Tuesday 4 August 2015

Smitty II

Smitty had a big list of jobs, so he asked us to pitch in for the day.  French and I launched into Smitty's list: smashing up an old concrete deck, pulling nails out of some wood he wanted to burn, and repainting his garden shed.  It was quite something to see a 90+ year old man taking a few swings with the sledge hammer.   I've also never seen a man paint to precisely.  Smitty didn't waste a drop.

After the work was done he said: "The place doesn't look half bad eh boys?"   He grilled us up some homemade burgers and we sat around a little campfire.  We had a few beers and swapped a few more tales.

When he got dark he said, "You boys wanna see something?"  Smitty took us down a path out back of his place.  We walked for about five minutes to his "gunge pile".  He dumped some of his non-compostable food in a pit under a huge white pine.  Smitty shone his flashlight up into the branches. There were seven pairs of eyes up in the tree.

French said: "Damn thats alotta racoons!"

Smitty said: "No wait.  Check this out."  He shone his flashlight up even higher.  There were one more pair of eyes...bigger eyes.  Smitty explained: "That there is a fisher, smaller cousin of the wolverine; those racoons are goners."

Thursday 30 July 2015


French and I went to see his grandfather this week.  I haven't seen him for at least a decade or so, but he looks pretty much the same.  I guessed that he was 80, but he is actually in his nineties.

I introduced myself, but he said: "Ah hell I know who yah are."  He told me to call him Smitty.  He'd slept in, so he was running a bit late.  Smitty told us: "To shoot a bit a shit.  While I do my exercises." French told him a couple of funny stories from out on the road.  Smitty chuckled along and completed the same routine that he'd done for over 60 years:

1.  Stretches and Lunges...just a few.  Limber up.
2.  50 push ups
3.  25 sit ups
4.  100 squats
5.  10-15 minute headstand

I asked him if this regiment was the key to his longevity?  Smitty laughed and said: "Ask me again in a few years."

He went over to his kitchen sink.  It was full of ice cubes.   Smitty reached down to the bottom and pulled out three beers, and said: "Ok I'm all warmed up time to get the day started."

Thursday 28 May 2015

the bacon sizzled

I got French a job for the week subbing in for me; as I'm down with bronchitis.  He was happy to have a steady day job for a solid week.  When French can't get work teaching he'll head out on the road doing some long haul trucking.  He especially likes to do this in the winter, as most of the trips take him deep south..."outta the cold".

He had a bit of an adventure last week.  French missed a turn off for a truck stop, and kept driving looking for another one instead of doubling back.  He was two hours over on the logbook so he pulled off on the road in an old parking lot of a burned out motel.  French locked up and wandered into the woods, and made a little campfire.  He always brings along his little travel guitar (a Taylor Baby).  French sat around the fire and played and sang a few songs.

There was a steady breeze so the sound of his music travelled pretty far.  He said some old fella showed up after an hour or so.  He'd heard the music and had seen the light of the campfire from his porch.  He didn't come empty handed.  This old guy had brought a cast iron frying pan, a pound of bacon, and some bread.  He asked French if he could listen to some tunes in return for breakfast.  French said: "that'd be a damn fine trade".

So the bacon sizzled and French kept playing.

After he told me the story I said "pretty good night eh?"

French replied: "yah pretty good, but the plumbing sucked."

Monday 26 January 2015


French has been working security at an old warehouse these last few months.  It is a huge rambling building.  There are a few businesses in it, but the very back is vacant.

He was doing a night round and busted a guy who was living in an old office.  French said he spotted a can of fresh cigarette butts on a fire escape.  He went up the stairs and found a guy sleeping on the floor.  French woke him up a bit later with a Tim Horton's coffee.  His name was Marko and he told French his story.  He was in his mid twenties, and had immigrated from the former Yugoslavia.  He had Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian blood, so his family had fled the civil war.  The breaking point had come when a bullet had smashed through their wall and zinged right over the dinner table.  His family left that night.

In Canada his luck had not improved.  His father had died early on in a car wreck, and Marko had been left to fend for his mother.  She too had died just this past summer of Lupus.  Marko had been let go a couple of weeks ago from a seasonal job as a snowplow operator due to the lack of snow this year.  The rent was overdue, and he lost his apartment.  He'd been sleeping, and staying out of the cold by riding on the crosstown buses, but the Transpo cops had caught onto him.

French believed his story, and was able to convince the owner of the warehouse to let Marko stay, and to even let Marko have his security job.  French said, "It worked out for the both of us. I hate working security!"

Friday 16 January 2015

On brothers, community, and Dutch kissing

Every time I head out with French, especially in Eastern Ontario, we seem to meet someone he knows.  This happens anywhere between Ottawa and Kingston, and sometimes further afield.  I know a great many of these people, but there are always more.  I was trying to break this down today as I drove into work.

For one thing French calls all of these people "brother", and he gives them a long hearty handshake.  I feel he gets this from his years of hanging out in wrestling locker rooms.  This traditional greeting has gone a long way.  He also carries around a pack of smokes, and he'll always offer one up if the "brother" is a smoker.  Most often he'll also offer to buy them a coffee, or a pint.  French also seems to get them talking, and then do a lot of listening.

If he meets a woman that he knows he'll greet them with three kisses on their cheeks.  He'll laugh and say "I'm not Dutch, but I love their greeting".   Once we met a pretty woman, and French was slow to offer his usual salutation; she chastised him, as she offered her cheek: "where are my kisses?"

French sure knows how to anchor friendships, and build community - Brother.