Bowie, Pride & David

by Albert Berkshire

David didn't even know it was us. He didn't care. A celebration was a celebration, no matter what you were wearing.

David didn’t even know it was us. He didn’t care. A celebration was a celebration, no matter what you were wearing.

Bad news is bad news.

I don’t know that I’ve ever really paid much attention to the practice of qualifying the level of badness. Terrible. Horrible. Worst possible news. And the new internet-of-things triple-period emphatic overstatement: Worst. News. Ever.

In this case, It. Is.

An old friend died. We only hung out on a handful of occasions over the 13 or so years that I’d known him. We talked a lot on the phone, but only saw each other in person every couple of years. We’d meet up at concerts, football games, and once at a figure skating event. I knew he was passionate about figure skating, but I thought it was more of a business passion – until I read the condolences attached to his online obituary. A representative from Skate Canada had left a message expressing how great a loss his passing was to their sport.

David Ash and I first met when I was assigned to write some radio commercials for him. Over time, and after I left my day job at a radio station, he kept in touch. I continued on as his writer and producer for his radio commercials for his sports tours, concert promotions, and pretty much everything else he wanted to advertise – including the radio campaign to sell his over home at Big Valley Acres in Saskatchewan. We did a lot of work together over the years.

David was one of those clients who got away with phoning me at home – at ten o’clock at night. He didn’t seem to have an off switch for work. Mostly, as I recall, because he loved his work. He was, after all, The D Ash of Dash Tours. I swear, I was working for him for about eight years before it registered with me that D Ash made up Dash Tours. Sometimes, I guess, we writers are a little too close to the product.

And what a product, was he!

David was delightfully generous. He would send me concert tickets, football game tickets, invite me to the VIP parties, and always wanted to feed us. And we – my wife, my friends, my colleagues – all had some crazy times and some wonderful times with him. His generosity never ceased to amaze. Everyone left with a smile.

Years ago, we found ourselves in Vancouver with David. Irish rockers U2 we on tour, and we were there with David. My friend flew out from Newfoundland to come to the concert because we promised him his $1000 seat would only be $250 and he’d have the time of his life. Of course, this friend also trusted me the time I told him we had a condo in Whistler that turned out to be a basement studio apartment. At least this time, with David, he was guaranteed there would be a band…possibly a drum solo, too.

After hammering back a couple Red Bull knock offs (I highly recommend against this activity, and have never had one since), we headed to Vancouver’s GM Place to see U2. Turns out, our tickets were behind the stage. But the that “behind the stage” was in the Vancouver Canucks’ private owners’ box. Yup. David had a connection, and we had the box! And that’s when the real David started to shine. About 35 of his guests were treated to a full hot buffet; we had a waitress and a bartender; a private washroom; and we had David. And throughout the course of the night, the 14 or so rum and Cokes (again, on top of the upper drinks that started the night), David invited every single person down to the front row of the box to get a close up look at the band, to hang out and chat with him, and to hear his stories. And they were great. He was incredibly generous, inclusive, and everyone there – many who had known him for many years – loved him.

I credit David with sending me to the best concert I have every seen in my life. Back in the 1995, David Bowie was going through his “don’t talk about the past” phase. He would never play anything in concert except his current album. So years later when David Ash sent me tickets to see David Bowie in Kelowna, BC, I figured, “Well, Reality is a pretty good album. I should go see Bowie.” That night, Bowie played everything from Reality – all the way back to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It was brilliant. He was engaging, funny and everything I hoped he would be. And to this day, when we old dogs who are now coat tailing the baby boomers, sit around and tell our own concert stores, I still tell people about the concert David sent me to see. And all he said when he told me he was sending tickets was what he always said, “You make me sound good. It’s my way of saying thanks.”

A couple years later, I called David looking for Neil Diamond tickets for my wife. At the time, $200 got you in the upper levels at Neil Diamond concert. The nosebleed section. But she was determined and David said he’d send her tickets to the middle deck. She was thrilled. When the tickets arrived, she was on the floor – third row from the stage. I called David, and all he said was, “Tell her to have a great time.” Again…unbelievable generosity from a man we rarely spent any time with in the course of the average year.

I can’t say I’ve ever been a football fan. David, as anyone who knew him, was the ultimate – and original – Super Fan. He was the original Gainer The Gopher for the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. The man lived and breathed Canadian Football. He was known in every circle of the CFL. And when he invited us to sit Centre Field at a Riders vs. Lions game in Vancouver, we thought it was a great idea. And really, a chance to head down to VanGroovy for a weekend, stay downtown and shop and dine was a great getaway at a great time. It was, of course, Halloween.

And that’s where it got a little bit weird. At least for David.

My wife loves to dress up. She has a robust Tickle Trunk. She loves costumes. And loves to stick a wig on me. We also had made YipYip costumes the year prior for a Halloween party at our house. You may know where this is going. We stuffed the two YipYip costumes in the back seat of our car, put seat belts on them, and drove to Vancouver. The poor valet at our place in Vancouver had no idea what was happening. He thought we left our kids (we don’t have any) in the car. And that should have been a hint that our humour was not as recognizable as we thought it might be.

Sir? You've left your...children(?) in the car.

Sir? You’ve left your…children(?) in the car.

Maybe I should explain…again. YipYips, if you aren’t familiar, are big furry alien characters from the TV show Sesame Street. They come to earth, discover a house with an open window, a phone rings and they assume it is intelligent life and try to communicate with it. “Burrrrrrrrr-ring!”

It’s okay. David didn’t know either.

So we dressed up as YipYips for the game, sat next to David for the entire game – right on the 55 yard line (Yes, in the CFL, the field is 110 yards long, though being Canadian, one would think is should be 110 metres), and David never had a clue who we were or why we were sitting in the seats he had reserved for us! And still, he didn’t ask these furry aliens to leave. He just let them have fun.

And we did. A lot of it. We were also the darlings of Chinatown that day, being stopped for a lot of photo ops on our way back to the hotel. But that wasn’t a surprise – we were furry cartoon-like creatures in Vancouver. Statistically speaking, it was a social inevitability.

That evening, we met David for dinner with a number of his other tour guests. We were late (I should clarify here, in case my wife reads this, that I was the cause of us being late.) And when we arrived at the restaurant – a steak house (we are vegetarians), David greeted us, told us he was sorry but they didn’t have a big enough table for us to join them, but he had the owner reserve a booth for us, and took the liberty of ordering some Alaskan crab legs for us as a starter. I hadn’t eaten crab in 20 years. It’s shellfish, bottom-of-the-ocean hangup to which I like to cling. My wife asked me if I was going to eat the crab, and I said, “Of course. David ordered it.”

And that was the thing; people wanted David to know they appreciated his generosity. He never sought praise or recognition. But he certainly earned it.

Over the next few years, I, along with a couple of friends, were his guest at a couple private parties at the top of the CN Tower, and at that same event, he took the time to talk to everyone. There must have been over 200 people there, and most he knew by name. We did photos with David, we had laughs, drinks, dinners, and we had access to everything during the 100th Grey Cup weekend. We were travelling with David.

David, as some know, was that guy in the crowd at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, BC, who handed off the giant Canadian flag to Sidney Crosby so that it could be skated around the ice with Team Canada when they won the Gold Medal for Men’s Ice Hockey. He was the crazy guy in the stands who had the flashing red light on his head that he turned on every time Team Canada scored – in both Women’s and Men’s ice hockey. (He even had a green one for Rider’s games!) Incidentally, he donated that flag to the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame. Personally, I think it should have been draped over his coffin and buried with him.

It was because of David I saw Bowie. It was because of David I got to understand Rider Pride. It was because of David that I realized just how great crab legs really are, that one should never drink two Red Bull thingy drinks and then finish the night with a diet of rum and cokes. (I think my dilated eyes really concerned him that night). It was because of David that Neil Diamond pointed at wife and sang to her – and they had their “moment” – as she describes it. And it’s because of David that I have so many crazy stories about so many crazy people I met in the stands – everywhere we went with him.

I can only imagine the stories David had – that he wouldn’t dare tell us.

He was, after all, the Original Super Fan.

The author with David Ash of Dash Tours at the Riders In the Sky Kickoff Party during the 100th Grey Cup celebrations. David is now the biggest Rider in the sky.

The author with David Ash of Dash Tours at the Riders In the Sky Kickoff Party during the 100th Grey Cup celebrations. David is now the biggest Rider in the sky.

David Ash died on February 28th, 2016 in Regina, Saskatchewan – fittingly, the home of the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. He was the most generous person I have ever known. A friend whose phone call I will forever miss. His memory, however, will always warm my heart.

Albert Berkshire is an author and storyteller. This one is true. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire

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The Philosophically-Speaking Horse Upon Which I Must Again Climb

What great plans have I for you.

What great plans, have I, for you.

by Albert Berkshire

There is no scientific evidence by which I’ve come to this conclusion, but I will say there must be a correlation between the level of physical activity in my life and the number of words I write in a year.

When one is lacking, it is certain the other will be equally wanting.

There was running back in April…and there was writing. There was cycling in May, and there was writing. There was a terribly hole in the other parts of my literary year…and that was when I was doing nothing that involved my running shoes, my hiking boots, my paddle, or my bike.

There was wine that inspired a few words in August. It happened again in November – but that’s a project that has been on hold until the girl from Limerick can get back to me; and the good doctor can field all my research questions. By the way, is it wrong to bribe a psychiatrist with scotch in the hopes of getting some insight into a character’s mental state?

Yeah…that’s where I am on my new novel. Resorting to excuses for why there are less than 10,000 words in a file; after promising myself there would be at least 20,000 by the end of November. Life, it seems, gets in the way.

And then there’s the Christmas gift from a friend. While we’ve never before exchanged gifts, I was thrilled about the little wine bag she brought to diner last week. But when I lifted it, I knew it wasn’t wine…or any other liquid happiness inducer. It was far too light for that.

On Christmas morning I learned what it was. Possibly the equivalent a hundred bottles of wine, untold kilometres of running through Le Jardin du Luxumbourg, and a lifetime of talent wrapped up in the 90,000 or so words in a novel. I was honoured. And at the same time, I was embarrassed. I, too, should have been writing. And after reading the first three sentences of my friend’s novel, I knew what I had to do. Stop squandering my time…and write.

Writing, I believe is the ultimate healing method. Someone recently asked me when I was happiest with myself, and I responded, “When I am writing.” It’s the truth. When words flow onto the page with little or no effort – neither faked nor forced – it is truly wonderful. When it comes naturally. When it is what should be at that very moment. When nothing can distract you from the moment. When it is feels like a serendipitous meeting of ideas and words; that’s when writing is beautiful.

Organic alignment, one my call it.

In the few pages I read from my friend’s novel, I can say she found all of these moments. And as I sit here writing, I finally feel as though the things that stopped me from writing are gone. Maybe it is the kick-in-the-butt feeling I got when I ready her opening paragraph. Perhaps it was the brisk walk to the store today (okay, it was a liquor store, but it wasn’t entirely for the purpose of liquid creativity). And maybe…just maybe I feel it is time to write again. Time to get back on that horse and ride off into the literary sunset.

Okay…maybe not into a sunset, per se. And maybe not on a horse. Let’s just go with good footwear and a sidewalk…or a trail.

My hiking boots served me well today. They took my mind out of an empty house and into a wide open space that filled my mind with countless character stories. It was refreshing. It was inspiring. And that’s just how it happens. When you least expect it. And when you most need it. Hopefully, that cast of ridiculous characters I’ve been toying with for the last year have waited for me, and I can finally get down to telling their absurd little story.

Right after I read a few more pages.

It’s that good.

 

Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. He’s accepted that some things in life just need to happen according to the universe; and as such, has officially stopped trying to write. He’s just going let it happen. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and in various e-book formats. Just follow the links to learn more. Public reviews are always welcome. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire

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Pinot’s Skinny Sister & The Stoned TV Girlfriend

by Albert Berkshire

The plan was free of complexities. Simple, even. But those are the ones that always go awry.

I walked into the wine cellar to get a bottle of wine, intent on sipping a glass whilst eating popcorn and watching my TV girlfriend show me how to make a great vegan curry sauce.

Simple, no?

No. The popcorn, I think, is a vicarious salute to the buzz said TV girlfriend seems to have…in every episode. I’d like to say it’s a California thing, but living in BC has taught me it’s pretty much everywhere. Some people always look and act like they are stoned. Still, I’m not one to run from a vicarious case of the munchies if it’ll net me a bowl of popcorn – and a good recipe that’ll impress my real-life honey. (The later still needs serious work) And while I haven’t indulged in a long, long time (my drug of choice is adrenaline, okay..and wine), I can appreciate the humour that comes from stoner food jokes. Even the vegan ones. Okay, especially the vegan ones. Veggies are funny, yo. (I have no idea where that came from.)

The wine is a whole other story. Wine has always been a sipping thing for me. It’s one of the few things I enjoy slowly. It’s not to be rushed. No one I’ve ever met has suggested a wine chugging contest. No one shoots their wine, although the wine festivals and tasting nights always seem to be wine-shorter nights by the time we roll out into the street. Wine, for me, has become the writing drink. Something to get me past the first 45-minute mark.

Let me clarify: Years ago, and I can’t remember the presenter, but I learned that when writing, we often take about 45 minutes to get into the flow. Now, how one defines flow is likely a more personally thing, but the idea, I think, is that we find our pace, our place, and the words for those whom we are creating a dialogue or a scene. In many cases, I’ll go back and rewrite what I wrote in that time, after I think I’ve finished writing for the day. Wine, I sometimes find, makes that dreaded, and rather painful-to-every-writer first 45 minutes pass a little faster. It’s the elevator, in lieu of the stairs.

The wines are not easy to select. I’ve been, for quite a few years, a merlot or cab-sav kind of guy. I like meaty wines. (Odd description, I might add, for someone who doesn’t eat meat). I like smoky reds that own the glass. Ones that look like you could float a rock in the glass. Syrahs do it for me, too. Heavy, full-bodied, big-in-the-hips wine that are as sensual to look at as the are bold to pour. I love a wine that needs to breath. And then breathe some more. I mean, why rush a good thing. Anticipation is for more than just storytelling.

A cab-franc or a meritage has never impressed me – although I do have a case of Harry McWatters’ ’07 Meritage in the cellar. If you’re a wine-o, and you know his story, you’ll smile a little about that. And then there’s pinot noirs.

Pinots are pouty little brats. They’re like valley girls without the Becky lines. Like Lea Thompson’s Amanda Jones, they just sit there, feeling under appreciated, wanting to be noticed, yet do little to inspire you. Silent, uninteresting, see-through.

And then you taste a great pinot noir. And then everything changes. Gone is the first impression of watered down church wine (Catholic school, friends.). The flavours open up and the trash-in-a-glass is suddenly holy and apostolic. That’s the moment you think there could actually be a god (again, friends, Catholic school). That’s when you know you have a great pinot noir. And that’s then the first bit of writing inspiration hits at not the 45-minute mark, but there – in the moment the wine is on your lips.

Or maybe, just my lips.

What I didn’t know before a recent wine-tasting trip along the Naramata Bench, was Pinot Noir has a skinny little sister. Her name in Joie. Joie, I’ve known for some time as one of my wife’s favourite wineries – mostly for A Noble Blend. But this Joie delight is known as PTG (pronounced in the French way, I was told, Peyh-tay-Jhey). Yes, Pinot’s skinny little sister is something wonderful.

At least on this palate. And this page.

Wine is a wonderful writing tool. Joie Farm’s PTG is a must if you like a pouty little pinot.

Or just to lube your evenings at the keyboard.

The TV, by the way, never made it to the on position. The popcorn is gone. The wine, I’m happy to report, is still hanging on my palate.

The latter being some kind of wonderful.

Reads like Joy. Tastes like joy. Pronounces like zhwah.

Reads like Joy. Tastes like joy. Pronounces like zhwah.

Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. When he isn’t writing, he’s usually thinking about writing. Sometimes he’s just having a glass of wine. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and in various e-book formats. Just follow the links if you’d like to check it out. Public reviews are always welcome. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire

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That Shirt I Love

by Albert Berkshire

No one ever asks you about your favourite shirt.

People do, however, love to ask about your favourite colour, or food, or car, or brand of bike components…or more recently my favourite book or musician.

Maybe it’s the debate of merits that prompts these questions. People love to debate things.

Years ago, despite what I thought was an impressive collection of Nazareth vinyl, had you asked me my favourite band, I might have said it was Kiss. I had what I was certain were all their albums (yes, also on vinyl), I dressed up as Ace Frehley for Halloween when I was in sixth grade, and I certainly didn’t miss the opportunity to serenade a girl in my elementary school class (from a safe distance, of course) with the words to Beth. Though her name wasn’t Beth. A boy’s gotta try. Even the dorky ones. And to be frank, I may have been a kid, but I was pretty certain Gene had stumbled onto something pretty impressive, and I, too, wanted to rock and roll all night (Kiss, 1975). Possibly with non-Beth Beth.

And then there was the in-between years of Top 40 pop music throughout the mid-eighties that may have been the influence in a few embarrassing record purchases. Except for Madness and The Talking Heads. Madness (Our House, 1982) I can still appreciate. David Byrne of The Talking Heads (And She Was, 1985) was brilliant. (‘Though, there were too many feet in the video. Other people’s feet whig me out.)

I bought a Tiffany album? A WHOLE album? Shameful.

I bought a Tiffany album? A WHOLE album? Shameful.

Today, since technically by reading on you validate my need to share, I’d have to go with Led Zeppelin as my favourite band. Back in high school, when we were so much more learned and sophisticated than those elementary days, my friend Joe introduced me to The Immigrant Song. I was forever changed. Music, it seemed had more than instruments and choruses. It had feeling. It had emotion. It had lyrics that reached out and grabbed your mind in as tight a clench as with which it held on to your heart. It made us think. And we talked about it. What did it all mean? Most importantly to a couple of high school kids looking for their place in the world, the other kids weren’t hearing this stuff on the local AM radio. We had something different. And we were, in our minds, beyond cool.

Bonham, Jones, Page, and Plant made me listen. They made me rethink what words could do. And to this day, through the many incarnations of U2, the storytelling of the Eagles, the showmanship of Pink Floyd, the depression of Morrissey, the absolute cool of The Verve, the anger of the Pogues, the Ramones, The Violent Femmes, Amanda Palmer, Transvision Vamp, Nirvana, A Perfect Circle (I slept in a ditch that night), and what was described as possibly the first ever on-stage smile of Billy Corgan (also a ditch night), I am most influenced by Led Zeppelin.

Sidebar: I have been on the receiving end of the stink eye on a couple of occasions for interrupting a conversation to turn up Going to California when it started playing on the car radio. And I may have attempted a butt-grope at a high school dance during the standard last-dance song, Stairway to Heaven. But it’s as far as I got. Those Brothers and Nuns didn’t miss much. 

Music, admittedly, I will gladly debate with anyone, any time.

Colours. I have a colleague who will debate colours. This possibly happens more in our day to day world of advertising and marketing consultations, but there are specifically studied, established and accepted theories on the impact and influence of colour. The soothing light blue, the urgent red, the hungry yellow (which is why so many fast food restaurants use yellow and red), the calming green. Seriously, we can all mellow out and take a nap at Starbucks.

We can debate these things, but in the end, you either like a colour, or you do not. And as I was asked a couple of weekends ago by a friend as we were getting ready to go out, “Albert? Is green your favourite colour?” I replied without delay, looking at my shirt, “I guess it is. I seem to have it on.”

I’ll get to the heart of the matter (Henley, 1989) in a moment, but first, the others. Sushi. Porsche. SRAM. In case you wondered.

And the book? That’s the tough one. I’ve raved for years about John Birmingham’s He Died With A Falafel In His Hand. A roaring memoir about his time in share housing in Australia. Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos left me somewhat dazed and confused (‘Zep remake, 1969). Douglas Copeland’s Generation X, The Bubblegum Thief, and All Families Are Psychotic each kept me feeling like I was going to be forever young (Dylan, 1973). Joseph Monniger’s Eternal On The Water gave me a new appreciation for ravens and crows, and being a lover of nature and the First People’s spiritual world, it still resonates with me. But I’d have to argue that Tom Robbin’s Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates may be my favourite book of all time. The insanity of the characters, the rolling storytelling, and the depravity of the idea and ideals truly did take me over the hills and far away (‘Zep, 1973).

A couple of days ago, walking through a parking lot in search of a Thai restaurant (second most favourite food), my wife’s mother said, “Albert…Rosie and Marie said to tell you they enjoyed your book and that you are a good writer.”

“That doesn’t mean they liked it.” I said.

“No.” she relied. “I guess it doesn’t.”

“It’s okay.” I said. “It’s all very subjective. It either resonates with you, or it does not.”

“Well…” she continued. “We did have very different ideas about the ending and they debated it for quite some time. And they want me to ask you if he was or wasn’t…”

“Paulette,” I interrupted. “Your daughter still hasn’t read it. So we should stop there for now.”

I went on to explain that other than the beginning chapter and the ending, I hadn’t read it since the editor did her thing. It’s my preference to not know how she changes my story. (When I hand it over to the publisher, I’m happy with the story I wrote. If they feel they need to change something, then they change it. I know what I wrote and that was the story I wanted to tell.) My point was that I’m certainly not going to explain the characters’ motivations. That, I leave up to the reader – to debate, or not to debate.

But what she said was possibly the nicest feedback I’ve had on We Made A Pact.

It spurred a debate. And that’s the greatest compliment I think I could ever receive for my work.

By the way, that shirt I love? I got it in June of 2011. I was in Seaside, Oregon, when I walked into Moment Surf Shop. I wasn’t looking for a shirt. I don’t like to sport a lot of logos. But this one just had the right feel – at the moment. Serendipity, I guess.

The shirt certainly has seen better days, but it’s been a constant. It’s been the slip-on shirt after more than one muddy mountain bike ride, and has faithfully hung out with me by the pool…sometimes on a sunny day, it’s just been wrapped around my head. It’s just one of those things you come to appreciate. Even if it is just a shirt.

Pretty certain we can’t debate the merits of a shirt. That, I guess, is a safe zone for me.

But I’ll always debate the impact music can have on one’s life. I listened to a lot of music when I was writing We Made A Pact, and from that extensive playlist, I narrowed it down to 24 songs that I felt spoke the emotion of the story. Maybe one day I’ll share that playlist.

We can debate it, if you wish.

Every moment in this shirt is comfortable.

Every moment in this shirt is comfortable.

 

Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and in various e-book formats. Just follow the links if you’d like to check it out. I hope you will. Public reviews are always welcome. Swapping stories of the first record purchase is welcome, too. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire

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Narcissism, Blatant Self-Indulgence, and Shameless Self-Promotion with an Absolute Refusal of Mollycoddling

A short, short story about a considerably longer story.

We Made A Pact - a novel by Albert Thomas Berkshire

We Made A Pact – a novel by Albert Thomas Berkshire

There are friends in my life whose careers have long lived and died by their popularity. Their incomes are connected to their ratings, their endorsements are awarded based on their “likes”, and their sense of self are, unfortunately, gauged by retweets. They are ever-dependant on the whims of others.

At least they come by it honestly.

It’s a fickle world that surrounds us. Our tastes change by the moment. One day we’re a fan of something or someone, the next day we have moved on to the next shiny thing. We’re like ravens struck by the beauty of glitter. It’s the age of sociopath media, and we are almost all fully complicit slaves to the cycle. It is this that makes me fully understand, and oddly appreciate, that the inter-web is a wonderfully useful resource, and the woe of my existence.

It does, however, have its place in my life, and certainly in the purpose of this piece.

You see, it’s this thing I wrote that I’m supposed to promote. (Hey, an incidental rhyme) It’s a novel called We Made A Pact. The feedback from those who have read it has been generous…enthusiastic, even. And that’s a nice feeling to be on the receiving end of kind words. But for me to be completely honest with you, I should point out that I’m not the guy who loves the limelight. Certainly, as I have said many times, I would love to sell a million copies! (I’d like to sell a thousand, actually) What writer wouldn’t want success? But at the expense of what?

Likes are not my endorphin. Retweets do not compel me to interrupt a conversation. Ratings do not matter in my life. (Although debuting at #3 on at least one best sellers list was a short-lived thrill.) I’m just a guy who likes to write. The key to that, I’m told, is to sell novels and write more. Ironically, the flashing-lights look-at-me side of things is the evil companion of this goal.

Narcissism, blatant self-indulgence, and shameless self-promotion are not my thing. Writing is my thing. Pouring my mind onto the page is my thing. Letting whatever the character in my mind decides he or she wants to happen, happen, is my thing. As I once described it in a less flattering manner, “Dreaming up shit and barfing it onto the page”, is my thing. But I’m not one to shy away from the work side of the equation. So here it is…the words attached to my novel page on the publisher’s website.

We Made A Pact is not a love story. It is a story of a promise made between soul mates who loved their entire life. The type of love that comes with maturity, in which each touched a part of the others mind that no words could ever reach. Beginning in Paris, crossing decades and ending in the small town of Oceanside, the story is carefully told to Leigh by Leonard, her mother’s lover, as he explains a side of her life, a side of her mother, that she never knew.

#WeMadeAPact now at Google Play, Amazon Kindle Store, Nook & Kobo Store, iTunes Store, & in paperback: http://ow.ly/LFOQ9  It is published by #FriesenPress.

I will say this about my work. There are no tinges of pallid in the writing. Not one. Not fifty. My main character has a deep, abiding respect for the woman in his life. That’s something I’m quite enthusiastic about promoting.

I hope you’ll read it.

In the meantime, I’ll be focused on Limerick. The place, not the rhyme. Because it’s writing time.

 

Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and in various e-book formats. Just follow the links if you’d like to check it out. I hope you will. Public reviews are always welcome. For a shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire

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UnPoison Me

  • by Albert Berkshire

There were wine bottles. Hundreds, maybe thousands of wine bottles. Some stood erect, others lay on their side spinning this way and that depending on how they were bumped. Few were broken. Smiles stretched across cheery faces. Conversations flowed and hundreds, maybe thousands of people were focused on one thing – being young.

It was a cool Thursday night when my wife and I strolled along the banks of the Seine. We were walking back to our apartment in the 6th arrondissement, although at that moment, in the opposite direction. The long way seemed fitting. We occasionally looked over our shoulders to see if the Eiffel Tower was alight and sparkling. But that wasn’t really the highlight of the night. At least, not in this short stretch over the cobblestone walk.

I’m certain it’s a cultural thing, but it has been a long time since I’ve heard a large group of teenagers and young adults…talking. And while, based on my comprehension of the lovely, but completely understudied-by-me, French language, they could have been talking about something they saw on Facebook, or You Tube, or Twitter – they weren’t looking at it. They were looking at each other. Talking to each other. Looking into each other’s eyes. (some, for the latter, more intently than others).

There were soccer balls (footballs, to be more Euro-correct) begin kicked around. Badminton and chess were being played. There was paper and charcoal. There was music. There was laughter. There was youth.

Youth…like we had. Youth – before the techno social crutches of today’s North American (but not limited to) society. The same society that has adopted a seemingly obligatory, more-than-necessary check of email, messenger, messages, text, snapchat, BBM (yeah, still out there – Go Canada!), twitter, even Ello (I’m so hip) and the long list of other social media platforms competing for your conversational neuro-allotment.

Youth, it seems, is vibrant and engaging in Paris.

If you cared to read about the French Revolution, you’d understand that as a truly socialist nation – for the people – France has long valued its…well, social values. People read. They are educated in a heavily subsided system that, by my observation, ensures every citizen who wants to be educated – is educated. Perhaps, like my take on Canada’s health care system, it’s an education system in France developed by the people of France, for the people of France, that seems to work for the people of France. And there seem to be many upsides.

People are engaged. And it’s wonderful to see. Sadly, I’d hazard a guess that I’ve not seen it like this in North America – for the most part – since the 1990s. Glued, we are (Yoda moment), to our electronic devices. Unable, we seem (you know I’m going for the Star Wars trifecta, don’t you), to be able to share without a button. Miss, we do (achieved it, I have), the nuances of conversation.

And we need it back in our lives.

We need to discuss what’s happening in our lives. How we feel about the issues of the day should not be pre-empted by Grumpy Cat’s latest meme. A summer vacation’s description should not need to be validated by a like button. We lose the essence of a moment shared when we summarize it in 140 characters so that it conforms to the new attention span. We need to stop abandoning conversations at the sound of a notification.

We need to stare at art longer than fifteen seconds. We need to think about what the artist’s truly saw when the image was captured in his mind. We need to appreciate the subtle irony of Renoir’s portraits of Manet’s niece. And that she later wrote about it in long form.

We need to write each other with words, not emoticons. We need to discuss the deeper meaning of lyrics, not quote them by way of copy-and-paste. We need to not only know the correct use of, but the actual definition of, your, you’re, and yore (yes, there’s a third one – from a long, long time ago).

We need it to matter. Like it obviously matters to the French. We need a different button. Not a like, love, share, post, or tweet button.

We need a reset button. Or perhaps, un bouton de remise.

We need Poison to come back to remind another generation of a time we don’t remember, and a war some can’t forget…and to give us something to believe in.

 

Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. He places the highest importance on conversation, yet completely embraces a little time alone – even if it is shared. An oxymoron he loves. His preference is to write in long form, more recently with a 90’s rock soundtrack, which he is doing with some semi-psychotic new fictional characters. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. You should read it. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

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The Change Of Life

  • by Albert Berkshire

I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.

We were bobbing around on the lake. Two kayakers, surrounded by hundreds of others in kayaks, canoes, rowboats and stand-up paddleboards. There was an eerie calm on the water surrounded by a festival of events. It was early and everyone looked slightly unsure of what it was they were doing. I was no different.

Hundreds of people were about to swim across the lake. It was the longest open-water swim in Canada, and a friend who was participating asked me to be her safety paddler. I was the person who followed her from start to finish ensuring she had someone to help her should she be unable to continue. That day, I had the easy job. But that’s not the story. Not today.

Paddlers are, like any other subset of outdoor enthusiasts, part of little communities. We intersect and intermingle at random times, acknowledging each other and our sport – or pastime-become-passion – and almost always strike up a conversation as one paddles past the other. Much like any other subset of human culture, we tend to be drawn to each other by our equipment. In the same way two car lovers might swoon over each other’s classics or super cars, or fashionistas might delight in each other’s shoes, paddlers tend to check out each other’s boats. It is the common ground.

“I like your boat”, she said from about stroke away. “It’s exactly what my husband and I want to buy.”

I looked up to see a woman who, I guess, looks like every other woman in a paddling vest, sun hat, and kayak, looking at me.

“Is it a …”

“…Soltice”. I finished her sentence. “By Current Designs”.

“I love it.” She complimented.

The conversation continued with niceties for a few more moments until I told her that I was thinking about selling my kayaks (my wife doesn’t love kayaking as much as I do, so another sport was proposed), and that’s when things turned awkwardly…fortuitous.

In the process of telling this woman how to get in touch with me – pen and paper not being a ready instrument of communication whilst on the water – something sparked a memory for her and she looked at me saying, “I know you. You changed my life.”

Were it not for the hundreds of people surrounding us on the lake, I could tell you the silence fell on the conversation like a blanket thrown on a horse’s back. But the silence was all internal. I’d never heard anything like that in my life – short and relatively inexperienced as it may seem to some.

Jokingly I suggested that it’s not every day a guy gets to hear a woman confess her life has changed because of him. But she was quick, thankfully, to explain herself.

“You bought one of my paintings.”

I stared blankly. I’ve bought a few paintings. And this wasn’t really registering. I was half-listening for the start of the race and trying to find my swimmer in a sea of identical swim caps.

“The Poppy! I met you the night you bought it. We were introduced but you were rushing out the door.”

The Poppy is a beautiful painting that jumped out at me at an open house for a local business owned by acquaintances. It was on display and when one of the business owners was touring me through the new space, I immediately asked if it was for sale – knowing they were not a gallery. It was, and on the impulse, “I’ll take it” rolled off my tongue before I even knew the price. I have no regrets of the purchase, and it is hanging on the wall just behind me in the living room of my home. I love it.

In retrospect, the paddler-come-artist was giving an accurate description of events. I was headed out the door because I had to be somewhere else and I never made the time to speak to her. My disinterest in a fellow creative was not intentional, just circumstantial.

“I had decided I was going to quit as an artist.” She continued. “I wasn’t selling any paintings and the night you bought The Poppy, and the way it was explained that you just saw it and said, ‘I want it” changed everything.”

At this point, I’m squirming around in my cockpit. Perhaps not the most sensible action when bobbing around on the water.

“I went home, raved to my husband about “this guy” who just saw one of my paintings and had to have it. At some point, he became tired of hearing about you, went to bed and I went into my studio and started painting. I was inspired.”

A quick aside, if you will allow me: Over the years of my career – my day job as a writer and producer – I’ve worked with a lot of people who shared in brainstorming and creative session in the pursuit of creativity – the author Tommie Lee is perhaps king of the creative heap in that category. But this, this was a passive, almost surrogate, participation on my part. I’m also certain my jaw is, at this point, still dangling to display one of my adulthood prides of not having a single filling in my teeth. Oh…it was agape. Seriously. Never had a cavity. My dentist hates me. Onward.

She preceded to explain that she now had her art hanging in winery galleries, was painting even bigger pieces contrary to the suggestions and advice of galley owners, and was completely sold out. She was inspired. I was … silenced. And there are not many people or incidents that leave me speechless.

The race started. I began looking for my swimmer friend and we parted company, each paddling after different people. But that night, and for the next few days, her story – her completely sublime telling of her impressions of the night I bought the painting – resonated with me.

And now I was inspired. I sat down and finished my editor-suggested changes and corrections to my novel. The procrastination and the doubt was washed away by the chance meeting with the artist, Korenna Corby.

Korenna, humble to the core, later agreed to create the cover art for my novel, We Made A Pact. The painting, I feel, explains everything. And while she claims she’s not an illustrator, she certainly was willing to step out of her free-form comfort zone to paint the piece for me.

Maybe that’s what creatives – artists, writers, producers, actors and storytellers – do. We help each other…even when we don’t know we’re doing it.

At least, that’s how I remember things.

No author truly goes it alone. And no author ever forgets those who contributed to the work. - ever grateful, A/

No author truly goes it alone. And no author ever forgets those who contributed to the work. – ever grateful, A/

Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is fortunate to have been influenced by the right people – at the right time. The cover art was painted by artist Korenna Corby (www.corbyart.net). After far too many creative delays, empty bottles of Pinot Noir, and temporary mental inabilities to let go of it, We Made A Pact is set for release by Friesen Press in April of 2015.  Albert will likely celebrate with a long paddle across the lake. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire and on Facebook @ facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire.

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Drive. Just Drive.

-by Albert Berkshire

There are days that should never end. The days where all your crazy notions come to light. The days when you not only realize where you want to go, but accept where it is you should be. Those are the days you just want the car to keep moving.

Credit card. Phone. Passport. Clean underwear. Everything you need to make a run for it.

Just. Keep. Driving.

I’ve calculated that if I drank enough coffee, I could be in Belize in four days. Belize would be a welcome change. Warm ocean breezes, atolls, sand, rolling waves and snorkelling. No calls. No stress. No worries…mawn. 

Just time to write.

It wasn’t too long ago that a 15 hour drive in a day was anything of a challenge. In 1998, whilst moving to a new city for a new job, I succeeded in traveling from Toronto to Thunder Bay in 15 hours. The girl was much further away, but I was where I was supposed to be at the 15 hours mark and like any young pup dreaming of the corporate ladder climb, I pulled over, dropped my bags and settled in for the long, long, LONG Northern Ontario winter.

I think it’s still winter there.

My old joke, which falls on now annoyed ears in my house, “I lived in Thunder Bay for 18 months. It was the longest five years of my life!” is, to this day, the most accurate explanation of my time in that town. We didn’t work out, me and Thunder Bay. Too humid in summer, to cold in winter. It was like Toronto on a menstrual cycle. Bloody angry.

That brings me back to the drive to Belize. The need to escape is sometimes so overwhelming that the idea of just going for it becomes all you can think about. And recently, it’s been the ideas that a) there are easily accessed internet connections in Belize; b) I could easily ignore all forms of electronic communication; and c) the freedom to just write would be waiting for me there on the beach, have all conveniently emerged in my mind as a reality not too far off from the one I’ve been seeking for several years.

The freedom to just write when I have to write. Not when I want, or feel I can, but when I have to write.

The latter is easily explained.

Sometimes things get in your head, and if you don’t get them on paper, on a screen, or recorded onto a device, you’ll lose it forever. And there it little more frustrating to a writer than forgetting what you wanted to write about. Because it was brilliant!  The not so brilliant part of it is calling your other writer friends and asking, “You know that idea I had last night at dinner, when we were drunk. Do you remember what I was going to write about?”

First let’s acknowledge that our writer friends are not going to help us. No one likes competition that much. And secondly…well, see point number one. That’s pretty much it. You’re on your own, freinemy.

So what do you do?

You drive. Because those times spent in a car give you so much to think about. So much to remember. So much to hold on to until the next time. And in a 63 hour drive, you can dream up a lot of material. Belize…it’s so much more than a tropical destination teasing me with a story and the freedom to write it. It’s where my mind drives when I just want to keep driving.

It’s simply amazing…right up until I see my exit.

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He is regrettably guilty of never taking time to write when he has to write. A good drive might just solve that dilemma. He just hopes to avoid exits next time. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

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The Characters in the Characters

– by Albert Berkshire

 

Yes. It would seem it is story time.

“Good mornin’ to ya.”

It was a raspy voice on the other end of the phone. An uncomfortable, almost sinister  giggle followed the greeting.

I had been warned about this one. It was one of those benign comments that seemed to float in the air as a conversational afterthought as the Iceman walked out the control room door about three hours earlier.

“She’ll call you at 3:26am.”

“Who?” I asked expecting there was some additional protocol I had to follow.

“Madeline the crazy cat lady. She calls every night.”

It was September of 1991. I was fresh out of Journalism school and no where near my intended (r rather, hoped-for) employment as a television reporter for the CBC. I was, instead, and now much to my hindsight delight, a radio DJ at CFCB. It was a tiny radio station that played a disturbing equal rotation of pop, oldies, country, and on Sundays, traditional folk music. And yet, it was hugely successful. I’ll never understand that part of the equation. At the time, I could never imagined that the best stories in life would come not from the news, rather the people the news rarely ever found. The lonely, the single, the assumably psychotic, the drunk, the stoned, the learned, the uneducated, the criminal, the incredibly young and up too late, and the very old and up too early were all there – on the other then of the phone. And they had someone new to call and share with me their complaints, their ideas, their loves and hates, their moments of brilliance and their heartbreaks. They had stories to tell. Completely unknown to me then, I was sitting in centre of the amphitheatre of anecdotes. Awkward affected alliteration and all.

“Guess what kind of movie I’m watchin’? The raspy, creepy tone on the other end continued.

And then the laugh. Again.

“Hi Madeline.” I offered, ignoring the question.

Another sinister giggle of delight.

“How did you know it was me?”

“It’s 3:26.”

She giggled. Then she requested her song.

She requested Simon and Garfunkle’s A Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Instantly, we were not friends. I mean, it was well written, and it was a fairly good hit, but it was painful in every way. And what overnight DJ wanted to play a sleeper song when he was going to be pulling his first sober all-nighter? It was the start of a long, bizarre chain of events that no amount of drugs or alcohol or head banging on a wall can erase from my memory. And it was a weird one. Really weird.

My first fan was a nut job. And really, there could have been a potato in the control room chair and she would have been a fan had Spud been willing to play her a melody.

I worked for almost 15 months in that little town before I had occasion to meet Madeline.  I was doing what we called an “on location”. I was in a shopping mall with headphones, microphone and miscellaneous pieces of equipment in tow when the person who was about to relieve me at my post showed up a few minutes early. After nearly four hours of standing in one spot, drinking far too much tea, making small talk (still my least favourite of all conversation derivatives) with strangers who knew me by default of having a radio in their home or car or office, I was busting for a bathroom break. I sprinted down the hall.

On my return trip, I did the customary lap past the arcade – a place I spent many hours as a kid – and waved to Radar. Radar was the security guard who constantly muttered “Move along, move along” to every kid who found sanctuary, entertainment and friends in the mall over the course of many years. Today, though, Radar would finally be unable to rush me along. Being employed and in the mall with purpose had a decidedly wonderful benefit. As I strolled back, I heard the giggle.

The rasp was in the mall…and I wasn’t ready to make visual friends.

I stopped at the grocery store and watched.

This little medicine ball of a woman – as broad as she was tall (and that wasn’t very broad, either) – was chatting up my broadcast replacement. She waved her hands around as she talked, and as distracting or animated as that usually is, it was her head that captured my attention. Her head was tiny. Not unusually small or disfigured, but proportionately smaller than the rest of her body. Like it was 75% of its intended volume. Partially deflated, like a five day old balloon. Her raspy giggle echoed in response to whatever the other DJ said to her until she wandered away toward the food court.

More than 20 years later, I can still hear her voice. I can still see her partially deflated head sitting on top of her round torso. A child’s snowman.

4:01am. Same first night. I just butchered my news cast. The phone flasher is flashing…as I imagine one would expect. Phones didn’t ring in control rooms. They flashed. A simple and understandable logic. At this moment, I’m sure someone is calling to tell me how much I suck as a DJ. My goodness I was terrible. When I answer the studio request line, the voice on the other end of the line begins.

“Hello. It’s Charlie from Sheshatshui (shesh-sha-she).”

  • Sheshatshui is an Innu Nation in Labrador – a northern mainland part of the Canadian province Newfoundland & Labrador. Geographically, it is on the western edge of Lake Melville on the northeastern coast of North America. Sadly, like many other First People’s communities in North America, it has been stricken with incidents of substance abuse over the years. Most notably, the consumption of alcohol has had a drastically negative impact on its band members and the greater community. I share this with you because as much as this troubles me (my maternal lineage is partly of the Mi’kmaq peoples), I was a younger, less travelled, less informed, and much less socially sensitive person the night Charlie first called. I also see humour in places most people feel it is politically incorrect to acknowledge said humour. But that’s the beauty of being a writer. I’m the one with pen. And I don’t care what people think of my writing. I just write what I want and people vote with their eyes. And drunk Charlie was funny. His story was funny.

“Hi Charlie.” What can I do for you.”

“Ahhh. Me and my girl Brenda were just having a few pops, eh.”

There was a noticeable slur in his delivery.

“A few?”

“Ah ha (insert strange drunken laugh) yeah we’re kinda drunk.”

About this point in the conversation, Charlie asked for a song and went on his way. He was harmless. Moreover, he was less frequent a caller than Madeline. He normally called early every Sunday morning, after having a few beverages at some form of party that began Saturday night. All he ever wanted was to request a song…

…and fried chicken.

Charlie called me one night after about a month long absence. When I asked him where he had been, he launched into the craziest story I had heard up to that point in my life. And trust me…I never thought the magical five white Omnis passing me on Highway 95 north would ever be topped. But that was a drug-fueled haze that I was never 100% certain happened – as fantastical as it was.

“Charlie,” I started. “Where have you been.”

“Oh…we kinda got in some trouble?”

He giggled.

“What happened?” I asked. It was about 2am and I was in need of some social activity. Even a drunk person was more interesting that anything I had to entertain me at work.

“We all got a little drunk and decided we wanted some Mary Brown’s.” (Mary Brown’s is an eastern Canadian fried chicken chain restaurant.) 

“Really.” I said. This story was getting better by the second.

“So we all put our money together and chartered a plane to fly in some chicken.”

This moment still brings tears to my eyes.

“We ran out of money and the welfare office got really mad at us.”

In hindsight, Charlie and the Chicken Charter never came to mind. Damn, those Innu-Loompas would have been adorable.

When I listened to Charlie and Madeline, and their fantastical stories – believable or otherwise – I saw a characters – not people. And as horrible as that may seem to say about another human, it’s what I see. This may be more prevalent in passive friendships, as opposed to those in my life with whom I have a closer, more personal relationship. Although, many of my closest friends display some of the most interesting characteristics and personality traits. I’ve already warned them that the season for creative license never closes. Anything they say, do, or present is fair game and may end up in something I write. Most people squirm a little when I share that news. One person left the room.

As a writer who prefers fiction, these people, these experiences, these bizarre and unexpected characters I meet, and mentally dissect, represent a treasure trove of humour, comedy, and heartwarming memories of how strange my life can get – or anyone’s life for that matter – if you look just below the surface.

They are the little personalities we get to know who live inside the people we know. And as my mother used to say to me, “My God, Albert. The people you know.”

I realize now, she never meant the number, but rather the quality.

The characters in the characters.

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He meets perfectly normal people all the time, and finds a way to turn them into delightfully amusingly, and sometimes psychotic characters. Or he just shares breakfast with them and goes on his merry way. His love of storytelling, and his passion for the written word, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

 

 

 

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Norma Mary Hartery Berkshire

– by Albert Berkshire

Norma stood staring at the gravestone. It was tilted to the left. It sank slowly over the near thirty years it was in place. She never commented on its position or need of attention. It seemed almost irrelevant.

“I want my full name on my headstone,” she said rather blankly.

“Well, I don’t think we need to talk about that, but I agree. Mary is a beautiful name.”

I didn’t want to talk about headstone inscriptions. But I thought I should at least acknowledge the request.

“No. I don’t care if it says Mary, I want my maiden name on there.”

“I think we have plenty of time to discuss that.”

This was not my kind of conversation.

“No, Albert. I know. I know how I feel and my time is soon. Anyway, that’s enough about that. Let’s go.”

This was her usual way of ending any discussion with me that she felt had run its course, or when I had when I made some valid point about the invalidity of religion.

In all the years my father was laid to rest in that cemetery, she never once made reference to being buried beside him. The only hint that she would be was the blank space beside his name on the headstone, and the knowledge that that was what always happened to a husband and wife – they got buried together.

Lunch was Norma’s next suggestion. She was always hungry. She was, at best 90 pounds. She could eat five meals a day and never gain an ounce. Bit by bit, meal by meal, whatever was wrong with her system was depriving her of the necessary nutrients to stay healthy and strong. She never lacked an appetite. She just lacked the ability to make any use of what she ate. And so, we went for a drive and found a little restaurant on the edge of the water. An American might call it a diner. My father-in-law would call it a cafe. I like to think of it as your typical outport Newfoundland greasy spoon. It mattered not. They had a turkey sandwich on the menu and Norma was thrilled. She was an easy woman to please.

What are you going to eat?” She asked. “What do you eat?”

I’m a vegetarian. This was foreign territory for most members of my family. Norma assumed I lived on salad. If only it were that easy.

“I’ll find something. I always do.” In retrospect, I think I had apple pie. Close enough.

After lunch, we drove to a small community named Norris Point. Norma pointed up to a knoll, a mound of a hill. Too small to be a mountain, too big to be hill. It was a rocky lump that overlooked the harbour. Typical Newfoundland topography.

“Your father proposed to me up there.”

In all the years I knew this woman, in all the years we talked about life and travel, religion and politics, the news of the day, the philosophies of humanity, the trials and tribulations of the world, she never once made a single mention of where she and dad were engaged. I knew they were married. I knew where and when and who was there. I knew about when they dated – and her usual quips about how every girl in the office wanted to go out with him except her, and he had to ask her out. And of course the usual, “I wasn’t even remotely interested in him. I was engaged” routine retort to any mention of them as young adults.

And then this. Today. It was a surprise, more to hear the actual information, than it was to know they were engaged before marriage. It was like the missing link we never knew was missing. Oddly, none of my siblings ever heard the story either. Perhaps she just wanted someone to know. More importantly, this confirmed what I always knew…that I was her favourite. I jest. Unless you are my sibling, then I am serious. I was the favourite kid. Ahem.

After we left to drive home, we mostly had a normal conversation about life, news and politics…and eventually it turned to what we would do for dinner. She, like me, loved to go out to eat. Being served was high on her list. It was something earned from a life of work. She certainly never had the slightest entitlement growing up. Any dinner out for Norma was because she earned it. And she loved a good meal in a nice hotel restaurant.

Things didn’t go great for Norma after that weekend. She suffered a stroke a few weeks later and never fully gained the strength she needed to go home from the hospital. I flew back to Newfoundland on a whim a couple days before Christmas to spend it with her. Christmas in a hospital was about as equally depressing as seeing my mother in a hospital bed, semi-dependent on others…mostly strangers. Over the few days we spent, we had our usual talks, she had turkey dinner for Christmas night, and she slept a lot. Her stories almost stopped, and she was content to drift in and out of the conversations. I sat and wrote next to her bed. She occasionally asked me what I was writing, to which I could only reply – a novel. She said she looked forward to reading it.

“I hope it’s not trashy. And I don’t like a lot of swearing. It’s not necessary, you know. It ruins a perfectly good story” she said with a renewed strength of opinion. She was never short on opinion when it came to her literary critiques.

“No mom. No trash. I don’t think my characters ever swear.”

A few hours later I woke her up to tell her I was headed to the airport. She asked me where a few people were…some current, some past, some that I hadn’t thought of for years. It was the first time I really knew she wasn’t getting better.

About two weeks later, my brother called me and asked, in our typical family non-pressuring way, to come home if I wanted to come home. That generally translated into “I think you should come home.”

I arrived about 3am on the morning of January 13th. We spent the night in the hospital room with mom, and eventually, when the family shift change came, we got some sleep, some food and came back into the hospital a few hours later. By now, all six of her kids were doing shifts around her bed until someone suggested we let mom sleep while we all go have dinner.

The story, as I understood it from my sisters, was that at some point, about 5pm-ish on the 13th, Norma took off her oxygen mask, looked at my two sisters and said, in her typical conversation ending tone – a tone we all knew very well;

“That’s it. I’ve had enough. I’m done here. I’m ready to go.”

As we all gathered around her that evening, she went around the room, naming each of her kids and getting most of her children-in-law correct  – something that still makes us laugh. I, of course, just do it a little more publicly. When she got to me, she said, “We’ve had a lot of good times, haven’t we Albert.”

We had, indeed. My life was never short on adventure. I owe all of that to her.

I never got to tell her that I finished my novel. It didn’t seem important. There were more important things I felt she needed to know. I may even have tried to bribe her with a turkey sandwich if she’s stay a while longer, so we could talk a little more about the less important things. But I knew she was ready to go. She was tired of fighting. Tired of waiting to see my father. That, in itself, was the better story.

Norma Mary Hartery Berkshire died in the early morning of 14 January 2013. I was holding her hand when she passed.

I like to think she got the final word in our years long debate over the validity of religion, the existence of a god – one in which she firmly and loyally believed – and the importance of attending mass every Sunday. That final word, however little planning she may have put to it, was delivered in the most resounding way. She managed to get all of her kids in the same pew, in the same church, on the same day…at least one last time.

I’m certain I felt the Universe smile on us that day.

Norma lived a fine life. She was a lady to the end. Dignified in every way.

Today, 16 October 2013, Norma would have turned 82. There would most certainly have been cake. She loved any excuse to have dessert.

Norma loved dessert, almost as much as she loved her family.

Norma loved dessert, almost as much as she loved her family.

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He misses the conversations. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

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