Saturday, May 30, 2009

Honouring Dad

Charles Murray Nowell
November 5, 1926 - May 30, 1983

I've talked about my father before. Obviously, because he was my dad and a big influence on my life. It's because of him that I'm a writer. He passed away 26 years ago today. He was 56. As of last month, I'm also 56. I look at his photographs and I try to see us as equals. Technically, we're the same age now. But it's the dad in the photograph of my sister, dad and I below that I most remember. The big guy who seemed so fearless and strong and invincible. He would have done anything for us kids.

It's not Father's Day, but I'd like to honour my old man.

Thanks for giving me life, dad, and for trying your best to do right by me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


The above photograph was taken May, 2008 in Cluculz Lake, B.C.. The one below was taken a year later, May 19, 2009. The one below that was taken 3 days later.

The date on the photograph is incorrect. It snowed May 19 not April 19. Snow on April 19th would be depressing, but not completely unusual. Central British Columbia is known to have sever weather systems come through at the weirdest times.

But on May 19th, one-hundred-thousand-plus people woke to 3-7 inches of snow. I was so shocked that I sent out pics to many of my on-line friends. Those in the States wrote back to ask how I survived such winters. It then occurred to me that they thought snow in May was normal. It isn't. In fact, the only thing that gave me comfort was knowing that I wasn't alone. Every one of the one hundred thousand residents living in the Buckley-Nechako district felt the same way: depressed. Wouldn't surprise me at all if as much as 10 percent of the population woke May 19th and considered putting their house on the market and moving south. Anything to get away from this dark, gloomy, and depressing weather.

The photo below was taken May 22, 2009. And except for the late-buds on the trees and the fact there's no spring flowers sprouting from the ground, it's a pic of what we'd consider "normal".

Sadly, even as I admire its beauty, in the back of my mind, I'm counting down the months until next winter. Possibly four. Lucky for me I write suspense novels, often dark stories about bad things happening to good people. Getting into the mood is easier when it's gray and ugly outside.

I'm joking. Sure weather is a vital part of being Canadian. Sure we spend too much time bragging about how we survived the coldest of the coldest weather. But in reality we're envious of those living in warm climates; at these those living where they actually have four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Not Spring and Winter.

If you're a fiction writer, setting is essential to your plot. A mystery set on a beautiful sunny day might not carry the right atmosphere. If you're not a writer, notice how influential the weather is on your well-being? It takes a strong mind to overlook a gray day and retain a natural optimism. Normally, I'm working towards that philosophy. Today it's easy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Measure of a Man

Robert Gordon Cummings

February 15, 1947 - May 15, 2009

They say you can tell the measure of a man by how many friends he has. My friend Bob Cummings was a very big fellow.

I met Bob in 1992 at Lakeside Resort in Cluculz Lake. He was waiting for Leah to get off work, and my husband and I were there for dinner; we'd been camping out while we built our house.

At first I saw what I perceived as a stern-looking man, until he spoke to his wife. I immediately recognized the voice of a gentle soul. And as I got to know him, I realized he was a man of quiet introspection. Bob loved his family more than life, he was never one to step into your space, and he was genuinely interested in you as a person.

We became fast friends. He was my mentor, my computer guru and my computer tech. Right up until I purchased my Imac, Bob was only a phone call away when my PC broke down. Didn't matter when I called either, he'd hear the panic in my voice, reassure me that my problems weren't serious, and he'd have my computer up and running in no time. He performed miracles.

When my mum died, he not only attended her memorial service, but he stood up and shared. He said every single time he came over to fix my computer, she was always gracious and had a plate of cookies warm out of the oven for him. She made sure of that because she saw him for the kind man he was. Generous, kind and genuine.

I hadn't seen much of Bob in the last few years; he'd been away working. But when I published my first novel last year, he called to congratulate me. He said it came as no surprise to him because he knew I was a good writer and that I would be successful.

In the 90s, I'd talked him into getting involved with the community association after years of absence. It wasn't always an easy job for him. He volunteer for everything. He drove several of us into Prince George whenever we had our benefits at the casino. I used to talk his ear. If I asked a dozen questions, I probably asked him a hundred. I never told him I modeled FBI Special Agent Sal Vamozzi in Dead Witness after him. I didn't want to embarrass him.

One winter night, when a bunch of us were coming back from the casino at midnight in Bob's stationwagon, we came very very close to hitting a moose. In fact, the car whizzed under the animal's chin. Everyone was shocked into silence. Then Bob said "Hmm, I hope him appreciates that clean shave."

Occasionally, Bob would remind me that it was my fault he was back serving the community. One evening while he was waiting for Leah, I convinced him he should run as President of the Community Association. When things were anything but smooth, he'd smile at me and remind me again that it was my fault.

But the truth was, Bob was born to serve. He would look around and see where he could best be useful, and that's where you'd find him. When we needed a President, he was available. When we needed a Fire Chief, he volunteered. When we were in desperate need of a Fire Marshall, he was there.

People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Bob was the kind of person that you took for granted would always be there, helping. He was looking forward to retirement and spending more time with Leah. His eyes would light up when he talked about their plans; Leah meant everything to him, and he was anxious for her to relax and have fun. So often, Bob would say "Leah works too hard. The kids are grown, now it's her turn."

I don't presume to understand, but I guess God had other plans for Bob.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jamaica Me Grateful

What do you suppose is the biggest fallacy about Jamaica?

If you think it's that Jamaicans are lazy, you'd be right. They are the hardest working people I've ever met. Yes, they live in a warmer climate, hence a generally prettier country, but life is far from easy.

It's a shame young Canadians couldn't work there for a time. Upon returning home, maybe they'd realize how truly privileged they are. Jamaicans have had to become astutely aware of the tourist industry and the impact it has on their daily lives.

That's not to say I never came across anyone working at the resort who was unfriendly or discourteous. But out of 100s, I think I met only two.

On general, the staff were eager to make our stay as wonderful as possible. I overheard one guest asking the lifeguard to fret her a towel from the beach shop about a quarter of a mile away. While I was embarrassed for her, he didn't hesitate to fulfill her request.

The chambermaids began work each morning before eight and were often still cleaning rooms at dinnertime. The lady who made the towel displays took great pride in her craft and was even willing to teach me how to do it. I would have taken her up on that except it meant keeping from her family longer.

While some of their jobs seemed like great fun, the minimum wage is still $48 per week. How could you support a family on that? The security guard, on duty on the beach, lives with his mother, father, four brothers and one sister up in the hills outside St. Ann. On average, he worked a 12-hour-shift and usually more than 30 days at a time. He's currently the only one working in his family.

After the first day or so, having my every need catered to left me feeling guilty. I'm somebody's mother and wife, I'm used to doing for myself. But the first time I tried to collect my own water jug, the dining-room supervisor quickly reprimanded me. I obediently sat down and, from then on, searched her out before helping myself. Only when she wasn't nearby did I grab an extra napkin or utensil. It was clear that one did not argue with Janice. She had a strong yet gentle manner that commanded respect.

It made perfect sense to me why anyone falls in love with the country and its people. There is something magical about Jamaican, something I've yet to pinpoint. Other than it's as close to paradise as I can imagine.

Jamaican's love their country, but speak freely of its shortcomings. When I tried to describe Canada's flaws, one bus driver reminded me that at least our government was doing most things correctly. He said it was what Jamaican's needed: a decent government.

Another bus driver challenged us to ask him questions about Jamaica. He admitted things like, "If you're caught with marijuana cigarettes, not a big deal. But if you were stopped with a truckload, you'll definitely have some questions to answer."

He was an endless supply of knowledge. For instance, the ratio of men to women is 8:1. There are no school buses, and children are left to hail cabs to school; another burden for their parents. Banana trees produce fruit in 8 months, then die. At the ground near their roots are new sprouts that in turn produce fruit in 8 months.

And the reason you see so many unfinished homes is because Jamaicans don't believe in mortgages. They save their money and buy the land. They save more and build the house's shell. They save more money and build essentials like the doors, the plumping and the electrical. The house then stands as it is until they have enough money to add flooring, inside walls or paint the outside of their homes, etc. When their house is completed, they own it outright. There's no 25 year mortgage hanging over their heads.

I asked the lifeguard what was the hardest part about living in Jamaica. He said being surrounded by beautiful women. I suspect he's faced with more hardships than that.

Of course, when I told him that the average temperature during our winters was minus 30 degrees Celcuis, his eyes widened, and I know he was unable to phantom such cold.

Would I like to return to Jamaica anytime soon?

You bet.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jamaica Me Happy

Those of you who have been married for any length of time will no doubt recognize the signs of bliss. Look at Cory's and Shannon's faces and you can see that they love each other very much. It's exciting to imagine what endless possibilities their futures hold.

During my two weeks at Breezes Runaway Bay, there must have been three or four weddings a day. It took only a short time to noticed that Cory and Shannon were inseparable while many of the other couples were together on their wedding day, but conspicuously solo the rest of the time.

I'm very excited for my son and his beautiful wife, and their future. They will laugh hard, play until the cows come home, while at the same time grow in mind and spirit. They will share good times and bad, and their love will grow stronger. Their memories will mount quickly. In fact, their life together will go by too fast. Some will say they seem stronger together, yet others will notice their strength of character and their unique individuality.

Life isn't always fair or easy. Sharing in Cory and Shannon's happiness was a joy I'll not soon forget. I'll leave it to the poetics to express the sheer magnitude of it all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jamaica Magic

Cory's and Shannon's wedding could not have been more perfect. Breezes Runaway Bay in Jamaica took care of every possible detail and with a professional touch that would be hard to beat.

We spent the morning of the wedding over a 2-hour breakfast. Then, while the men golfed, us girls played in the pool. It was as stress free a day as I've ever experienced.

Because I write fiction, it's actually hard for me to describe my immediate attraction to Jamaica. The country is so different than anything I'm used to. (It snowed at Cluculz Lake today)

The people were as kind as they could possibly be. Even when I was bombarded with peddlers and close to hyperventilating, the women grew round and fanned cool air into my face. What can I say? I'm a Canadian. Show me -30 C and I'm tough as nails. Stick me in +40 C and I'm dizzy and close to fainting.

If down to basics is what you're looking for, count Breezes out. Total pampering is their specialty. The biggest decision I had to make was which lounge chair to lay on.

If you haven't guessed it already, you're about to be subjected to numerous photos of our Jamaican trip for the next few days. Mostly because I'm freezing and not ready to give up images of paradise just yet. I had to put a fire on in my wood stove this morning. Canada is a wonderful place, but why does it have to be so friggin cold?

ps. The lack of people is because I took many of these photos very early in the morning after my Tai Chi.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jamaica Wedding

Jamaica was beautiful, the wedding was perfect, and now it's back to reality. I'll post details after I sift through the 1100+ emails in my inbox. Hope everyone is healthy and happy.