‘There is no such thing as an accident’ dad’s dictum. I have spent a lifetime puzzling if such and such event or events was or were accidents. His claim with the corollary that everyone was accountable for everything never satisfied me. He was responsible for his action and I for mine, I inwardly argued. He guessed that people excused themselves through the idea that a disaster is an accident, no one’s fault, I’m not to blame. He wouldn’t tolerate such evasion; rather he believed you could alter anything by accepting the onus of personal actions and endeavour. An industrious man’s faith, that destiny was in his hands. Perhaps he didn’t actually endorse a view of the supreme power of volition but he challenged the way people smudge their involvement under the guise of ‘I couldn’t do anything it was an accident.’ Maybe his equally recurrent expression – ‘here for the duration’ – implied as well that you couldn’t slack off, or dodge your obligation; you had to do the best you could when you were here until your time was up. When I was in a particularly poetic mood gazing off at a tree or at nothing, he would militarily order, ‘Come back to the living!’ The deserving action was to be committed to the here and now, the people around you, to take your place, don’t slack off into never never land or imagination. Also, if married be faithful, don’t womanise, don’t always be thinking or looking for a life-transforming relationship, be content with your lot.
‘Go out and blow the stink off ya’’ was another phrase of vitality in dad’s lexicon. Time, the duration, also implied space: to be outside, beyond the city limits, in the great outdoors was where the stench could be dispelled. The stink was contacted inside, bound by regimes and comforts, go out, get away, face the wind, snow and rain, the big forest and you will be clean, the air you breathe pure as the origins before settlers and pioneers, before the first peoples.
Foul smells of the industrial city which earned him a living nevertheless weren’t to be tolerated – you had to escape, have the strength to go out and forget about securities and money – to become more natural. The more familiar phrase in parlance is blow the cob-webs off you, but dad intensified the image referring to urban fumes; the problem wasn’t dust-balls it was more clinging you had to remove the pollution, the built-up contaminated air. Good air, worth inhaling, existed out beyond, past the conurbation’s suburbs where the fields and lakes of dad’s youth began again, where the forests and rivers were pristine, un-damaged – or at least where that illusion of wholeness was believable if the techno-city was always in hot pursuit and a likely be the overall winner – but for now there was the moments at the cottage.
Dad was no gardener creating his small paradise in the suburbs in the city like ‘Papa’, granddad. Dad valued his shared seclusion with mum in a wooden structure beside a lake-linking river in the great outdoors, not be protected, fenced in, but where there were no fences or boundaries. ‘No loud traffic and what you have… he would pronounce. ‘What you have’ was located in the Asphalt Jungle’s suffocating domain; peace and well-being were among the distant lake-scapes, evergreens and granite out-crops. There in that semi-wilderness you never heard the phrase, ‘I wished I’d raised a pig at least I had pork for the winter.’ This assertion against us human children – the way our births had encumbered his life – could have been disabling, sounded ogrish, but its absurdity outweighed sense and defused its stinging power, at least for me. It was a wild use of language, anarchic, almost nonsensical. Now I can recognise the saying or curse comes from that settler pre-industrial world where being able to raise animals and store meat through the winter meant surviving the long Canadian stretches of frost and snow. The struggle for survival against the elements, of which dad in his youth would’ve been fully aware. But when the older semi-retired dad relaxed by his wood fire, through the screen door, the flames’ glow and fire flies dizzy in the evening air, slap of a beaver’s tail on the still water, crude lingo was never heard, he had found his old home week.
Not everyone can endure or absorb peace but dad could and perhaps it was those stints at the cottage that quietened his body and gave him many years despite the evidence that his lungs were turning to ash through asbestos poisoning – a by-product of numerous plumbing hours in the factories, and underneath blast furnaces and of course encounters with ‘what you have…’
Another region of keen interest for my dad was his wife’s purse and whether or not it would open to contribute to expenses on various outings, some aligned with the cottage. This event was the moment for – ‘come on Mrs S’, more often, ‘Lorrie open your purse and let the moths out’. They resided in mum’s moneybag because they were so little disturbed by any one reaching in and bringing out cash. In those days – before loonies and toonies one and two dollar coins – the wealth inside would be flapping paper and by a slight flight of imagination could be seen as rectangular moths. But moths, night creatures per say, indicate oldness, being obsolete, as in mothballed, a term in general use. So mum’s wallet compartments in her handbag were growing old from lack of use, and would soon be derelict. Moths could be destructive eating clothes and the like. A further implication was that mum’s refusal to shake out money from her purse could be detrimental to one’s existence. The complex catchphrase carried the sting that mum was parsimonious. Rural dad and urban mum had been through the 1930s Depression but emerged with different approaches to life. Mum reaction was to be protective and guard her wealth. Dad’s to be generous, open-handed. Moths instantly suggested dust which was gathering in mum’s purse. But like so many of Dad’s comments, this one possessed even more advanced implications.
Dad’s generosity could lead to him buying drinks for his workmates at the Cork Town reducing perhaps money to run the home. Mum was the keeper or exchequer who poured over tax forms, wage slips. She was an arithmetic expert with the status of Treasurer in a charitable organisation for which she held the purse strings. Mum regulated our household’s in and out goings. Dad’s wisecrack was a challenge to Mrs S to play the role of one of the gang – and pay your round. She usually resisted with a tut tut or a sly grin that suggested Dad knew well – why at times there was a shortage of revenue and it wasn’t because mum’s failure to unclip her purse it was Dad’s too open wallet. My father was so expansive that he voted Communist after World War II, mum habitually conservative might’ve said of this rashness, ‘he only did it once’ with some sheathed threat. My granddad’s influence, a first generation immigrant’s perspective, affected mum and encouraged cautious watchful attitudes that meant be vigilant about your money. Dad home-grown, perhaps believed wealth would always be around, and it kind of grew on trees, he also trusted his skill as a tradesman to an alarming degree – expecting always to have work and therefore why not share, take chances, help others, why not spend. Not a spendthrift but he was definitely open-handed certain of earth’s bounty he teased mum to think the same way – and sometimes she gave in which won his sarcasm regarding moths. And it was Dad who entered the lottery, chanced his luck and won a largess that transformed mum and dad’s retirement years and gave them the means to travel – one of mum’s great desires. I can’t imagine my granddad countenancing such a deregulated adventure as entering the Ontario lottery. To some extent granddad could never let go, participate and accept the opportunities Canada offered. Strangely restrained, it was as if he never came ashore. He kept selling in the 1970s his artisan labour and beautiful creations in wood at 1940s’ rates to ensure he would have customers. Like Dad, at other times, Granddad had his inferiority complex. Perhaps his expectations were schooled by the remuneration he might have received in England. Dad almost carefreely and fearlessly believed his native land was a cornucopia. Both paternal figures, positively or negatively exerted their influence on my handling of resources. Also it was true that Granddad’s home was more palatial than ours. Perhaps this conflict is a quarrel my writing has never resolved.
Paul Sutherland, Canadian-British poet/writer, in UK, since 1973, has fifteen collections, editing seven others. He’s founding editor of Dream Catcher an international journal in its 39th issue. He runs creative writing workshops and widely performs his poetry; leads seminars; mentors; runs Writers Retreats and collaborates with musicians, visual artists and calligraphers; lectures on e.g. Sufi poets and English Literature. He appears in anthologies and journals. Spires and Minarets was published by Sunk Island Publishing and Journeying from Valley Press 2012 (ww.valleypressuk.com). He reverted to a Sufi Muslim 2004; two books have followed, Poems on the Life of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) 2014, A Sufi Novice in Shaykh Efendi’s Realm, (first pub. In Romania in a bilingual book 2014; re-printed in UK 2015) describing his adventures in North Cyprus. He’s won literary awards; a poem of his helped promote Olympics 2012. He has won grants and participated in many projects. He turned freelance 2004. A New and Selected Poems, was re-launched from Valley Press 2017: 384 pages of 45 years of his writing a ‘unique …an unflinching and forensic exploration of a life through language.’ The book was listed by PBS for winter 2017 and selected as a choice for The Morning Stars’ books of 2017. The University of Lincoln archives his poetry, prose and criticism. A collection of PS’s love poems, called Amoretti, was published by Dempsey and Windle in 2018. This year his poetry sequence of miniatures Red Streamers was published as a bilingual edition of English and Romanian by PIM in Romania. New works are planned for 2020.