Friday, November 30, 2012

Short Story PT 1: "Where are you, Joe?"

I think I know why - not how - an idea popped into my head today and I'm glad I stopped what I was doing long enough to write myself a note: 'Finding Joe Umenetz (yearbook)'. I hadn't thought of Joe Umenetz for 43 years. I guess conditions were right.


I added a coat of white wash to several log cabin birdhouses in my small workshop

I ripped four strips of MDF board and clouds of fine dust floated in the air

I breathed some of it into my lungs before I opened the door and turned on the fan

I listened to the 5 p.m. news on CBC radio about a possible teachers' strike

I opened a bottle of Scotch ale because 5 p.m. is Happy Hour

I thought back to my year at Teachers' College

And then Joe Umenetz came to mind. I thought, I wonder where he is? And I made a 'note to self'.

Here's what I know about Joe: He has a tricky last name and I may be spelling it wrong. He's my age. He was someone I got along with at London Teachers' College in 1969 - 1970. He wrote a funny piece of prose - something about a lion swimming after a boat - in the back of my college yearbook. He was quirky (Did Joe live 'The Life of Pi'?) and I've always liked quirky. He was a clever cookie.

I think it will be interesting to try to find Joe and see if he remembers me at all. For starters I'll try to locate my college yearbook and check the spelling of his name. Then I'll try to find his phone number.

Anything else I could or should do?

Photo by GH


If I can find Joe I will have a fine conclusion to this great short story.

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Gordie Boy: "And the winner is..."

My younger son Paul, age 38, saw the family resemblance immediately and he wasn't joking. "That's very interesting," he said. I wasn't overjoyed.

Recently I've been studying old photos of people on both sides of my family and, as is often the case, I spent time looking for any resemblance to me - to see if I belong, to determine where I fit in, to see why my hair goes off in all directions after it reaches a certain length - but until this morning I've come up short.

I feel I don't look like my parents, though my posture is said to be similar to my father's. I'm sure I don't look like my grandparents. And I have only a few pictures of one of my many great-grandparents, so chasing down that trail has been fruitless as well. "Who do I look like?" has been unanswered for years!

A few hours ago, however, I examined a rare photo of a group of people on the front porch of a log cabin in Hatchley, Ontario, circa 1945. The woman second from the left is Aunt Tharon Malcolm Moore and the woman in the middle is my great-grandmother Lydia Jane Gordon.

Tharon's nose caught my eye. Very straight, very unlike my own. I don't look like her.

Then I looked at Lydia's general appearance.

Her hair goes off in all directions. She has a familiar twinkle in her eye. Her forehead looks similar to mine and - GOOD GRIEF - her nose is just like mine!

I think if you put glasses on the old girl and picture me forty years from now you'll think what I do. Lydia and I could be twins.

"That's very interesting," my son said when I showed him the photos. As I said, I'm not overjoyed, but I do hope I have Lydia's genes. She lived to be 105.

Score another one for Gordie Boy

Photos by GH


Will you still love me when I'm 105?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"I'm just following my genes?"

Two weeks ago I picked up a small wooden horse at my sister's house and said to myself, I can do this.

I think wooden horses or birds would look good beside my log cabin birdhouses and carving a few wouldn't cost me more than a bit of time sitting in a rocker on my front porch. I already have a set of carving knives, purchased on sale over five years ago. At the time of purchase I was likely following some kind of urge.

A great-great uncle from my hometown, Norwich, was a carver of decoys and according to the London author of a book about well-known carvers (R. Paul Briscoe - 'Waterfowl Decoys of Southwestern Ontario: And the Men Who Made Them') a matching pair of Hank Catton's decoys can now sell for about $20,000.

Decoys aren't for me, though I do admire the two I have (not matching). They are incredible pieces of folk art, in my mind, and the fact that one is riddled with buckshot makes me happy to see that such things survive in one piece for over 100 years or more.

["This one (carved in the teens, e.g., 1915) appears in Paul Briscoe's book"]

I think for starters I will try something simple, e.g., small birds with a quirky smile, perhaps busy checking a compass ("Which way is North?"), or horses with manes and tails made from fishing line. I suppose if I sit and whittle in a rocking chair (especially the one another uncle made in his Norwich workshop) I will indeed feel I am simply following my genes.

Whittle on.

Photos by GH


Do you whittle or carve?

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Gordie Boy: "Score me a cake"

Yesterday (if you can believe what I said in a related post), I was the life of my sister's birthday party.

Today I see I'm celebrating my third birthday. Maybe it's my fourth. I was known to eat the candles.

That being said, lookit the big grin. That's me all over, smiling through the trials of life. Whereas my sister was allowed four guests at her party I was allowed one, i.e., my little brother Kim, and he doesn't even appear in the photo with me because he was afraid of the lit candles and ran to the far end of the playpen. Or maybe I pinched his little chubby fingers.

"Gitouttahere'causeit'smycake!Takemypicturetakemypicture!" I likely said to Ma.

Score one cake for Gordie Boy.

Photo of old photo by GH


59 years later I'm not as excited about birthdays. Why is that?

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The Workshop: "First, buy a bag of nails"

I like to write things down. And make rough sketches. So, developing a standardized plan for a birdhouse comes pretty easy.

["This one is built around a 5 inch square base"]

After assembling three log cabins of different sizes I settled on one-size-fits-all for the next five. Easy kap-easy. I could have done twenty but I wanted to be done by Christmas!

The plan:

base = 5 inch square (about 1 inch thick)

logs = 12 @ 5 inches long, and 12 @ 8.5 inches long (all about 1 inch thick)

faces = 2 triangles, 7 inches wide and 3.5 inches high, with roof pitch @ 45 degrees

roof panels = 2 @ 9 by 6 inches (about 1 inch thick)

roof ridge = 10 inches long, about 1 inch square

Sand, assemble and paint as you please. However, before you do anything, go buy a bag of 1 1/2 - 2 inch nails.

["With a standard plan, they're pilin' up quick"]

Please let me know how it works out.

Photos by GH


Gord's plans... for free!? Amazing.

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Recommended Reading: "I'd lost all my friends"

Private Harry Courcha of A Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, was sent as a reinforcement into the final crossing of the Rapido River at Sant' Angelo on the Cassino front. For him it was a baptism of fire. (pg. 239, Voices from World War II)

I finished 'Voices from World War II' about a week ago and am already a third of the way through my next read. However, I have come back to it in order to share a few lines from one of the hundreds of stories from men who participated in WW2.

Private Harry Courcha "was sent to training camp on the Isle of Wight" in 1943 and likely was familiar with a part of the island called The Needles, a particular land feature that my father was well familiar with too after he spied sharp pieces of chalk cliff the morning after he'd survived a German bombing raid upon the oil tanker Ennerdale. Harry "was sent overseas at the end of March 1944" and, after a memorable battle (I charged "up the hill with this heavy American 'Thompson', almost as big as myself. I was really expecting to die any second"), experienced something even more earth-shattering: The realization he'd stumbled over the bodies of B Company on his way up the hill, "All our friends."

"When it was all over we were ordered to bury our comrades. You have to take the identity disc and all their personal possessions and put them on a stretcher to carry them down. These were all my friends. They were the same age as me, just wanting to enjoy life. I'd been with them through training and on the boat out. Now they were dead, and I was searching them and carrying them down. I was devastated. I'd lost all my friends - I was all alone." (pg. 241)

Again I recommend this book to you. Modern life is built upon such stories.

Photos by GH


In the middle of a great read? Tell me about it.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rare Family Photos: "A second train ride west"

Last spring I hopped aboard a train in Toronto and headed west much like my father had done 68 years earlier as a member of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR). Since then I've posted photos related to the trip and the middle one may look familiar.

[Back row: Art Warrick, Unknown, Don Westbrook of Hamilton
Front row: Joe Watson (Simcoe), Don Linder (Kitchener),
Doug Harrison (Norwich), Unknown]

That being said, this first one is new to me, taken at an older sister's house two weeks ago. But it reminds me of other ones I have of Dad and mates wearing Navy blue, caps and silk scarves in preparation for their trip to a navy base at 'The Spit', Comox, Vancouver Island in January, 1944.

[L to R: Don Linder, Chuck Rose (Chippewa), 
Buryl McIntyre (Norwich), Joe Watson, Don Westbrook]

Because I have a photo of some of the same crew standing on the train platform in Hornepayne, I looked forward with much anticipation toward a stopover in that small Northern Ontario town during my trip. As good fortune would have it I briefly stood upon the very spot the photo had been taken.

[Leading Seaman Coxswain D. Harrison]

The last photo, however, is new to me as well, and I do not recall if the present train station in Jasper has a wooden sign hanging outside or has the same stone foundation. If no one can help me I may just have to take a second train ride west someday. Hmm, maybe next spring!

Photos of old photos by GH  


Do you have family photos from the 1940s? Where?

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The Workshop: "An easier process develops slowly"

I'm shifting gears. I'm moving on.

After assembling three log cabins around three slightly different rectangular bases (rescued lumber isn't always the same size) I had a thought: It's time to standardize the process.

So, pencil in hand, I drew up my next plan and calculated the size of each of the parts needed for my next half dozen cabins.

If I feel I get it about right, I'll list my notes in a future 'tell-all' post.

Photos by GH  


Are you experiencing 'busy times' in your shop?

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Gordie Boy: "Always the life of the party"

I have been the life of parties since I was five years old, as the photo below reveals (taken at my oldest sister Lannie's 10th birthday party, Sept. 19, 1954, in Burgessville; my 5th birthday was one day earlier).

"Lookit my cool haircut," I said, and the girls gawked and laughed.

"My dad put a bowl over my head and cut it," I said. They laughed again. I had them eating out of my hand.

"Lookit how fast I can drink my juice," I said, and emptied my cup in a split second.

Older sister Dale (middle) was enthralled. Lannie (second from right) couldn't help but laugh. Carroll Butler from Norwich (far right), Lannie's close friend (to this day), had never seen anyone drink juice as fast.

Terry Brooks (left) from Burgessville wasn't immediately convinced I was the coolest kid in the village but I'm sure she did after I let go a good burp.

"Did you hear that, Terry? Did you hear that?"

Presenting the first of many brilliant lines from Gordie Boy.

Photo of old photo by GH 


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Monday, November 26, 2012

The Workshop: "What to do with leftover battens"

Last week, once I'd used up the last tobacco slat (as a roof on a small birdhouse) I turned to my next task. I.e., to turn a pile of battens (from board and batten siding that came off my house four or five years ago) into something useful.

I already had a plan in mind. I adjusted the table saw and cut up a large pile of logs for birdhouse cabins. I'm sure local chickadees or finches will be impressed even though the cabins do not come with granite countertops or indoor plumbing.... yet! Oh, I'm thinking about it.

I'm also thinking about adding paint and trim. Maybe a telephone pole, front door and rain barrel. I mean, birds are getting pretty demanding these days.

Photos by GH


Do you have a log cabin birdhouse? Send me a peek.

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Zoom w a View: "Frost underfoot too"

I walked carefully across my back deck on the way out to the shop this morning. Frost + rubber boots = a quick trip down the stairs to the yard if I don't watch myself.

Frost was on the railings, upon nearby rooftops and underfoot. Easy does it, I say.

Photos by GH


Is it frosty from where you sit?

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Fun and Finess: "Four weeks running"

Last night, after getting off the highway, I sat down to ride 20 miles on my exercise bike and pushed my week's total mileage to 127.5 miles. So, for four weeks running ( and 8 of the last 10) I've exceeded my weekly goal. I may not fully control my destiny but at least I control calories some of the time.

And what can one possibly do with 707 'bonus miles' (a new record)?

Hmmm. Besides take seven weeks off, I can't do much!

Photo by GH


Do you reach fitness goals and have fun at the same time?

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Birdhouse London: "Major upgrade"

Once the saw blade stopped spinning and the dust settled inside the workshop last week I added a coat of red paint to a pair of matching barn board birdhouses fit for a king - or a couple of chickadee families at the very least.



In my opinion, sometimes a minor effort results in a major upgrade.

Photos by GH 


Do you like the red paint?

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Artsy Fartsy : "Mediterranean Blue or..."

I adjusted the colour. Is this the Mediterranean or somewhere in Canada, e.g., the Trent-Severn waterway in Fenelon Falls?

Photo by GH


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Zoom w a View: Too cold for swimmin'

Fenelon Falls is home to my favourite swimmin' hole.

Years ago, a friend from London trucked his scuba gear to a spot 100 meters from my son's dock on the Trent-Severn.

"Your son likely has dozens of caves under his dock. You guys should learn to dive," he said.

'Scuba diving lessons' is now on my long list of things to do before I hit 90. Today as I look at the river and dock, I feel it's too cold to even think about it.

Photos by GH


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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Favourite Photo: 'Hockey Night in Canada'

I caught nine of ten players in one frame this afternoon at the new Fenelon Falls arena.

The stick of the tenth player appears, so I guess it can be said that everybody on both teams knows how to follow the puck. And away they go!

Photo by GH


Thanks to the stalled NHL negotiations, this will be the only hockey I see tonight.

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Rare Family Photos: Santa once made daytime house calls

Today I attended the Santa Claus parade in Fenelon Falls with all four of my grandchildren. Due to the cold a few of us dropped back to my car early and missed the candy toss.

I was reminded of such parades when I was a child. Santa and his red sleigh were a grand attraction and no one left early because he handed out a big bag of candy to every child. Now that was worth the wait in any type of weather.

I was also reminded of the attached photo taken in the mid-1950s. My great-grandmother Lydia Jane Gordon received a house call from Santa and the event made the local news. An article in the Norwich Gazette reported she was 106 at the time. I was 5 or 6 at the time, too young to recall if the matriarch of the family after which I'm named shared any of the goodies with me. If she and I are anything alike, I'd say there was only a slim chance.

If you know of another time when Santa made a daytime house call, let me know.

Photo of old photo by GH 


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Fenelon Falls: Out of my comfort zone

Some of my favourite photographs come from Fenelon Falls, taken while I'm in my comfort zone - with family on my older son's dock, as boats coast by upon the Trent-Severn waterway, under sunny skies.

This morning I stepped outside my comfort zone during 'Santa Days' activities held inside Fenelon's new arena.

Photos reveal I'm on a learning curve.

Photos by GH and friends


Have you held a boa?

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Zoom w a View: "And now this?"

So many challenges. I left my wife yesterday (for the weekend) to visit my long lost son (I hadn't seen him in 4 weeks) and he just asked me the toughest question of the day.

"Do you want bacon or sausages with your eggs?"

And now this. I looked out the window moments ago and saw a white blanket upon the upper balcony and deck. Fall is over?

Photos by GH


Do you have snow? Where?

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Fun and Fitness: Bonus miles

I started reading a new book a few days ago and since then I've been motivated to head down stairs to ride my exercise bike. Reading and riding... that's my thing.

It's Friday and already I've reached my fitness goal for the week, i.e., 100 miles. No doubt, because of a good book, I'll add bonus miles on Saturday or Sunday. (Tonight the Knights play at the JLC... er, Bud What's it's Name.)

Good books = good exercise. Easy kap-easy.

Photo by GH


Have you hit your fitness goal for the week? Having fun?

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Live Small: I like 'Hello, Gord'

The $3,099 espresso machine is too rich for my blood and the fingerprint recognition technology seems a bit cold. ("Sure, I can make you an espresso but show me some ID first!")

I prefer walking over the The Red Roaster in Wortley Village and hearing a warm human voice.

"Gord, you're lookin' good this morning."

(I sure am.)

Photo from Nov. 17 London Free Press


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The Workshop: What to do with tobacco slats?

Tobacco slats are relatively straight pieces of wood and very dry. Kiln-dried, to be exact. And they look good as roof on a birdhouse. (Below: The sides are made from slats from a closet door).

Spruce fence boards (lovely leftovers) paint up nicely. Not much goes to waste (or up the chimney, so to speak).

Barn board (new and used) is easy to cut and assemble. Now, just a second coat of red paint is needed to make the trim shine on this pair (seen yesterday as bits and pieces).

What to do with leftover batten from 'board and batten' siding? Cut the strips into shorter lengths (four sizes needed per birdhouse) and assemble a log cabin. Yes, a roof will be added soon.

Busy times in the workshop.

Photos by GH


Have you made a birdhouse from rescued lumber? Let's see it.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Artsy Fartsy: I take a shine to dusty gloves

Even at 50 years old, my old leather gloves look just fine in the workshop.

I certainly got my money’s worth out of a 1960s Christmas gift.

Photos by GH


Anything from the 1960s (besides you) hanging around your work space?

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Gordie Boy: “Don’t throw out my old hockey gloves”

I have a long list of items that should go into a box for the curb. Some day I’ll get around to throwing these things out. I won’t miss them a bit.

I have another long list. On it are things long gone that I should have set aside for some sort of museum. E.g., my dad’s Navy duffel bag (circa 1940s); his yellow and black hockey pants lined on the inside with wooden slats; my baseball cards from the 1950s and ‘60s; my comic book collection from the same era; family letters; my first pair of leather CCM Tacks (skates), etc. Occasionally I shake my head about my losses.

And I have another list that includes things I won’t throw out for a long time. Maybe my sons will appreciate them - just for a year or two, that would be fine - after I’m gone.

On that last list appears the following entry - Gordie Boy’s first pair of new hockey gloves.

They are one of my favourite things. They were a Christmas gift from my mother, circa 1964 (Dad didn’t buy many gifts and I’m now much the same way). Once the gift was opened I whooped for joy. They currently hang in my workshop and wood dust becomes them. And members of my immediate family know they must not throw the battered gloves out with the trash.

I hang onto the old leather gloves - in part - for the following reasons:

They link me to my mother. She scrimped and saved for those gloves much like she did for my first new bicycle.

The gloves and I travelled a lot of miles together in the 1960s. I played in an intercounty league, got used to losing by wide margins, but learned to love the sport of hockey.

My gloves and I were seldom parted, but in case we were, I put an ‘X’ on them - with white adhesive tape - so I could find them easily after any melee.

When I look at them I am taken back 4 - 5 decades in the blink of an eye.

They help me recall a few glorious games and funny stories.

They are old warriors and are perfect companions for my first leather helmet (also hanging in my shop).

They smell like cramped dressing rooms in small town arenas.

They smell like hockey. 

And so it goes.

I’m certain I have a few more years of hockey in me and I’m pretty sure when I hang up my skates they won’t owe me anything, much like my first new pair of black leather hockey gloves.

Score one for Gordie Boy.

Photos by GH


What are you hanging onto until the last minute?

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The Workshop: The sawdust trail

After a round of ripping lumber on the table saw I often take a short walk along the lane behind my house. There I shake off the layer of dust that covers my face and shop clothes, likely looking all the while as if I’ve stepped out of another century.

Then I deposit a trail of dust from the saw. If you follow it you’ll arrive at my small but busy workbench.

Maybe I’ll be using rescued lumber - in an ingenious way(!) - to make a birdhouse fit for a local wren or chickadee.

Maybe I’ll be sweeping the floor or tidying up a cluttered bench in an attempt to appear organized. 

Please excuse me if there is no room to sit down. It’s ‘busy times’ in the shop.

Photos by GH


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