate on the outdoor rink across the street from our house and here in suburbia Kate discovered ice-fishing. Here in suburbia we start the day by jumping in the sled while Mom pulls the kids to the bus stop. Here in suburbia we still get cold. We still use heating pads to warm up our beds. We still flirt a bit too much with the wind.
But here in suburbia, winter is a lot more charming than it is downtown. It might just be winning me over.
My birthday is exactly ten days after Christmas. Which makes it three days after New Year’s. And often enough, the first day back at school or work. Every year these holidays cast a long shadow over my birthday – so long that I’ve taken to calling it My Hangover Birthday.
All the energy and excitement and financial investment that goes into celebrating Christmas and then New Year’s Eve is spent and over and done by January 4. Add to that the general suckiness of January weather and it’s a really hard sell to party hard on the 4th. My closest family members loyally rally their energy to wish me a happy birthday but the truth is, no one, perhaps even me, has the wherewithal to ramp it up again for yet another round of festivities.
I think maybe, instead, I’ll adopt my half-birthday as the day of celebration. Heck, the entire United States of America is already celebrating on July 4th, maybe they’ll let me join the party. I’ll pretend all those parades and fireworks are for me. And then I’ll have the best birthday celebrations ever!
Watch out Fourth of July, I’m joining in!
Plus, since I found out that Ryan Gosling got all dressed up to wish me Happy Birthday, the hangover isn’t quite so bad!
It’s grading season here and while the mountains of exam booklets seem high, there are good things happening. Of the many, many things I love about my job, chief among them is the joy I experience by teaching Montrealers – students gathered from across the globe, sliding in and out of languages with great ease, and well-versed in Quebec History.
A sample from this morning’s marking (aka – how you know you teach in Montreal!)
Samuel Lewis Honey
My grandfather, George Blaisdell Honey, returned from the First World War. He was injured but he returned. His brother, Samuel Lewis Honey, did not. Uncle Lew, as he was known by the family, joined more than 60,000 other Canadians killed on the battlefields of Europe. For his actions he was awarded a Victoria Cross – posthumously. Though my grandfather, who was younger, returned home from the war, married, had four children and a successful law career, he spent his lifetime not talking about the War. The stories he did hesitantly tell were of camaraderie and adventure, never the stories of trench warfare or unmitigated fear. Like so many other soldiers, even his diaries at the time never revealed the horror he lived through.
I never knew my Grandpa Honey. He died before my eldest sister was born. But I wish I had known him.
I try not to celebrate or romanticize war. I consider myself a pretty staunch pacifist. But today, on Remembrance Day, I feel a strict duty to remember.
Today I’m pausing to remember the deaths of family members I never met. I’m pausing to remember the nearly 620,000 men who enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces – their families and loved ones who sent them across an ocean to the killing fields of Europe, the children who never met their fathers, and the broken men who returned home never quite the same. I’m pausing to remember the more than 16 million people who lost their lives across the globe because imperialism and militarism and nationalism collided in a conflict beyond the scope of imagination at the time.
We live in the aftermath. We’ve seen the land beyond the scope of imagination. And that’s why we pause to remember.