Sometime opportunity knocks. Sometimes it’s just Mom

There are people who miss the days when company used to just drop by but as an adult, I look back and wonder if it was only the kids who really liked it.

I’m rarely dressed appropriately for company, and working from home doesn’t mean I’m at home doing nothing. We live in different times, with a phone at the end of most arms, so drive-by visits usually come with an announcement. I do want to see you; I just want to know that I’m going to see you.

I suppose surprise visits would make me keep a tidier house, but I still recall my mother stopping like a deer in the headlights if someone knocked on the door unannounced. She would drop everything, snap off her apron, fix her hair and put on the kettle. Anything she was doing stopped.

I recall her gamely insisting people should stay for dinner, and then watching her magically make a dinner, planned for five, double. I look back and think only one thing: why? Why do friends and family do this to each other? In olden times, people actually did just drive around on Sundays and not have phones. These are not olden times.

I stopped by Pammy and Christer’s apartment the other day. It was his birthday, and I was scooting out for some groceries. I didn’t have my phone, but I knew he was home because I’d spoken to him an hour before. I simply decided to let my kid give me a spontaneous hug for giving birth to him, because birthdays should always be about the one who had the most pain.

I knocked on their door. All I heard was Alfie begin barking. I waited. Nothing.

I knocked again, knowing the layout of their home makes it difficult for them to hear.

Alfie, in the meantime, continued to lose his mind. He loves Mama Lorraine. More knocking, more nothing, more Alfie.

I could hear voices, so I knocked louder and yelled that it was me. Alfie answered in a higher pitch. I finally gave up and shoved the door open an inch.

“It’s me!”

“Alfie, shut up. Get back here,” Pammy yelled.

“It’s me! I want to say happy birthday to Christopher!”

“Is that my mother? I think that’s Mom,” I heard Christopher say.

“It’s me!”

Finally both kids came to the door, as Alfie nearly wet himself with joy.

“Why didn’t you just come in?” asked Pammy.

“I don’t do that,” I replied.

They’d given me a key when they moved in. It sits carefully on the counter in case one of them needs it.

“Don’t be dumb. Just come in,” said Christopher.

“I can’t. Like I can’t open your mail. I can’t just barge in your house,” I said.

Or watch them enter passwords, or scroll through their pictures, or read over their shoulder. (Note: never, ever scroll through the pictures on anyone’s phone. That is just rude.)

Pammy started giggling. “You’re so weird. Just come in.”

By this point Alfie was leaping around like I was covered in pepperoni. I let him snuggle me because I needed someone to be glad I’d shown up.

“From now on, if you come over, just come in,” said Christopher. “I mean, why wouldn’t you?”

“What if you were having birthday sex? I would not want to know that,” I replied.

“Ew,” said Pammy.

Christopher did a little grimace.

Well, they asked.

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As my kid struggles to explain my computer to me

“Ari, I think the Internet is broken.”

I swear I heard him sigh all the way from upstairs.

“It is not broken,” he called. “What did you do now?”

“It’s slow. Really, really slow,” I replied, but by now Ari, 22, was already standing beside me. “Did you pooch another keyboard?”

The cat had dumped over a glass of red wine the week before and wrecked my keyboard. I blame the cat for being bad, not me for drinking and typing. I should just have three spare keyboards in the pantry.

“No, but I heard there’s a worldwide shortage of Internet today. Maybe it’s that,” I explained.

He rolled his eyes.

“That hack has nothing to do with your computer running slow. That’s like saying because gas is harder to get, your car no longer runs on gas. Mine is running fine. Here. Lemme see …”

He took my chair, as I’d hoped he’d do all along. Kids think mothers are so dumb. This is the kind of thing Ari does, at school and for work, and computers not running properly make him nuts. He has to start digging around until he solves it. All I have to do is lure him into the chair.

“How can yours be fine and mine isn’t?” I asked him.

He took a deep breath.

“Let’s say your computer is the checkout at No Frills. Your computer has two checkers on duty, and my computer has eight. And, my eight are way better than your two, so all the stuff gets through faster. Your checkers are slow,” he finished.

I must say, I like my son’s analogies. He also will use analogies involving shoe boxes, but then I just sit here thinking about shoes.

“So, lend me two of your checkers,” I said, reasonably.

“It doesn’t work that way. You have to buy your own checkers.”

“I’m your mother. You could probably just lend me two,” I said.

He sighed. Again.

“I’m gonna find some answers. Here. Don’t touch this, I’m running something. And I mean it: do not touch anything.”

Little timers were zipping along on my monitor and he went back to his computer to ask some questions of his Internet friends, who I presume are all weird middle aged men grooming my son for Bad Things.

They’re not, but I’ve watched enough W5 and 20/20 to at least be very suspicious.

He came back down.

“I’m moving you over to Google docs,” he started to explain.

“NOOOOOO I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO WORK AGAIN,” I said calmly.

“Stop it. I want to streamline all your programs. You junk is all over the place. I have no idea how you work and I know, I know, you’ve somehow managed to support us all these years, whatever.”

He started rearranging things and tidying things up. He asked me what my password for something was and I looked at him blankly. He reset it, and put it on a Post-it and stuck it to my monitor.

“It’s upside down,” I told him.

“That’s to trick anyone breaking into your computer,” he replied.

“Should we order me more horsepower, since you won’t lend me any of your checkers? Is that something they can deliver?”

I’ve become very big on things delivered to the door.

“Sure, but it’s about $250.”

“Oh. It can wait. Whatever you did has helped, anyway. It seems to have more torque.”

No Frills, cars, shoeboxes.

Ari came down an hour later and asked how things were.

“Better. But my phone is doing weird things.”

He sighed.

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A 20-year measure of missing someone

It’s 20 years this week since Dad died.

I have two work appointments scheduled that day, and as I entered the meetings on my calendar I stumbled a little but acted like the adult I am and said of course that day is fine.

It’s not like I can ride it out by hiding under the covers all day, though that is exactly what I would rather do.

It is, in fact, the opposite of what Al Sommerfeld would let you do. He was up before 5 a.m. every day, and groused to my mother all through our teen years if we slept beyond 8.

It didn’t matter what shift you’d worked, how late you’d been out or if your homework was done. Kids that slept till noon were lazy. If my mother succeeded in stopping him from knocking on our bedroom doors, he counterpunched by mowing the lawn or drilling something beneath our windows. Sneaky, Dad.

He was a tangle of things, as a man and as a father. He was determined to give us what he hadn’t had; where he’d received a kick back, he wanted us to have a step up.

But buried deep in that calculus was the niggling thought that his toughness, his mettle, were a result of those kicks. He was torn, and wanted to pass on his fortitude but not his damage. I now know it is impossible to separate the two. I absorbed my father’s pain and anger through osmosis as surely as I received his love and pride.

It’s my favourite season, the fall. It meant school and new beginnings.

For Dad, it was the wind-down of his garden and his cottage: the only places he felt unburdened, uncompromised. I long hated him for taking this from me, for staining the time of year that was my most unburdened, most uncompromised, until I accepted that it is wise to reflect from another vantage point, the proverbial mile in another’s shoes. It’s a valuable lesson he taught me after his death, and I still resent the cost.

Winter caged him, whereas I happily burrow in. I may have inherited many of his blown mental synapses, but where I try to find creativity and introspection amidst times of instability or hurt, he found only the terrifying fall until he could once again regain his feet. He would swing an axe until he could no longer lift his arms, forcing his body to physically quit in an effort to shut down his mind. I’ve found other ways to court my demons, and if we’d had a chance to grow older together, I think we might have helped each other.

Or I could be romanticizing it all, of course. Death lets you do that. You can fill in the silences with words of endearment, allow time to iron out the wrinkles of being raised by — and adoring — a difficult, broken man.

Except I’ve always known these things about my father. I struggled with it during his lifetime and I continue to struggle with it in mine. I covet his wisdom like a shiny marble, I seek out signs of him in my children like a genetic treasure hunt for diamonds. Death does not remove you from the equation as long as the people who loved you continue to solve for the unknown.

I miss you Dad, I miss you every damned day. You twine through my work like the ivy you never wanted that I planted anyway.

I recently found a set of your cufflinks, and gave them to Ari, the grandson who was barely 2 when you died.

They have an A engraved on them.

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Pumpkins weren’t always about lattes

When the boys were small, I took them to an apple farm every fall.

We’d found it during a field trip when Christer was in preschool, I think. I confess that after a while most of the field trips, while wonderful times for the kiddos, began to run together in my head. I was there to wipe noses and hand out all the extra mittens I used to pack, and sigh as they then wiped their noses with those mittens.

But the apple farm became a staple, and we’d return every fall to pick a pumpkin for the front step and a basket of apples that tasted like apples instead of like a supermarket.

The highest point, hands down: the gourds. You could walk through a huge field of the gnarly things and create displays that would make a pilgrim weak with envy. The problem was convincing the boys we couldn’t take home 47 gourds, and they would be forced to each pick three.

I’d watch two boys carefully stepping among the vines, my father’s barking instructions coming out of my mouth now about not killing the plants. I’d watch them selecting one, then another, then no I changed my mind, then a third, a fourth, oh look at that one, which one, I saw it first, no you didn’t, forget it I just found a better one, this one has stripes, mine has warts.

On and on, the gourd selection would take as long as I let it. Selecting gourds on a fall afternoon at a farm should take forever.

The boys would start out wanting a huge pumpkin, and then settle on the weirdest ones they could find; no Martha Stewart exterior decorating for this house.

The ride home would be all about the creative jack-o-lanterns that would be carved, when we all knew it would be me grimly hacking out three triangles and a crooked smile in the end.

Choosing pumpkins is fun, carving them is hard work. My craft skills are decidedly weak.

In a twist I like a great deal, the kids now take themselves to the farm every fall. I’m not needed to pay or lift heavy things or wipe noses.

Ari and Taryn came home recently with apple cider and crazy gourds and a pumpkin lying heavily on its side. I raised an eyebrow at Ari, who told me he liked the crooked imperfect one that everybody else had no doubt left behind.

I liked the fact that my kid liked it.

“Make it into a pirate,” I suggested, the slouch already mimicking a handkerchief I imagined all pirates must wear, and the stem that was twirled just enough to suggest it should be sporting an earring.

“Nah, I don’t know if I’m actually gonna carve it,” laughed Ari.

Taryn was fiddling with a tiny gourd she’d bought.

“Look at my little pumpkin,” she said, holding it up.

“That’s actually a gourd,” I told her, because someone needs to be the know-it-all to suck the joy out of things.

“Its little thing fell off,” she said, holding a piece of stem.

I told her there was a glue gun in the cupboard upstairs.

“You have a glue gun?” she asked me, and Ari started laughing.

I hauled out a box that contained eight glue guns. I used to do a giant craft party for the kids every Christmas, and you can never have too many glue guns.

Taryn looked at me as I morphed into a whole other craft-doing person and modestly put away seven glue guns.

Wonder if a pirate has triangle eyes.

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A dog who really needs to come out of the closet

Whenever I am facing a workday and seem to be lacking self-discipline, I think of a little dog who is a master of control.

Christopher and Pammy moved out a year ago, and Alfie went with them. To call the rescue pup a character is an understatement; he’s not yet two but he looks as old as Yoda, and his mystery first year was spent at the hands of someone who abused him miserably. He is darling, he is loving; he can be unpredictable; he is a puppy with a mysterious past.

I often babysit a few days a week, because we all know the woman sitting in her kitchen surrounded by four cats and another dog (the ever laid-back Shelby) will not notice one more in the zoo. Shelby and Alfie are great friends, and neither appears to notice the size differential between a little terrier cross and a mid-sized collie cross. They romp and play in the backyard and I fear the end of summer.

Alfie is very well trained. He comes when you call him, he will sit and lie down for green peppers, and he runs around the backyard peeing on everything like a tiny potentate anointing his kingdom. He curls up for naps in the cats’ beds and greets everyone who comes to the door with a small dance. He doesn’t bark. He is polite.

He poops in my closet.

The first time this happened, we rationalized that he was overwhelmed and upset. It was when the kids first brought him home and the fact is, I can think of human creatures who have come to this house and probably felt like pooping in the closet. We can be a bit much.

As he settled in, the incidents stopped, give or take a few excitement poops here and there.

I cleaned out my bedroom closet recently.

We have been deceived.

My closet is typical of an older house, in that it is more like an awkward, useless afterthought than a triumph of efficient design. It is narrow and sports a second row behind the first, much like horror movies where small children disappear into a vortex to another, far more horrible dimension. If I have to go looking for something at the back, the kids tie a rope around my ankle to make sure they can pull me back to present day.

I ignore the depths of my closet. I discovered that Alfie does not.

I started removing clothes, carefully making those three recommended piles: things I wear, things I must have purchased while wearing a blindfold, and things Other Lorraine will wear one day.

This is when I discover I have four nearly identical little black dresses; I wear a little black dress maybe once a year. I also have six pairs of perfect black heels because I always think I don’t and buy more. And then I find the other ones.

As things freed up, I looked down at two little Alfie poops. They’re tiny, really. Like little bullets. And then I found some more. And some more. In all, five little piles of turds. They were like little fossils. The closet door is always open so he’d been dashing in and out, his own little ensuite.

I called Pammy.

“You know how I’ve been rewarding Alfie for not crapping in my closet?”

“Uhm, yeah.”

“Well, he’s been happily taking all those green pepper rewards, then crapping in my closet.”

Our little M&M dispenser is now on extended walks before coming to Mama Lorraine’s house. And every closet door is kept shut.

I’m scared to move a couch.

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When judging a book by its cover turns deadly

A friend dropped in recently and looked around my house. He asked what I’d been doing. “Working,” I said. I’m always working. “Well, you sure haven’t been cleaning,” he laughed. And so I was forced to see my home through different eyes, and I started cleaning because it was a wreck. I was embarrassed with a side of shrug. It’s hardly a secret that my world is little more than chaotic clutter.

A guy down in Dearborn Heights, Michigan never had to suffer such insult or embarrassment. He had served 25 years for murdering his pregnant wife and been released and gotten remarried. Two weeks ago, he called police to tell them he’d murdered their four children and his new wife. She’s clinging to life.

The intrepid Dearborn Heights media did the usual neighbourhood stroll asking neighbours if they’d ever suspected something. This is such useless canvassing, but I guess everyone has to make busywork in the echo of such a heinous crime. My favourite quote? From the mayor of that town, Dan Paletko:

“It’s a very well-kept house. There’s no reason that you would ordinarily think that there’s something unusual. Nice pool, extra yard, the house is landscaped nicely. It looks like a nice home that a family was living in.”

I won’t get into specifics of how a woman with two children would marry a man who confessed to murdering his pregnant wife – surely on the Match.com questionnaire there is a section that says “pregnant wife killers need not apply” – and then has two more children with him. I will get all over this idea that we get to think we know anything about anyone based on how neatly they manicure their lawn or how straight they park their car.
His wife had filed for divorce and applied for protection in the past. And now her children are dead allegedly at his hand, though I hate having to qualify that with the weasel word “allegedly” when he called the police from the front steps of his home and admitted every gruesome step of his crime; he’s not insane, he’s a monster.

But what do we hear? That a neighbour thought he was a good guy because when he accidentally hit his car, he came to tell the neighbour. Good guy! That the kids were nice and well behaved, so nothing bad could be happening to them, right? “There’s nothing we can do about it, just keep them in our prayers,” says another.

Bull. “Keeping someone in our prayers” is a useless balm that means little. Forget the neighbours for a moment; there were people inside that family and their circle who knew of his history and that order of protection three years ago. As anyone who works in women’s shelters or with abused women will tell you, the act of filing for divorce last month made this woman and her children beyond vulnerable. It made them murder victims.

I don’t know what takes place inside your home, unless you tell me. I know a woman who kept such an immaculate home she’d alphabetized her soup cans and coordinated her interior design to match her wardrobe. No chaotic clutter there. And she was so tightly strung if she’d snapped and set herself on fire one day, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. Not sure what the mayor of her town would have thought.
Perfect marriages, beautiful children, immaculate homes, well-tended yards, terrific careers. Please don’t think any of us are immune to desperation and tragedy regardless of how it looks from the outside.

If your energy is going to keeping a dangerous charade intact, please reach out for help.

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Getting decked, in a good way

There are three men out in my backyard building me a new deck.

One is my son, Ari, 22, who knows this is the cost of living here. The other two are doing me a huge favour.

When Ari took control of the Deck Project, he called his stepdad, The Poor Sod. You might remember him from years ago in these columns. Good guy then, good guy now.

He brought along his friend, Matthew Bryant, who has built a lot of decks. Matt gave Ari a list of what lumber and hardware to have delivered, told him to get the old one ripped out, and the deck games began.

Dad built the last one when I was a teenager, which means it has stood (and in these later years, wobbled) for nearly 40 years. Not bad for a guy who made up his own plans and podged around and improvised when he didn’t quite know what he was doing.

It was fun watching Matt’s face as he peered at some of Dad’s handiwork. Dad was a bricklayer, so he was happy to plunge joists directly into the house and slap some concrete around them. Matt doesn’t know I heard him muttering. I also heard him explaining to Ari the correct way to do it.

No new deck project is complete without an entire day lost to a task you thought would take an hour, four trips to Home Depot, coffee, beer, rain and a row of cat faces in the window.

The first day was perfect weather; the next was rain nearly all day, yet the work continued. Matt would give Ari an instruction, then leave him to it. I watched Ari soaking up everything like a sponge; he’d spent a day at the cottage deck-building with his uncle and he loves doing it. It’s times like these I miss my father being there; for all Dad’s creative fixes, this is the grandson most like him, the one he could have handed the tools to.

Tape measures were flying the whole time and I realized early on that Matt wasn’t second-guessing Ari’s measures. It’s a small thing, but it’s a trust thing and I watched as Matt started incorporating some of Ari’s suggestions. And I watched that build confidence in Ari, who worked shoulder to shoulder with the other men.

Matt and The Poor Sod exchanged a few glances — I smiled as I realized it was an “I told you so; the kid is OK.”

When they finally packed up at the end of day one and left, Ari came into the house and got me.

“Come help me move the rest of the wood around back,” he said.

I stared at a pile of heavy lumber in the driveway and wondered what any of this had to do with me.

“The guys will be back tomorrow, right? I’ll put a car at a neighbour’s.”

“No, it’s better if it’s all around back. I don’t want it stolen, and it saves them doing it in the morning.”

Sighing, I picked up my end and grunted.

“I can’t lift this many boards at once,” I complained.

“Sure you can,” Ari grinned.

“You wouldn’t make Taryn do this, or Pammy,” I puffed.

“You’re right. They couldn’t, or they’d complain, but you’re …. you. Now be quiet.”

They’ll finish the railing this week but it already looks awesome. Watching my son become a welcome part of a crew is a bigger thing, something his stepdad knows.

Thank you, Matt. For the deck, too.

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Looking back on 60 years of Dunnville Slowpokes

I’d spent the afternoon taking picture after picture of old cars.

Some as shiny as new candy, others sporting their original decades-old finishes, all of them restored and adored by the throng of people I slipped through in the late afternoon sun. The golf club grounds were still drying out; a steady rain had threatened the event. But when the Slowpokes of Dunnville, Ont. hold a reunion, it seems even Mother Nature gets the memo.

The club was formed back in 1956, and last week was their 60th reunion. Four of the original six members — total membership would loosely sit at a few dozen over the years — are still about. But the roster of those who have passed away weighs heavily enough for club spokesperson Ed Bucsis to announce that this will probably be the last formal dinner.

As Ed’s wife, Linda, started assembling a group picture, I scrambled to get down names from men who were chatting and drifting about; some joking about cats being difficult to herd.

Back in the day Courtesy of the Dunnville Slowpokes Front row, from left: George Cowan, Bob Mmerick, Joe Cowan, Bill Stowe, Claire Moodie Middle row: Vince Redmayne, Dave Cowan, Bud Martin, John Bain, Bob Culver, Pete Baird, Ray Booker Back row: Bob Case, Gary Featherstone, Tom James, Bob Smith, Jack “Alg” Heaslip, Mel Langkamer, Murray Baigent, Jim Erskine

Back in the day
Courtesy of the Dunnville Slowpokes
Front row, from left: George Cowan, Bob Mmerick, Joe Cowan, Bill Stowe, Claire Moodie Middle row: Vince Redmayne, Dave Cowan, Bud Martin, John Bain, Bob Culver, Pete Baird, Ray Booker Back row: Bob Case, Gary Featherstone, Tom James, Bob Smith, Jack “Alg” Heaslip, Mel Langkamer, Murray Baigent, Jim Erskine

The men hold the stories, and there is no detail too small to be counted or corrected.

At dinner later that evening, I watch the faces in that picture I’d taken go backward in time. It’s easy to see the camaraderie as well as the knots; you don’t get this many people who share such an intense interest to all hold the same memory.

It’s an easy kind of jousting, however. These men still meet up for lunch once a month to talk cars, and you know both the exploits and arguments are now as smooth as soapstone.

But the women also hold the stories. These were often the family cars being worked on, work and hobby joined at the hip.

“Well, who do you think was home with the kids?” laughs Jean Smith.

Her husband, Bob, was an original Slowpoke.

The Slowpokes today. Front, from left: Vic Powell, John Drynan, Peter Baird, Bob Smith, Joe Bolanjski. Rear: Roger King, John Franklin, Ed Bucsis, Tom “Jessie” James, Mel Timms, Gary Featherstone, John Bain, Dave Cowan, Bud Martin, Mel Langkamer, Bob Johnson.

lowpokes today
Lorraine Sommerfeld,Special to The Hamilton Spectator
The Slowpokes today. Front, from left: Vic Powell, John Drynan, Peter Baird, Bob Smith, Joe Bolanjski. Rear: Roger King, John Franklin, Ed Bucsis, Tom “Jessie” James, Mel Timms, Gary Featherstone, John Bain, Dave Cowan, Bud Martin, Mel Langkamer, Bob Johnson.

“The women had that role, though they did have a road rally one time and it was almost all women who did that. I had one kid at home with the measles and one I thought might come down with them, so I just brought him along and he was happy to have the whole back seat to himself for the day. I wanted to win, but my co-pilot couldn’t read maps.”

She pauses. “I really wanted to win.”

Speaking of winning, you know that once a bunch of men build hot rods, they’re going to want to race them.

The Slowpokes held the first Canadian race sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Association out of California at what is now Toronto Motorsports Park in Cayuga. They just called it Kohler in reports at the time, and a black and white photo of proud club members taken in 1957 reveals many of the names in the group photo I’ve taken almost 60 years later.

“I took the oldest three to the track when their daddy was racing,” says Jean. “But between getting this one a drink and that one something to eat and somebody needing to go to the washroom, they missed their daddy’s race. I swore I’d never go again, but we did.”

Linda Bucsis reflects on a different kind of bond as time has marched on.

“The women have been a tremendous support for each other, especially as we lose members or go through illnesses. There is comfort here.”

Friendships that have spanned decades also span distance, and you can see the tendrils of this club throughout the community.

As storm clouds gather, the stars of the day — those cars — are tucked away and I head inside to hear more stories.

From those stars who still meet once a week for lunch.

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How do you lose a cat that never goes anywhere?

Sweet Pea, the cutest cat with the worst inner time clock, gets up at precisely 5:45 a.m. every day.

I have no idea how she does this, but she does.

And I should have just named her Domino because she wakes up the other three cats and they all stare and yell at me until I wake up, like a small choir of feline potentates.

I get up and stumble downstairs and feed them and go back to bed, because 5:45 is the middle of the night.

The other day I knew I wouldn’t be getting back to sleep, so I fired up my computer and put the kettle on. I’d opened the front door so the cats could peer outside, the extent of their interaction with nature. We have a chipmunk that sits on the front step and chatters to them.

Before my tea had even steeped, Pea started yelling. She’s a soprano, occasionally pitching into notes only a dog can hear.

I ignored her because it was 6 a.m. Soon, Marco and Cairo — the kitty kids — started yelling as well. I finally looked up to see JoJo, my old black cat, staring back in at me.

I blinked. I’d fed all four cats half an hour before and JoJo had definitely shown up for grub. There was no way she could be outside. As I stepped toward the door, she took off.

Pea continued to accuse me of neglect while Marco ran around looking for the security breach so he could join JoJo. Cairo ran upstairs because she’d ended up terrified on the wrong side of the door a few weeks ago as I brought groceries in. Her little cat brain probably thought I was trying to shed cats — and my cat lady status — one cat at a time.

I started hollering for JoJo in the house, essentially useless because she’s mostly deaf now. She’s arrived at that old cat autopilot — sleeping and eating.

I went outside calling for her, which made no sense because there was no way she could have been outside. Pea kept crying, helpfully.

I yelled inside the house a little more, mostly hoping I’d be able to wake up one of the human kids, who would feel so awful that JoJo might be missing that they’d help look.

That did not happen. The only thing I could think was that a neighbourhood cat, Banks, had been the cat I’d seen. Except Banks may be a black cat, but contrary to popular belief, they don’t all look the same. JoJo is bigger and wouldn’t I know my own cat after 14 years?

I shook the treat bag because surely that would entice a deaf cat who had just been fed. Three cats got treats; none of them was JoJo.

I frequently have a disconnect between my brain and my heart, and nowhere is it more acute than with my cats. I knew in my brain JoJo couldn’t be outside; I knew in my heart that if there was even a slender chance she was, I had to find her.

I had a noon meeting and told the kids, now up, what was going on. They didn’t see much urgency in a cat making a break for it for a few hours, but Taryn nonetheless texted me a picture of JoJo (sitting on my bed) an hour later.

I got home and looked at Pea.

“Don’t you have cat radar?” I asked her.

I swear she shrugged and said all black cats look the same to her.

“So I guess it was Banks,” said Ari.

“No, it was FauxJo,” I replied.

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When the internet is down, call a librarian

My kids think I’m a Luddite because whenever my computer blows up or melts down I just sit there and holler until somebody comes to fix it. It’s usually because Mark the Cat has fallen down the back and dislodged cables I can’t see well enough to reconnect, even if I knew where they went in the first place. Ari sighs and asks me what I’m going to do when he moves out. My reply is always the same: “First, I will celebrate, then I will learn to do it myself.” Kids today.

I like to think I can cut the cord, so to speak, easily. I have severely limited WiFi at the cottage because it costs too much. Then a funny thing happened on the way to that enforced blackout: I rather liked it. It was baby steps at first. I’d check on emails every hour or two, because the nature of my job is that a missed opportunity can impact my earning ability. Very few people have my cell number which is probably the smartest thing I ever did unintentionally. I’m not a good texter and I can’t be bothered typing out emails on my little phone screen. If I go up north to work, it’s only to use my laptop as a typewriter. It’s blissful.

Except.

Except when I realize how much I take that connectivity for granted. I read a lot and had no idea how often I’ve come to rely on the internet to answer questions that chew at the back of my brain as I’m reading. At the cottage I was reading Lonesome Dove again (because how could you not?) and I reached for my laptop to try to figure out if an event had been fictionalized or was true, and hit the no WiFi wall: I couldn’t know what I needed to know right this second.

About twenty years ago, I was in a pub with friends when the conversation turned serious. A debate got rolling about the origins of World War I. What can I say; I run with the cool kids. With egos at risk, we did the only thing we could do, which was to haul out someone’s cell phone (no doubt as big as a brick), ask the bartender for a phone book, and called the local library. Oh, how we straddled the eras that afternoon.

I sheepishly asked the librarian if she’d mind doing a little fact checking for a table full of drunks, which she did with good humour and professionalism. I know that I’ve now replaced much of that skill with the internet and take it just as for granted.

Late last year, I hit a dead end in some research I was doing. For an event that happened long before the digital age but hadn’t been significant enough to register on anything but local radar, I was stumped. My sister had dug deeper than I’d been able to, but we both hit an impasse. Then I remembered that long ago afternoon, and did the only thing that made sense: I called a librarian. Peggy Mackenzie used to work at the Toronto Star, and if she can’t find it, it doesn’t exist. She gave me excellent direction and help.

I didn’t call Peggy that day from the cottage, though I did go into town to my favourite used bookstore. There among the stacks I found my answer, along with several other books I didn’t know I needed. That’s when I remembered the internet is both a porthole and a rabbit hole, and a librarian can help you tell the difference.

She can also tell you who started World War I.

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